The human agency detector and destiny

Evolution has been good to humanity, having endowed with with gifts that make us unique among the fauna of Earth. But along with all the cool features, a few bugs have crept into the system. I want to discuss a couple of these.

Humans evolved in an environment where it was far safer to assume that the rustling noise in the bush is something that wants to eat us and to act accordingly, rather than assume it’s just the wind. Those that were wired to assume an entity or agency behind the noise lived to pass on their genes; those that did not often ended up as dinner.

This agency detection feature worked well for us. But in modern civilization, it has become more of a bug than a feature. It has led to conspiracy theories, fascination with the paranormal, and of course religion. The lightning and thunder and volcanoes can’t just happen. It must be the gods.

Closely related to the idea of seeing agency where there is no agent, is the human construct of destiny, or the idea that things are “meant” to work out a certain way. One of the unexpected benefits of my turning from religion and spirituality has been the realization that there is no such thing as destiny. It really clears up one’s thinking.

Now, I am amazed at how often I hear people say things like, “it was meant to be” and interpreting random events as “signs.” I had never before noticed how often people do that. Once you get beyond that way of thinking, you realize that there is no entity in the universe that is working either for you or against you. Shit just happens, as they say.

There is a very tangible way in which this has helped me. It used to be, if I was feeling troubled about nothing in particular, I took it that I was “sensing” that something bad was about to happen, which of course made the feeling worse. Now, if I am feeling troubled, I try to figure out if there is really something I need to pay attention to — if so, I can attend to it. If not, I can forget it.

Such freedom!

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