Thursday, January 19, 2012

Exploring the cognitive basis of religion and science

Neuroscience promises "startling new insights about science, about religion, and about their comparison," says Robert McCauley. Photo by Kay Hinton.

The conflict between the scientific mindset and the religious mindset is an old one. What’s new are tools of cognitive science that allow us to probe why we choose to follow paths of religion and/or science, says Robert McCauley, a philosopher of science at Emory.

McCauley’s written a new book, “Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not,” in which he explains why the modern-day version of science is more in danger of extinction than religion.

Here’s an excerpt from a Boston Globe interview with McCauley:

BOSTON GLOBE: Why do you say religion is “natural” but not science?

Religion overwhelmingly depends upon what I’m calling natural cognition, thinking that is automatic, that is not conscious for the most part. Once our attention is drawn to it, we find it fairly difficult to articulate. For example, when we talk, our talking arises pretty spontaneously and yet it’s incredibly complex. We’re conforming to all sorts of rules about our natural language, which we’re usually incapable of articulating.

Science, probably more than any other human intellectual endeavor, supersedes natural cognition. It’s conscious, usually in the form of language. It’s usually slow, it’s deliberative. Science is extremely unnatural. That’s why scientists have to take courses in all these things--and then it’s still hard. The products of scientific reflection are inevitably radically counterintuitive. They challenge common sense.

Read the whole Boston Globe interview here.

And here’s a recent column by McCauley in Psychology Today.

The price of your soul: How your brain decides whether to 'sell out'

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