After Supersense

Posted on August 17, 2009

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I had originally intended to blog my way through my reading of Bruce Hood’s Supersense book. I ended up not doing this for several reasons. The first is just a complete lack of the time to do so. The second, and much more substantive, is that the book largely runs over territory that I have already covered in this blog on many occasions. This would have meant that my entries would have tended to return to those same points. For example, Bruce uses the dual process account of reasoning that I think is probably inadequate. Having focussed upon those points I would have done a disservice for the book, which is really a very fine introduction to the topic. – I would have had a much easier job getting together material on other people’s research had I had access to it a couple of years ago. More importantly, the book manages to put together a coherent picture that is most interesting to me. Bruce’s view on superstitions is in many ways very similar to mine. He also thinks that they are essentially a by-product of the development of cognitive abilities and not very likely to ever be eliminated. Also, he thinks that they have come to play a function in underpining what he calls ‘sacred values’, which he sees as tied to religion. There are a lot of similarities and, at the same time, differences here to the way that I relate religion and superstition. Thus, it is the big picture in his book that is the most intersting aspect of it for me. I suspect that the book being aimed officially at a non-professional reader has given Bruce the leeway to develop this picture beyond what he might have felt was justified in an academic publication – which just means that it is all the better, so far as I’m concerned, that the book has this character.

One avenue to research that is a major focal point of Bruce’s book and yet remains mostly unexplored by me is the idea of essentialism. Having pursued a particular line of thought I have not had the time to really look at it to the degree that I have wished to since coming across Bruce’s work. From what I see in Supersense, I get the feeling that it can be integrated into a bounded rationality approach but that would take a fair bit more reading and thinking. Certainly, I feel that the comments I made in my initial entry about this book still feel relevant but definitely too simplistic to accommodate more than a little to what Bruce is working on.

I’ll be giving a talk to Bruce’s research group on the 16th of September and, having now finished the book ,I think  I can guess what would be most interesting to them. Conveniently, it is basically the talk on the relationship between superstitions and religions that I have given in several forms this years.

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