The Reasoner's Library
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Breaking the spell: religion as a natural phenomenon
Daniel C. Dennett

Part 1 Opening Pandora's Box:    Breaking which spell?    Some questions about science    Why good things happen
Part 2 The evolution of religion:    The roots of religion    Religion, the early days    The evolution of stewardship    The invention of team spirit    Belief in belief
Part 3 Religion today:    Toward a buyer's guide to religions    Morality and religion    Now what do we do?
Appendices:    The new replicators    Some more questions about science    The bellboy and the lady named Tuck    Kim Philby as a real case of indeterminacy of radical interpretation


Let me begin with an obvious fact: I am an American author, and this book is addressed in the first place to American readers.    I shared drafts of this book with many readers, and most of my non-American readers found this fact not just obvious but distracting - even objectionable in some cases.    Couldn't I make the book less provincial in outlook?    Shouldn't I strive, as a philosopher, for the most universal target audience I could muster?    No.    Not in this case, and my non-American readers should consider what they can learn about the situation in American from what they find in this book.    More compelling to me than the reaction of my non-American readers was the fact that so few of my American readers had any inkling of this bias - or, if they did, they didn't object.    That is a pattern to ponder.    It is commonly observed - both in America and abroad - that American is strikingly different from other First World nations in its attitudes to religion, and this book is, among other things, a sounding device intended to measure the depths of those differences.    I decided I had to express the emphases found here if I was to have any hope of reaching my intended audience: the curious and conscientious citizens of my native land - as many as possible, not just the academics.    (I saw no point in preaching to the choir.)    This is an experiment, a departure from my aims in earlier books, and those who are disoriented or disappointed by the departure now know that I had my reasons, good or bad.    Of course I may have missed my target.    We shall see.

My focus on America is deliberate; when it comes to contemporary religion, on the other hand, my focus on Christianity first, and Islam and Judaism next, is unintended but unavoidable: I simply do not know enough about other religions to write with any confidence about them.    Perhaps I should have devoted several more years to study before writing this book, but since the urgency of the message was borne in on me again and again by current events, I had to settle for the perspectives I managed to achieve so far.


Religion, the early days    (Chapter Five)

1.    Too many agents: competition for rehearsal space

I might repeat to myself slowly and soothingly, a list of quotations beautiful from minds profound - if I can remember any of the damn things.
        ---Dorothy Parker


What start as useful luxuries that give you an edge in a fast-moving world have a way of evolving into necessities.    Today, we all wonder how we could live without our telephones, our driver's licenses, our credit cards, our computers.    So it once was with language, and the intentional stance.    What started as a Good Trick rapidly became a practical necessity of human life, as our ancestors became more and more social, more and more linguistic.    And, as already noted for the simpler case of the HADD, there is the possibility of too much of a good thing.    The continued experience fo the presence of departed acquaintances as ghosts is not the only overshooting of the intentional stance in teh lives of our ancestors.    The practice of overattributing intentions to moving things in the environment is called animism, literally giving a soul (Latin, anima) to the mover.    People who lovingly cajole their cranky automobiles or curse at their computers are exhibiting fossil traces of animism.    They probably don't take their own speech acts entirely seriously, but are just indulging in something that makes them feel better.    The fact that it does tend to make them feel better, and is apparently indulged in by people of every culture, suggests how deeply rooted in human biology is the urge to treat things - especially frustrating things - as agents with beliefs and desires.    But if our bouts of animism today tend to be ironic and attenuated, there was a time when the desire of the river to flow to the sea, and the benign or evil intent of the rain clouds, were taken so literally and seriously that they could become a matter of life or death - for instance, to those poor souls who were sacrificed to appease the insatiable desires of the rain god.

Simple forms of what we might call practical animism are arguably not mistakes at all, but extremely useful ways of keeping track of the tendencies of designed things, living or artifactual.    The gardener who tries to discover what her different flowers and vegetables prefer, or tricks a dogwood branch into thinking it's spring and opening its buds by bringing it indoors, where it is warm, doesn't have to go overboard and wonder what her petunias are day-dreaming about.    Even undesigned physical systems can sometimes be usefully described in intentional or animistic terms: the river doesn't literally want to return to the ocean, but water seeks its own level, as they say, and lightning searches for the best path to the ground.    It is not surprising that the attempt to explain patterns discerned in the world has often hit upon animism as a good - actually predictive - approximation of some unimaginably complex underlying phenomenon.

But sometimes the tactic of seeking an intentional-stance perspective comes up dry.    Much as our ancestors would have loved to predict the weather by figuring out what it wanted and what beliefs it harbored about them, it simply didn't work.    It no doubt often seemed to work, however.    Every now and then the rain dances were rewarded by rain.    What would the effect be?    Many years ago, the behaviourist psychologist B. F. Skinner (1948) showed a striking "superstition" effect in pigeons that were put on a random schedule of reinforcement.    Every so often, no matter what the pigeon was doing at the moment, a click and a food-pellet reward were delivered.    Soon the pigeons put on this random schedule were doing elaborate "dances", bobbing and whirling and craning their necks.    It's hard to resist putting a soliloquy into these birds' brains: "Now, let's see: the last time I got the reward, I'd just spun around once and craned my neck.    Let's try it again....    Nope, no reward.    Perhaps I didn't spin enough.....    Nope.    Perhaps I should bob once before spinning and craning....    YESSS!    Ok, now, what did I just do?..."    You don't have to have language, of course, to be vulnerable to such enticing illusions.    The soliloquy dramatizes the dynamics that produce the effect, which doesn't require conscious reflection, just reinforcement.    But in a species that does represent both itself and other agents to itself, the effect can be multiplied.    If such a strikingly extravagant behavioural effect can be produced in pigeons by making them wander into a random-reinforcement trap, it is not hard to believe that similar effects could be inculcated by happy accident in our ancestors, whose built-in love for the intentional stance would tend to encourage them to add invisible agents or other homunculi to be the secret puppeteers behind the perplexing phenomena.    Clouds certainly don't look like agents with beliefs and desires, so it is no doubt natural to suppose that they are indeed inert and passive things being manipulated by hidden agents that do look like agents: rain gods and cloud gods and the like - if only we could see them.

This curiously paradoxical idea - something invisible that looks like a person (has a head, eyes, arms and legs, perhaps wears a special helmet) - is different from other self-contradictory combinations.    Consider the idea of a box that has no interior space to put things in, or a liquid that isn't wet.    To put it crudely, these ideas are not interesting enough to be puzzling for very long.    Some nonsense is more attention-grabbing than other nonsense.    Why?    Just because our memories are not indifferent to the content of what they store.    Some things we find more memorable than others, and some things are so interesting that they are well nigh unforgettable, and still others, such as the random string of words "volunteers trainer regardless court exercise" (pulled by me "at random" from the first newspaper story I could lay my hands on just now), could be remembered for more than a few seconds only if you either deliberately repeated it to yourself dozens of times or made up some interesting story that somehow made sense of these words in just this sequence.

We are all painfully aware today that our attention is a limited commodity with many competitors vying for more than their share.    This information overload, with advertisements bombarding us on all sides, plus a host of other distractions, is nothing new; we've just become self-conscious about it, now that there are thousands of people who specialize in designing novel attention-grabbers and attention-holders.    We - and, indeed, all animate species - have always had to have filters and biases built into our nervous systems to screen the passing show for things worth hanging onto, and these filters favor certain sorts of exceptions or anomalies.    Pascal Boyer (2001) calls these exceptions counterintuitive, but he means this in a rather circumscribed technical sense:    counterintuitive anomalies are especially attention-worthy and memorable if they violate just one or two of the basic default assumptions about a fundamental category like person or plant or tool.    Concoctions that aren't readily classifiable at all because they are too nonsensical can't hold their own in the competition for attention, and concoctions that are too bland are just not interesting enough.    An invisible ax with no handle and a spherical head is just irritating nonsense, an ax made of cheese is a bit titillating (there are conceptual artists who make a good living coming up with such japes), but a talking ax - ah, now we've got something to hold the attention!

Put these two ideas together - a hyperactive agent-seeking bias and a weakness for certain sorts of memorable combos - and you get a kind of fiction-generating contraption.    Every time something puzzling happens, it triggers a sort of curiosity startle, a "Who's there?" response that starts churning out "hypotheses" of sorts:    "Maybe it's Sam, maybe it's a wolf, maybe it's a falling branch, maybe it's...a tree that can walk - hey, maybe it's a tree that can walk!"    We can suppose that this process almost never generates anything with any staying power - millions or billions of little stretches of fantasy that almost instantly evaporate beyond recall until, one day, one happens to occur at just the right moment, with just the right sort of zing, to get rehearsed not just once and not just twice, but many times.    A lineage of ideas - the walking-tree lineage - is born.    Everytime the initiator's mind is led to review the curious idea, not deliberately but just idly, the idea gets a little stronger - in the sense of a little more likely to occur in the initiator's mind again.    And again.    It has a little self-replicative power, a little more self-replicative power than the other fantasies it competes with for time in the brain.    It is not yet a meme, an item that escapes an individual mind and spreads through human culture, but it is a good proto-meme: a slightly obsessional - that is, oft-recurring, oft-rehearsed - little hobbyhorse of an idea.

(Evolution is all about processes that almost never happen.    Every birth in every lineage is a potential speciation event, but speciation almost never happens, not once in a million births.    Mutation in DNA almost never happens - not once in a trillion copyings - but evolution depends on it.    Take the set of infrequent accidents - things that almost never happen - and sort them into the happy accidents, the neutral accidents, and the fatal accidents; amplify the effects of the happy accidents - which happens automatically when you have replication and competition - and you get evolution.)

Would-be memeticists often ignore the fact that part of the "life" cycle of a meme is its moment-to-moment competition with other ideas - not just other memes, but every other idea anybody can think about - within a host brain.    Rehearsal, deliberate or involuntary, is replication.    We can try to make something a meme - or just a memory - by rehearsing it deliberately (a phone number, a rule to follow), or, if we just let "nature takes its course", our innate brain biases will automatically churn out rehearsal of the things that tickle them.    This is probably the source, in fact, of episodic memory, our ability to recollect events in our lives.    What did you have for breakfast on your last birthday?    You probably can't remember.    What did you wear at your wedding?    You probably can remember, because you've gone over it many times, before, during, and since the wedding.    Unlike computer memory, which is an equal-opportunity storehouse that can readily record whatever is thrown into it, human brain memory is both competitive and biased.    It has been designed by eons of evolution to remember some sorts of things more readily than others.    It does this in part by differential rehearsal, dwelling on what is vital and tending to discard the trivia after a single pass.    It does a pretty good job, keying on features that happen to have lined up with what tended to be vital in the past.    Good advice to a potential meme is: if you want lots of rehearsals (replications), try to look important!

Human memory is biased in favor of vital combinations, but so, presumably, is the memory found in the brains of all other animals.    Animal memory has probably been relatively impervious to fantasy, however, for a simple reason: lacking language, animal brains have not had a way of inundating themselves with an explosion of combinations not found in the natural environment.    How is an anxious ape going to concoct the counterintuitive combination of a walking tree or an invisible banana - ideas that might indeed captivate an ape mind if only they could be presented to it?

Do we know that something like this fantasy-generation process has been taking place in our species (and our species alone) for thousands of years?    No, but it is a serious possibility to investigate further.    Using only materials that would have been put in place by evolution for other purposes, this hypothesis could explain the remarkably fertile imagination that must somehow be responsible for the world's menagerie of mythical creatures and demons.    Since the monsters themselves have never existed, they had to be "invented", either deliberately or inadvertently (the way languages were invented).    They are expensive creations, and the R & D required for the task had to be generated by something that could pay for itself.    I've left the hypothesis quite unspecific for the moment, but more constrained forms of it are available, and they have the great advantage of having testable consequences.    We can start scouring the world's mythology for patterns that would be predicted by some versions of the hypothesis but not others.

And we don't have to restrict ourselves to the human species.    Experiments along the lines of Skinner's provocation of superstition in the pigoen might begin to uncover the biases and fault lines in ape memory mechanisms, in much the way Niko Tinbergen's experiments with gulls (1948, 1959) famously showed their perceptual biases.    The adult female gull has an orange spot on her beak, at which her chicks instinctually peck, to stimulate the female to regurgitate and feed them.    Tinbergen showed that chicks would peck even more readily at exaggerated cardboard models of the orange spot, so-called supernormal stimuli.    Pascal Boyer (2001) notes that, over the eons, human beings have discovered and exploited their own supernormal stimuli:

There is no human society without some musical tradition.    Although the traditions are very different, some principles can be found everywhere.    For instance, musical sounds are always closer to pure sound than to noise.... To exaggerate a little, what you get from musical sounds are super-vowels (the pure frequencies as opposed to the mixed ones that define ordinary vowels) and pure consonants (produced by rhythmic instruments and the attack of most instruments).    These properties make music an intensified form of sound-experience from which the cortex receives purified and therefore intense doses of what usually activates it.... This phenomenon is not unique to music.    Humans everywhere also fill their environments with artifacts that over-stimulate their visual cortex, for instance by providing pure saturated color instead of the dull browns and greens of their familiar environments.... In the same way, our visual system is sensitive to symmetries in objects.    Bilateral symmetry in particular is quite important; when two sides of an animal or person look the same it means that they are facing you, a relevant feature of interaction with people but also with prey and predators.    Again, you cannot find a human group where people do not produce visual gadgets with such symmetrical arrangements, from the simplest makeup or hairdressing techniques to textile patterns and interior decoration.

Why don't other species have art?    once again, the answer that suggests itself - which does not mean that it is proven but only that it may well be provable - is that, lacking language, they lack the tools for creating surrogate stimulus combinations and hence they lack the perspective that permits exploration of the combinatorics of their own senses.    Using acute observation and trial and error, Tinbergen cleverly devised the supernormal stimuli that enticed his birds (and other animals) into a host of bizarre behaviours.    No doubt animals do on occasion trap themselves by inadvertently discovering a supernormal stimulus in nature and letting it do its thing on them, but what would they do next?    Do it again if it felt good, but the generation of diversity on which true design exploration depends would probably not be possible for them.

To sum up the story so far: The memorable nymphs and fairies and goblins and demons that crowd the mythologies of every people are the imaginative offspring fo a hyperactive habit of finding agency wherever anything puzzles or frightens us.    This mindlessly generates a vast overpopulation of agent-ideas, most of which are too stupid to hold our attention for an instant; only a well-designed few make it through the rehearsal tournament, mutating and improving as they go.    The ones that get shared and remembered are the souped-up winners of billions of competitions for rehearsal time in the brains of our ancestors.    This is not a new idea, of course, just a clarification and extension of an idea that has been around for generations.    As Darwin himself surmised:

....the belief in unseen or spiritual agencies....seems to be almost universal....nor is it difficult to comprehend how it arose.    As soon as the important faculties of the imagination, wonder, and curiosity, together with some power of reasoning, had become partially developed, man would naturally have craved to understand what was passing around him, and have vaguely speculated on his own existence.

So far so good, but what we have accounted for is superstition, not religion.    Hunting for elves in the garden or the bogeyman under your bed is not (yet) having a religion.

What is missing?    For one thing, belief!    For, although Darwin speaks of belief in spiritual entities, we have not yet provided an account that secures anything so strong as that.    Nothing has yet been said about having to believe the hobbyhorse idea that keeps recycling through your mind; it may be a hunch, or a wonder, or even an obsessively disbelieved little nugget of paranoia - or just a captivating morsel of story line.    Nobody has ever believed in Cinderella or Little Red Riding Hood, but their fairy talkes have been quite faithfully transmitted (with mutations) over many generations.    Many fairy tales make up for not being true stories by having a moral, which gives them an apparent value - to the tellers and hearers - that makes up for their not being information about the wide world.    Others conspicuously lack a moral - just what does "Goldilocks" teach our children: not to invade strangers' houses? - and must persisst in the transmission tournament for less obvious reasons.    As is usual in evolutionary circumstances, a gradual ramp of intermediate states of mind is there to be traversed, from shuddering doubt (are there really wicked witches in the woods?) and neutral fascination (a flying carpet - just imagine!) through nagging uncertainty (unicorns? well, I've never seen one) and on to robust convictions (Satan is as real as that horse over there).    Fascination is enough to power rehearsal and replication.    Almost everybody has a good strong copy of the idea of unicorns, though few people believe in them; but hardly anybody has the idea of pudus, which have the distinct advantage of being real (you can look it up).    There is a lot more to religion than a fascination with counterintuitive agentlike entities.


2.    Gods as interested parties

Why the gods above me
Who must be in the know
Think so little of me
They allow you to go....

        ---Cole Porter, "Every Time We Say Goodbye"

Ancestor worship must be an appealing idea to those who are about to become ancestors.
        ---Steve Pinker, How the mind works


Whereas other species make limited use of the intentional stance - for anticipating the moves of predator and prey, plus a little bullying and bluffing - we humans are obsessed about our personal relations with others: worrying about our reputations, our unfulfilled promises and obligations, and reviewing our affections and loyalties.    Unlike other species, which have to worry all the time about lurking predators and dwindling food sources, we human beings have largely traded in these pressing concerns for others.    The price our species has paid for the security of living in large groups of interacting communicators with different agendas is having to keep track of these complex agendas and shifting relationships.    Whom can I trust?    Who trusts me?    Who are my rivals and my friends?    To whom do I owe debts, and whose debts to me should I forgive or collect?    The human world is teeming is such strategic information, to use Pascal Boyer's term, and what matters most about it (as in a card game) is this: "In social interaction, we presume that other people's access to strategic information is neither perfect nor automatic" (2001, p. 155).    Does she know that I know that she wants to leave her husband?    Does anybody know that I stole that pig?    All the plots of all the great sagas and tragedies and novels, but also all the situation comedies and comic books, hinge on the tensions and complexities that arise because agents in the world don't all share the same strategic information.

How do people deal with all this complexity?    Sometimes when people are learning a new card game they are advised by their teacher to lay all their cards faceup on the table, so everybody can see what the others are holding.    This is an excellent way of teaching the tactics of the game.    It provides a temporary crutch for the imagination - you actually get to see what each person would normally be hiding, so you get to base your reasoning on the facts.    You don't have to keep track of them in your head, since you can just look down on the table whenever you need a reminder.    This helps you build up skill in visualising where the cards must be when they are hidden.    What works at the card table can't be done in real life.    We can't get people to divulge all their secrets during a practice session of life, but we can get practice "off line" by telling and listening to stories, narrated by an agent who sees all the cards of the fictional or historical characters.

What if there really were agents who had access to all the strategic information!    What an idea!    It is easy enough to see that such a being - in Boyer's terms, a "full-access agent" - would be an attention-grabbing concoction, but aside from that, what good would it be?    Why would it be any more important to people than any other fantasy?    Well, it might help people simplify the thinking that has to be done to figure out what to do next.    A survey of the world's religions shows that almost always the full-access agents turn out to be ancestors, gone but not at all forgotten.    As the memory of Father is burnished and elaborated in many retellings to children and grandchildren and their grandchildren, his ghost may acquire many exotic properties, but at the heart of his image is his virtuosity in the strategic-information department.    Remember how your mother and father often seemed to know just what you were thinking, just what mischief you were trying to hide?    Ancestors are like that, only more so: you can't hide from them, not even your secret thoughts, and nobody else can either.    Now you can reframe your puzzlement about what to do next: what would my ancestors want me to do in my current situation?    You may not be able to tell what these vividly imagined agents would want you to do, but, whatever it is, it's what you should do.

Why, though, do we human beings so consistently focus our fantasies on our ancestors?    Nietzsche, Freud, and many other theorists of culture have articulated elaborate conjectures about the subliminal motivations and memories that arose from mythic struggles deep in our human past, and there may be substantial gold to be refined from this lode of speculation once we re-examine it with an eye to testable hypotheses of evolutionary psychology, but in the meantime, we can more confidently identify the basic mental disposition that sets up this bias, for it is considerably older than our species.    Mammals and birds, unlike most other animals, often devote considerable parental attention to their young, but there is wide variation in this: precocial species are those in which the young hit the ground running, as the saying goes, whereas altricial species have young that require prolonged parental care and training.    This training period provides a host of opportunities for information transmission from parent to offspring that bypasses the genes entirely.

Biologists are often accused of gene centrism - thinking that everything in biology is explained by the action of genes.    And some biologies do indeed go overboard in their infatuation with genes.    They should be reminded that Mother Nature is not a gene centrist.    That is, the process of natural selection itself doesn't require that all valuable information move "through the germ line" (via the genes).    On the contrary, if the burden can be reliably taken over by continuities in the external world, that is fine with Mother Nature - it takes a load off the genome.    Consider the various continuities relied on by natural selection: those supplied by the fundamental laws of physics (gravity, etc.) and those supplied by the long-term stabilities of environment that can be safely "expected" to persevere (salinity of the ocean, composition of the atmosphere, colors of things that can be used as triggers, etc.).    To say that natural selection relies on these regularities means just this: it generates mechanisms that are tuned to work well in environments that exhibit those regularities.    The design of these mechanisms presupposes these regularities in the same way that the design of a Mars rover presupposes the planet's gravity, the solidity and temperature range of its surface, and so forth.    (It is not designed to operate in the Everglades, for instance.)    Then there are the regularities that can be transmitted from generation to generation by social learning.    These are a special case of reliable environmental regularities; they take on further importance since they are themselves subject to natural selection directly and indirectly.    Two information superhighways have been improved and enlarged over the eons.    The genetic informational pathways have themselves been subject to incessant refinement over billions of years, with optimisation of chromosome design and invention and improvement of proofreading enzymes and so forth, with the effect that high-fidelity, high-bandwidth transmission of genetic information has been achieved.    The parent-child instructional pathway has also been optimized by a recursive or iterative process of enhancement.    As Avital and Jablonka (2000) note, "The evolution of the transmission of mechanisms of transmission is of central importance for the evolution of learning and behaviour."    (p.132).

Among the adaptations for improving the bandwidth and fidelity of parent-offspring transmission is imprinting, in which the newborn has a readily triggered and powerful instinctual urge to approach and stay close to and attend to the first large moving thing it sees.    In mammals the urge to find and cling to the nipple is hardwired by the genes, and it has the side effect, opportunistically exploited by further adaptations, of keeping the young where they can watch Mother when they are not feeding.    Human infants are no exception to the mammalian rules.    Meanwhile, going in the other direction, parents have been genetically designed to attend to infants.    Whereas gull chicks are irresistibly drawn to an orange spot, human beings are irresistibly captivated by the special proportions of a "baby face".    It brings out the "Aw, isn't she cunning!" response in the steeliest curmudgeons.    As Konrad Lorenz (1950) and others have argued, the correlation between an infant's facial appearance and an adult's nurturing response is no accident.    It is not that baby faces are somehow intrinsically darling (what on earth could that mean?) but that evolution hit upon facial proportions as the signal to trigger parental responses, and this has been refined and intensified over the eons in many lineages.    We don't love babies and puppies because they're cute.    It's the other way around: we see them as cute because evolution has designed us to love things that look like that.    So strong is the correlation that measurements of fossils of newborn dinosaurs have been used to support the radical hypothesis that some dinosaur species were altricial (Hopson, 1977; Horner, 1984).    Stephen Jay Gould's classic analysis (1980) of the gradual juvenilisation over the years of Mickey Mouse's features provides an elegant demonstration of the way cultural evolution can parallel genetic evolution, homing in on what human beings instinctually prefer.

But even more potent than the bias in adults to respond parentally to baby-faced young is the bias in those young to respond with obedience to parental injunction - a trait observable in bear cubs as well as human babies.    The free-floating rationale is not far to seek: it is in the genetic interests of parents (but not necessarily other conspecifics!) to inform - not misinform - their young, so it is efficient (and relatively safe) to trust one's parents.    (Sterelny, 2003, has particularly acute observations on the trade-offs between trust and suspicion in the evolutionary arms races of cognition.)    Once the information superhighway between parent and child is established by genetic evolution, it is ready to be used - or abused - by any agents with agendas of their own, or by any memes that happen to have features that benefit from the biases built into the highway.

One's parents - or whoever are hard to distinguish from one's parents - have something approaching a dedicated hotline to acceptance, not as potent as hypnotic suggestion, but sometimes close to it.    Many years ago, my five-year-old daughter, attempting to imitate the gymnast Nadia Comaneci's performance on the horizontal bar, tipped over the piano stool and painfully crushed two of her fingertips.    How was I going to calm down this terrified child so I could safely drive her to the emergency room?    Inspiration struck: I held my own hand near her throbbing little hand and sternly ordered: "Look, Andrea!    I'm going to teach you a secret!    You can push the pain into my hand with your mind.    Go ahead, push!    Push!"    She tried - and it worked!    She'd "pushed the pain" into Daddy's hand.    Her relief (and fascination) were instantaneous.    The effect lasted only for minutes, but with a few further administrations of impromptu hypnotic analgesia along the way, I got her to the emergency room, where they could give her the further treatment she needed.    (Try it with your own child, if the occasion arises.    You may be similarly lucky.)    I was exploiting her instincts - though the rationale didn't occur to me until years later, when I was reflecting on it.    (This raises an interesting empirical question: would my attempt at instant hypnosis have worked as effectively on some other five-year-old, who hadn't imprinted on me as an authority figure?    And if imprinting is implicated, how young must a child be to imprint so effectively on a parent?    Our daughter was three months old when we adopted her.)

"Natural selection builds child brains with a tendency to believe whatever their parents and tribal elders tell them" (Dawkins, 2004a, p.12).    It is not surprising, then, to find religious leaders in every part of the world hitting upon the extra authority provided them by their taking on the title "Father" - but this is to get ahead of our story.



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