Reply To: The evolutionary benefit of instrumental religious truths – Discussion

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bella
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@Auburn I completely agree with what you wrote. I don’t think humans should hide from what they know to be truth or pretend to believe what they know to be literally false (or worse – teach fallacies to others) just for the sake of a contextual benefit, and I think that in the long term — acting this way would lead to far more damage than benefit both individually and collectively.

That being said, I would like to try to challenge this a bit because I do think there a deeper complexity to this matter.

One question I would like to propose is – do we not all hold to some “literally false and metaphorically true” ideas for benefit? One example of this might be free will. As Peterson says, even if free will is not scientifically true, we act as if it true. I think this is not because we are fooling ourselves in a literal sense, but because we are unconsciously aware that the notion of fee will is benefiting us.

Other examples of this might be human rights or freedom.  Prof. Yuval Noah Harari for example thinks that much like many religious ideas, human rights are an outdated myth.

Myths. We tend to think they’re a thing of the past, fabrications that early humans needed to believe in because their understanding of the world was so meagre. But what if modern civilisation were itself based on a set of myths? This is the big question posed by Professor Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which has become one of the most talked about bestsellers of recent years. In this exclusive appearance for Intelligence Squared, Harari will argue that all political orders are based on useful fictions which have allowed groups of humans, from ancient Mesopotamia through to the Roman empire and modern capitalist societies, to cooperate in numbers far beyond the scope of any other species.

To give an example, Hammurabi, the great ruler of ancient Babylon, and the US founding fathers both created well-functioning societies. Hammurabi’s was based on hierarchy, with the king at the top and the slaves at the bottom, while the Americans’ was based on freedom and equality between all citizens. Yet the idea of equality, Harari will claim, is as much a fiction as the idea that a king or rich nobleman is ‘better’ than a humble peasant. What made both of these societies work was the fact that within each of them everyone believed in the same set of imagined underlying principles. In a similar vein, money is a fiction that depends on the trust that we collectively put in it. The fact that it is a ‘myth’ has not impeded its usefulness. It has become the most universal and efficient system of mutual trust ever devised, allowing the development of global trade networks and sophisticated modern capitalism. (Source)

If indeed even the most modern human societies today believe in ideas that are literally false but are instrumental, is it our job to move past these myths too? Myths such as human rights and freedom?

I would actually say that the answer is yes.  Those who are aware of this, should bring it to the consciousness of the collective.  However, my personal approach (which has changed through the years) is that this should be done ‘wisely’ – that is, we should know our audience, we should know when to break myths and the consequences of that, and we should be aware that if we have not alternative to offer we may be causing more damage than good (at least in the short term).  This is more on an individual level of action.

But from a more meta vantage point, that aims to analyze how reality is likely to unfold rather then instruct how to act, I would say the process that would happen today is no different than the processes of the past (hey, I am sounding Si here.. what is this ><).  That is, the way it will likely unfold is that whatever myths – weather religious or more modern such as human rights – are still beneficial to society, they will persist as long as they haven’t finished serving their purpose.  People with more progressive views will continue to push those myths away, perhaps causing some short term damage, but ultimately leading to a healthier synthesis of integration.  And at every given point in history, even the most progressive thinkers will remain “religious” in the sense that they too will be unknowingly believing in fallacies that are serving instrumental values, until that society too will reach a higher level of consciousness and become aware of it.

  • This reply was modified 5 months ago by bella.

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