A fascinating open source article by Luhrmann et al. showing that what feels real to our senses is shaped by our culture.Significance
The sensory presence of gods and spirits is central to many of the religions that have shaped human history—in fact, many people of faith report having experienced such events. But these experiences are poorly understood by social scientists and rarely studied empirically. We present a multiple-discipline, multiple-methods program of research involving thousands of people from diverse cultures and religions which demonstrates that two key factors—cultural models of the mind and personal orientations toward the mind—explain why some people are more likely than others to report vivid experiences of gods and spirits. These results demonstrate the power of culture, in combination with individual differences, to shape something as basic as what feels real to the senses.Abstract
Hearing the voice of God, feeling the presence of the dead, being possessed by a demonic spirit—such events are among the most remarkable human sensory experiences. They change lives and in turn shape history. Why do some people report experiencing such events while others do not? We argue that experiences of spiritual presence are facilitated by cultural models that represent the mind as “porous,” or permeable to the world, and by an immersive orientation toward inner life that allows a person to become “absorbed” in experiences. In four studies with over 2,000 participants from many religious traditions in the United States, Ghana, Thailand, China, and Vanuatu, porosity and absorption played distinct roles in determining which people, in which cultural settings, were most likely to report vivid sensory experiences of what they took to be gods and spirits.