The Mindreading Debate and the Cognitive Science of Religion

Sophia 54 (1):61-75 (2015)
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Abstract

The relationship between understanding other natural minds, often labeled ‘mindreading,’ and putative understanding of the supernatural is a critical one for the dialogue centering on the cognitive science of religion . A basic tenet of much of CSR is that cognitive mechanisms that typically operate in the ‘natural’ domain are co-opted so as to generate representations of the extra-natural. The most important mechanisms invoked are, arguably, the ones that detect agency, represent actions, predicate beliefs and desires of others, and track social hierarchies, coalitions, and exchanges. In this essay, I show that where one lands on the interdisciplinary debate over the nature of mindreading has a significant impact on parts of CSR that invoke social cognition. I focus my essay on the case of CSR explanations of religious experiences in terms of a hyperactive agency detective device

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