The HPedia: HADD

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HADD is an acronym for “Hyperactive Agency Detection Device” or “Hypersensitive Agency Detection Device.”  It is a common term in cognitive pscyhology, and points to a postulated preference of the human brain to see agents in the environment, even where there are none.  Barrett proposes the brain has a module with such a preference, and it is calibrated to be over-active.

This would be evolutionarily advantageous, so the argument goes, because of the differential consequences of error in attributing agency.  Inferring a tiger in the grass when it is in fact just a rush of wind carries few consequences, even if the error is repeated many times.  On the other hand, the consequences of inferring no tiger when there is one, even once, can be deadly. Therefore, the brain would evolve a “hypersensitivity” to agents in the environment.

This concept is often deployed to make sense of the human tendency to infer invisible persons (such as ghosts, spirits, or gods) in natural events (for example, see this Psychology Today article).

If it is true that the brain has a HADD module, it would seem to go a long way toward explaining one of the most common reasons hard polytheists give for believing literally in the existence of deities: many say they feel their “presence.”  This is not an air-tight argument, of course: just because the brain is prone to error doesn’t necessarily mean any given instance is in error.  An exploration of the positive or negative implications of HADD for particular theologies is here.

See also “Agency”, and “Deity.”

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