Daniel Everett Lost Tribe Lost Faith

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Discussion by: zennonanon
Hi RDF,

I hope this is the correct place to let you know about the fantastic story behind the you tube video
http://youtu.be/Zju5YwsP8GE

I could not find anything on RDF about Daniel Everett and I’m sure everyone will love his story about how he lost his faith while living with a remote tribe called the Piraha’. 

thank you

13 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this link. I read about Everett and the Piraha a couple of years ago and enjoyed his journey. Poor guy. Sent to evangelize the Piraha. A great story.

    As much as I admire many aspects of their culture, I couldn’t help but wonder about art and math. For instance, if all humans lived like the Piraha, would we have a laboratory on Mars right now?

    I found this link.

    It would be nice to have the conceptualizing that math and art require and still maintain the Piraha’s clarity on other subjects.

    • Nodhimmi:*
      thanks, this was given to me by a friend originally. I submitted it as a news article and wondered if they would post it in the video section. Anyway I’m glad to have it posted for others who might be interested.
      Can we send a few bishops or cardinals or maybe the incoming pope to take a holiday with the Piraha?
      What a good idea, I’m sure they can afford it.

  2. Thank you for the link in reply. It helped me to understand how the Piraha have not developed any creation mythology. They just don’t abstract. Which won’t get them to Mars or the internet. I wouldn’t swap places either.

    Everett’s video highlighted the absurdity of the christian message in comparison to the Piraha’s simple and literal view of reality: “We don’t believe in things we cannot see.”
    He must have felt like a dodgy salesman spinning a fairytale. Credit to him for walking in their shoes (bare feet) and taking on their view.

  3. One has to wonder whether the Piraha resist the use of abstact concepts on account of cultural conditioning and preferences or whether they do so because they lack the cerebral development to do so. The accounts given of their reponses to instruction seem to indicate that the Piraha just cannot think in abstract terms. A comparative study of their brains may well be a worthwhile project for neuroscientists. The politically correct may find this suggestion offensive, but hard facts in a study of this sort could prove very useful in advancing our understanding of human evolution, in particular the development of human intelligence.

    • In reply to #6 by Garrick Worthing:

      The politically correct may find this suggestion offensive, but hard facts in a study of this sort could prove very useful in advancing our understanding of human evolution, in particular the development of human intelligence.

      Presupposing that there is a difference would also be a form of political correctness, for a different kind of politics. The question should be asked and answered rigorously. There are simpler ways to test the hypothesis than the one you suggest, e.g. the status of adopted children in western families (modulo the social consequences of racial discrimination, popular negative models of behaviour associated with race, etc). Certainly one could test for things like capacity for abstract thought, e.g. literacy and numeracy. A negative result (provided the child could be shown to be developmentally unimpeded and genetically normal within the tribal population) would be shocking and of great consequence. I’d suggest if such a thing were possible, it would have been done by now. I’d also be interested to know who specifically is opposing and preventing such research without reference to such hand-wavy and paranoid explanations as “political correctness”.

  4. @zennonanan #4

    It helped me to understand how the Piraha have not developed any creation mythology. They just don’t abstract. Which won’t get them to Mars or the internet.

    While I understand that we are having a discussion about “conceptualizing” and that we can use “abstract” to describe our familiar notions of it, I’m not completely convinced that they can’t “abstract”. They are successful and happy survivors (successful hunters and fisherman) who have navigated their environment to their advantage and who have probably caused less harm on the large scale than we have. I’m not getting all relativistic on you. I just think examples like the Piraha should make us slow down and consider our terms carefully.

    @Garrick Worthing #6

    The accounts given of their reponses to instruction seem to indicate that the Piraha just cannot think in abstract terms. A comparative study of their brains may well be a worthwhile project for neuroscientists.

    I can’t help but wonder myself where nature and nurture might lie on this. I’m not sure how useful it is to evaluate the ability of Piraha adults to think in “abstract” terms. A more accurate but mostly unethical test would be to see how their babies would respond to be being raised in a culture where “conceptualizing” by our standards was introduced to them early.

    Sort of like if we sent our babies off to cultures where people could navigate large and complicated distances without GPS systems. Our brains respond to what’s necessary to navigate our world, I think.

    A more ethical test would be to unintrusively study the brains of babies of very different cultures, including Piraha babies to see what human baby brains are made of and what they become.

    I’m completely clueless about this so I won’t venture guesses. I would welcome contributions from people in the know.

    I wouldn’t swap places either.

    I’m not sure it’s about swapping places. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that we can conceptualize without insisting that our concepts are literally true. Math and art are free to frolic about on their own terms, but they’ve both demonstrated that they can have an inner discipline as far as claiming that any idea they come up with necessarily bears out in reality. Religion doesn’t have that discipline. Nor the math nor the art. It’s parasitic on all of those levels. Possibly inevitable in math and art cultures, but I’m not even sure of that.

    The politically correct may find this suggestion offensive,

    No. It’s not necessarily about political correctness or being offended. I just think we should be explicit about what we mean by “human intelligence”. I don’t want to negate Beethoven or Mars. I never would.

    It’s not PC to suggest that we be as careful as possible about how we frame our questions.

  5. Great piece. I find it fascinating that a tribe that is cut off from civilization can be so reasoned in their approach to life. I could understand a tribe being stalwart in their opposition to ‘civilized’ ideas but the idea that they are not superstitious at all is amazing to me. Not even pantheism , wow. I can see how Daniel was de-converted.

  6. There is a great documentary about Everett and the Piraha called ‘The grammar of Happiness’ where he discusses his theism and move to atheism. I t also features appearances by Steven Pinker and Noam Chomsky. It’s weel worth a watch, you should be able to download it. I would certainly have to disagree with Everett’s flawed hypotheses though.He claims that the Piraha have no language or use for discussing the future which is demonstrated to be false over and over throughout.

  7. After watching ‘The grammar of Happiness’ and other you tube videos about Dan Everett and the Piraha, I felt that the main point Dan Everett was driving at was that the Piraha were all noticeably happy humans. Obviously he was comparing them to the behaviour of the humans he was familiar with in the USA. I think a lot of the work he did with the Piraha language was to see if he could expose a link to why they were so happy. Happiness is a by-product of something else, it doesn’t happen all by itself and from my experience when it happens it doesn’t stay for anywhere near long enough. It is a great feeling to be happy, it may be the highest psychological state of contentment a human is capable of experiencing. Dan Everett observed that the Piraha were experiencing a kind of perpetual happiness as a result of their direct perception, which was uncontaminated by a strong connection to the distant past or distant future and their language confirmed to him that this was the case.
    Without even trying, the Piraha were able to enable a heavily encrusted christian mind to drop its bundle of superstitious nonsense. Who else on the planet is capable of that? We should be cheering that there is a group of humans still existing on the planet that avoided the religious corruption that has infected most of the world.
    If our big heads end up wiping us out, let’s hope the Piraha are the only human survivors, otherwise we may end up in the same mess again.

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