Our 'caveman logic' embraces ESP over evolution

July 08, 2009

We see the face of the Virgin Mary staring up at us from a grilled cheese sandwich and sell the uneaten portion of our meal for $37,000 on eBay. We believe in ESP, ghosts, and angels over the scientific theory of evolution. While science offers a wealth of rational explanations for natural phenomena, we often prefer to embrace the fantasies that reassured our distant ancestors. And we'll even go to war to protect our delusions against those who do not share them.

These are examples of what evolutionary psychologist Hank Davis calls "Caveman Logic." Although some examples are funny, the condition itself is no laughing matter. In CAVEMAN LOGIC: THE PERSISTENCE OF PRIMITIVE THINKING IN A MODERN WORLD (Prometheus Books, $19.98), Davis encourages us to transcend the mental default settings and tribal loyalties that worked well for our ancestors back in the Pleistocene age. Davis laments a modern world in which more people believe in ESP, ghosts, and angels than in evolution. Superstition and religion get particularly critical treatment, although he argues that religion, itself, is not the problem but "an inevitable by-product of how our minds misperform."

"Caveman Logic is a whirlwind tour through the deeper recesses of our evolved mind. Hank Davis brings to bear cutting edge research from the cognitive sciences to reveal how mental tools designed to serve the needs of our ancient ancestors continue to exert an influence, both subtle and powerful, on human thought and behavior today," said John Teehan, Associate Professor of Religion, Hofstra University and author of In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence.

Davis says CAVEMAN LOGIC: THE PERSISTENCE OF PRIMITIVE THINKING IN A MODERN WORLD is the product of more than two decades of pondering, teaching and writing about "the powerful influence of irrational, delusional thinking that is anchored to our Pleistocene-era brain circuitry." He asserts that much of this primitive thinking is supported by modern social institutions. For example, a 2007 poll found that nearly 70 percent of Americans believe angels and demons are active forces in the world, while a 2009 survey concluded that only 39 percent believe in Darwin's theory of evolution. Even non-religious persons often thank God or "the heavens" in response to good news.

"Ways of thinking that were both reasonable and advantageous in caveman days become illogical--and potentially destructive--when they are overextended to modern times," says Madeleine Van Hecke, author of Blind Spots: Why Smart People Do Dumb Things.

Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age adds, "Hank Davis reveals the deep roots of humanity's weakness for superstitions, blind assumptions and primitive thinking, and shows how we can start to overcome 'caveman logic.'"

Davis advocates a world in which "spirituality" is viewed as a dangerous rather than an admirable quality, and suggests ways in which we can overcome our innate predisposition toward irrationality. Davis points out that, "biology is not destiny." Just as some of us succeed in watching our diets, resisting violent impulses, and engaging in unselfish behavior, we can learn to use critical thinking and the insights of science to guide individual effort and social action in the service of our whole species.
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About the Author: Hank Davis (Guelph, Ontario, Canada) is an award-winning professor of psychology who teaches at the University of Guelph. He is the author of several books and more than one hundred scientific papers.

MEDIA NOTE: Hank Davis is available to discuss his thoughts on primitive thinking in a modern world. Contact Prometheus Books at publicity@prometheusbooks.com or 1-800-853-7545 for author contact information or to request press materials or a review copy of CAVEMAN LOGIC: THE PERSISTENCE OF PRIMITIVE THINKING IN A MODERN WORLD (ISBN 978-1-59102-721-8)

Prometheus Books

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