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  • By Jacqueline Howard
    Most Americans, about 89%, say they believe in God, and some have felt God’s presence while listening to a sermon or sensed time stand still while they were in deep prayer or […]

    • Looks like K. Marx was onto something with his:

      “Die Religion … ist das Opium des Volkes”

    • I am pleased that they are seeing these results. I’ve oft speculated that religion must have some evolutionary reward for it to have persisted so strongly over time, and independently within unconnected tribes all over the world. There must be a strong evolutionary selection pressure to favour individuals who are “religious”. Loyalty to tribe. Obedience to leaders. Explanations to remove stress. Life after death. Spirits of departed. All in the common template of religions world wide. The need to create gods as an explanatory cause and social control is a constant in all tribes.. Why. This report goes someway to that understanding.

      If you go to an enjoyable rock concert and sing along for an hour you come out glowing. Euphoric. Your brain is giving you a reward burst of chemistry. For this effect to be present in the brain and persist to this day, suggests there must have been some positive evolutionary selection pressure to hard wire this activity in. That Religion hits this reward centre is no surprise. It helps explain the global infection of religious thinking, and the difficultly people having of abandoning their pleasure response drug.

    • From Social Neuroscience: High-level cognitive and emotional experience arises from brain activity, but the specific brain substrates for religious and spiritual euphoria remain unclear.

      Perhaps it is the human brain processing inputs from various sources that constructs versions of what we call realities by putting relational properties of objects and experience under a linguistic description. The human brain constructs religion, art and science from higher-level cognitive processes along with the language that make descriptions possible of how phenomena work. We modify descriptions by revisiting inputs from pertinent sources and generate new linguistic constructs that we believe more accurately describe how things “really” work. The language of Science has understandably come to enjoy widespread consensus as the language that most accurately describes reality. Perhaps in this view, religion, science, art, music – the cornucopia of human invention in technology and social organization – certainly may impart utilitarian value to people living at specific times and places. In the same view it is difficult to see how any of the “products” of the human brain may be said to have any evolutionary value. Sharks and their shark-like ancestors have been swimming in seas for 400 million years without any evolutionary benefit flowing from what we humans place in a linguistic-historical hierarchy of “progress.”

    • In the same view it is difficult to see how any of the “products” of the human brain may be said to have any evolutionary value.

      And yet our entire body is the product of 3.5 billion years of evolution. Not a protein. Every structure. Our very DNA. Every chemical reaction. There is not one location in the body that is the way it is, independent of evolution. Why can the brain be exempt.

      The fact that we do not yet know an answer, doesn’t mean there isn’t an answer. Given every atom in our body is there because of some previous natural selection pressure, I’d say it is short odds that the functions of our brain fall into this category. It may not be the original evolved function, but like so many things in nature, evolution is brilliant at adaption. That’s what evolution does.

      Religion is worldwide. Religion has developed independently in every native tribe on every continent. Why… Why didn’t some tribes reject religion. There has to be something about our physiology that means it is susceptible to the religious impulse. The research points to the reward circuits in our brain. Put unscientifically. They evolved to keep us doing stuff that was good for us… What that Good was, may never be known, but the mechanism still exists, and other things will trigger a reward response. Running a marathon = persistent hunting. Reward. Our brain has many drug Lock and Key areas that evolved for a reason. Now Heroin by accident, fits one of those locks. Ditto MDMA. Cannabis. And each of these drugs has a natural evolved counterpart. If they didn’t our brains wouldn’t have the Lock and Key structure.

      If your are dancing and singing around the fire at the instigation of your shaman and feeling the same feelings that the test subjects above felt, then you are entitled to conclude that the “Spirits are moving within you.” = Religion. The fact that it is just chemical reactions is only known in the modern world.

      Everything about us has an evolutionary origin. Tribalism. Loyalty to a tribe. Cooperation. Acting with joint purpose. Those traits were positively selected for. Today, we call it nationalism, and sports fans.

    • Hi, David: Religion is worldwide. Religion has developed independently in every native tribe on every continent. Why… Why didn’t some tribes reject religion.

      I’m speculating as a layman of course. Anthropologists have found isolated stone-age tribes where “religion” as we understand it plays almost no role in social organization or activities. These isolated primitive people may believe in “spirits” glimpsed in the forest but that’s about it for the supernatural. My point is that religion was “invented” and widely disseminated throughout societies because the human brain is: a) capable of fashioning various religious concepts through linguistic descriptions of primitive intuitions about how “reality” works; and b) discovered utilitarian purposes for religion that promote group solidarity, allegiance to power, organize collective social and economic enterprises, fight “Holy” wars to acquire more resources, and so on. Other animals did not evolve the ability to acquire and use language and obviously have not “invented” religions or much of anything else that we label “technology.” I’m speculating that all human inventions are manipulative expressions of the higher cognitive-linguistic power of our brains and, though providing utilitarian adaptations to environments, do not trace back to biological mutations of Homo sapiens adapted by natural selection. The human brain evolved to develop the unique cognitive powers integral to the organ but the inventions and cultural manifestations (inventions themselves) accumulated throughout tens of thousands of years are “products” of the human brain and not biological evolution.

    • Designer drug is exactly it, Robert.

    • Robert Firth #6: I like the analogy between religion and drugs. But unfortunately, most religions around today are “designer drugs” – crafted by men to exploit this feeling for their own ends: power, wealth, deception, sexual abuse (a plague in all three Abrahamic religions), and simple sadism.

      Skeptics should be wary of arguments from analogy, comparing two different things that have some properties or effects that are similar and others that are different. Religious people behave in diverse ways under motivations derived from religious beliefs. I live near local churches that provide free meals and shelter to homeless people because their congregants believe Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, commanded them to love their
      fellow human beings with special emphasis on helping those who suffer. Horrible stuff has happened, to be sure, throughout history in the name of Christianity but it’s not all the same stuff.

      Bear in mind that the article describes experimental findings that are expressed in an analogy: Religious thoughts trigger reward systems like love, drugs. The article does not propose that Religion is a drug. That would be absurd. (We don’t leap to the alternative implication that Religion is Love.) But the analogy provokes run-away rhetoric in the imagination of us atheists. We move too easily from the delusion that believers are under the influence, to the hyperbole of impaired cognition and the commission of drug-like-crazed crimes and indulgences. ( Sometimes religious zealots commit horrific acts while the vast majority of believers do not.)

      Perhaps we diminish our credibility in the court of public opinion when we suggest that religious people are typically crazy or perverse; that all believers are abusing their children with religious indoctrination as if forcing them to shoot up with heroin. Maybe it would be more productive to dial back the analogies and stereotypes, and start speaking persuasively to specific topics of contention.

    • Melvin #8
      Dec 1, 2016 at 2:35 pm

      Bear in mind that the article describes experimental findings that are expressed in an analogy:

      Actually they are not “expressed as an analogy”. They are expressed as scientific measurement of matching effects in the same areas of the brain.

      Religious thoughts trigger reward systems like love, drugs. The article does not propose that Religion is a drug.

      Religion acts like a drug.
      It is no coincidence that shamen use herbal drugs to trigger religious experiences!

      That would be absurd.

      Not at all! The triggered effects are the same!

      @OP – They activate the same reward systems between your ears as do feelings of love, being moved by music and even doing drugs, according to the study, which was published in the journal Social Neuroscience on Tuesday.

    • @OP – They activate the same reward systems between your ears as do feelings of love, being moved by music and even doing drugs, according to the study, which was published in the journal Social Neuroscience on Tuesday.

      Not so. This is sensational and inaccurate “analogous” wording. The findings more generally suggest that the same anatomical area of the brain where reward systems are activated by pleasurable stimuli include in some subjects diverse “religious thoughts.” An astronomer contemplating the wonder of a starry sky, a young fan meeting her heartthrob movie star, a tourist beholding the majesty of the Grand Canyon would probably have “thoughts” that trigger the “same reward system.” The framing of the experiment in terms of drug stimulation encourages the fallacy that a person who soberly experiences a variety of pleasurable stimuli is “like” a person high on psycho-active drugs. We atheists may reduce “religious thought” to evoking the hysteria of harmful visions, seizures and fanaticism “like” a psychopathic reaction to ingesting drugs. Moderate or responsibly devout believers would find this stereotype bigoted. Meditating quietly on the “blissful mystery of the Divine,” or more actively “feeling the presence of Jesus” when serving meals to the homeless in a church assembly room, the reward system is not being triggered by a drug or something like a psycho-active ingested substance (cocaine, heroin, opiodes, methamphetamines, marijuana -prescription or designer drugs, etc.)

    • Alan4 #12: So which part of:-
      “functional MRI scans” map the “activation of the nucleus accumbens”, an area of the brain that processes reward, which is also “areas of the brain that seem like they should be involved in religious and spiritual experience” –did you not understand, or against which you can produce evidence challenging the MRI mapping?

      I take the phrase [“an area of the brain that processes reward”] to mean [“prompts good feeling in the sense of euphoria] if the analogy to taking drugs is appropriate. ( The analogy is indeed appropriate within the very narrow frame of comparison implied by the valid MRI scans) My critique focuses on the fallacy of analogy where making a comparison between two (or more) different phenomena implies that the phenomena are the same or functionally equivalent in all their properties. Stimuli X triggers the same area of the brain that processes reward that Stimuli Y triggers. Therefore X = Y. Atheists then go off the deep end and proclaim that religion is a drug, practicing religion is like being under the influence of a drug, perhaps an hallucinogenic drug that might exacerbate or cause mental illness. Therefore religion is a mental illness. The initial fallacy takes on a life of its own. No one questions that taking drugs, falling in love, or “religious thoughts” trigger the same rewards area of the brain but nobody except someone besotted with poetic license would say, “falling in love ” is the same as taking a potent psycho-active drug. Some on this thread have indeed implied the false equivalence with regard to religion and drugs.

    • Melvin #13
      Dec 2, 2016 at 6:43 pm

      My critique focuses on the fallacy of analogy where making a comparison between two (or more) different phenomena implies that the phenomena are the same or functionally equivalent in all their properties. Stimuli X triggers the same area of the brain that processes reward that Stimuli Y triggers. Therefore X = Y. Atheists then go off the deep end and proclaim that religion is a drug, practicing religion is like being under the influence of a drug, perhaps an hallucinogenic drug that might exacerbate or cause mental illness.

      You problem is that this neuroscience, – discussing the stimulation of a particular group of neuro-receptors in an area of the brain – as illustrated on the link I provided.

      The reward system is being triggered by the generation of hormones related to these experiences, or by a drug which can substitute for neurotransmitters at these at sites on the neuroreceptors of the synapses.
      The processes ARE functionally equivalent in their properties, so your unevidenced assertion that these are “different phenomena” or “a fallacy”, is simply nonsense!
      The intensity of the reactions can be variable, but no amount of asserted verbal stawman ramblings or wish-thinking, incredulity, or emotive rhetoric about ” going off the deep end”, is going to refute the MRI scans, the measurements, or the biochemical processes.

      That is why I asked @#12 – “”Do you have ANY idea how psychoactive drugs work on synapses or trigger reward centres?”

    • Alan4: The reward system is being triggered by the generation of hormones related to these experiences, or by a drug which can substitute for neurotransmitters at these at sites on the neuroreceptors of the synapses.

      We are talking about different topics. Let me simplify what I am talking about: An atheist who walks into a Methodist homeless kitchen-feeding center and asks a woman, “what do you feel when you serve these hungry men a hot nourishing meal” and she replies, “I feel joy in the words of our Lord that herein lies the Kingdom of Heaven;” and then the atheist rejoins: “Your religion is a designer drug – crafted by men to exploit this feeling for their own ends: power, wealth, deception, sexual abuse (a plague in all three Abrahamic religions), and simple sadism” (Robert Firth #6 – Example out of context – no offense intended.) is taking impersonal neurological findings and distorting them into linguistic slander to serve his need to ridicule believers. If the server were secular, and her ‘thoughts” were informed deeply with exclusively secular empathy, her “thoughts” would trigger the same area of the brain where the reward systems function. Whether the “thoughts” were defined contingently as “religious” or “secular” in this case the neurological rewards would be functionally equivalent. Atheists would be inclined to say the religious woman’s “religious” thoughts acted like a drug on the reward centers but inclined to say that the secular woman’s empathetic thoughts were “simply rational.” The clear neurological procedures of the experiment require no more condescending explanation or repetition. The report raises semantic and experiential questions for further investigation.

    • Melvin #15
      Dec 3, 2016 at 2:50 am

      Alan4: The reward system is being triggered by the generation of hormones related to these experiences, or by a drug which can substitute for neurotransmitters at these at sites on the neuroreceptors of the synapses.

      We are talking about different topics.

      What you are talking about is conjecture about introspection and subjective attribution of sources to feelings, along with judgemental projections of social attitudes from particular (arbitrary or strawman) viewpoints.

      Let me simplify what I am talking about: An atheist who walks into a Methodist homeless kitchen-feeding center and asks a woman, “what do you feel when you serve these hungry men a hot nourishing meal” and she replies, “I feel joy in the words of our Lord that herein lies the Kingdom of Heaven;”

      Which is based on indoctrination and historical speculation – as actions to score Brownie-points towards an after-life with a god-delusion.

      and then the atheist rejoins: “Your religion is a designer drug – crafted by men to exploit this feeling for their own ends: power, wealth, deception, sexual abuse (a plague in all three Abrahamic religions), and simple sadism”

      Which if bluntly presented, is probably not going to go down very well with the believer, but which is based on the scientific evidence.
      The reaction-strength of the religious feelings, like the strength of the drug, varies according to the dosage and susceptibility of the individual.
      The damage or benefit to others, arising from their actions, also varies according to the circumstances.

      is taking impersonal neurological findings and distorting them into linguistic slander to serve his need to ridicule believers.

      Nope! The facts based on evidence are not “distorted”. This is merely playing the “offended card” in asserting “slander” thereby falsely implying falsehood and projecting negative attitudes on to objective observers.
      The god-delusions may well be offended as an indoctrinated defence-denial of ridiculous delusional mythology, but that emotive negative projection on to the objective observer, does nothing to invalidate the scientific observations or measurements.

      Citing a cherry-picked charitable situation which HAPPENS to be of benefit to some third party, does nothing to validate rewards based on delusion as a reliable source of benefit to society.
      The reward centres could equally well be in the brains some jihadists who would also be emotionally screaming “blasphemous slander and ridicule”, as a response disputing scientific evidence – if this was bluntly presented to them!

      As I said earlier, science cannot be refuted by emotive rhetoric!

      Facts about mental processes, may well be unpalatable to some people, but, facts are not refuted by the emotional reactions of people disliking them.

    • Designer Drug.

      It is certainly crafted by men (sic).

      The first Abrahamic religion attempted was a huge rag bag of stuff, manipulating by guilt but for too un focused for real coherent behavioural traction.

      The second traded plain guilt from original sin for the more deceptive manipulation of obligation. “He died for your sins, you bastard!”. A prodigious effort to edit coherence into the jumbled mix of material produced an effective enough behavioural instigator.

      Third, time was down tight. A peninsula needed conquering. The text was much reduced and focused, all previous swept up neatly and the alternation of sticks and carrots of a loving yet fierce god understood the modulation of these emotions produced (I hypothesise) more intense reward experiences. The imposed “moral” clarity doesn’t allow an emotional dilution through dangerous thinking..

      It is entirely drug like, like food or gambling or porn. Addiction is the key take-away from this realisation. A balanced diet of dopamine rewards keeps folk pleasured, far more rational and, well, far more rewarded.

      The moral damage to others wrought by all addictions is for another post.

    • Melvin #13
      Dec 2, 2016 at 6:43 pm

      Therefore religion is a mental illness.

      Do you have some evidence to the contrary! Delusional thought is widely recognised as a mental illness – with varying degrees of severity!

      The initial fallacy takes on a life of its own.

      Ah! The continued fallacious argument by asserted repetition of the word “fallacy”!

      Proof by repeated assertion is repeating something over and over, without any actual proof, until everyone accepts it as fact. Repeated assertion of a proposition does not in itself make that proposition false, but it doesn’t make it true either. If someone depends upon repeated assertion to the exclusion of real evidence, they may well be lacking any.

      Proof by repeated assertion is an invaluable tool of propaganda. For political or religious propaganda, you need mindshare in order for the debate to be framed on your terms.

      No one questions that taking drugs, falling in love, or “religious thoughts” trigger the same rewards area of the brain

      You seem to be doing so!

      but nobody except someone besotted with poetic license would say, “falling in love ” is the same as taking a potent psycho-active drug.

      Do you have some evidence that the same group of synapses are NOT being triggered. Both conditions are addictive!
      I thought this was a report based on scientific evidence which was doing the saying, despite YOUR repeated unevidenced assertions that it is emotively besotted people “just saying” their emotion based opinions!

      Some on this thread have indeed implied the false equivalence with regard to religion and drugs.

      Again!?
      The scientific report and explanations of matching biological mechanisms stand, but you continue to respond with the fallacy of repeated assertion of a “false equivalence”, laced with a bit of emotive rhetoric, – attributing the irrational emotive responses to the objective observers, rather than to the reinforced subjective delusions generated in the synapses of the religiously motivated.

      The psychoactive drugs, are just synthetic substitutes for the neurotransmitters, naturally generated in the body by profound religious experiences and social bonding, – from contrived experiences designed to manipulate believers!
      They have similar effects in generating emotion-based irrational behaviours, which can be soothing, neutral, or damaging – on various levels of intensity.

    • Cairsley #19
      Dec 3, 2016 at 8:45 am

      One implication of religion triggering in the brain the same reward-processes as do certain drugs and love (of which Christianity quite explicitly claims to be the highest form on Earth)

      Much of this hi-jacking of social and love bonding, is “hidden in plain sight” to those not blinded by indoctrination!

      Christianity in particular, is riddled with claims and names of religious figures, being presented as substitutes for close bonds with relatives.

      Brother, sister, father, mother, “holy mother of God”, “children of god”, maternal love for baby Jesus – along with claims that self sacrifice on behalf of god-delusions and the theological establishment, or stubborn dogmatic defiance of secular authorities, was actually “self-sacrifice of benefit to the sheeples”! –
      Plus of course the promoted propaganda images through rosy delusion-specs, tarting up crusading despicable characters of theocracy (Mother Teresa?), as “saints” or martyrs!

      is that a religionist is inclined to react to a threat to his religion much as a drug-addict reacts to a threat to his drug-supply.

      Indeed – the conditioned defence of the established addiction is strong, regardless of its detriment to the individual addict or others!
      There are also analogies in the addicts’ willingness to give over large sums of money to support the addiction.

      In severe cases of addiction (such as rapture believers), some have handed over all their assets!

    • There are a plethora of neurological experiments that show how religious stimulation activates various areas of the brain. Some religious scientists and their educated supporters believe research findings on subjects engaged in meditation or mystical experiences prove the human mind is wired for seeking a relationship with supernatural entities or forces. Sam Harris believes in the secular benefits of regular meditation exercise. He has studied techniques with professionals (Buddhists principally if I remember correctly.) For Harris, meditation and the rewarding experiences that follow are purely neurological and beneficial without connection to the non-existent supernatural.

      Perhaps we can find common ground in agreeing the something is stimulating the brain’s reward systems that is significant to the particular subject. Atheism is an intellectual argument I accept on rational and scientific grounds. No one needs to explain why religious beliefs are irrational. Taking drugs for a high, loving someone deeply, or caught up in the ecstatic urgent stimulation of sex will each alike stimulate the same areas of the brain. We are free, even inclined to say that sex is like a drug high but not free to say sex is a drug no matter if everyone in the room nods wisely when we use the metaphor or analogy “sex is a drug.” At a bit of a distance, a man who finds his wife of 22 years lovely and adores her for a variety of reasons and shared experiences, may light up the scan after being shown photos of her. We’re free to say she is his drug of choice but we’d be unlikely to do so, because the experiment is about reward centers in the brain not about what activates them for different individuals.

      Referring to the experiment itself, whether Mormons or mathematicians were the subjects pumped up with stimulating thoughts appealing to their divergent fields of interest, the scans would deliver comparable findings. The experiment appears on this site to provoke atheists to stereotype the religious as emotional, irrational people hooked on a drug. That is, at best, a selective by product of what the experiment accomplishes. The atheist argument with religion is an intellectual argument. Ridicule may play a persuasive role at various points in the argument. But ridicule is not the argument itself.

    • *You are still in denial and for some reason just don’t get it, despite clear explanations!
      Not only are we “free to say sex is a drug”, but we are correct in doing so!..***.Adrenalin, oestrogen, testosterone, dopamine etc. ARE drugs! (also called hormones). They are drugs manufactured by the body (although some synthetic versions such as the contraceptive pill, are used in medicine) to regulate bodily functions!**

      But that isn’t what the village atheist means when he says “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” “Opiate” is pointedly loaded with a connection to heroin, or more generally with other ingested/injected addictive drugs (controlled substances whether prescribed or not) associated with dysfunctional or low-life existence.

      The article is misused in an atheist forum to promote hostile, insulting attitudes toward believers and not for delivering a neuro-chemical lecture of general interest. I suspect some want to fall back from the neutral, limited, explicitly declared ambiguous neurological findings into emotionally satisfying language that ridicules, degrades and comes within a cat’s whisker of dehumanizing sentient decent human beings who fall into a pseudo-monolithic category of “religious believers.” Many on this site, myself included, have used “Science and Reason” as just cause for dumping acid on “religious” people who have sunk in imagination to the irrational, harmful status of vermin. We should be ashamed for taking the bait. In my view, semantic stipulations and manipulations are at the core of our different points of view. I’m hopeful that neither one of us feels compelled to reiterate those differences.

    • Melvin #25
      Dec 3, 2016 at 4:36 pm

      Not only are we “free to say sex is a drug”, but we are correct in doing so!...Adrenalin, oestrogen, testosterone, dopamine etc. ARE drugs! (also called hormones). They are drugs manufactured by the body (although some synthetic versions such as the contraceptive pill, are used in medicine) to regulate bodily functions!

      But that isn’t what the village atheist means when he says “Religion is the opiate of the masses.”

      Isn’t it?? The damaging abuses derived from illegal drug use and the damaging abuses derived from religions are both variable according to the strength and nature of the specific drug/religion.

      “Opiate” is pointedly loaded with a connection to heroin, or more generally with other ingested/injected addictive drugs (controlled substances whether prescribed or not) associated with dysfunctional or low-life existence.

      and abuses derived from fundamentalist religions are not????
      You don’t see Young Earth Creationists, rapture believers, or jihadists, as dysfunctional???

      The article is misused in an atheist forum to promote hostile, insulting attitudes toward believers

      Oh dear! oh dear! – back to those “insulting realities” again – which identify the addictive nature and damaging effects on people dominated by abusive religions or drug abuse!

      and not for delivering a neuro-chemical lecture of general interest.

      With a false dichotomy thrown in as a denial and distracting side-track!

      The neurochemical lecture does include religion generated neurotransmitters, AND ingested or injected ones, AND those biologically evolved in the natural social bonding within families and tribes.

      I suspect some want to fall back from the neutral, limited, explicitly declared ambiguous neurological findings into emotionally satisfying language that ridicules, degrades and comes within a cat’s whisker of dehumanizing sentient decent human beings who fall into a pseudo-monolithic category of “religious believers.”

      I really do wish you would use evidence and reasoning, in place of your regularly trotted out, baseless speculative suspicions based on emotive rhetoric, which you then project on to other people, along with your asserted denials and doubt-mongering of scientific evidence – even after it has been explained to you!

      Like drugs, religion in very low doses of the milder forms, is fairly harmless.
      The more virulent types in higher more addictive controlling doses are not!

    • Now, a new study shows through functional MRI scans that such religious and spiritual experiences can be rewarding to your brain.

      They activate the same reward systems between your ears as do feelings of love, being moved by music and even doing drugs, according to the study, which was published in the journal Social Neuroscience on Tuesday. —OP

      Then this must apply to such things as genuine virtue and bravery. So what? There are correlates in the brain for everything – including the satisfaction of affirming one’s atheism and for employing reason and critical thinking! Neuroscience! I’m sick to death of neuroscience.

    • Cairsley #28

      One of the wonders of the world is right there inside your own cranium…

      Now that is true, Cairsley.

    • The experiment appears on this site to provoke atheists to stereotype the religious as emotional, irrational people hooked on a drug.

      The closest parallel drug as far as the feelgood may be gambling. A little bit of a flutter is harmless enough, but gambling away much of your reason for the promise of becoming a deathless sunbeam for jesus, ruins families and countries. (The monumental madness of Trump may only be possible for a people who believe that God is an ultimate safety net and get-out clause. Losing a proper sense of fear, having the magic feather, the winning ticket for sure, makes petty monsters of too many.)

    • What happens in the brain is not a correlate of something else (extraneous to the brain?) but the very process whereby thinking of any sort occurs…

      This is quite likely to be true, but I suspect that it will still take a very long time for neuroscience (which is currently one of the – if not the – fastest-expanding multidisciplinary fields of Science) to come up with a satisfactory model of how conscious subjective experience “emerges out of” complex neural substrates.

      The history of neuroscience (and its predecessors) is dotted with models, mostly inspired by advances in technology, which later turned out to be obvious oversimplifications; from Descartes hydraulic model, to the “telephone-switchboard” model, then the “digital-computer” model, and now the “quantum-computer” model…

      My gut feeling is that we’re nowhere near a decent approximation… but, of course, why should anybody (myself included) pay attention to my gut feeling?

    • Gut feeling, Cantaz? There are no gut feelings. Everything is quite literally in the brain – according to the neuroscientists.

      Unless I wish to rid myself of my ‘bad’ feelings more effectively, or by pressing a button in my head adopt a different attitude, I have no interest in neuroscience as A PHILOSOPHER, as an ethically-striving individual, or as an existentialist. Only as a dubious citizen.

      Surgery on the brain, as therapy, will be performed wholesale down the road. Just you wait and see. Lobotomies (which are still performed under a different name) were just the beginning.

    • Cairsley (others)

      Some questions (along with some naive speculation): you have expressed opposition to the idea of “essence” several times on this site. Would you say that a quality such as empathy is caused by a part of the brain? If that is the case, then the brain is the first cause; it literally generates empathy, creates it out of itself (along with all of our other faculties and feelings). If such qualities as empathy are in the brain then the essence of our character traits and our being is the brain. If the brain is not the primary cause of these feelings and faculties then everything we observe about the brain must be regarded as a symptom. Symptom or cause – that is my question. My point is that what we learn and observe about the physical states or processes that correlate with aspects of thought or feeling cannot just originate without a prior cause or need, as the law of causality, and perhaps evolution, dictates; so what determines the formation of the brain? I am of the opinion – and yes, this does smack of “metaphysics” – is that a more primary element (Will?), something extraneous to, and yet with an intimate affinity for, the brain, must have existed prior to the part(s) of the brain that we now know can be observed when we feel or act (or don’t feel and refrain from acting, for that matter). We did not always have brains or eyes or ears; the need (something prior to and “extraneous to” these organs) had to have been there first. In the future, new faculties will evolve that do not exist today. The brain will adapt and absorb; but the need, a reaction to environmental pressures from without and to pressures from within, will have to be felt and then we strive to adapt to these pressures, and as we do so the brain changes as it develops. To conclude, courage (which I will define in this context as selfless risk taking), to use an example other than empathy, was probably a necessity for survival; it was not in the brain until the act was consummated through action. A brain is not even an absolute requirement for acts of selfless risk taking, is it?

    • Hi, Cairsley,

      I haven’t yet read your replies. I look forward to reading them. But I just thought of something; I want to get this down before I forget. I need to correct myself; I was imprecise. The part of the brain that neuroscientists believe is a cause of such feelings as empathy is in fact a cause. If you have a brain injury or a part of the brain is removed, that would destroy one’s ability to empathize, or sot they say. So clearly that part of the brain does play a causal role. So let me rephrase this: that part of the brain is both a cause and a symptom. Perhaps a better word than symptom would be objectification. That part of the brain that “controls” empathy is the objectification (visibility) of empathy as it appears in the brain. But I would argue that the feeling came first and the “symptom”, the visible correlate, came second. So while it is true that if you remove that part of the brain, you remove empathy, it is also true that if there had been no emergence of empathy (during the process of evolution) there would be nothing to see in the brain.

      The brain did not create itself.

      The brain did not produce anything out of itself.

      If you lift heavy objects that adds muscle. You remove muscle (surgically) and you lose strength. But muscle does not create muscle, the brain did not create itself, and the brain did not create our feelings and faculties. If you remove the parts of the brain that are associated with feelings and faculties, the feelings and faculties are destroyed. But they were not created by the brain. Lifting caused muscular development. Desire (extraneous to and prior to the brain) gave rise to the the formation of the parts of the brain that are now both the cause, and the symptom (or the objectification or visibility), of that desire.

      Sorry. I know that that was inadequate. I often approach ideas intuitively – and have a very limited knowledge of biology, neuroscience, and evolution.

    • Desire (extraneous to and prior to the brain) gave rise to the the formation of the parts of the brain that are now both the cause, and the symptom (or the objectification or visibility), of that desire.

      This is one of the most astonishing sentences I have read here since 2006. This needs some serious remedial attention.

    • This needs some serious remedial attention.

      Agreed. —And thanks! 😉

    • P.S. I meant “desire” in a comprehensive sense.—Blind desire, as opposed to (conscious) feeling. All creatures have it – invertebrates and vertebrates. There was desire before there were brains.

    • But I would argue that the feeling came first and the “symptom”, the visible correlate, came second. So while it is true that if you remove that part of the brain, you remove empathy, it is also true that if there had been no emergence of empathy (during the process of evolution) there would be nothing to see in the brain. (36)

      Corrected (and much improved) sentence:

      But I would argue that the need to feel came first and the “symptom”, the visible correlate of the emergent feeling, came second. So while it is true that if you remove that part of the brain, you remove empathy, it is also true that if there had been no emergence of the specific feeling we call empathy (during the process of evolution) there would be nothing to see –corresponding to it – in the brain.

    • Cairsley #35

      Thank you for your stimulating replies. I was struck and impressed by this:

      “The causality involved in empathy passes through more than one such organism, for empathy consists in the sensitivity of two or more organisms (‘souls’ does sound and feel better to me in such a context) to each other’s sensibilities and so on. The only point I would make here is that the brain is only part of each soul’s empathy in this immensely complex soul-to-soul event.”

      Very nice observation about “two or more organisms”. And do you now see how difficult it is not to call poetry (and in my case metaphysics) to one’s aid when discussing this abstruse and complex issue? I really do not think that it must imply intellectual weakness or dogmatism if one is dubious when it comes to the brain as cause. On the contrary.

      So I would not agree with your notion that empathy is something stored in the brain and caused by the brain…

      What? That is not my notion; that is the notion that I was, and have been, arguing against! Did you mean THE notion, as apposed to MINE? And I don’t think that the “essence of our character traits and our being” is in the brain. That is what I was challenging.

      Finally, with regard to the Will, one can only hope to prove that physical explanations are limited and that Will (or whatever word one chooses to use in its place) is the only thing left when physical explanations come to an end. This would constitute proof of a kind.

    • Dan

      But I would argue that the need to feel came first and the “symptom”, the visible correlate of the emergent feeling, came second. So while it is true that if you remove that part of the brain, you remove empathy, it is also true that if there had been no emergence of the specific feeling we call empathy (during the process of evolution) there would be nothing to see –corresponding to it – in the brain.

      So evolution. Selective pressures favouring mutuality as a strategy.

      That’s what neurologist say…

    • And I figured that out all by myself . . . The brain does not Cause empathy, as so many people are wont to think. A fly buzzing in one’s face would produce a neural correlate. — But why would empathy be compromised if you removed that part of the brain? That’s what confuses me. It wasn’t always in the brain; a situation in life was what created the specific feeling which can be said to have a neural correlate “in the brain”. It is not that part of the brain that feels; it is I who feel, and the situation gave rise to it. Again, it is absurd to say that empathy or a sense of justice is literally in the heart as it is to say that those feelings are in the brain. I remain dubious.

    • Not sure; I am questioning and exploring; but I don’t think that the brain produces emotions out of itself or causes them. So my assumption is that “need” can be separated from “feeling.” First a need arises and then the feeling which is known (through the brain). The brain is the medium of knowledge, not feeling. Perhaps.

      Is it possible to BE hungry and not know it or feel it? I doubt it. But the brain sends the message of hunger. The hunger (like love or empathy) is something separate and distinct from the knowledge of these feelings. The brain is not the organism; it is one vital part only.

    • Thanks, Alan. Interesting stuff, as usual. Just trying – and this is one of those questions that I am preoccupied with – to figure out what the human Self is – or if it even exists. “The brain does not feel; I feel.”—That is my point of departure. My inquiries, with regard to the brain as cause, begin there. I know not where they will end.

    • Cairsley

      The brain does have a central role in all this, especially in the more highly evolved organisms, but being less focused on the brain alone may be helpful in your thinking about all this.

      I think you misunderstood me to some extent. I want others (the brain-obsessed neuroscientists) to focus less on the brain alone.

      When I wrote this: “If such qualities as empathy are in the brain then the essence of our character traits and our being is the brain”, I was not saying that I agree with that; I was implying that that is an the absurdity position. Perhaps I wasn’t clear.

    • Hello, Cairsley,

      So you were without an internet connection. I guess I forgive you.

      “I was implying that that is an the absurdity position. . . .”

      Corrected sentence: “I was implying that that is an absurd position. . . ..”

      I hate typos. (A touch of OCD, I suppose. That’s a brain thing. Neuroscience has been helpful in that area.)

      Neuroscientists are not brain-obsessed.

      But Cairsley!—You yourself had a bit of difficulty explaining empathy from the standpoint of neuroscience alone. You wrote this: “The only point I would make here is that the brain is only part of each soul’s empathy in this immensely complex soul-to-soul event.” By “brain-obsessed” I mean that there are many who think that everything is caused by the brain. But the brain did not create the brain! And there are causes behind the causes….

      As I said above (comment # 40), it is difficult to talk about such things as empathy, the apprehension of beauty, love, without calling the language of poetry or metaphysics to one’s aid. That difficulty is, I believe, signifiant in itself, suggestive of something deep and profound.

      I do not think the Self – if it exists – can be perceived. —It is non-empirical. The body is empirical. But we are not our bodies. (That is one of the few things that Wittgenstein, who I detest, has taught me.) But we (scientists and philosophers) must proceed empirically, and assume nothing, before we arrive – if we do arrive – at the conclusion that something cannot be established by empirical evidence or be of empirical origin.

      I remain a transcendental idealist.