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How Religion Hijacks Neurocortical Mechanisms, and Why So Many Believe in a Deity


iNow
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iNow,

 

Hey, well I'm the one jumping to conclusions here. If you don't see the connections, its probably cause they are not evident. (not there?)

 

Regards, TAR


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iNow,

 

Well perhap I should slow down and ask a question.

 

Take a statement like "children start to mimick you, and your values."

 

Is this process of Mimicking, understood on a neurocortical level?

 

Regards, TAR

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Hey, well I'm the one jumping to conclusions here. If you don't see the connections, its probably cause they are not evident. (not there?)

Well, the links you shared might be put to use to suggest why one religion is more popular than another, but IMO are not relevant to why we tend toward religion in general.

 

 

 

Take a statement like "children start to mimick you, and your values."

 

Is this process of Mimicking, understood on a neurocortical level?

I'm not sure I follow your question. Yes, human youngsters learn a great deal from modeling others (see the work by Albert Bandura on social learning theory, for example). This is common across all primates, and can easily be found in many apes. One thing which sets humans apart is in the teaching. We actively teach our young, whereas most other primates tend to simply lead by example... letting the young pick up their knowledge simply from watching and repeating what they see.

 

These tendencies tend to be selected via selection, and the make-up of our brains will certainly play a role in how they manifest during childhood. Does that address what you're asking?

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"Religious thoughts" is a very ambiguous term with a broad set of possible definitions. Can you be more precise in your language so I might have a chance at addressing your question accurately?

 

 

As most of the first several pages of this thread addressed, we are all born with an innate tendency toward these types of thoughts. It's not like one day we're sitting there eating our strained peas and all of a sudden we become religious after spitting up all over ourselves.

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iNow,

 

We are born with the apparatus that at some point develops into, or is hijacked by religion. I was asking, in the same way that children's ability to put themselves into someone elses shoes develops in the 3-5 range. Is there a age at which children exhibit thoughts or ruminations about god? Is there a time when children take on imaginary friends? Is there a time when a conscience develops?

 

As the inate ability to assign agency to the moving grass, to avoid being eaten, developed in our species way back, and this mechanism might be hijacked or adapted for imagining persons to talk to and keep you company, and please you, so other mechanisms, selected for throughout our evolution, are put into use in all the things we do, as humans.

 

Each mechanism that is used for religious thought, probably has other current day uses as well. I was trying to look at each thing we do as permutations of the simple understandable reward mechanism, interacting with the ability to put yourself in another's shoes, and build our species up from rudimentary brain functions, to the complex brain functions and social interactions we exhibit, today. As a child gains body recognition, body control, memory, lessons, language, symbols, other's shoes, values, rules, imaginary friends, authority figures, thoughts of the infinite, awareness of mortality, ways of thinking, and roles to play in a certain order as the brain developes and patterns are reinforced, this order might be analogous to the order in which the underlying required mechanisms were selected for, in our species. Even if the order is wrong, the fact remains that we couldn't do it, if evolution had not selected for the underlying mechanism. To this end, the simpler the underlying mechanism is, the easier it is to comprehend the subsequent development of the functions derived from them.

 

Regards, TAR

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Much of what you're bringing up relates to general psychological development in children, and is a bit peripheral to the topic of this thread. What you can do, though, if you're interested in better understanding those ideas is to look at the age groups identified in the earlier studies which have been shared and see how those align with things like the Erikson model.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erikson%27s_stages_of_psychosocial_development

 

 

I'm personally not too interested in exploring them here, however, since (as I mentioned) they are peripheral/tangential to the actual topic under discussion. Enjoy.

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iNow,

 

Here is an interesting one.

 

http://www.medicineonline.com/news/12/4472/Brain-Scans-Get-at-Roots-of-Prejudice.html

 

I'll probably seem like old tangential TAR again. But there is a method to my madness.

 

U.S. researchers observed the brain activity of liberal college students who were asked to think about Christian conservatives. As they did so, a brain region strongly linked to the self and to empathy with others nearly shut down, while another center -- perhaps linked to stereotypic thoughts -- swung into high gear.

 

This goes back to "putting yourself in the other's shoes"

 

When you recognize kin, you see yourself in them and them in you.

 

When you don't recognize someone of the same species as kin, part of your pack, possible competitors for resources, or deadly enemies, you put them in the bad dorsal area, in with the bad painful stuff, in the enemy category. You are not interested in pleasing them, you are interested in eliminating them or avoiding them. Fight or flight.

 

Members of a group, are kin, and those outside the group are evil things.

 

Family, friends, your high school's team, your company, your county, your religion, your political party, people that speak your language or engage in your culture, are people who you think of as you think of yourself. People whose shoes you can walk in, who you can imagine how they think.

 

Kin.

 

Others might not have your best interests in mind, and you think of them in the dorsal area.

 

Regards, TAR

 

P.S. Likely to bring you pleasure, and who you want to please, as opposed to those who might have other things in mind, other than you.


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P.P.S.

The Biblical Religions, Jewish, Christian and Muslim hijack/utilize these mechanism, and make all the believers kin. The holy father, the leader of the pack, who will punish those who go against the pack. And all the members of the family are children of God. Believers and non-believers, the strongest theme in the Koran.

 

And if I might add, just to be objective, the way some secular humanists, who can't quite see how religious people can believe what they believe, can't see how they can think what they think, can't put themselves in their shoes, see them as an impediment to human unity, and stick them in the dorsal area.

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And that is part of the us/them... ingroup/outgroup... pack behavior which exists in all animals, and is just exaggerated in humans with our ability to name things ("that's a chair... that's a table... that's an orange..."). We are natural classifiers, so we naturally see other ideologies and skin colors and all manner of things as "different" and tend to dehumanize them.

 

However, you're right... not really related to the subject under discussion.

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TAR,

 

I'm just trying to wrap my head around your thoughts on this. I've looked over your contributions again. They seem centered around this idea of how people group together... How we want to be associated with "winners," and how we tend to see people who think/believe differently from ourselves as outsiders and possibly even enemies.

 

Since the theme of this thread is how our brains predispose us toward belief in deities and provide us with a proclivity toward religious practice, is it your intent to suggest that... since we naturally group ourselves into like-minded groups and families... that this is part of the reason religion has been so successful through the centuries?

 

I'm just trying to put this into neuroanatomical terms. My sense is that your suggestion is that our brains prime us toward group behaviors, and that religion is just a strong grouping mechanism. Is that an accurate portrayal of your intended point? If not, perhaps you can help to clarify so we can rejoin the same path in this discussion. :)

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iNow,

 

I think I was thinking that. But I might have been trying to phrase it a little differently.

 

That is that our natural, inherited, mechanisms are very simple, basic animal type mechanisms, pleasure and pain, things to strive to maintain, and things to avoid. Find food, water and shelter, avoid being eaten, avoid danger, mate, have pups, protect them, mimick the elders and the successful, and teach your pups how to survive. And pass on the genes that made it work. Fish do it, trees do it(sans the mimicking and teaching), wolves do it. All forms of life have adapted to their surroundings in a way that allowed them to be successful(live) avoid failure (death) and survive to pass on their successful pattern, to the next generation.

 

The genes, the simple chemical mechanisms, in our brain, making us feel good when we see the form of the opposite sex and smell their pheremons, bad when we are separated from them. The sustainance and wamth of our mother, the protection from prey and intruders that would use our resources of our father. These are the neural mechanisms we have in common with other primates. They would dictate grouping into a family and perhaps an extended family troop. But no more. These basic simple mechanisms would have to be hijacked/used (by us) to form religions, empires, cultures and civilizations.

 

Each of us is aware we are alive, we have the neural mechanisms to recognize kin, to know mother and father, to feel pleasure and pain, to thereby distinquish between good and bad, strive to maintain and promote the good, and avoid and eliminate the bad. These mechanisms have to be hijacked/used (by us) to form the concept of all that is good (God) and all that is evil (devil.)

 

Regards, TAR

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I see. The challenge, of course, is that those same principles apply to all groups, and not just religion... Therefore, it's not really helpful for this particular discussion. Please also bear in mind that this thread refers to religion in general, and hence any concepts regarding Abrahamic notions (like god and the devil being good and evil) are far too narrow and far too isolated to apply to the discussion at hand.

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iNow,

 

Well the Abrahamic religions are just an example of how Moses and Jesus and Mohammed utilized the mechanisms present in all their followers. Guided them. Told the story, everybody already knew, in a way that would make them all kindred minds, working together, sharing, looking out for each other, under the same rules, laws and common judge. In each religion, the principle is the same. Just the names change, the story and the characters change. But the principle is the same. Basic human/primate brain mechanisms, arranged to be rewarded by belief in a story.

 

Since "the Enlightenment" another story is being written. Sort of a concensus secular story, built on facts that everybody has access to. No special membership required. But still its basic human brain mechanisms, arranged to be rewarded by belief in a story.

 

I have learned a lot from this thread about the science, the facts, the mechanisms that have been hijacked to form religions, and the belief in dieties. They are applicable to all areas of human endeavor, they are applicable to all my personal thoughts and emotions. Its good to have the knowledge and the insights into my own mind, my own emotions, my own prejudice and hatred. It gives me insight into the beliefs and feelings and intentions of others. Truth is a good thing, and easily shared. It's pleasing to me to imagine it pleasing others.

 

I'm sorry I keep going tangential on you, it's sort of my way of saying "thanks for the insight" and trying to reciprocate.

 

Regards, TAR

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I'm sorry I keep going tangential on you, it's sort of my way of saying "thanks for the insight" and trying to reciprocate.

Right on. I can relate to that. While I might push hard to remain focused and on-topic, I'm most certainly glad that others share my fascination with this.

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TBH, I intend to let the thread go dormant for a little while... at least until a new article, video, or bit of information piques my interest (or, until some fresh readers comment with new questions or contributions).

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  • 4 weeks later...

This really short video does a fine job of addressing the core discussion this thread was intended to have. It serves as a nice recap of the primary concepts, without getting too bogged down in technical details. Enjoy.

 

 

kK90eVHsdDc

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  • 3 weeks later...

Interesting article in the NYTimes this weekend.

 

 

 

The Evolution of the God Gene

... During 15 years of excavation they have uncovered not some monumental temple but evidence of a critical transition in religious behavior. The record begins with a simple dancing floor, the arena for the communal religious dances held by hunter-gatherers in about 7,000 B.C. It moves to the ancestor-cult shrines that appeared after the beginning of corn-based agriculture around 1,500 B.C., and ends in A.D. 30 with the sophisticated, astronomically oriented temples of an early archaic state.

 

This and other research is pointing to a new perspective on religion, one that seeks to explain why religious behavior has occurred in societies at every stage of development and in every region of the world. Religion has the hallmarks of an evolved behavior, meaning that it exists because it was favored by natural selection. It is universal because it was wired into our neural circuitry before the ancestral human population dispersed from its African homeland.

 

<...>

 

A propensity to learn the religion of one’s community became so firmly implanted in the human neural circuitry, according to this new view, that religion was retained when hunter-gatherers, starting from 15,000 years ago, began to settle in fixed communities. In the larger, hierarchical societies made possible by settled living, rulers co-opted religion as their source of authority.

 

<...>

 

Religion was also harnessed to vital practical tasks such as agriculture, which in the first societies to practice it required quite unaccustomed forms of labor and organization. Many religions bear traces of the spring and autumn festivals that helped get crops planted and harvested at the right time. Passover once marked the beginning of the barley festival; Easter, linked to the date of Passover, is a spring festival. <
>

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • 3 weeks later...

I heard this short (~15m) talk this morning and found it thread relevant. Enjoy.

 

 

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/counterpoint/stories/2009/2764302.htm

Why is it that almost all societies in history have been religious? Why is it that even today, when, many people no longer believe in religion intellectually, they still have a desire to believe?

Nicholas Wade outlines his idea that religious belief confers an evolutionary advantage.

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