J. Anderson Thomson on Perceived Agency
“Humans are strongly biased to interpret unclear evidence as being caused consciously by an agent, almost always a humanlike agent. This cognitive ability to attribute agency to abstract sights or sounds may have helped our distant ancestors survive, allowing them to detect and evade enemies. It kept them alert, attentive toward possible danger. Better to jump at shadows than risk something or someone jumping at you.
This ability was adaptive, so therefore it is natural for us to assume the presence of unseen beings and to believe that such beings can influence our lives. It is equally natual to assume that such a being, if asked, can alter or affect what happens to us. Asking easily becomes praying…As social beings with these adaptations, we are now set up for belief in a divine attachment figure. We can attribute agency to it, transfer some of our early-life emotions to it, and as a result can believe that such a being desires to interact with us.”
A full review of this great book can be found here.