The number of senses, free will, and productive reality

Christian Jarrett has an interesting article at BBC Future on the number of senses that we have.

The principle of five basic human senses is often traced back to Aristotle’s De Anima (On the Soul), in which he devotes a separate chapter to vision, hearing, touch, smell and taste. Today, the five senses are considered such an elementary truth that it is sometimes used as a point of consensus before writers embark on more mysterious or contentious topics. “What do we actually mean by reality?” asked the author of a recent article in New Scientist magazine. “A straightforward answer is that it means everything that appears to our five senses.”

If only it were that simple. Simply defining what we mean by a “sense” leads you down a slippery slope into philosophy. One, somewhat vague, definition might argue that a human sense is simply a unique way for the brain to receive information about the world and the body. If that is the case, then we can claim with confidence that there are certainly more than five human senses.

Jarrett goes on to discuss a number of additional senses such as proprioception (our sense of where our body and body parts are), our sense of balance, hunger, thirst, as well as the fact that the five “classic” senses could be split into many additional ones.

Of course, you could also be reductive about this:

At the other extreme, you could restrict our definition of discrete sense to the physical categories of incoming information. We can simplify the human senses down to just three – mechanical (which takes in touch, hearing and proprioception); chemical (including taste, smell and internal senses); and light.

You could be even more reductive and insist that there is only one sense, that of touch.  This would include what we traditionally mean by touching such as something coming into contact with your arm, but also the touch of photons hitting the receptors in your eyes or the touch of gas molecules to the smell receptors in your nose.

However, a strong case could be made that being so reductive isn’t really productive.  All of our senses may reduce to receiving electrical signals caused by matter or energy connecting with our body, but that certainly isn’t the way we perceive things.  For purposes of studying the senses, it makes more sense to categorize the ones that we perceive differently, even if that perception ultimately amounts to illusion.

This reminds me of the perennial debates on free will.  Once we decide that the mind is simply a logical construct of the physical brain, is there any room for free will?  Many insist no.  Our thoughts are driven by the laws of physics and therefore we must simply learn to live in that universe.

But most of those who make that insistence are also careful to clarify that they’re not endorsing fatalism.  Our decisions ultimately are controlled by physics, but we still have to make those decisions, and it’s not productive to simply not decide, to do nothing and consign our fate to the laws of nature.  Indeed, many of them would argue that we have a responsibility to gather the facts and make the best, most informed decisions that we can, particularly on ethical decisions such as whether or not to fight global warming, vaccinations, or faith healing.

The compatibilist position is simply to call the above “free will”, that it remains a useful concept, that insisting that it is an illusion is akin to insisting that the distinct senses are illusions, or that the game of football is an illusion, or the Mac OS X software on my laptop, or even this blog post.  None of these things can be physically pointed to.  They all only exist as patterns that we’ve given labels to.

A strict reductionist could insist that there is nothing but space, fermions, and bosons, and that all else are merely patterns built on top of these entities.  It’s possible that even these elementary particles are patterns of lower level realities.  It’s even possible that there is no base reality, that everything is patterns all the way down.  Ultimately, it may all be emergent.

We continue to regard things like Mac OS X, a table, a tree, and many other concepts as existing in their own right, because it is productive to do so.  And we regard ourselves as having several senses, because it is productive to do so.

But we continue to argue whether it’s productive to regard free will as real.  Given that most of us agree that fatalism is not a productive outlook, I often wonder if a term like “volition” was used instead of the theologically loaded “free will”, whether it wouldn’t make this debate moot.

The problem, of course, is that “free will” is a term heavily embedded in law, philosophy, and much of society.  The opponents of free will, who are often atheist activists, usually assert that the intuitive version of free will is the theological version involving a separate soul, and that because of this, the term needs to go.  However, empirical studies have not backed up those assertions.

Most people, it seems, intuitively regard “free will” as more or less synonymous with volition.  Although, to be honest, other studies have shown that most people are also intuitive dualists, and if explicitly asked if these concepts were related, they would say “yes”.

How many senses do we have?  Does free will exist?  Is there a reality above fermions and bosons?  Is there any one true answer?

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47 Responses to The number of senses, free will, and productive reality

  1. It’s certainly productive to regard free will as real. Not only does it seem real, intuitively, it also holds as the foundation of morality and law. I don’t think we need to get into theological considerations here.

    I think even the die hard opponents will have to admit that it’s necessary to at least assume we have it in day to day life, as well as in the courts! Sam Harris would probably disagree with me, but that’s okay. I can live with that.


    • Agreed on both counts. Interestingly, Harris is one of the incompatibilists who is careful to clarify that he isn’t endorsing fatalism. But he just insists that his outlook doesn’t include free will, I suspect primarily for anti-theological reasons.


      • I found Harris confusing in this regard. If he wanted nothing to change, pragmatically speaking, why bring determinism in the context of morality? For him the question of how we are to proceed in ethical considerations without responsibility boils down to: punishment as deterrent, punishment to keep the “bad” guys off the streets (he admits these in “The Moral Landscape”). Both of which are problematic. That foundation of responsibility is undermined in each scenario.

        On the other hand, why can’t we simply say that health is a big factor in morality but not rule out responsibility?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hariod Brawn says:

    Is there not a problem in utilising the concept of ‘free will’ without first qualifying the role of conscious choice, or the absence of any such role, within it? I agree with Tina that we cannot abandon the concept altogether as to do so throws out any notion of personal accountability as regards the normative psychologically healthy individual. If we simply say that the (whole) person acts, sidestepping the involvement or otherwise of conscious volition and/or choice, and deem this alone as the exercise of free will, then the problem of the concept being valid or not disappears does it not? Proprioception occurs in the apparent exercise of free will or choosing – I feel (the limbic system feels) that I am making a choice from an array of possibilities. Yet we’ve known since Libet’s experiments that the proprioceptive sense is deceptive in this regard. The concept of free will only becomes debatable in assuming aware intent – as volition, or choice. What am I missing?


    • You raise an important question. Must “free will” = “conscious choice”? Many people who cite Libet obviously feel that it must. I personally don’t see them as being equivalent. In my mind, conscious awareness doesn’t make choices, but it does have causal influence.

      A while back, I laid out a couple of scenarios:
      Scenario 1: Consciousness controls actions:
      1. You consciously decide what to do.
      2. You do it.
      3. You have conscious and unconscious knowledge of 2 and how it turned out.
      4. Loop back to step 1.

      Scenario 2: Consciousness does not control actions:
      1. You unconsciously decide what to do.
      2. You do it.
      3. You have conscious knowledge (at least sometimes) of the results of 2.
      4. The information in 3 is available to the unconscious parts of your brain.
      5. Loop back to step 1.

      Most people who familiar with neuroscience and psychological research agree that scenario 2 happens at least some of the time. The question is whether 1 ever happens. I’m not sure it does. Functionally though, I’m not sure how to tell the difference. I’m not even sure there is a difference.
      I go into more detail at:

      But if their definition of free will is conscious choice, then I could see someone saying free will isn’t there on those grounds. I disagree, but definitions are philosophical choices.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hariod Brawn says:

        How about Scenario 3 (Consciousness does not control actions):

        1. Consciousness is presented with 2 or more alternative courses of motor action.
        2. The limbic system generates a felt disposition (a liking) towards a particular one.
        3. Consciousness detects the felt disposition.
        4. Consciousness links the felt disposition to a particular choice.
        5. Conscious volition initiates mental action of an apparent primary choosing.
        6. Consciousness proprioceptively detects the mental action i.e. “I have made a choice”.
        7. Motor action follows.


        • Hmmm. If I’m understanding correctly, it seems like 4 and 5 of Scenario 3 does involve consciousness making a decision, unless you’re saying steps 3-6 are completely non-causal to 7, that 2 leads to 7 with consciousness (3-6) just along for the ride, in which case it seems like a detailed version of Scenario 2.

          But I might be missing something.


          • Hariod Brawn says:

            Option 3 posits how we are deceived into believing that conscious will (as thought) is autonomous. As Tina says, free will seems intuitively to be just what it says on the tin, yet it isn’t (I say). Option 3, to quote you SAP, “does involve consciousness making a decision” but all that ‘involvement’ amounts to is an echoing of an unconscious primary decision that’s the actual determinant. Steps 3-6 are there as endorsers of the self-entity, which necessarily regards itself as autonomous; they are links in a causal chain only, which involves consciousness and unconsciousness.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks for the clarification. I think it, or something like it, is probably reality.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. keithnoback says:

    The free will debate is a yawn. However, I think you’ve left out a sense in your tally. The sense of time is perhaps the most basic sense of all. It is easily overlooked because it is so integral to the function of all the other senses. Better stand up and recognize that suprachiasmatic nucleus.


    • Good point. You triggered me to look up the suprachiasmatic nucleus; thanks! The brain module that controls circadian rhythms. 20,000 neurons sounds like a (relatively) simple module, albeit one with profound effects.


  4. Hi, the article and your thoughts are both stimulating, as is the video of the man who uses echo-location (I noted the rejection he has experienced regarding this obvious, proven ability from the organisation which claims to represent the blind – the same anti-intellectual backwardness I have experienced and seen over and again in Australia…).

    For consideration: my notes from vol. 2/p.482 of Guthrie: ‘(Democritus, in his theory of the nature of the gods) made great efforts to reconcile their existence with atomic doctrine..Yet here too, as in the matter of artistic inspiration, one can sense in Democritus a conflict between his intellectual loyalty to materialism and the existence in himself of that sixth sense of which he speaks, which reveals the essentially non-material world of religious & aesthetic values and refuses to deny their validity.’

    What other reasons could there be for a commitment to philosophical idealism than blind ideology, the most determined ignorance or an emotional inability to reject it, for a position any other than materialism, when the body of evidence is rapidly growing regarding the richness of our ability to experience and interact with the world (however one thinks of ‘the senses’) – to know the world? We have developed (to the nth degree) to know the world. Phil Stanfield


    • Thanks Phil! You led me to go back and watch that video. Very interesting. It makes me wonder how the blindness organizations would react if sight implants were ever developed. The reaction of some in the deaf community to Cochlear implants comes to mind, that it was a threat to their community.

      On idealism and materialism, I tend to agree. In my mind, it comes down to what we have or don’t have evidence for. I’m open to non-materialistic phenomena, if we can find evidence for it. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if gravity or some aspects of quantum physics strictly fit into classic materialism. If they do, it always seems like “materialism” is in danger of becoming synonymous with what is evidentially established.


  5. Reblogged this on materialism, mysticism and art and commented:
    A good article on how we relate with and know the world – with (again) a useful lead-in by SelfAwarePatterns.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi SelfAwarePatterns, I am currently posting from Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-criticism on precisely this point – the conflation of the source of our knowledge with the structure of matter (the philosophical concept for objective reality). Lenin wrote (at the time of the ‘penetration’ of the atom and the rise of the new science) ‘Materialism and idealism differ in their answers to the question of the source of our knowledge and of the relation of knowledge (and of the “mental” in general) to the physical world; while the question of the structure of matter, of atoms and electrons, is a question that concerns only this “physical world”.

    The fundamental question underlying all others is ‘Which precedes or is the product of the other – consciousness and thought or objective reality (matter)?’ Stating a theoretical absolute, no matter how deep we go into the contradictory poetry of the world (which the Neoplatonists, Cusanus and Hegel appreciated so well, and whose theorising Marx turned right way up), science holds the materialist position. Regards, Phil

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Wyrd Smythe says:

    Busy weekend, good post and comments; I’ll have to come back and pick up when I have more time. This caught my eye though…

    “…our sense of where our body and body parts are…”

    Well, the body parts are in well-sealed, carefully labeled jars in my refrigerator (the one in the dungeon — not the one in the kitchen… that would be gross).

    But you’ll never get me to reveal where the bodies are!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. amanimal says:

    Hi ‘SAP’, I’m having a difficult time seeing the 5 senses “myth” being on par with the 10% myth as we do have 5 senses that receive information about our external environments. Jarrett’s additional senses are all internal. It seems to me he is sliding down that “slippery slope into philosophy” he mentions.

    On “free will”, I think it’s minimally a lot less free than we like to think.

    Reality? In ‘Darwin’s Cathedral’ DS Wilson argues for a distinction between factual and practical realities. I’ve not read it yet, but it’s on the way.

    “… any one true answer?” – maybe, maybe not? I don’t know.

    “The human mind is designed to be both a scientist and an attorney, both a conscious seeker of objective truth and an unconscious, impassioned advocate for what we want to believe. Together these approaches vie to create our worldview.” – page 200

    Leonard Mlodinow, ‘Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior’, 2012


    • Hi amanimal,
      I fear we’re in philosophy territory whether we want to be or not. Is the sense I have of something touching my toe different than the sense I have of something touching my shoulder? If not, why would the sense of air waves vibrating my cochlea (inner ear) be a different sense? Of course, our brains process these very differently, but if the distinction is brain processing, then the other senses Jarrett discuss start sounding a bit more legitimate. If we want to focus on physical mechanisms, then the three she mentions (mechanical (touch, hearing), chemical (taste and smell), and light (sight)) makes more sense.

      On free will, if you’re defining “free will” as “conscious will”, then I might agree. As we’ve discussed before, I doubt conscious awareness has any real control, although I do think it has causal influence.

      Let me know how you find Mlodinow.


      • amanimal says:

        “… in philosophy territory whether we want to be or not.”

        Yes, I was afraid of that. I’ll just have to buck up and put on a brave face and give this a shot 🙂

        I didn’t mean to imply that Jarrett was factually wrong in anything he states, but I do think he is practically wrong and that’s why we refer to “the 5 senses”. He admits as much in describing differentiating the senses based on receptor type:

        “doesn’t feel like the most intuitive way”
        “becomes even more absurd”

        Minimizing the number of senses isn’t any more useful. To say that “My mechanical sense tells me …” or “That’s a powerful chemical sensation!” isn’t very informative.

        So a plausible explanation for why we talk about “the 5 senses” is I think, resorting to a quote:

        “Every living being categorizes. Even the amoeba categorizes the things it encounters into food or nonfood, what it moves toward or moves away from. The amoeba cannot choose whether to categorize; it just does. The same is true at every level of the animal world. Animals categorize food, predators, possible mates, members of their own species, and so on. How animals categorize depends upon their sensing apparatus and their ability to move themselves and to manipulate objects.”

        “Categorization is therefore a consequence of how we are embodied. We have evolved to categorize; if we hadn’t, we would not have survived. Categorization is, for the most part, not a product of conscious reasoning. We categorize as we do because we have the brains and bodies we have and because we interact in the world the way we do.
        ” – Adobe Reader page 18, Neural Beings Must Categorize heading

        ‘Philosophy in the Flesh’, Lakoff and Johnson 1999

        We use “5” because it’s useful, whereas both of Jarrett’s extremes are not. Most people aren’t even aware they have a proprioceptive system – it normally works quite invisibly and is simply taken for granted. While some functioning of the interoceptive system is quite obvious we feel there’s a difference between being hungry and tasting something. Jarrett isn’t wrong factually, but maybe he’s not quite right practically so I do think stating that “… five is a pretty arbitrary and meaningless number – a glaring “myth” of the brain” is a bit overstated.

        “free will” as “conscious will” – close enough for me 🙂

        ‘Subliminal’ wasn’t anything new or revelatory because of my familiarity with the subject matter, but I did very much enjoy it(full disclosure of bias as Mlodinow once co wrote an episode for Star Trek: TNG and worked as story editor on a couple of others 🙂 Other than that quote all my notes contained was a reference to “binocular rivalry” on page 43 that I’ll now have to revisit – thanks for the prompt!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m fully on-board with pragmatic categories, primarily because, ultimately, it’s all pragmatic categories. I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other on five senses. They’ll almost certainly continue to be the primary examples I list when talking about senses.

          But for me, that pragmatic ontology continues into free will. I think, for practical purposes, we make choices, and have to own those choices. For me, the “we” includes both the conscious and sub-conscious aspects of ourselves. But it’s a matter of definitions.

          ‘Philosophy in the Flesh’ continues to sit in my Kindle account. I’ve recently purchased a flurry of books, so not sure when I’ll get to it. I’m currently reading a section of a book called ‘Ancient Cities’ (basically the section on Neolithic sites–spurred by an article I recently linked to). After that, I may read a short book on Confucianism, and then on to ‘Intelligence Unbound’ or more science fiction.

          Liked by 1 person

          • amanimal says:

            Agreed, one of the things Elliott Jaques emphasized as fundamental in ‘The Life and Behavior of Living Organisms’ was exactly that – looking at the behavior of the organism as a whole.

            But, perhaps short of(though maybe only just) negating “free will”(if it’s even a coherent concept), I think it’s important, if not critical, for us to recognize that on a daily basis many, if not most, of our behavioral responses are based largely on a history of previously experienced environments, influenced by the current environment, and often initiated automatically. Recognizing this single facet of the species, and the need that follows from it of improving our environments, would(or should) push us to prioritize exactly that.

            On my reading, I’m about half-way through both Oliver Sack’s ‘Hallucinations’ and ‘The Biological Evolution of Religious Mind and Behavior’, Voland and Schiefenhövel (editors) 2009(found it online). Next up is McGilchrist’s ‘The Master and his Emissary’ unless one of the spate of books I just ordered speaks to me more forcefully, but McGilchrist has been waiting patiently for me for quite some time 🙂

            In ‘Strangers to Ourselves’ Timothy Wilson relates the story of a man who proprioceptive system wasn’t functional due to nerve damage – ‘Find’ the heading “The Unconscious Takes a Holiday” at:


            … almost incomprehensible!

            Liked by 1 person

    • I totally agree that we are much more products of our environments than most people are comfortable admitting. Anyone who has read history, or anthropology, can’t fail to see the overwhelming influence of culture on who we are. Having a nurturing environment will lead to much better decisions than a harsh one. Of course, part of that environment is responsibility.

      BTW, I got a new Roku this weekend, and while poking around with it, discovered this online course you might find interesting.
      She gives a definition of religion, looking at the etymology of the term, to re-connect or to re-bind, that made me think of all the pep rallies I used to attend to in school just before the big game, very much in line with the sports-religion article you linked me to the other day.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Had to re-edit that last comment because WordPress ate the YouTube URL to a playlist. Very annoying.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wyrd Smythe says:

    As several of your readers have already said, it feels and appears as if we have volition, so we need to operate as if they were (at least until such time as we understand the situation a bit better). It may be that, as some views of physics suggest, the future is fixed and only seems opaque to us (perhaps due to chaos).

    An analogy might be how I can only be really sure about one thing: that my mind exists. Everything else I “know” I take, to some extent, on faith. It feels like the real world and other people really are there, and no experiment seems to disprove this, so I use use that consistency to support my claim that the real world does, in fact, exist (as far as I can tell).

    We would seem to be in the same position with regard to volition.

    I’m not sure how helpful experiments that look for the neural correlates of free will are. As you touched on, there are some indications our conscious mind lags behind what’s really going on in our brains on a moment-to-moment basis. But I wonder about the line from this to the types of thoughtful important long-term life decisions we make (marry this person? take this job?). Those would seem to be the ones where the idea of free will matters most.

    Even if it turns out our decision-making process comes from a deeper level than we’re aware of, what might that imply? Is it the sign of physical determinism operating at a basic level, or could it be the sign of something ineffable going on? A key argument anti-dualists have regarding dualism is the question of how a non-material thing (mind/soul) affects a material thing (brain/body). What if those deep first stirrings are actually the signs of that effect?

    (Of course, as a dualist with spiritual leanings, the whole free will “problem” has a potentially very easy answer for me.)


    • Good examples. I think in weighing those long term decisions such as who to marry or which job to take, it’s then that free will is a productive philosophy. It would be absurd for me to not make a decision on marriage, to say that I’ll just let the laws of physics play out. The fact is, I can’t. I have to weigh the options as best I can and make the best decision I can. I do think the laws of physics will control what I choose, but that’s of zero utilization to me during the actual act of choosing. At a pragmatic level, I still have to choose, and I’m still responsible for what I chose.

      I actually don’t think dualism changes the problem. If dualism is true, then our minds exist separate from our bodies. The immaterial mind may operate by principles we don’t understand, perhaps by principles we can never understand, but that mind still has a nature and has still had experiences (unless all of our experience with minds is illusory, in which case I fear we’re in complete solipsism). The idea that my choice will be free of that nature or those experiences strikes me as incoherent.


      • Wyrd Smythe says:

        And pragmatic is about all we can be. People aren’t always clear on how, if the universe is fully determined, any thoughts or choices we make regarding it are equally determined. The ‘you’ that sits there pondering volition exists because of a history that leads up to it.

        Even our deciding to be pragmatic about it could be nothing more than an inevitable frame in the movie filmed long ago.

        The question of what volition really even means is an interesting one. What does it really mean to “choose” something. One description I rather like is: “The ability to change your mind about what to have for dinner.”

        A choice can easily be due to history, but there seems a less direct line from previous history to changing your mind. (There’s no actual distinction — same arguments apply, but it almost seems like there’s a category difference between them. Maybe it’s just me. I was struck by the phrase.)

        Whether dualism provides a platform for volition seems to depend on the duality involved. Some dualism is really emergent materialism, so again all the usual arguments apply.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Good point about dualism. I actually believe a type of reverse engineered dualism may be possible. One of the arguments that I’ve heard against mind uploading is that it’s dualistic, and it is. But it’s the software / hardware dualism of computing. Of course, the human brain isn’t naturally dualistic in this way, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make it so, someday, possibly.


    • Ahem, I prefer “hairless ape”.


  10. Wyrd Smythe says:

    FWIW, I touched on the matter of free will in a three-part series I did recently. I know you saw the final post in that series (about quantum effects), but don’t know if you saw the first two:

    Liked by 1 person

  11. amanimal says:

    Hi ‘SAP’, I wasn’t sure where to post this, but I just finished reading yesterday(rereading now):

    ‘The Correlated History of Social Organization, Morality, and Religion’, Lahti 2009

    … Chapter 5 of:

    ‘The Biological Evolution of Religious Mind and Behavior’, Voland and Schiefenhövel (editors) 2009

    … which strikes me as a possible broad delineation of Norenzayan’s ‘Big Gods’ and thought you might be interested. And, after reading:

    “Big Gods is widely recognized as the most significant contribution to the evolutionary study of religion in recent years.” – Richard Sosis, This View of Life – Religion

    • I’ve been waiting on the paperback to save a couple of bucks – not sure how much longer I can hold out 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I’ll take a look at them when I get a chance.

      BTW, I’m currently reading a book on Confucianism, a philosophy that people debate whether or not it’s a religion.

      Sosis’s remark is interesting. I enjoyed Big Gods, but haven’t seen a good response from Norenzayan on Baumard’s and Boyer’s criticism, that his theory doesn’t correlate with what we know of many ancient religions. (Admittedly, I haven’t been looking. Just checked his web site and see that there is a paper on questions about Big Gods, which I’ll have to read.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • amanimal says:

        No, thank YOU ‘SAP’ – that’s the Religion, Brain & Behavior ‘Big Gods’ book symposium that I had started reading, got sidetracked, and never finished – completely forgot about it!

        Liked by 1 person

      • amanimal says:

        If you haven’t had a chance to look at it yet, Norenzayan’s response starts the bottom of Adobe Reader page 63.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks! You saved me a lot of time. And the response I was most interested in was on Adobe Reader page 70.

          Well, I guess I’m going to have to suck it up and read Bellah’s tome, since Norenzayan relied on it for much of his response. Obviously he disagrees with the other sources I checked after reading Big Gods. (Although his views would accord with Robert Wright’s “Evolution of God”, a book that had previously shaped a lot of my views.)

          On Norenzayan’s most striking example, one thing those other sources point out is that Hammurabi does invoke the gods for his authority, but makes no claim that the actual laws come from them. Divine law was apparently a Hebrew innovation. That said, the conception of Shamash, a Babylonian god dedicated to justice, like the conception of Ma’at (who was concerned with order) in Egypt, does seem to imply divine concern for prosocial behavior.

          Liked by 1 person

          • amanimal says:

            On Lahti’s chapter, ‘The Correlated History of …’, I’m having second thoughts on the “possible broad delineation” description. It’s probably more accurate to say it’s a potential version of the ‘Big Gods’ concept. I say that because, for all I’ve read about ‘Big Gods’, as you know I’ve yet to actually read the book – also want to get to Bellah, and Wright, and maybe Merlin Donald too 🙂


    • It’s been over a year now since I read Big Gods, and I have to admit to only having scanned Lahti, but I’m not seeing anything that looks incompatible. I think Norenzayan would assert that big gods help the transition to duty-to-fellow-citizens stage.

      Liked by 1 person

      • amanimal says:

        Lahti’s nutshell …

        5.2 A “Bottom–Up” Hierarchical Model of Human Social Evolution

        “I propose that as human social environments change, the nature of conventional morality changes with them, followed closely by changes in conventional religious attitudes and behavior. Thus a central hypothesis here is that “lower” cultural traits such as social aggregation and cooperation have been the predominant drivers of change in the “higher” traits of morality and religion; and that moral change has been the predominant driver of religious change.”

        … and this section applies more specifically to a time period you mentioned you were reading about recently.

        5.4.6 Favored or Chief Gods in Agricultural Societies (Parochial
        to Universalizing Morality and Religion)

        “The agricultural revolutions that began to occur about 11,000 years ago …”

        It’s all thought-provokingly very interesting though 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • It is interesting. I don’t think there is any doubt that morals have changed substantially over time. Heck, they’ve changed since 1980, so saying they changed from the paleolithic seems almost anticlimactic.

          BTW, I added Religion in Human Evolution to my Kindle account. Not sure when I’ll get to reading it, but having in there increases the chances. Maybe over the Christmas break.

          Liked by 1 person

          • amanimal says:

            Yes, definitely his thoughts and musings on a pretty fundamental, even foundational, concept.

            On Bellah’s book – I look forward to whatever you may have to say about it whenever you may have time and inclination to say it!

            Liked by 1 person

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