Innate dualism and intimations of eternal life

Excerpts from a new article at Aeon by Natalie Emmons:

We see faces in the clouds and we might just see Jesus in our toast: the fact that we see anyone at all tells us that the human mind is actively searching for agents, even in the most ambiguous of situations.

…Bering and his colleagues set their sights on what psychologists call ‘intuitive mind-body dualism’ as an alternative…The study deliberately included a cluster of children too young to have been exposed to much religious testimony at all, to see whether even they had an inkling that a part of an individual survives death.

…The researchers found that even from the youngest ages, children tended to respond that the dead mouse retained its mental faculties, such as the ability to experience sadness and know things, but that it no longer had bodily states, like the need to eat or drink. As the researchers reported in Developmental Psychology in 2004, this was consistent with intuitive mind-body dualism and confirmed that children reasoned about the mind differently from the body after death: it was only the mind that tended to be viewed as immortal. Notably, they found that younger children were more likely than older children to endorse the idea of eternal life.

…To evaluate whether children possess a deep-rooted, unlearned sense that there is eternal life, I had to find a new experimental approach. My solution was to develop a way of examining children’s intuitions about the prospect of eternal life that avoided the topic of death entirely. After much contemplation and correspondence with Bering, I decided that asking children about the time before biological conception might resolve the issue.

…Namely, children from both cultures had a persistent bias to judge that their emotions and desires – but not their intelligence or bodily states – remained intact during the time before pregnancy. What’s more, the intuition that one’s emotions and desires were eternal endured even as the children grew older, although older children judged they had fewer prelife capacities overall.

In addition to showing that eternalist beliefs are not learned, another significant finding from this work is that children did not think that they had intelligence during the time before conception. This suggests that children are not simply relying on intuitive mind-body dualism to guide their judgments. Rather, from early on, they are sensitive to different aspects of the mind and view only emotionality and desires as the essential core of an individual; these traits, rather than pure intelligence, are what humans intuitively embrace as so elemental that they are thought to precede our existence on Earth.

161 thoughts on “Innate dualism and intimations of eternal life

  1. petrushka,

    Actually, it is possible to train oneself to endure pain.

    Endurance and enjoyment are two different animals.

    William’s statement is clearly wrong:

    However, because I have free will, I can choose to like anything. Or dislike anything. Believe anything. Deny anything. You’d be amazed at what kind of power free will gives those of us who are not merely biological automatons.

  2. Moved a bunch of posts to Guano.

    If you want to scrap, pleases take it to Noyau.

    There may be some more stuff on the previous page but I don’t have time to check just now.

  3. keiths: Endurance and enjoyment are two different animals.

    Not necessarily, as I’ve plainly explained. The problem – as usual – is that keiths understanding of the terms I use (even after I’ve consistently explained them more fully) is incorrectly narrow. While it may be convenient to his mischaracterization to juxtapose “liking” or “enjoyment” with “endurance” or willing one’s way through unpleasant circumstances by forming a different perspective, they are clearly not mutually exclusive concepts or values.

    I’ve learned to like/enjoy pain of all sorts as well as other uncomfortable circumstances because of the challenges they present and the changes in my character they bring – which are positive, if I choose to see those things in a positive light. I enjoy the challenges of life quite a bit more now – I like them – because I choose to see them in a positive manner and use them to my benefit.

    This is entirely consistent with what I explained to keiths 2 years ago in the same thread he quoted in order to make it seem as if I was contradicting myself now. As I’ve said before, it’s context that matters. Keith has not ever been able to characterize my views correctly and appears to be unable to accept correction on the matter.

  4. William J. Murray: Have you ever been the **only** caregiver for a parent with Alzheimers, taking care of **all** their physical needs and emotional problems? I wanted to be a good son to her and take care of her, so I changed how I reacted to some pretty deeply-held “unenjoyments”, and learned to enjoy things by changing aspects who I was and how I reacted.

    I at least admire you for taking on this full-on responsibility. Is there such a thing as respite care in the US?

  5. Yes, humans are capable of training their emotional responses. That is what therapy is about, albeit with assistance.

    One can overcome phobias and the disgust response. A fair amount of medical training involves desensitizing oneself to emotional and disgust responses.

    Acting, public speaking combat training, all involve modifying one’s response to fear.

    And I think William is correct to say that the ability and desire to do this differs from person to person.

    I don’t see that this has anything to do with “libertarian free will.”

  6. Alan Fox: I at least admire you for taking on this full-on responsibility. Is there such a thing as respite care in the US?

    Yes, but I never used it. She passed away last year peacefully asleep in her bed. It is one of the great satisfactions of my life to have been able to take care of her through to the end.

  7. petrushka,

    I don’t see that this has anything to do with “libertarian free will.”

    It doesn’t. That was a red herring introduced by William.

  8. William J. Murray: Is this somewhere in the official rules?

    You must be joking.

    It’s Elizabeth’s site. The rules are what she chooses to do at any given moment. Think of Barry Arrington in drag. That’s what I do. It brings a smile to my face and then I move on. 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.