We’re predisposed, as pattern-seeking mammals, to find “causes” for things we can’t explain.This is why we’re all so riveted by stories of any kind – movies, TV shows, novels, theater. These big brains of ours love explication and resolution.
It think it also explains why most of us are predisposed to believe in the supernatural. It’s likely that there is/was a evolutionary advantage to making up answers and inventing rituals that help us blunt or deny the reality and finality of death.
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What happens is that as science begins to provide provable explanations for many of these things, supernatural belief gets continually edged into smaller and smaller “gaps.” Quantum physics is the new “gap” for many believers, though it’s not likely to provide a refuge for the supernatural once it begins to be better understood.
When Benjamin Franklin invented the lightening rod, preachers all over New England ranted and raved against him! They actually taught that lightening and thunder was god’s wrath being “poured out” on evil people – and they thought Franklin was playing god with his invention that kept many “wicked” people from dying in house fires.
From fellow blogger, BeepBeepItsMe:
We are a pattern seeking species. Through our ability to differentiate similar from dissimilar, we are able to produce complex environments like blogs for example. The language we use on blogs is a complex pattern of symbols, shapes, and sounds which we are able to make sense of through the processes of similar and dissimilar – the processes of visual and auditory discrimination.
If we think back to out tribal ancestors, this ability to form visual and auditory patterns of recognition would have been a survival advantage. Not only would it have helped mankind to be able to progress to more and more complex technological and cultural concepts – but it would have enabled many of our ancestors to survive, literally.
Not only are we pattern seeking animals, we are a species which is honed evolutionary for physical survival. The ancestor who was in the forest at night and saw a shape in the woods with which he/she was unfamiliar, would have probably quickly visually processed if the shape was friend or foe. If the shape could not be quickly identified as a friend, or as something harmless, it would have been advantageous from a survival point of view to assume that the shape was harmful. And as the natural world was distinctly more harmful to human survival than it is now for many of us – the wary individual would have been one who assumed harm.
Of course, when he or she got back into the comfort and security of the tribe and the fire, he/she would have described this menacing shape which confronted him in the darkness. As danger lurked in nature in either human or animal form – the shape, whether it was a tree trunk or not – may have been interpreted to be a threatening combination of something human-like but not human, animal like, but not a known animal.
We can still see this survival mechanism in play with other herd species such as zebras or deer. It is advantageous to assume the worst when grazing on the plain. The deer which is “spooked” over a small sound or an odd shadow, may increase the survival of himself and also the herd.
So fear or anxiety is a survival mechanism, but continual fear would be deleterious as the processes of living would not occur if a species was in a continual state of fear or apprehension. The trade off to this survival mechanism is that in many circumstances the fear is irrational. How many times in a herd situation, is the herd frightened by a sound or by something visual which does not pose any threat to its existence?
So basically as a pattern seeking species which is honed through evolution towards survival, we are fearful of situations, sounds, and images which we can even slightly define as a potential threat. These threats, irrational and imagined in many instances, take on the attributes and characteristics of KNOWN threats. Human being’s known threats are other humans and other powerful animals – which is why these “mysterious” sounds and shapes take on the attributes and characteristics of known dangers. So a shape in the forest becomes human- but not completely human and a sound in the forest, or in the house becomes the sound of an animal predator.
Fear can be useful, even when that which is feared is irrational.