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Why People Believe Invisible Agents Control the World
Scientific American ^ | June 2009 | Michael Shermer

Posted on 05/19/2009 7:59:04 PM PDT by BuckeyeTexan

Souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens, intelligent designers, government conspirators, and all manner of invisible agents with power and intention are believed to haunt our world and control our lives. Why?

The answer has two parts, starting with the concept of “patternicity,” which I defined in my December 2008 column as the human tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise. Consider the face on Mars, the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich, satanic messages in rock music. Of course, some patterns are real. Finding predictive patterns in changing weather, fruiting trees, migrating prey animals and hungry predators was central to the survival of Paleolithic hominids.

The problem is that we did not evolve a baloney-detection device in our brains to discriminate between true and false patterns. So we make two types of errors: a type I error, or false positive, is believing a pattern is real when it is not; a type II error, or false negative, is not believing a pattern is real when it is. If you believe that the rustle in the grass is a dangerous predator when it is just the wind (a type I error), you are more likely to survive than if you believe that the rustle in the grass is just the wind when it is a dangerous predator (a type II error). Because the cost of making a type I error is less than the cost of making a type II error and because there is no time for careful deliberation between patternicities in the split-second world of predator-prey interactions, natural selection would have favored those animals most likely to assume that all patterns are real.

But we do something other animals do not do. As large-brained hominids with a developed cortex and a theory of mind—the capacity to be aware of such mental states as desires and intentions in both ourselves and others—we infer agency behind the patterns we observe in a practice I call “agent­icity”: the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents. We believe that these intentional agents control the world, sometimes invisibly from the top down (as opposed to bottom-up causal randomness). Together patternicity and agent­icity form the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritualisms.

Agenticity carries us far beyond the spirit world. The Intelligent Designer is said to be an invisible agent who created life from the top down. Aliens are often portrayed as powerful beings coming down from on high to warn us of our impending self-destruction. Conspiracy theories predictably include hidden agents at work behind the scenes, puppet masters pulling political and economic strings as we dance to the tune of the Bilderbergers, the Roth­schilds, the Rockefellers or the Illuminati. Even the belief that government can impose top-down measures to rescue the economy is a form of agenticity, with President Barack Obama being touted as “the one” with almost messianic powers who will save us.

There is now substantial evidence from cognitive neuroscience that humans readily find patterns and impart agency to them, well documented in the new book SuperSense (HarperOne, 2009) by University of Bristol psychologist Bruce Hood. Examples: children believe that the sun can think and follows them around; because of such beliefs, they often add smiley faces on sketched suns. Adults typically refuse to wear a mass murderer’s sweater, believing that “evil” is a supernatural force that imparts its negative agency to the wearer (and, alternatively, that donning Mr. Rogers’s cardigan will make you a better person). A third of transplant patients believe that the donor’s personality is transplanted with the organ. Genital-shaped foods (bananas, oysters) are often believed to enhance sexual potency. Subjects watching geometric shapes with eye spots interacting on a computer screen conclude that they represent agents with moral intentions.

“Many highly educated and intelligent individuals experience a powerful sense that there are patterns, forces, energies and entities operating in the world,” Hood explains. “More important, such experiences are not substantiated by a body of reliable evidence, which is why they are supernatural and unscientific. The inclination or sense that they may be real is our supersense.”

We are natural-born supernaturalists.

Note: This article was originally published with the title, "Agenticity".

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S) Michael Shermer is publisher of Skeptic (www.skeptic.com) and author of Why People Believe Weird Things.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: aliens; conspiracy; neuroscience; religion; skepticgarbage
Liberalism is a type II error and so is believing that Barack Obama is "The One" who will save us.

Personally, I find a high degree of "patternicity" in Obama's actions and I don't think I'm making a type I error there. He is a dangerous predator and not just a rustle in the grass.

1 posted on 05/19/2009 7:59:04 PM PDT by BuckeyeTexan
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To: BuckeyeTexan

By himself he’s nothing. It’s all the whackjobs backing him that are making him dangerous.


2 posted on 05/19/2009 8:00:37 PM PDT by mamelukesabre (Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum (If you want peace prepare for war))
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To: BuckeyeTexan; Quix
ping

Souls, spirits, ghosts, gods, demons, angels, aliens, intelligent designers, government conspirators, and all manner of invisible agents with power and intention are believed to haunt our world and control our lives. Why?

My supersense smells nonsense.

3 posted on 05/19/2009 8:07:33 PM PDT by smokingfrog ( Don't mess with the mockingbird! /\/\ http://tiny.cc/freepthis)
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To: BuckeyeTexan

Three words: Bilderburgers!


4 posted on 05/19/2009 8:08:10 PM PDT by Revolting cat! (Let us prey!)
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To: BuckeyeTexan

And Shermer will PROVE that these illogical agents don’t exist using...


5 posted on 05/19/2009 8:09:55 PM PDT by GEC (We're not drilling in ANWR because....)
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To: mamelukesabre

Could not agree more.


6 posted on 05/19/2009 8:11:29 PM PDT by gidget7 (Duncan Hunter-Valley Forge Republican!)
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To: smokingfrog

Will check it out more after a shower.

Thx.


7 posted on 05/19/2009 8:22:18 PM PDT by Quix (POL Ldrs quotes fm1900 2 presnt: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/2130557/posts?page=81#81)
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To: BuckeyeTexan

“Why People Believe Invisible Agents Control the World”

Well, maybe because the Bible says so... :-)


8 posted on 05/19/2009 8:24:19 PM PDT by Star Traveler
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To: BuckeyeTexan

Invisible agents, my @ss! The evil b@st@rd is on tv every damn day. MAKE HIM GO AWAY!! UGH


9 posted on 05/19/2009 8:25:38 PM PDT by upsdriver
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To: BuckeyeTexan

Ephesians 6:12-13

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.


10 posted on 05/19/2009 8:28:26 PM PDT by Star Traveler
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To: upsdriver

The real power comes from what post #10 quotes...


11 posted on 05/19/2009 8:29:47 PM PDT by Star Traveler
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To: smokingfrog

You said — My supersense smells nonsense.

Not according to what God tells us in the Bible. See post #10 for one particular quote (not the only reference around to that teaching, though, in the Bible).


12 posted on 05/19/2009 8:31:08 PM PDT by Star Traveler
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To: Star Traveler
Shermer is a skeptic/atheist. Doesn't believe in the supernatural.
13 posted on 05/19/2009 8:40:27 PM PDT by smokingfrog ( Don't mess with the mockingbird! /\/\ http://tiny.cc/freepthis)
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To: BuckeyeTexan
Well, he's right on one hand:

Even the belief that government can impose top-down measures to rescue the economy is a form of agenticity, with President Barack Obama being touted as “the one” with almost messianic powers who will save us.

And wrong on the other:

A third of transplant patients believe that the donor’s personality is transplanted with the organ.

There is some evidence to suggest that hormones and other biochemicals secreted by the transplanted tissue have an effect on personality.

My conclusion: The author has made a Type I error. He has connected too many dots and drawn the wrong conclusion, just like his example of an organism thinking there was a predator in the grass when it was only the wind.

14 posted on 05/19/2009 8:46:05 PM PDT by NoPrisoners ("When in the course of human events...")
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To: BuckeyeTexan
There are so many obvious in your face conspiracy's these days, ridiculous and brilliant.. surely a few of them must be bull squeeze.. but I could be wrong..
15 posted on 05/19/2009 8:46:32 PM PDT by hosepipe (This propaganda has been edited to include some fully orbed hyperbole....)
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To: BuckeyeTexan

“Examples: children believe that the sun can think and follows them around; because of such beliefs, they often add smiley faces on sketched suns”

Well, that proves it! I don’t suppose that children might pick up such ideas from stories written and told by adults.

I once liked to read SA but every so often I’m reminded why I no longer do.


16 posted on 05/19/2009 8:47:48 PM PDT by count-your-change (You don't have be brilliant, not being stupid is enough.)
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To: hosepipe
Why People Believe Invisible Agents Control the World

Because so many of the visible agents are just dumbasses.
17 posted on 05/19/2009 8:52:01 PM PDT by aruanan
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To: Revolting cat!

Three more words: Build-A-Bear


18 posted on 05/19/2009 8:54:37 PM PDT by xp38
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To: BuckeyeTexan

As the old poster accurately asserted . . .

Just because you’re paranoid

does NOT mean

that they are NOT out to get you!


Having studied the globalist oligarchy since 1965 . . . there is NO THEORY about it.

It’s simply a fact . . . as their own quotes from 1900 to the present—ref’d in my tagline attest.

If the tendency of imagining patterns where nothing significant exists is

agenticity . . .

Failing to see piles of documented truth proving conspiracy when there IS A DEEP AND BROAD ONE

must

equal

WILLFUL BLINDNESS; WILLFUL STUPIDITY; WILFULL CLUELESSNESS; WILLFUL SUICIDAL TENDENCIES; an addiction to wishful fantasies . . . .

possibly even demon induced blindness.


19 posted on 05/19/2009 8:55:32 PM PDT by Quix (POL Ldrs quotes fm1900 2 presnt: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/2130557/posts?page=81#81)
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To: BuckeyeTexan

Simple answer: People are fundamentally spiritual beings (even if they deny it sometimes), and therefore long for a relationship/peace with their creator!


20 posted on 05/19/2009 9:06:38 PM PDT by JSDude1 (DHS, FBI, FEMA, etc have been bad little boys. They need to be spanked and sent to timeout!)
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To: BuckeyeTexan

Skeptics are so amusing. Their “logic” boils down to:
1. Not all logically derived conclusions survive the test of reality.
2. We will certify what premises, logic, and tests of reality are legitimate.
3. Anything that does meet our certification doesn’t exist.
4. Anyone who believes something we have not certified, believes in something that does not exist, and therefore is insane.


21 posted on 05/19/2009 9:12:17 PM PDT by Talisker (When you find a turtle on top of a fence post, you can be damn sure it didn't get there on it's own.)
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To: Talisker
Arrgh...

3. should be: Anything that doesn't meet our certification doesn’t exist.

22 posted on 05/19/2009 9:16:55 PM PDT by Talisker (When you find a turtle on top of a fence post, you can be damn sure it didn't get there on it's own.)
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To: Quix
demon induced blindness

Truly. Devoured by the lion who seeks to destroy.

23 posted on 05/19/2009 9:56:56 PM PDT by BuckeyeTexan
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To: Star Traveler

Amen.

If the left understood that we wrestle against the powers of darkness, then they would know that evil does exist in this world and because of that “right and wrong” are not relative to majority opinion.


24 posted on 05/19/2009 10:17:00 PM PDT by BuckeyeTexan
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To: BuckeyeTexan

You said — If the left understood that we wrestle against the powers of darkness, then they would know that evil does exist in this world and because of that “right and wrong” are not relative to majority opinion.

Unfortunately that statement applies to the “right” too, as there are a significant number of conservatives that join the left in the belief that God and principalities and powers have *nothing* to do with us here on this earth.

In fact, I’m “beat up” even here on Free Republic for conclusions and/or deductions and/or decisions made on that basis (and on the basis of the Word of God). In many instances it’s called “bigoted” to believe such things, especially if they lead to actions on your part in “real life” (in what you choose to do).

And that’s *here* on Free Republic, too...


25 posted on 05/19/2009 10:20:19 PM PDT by Star Traveler
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To: BuckeyeTexan
If you believe that the rustle in the grass is a dangerous predator when it is just the wind (a type I error), you are more likely to survive than if you believe that the rustle in the grass is just the wind when it is a dangerous predator (a type II error). Because the cost of making a type I error is less than the cost of making a type II error and because there is no time for careful deliberation between patternicities in the split-second world of predator-prey interactions, natural selection would have favored those animals most likely to assume that all patterns are real.

Back it up with actual rates of predation which prevent the Type I person from breeding compared to the Type II; then show that the tendency towards Type I or Type II is either heritable *or* strongly passed on within families and/or groups.

Hint: humans are generally at the *top* of the food chain: even in India, Asia, and Africa, which have more predators running around than, say, Kansas, and yet tend to be bursting with people. Predation is apparently a very minor effect on longevity.

This is just the "Goddidit!" argument turned inside-out.

Cheers!

26 posted on 05/19/2009 10:21:56 PM PDT by grey_whiskers (The opinions are solely those of the author and are subject to change without notice.)
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To: Quix

I know I’m paranoid.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.

BUT - am I paranoid enough!?


27 posted on 05/19/2009 10:26:33 PM PDT by 21twelve (Drive Reality out with a pitchfork if you want , it always comes back.)
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To: Star Traveler

I’d have to say you are correct about that assessment. It applies to the left, right, and center.

It’s difficult enough to be a conservative in today’s culture, doubly so to be a conservative Christian and have to defend oneself amongst likeminded folk.


28 posted on 05/19/2009 11:06:34 PM PDT by BuckeyeTexan
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To: Star Traveler
In fact, I’m “beat up” even here on Free Republic for conclusions and/or deductions and/or decisions made on that basis (and on the basis of the Word of God). In many instances it’s called “bigoted” to believe such things, especially if they lead to actions on your part in “real life” (in what you choose to do).

That's 'cuz the things of the spirit are spiritually discerned. You have to have God's spirit living inside you to understand the Truth of Christ. And as you know, you have to be born again through Christ to belong to God. When people ridicule us, it should make us rejoice, because Christ Himself said that would happen.

29 posted on 05/20/2009 12:05:48 AM PDT by 4mer Liberal (Collosians 1:15-17)
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To: count-your-change
I once liked to read SA but every so often I’m reminded why I no longer do.

Ditto. I read this thinking someone is going to be sorely disappointed at the end of his days.

30 posted on 05/20/2009 5:04:46 AM PDT by naturalized
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To: 21twelve

. . .

paranoid enough?

Welllllllll . . . .

One can only run around in circles at a certain finite maximum speed! LOL.

TRUST AND OBEY, FOR THERE’S NO OTHER WAY . . . TO BE HAPPY IN JESUS . . . BUT TO TRUST AND OBEY.

The old hymn is still true.

Short of The GREAT CATCHING AWAY . . . none of us gets out alive anyway.

I just pray that we do our Lord Jesus proud by His Strength, Blood, Spirit, Joy, Peace that passes understanding, Hope, Faith . . .

That we are happy to lose our lives for Him that we live eternally with Him . . . vs vainly trying to save them in the flesh only to lose them eternally.

This is the time for doing great exploits for Him.

And . . . while such have their place . . .

The weapons of our warfare are not carnal . . . but the weapons of spiritual warfare to the pulling down of the strongholds of the enemy in high places . . . in prayer, by The Word and our confession and living of it in righteous selfless living.


31 posted on 05/20/2009 6:09:05 AM PDT by Quix (POL Ldrs quotes fm1900 2 presnt: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/2130557/posts?page=81#81)
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To: BuckeyeTexan

. . . which involves complicity on their part for most of that distance!


32 posted on 05/20/2009 6:10:34 AM PDT by Quix (POL Ldrs quotes fm1900 2 presnt: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/2130557/posts?page=81#81)
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To: Star Traveler; BuckeyeTexan

Too true.

The chaff will be separated from the wheat in due course, however.


33 posted on 05/20/2009 6:11:55 AM PDT by Quix (POL Ldrs quotes fm1900 2 presnt: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/2130557/posts?page=81#81)
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To: grey_whiskers

What are your thoughts on the seeming addiction to an

EXTREME TYPE I ERROR perspective on the part of naysayers re the UFO stuff?

It’s a fascinating psychological/sociological phenomena to see piles of expert testimony so glibly dismissed without a shred of fair-minded analysis on the part of most of them.


34 posted on 05/20/2009 6:15:10 AM PDT by Quix (POL Ldrs quotes fm1900 2 presnt: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/2130557/posts?page=81#81)
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To: 4mer Liberal

That’s ‘cuz the things of the spirit are spiritually discerned. You have to have God’s spirit living inside you to understand the Truth of Christ. And as you know, you have to be born again through Christ to belong to God. When people ridicule us, it should make us rejoice, because Christ Himself said that would happen.


TRUE, TRUE.


35 posted on 05/20/2009 6:15:41 AM PDT by Quix (POL Ldrs quotes fm1900 2 presnt: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/2130557/posts?page=81#81)
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To: naturalized

Both Scientific American and Nat Geo have been blatant tools of the oligarchy . . . probably from their beginnings.


36 posted on 05/20/2009 6:17:02 AM PDT by Quix (POL Ldrs quotes fm1900 2 presnt: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/2130557/posts?page=81#81)
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To: Quix

People who are committed Christians just have to realize where their true allegiance is. That’s the key. It’s easy to get wrapped up in daily affairs and people and groups and think that “solutions” lie in them.

A lot of people are like that on Free Republic. The “solution” is in the group or philosophy or “Party” or idealogy — and it’s actually not.

The solution is primarily in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and what He says in the Bible. All these other things *may* be outgrowths of that — but in some cases, they also may be against God, too, as they are merely composed of “human thinking” and not of God’s thinking.

I think that’s what committed Christians in FReeperville have to be aware of — of keeping allegiance in the right place and not “misplaced”... (and it’s *that* which angers others in these groups, too...).


37 posted on 05/20/2009 6:17:58 AM PDT by Star Traveler
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To: Star Traveler

AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!


38 posted on 05/20/2009 6:29:51 AM PDT by Quix (POL Ldrs quotes fm1900 2 presnt: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/2130557/posts?page=81#81)
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To: Quix
What are your thoughts on the seeming addiction to an EXTREME TYPE I ERROR perspective on the part of naysayers re the UFO stuff?

I'd have to write a novel.

But -- in 25 words or less --:

UFOs are unlikely because of the distances involved, the laws of physics and the odds that advanced civilizations will fight themselves first before coming here.

That being said, I think you are correct in characterizing certain folks as EXTREME TYPE I Error-prone; they justify their position by pointing to people who are EXTREME TYPE II Error-prone.

The real truth is found somewhere other than clasifying personalities or hand-waving about survival value.

Cheers!

39 posted on 05/20/2009 3:20:30 PM PDT by grey_whiskers (The opinions are solely those of the author and are subject to change without notice.)
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To: grey_whiskers

LOL.

THX.


40 posted on 05/20/2009 8:13:50 PM PDT by Quix (POL Ldrs quotes fm1900 2 presnt: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/2130557/posts?page=81#81)
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