Distributed Mind.


Complex realizations are the result of the collaborative work of many people, an yet we have the unconscious reflex to feel admiration for the one who designed it although this person does not exist. This article investigates the origin of the reflex to assume every complex thing has been designed by a single person (single mind) rather than by a group-effort.

Understanding this brain reflex and its origins is important because it is probably related to the still widespread illusion of a Creator, a God who made the universe.


When we observe something which fits wonderfully together, we feel some admiration or even some awe for the design. This feeling originates in the unconscious assumption that the wonderful thing has been designed by someone who made it in mind before realizing it. As will be explained below, our brain has a reflex to make such assumption. This mental reflex is very old and hardwired in our brain because it has important advantages in the mechanism of learning from parent to child and from each other.

However, like many ancient brain reflexes, it can fool us, and lead us to think that all complexity we observe has been designed and realized like this.

To know how complex realizations really develop, we can observe an ongoing development, or to study a well recorded development. Then we see something entirely different, and not a single mind who designs it all before and then makes it.

Let's take a smartphone as an example.
There has not been someone who started thinking from scratch and designed a smartphone in mind in all detail before he or she made it. Smartphones have evolved from many different technologies. Each of these technologies has gradually been improved by people who had an understanding of a small part of the complexity which has lead to the current realization of a smartphone.

Another useful example to consider is Natural Language.
Natural language has mainly evolved under very primitive circumstances, slowly grinded and tuned by persons without any theoretical knowledge of languages.

Wikipedia is another example.

Why do we assume a single mind?

Our brain has the reflex to assume that every structure we observe has been designed and realized by someone like us as the result of a thought process. Because this is a reflex, it works very fast, unconscious and effortless.

When a child observes another person doing something, the assumption that the other person thinks first, then acts accordingly makes it possible for the child to partially deduce the flow of thoughts of the other. This extends the learning process from the surface to the way of thinking.

Animals which can do this have a tremendous advantage over animals who can't, especially in an environment with very limited language. Because this reflex has played such an important role in the evolution, it has become strong and it is still very useful for learning to think. We can recognize this also in the behavior of primates.

This mechanism is closely related to what is called "Theory of Mind".

Why the understanding of this reflex is important?

When the observed complexity surpasses what our comprehension is able to capture, we experience some awe. This awe is caused by the false assumption that the observed complexity has once been completely designed in a single mind who is able to comprehend it in all its aspects.

I think it is this unconscious, false assumption which has given raise to the illusion of a God.

Considering all the misery caused by religious wars in the world, I think it is important to understand the cause and start cleaning up the damage.