I recently read an article in American Scientist , by Jesse M Bering (Pg 142 March- April 2006) Cognitive Psychology of Belief in the Supernatural That
was exploring the origins of Belief. I think the author had
some good points but was somewhat wrong in his conclusions.
What makes man unique is our ability of abstract thought. I think it is
a recently acquired trait. The ability to model future events in our
head is not a universal talent (is it on the order of 50%?).
Such an ability causes problems with death anxiety, not at
the time of death, but every day. If we use our abstraction
ability to think of our own demise (even accidentally), it triggers our
fight or flight response and most people are not strong enough to look
death in the eyes. I wonder if death anxiety is what prevents
so many from using abstract thought - they may have the ability, but
fear it and never use it?
Mr. Bering dismisses death anxiety in haste. As his sited
I think most will be equally anxious at their time of death, but that
does not measure how much comfort is gained with a belief in an after
life on a day-to-day basis. Studies suggest that people that believe in
an after-life report less stress and show less symptoms of stress born
disease. I think most people know in the back of their mind
that an after-life is merely a wish, and at the time of death the ability to keep the
delusion going may often start to fail.
Our lack of ability to turn off this anxiety when modeling ourselves or
a close loved one, makes me think our abstraction ability is rather
recent. (To think that the brevity of recorded history is only due to
the discovery of written language fails to explain the lack of ancient
prehistoric art work? Even without language we should see signs of
abstract thought in cave drawings if this ability is more than 50,000
years or so old.)
So, is death anxiety really a result of our recent evolution of abstract thought
and our ability to model our own end? No other creature has had to
deal with this problem.
Empathy as an Abstraction Ability
Our abstraction ability may well have come to be for the valued ability
to empathize. In order to empathize, we need to model how
someone else feels - to find a sense of what it is to be in their
shoes. Empathy gives us the ability to work together more
productively and would confer a enhanced survival ability.
Empathy and inborn prototype of self and others?
As a social creature, we need inborn empathy but also a want to be
together. Such a want of another may include an inborn
prototype of others - and this 'other prototype' may well be what
people call god, others may call it a super-ego. We empathize
with others and also our past and future self. Do we look at ourself as
an 'other' based on an inborn prototype of other or self? I think there is a part of consciousness where there is an inborn
prototype of "other" and "self", (they are not completely separate)
that gives rise to empathy. This is primal - and causes conflict. I am
wondering if this model is the 'person' of god for many?
I've read an article (I think Scientific American) that looked at the
psychology of self - it focused on phantom limbs of amputees - they
still have a sense that the leg is there often floating about to the
side. The idea of self does not change to reflect the reality - is it
part of this 'self' prototype?
My theory doesn't limit the anxiety to just death anxiety - it is
as hard to see our life being so humble. To think that our purpose is
to regenerate DNA is hard to look at. The need for a "bigger purpose"
may also have to do with an inborn sense of community that gives us a
survival advantage. Such a inborn image of others gives society the
ability to manipulate
each other and exploitation is also possible. To be
exploitable may not confer survival ability to the individual except
by giving it to the group. I wonder if a sociopath is one that
image or any empathy? Or perhaps sociopaths have simply failed to
transfer this image to others.
The value of Delusion
I've read that pointing out delusions to mental patients often agitates
them; analyzing the delusion often reveals the comforting aspect of it.
For example, the delusion of a ghost of a dead parent, lets the
off-spring avoid facing the loss. Pointing out the errors in
logic renews the pain of the loss.
If a non believer tries to reason with a believer and point out the
errors in reason and logic - the response is rather universal - anxiety
that turns to anger.
I have been around religion debates that got ugly - (It is not kind to
kick someones belief out from under them with logic). To take
myth is very threatening to believers. I don't think most people
strong enough to look at life with both feet on the ground - without
resorting to wishful thinking of some kind or another, but to see life,
as it really is, has advantages. Very few people that once believe
will give up
the crutch later in life. The function of religious gatherings may well
be a sort of 'delusion group-reinforcement meeting' that
to keep the faith and makes it easier to avoid death anxiety in
day-to-day life. If true, this is clearly self reinforcing, but
is holding a
delusion dear good for society in the long run?
The Greater Harm of Delusion
The documented cases of exploitation of peoples delusions are many. To maintain
delusions also ends up wasting precious life time and expending energy
to rationalize ways to support the delusion. Conclusions based on
delusions cost lives in war and prevent a common reality. As
the world has become a smaller place, we need to maintain a common
reality to avoid global war. Will the common reality be
dictated by the most ruthless of the religions? Will man evolve to be
more rational as our social groups have enlarged to enormous numbers?
I think rational people see the value of working together. The
problem is we have evolved to work in small groups - not the large
cities we find ourselves in. As the group gets larger, we become more
anonymous and the value of cooperative nature goes down. But will
natural evolution be our future? Perhaps we will engineer ourselves to
a sustainable phenotype? I hope man will someday have a common reality - the super natural is where that
breaks down. The one thing every religion has in common is the
insistence that all the other beliefs are wrong - and this is often
used to fuel bigotry and hate.
I started questioning faith when I was 9 years old in Sunday school
(The burning bush that didn't burn up seemed implausible) - and ever
after, I've been trying to understand why people believe.
Talking to god?
I once had kidney stones - (I was surprised that something could hurt
that bad - I kept thinking I would just pass out - but didn't) -
in the 2-3 hours (while they were figuring out I wasn't a junky trying
to get a fix) I rolled on a gurney in pain - I too shouted, "Stop
god stop", - but not to a god - I wanted to make it stop. I
wanted control! My use of the word god was an expression to
anyone/everyone in general while not blaming anyone. No different than
when I Say, "God Damn" - I'm not talking to a god - it is an
expression. Was it a call to the prototype of other or 'super ego'
within myself? I think that is all 'god' really is.
I think there is some truth in social evolution and have read allot on
the subject. My hunch is that our abstraction ability is still evolving
-- and that the 'god stuff' is a coping mechanism left over from our earlier evolutionary reality.
Talking about Real Death
I've had a problem in finding people - even within nonbelievers - that
are comfortable with even talking about these ideas - non believers
often have other ways of avoiding the thought of 'end of self". If you
have any other things I might read please point me in that direction.
I really think this is an important topic - a better understanding may
well help prevent alternate realities and the destructive wars they
I'm also looking at fallacies - I'm in the midst of writing a page up,
partly to explore the bigger picture of why we are prone to different
fallacies - (partly inspired by the book 'Why People Believe Weird
Noise and the Bible
you listen to static for long enough you will begin to hear
things that almost sound like something once in a while - the bible is
no different. It is just cultural noise of the bronze age set in print
- like a good fiddle, you can play many tunes with it -- or much like a
Rorschach test you will see in it what you want to.
have watched the noise on a TV screen of a TV tuned to an empty channel
and claim to see things -- I think what they say has more to do with
who is looking than the noise - same applies with the bible.
Astrology and the Bible
The fish symbolizes the astrological
sign of Pisces. Jesus symbolizes the age of Pisces which began around
the time of his alleged birth. The Christian fish symbol is another
indication of the astrological roots of Christianity.
A.D., the Roman emperor Aurelia declared December 25th as he birthday
of the unconquered sun ("natAlis solis invicti"), which at the winter
solstice begins to show an increase of light. Later, the 'Church of
Rome' established the celebration of the birthday of Christ, the "sun
of righteousness," on the same Date December 25th. Before that
time, the birthday of Jesus Christ was celebrated on January 6th. The
religion of most of the Romans and many people of the European
continent was still Mithraism. Pope Leo in the fourth century, after
almost destroying the temple of Mithra in 376 A.D., in his campaign
against Mithraism, he co-oped the date and proclaimed the 25th of
December as Christ's birthday instead of January 6th. The Eastern
Orthodox Church and Armenians still think JC's birthday is Jan 6th.