BookTalk.org Hall of Fame
1355 times in 1058 posts
Knowing, I'm sure, that there are many ways that human distinctiveness could be described, but needing a handle for his thesis, Riniolo chooses to call us the great pattern makers. This is a good choice with which I have no problem. He gives us examples of the clear survival benefit of the ability to recognize patterns, especially of cause and effect. Since, however, some patterns we see are apparent, not real, we have the problem of needing to sort out these bad patterns from the good. It seems that in some cases where there is a bearing on survival, this would be done rather quickly or, if not, we'd be history. But when survival isn't affected, false pattern-based beliefs may catch on and hang around for a while (or maybe forever?). Riniolo gives the example of Franz Gall, an exemplary man of science who nonetheless observed that skulls are bumpy and gave us the pseudoscience of phrenology.
Going on to the next chapter, TR formulates his theory that pattern-seeking itself wasn't enough to promote our survival. In fact, if left unchecked, it could have lessened survival because we might abandon belief in the reliability of a pattern with just one piece of evidence that seemed to disconfirm the pattern. The better thing to do is stick with the tried and true for a longer period, since patterns will often not manifest 100% of the time. The example TR gives is an observed pattern that a certain predator is not out in the morning, making it safe for people to roam around. What if it happens that the predator is seen one morning? If this is an anomaly, but the group changes their belief and starts to go out some other time instead, they might get eaten. What is needed, TR says, is an evolved tendency to hang on to conceptions and beliefs even in the face of disconfirming evidence.
And this is what happened to our species: more of us were selected for reproduction who persisted in belief, because that tended to promote survival more effectively than a tendency to change belief. The 'con' of this is that, eons onward, this stubbornness is relected in protectiveness about false beliefs as well as true. Why would false beliefs even be able to persist? Presumably because persistence itself was beneficial, since the cost of not strengthening a true pattern was greater than the cost of strengthening a false one.
If I've got his argument right, someone might want to give their view of it. Riniolo uses evolutionary psychology to base his theory. This has been a powerful way of explaining how we got where we are, but as Riniolo admits, it can be "speculative." By that I think he means that we can cook up scenarios but have no way to prove if they happened.
No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence--that which makes its truth, its meaning--its subtle penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live as we dream--alone.
Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness