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The Holy Mole                                                             November Issue, 2012Digging up the dirt, seeing ...
The Holy Mole                                                           November Issue, 2012Digging up the dirt, seeing fo...
The Holy Mole                                                             November Issue, 2012Digging up the dirt, seeing ...
The Holy Mole                                                                   November Issue, 2012Digging up the dirt, s...
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Brain and Behaviour Newspaper Article: Clayton Clough


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Reporter: Clayton Clough

Title: Are we biologically pre-disposed to believe in God?

Module: final year Brain and Behaviour

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Brain and Behaviour Newspaper Article: Clayton Clough

  1. 1. The Holy Mole November Issue, 2012Digging up the dirt, seeing for the blindReporter: Clayton CloughIn the cradle of civilization In Islamic cultures there arethere lurked a demon. An- the Jinn (Jeanie), demonscient peoples from the very comprised of smoke and fireearliest cultures, despite which sometimes take rep-having been thousands of tilian forms. In ancientmiles apart and never hav- South American cultures theing communicated in most primordial womencases, developed surprising- “Bachue” was referred to asly similar forms of worship. the ‘Celestial Snake’ andOf course their systems of was often depicted with areligion would be consid- Reptilian tail, just as didered primitive by modern some traditional depictionsstandards; yet modern man of the serpent in the Gardenis still very familiar with the of Eden. Evolutionary psy-myths and stories that chologists have suggestedshaped the foundation for that these beliefs stem fromour ancestor’s belief system. genetic memories formed (Above) Carving made by an-In our Western, predomi- over millions of years, con- cient Mesopotamians of thenantly Judeo-Christian cul- cerning a time when Rep- ‘Anunnaki’- reptilian-liketure, most are familiar with tiles were the dominant spe- gods.the story of Adam and Eve cies. Evidence for this can (Below) Carving at the en-and the serpent that de- be seen in young infant’s trance to Notre Dame Cathe-ceived man, bestowing on ability to identify snakes dral of man’s deception by theus the virtues of morality. and other external threats serpent, depicted as a womanJust as Prometheus stole the with incredible speed and with a snake’s from the gods in ancient accuracy (LoBue & De-Greek beliefs this general Loache, 2008). This certain-concept permeates through ly computed with our an-thousands of years and cul- cient brothers and sisters,tures, with one significant the very earliest forms ofsimilarity. Usually referred religion were characterizedto as the ‘Serpents of Wis- by fear of these reptiliandom’ the myth of reptilian- entities and their subsequentlike beings who are the as- appeasement, usuallycendants of man was the through the medium of hu-basis of religious worship in man sacrifice and libations.its infancy. In the Far East-ern cultures there were theDragon Kings from who theEmperors were said to bedescended from.
  2. 2. The Holy Mole November Issue, 2012Digging up the dirt, seeing for the blindCarl Sagan, in his 1977 Triune simply means three- At the University of Texas abook ‘The Dragons of in-one; the basal ganglia, team of Psychologists haveEden’, popularized the re- limbic system and neo cor- investigated the way insearch first put forward by tex are the three main struc- which the brain makes natu-Neuroscientist Paul Maclean tures constituting the whole ral connections betweeninto what is described as the of higher functioning mam- unrelated stimuli (Wang,‘Triune’ Brain. The ‘Reptil- mal’s brains. Areas such as Whitson & Menon, 2012).ian Complex’ (R-Complex), the Ventral Pallidum and the For instance, when present-just one aspect of this theo- Ventral Tegmental Area ed with tarot cards or horo-ry, suggests that even the (V.T.A.) in the Basal Gan- scopes many ‘believers’ willbehaviour of higher func- glia are responsible for the tend to begin applying thattioning mammals is in part production of some of the information to their owndictated by the evolution of dopamine in the brain, a lives, even though thethe brain structures within neurotransmitter related to events in one’s life are notall vertebrates; this evolu- all manner of physical and reflected in the stars or intion can be deduced by ex- behavioural functions (Alca- the cards. It is suggestedamining anatomical brain ro, Huber & Panksepp, that superstitious behaviourstructures of lower function- 2007). Years of experi- is defined by a perceiveding vertebrates such as mental studies have firmly lack of control or lack ofbirds, fish and reptiles established the role of these understanding, very much in(Maclean, 1990). The Neo- components, especially the the same way that ancientCortex present in high func- V.T.A., in many aspects of peoples attributed the work-tioning mammals is the animal and human behav- ings of the natural world tomost recent edition to this iour most notably the con- god or gods like the god ofevolutionary process but the cept of reinforcing behav- the sun or the god of rain.more ancient brain struc- iour through a reward sys-tures are still present. More tem, which is where the do- The mind’s craving for pat-specifically one is referring pamine comes in. terns, understanding andto the Basal Ganglia, con- control may well lead us tosisting of a multitude of Sex, aggression, territoriali- religious experience and godcomponents at the base of ty, ritualistic displays all as positive reinforcement tothe forebrain (the bottom of stem from this reptilian negative stimuli in the envi-the front) such as the Pal- brain; do not many of the ronment. Francois-Marielidum and the Stratium; it is forms of religious worship Arouet Voltaire wrote: “Ifpresent in all vertebrates. encompass ritualistic behav- god did not exist it would beThis structure plays a part iour associated with positive necessary to invent him”role in ‘Limbic’ functions, emotions? Perhaps religion (1770), although it may allthe limbic system being an- is just a complex way of just be in our heads.other aspect of the Triune satisfying these innate bio-Brain concerning mood and logical desires.emotion.
  3. 3. The Holy Mole November Issue, 2012Digging up the dirt, seeing for the blind Without going into too a Swedish research team much detail very broad la- (Granqvist et al, 2005)One notable aspect of hu- bels are often ascribed to the failed to replicate theseman behaviour is the way in hemispheres, the left side is astounding results and sug-which we structure society popularly deemed ‘logical’ gested there was no rela-based on hierarchies which whereas the right brain is tionship between the mag-is again a behavioural prod- described as ‘creative’. It netic field and religious ex-uct stemming from the brain could be that strong feelings perience calling the wholestructures that fall under the of belief are dictated by theoretical basis for the ex-umbrella of the R-Complex. right brain dominance. periment into question. InAll social structures are fact the results of Persing-identifiable as hierarchal A controversial experiment er’s experiments are at-pyramids, if one considers conducted in 1990 made tributed to the suggestibilitythe universe and existence plain this separation be- of the participants. As al-as a hierarchy the concept of tween the hemispheres and ways in science the contro-an anthropomorphic entity produced a device being versy rages on, the fact thatat the tip of the pyramid referred to as the ‘god hel- there are plans for a com-seems an almost obvious met’. It is generally accept- mercial version of the ‘godconclusion, perhaps even a ed that our sense of self, our helmet’ will certainly be anatural disposition. individuality is a product of cause for concern in the the- the left hemisphere, but ological world.An interesting experiment what is the right hemisphereconducted by Neurologist equivalent?Vilayanur S. Ramachan-dran, and explained at the The ‘god helmet’, conceived2006 Beyond Belief Confer- by Neuroscientists Stanley (Below) A participant wearingence, concerned the atti- Koren and Michael Persing- the ‘God Helmet’.tudes of a split brain patient er, applies a very subtletowards god. A split brain magnetic field to the tem-patient has had the brain cut poral lobe in the right hemi-down the middle, separating sphere of the brain, the ap-the two hemispheres so that parent effects are astonish-they can no longer com- ing. Around 80% of wearersmunicate. Each hemisphere are induced into a religiousof this patient was asked experience. These report thewhether it believed in god, ‘presence’ of other beingsthe right side said yes, the described as angels or de-left side said no. Despite the ceased relatives, sometimeshuge theological ramifica- even god himself. Persingertions this experiment pro- noted that some cases ofduces one must understand deep religious experiencesthat every person has a dom- may be due to naturally oc-inant hemisphere, be it left curring focal points foror right. magnetic energy within our environment which stimu- late the right temporal lobe. Unfortunately for Persinger
  4. 4. The Holy Mole November Issue, 2012Digging up the dirt, seeing for the blindWhatever the case may be which people judge their Darwin., C. (1871). “The Descentthese observations can give own actions based on the of Man”, Chapter 5: “On the de- velopment of the intellectual &us an insight into a biologi- reaction of others. God is moral faculties during primeval &cal basis for god and reli- big brother; the all-seeing civilised times”. London: Murray.gion with respects to our eye that restrains the selfish Granqvist, P., Fredrikson, M.,personal drives and desires tendency and propagates the Unge, P., Hagenfeldt, A., Valind,but what of belief systems sense of disgust within one- S., Larhammar, D. & Larsson, M.with regards to the social self when one commits an (2005). "Sensed presence & mys-creature inside us all? Are immoral act. Groups and tical experiences are predicted bywe not more concerned with communities that adapted suggestibility, not by the applica- tion of trans cranial weak complex‘morality’ and higher ideals, religious notions would magnetic fields". Neuroscienceto push ourselves beyond have had a greater chance of Letters. 379: (1): 1–6.our selfish biological desires survival. Clearly much ofand instead purvey a sense the science behind religion LoBue, V., & DeLoache, J. S. (2008). Detecting the snake in theof ‘community spirit’? does not intend to belittle grass: Attention to fear-relevantCharles Darwin set the the concept of ‘god’ but in- stimuli by adults and young chil-precedent for evolutionary stead presents it as having dren. Psychological Science. Vol:theory at the end of the possibly been a necessity for 19, (3): 284-289.nineteenth century but his the survival of our species. MacLean., P.D. (1990). “The Tri-interest was not limited to une Brain in Evolution: Role ofanatomical evolution, he Perhaps it is only now, in a Paleocerebral Functions”. Spring-was also intrigued by the society that encourages the er.evolution of morality. selfish, in a world where Rossano, M. (2007). “Supernatu- science grants us under- ralizing Social Life: Religion &In his book the “Descent of standing of the natural forc- the Evolution of Human Coopera-Man” (1871) Darwin specu- es, that religion and god is tion”. Department of Psychology,lated that altruistic tenden- becoming less and less rele- South-eastern Louisiana Universi- ty. (Unpublished).cies would have been bene- vant in peoples lives. In theficial to creatures that de- words of French novelist Ruttan, L. A., Persinger, M. A. &pend on social interaction Victor Hugo: “Adversity Koren, S. (1990). "Enhancementfor their survival, such as makes men and prosperity of temporal lobe-related experi- ences during brief exposures toman. Others who have fol- makes monsters”, perhaps MilliGauss intensity extremelylowed in the footsteps of adversity also makes god. low frequency magnetic fields".Darwin have taken the con- Journal of Bioelectricity. Vol. 9:cept one step further. Psy- 33–54.chologist Matt Rossano Bibliography: Voltaire, F.A. (1770). “Epitre astipulates in his paper “Su- lAuteur du Livre des Trois Impos-pernaturalizing Social Life” Alcaro, A., Huber, R. & Panksepp, teurs”.(2007) that, although the J. (2007). Behavioural functions of the mesolimbic dopaminergic Wang, C.S., Whitson, J.A. &evolution of ‘morality’ pre- Menon, T. (2012) “Culture, Con- system: An affective neuroetho-dates religion, the introduc- logical perspective. Brain Re- trol & Illusory Pattern Perception”.tion of anthropomorphic, search Review. Vol: 56, (2):283- Social Psychological & Personali-supernatural beings into so- 321. ty Science. Vol. 3: 630-638.cial life is a parameter by