Innate Metaphysical Belief

The Development of Children’s Prelife Reasoning: Evidence From Two Cultures, by Natalie A. Emmons and Deborah Kelemen at Boston University. (That one costs money.  Here’s a free author copy.)  Here’s the abstract:

Two studies investigated children’s reasoning about their mental and bodily states during the time prior to biological conception—“prelife.” By exploring prelife beliefs in 5- to 12-year-olds (N = 283) from two distinct cultures (urban Ecuadorians, rural indigenous Shuar), the studies aimed to uncover children’s untutored intuitions about the essential features of persons. Results showed that with age, children judged fewer mental and bodily states to be functional during prelife. However, children from both cultures continued to privilege the functionality of certain mental states (i.e., emotions, desires) relative to bodily states (i.e., biological, psychobiological, perceptual states). Results converge with afterlife research and suggest that there is an unlearned cognitive tendency to view emotions and desires as the eternal core of personhood.

It strikes me that the source of metaphysical belief is both natural and a consequence of systemic enteroceptive-proprioceptive (EP) feedback. If that’s the case, then the only effective escape from belief in the supernatural is the same reasoning process that enforces a regimen of experiencing things beyond our selves. That means a regular embedding in science, including conversations with scientifically minded people. And it has to be actual science, not scientistic fanboism. If a person has any hope of swimming upstream against the continual onslaught of this EP feedback, constantly telling us that “I” is fundamental, we have to present our ideas for criticism, criticize others’ ideas, and participate in experiments.


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