The dark side of theory of mind?
“Our reputation-conscious ancestors would have experienced a pervasive feeling of being watched and judged, he says, which they would readily have attributed to supernatural sources since the cognitive system underlying theory of mind also seeks to attribute intentionality and meaning, even where there is none.”
That is an excerpt from a summary of a theory about religion from Jesse Bering at the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University in Belfast. The quote is from a story by Helen Phillips in New Scientist “Is God good?” in the September 1 2007 issue, number 2619, pages 32-36. Link to story online: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19526190.400-what-good-is-god.html?page=1
I’m not so sure that I would want to have a mind that contains a “theory of mind” module that seeks to attribute intentionality and meaning even where there is none. I think there’s a word for such a state of mind; isn’t it “delusion”?
If the “cognitive system underlying theory of mind” is also the neurological basis of religious belief or religious sentiment, then I (an atheist) am very glad that I don’t (apparently) have one.