Pascal Boyer
The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought
Perseus Books 2001


pg 95
Keywords: inference systems: the most important aspect of mind-organization - objects we encounter are mentally sorted in different ontological categories with associated expectations - pick up different cues and process information differently, depending on whether the object is an animal or a person or an artifact or a natural object like a rock -
multiple inference systems:

Understanding the pysics of solid objects Understanding physical causation
Detecting goal-directed motion Keeping track of who's who Linking structure to function Understanding mental representation
The fact that a certain type of object activates a certain panoply of inference systems is what we mean when we say that it belongs to a particular category.
replace "ontological categories" with "theories", with a list of appropriate inference systems - Instead of having a complex mental encyclopedia with theoretical declarations about what animals and artifacts and persons are, all we have are flags that switch on particular systems and turn other systems off. - there are many different functional systems that work to produce particular kinds of inferences about different aspects of our surroundings. This is not just theoretical speculation: that there are different systems, and that they are narrow specialists, is made manifest both by neuro-imaging and by pathology. - intuitive psychological system is in fact composed of a variety of subsystems - specialized mechanisms that constantly produce representations of what is going on inside people's heads, in terms of perceptions, intentions, beliefs, etc.

• Perception and understanding of surroundings require inferences and guesses about different aspects of objects around us.
• The mind is composed of specialized systems that produce inferences about these different aspects.
• Objects in different "ontological categories" activate different sets of these specialized systems.
• Each inference system is itself composed of even more specialized neural structures.

pg 112
Keywords: Are children born with ontological categories and inference systems? Are distinctions such as that between animates and inanimates innate in the human infant? - whatever we will find at birth will not be, strictly speaking, the "animal" concept but something that (normally) leads to something that leads to something that builds the "animal" concept. - our tendency to understand concepts as encyclopedia entries that describe objects. - Ontological categories in fact consist of a set of switch settings activating or inactivating this or that inference system. - concepts are much less descriptions than skills.

pg 118

Keywords: EVOLUTIONARY PSYCHOLOGY - Our evolutionary history has shaped our inference systems as evolved responses to recurrent problems in ancestral conditions - contagion inference system: a generalist species requires not only that you have immune defenses like most other species but also that you make specific cognitive adaptations to minimize the danger of contamination and contagion. - the psychology of disgust, its connections to evolved food preferences and its relation to the risk of contamination, showed that this contagion system obeys specific inferential principles -

COGNITIVE NICHE: What humans especially need, more than any other species, are two types of goods without which existence is impossible. They need information about the world around them; and they need cooperation with other members of the species - very little of human behavior can be explained or even described without taking into account the massive acquisition of information about surrounding situations -
Humans are cooperators: Humans have for a long time- long enough to make a difference in evolutionary terms - lived in organized groups and in intense social interaction. Humans need cooperation because they depend on rich information, well beyond what individual experience can provide. Other people provide most of this information. -

Inference systems in the social mind: A hypertrophied social intelligence
. What we call social intelligence in many species are special capacities for social interaction. We have hugely complex social interaction, compared to other species, partly because we have hugely complex systems that represent what others are up to and why. - "intuitive psychology" or "theory of mind" is a federation of brain structures and functions, each of which is specialized in particular tasks: detecting the presence of animate agents (which may be predators or prey); detecting what others are looking at; figuring out their goals; representing their beliefs. - gossip

DECOUPLING: Imagination - A human mind is not condemned to consider and represent only what is currently going on in its immediate environment. Indeed, human minds are remarkable in the amount of time they spend thinking about what is not here and now. Decoupled cognition is crucial to human cognition because we depend so much on information communicated by others and on cooperation with others. To evaluate information provided by others you must build some mental simulation of what they describe. - we can produce coherent and useful inferences on the basis of imagined premises - Decoupling is also necessary to produce external representations, another universal capacity in humans - Art - Representation

Specific inference systems were tailored by selection for their contribution to solving particular problems in ancestral environments.
To describe them it is useful to combine predictions from the evolutionary background and independent experimental evidence.
Crucial to our species are mental adaptations for social life, as information (notably that provided by others) is our ecological niche.

pg 249

Keywords: solidarity-based groups - in their institution, company, neighborhood; some people are intrinsically likeable and others less so, some people seem trustworthy and others do not. How all this is evaluated in terms of cooperation and trust is not quite accessible to conscious inspection - our systems for social interaction did not evolve in the context of vast groups and abstract institutions like states, corporations, unions and social classes. We evolved as small bands of foragers and that kind of existence is the context in which we developed the special features of our social mind. Sedentary settlements, large tribes, kingdoms and other such modern institutions are so recent in evolutionary time that we have not yet developed reliable intuitions about them. - in all human groups people have consciously accessible concepts of social relations, folk theories about how such relations are built and maintained, culturally specific ways of constrning them. They have explicit understandings of what friendship is, what exchange ought to be, how power is attained and maintained in complex groups - in so many words, "how society works." - people faced with any complex interaction tend to use anthropomorplic concepts - naive sociology