Although cultural behaviour is surprisingly widespread in the animal kingdom, humankind seems to be the only species to cultivate not only our external environment, but also the internal environment of our feelings. Over the span of millennia, according to a small yet influential number of scientists, this epigenetic intervention in the state of mind would result in the assumptions and practices that form the core of humankind’s religions. In this article the ideas of António Damásio, one of the most influential neuroscientists of our age, about the role of feelings in well-being is developed as a theoretical framework for a speculative inquiry into the evolutionary pressures that would lead to the development of this ability. Religion, it is argued, arises in assumptions and practices that enable the devotee to regulate the feelings and consciousness evoked by communal life in ways that stabilise the mind for optimal well-being.
However, the validity of such a prediction would need to be tested against the development of historical religious traditions. If communal life is the cause rather than the result of religion, there should be a relationship between the birth and evolution of historical religions on the one hand and changes to communal life that would destabilise the frame of mind of the individual on the other. However, this prediction has yet to be tested against the developmental histories of historical religious traditions.
Keywords: brain; consciousness; cooperation; emotions; evolution; feelings; mood; religion; selection; subjectivity; well-being