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Trans-Spirit - PowerPoint Presentation


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Trans-Spirit - PowerPoint Presentation

  1. 1. Religion, Spirituality & Transhumanism Trans-Spirit Michael LaTorra New Mexico State University, USA
  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