We wouldn't have existed if our ancestors weren't Paranoids!

I am comfortable with not having answers to everything. By temperament, I have a high tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. Many people suffer Cognitive Dissonance with uncertainties and probabilistic world models, and thus they feel the need to close that loop with a definitive answer, regardless of how intellectually indefensible it may be.

This low tolerance for uncertainty in many others probably has an evolutionary origin related to the fact that in the Paleolithic environment in which we evolved, it was almost always better to assume that everything has agency and intention. That is, there would have been a selective advantage to adopt the default position that other people, animals and even inanimate objects in the physical environment possess agency (capability of acting) and intention (acting in a manner that can affect you).

Making Type I errors - False positives (assuming something is real when it isn't) will not take you out of the gene-pool because they only make you more cautious, but making Type II errors- False negatives (assuming something is not real when it is) can result in you being too high a risk-taker and therefore a meal for an animal like a Sabre-toothed tiger that really does have agency and intention.

Imagine you are our ancestor living on the African savanna 100,000 years ago, and you encounter some ambiguous situation. For example, you heard some rustling noises nearby at night. Or you were walking in the forest, and a large fruit falling from a tree branch hits you on the head. What’s going on?

In an ambiguous situation like this, you can either attribute the phenomenon to impersonal, inanimate, and unintentional forces (for example, wind blowing gently to make the rustling noises among the bushes and leaves, or a mature fruit falling by the force of gravity and hitting you on the head purely by accident) or to personal, animate, and intentional forces (for example, a predator hiding in the dark and getting ready to attack you, or an enemy hiding in the tree branches and throwing fruits at your head). The question is, which is it?

 This theory suggests that, in your inference, you can make a “Type I” error of false positive or “Type II” error of false negative, and these two types of error carry vastly different consequences and costs.

1.The cost of a false-positive error is that you become 'PARANOID' (You are always looking around and behind your back for predators and enemies that don’t exist). 
2. The cost of a false-negative error is that you are 'DEAD' (being killed by a predator or an enemy when you least expect them.

Obviously, it’s better to be PARANOID than DEAD, so evolution would have designed a mind that over-infers personal, animate, and intentional forces even when none exist.

Different theorists call this innate human tendency to commit false-positive errors rather than false-negative errors (and as a consequence be a bit paranoid) “animistic bias” or “the agency-detector mechanism.” These theorists argue that the evolutionary origins of religious beliefs in supernatural forces may have come from such an innate cognitive bias to commit false-positive errors rather than false-negative errors, and thus over-infer personal, intentional, and animate forces behind otherwise perfectly natural phenomena.

You see a bush on fire. It could have been caused by an impersonal, inanimate, and unintentional force (lightning striking the bush and setting it on fire), or it could have been caused by a personal, animate, and intentional force (God trying to communicate with you, as in the Old Testament). The “animistic bias” or “agency-detector mechanism” predisposes you to opt for the latter explanation rather than the former. It predisposes you to see the hands of God at work behind natural, physical phenomena whose exact causes are unknown.


It is perhaps better to be PARANOID and suffer from the God delusion! You would at least survive to pass your genes along !! Because of our Theistic Ancestors making a Type I Error (False positive) in their lives, they survived and gave birth to their children who in turn gave birth to their children and after virtually countless such reproductive lives, we were born to enjoy whatever joys & pleasures there are in this world.

One price they had to pay for this was that they became Paranoids & God believers. So belief in God(s) for our Ancestors was a byproduct of Type 1 error in their inferences. Thank goodness for that or else we wouldn't be alive & talking about all this now.

Considering that we are hard wired to believe in some sort of supernatural agents, is it possible for us to be true atheists?

Yes, because atheism is simply a propositional stance about the reality-outside-our-heads. It’s like an optical illusion. No matter how much you know it’s an illusion, you’re still experience the sensation that, say, one line is longer than the other in the Müller-Lyer trick. Likewise atheists simply don’t trust their “gut” feelings & their intuitions–about their supernatural experiences the same way that full-fledged believers do. The latter buy into the great ruse of God, whereas the former reject their senses as being a reliable gauge of reality. 

We no longer face the kinds of environmental threats that our Paleolithic ancestors faced. We can now afford to give up belief in God(s), Heaven, soul, eternity and such illusions, make correct inferences of the realities surrounding us without making either Type I or Type II errors and lead a moral, productive, compassionate and meaningful life.

Yes --- meaningful life despite our mortality and finite existence. Some people think that our mortality means that our lives are meaningless. When we experience a good movie, play, or book, we can find meaning in them through realizing experiential values, despite the fact that there is an end to them. Why should our lives be any different? Think, think.

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Comment by tom sarbeck on February 1, 2017 at 5:33pm
CU, you wrote: Imagine a time when no monies or efforts are spent on religion.

Using passive verbs can mislead and distract attention from the use of authhoritarian hmeans to achieve a goal.

Using active verbs?

Imagine a time when people don't spend monies or efforts on religion and a lot of other stuff such as fiction, sports, health and beauty aids, and much more.
Comment by Compelledunbeliever on February 1, 2017 at 2:41pm

On a second look at your post you again are right. Now that we are more advanced in many ways as a species, we may be living in the most important time of human history(this may take many hundreds of years), that is of putting aside fright survival mentalities and really looking at science and real forces that rule our universe. We are at the cusp of accepting reality for what it really is as a species. Imagine a time when no monies or efforts are spent on religion. Time wasted and money wasted on religion would be spent on science and technology, I can't imagine the advances we will make or handset they will occur. Thank you for your brilliant work!

Comment by tom sarbeck on February 1, 2017 at 6:15am

Methinks our ancestors' paranoid moments would have alternated:

1) with predatory moments or they wouldn't have eaten, and

2) with lusting moments or they wouldn't have reproduced.

Comment by Compelledunbeliever on January 9, 2017 at 8:48pm

I have read on the fright reflex and survivability. You have done an excellent job of taking it to the next level. Excellent work!

Comment by Michael Penn on January 7, 2017 at 9:36am

This is so wonderfully worded and hits it all right on the head. I think that our hard wiring effect is exactly why we are here today. While a lot of us think of paranoia as a mental disorder or something brought on by the taking of drugs, paranoia in its pure form is simply a heightened awareness. To that degree I am paranoid as all of us should be. It might even help save your life.

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