The Value of Divination, or Just Do Something

I’m editing a (fascinating) book about the evolutionary roots of schizophrenia at the moment, and one of the chapters is on the evolution of religion. The author submits that one of the evolutionary benefits of religion is divination: attempting to see the future.

At first I though, what the hell use is some fraud who tries to tell everyone he knows which hunting area is best or where water is going to be found?

This is what the author says: “The power of divination allows an entire tribe to back an arbitrary decision — it is better to roll the dice and do something than not do anything at all.”

You see? Having a shaman cast some stones or burn a shoulder blade, and then point in an (as it turns out) arbitrary direction gives the tribe a decision to get behind, instead of everyone spending days and days arguing (without evidence) in favour of their own pet ideas.  The randomness of the divining techniques might even send the tribe off in a fruitful direction they would never have chosen using reason.

This is a great lesson: sometimes it’s better to just make a decision — any decision — and then pursue it with all your resources than to sit around and waffle about what might happen if you make the wrong choice.