In The Armchair

Religion as a Computational Simplification

Posted in Armchair Ruminations by Armchair Guy on June 20, 2008

What is religion, why do we need to have faith, why do we need gods?

Life includes a series of decisions. Decisions help us optimize our condition, find a route to another condition that is better, more stable, easier or happier. But the number of minute decisions that need to be made is so large that our built-in computer, the brain, is overwhelmed by the computational requirements.

So it takes shortcuts. It categorizes the decisions, pushing some, such as picking up the next spoonful of food or stepping aside to avoid a pothole, into a subconscious decision making queue. Others are not so subconscious but are still routine jobs, like signing your name on a credit card bill or going to work in the morning. Even with these reductions on its computational requirements, the brain would be left with too many significant mid- and long-term decisions.

Religion is the knowledge applicable to another subcategory of these remaining decisions. In many cases, it quickly allows us to use the past experience of wise people to determine a course of action when faced with certain decisions. Trying to figure every one of these out for oneself would put too much of a computational burden on the brain. Religion gives quick answers, without always requiring us to think hard.

Of course there are still a lot of decisions that can’t be addressed by religious knowledge, and which might require individual thinking. But religion helps quite a bit; a lot of right-and-wrong type decisions can be solved quickly by referring to religious knowledge.

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