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A hiedelmek természete: Csányi Vilmos at TEDxDanubia 2011

Translator: Péter Pallós
Reviewer: Zsuzsanna Lőrincz I want to talk about a specific issue, but before I start off
and make this clear, we must make some other things clear. First of all we need to understand that the one thing that sets humans
apart from animals is that they created a community. A community is an exceptional social
form in the animal kingdom where humans are only
a species of animals, and it is founded on
the innate human capability to manage complex systems and
it can be characterized by four things: we like to execute common actions, such as us being here today, we like to take part in social action
projects, we like to organize something, to live the way we have
organized our communities, and finally, common beliefs emerged
with the appearance of human language. In any community there are beliefs that relate to lots of different
areas of life and these beliefs are accepted by more or less
everyone in that community. If these three things work
– it may just take a few months for them to work –
loyalty starts to set in, and that is the most important element
of a real community. Loyalty means that I am always
willing to put my own interest behind the interests of the community. I must add that nowadays we talk about
a large number of communities assuming that they do exist,
but the crucial question is whether there are common actions,
whether the structure is common, whether the beliefs are common
and whether loyalty has emerged. Sometimes these criteria
are not always met, so these groups are still in the early
stage of becoming a community but they are not yet true communities. Let’s not forget this. If we look at the diversity
of these communities, e.g. a couple can be considered
as a community, it is instantly clear
that we only have a good relationship if my partner and me,
we can have common activities, if we think about the world
in the same way, if we jointly organize our lives and it naturally follows
that we are faithful to each other. But community may also refer to a work
team, a party, a school, a family, religious communities; so it can exist
within many different groups. Now from the knowledge
about the communities I want to concentrate
on one thing, the common belief. The existence of communities
was also made possible by the fact that the human brain developed
the capability of abstraction. This is completely missing
from the animal kingdom. If we think about abstraction,
we need to realize that community itself is
the first idea that requires abstraction. To understand that I am
a member of a community that had existed before I existed and will exist after I am no longer here requires abstraction. When man became able to – thinking
in terms of an evolutionary time scale, whose units are in the millions of years – when he realized that he is a member
of a community that towers above him, that is more than he is, that existed
before him and will exist after him, then man gained the ability
called abstraction; this was very important from the point
of view of all further human activities. All ideas are actually beliefs. That is, what I think of my peers, about myself, how I position myself,
who I regard myself, these are all beliefs. What I think of my environment,
about animals, about plants, about the biosphere; whether I consider it important to protect
the environment or I wave it away; whether I consider it important to collect
rubbish selectively or I throw it away carelessly;
these are all beliefs. Reflections about practical
ways, methods, approaches, emotions, moods
and gusts are all beliefs. So, every idea is a belief. Beliefs were very important
in the days of primitive societies, and they are still essential today. Every belief had a certain structure,
a certain emotional core and some rational description; rational in quotation marks. Even simple constructions such as: do not eat mushrooms of this kind because you will get a bellyache,
are important beliefs. Moreover, rituals had their roots
in beliefs, now I’ve got no time for details, but humans in their own organizations
very often use rituals, repeated actions, which are infused with some emotional
charge and take some form and if we perform the action
we recall the emotional charge and this is why rituals have been
and are still so important. On how beliefs and rituals are
interconnected – I’ll give you an example: in this picture
you can see a nice piece of roast meat. A young scientist
told us of his observation at an anthropology convention: he often cooks together
with his girlfriend and it is her who roasts the meat. He noticed that when they
buy a large rump of beef, she cuts off a thick piece and places it next to the big piece
in the roasting tray. Now, there is the big piece
and the small one. After a while he asked her
why she cuts off a small piece from the large rump
and lays it next the large one. The girl was simply at a loss
and said, “I can’t explain, but this is how my mum
always used to make it, so this is how it has to be done.” The young man thought, “All right, this is a partial explanation,
but let’s ask her mother.” They went to her mother and she said:
yes, it’s OK, you need to cut off a piece and to lay it alongside. “Why? I have no idea, but grandma
always used to do it like this. She is still with us –
why don’t you ask her!” They went to see grandmother.
She puzzled over it a bit then smiled, “My lovelies, when I cooked
I only had a little roasting tray. (Laughter) I couldn’t fit the meat in so I had
to cut off a piece and lay it alongside.” This proves that rituals
are born out of beliefs: in the beginning they may rest on some logical, rational element, and they are still practiced
over a few generations, we still believe
it is good as it is, we still think that is how
it has to be done. It turns out then
that roasting trays have expanded, and probably there are other ways
of doing it. Now, these are simple beliefs
that are related to everyday life, family, work. However, we know that there are incredibly
complex constructions of beliefs; not only such tiny ideas but incredibly interrelated
sets of beliefs, religions, science,
mathematics and philosophy. It turns out that
if we study them individually and examine one of their elements,
one little belief to decide whether it is true or not, whether the dimensions of a roasting tray
or a belief are adequate we are often disappointed. It turns out things are different
because times have changed. But there is one thing we can be quite
sure about: these systems of beliefs have proved in practice over a very long
time, over decades, maybe over centuries, that they are needed. Religion is extraordinarily difficult;
it consists of small dogmas, details. One can question whether
a certain element that was once decided at a meeting is true or not, important or not. But that is not the point. The whole point is to unite a society.
Religions play a vital role in the ability of humans to live
peacefully in a given society, therefore practice influences
whether we accept the belief. It is not the small detail that counts,
but the fact that the importance and meaningfulness of the system
of beliefs is verified in practice. The importance of beliefs is
always measured by practice. Let’s stop here for a while. What I am going to tell you about
is a little belief, too. Evidently beliefs can become overpowering in the belief formation process. What I mean is that there is some emotional
or rational core the practice comes from: the meat must be cut off because
of a narrow, thin or small roasting tray, and then in the process of changes
over generations some more complicated fantasies, fairy-tales, illogical conclusions
are added to it. And it does not influence the practice
because nothing bad came out of the fact that a piece was cut off from
the meat; that piece was similarly done; the method did not do damage
to practice, so it continued. There are lots of popular films
about frightful vampires that suck people’s blood. There are vampire bats that feed on blood;
however, they are nice little animals. From this belief with a slight
overstatement it is possible to create blood-sucking
people that actually do not exist but fantasy knows no bounds;
this is the amazing thing about beliefs – they can have an overpowering strength. This is one of the problems. The second problem is
the problem of modern society. In the past a community used to regulate together
what beliefs are accepted: how to bring up children, how to treat one’s family, how to prepare food, how to behave towards nature,
towards the environment: everything was somehow
well-regulated by the community. Modern society is made of an unprecedented
number of people, and remember: a community comes into being only if common activities, common beliefs, common constructions exist
and loyalty emerges. We rarely find real loyalty
in modern societies. Something has happened –
now there is no time to go into details –, that people have broken away
from the community, and started behaving as though
they were a community themselves, i.e. they decide what to do, decide what to believe, they want to fulfill themselves and are truly loyal to themselves only. Well, the result is that beliefs
are not limited by anything. There is an unthinkably
great number of personal beliefs. People think that it is even possible
to cure cancer with this nostrum, only because someone said so; and people
believe them: it is our personal belief and the Academy of Sciences,
the whole faculty of doctors can preach as much as they want to;
it will not stop us in believing because we are no longer
involved in any community so much as to accept its position
with regard to such a belief. The world is filled with personal beliefs and a chaos of beliefs has arisen from it. If we happen to collect 2 000 beliefs,
even insignificant ones, then we could most probably prove
that most of them were brought on by that overpowering strength. Many things that are simply not true
have been tied to them. Here we have three pictures
showing pictorial beliefs, they are amusing; we can laugh at them:
shark in the flooded river; someone throwing their children
in the snout of a crocodile and finally, here is E. T. himself, naked. There are lots of such urban legends, beliefs related to the way of life, e. g. when somebody wants to change
the pH of their blood from outside, whereas it is a well-run system, and if, heaven forbid, it is altered,
it can cause big trouble. There are plenty of beliefs
related to health and everyday life, and many so-called UFOs —
how shall I put it? — beliefs that address modern life. Once an American firm brought
a whale anatomy to Hungary, they rode it throughout the country; people could see
what a real whale looks like: it was long, it was driven
in an enormous truck. Soon beliefs spread
that it is the trick of the CIA for finding out the possible loading
capacity of the roads in Hungary. Well, it was a belief that rested on
logic, but it was complete nonsense. Political and social beliefs also appear. How must a society be built? What kind of things should taxes
be used for? What is the function of the authorities? Upon closer examination, there are
a lot of things that turn out to contain some exaggerated belief, too. There is only one thing that goes
against it: science. Under science I mean natural sciences. Science constantly engages in
and develops methods for removing the exaggeration
from a belief system and connect belief with practice. Scientific beliefs do work.
The light is on. The equipment works. The car runs. Society has become far too complicated
because of scientific beliefs. But when we are talking about science,
e. g. that little red electrons hurry along a wire, current flows
and therefore we have power – this is a belief, this is a fairy-tale. The practice is: if I revolve
this wire round a magnetic spool then a bulb will light up. This is proof;
science confirms this belief rather than the red dots running along;
it is only a fairy-tale, an overstatement. It confirms that if I follow such a
practice then a thing will work. The function of all natural
sciences is to study such comparison and connection
between practice and belief, and to remove the fairy-tale
and present the practice. Thank you very much. (Applause)

Otis Rodgers



  1. Amrita Duncan Posted on April 1, 2016 at 3:32 am

    Édes jó istenem! Ilyen seggbuta emberek egyetemeken tanítanak?

  2. Ádám Lőrincz Posted on May 26, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    Jó kis előadás! Köszönet!