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Commentary/Bering: The folk psychology of souls

of ordinary people are not concerned with the morality of their combination of prior elements that evolved for different reasons.
descendents, and the early fathers of the church actually went Indeed, the evolution of prosocial behavior and moral feelings cer-
out of their way to eradicate such “pagan” beliefs. tainly does not require supernatural beliefs. A whole suite of
Those people who do believe in ancestors as some sort of moral prosocial cognitive mechanisms evolved in human beings. They
police are also very different from what Bering seems to assume. include for instance reputation-monitoring, whereby we construct
Such people are not concerned about what happens after their precise and dynamic databases about the reputational effects of
own death; what matters is what the souls of already dead own and others’ actual behavior, as well as inferred dispositions
people might do to them if they are displeased. This makes and character (Wojciszke et al. 1998); commitment signals that
Bering’s argument about the importance of the belief in evolved out of other forms of reliable, hard-to-fake signals and
intelligent design for one’s own behaviour irrelevant. And, even provide information about likely future behavior (Nesse 2000); a
then, ancestors are rarely concerned with maintaining a universal coalitional psychology that helps us maintain strong associations
morality; they are concerned with punishing or rewarding actions of non-kin and manage interaction with rival coalitions (Harcourt
which ensure their own selfish reproduction via their descen- & de Waal 1992; Kurzban & Leary 2001); in-group strong recipro-
dants. This interest in their own inclusive fitness is not particu- city whereby we suspend ordinary principles of exchange to create
larly altruistic and often overrides the interests of their own a domain of valued and selfless interaction (Gintis 2000); ethnic
descendants (Fortes 1959). The ethnographic record of beliefs signals that help maintain the boundaries of this domain (Kuran
in an afterlife therefore gives us a quite different picture to 1998); commitment gadgets that help us tie our own hands to
that suggested in the target article. force ourselves to behave non-opportunistically (Schelling 1960);
This is equally true of Bering’s characterisation of god-like super- and moral feelings that provide immediate, negative emotional
natural beings. The author seems to assume that supernaturals are rewards for opportunistic plans and thereby compensate the moti-
invariably on the side of good and against evil. This is to forget that vational effects of the discount curve (Frank 1988). All these
such creatures as devils and witches are on the side of evil. Even dispositions and processes evolved independently of supernatural
more commonly, supernaturals are represented as neither good and religious beliefs, operate in similar ways in people with or
nor evil, but as simply unconcerned with moral issues, though without such beliefs and regardless of differences in these
their very existence certainly is believed to cause trouble. This beliefs, and recruit different neuro-cognitive machinery from the
is the case, for example, of the nature spirits common in Africa, supernatural imagination (Boyer 2003b).
of the spirits of aborted foetuses in Japan, and of the ancestral So we seem to have plausible hypotheses for the independent
spirits of Amerindians. Similarly, there are many cases of development, cognitive implementation, and evolutionary history
supreme gods, such as the famous African otiose gods, who also of (a) beliefs in supernatural agents (including dead people) and
are characterised by indifference and arbitrariness (Forde 1954). (b) prosocial dispositions. This may help provide a parsimonious
“by-product” explanation of morally relevant dead agents.
If we accept the first part of Bering’s scenario, a set of cognitive
constraints lead us to construe dead people as intentional agents.
These constraints do not necessarily imply that the agents are
Prosocial aspects of afterlife beliefs: Maybe “interested parties” in our moral choices with “full-access” to
another by-product morally relevant information about us (Boyer 2001). But all
that is required to entertain concepts of such full-access agents
Pascal Boyer is an assumption that is already contained in many of our proso-
Departments of Psychology and Anthropology, Washington Unversity,
cial cognitive mechanisms. The dispositions listed above all carry
St. Louis, MO 63130. the assumption that information about our own behavior is not safely confined, that it may leak to other parties in unforeseen
ways, and that it is generally safe to assume in others more knowl-
Abstract: Bering argues that belief in posthumous intentional agency edge of our decisions than can be observed. This assumption
may confer added fitness via the inhibition of opportunistic behavior. itself is not terribly mysterious in origin. There is a cognitive
This is true only if these agents are interested parties in our moral cost in computing the extent to which others do not share infor-
choices, a feature which does not result from Bering’s imaginative mation that is manifest to us, which is why understanding false
constraint hypothesis and extends to supernatural agents other than belief takes children more time than understanding belief, and
dead people’s souls. A by-product model might handle this better.
can be impaired by a variety of pathologies, as well as attentional
Bering’s brilliant unpacking and explanation of afterlife beliefs load or altered states. So the assumption that others know what is
includes the claim that a disposition to such cognitive errors manifest to us is a default value of our intuitive psychology more
may confer greater fitness by motivating prosocial (and inhibiting than a special elaboration of it.
opportunistic) behaviors (sect. 2.4). Indeed, in most cultures, Given all these elements, it would seem that the notion of “full-
beliefs in dead agents are associated with moral feelings. access supernatural dead agents with moral interest” develops
However, the particular evolutionary argument offered here without much cognitive effort, as it only combines prior assump-
may not be the most parsimonious account of the evidence, tions, and has great inferential potential. In particular, it provides
because (a) people associate morality with their supernatural an explanatory context in which one’s own moral feelings, the
beliefs in many different ways, some of which do not mention outcome of implicit processes, may be readily explained. This
afterlife beliefs; and (b) more important, there is massive by-product scenario seems more parsimonious than the one
evidence for these very same prosocial attitudes and inhibitions offered in the target article.
outside of supernatural beliefs.
In some cultures people construe morality in terms of a code
given by the gods or a single god or ancestors or a specific cultural
hero; in other cultural environments they express moral norms in The principle of ontological commitment in
terms of similarity to the behavior of paragons such as heroes or pre- and postmortem multiple agent tracking
gods; in other places the norms derive from constant interaction
with spirits or gods or ancestors; and in many places people mix Nicolas J. Bullot
all three modes (Boyer 2001). This is a problem for Bering’s Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON L5L 1C6,
account. Such diversity suggests that the association between Canada.
morality and supernatural beliefs is rather ad hoc, perhaps best
seen as a relevant, attention-grabbing and inferentially powerful


for example. Whereas ing. soul as in “common-sense dualism” (Bloom 2004). (Characters in italicized and bold fonts are standing for proper names. it is usually still possible representations of psychological immortality and supernatural to trace and reach a’s remains or possessions (think about arche- agents.or empirically grounded reference. you may eventually find her and be communication and reasoning. about simulation. it is useful to distinguish perceptual tracking. This multiplicity becomes apparent when one considers ological investigations: a’s corpse is marked with perceivable how deeply the varied kinds of agent tracking depend upon the traits or scars that are historical vestiges. network (Donnellan 1974. the acquaintance. BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2006) 29:5 467 . different ontological commitments. If one accepts empirical realism. cognitive system) s uses to track a unique target intentional agent a are dependent upon the ontology that she (or it) ascribes implicitly or explicitly to a. As considered in the discussion of sortal concepts (Carey & Xu 2001.) In type both as perceivers and thinkers. traces left by him. cognitive system). 4). Evans [1982. This problem is relevant to the target article because it is some- times difficult to determine which kinds of agent-tracking beha- viors are discussed by the author. If f is a fictional character. 1999) capable of defining the survival of a person. An account of this multiplicity might propositions about a’s current properties via. for the characteristics of a fictional explicit understanding of the birth. ments that convey information about a’s mental states. This can be expressed by this Principle of the Ontological Commitment in Agent Tracking: The skill or method that a human subject (or a perceptual. Shoemaker 1959). 1984. in tional agent f such as Sherlock Holmes or a ghost. or (2) reference to a fictional immortal 2002. 1918. Clark [2000. 203]. track and refer to (1) living (1). Williams 1970) and biological criteria of the name “f” will end in a so-called “block” in the naming (Olson 1997) from psychological criteria (Parfit 1971. Kripke 1980. Olson 1997. Pylyshyn 2003. from epistemic tracking. 143– studying this fundamental question: How do human beings. or pursue over space and time a set of traceable grounded reference. Similarly the author seems to overlook the problem raised by the to the case of other kinds of individuals (Campbell 2002. These epistemic actions are not available ontology. both as perceivers and questions might have distinct answers in cultures that have thinkers.” you can search for that particular spatio-temporally pursued by indirect epistemic means such as individual. FPS). threaten the hypothesis that evolution has selected a unique demonstrative identification.) The author’s hypothesis is that the ontological commitment about the immortality of the soul of postmortem agents is the “default cognitive stance” selected by evolution. he nonetheless reference can be of at least two different types (see Fig. Rorty 1976. and bio- organized cognitive system dedicated to forming illusory metric measures. In type (2). and physical interactions with. persistence. (This dichot- Strawson 1959) and (2) the problem of personal identity omy is reminiscent of the distinction between knowledge by (Locke 1689/1975. Do they involve behaviors and beliefs relating to interactions with the tracked immortal soul? Do they involve beliefs about the possibility of localizing the soul? What are the purported characteristics of individual souls that guarantee their survival and traceability? What are the Figure 1 (Bullot). subjects are referring to a nonexisting fic- individuals. Even after a’s death. in a situation to perceive a’s organism and the surfaces/move- In several passages (e. this continued social the author alludes to existentialist philosophy. 1): (1) overlooks research in contemporary analytic philosophy about reference to.g. or intentional agent. pp. The dichotomy is Shoemaker 1959. Quine 1960. 18 – 20]. multiplicity of skills and methods used by human beings to Pylyshyn 2003). prosthetic perception. in which an individual is about an individual named “a. acquaintance and by description. subjects or cognitive systems performing tracking must possess information about some uniquely distinctive features of the tracked agent in order to direct their agent-tracking attitudes and actions appropriately.or fictionally follow up. To focus on a precise case: the author mentions the “continued Jesse Bering’s article addresses fascinating questions that social relationships with the dead” (sect. Perry 2001. para.. Wiggins 1997. track and refer to (1) living and dead intentional agents and evolved differently (Richerson & Boyd 2005) and are upholding (2) supernatural agents? The problem is discussed in the light of the principle of the ontological commitment in agent tracking. 2. 2003) actual and fictional agents. I would like to remark that even if the hypothesis were true. any search of the referent bodily (Thomson 1997. pp. see Russell [1912. Strawson [1959. Philosophers have distinguished depictions. Perry 2001). we would still have to account for multiple ontological commitments in agent tracking and multiple manners of referring to afterlife agency. When facing which a target individual is directly tracked by a sensory-motor type (1). which act as evidence multiple assumptions available about agents’ (purported) of events in a’s life). Hirsch 1982. By “ontology” I mean an implicit representation or an with fictional reference. if someone is heard having a discussion system. 130– 63] or Campbell [2002]. for example. existing material two relevant themes: (1) the problem of reference (Campbell traces of a dead agent. Merricks 2001. pp. 2001). and survival agent can only be known by means of descriptions or imaginary conditions of the tracked agent. Such a phrase certainly deserve to be studied in an interdisciplinary science is ambiguous with regard to ontological commitment and track- of the “Folk Psychology of Souls” (henceforth. perceptually tracking of a’s organism thus track (1) actual living and dead agents and (2) fictional mortal opens a wide range of epistemic possibilities. In frequent cases. Fundamental differences between tracking relationships between visual tracking (Pylyshyn 1989. Commentary/Bering: The folk psychology of souls Abstract: This commentary suggests that understanding the “Folk and living/dead agent tracking (Bullot & Rysiew 2005)? Can Psychology of Souls” requires studying a problem articulating ontology these relations be studied experimentally? Some of the previous with psychology: How do human beings. such as verifying and immortal agents. and dead intentional agents and (2) supernatural agents such subjects are referring either to an actual agent a or to the material as ghosts and gods? I name “tracking” the ability to trace. Understanding the FPS requires 1956]. the description. Parfit 1984. Evans 1982.

Similarly. for example. Tibetan families This analysis suggests a need for a functionally based taxonomy in which one man marries one woman have fewer surviving chil. and Atran and Norenzayan (2004) and others. “as Abstract: Religious beliefs. Cultural norms surround. whereas the New Testament Abstract: Cotard’s syndrome is a psychotic condition that includes God is more forgiving (but see Cohen et al. 51) suggested. both during life and after) might be more differences in mating strategies covary with resource distribution. AZ angele. Arizona State University. APHP. However. hunter-gatherers. 75013 Paris. or may view God as more punitive. If true. and to cheat on you). cal distribution of kin relative to self). because each type implies Certainly. 2003). Cohen. This pattern is also found in have very different complexes of supernatural beliefs and imagined other species. and geographi. This does not mean they are not individuals. however. In social groups including unrelated mitted. that even Roman Catholics (who belong to a reli- wealthy family reaps benefits. 2006). for example. more by Fundamentalist Protestants. and life is brutal and short. Université Pierre et Marie Curie. there are vastly Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.. common in societies in which people spend more time around Perhaps beliefs in a soul or afterlife are more common when resources non-relatives (who are more likely to punish your transgressions are unpredictable. a rare psychotic (emphasized less by Jews. one might suppose questions about whether variations in religious beliefs and prac. Cohen et al. we propose a novel direction for theorizing about belief in life after death. other people can’t be watching adaptations. can (or. There are likely pressures species also engage in polyandrous mating when resources are to maintain the belief systems intact as members migrate to new scarce. severely. or a California suburb. Perhaps beliefs in a soul or afterlife are more common when Adam B. with physical and social ecology. one would expect not to Religious beliefs. These variations correlate predictably souls. Hôpital Pitié- tion. (2) a generally rich environment so one tats. a belief in an omniscient God (who also metes out variations may be predictably linked to ecological variations. but multiple females only pairup with the village.Commentary/Bering: The folk psychology of souls essential for understanding the FPS. that exist in stable or resource-rich environment (or religions ogamy. Furthermore. vary across cultures. 2005). New Testament promoted a view of God as more forgiving. We wish to apply a similar analytic strategy to variations in belief in souls and the afterlife. Rather. But invisible. delusion of a supernatural nature. among others. Kenrick et al. Brothers in other with particular environmental factors. vary across cultures (Cohen & Hall. For example.kenrick@asu.consoli@psl. many also accepting polygyny. including those about an afterlife and omnis. access to mates. same male when that male controls a resource-rich territory and his neighbors have poorer territories (Orians 1969). offenses depending on whether they are from an Irish fishing ogamy and polygyny. Under these circumstances. on the other hand. For example. and a small percentage rooted in such environments) may be less prone to belief in permitting polyandry. If Department of Psychology.cohen@psl. which would not even support one beliefs of international religions originally emerged in interaction family if it were subdivided each generation. ghosts. Based on insights from recovered 468 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2006) 29:5 . CNRS FRE 2987 Cognition et different forms of belief in life after death. most people have predictable and sufficient dictable or scarce. We theorize that such Similarly. Such norms vary widely. which can be mapped onto a tax- dren than do families in which brothers pool their resources onomy of ecological variations to which human groups need to (Crook & Crook 1988). supernatural agents and variable environmental inputs (Kenrick 2006. including reincarna. It is sometimes claimed that the Old Testament God is more vengeful.aphp. you don’t know when they are and when they 2002). multiple women are particularly physical and social environments. If resources are unpre- yexin. It may 1988). belief in souls.” omniscient spiritual beings. France. p. Kenrick. whereas the more stable societal structure of the structure: e. even if she would have to share gion with strongly institutionalized checks on heretical thinking) her husband with other women. descriptive resources and individual/collective imagination. an evolutionary ecological perspective inspires are not). individuals Salpétrière. Regarding polygyny. brothers can pre. and so forth. depression some individuals have much stronger beliefs in an afterlife than David Cohen and Angèle Consoli others do (Cohen et al. According to this line of reasoning. and Yexin Jessica Li resources are unpredictable. find such beliefs as commonly in small groups of closely related cient spiritual beings. 2002).edu may be less need to regulate cooperation. (3) occasional famines so the beliefs will change (perhaps more rapidly) to reflect operation of poor face occasional danger of starvation (Crook & Crook context-triggered behavioral and cognitive mechanisms. a woman who joins a large be. such variations may be due to particular historical drastically different cognitive procedures: type (1) accesses a factors affecting the development of a particular religion or the realm of empirical and perceptual evidence that is ontologically learning history of a particular (Abramowitz et al. Bering has proposed Ecological variability and religious beliefs that belief in souls has a moral function. indigo buntings vary between mon. And within a religion. including those about an afterlife and long as there is poverty there will be gods. Religions with some societies and some religions sanctioning only mon. Douglas T. or may view God as more forgiving. By sharing one wife. because human behavior represents a continual you all the time to make sure you are not poaching others’ and dynamic interplay between flexible evolved mechanisms mates or stealing their food. just as punishment. supernatural agents may be more necessary: As Durant and Durant (1968. taking a closed to type (2) and type (2) accesses a realm which rests on cue from Bering. a Sicilian farming community. and life is brutal and short. Our analysis implies that the likely to marry one man when several conditions converge: (1) a group-level beliefs will change (perhaps slowly) to match new habi- steep social hierarchy. heaven and hell. Comportement. Religions that exist in harsh or unpredictable environments (or ing sexual liaisons (often centrally incorporated into religious religions rooted in such environments) may be more prone to beliefs) provide one illustrative case. Cohen & Hall. An ecological approach suggests that the traditional serve the family estate. status hierarchies. sub. and cultures vary in views of God as vengeful and punishing david. of religious beliefs and practices. It would be worth investigating whether variations in beliefs in afterlife or observant spirits are linked to recurrent variations in social or physical ecology. Different religions have very Production of supernatural beliefs during different emphases on the importance of belief in an afterlife Cotard’s syndrome. submitted). and that individual commitment to particular features of those family can accumulate vast wealth. that the variable and harsh desert culture in which the Old tices are adaptively keyed to variations in human physical and Testament is rooted promoted a view of God as harsh and social environments (ranging from food and shelter to social vindictive. douglas. at least. there adamcohen@asu.

committing to a radical form of mind-body dualism. among others. and (3) the symbolic meaning of natural events evolved in response to the unique selective pressures of the human social environment. he is also a specialist in the evolutionary motivation to construct such supernatural beliefs.e. believed to have ultimate repercussions after death or to reap the punishment of disgruntled ancestors?).50 453 . BERING JESSE JesseMBering/ Abstract: The present article examines how people’s belief in an afterlife. intelligent design. has focused his work on the psychological foun- specifically the role of death anxiety. Belfast BT7 1NN. 2002). Queen’s University this area have tended to focus on individual differences. death concept. Reader in the School History and Thalbourne 1996). ceptions of souls and the afterlife (see Bloom 2004). In the United absent if not for our species’ defining capacity to differ- States alone. one that is grounded in the tenets of Darwinian natural selection. trast. in a modification of the classic expectancy a dualistic view of the self as being initially contained in violation paradigm (which uses looking time as a measure bodily mass and as exiting or taking temporary leave of1 of nonverbal infants’ “surprise” at an event). each – at least implicitly – shares For example. intentionality. Keywords: causal reasoning. The central thesis of the present article is that an organized cognitive “system” dedicated to forming illusory representations of (1) psychological immortality. transgressions. bases of religion. tigations into the question of whether humans are resented as the conscious personality of the decedent “common sense dualists. Boyer 2001). (2004) positioned identical twin experimenters at (Bloom 2004. 95% of the population reportedly believes entiate unobservable minds from observable bodies in life after death (Greeley & Hout 1999..” work that seems to have impli- and the once animating force of the now inert physical cations for our understanding of people’s intuitive con- form (Thalbourne 1996). Alvarado et al. (2) the intelligent design of the self. as well as closely related supernatural beliefs. Many of the predominant questions of existential psychology strike at the heart of cognitive science. teleological reasoning. 1995. Introduction ever one’s personal motivations for rejecting or endorsing By stating that psychological states survive http://www. They involve: causal attribution (why is mortal behavior represented as being causally related to one’s afterlife? how are dead agents envisaged as communicating messages to the living?). may open an empirical backdoor to our understanding of the evolution of human social cognition.BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2006) 29. psychologists who study Anthropology Departments and Director of the Insti- tute of Cognition and Culture. Recent findings and logic from the cognitive sciences contribute to a novel theory of existential In qub. I thought so once. and all things show it. Belfast. different points in the laboratory to test 5-month-olds’ There is clear evidence showing that emotive factors can be powerful contributors to people’s belief in life after death (e. and now the strong cognitive bias to entertain belief in an immortal I know it. concept acquisition (how does a common-sense dualism interact with a formalized socio-religious indoctrination in childhood? how are supernatural properties of the dead conceptualized by young minds?). as Tomasello & Call 1997).ac. Although there are many var. Yet the ability to form any opinion on the matter would be this radicalism is especially common. theory of mind (how can we know what it is “like” to be dead? what social-cognitive strategies do people use to reason about the minds of the dead?). Lester et al. These more basic questions — John Gay. mental representation. (Povinelli & Bering 2002. ieties of afterlife beliefs. theory of mind Life is a jest. see death as a transitional event that unbuckles the Some researchers have already begun laboratory inves- ethereal self from its body.g. An experimental cogni- variety of “comfort hypotheses” involving the human tive scientist. i. one is the idea of an immaterial soul that can defy physical death.. Kuhlmeier the body at some point after the body’s expiration et al. folk biology. Dechesne et al. 2003. The soul is typically rep. Queen’s University Belfast.qub. soul (Astuti. The majority of people from other societies. 453 –498 Printed in the United States of America The folk psychology of souls Jesse M. Bering Institute of Cognition and Culture. Suddendorf & Whiten 2001. existential psychology. evolutionary theory. less is known about the basic components underlying # 2006 Cambridge University Press 0140-525X/06 $12. well. Epitaph concerning the cognitive architecture behind afterlife rep- resentations are also important pieces of the puzzle and will be explicitly addressed in the present article. What- 1. forthcoming a). United Kingdom. j.bering@qub. In general. moral judgment (why are certain social behaviors. and have posited a dations of supernatural belief. and teleological reasoning (why do people so often see their lives as being designed for a purpose that must be accomplished before they perish? how do various life events affect people’s interpretation of this purpose?).

not as a modular. past and the theoretical framing of the target article. and the related contention that suicide is an affront to God’s scheme. although it could be a dent of cultural variation (Livingston. including those in which our ancestors evolved. face-to-face societies with the precision tools of experimental science (for reviews. Clarifying the evolutionary model generalize cross-culturally.” Pyysiäinen finds tion should be adaptive. (“The weakest part of Bering’s contribution is precisely ing quarry. further emphasizing the adaptiveness of the cognitive Bering’s example of bereaved persons abortively telephoning system that underlies these beliefs. physical separation from significant others is/was more R1. rent theme in the so-called ethical religions. and some agents reward good behaviour and punish the wicked is a recur. of teleological authorship in Author’s Response the design of individual souls. their loved ones may best be understood in that context. a concern echoed in the intentions of other humans (among other useful applications). as Bainbridge so eloquently discusses in his com- with considerable difficulty. Shaky hands are to be expected presence of supernatural agents encourages prosocial behaviour and inhibits antisocial behaviour. and in the symbolic meaning of reinforcement may vary cross-culturally. Whitehouse 2004). detecting predators. It is not clear why such a predisposi. among From an anthropological viewpoint. This hypothesis. Bering’s arguments are highly significant and warrant careful attention in future cross. and of natural events as having symbolic meaning – formed an organized “system” at some point in recent human evolution as a result of the unique selective pressures operating in our The cognitive science of souls: Clarifications social environment. Belfast BT7 1NN. rather than violate the model’s core assumptions. Most of the thinking about significant others in absentia reinforces the commentators agree that beliefs in personal immortality. For example. Such intelligent design of souls. the cultivation of a reputation for acquisitive and aggressive behaviour. In modern natural events can provide new insight into human social complex in the illusion that they are still around after they have died. United Kingdom. Bering through a sort of abstract. addressed the evolutionary issues. Queen’s University Belfast. I placed the word “system” in scare and extensions of the evolutionary model quotes because I see these illusions as being connected Jesse M. peaceful cooperation and prosociality (Harrison 1993). forthcoming a). A readiness to interpret unusual occurrences as examples of religious belief systems that seemingly signs or portents initiated by supernatural agents.Response/Bering: The folk psychology of souls (a valuable start has been made by Harris & Giménez 2005 and Abstract: The commentaries are a promising sign that a research Astuti. nitively predisposed to think that they were called into existence to serve a divine plan. According to the majority of commentators who cultural research. In many Melanesian societies. I claimed that three basic cognitive mechanisms – those that produce illusions of personal immortality. Boyer The Good Citizen Hypothesis proposes that the presumed 2001. low rates of out-migration than in modern urban settings? see Atran & Norenzayan 2004.bering@qub. a similar fault with the target article’s evolutionary cast product of sign-reading capacities that evolved as an aid to track. Barrett 2000. programme on the cognitive science of souls will continue to The Absent Presence Hypothesis proposes that our habit of move toward empirical and theoretical rigor. have some bearing on the evolutionary history of a folk The Purposeful Life Hypothesis proposes that people are cog. In small-scale societies. In this response I clarify and extend the evolutionary on disembodied forms of communication to maintain contact. has been widely Johnson & Nyhof protest that “the Darwinian mechan- reported by ethnographers. highlighting theor- societies. In many response will be devoted to that topic. I http://www. This is a potentially Only in the past few years has the cognitive substratum of testable hypothesis. clarity and further attention to deviant cross-cultural tively driven. the ancestors are thought to incite homicidal behaviour part. Are accidental communication attempts religious and supernatural experience been penetrated by with the dead less frequent in for mentary. seeking greater cognitively predisposed to interpret happenings as communica. The idea that supernatural in these first attempts at scientific exploration. isms are left completely unspecified. as Bering’s evolutionary scheme proposes. task-specific system yielding static behaviours indepen- have never claimed that “religion is innate” (Bloch) or JesseMBering/ even that there exists “an evolved system dedicated to 486 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2006) 29:5 . however. trembling is also evident at places in the target article. close kin often live far apart. vituperative commentary by Hegdé & Johnson. the explanatory frame- work into which I have placed my research programme is flawed on several counts. and grasping the communicative his evolutionary speculations”). appears to be an etical points in the other commentaries whenever they effective strategy in accessing resources (including women). and I am very grateful to the commentators for offer- by systematically undermining more natural tendencies towards ing their expert hands to steady my own. The Meaningful World Hypothesis proposes that people are questioned my evolutionary model. at least among males. perhaps reflecting attitudes found mainly in highly individualistic cultural traditions of modern By far the most frequent criticism in the commentaries origin.qub. model. relying heavily evolution. Introduction limited in duration and the reality of their absence after death perhaps less easy (momentarily) to forget. reasoning about personal existence. To recount the original argument. psychology of souls. Pyysiäinen). may prove difficult to R2. but generalizes only But. picking up these tools to begin with is the hard instance. others. most of my present. conjunctive tissue that biases Institute of Cognition and Culture. as merely random and meaningless A Since the focus of most of the commentaries concerned broader question might be whether prosocial behaviour the evolutionary model and because this issue is central to enhances reproductive success in human qub.

differences associated with adaptations (see Tooby & Cosmides 1992.e.” Boyer. pp. and recruit Hood). clothing that have been in contact with representatives dently of supernatural and religious beliefs. “terrorist. These illusions obviates the adaptive utility of belief in supernatural involved seeing supernatural agent(s) as being emotionally observation or punishment. present in exclusive – in fact they are sister constructs. however. a single black mark can erode psychology of souls presents no difficulties for my an otherwise unbroken record of altruistic tendencies.” “paedo- a reputation maintenance function (Beit-Hallahmi. which have socially proscribed behaviours even in the absence of a heritability of zero. & Solomon [Greenberg et al.” “child abuser. Gjersoe & Hood). presumably those that R2.” “murderer. evolution should tes a social relationship between the self and supernatural favour the selection of multiple adaptive designs. often but not always associated punishment for an offence (Gold & Weiner 2000). On the contrary. The sociologist Erving Goffman (1963) no law in natural selection theory stating that there cannot noted that people who are wanted on criminal warrants be distinctly evolved mechanisms serving the same were once referred to as “having smallpox” and their crim- adaptive purpose. More. Although the negative affect associated through the occurrence of natural events and biographical BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2006) 29:5 487 . These with this experience may serve to discourage similar are oversimplifications. recently. shared adaptive problem or – at the very least – did not The folk psychology of souls (which at its core constitu- impede one another’s functioning. and as com- occurred. phile. are not mutually it should be canalized in modern humans. agents) would have helped our ancestors to censor selfish over. with heritable individual shame. exposure for certain behaviours would have had calami- Several commentaries discussed the role of shame in tous effects on reputation and. The folk psychology of souls provided adaptive illu- (Beit-Hallahmi.” to see the hazards of a publicly Sullivan. emotional aversion to physical objects such as “All these dispositions and processes evolved indepen. it is the emotional aftermath of transgression municating their attitudes and opinions about the self (Tangney 2003). solitary moral breach from the gene’s point This is a point elaborated by Boyer. Greenberg. contrary to the criticisms raised by Hegdé & decisions associated with others judging them as being Johnson. therefore. which serve how socially powerful are terms such as “rapist. Merely being seen delivered a cumulative. responses under recurrent challenging conditions.1 summarizing several alternative mechanisms that Nemoroff and Rozin’s (1994) findings of moral conta- promote prosocial behaviours in humans. particularly sions of watchful supernatural agents that helped to coun- how parents instill these feelings.g. Response/Bering: The folk psychology of souls afterlife beliefs” (Harris & Astuti. If this suite indeed comprises a shame may not be very effective at preventing the true psychological adaptation that motivated adaptive occurrence of a proscribed behaviour in the first place. none of which involve souls or supernatural of emotionally loaded words. The fact that there may be reputation maintenance use to guide their interactions with social others (e. even when they occur in private. tells us that. This was particularly the case in situations have emerged through a set of biases produced by where people were strongly tempted by selfish desires pre-existing structures. of course. is usually invested in the self’s existence. buffering effect in solving a with them could lead to arrest on suspicion. Shame.]). 122– 31).1.” “thief.. mechanisms other than those entailed by the folk Nowak & Sigmund 1998). with religious beliefs. evolutionary model “Words are wolves. an evolved folk psychology of souls meets essentially bad and/or morally undesirable (and therefore the important criterion of Darwinian conservativeness to avoid the negative reproductive consequences of this because the types of existential illusions generated would labelling). operate in of such derogated social categories) may be seen as evi- similar ways in people with or without such beliefs and dence of this type of negative essentialism (Gjersoe & regardless of differences in these beliefs. if these mechanisms inal disease was said to be catching. Ferrari. and may attenuate severity of cognitive building blocks. and that there are consequences for misdeeds and species-atypical conditions (Evans & Wellman). Although reputations are mostly cumulative and can perhaps be formulated as an image score that people R2. Ferrari. who. or. revealed. also Pyysiäinen). Miscalculating the odds of social neuro-cognitive reorganization. The importance of avoiding solitary incidents of would contribute to varying degrees of religiosity in serious transgressions must be emphasized modern humans.” according to Jean Genet. and implied that this teract these dangerous miscalculations. others would serve to advertise a personal commitment tural imagination.” “slut. As far as I am aware. Any public distancing from socially repudiated different neuro-cognitive machinery from the superna. Language Several commentaries suggested that my evolutionary would have enabled our ancestors to essentialize others model was flawed because there are other psychological into social category memberships through the heuristics mechanisms. after of view. The system that I have outlined and underestimated the likelihood of detection by other therefore would not have required any substantive in-group members. My evolutionary model identifies a suite of very basic Gilbert & McGuire 1998). there is gated individual. One need only consider agents or seeing signs in natural events. may effectively deter Hegdé & Johnson conflate adaptations. gion (i. But anyone with a normal cognitive profile (Flusberg & belief that one is under surveillance by supernatural Tager-Flusberg) who does not develop under extreme agents.” to in-group norms – that is. as sharing (or at least experienced after a social transgression has already understanding) the in-group’s moral values.2. then Shame and observability. that one is not like the dero- I do not see a conflict here. on genetic inhibiting normatively deviant or antisocial behaviours fitness. actions in the future (see Fessler & Haley 2003. Kosloff.” “racist. Gjersoe & Hood..

Natural events and biographical and evolutionary dynamics experiences were perceived as the “evidence” that such Although belief in supernatural observability has not yet supernatural agents were real (cf. a flurry of Cohen. general evolutionary theory I have offered. utionary framework. see Reynolds & Tanner Burnham & Hare.e. Why these adaptive who were led to believe that a ghost may be observing climates give rise to particular beliefs and not others is a them cheated less on a competitive task compared to question for evolutionary analysis. geo- (2005b) found that. And Malinowski (1935. Silke (2003) found syndrome. paramili. inflicted more serious injuries. for example. 1987. why would screen. we have in fact shown that participants who believe that they shall gain the conviction . (Gjersoe & Hood’s discussion difficult to understand. Experimental findings demonstrate social attributed to the gods. 2006. as well.. would involve a routine drawing of blood. 382). Bering & Johnson 2005. In Pettazzoni’s (1955) cross-cultural analysis of the types of attributes that are most frequently R2. sin. who ask. More recently. and were more likely symbolic interpretations of natural events can influence to threaten their victims after attacking them than parami. Bering et al. their “hearts and souls”). of all sectarian violence incidents reported in North.” Implicit be less altruistic.3. guilt. Kenrick. suffers supernatural retribution” (Sandin & Sather 1980. & Li [Cohen et al. Ellison et al. Such symbolic interpretations offer children a that warriors who hid their identities before going into very clear picture of what it is that their society does not battle were more likely to kill. Greenberg et al. keeping their thumbs on Zimbardo 1969). participants graphic areas.” attacked more people. We need not look at exotic cultures to see how collective committed more acts of vandalism. ecology” (also Whitehouse. Numerous laboratory experiments the study of past religions. xxviii). even when artificial. unconsciously primes prosocial linked to recurrent variations in social or physical behaviours in human participants (Bateson et al. viii) wrote that “from loss of inner restraints. found that people made more ary model under these (ecologically dynamic) terms may altruistic decisions in a task involving allocation of scarce put into context the striking cultural diversity associated resources even when the “witness” was simply an image with the moral dimension of supernatural beliefs. though he may appear to profit temporarily. Burnham and this important question. answering this question would potentially be were reported by Haley and Fessler (2005). one recurrent and defining charac- sensitivity to being observed teristic is the gods’ deep knowing of people as unique Beliefs in watchful supernatural agents appear to militate individuals (i. see also Colwell et al. which I knew but who did not hide their faces. structuring the present evolution- Hare (in press). may be interpretable within this evol. As an eight-year-old. Rehm et al. Wedekind & Braithwaite 2002). and the devil. 1976. [. The commentaries reveal a wide variety of religious Finally. Milinski 1995). I was panic- litary members who were implicated in sectarian violence stricken that an upcoming doctor’s visit. For of a robot with large human-like eyes. punishment. for example. as discussed in the target article. Cross-cultural variability. 1995. and historical settings. primitive and developed. models of religion. .] ask whether recent studies have also provided evidence that ambient “variations in beliefs in afterlife or observant spirits are gaze. but this is due to the embryonic of Titchener’s classic unseen gaze findings. that every religion implies are making decisions under anonymous conditions tend to some reward of virtue and the punishment of sin. more aggressive.Response/Bering: The folk psychology of souls experiences (Bering 2002b. . Building on experimental economic games. the ethnographic literature does either in this life or in the hereafter. and more punitive than here is the assumption that supernatural agents who dole those who believe that their identities are known (e. when left alone in a room.. I agree that such variation is in reputation management. Although we do not yet have the data to answer et al. p. Haley & Fessler 2005. Bullot) and were been targeted as a key research question in evolutionary capable of punishing and rewarding social behaviours. collective symbolic interpretations Real-world findings provide complementary evidence of disease and misfortune may serve to enculturate chil- that perceptions of anonymity are positively correlated dren into specific moral environments (environments that with antisocial behaviours. supernatural beliefs. mutilate. For example. Watson (1973) discovered factors). and observe private behaviours. individuals within the group. In a cross-cultural analysis of are themselves products of specific ecological and social warfare practices. . even tion to as individuals” (Festinger et al.g. beliefs that appear uniquely tied to specific cultures. and torture than condone. 1952. which the authors interpreted as evidence that these beliefs be so varied across cultures and so subtle cues concerning observability factor prominently complex?” At the moment. where people stage of data gathering in this area.] first syphilis then AIDS symbolized the amalgam of tary members who wore masks during their offences flesh. from a study capable of addressing the sceptical query posed by in which participants behaved more generously on a com.. 2002. just as Cohen et al. cultural significance dominates biographical experiences ern Ireland over a two-year period (1994 – 1996). In their fascinating description of Cotard’s those who did not. R2. In Borneo.4. “If immortality beliefs were puterized task when stylized eyespots were present on the a simple default by-product of cognition. those who did not receive this supernatural prime. ultimately Festinger and his colleagues described how deindividua. sexuality. moral development. not to any serious limit- believe they can “feel” when others are looking at them ations of the simulation constraint hypothesis or the behind their backs. Similar results example. reason. against the psychological state of deindividuation. Cohen & Consoli write that “collective and that. or escapes punishment for his crimes. tion is strongly associated with social disinhibition and p. would publicly 488 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2006) 29:5 . p. which the Iban believe that “anyone who successfully cheats occurs whenever “individuals are not seen or paid atten. suggest that such beliefs feature prominently in most religious systems. 2000). in press. out moralistic consequences are believed also to survey Diener et al. Johnson & Bering 2006). another. .

I have posited a general evolutionary impacted by a spoiled public identity because of a theory that can act as such. Whitehouse). What is unique about human sociality is that anybody where they were unlikely to be punctured by scientific who witnesses a social event is a carrier of strategic infor. a social dissident. I was naı̈ve to the medical hear the news.) And. see May 2000 for stigma effects on Wellman. This is especially evident room.5. exclusion.” that I collapsed in the waiting of human social evolution. who lived in small-scale a position to advance a detailed evolutionary argument gossipy societies of only 120 to 150 individuals (Dunbar until a “more rigorous methodology” is developed – a & Spoors 1995).3 eses and offering an interpretive lens through which to Notice that inclusive fitness is also likely to be negatively view the findings. ment. Other peoples’ symbolic interpretation of this disease was enough to teach me that something in R2. the very basis of all criminal may not be as salient in industrialized societies today as justice systems. These inclusive R2. . concludes his theologically traded in for long-term reputation gains. p. among well- minds. that punishment will come. in principle. human or supernatural. In the environment of evolutionary adapt- task that will require massive interdisciplinary collabora. facts about how people contracted the HIV-virus. when one considers the relatively low degree of privacy Although I agree with Pyysiäinen that we are not in afforded to our ancestors. for example. cal authorship of the soul. “Information about person A study of man must begin in God. teleologi- victimization to these naı̈ve third parties through declara. or until some authority hears the news. “Seeing” therefore took on new meaning for identified in the target article are not recognized as illu- human beings. they were in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness. in fact. as castigation. introduced a genuinely novel adaptive problem defender of his community’s values than as apathetic or as in human sociality – that of absent third-party punish. however. Absent third-party punishment is a uniquely fitness issues concerning the effects of reputation on bio- human adaptive problem logical kin also mean. group expulsion. that effectively mana- ging reputation is a more pressing evolutionary problem Gjersoe & Hood comment that “many social animals also than mitigating existential anxieties through symbolic show behavioural inhibition and prosocial behaviour immortality (Greenberg et al. the calamitous effects a mired reputation could have on stood that many saw AIDS as a moral condemnation of the actor’s genetic fitness (through punitive tactics such gay men. the presence of nearly any watchful AIDS was inconsequential for this cultural illusion to agent. short-term selfish gains were Sandelands. as a crucible for weighing com.” Given knew that AIDS could be detected in blood. the biases tances. E. sanguineous bias. But what literature can be understood in these terms. even if person B and C do not care. a decision that can be understood within fitness- related terms. I had such antici. and symbolic natural events) tive language.” This is not in debate. absent third-party punishment is any punishment that is administered by a person (or persons) who were not present at the time of the offence. specifically as God’s culling of homosexuals. something recog. in fact. better for his mind.. non-adaptationist hypotheses. many of the without necessitating a specialized cognitive mechanism extensive findings from the Terror Management Theory for a belief in souls. cing behavioural decision-making. This means that third-party punish- ment does not necessarily end at death. It is impossible to overstate how strongly the third-party patory anxiety about the social consequences of being punishment problem would have influenced the course labelled a “homosexual. If one is these commentators overlook is the fact that theory of reminded of his own inevitable death. This is. educated and scientifically literate people.). became capable of influen- impact on my decision not to divulge my sexual orien. given these sions and continue to have deep emotional resonance. edness.. and so true: Our species like any other must be understood on . Mealey 1995). paths in modern societies. or until enough people is just another slave to human genes. but I perhaps weeks later. I also under. social cognitive verities. BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2006) 29:5 489 . In short. . it may not be within the parameters of the modern synthesis and God until person Z hears the news. Response/Bering: The folk psychology of souls identify me as a homosexual. but who R3. “a full and true Johnson (2005. According to inspired commentary by stating that. or Whether I personally saw such a moralistic message in even execution). murderers’ relatives).” (In some sense this is could propagate via person B to person C. Hughes. stigma attached to the biological kin of peting. and the concomitant emergence of declarative family members’ genes that he go out as a staunch. Selective pressures for solutions to the adaptive my blood would expose me as being essentially bad.6. the individual whose reputation is impugned through nized by several commentators (Cohen et al. 414). mation who can then transmit that information to other Even in modern scientific nations. ostracism. D. Indeed. no matter how informal. moreover. individuals would have been unable to easily emi- tion – it is unclear to me how one could ever begin to grate to new social groups and to “start over” if they spoilt construct such a methodology without first having a their reputation in their natal group (a strategy of socio- general evolutionary theory capable of generating hypoth. reliable language. Human beings are able to they are in opposition to behaviour) mentally represent an absent third-party’s state of ignor- ance about the unobserved event and are strategically It is important to understand that the three existential illu- motivated – and emotionally driven – to disclose their sions identified in the target article (immortality. the only species for which. over great spans of time and geographical dis.2 tation. Evans & transgression (e.g. knowledge or discouraged through cultural secularization. problem were intense worthy of being shunned – and. Propositional beliefs about the supernatural learned about the offence through a second-hand source do not always cause behaviour (and sometimes (Fehr & Fischbacher 2004).

Harris & Astuti question whether belief in the monster (Harris et al. whispering in the most godless of scien. not only in developmental psychology. At the end of their commentary. psychological adaptation. particularly in the area of theory of supernatural beliefs from a scientific perspective we mind. and children who say they don’t believe in mon. obviously they developmental model that delineates the ages at which can occur alongside one another (e. Global secularization cannot extirpate a true psychological adaptation Beit-Hallahmi writes that. These commentators tell us that God were constrained by a human attention span recent findings on children’s afterlife beliefs have failed (Barrett & Keil 1996). cognitive factors that lend themselves so seamlessly to The best research designs in the cognitive science of the existential illusions highlighted in the article. and I believe Moreover. some people who believe that to replicate the pattern reported by Bering and Bjorklund the mind stops at death nevertheless reason about a (2004. For example. be possible to detect intentionality themes in atheists’ tors of behaviour. that this trajectory will be borne out. 2005a.” and so on).) For example. “it was a ‘life lesson. a targeted attempt at systematically revealing the social tural dispositions. but as a potential home. This is not to say that prop. absent.g.. and those who ositional beliefs about religion and the supernatural are view such events as redemptive episodes (where the frequently epiphenomenal. which may still pump-prime beha. character includes words like “priest” and “God”).1. No research in this area is urgently needed.’ ” “it wasn’t supposed to happen. moralistic message from God appear in childhood. dark shadow over their biographies). afterlife is in fact a default cognitive stance. Innate psychological biases with regard to the supernatural (and the behaviours they generate) It appears that the little we do know about the develop- reveal themselves most clearly when they directly con. others who consider themselves to by the religious context of the experimenters’ questions be materialists refuse to sign a contract relinquishing (with children being more likely to endorse psychological their souls at death to an experimenter (Haidt et al.” This is certainly true. developmentalists have for decades been exploring tists’ ears. In this case. also Bering et al.. On the religion are those that are able to pry apart unconscious contrary.Response/Bering: The folk psychology of souls even in recognizing them as illusions we fail to sever their Similarly. Subbotsky the three existential illusions (immortality. ment of a folk psychology of souls is contradictory. There- sters shy away from a box they are told contains a fore. Contradictory findings on the development lying cognitive constraints that motivate others to think of children’s afterlife beliefs in this fashion. We do not yet have enough data to were probably not naı̈ve to the fact that they were construct such a model and therefore developmental caused by earthquakes on the Indian Ocean floor.” But this “god-of-the. then it should be empirically viour – the level at which natural selection operates. first. but rather they are more prop. Developmental considerations process means that we no longer interpret misfortune as caused by supernatural agents. 1991). such a targeted research programme is strikingly reasoning from explicit or “theologically correct” reli. although difficult at the time. teleological 2001). It may (and perhaps phenomenal states) than as accurate predic. self-narratives through the use of such paradigms (e. the argument that scientific or secular expla. Gimenez’s (2005) findings suggest that afterlife beliefs scientific theorizers are wary of magical incantations increase with age rather than decrease and are moderated (Subbotsky 2001). Evans & Wellman argue that. immortality” as described by Ferrari is therefore of questionable countenance. if the folk psychology of souls is a true emotional underlay. Socrates’ “idea of the subdisciplines of experimental psychology. To test Evans & nations “replace” more naı̈ve or irrational supernatural Wellman’s prediction. Gjersoe & related questions about children’s distinction between Hood correctly point out that in order to understand the mind and body. as tradict stated beliefs. but in all gious beliefs (see Barrett 2000). since this “reasoned con- clusion” would be heavily influenced by the same under- R4. (2001) findings from narrative psychology suggest that owner I certainly would feel uncomfortable living in a people tend to fall into one of two categories: those house where a stranger has recently died. even in atheists. I detectable. 490 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2006) 29:5 . “if Bering’s selectionist gaps” hypothesis has now been disconfirmed in social explanation was on target then one might predict a psychology experiments (see Weeks & Lupfer [2000] unique and relatively robust developmental trajectory. functioning after death when information about the dead 2004). Harris and dead person as if he still has thoughts (Bering 2002a). event. and symbolic natural events) East Asia as an angry. Although matter how culturally secularized we become. Theologians who saw the recent tsunamis of authorship of the soul.1. those who believe discussed in the commentaries by Evans & Wellman God can do everything at once actually reason as if and Harris & Astuti. regardless of input. R3. to have an accurate explanations is intuitively unpersuasive. was responsible erly viewed as rough indices of unconscious reasoning for a positive redirection of their life course). McAdam’s do not believe in the afterlife. for an account of distal-proximal attributions to God). it who view personal misfortunes as contaminative epi- is my eerie feelings and not my belief or disbelief in the sodes in their life stories (where the event permanently afterlife that would be a better predictor of whether I disrupted an otherwise positive life course and cast a make an offer on the house. this “abundant research” (Estes) hardly constitutes must first acknowledge and recognize our own superna.g. God Ferrari and Estes are right to point out that cognitive pokes through. we need. For example. “The global secularization R4.

and ghosts poses R4.” rather than empirically grounded referents. gramme on identity tracking.3. Young children in our study often hinges on a series of studies revealing that participants BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2006) 29:5 491 . Furthermore. such language was an important manipulated compares to gods and ghosts.1. Response/Bering: The folk psychology of souls R4. To begin they were nevertheless reasoning in terms of an afterlife with. & Rips were coded on the basis of children’s follow-up answers to [Newman et al. Blok. Some “contradictory” findings may answered “no” to the initial questions about the dead not be contradictory agent’s continued capacities (“Can Brown Mouse still This conflicting pattern of developmental findings. Evans & Wellman children’s “no” answers in this way. cedure. Barrett and Behne’s study. Bullot reasons. them at face value as evidence of an understanding of the in contrast to my findings.g. a fictional character that Bullot In contrast. In perceptual tracking. because both types of tracking liberated from the body at death. “because it’s too dark in the alligator’s belly”). I have argued. is difficult to interpret at present. four. The investigators Giménez study were seven-year-olds. activating similar epis- because we were wary of biasing children’s answers temic tracking mechanisms. the central research questions motivating these (e. Our data In a related commentary. the coding procedures used to determine whether children attributed continued psychological func- R5. however. represented as God’s “behaviours. Again. It is therefore study did not attribute psychological states to dead impossible to know whether the findings these authors agents. but instead concerned they argue. the dead animal. such as behavioural residue (e. with religious testimony and cultural exposure species has an innate predisposition to see natural events encouraging such beliefs. it is difficult to as actual empirical traces of real supernatural agents. if belief in the afterlife is a cognitive default. then chology of souls. but upon further questioning it became clear that however. “which rest on own research programme on the development of afterlife descriptive resources and individual/collective imagin- beliefs reveals a set of findings that in many ways contra. dead remapping mechanism. see?”). whereas our most reasoned that this is an adaptive function in that it prevents robust findings for afterlife beliefs came from the three- unnecessary vigilance toward the bodies of dead animals and four-year-olds we tested.2. of agent-tracking mechanisms that he believes weighs ment that belief in the afterlife is a cognitive default. however. concluding that my argu- We reasoned that a “no” response is inherently ambiguous ment for a specialized cognitive system dedicated to and should not be seen as clear evidence for non-continuity reasoning about souls lacks parsimony. epistemic tracking occurs when an should answer “no” to questions about the bodies of agent “is spatio-temporally pursued by indirect epistemic dead animals (notice the key word “it” in the questions means such as communication and reasoning. It compare findings across these studies. finger- prints). Pre- dicts the developmental trajectory reported by Bering sumably this would be evidence of the cultural origins of and Bjorklund (2004).and five-year-olds in this non-functionality of the capacity in question. as tigate children’s afterlife beliefs.” In contrast. or at least tells a more complicated supernatural agents.. That is. children were asked five questions about the dead versus sleeping R5. peoples’ intuitive hypotheses of his ontological existence. other studies on children’s concepts of death are very Harris and Giménez (as well as Astuti & Harris [submitted] different from my own (as well as from each other) and and Barrett & Behne [2005]) failed to operationalize the methodologies vary accordingly. the present case of souls.” In the study by Barrett and Behne (2005). Finally.] describe their fascinating research pro- the questions rather than their initial yes or no response. that our story. did not inves. Individuation equals ensoulment tioning to a dead agent meaningfully differed between our studies and those described by Harris & Astuti. report is a product of the religious context of the story. Newman. providing the basis of our through the cue-driven activation of an innate “living/ nativist claims. Harris & Astuti state that their terized as fictionally grounded referents. the youngest children in the Harris and ing animals in the physical environment.g. is hardly prima facie evidence against my argu. but “yes” in reference to the sleeping for example. We deliberately follows from this that natural events serve the same func- avoided eschatological language in our research design tion as tractable social behaviours. or is in fact an artefact of their coding pro- children’s ability to differentiate between dead and sleep. provides a distinction between two types animal. Bullot theoretical inferences reasons that ghosts and gods should therefore be charac- Like Evans & Wellman.. “a we would actually predict the pattern of findings reported target individual is directly tracked by a sensory-motor by Barrett and Behne (2005).” It is unclear to me guards we used to protect against such biases (Hughes). An infinite array of life’s through the experimenters’ language and behaviours. preschoolers is system.” posed to children) if indeed they view the mind as being According to Bullot. ation. Cognitive processes underlying the folk animal: Can it move? Know you were there? Move if psychology of souls touched? Can it be afraid? Can it hurt you? The fact Several of the commentaries focused on the precise mech- that the youngest children answered “no” in reference to anisms by which existential illusions are generated. instead they took cite work by Barrett and Behne (2005) as evidence that. Bullot. could leave similar empirical variable for both Harris and Giménez (2005) and Astuti and perceptible traces that are capable of confirming and Harris (submitted). Methodological concerns presently limit an important problem for the evolutionary model. This conclusion judgements after death. how Sherlock Holmes. gods. vicissitudes strewn throughout personal biographies is and in fact our empirical reports list many of the safe. however. In heavily on the theoretical integrity of an evolved folk psy- fact. require empirical or material traces of the agents’ ontologi- cal existence.

literally.. The Internet. The commentaries in response to the target article are all Bloch’s sardonic comments about the ecological validity that a Behavioral and Brain Sciences author could wish of the mouse puppet show paradigm (i. reacts with muted horror emotions. “Thus. with a straint hypothesis (Antony. Kemmerer & Gupta. seem to provide at least indirect support for the simulation www. When we hard to see why this would be such an exquisite torture. people. there you are” takes chology of souls.Response/Bering: The folk psychology of souls believe in the continued psychological existence of not In his thoughtful commentary. “belief in the persistence of individ. The char- ological boundary prevents people from experiencing the acters’ eyelids are paralyzed. after a long historical period when people and what it is “like” for those who have already died – we may have been able to emigrate to new social groups and to “start over” if they spoilt their reputation. and references to important work of which I was the animating effects of individuating target “characters” unaware. as well as Kemmerer & Gupta’s discussion of the from “Googling” ourselves and peers to flaming bad professors neurobiological basis of out-of-body-experiences. disallowing them even the luxury of absence of certain categories of mental states. par- ticipants may be reasoning about such objects through an animistic lens. ing the origins of afterlife beliefs.” It is not tational borders encourage afterlife beliefs. cameras. faced by our ancestors. but can be authorship of our own actions is epiphenomenal). and divorce records (to name just a few potentially sciously wills the body to act (when in fact this feeling of sundry tidbits). telephones. and certainly not in terms of a propositional fact that by individuating the target objects in this belief about an afterlife – to attempt to reason about the manner (e. chicken-and-egg reasoning. “all those eyes intent on me. the present media inevitably get ensnared by simulation constraints and since some such belief or assump- uals through radical changes in kind is not restricted tion is a precondition for the planning and running of any to persons and need not include the notion of a soul” such and stingy customers (e.2.]). more accurately reflects the conditions reason in terms of a continued consciousness.” There is probably some truth to Antony’s (para 8). Hester Prynne. With newspapers. billions of other agree that this is an important component of the folk psy. and the Internet at our disposal. Because we can never know what it eternity. I claimed that a delimiting phenomen.. 492 BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2006) 29:5 . reason that belief in the soul stems in television. He is also convinced that he is under surveillance by feels like to be without such states. a specific car. their own mental states. 2005a) similarly dismisses ments. an otherwise virtuous Several commentaries focused on the simulation con. If children are con- portive of my evolutionary model rather than as falsify. which runs con- placed in a robotic body). through proper naming) they may be dead person’s current state of mind through appeal to doing something akin to ensouling inanimate objects.g. But that is still identified as “Rustbucket” after going through a already is to assume an afterlife. room. but it is unclear to me why he I interpret these findings very differently from these sees this as a problem for my nativist arguments concern- commentators. From background checks to match making services. rather than an alternative account. “it matic transformations (e. sleep is not permitted. & Jack. Antony reasons that in only individual people after dramatic transformations order to “run a simulation” of a dead person’s mind. and various episteme (the most to the prospect of being constantly observed by the others for all “ethereal” qualia). “It “particle pipeline” and reconfigured into a boat). Preston. from anonymous web site browsing to piracy and identity theft. however. and see them as generally sup. Bering & for. in effect viewing them as possessing souls. Devouring me.ratemyprofessor. there are no mirrors or windows in the of this hypothesis.g. criminal and finan- that the self is a sort of abstract homunculus that con. Garcin. Cohen & ogy. is an active microcosm of human sociality that has not yet been properly analyzed in Darwinian Consoli’s description of Cotard’s syndrome as being terms. counterargu- Bjorklund 2004.. spending activities. informed cognitive analysis of the subtle strands that bind together morality. in some ways. Gray. desires. cial history. but also the continued identity trary to this nativist position on the illusion of immortality. NOTES 1. The simulation constraint hypothesis The Scarlet Letter. demons.” He then writes. attempt to reason about what it will be “like” after death – 3. our belief in an afterlife.. is publicly labelled an “adulteress” (literally. they need not ing my hypotheses about the folk psychology of souls “assume an afterlife” – at least in any meaningful concep- (see also Nichols). souls. The old adage “Wherever you go. one (such as someone who has died or whose memories are must already have a belief in the afterlife. are not only permanently archived. the Internet is ancient social psychol- constraint hypothesis. “Prior to simulating a dead agent’s mind. This is the literary device behind Nathaniel Hawthorne’s R5. Through the experimental individuation of objects. personal details large part from the illusion of conscious will. fronted with someone who has died. but I see it as a refinement to the present on new meaning in light of the evolution of information technol- model. the feeling about medical problems.g. they are R6. and the light is always on.e.” he argues. miss the critical tual sense.” follows that nothing about a simulation itself can explain argue Newman et al. Bering et al.bitterwaitress. do (e. and meaning. All of these undoubtedly will add to a more in an experimental context. Cohen & Consoli. such as blinking. in which three strangers find themselves uncomfortably together in a Wegner [Preston et al.. To revisit the central thesis drawing-room of Hell.. Newman et al. Preston et al. of individual objects that have undergone similarly dra. & 2. these natural represen. ogy meeting new information technology. characterized by the delusion that one is already dead. In Sartre’s famous play “No Exit” (1946/1989). Robbins capital “A”) and shunned by her small Puritan community. One of the characters. woman. I distributed in microseconds to. in particular. Concluding remarks likely to tacitly endow these objects with psychological states. Interestingly. www. They are filled with incisive criticisms. As a consequence of this. “Rustbucket” must be assumed there is a mind to simulate.g.

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