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Author Topic:   Do Animals Believe In Supernatural Beings?
New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 83 of 373 (595469)
12-08-2010 5:24 PM
Reply to: Message 81 by Straggler
12-08-2010 4:12 PM


Re: Calling All Reasonable Potential Participants
Now about Message 70 or Message 7
Does anyone have anything constructive to say about the topic?
Its hard to say one way or the other...
I don't know how alike our psychologies are well enough to say that a chimp thinking his dance can affect the weather is a supernatural belief.
I think I'm leaning on the side of humans being the only animals (alive today) with enough higher cognitive function to develop beliefs in supernatural stuffs. Although, other pre-human homos probably did have it.
Some of the behaviors you brought up do look similiar to behaviors of humans with supernatural beliefs, but then we do have a tendency to anthropomorphize when looking at behaviors that are already somewhat human-like, so I don't think we can say either way if they're having supernatural beliefs or not.
And the title sucks... Even if we do determine that these animals are showing supernatural beliefs (i.e. that a certain dance affects the weather), that isn't really telling us anything about whether or not they believe in supernatural beings.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 81 by Straggler, posted 12-08-2010 4:12 PM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 90 by Straggler, posted 12-09-2010 8:17 AM New Cat's Eye has not replied

New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 153 of 373 (599807)
01-10-2011 5:43 PM
Reply to: Message 150 by Straggler
01-10-2011 12:58 PM


Re: On belief in supernatural beings in animals
However we can, and indeed do, legitimately infer all sorts of motivations for various non-homo-sapien behaviours based on other forms of evidence such as archaeological findings or direct and detailed observation of interactions.
An example of this would be most helpful.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 150 by Straggler, posted 01-10-2011 12:58 PM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 155 by Straggler, posted 01-11-2011 11:44 AM New Cat's Eye has replied

New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 158 of 373 (599881)
01-11-2011 12:16 PM
Reply to: Message 155 by Straggler
01-11-2011 11:44 AM


some progress
However we can, and indeed do, legitimately infer all sorts of motivations for various non-homo-sapien behaviours based on other forms of evidence such as archaeological findings or direct and detailed observation of interactions.
An example of this would be most helpful.
Self awareness.
Okay, I'm with you so far. Self awareness is a motivation we've infered from direct and detailed observation of interactions with various non-homo-sapien behaviors. I'm aware of the "Self Awareness Test".
How do we test for religious beliefs?
How do we determine motivations from archaelogical findings?
I'm aware of Neandertal burial sites and the religious motivations inferred from those. But what about non-homos? We got anything there?

This message is a reply to:
 Message 155 by Straggler, posted 01-11-2011 11:44 AM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 159 by Straggler, posted 01-11-2011 12:49 PM New Cat's Eye has replied

New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 163 of 373 (599901)
01-11-2011 2:17 PM
Reply to: Message 159 by Straggler
01-11-2011 12:49 PM


Re: some progress
"Test for" is probably a bit too definitive given the speculative nature of this topic.
Then should you be calling it a legitimate inferrance?
As AdminMod put it this topic poses the question: "What evidence might look like and try to resolve one way or another what we can say we know about this topic."
I think the burial rituals of the Neandertals are good evidence for religious beliefs.
As I said, I think religious beleifs require higher cognitive functions. Evidence of things like culture and art would show higher cognitive functions. Irrational and/or totally pointless stuff would suggest it too. Like your monkey rain dance, or dolphins making those bubble rings.
But to infer religious beliefs we need to know what they are thinking. For other homos, its safe to assume they'd think something along the lines of how we think. The further we get from us, the less we can guess as to what they might be thinking.
Obviously, direct linguistic communication would be the best way for that. Without it, we can't really get a clue as to what they'd be thinking so were not really gonna be able to have much evidence for the religious beliefs.
My complaint with jar's position is that he denies that there even can be evidence for such things pertaining to any other non-homo-sapien species such as Neanderthals, Australopithecus etc. purely because we cannot linguistically communicate with them.
Looks like its all semantic misunderstandings to me...

This message is a reply to:
 Message 159 by Straggler, posted 01-11-2011 12:49 PM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 168 by Straggler, posted 01-17-2011 2:52 PM New Cat's Eye has replied

New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 176 of 373 (601031)
01-18-2011 11:55 AM
Reply to: Message 168 by Straggler
01-17-2011 2:52 PM


Re: some progress
No disagreement there. I think we must limit any inferences made on the basis of comparison to human behaviour to those species that display self-awareness and sentience. Primarily apes. Maybe possibly elephants, dolphins and other creatures displaying "higher" cognitive functions.
But do they have high enough cognitive function to have religious beliefs?
I'm not convinced that any of those do.
From Message 167:
If we observed a chimp colony which had constructed what appeared to be a "shrine" of some sort and to which they displayed significant reverence including such acts as leaving food after thunderstorms could we reasonably infer religious behaviours and associated sorts of beliefs on the basis of comparison with humans?
I would say yes - This would be a reasonable inference.
I don't really think it is.
We don't know enough about the way they think to warrant that comparison with humans. I suppose we could "categorize" that behavior as religious. But what, really, would that tell us about what they are believing? Anything reasonable?

This message is a reply to:
 Message 168 by Straggler, posted 01-17-2011 2:52 PM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 177 by jar, posted 01-18-2011 12:04 PM New Cat's Eye has replied
 Message 182 by Straggler, posted 01-19-2011 2:50 PM New Cat's Eye has replied

New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 178 of 373 (601036)
01-18-2011 12:09 PM
Reply to: Message 177 by jar
01-18-2011 12:04 PM


Re: some progress
How would it be much different than the shrines Bower Birds make and maintain?
I can see those as being strictly instinctual and a product of sexual selection.
More complex behaviors that were harder to explain with simply instinct, and that seemed to require some higher cognitive function I would more easily categorize as religious behavior. Especially if they seemed "pointless" in an evolutionary aspect.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 177 by jar, posted 01-18-2011 12:04 PM jar has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 179 by jar, posted 01-18-2011 12:31 PM New Cat's Eye has replied

New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 180 of 373 (601046)
01-18-2011 12:41 PM
Reply to: Message 179 by jar
01-18-2011 12:31 PM


Re: some progress
I can agree that we might look at actions and say that they seem pointless from an evolutionary aspect, but the jump from that to "must be religious" seems to be stretching it.
Yeah, I wouldn't say they must be, but if someone wanted to categorize them as such, I wouldn't have a problem with the behaviors as being descried as religious. Including your elephant bone fondling (lulz).
I was reminded of this:

This message is a reply to:
 Message 179 by jar, posted 01-18-2011 12:31 PM jar has seen this message but not replied

New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 183 of 373 (601282)
01-19-2011 4:07 PM
Reply to: Message 182 by Straggler
01-19-2011 2:50 PM


Re: Inferring Motivations
I don't know for sure. How much cognitive function does one need?
Enough for communcation in the form of some kind of "language" of sorts. Holding abstract concepts in the mind for consideration would be fairly important.
Humans' religious beliefs take the form of complex statements in their language that they might ponder over for years even.
It seems chimps in particular are capable of greater cognitive functions than most people allow for.
Especially the ones raised in a 'learning lab'...
Don't you think wild chimps would have less going on in their minds? Don't you think Koko has a lot more going on in her mind than your average gorilla?
If Koko showed signs of religious belief, would you extend that to a general statement of 'Gorillas having religious beliefs'?
At what point down the evolutionary tree does such behaviour stop being legitimately comparable to human behaviour in terms of inferring the same motivations?
I don't think it'd be very far down at all. Hell, it might not even make the first step if we want to call it legitimate.
We infer self-awareness in apes based on the same tests we give humans. Why is that justified if we cannot make reasonable assumptions about beliefs? Is not self-awareness the belief that "I exist" as opposed to simply reacting to ones environment?
I don't think that the self-awareness test legitimately suggests a belief that "I exist". Plus, with this being the sole point of comparison, I don't know how much we can say about the other yet-to-be-revealed comparisons with human behavior and how they'd effect the legitimacy of the inferrences you'd have us be making from them.
Do you have any more examples?

This message is a reply to:
 Message 182 by Straggler, posted 01-19-2011 2:50 PM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 186 by Straggler, posted 01-20-2011 11:53 AM New Cat's Eye has replied

New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 188 of 373 (601436)
01-20-2011 12:49 PM
Reply to: Message 186 by Straggler
01-20-2011 11:53 AM


Re: Inferring Motivations
Is it reasonable to conclude that the cognitive functions of a chimp are comparable to that of 2/3 year old humans?
How many 2/3 year old humans believe in Santa Claus? Can 2/3 year old humans invent their own imaginary beings?
There is a difference, though, in that 2-3 year old humans have, and are aquiring, complex language abilities that chimps lack*. Even further, when a 3 y/o says "I believe in Santa", how much thought and belief are they actually holding as opposed to simply parroting a phrase that they haven't really put much stock into? Or, they could simply be acknowledging that they understand that the big fat guy in a red suit is tied to the concept of Santa and everything they've seen so far suggests that he does actually exist; I wouldn't put this on the same level as an educated adult forming a complicated opinion taking the for of a "religious belief" - which is what I tend to imagine with that phrase.
A very simple - funny noise in closet = a boogieman - being an "imaginary being" isn't really what I would call religious beliefs, unless you want to include 'superstition' as religious belief?
* added during review: I think the development of the brain along with the acquisition of language together is extremely important to the higher cognitive functions that would be required to form religious beliefs so I doubt you'd see religious beliefs in feral children and I expect more fantastical behavior in those "Learning Lab Apes" than wild ones. Though I still think non-human primates lack enough brain development and language acquisition to be capable of religious beliefs.
If "cognitive function" is our criteria I guess we need to think more about what that means and if we need to be more specific about what aspects of cognition are most important to this question.
Yeah, okay... go on
This is a fascinating link regarding experiments done to compare the proclivity of chimps and human children to blindly imitate.
I don't think you can legitamately infer thoughts and beliefs from imitation behaviors.
Somethings not right there; I don't see no text
CS writes:
If Koko showed signs of religious belief, would you extend that to a general statement of 'Gorillas having religious beliefs'?
Not at all. But it would show that non-human self-aware animals displaying complex emotions are capable of displaying such beliefs would it not?
Yeah, assuming the signs of religious belief were shown.
It depends what degree of fantasticality in my speculations you are willing to entertain.
Lets say we developed a colony of australopithecus in some sort of "Jurassic Park" DNA extraction type scenario. If they started exhibiting the sorts of behaviour that we associate with religiosity in humans would that point to evidence of such beliefs in non-humans?
Regardless of the example, somehow we're going to have to get across the boarder between behavior and belief.
If the Austrys had a decent language ability, and looked like they were discussing and thinking about things, and they were behaving like humans do when they have religious beliefs, then I think you could legitamately infer that they too had religious beliefs.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 186 by Straggler, posted 01-20-2011 11:53 AM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 189 by Straggler, posted 01-20-2011 3:41 PM New Cat's Eye has replied

New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 190 of 373 (601454)
01-20-2011 4:23 PM
Reply to: Message 189 by Straggler
01-20-2011 3:41 PM


Re: Inferring Motivations
Yet you agree that the "burial rituals of the Neandertals are good evidence for religious beliefs". Message 163
How did you jump from evidenced behaviour to inferring belief in that case?
By assuming they think like we do...
two paragraphs down from what you quoted:
quote:
But to infer religious beliefs we need to know what they are thinking. For other homos, its safe to assume they'd think something along the lines of how we think. The further we get from us, the less we can guess as to what they might be thinking.
The link (which you couldn't get to) said the following regarding propensity for imitation:
I'm not seeing the relevance.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 189 by Straggler, posted 01-20-2011 3:41 PM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 193 by Straggler, posted 01-21-2011 1:26 PM New Cat's Eye has replied

New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 192 of 373 (601459)
01-20-2011 5:13 PM
Reply to: Message 191 by onifre
01-20-2011 5:05 PM


Hey at least you tried a high-five and not give me the double pistol with your hands hello.
Not a double, but oh well

This message is a reply to:
 Message 191 by onifre, posted 01-20-2011 5:05 PM onifre has not replied

New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 195 of 373 (601567)
01-21-2011 2:21 PM
Reply to: Message 193 by Straggler
01-21-2011 1:26 PM


Re: Inferring Motivations
So if linguistic ability is our criteria we again face a less than blatant distinction between chimps and young children.
I disagree.
A chimp learning that certain hand configurations correspond to certain items or actions is not the same as a human developing verbal language during brain development.
We think in language and our beliefs are conceptualized as stings of words. I don't think that a chimp's sign language abilities would allow them to form those unspoken words into an abstract concept that can be called a religious belief.
Yes - That the thought processes are comparable in some way. This is necessary to infer anything from behaviourial comparisons and seems to be the cause of conflict in this thread. Where is the "border" between that which we can legitimately ascribe known motivations to human-like behaviours and that which we cannot?
I would put a fairly hard line just past the genus Homo, with the further back you go and closer to that line you get, the less we can assume that they think like us... and I'd probably put it on a logarithmic scale.
For example you are happy to accord Neanderthals and Australopithecus with such abilities but consider there a "border" between us and chimps.
Actually, I wouldn't grant the Austrys what was needed for my conditional statement, so I'm not happy to accord them such abilities.
But if the graduated nature of evolution teaches us anything is it not that these "borders" are extensively blurred and significantly overlapping?
Yeah.
Still though, I think language is key to religious belief, or any abstract thinking really.
What is the lowest cognitive ability class of human we would ascribe religious beliefs to?
Does this overlap at all with the highest cognitive ability class of non-human (e.g. chimp) we know of?
Im still leaning towards my hard line at the genus Homo. I don't think there'd be enough overlap to infer religious beliefs in chimps.
CS writes:
unless you want to include 'superstition' as religious belief?
In this context I think that is appropriate. If you want to point out that this isn't religious belief per se and denounce the thread title on that basis I won't disagree with you.
I'd rather just stay on the same page... I tend to think of "religious belief" as being more than a simple superstition, but if we'd rather think of this in terms of simple superstitions, then I can do that.
Still, for chimps, I just don't think they have the ability to form the complex abstract thoughts that would be require to hold a superstition.
If we broadened the definition of superstition to the point where it contains the kinds of thoughts that I think chimps are capable of, then I think it loses any value as being something to be compared to modern humans' superstitions and/or religious beliefs.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 193 by Straggler, posted 01-21-2011 1:26 PM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 196 by Straggler, posted 01-21-2011 2:45 PM New Cat's Eye has replied

New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 197 of 373 (601575)
01-21-2011 3:17 PM
Reply to: Message 196 by Straggler
01-21-2011 2:45 PM


Re: Inferring Motivations
What about a human mute physically incapable of verbal communication at the age of 2 - Is that comparable?
Deaf would probably be better as the mute could still have good language skills even thought they couldn't talk.
I just did a bit of Googling on deaf child development and they do have consideral problems.
How do you react to the claim by some scientists that chimpanzees are members of the genus homo?
I don't think they should be included in Homo, and if they should, then I guess I'd have to move my line. **shrugs**
Then where do young children stand in relation to the ability to abstract reason and what is the known evidence regarding apes and their ability to abstractly reason?
For children, there seems to be a critical period during brain development where language acquisition is best fit. I don't have a link off the tips of my fingers, but I think I've read that the acquisition of language also has a big impact on the brain development. I'd say that you'd have to be after that critical period before you had any reasonable ability to abstract reason.
Since we do our thinking in our language, I don't think that apes' thinking is anything caparable to ours because they don't have a language to think in. Ergo, they don't have much of any ability for abstract reason.
There still seems to be an "obviously comparable to human" and an "obvioulsy NOT comparable to human" bias going on here.
Where does that "border" lie?
Whether they have enough language developed to string together thoughts into abstract reasoning.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 196 by Straggler, posted 01-21-2011 2:45 PM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 200 by Straggler, posted 01-24-2011 1:37 PM New Cat's Eye has replied

New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 201 of 373 (601829)
01-24-2011 2:30 PM
Reply to: Message 200 by Straggler
01-24-2011 1:37 PM


Re: Inferring Motivations
CS writes:
I just did a bit of Googling on deaf child development and they do have consideral problems.
Apparently not if their parents are also deaf and are capable signers.
Because they're developing language. It does make me wonder how their abstract thoughts are organized when not by audible words.
CS writes:
I don't think they should be included in Homo, and if they should, then I guess I'd have to move my line. **shrugs**
Move your line on what basis?
On the basis of not everyone included in Homo being close enough to humans to assume they think like we do.
If I remember correctly there are a couple of intriguing case studies of humans who have been denied language acquisition (for whatever reason) but have still been able to demonstrate considerable ability to think abstractly.
I'll look them up.
I'd read 'em...
Is your criteria of language acquisition in this context based on the idea that without language abstract thought is impossible?
I won't claim impossibility, but yeah, pretty much.
Abstract thikning does use language.
quote:
Abstract concepts elicit greater activity in the inferior frontal gyrus and middle temporal gyrus compared to concrete concepts,...
...
These results suggest greater engagement of the verbal system for processing of abstract concepts...
What role do you think language is essential for with regard to holding superstitious beliefs?
Generally, for abstraction.
quote:
Abstraction uses a strategy of simplification, wherein formerly concrete details are left ambiguous, vague, or undefined; thus effective communication about things in the abstract requires an intuitive or common experience between the communicator and the communication recipient.
I.e. language.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 200 by Straggler, posted 01-24-2011 1:37 PM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 204 by Straggler, posted 01-25-2011 8:27 AM New Cat's Eye has replied

New Cat's Eye
Inactive Member


Message 205 of 373 (601963)
01-25-2011 10:33 AM
Reply to: Message 204 by Straggler
01-25-2011 8:27 AM


Re: Inferring Motivations
CS writes:
It does make me wonder how their abstract thoughts are organized when not by audible words.
Why do they have to be audible? Anyway - The perfectly normal cognitive abilities of those born deaf into already signing households refutes this.
I'm not saying they have to... I said I wonder how it works otherwise. I'd guess it'd be more visualizing words that they've read, rather than "saying" them in their head.
Do you have any ideas on how abstract thinking could work without language? (anybody?)
Well how similar do they have to be?
Enough to have language.
Your line seems pretty arbitrarily placed. You move it to wherever your incredulity demands.
My disingenuous alarm is going off.... Must I restate my entire position?
I think religious belief requires abstract thought and abstract thought requires language. The line is drawn on the basis that other homos would be close enough to humans to have language. Chimps do not have language. If you move chimps into homos, then not all the homos would be close enough to have language so the line must be moved.
I haven't looked these up yet. So what ones were you thinking of?
Huh? I wasn't thinking of them.
So chimps are incapable of abstract thought as far as you are concerned? As are pre-lingual infants?
Yes.
And those brain damaged adults who have lost linguistic ability?
Depends on what you mean by "lost"... whether the brain has lost the function or if just the mouth has. Obviously, the latter would still be capable.
Firstly you seem to be conflating an ability to think abstractly with an ability to communicate abstract thoughts to another being. They are not necessarily the same thing are they?
No, not necessarily. But an isolated man with no language abilities wouldn't be able to come up with something that I'd readily call a "religious belief".
How would the thoughts even be structured?
Secondly why does communication of abstraction have to be linguistic?
I don't suppose it does, but that's the way it is. Any ideas on how it could be otherwise?

This message is a reply to:
 Message 204 by Straggler, posted 01-25-2011 8:27 AM Straggler has replied

Replies to this message:
 Message 206 by Jon, posted 01-25-2011 12:43 PM New Cat's Eye has replied
 Message 209 by Straggler, posted 01-25-2011 1:13 PM New Cat's Eye has replied

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