This is a question I thought about some time ago. For me the trigger was to find an answer to the question of how religion originates. Although this might deserve a feed in itself, part of the answer captures the subject proposed in this feed.
It is for me a fact that there are practices humans perform in “idle mode” without necessarily thinking about the origin, meaning, benefit or possible alternatives. Such practices (SP) can be categorised depending on multiple variables. Some examples might be:
- Time: some SP might have started hundreds or thousands of years ago, being perceived as intrinsic to human nature (biological trait) or a specific society (cultural trait or tradition). Oder SP might be more recent and therefore seen as family tradition, common practices related to a specific social group or class.
- Authority (mean of transmission):
I state here that all SP are more or less imposed by an authority figure. SP are imposed for example through religion (dogmas), governments and society (social contracts, laws, education, economic system, etc), specialists like professors, doctors and scientists (remedies, processes, etc).
- Significance: i differentiate here between those which have spiritual/personal/communal significance (rituals) and those which do not.
- Utility: I differentiate here between those which are beneficial, neutral and harmful.
These four categories help me to identify a path I believe SP follow to become idle (and for other reasons not argued here, also the origin of religion). We have to consider the following factors:
1. Energy efficiency.
A tendency to use the minimum amount of energy is observed in most aspects of nature. As human beings, this is also anchored in our biology. Most actions and brain functions follow this.
2. Authority bias.
This is the tendency to give more importance or let ourselves be influenced by the opinions of authority figures, although those opinions might not be relevant for the question.
3. Information depreciation or generational loss.
This is the generational equivalent of the “telephone game”. Information tends to experience changes that can lead to a complete loss of the original meaning.
4. Ignorance or absence of Critical Thinking.
With this I mean genuine ignorance, cognitive biases or lack of self-reflection.
Adding these factors we find the perfect path for SP to become idle:
If we assume that 1 & 2 are part of our nature I can see that given our natural predisposition to minimise our effort while performing any activity - especially when a high level of repetition is found- and our disposition to believe what authorities figures say; the consequence of this natural predisposition is that people tend to automate processes and do things as they are being told. Therefore it is easy to see how potential SP come to be.
In order for these Practices to become idle, we need 3 & 4. When some automated practices appear (3) and are taught from generation to generation the probability that small changes of an explanation happen is really high. Consequently, either the reason for doing that changes completely or is even lost.
When we do not ask ourselves why we do something for whatever reason (4) the possibility of meaning loss is very high. This happens from my point of view everywhere, from religion and traditions to engineering and production processes.
In my opinion all forms of SP are inevitable. I think however, that if we reflect and have a critical thinking approach, we can identify those SP which tend to be neutral or harmful, question them and avoid them.
I also think that those which are neutral but full of meaning are to be respected (like religious rituals) if they are performed freely.
In my opinion, the rest which might be harmful or lack significance are a product basically of ignorance. We all suffer from SP and therefore I would like to be humble and not criticise people directly rather call for awareness and try to identify those SP we can liberate ourselves from.