Interesting and thought-provoking article, thanks.

I think that it’s not just the spiritually-inclined of the “free-thinking, distrust[ing] of authority and institutions, [with] a tendency to unusual beliefs or experiences, a tendency to detect ‘hidden’ patterns and correspondences, and an attraction to alternative paradigms, particularly in alternative health” types, but also those of the more traditionally religious orientation. Indeed, when I was an active, outspoken atheist on YouTube (mostly in the comments section, to my unending shame) I encountered what I called “conspiracy theists” all of the time. I see these conspiracy theists as the more traditionally religious equivalents of the conspiritualists that you’re talking about.

If I apply the research and theorising that I am doing in the area of morality and moral groups (which are very much defined by the way they see the world) I think that the spiritually-inclined (free-thinkers, etc.) are the ones that come up with new ideas, new ways of seeing the world (the schizotypal or high-functioning ASD types). The more traditionally religious (those that are either in the religion of their birth or one that is only slightly different, so that they still fit in with their familial milieu) tend to adopt these new beliefs uncritically (thanks to their religious training). Some will quickly dump this new thing as being “not for them” whilst others will become (dangerously?) enthusiastic about this new way of seeing the world.

I think you are entirely correct to suggest that a balance (in the Force?) between the creative and the rational (the euphoric and the sober) is important, however, traditional religion survives on bypassing rationality, sometimes benignly, sometimes dangerously and cults often actively quash rationality. As the Voltaire quote goes, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

Worth noting that Karl Popper talked about conspiracies being the religion of the 20th century.

On the matter of conspiracies and the difference between the euphoric and the paranoiac: I’ve always thought that both kinds are seeing behaviour in the world and assuming that because the behaviour is the same that the behaviour is co-ordinated. This seems to be related to Boyer’s idea of the Hyper-Active Agency Detection Device, but in this case, instead of seeing agentic intent where there is none (such as ascribing God’s intent to a given weather phenomenon), they see co-ordination between actual agents where there is none. Surely there can’t be anything more mundane than two people with similar world views and of similar temperament behaving in similar ways when in similar circumstances? The difference in the application of this fallacious thinking is that the euphoric type is projecting their wish for a better world out into the world and seeing possible allies (they’re probably also optimists by nature) whereas the paranoiacs are projecting what they would do if they had that sort of power onto other people (and maybe shopping for the allies of their febrile dreams).

Psychology graduate with interests in values and morality, cognition and executive function, and High Functioning Depression. Kiwi living in London, UK.