Yesterday, Jesse Bering, author of The Belief Instinct, gave our weekly departmental seminar. His lecture titled “Is God Just in Your Head? Cognitive Science and the ‘Big Questions'” dealt with concepts in cognitive science that underpin three major existential questions: What is the purpose of life? What should I do (when faced with a choice)? And what happens after I die? Admittedly, I had anticipated a seminar that gave more of an evolutionary perspective as to why we ask these types of questions, but as he disclaimed, “I am not a biologist. This will be a cognitive science talk.” He argued that two connected concepts, the theory of mind, which is the ability to place oneself in “other’s shoes” (including God’s) and teleo functional thinking, “which is reasoning about the functional purpose of an entity or object in question,” are fundamental in understanding “how” we are able to ask these questions.
You can read my live tweets from his talk on Storify. I apologize in advance if I fell short in doing his seminar justice–cognitive science proved to be a more difficult beast to live tweet than the more familiar topics of genetics and molecular biology. Please alert me to anything that I got wrong. I’ll try to get out a more polished blog post within the next few days. And as always, please check out Katie PhD’s lovely sketchnote of Jesse Bering’s talk: