Re: Science Wins [was Re: understanding neuroscience]

J. R. Molloy (
Mon, 6 Sep 1999 15:16:46 -0700

Robert J. Bradbury wrote:
>Force them back until they are confronted with the paradox of their
>position (they can't prove (get universal acceptance) of their beliefs),
>then offer them an alternative.

In further support of your comments (I did read the whole message) pertaining to why people hold superstitious beliefs, I've posted the follwing outline which cites (possible) neurological explanations as well.



For every trait which is universal to a species, there must exist some gene or set of genes which is responsible for the emergence of that particular trait. For example, the fact that all cats possess whiskers means that somewhere within a cat's chromosomes there must exist "whisker" genes. Of our own species, that all humans possess two eyes on our face means that somewhere within our chromosomes there must exist "eye" genes which instruct our emerging bodies to develop two eyes, in that very place. It's not, for instance, as if eyes can develop anywhere on our bodies, only, by mere coincidence, always end up on our faces. Apparently, humans are genetically "hard-wired" to develop in a very specific and particular way.

The same principle not only applies to universal physical traits, but to universal behaviors, as well. For instance, take the fact that all honeybees construct their hives in the same hexagonal shape. The fact that all honeybee colonies, regardless of whether they've had exposure to any other, behave in such an identical fashion means that honeybees must be "hard-wired" to perform this function, that is, to build their hives in this particular way. Again, it's not as if honeybees could have built their hives any way they "pleased," as if it's just a matter of sheer coincidence that they all built their hives in the same exact way. Apparently, honeybees are innately, that is, genetically "hard-wired" to construct their hives in this particular fashion. Somewhere in the honeybees' brains, there must exist some very specific cluster of neurons which contain genetically inherited instructions which compel these animals to perform this function of building hexagonally shaped

The above principle not only applies to honeybees, but to all forms of life, including our own. For instance, the fact that every human culture - no matter how isolated - has communicated through language would imply that our species' capacity for language must be genetically inherited. Being that our capacity for language represents a cerebral or cognitive function, such
behavior must be generated from somewhere within our organ, the brain. In other words, there must exist some part or group of parts - some cluster of neurons - within our brains from which our linguistic capacities are generated.

As we know such "linguistic" sites do exist in the brain and include the Wernicke's area, Broca's area, and angular gyrus, as examples. Damage incurred to any one of these "language" specific sites will impair some very specific part of one's linguistic capacities. What this clearly demonstrates is that our linguistic capacities (our ability to speak and comprehend words) are directly related to our physiological make-ups. Furthermore, this supports the idea that, for every cross-cultural behavior our species exhibits, there must exist some specific site within the brain from which that particular behavior is generated.

As this same principle applies to all of our cross-cultural behaviors, should we not also apply it to spirituality? Every known culture from the dawn of our species has maintained a belief in some form of a "spiritual" reality. Wouldn't this, therefore, suggest that human spirituality must represent an inherent characteristic of our species, that is, a genetically inherited trait? Furthermore, being that spirituality, just like language, represents a cognitive function, that is, one which originates from within the brain, wouldn't this suggest that our "spiritual" perceptions, just like our linguistic ones, must be generated from some very specific physical site within our brain? I informally refer to this site as the "God" part of the brain, a cluster of neurons from which our universal spiritual cognitions, perceptions, behaviors, and sentiments are generated.

How else are we to explain the fact that all human cultures have maintained a belief in the existence of a spiritual/transcendental reality, a god or gods, a soul, as well as an afterlife? How else are we to explain the fact that every human culture has built houses of worship in which to pray to such unseen spiritual forces? Or that every known culture has buried (disposed) of its deceased with a rite that anticipates sending the dead person's "spiritual" component, or what we call a soul, onward to some next or other plane of existence, on to some form of an afterlife? Wouldn't the universality with which such behaviors are exhibited in our species suggest that we must be physiologically "hard-wired" to behave in such ways? How about the fact that every known culture has related, and in similar terms, undergoing, what we refer to as, spiritual experiences? Perhaps we are "hard-wired" to experience such sentiments as well... Just as all honeybees are compelled to construct hexagonallyshaped hives, perhaps humans are compelled to perceive a spiritual a reflex, an instinct!

Essentially, what I'm suggesting is that humans are innately "hard-wired" to perceive a spiritual reality. We are "wired" to believe that there exist forces which transcend the limitations of this, our physical world. Most controversial of all, if what I'm suggesting is correct, it would imply that God is not necessarily something which exists "out there," beyond and independent of us, but rather as the product of an inherited perception, the manifestation of a biological evolutionary adaptation, a "spiritual" cognitive function, which exists exclusively in human brains.

And why would our species have evolved such a seemingly abstract trait? In order to enable us to deal with our unique and otherwise debilitating awareness of death! Let me explain...

With the dawn of human intelligence, for the first time in the history of terrestrial life, an organism could point its powers of perception back upon its own being; it could recognize its own self as an object. For the first time, when an animal went to drink from the watering hole, it could recognize the image beneath it as its own reflection. In essence, only humans possess the advanced capacity for self-conscious awareness. Though this ability has, in many ways, made our species the most versatile creature on earth, it also represents the source of our greatest affliction. The reason for this is because, once we became aware of the fact that we exist, we became equally aware of the fact that one day we might not. And not just might not, mind you, but will not! All we had to do was to look around us to see that death represented our inevitable and inescapable fates. Worse yet, not only did we now recognize that death was inevitable but, furthermore, that it can come at any given moment. Suddenly, with the advent of our species, with the emergence of self-conscious awareness, a life form became cognizant of the fact that it is going to die!

All life is "hard-wired" to avoid things which constitute a threat to its existence. An animal gets too close to fire and it reflexivelly pulls away. It is this negative stimulus, this experience we call pain, which prompts all life forms to avoid such potential threats to their existences. Pain, therefore, is like nature's electric prod which incites us to avoid those things which may jeopardize our existences.

In the "higher" animals, most particularly amongst the mammals, threatening circumstances elicit a particular type of painful experience which we refer to as anxiety. Anxiety constitutes a particular type of pain response which is meant to prompt these higher order animals to avoid potentially hazardous circumstances. For example, a rabbit is cornered by a mountain lion. In such a situation, the rabbit is pumped with adrenaline, charged with painful anxiety, all meant to incite the rabbit to most effectively escape from the source of its discomfort, it's anxiety, in this case, the mountain lion. In its healthy form, anxiety is meant to prompt an animal to escape a potentially hazardous experience. The problem here was that once our species became aware of the fact that death was not only inescapable but that it could occur at any given instant, our species was left in a state of constant mortal peril, of unceasing painful anxiety - rabbits perpetually cornered by a mountain lion from which there is no escape. In essence, with the emergence of self-conscious awareness, humans became the dysfunctional animal, rendered helpless by an inherent anxiety disorder. Unless nature could somehow relieve us of this debilitating awareness of certain death, it's very likely that our species would have soon become extinct. It suddenly became critical that our animal be modified in some way that would allow us to keep our vast intelligence, while enabling us to deal with our unique awareness of our own mortalities, of death.

Here lies the origin of the spiritual function, an adaptation which nature selected in our brains throughout the course of hominid evolution until we percieved reality in such a way as to believe that though our physical bodies perish, a part of us - our "spirits" or "souls" - will continue to survive for all eternity. Only once our species was instilled with this inherent perception were we able to overcome the debilitating anxiety which came with our awareness of inevitable death.