June 16, 2011
The Center for Inquiry has announced a conference, in honor of Daniel Dennett’s book Breaking the Spell, for December 2-3 this year on the theme of the scientific study of religion. The invited speakers list includes some prominent figures from the field, such as Dennett himself, Pascal Boyer, and Azim Shariff.
CFI has released a call for papers for the conference, with a deadline of September 1.
June 8, 2011
Recently, a friend suggested I make up my own version of a WWJD sticker — one that said “What Would Jesse Think?” See, both of my academic advisors have been named Jesse, and, being an insecure person, I am constantly worried about what my advisor will think of my work. Fortunately, for me, these thoughts are productive: They drive me to do work that I hope would please my advisor, even when I know that I am alone and my advisor has no idea what I am doing!
Anxiety about being watched by invisible agents (an agent is anything that has intentions, desires, or goals) appears to be a powerful motivator for other people, too, and the agents who we think are watching us don’t need to be human or even real for the effect to work. This effect has been proposed as one of the bases of belief in the supernatural: If people think they’re being watched by God, a spirit, or a ghost, they will be less likely to behave badly. Jesse Bering, Katrina McLeod, and Todd Shackelford (2005) tested this idea in the laboratory through a clever experiment.
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