Skip to content

How not to give a keynote

Last updated on 22 Jun 2018

So we finally managed to get things going for the Poland keynote. It took over half an hour to get the sound working, after a fashion, and the connection was blocky at best. The hardest part was that I kept trying to hear what people were saying at the other end, but got only feedback and delayed echoes. Most disconcerting. It would have been almost easier to fly to Poland.

Here’s the slides if anyone is interested:


  1. DiscoveredJoys DiscoveredJoys

    I did enjoy your slides and I have downloaded the pdf to go through them ‘in big’. I thought your hypothesis was worthy of consideration, and seems to capture some of the aspects of formal religion.

    My own thoughts are that there may be a wider hypothesis, in two parts. The second part is your hypothesis. My first part is that the ‘evolutionary modules’ set up our young for the second part to get a grip on the mind.

    The sort of evolutionary modules I have in mind are the HADD you mention, together with the tendency of the very young to ‘over imitate’ (as mentioned in your ‘New Thinking’ blog).

    Imagine you are a babe or toddler that is regularly taken to church and fed the line that ‘God’ explains this or that. You are innately keen to detect agency as an explanation for events in your world, and you are innately keen to overimitate your parents’ rituals (such as praying) in their social lives. Unlike Santa Claus there is no way of ‘unlearning’ the unnecessary bits of overimitation, and no way of understanding the mysterious hidden agencies in your world. You are prepared for the cultural aspects of the hypothesis (social dominance etc.) to take hold as you mature and social position becomes culturally important. But your culture is underpinned by your earlier experiences as a child.

    Evolution and culture combined. Poor suckers never had a chance.

    • But in fact children do not automagically think that agency is required to explain things (and I reckon that a great many early agrarian societies did not think that either); they have to be enculturated into it.

      Kelemen, D. 2004. Are Children “Intuitive Theists”?: Reasoning About Purpose and Design in Nature. Psychological Science 15:295-301.

  2. David Duffy David Duffy

    There is a third approach. Evolutionary psychology and sociobiology, to some extent, focus on stereotypic (fixed) human characteristics, while the study of individual differences attempts to infer the nature of genetic and cultural causative factors of within-population variation. One recent example of that line of analysis is Button et al (2011). If one can demonstrate genetic or environmental correlations with particular personality traits, these might point to targets for selcction.

    A non-homology with other primates that might predispose to a belief in a divine parent, that I first encountered reading Arthur C. Clarke, is a prolonged childhood. And I can’t help mentioning re euhemerisation (well not quite), the Prince Philip Movement, a phenomenon I wasn’t aware of before last night…

    • There are numerous cases of recent euhemerization. My favourite case is Maria Lionza in Peru.

      The divine parent thing strikes me as unexplanatory and ad hoc. It doesn’t in the slightest follow that because we are (if we are) neotenous that our deities will be more parental than, say, a gorilla’s, were said gorilla given speech and agriculture. In fact given the absolute physical power of a silverback, I would expect their deities to be more parental. And let us hope God is not a chimp male parent!

      However, in every ape, parents are higher status across cohort ranges, so it is to be expected that if deities are high status, at least some of them will be parents.

  3. Well, despite all of the difficulties, all of us in Kazimierz were very impressed and interested in what you had to say. In fact, it is quite astounding how you managed under the circumstances. The difficulties helped to focus everyone’s mind on the content of your talk. I suggest that from now on you give all your talks in this intercontinental fashion. Thanks for doing it.

    • Thanks Konrad, but while I greatly appreciate the honour of giving the talk, next time I will do something easier, like removing my head, placing it in a fluid jar, and mailing that to the conference. In the short and longer term, it will be less painful.

      Or I could just record it and make the recording available online. Whatever…

  4. Earlier this year on this blog, I announced my write-in campaign for the Presidency of the United States of America. I finally decided on my platform. I promise monthly chocolate vouchers for every citizen.

  5. I meant for this to go to “Chocolatarianism: the only rational foundation for ethics,” but the above is an example of how not announce a politcal platform.

Comments are closed.