Saturday, November 24, 2018

Did A Nervous System Override By John Allen Chau's "Religious Brain" Lead To The Wannabe Missionary's Demise? Probably!

John Allen Chau - wannabe Christian missionary - chose the wrong venue for his conversions

"Just now reading about John Allen Chau. I’m astonished at the audacity and stupidity that led to his death. He put an entire tribe at risk for HIS beliefs.. in an attempt to colonize these people! Selfish and sad." Twitter response from 'Divadoc' on John Chau's death.

John Allen Chau - The Wannabe Missionary - who ventured to a remote island to spread "the word of Jesus" , and likely ended up  dead. A martyr or a fool?  I will give you 3 guesses what I think, the first two don't count.

Chau evidently had a generous heart. But he was also tinged with a little more than ugly self-righteousness concerning his mission, leading to disrespect for his would-be targets. The Washington Post reported that Chau knew his journey to the island was forbidden but was hell-bent on getting to it, given what he described in his diary as “Satan’s last stronghold” .   That  absurd description alone leads us to believe he was touched in the head, i.e. by a brain dysfunction.  This is strengthened by the fact he was fully aware of how violently the tribe would  react to his unwanted visit and kept doing it anyway - like a doped up guy playing Russian roulette. We also know he made numerous attempts to reach the island, known as North Sentinel.  Far from being "Satan's last stronghold" in Chau's twisted parlance, it was more the last paradise on Earth for the tribe that lived there.

 Geographically and from other (e.g. cultural) perspectives it was also one of  "the most forbidden places on Earth"  according to one police official.  That is until last Wednesday, when the Indian government revealed that a young American had paddled to shore in a kayak and tribesmen killed him with bows and arrows.

In Chau's case he might have spared himself  and his family untoward grief (and his own loss of life) had he become more familiar with -  and had more respect for - the tribe he was determined to convert. To that end he might have availed himself of a book by Maurice Vidal Portman. In the late 19th century, this  British naval officer stepped onto the self -same remote, coral-fringed island, and later realized what a mistake he'd made:  barging into the idyllic realm (to them)  of a Neolithic tribe that merely wished to be left alone. Indeed, Portman wrote in his 1899 book.:

We cannot be said to have done anything more than increase their general terror of, and hostility to, all comers,”

Chau should have taken that advice instead of trying to be a latter day messiah.  This elicits the question of whether the religious centers of his brain dominated his thoughts and clearly misguided actions.  While the mainstream media (e.g. NY Times) has tried to portray this incident as "an episode that appeared to be a culture clash between an adventurous foreigner, trying to spread Christianity, and one of the most impenetrable communities in the world", I look at it more as a clash between a religiously- dominated brain and a people that just wanted to be left alone.

According to the fishermen who helped Chau, they motored for several hours from Port Blair to North Sentinel. Mr. Chau waited until the next morning, at daybreak, to try to get ashore. He put his kayak in the water less than half a mile out and paddled toward the island.

The fishermen said that tribesmen had shot arrows at him and that he had retreated. He apparently tried several more times to reach the island over the next two days, the police say, offering gifts such as a small soccer ball, fishing line and scissors. But on the morning of Nov. 17, the fishermen said they saw the islanders with his body.

A victim of "culture clash" or a religiously- dominated brain? I suspect the latter.

What do I mean by a religiously -dominated brain?   As I noted in my June 18 post it was in the book,  'Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief' wherein the authors (Andrew Newberg and Eugene D’Aquili) traced religious or spiritual compulsion and ideation directly to an area of the brain- the OAA or orientation association area. (See top graphic for its location)

The authors’ investigation of how the brain’s OAA translates an image into a religious reality is also described in detail[1].This is in connection with a person given an image of Christ and asked to focus on it. Within minutes, neurological measurements, i.e. from PET and SPECT scans[2], showed electrical discharges spiraling down from the right attention area (right OAA) to the limbic system and hypothalamus “triggering the arousal section of the structure”.

 The authors’ test results and measurements revealed the activation of both the left and right association regions as their subjects focused on the image of Christ. As assorted cortical thresholds were crossed, a maximal stimulation (given by spikes in the SPECT scans) produced a neural “flood” that generated feedback to the attention association area. The feedback basically strengthened the ideation in such a way as to render image focus a life or death compulsion.  In other words, the subject had lost all latitude for self-choice, or if you prefer, free will.

To make a long story short, the visual attention area of the OAA was seen to begin to deprive the right orientation area (responsible for balance)  of all neural input not originating with the contemplation of Jesus. In order to compensate, and thereby preserve the neuro-spatial matrix (in which the self could still exist) the right orientation area had to yield to the attention area focusing on “Jesus”.  As the authors describe the situation: [3]:

It has no choice but to create a spatial matrix out of nothing but the attention area’s single-minded contemplation of Jesus

Newberg and D’Aquili noted that as the process of re-cerebralization continued, all irrelevant neural inputs were stripped away until the only reality left was Jesus. That reality (actually a pseudo-reality confected by the right attention area) thereby took over the entire mind. Or, in the words of the authors, “it is perceived by the mind as the whole depth and breadth of reality.”   

This is a profound insight, and enables us to offer a solid hypothesis as to what led Chau to barge into North Sentinel island on a mission of certain death - believing firmly he alone had the "keys to the kingdom" to offer the heathen members of the Sentinelese tribe. (As evidenced in one of his recovered personal journal messages, i.e. "If I die WHO WILL TAKE MY PLACE?")

My hypothesis:  Chau's OAA region - for whatever physical reason(e.g. dopamine  or endorphin deprivation) -  went into overdrive, causing him to focus single-mindedly on the one mission:   to convert the tribe on North Sentinel to "Jesus" and Christianity.  Never mind the Sentinelese wanted no part of any alien religion or strangers encroaching on their small, isolated domain. Least of all some gung- ho, brain defect -driven, sanctimonious fool with no respect for civil laws.

Recall in the Newberg and D'Aquili experiment the crossing of assorted cortical thresholds led to a maximal stimulation and "neural flood" that ultimately strengthened the ideation to the extent of affecting the subjects' balance. In Chau's case, and depending on his level of nutrition, it may also have affected his respiration and certainly his cognition. 

The tragic end result is that Chau would have been convinced that the conversion of these people constituted the whole "breadth of his reality".  In other words, he'd be unable to live unless he acted on the OAA-stimulated ideation to "bring Jesus to these people".

The degree of his religious compulsion is evident on learning - as we have - that "over 2 days Chau went back and forth in a kayak".   This finally led to his being confronted by two older tribes folk and a child.  Even after giving them "gifts" - all he received in return was an arrow shot into his Bible, by the child no less - while "holding it up to his chest". (WSJ, Nov. 23, 'U.S. Missionary Allegedly Killed By Isolated Tribe', p. A7)  Next, the "islanders took his kayak and he swam back to his boat."

At this point, a guy with normal brain function and rational mind would have gotten the message that his devout ministrations were not wanted. Indeed, that he'd likely lose his life if he persisted in such irresponsible transgression.  And let us remind ourselves he was breaking the law by intruding, i.e.  "The tribe is protected by laws that bar visitors from docking within 5 nautical miles of shore."

Hence, on escaping and reaching the fisherman's boat a rational actor would have yelled 'Hasta la vista!' and left the place -grasping his intrusions were unwanted.

But this he did not do, instead returning again to meet his tragic fate. Why? Because his OAA dictated that - physically - he'd be unable to live any normal life if he didn't comply with the OAA-directed "order". 

Interestingly, this also fully explains why it is essentially impossible using reason alone to wean believers away from their objects of worship, misplaced sense of mission (i.e. "conversion")  or wacky beliefs.

For example, the Jehovah's Witness member, Ruth Ortiz, quoted in a WSJ piece (WSJ. Nov. 23, p. A4) on non-voter demographics.  When asked why she refuses to vote, this nursing assistant actually told interviewers from the Univ. of Chicago,

"I don't follow campaigns. I don't keep up with all that. I  pray for a heavenly government to take over this world."

In other words, she's  as cracked as Chau.  But if we are generous, we can say her OAA region dictated her brain cracking to enable her to give such a response. 

What has happened in the case of Chau and Ortiz, in other words, is that each subject’s whole existence and identity became bound up with the focus of his/her  brain’s OAA. Or more specifically – the right attention area’s focus which channels nearly all neural inputs to that region. It was almost as if a hidden brain dictator (the OAA)  had ordered  Chau to convert the Sentinelese to Jesus (or rather Chau's OAA-influenced idea of what Jesus wanted), and mandated Ortiz to pass on earthly voting to wait for the heavenly variety.

More to the point here is that each person's brain had been singly directed to craft its own version of rationality to support its ideations.  Hence, we simply cannot trust the "rational" expressions of believers. Their brains are likely hijacked in the service of the OAA.  In other words, anyone trying to convince Chau of the futility of his mission, or Ortiz of the imbecility of awaiting heavenly governance - would be sorely frustrated. They'd have better luck trying to convince a stone wall to budge.   

Dr. Patricia Bannister, a psychotherapist in Barbados in the 1970s, saw many similar individuals pass through the Jenkins Mental Hospital. Most of these forlorn folks she helped by administering a combination of largactyl and electro-convulsive therapy. Perhaps if Chau had received such treatment in time he'd still be alive today.

But who knows?  As some of Bannister's patients put it at the time: "I don't want any of Satan's treatments!"   Given his diary write-ups, John Allen Chau likely would have believed the same, driven by a twisted reasoning emanating from his OAA.


[1]Newberg and D’Aquili., pp.  121-22.
[2] PET = positron emission tomography, SPECT = single photon image tomography.
[3] Ibid.

See also:
22 hours ago - John Allen Chau, the American adventurer and Christian missionary killed in North Sentinel Island. 

Excerpt: "Go easy on the romance of Chau, and his messy, martyred end.. He broke Indian law by entering the country on a tourist visa while pursuing an evangelical mission. Chau's application would have been refused if it so much as mentioned the words 'North Sentinel Island."

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