Under Construction

There are many books and papers on Religion and the human psyche or brain or neuroscience.

Brain research is finally allowing us to ask some truly interesting questions: Where do emotions come from and why do we have them? How do we think and learn? Though final answers are still a long way off, it is significant that we can now begin to frame such questions in a scientific way.

Since Hippocrates proposed the mind was in the brain and not the heart in the 4th century BC there have been a lot of questions but few answers on how it works:
Is the mind completely "created" by the brain? Can consciousness be reduced to neurons? Is there a soul that exists beyond the neurons?

In late 1997, an unusual story about the discovery of a "God-spot" in the brain began to appear in newspapers and newsmagazines. In a series of tests, epileptic patients with heightened brain activity in the temporal lobe showed hypersensitivity to religious words and phrases.

Researchers had indeed found a region of the brain that could be linked to religious experience, but they neither claimed that this region was the cause of all such experiences nor sought to disparage or "reduce" religion or religious experience.

The physiological basis for this is the fact that the emotional limbic system, and particularly the amygdala, which is responsible for integrating intense emotional feelings of paranoia and ecstasy associated with survival and threats to survival, is situated alongside the limits of the temporal lobe, which processes semantic meaning and its significance. Thus excitations linking the two could result in a simultaneous experience of extreme fulfillment and intense significance - equating to a profound religious, or mystical experience.

There are common beliefs amongst most religions:
  • The soul survives death
  • Sacrifice is needed to appease Gods. (In Christianity the sacrifice was in the form of Christ)
  • God(s) can influence luck of people and punish them in this world or the next.
There are various opinions on the nature (God put it in our genes) vs nurture (It is learned from the society we grow up in) issue.
Wade3 says the fact that religious behavior is unusually strong suggests it is in our genes.
D'Onofrio2 says twin studies show it is "moderately" influenced by genetic factors.

Evolutionary scientists have suggested that belief in God, which is a common trait found in human societies around the world and throughout history, may be built into the brain's complex electrical circuitry as a Darwinian adaptation to encourage co-operation between individuals. [the-messiahs-blog.blogspot.com]

Need to find meaning:
Psychologists believe that our intelligent minds constantly strive to make sense of the world. For every action, there must be a cause.

Jennifer Whitson a psychologist at the University of Texas Austin performed an experiment where people were given a test, some were given answers that made sense and others were given random answers. Then they were shown images of white noise and asked if they saw a pattern. The people who were given the random answers so they felt they were not in control of their surroundings tended to find patterns more frequently than the others.
See Through the Wormhole: Meaning in White Noise : Video : Science Channel

1. Robert Oden, God and Mankind: Comparative Religions, 2008, By, Carleton College
2. B D'Onofrio, "Understanding Biological and Social Influences on Religious Affiliations, Attitudes and Behaviors", Journal of Personality, 67 no 6, 1999
3. Nicholas Wade, The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures,
Greg Peterson, The Humanizing Brain: Where Religion and Neuroscience Meet, 1999
Soul, Psyche, Brain: New Directions in the Study of Religion and Brain-Mind Science edited by Kelly Bulkeley (Palgrave) is a collection of essays that address the relationships between neuroscience, religion and human nature.
Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained (2001)
Ilkka Pyysiainen's How Religion Works (2001)
Thomas Lawson and Robert McCauley's Rethinking Religion (2002)
The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths, by Michael Shermer

Christian Hyprocisy
Politics and the Brain
A Trick of the Mind - Reason.com
Patternicity: Finding Meaningful Patterns in Meaningless Noise: Scientific American

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last updated 4 Dec 2007