virus: God Module

Thu, 01 Apr 1999 11:29:46 -0800

First, an admission. I have not read the post from TheHermit to which I am
responding in its entirety. I don't like to respond to a post until I've read it
all the way thru, preferably twice, but I know that TheHermit considers points
which generate no response as points conceded, and if I wait until I have the
time and patience to give the entire post a careful reading, I may never get
around to answering a couple of the points he makes early on. So here goes.

TheHermit wrote:

> Irrational beliefs are not entirely independent of intelligence and
> education.

Forget who said it, but I like the quote, "A great deal of intelligence can be
invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is great."

It seems to me that you have to define "intelligence" in an exceptionally narrow
fashion to make a credible claim that most or even more than a tiny fraction of
intelligent behavior is rational. Such a definition would rule out any sort of
intelligent behavior in dogs, pigs, dolphins, or even chimps.

> The more intelligent you are, the less likely you are to believe
> in religion. (B.P. Beckwith Free Enquiry, 1986 vol 6 p 46). I note that this
> is not a promise.

Good thing, otherwise many would see the promise as a good reason to avoid
thinking in the manner you seem to think of as constituting "intelligence."

> You still need to think.

And restrict your thinking to a small subset of the viable options available to

> The best, maybe the only defense
> against religious memes is a thinking mind.

Naw. The best defense against religious memes is to host a set of religious memes
that prompt you to be fanatically intolerant of any OTHER religious memes. Some
fanatical religious meme-complexs also include the belief that one's own form of
dogmatism doesn't count as religion, but that detail is more window dressing
than substance.

> Importantly, it is not solely people suffering from brain damage or mental
> illness who report these experiences. I can tell you that I have
> occasionally felt sure that I have experienced these feelings myself as a
> result of religious experience, drug activity, bio-feedback sessions and
> meditation - particularly while performing so called Yogic Flying"). Yet I
> do not ascribe them to anything other than aberrant brain processes.

I found a couple of different definitions of the word "aberrant."

aberrant \Ab*er"rant\, a. [L. aberrant, -rantis, p. pr. of aberrare. See Aberr.]
1. Wandering; straying

from the right way.

2. (Biol.) Deviating from the ordinary or natural type; exceptional;

The more aberrant any form is, the greater must have been the number of
connecting forms which, on

        my theory, have been exterminated. --Darwin.

Source: Webster's
Revised Unabridged Dictionary

aberrant adj : markedly different from an accepted norm; "aberrent
behavior"; deviant ideas" [syn:

deviant] n : one whose behavior departs substantially from the norm of a

I would agree that mystical experiences are "markedly different from the
accepted norm" in an environment in which people are constantly looking at the
clock and worrying about money, social status, and their waist line. In a
society in which fasting, meditation, prolonged physical exertion, and sensory
deprivation are rare; in a society in which people watch an average of 6 hours
of TV a day, eat long before they ever feel hungry, and allow their thinking to
be structured by the demands of work and advertising, the experience of ego and
boundary dissolution or of connection to or participation in a larger, more
pervasive consciousness is certainly markedly different from the accepted norm.
In such an environment, the kind of thinking that you seem to consider
"intelligent" is almost as rare and aberrant in the exact same sense.

If that is what you mean when you describe mystical (or "noetic" in the sense
that William James and Professor Tim use that word) experience as aberrant, then
I'm in full agreement with you. I suspect, however, that by "aberrant," you mean
to imply "straying from the right way" or "dysfunctional," and with this I would

> Such
> subjective experiences are lacking all the necessary qualities of scientific
> evidence, such as reproducibility and openness to consensual validation or
> critique.

That's certainly true.

> The religionist invariably resorts to claims that while his belief
> may not be scientifically justifiable, he knows it to be true, nonetheless,
> because of his private religious revelation.

Are you speaking only of the faithful, here, or do you mean to describe the
phaithful as well?

> I cannot deny his experience
> (back to the cave), as I have experienced things that I class as
> experientially indistinguishable from what he is describing; or in some
> cases as more or less weird than he is describing, but which, in my opinion,
> are symptoms of abnormal or at least "not normal" brain function, not of
> "gods".

Strange that you would consider this kind of experience "abnormal" when you seem
to agree that humans seem to be hard wired for it and that it was a well
established part of human brain functioning and experience long before the
development of analytic styles of thinking (which I take you to be including in
the class of "normal" brain functioning).

> Telling him that is only likely to lead to the kind of anger and
> miscommunication that every atheist attempting to discuss religion with "the
> other side" has experienced. A person who knows that you suspect has a few
> cogs loose is not likely to react positively anyway.

So what is your aim in continuing to imply that anyone who values the
"religious" modes of human experience has a few loose cogs when you realize that
it hardens them in their opposition to the style of thinking that you value and
want to promote?

> So what can we do to counter this argument for the existence of gods while
> avoiding a belligerent backlash from baffled believers [Alliteration's
> artful aid again!]? An alternative explanation which shows that these
> sensations, or to use the word of the week, noŽtic experiences, are
> generated internally, are explicable using purely physical processes and do
> not require any "god like action" would be a good preliminary step.

Who's that going to convince? If you can identify a consistent pattern of
neurological activity in mothers who feel love for their children and present an
argument to the effect that this pattern of neuro activity arose by natural
selection because it increased the likelihood that young humans would survive to
reach sexual maturity, do you expect that a significant portion of the
population would place any less value on a mother's love for her children. Do
you think more than a tiny handful of people would consider a mother's sacrifice
for the benefit of her children as being any less

> Of
> course, any alternative explanations need to be testable, repeatable and
> verifiable.

If they are to satisfy The Hermit.

> At last, researchers in the fields of psychology and
> neuroscience have begun to uncover the biological mechanisms that might give
> rise to feelings of "revelation" in healthy adults.

Good deal. The better we understand what gives rise to the experience, the
better able we will be to induce it for its beneficial effects at the
appropriate time and place and avoid its negative consequences.

> The
> question asked by Ramachandran and his colleagues was, why do such (temperal
> lobe epileptic) seizures
> often lead to enhanced religiosity? They entertained three possibilities:
> 1. Strange sensory experiences that arise during seizure are rationally
> interpreted as signs of paranormal powers.
> 2. The strong and widespread electrical activity that defines seizures
> strengthens connections between temporal lobe sensory areas and the amygdala
> (a brain area associated with emotion). This causes patients to see "deep
> cosmic significance" in everything.

KMO's variation on #2:

The strong and widespread electrical activity that defines seizures strengthens
connections between brain module x and brain module y in a way that overrides
the effects of societal pressures and media programming and allows the subject
to perceive the genuine "cosmic significance," unity, and intelligence in

> "GOD MODULE: Study Ponders: Are Humans Hard-Wired For Religious Bent?" BY
> No one knows why humanity felt its first religious stirrings, but
> researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have reported that
> the human brain may be hard-wired to hear the voice of heaven, in what
> researchers said was the first effort to address the neural basis of
> religious expression.

The fact that you quoted this passage just makes it seem all the stranger to me
that you consider "hearing the voice of heaven" as aberrant in any sense other
than "rare." It seems totally bizarre to me that you would consider a brain
which is functionally in the way in which it is hardwired by evolution to
function as functioning abnormally.

More later.