Back in June I blogged a review here of
Robin Dunbar’s excellent book ‘How Religion Evolved And Why It Endures’. This led to my being asked to contribute some
material to an online seminar with the author produced by Christine Gallagher
of Wide Open Air Exchange.
The podcast of the seminar has just been released and you
can find it here:
The whole thing is an excellent, wide-ranging discussion on
religion, social groupings, friendship, families, celebrity and artificial
intelligence. The questions I asked of
Professor Dunbar can be found between approximately 1:06:30 and 1:20:00, but I
strongly recommend listening from start to finish.
The topics I specifically asked him about were –
1: The book mentions
Extinction Rebellion & the fact we live in an age preoccupied by the likely
end of human society. And you point out
that religion has evolved as a means of managing profound social and economic
change, and its expression is constrained by the size of social groups. So my question is – in an age of a globalised
economy, where technology has made social groupings effectively boundless, what
sort of religious experience is going to develop as a response to the human
condition in an age of climate change and mass extinction?
2: In John Geiger’s
book ‘The Third Man’, the author documents the phenomenon of the phantom
‘other’, a presence experienced by mountaineers and polar explorers in extreme
privation. This seems analogous to the
experience of the spirit world you identify among hunter-gatherers. I wondered
if you were aware of this or had considered it as another expression of the
3: Another question
about the future – if the human neurology that underlies the mystical stance
could be mimicked in an artificial neural network, do you think it would be
possible for AIs to experience religion – and what would it mean for the test
to distinguish humans from machines originally proposed by Alan Turing?
I’m grateful to Robin Dunbar for giving them his time
and consideration – and to Christine Gallagher for the chance to participate.