If “Religion is natural”, what about atheism?

In 'cognition and culture' circles, it is almost a matter of common wisdom, it seems, to claim that religious belief is natural, whereas atheism, physicalism and other forms of unbelief are unnatural (see for example this paper by Robert McCauley). Sociologist Rodney Stark has announced the death of secularism, and the thesis that religious belief is gradually making way for an age of reason, originally proposed by the architects of the Enlightenment, has been laid to rest as a case of wishful thinking and of old-fashioned cultural evolutionism. Religion is a panhuman cultural phenomenon, which can be materially attested in the form of burials and representations of supernatural agents since least 50 000 years ago. Cognitive scientists of religion argue that religious beliefs are natural: modes of reasoning that are characteristic of religious belief appear spontaneously in young children, without explicit instruction. Examples include an intuitive mind/body dualism (the fact that we have different inference systems about minds and bodies, proposed by Paul Bloom); intuitive afterlife beliefs (the intuition that minds continue to exist after the physical death of the person, due to Jesse Bering) and intuitive creationism (understanding the world in teleological terms and as a product of intentional design, proposed by Deborah Kelemen).

However, the persistence and relatively wide cultural spread of atheism and other forms of unbelief may present a challenge to this received picture of the naturalness of religion. In many secular nations, the number of people who denote themselves as without religious affiliation is on the rise. A recent mathematical model published online on ArXiv indicates that, if current trends continue, religion will soon go extinct in several of these nations. Of course, being without religious affiliation does not always equate with unbelief, but it does seem to suggest a trend of decreased religiosity.

Last year, in a special issue of Religion, Justin Barrett argued that atheism does not defeat the "naturalness of religion" thesis…



He attributes it to natural variations in the human population: "The naturalness thesis in CSR [cognitive science of religion] is not deterministic and it is perfectly compatible with CSR that occasional naturalists appear in the historical record." Yet, a bit further, he acknowledges that "Widespread rejection of any and all supernaturalism and religion and what appears to be a historically recent swell in localized atheism does demand an explanation." His own explanation for this phenomenon is that the rejection of the supernatural can only occur under special contingent, cultural conditions, including specialized institutions (such as scientific institutions) combined with sustained cognitive efforts. Geertz and Markusson disagree with Barrett, and argue that atheism is not the recent, highly contingent product of post-industrialized western culture that Barrett takes it to be. Rather, diverse brands of atheism (such as the ancient Indian materialist school of thought) can be traced back to antiquity. They conclude "The habit of atheism may need more scaffolding to be acquired, and its religious counterpart may need more effort to kick, but even so, that does not, ipso facto, make the latter more natural than the former."



To assess whether unbelief challenges the naturalness of religious belief, one needs to be more explicit about the relationship between religion and cognition. There are several ways in which this relationship is fleshed out

Adaptationist models see religion as a cultural or psychological adaptation, one that enhances cooperation through costly signaling (Richard Sosis) or through the threat of supernatural punishment (Jesse Bering). In this view, atheism is not necessarily unnatural, as in some conditions secular institutions can be quite successful in achieving levels of cooperation that are similar to religious belief. Norenzayan and Shariff for instance, wrote in a 2008 Science paper that "Although religions continue to be powerful facilitators of prosociality in large groups, they are not the only ones. The cultural spread of reliable secular institutions, such as courts, policing authorities, and effective contract-enforcing mechanisms, although historically recent, has changed the course of human prosociality". Epidemiological models explain the transmission of cultural representations in terms of their fit to human cognitive capacities. According to Pascal Boyer, religious beliefs are culturally widespread because they provide minimal deviations to our intuitive ontological expectations. They violate some of those expectations, but are in agreement with many others, thus providing a cognitive optimum (being both interesting but not too demanding). Boyer does acknowledge the cultural success of religious beliefs that are not cognitively optimal, such as the concept of the Trinity, which won out over many competing, more intuitive models that are now considered to be heresies. Recent, largely unpublished work in cognitive science of religion that I saw presented at a conference on cognitive science of religion at the University of Oxford last year indicates that minimally counterintuitive concepts do require considerable cognitive effort to be maintained, and that older people do less well remembering and transmitting counterintuitive concepts than intuitive ones (with young people the situation is reversed). It is not at all evident how characterizing religious beliefs as minimally counterintuitive makes those beliefs natural, or how this would say that unbelief is unnatural. As reviewed above, some evolutionary models of religious belief see particular aspects of religious belief, including afterlife beliefs, intuitive dualism, or intuitive creationism as naturally arising from evolved propensities of the human cognitive system. Some of these models have been challenged, as for example, the strong form of mind/body dualism that Bloom proposes has been called into question by Mitch Hodge.

Such arguments notwithstanding, it seems to me that models from the latter category are the strongest arguments for claiming the naturalness for religion, and it is for those models that unbelief does present a challenge. For instance, suppose that we assume that dualism in some form underlies natural understanding of the world, then it seems sensible to say that monism is unnatural with respect to this. The challenge then is to understand how monism in its various forms, be it ancient Greek atomism, Indian materialism, or present-day physicalism arose and could be culturally successful.

Extensive cultural scaffolding seems to be an essential ingredient in this picture. Cultural scaffolding could explain, for example, why unbelief is more prevalent among scientists and the highly educated. But cultural scaffolding also occurs in support of more natural modes of reasoning, often extensively so. For example, there are good reasons to assume that reasoning about numerosities is natural, given what we know about numerical skills in infants and nonhuman animals. Yet, numerical systems are often subject to high degrees of cultural scaffolding (e.g., number words, numerical symbols, diagrams, tallies,…) Similarly, while intuitive dualism might be cognitively natural, historical beliefs about bodies and souls are highly complex, institutionalized and canonized in texts, paintings and other cultural media, as Mitch Hodge has pointed out. In a paper forthcoming in Cognitive Science, Edward Slingerland and co-authors argue that dualism in China evolved as "a semantic shift toward a shared cognitive bias in response to a vast and rapid expansion of literacy". Here, it is clear that literacy (as a form of cultural scaffolding) actually helped, not hindered intuitive modes of reasoning.

Enhanced cognitive effort might be another way to pin down what might make unbelief unnatural. But here again, we can see that many religious modes of reasoning would also fall under this category, because they do not mesh well with our cognitive architecture (this is what Boyer termed "the tragedy of the theologian"). Also, as Blaise Pascal remarked in his Pensées, some people "seem so made that [they] cannot believe". For those people, religious belief requires a constant cognitive effort. If we do not assume (as Alvin Plantinga seems to do) that such people are cognitively deficient, the unnaturalness of unbelief remains unsupported.



Justin Barrett (2010), The relative unnaturalness of atheism: On why Geertz and Markusson are both right and wrong. Religion 40, 169-172.

Jesse M. Bering (2006), The folk psychology of souls. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29, 453–462.

Paul Bloom (2004), Descartes' baby: how the science of child development explains what makes us human. London: Arrow Books.

Pascal Boyer (2002), Religion explained. The evolutionary origins of religious thought. London: Vintage.

Armin Geertz & Guðmundur Ingi Markusson (2010), Religion is natural, atheism is not: On why everybody is both right and wrong. Religion 40, 152-165.

Deborah Kelemen (2004), Are children “intuitive theists”? Psychological Science 15, 295–301.

Robert N. McCauley (2000), The naturalness of religion and the unnaturalness of science. In F. C. Keil & R. A. Wilson (Eds.), Explanation and cognition (pp. 61-85). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.(here)

Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff (2008) The origin and evolution of religious prosociality. Science 322, 58-62.

Alvin Plantinga (2000), Warranted Christian belief. New York: Oxford University Press.

Edward Slingerland et al. (forthcoming) "The Prevalence of Mind-Body Dualism in Early China", Cognitive Science.

Rodney Stark, (1999). Secularization, RIP. Sociology of Religion, 60, 249-273.



  • comment-avatar
    K. Mitch Hodge 7 April 2011 (13:48)

    I find the question that Helen de Cruz presents with regard to the cognitive naturalness of religion versus the cognitive unnaturalness of atheism to be a question worth careful deliberation. From my point of view, humans are overly predisposed to have religious thoughts and behaviors, but these religious thoughts and behaviors cannot be boiled down to one “magic bullet” cognitive mechanism that underpins all subsequent religious thoughts and behaviors. There are numerous cognitive mechanisms in play such as hyper-sensitive agency detection (HADD), offline social reasoning, promiscuous teleological thinking, and promiscuous creationist thinking just to name a few. What I have denied throughout my work is that humans are [i]intuitive[/i] mind-body dualists. With regard to this latter point, though most of my arguments have been directed toward Bloom’s (2004, 2007) version of strong intuitive Cartesian substance dualism, my arguments can be applied to lesser forms of intuitive mind-body dualism, such as Bering’s (2006) common-sense dualism. To be clear, I have never argued that humans cannot think in mind-body dualistic terms, just merely that it is not the intuitive position. As two experiments spearheaded by Cohen and Barrett (Cohen & Barrett, 2008; Cohen, Burdett, Knight, & Barrett, 2011) have shown if invited to entertain dualistic thinking, humans are certainly capable of doing so. Nevertheless, the mere ability to entertain such thinking does not indicate that it is the default intuitive position. It continues to boggle my imagination how deeply entrenched is the belief held by researchers in the cognitive science of religion that humans are intuitive mind-body dualists. I currently have a manuscript in production, tentatively titled “Theory of Mind, Mind-Body Dualism, and Their (Mis)Application in the Cognitive Science of Religion” in which I take on the assumption of mind-body dualism across the spectrum of supernatural entities (not just confined to afterlife beliefs as my previous research had been). In this article, I plan to address several reasons why I think that researchers are incorrectly attributing mind-body dualism as the intuitive position of the folk. Here, I will just give a brief overview of what I will present in full force in the article: 1. There is a misinterpretation of the evidence proposed to show that humans are intuitive mind-body dualists. Neither the experiments conducted by Kuhlmeier, Bloom, and Wynn (Valerie A. Kuhlmeier, Bloom, & Wynn, 2004; Valerie A. Kuhlmeier, Wynn, & Bloom, 2004), nor those by Bering and colleagues (J. Bering, 2002; J. Bering & Bjorklund, 2004; J. Bering, Blasi, & Bjorklund, 2005; J. M. Bering, 2006) when addressed carefully support a mind-body dualist interpretation. In the case of the former, if the data (from “looking” time) is correct, then what is shows is that infants view [i]bodies[/i] as immaterial, not human minds (Hodge, 2008). With regard to the latter, I have argued extensively that Bering’s experiments suffer from a confound in the experimental design which presented an asymmetry between psychological questions and “bodily-based” questions (Hodge, 2008, forthcoming, forthcoming: invited publication). 2. There is a widely misconstrued understanding of the goal of theory of mind (TOM) abilities. It seems to me that researchers incorrectly think that the goal of TOM is to reason about minds, when in fact, the goal of TOM of mind is to allow us to project mental content to another individual so that we can reason about them [i]as a person[/i]—not merely as a mind. Merely reasoning about the mental content of another individual, on its own, will not get us very far in understanding and predicting that other’s behavior. We have to take into account their environment, their social roles, and their bodily capabilities in order to understand and predict their behavior successfully. Yes, we do reason about their minds, but we do not stop there. The goal is to understand and predict the behavior of a person, not merely a mind. 3. There is an over-attribution of disembodiment to supernatural agents by various researchers. To the best of my knowledge, there is only one mythological being which is believed to be disembodied and that is the Judeo-Christian God. But even here, save for some early neo-Platonic interpretations of this Being, He is not represented as merely a mind. In addition, even though Christians confess that they explicitly believe that God is disembodied, when they represent him, their implicit representations demonstrate that they think about Him as embodied (Barrett & Keil, 1996). So what about other supernatural entities? 4. There is a confusion by some researchers on the distinction between being invisible and being disembodied—even though the two are not in any way synonymous. An invisible being is still embodied, just not visible (to most, anyway). The Greek gods, as most gods, were certainly imagined and represented as embodied, but they were believed to have the power to make themselves visible to only a select few. Ghosts have similar abilities: these supernatural entities seem to be bound by many of the same physical laws that bind embodied beings (Cornwell, Barbey, & Simmons, 2004), yet they only make their visible physical presence known to a few. In a recent paper, Cohen, Burdett, Knight, and Barrett (2011) suggest that mind-body dualism can help us understand children’s imaginary companions, but they overlook the fact that children do not represent their imaginary companions as disembodied, but merely invisible to most (Taylor, 1999). 5. Researchers fail to recognize that we think about deceased individuals, gods, and other supernatural entities with an [i]imagined body[/i], in the same manner by which we do fictional characters (Hodge, forthcoming). I think this is the most profound confusion. When we witness people grieving over the decedent’s physical body, yet still insisting that she exists, it is natural for us to think that survivors must be believing that their deceased loved one is existing disembodied—after all, their insensate physical body lays before us! Yet, researchers are overlooking the power of the imagination to provide the decedent with a new (imagined) body in the same way that we “reincarnate” Sherlock Holmes each time we read about his exploits. For instance, when I think about what my deceased grandfather and grandmother might be doing in the afterlife (not that I believe there is such a place), I have no difficulty whatsoever imagining that they might be holding hands. Is this something that disembodied beings can do? 6. There is a difference (and important distinction) between imagining disembodied experiences and imagining oneself as disembodied (Sorabji, 2006; Tye, 1983). Although one can imagine what it is like to “leave” one’s body and “float” above it, that does not entail she is representing herself as disembodied. For one thing, she is still imagining having embodied experiences such as seeing from a particular point of view, able to interact with the world around them, hear, and sometimes even speak. The important point here is that imagining having experiences [i]as if[/i] disembodied is not the same as imagining oneself as disembodied. 7. Many researchers continue to make the Cartesian mistake of equating the mind and the soul (“essence of being”) even though much research has now documented that even in the West, where “soul-talk” is the dominate manner of speaking , that humans do not identify the mind as the soul (Astuti & Harris, 2008; Richert & Harris, 2006, 2008). The mind and the soul have distinct ontologies and functions. Finally, a question to researchers who propose that mind-body dualism undergirds representations of supernatural entities: What do you do with all of the anthropological evidence that humans represent most all supernatural entities as embodied? How do disembodied beings eat, wear clothes, physically interact with the living and each other? [b]REFERENCES[/b] Astuti, R., & Harris, P. L. (2008). Understanding Mortality and the Life of the Ancestors in Rural Madagascar. [i]Cognitive Scienc[/i]e, 32, 713-740. Barrett, J. L., & Keil, F. C. (1996). Conceptualizing a Nonnatural Entity: Anthropomorphism in God Concepts. [i]Cognitive Psychology[/i], 31, 219-247. Bering, J. (2002). Intuitive Conceptions of Dead Agents’ Minds: The Natural Foundations of Afterlife Beliefs as Phenomenological Boundary. [i]Journal of Cognition and Culture[/i], 2(4), 263-308. Bering, J., & Bjorklund, D. F. (2004). The Natural Emergence of Reasoning About the Afterlife as a Developmental Regularity. [i]Developmental Psychology[/i], 40(2), 217-233. Bering, J., Blasi, C. H., & Bjorklund, D. F. (2005). The Development of ‘Afterlife’ Beliefs in Religiously and Secularly Schooled Children. [i]British Journal of Developmental Psychology[/i], 23, 587-607. Bering, J. M. (2006). The Folk Psychology of Souls. [i]Behavioral and Brain Sciences[/i], 29, 1-46. Bloom, P. (2004). [i]Descartes’ Baby: How Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human[/i]. London: Arrow Books. Bloom, P. (2007). Religion Is Natural. [i]Developmental Science[/i], 10(1), 147 – 151. Cohen, E., & Barrett, J. L. (2008). When Minds Migrate: Conceptualizing Spirit Possession. [i]Journal of Cognition and Culture[/i], 8(1-2), 23-48. Cohen, E., Burdett, E., Knight, N., & Barrett, J. (2011). Cross-Cultural Similarities and Differences in Person-Body Reasoning: Experimental Evidence from the United Kingdom and Brazilian Amazon. [i]Cognitive Science[/i], 1-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1551-6709.2011.01172.x Cornwell, B. R., Barbey, A. K., & Simmons, W. K. (2004). The Embodied Basis of Supernatural Concepts. [i]Behavioral and Brain Sciences[/i], 27(6), 736-737. Hodge, K. M. (2008). Descartes Mistake: How Afterlife Beliefs Challenge the Assumption That Humans Are Intuitive Cartesian Substance Dualists. [i]Journal of Cognition and Culture[/i], 8(3-4), 387-415. Hodge, K. M. (forthcoming). On Imagining the Afterlife. [i]Journal of Cognition and Culture[/i]. Hodge, K. M. (forthcoming: invited publication). Context Sensitivity and the Folk Psychology of Souls: Why Bering Et. Al. Got the Findings They Did. [i]Issues in Science and Theology[/i]. Kuhlmeier, V. A., Bloom, P., & Wynn, K. (2004). Do 5-Month-Old Infants See Humans as Material Objects? [i]Cognition[/i], 94, 95-103. Kuhlmeier, V. A., Wynn, K., & Bloom, P. (2004). People V. Objects: A Reply to Rakison and Cicchino. [i]Cognition[/i], 94, 109-112. Richert, R. A., & Harris, P. L. (2006). The Ghost in My Body: Children’s Developing Concept of the Soul. [i]Journal of Cognition and Culture[/i], 6(3-4), 409-427. Richert, R. A., & Harris, P. L. (2008). Dualism Revisited: Body Vs. Mind Vs. Soul. [i]Journal of Cognition and Culture[/i], 8(1-2), 99-115. Sorabji, R. (2006). [i]Self: Ancient and Modern Insights About Individuality, Life, and Death[/i]. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Taylor, M. (1999). [i]Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them[/i]. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Tye, M. (1983). On the Possibility of Disembodied Existence. [i]Australasian Journal of Philosophy[/i], 61(3), 275-282.

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    Gordon Ingram 8 April 2011 (05:39)

    Great comment, Mitch (and great original post, Helen). Mitch, I have always found your arguments against the notion of intuitive dualism to be highly compelling. Given that despite this, so many people persist in clinging to the notion, I have been racking my brains as to what makes intuitive dualism so intuitively appealing. I came up with the idea of sensory integration (apologies to you or Bloom or someone else if you have already come up with this explanation – I am not that familiar with the debate). I went to a workshop on time perception about a year ago and remember hearing that while humans are great at distinguishing the temporal order of events within a single sensory modality (down to a resolution of 10ms or less I believe) we are not nearly so good at distinguishing the temporal order of events across different modalities – e.g. working out which came first, a visual flash or an audible beep (the resolution here being more like 250-500ms – astonishingly crude when you think about it). This is a great illustration of the fact – which many naturalists might tend to forget – that the associations between different sensory emanations of particular objects/agents are *actively constructed* by higher cognitive processes. I mean, that the perception of simultaneity between say, the sight of a dog opening its mouth and the sound of a dog barking, is something that we more or less reason out (though like anything else, it becomes habitual when we are used to doing it all the time). Furthermore, sometimes we perceive sensory emanations in one or more modalities which have no referent in other modalities. We hear and feel the wind, but cannot see it (at least directly). We see a shadow, but cannot hear or feel it. What does this mean for the intuitive dualism hypothesis? Well, the Latin word “animus” can mean either “wind”, “breath”, or “spirit/soul”. The word “umbra” can mean either “shadow” or “shade” (as in “shades of the departed”). What I am suggesting is that our everyday experience of the active construction of associations between different types of sensory emanations, and of objects that are only perceptible through one or two sensory modalities, makes quite “natural” the idea that there are *agents* (including even ourselves, after death) who are only perceptible through certain modalities, at least at certain points in time. I believe that this is more satisfying than the strong intuitive dualism hypothesis because it allows for the common anthropological phenomenon of supernatural embodiment that Mitch rightly draws attention to. Supernatural entities in many societies are often conceived of as fully corporeal (i.e., tactile), but often invisible (African witches spring to mind), while other entities (e.g. ghosts in our own society) may be conceived of as visible but not really tactile. I’m not sure if this “sensory separation” hypothesis would stand up to empirical scrutiny, but to me it does feel like a more plausible alternative to the intuitive dualism hypothesis, if someone can think of a way of testing between them …

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    Don Gardner 10 April 2011 (08:45)

    Helen’s blog brought out nicely the way that contemporary discussions can be dogged by old dichotomies. The idea that cultural scaffolding (whether of atheism or animism) is opposed to the natural evokes for me precisely the nature-nurture or innate-learned dichotomies the falseness of which cognitive perspectives have helped to make apparent. After all, paradigmatically natural processes–including physiological ones–usually require causal inputs that are exogenous with respect to particular mechanisms. “Explicit instruction” is but one form of social learning, and its absence does not indicate “spontaneity”. Helen’s question also reminded me of Pascal’s recent question about religion (or was it about “religion”?) and some of the comments it provoked. For it would be unfortunate if the analytically useful distinction between the cognitive/maturational and the ecological aspects of epidemiological processes were to assume “onotlogical” dimensions.

  • comment-avatar
    K. Mitch Hodge 12 April 2011 (14:25)

    Hi Gordon, Thanks for your response. I find the input from the studies concerning temporal order and sensory modalities you mentioned to most fascinating. If you have any of them available, I would appreciate it if you would share where I can find them with me either privately or publicly, as they are something I would like to look into further. They also bring to light something about which I have been thinking with regard to three interconnected problems: essentialism, personal identity, and recognizing a person as the same. I think each of these problems, and answers to them, helps to resolve the question you ask, namely, “Why do we find the idea that we are intuitive mind-body dualists so, well, intuitive?” I think understanding this requires a somewhat historical perspective of both philosophy and psychology. One of the perennial questions in philosophy is, “Who are we (am I), really?” If you strip all of the accidental properties away, “What is our (my) essence? Do we share a common essence ([i]e.g[/i]., humanity) that is then somehow augmented with an individuating essence ([i]e.g[/i]., me)?” These are the questions of personal identity. Most ancient and medieval philosophers were content to claim that we (humans) have three essential parts, which all seemed to fall [i]roughly[/i] along these three lines: (1) our mental—but perhaps more rightly, our moral life; (2) our life force (agency); and (3) our body. But, of course, we philosophers can never leave well enough alone so we began to pick each of these apart (see the following for a history of these debates: Martin & Barresi, 2006; Sorabji, 2006). Of the three, philosophers took (2) our life force to be the most stable and immutable. The problem with making life force our essential essence, however, is that it is hardly individuating. How does a life force make a person who she is? At most it only gives us a “thin” metaphysical essence that strips me of everything that makes me, well, me (Kaufman, 2004). Thus, our life force was tossed out as a candidate for our (my) essential essence. With regard to (3) our bodies, because resurrection of the body is the official doctrine in Christianity, many scholastics spent their days trying to make sense of how this is possible. Our bodies go through numerous radical transformations in our lifetime. If we are physically resurrected, at which stage of our earth-bound existence will our “heavenly” body resemble? For instance, if you die as an infant, does this mean that you would spend all of eternity in an infant’s body? Moreover, there is the problem of what exactly resurrection of the body entails. Since when we die, our bodies decay and “return to the soil,” it seems unlikely that we would be resurrected with one and the same body. But, if it is not exactly the same body, doesn’t that mean that what is resurrected is a replica of me, and not me (in contemporary philosophical literature, this is known as the “transporter problem” from [i]Star Trek[/i])? Not only that, but exactly which part(s) of my body is essential to me? I can lose limbs, cut my hair, have my teeth fall out, etc., yet these losses do not seem to prevent me from being me. Thus, many theistic philosophers began to reason that our bodies were not as essential to our essence as orthodoxy proposed. That left (1) our mental, moral life as the only remaining candidate. Our mental lives contained all our memories, our personalities, our thoughts, beliefs, and our reason (funny how philosophers tended to think that reason was most essential to being human, isn’t it?). They argued that these aspects of our lives remained relatively stable—after all, we do tend to think that if there is a radical transformation in any one of those aspects that we have somehow become a different person. Now, this was all claimed without an ounce of healthy Humean skepticism concerning the volatility and radical transformation of a person’s mental content throughout her lifetime (or even within a span of seconds!), which Hume thought made it all the less likely that our mental life was really our essence. By the time you get to Locke, however, psychological continuity (in particular our memories) had become the dominant paradigm in philosophy for discussions of personal identity, which was then taken aboard in the new science of psychology. This is where things got really messy for two reasons: first, Cartesian substance dualism was rejected as the ontology of persons; and second, discussions of personal identity became confused with questions of how we recognize a person as the same person again (and they are still confused in a great deal of the literature). With regard to the former, the Twentieth Century saw an academic revolt against Cartesianism. As academics began to understand how it was both philosophically and scientifically impossible for a mind to exist without a body, they still had to find some way to give force to the conception of psychological continuity to personal identity (instead of really questioning it). The answer was to claim that Cartesian substance dualism was no longer the respected position of the well-studied academic, but rather to claim that it was the vulgar, misinformed position of the folk. Thus, mind-body dualism could still serve a functional distinction in philosophy and psychology when discussing the folk, even if it no longer served as an ontological distinction. The latter problem concerning how we (re)recognize other persons has never really been fleshed out from the problem of personal identity. Even if it is the case that I were to think that persons really are some type of mental entity, it is not as though I go around recognizing disembodied mental entities as my friends on the street. I find it interesting in much of the literature I have read that if one is concerned with the issue of personal identity, it seems to be psychological continuity that is most important, and this spills over into his discussion of how we recognize other persons independent of their bodies. If, however, one is interested in the question of how we identity others as the same person again, then bodily continuity takes precedence, and she proposes that the body is essential to personal identity concepts. The problem is, however, that my conception of what makes me, me may have no bearing on how I think about and recognize you as you. They are, after all, two different questions (if not different concepts!). This is one of the underlying themes in my article, “Why Immortality Alone will Not get Me to the Afterlife” (Hodge, 2011). Theories (J. Bering, 2010; J. M. Bering, 2006; Bloom, 2004; Nichols, 2007) attempting to explain afterlife beliefs confuse how I might conceive of my own immortality with how I might imagine my deceased loved one existing in the afterlife. Each of these theories argue (or assume) that my psychological continuity is most important to my survival after death. But even if I were to conceive of personal identity as psychological continuity, this does little to explain how I could imagine myself recognizing my deceased loved ones in the afterlife. I [i]imagine[/i] that I would first recognize them as I always have—by their physical attributes, not by their mental contents. So, this brings me back to the question as to why so many researchers find the idea that humans are intuitive mind-body dualists so intuitive. I think it is because so much of the academic literature in philosophy and psychology has held psychological continuity (at least functionally) as the essence of personal identity. This idea (paradigm) has been reinforced over and over again in contemporary academic literature (J. Bering, 2010; Bloom, 2004; Cohen, Burdett, Knight, & Barrett, 2011; Gendler, 2006; Martin & Barresi, 2006; Olson, 1992, 2006; Sorabji, 2006; Stanley, 1998; Tye, 2003). Mind-body dualism (at least functionally) fits perfectly with this paradigm of personal identity (essence). The problem is that it may do nothing to explain how we think about, recognize, and imagine [i]other[/i] people. What I think makes me, me may not be what I think makes you, you (intuitively). Now this brings me to your comments about different sensory modalities that I want to tie into how we recognize other people. Certainly, we use different senses to identity others, such as visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile cues to recognize a person as the same person. To this, I want to offer the following slightly humorous anecdote: when I was a young child, I learned to recognize my mother by the sound of her gait on hard surfaces. This was especially helpful to me if I was ever separated from her in a store since I was not tall enough yet to see over numerous obstacles. I recall one time in a store that I stopped on a toy aisle unbeknownst to my mother who was intently looking for something that she needed. As I was staring intently at the toys, I heard familiar footsteps, and without taking my eyes off the toys, I began to follow those footsteps. Once the toys were out of my visual range, I turned to look up toward my mother, and I to my great surprise, it was not her! I immediately started to cry. I was scared both by the fact that I did not now know where my mother was, but also that one of my “stable” identifiers of her failed me (not to worry, though; I eventually found her with the help of a store clerk). Nevertheless, even though my mother’s gait has changed over the years due to age and arthritis, I still find myself looking around for her when I hear a similar gait as I remember when I was a child. In addition, when I think about my deceased relatives, I often imagine key sensory impressions that I had of them. For instance, with my father, I imagine his mustache that he always had. With my grandfather, I hear his voice. With my grandmother, I remember the familiar smell of her house. But I did not just start using these sensory cues after their death: they are the same cues that I used when I thought about them during times of their physical sensory absence from my perceptual field. My point being is that my imagining them after death uses the same cognitive strategies in representing them as it did when they were alive and I imagined where they might be and what they might be doing. Each of them had a certain set of sensory cues by which I could identify them—but not all of the sensory inputs had to be present at the same time. [b]REFERENCES[/b] Bering, J. (2010). [i]The God Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny and the Meaning of Life[/i]. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Bering, J. M. (2006). The Folk Psychology of Souls. [i]Behavioral and Brain Sciences[/i], 29, 1-46. Bloom, P. 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