Dennett is optimistic that the powerful mystique of religion is going to fade out – though he also has pessimistic moods when he thinks Martin Rees is right that some whack-job group will do a mass kill with a nuke or a biological weapon. But he says he’s confident that the better thing will happen. I’m not, but I hope I’m wrong.

Why am I confident that this will happen? Mainly because of the asymmetry in the information explosion. With the worldwide spread of information technology…it is no longer feasible for guardians of religious traditions to protect their young from exposure to the kinds of facts (and, yes, of course, misinformation and junk of every genre) that gently, irresistibly undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance. The religious fervor of today is a last, desperate attempt by our generation to block the eyes and ears of the coming generations, and it isn’t working. For every well-publicized victory…there are many less dramatic defeats, as young people quietly walk away from the faith of their parents and grandparents.

Let’s hope so! Bless their electronic little hearts.

Michael Shermer is optimistic that science is winning out over magic and superstition. Well, not at the Grand Canyon, but again, let’s hope he’s right.

Rebecca Goldstein finds it hopeful that novelists are exploring the propositional attitudes of other people.

In one early important experiment (Heider & Simmel 1944), almost every single subject, when shown a short movie consisting of geometrical shapes moving on a screen, attributed propositional attitudes to the shapes. Subsequent research has strengthened the view that our capacity for mental attribution is universal and nearly reflexive—in short, an aspect of human nature.

So we think geometric shapes have minds (of a sort) – that’s interesting. Similar to and no doubt connected with our pattern-seeking habit, and our meaning-imposing tendency, and our anthropomorphic bias, and our need to see causality everywhere. Mind you…I would think that would lead to hostility just as easily as it would lead to harmony – but never mind; I’ll be optimistic for today. Happy new year.

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