Monday, November 1, 2010

282: The Biology of the Brain 1

Supernatural beliefs are not simply transmitted by what people tell us to think. Rather, I would argue, says Bruce Hood,

that our brains have a mind design that leads us naturally to infer structures and patterns in the world and to make sense of it by generating intuitive theories.

We generate these intuitive theories at early age. Research has shown that 4 months old babies already respond to structures.

These theories create at young age a supersense, a belief that there is more between heaven and earth than we know.

The effect of culture, or as Dawkins likes to believe, the indoctrination of religious ideas, occur much later in the child's development.

There is something in our biology that leads us to belief. We tends to think that our personal experiences makes our beliefs true.

So, this is supposed to be the wiring of our brain. It is not primarily created by culture, but as real hardware by the biological construction of our physiology.

If this is a plausible theory, then there should exist a belief, that is certainly supernatural and which is held by almost every person on this planet, until it is , of course, discarded as superstition.

According to Bruce Hood there is such a belief: the belief that you can feel that you are being watched. People report that they can detect someone looking at them even though there is no way that our natural senses could register this.

This supernatural belief has become so common, that people are even inclined to believe that it is a general human ability.

We don't teach our children, that we have this ability but it can be observed that the older we get the more convinced we become of our ability of feeling the unseen gaze of the other.

What is the basic intuitive theory on vision. We find examples of this by men like Plato and Euclid, around 300 BC. They believed that the eyes emitted some kind of energy. There is something leaving the eye that , so to speak, grabs the visible world.

Even today a lot of people, including university students who have taken lessons in optics, believe that vision is the transfer of something entering the eyes at the same time as something exiting the eyes. This probably explains why the sense of being stared at seems so intuitively plausible.

Our language is full of expressions that confirm this supernatural belief. "If looks could kill" only suggest that what is emitted from the eye has too low energy to do the job.

In a paper published in The Lancet in 1921, some Charles Russ wrote:
"The fact that the direct gaze or vision of one person soon becomes intolerable to another person suggested to me that there might be a ray or radiation issuing from the human eye."

"Strangers in the night exchanging glances
Wondering in the night………",
sings Sinatra, as if there was some physical thing that passes between two people.

Although we know, that science has proven that the eye receives light which is processed by the visual cortex and so on and so on we still love to be strangers in the night and exchange our glances.

Dawkins and others argue with sweeping titles as "The God Delusion" to kick out all supernatural beliefs, starting with religion. Will they ever succeed in their crusade.

I guess, that in the next lecture we can evaluate the meaning and function of our supersense and come to a conclusion.

The Discussion

[13:21] herman Bergson: Thank you...
[13:21] Anske Beattie claps!!
[13:22] herman Bergson: If you have a remark or question..the floor is yours
[13:22] itsme Frederix: ... at last ... a conclusion
[13:22] AristotleVon Doobie: I am of the opinion that this gazing to another is more psychological that supersense
[13:22] herman Bergson: yes is about time :-)
[13:23] herman Bergson: psychological in the sense that we imagine things, Aristotle , yes
[13:23] AristotleVon Doobie: the difference from introverted and extroverted folks
[13:23] Jarapanda Snook: When you say that humans are hardwired, is this a primitive self protection reaction, to be wary of the unknown?
[13:24] AristotleVon Doobie: hmmm :)
[13:24] herman Bergson: That is pretty paradoxical jara....
[13:24] Beertje Beaumont: but as real hardware by the biological construction of our physiology. does it mean animals have supersensn too?
[13:25] herman Bergson: No Beertje....they only have instinct...they cant reflect on their existence
[13:25] AristotleVon Doobie: and our rationallity determining where to sustain the gaze
[13:25] Jarapanda Snook: and we transfer this fear of the unknowwn (a real threat such as that of a tiger in the night, say) to imagined threat - or superstition?
[13:25] herman Bergson: First of all the expression "The Unknown"
[13:26] herman Bergson: it suggest that we KNOW the Unknown..otherwise we cant refer to it in a meaningful way..
[13:26] Beertje Beaumont: it keeps us from danger..
[13:26] herman Bergson: A primitive self protection......
[13:26] Qwark Allen: indeed
[13:26] herman Bergson: The wiring of the brain is the result of evolution....
[13:26] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:27] herman Bergson: and there is no unknown...there is our interpretation of the world around us...
[13:27] Jarapanda Snook: so - we are as fearful of the unknown as we are of a tiger
[13:27] herman Bergson: Some interpretations are generated by our supersense...
[13:27] Beertje Beaumont: we are fearfull of the unseen
[13:27] AristotleVon Doobie: the wiring of the primal brain is fixed long ago, we evolve out own cerebral cortex through experience
[13:27] herman Bergson: I wouldnt say that Jara.....
[13:28] herman Bergson: How can you fear what you dont know?
[13:28] Lea Supermarine: and what when you are not feared about the tiger?
[13:28] herman Bergson: We have a dutch saying....
[13:28] herman Bergson: What you dont know, never hurts
[13:28] itsme Frederix: It is said tha people fear the most they do not know
[13:28] AristotleVon Doobie: is a baby afraid of a tiger?
[13:28] Jarapanda Snook: that is the human condition, surely - to imagine a threat as this will prepare us for any real threats
[13:29] herman Bergson: I would say it otherwise Itsme...
[13:29] herman Bergson: people fear the most that they cant explain.....but they KNOW that there is something there
[13:30] Jarapanda Snook: my point is this - we have an innate fear (or caution) of the unknown and that leads is to superstition
[13:30] AristotleVon Doobie: babys are born knowing how to swim, it is the fear gained after birth that makes them drown
[13:30] herman Bergson: It is exactly our supersense that helps us here...
[13:30] Jarapanda Snook: and superstition leads to religion
[13:30] herman Bergson: We could fear death.....supersense comes up with all kinds of stories about afterlife, reincarnation, merging energies and so on
[13:30] Beertje Beaumont: for people to feel safe
[13:31] herman Bergson: yes....
[13:31] herman Bergson: But what has been our point all the time....
[13:31] herman Bergson: such theories defy all laws of nature...
[13:31] Gemma Cleanslate: my typing would not type but i have to agree with ari about the psychological being more to answer
[13:31] Beertje Beaumont: supersense is a part of human being
[13:31] Bejiita Imako: aa true
[13:31] herman Bergson: that is what theories do that are generated by our supersense..
[13:32] Jarapanda Snook: do you thinks that the higher mammals have a supersense?
[13:32] herman Bergson: If the brain is the tool to help the species survive, supersense theories can be a danger
[13:33] herman Bergson: Supersense means that you can imagine that there is more behind nature than just physics....
[13:33] herman Bergson: I dont think animals have that ability
[13:33] Jarapanda Snook: how can you tell?
[13:33] AristotleVon Doobie: but that sounds so delusional
[13:34] herman Bergson: Basic condition is the possibility to abstract these ideas..which means..translate them into language...
[13:34] Jarapanda Snook: dolphins, dogs and chimpanzees seem to demonstrate certain features of supersense?
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: nature more than physics :)
[13:34] Bejiita Imako: physics and chemistry
[13:35] herman Bergson: No not of supersense....but of sofisticated ways of communication and understanding their environment
[13:35] Bejiita Imako: and some more stuff
[13:35] herman Bergson: supersensee means the ability to have supernatural beliefs...for instance that there is a god
[13:35] Jarapanda Snook: can you define supersense more clearly, Herman?
[13:36] herman Bergson: I havent heard of any religious animal so far..except the human being
[13:36] Beertje Beaumont: cause they are smarter than we are..
[13:36] AristotleVon Doobie: becuase human are clever and cunning :)
[13:36] Jarapanda Snook: if you define it as "something that humans have" that is a recursive definition
[13:36] AristotleVon Doobie: devious even
[13:36] herman Bergson: Ididnt define it that way jara...
[13:37] herman Bergson: supersense means the ability to beliefve in supernatural ideas
[13:37] herman Bergson: Supernatural ideas are ideas about reality that defy any law of nature and can not be tested in any way
[13:37] herman Bergson: To begin with the believe in the existence of god
[13:38] herman Bergson: or a god
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: I was tutored in the ability and had to strugel to rid myself of it
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: struggle*
[13:38] Jarapanda Snook: If a child is told that God is watching him so he must be good - that will stay with him forever...
[13:39] Beertje Beaumont: oh yes it does Jara
[13:39] itsme Frederix: Jar, forever ... well it takes some time
[13:39] Jarapanda Snook: so that is a supernatural feeliing which has been planted in the child...
[13:39] herman Bergson: that is exactly what the brain generates.....the idea that you are being watched...
[13:39] Lea Supermarine: till he finds out that even when he is not good that god is not there
[13:39] herman Bergson: religions make good use of this inclination to keep people in check
[13:39] AristotleVon Doobie: :) indeed the guilt of going against it with haunt them
[13:39] herman Bergson: in general...
[13:40] Jarapanda Snook: but if that is a planted notion how do you know that it is innate?
[13:40] Lea Supermarine: or when he is good
[13:40] herman Bergson: research has shown that when people feel being watched they behave better..more social
[13:40] herman Bergson: Let me give you a funny example....
[13:40] Bejiita Imako: oki ㋡
[13:40] Jarapanda Snook: Would a persone who was brought up by wolves, for example, have superstition?
[13:41] herman Bergson: In the cantine you can take coffee...more or less for free...but there is a honesty box....
[13:41] AristotleVon Doobie: our Government is doing a good job of making us behave
[13:41] herman Bergson: put in a few pennies for the coffee pl..
[13:41] herman Bergson: the experiment was this...
[13:41] herman Bergson: they put a picture of two eyes above the box for a few weeks....
[13:42] Qwark Allen: omg
[13:42] Jarapanda Snook: hehe - and loads more money was paid in
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: hehe ok
[13:42] herman Bergson: then they exchanged the picture of the eyes for a picture of flowers....
[13:42] herman Bergson: Exactly jara....
[13:42] Jarapanda Snook: and nobody paid up
[13:42] herman Bergson: three times more donations when the eyes were up.
[13:42] Jarapanda Snook: wow
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: hehe ok
[13:42] herman Bergson: this is our mental wiring.... :-)
[13:42] Bejiita Imako: interesting since its just a picture
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: but that is not an innate response
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: that has to be learned
[13:43] herman Bergson: yes Aristotle.....
[13:43] Bejiita Imako: but I would have done it no matter what
[13:43] herman Bergson: to some extend it is...
[13:43] Jarapanda Snook: so this is because we are generally all brought up to be good with our mothers eyes watching us
[13:43] herman Bergson: Yes is as simple as that....
[13:43] AristotleVon Doobie: the diff between right and wrong has many instructors
[13:43] herman Bergson: An other experiment.....
[13:44] Jarapanda Snook: how does that relate to superstition?
[13:44] herman Bergson: Let me tell you...
[13:44] itsme Frederix: Let's get things straight: supersticion ~ supersense
[13:44] herman Bergson: Students were given an computer...
[13:45] itsme Frederix: (I mean use the right words)
[13:45] herman Bergson: the computer was programmed to ---by mistake -- show the right answer now and then....
[13:45] herman Bergson: the student could use it and cheat....
[13:45] herman Bergson: one group was told nothing....and did the exam...
[13:45] herman Bergson: another group was told that there was a ghost in the examination room.....
[13:46] Jarapanda Snook: oooooh
[13:46] herman Bergson: a student had died bit spooky…
[13:46] Bejiita Imako: hehe ok
[13:46] herman Bergson: the group that heard the ghost story cheated less than the group that didnt...:-)
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: sneaky too
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: LOL
[13:46] Jarapanda Snook: wow - that's really interesting Herman
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: hehe yes
[13:47] herman Bergson: Not so exciting....
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: I'd be wanting to talk to the ghost
[13:47] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:47] Beertje Beaumont: it was a silent ghost
[13:47] herman Bergson: A lot of cultures believe that our ancestors are still watching us....
[13:47] herman Bergson: kids are brought up with the idea that God sees everything...
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: sure, watching from above
[13:48] herman Bergson: it is in our mental system...
[13:48] herman Bergson: all superstition but it works
[13:48] Jarapanda Snook: In my view that is all about population control
[13:48] herman Bergson: sure....
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: :)
[13:48] Beertje Beaumont: of course
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: right on Jar
[13:49] Jarapanda Snook: and we are imbued from birth with the feeling that we are being watched - by Mother, God, Ghosts or whatever
[13:49] herman Bergson: It is our ability to believe inthesupernatural that makes this possible
[13:49] Jarapanda Snook: but it is really about keeping us under control
[13:49] herman Bergson: Yes Jara and it is plain superstition
[13:49] Jarapanda Snook: Is It?????
[13:50] Jarapanda Snook: is it instinctive, or burned into us?
[13:50] Lea Supermarine: keep them dumb
[13:50] AristotleVon Doobie: then the 'supernatural' is just like the 'unknown'
[13:50] herman Bergson: It is a result of evolution to make the group work...
[13:50] Jarapanda Snook: they are synonymous
[13:50] AristotleVon Doobie: both to be feared
[13:51] Jarapanda Snook: So - is it instinctive, or burned into us?
[13:51] itsme Frederix: Herman that's theory, an explanation ~ but you might be right
[13:51] herman Bergson: In fact our inclination to believe in the supernatural is a kind of social oil to keep the group together
[13:51] herman Bergson: and functioning
[13:51] Jarapanda Snook: Herman - do you have any eys over the tipjar????
[13:51] Qwark Allen: ehehhe
[13:51] herman Bergson: is a theory....
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: I contend we are branded with the fury of authority
[13:52] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:52] herman Bergson: and when it is a scientific one it is open for falsification of course...
[13:52] itsme Frederix: fast learning >Jar !!
[13:52] Lea Supermarine: making me the texture already ;)
[13:52] herman Bergson: lol...I should install a picture there yes...good idea Jarapanda
[13:52] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:53] AristotleVon Doobie: that oil that lubes the group is often times fatal to the individual
[13:53] Jarapanda Snook: it was Lea's joke Herman lol
[13:54] herman Bergson: well...I think that we are ready to conlude this part of our quest about the brain next week
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:54] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:54] Qwark Allen: ::::::::: * E * X * C * E * L * L * E * N * T * ::::::::::
[13:54] herman Bergson: Don't worry..we aren't done yet....
[13:54] AristotleVon Doobie: Thank you Professor
[13:54] Jarapanda Snook: Thanks Herman
[13:54] Jarapanda Snook: no?
[13:54] Qwark Allen: ty hermann, was very interesting today
[13:54] Bejiita Imako: really interesting again ㋡
[13:54] herman Bergson: For today yes :-)
[13:55] herman Bergson: Thank you all for your participation....
[13:55] Gemma Cleanslate: see you tuesday if I can
[13:55] Jarapanda Snook: good debate Herman
[13:55] herman Bergson: Class dismissed :-)
[13:55] Beertje Beaumont: thank you Herman
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: bye Gemma :)
[13:55] Bejiita Imako: \o/
[13:55] Bejiita Imako: || Hoooo!
[13:55] Bejiita Imako: / \
[13:55] Jarapanda Snook: byee all
[13:55] Bejiita Imako: great
[13:55] AristotleVon Doobie: bye Jara
[13:55] Beertje Beaumont: *•.¸'*•.¸ ♥ ¸.•*´¸.•*
[13:55] Beertje Beaumont: .•*♥¨`• BRAVO!!!! •¨`♥*•.
[13:55] Beertje Beaumont: ¸.•*`¸.•*´ ♥ `*•.¸`*•.¸
[13:55] Lea Supermarine: thanks herman and bye all
[13:55] Bejiita Imako: some more stuff to think about again ㋡
[13:55] Qwark Allen: party time
[13:55] herman Bergson: Bye everyone
[13:55] Bejiita Imako: YAY! (yay!)

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