God, A part of your brain?

By | December 5, 2009

God  A part of your brainHere is more evidence that “God” is a function of the human brain.

People often reason egocentrically about others’ beliefs, using their own beliefs as an inductive guide. Correlational, experimental, and neuroimaging evidence suggests that people may be even more egocentric when reasoning about a religious agent’s beliefs (e.g., God). In both nationally representative and more local samples, people’s own beliefs on important social and ethical issues were consistently correlated more strongly with estimates of God’s beliefs than with estimates of other people’s beliefs (Studies 1–4). Manipulating people’s beliefs similarly influenced estimates of God’s beliefs but did not as consistently influence estimates of other people’s beliefs (Studies 5 and 6). A final neuroimaging study demonstrated a clear convergence in neural activity when reasoning about one’s own beliefs and God’s beliefs, but clear divergences when reasoning about another person’s beliefs (Study 7). In particular, reasoning about God’s beliefs activated areas associated with self-referential thinking more so than did reasoning about another person’s beliefs. Believers commonly use inferences about God’s beliefs as a moral compass, but that compass appears especially dependent on one’s own existing beliefs.

via Believers’ estimates of God’s beliefs are more egocentric than estimates of other people’s beliefs — PNAS.

While I do not fully agree with all of Alper’s examples (in Gilgamesh, burial did not happen and animals are aware of death), he makes an interesting point which the above research may support.

Every known culture from the dawn of our species has maintained a belief in some form of a “spiritual” reality. Wouldn’t this suggest that human spirituality must represent an inherent characteristic of our species, that is, a genetically inherited trait? Furthermore, being that spirituality, just like language, represents a cognitive function, wouldn’t this suggest that our “spiritual” instincts, just like our linguistic ones, must be generated from some very specific physical part within the brain? I informally refer to this site as the “God” part of the brain, a cluster of neurons from which spiritual cognitions, sensations, and behaviors are generated.

How else are we to explain the fact that all human cultures – no matter how isolated – have maintained a belief in some form of a spiritual/transcendental reality, in a god or gods, a soul, as well as an afterlife? How else are we to explain the fact that every human culture has built houses of worship through which to pray to such unseen forces? Or that every known culture has buried (or at least disposed of) its dead with a rite that anticipates sending the deceased person’s “spiritual” component, or what we call a soul, onward to some next plane, or what we call an afterlife? Wouldn’t the universality with which such perceptions and behaviors are exhibited among our species suggest that we might be “hard-wired” this way? How about the fact that every known culture has related undergoing what we refer to as spiritual experiences? Perhaps we are “hard-wired” to experience such sentiments as well. Just as all honeybees are compelled to construct hexagonally shaped hives, perhaps humans are compelled to perceive a spiritual reality…as a reflex, an instinct.

Essentially, what I’m suggesting is that humans are innately “hard-wired” to perceive a spiritual reality. We are “hard-wired” to believe in forces that transcend the limitations of this, our physical reality. Most controversial of all, if what I’m suggesting is true, it would imply that God is not necessarily something that exists “out there,” beyond and independent of us, but rather as the product of an inherited perception, the manifestation of an evolutionary adaptation that exists within the hum

an brain. And why would our species have evolved such a seemingly abstract trait? -In order to enable us to deal with our species’ unique and otherwise debilitating awareness of death. – godpart

NPR has an article about God experience being triggered by epilepsy.

During epileptic seizures, sufferers often claim to hear the voice of angels or of God. Some epileptologists believe that many of the great religious figures, such as Moses and St. Paul, had epilepsy. Now neurologists believe they’ve found the sweet spot for spiritual experience — in the temporal lobe. Some scientists say the temporal lobe, which is associated with emotion and memory, is the seat of spirituality. It’s also where epileptic activity takes place. – npr

Everything we experience is in our heads because we experience only our mental model of the world and that is something that happens in our brains. Both real and imaginary things have places in our brains. The trick is, there is, as yet, no way to tell by looking at a single brain if the memories or experience there is due to something imaginary.

It is most likely that the brain’s memory system has no audit trail, but if we ever do find a way to trace the source of memories and beliefs by looking at the brain’s wiring, we could settle once and for all what is real and what is imagined. I don’t think that will happen since our brains are fundamentally wired to model reality, not to experience it directly.

Still, it is exciting to imagine such a breakthrough.

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