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Supernatural AgentsWhy We Believe in Souls, Gods, and Buddhas$
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Ilkka Pyysiäinen

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195380026

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195380026.001.0001

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(p.173) 6 Conclusion
Supernatural Agents

Ilkka Pyysiäinen

Oxford University Press

Focusing on human intuitions about agency and intentionality helps understand beliefs about spirits, gods, and buddhas. Supernatural agents are beings with animacy and mentality, combined with a nonstandard bodily form. In transcending individual corporeal boundaries, supernatural agents represent the shared knowledge of a group (my beliefs about your beliefs about our beliefs …) Durkheim’s view of religion as the “social glue” thus is possibly only because of spirit beliefs. Reflective ideas about gods and buddhas are highly elaborated spirit beliefs. They are culture-specific versions of the cross-culturally recurrent pattern of a “promiscuous teleology,” the tendency to see everything as happening for a purpose. This phenomenon is based on hyperactive agency detection (HAD), hyperactive understanding of intentionality (HUI), and hyperactive teleological reasoning (HTR). Supernatural agent concepts are contagious because they resonate with an innate tendency to understand more or less everything in teleological terms.

Keywords:   agency, intentionality, animacy, mentality, hyperactive agency detection, hyperactive teleological reasoning

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