Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast by Lewis Wolpert
Wolpert proceeds from tools and cultural transmission of tool use (seen in a bunch of animals) up to understanding of causation (fewer species have this) to broken analytics that yield false beliefs. In trying to explore religion from an evolutionary perspective, he doesn't carry the argument far enough to explain the social impact of beliefs.
How do they solidify around a few winners, memes according to Richard Dawkins? Beliefs seem to have a utility beyond whether they actually work or not. Too bad Wolpert didn't delve into that instead of this bad catalogue of bad beliefs.
There is a strong motive for explaining any phenomena that affect us in causal terms, an ingrained ned to organise the world cognitively -- both the external world and the internal world of the individual. This cognitive imperative, which has been called a belief engine, may have evolved because it was essential for human survival, and an enormous aid to activities such as finding food, making tools or avoiding danger, and so became instinctive.
One psychologist has suggested that the reason why we are so attached to our beliefs is because the are like our possessions. Like material possessions, they can make us feel good. Even the way we talk about beliefs is like the way we talk about things we own. We 'hold', 'acquire', 'inherit', 'give up' beliefs. But our beliefs are much more to us than possessions: they are part of our very identity. Criticism of our beliefs can feel like a criticism of ourselves.Beliefs also identify our social group. Attacking beliefs = war.
The so-called interviewer illusion provides another example. Many interviewers of poeple applying for jobs or places at a university feel confident in their ability to predict long-term performance. Research in this area shows that most interviewers overestimate their skills.
Making up a story to account for events in what seems to us to be a rational manner is programmed into our brains, and is illustrated in split-brain patients, where the language ability in the left hemisphere is separated from the right hemisphere...
This (show two pics, one for each eye, then ask patient to find a related picture in a pile using left hand = right hemisphere, ask patient why they select image, they try to give answer) is a made-up story, for the subject's left hemisphere cannot know about the snow -- a nice example of confabulation, storytelling to account for the observations in a consistent manner but leaving out crucial bits of information.