God Is In Your Head, Not Your Heart!

Every month we seem to find more evidence of how the mammalian brain works and with that information we find more reasons to doubt or indeed discount anecdotal evidence of transcendent feeling so often associated with ‘experiencing god’.

The latest such information comes in this post from Machines Like Us. The short of it is that researchers have found that no single spot in the brain can cause transcendent feeling, rather it is the case that many parts are involved.

The study, “Right parietal lobe ‘selflessness’ as the neuropsychological basis of spiritual transcendence,” was published in the International Journal of the Psychology of Religion.

In fact, studies with brain damage patients shows interesting results:

“Neuropsychology researchers consistently have shown that impairment on the right side of the brain decreases one’s focus on the self,” Johnstone said. “Since our research shows that people with this impairment are more spiritual, this suggests spiritual experiences are associated with a decreased focus on the self. This is consistent with many religious texts that suggest people should concentrate on the well-being of others rather than on themselves.”

Further, other studies have shown that through meditation and other practices humans can learn to suppress the right parietal lobe activity and thus achieve a greater sense of transcendence.

All of this is within the mind and has been demonstrated to be an effect of brain activity. Any anecdotal evidence for gods will have to prove that this mechanism is not in play. Yes, that means there is near zero chance that anyone will try it. If someone were to pray and get into the spirit of their god only to find out it was because their brains were acting a certain way they would deny it, or try to explain that is how god works his mysteries etc.

And so I feel more confident in my stance that gods and ghosts are simply imagination at work, aided by misinterpretations of fuzzy sensory input and wilful misguided understanding of the evidence.

We won’t even touch on the reasons that we have to believe that many ‘prophets’ were psychotic individuals with a lot of charisma. They would probably have been good used car salesmen. Gods are just ghosts in the machine between our ears.

Advertisements
  1. As a former hypnotist, I’ve always realized this. Hypnosis acts like the placebo effect; when people expect / believe to experience a feeling, they will, and it will be powerful if they are focused on it. I am convinced that religious experiences function in the same way; the belief, the expectation, the imagination and the focus simply allow the mind to generate overwhelming experiences which they rationalize to be ‘God’. In reality, the only reason they call it ‘God’ is due to their religious beliefs and conditioning; a Hindu might see it as Vishnu, somebody who believes in ghosts might see it as ghosts, etc etc.

    • I think you’re correct. ‘Feeling the spirit of god’ is all about self hypnosis. One of the many tricks up the sleeves of the religious. A parlor trick used to make the ‘flock’ believe. Not that self hypnosis is all bad, it does have useful moments but calling it god is not one of them.

  2. I went to a Catholic service the other Sunday and they keep talking about knowing things with your heart. Even metaphorically that makes no sense. Feeling with your heart maybe, but knowing? As if understanding comes via divine osmosis rather than actually thinking? Man, these people…

    • Dude, Sunday worship service itself makes no sense… except when you stop to consider that the church knew long ago what marketing and advertising executives have claimed to have figured out in the last 100 years. You can get people to buy anything if you repeat the name often enough and associate it with intrinsic goodness. You do have to keep reminding them though and there’s nothing quite like peer pressure to keep the doubters quiet and the unafraid in line.

      Asking the flock to do what does not make sense is the business model of religion. sad, sad, sad… but you need only look at reality tv shows’ popularity to understand why so many are willing to listen to preachers teach biology and eschew political wisdom from behind the covers of a holy book.

    • Apollodorosh
    • April 29th, 2012

    Well it only makes sense that the experiences of people come from their brains, it’s what makes us think and perceive the world around us. The Gods do not work outside the Laws of Nature, so obviously any experiences of the Divine would have some roots in our physiology, we are mortal beings of flesh and bones and blood after all, and our understanding and experience is limited within the material framework through which we necessarily work.

    • And that looks no different than psychosis. Doctor E gives us a look at why it is no different.

      Your point here would mean that it is more than simply a semantic argument that Hitler may have been commanded by the god of Abraham to kill the Jews. You have stated that we cannot know if that happened, and given his writings in ‘Mein Kampf’ we can only conclude that he thought he was listening to his god and doing his god’s work.

      Hearing the voice of a god in your head is no different than psychosis. Full stop. Well, unless someone is willing to offer up ways that this can be tested scientifically. It’s just crazy.

        • Apollodorosh
        • April 29th, 2012

        Well, what YHWH *supposedly* does or does not is really none of my business or interest. Any God that would demand such things as he allegedly demands can not possibly be a God, but rather some sort of kakodaimon, or even less. So either YHWH does not exist, or he exists and is not truly a God at all, or he is a God and humans are abusing him in the most awfull ways to justify their own hatred and abominations.

        I never heard of Hitler claiming to be commanded by YHWH to exterminate the Jews. I always thought that while nominally Christian perhaps, he was more agnostic. I won’t say atheist given Nazism’s many indulgences in occult theories and experiments, so they did think their was at least “something”.

        Psychosis would be somethin that was detrimental to one sown health (and other’s if his “voices” tell him to kill or to commit whatever kidn of of violent acts). Communication with deities is very different and personal. If any voices or urges in you try to make you kill others, harm yourself, or behavely otherwise in a way detrimental to either yourself, your environment, or both, then one needs help from properly trained people. Gods will not demand you to do “evil” things. Such things would cause míasma (ritual impurity), which creates distantiation between the individual and the Gods and would thus make communication impossible. The only way to get over this is by ritual purification, and seeking the necessary medical help would be part of that.

  3. Understanding that you probably do not believe in the god of Abraham, we need only look at the book of Joshua to see that many have claimed that this god did command them to commit genocide. We can look at slavery and see that it was used as justification for harm to others.

    While you may not believe in such a god, others do. I hold that any god whose interaction with the world is no different than if there were no gods is no god at all, and if there are such gods they do not need my attention. Any such gods still have no evidence or proof. Such claims that they exist requires evidence. Without such evidence they are but thoughts, imagination, and myth, and communication with gods that do not exist is identical to psychosis. Not all psychoses are detrimental to yourself or others.

    Further, define evil. Is it a force of nature? Is it the nature of a deity? Perhaps it is simply what you define as not moral in your view? Does evil exist outside the domain of gods? Can there be no evil if there are no gods?

    BTW, read Mein Kampf. It’s an interesting read.

      • Apollodorosh
      • April 29th, 2012

      Well, I’m not sure whether I believe if YHWH exists or not. But frankly I don’t really care, he is not part of the Hellenic religion. If he is a God indeed then he’ll get a share fo any generic offerings “to all the Gods” I give. If not, he won’t. I leave to the Abrahamic monotheists to solve their own theological issues, and to occupy themselves with their God. My opinion of YHWH is that if he exists he is probably just a local desert God that is the patron of one people, the Jews.

      It also depends on whether you take myths, including the Israelite myths, as literal history or not. My opinion, and that of the vast majority of Hellenists and people from other native religions I know is that myths are not literal history. Some may be based on historical events and then blown up over centuries of oral tradition and poetic liberties. Myth’s aren’t ment to be taken literally, they contain deeper truths that need to be extracted through carefull examination, and reasonable arguments based in solid logical reasoning. Again, I don’t really care for Israelite mythology or their tribal God, he doesn’t concern me.

      Evil is very easy to define in theory, the practice is a bit (read: a lot) more difficult. Evil deeds are doings that go against ethical values. Ethical values are to be determined by people themselves through logical discourse, through the use of reason. But humans are fallible creatures, so we will never have any kind of “perfect” “code of conduct”. Nor is it always clear, sometimes you have to break the rules or do hideous things, in order to prevent an even greater evil (the episode “The Fires of Pompeii” would illustrate this perfectly, allowing Pompeii to be destroyed by Vesuvius is “evil”, yet if teh Doctor hadn’t then the whole world would have been conquered by the Pyrovillians, which would be worse… The line between good and evil is not very clear in this respect).

      Which brings me to another important point. Within the Hellenic worldview there is no “absolute” evil or no deity personifying “evil”, humans are quite capable of the most monstrous deeds without a “devil” to aid them doing it… While there are several kakodaimones who would be considered “evil” from a human point of view, it is important to realise that these all have their place in the workings of the kósmos. Eris for example personifies “Strife”, something we rather not have. But Strife also leads to competition, inventiveness (WW II for example led to never before seen technological advancements), and Eris is also present in black holes ripping apart massive stars, the force of gravity and the force of exmpansion that keep a star in balance for most of it’s lifecourse. Without Strife, there would be only stasis, cold, silence. So kakodaimones are just as much necessary for the universe as are the other Gods.

  4. Apollodorosh,
    I’m quite pleased to have your comment on my blog. In explaining what you believe to some extent others can now see why I’d rather spend a single day partying with a Hellenist than an eternity with some Christians in heavenly servitude. Even in your belief there is room for humanity, it’s greatest feats and foibles, its wilful actions, its clamor to be something more than it was born. To enjoy the majesty of our accomplishments as a species. I agree with you more than anyone I know, even if I don’t believe there are gods in the universe. I’m glad to have you reading my blog. Let me know if I miss things or perhaps state them in ways that have not been thought out well.

    Now to quote you:

    It also depends on whether you take myths, including the Israelite myths, as literal history or not. My opinion, and that of the vast majority of Hellenists and people from other native religions I know is that myths are not literal history. Some may be based on historical events and then blown up over centuries of oral tradition and poetic liberties. Myth’s aren’t ment to be taken literally, they contain deeper truths that need to be extracted through carefull examination, and reasonable arguments based in solid logical reasoning. Again, I don’t really care for Israelite mythology or their tribal God, he doesn’t concern me.

    Evil is very easy to define in theory, the practice is a bit (read: a lot) more difficult. Evil deeds are doings that go against ethical values. Ethical values are to be determined by people themselves through logical discourse, through the use of reason. But humans are fallible creatures, so we will never have any kind of “perfect” “code of conduct”. Nor is it always clear, sometimes you have to break the rules or do hideous things, in order to prevent an even greater evil (the episode “The Fires of Pompeii” would illustrate this perfectly, allowing Pompeii to be destroyed by Vesuvius is “evil”, yet if teh Doctor hadn’t then the whole world would have been conquered by the Pyrovillians, which would be worse… The line between good and evil is not very clear in this respect).

    I have long held that there is as much truth in Aesop’s Fables as in the Christian Bible, and of course other sources and that understanding must be able to be found in many places if it is to be truth because no one person or group has complete control of truth. Your attitude toward subjective morality fits with the world as I have come to understand it. Extra points for getting a Dr Who reference into a comment about religions of the world 🙂

    Thanks for your comments

      • Apollodorosh
      • April 30th, 2012

      Thank you 🙂 Indeed in the Hellenic religion we stand up proud before our Gods, as humans can be rightfully proud of their achievements (of course without being arrogant about it). We do not crawl in the dust before our Gods (by which I by no means wish to imply that other religions who do practice prostration, like the Canaanite religion, are somehow inferior, this practice simply has different meanings for different traditions). It is just generally accepted that the Gods will not do for humankind, what humankind must do for itself. If we don’t put in any effort, why would the Gods bother to aid us? The story of Hēráklēs appearing to that guy trying to get his cart out of the mud to tell him so, from the Fables of Aisṓpos, illustrates this perfectly 🙂

      Ha, another Whovian! 😀

      • Oddly enough, monotheists will tell you that prayer works, but then also tell you that their god helps them who help themselves. I’ve never found any comfort in that. If I’m doing all the work ,then I’m doing all the work. Their god doesn’t get to take credit for it.

        Nice to have you following my blog, I hope this works well for us both.

          • Apollodorosh
          • April 30th, 2012

          Prayer is a form of communication with the Gods, and is used to thank the Gods for the blessings they give us everyday, and only secondarily to petition them for something you want. But even then, you have to put in the effort to get what you want, and the Gods may still choose not to answer your prayer. They are not our personal biatches who grant our willy-nilly wishes. The Gods will never do anything that would disturb the Kósmic order. Neither will they, if you pray to get a new car, just make a ferrari or something *poof* up out of mid-air. You’ll have to work for the money to buy that car, and the Gods may or may not aid you, by making sure you get lots of jobs your way and so earn money quickly, but there off course your own efforts come back into the game.

          Furthermore it is always important to thank the Gods and give something in return. Sacrifice is essential. While the Gods do not need anything from us mortals, when we seek to build reciprocal relationships with them, they will reciprocate. There is nothing which we could give that is of equal value to what they give us every day, yet to attempt to by giving part of what we have, according to our abilities (and not endangering our own continued survival) is more then enoguh. The sincerity with which offerings are given in sacrifice is more important than the actual offerings themselves. If one does not thank the Gods or make sacrifices to them, the Gods will not answer any prayers. As Hēsíodos wrote, the Gods will spit back those prayers unaccompanied by fit sacrifices, or prayers without at least the promise of future sacrifices at a later date.

          Strangely, the very thought of sacrifice to YHWH is preposterous to almost the point of sacrilege for Christians, as Yēšūah has given his life for all humankind for all the ages in sacrifice, to his own father (paradoxically his father is himself).

      • Apollodorosh
      • April 30th, 2012

      Also I wish to say I’m glad to meet an atheist who isn’t militant about his disbelief and doesn’t try to convince rleigious people they are just being superstitious ignorami… The internet is abound with such individuals, and frankly their proselytism is as bad as fundamental Christian/Muslims/whatever. In fact I make no distinction in this respect, all fundamentalists are shit.

      I’d also much rather spend time with an atheist who doesn’t try to proselytise and who’s mind is open to the wonders of this world, than one closed of by utter rejection of religious thought and only occupying themselves with combatting it, taking no time to enjoy life on this Earth for as long as he/she can.

      🙂

      • I have been and still am a militant anti-theist. I simply want the discussion and a chance to learn what I do not yet know. I am learning to express myself better, to smell the roses, and focus more on the wonders of life than the laws of it. Hopefully that made sense. Yes, I’m unapologetic for that militancy. It was a reaction to fundamentalism… perhaps a bad one, but I claimed no great wisdom to start with, just anger and a good memory for what I’ve read and heard and experienced. I have always felt more comfortable with pan-theists for the reasons explained. Theists just make me angry. I’ll get over it. Anger is not useful for the most part. Discussion and education are.

          • Apollodorosh
          • April 30th, 2012

          We all live and grow according to our own paths and choices, we can only hope we all turn out all right. Discussion, education, reciprocity, spiritual growth (whether within our outside any given religious or atheist system), alone can dispell the horrendous acts of fundamentalist (of whichever religious or irreligious creed).

    • Apollodorosh
    • April 30th, 2012

    myatheistlife :
    Nice to have you following my blog, I hope this works well for us both.

    I hope so too 🙂

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: