Daily Archives: July 16, 2008

SuperSense and the Dalai Lama

My colleagues Paul Bloom and Susan Gelman have an interesting short piece in the current Trends in Cognitive Science journal about how the Tibetan authorities selected the 14th Dalai Lama.

According to eye witness testimony from 1941, the bureaucrats tested a two-year old boy in a remote village by presenting him with personal authentic possessions that belonged to the previous 13th Dalai Lama along with a selection of inauthentic similar or identical looking items. It is reported that when presented with identical rosary beads, walking canes, and quilts, the boy grabbed the authentic one in each case. Moreover, when presented with two drums, one that was rather plain but authentic while the other was much more attractive but inauthentic, the boy chose the plain drum and began playing it with a big smile on his face. As far as the authorities were concerned this proved that, “the boy demonstrated his occult powers, which were capable of revealing the most secret phenomena.” The boy is now the current Dalai Lama.

These tests reveal that the authorities believed that the reincarnated Dalai Lama would have the supernatural power to identify authentic objects selected from among copies. This is the psychological essentialism that I discuss in my book where people believe that authentic objects and memorabilia are contaminated by the essence of the previous owner.

So the supersense forms part of the procedure for selecting world leaders. However some bloggers think that this report does no such thing. Rather they argue that it demonstrates a belief in reincarnation and not psychological essentialism. 

What do you think?

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