Wednesday, December 1, 2010

289: The Brain, Science and Religion

In my lecture "272: Science and Supersense" I said: "Supersense helps us to understand the world, so that we are able to make decisions and choices that feel good. It helps us to feel united with others, that hold the same beliefs. (…)

Science has become more and more the fundament of our knowledge of the world. Thence you would expect that it gradually would have replaced supernatural beliefs about our world.

But it has not. And we have to face the question why people ignore what science has to tell us about supernatural beliefs. People just don't listen to scientists who say that supernatural beliefs make no sense at all.

In spite of the tremendous amount of scientific knowledge, science does not seem to get any grip on supernatural beliefs. Even worse, some people even find science a pretty suspect business."
-end quote-

Science is often regarded as cold and impersonal. Regarding our supernatural beliefs it seems to take things away from us away. And what do we get substituted for it?

According to the facts as stated in my former lecture you can cause religious like experiences by stimulating the temporal lobe by electro-magnetic field fluctuations.

Temporal lobe epileptics show in their behavior exactly those traits which are so well known from religious zealots, and saints.

Of course this doesn't apply to every person. It is like all human traits distributed over a whole population: some haven't the trait at all while other have it to the extreme, but the majority of the people are somewhere in-between the extremes.

Last time I drew your attention to a particular Webpage. And it clearly shows what science does. Let me quote:

Rutgers University evolutionary biologist Lionel Tiger thinks we can: “Religion is really made by the brain. It is a secretion of the brain,” says Tiger, who thinks the root of religious belief is an evolutionary drive

to seek this "secretion"—namely serotonin—which provides the believer with feelings of well-being. A neurotransmitter that regulates mood and appetite, serotonin is linked to feelings of well-being when it floods the central nervous system.
-end quote-

Maybe this is why astrology and clairvoyance are often questioned with respect to their reliability and religious supernatural beliefs not.

Religious beliefs have been there all the time of our evolution. The neurochemical response of religion serves a biological need for humans.

But religiosity is not just brain chemistry. VMAT2 is a leading gene among many others written into our genetic code that predisposes people to religiosity. It was identified by geneticist Dean Hamer.

From the webpage:
Believing in God generates soothing "juices" in the brain that make us feel good, says Lionel Tiger. Scientists have identified the neurotransmitter serotonin, a network of neurons in the frontal, parietal and temporal lobes,
and the gene VMAT2 as chemical, structural and genetic origin points that may be responsible for religiosity.

Interest in where the brain and belief overlap has lead to the new field of neurotheology. Some cite new neurological research as confirming a completely organic, earthly origin to religion, independent of divine inspiration.
Others say that while the research starts to explain religious experience and practice, religion itself is more than the sum of its experiences. -end webpage -

To conclude, an amazingly to the point quote from my newspaper of TODAY ! It is from a bookreview…and mark the title: " Free will does not exist." subtitle: "Who is really in control in our brain." by Victor Lamme.

Whilst reading, I think of God. Previously taken for granted and everywhere. But for centuries in retreat, driven from every domain which science got a grip on. Would this become our human fate too?

Step by step deprived of what is so uniquely human: freedom and responsibility? Despite the passion with which it is written, a cold wind blows through Lamme's book.
-end quote.

The Discussion

[13:20] herman Bergson: So much for today...thank you...
[13:20] BALDUR Joubert: nothing wrong with the assumption of tiger about feel good and serotonin.. but nothing but assumptions about religion and brain..and science -there i agree.. won't liberate serotonin..
[13:21] herman Bergson: We have three belief-systems....
[13:21] herman Bergson: scientific beliefs, religious beliefs and supernatural beliefs (like astrology and tarot etc.)
[13:21] AristotleVon Doobie: "neurotheology", sounds like the sound bite "intelligent design"
[13:22] herman Bergson: May be Aristotle, but in fact it is a very bad name for what is means....
[13:22] herman Bergson: there is no theology in it at all.
[13:23] AristotleVon Doobie: the Pope will have a fit
[13:23] herman Bergson: It si what I described today...the neurobilological research on religious behavior and thoughts and feelings
[13:23] herman Bergson: He certainly will send me to hell yes
[13:23] BALDUR Joubert: religious and suoernatural is thge same..
[13:23] BALDUR Joubert: where's the difference..
[13:23] Bejiita Imako: hehe no worry I blast hiom with the LHC then a la Angels and Demons
[13:23] herman Bergson: Theoretically yes Baldur but in our culture there is a difference
[13:24] Chi Aho: Are brain secretions also the source of scientism?
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: the pope say many wierd things
[13:24] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[13:24] BALDUR Joubert: culture.. now we are getting closer..
[13:24] herman Bergson: If you regard scientism as a religion..maybe Chi
[13:24] BALDUR Joubert: so what is the connection between culture and religion
[13:24] BALDUR Joubert: can one exist without the other?
[13:25] herman Bergson: Well….Baldur…
[13:25] Chi Aho: I see reducing religious experience to brain secretions as the pitfall of reductionism; doesn't help much
[13:25] herman Bergson: the human being is a social animal...
[13:25] BALDUR Joubert: true.
[13:26] BALDUR Joubert: social and animal..
[13:26] herman Bergson: to keep the group together supernatural ideas played an effective role in evolution...
[13:26] BALDUR Joubert: not for animals
[13:26] BALDUR Joubert: who have very complex social relationships..
[13:26] herman Bergson: there are never religeous ideas or behavior observed by animals
[13:26] Willful Guardian: we don't really know that, do we baldur?
[13:26] AristotleVon Doobie: could the 'feel good' folks get from religious belief sprout from a more Freudian see, such as the seed for Fatherly love?
[13:27] herman Bergson: That is a psychological interpretation Aristotle...
[13:27] herman Bergson: And Chi....your reductionism we'll discuss later
[13:27] AristotleVon Doobie: some faux rationalization maybe
[13:28] herman Bergson: that is a complicated subject
[13:28] BALDUR Joubert: a psychological interpretation is also a supernatural belief interpretation ..
[13:28] herman Bergson: With supernatural we mean that it cant be tested and defies all natural laws Baldur
[13:28] Chi Aho: To reduce peak experiences, awe, mystery, the sense of grandeur of the universe to "brain secretions" is to miss the whole point of such experiences
[13:29] BALDUR Joubert: we can't leave religion to the neurologist alone:)
[13:29] herman Bergson: Do these experiences have a point Chi?
[13:29] Chi Aho: Self transcendence comes with identifying the self with the totality of the cosmos and the energy underlying it
[13:30] AristotleVon Doobie: I seek to understand religion only to be able to defend myself from those whose promote it
[13:30] BALDUR Joubert: with supernatural we -if we look at the brain-- it doesn't defy any law of nature.. if its origin is in the brain
[13:30] Chi Aho: Maybe you don't need to do that herman, or maydbe you lack that awareness
[13:30] herman Bergson: @Chi : that is a complex metaphysics you propose there...
[13:30] Chi Aho: not at all
[13:31] herman Bergson: What we know is that people in meditation can have the 'one with the cosmos' feeling...
[13:31] Reyne Baroque: Have to go Herman - ty
[13:31] herman Bergson: and when they have that feeling , neurobiologically it is observed that the parts of the brain that give us the spacial en temporal experiences are largely inactive
[13:32] herman Bergson: yw Reyne
[13:32] Chi Aho: The Contemplative apprehends spiritual experiences and states. Sometimes achieved through fasting, solitude, chanting, drumming, dance and yoga. Sometimes through quiet concentration, meditation and contemplation. Occasionally accompanied by peak experiences, as awe and mystery are sensed, in this state we seek interior illumination. It is in this state that the gap between the objective and the subjective dissolves. Clarity of awareness arises. There is a self-transcendence, an identification of the self with the totality of the cosmos and the spirit or energy underlying it. (See pp. 137-8 in Ken Wilber, The Eye of Spirit).
[13:32] herman Bergson: dont do this Chi...I am sorry to the rules behind me...
[13:32] Chi Aho: You see herman, it isn't all science or atheism
[13:32] herman Bergson: but you are excused
[13:33] herman Bergson: I have no idea what self-trancendence means
[13:33] Chi Aho: you prove my point then
[13:34] herman Bergson: besides that the concept of the Self is a philosophical question
[13:34] Chi Aho: its like someone who doesn't know what empiricism is
[13:34] BALDUR Joubert: interior ilumination chi?
[13:34] Chi Aho: Yes, an understanding of who you are, Baldur
[13:34] herman Bergson: what is your point Chi?
[13:34] BALDUR Joubert: clayrity arises something absolute?
[13:34] AristotleVon Doobie: :) the cosmos is spinning around me, the is very comforting to be its center
[13:35] Chi Aho: My point is that anyone who reduces these experiences to "brain secretions" lacks some really vital knowledge and experience himself.
[13:35] BALDUR Joubert: smile ari.. we are all -as individuals.. the center..
[13:35] AristotleVon Doobie: indeed Baldur
[13:36] herman Bergson: But that is an argument ad hominem where the speaker claims to have a better knowledge of reality which he doesnt proof
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: aaa true
[13:36] BALDUR Joubert: chi.. what vital knowledge..something universal and absolute?
[13:36] Chi Aho: I am not the only one with this viewpoint, herman
[13:37] herman Bergson: It is a typical claim of people who have a well defined (religious) belief and claim that their belief is the only true and right belief
[13:37] BALDUR Joubert: quantity doeswn't proof quality chi..
[13:37] herman Bergson: To refer to 'others think so too' is not a philosophical argument but a social or cultural or religious argument
[13:38] Rodney Handrick: that true
[13:38] BALDUR Joubert: third reich argument chi
[13:38] herman Bergson: In the philosphical discourse you try to establish the truth value of a statement
[13:38] Willful Guardian: has someone reduced religion simply to nothing but brain secretions?
[13:38] AristotleVon Doobie: it smacks too much of democracy being the truth validator
[13:38] herman Bergson: that is only possible when the statement can be tested...
[13:38] Ciska Riverstone: wanted to ask the same, willful
[13:38] Chi Aho: Only empirical knowledge is valid?
[13:39] herman Bergson: No Willfull
[13:39] BALDUR Joubert: well chi.. its a basis we can agree on.. doesn't exclude other possibiliteis
[13:39] AristotleVon Doobie: we alone validate presented empirical data as true or false
[13:39] herman Bergson: Only statements that can be tested on their truth value are admissible in a debate....
[13:40] Chi Aho: How about the whole realm of logical thinking, theories, philosophical systems???
[13:40] herman Bergson: If someone has a method to demonstrate the occurence of sef-transcendence, after having defined the concept, it is a valid argument in the philosophical debate
[13:41] Chi Aho: You should read Ken Wilbur, The Eye of Spirit
[13:41] Rodney Handrick: I'd like to know
[13:41] Chi Aho: read his book
[13:41] BALDUR Joubert: if you have proof that tranc
[13:41] herman Bergson: Yes that is what everyone should read that or that book...
[13:41] Chi Aho: yes, read it
[13:42] herman Bergson: Be it the Koran or the Bible or Blavatsky etc.
[13:42] BALDUR Joubert: trancendendce thinking is not subject to a brain activity.. logical thinking and theories.. we will listen chi
[13:42] herman Bergson: Religion is not reduced to brain secretions at all...
[13:42] Chi Aho: Scientism, the ideology that only empirical knowledge is valid, is narrow and distorted
[13:42] AristotleVon Doobie: reading is important, but you need a baskets on each side of you as you for jewels and one for trash
[13:43] herman Bergson: With all due respect Chi....
[13:43] herman Bergson: it is ok to say that something is narrow and distorted...
[13:43] BALDUR Joubert: narrow and distorted may be chi.. but not something we can ignore
[13:43] herman Bergson: but that is not interesting and begging the questions
[13:44] herman Bergson: what you have to show is that it is the case
[13:44] Willful Guardian: is the subject today the role of neuroscience in relation to religion?
[13:44] Chi Aho: I said that scientism, the ideology that only empirical knowledge is valid is a distorted view and a narrow view
[13:44] herman Bergson: but that is a completely different debate
[13:44] herman Bergson: this leads to a debate on epistemology...
[13:44] AristotleVon Doobie: yes Willful
[13:44] Willful Guardian: oh, then I'm confused...
[13:45] herman Bergson: Yes....
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: we diverge sometimes
[13:45] herman Bergson: the issues of today are...first..
[13:45] BALDUR Joubert: lol
[13:45] Willful Guardian: ah, I see...
[13:45] Chi Aho: You see Willful, mystical experiences are due to epileptic seizures
[13:45] AristotleVon Doobie: lol
[13:45] herman Bergson: That it looks like that science takes away a lot of our supernatural ideas...
[13:45] BALDUR Joubert: that's sh....
[13:46] AristotleVon Doobie: I suspect what a seizure creates can be interpreted in many ways
[13:46] herman Bergson: Second...that religious experiences can be provoked by stimulating the brain or be observed by Temporal lobe epileptics
[13:46] BALDUR Joubert: the development- not evolution. of culture is at the basis of religios ideas
[13:47] herman Bergson: but Baldur culture is re result of the activities of an organism with a brain
[13:47] AristotleVon Doobie: I find it very interesting that Muhammed was an epileptic, I supect Paul was too
[13:47] herman Bergson: Yes he has the symptoms Aristotle....
[13:47] BALDUR Joubert: yes.. but not of epilepsy:)
[13:48] herman Bergson: We never can prove it however
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: he fell down stricken on the Road to Damascus
[13:48] Rodney Handrick: you're referring to Saul of Tarsus?
[13:48] herman Bergson: It is a conjecture that he is describing an epileptic seizure...
[13:48] AristotleVon Doobie: yes
[13:48] BALDUR Joubert: why not because the brain - starting to observe and think-.and communicate with others.. is just confronted with forces which it can't explain..
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: I see
[13:49] herman Bergson: at least..the symptoms canbe observed today with real patients
[13:49] BALDUR Joubert: and forces.. power.. is a basic necessity ina social community..
[13:49] AristotleVon Doobie: makes one question historians
[13:49] Willful Guardian: well neuroscience might describe the physical substrate of religious experience, without fully explaining the experience itself of course
[13:49] Chi Aho: right, Willful
[13:49] herman Bergson: If that invisible force were there Baldur....who could we have knowledge of it
[13:50] BALDUR Joubert: right will.. describe. they should be careful with conclusions..
[13:50] Rodney Handrick: I'm still looking for a Jedi master...
[13:50] AristotleVon Doobie: interesting thought Willful
[13:50] BALDUR Joubert: a lighning which kills me
[13:50] BALDUR Joubert: me of the group?
[13:50] herman Bergson: Well Willful to answer your question....
[13:50] AristotleVon Doobie: you are the Jedi master Rod
[13:50] BALDUR Joubert: that wee have knowledge of.. but can't explain..
[13:51] herman Bergson: the mind is just a feature of the brain....
[13:51] Rodney Handrick: HA HA HA HA HA
[13:51] Bejiita Imako: „ã°
[13:51] herman Bergson: so experiences are just the results of that feature..
[13:51] herman Bergson: the mind is not something that has other experiences than the brain
[13:51] herman Bergson: ok..let me explain....
[13:51] AristotleVon Doobie: :) unless you are trilolgist like me
[13:52] herman Bergson: when you have a glass of water....
[13:52] BALDUR Joubert: right... without experience..-and communication with others.. to say a society.. no mind
[13:52] herman Bergson: the water may be liquid.....
[13:52] herman Bergson: but liquidity only exists as a feature of the way the water molecules are organized...
[13:53] herman Bergson: thus ..the organisation of lower lever creates specific features.
[13:53] Ciska Riverstone: so the interessting question is why do they organize like they organize
[13:53] herman Bergson: you can not have water one the one hand and liquidity on the other hand
[13:54] herman Bergson: that is simple to answer Ciska...
[13:54] Bejiita Imako: the later is a property of the first
[13:54] herman Bergson: molecules behave as they do based on the laws of nature...
[13:54] herman Bergson: Yes Bejiita but not in the Aristotelian sense
[13:54] Bejiita Imako: ah
[13:55] herman Bergson: thus the way the brain chemistry works create a specific feature what we call mind...
[13:55] herman Bergson: without a brain and its material composition there is no mind
[13:56] herman Bergson: like there is no liquidity without water molecules arranged in a specific way
[13:56] AristotleVon Doobie: :) a byproduct of biology?
[13:56] herman Bergson: Well...that is a bit to fast Aristotle...
[13:56] herman Bergson: Then you can call liquidity a byproduct of water molecules...
[13:57] herman Bergson: which makes the qualification 'by=product' trivial
[13:57] AristotleVon Doobie: the mind and the brain, is like the chicken and the egg
[13:58] herman Bergson: definitely not.....
[13:58] herman Bergson: there is first the brain....
[13:58] AristotleVon Doobie: ahh, but how do you know for sure?
[13:58] herman Bergson: and that has as a feature by its wiring and operation the mind
[13:59] herman Bergson: because...when I remove my mind is gone too Aristotle
[13:59] Chi Aho: prove it
[13:59] AristotleVon Doobie: I hear you argument and get the same from my daughter form her neurobiological classes
[13:59] herman Bergson: You would love to see that, wouldn't you Chi ^_^
[13:59] Willful Guardian: well, it's possible to have a brain without a mind, but not a mind without a brain
[13:59] Chi Aho: Well, last dThursday you said "you are your brain"
[14:00] herman Bergson: true Willful
[14:00] AristotleVon Doobie: we think that only because of regimentation
[14:00] Chi Aho: which is only YOUR OWN self-identification, not a statement of fact at all
[14:00] herman Bergson: My thesis here is a materialistic one: we are our brain
[14:01] Chi Aho: materialism is an ideology used to justify atheism
[14:01] BALDUR Joubert: so we can be mind without a brain chi?
[14:01] BALDUR Joubert: or whatever?
[14:01] herman Bergson: It would be a bit extreme Chi, but I dare to say that when I would remove all brains from this globe, that there wouldn't be a single mind anymore
[14:01] Chi Aho: It just may be that the whole cosmos is filled with consciousness
[14:01] BALDUR Joubert: may be.. or might not be chi..
[14:02] Chi Aho: and that scientists don't know the first thing about consciousness, as to what it is
[14:02] BALDUR Joubert: may be i'm god..
[14:02] herman Bergson: Those are supernatural statements Chi
[14:02] Chi Aho: hogwash
[14:02] AristotleVon Doobie: I know I am god, Baldur
[14:02] Willful Guardian: yes, but that is not a helpful point of view in this particular discussion, Chi
[14:02] Willful Guardian: at least I'm not sure how it is
[14:02] herman Bergson: We can't test cant prove them..
[14:02] herman Bergson: let alone that we know what consciousnesss is...
[14:02] BALDUR Joubert: lol.. i knew all the time ari
[14:02] herman Bergson: a hell of a philosophical problem these days
[14:03] Chi Aho: Most of what is important cannot be proven by empirical research
[14:03] AristotleVon Doobie: :)
[14:03] herman Bergson: and who decides what is important Chi? The Pope?
[14:03] herman Bergson: You?
[14:03] herman Bergson: Obama?
[14:03] Chi Aho: Each person decides for him/her self
[14:03] BALDUR Joubert: may be we should agree that there are two different approches to understand oneself and the world.. a scientific one and a spiritual one..
[14:04] Chi Aho whispers: more than just 2
[14:04] herman Bergson: You may say that Baldur...
[14:04] BALDUR Joubert: lets talk about the scientific one here..
[14:04] AristotleVon Doobie: but the spirtual has to have an explanation, just like science
[14:04] BALDUR Joubert: an other time about the contents of spirituality
[14:05] herman Bergson: It is not about the content of the spiritual Baldur...
[14:05] BALDUR Joubert: ari.. first lets try to understand what science knows.. and then integrate that knowledge if possible
[14:05] AristotleVon Doobie: otherwise 'why' s forbidden
[14:05] herman Bergson: it is about the question comes the spiritual into being
[14:05] AristotleVon Doobie: yes, Herman
[14:05] herman Bergson: and to that we give a clear the working of the brain.
[14:05] Chi Aho: We experience the spiritual through contemplation, herman
[14:06] BALDUR Joubert: ok.. how about the lightning..
[14:06] herman Bergson: there is only the brain....and what it generates as features
[14:06] herman Bergson: That is not the issue here Chi
[14:06] AristotleVon Doobie: 'because I said so' is not must be tendered
[14:06] herman Bergson: The brain generates what we experience as spiritual
[14:07] BALDUR Joubert: chi.. even contemplation needs a brain
[14:07] herman Bergson: what behavior such experiences cause or how it functions in culture is not our discussion
[14:07] Chi Aho: herman, did you not say the question was how the spiritual comes into being?
[14:08] herman Bergson: that question is is produced by the wiring of the brain
[14:08] Willful Guardian: the properties or capacities of the brain would constrain the experience of the spiritual
[14:08] herman Bergson: no brain spirituality
[14:08] Chi Aho: of course not; if a person is dead he/she cannot have human experiences
[14:08] herman Bergson: That Willful presupposes that the spiritual is something independent of the brain
[14:09] herman Bergson: and there you are again with a kind of cartesian dualism
[14:09] BALDUR Joubert: ancient egypt disagrees with you chi
[14:09] Chi Aho: EVERYTHING we experience is a "product of the brain", so what does that prove?
[14:10] AristotleVon Doobie: 'capacities' is a good word to use
[14:10] herman Bergson: Well...I think it is time to say that we still have a lot to debate...
[14:10] AristotleVon Doobie: indeed we do :)
[14:10] Bejiita Imako: ah „ã°
[14:10] herman Bergson: and a lot of what we discussed now will return in further lectures
[14:10] Bejiita Imako: yes
[14:10] herman Bergson: So dont worry.....
[14:11] herman Bergson: I guess it might be wise now to put our brains to rest a little ^_^
[14:11] Bejiita Imako: hehe
[14:11] herman Bergson: so Thank you for this great discussion
[14:11] Bejiita Imako: ah
[14:11] Willful Guardian: I don't know that it presumes it, as opposed to marking it off as a content or object of the brain's activity
[14:11] BALDUR Joubert: not everything we experience is a product of the brain chi.. what we see for ex. is processed in the brain.. stored.. etc
[14:11] Chi Aho: so?????
[14:11] AristotleVon Doobie: Thank you, Professor
[14:12] Bejiita Imako: again very interesting
[14:12] Willful Guardian: yes, thanks
[14:12] Willful Guardian: indeed
[14:12] herman Bergson: So....we'll continue next class
[14:12] AristotleVon Doobie: great!
[14:12] herman Bergson: Class dismissed
[14:12] Beertje Beaumont: thank you Herman it was very interesting
[14:12] Bejiita Imako: yay¨'
[14:12] Bejiita Imako: YAY! (yay!)
[14:12] Bejiita Imako: ok cu soon all :)=
[14:12] herman Bergson: For those who not know.....
[14:13] herman Bergson: The basic premise of this project is that we are our brain and a materialist interpretation of reality
[14:13] Rodney Handrick: thanks Herman
[14:13] herman Bergson: Nice you were here Rodney
[14:13] Ciska Riverstone: Thank You Hermann- very interesting! thank you all
[14:13] Willful Guardian: but perhaps then it is best to assume materialism for future discussions?
[14:14] Willful Guardian: as opposed to debating it?
[14:14] herman Bergson: Sure Willful.....that is the most logical thing to do...
[14:14] herman Bergson: I should make a sign that explains our starting point
[14:15] herman Bergson: so that very new participant understands out starting position in the debates
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