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Of Gods and Devils

Differential Cognition and the Adaptive Illusions of Control

Thomas B. Ellis

Perceiving the lack of control over the natural and social spheres is psychologically averse. The resulting depression has an effect upon the human animal’s inclusive fitness. In moments of despair and depression, sexual intercourse may be impossible. In order to restore a modicum of control, and thus libido, the human animal turns to religion. Religion provides compensatory, and thus adaptive illusions of control. It does this by first turning to the intentional stance and the presence of gods who may be socially manipulated to achieve a desired outcome. This is the nature of worship. Alternatively, religion employs the design stance and the presence of devils that may be mechanically compelled to withdraw. This is the nature of exorcism. Where the latter reflects the “illusion of control,” the former reflects the “illusion of qualified control.” Both cognitive stances are in the service of promoting illusions of power amidst truly random circumstances.