Ch1 L44: Beliefs – part XVIII (On rituals)

  1. In the last post, we talked about learning which could be interpreted as making extraordinary things ordinary by creating concepts [1] or orders [2]. Earlier we had discussed that we related things based on the law of adjacency [3], two or more spatial, temporal or conceptual things are related to each other.
  2. Those relationships which have more similarities in more dimensions are stronger. We can imagine each dimension as a strand and they’re woven to create a rope, thus the more the strands, the stronger the rope.
  3. With the primitive brain, our poor ancestors couldn’t weave a strong rope. Their connections were based on mostly one or a few dimensions. They could’ve related a green parrot to an emerald because they’re both green. [4]
  4. In the 28th post, we discussed that the superficial connection between the tattoo of a tiger and the real tiger helped the primitive believe that they had captured its power or hunting skills [5]. The belief worked because it lowered their fear [6] and they could hunt more successfully; so, they concluded that the tattoo had some sort of power.
  5. We need orders and more importantly, we need to believe in them to live with less stress. In several posts, we discussed that fear functions like the alarm system of the brain. Due to minergy [7], our brain doesn’t want to spend energy unless it’s necessary, so fear tells our brain that it’s the time to react to a problem. Then the brain releases the energy until the job is done which will turn off the alarm.
  6. In very stressful situations, either caused by a single stressor or the superposition of stressors, the alarm can’t be turned off easily. So, you’ll need to continue working. Imagine that you fixed your car, then you needed to wash your hands. You would wash them until you’d find them clean which means you’re not afraid that they had dirt or germs to make you sick. The alarm can be hardly deactivated in the mind of those who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) [8]. They would wash their hands many times and they might not even find it clean enough.
  7. That’s why perfectionism can be called the ultimate level of OCD. You’d work on something endlessly and you couldn’t be ever satisfied [9].
  8. In the 42nd post, we talked about the half-crazy or schizotypal people who claimed to hear some voices [10]. Each community needed one or a few of them to be their mediator with nature. Professor Sapolsky, our rockstar [11], mentioned in his lecture about the biological reasons for developing religions, that the primitive people were aware that they needed a few of them because they lived off other’s wage (that’s what the religious institutions have been doing ever since); so they tried to keep the ratio very low (isn’t it the most tempting job?).
  9. Besides, they needed someone obsessed with doing something repetitive for their rituals. They developed numerology to find the right number for each rite.
  1. Doing an action certain times can cause order thus certainty. In this case, the truth can be barely the matter. The effect to make fear subside was what they’re looking for and we know if we do something to turn off the alarm, our brain will call it successful no matter what.
  2. Imagine that two people from different cultures want to greet by kissing each other’s cheeks. Person A would go for 3 kisses whereas person B would kiss twice according to their cultures. If you were one of the people, you’d feel an awkward moment; but you’d quickly make a joke about it to resolve the awkwardness. However, the primitive people couldn’t be so tolerant and flexible because they believed that there’s one right number and that’s it; no doubts, no arguments. So, person B would stop person A who was insisting on kissing three times (back then couldn’t it be possibly a reason to start a fight?). That’s why those who perform a repetitive task, will start it over if they forget the count. They believe that there’s only one correct number to get it done.
  3. Though their beliefs caused more harm in a procrustean way [12], we should acknowledge their attempt to create orders by finding patterns. We will talk about patterns when we study mathematics.


[1] We discussed concepts in the 12th post. Here’s the link

[2] Link to the previous post

[3] In the 8th post, I said that the brain connects two things based on their adjacency and we saw how it affected thinking in several posts. An example of the spatial and temporal adjacency would be honey bees and flowers, and an example of the conceptual adjacency will be the connection between the geometric shapes. Link

[4] We should know that the context of the relationship makes it meaningful. For example, if your company were in the emerald business, you could use a green parrot for its logo.

[5] Link to the 28th post

[6] Fear is the most fundamental feeling which has helped us survive and we’ve discussed its role in quite a few posts, starting from the 3rd. Link

[7] Minergy is the term I’ve come up with which explains our tendency to spend minimum energy to get a job done. Link

[8] Link to the Wiki page about OCD.

[9] I brought up the question about the problem with perfectionism in the first post. Link

[10] Link to the 42nd post.

[11] I’ve referred to Robert Sapolsky’s book (why Zebras don’t get ulcers) and his lectures at Stanford in many posts and personally speaking, he is one of the most inspiring teachers I’ve ever seen. Link

[12] Link to the 24th post in which we discussed the procrustean attitude.

*Link to the webpage of the featured image

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