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In Gods We TrustThe Evolutionary Landscape of Religion$
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Scott Atran

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195178036

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195178036.001.0001

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Culture Without Mind

Culture Without Mind

Sociobiology and Group Selection

(p.199) 8 Culture Without Mind
In Gods We Trust


Oxford University Press

This chapter explores how an intentional (goal-directed) and affective sense of agency can extend to nonhuman elements of the surrounding environment, creating intimacy with and care for Nature. Sociological and group selection theories of human societies, which posit norms as the functional units of cultural selection, are improbable. There is no compelling psychological evidence for norms as packages of learned information, stored as discrete units, clustered into higher-order knowledge structures, encoded as specific memory traces in neural tissue or expressed in clearly recognized and denumerable bundles of behavior. Most widely accepted, sacred, or morally absolute norms are only signposts of behavioral tendencies. Traditional sociobiology attempts to account for cultural behavior directly in terms of task-specific genetic preparedness for those behaviors. For example, according to anthropologist Marvin Harris, the Aztec religious practice of large-scale human sacrifice stems from the fact that Mesoamerica has relatively few large mammals.

Keywords:   group selection, cultural selection, norms, Marvin Harris, Aztec religious practice, human sacrifice

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