One of the benefits of deciding to request books from NetGalley is that it exposes me to academic science writing than I might otherwise find Thanks to Columbia University Press for letting me read this I m really fascinated by the study of religion, from a sociological and anthropological perspective I love to learn about the history of religions, and also about how we know what we know Evolving Brains, Emerging Gods looks at the origins of gods in the sense of anthropomorphic beings with discrete identities and roles from the perspective of evolutionary neuroscience E Fuller Torrey traces the cognitive development of the human brain over time and attempts to link the advent of specific capabilities increased intelligence, self awareness, theory of mind, introspection, and autobiographical memory to the development of the concept of gods The result is an interesting mixture of evolution, cognitive neuroscience, and religious anthropology, although it s probably heavier on the first two.Discussion of religion aside, I found this book very clearly debunks some of the myths and pitfalls that crop up when thinking, as a lay person, about evolution For example, during the introduction, Torrey explains that, when discussing when certain cognitive developments occurred is always going to be a vague thing Arguing that a specific cognitive skill is associated with a specific stage of hominin evolution of course does not mean that this skill developed only at that time.Evolution doesn t have clear dividing lines Torrey reminds us throughout the book that our record is scattered, incomplete, and biased in terms of what types of materials are likely to be preserved and where we are likely to find them The study of evolution and human prehistory, then, is fraught with all the complications that this imperfect picture of the past must create Ultimately, we have to accept that there are some things we just may never know for certain, even if we can come up with a few very compelling, albeit competing, theories.I also like how Torrey nudges us away from the simplistic picture of the evolutionary ladder For those of us fortunate enough to actually learn about evolution in schools, sometimes we get the mistaken impression that it was a discrete and one dimensional progression, from Australopithecus to H habilis to H erectus and so on And indeed, at one point this might have been the thinking but science changes, even as our schools and textbooks are slow to adapt Previously, it was thought that Homo erectus had descended from Homo habilis, but recent archeological research suggests that Homo habilis and Homo erectus lived side by side in what is now northern Kenya for almost half a million years, making this evolutionary sequence less likely.Additionally, Torrey does a good job communicating the impressive spans of time at work here H habilis and H erectus lived side by side for 500,000 years That s longer than we ve been around as a species and about 100 times longer than we ve had writing.On a related note, you really do get a sense of how human development seems to have accelerated dramatically over the past 100,000 years We went from nascent tribal groupings to civilizations to spaceflight in what is practically an evolutionary blink of an eye Each cognitive development, whatever spurred it on, made it easier for the next development to happen Evolution is somewhat random, but it is also a series of intense feedback cycles.I also appreciate how Torrey links cognitive development so explicitly to technological and cultural innovation This might seem self evident, but we forget this and tend to project our own, current cognitive capacity backwards So it wasn t just a case of, for X thousands of years, no human ever noticed something or tried whatever it was that led to an invention or a new idea As Torrey illustrates, it might have been that, for that long, we were neurologically incapable of noticing or of having that idea or of doing whatever was required to make that leap.It s just so weird and wonderful to think about how the structures in our brains literally make us who we are and determine how we can think Torrey goes into great detail explaining human evolutionary history As you can see, this is what stuck with me most For better or worse, the actual thesis how we developed ideas of gods sometimes felt like it was lurking in the background, waiting in the wings for us to get far enough along in history for Torrey to really talk about the evidence at hand It isn t until the penultimate chapter or so that we actually talk much about gods per se I don t think this is a fault of the book s structure itself so much as, you know, the facts available to us Just be aware, going in, that this is so a book about evolution and neuroscience that just so happens to talk a lot about gods and beliefs.The last chapter very briefly examines some of the other theories, most of them sociological, that have been proposed to explain gods I don t want to be too harsh here, because Torrey up front notes that this is about as short of a survey as you can get and still call it a survey Still, it is very concise Of Julian Jaynes famous bicameral mind theory, Torrey sums up his dismissal in a single sentence Jaynes s thesis is at odds with almost everything known about the evolution of the human brain Although I lol d at such treatment, I was hoping for a bit of a takedown I guess that s what the 40% of the book that s endnotes are for No joke, I love a book that is significantly composed of endnotes Anyone who has a basic scientific understanding of human evolution i.e., you won t find the language in here too difficult will probably enjoy improving the depth of their understanding here If, like me, you want to learn a lot about the history of religion, you re not necessarily going to learn as much as you might think, but there s still some good stuff here In the end, Torrey succeeds in showing me how the gradual evolution of the human brain played an integral role in our ability to conceive of and use gods, whatever they might be. I have to admit I came across thing book as a recommendation from another reader who mentioned its significance The book walks to its majority toward the neuroscience of brain evolution and archaeological evidence of our brain development using fossils, which I believe Torrey did a great job in presenting The second part of the book dimmed a bit the anatomical physiological aspect of the brain and went to describe the plethora of archaic civilizations that all manifested similar aspects of religious elements How the monotheistic faith was a natural consequence to the culture of God borrowing among civilizations, how cultures of pyramids spanned from Latin America to Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan Overall this is a nice pill of knowledge to the both the world of science and human brain development and the world of religion and ancient civilization deities What I didn t like is the constant jumping in time, which made it a bit difficult to follow, Torrey would describe historical monuments dating to 60,000 years then right after describe another only at 28,000 years both belonging to different species of early humans which he extensively described at the beginning.He also avoided presenting his own voice, he would describe the argument and the counter argument of various archaeologists and scholars and avoid siding or leaning toward one versus the other, for example, were women worshiped in the Mesopotamian region or not In a nutshell this is a nice summary for many written documents from a biological stand point But now that I have read the Torrey Fuller as Fiona suggested, I am still eager to read what Reza Aslan had to say in his book God A Human History. I am a brain geek with a passing interest in world religions, mostly in understanding the psychosocial basis and consequences of religion, so I jumped at the chance to read this book thanks, NetGalley It did not disappoint The author posits that religion is a byproduct of human evolution as our brains evolved to understand ourselves, make memories, think about death, etc., religion developed as a means of making sense of life and death I do have a few unanswered questions Specifically, how then does the author explain the rise of atheism Is it a consequence of further brain development, scientific advancement, or is it adaptive to not believe in a higher power I m not religious myself, and these questions popped up as I finished the book The author s theory is interesting and makes scientific sense however, it does not address the fact of no religion, which is a drawback This is a very fascinating book, though, and one that taught me a lot about brain evolution A must read for anyone interested in the subject matter. In this book, religion is studied as a naturalistic phenomenon The author uses a cross disciplinary approach to understand the development of religious belief and the high god world religions Combining human paleontology, primatology, archaeology, brain research and neuroscience he creates a testable story of the origins of religion As the human brain size expands over several millions years it evolves intelligence, self awareness, introspection and autobiographical memory The fear of death and a view that dreams are a glimpse of the spirit world drive a belief in an afterlife Ancestors passing on to the spirit world and over generations of worship are transformed into gods With the advent of agriculture and the rise of complex stratified states they become the high gods and serve a functional purpose for control They eventually become integrated to economic, military and social aspects of ancient civilizations Is religion a by product of evolution, a random and accidental feature of brain evolution, or does religion give you human beings a survival advantage This is one of the many interesting questions of the book The book is split into two parts as the title states Recommended reading. The human brain perfectly shaped by evolution to create religions Evolving Brains, Emerging Gods Early Humans and the Origins of Religion, by E Fuller Torrey is a remarkable look at the cognitive theory underlying how not why humans developed religion.The answer, according to Torrey, is that as our brains evolved, they developed certain capacities and capabilities that marched us inexorably toward the creation of religions And because the journey was a function of evolutionary forces, these cognitive stages necessary for religion occurred in parallel across cultures Therefore, plumbing the historical record gives insights to the milestones as expressed physiologically like, say, skull shape and size and behaviorally funeral practices, for example, or doing art or self adornment that signal approximately when our species achieved the various cognitive requirements for religion.As Torrey eloquently puts it As hominin brains grew in size and developed increasingly strong connections among various brain areas, we acquired intelligence, an ability to think about ourselves, an ability to think about what others were thinking theory of mind , and then an introspective ability to think about ourselves thinking about ourselves Finally, about 40,000 years ago, we acquired an autobiographical memory, an ability to project ourselves backward and forward in time in a way not previously possible We had become modern Homo sapiens And modern Homo sapiens built modern religions.Using those cognitive skills, and based on the culture and environment, religion was a natural outcome because it answers the problem of death The Stygian shore beckoned uneasily 4,500 years ago, as it still does today and provides other benefits such as the psychological support that accompanies group membership as well as such benefits as physical protection, social services, and access to jobs or economic advancement, and at least for the major and most successful religions usually develops in conjunction with the political governance of the people so that the success or failure of each is largely determined by the economic, political, or military success of its adherents Again, keeping in mind this an explanation of the cognitive how, and not the social why, Torrey provides a painstaking, amazingly detailed job of showing the research behind the thinking and building his case Naturally, when dealing with pre history, some assumptions must be made especially when it comes to evolutionary psychology We can only ever speculate about the evolutionarily adaptive forces and outcomes shaping brains and behaviors, much less the social reasons for adopting behaviors But he certainly builds a compelling case with deep knowledge, exquisite research and above average writing with occasional creative flourishes The gods were born following a pregnancy lasting approximately two million years It took that long for hominin brains to evolve structurally and functionally from being primate like brains to being brains that possessed the cognitive faculties of modern Homo sapiens There were a few true a ha moments, such as pointing to evolutionary changes in lice to illuminate behavioral changes driven by cognitive changes among humans evidence for the introduction of fitted clothing consists of genetic studies of human lice and the fact that the body louse diverged from the head louse about 72,000 years ago Body lice have claws adapted to clinging to clothing, not skin, and only lay their eggs in clothing And I was intrigued by this almost casual aside related to the discovery of fitted clothes and jewelry and what that meant for self awareness Thus, this may have been the first time in hominin history that a male thought his bearskin did not look good on him and a female thought her shell necklace improved her appearance If so, it would have marked the birth of the consumer economy Evolving Brains, Emerging Gods is a fun, thoughtful and illuminating read built on a convincing thesis However, I m predisposed to be easily convinced about a biological explanation for religion fueled by cognitive evolution That may be too big of leap for some but, if this book has it right, perhaps evolution will surprise future generations with some new brain adaptions that make the concept palatable, or useful to our continued survival. Religion and other seemingly abstract ideas have always been of great interest to me How do we conceive of such thingsWhydo we conceive of such things , and I found this book to be very helpful to my own investigations Torrey traces evidence of human brain evolution and of religious practice, how it began,whyit began, where it has come from and where it is going He elaborately explains what sets us apart from other creatures and why such a difference exists I fell in love with this book from the first page and was hardly able to put it down Of course, we will neverreallyknow how religion came to exist and under what circumstances, but we can certainly see why it continues to exist today and why it has had such a profound effect on our species And religion is just one of many effects itself ie an effect of an active, well developed emotional center in the brain an effect of our ability to introspect an effect of being able to conceptualize time frames in past present future etc , making it both cause and effect. Using advances in ontogeny, phylogeny, neuroscience, and archaeology, the author narrates the epic story of how the hominin brain, over the course of two million years, attained sufficient cognitive capabilities to worship gods These cognitive milestones are high intelligence, self awareness, first and then higher order of Theory of Mind, and finally an autobiographical and temporal self Complexification of socioeconomic structures led to the emergence of ancestor worship, higher deities, and ultimately moralising monotheism The inevitable secularisation of religion constantly contaminates the sacred The last chapter is devoted to debunking various misconceptions that try to explain away religion as an evolutionary adaptation The reader can decide himself or herself whether spirituality is just an evolutionary epiphenomenon as proposed by the author or a true gift from God. As a rule, I try to avoid books associated with religion I went to a Methodist college and was required to take unwanted religion classes obviously did nothing to progress my engineering degree Had there been a class offered based on the the evolving human mind and how religions comes into play, I might have really enjoyed it. Religions And Mythologies From Around The World Teach That God Or Gods Created Humans Atheist, Humanist, And Materialist Critics, Meanwhile, Have Attempted To Turn Theology On Its Head, Claiming That Religion Is A Human Invention In This Book, E Fuller Torrey Draws On Cutting Edge Neuroscience Research To Propose A Startling Answer To The Ultimate Question Evolving Brains, Emerging Gods Locates The Origin Of Gods Within The Human Brain, Arguing That Religious Belief Is A By Product Of EvolutionBased On An Idea Originally Proposed By Charles Darwin, Torrey Marshals Evidence That The Emergence Of Gods Was An Incidental Consequence Of Several Evolutionary Factors Using Data Ranging From Ancient Skulls And Artifacts To Brain Imaging, Primatology, And Child Development Studies, This Book Traces How New Cognitive Abilities Gave Rise To New Behaviors For Instance, Autobiographical Memory, The Ability To Project Ourselves Backward And Forward In Time, Gave Homo Sapiens A Competitive Advantage However, It Also Led To Comprehension Of Mortality, Spurring Belief In An Alternative To Death Torrey Details The Neurobiological Sequence That Explains Why The Gods Appeared When They Did, Connecting Archaeological Findings Including Clothing, Art, Farming, And Urbanization To Cognitive Developments This Book Does Not Dismiss Belief But Rather Presents Religious Belief As An Inevitable Outcome Of Brain Evolution Providing Clear And Accessible Explanations Of Evolutionary Neuroscience, Evolving Brains, Emerging Gods Will Shed New Light On The Mechanics Of Our Deepest Mysteries I ve been reading primitive mythology and oriental mythology by Joseph campbell which made me curious of how religion started and this book for me answers that great read now I m going to finish occidental and creative mythology with a better understanding on the evolution of religion
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- 312 pages
- Evolving Brains, Emerging Gods
- E. Fuller Torrey
- 06 December 2018 E. Fuller Torrey