Religion, Spirituality &
Transhumanism
Trans-Spirit
Michael LaTorra
New Mexico State University, USA
Trans-Spirit-owner@ya...
What is Trans-Spirit?
• Trans-Spirit is a transhumanist
approach to religion & spirituality
•Trans-Spirit is not a new rel...
Trans-Spirit
• Trans-Spirit engages in free
enquiry and a scientific approach
• Trans-Spirit rejects authoritarian,
self-a...
• Retrospective studies of individuals
who have reported significant religious
& spiritual experiences
• Prospective studi...
Need for a:
• General Theory of Religion
• Special Theory of Spirituality
Trans-Spirit & Science
Best current candidate for a General
Theory of Religion:
Pascal Boyer’s “Religion Explained”
Trans-Spirit & Science
Pascal Boyer
“We can explain human
sensitivity to particular
kinds of supernatural
concepts as a by-product of
the way hum...
Pascal Boyer
“Game theory is for aliens.” – Boyer 2
• Although people have a constant
experience of social life, they do n...
Pascal Boyer
Do not say… But say…
Religion
answers
people’s
metaphysical
questions
Religious thoughts are
typically activa...
Pascal Boyer
Do not say… But say…
Religion is
about a
transcendent
God
It is about a variety of
agents: ghouls, ghosts,
sp...
Pascal Boyer
Do not say… But say…
Religion allays
anxiety
It generates as much
anxiety as it allays:
vengeful ghosts, nast...
Pascal Boyer
Do not say… But say…
Religion was
created at time t
in human
history
There is no reason to
think that the var...
Pascal Boyer
Do not say… But say…
Religion is
about
explaining
natural
phenomena
Most religious
explanations of natural
ph...
Pascal Boyer
Do not say… But say…
Religion is
about
explaining
mental
phenomena
(dreams,
visions)
In places where
religion...
Pascal Boyer
Do not say… But say…
Religion is
about mortality
and the
salvation of the
soul
The notion of salvation
is par...
Pascal Boyer
Do not say… But say…
Religion creates
social cohesion
Religious commitment
can (under some
conditions) be use...
Pascal Boyer
Do not say… But say…
Religious
claims are
irrefutable;
that is why
people believe
them
There are many
irrefut...
Pascal Boyer
Do not say… But say…
Religion is
irrational/
superstitious
(therefore not
worthy of
study)
Commitment to
imag...
…to Spirituality
From Religion…
Trans-Spirit & Science
Some current ideas for a Special
Theory of Spirituality from:
• Michael Persinger
• Todd Murphy
Michael Persinger
“As a human being, I am concerned
about the illusionary explanations
for human consciousness and the
fut...
Michael Persinger
“The research is not to demean
anyone's religious/mystical
experience but instead to determine
which por...
Michael Persinger
“The research has been encouraged
by the historical fact that most wars
and group degradations are coupl...
Michael Persinger
“Although these
egocentric
propensities may
have had adaptive
significance, their
utility for the
specie...
Todd Murphy
• Behavioral Neuroscientist,
research associate of Persinger
• Primary Interests: “The use of
complex magnetic...
Todd Murphy
“My main interest is in
understanding how the brain
contributes to mystic,
religious, and spiritual
experience...
Todd Murphy
“Unlike many of my
colleagues, I am not closed
to psychic phenomena, tales
of miracles, visitations by
angels,...
Todd Murphy
“Doing spiritual practice (or having
a spiritual awakening), has an
impact on the brain, the mind, and
persona...
Todd Murphy
“The personalities of people who
are involved with spiritual practices
like prayer, meditation and
ceremony ar...
Todd Murphy
“The part of the brain that
manages our states of
consciousness, the temporal
lobes, is a little busier in
the...
Todd Murphy
Temporal lobes are involved with:
The Spiritual
Personality
• language
• long-term memory
storage
• emotional ...
Todd Murphy
• Temporal lobe epilepsy
(TLE), or 'complex partial
seizures' cause altered states
of consciousness
• TLE begi...
Todd Murphy
• This self-reinforcing TLE process can
result in a person having the experience
associated with that brain pa...
Todd Murphy
• Results of an ongoing study show that
people who do spiritual practice of any
kind have more of the subtler ...
Todd Murphy
• They may talk at length and
they won't want to change the
subject until they are through
with it
• They may ...
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual
Personality• TL epileptics become more emotionally
sensitive, commonly with extra irritability
•...
Todd Murphy
• Humans seem to have 2 senses of self:
left hemispheric & right hemispheric
• Pathways of self-sense on each ...
Todd Murphy
• Loss of mastery by the left ‘self’ tends to
reduce the person’s self-esteem in normal states
of consciousnes...
Todd Murphy
• Typical compensation strategy for this
doubt is to become ‘holier than thou’ and
they:
- have a ‘spiritual’ ...
Todd Murphy
• Spiritual leaders (gurus, priests, ministers)
have power, prestige and high self-esteem
• TL epileptics with...
Todd Murphy
• Guru devotion allows low-self esteem
to be acted out in a constructive way
• Being subordinate is rewarded i...
Todd Murphy
• Cults, religions, and spiritual
traditions embrace those in a state of
sadness or despair by claiming to hav...
The Dark Side
• Religion may comfort by distorting one’s view
of reality
• Spiritual ecstasy is often followed by a profou...
Retrospective
Studies
• Ignore the person’s
interpretations of his/her
spiritual experiences
• Focus on the circumstances
...
Retrospective
Studies
• Investigate possible influences
from geomagnetic fields
• Consider possible effects of
diets, dise...
Retrospective
Studies
Consider self-reports of feelings
that occur during some spiritual
episodes:
• extreme self-confiden...
Retrospective
Studies
• sensation of floating
• disconnection from external
reality (“It’s all a dream”)
• sense of missio...
Retrospective
Studies
• sensation of internal
energy flows (“current”)
• apparent capacity to
“induce” similar
experiences...
Prospective
Studies
“The religion
of the future
should
transcend a
personal God
and avoid
dogma and
theology. …
Prospective
Studies
“Covering both
natural and
spiritual, it
should be
based on a
religious sense
arising from
the experie...
Prospective
Studies
“Buddhism answers
this description…
If ever there is
any religion
that would cope
with modern
scientif...
Prospective
Studies
Dalai Lama at MIT for conference:
"Investigating the Mind: Exchanges Between Buddhism and
the Biobehav...
Prospective
Studies
"I'm seeking scientific backing
or findings in order to help
everybody have a happy mind,"
- Dalai Lam...
Prospective
Studies
“…few studies have focused on
those singular instances when
ordinary levels of meditation
suddenly dro...
Conclusion
• Trans-Spirit as a transhumanist approach to
religion & spirituality
• Encourage free enquiry and a scientific...
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  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Trans-Spirit
  • 1 Boyer, P. (2004). Why is religion natural? Skeptical Inquirer, 28 (2), 25-31.
  • 2 Boyer, P. (2001). Religion explained: The evolutionary origins of religious thought. New York: Basic Books.
  • 3 Boyer, P. (2003). Religious thought and behavior as by-products of brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 7 (3), 119-124.
  • 3 Boyer, P. (2003). Religious thought and behavior as by-products of brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 7 (3), 119-124.
  • 3 Boyer, P. (2003). Religious thought and behavior as by-products of brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 7 (3), 119-124.
  • 3 Boyer, P. (2003). Religious thought and behavior as by-products of brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 7 (3), 119-124.
  • 3 Boyer, P. (2003). Religious thought and behavior as by-products of brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 7 (3), 119-124.
  • 3 Boyer, P. (2003). Religious thought and behavior as by-products of brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 7 (3), 119-124.
  • 3 Boyer, P. (2003). Religious thought and behavior as by-products of brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 7 (3), 119-124.
  • 3 Boyer, P. (2003). Religious thought and behavior as by-products of brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 7 (3), 119-124.
  • 3 Boyer, P. (2003). Religious thought and behavior as by-products of brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 7 (3), 119-124.
  • 3 Boyer, P. (2003). Religious thought and behavior as by-products of brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 7 (3), 119-124.
  • 4 Persinger, M. Behavioural Neuroscience, Laurtentian University. http://laurentian.ca/neurosci/_people/Persinger.htm (retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 4 Persinger, M. Behavioural Neuroscience, Laurtentian University. http://laurentian.ca/neurosci/_people/Persinger.htm (retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 4 Persinger, M. Behavioural Neuroscience, Laurtentian University. http://laurentian.ca/neurosci/_people/Persinger.htm (retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 4 Persinger, M. Behavioural Neuroscience, Laurtentian University. http://laurentian.ca/neurosci/_people/Persinger.htm (retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 5 Murphy, T. Behavioural Neuroscience, Laurtentian University. http://laurentian.ca/neurosci/_people/NRG.htm
  • 6 Murphy, Todd. Persinger and the New Brain Sciences of Neurotheology and Magnetic Neurotechnology. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm (retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 6 Murphy, Todd. Persinger and the New Brain Sciences of Neurotheology and Magnetic Neurotechnology. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm (retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 7 Murphy, Todd. The spiritual personality. http://www.innerworlds.50megs.com/index.htm#articles(retrieved June 4, 2004).
  • 8 Nimi, J. (2002) “The Scientist Points Her Telescope East, and Spies the Back of Her Head.” Buddhism and Cognitive Science. http://home.uchicago.edu/~jniimi/buddcogsci/paper.html
  • 8 Nimi, J. (2002) “The Scientist Points Her Telescope East, and Spies the Back of Her Head.” Buddhism and Cognitive Science. http://home.uchicago.edu/~jniimi/buddcogsci/paper.html
  • 8 Nimi, J. (2002) “The Scientist Points Her Telescope East, and Spies the Back of Her Head.” Buddhism and Cognitive Science. http://home.uchicago.edu/~jniimi/buddcogsci/paper.html
  • 9 MIT News Office. “Dalai Lama sounds playful note in serious pursuits.” September 16, 2003. http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2003/dalailama.html
  • 9 MIT News Office. “Dalai Lama sounds playful note in serious pursuits.” September 16, 2003. http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2003/dalailama.html
  • 10 Austin, J. (1999). Zen and The Brain. Boston: MIT Press. p. 518.
  • Trans-Spirit - PowerPoint Presentation

    1. 1. Religion, Spirituality & Transhumanism Trans-Spirit Michael LaTorra New Mexico State University, USA Trans-Spirit-owner@yahoogroups.com
    2. 2. What is Trans-Spirit? • Trans-Spirit is a transhumanist approach to religion & spirituality •Trans-Spirit is not a new religion or spiritual practice but a new approach to these subjects
    3. 3. Trans-Spirit • Trans-Spirit engages in free enquiry and a scientific approach • Trans-Spirit rejects authoritarian, self-aggrandizing and self-serving spiritual claims and claimants
    4. 4. • Retrospective studies of individuals who have reported significant religious & spiritual experiences • Prospective studies of induced religious & spiritual experiences Trans-Spirit & Science
    5. 5. Need for a: • General Theory of Religion • Special Theory of Spirituality Trans-Spirit & Science
    6. 6. Best current candidate for a General Theory of Religion: Pascal Boyer’s “Religion Explained” Trans-Spirit & Science
    7. 7. Pascal Boyer “We can explain human sensitivity to particular kinds of supernatural concepts as a by-product of the way human minds operate in ordinary, non-religious contexts.” 1 Prof. Boyer Washington University Departments of Psychology and Anthropology
    8. 8. Pascal Boyer “Game theory is for aliens.” – Boyer 2 • Although people have a constant experience of social life, they do not understand it (or at least, not very well) • Our social interaction systems evolved for life in small bands • The invisible hand of cultural selection leads people to select and transmit religious ideas that seem most plausible in given circumstances
    9. 9. Pascal Boyer Do not say… But say… Religion answers people’s metaphysical questions Religious thoughts are typically activated when people deal with concrete situations (this crop, that disease, this dead body, etc.)
    10. 10. Pascal Boyer Do not say… But say… Religion is about a transcendent God It is about a variety of agents: ghouls, ghosts, spirits, ancestors, gods, etc. in direct interaction with people
    11. 11. Pascal Boyer Do not say… But say… Religion allays anxiety It generates as much anxiety as it allays: vengeful ghosts, nasty spirits and aggressive gods are as common as protective deities
    12. 12. Pascal Boyer Do not say… But say… Religion was created at time t in human history There is no reason to think that the various kinds of thoughts we call “religious” all appeared in human cultures at the same time
    13. 13. Pascal Boyer Do not say… But say… Religion is about explaining natural phenomena Most religious explanations of natural phenomena actually explain little but produce salient mysteries
    14. 14. Pascal Boyer Do not say… But say… Religion is about explaining mental phenomena (dreams, visions) In places where religion is not invoked to explain them, such phenomena are not seen as intrinsically mystical or supernatural
    15. 15. Pascal Boyer Do not say… But say… Religion is about mortality and the salvation of the soul The notion of salvation is particular to a few doctrines (Christianity and doctrinal religions of Asia and the Middle East) and unheard of in most other traditions
    16. 16. Pascal Boyer Do not say… But say… Religion creates social cohesion Religious commitment can (under some conditions) be used as a signal of coalitional affiliation, but coalitions create social fission (secession) as often as group integration
    17. 17. Pascal Boyer Do not say… But say… Religious claims are irrefutable; that is why people believe them There are many irrefutable statements that no one believes; what makes some of them plausible to some people is what we need to explain
    18. 18. Pascal Boyer Do not say… But say… Religion is irrational/ superstitious (therefore not worthy of study) Commitment to imagined agents does not really relax or suspend ordinary mechanisms of belief formation; indeed it can provide important evidence for their functioning (and so should be studied attentively)
    19. 19. …to Spirituality From Religion…
    20. 20. Trans-Spirit & Science Some current ideas for a Special Theory of Spirituality from: • Michael Persinger • Todd Murphy
    21. 21. Michael Persinger “As a human being, I am concerned about the illusionary explanations for human consciousness and the future of human existence. … I began the systematic application of complex electromagnetic fields to discern the patterns that will induce experiences (sensed presence) that are attributed to the myriad of ego- alien intrusions which range from gods to aliens. 4 Prof. Persinger, Laurentian University Department of Behavioural Neuroscience
    22. 22. Michael Persinger “The research is not to demean anyone's religious/mystical experience but instead to determine which portions of the brain or its electromagnetic patterns generate the experience. Two thousand years of philosophy have taught us that attempting to prove or disprove realities may never have discrete verbal (linguistic) solutions because of the limitation of this measurement. 4
    23. 23. Michael Persinger “The research has been encouraged by the historical fact that most wars and group degradations are coupled implicitly to god beliefs and to the presumption that those who do not believe the same as the experient are somehow less human and hence expendable. 4
    24. 24. Michael Persinger “Although these egocentric propensities may have had adaptive significance, their utility for the species' future may be questionable.” 4
    25. 25. Todd Murphy • Behavioral Neuroscientist, research associate of Persinger • Primary Interests: “The use of complex magnetic fields applied through the brain to induce spiritual experiences and develop the individual's potential.” 5 Todd Murphy, PhD candidate Laurentian University Department of Behavioural Neuroscience
    26. 26. Todd Murphy “My main interest is in understanding how the brain contributes to mystic, religious, and spiritual experiences. I want to use this understanding to find ways to induce them for those who need them. And to understand the transformations that follow when people have them unexpectedly.” 6
    27. 27. Todd Murphy “Unlike many of my colleagues, I am not closed to psychic phenomena, tales of miracles, visitations by angels, and other experiences. I accept that these are real experiences, even though I may not be able to accept many of the traditional explanations for them.” 6
    28. 28. Todd Murphy “Doing spiritual practice (or having a spiritual awakening), has an impact on the brain, the mind, and personality. These changes are pretty easy to predict, and very similar processes have been found in people with a certain type of epilepsy, which Hippocrates called ‘The sacred disease.’” 7 The Spiritual Personality
    29. 29. Todd Murphy “The personalities of people who are involved with spiritual practices like prayer, meditation and ceremony are shaped by the altered- state experiences their spirituality creates.” 7 The Spiritual Personality
    30. 30. Todd Murphy “The part of the brain that manages our states of consciousness, the temporal lobes, is a little busier in these people than most, producing personality traits that appear over and over among spiritually oriented people.” 7 The Spiritual Personality
    31. 31. Todd Murphy Temporal lobes are involved with: The Spiritual Personality • language • long-term memory storage • emotional reactions • perceiving spatial relationships • music • interpret smells • interpret patterns in space/time • maintain sense of self, including self-worth & independence 7
    32. 32. Todd Murphy • Temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), or 'complex partial seizures' cause altered states of consciousness • TLE begins in the amygdala and spreads into other areas • Repeated TLE’s lower the threshold for more TLE’s to occur 7 The Spiritual Personality
    33. 33. Todd Murphy • This self-reinforcing TLE process can result in a person having the experience associated with that brain part almost all the time (e.g., a person whose seizures include an hallucinated smell might find that he has a sharper-than-usual sense of smell at all other times). 7 The Spiritual Personality
    34. 34. Todd Murphy • Results of an ongoing study show that people who do spiritual practice of any kind have more of the subtler signs of TLE than people who don't. • Their personalities also show many of the traits that TL epileptics show. 7 The Spiritual Personality
    35. 35. Todd Murphy • They may talk at length and they won't want to change the subject until they are through with it • They may write almost compulsively at times, a trait called hypergraphia The Spiritual Personality
    36. 36. Todd Murphy The Spiritual Personality• TL epileptics become more emotionally sensitive, commonly with extra irritability • Spiritual aspirants (e.g. monks & nuns; meditators) withdraw from the world, avoiding socially intense situations to defend themselves from verbal assaults, and avoid those who aren't like-minded • One study of TL epileptics found they were more likely than others to undergo multiple religious conversions 7
    37. 37. Todd Murphy • Humans seem to have 2 senses of self: left hemispheric & right hemispheric • Pathways of self-sense on each side include the 2 amygdalae • When amygdalae fall out of phase, 'self' on the left can become aware of activities on the right • Right-sided self-sense is experienced as outer (ego-alien) 'presence' 7 The Spiritual Personality
    38. 38. Todd Murphy • Loss of mastery by the left ‘self’ tends to reduce the person’s self-esteem in normal states of consciousness • The person can suffer a ‘dark night of the soul’ doubting self-worth 7 The Spiritual Personality
    39. 39. Todd Murphy • Typical compensation strategy for this doubt is to become ‘holier than thou’ and they: - have a ‘spiritual’ answer and explanation for every event - give a ‘spiritual’ interpretation to the failings of others - dismiss comments they don’t want to hear 7 The Spiritual Personality
    40. 40. Todd Murphy • Spiritual leaders (gurus, priests, ministers) have power, prestige and high self-esteem • TL epileptics with low self-esteem make perfect disciples • Perfect disciples always see the guru as being higher 7 The Spiritual Personality
    41. 41. Todd Murphy • Guru devotion allows low-self esteem to be acted out in a constructive way • Being subordinate is rewarded in communities gathered around a spiritual master • Outside their community, they can discount what others say (“They don't know the truth.”) • Such a believer need not pay any heed to slights or challenging remarks from others 7 The Spiritual Personality
    42. 42. Todd Murphy • Cults, religions, and spiritual traditions embrace those in a state of sadness or despair by claiming to have The Answer. • What these groups offer actually works: It’s an effective, millennia-old coping strategy that has stood the test of time far longer than any kind of psychotherapy 7 The Spiritual Personality
    43. 43. The Dark Side • Religion may comfort by distorting one’s view of reality • Spiritual ecstasy is often followed by a profound let-down in mood and energy • Religious & spiritual dogmas (official interpretations) stop free enquiry & investigation of alternative explanations • Development of deep meditative states tends to inhibit the ability to sustain logical & scientific thinking
    44. 44. Retrospective Studies • Ignore the person’s interpretations of his/her spiritual experiences • Focus on the circumstances in which spiritual experiences occurred • Look for information about patterns & frequencies of light, sound, motion in each case
    45. 45. Retrospective Studies • Investigate possible influences from geomagnetic fields • Consider possible effects of diets, diseases & drugs • Note reports of side-effects on balance, perception, mood- swings • Look for admissions of negative after-effects
    46. 46. Retrospective Studies Consider self-reports of feelings that occur during some spiritual episodes: • extreme self-confidence (arrogance of authority) • absolute certainty (unquestioned intuition)
    47. 47. Retrospective Studies • sensation of floating • disconnection from external reality (“It’s all a dream”) • sense of mission (“It’s vital to spread the word”)
    48. 48. Retrospective Studies • sensation of internal energy flows (“current”) • apparent capacity to “induce” similar experiences in others who are receptive to it
    49. 49. Prospective Studies “The religion of the future should transcend a personal God and avoid dogma and theology. …
    50. 50. Prospective Studies “Covering both natural and spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things natural and spiritual as a meaningful unity.…
    51. 51. Prospective Studies “Buddhism answers this description… If ever there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.” - Albert Einstein 8
    52. 52. Prospective Studies Dalai Lama at MIT for conference: "Investigating the Mind: Exchanges Between Buddhism and the Biobehavioral Sciences on How the Mind Works."
    53. 53. Prospective Studies "I'm seeking scientific backing or findings in order to help everybody have a happy mind," - Dalai Lama.9
    54. 54. Prospective Studies “…few studies have focused on those singular instances when ordinary levels of meditation suddenly drop off into the state of genuine deep internal absorption. These absorptions are rare. They need to be carefully studied, at the very moment they occur, using modern techniques.” 10
    55. 55. Conclusion • Trans-Spirit as a transhumanist approach to religion & spirituality • Encourage free enquiry and a scientific approach: neurotheology • Examine past reports of spiritual experiences in light of modern neuroscience • Conduct controlled experiments to learn how and why spiritual experiences occur
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