Religion is probably a good thing

From: Brian Atkins (
Date: Thu Oct 25 2001 - 12:39:58 MDT

Up until this general part of history at least. I was watching some PBS
last night, and they were doing a piece on the guy who originally made
the claims about a "God spot" in the brain (only, he says the media mis-
reported his comments... that's another story). There was also a long
interview with a guy who suffers from temporal lobe epilepsy who after
having a seizure would find himself in an extreme "joy mode" where anything
he looked at or thought about would seem to be imbued with extreme meaning
and beauty.

So if the brain has built in hardware for creating these feelings, which
tend to produce religion in societies (and we can see why epileptic
"prophets" in olden times would be exactly the people expected to write
stuff like the Bible and other religious documents), it must have evolved
for a reason. People with this hardware are more likely to survive and
reproduce. Societies of these people are more likely to outcompete other
groups of people who don't have it. Perhaps it allows these groups of
people to "stop worrying" and get on with work that might help them
survive? Or is religion just a fluke- the brain hardware only seems to
generate feelings of deep meaning and "joy", perhaps feeling attached
to your surroundings and people helped those people and societies do
better, and later on those feelings got interpreted by individuals to
be significant- boom, you get religions.

You have to ask yourself- if people didn't have these feelings, would
(for instance) the USA have grown quite as fast and well as it has?
Would the world have otherwise developed a bit more slowly without these
"positive outlook" individuals?

Brian Atkins
Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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