Sunday, November 19, 2006

Brain food

I have previously posted on the idea that religious need might stem from something hardwired into the human brain. In my view religion is a widely-practiced irrational blind faith that has some beneficial social outcomes (‘trust’ reduces transactions costs in a market economy) and also has outcomes beneficial for the individual (religion has evolutionary advantages in delivering endogenous opioids). My own rejection of religion is individually costly (in gross if not net terms) and socially counterproductive.

The August edition of Neuroscience Letters included work by Mario Beauregard and Vincent Paquette examining whether a ‘God Spot’ can be found in the brain. This created a big controversy in the neuroscientific literature. Dave Chavanne at Neuroeconomics reviews this research in a comprehensive way. He argues there is not much evidence of a particular spot but some evidence for a network of spots.

Overall Chavanne’s view is skeptical – religious experiences need to be separated out from other intense experiences and this is difficult. Maybe so but what would you expect – the key issue to me is that people get dragged into accepting goofy religions for reasons that make individual and social sense. The role of religion can therefore be objectively analyzed without getting bogged down in the myths.


Sam Ward said...

The only thing hard-wired into some people's brains is stupidity.

Everyone is taught religion when they are children. The smart ones work out for themselves that it's bullshit. The dumb ones go on believing it for the rest of their lives.

conrad said...

There is a large literature on the more general topic of false-beliefs in social situations if you are really interested (both normal and abnormal, and from a number of different perspectives -- some much more developed than the neuroscience literature, which is currently pretty sparse and uniformative IMHO -- i.e., outright predictions can and have been made from the social/cognitive/cognitive neuropsychology literature).

I wouldn't agree that religious experiences are special, it seems like a fairly normal false belief to me, and don't see why it should be treated otherwise.

rabee said...

How was it individually costly Harry?

As for me I think that religion is part of the human condition. It's to be appreciated and experienced like romance, beauty, art, poetry, music, and a good glass.

Rejecting it because it doesn't make scientific sense is like rejecting art simply because we don't know why we enjoy it.

hc said...

Rabee, Individually costly in the sense that I am worse-off in some respects because I don't believe. Less endogenous opioids in my brains and more frantic concerns. I am not sure I am worse-off overall but there are costs.

Religion as art! Rabee you've got me thinking. Its not that I don't enjoy religion - I just don't believe it is truthful. Its supposed to be about truth. A good painting doesn't tell you how to live your life - it can be beautiful without philosophy or religion.

But I'll think on this further.