How Did Belief Evolve?

Agustín Fuentes: Most people assume “belief” refers to religion. But it is so much more. Belief is the ability to combine histories and experiences with imagination, to think beyond the here and now. It enables humans to see, feel, and know an idea that is not immediately present to the senses, then wholly invest in making that idea one’s reality. We must believe in ideas and abilities in order to invent iPhones, construct rockets, and make movies. We must believe in the value of goods, currencies, and knowledge to build economies. We must believe in collective ideals, constitutions, and institutions to form nations. We must believe in love (something no one can clearly see, define, or understand) to engage in relationships. In my recent book, Why We Believe, I explore how we evolved this universally and uniquely human capacity, drawing on my 26 years of research into human and other primates’ evolution, biology, and daily lives. Our 2-million-year journey to complex religions, political philosophies, and technologies essentially follows a three-step path: from imagination to meaning-making to belief systems.



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