Here’s something crazy. A recent scientific study showed that anthropomorphic forms (things that aren’t human but look human) “inhibit the tendency to extend the self.”
This means that the more human something looks, the more we believe that it’s separate and independent from us.
The study revolves around military robots and finds that anthropomorphic looking robots will tend to be perceived, by their operator, as having their own unique identity – independent from the operator – even though the operator consciously knows she is controlling the robot.
Ugly but functional robot contraptions have no such luck. They are seen as an extension of the operator’s self, in the same way a computer, a phone, or a hammer is seen as an extension of the user – not something with a completely unique personality.
This study is important because it gives us a glimpse into the mechanics of why so many of us believe in God.
The study illustrates that the humanoid form is a huge social cue to our brain. If we see a humanoid image, we respond as if it is actually human. Our brain has a difficult time – at an unconscious level – distinguishing a humanoid image from a flesh and blood human.
In Western cultures, God is personified. He is “The Creator”, and man is created in the image of God. This means that God looks human. We see this in hundreds of thousands of paintings throughout the centuries, depicting god in human form.
The image of God has taken on its own identity – and to our brain, it feels like it’s a separate, unique “real” entity. Anthropomorphic robots are perceived to have their own unique identity too.
By anthropomorphizing God, we inhibit our ability to see that god is a projection of our own brain.
A German experiment did MRI scans and found that when people play games with a humanoid robot, or an actual human, remarkably similar neural activity occurs within test subjects.
What this tells us is that the more real and potent an image of God is in our mind’s eye, the more powerfully that symbol will be seen as separate, real and true. It’s for this reason we feel our personal idea of God is the right god, the true god, the just god.
This goes for suicide bombers and abortion doctor killers too. The vengeful voices of God they each hear are perceived as separate. In their minds, God is giving them orders to kill. In reality, the voices are coming from inside their own heads.
The god confusion exists inside the brain.
The bottom line? A humanoid image creates a powerful delusion of being a separate entity – be it a killing robot or wrathful god.