Are the very mental shortcuts our brain has evolved for efficiency working against the acceptance of evolution?

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IS evolution itself driving America's growing rejection of modern biology? New studies suggest this very thing.

Today's revelation that one-third of the US population rejects the idea of evolution and instead believes we were created through intelligent intervention is nothing new.

The fact that only a third of us accept that "natural processes such as natural selection" are behind our existence has had science thinking for some time.

Creationism is growing into a powerful political force. But the strength of their arguments and the forcefulness of their campaign does not entirely explain its growing success.

The debate has heated up in recent years as and a so-called "culture war" is being waged across a deepening partisan divide.

So why does the concept of evolution cause so much upset in an era overwhelmed with science – be it in medicine, transport, communication and calculation?

"Natural selection is like quantum physics … we might intellectually grasp it, with considerable effort, but it will never feel right to us," writes the Yale psychologist Paul Bloom.

It's about the nature of our brain. It's an amazing device at finding new and successful ways to adapting to an ever-changing world – with the minimum of effort.

The brain has evolved, psychologists argue, to conserve its energy and speed up its processes through a series of "mental shortcuts".

This "unwillingness" to expend mental energy may be behind the difficulty of accepting complex ideas such as evolution.

Written By: Jamie Seidel
continue to source article at adelaidenow.com.au

17 COMMENTS

  1. What’s so complicated and hard to grasp about evolution? It is a beautiful, elegant idea and the basic theory is really very simple. Random mutations effect an organisms ability to survive so that those organisms who possess positive survival traits are more likely to reproduce and pass on those traits to their offspring with the result that each generation contains an increasing number of individuals possessing that trait. There it can be summed up in one slightly convoluted sentence (Feel free to correct me if you think I am mistaken – I am no expert and have not formally studied biology since GCSE science.). I think that the problem people have in grasping evolution is not its complexity but simply that it contradicts deeply seated religious ideas, ideas in which people often have a great deal invested. Often it seems that people who’s religion contradicts evolution have no desire to understand Darwin’s theory.

    • In reply to #1 by jenog:

      What’s so complicated and hard to grasp about evolution? It is a beautiful, elegant idea and the basic theory is really very simple.

      Indeed. What a weird quote. Comparing it to Quantum mechanics? Big W.T.F. Feels right to me.

  2. Creationism and other religions exist mainly through the indoctrination of vulnerable children. What happens when children aren’t indoctrinated into believing some looney mythology and instead are guided to use their intelligence to critically think about the world? They are more rational, humane and curious. Religious indoctrination IS child abuse.

  3. I have no idea why Paul Bloom said that evolution will never feel right to us.
    I think evolution is a perfectly logical, acceptable understanding about why we are what we are. If it doesn’t feel right just give it some time. It took me until I was about 30 before I liked pizza.

  4. This “unwillingness” to expend mental energy may be behind the difficulty of accepting complex ideas such as evolution.

    It is a condition I have described in the past as the habitual , “brain laziness”, of those who just cannot be bothered to think! -

    It makes them the ideal customers in a consumer market for 400% pay-day loans, expensive pre-packed ready meals etc.

    Historically, it is worth noting that a large percentage of the large vertebrate population, only need to be bright enough to out-wit the plants they feed on – and to dodge the odd predator.

  5. “Natural selection is like quantum physics … we might intellectually grasp it, with considerable effort, but it will never feel right to us,” writes the Yale psychologist Paul Bloom.

    Complete bollocks. Not only does it feel perfectly right to me, it took no particular mental effort to understand the basic concept and little more to go quite deeply into the details. There’s only one reason why any normally intelligent human wouldn’t think evolution “feels right” and that’s prior brainwashing by whichever loony religious cult they grew up in.

    • In reply to #6 by Arkrid Sandwich:
      >

      “Natural selection is like quantum physics … we might intellectually grasp it, with considerable effort, but it will never feel right to us,” writes the Yale psychologist Paul Bloom.

      Complete bollocks. Not only does it feel perfectly right to me, it took no particular mental effort to understand the basic concept and little more to go quite deeply into the details.
      There’s only one reason why any normally intelligent human wouldn’t think evolution “feels right” and that’s prior brainwashing by whichever loony religious cult they grew up in.

      That – and a personal general (and therefore equal) ignorance, of both Natural Selection and quantum physics. – Probably due to the “brain-laziness” I mentioned earlier.

  6. Creationism is growing into a powerful political force. But the strength of their arguments and the forcefulness of their campaign does not entirely explain its growing success.

    The “strength” of their argument certainly doesn’t explain their success although the forcefulness of their efforts may do.

    When their argument amounts to “we say this” and they cannot present any corroborating evidence of any kind, it cannot be considered a strong argument. When the second part of their position is added: “we refuse to consider any other possibility” you get the entire campaign in two short sentences. The reason it is successful seems to be because of the laziness of thought and unquestioning obedience encouraged by religion, and because it is endlessly repeated from every possible side.

    Education is the solution, and every effort must be made to end the religious stranglehold on positions of authority in the American school system.

  7. But the strength of their arguments and the forcefulness of their campaign does not entirely explain its growing success.

    The arguments offered by creationists are anything but “strong”. Its “growing success” (in itself an entirely debatable point) is attributable to the high rate of christian fundamentalism and the general scientific illiteracy of the average person. Sadly, most people find science “boring and too difficult to understand”.

    • In reply to #9 by NearlyNakedApe:
      >

      The arguments offered by creationists are anything but “strong”. Its “growing success” (in itself an entirely debatable point) is attributable to the high rate of christian fundamentalism and the general scientific illiteracy of the average person. Sadly, most people find science “boring and too difficult to understand”.

      There is no such thing as a boring subject. There is just bad teaching poorly directed at the wrong level for the audience.

      A teaching curriculum and presentation needs to be really poor to make the wonders of nature boring!

  8. Are the very mental shortcuts our brain has evolved for efficiency working against the acceptance of evolution?

    NO it isn’t! Propaganda and the brainwashing of children with threats of eternal torment are what’s working against
    evolution.

  9. I think a connected problem is that religious, faith-driven folk not only don’t think things through, but can’t do so, because in their childhood they were taught such illogical fables & revelations that they caused brain cells to reach out & connect to the wrong sub-departments, a very complex process that diminishes greatly as we grow into adults, so the pathways become fixed, over-attractive, easy, so we get the ‘mental shortcuts’ mentioned.

    The axon & dendrite connections & neural networks both within & connecting various brain areas needed for rational & logical thinking processes are different from those that the emotional ‘goddidit’ memeplex grows, so in many cases – especially after years of cultural & educational indoctrination & reinforcement, folk are just unable to think about scientific & real things as ‘we’ non-theists do.

    The ‘god spot’ uses different maps & produces different results than a ‘eureka spot’ does…. Mac.

    • I find this argument very appealing and compelling. I have a very limited understanding of neurological functioning, but my understanding is that the more we repeat a pattern, the stronger the connections used to further repeat that pattern become. This is why we becoome skilled to an intuitive level of actions we perorm repeatedly. A bit like driving to work on auto-pilot, we have repeated the pattern so many times we now have a natty little sub-routine within our brain that will carry out this function without the effort of full neurological processsing.

      I believe there was some research several years ago, that highlighted which areas of the brain were being used in monkeys as they learnt new tasks, the more the tasks were performed, the less neuro activity occured in higher regions of the brain and the lower regions became more active, those regions being synonmous with a sub-conscious level of thought.

      I’m ‘thinking aloud’ here….

      I was a nurse for 20 years, specialising in the manual handling of patients, a broad field that mainly saw me working as an advisor/consultant in widely different fields such as care of the dying and chicldren with learning difficluties, a full gamut there, it was a field I did tremendously diverse amount of study and research into, as so many different factors contribute to how we, as a species, move in health and in non-health.

      It was suprising how often I could intuitively ‘know’ what the best movement patterns/routines would benifit a patient, in just the same way as an experienced mechanic will ‘know’ what is wrong with a car by just litsening to the engine running.

      In the same way that someone who spends years knitting can knit without paying the slightest conscious attention to what they are doing, those who continually practice more ‘cerebral’ tasks must surely also be able to carry out wat would normally be high level (as in upper lobe) tasks below a level of conscious thought.

      We’ll call that x, and if x = true, then the patterns formed within the brain of a developing child of non-reason & dogma trumping rational thought, may also become hardwired from a neurological perspective as well as a social norm for that group.

      Interesting, I hope someone with more neurological knowledge than myself can continue it!

      In reply to #11 by CdnMacAtheist:

      I think a connected problem is that religious, faith-driven folk not only don’t think things through, but can’t do so, because in their childhood they were taught such illogical fables & revelations that they caused brain cells to reach out & connect to the wrong sub-departments, a very complex proc…

    • In reply to #13 by rod-the-farmer:

      Don’t read the comments to the original article. Some are very depressing.

      I should have taken your advice. With a couple of exceptions, what a bunch of uneducated know-it-all ignoramuses.

  10. Are the very mental shortcuts our brain has evolved for efficiency working against the acceptance of evolution?

    No,

    Most people who reject evolution do so because they want to think that they are special, that they are better than animals, that they are divine.

  11. I identify with this theory completely. It was an exciting coincidence that I was talking to someone at dinner hours before this article came up in our local papers website about my huge issue getting along with most people socially. I said to my companion that I think the problem is that other people naturally group things from a young age by seeing the similarities in each experience or situation requiring a response where I instead pick up on all the differences and then respond differently to most situations in which I haven’t yet been given a concise directive on how to respond in the case of xyz.
    As a child I could never understand why everybody else seemed to know what was expected of them and I didn’t despite being more advanced then them in every way except socially(and dancing, very bad at dancing). It’s been a huge issue in my life. I have to ask a lot of questions so I can prioritise and people assume I’m trying to get out of doing something or am just trying to be difficult.
    I also understand the lazy brain theory. People have to expend more energy thinking of responses to unfamiliar situations which explains why a lot of people avoid me like the plague. I must be pretty exhausting.
    In familiar situations I am often more efficient and effective than co-workers but in unfamiliar situations I must look like a very special lady indeed because energy conservation doesn’t really figure in my decisions. Even having come to this conclusion a year or two ago I’m still struggling to control it.

    I’d love to hear some feedback if anyone has anything to say about this.

    I’m sure my grammar and punctuation is incorrect, unfortunately I never learnt this at school and the teachers grading the english exams(and all other exams) did not care. I plan to study english before teaching.

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