Sunday, July 18, 2010

Disinfecting the Brain of its Atavistic Tendencies

In a few earlier blogs I noted the work of neuroscientist Michael Persinger, author of The Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs. I noted that Persinger's work was spurred to inception and completion by his notice of the regressive and atavistic component in many religions - especially the more fundamentalist. Seemingly rational people seeing "Jesus on a cloud" or beholding a Saint or the Blessed Virgin in front of them or propitiating a runamuck Old Testament Deity that really merits more comparison to a Stalin than a god.

Why or how did these beliefs come about, and why are they held so strongly to represent reality by millions?

First, some background. In his astonishing aforementioned work, Persinger showed that religious visions, and even beliefs, consistently arose from temporal lobe micro-seizures in the brain. Hence, all religious claims could plausibly be predicated on temporal lobe abnormalities.

Most astounding, he discovered that all manner of ritualistic religio-mystical displays – from babbling in “tongues”, to meditating, to kneeling on a church pew, to Holy Roller dancing, to praying, altered the temporal lobes in ways that made these micro-seizures (what he called “temporal lobe transients”) more likely to occur. Thus, such religious tendencies and acting out correlated with instability in the temporal lobes – which worsened each time the behaviors, beliefs were repeated.

Consider prayer, for example. For millennia the religious have been brainwashed into thinking their prayers alter some outside physical circumstance or personal condition. Persinger’s work discloses this is pure delusion and a byproduct of temporal lobe instability.

In fact, prayer boils down to an incomprehensible, personalized semi-rhythmic patter that triggers mild micro-seizures in such a way as to quiet the existential anxieties of a particular brain. It's nearly universal because the brain vulnerability that necessitates it is nearly universal. (Associated with the existential dread that inevitably accompanies being orphans in a meaningless cosmos.)It works - not on any ontological level - but at the subjective level for the person who invokes it. Much like transcendental meditation works for many others. (Saying or singing 'OM' over and over triggers alpha rhythms in the brain.) Prayer is for the prayee therefore. It doesn't alter reality one iota. Where possible insanity enters, is when people - despite all evidence to the contrary - believe it does!

Re: the so-called 'prayer experiments’ performed the last few years in U.S. hospitals, it's interesting that NONE of them have had adequate controls, or control populations- so in the context of accepted scientific procedures, they're essentially useless and worthless. In addition, the statistical samples were far too small to even warrant being subjected to the simplest statistical tests.

True, Persinger placed TLT experiences along a hypothetical continuum. Extreme symptoms would include circumstantiality, a sense of the personal (e.g. egocentric references, divine guidance), perseveration, hypergraphia (writing repeated accounts of one's claimed god encounters or insights or believing oneself to be some kind of divinely guided guru), altered affect, and most importantly an overwhelming sense of religiosity.

In a way this is very analogous to the approach (in physical models) to solar flare triggers. They are placed in a continuum that ranges from “mild” disturbance effects like a low grade atmsopheric ionospheric disturbances, say from coronal mass ejection or an erupting prominence, to a full blown shortwave or major communications outage arising from a type X-9 solar flare. But whatever the place on the spectrum, the trigger ultimately gives rise to all of the above. And so it may be with TLTs as well, and to suppose or hypothesize such is, imho, not to abuse Persinger’s work.

In his interview of Persinger several years ago, Jack Hitt observed:

In his interview with Persinger, Jack Hitt notes:

“Persinger is not the first to theorize that the Creator exists only in the complex landscape of the human noggin. In his controversial 1976 book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes, a Princeton psychologist, argued that the brain activity of ancient people - those living roughly 3,500 years ago, prior to early evidence of consciousness such as logic, reason, and ethics - would have resembled that of modern schizophrenics.

Persinger – in various interviews (e.g. Jack Hitt, ‘This is Your Brain on God’) - has argued that other environmental disturbances - ranging from solar flares and meteor showers to oil drilling - possibly correlate with visionary claims, including mass religious conversions, ghost lights, and haunted houses.

According to Hitt:

who among all the churchgoers .......will let some distant egghead with a souped-up motorcycle helmet spoil their fun? It goes without saying that the human capacity to rationalize around Persinger's theory is far greater than all the replicated studies science could produce”

Persinger himself – in his autobiographical sketch- makes the purpose of his research abundantly clear:

As a human being, I am concerned about the illusionary explanations for human consciousness and the future of human existence. Consequently after writing The Neuropsychological Base of God Beliefs (1987), I began the systematic application of complex electromagnetic fields to discern the patterns that will induce experiences (sensed presence) that are attributed to the myriad of ego-alien intrusions which range from gods to aliens.

The research is not to demean anyone's religious/mystical experience but instead to determine which portions of the brain or its electromagnetic patterns generate the experience. Two thousand years of philosophy have taught us that attempting to prove or disprove realities may never have discrete verbal (linguistic) solutions because of the limitation of this measurement. The research has been encouraged by the historical fact that most wars and group degradations are coupled implicitly to god beliefs and to the presumption that those who do not believe the same as the experient are somehow less human and hence expendable. Although these egocentric propensities may have had adaptive significance, their utility for the species' future may be questionable."

In a 1987 paper, (p. 137), Persinger boldly states that:

"The God Experience is an artifact of transient changes in the temporal lobe”

He further asserts (Persinger, 1987, 1983) that the God Experience promotes passivity, and because of the random emotional associations will lead to unreasoned decisions. He gives an example of a horrible scenario in which a pivotal world leader undergoing one of these religious TLT states would irrationally decide to trigger a nuclear disaster.

But I warrant there are more nefarious aspects that Persinger hasn't fully touched on (well, he did have to cut his work short because of death threats). In some neural network research I've completed (with collaboration and discussion inputs from John Phillips) it appears that other regions of the brain are also "infected" with imaginal detritus that have no genuine useful role for the more advanced human. These centers of atavism are not located in the temporal lobes that Persinger tested, but in the fear-center known as the amygdala. (See sketch of the brain wherein the apposite regions of the amygdala are roughly identified with images of the holocaust and "Hell").

The question then arises: If a feasible neural network mapping can be applied, say to select input-output processing of hate and intolerance (as transmitted electro-chemical signals) in the brain's amygdala, is it not also possible to "disinfect" this tendency by altering the neural pathways and responses? Could the electro-chemical transfers effectively be cut off? Consider the most elemental input and output situation given by:
O o----------(e1)------(e2)------O (Z)
where e1 and e2 are two components by which an input at O yields a current (throughput)transferred to Z with information. The structure function of this would be: f(x1, x2) = x1*x2. But now suppose the component (e2) is negated or co-opted with another device. Then e2 = 0 and f(x1,x2) = 0. In other words the normal output one would expect is nullified.

In the next instalment, I will examine a few common neural network mappings and ascertain how - if at all- their processing throughput can be altered, in order to disinfect the brain of this marginal detritus. (Which, while it holds some minor use for a particular brain, is of no benefit to humanity at large - which can no longer afford internecine religious hatreds and warfare to dominate geopolitics).

What I will do is show several neural mapping forms, then how a quantum dot processing module placed in the network can alter the output to a more desirable format. This is done not to overtake Persinger's great work, which really stands on its own merits, but rather to supplement it.

We know the mostly positive imaginary processing resides in the temporal lobes, such as belief in Jesus as divine, as well as in prayer, and seeing the Blessed Virgin on a cloud in a vision, but up to now not enough has been done to address the negative imaginal dynamics which are also coupled to astounding levels of intolerance to others, especially other religions and nonbelievers.

If we can then disinfect the brain of these tendencies, we can move forward to a truly more progressive planet and human society!

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