Loneliness May Lead to Theism and Animism


And God stepped out on space,
And he looked around and said:
I’m lonely—
I’ll make me a world . . . (Johnson, 1927/1990, p. 17)

Physicists have the scientific tools to suggest that Johnson may have gotten his poem profoundly wrong, but psychologists have the scientific tools to suggest that Johnson may have gotten his poem profoundly backward. In three studies, people who were chronically disconnected from others (Study 1) or momentarily led to think about disconnection (Studies 2 and 3) appeared to create humanlike agents in their environment— from gadgets to pets to supernatural agents such as God. These studies go beyond simply demonstrating that social disconnection leads people to seek companionship from nonhuman agents, showing that social disconnection can alter the way these agents are conceptualized or represented. Lonely people cannot make themselves a world, of course, but they can make themselves a mindful gadget, a thoughtful pet, or a god to populate that world.

MindHacks: Solitude conjures imaginary companions

Am I correct in believing that many religious practices include extended isolation as an initiatory or even ongoing practice for the priestly classes or even rank and file?


  1. Well, yeah. There’s an old saying that you can’t live in the desert and not think about God. Most vision techniques involve practicing isolation, exhaustion, and/or intoxication until your subconscious comes out to play.

  2. but that god is not god at all. it is just the demiurge that woke up first after creation and said hey, look what i must have done.

  3. At the same time? 😉

    It’s a good point, though. It seems to me that we should be able to rationally consider the origins of our irrational beliefs, and that that does not actually constitute a criticism of those beliefs.

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