Last update: Sun, 2017-Jul-23, 00:29 GMT


RELIGION:What it Was For;
What Went Wrong; How to Fix It

© 2006–2017 Benjamin F. Becula

Book 1: Its Preludes

⊲   Chapter A01   ⊳
The Brain

▼   THE BRAIN   ▽   ▽

Today's humans approach their social and physical environment with a stone-age brain. — Detlef Fetchenhauer (2009)‘Evolutionary Perspectives on Religion – What They Can and What They Cannot Explain (Yet)’ Ch. 19 in E Voland, W Schiefenhoevel (eds.) The Biological Evolution of Religious Mind and Behavior (Springer, Berlin): 279–291.

While the epigraph explains many anomalies of human behavior, there is no reason why it should be universally true. The brain's hardware has been modified by some of the hundreds of actively evolving genes of the last myrrienium, and the changes have not reached either fixation (dominance of a single allele) or equilibrium (where a pair of alleles offers a survival advantage). There is good evidence that the software has evolved also — and again, in different ways in different environments. We should be prepared to consider that some of the differences that we find in world views stem from real differences in the way brains work.


Some of us, like the traditional prophets, still hear the words of god. The only known instrument that can do this is the human brain. Looking for the mechanism responsible for this remarkable process, Emanuel Swedenborg, the polymath mystic and anatomist whose work gave rise to an unintended religious sect, made a comprehensive but unsuccessful search for the anatomical seat of the soul — the putative recipient of the divine signal. Ongoing research into the structure and function of the brain has suggested some possibilities — but as Fig. 1.1 suggests, the four transmission steps —

  1. the original reception,
  2. the filtering by the prophet,
  3. the comprehension of his disciples, and
  4. the eventual reduction to scripture
A-Images/1.1_ChainOfCommandC.jpg. The signal-to-noise ratio of revelation decreases at each stage of transmission: from Coyotl to prophet there is  whatever noise is characteristic of the signal path (whatever it is). The prophet adds noise both when he interprets the signal, and when he transmits the signal to disciples The production of scripture adds yet more noise.
◀   Fig. 1.1   ▶ Chain of Transmission. In the real world, all signal transmission is accompanied by noise, and written Scripture is 4 steps removed from Coyotl. Each step raises a different suite of unresolved questions and needs critical analysis. The all-important link is what goes on in the mind of the proximate source, so here we look briefly at this intermediate transducer.

are all subject to noise, and none is understood in sufficient detail to justify the superhuman importance we attach to the end product. (Ordinarily, all signals are accompanied by noise, but if noise does not affect your religion, think how it has corrupted the other religions! The Scriptures of Krishna, Moses, Paul, and Muhamad — whose followers have been known to wage wars of annihilation against eachother — cannot all report the divine message correctly, or they wouldn't fight.) Everything we have to work with is hearsay, even if we hear it ourselves. Faith — which we too often substitute for critical analysis — is a poor substitute for the long-lost community certainty, independent of intermediates such as priests and scripture, that characterized religion when it worked.

△   △   BRAIN ANATOMY   ▽   ▽

△   3 Layers of the Brain   ▽

Our inidividual preference for Coyotl's words or works may not be voluntary, but a reflection of the triune structure PD MacLean (1952) ‘Some psychiatric implications of physiological studies on frontotemporal portion of limbic system (visceral brain)’ Electroencephalogr Clin. Neurophysiol 4: 407-418. of our brains. At the core is the old reptilian brain stem. This is surmounted by the mammalian midbrain, or limbos, Usually called the the ‘limbic system’, it is more of an omnium gatherum than a system and in any case, limbos is neater. Soft s, as in ‘glucose’, not ‘-oze’ as in the plural of limbo — whether dances or homes for unbaptized souls — which should be pluralized as for the Solanaceae: ‘limboes’. and that in turn by the neocortex, most highly developed in primates. Each layer has a different structure, and retains a certain autonomy. Panic is the reptilian brain taking control, as when a parachutist claws through jacket and muscle and bares his left ribs, hunting for the D-ring release on his right side. Falling in love is a task for the limbos, not necessarily with more success than the parachutist. Philosophy happens in the prefrontal lobe of the neocortex — with the same chance of success.

Figure 1.2 sketches the 3-layered brain, in a cartoon of the most complicated object JMJ Murre, DPF Sturdy (1995) The connectivity of the brain: multi-level quantitative analysis. Biol Cybernet 73: 529–545. in the known universe.

A-Images/1.2_Layers.jpg. The ‘layering’ of the brain is truly evident only in the surface of the cortex. The reptilian brain is mostly an expansion of the brainstem. THe mammalian brain sits on top of that,surroundee by the highly folded cortex.
◀   Fig. 1.2     ▶ Sagittal section sketching the 3 layers. Left cortical hemisphere removed; left limbic structures in place. The reptilian brain is sliced at the centerline. Cortex: TL, interior surface of right temporal lobe; FL medial surface of frontal lobe; PL, medial surface of parietal lobe; OL, medial surface of occipital lobe. Limbos: CG, cingulate gyrus or limbic cortex; A, amygdala; H, hippocampus, T thalamus. Reptilian components: C, cerebellum, P, pons, M, medulla. Connectors: CC, corpus callosum; AC, anterior commissure.

△   Reptilian Brain   ▽

The reptilian brain is concerned with preservation and homeostasis of essential systems — circulatory, pulmonary, digestive, ionic, thermal, &c. It keeps us alive during a vegetative coma, handles aggression and repetitive behavior, and runs involuntary responses. It is inflexible, paranoid, obsessive, compulsive, ritualistic, prejudiced, and cannot learn from mistakes. Its rituals were the original way that individuals interacted, as in the stereotyped courtship behavior of birds. It knows only binary options: dominant/submissive, potential mate/rival, dinner/diner. It has 4 radio-button switches for the ‘4 Fs’: feeding, fighting, fleeing, and fornication. It cares not a whit for Coyotl, and would be irrelevant to religion except that it very much likes ritual. The cerebellum seems to store kinetic memory, such as bicycle balancing and the fingering of a piano concerto. The limbos is adequate for cat society, and might run a minimalist and unpleasant human culture, for there are people who still seem to see the world in reptilian terms.

△   Mammalian Brain   ▽

[T]he hope that additional methods would afford converging evidence of a unique limbic system has so far remained elusive. — R. Kötter (2003)‘Limbic system’ in MJ Aminoff & RB Daroff (eds.) Encyclopedia of the Neurological Sciences 796–799. (Academic Press, Salt Lake City).

The mammalian limbos is a jumble of specialized structures named for appearance rather than function, since functions are still poorly understood. This is seen in Fig. 1.3, where various ill-defined ‘nuclei’ are indicated by abbreviations. The unlabelled light areas on the right are ‘white matter’, nerves interconnecting the data-processing grey-matter cortex.

A-Images/1.3_LimbicNuclei.jpg. A thin section of the limbos, viewed through a microscope, showing little intelligible detail but many areas identified by  undescribed initials.
◀   Fig. 1.3     ▶ Limbic Nuclei. The posterior limbos of a macaque with specialized areas – 'nuclei’ – labelled with obscure neuroanatomical initials. (CC is the tail end of the corpus callosum of Fig. 1.2.) SII, in the upper right, is an infolding of the grey matter of the cortex.

The limbos is preverbal and communicates with signals. Those sent to the body travel by hormones and autonomic nerves. Those sent to people include body language, facial expression, inarticulate sounds, and pheromones. Cats and seals have signalaries of about 200 signals, lacking syntax and grammar, conveying emotions, simple commands, and survival information.

Limbic truth is sometimes instinctive, as in retaliation to pain. Sometimes it is learned by observing parents, as in the formation of prejudices. And sometimes it is simply mysterious, as in our choice of mates. A clue to choice of mates is the little studied genetic sexual attraction which results when family members separated early meet later in life. The attraction may be intergenerational, and occurs even if the relationship is intellectually understood. The instinctive incest ban between near relatives is formed by growing up together before age 6. Limbic truth is biochemical, and as unconcerned with logic as a cat. What it is not is a careful analyzer of facts. The adjective ‘happy-clappy’, describing evangelical Christians, depicts a limbic response.

The limbos matters to us because it is the seat of Instinct-1, the alpha-male dominance of social animals. It seeks pleasure, avoids pain, and nuances the reptilian responses to produce haute cuisine, feuds and friendship, suspicion, mother love, pair bonding, infatuation, and romance. Its endocrine signals affect the body physiologically. Adrenaline is the master signal for explosive action, whether fighting or fleeing. Less surely identified biochemicals persuade us we are in love: D Tennov (1999) Love and Limerence: the Experience of Being in Love (Scarborough House, NYC). Neural growth factor is important for the formation of new synapses; PEA (phenylethylamine) seems responsible for a lot of the effect; oxytocin (the biochemical of trust) and dopamine figure importantly but transiently (3 years is a long time). This mix plays much the same role in attachments between dogs, in bonding between dogs and humans JS Odendaal, RA Meintjes (2003) ‘Neurophysiological correlates of affiliative behaviour between humans and dogs’ Vet. J. 165(#3): 180-181. — and probably in some religious experiences, although this seems not to have been studied.

We are just as irrational in our choice of group myth as we are in matters of romance. Bruce Hood B Hood (2009) SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable (HarperOne, NYC). has shown the importance of the limbos in the formation of our fundamental mindset, because our initial babyhood interpretation of the world is limbic while the cortex is forming. Consequently, our ‘instinctive’ limbic ideas form a persistent background to our adult thinking, usually at variance with later cortical information.

Our susceptibility to superstitions, the persistent appeal of the supernatural, and the ‘something more’ than obvious reality that William James described as the background to religion, all stem from the limbic thinking of our 2-year-old selves, and offer an indication of what it might be like to be a cat.

△   Emotional Refinement   ▽

Short-term limbic messengers persist until they are cleared from the bloodstream. The tears of grief WH Frey (with M Langseth 1985) Crying: The Mystery of Tears (Winston Press, Minneapolis): 147. apparently remove the stress hormones of grief. Grief is a derived emotion, as the limbos grew subtle with time. Once, orgasm ensured propagation of the species. But brain complexity takes time to develop and young mammals require long parental care. Natural selection taught the limbos mother love. Two parents increase the chance of survival. The limbos learned pair bonding. Grief is a by-product of these needs — as are long-term memory and pattern recognition. The first thing a newborn seal pup and mother do is bark at eachother. All seals sound alike to us, but after this imprinting ritual, mother and pup can identify eachothers' voices in a din that can be heard miles offshore of the nursery.

Being attuned to one's limbos is highly regarded, but it does not confer bragging rights. Anything our limbos can do, an elephant's can do better. The limbos learns by example and experience, but only with great difficulty by deliberate intention. It is much harder to unlearn something limbic than to learn it: the old saw has it that it takes a minute to meet some one special, an hour to appreciate her qualities, a day to fall in love — and a lifetime to forget. I cannot vouch for ‘lifetime’: ~60 years and counting.

Buddhism does not recognize ‘emotions’ as a class P Ekman &3a (2005) ‘Buddhist and Psychological Perspectives on Emotions and Well-Being’ Current Directions in Psychological Science 14(#2): 59–63. in the Western manner, but distinguishes between attitudes that help achieve enlightenment and those that do not. ‘Tommyrot!’, says my Buddhist adviser, who threatens to produce a list of 84,000 emotions — all negative — derived from the 3 root kleshas of ignorance, attachment, and aversion. The problem is one of definition. ‘Emotion’ covers ‘all [i.e., both positive and negative] natural instinctive states of mind deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others’, but there seems to be no single word in Pali, Sanskrit, or Tibetan that includes both positive and negative feelings. ‘Instinctive’ is the key word when starting from the limbos. Since both are limbic concerns, much Buddhist teaching is aimed at the limbos, with an emphasis on compassion, an emotion/helpful-attitude in generally short supply. Recognizing that women are more likely to be compassionate than men, the Dalai Lama has pointed out that his successor might well be a woman. ‘If a female Dalai Lama is needed, one will automatically appear.’ Because the limbos is preverbal, communicating with it requires allegorical symbolism. Nevertheless, personal experience suggests that there are mental disciplines which can, in an hour or two of sufficient stress, induce limbic effects that, however desperately desired at the time, are ultimately undesirable and apparently irreversible. (There seems to be no way to induce desirable effects so easily.) Anyone serious about rewiring an emotional response might do well to find a Buddhist advisor.

△   Human Brain   ▽

The still dominant model of archaeology … states essentially that all significant cognitive, cultural and intellectual evolution occurred in the last half of the Late Pleistocene, i.e. in the last <1% of the duration of human evolution. This is incompatible with the record, which shows that there was a continuous enlargement of the brain throughout hominin evolution, accelerating in the last two million years of this process to the point of yielding a grotesquely outsized organ. No explanation of the past that [fails to take] this into adequate consideration can be considered biologically viable or plausible. — Robert Bednarik (2006)Semiotix Course ‘Cognition and symbolism in human evolution’. Click the blue ⬆︎ for URL. .

The essentially human part of the brain is the prefrontal lobe of the neocortex (forward of the motor/sensory area). A true novelty in nature, its major growth (Fig. 1.3) corresponds with the appearance of modern man. The correlation between brain size and intelligence is 0.50 in both rats and humans, and 0.30 is sufficient to account for the increase in size if intelligence is positively selected. L van Valen (1974) ‘Brain size and intelligence in man’ Am J Phys Anthrop 40: 417-424.
The changing environment of the Pleistocene selected for intelligence; human interactions in the Anthropocene all too often deselect the intelligent (the Shoah, Pol Pot, Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom, the US government's response to whistle-blowers, …). On these grounds, perhaps we should welcome climate destabilization?
H. erectus made identical hand axes for 1.6 million years; H. sapiens has built ever more complex tools. Some 200 young genes YE Zhang &3a (2011) ‘Accelerated Recruitment of New Brain Development Genes into the Human Genome’ PLoS Biology 9(#10) e1001179, 14 pp. are involved in the development of the fetal human brain, suggesting that it is the current locus of human evolution. Despite Bednarik's epigraphic focus on continuity of development, intelligence itself is not necessarily a linear function of complexity. Just as with technology, interactions may result in exponential change.

The prefrontal lobe is the seat of ‘higher functions’: analytical thinking, abstract thought, judgement, social and ethical behavior, mathematical skills, problem solving, intuition, and forethought — the last being such a recent skill that we still remember.Prometheus The development of Prometheus (from thief in Proto-Indo-European myth to trouble-maker in Hesiod to creator of humans in Plato) deserves more attention than I have so far found. ‘Pro-metheus = forethought’ is folk etymology from Roman times.
BW Fortson (2004) Indo-European language and culture (Blackwell, Malden MA): 27.
Much criminal behavior E Goldberg (2001) The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind (Oxford University Press, NYC). is related to deficiencies in frontal lobe performance. The wiring of the frontal lobe is not completed for 30 years. Jack Weinberg's (1964) ‘Don't trust anyone over 30’ is another recognition of this feature. Recognizing the consequences of this, if not the process, ancient Egypt, Judaism, and Rome under Lex Pappia set the age of adulthood at 30 years. Teenagers with limbos in full hormonal cry like to think of themselves as ‘young adults’, but they have another 15 years to go before the appellation is realistic.

A-Images/1.4_BrainVol.jpg. A graph of the a=last 3.5 million years. Australopithicines grow from 400 to 500 cc in the first 2 million years. Hominids grow from 700 to 1500 cc in the next 1.5 million years.
◀   Fig. 1.4     ▶ Brain Volume. If genus Homo has specialized in anything, it is brain volume, which doubled between Australopithecus and Homo, and rose steeply with H. sapiens. Only during the thin blue strip at the right have we had more than Instinct-1 of the alpha male going for us. As the average volume approaches 1500 cc, the possibility of Instinct-2 increases. Ultimately, we come to the possibility of religion and its ability to leave behind the animal kingdom. {Various sources}.

This late completion seems to be demanded by reproduction, which has a higher evolutionary priority than clear thinking. We seldom fall in love when we approach mate selection analytically; it helps if we are blind to possible deficiencies in potential mates. It appears that by the time we are 30, we have, statistically, raised enough children to relax the reproductive necessity, and can devote our later years to other priorities. If this leads to dissolution of the family, the children may suffer psychological damage, but as long as they reproduce in turn, evolution does not care about their problems. Long before the brain-rewiring sweep was discovered, this chain of events led psychologist Robert Rimmer RH Rimmer (1965) The Harrad Experiment: Special 25th Anniversary Edition (Prometheus Books, Buffalo NY, 1990). to suggest 1st marriage at 15 to a 30-year old, 2nd marriage at 30 to a 15-year old, and 3rd marriage at 45+ to another 45+.

Despite the manifold abilities of the frontal lobe, Egas Moniz was 1949 Nobel laureate (Medicine) for prefrontal lobotomy. As simplified by Walter Freeman, one slid an icepick upward along the nasal side of the eyeball and swung the pick right and left, treating 150 patients a day for criminal tendencies, homosexuality, and childhood misbehavior. One demonstrable effect was to increase the job satisfaction of burocrats The paper clip is a Norwegian invention, suggesting that they understand ‘bureaucracy’ better than anyone else. We celebrate this by using their spelling, rather than the French. — a tragic comment on a common modern job. Drugs like Prozac have replaced the icepick, possibly more reversibly.

The direction of influence between layers of the brain is primarily outward. To curtail bacteria, the reptilian brain can induce a fever in minutes, but it takes years for a yogi to learn to alter his body temperature by sending cortical signals inward. Similarly, it is difficult to influence the limbos with rational arguments. (Try persuading your teen-age daughter that her boy friend is unsuitable, or a creationist that evolution is a biological fact.) In the other direction, it is easy to distract cortical logic with irrelevant limbic input. Show a man a sexy woman and his ability to make rational decisions decreases. B van de Bergh, S Dewitte (2006) ‘Digit ratio (2D:4D) moderates the impact of sexual cues on men's decisions in ultimatum games’ Proc Biol Sci 273(#1597): 2091–2095. Yet because limbic responses kept our ancestors alive, we trust them below the level of conscious thought. Mother love supersedes rational decisions in moments of crisis. Addictive ‘recreational’ drugs act on the limbos. Politicians and cats devote their attention to the unconscious decisions of our limbos. An unqualified presidential candidate avoids cortical debates — while spending millions to persuade you you'd like to have a beer with him.

An unresolved question is the extent to which the cortical/limbic balance is set by genetics and by experience. How much does mental laziness contribute to Research limbic dominance? Does collegiate acceptance of a ‘gentleman's C’ discourage adult refinement of the frontal lobe?


△   Lead in Meteorites and People   ▽

Infancy is an experimental research program, a rational process directed and propelled by the child and aimed at understanding the world. Science is a kind of institutionalized childhood that continues the process, using abilities that evolved to be used by babies. — paraphrase of The Scientist in the Crib A Gopnik, A Meltzoff, P Kuhl (1999) The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains and How Children Learn (Morrow, NYC).

Young Earth Creationists (YECs) provide a clear example of how limbic thinking gets us into trouble, while cortical thinking shows us a way out. About 1940, Clair ‘Pat’ Patterson set out to look at lead isotopes, which form one of Coyotl's geoclocks. It took Pat 15 years to create a laboratory and a procedure sufficiently free of contamination to read the clock. (One did not enter his Cal Tech lab carrying lead-rich Pyrex testtubes!) When he was done, he said that the minerals in 5 meteorites had crystallized 4.55 ± 0.07 billion years ago, thus providing the standard age C Patterson (1956) ‘Age of Meteorites and the Earth’ Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 10: 230–237. of our solar system. He added that leaded gasoline had so polluted the earth's surface that we all carried 10 times the lead burden that we were adapted to. Since trace amounts of lead adversely affect brain development, he asked the logical question: ‘How do we know that we aren't all 10% stupider than we were before we invented tetraethyl lead?’. The answer, 50 years later, is Fig. 1.5, where the circled point — compatible with the peaks of Fig. 1.6 — will indeed make us 10% stupider.

A-Images/1.5_IQvsLead.jpg. IQ loss rises from 10 points at 20µg lead per deciliter to 25 points at 80 µg.dl.
◀   Fig. 1.5     ▶ IQ loss vs Lead in Blood. Those who lived in new homes far from traffic had low lead exposure; those who lived in old housing painted with white lead, in high traffic areas, had high lead exposure. Patterson's question was the right one to ask. {Graph This graph is an early version, and a little too good for real data. One expects experimental points to lie near a theoretical line, rather than on it. These data are apparently averaged from a number of samples (and the points should have error bars). In any case, a full range of updated primary data is now viewable on the web. after R Nevin R Nevin (2012) Lucifer Curves .}

The end result of Patterson's work has been the belated removal of a lot of lead from our environment — and in Germany, no more lead-amalgam fillings in childrens' teeth. I thank Michael Glück for this information (fillings in US teeth were silver amalgams, with the profound hope that poisonous mercury would not escape from the amalgam).

A-Images/1.6_BloodLeadvsMurder.jpg. A pair of offset overlapping bimodal curves showing peaks for lead in paint and gasoline, followed 27 yers later by peaks for murder.
◀   Fig. 1.6     ▶ Correlation between childhood lead and violent crime 21 years later. The correlation holds R Nevin (2007) ‘Understanding international crime trends: The legacy of preschool lead exposure’ Environmental Research 104: 315–336. between countries and within cities. Patterson's question was the right one to ask. The aristocratic Roman penchant for lead-acetate-sweetened wine has been blamed for the mad emperors and downfall of the Empire. {Graph This is what real data look like. Notional error bars can be estimated from interannual variability. after R Nevin.}

Had Dr Patterson listened to the garbled story that some read into Coyotl's prophets, none of these good things would have happened. US administrations that believe YECs rather than the actual record want to undo these good things in aid of corporate profits — despite legal opinion that ‘Taking a hard line against airborne lead has generated billions in enhanced gross domestic product and achieved a very satisfying measure of social justice’. 42 USC 109(b)(1)(2000) Which story one believes is thus important to the mental development of our children.

There are, perhaps, 2 morals to this story. The first is that Coyotl's words are easy to understand if you don't ask for details: ‘Ah, magic!’. Reading the story Coyotl recorded in the natural world is difficult and subtle, requiring study, perception, and probably an IQ above 130. The second is that we are now so numerous that it is easy for us to alter the global environment without noticing.

If you elect to read Coyotl's record, you should start preparing about the time you learn to read books. It generally takes 20 dedicated years before you can make a contribution. In compensation, there is no occupation more rewarding, more exciting, more attuned to the universe, more fun, or more likely to leave a better world for your children and our fellow passengers on Spaceship Earth. Be warned, though, for as Bruce Sterling put it in Distraction,

There isn't enough money in the world to pay merely normal people to work as hard as scientists work. Without the vitalizing element of cranky idealism from a demographic fringe group, the scientific enterprise would have collapsed centuries ago.


The tricky thing about the notion of g is that it pretends to be a biological quality that is measurable and heritable, while it is actually strongly determined by cultural priorities. It is — to simplify it somewhat — the most dangerous of all things: a meme masquerading as a gene. — Siddhartha Mukherjee (2016) The Gene: An Intimate History (Scribner, NYC): 110

△   g, the general intelligence factor   ▽

[No] decent, civilized, right-thinking person could possibly believe that racial differences in IQ have any genetic basis. — Steve Sailer, setting up a straw man.

[M]ight it be fair also to say that the champions of ‘no difference’ in race or sex, or intelligence … are the guardians of a greater ‘untruth’ that allows people to live together in mutual harmony, implying that these critics really deserve to be praised as our protectors even when they are factually wrong? […This] is roughly how the self-appointed guardians choose to present themselves — leaving aside, usually, the step of frankly admitting that they are promoting factual untruths when they know that they are. — W.D. Hamilton (2001)Narrow Roads of Gene Land. Vol. II: The Evolution of Sex (Oxford U Press): 332.

A single, Gaussian-distributed variable [g] uniquely determines the dense rank order of performance on large-scale standardized exams. The variable completely accounts for group differences in test performance. — ‘Prodigy’La Griffe du Lion (2007) ‘Intelligence, Gender, and Race’ 7(#1). Click for performance-based ‘diversity-space’ graphs, particularly Fig. 1.4. Accessed 2015-06-06. .

Early readers explained that Sailer's epigraph is the only possible interpretation; that IQ tests are biased ‘in favor of affluent people of European descent’ and anyone who thinks otherwise is one step above a slave-owning Nazi eugenicist, and in any case, all the smarter races have done is poison the planet, exploit the natives, kill the bees, and melt the ice caps. Brain-science agrees that it would be less politically awkward if the tests were biased, but IQ continues to correlate with other estimates of intelligence, so perhaps this is something that we will have to learn to live with. (The bees and ice caps we can blame on Instinct-1 rather than IQ, for self-centered greed is found in all peoples at all economic and intelligence levels, and we have been remiss in removing it from the gene pool.)

The ‘g’ of the section title is composite, with a partial structure shown in Table 1.1. Aspects of g that cannot be measured without serious instrumentation are nerve conduction speed, and glucose utilization. High-IQ brains are measurably faster, and more efficient A Jensen (1998) The g Factor (Praeger, Westport CT) ch. 8. than low-IQ brains.

◀   Table 1.1   ▶ In the Catell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) theory of cognitive abilities, g includes 10 ‘broad abilities’, including Reading & Writing (Grw), Auditory Processing (Ga), Processing Speed (Gs), and Decision/Reaction Time/Speed (Gt), not shown here, with some 70 ‘narrow abilities’, of which an illustrative set is shown. This table is taken from the description of an 18-member proprietary test suite, KABC-II — the Kaufman Assessment Battery, 2nd edition — and is indicative of the ongoing effort to create culture-free tests.
storage &
Induction Lexical
Free recall
Visualization Quantitative
about culture

I am about to say that the average IQ of H. sapiens matters greatly. However, there are caveats. Some seem to believe that individual differences of 0.01 IQ point are significant, as in Fig. 1.7, and represent a permanent property of an individual's brain. Yet the very existence of g, the ‘Gaussian-distributed generalized intelligence’ that IQ purports to measure, is still debated, Stephen J. Gould was sure it didn't exist, excoriating Herrnstein and Murray for claiming otherwise.
• SJ Gould (1994) ‘Curveball’ The New Yorker 1994-11-28.
• RJ Herrnstein, C Murray (1994) The Bell Curve (Free Press, NYC).
so trying to measure it to 1 part in 10,000 is overkill.

A-Images/1.7_IQOverkill.jpg. Dogmatic, Liberal, Agnostic, and Atheist groups are separated by 2-IQ-point steps.
◀   Fig. 1.7     ▶ IQ Overkill. IQ differential among adherents of religious-denomination classes. With a different sample, or different definitions, the numbers would change. Rounding to ΔIQ = 2 in each case might be significant — a remarkable and relevant effect of a very small cause. {Data from H Nyborg. H Nyborg (2008) ‘The intelligence-religiosity nexus: A representative study of white adolescent Americans’ Intelligence 37(#1): 81–93. }

The place where differences matter is in the tail at the high end. Here, a small increment in mean IQ makes a large difference in relative numbers. (The details are explored by du Lion's ‘method of thresholds’ La Griffe Du Lion (2000) ‘Aggressiveness, Criminality And Sex Drive By Race, Gender And Ethnicity’ 2(#11). Click for ‘threshold -analysis’ plots. Accessed 2015-06-06. , which is required reading for anyone concerned with race and gender differences.) Nevertheless, in individual cases, small differences are irrelevant. Some quick examples:

1) A college housemate and I had an IQ difference of 56 points. High-school advisers had tried to shunt him into vocational school, where he might learn a trade. He didn't shunt — and he and I fought for the top spot in chemistry for 2 years, without deciding the issue. My chum was a late bloomer (in other words, IQ is not immutable). He joked that he learned slowly but never forgot anything — and dated only women named Pat. (He had a perfectly fine Pat in attendance when I knew him, so his system worked — whatever it was in reality.) Ten years later he was publishing on enzymatic signal transduction across biomembranes, so his system worked there too, and his CV (concentrated on an important problem) is more impressive than mine (scatttered all over the place).

2) In the other direction, academia is inhabited by high-IQ people. Yet any Faculty Senate meeting will disabuse you of a relation between IQ and practicality. I don't recall a single Senate resolution that had any discernible effect. This may be a biased example. ‘We’ were a specialized and world-class campus of, alas, an otherwise 4th-rate institution (the most recent math book in the main-campus library was published in 1911). We sent the short straw to the Senate meetings. Fortunately.

3) That there are different kinds of intelligence is obvious, and MIT and Harvard attract different types. Early attempts to amalgamate the schools were resisted by both student bodies, each knowing itself superior. Both sorts are ‘intelligent’, but the women of nearby Wellesley unconsciously distinguish them in conversation. Their dates are ‘Harvard men’ by preference and ‘MIT boys’ if nothing better is on offer — a keen assessment of social skills. In practical terms, Harvard men had 5–7 years more experience in the art of seduction. 30 years after I heard a Wellesley girl Femininists, relax. Young females may take menarche as an obvious mark of womanhood; young males think of ‘women’ as the parental generation, unsuitable as sexual partners, while ‘girls’ are their generation and fair game. make this distinction, an MIT administrator took notice, and instituted an elective ‘charm school’. MIT's problem is now recognized as a mild form of Asperger's Syndrome, the ‘high-IQ version of autism’. I wondered, once, why the chattering classes whose interests cover the range of the soap opera didn't get tagged with a Syndrome of their own. Then I came across Steve Silberman's article ‘The Geek Syndrome’ in Wired 9.12: ‘[T]he first tools on earth might have been developed by a loner sitting at the back of the cave, chipping at thousands of rocks to find the one that made the sharpest spear, while the neurotypicals chattered away in the firelight.’

Low IQ is not necessarily an impediment to contributing to society. High IQ does not guarantee intelligent real-world decisions. Still, the ascendancy of humans is the result of intelligence. Our mean IQ is arbitrary (it might have been different), but not accidental (it was needed for our children to survive). We had to be smarter than our predators, and once we were, we incidentally took over the world. Initially, it took 8 or more children to maintain the population. As a guess, half died in the arms race between pathogens and our immune system, and of the others, all but 2 died under strong selection for intelligence, before reproducing. As late as the 1901 census, the median and modal number of children in New South Wales was 10. ‘It may thus be that multiple genes involved in cognitive development were positively selected during the early history RE Green &56a (2010) ‘A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome’ Science 328(#5979): 710–722. of modern humans’. Translation, dropping the circumlocutions of popoco: our brains were still growing when we left Africa.

△   IQ   ▽

If you take African-Americans and whites with identical IQ scores … and measure their performance in various subtests for intelligence, black children often score better in … tests of short-term memory and recall …, while whites often score better in … tests of visuospatial and perceptual changes. In other words, the way an IQ test is configured profoundly affects the way different racial groups, and their gene variants, perform on it: alter the weights and balances within the same test, and you alter the measure of intelligence. — Siddhartha Mukherjee (2016)The Gene: An Intimate History (Scribner, NYC).

We need to know how rapidly IQ can change. Table 1.2 offers some estimates, and is compatible with the history suggested by Fig. 10.5 and Fig. 1.9 below. The 1300-fold range of the rate of increase, from 0.23 to 300 per millennium, seems to have escaped comment in the literature, nor can I offer anything by way of explanation beyond the hand-waving comments in the table.

◀   Table 1.2   ▶ Possible millennial rates of IQ increase, (IQ points/1000 years). These are educated guesses, but NewIdea the only numbers that seem implausible are the recent well supported ones for Ashkenazi and Flynn. The numbers emphasize the fact, so bothersome to the kind-hearted, that IQ increase is dependent upon differential survival, and thus upon genetic death of the stupid.
Sample Δ IQ Time Rate Comment
* The major assumptions are that we left Africa at IQ = 60, entered the Ice Age after 25,000 years of background increase, at IQ 66, and left 15,000 years later at 90. Many nearby (and non-linear) paths lead to the same end points. The strandlopers continued at the background rate, reaching South America at IQ 75. This linearized model incidentally puts the world mean (89) midway between its extremes, which seems reasonable.
Background mutation rate
Strandlopers 15 65,000 0.23 Low selective pressure in constant environment along the beach
All groups 55 65,000 0.85 Selection in multiple environments
Culling by Natural selection
East Asians 16 25,000 0.64 Moderate environmental selection after the ice
Ice Age* 24 15,000 1.60 Strong environmental selection
Culling by Social selection
Ashkenazi 15 800–1600 CE 18.75 Strong social selection
Flynn 15 Last 50 years 300 Health, nutrition, training?

The Ashkenazi increment (to a 115 mean) appears too fast to be anything but strong selection for the high tail of the normal curve (which means that the low tail either did not breed or was defined not to be real Ashkenazi. The increase appeared C Russell, H Lewis (1900) The Jew in London (Harper-Collins, London). between 800 and 1600 CE when Ashkenazi G Cochran, J Hardy, H Harpending (2005) ‘Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence’ J. Biosocial Science 38(#5): 659–693. were ‘restricted to entrepreneurial and managerial roles as financiers, estate managers, tax farmers, and merchants. These are jobs that people with an IQ below 100 essentially cannot do’. L Gottfredson (2003) ‘g, jobs, and life’ in H Nyborg (ed.) The Scientific Study of General Intelligence (Elsevier Science, Oxford): 293–342. The green curve at 115 in Fig. 1.8 is an estimate for Ashkenazis. Note the disproportionate increase in the colored bands for upward shifts of the mean. (However, if the Ashkenazis were selected from a population with a mean of 100, rather than evolving to 115, their numbers would not follow a normal distribution and might be much narrower than shown.)

The ‘Flynn effect’ JR Flynn (1987) ‘Massive IQ gains in 14 nations: what IQ tests really measure’ Psychological Bulletin 101: 171-191. is a modern anomaly. Across the world, IQ has increased about 1 standard deviation (15 points) over the last half century — perhaps because of better health or nutrition, R Lynn (1990) ‘The role of nutrition in secular increases of intelligence’ Personality and Individual Differences 11: 2730–285. or a generally more stimulating environment. The increase (now slowing) is comparable to increases in height and brain weight. Again, what probably happened is that the distribution was narrowed by truncation of the low end.

Neither of the above cases is relevant to the Ice Age, which lasted long enough for mutation (in addition to selection of existing alleles) to exert its influence. Even so, 1.6 points per millennium is insignificant compared to the Flynn effect. The selection would be for whatever increased viability — specifically, one suspects, for ingenuity in dealing with difficult environmental challenges, and for altruism that helped the local group survive.

Aldous Huxley (and Classical Greeks before him) noted that human progress depends on genius. Without people from the colored bands of Fig. 1.8, life goes on as it always has, and nothing gets any better. Progress — soap, books, electric motors to replace slavery, Macadamized roads to replace mud — depends on exceptional individuals. It helps to remember that there are dozens of human qualities with similar distributions, and that half of us are below normal on each of them. IQ in the 170s with ethics in the 20s (e.g., Richard Nixon) seems to lead to a natural career as a politician or CEO.

A-Images/1.8_IQDistributions.jpg. 4 Gaussian curves, peaking at 67 and 81 for 2 meta-analyses of sub-Saharan populations, 100 for US and UK, and 114 for Ashkenazi.
◀   Fig. 1.8     ▶ IQ Distributions. The blue curve is the standard Wechsler distribution for the US and UK. All curves have a coefficient of variation (σ/mean) = 0.15, where σ is the standard deviation. ‘Standard deviation’ σ (sigma) is a measure of the width of a distribution, 15 points for the ‘100’ curve. 99.5% of the area of a Gaussian lies between ±3σ. The curves marked 67 and 81 are different meta-analyses of sub-Saharan Africans • 67: R Lynn (2006) Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis (Washington Summit, Whitefish MT) Ch 13.1.
• 81: JM Wicherts, CV Dolan, HLJ van der Maas (2010) ‘A systematic literature review of the average IQ of sub-Saharan Africans’ Intelligence 38: 1–20.
This is as clear an example of Robert Anton Wilson's ‘What the Thinker thinks, the Prover proves’ as one could ask. Prometheus Rising (New Falcon Publications, Las Vegas NV, 1983).
— perhaps ultimately from different regions. The long leftward tail on the 115 (Ashkenazi) curve is probably not real and their distribution is not Gaussian, but the curve is representative of what we should be trying to reach. The vertical characterizations are Flynn's. JR Flynn (1987) ‘Massive IQ gains in 14 nations: what IQ tests really measure’ Psychological Bulletin 101: 171–191. My friends are not as sanguine, reporting that while children in the 130s do well in school, those in the 140s are bored and have problems, and the 150s also need ‘ambition and the right personality’ to manifest their genius.

Note Added in Late Editing
From the subtitle of the Preface, ‘A scientist's search’, it should be clear that this book is the record of a 20-year learning process. It is emphatically not something for which I could have written an outline when I began, as I had no idea where it was going. Nowhere is this clearer than in Fig. 1.8. My friends — the people I am comfortable with and can talk to — mostly inhabit the colored bands of Fig. 1.8. So too do the few blacks I have known or admired (e.g.: a science journalist, a student whose ambition was to clerk for the Supreme Court; George Washington Carver, Morgan Freeman), but they are far more exceptional than I had realized. I was somewhat taken aback to find this figure reproduced on a website that many liberals despise as racist. But unlike the alt-right sites, this one is literate, civil, and mostly well informed (the most egregious error I found was a claim that blacks are unable to speak good English — obviously by someone who has never visited Jamaica, where the patois is BBC). It cites scholarly references for its statements, and offers a wealth of responsible books. I was equally im- and de-pressed by an essay from someone with more experince: A White Teacher Speaks Out.

Figure 1.8 suggests that in Africa we needed an IQ above 60 to keep our children safe from our predators. Coping with the problems of the ice age J & M Gribben (1990) Children of the Ice: Climate and Human Origins (Blackwell, Oxford). brought the northern hemisphere to, say, 90. An optimistic view of the near future suggests that if upcoming challenges could lead to further increase at the rate of the Flynn effect (possibly raising the mean of the survivors to 130), we might outlast the century. The pessimist thinks about the background rate compared to the rate of evolution, recalls disappearance of the Ionians, and notes that loss is probable in times of stress. Simple demographics is working against the Flynn effect today.

There has been a phenomenal effort to explain group IQ differences by something other than ‘racist genetics’, in the hope of finding environmental effects that can be manipulated. It is relatively easy for environmental factors to decrease IQ: violence in the home of 5-year-olds will knock off 8 points. KC Koenen &4a (2003) ‘Domestic violence is associated with environmental suppression of IQ in young children’ Development and Psychopathology 15: 297–311. But ways to increase IQ have been as hard to find as the Flynn effect is hard to explain. The traditional approach (that one that worked with predators and ice ages) is to let the stupid kill themselves. (We know this is difficult to organize intentionally, because democidal governments preferentially kill the intelligent RJ Rummel (1997) Death by Government (Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick NJ). Click for update. , whom they see — correctly — as threats.) It remains easier for intelligence to increase the rule of law, democracy, and political liberty, than for any such measures to increase group intelligence. • TJ Bouchard (2004) ‘Genetic influence on human psychological traits — A survey’ Current Directions in Psychological Science 13(#4): 148–151; doi:10.1111/j.0963-7214.2004.00295.x
• A Jensen (1998) The g Factor (Praeger, Westport CT).
• G Jones, WJ Schneider (2006) ‘Intelligence, Human Capital, and Economic Growth: A Bayesian Averaging of Classical Estimates (BACE) Approach’ Journal of Economic Growth 11(#1): 71–93.
• R Lynn, T Vanhanen (2006) IQ and Global Inequality (Washington Summit Publishers, Atlanta, GA).
• H Rindermann (2006) ‘Relevance of education and intelligence at the national level for politics: Democracy, rule of law and political liberty’ (7th Annual Conf.; Internat. Soc. Intelligence Research, Hyatt, Fisherman's Wharf, SF, CA 15-12-06).
• JP Rushton, AR Jensen (2003) ‘African–White IQ differences from Zimbabwe on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised are mainly on the g factor’ Personality and Individual Differences 34: 177–183.

In short, the popoco claim that culture freed the human race from the pressures of natural selection is mistaken: The rapid pace of change since the Neolithic accelerated evolution to adapt to the changes, with the result that cultures with the most rapid change have experienced the most rapid evolution. • J Hawks &4a (2007) ‘Recent acceleration of human adaptive evolution’ Proc Natl Acad Sci US 104(#52): 20753–20758.
• G Cochran, H Harpending (2009) The 1000-Year-Explosion (Basic Books, NYC).
A recent review lists 140 genes KN Laland, JO Smee, S Myles (2010) ‘How culture shaped the human genome: bringing genetics and the human sciences together’ Nature Reviews Genetics 11: 137-148. that have responded to the challenges of the last 50,000 years, including new foods, zoönoses, cold climates, and changing society. Public mention that these include genes that increase intelligence, • PD Evans &8a (2005) ‘Microcephalin, a Gene Regulating Brain Size, Continues to Evolve Adaptively in Humans’ Science 309: 1717–1720.
• N Mekel-Bobrov &7a (2005) ‘Ongoing adaptive evolution of ASPM, a brain size determinant in Homo sapiens’ Science 309: 1720–1722.
can destroy an illustrious academic career J Malloy (2007) ‘James Watson Tells the Inconvenient Truth: Faces the Consequences’ , as Nobel laureate James Watson learned to his sorrow.

Wishful thinking has so clouded this issue that it is useful to emphasize the utility of IQ tests. The best of them — and they have undergone a century of selection — also measure such diverse abilities as

abstract reasoning, novel problem solving, spacial reasoning, auditory processing, attention/concentration, short-term memory, long-term retention of new information, fluency of recall, speed of perception, speed of information processing, and many others. — G Jones, WJ Schneider (2010) ‘IQ In The Production Function: Evidence From Immigrant Earnings’ Economic Inquiry 48: 743–755; doi: 10.1111/j.1465-7295.2008.00206.x.

Results by economists, concerned only with finding mathematical relations between available numbers, and blind to color and politics, generate graphs of data like Fig. 1.9 (from 189 countries and 21 ‘growth variables’) that ignore the politically correct wish that all should be equal. I suggest (Table 1.2 and below) that the group that left Africa had a mean IQ near 60. I found this graph much later, which seems to supports that estimate. This represents very rapid recent evolution.

A-Images/1.9_GDPvsIQ.jpg. A scater plot, wwith about 175 points identified as belonging to countries in 7 geographic regions. The graph covers mean national IQ from 50 to 110, and per-capita GDP from $400 to $40,000, with Africa at the left and northern Asia at the right.
◀   Fig. 1.9     ▶ Gross Domestic Product vs IQ. The long equation, and the solid line, are the best fit to all points. After removal of outliers outside the dashed band, the correlation coefficient of the short equation is 0.817 (cf 0.82 by {Jone06} using {Lynn02}'s data), so that IQ explains 2/3 of the variance of GDP.
• G Jones, WJ Schneider (2006) ‘Intelligence, Human Capital, and Economic Growth: A Bayesian Averaging of Classical Estimates (BACE) Approach’ Journal of Economic Growth 11: 71–93.
• R Lynn, T Vanhanen (2002) IQ and the Wealth of Nations (Praeger, Westport CT).
A 1-point increase in national IQ translates into a 1% increase in the mean wage, and a 8.8% increase in national GDP. Higher savings rates, less corruption, and better management skills are possible explanations. High outliers (hollow symbols) are explained by other factors: exceptional resources (oil, gold, tourism, parasitism — the Luxembourg bankers, outside the graph — etc.). Low outliers suffer from bad government, civil war, and American military attention. The vertical lines are ±1 sigma from the world mean of 89. Sources. • R Lynn, T Vanhanen (2006) IQ and Global Inequality (Washington Summit Publishers, Atlanta, GA). See also:
• G Jones, WJ Schneider (2010) ‘IQ In The Production Function: Evidence From Immigrant Earnings’ Economic Inquiry 48: 743–755, doi: 10.1111/j.1465-7295.2008.00206.x, and
• La Griffe du Lion (2002) ‘The Smart Fraction Theory of IQ and the Wealth of Nations’ 4(#1), (as of 2011-06-30).
• R Lynn, G Meisenberg (2010) ‘National IQs calculated and validated for 108 nations’ Intelligence 38: 353–360.

Figure 1.9 radically refutes the long-standing assumption of sociologists and economists, which as of 2000 was still that there were ‘no significant differences JP Rushton (2006) ‘Review of Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhane, IQ and Global Inequality’ Personality and Individual Differences 41: 983–985. among nations in the native intelligence of their populations’. In deference to this opinion, the authors make it clear that they tried hard to bend the data in the direction of social and environmental variables (‘stack the deck against IQ’) — and failed:

While one might expect that at least some linear combination of primary, secondary, and higher education measures could eliminate the statistical significance of IQ, we did not find this to be the case. […W]hen policymakers ask the question, ‘What should our human capital policy seek to maximize?’ it appears that near the top of economist's list of responses should be the words, ‘National Average IQ’. … In light of the many criticisms of IQ tests, one might have expected that the IQ-growth link would be merely epiphenomenal, something that would fade away when researchers controlled for variables that were strongly related to growth. We did not find this to be the case. — G Jones, WJ Schneider (2006)G Jones, WJ Schneider (2006) ‘Intelligence, Human Capital, and Economic Growth: A Bayesian Averaging of Classical Estimates (BACE) Approach’ Journal of Economic Growth 11: 71–93; (quotes from pp 3, 4, 25 of the electronic version).

Continuing, they add, ‘It appears that with the exception of increased education, most of the relevant environmental factors primarily exert their influence before the child is 3 years old’. Thus the apparent racial correlation in Fig. 1.8 is not necessarily real: In Bangladesh, IQ correlates negatively with arsenic in well water; lead levels in Philippine children may cost them 15 IQ points; Africa still uses leaded gasoline; zinc deficiency lowers IQ in India. G Jones (2011) ‘National IQ and National Productivity: The Hive Mind Across Asia’ Asian Development Review 28(#1) 51–71. Malnutrition, civil war, tropical diseases, all reduce brain development. I suspect that school time spent in rote learning of incomprehensible material also has a negative effect on IQ.

One of the problems is that Things Take Time. The single most helpful tool to improve the functioning IQ of a child is intelligent parents. Progress in IQ increase is thus a generational process, rather than something that will show much effect from short-term political efforts.

△   Mental Laziness   ▽

There is also the fact that the brain uses about 20% of the body's energy, so thinking is hard work and we tend not to do it if we don't have to. The result is that the population operates well below its most intelligent level when life is easy. The result is pathetic. In April 2010, the US Army announced that it was likely to run short of petroleum by 2015, and in May cost-cutting by British Petroleum flooded the Gulf of Mexico with escaping oil. The 2 events seem to have made some impression: blogs were full of ‘How could the government let this happen? Why didn't they warn us? Why is this greedy oil company drilling with unsafe techniques?’, and similar disclaimers of awareness. Balderdash. M King Hubbert told us in 1956 that world oil production would peak shortly after 2000 CE. Earth day in 1970 set the stage for reduction of energy use and employment of alternative sources. Everything we needed to know was public knowledge — and we let those who profitted from the status quo maintain it. This was not lack of brain-power, but reluctance to apply it to changing the situation — with barricades in the street as needed.

Corporate media and purchased politicians have failed here, so forget them. We have been living with a collective IQ of 75 out of unconcern for what was happening around us — but we can do better. Read. Investigative journalism, discouraged by the corporate owners of main-stream media, survives on the web: find it. Think about worst-case scenarios. Read. Plan ahead. One of my friends runs a monthly ‘Survival Salon’ in Pittsburgh, where 40–100 people gather for discussion of ecology, politics, options, potluck, and folk-singing.

The cortical/limbic difference comes with a price. Most of the problems considered in this book are the result of disputes between the exploratory, investigative cortex, and the cocksure, conservative limbos. Disputes call for a method of evaluating solutions. How do we decide that an answer is true? The limbos and the cortex are orthogonal on this point. They interact only minimally, and they employ the very different criteria of Fig. 1.10.

The horizontal arrow of Limbic Thinking leads to Limbic Truth and belief in Coyotl's words. The vertical arrow of Cortical Thinking leads to Cortical Truth and belief in Coyotl's works. A tenet held on faith that conflicts with data and logic will be adjudged false by scientists. Data-supported logical argument that conflicts with dogma will be adjudged false by True Believers. William G. McAdoo put it more bluntly: ‘It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in argument’. Each side holds that the other ignores axiomatic facts. The two modes have acquired many names, including mythos and logos, story and system, coeur and raison, and they have been discussed by philosophers since philosophy was invented. K Armstrong (2000) The Battle for God (Ballantine Books, NYC). Pascal made much of them, attributing the difficulty of persuading limbic thinkers by logic to the weakness of reason and the sureness of limbic knowledge. Certainly, as lovers understand, ‘The heart has reasons that reason knows not of’ — but this is an area that the limbos specializes in. It would be good not to assume that it is equally adroit in all areas.


A-Images/1.10_OrthogonalTruth.jpg. 2 large arrows pointing 90° apart. The Science arrow is accompanied by many things characteristic of science, but most importantly, by 'Merely human knowledge'. The Faith arrow has its own characteristics, most importantly,'Divine wisdom'.
◀   Fig. 1.10     ▶ Orthogonal Truths. Why religion and science have trouble communicating. ‘Orthogonal’ describes mathematical functions which do not interact (multliply them together and the answer is 0). This is almost true of the 2 varieties of truth indicated here. (Said the 2nd-century Pastor of Hermas {Ch. 32}, ‘Obeying the commandments of God we reject everything which rests upon human opinion’.)

The hardware of individual brains tends to be dominated by one or the other of these arrows, and to have difficulty responding to the other. Note that the colored text suggests the evolutionary function of the 2 arrows, indicating that they are not oppositional but complementary, and both are needed for full functionality. It is unfortunate that the limbic mode is susceptible to the text above ‘Coyotl's Words’ (much of which describes successful strategies for dealing with the band's alpha male).

Logic is a cortical process (although it can be used to defend a limbic position, which is the art of casuistry.) My favorite example comes from Creationist Denis Bonnette. Warming up, he writes ‘True evolution would have to show that a plant became an animal’. [Why? The ancestral kingdom Protoctista contains organisms which are neither plant nor animal. They photosynthesize and they also consume other organisms. Animals are more closely related to fungi than to plants.]
Then, having for unstated reasons decided that ‘the formation of the first woman from the first man’ must be defensible scientifically, he suggests that an XXY conceptus [a rare but possible genetic error], followed immediately by twinning [1 in 88], followed immediately by two more extremely unlikely events — the loss of an X by one twin, and the loss of the Y by the other — is a rational description of Eve being formed from Adam's rib.’ [Again, Why? Genesis 2:22 specifically says עלו (tsela = ‘side’ on 19 occasions; ‘chamber’ 11; … ‘rib’ 2). If we insist on literalism, let us at least be literal! The author of Genesis knew about twins: if he meant twins, he should have said so. Why not just accept Gen 1:27? ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.]
The crux of the story — unnoticed by its creationist author — is that in his pursuit of scientific defensibility, Bonnette raises a question even more heretical than the one he thinks he answered: If Eve was the XX twin resulting from all of this: Who was her mother?
D Bonnette (2007) ‘Did Darwin Prove Genesis A Fairy Tale?’ Social Justice Review 98: 7–8.
We process data using the least possible energy, so response will be limbic whenever we let it. Many people fall between the extremes of Fig. 1.10, needing both ‘story’ and ‘system’. The established religions fill this dual need better than science does, which is long on ‘system’, but whose ‘stories’ are more often disquieting than comforting. (Hence conservatives’ violent denial of global heating.) In general, as the brain matures and adult cortical connections are completed, one's arrow swings toward the north.

Max Weber observed that the directions between the arrows of Fig. 1.10 are not unoccupied. Given particular axioms, anything can be defended as rational. Following tradition takes as little energy as using the limbos and may occasionally work better than cortical planning. An example is the Buddhist temples of Bali, which regulated water flow to rice paddies in an apparently arbitrary manner that let paddies sit dry and idle at times. Western experts hoped to replace a 1000-year-old ‘religious ritual’ with rational methods producing 3 crops a year. What they got (without letting the paddies dry) allowed pests to grow faster than the rice, so that a bad year would produce no crop at all. JS Lansing (1991) Priests and Programmerss: Technologies of Power in the Engineered Landscape of Bali (Princeton University Press, Princeton). The system had been based on observation and experiment to produce the maximum dependable crop, this rationale had been forgotten over the centuries, and the tradition was perpetuated because it worked.

The lengths the limbos will go to protect its beliefs are nicely illustrated by the M$27 Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Every exhibit is fake or misinterpretation, but some are cleverly animatronic. Influenced by Jurassic Park , its theme-park designer admitted velociraptors to Noah's Ark — on the basis of no Biblical support — and then claimed that they were vegetarian before the Fall of Man. Why speed was needed to capture plants, how peg-teeth dealt with vegetation, and what sickle claws were for, do not interest the limbos, which can only differentiate positions by their emotional affect. The Museum's postmodern director observes that ‘[Dawkins] has got a position too. It's just a different one from ours’ {GW 2007-06-08 p42} — the popoco assumption that all positions are equally valid. The Museum sells creationist books that — ominously — visiting school teachers buy in quantity with their own money. An apparently unrelated study found that 26 percent of Americans were mentally ill, K Demyttenaere &46a (2004) ‘Prevalence, severity, and unmet need for treatment of mental disorders in the World Health Organization World Mental Health Surveys’ J American Medical Assoc 291(#21): 2581–2590. compared with 5 percent in Nigeria and 4 percent in Shanghai. (The aftermath of the 2016 election suggests that this number has been rising.)

Limbic stories may be true in 2 important symbolic ways. A common property of persistent limbic stories is that they cannot be verified, and this must once have served a useful purpose. A deeper benefit is that limbic stories supply meaning unavailable to the cortex. Meaning and non-verifiability seem like strange bedfellows. Yet the connection between them, and the evolutionary value of limbic stories, are vital to understanding religion, and we will explore the connection below.

Confusion over the realms of utility of cortical and limbic thinking is at the root of a lot of our troubles. I will take as an axiom that actions speak louder than words, and that this is also true of Coyotl's activities.

△   Confirmation Bias, Confirmation Trust   ▽

The political ignorance of the American voter is one of the best documented data in political science. LM Bartels (2008) ‘The Irrational Electorate’ The Wilson Quarterly, Autumn. — This knowledge is factored into every answer to political questions: What we can get away with? How much do we actually need to do? How close to the truth must we stay? How much can we chip away at checks and balances?

A brain function that is directly related to pothodoxy is ‘confirmation bias’. It is easier to confirm an existing idea, than to evaluate a contradictory one fairly. This is part of the appeal of pseudoscience: Random events that reinforce a belief are remembered; events that do not disappear into background noise. It may be fossil behavior left over from the Middle Paleolithic, when we learned everything we needed from our parents before adolescence. True Believers often pride themselves on maintaining their belief in the face of contradictory evidence: this is as good a definition of insanity as we have. The survival of such traits through the Neolithic is a consequence of human empathy and a resulting reluctance to let people die of incorrect beliefs.

We can watch confirmation bias in action with brain-imaging tools. Show a True Believer that his belief is wrong, and he may suffer brief cognitive dissonance, but it will not be resolved by rational analysis. MRI images of his brain while he is reading material which contradicts his beliefs does not show activity in reasoning areas, but in emotional and conflict-resolution circuits. His brain looks for a way to deny the cognitive dissonance in accordance with his prior belief. It will be irrational, but reward circuits D Westen &4a  (2006) ‘The neural basis of motivated reasoning:  An fMRI study of emotional constraints on political judgment during the US Presidential election of 2004’ J Cognitive Neuroscience 18: 1947-1958. will click in to tell him he has done the right thing, and to reinforce the initial belief. A beautiful example of this is the Mormon response to DNA studies of Native Americans showing their Siberian origin (whereas Solomon Spaulding's unpublished novel Manuscript Found and thence Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon had them coming from Israel 8000 years later). Oddly, a possible prehistoric Middle-East/US connection might exist in haplogroup ♀X, which occurs in 27% of the Middle Eastern Druze and 25% of the Algonquians today, and is low and scattered otherwise. A possible pre-Siberian route would be along the Atlantic ice.
DJ Stanford, BA Bradley (2012) Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America's Clovis Culture (UC Press, Berkeley CA).
Many of the academic responses are embarrassing in their use of scholarly apparatus to support waffling.E.g., see:
• JL Sorenson (2000) ‘The Problematic Role of DNA Testing in Unraveling Human History’ J Book of Mormon Studies 9(#2): 66–74.
• SG Southerton (2004) Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA and the Mormon Church (Signature Books, Salt Lake City UT).
‘Clutching at straws’ is the phrase that comes to mind. Superficially, one might think that rational assessment of the real world would be strongly selected for — but Homo erectus spread across the Old World without much cortex, and we did not need much more to take it away from him.

The underlying benefit of conflict resolution is protection from emotional discomfort:

[S]cientifically rigorous studies have unequivocally documented that affective processes can be unconscious and that people can protect themselves against unpleasant feelings through unconscious defenses. — D Westen (1999) ‘The scientific status of unconscious processes’ (Paper presented on 13-06-99, at the Annual Meeting of the Rapaport-Klein Study Group).

The evolutionary biologist perforce concludes that maintenance of existing belief in the face of contradictory evidence was a viability advantage in the Paleolithic, so that the ignorant faithful left more children than the thinking sceptic. This implies that the tribe provided protection from environmental dangers, so that it was more important to belong than to be correct. Ostracism was tantamount to a death sentence.

This had 2 important evolutionary consequences.

  1. ‘Belonging is more important than being right’ became a principal ethical value, so that it is half of what distinguishes conservatives from liberals On a 5-category scale (Concern-for-others, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, Purity), Conservatives are nearly flat at 3.1 out of 5, Liberals slant down from 3.7 to 1.4 (and, for a quantitative look at authorial bias, I slant down from 4.8 to 0.8, so that liberals are the in the center of my moral landscape. The last 2 categories are social niceties in my lexicon. Click ⬆ to test your own results.
    J Haidt, J Graham (2007) ‘When morality opposes justice: Conservatives have moral intuitions that liberals may not recognize’ Social Justice Research 20(#1): 98–116; doi:10.1007/s1121-007-0034-z
    (the other half being lower concern for the welfare of others).
  2. The other feature is that Gibbon's Gambit — the ability to change irrational beliefs on demand in a ritual switch — is that beliefs (primarily religious beliefs) have minimal effect on the real world.
  3. Beliefs primarily affected survival only through human interactions (e.g.: conversion by sword), and not through environmental interactions. The ultimate significance of this evolutionary quirk is that one's religion has no direct effect on the real world. (E.g., miracles do not occur.) Indirect effects — by behavioral modification — are important.(Chs. 20, 22)

In short, challenging limbic bias strengthens irrational beliefs. As a result, debates between evolutionary biologists and special creationists leave the creationists feeling that they have won: ‘[P]artisan beliefs are calcified and the person can learn very little D Westen &4a (2006) ‘The neural basis of motivated reasoning:  An fMRI study of emotional constraints on political judgment during the U.S. Presidential election of 2004’ J Cognitive Neuroscience 18: 1947-1958. from new data’.

To live with ourselves, we seem to need to be Wobegoni: G Keillor (1985) Lake Wobegon Days (Viking, NYC). ‘all the women are strong, all the men good-looking, and all the children are above average’. A reported alternative is to belong to

a category of people who get unusually close to the truth about themselves. Their self-perceptions are more balanced, they assign responsibility for success and failure more even handedly, and their predictions are more realistic. They are the clinically depressed. — Cordelia Fine (2006).A Mind of its Own (Norton, NYC): 23.

A more sinister and unscrupulous aspect of confirmation bias is exemplified by Fox ‘News’, which is mainly commentary aimed at its far-right constituency. A corollary of confirmation bias is confirmation trust: if someone tells you what you want to hear, you tend to trust him — and to believe the other things he tells you. A survey by Public Policy Polling showed that 74% of Republicans trust Fox News (vs 30% of Democrats), while less biased networks — ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC — garnered overall ratings One might think that 2/3 of the country distrusting its major news sources would be cause for concern. Considering the consensual censorship of important stories (Ch. 19, Media Issues), the distrust is wholly justified. This should inspire an urge to correct the situation. Trash your TVs? Support PBS? Keep media sock puppets out of the FCC! between 31 and 39% {GW 2010-02-12 p42}. This is a 40% increase for having your prejudices reinforced, representing a frighteningly easy way to manipulate and polarize the population through applied psychology. The type example is the 2000 Florida election, when Bush cousin John Ellis at Fox News organized a false pre-emptive announcement of a Bush victory. After hearing that lie from their trusted source, Republicans (including the Supreme Court) apparently perceived Al Gore as a sore loser when he asked for a recount. (All recount variants show that Gore had won.)

By design or coincidence, the elderly are as susceptible to Fox News as teenagers are to religious cults. Anecdotal stories of parents being ‘lost’ to Fox News are so numerous that the effect seems planned, a deliberate and effective brain-washing of senior citizens, with drift to the political right, loss of critical ability, retreat from society, and worshipful regard for the ranting heads of Faux News. I am well out of the TV loop, but it seems to me that there should be a market for a device that blocks specific TV programs. If you care for your parents, find one and install it!

Since confirmation bias suggests that the ever popular TV debates between Christian creationists and evolutionists are counterproductive, I propose a possibly fairer, and certainly more interesting, debate. Despite the excitement of cutting-edge research, the many branches of science have a generally consilient view of the cosmos. To level the debating field, let us ask a Catholic, a Baptist, BelltheCat a Mormon, a Jew, a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Scientologist (for instance) to agree on a similarly consilient supernaturlist version, which can then be compared with the naturalistic scientific view.

△   Chemical dimensions of the brain   ▽

We need a program of psychosurgery for political control of our society. The purpose is physical control of the mind. Everyone who deviates from the given norm can be surgically mutilated. Man does not have the right to develop his own mind. — Dr Jose Delgado to US Congress, 1974-02-24Congressional Record #262E, Vol. 118.

Not all brain research of interest to our government is ethical or benevolent. Given that Dr Delgado, in a matador's cape, had persuaded a brain-wired charging bull to stop, turn aside, and walk away by pushing buttons on a radio transmitter, one may suspect that the ‘program of psychosurgery for political control’ is well advanced. Funding for university brain research may have dried up at this time, but research went on apace behind closed doors. I suspect that much more is known about the effects of neurochemicals than is publicly available. What follows may be but the barest sketch.

△   Neurotheology   ▽

Neurotheology is the intersection of brain research and religious studies. It's first concern is the classical mind–body question: How can mere organic matter — the stuff that frogs are made of — be all that underpins the abilities of the human mind? Our first answer was dualism, postulating an otherwise undetectable ‘soul’ to differentiate us from animals, and do the thinking. Unfortunately, this raises more problems than it answers. One is mechanistic: how might matter and soul might interact? The other is existential: how might one demonstrate the existence of the soul? Replacing one hard question by 2 is hardly a forward step.

To make a long story short, let me posit that every advance in hardware, software, and computer science makes it more likely that we will find that the mind–body problem was a false dichotomy. The properties of the brain emerge from complexity in ways that cannot be predicted,and are understandable only in retrospect.

Since dualist theoneurology (in which theo- explains neurology) has led nowhere in the last millennium, we are left with neuro- to explain theology. What properties of the brain led us to the idea of an invisible world, more important than our obvious quotidian home, populated by powerful beings, and operating under strange laws? We take as a working hypothesis that neurotheology is an aspect of brain wiring and brain chemistry. The relevant agents are specialized architecture (differences in microscopic components and their arrangement, implying different behavior), and the neurochemistry of synapses.

Several hundred neurotransmitters and neuromodulators are known. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry a signal across the synaptic gap, to be destroyed immediately thereafter. Neurotransmitters not released by the sending neuron, or not promptly deactivated, will cause unexpected behavior.

Neuromodulators circulate more widely, and affect all synapses that recognize them, changing the behavior of whole systems. The blood-brain barrier excludes the disturbing psychoactive chemicals that it met during mammalian and primate evolution — but not the ones it didn't meet, so these become tools for exploring the brain. Brain operation is a multidimensional process where each neurochemical offers another axis on which to plot graded responses, but this Research remains to be done. A few behavioral axes have been described at the hand-waving level, with the best characterized summarized in Table 1.3.

◀   Table 1.3   ▶ Putative Neurological Axes. Research remains so unquantitative that the degree to which these few axes overlap is unknown. Presumably every neurochemical produces its own axis, with a normal set point, and exotic perceptions and behavior when there is either too little or too much. None of these suggested axes is mainstream science, and most of the researchers, however interesting their insights, are viewed sceptically by ‘the establishment’.
Axis Control Parameter Reference
Meditation-hallucination parasympathetic/sympathetic arousal R Fischer (1971)‘A Cartography of Ecstatic and Meditative States: The experimental and experiential features of a perception-hallucination continuum are considered’ Science 174: 897–904.
I-Self sensory-to-motor-nerve input ratio?
Unitary consciousness psilocybin? A Newberg, E D'Aquili, V Rause (2001)Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief (Balllantine, NYC).
Amygdaloid visualization, ‘clicking’, ‘tickling’ J LeDoux (1996)The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life (Simon & Schuster: NYC),
DMT N,N-dimethyltryptamine R Strassman (2001)DMT: The Spirit Molecule (Park Street Press, Rochester VT).

△   Cerebrochemical Continua   ▽

The best quantified work on brain behavior was completed in 1970, just before the US Congress, panic'd by Timothy Leary's ‘experiments’ with LSD, cut off funding for neurochemical research for a generation. 30 years after it appeared, Roland Fischer's classic ‘Cartography of Ecstatic and Meditative States’ was still being reviewed and described as ‘extremely influential’ • R Fischer (1971) ‘A Cartography of Ecstatic and Meditative States: Understanding Mysticism’ Science 74: 897-904.
• Knepper (2001) ‘Review of "A Cartography of Ecstatic and Meditative States" by Roland Fischer’ Religious Experience Resources. [Click ⬆ for more.]
. It earns this praise for putting numbers on the 2 commonest varieties of religious experience, the samadhi of yogis and the rapture of mystics, both highly valued and difficult to achieve voluntarily. A version of Fischer's graph is shown in Fig. 1.11; the oddly named yogic states [my estimated positions] are described by Patanjali. G Feuerstein (transl.) (1979) The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali (Dawson, Folkstone). Such states can be described collectively as ASCs, or Altered States of Consciousness.

A-Images/1.11_Fischer.jpg. Perhaps the most impodrtant figure in the book. A bowl-shaped semicircle divided into 13 'altered states of consciousness' (ASCs), with daily life at the bottom, 'mystical rapture' at the top left, and 'samadhi' at the top right.  Above these are Weber's comments: 'Indolent enjoyment of self' at the left, and 'Complacent self-righteousness' at the right. The important aspectd is that there are numbers associated with the ASCs: the first, and pretty much only, attempt to move beyone 1st-person characterization of the altered states.
◀   Fig. 1.11     ▶ Fischer's Axis, which relates 13 verbally described ASCs to instrumental data. This is so far the best quantified brain-activity axis, although the (unquantified) ‘I-Self’ axis today seems more relevant to religion than the extremes of samadhi and rapture. After Fischer. Fischer explains the numerical aspects of Fig. 1.11: ‘The numbers 35 to 7 on the perception-hallucination continuum are Goldstein's coefficient of variation, specifying the decrease in variability of the electroencephalograph (EEG) amplitude with increasing ergotropic arousal. The numbers 26 to 4 on the perception-meditation continuum [refer to EEG frequencies] (measured in hertz) that predominate during, but are not specific to, these states.’ Both of these are integrated measures of cortical activity detected from outside — a bit like using climate to describe the weather when we want to know today's wind and rain.
This is a hybrid of of Fischer's 3rd and 4th models. My preference for this combination is its attempt to relate ASCs to meaningful experimental data. The attempt was (and may still be) premature. Magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) and proton-emission tomography (PET) provide new and relevant information, but are expensive and inconvenient, and we still need better experimental tools.
• R Fischer (1971) ‘A Cartography of Ecstatic and Meditative States: The experimental and experiential features of a perception-hallucination continuum are considered’ Science 174: 897-904.
• R Fischer (1976) ‘Transformations of consciousness. A cartography, II. The perception-meditation continuum’ Confin Psychiatr 19(#1): 1-23.
The ‘3.5’ near nirvichar samadhi must wait for Ch. 7, and ‘Armoring’ for Ch. 13.

I have added the unquantified ‘I-Self’ scale at the right, because it seems to me that this is what is happening. NewIdea The ‘I’ is the implied first person of Descarte's ‘Cogito, ergo sum’, who exists as a coherent set of memories of experience. The ‘Self’ is Hume's necessary but undiscoverable container and connector of these memories — which, I argue, is what the new-born arrives with. The connecting scale might best be described as a complex of Kantian networks in brain space, surviving remnants of simultaneous webs of neurochemical, subconscious, emotional, experiential, intellectual data that for some salient reason were worth preserving (by whatever undescribed process), whose sum is all that we can claim of individuality. These exist physically as networks of neural connections, probably directly accessible only from the ASC in which they were formed.

Fischer's final version of Fig. 1.11 was circular, with rapture and samadhi closer together. His work has naturally been challenged for overreaching the data, for a lack of intimate familiarity with Eastern metaphysics and Catholic mysticism, and for premature presentation. P Conolly (2000) ‘Roland Fischer's Cartography of Ecstatic and Mystical States: A Reappraisal’ Transpersonal Psychology Review 4(#2): 4–16. This is fair criticism — but it only emphasizes the 30-year hiatus in relevant research that politicians imposed.

The white triangle covers the normal range of daily activity, while color covers departures in moments of excitement and tranquility. The more saturated colors are abnormal and seldom reached, so natural selection has had little opportunity to affect them, and there is no guarantee that they are at all useful to us. Cats have a shorter range, from rage to sleep, all useful.

This diagram is intimately related to religion. An appropriately phrased description of rapture has sometimes earned Catholic sainthood. Muhamad's revelations came to him in an ASC that presumably bore some relation to Fig. 1.11, as did Saul's moment on the road to Damascus {Acts 9:3}. Samadhi is the target of meditation — although Buddhists insist that samadhi merely means concentration,C and the target is enlightenment. The difference is a matter of context: Here we are talking about instrumentally distinguishable states. Among people who attempt to quantify ASCs, ‘samadhi’ seems to be the vernacular name attached to a 3.5 Hz brain-wave freqency — a state which is reached only rarely. Some practitioners were happy to have achieved what they call samadhi once in a lifetime.

In nirvichar samadhi The Encyclopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion (Shambhala, Boston MA). there is no longer mind, or subject-object relationship, or experience — descriptions that also apply to turiya of 6th-century Advaita Hinduism. V Bhattacharya (1989) The Agamasastra of Gaudapada (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, India). Fischer describes the end states in less exotic terms: ‘At the peak of trophotropic arousal, in samadhi, the meditating subject experiences nothing but his own self-referential nature, void of compelling contents’, and ‘During the ecstatic state, there is neither capacity nor necessity for motor verification of the intense sensations. In the mental dimension, in contrast to the physical, the all-pervasive experience of absolute certainty does not require further verification and will be structured according to current mythology’. (The not unrelated term ‘nirvana/nibbana’ has so many descriptions that it is even less useful.) The labels at the upper ends of the continuum M Weber (1916) ‘The Rejection and the Meaning of the World’ Archiv fur Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialforschung: §2. are Weber's caustic interpretations of the yogin and the enraptured. Freud, S Freud (1929) Civilization and its Discontents Transl. J Strachey. (Norton, NYC): 19. still in the throes of Oedipus-worship, could not

think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection. Thus the part played by the oceanic feeling [of mysticism], which might seek something like the restoration of limitless narcissism, is ousted from a place in the foreground. The origin of the religious attitude can be traced to the feeling of infantile helplessness. There may be somehing further behind that, but for the present it is wrapped in obscurity.

Arousal of the sympathetic nervous system moves to the left in Fig. 1.9, preparing us for action in its early stages. At the ‘creative’ stage both sensory input and data processing are maximized. Beyond this, the need for data to process causes the brain to generate its own sensory data, as happens in schizophrenia and sensory-deprivation experiments. ‘At the peak of ecstatic rapture, the outside (physical) world retreats to the fringe of consciousness, and the individual reflects himself in his own program.’

Arousal of the parasympathetic nervous system moves to the right, preparing us for rest and repair. It would be useful to have measures more directly related to location along the continua, such as neurochemical concentrations in specific locations.

It is characteristic of ASCs that they have their own memory spaces, inaccessible in other states (rather like memory-protection schemes in computers). There may also be frequency-controlled access in which memory states laid down at one dominant EEG frequency are inaccessible at other frequencies.

The only personal contribution I can offer is that I have dream sequences in which I revisit incredibly complex ‘worlds’. So far, 3 of these have left sufficient traces so that I am aware of their existence. It seems that the details go through the hippocampus for permanence, but to a memory store that is not accessible in the waking state. When I revisit a ‘world’, I know, for instance, what is inside the large industrial building over there, because I have been in it, even though that knowledge is irrelevant to the current dream. Both the new dream, and its much wider context, are fleetingly accessible in the temporary electrical-memory loop that survives waking. The experience is tantalizing: I want very much to remember the details and reconstruct the plot, but as with Coleridge's Xanadu, observed in a different sort of ASC, the memory is no longer accessible. It would not surprise me if such memories could be retrieved by hypnosis. If so, there is nothing that would label them as dreams, and one could easily be persuaded by their detailed clarity that they represent some sort of alternate reality.

△   I-Self Continuum   ▽

Both ‘I’ and ‘Self’ have special meanings in Fig. 1.11. The ‘Self’ is what we arrive with as newborns, knowing nothing of the external world and entirely self-centered. Its needs are cared for, and it has no responsibilities. Life cannot get better than this!

The ‘I’ is the image the self gradually creates out of sensory data as it matures. It bumps into things, and constructs a body image so exact that a swollen elbow, protruding a few millimeters beyond the mental image, will repeatedly hit door frames. So too we bump into other selves psychologically, and construct psychological images which minimize emotional bumping.

States at the same level on the I-Self continuum, share similar properties. At the top of the continuum (all Self), one can apparently ‘rebound’ from ecstatic rapture to samadhi, and similar transfers from one side to the other have been observed in cats. E Gellhorn (1968) ‘Central nervous system tuning and its implications for neuropsychiatry’ J Nerv Ment Dis 147: 148–162.
‘Periphérie’ occasionally rebounded from sleep to rage, apparently in response to nightmares in which another cat tried to enter her cat flap. She dashed to the flap, screaming obscenities and threats of dismemberment — but there was nobody there when we looked. She retired, smug and victorious.
Consider creativity and tranquility, which are at the same level in Fig. 1.9, and are freed from some of the constraints of the full ‘I’ position at the bottom. Creativity is freedom from constraint — and perhaps tranquility is also: day dreams, aspirations, flights of fancy are all escapes from the constraints and pressures of daily life.

△   Unitary Continuum   ▽

Another unquantified continuum, which ‘refers to a sense of unification or connection with other things’, has been investigated by Andrew Newberg, who divides his time between the Division of Nuclear Medicine and the Religious Studies Department at the University of Pennsylvania.

An example of some of the important nodal points along this continuum would be the following: multiple personality disorder; no sense of connectedness to anything; baseline reality; aesthetic experiences such as the appreciation of a sunset or symphony; the intense feeling of romantic love in which ‘it's bigger than both of us’; the numinous experience of reality often through a dream or vision of a divine being or of a mandala; Cosmic Consciousness … in which there is a profound sense or ‘knowledge’ of a deep unity underlying discrete reality, but with individual things being perceived as individual; various progressively intense trance states during which there is a blurring of the boundaries of individual things; all the way to the state where there is no perception of spatial or temporal boundaries whatsoever, accompanied by the experience of absolute unity, devoid of content and with even the self-other dichotomy obliterated. — A Newberg (2001).‘Brain Science & The Biology of Belief, Part 2’ (Metanexus: The Online Forum on Religion and Science).

The far end of this continuum, called ‘Absolute Unitary Being’, A Newberg, E D'Aquili, V Rause (2001) Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief (Balllantine, NYC). is described in most religious traditions (e.g, Lao Tzu: ‘Ordinary men hate solitude. But the Master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole universe’). This state appears very similar to ecstasy/samadhi.

Discussion of the self/other perception brings us to bilateral brain structures. Except for stereoscopic vision and hearing, we seldom need 2 areas performing the same functions, so left and right areas get different jobs, as shown in Table 1.4. The jobs may change with time as the brain finds better ways to utilize its components. The left hemisphere creates the ‘I’ of Fig. 1.11, and in split-brain patients (whose hemisphere-linking corpus callosum is cut) the left extremities, controlled by the right hemisphere, often act in opposition to the intentions of the left hemisphere. There are on record people with Multiple Personality Disorder with 70 personalities. RB Allison (2002) ‘Spiritual Helpers & Multiple Personality Disorder’ In R Jospeh (ed.) NeuroTheology: Brain, Science, Spirituality & Religious Experience (University Press, CA): 517–554. How complex these are, what they share and do not share, and where they reside in the brain, are little understood. At a minimum, they make the concept of ‘self’ far more fluid than we expect.

◀   Table 1.4   ▶ Brain Asymmetry. Bilateral cortical structures often perform different functions. What purpose does the right temporal additional personality serve today? Chapter 3 will describe its apparent original use.
Left Right
Ear RJ Zatorre, P Belin (2001) ‘Spectral and temporal processing in human auditory cortlex’ Cerebral Cortex 11: 946–953. Specialist in temporal processing (music) Specialist in spectral processing (speech)
Limbos Quotidian emotions Hallucinations, dreams
Speech O Sacks (1989) Hearing Voices (Picador, London, 1990): 109. Paradigmatic, categorical, language Ad hoc referential, experiental, narrative language
Parietal lobe Perception of a physical body Sense of space in which the body moves
Temporal lobe Sense of psychological self Sense of another personality • R Olin (1999) ‘Auditory hallucinations and the bicameral mind’ Lancet 354: 166.
• M Shermer (1999) How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science (Freeman, NYC).
Formation and interpretation of speech Formation of bicameral internal speech? (See Chapter 2)
Hemispheres Routine; linear grammar, syntax Novelty; holistic symbols
Gross Structure J Jacobs, G Hwang, T Curran, MJ Kahana (2006) ‘EEG oscillations and recognition memory: Theta correlates of memory retrieval and decision making’ NeuroImage 32: 978–987. Cortical structures, and simultaneous localized EEG activity are remarkably asymmetrical. The functions of this are unknown.

‘Perception of a physical body’ seems to be a necessary component of the ground of consciousness, but it is not shared by cats. A 3-legged cat who has learned to run, will still try to scratch an ear with the stump. Perhaps the right temporal ‘sense of another personality’ that was a necessary component in bicameral days (see Ch. 2), has become our partner in the internal dialogs that make up so much of our mental life.

△   The DMT Continuum   ▽

Rick Strassman, an MD who restarted neurotheological work about 1990 at the New Mexico School of Medicine, chose to work with DMT (N,N-dimethyltryptamine). Establishing medical protocols and analyzing ‘trip reports’ produced little numerical data, but led him to suggest — perhaps prematurely — that his subjects were indeed perceiving different levels of reality R Strassman (2001) DMT: The Spirit Molecule (Park Street Press, Rochester VT): 315. ‘as real as this one. It's just that we can't perceive them most of the time’. Events described as real include ‘the entrance of the spirit into the fetus’, ‘the brain's ability to receive information’, ‘alien abduction’, and perhaps ‘the ability to see dark matter and parallel universes’ {xvii}. The extraordinary support required by these extraordinary claims is not immediately apparent.

△   The Amygdaloid Continuum   ▽

The ‘amygdaloid continuum’ is the most controversial of Table 1.3, having been described by researcher Paul Lezchuk, aka T.D.A. — Theocharis Docha Anthropotis — Lingo (‘By-the-grace-of-god Fit-for-holding Abstract-humanity Language’), the most colorful of the mavericks. It is, perhaps, best pursued here.


Just as most of us would rather be limbically happy than cortically accurate, we seem to prefer puzzlement to comprehension. Given a choice between an awesome ‘spiritual’ mystery and a prosaic naturalistic explanation, we will pay more for the mystery. Is this an adaptive trait that induces us to explore new directions? Or mental laziness in which ‘Oh, wow!’ substitutes for critical thought?

△   Mystical Revelation   ▽

Revelation, while occurring to a minority, occurs so often in history that we must regard it as a normal phenomenon, if a rare one. As Bertrand Russell(1918) Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (Longmans, Green, London). described it, its salient features are those of Table 1.5. He adds:

◀   Table 1.5   ▶ Aspects of Revelation according to Bertrand Russell.
Belief in: Clues to a rational explanation:
A way of knowledge contrasted with sense, reason, and analysis. Limbic knowledge has its place — in the realm of emotions.
A reality behind the world of appearance and utterly different from it. Quantum field theory agrees — but the world it describes is not that of the mystics.
Unity, and a refusal to admit opposition or division anywhere. See A less magisterial suggestion.
Denial of the reality of Time. This is true in the sense that spacetime is the underlying concept.
The mystic insight begins with the sense of a mystery unveiled, of a hidden wisdom now suddenly become certain beyond the possibility of a doubt. The sense of certainty and revelation comes earlier than any definite belief. … Even the cautious and patient investigation of truth by science, which seems the very antithesis of the mystic's swift certainty, may be fostered and nourished by that very spirit of reverence in which mysticism lives and moves. — {I, p9}.

Where revelation makes contact with the real world in Table 1.5 (quantum theory and spacetime), the original insights may indeed have been revelatory. Yet the 14-decimal-place agreement between experiment and theory has required the reasoned sensing of sophisticated experiments and abstract analysis of theory denied by the first row of Table 1.5. There is a lesson to be heeded here.

△   ‘Out-of-body’ sensation   ▽

Perhaps the best known ‘exotic brain event’ is the out-of-body sensation that accompanies many near-death experiences. Credible people report looking down on their bodies, listening to conversations, remembering events. The natural hypothesis was advanced myriennia ago: ‘the soul’ — a form of separable disembodied consciousness — has left the body, observed it from afar, and returned to it, thus explaining ‘everything’.

The soul has been a reasonable hypothesis for most of history. It is our growing awareness of the complexity of the brain that brings doubt. Long ago philosophers asked how the soul connects to the body. Today, as our machines get smarter, we ask how the soul might function without its hardware. Unplug a computer's memory, and it doesn't work very well. We now realize that the hypothesis of a separable consciousness, devoid of material accoutrements, capable of carrying personality onward is an incredibly complicated explanation, implying an undetectable supporting structure as complex as the physical world itself.

Religions, accepting magical thinking, have found the soul-hypothesis simple and satisfying. Comforting it may be, but its corollaries are dauntingly complex and completely unsupported. Don't get me wrong here: If it were my universe, I would keep tinkering with it until social justice prevailed. (Even 6-year-olds have a well developed sense of fairness: why should the universe have less?) The problem is that the known laws of our universe let us get from what looks like empty space to galaxies and self-aware matter (us) without needing any sort of supernatural support. (Why this should be possible is the question that needs the attention we pay to the just-so stories of mainstream religions!)

The problem is complexity. The soul is not a simple concept! Quantum field theory, which works by processes we do not understand but can manipulate, is simpler than supernaturalism, which we cannot even manipulate.

Given this impasse, a simpler explanation of out-of-body experiences is available: they arise from 2 known psychological phenomena.

Sometimes a particular anesthetic leaves a particular brain conscious and feeling pain, but paralyzed and unable to convey this fact. Vision and hearing may not be completely blocked. With portions of the brain shut down, the remainder does the best it can.

All reports of ‘after-death’ experience may be intepreted in this manner, as a plausible reconstruction of events while the cortex was flat-lined but the interior of the brain still active. Occam's Razor suggests that this is a far more economical hypothesis. The alternative requires fitting a ‘soul’ into the gaps of what we know. This introduces a suite of unanswerable questions, including what it might be made of, what sensors it experiences the world with, how it stores memory, and how it interacts with matter — questions which have not even been asked by supernaturalists.

△   Rhawn Joseph   ▽

Mystics and prophets believe that revelations are external events. Joan of Arc was sure that archangels spoke to her. A little known historical fact suggests that she did not hear archangels. When the English burned her at the stake, her heart did not burn. This has been interpreted as a result of calcification by tuberculosis, which also infects the brain. ‘A common sequel of a cerebral tuberculoma is temporal lobe epilepsy [with accompanying hallucinated voices], and there we have the hallucinations that changed history’.
J Jaynes (1985) ‘Response to the Discussants’ Canadian Psychology 27(#2).

Muhamad wondered whether Gabriel or Satan or a djinn was talking to him; his family preferred ‘Gabriel’ — and that was the extent of the verification! Supernaturalists ask by what right outsiders question the interpretation of those to whom such experiences are given: the answer is ‘Ockham's Razor’ — but brain researcher Rhawn Joseph demurs:

[T]here is a scientific, neurological, and genetic foundation for religious belief, spirituality, and paranormal phenomenon, including the experience of gods, demons, spirits, souls, and life after death. … There are specific regions of the brain, the limbic system, which serves as a transmitter to God, which become highly active when dreaming, during trance states, meditation, prayer, or under LSD ….
[These regions] enable us to experience those realms of reality normally filtered from consciousness, including the reality [all that we know] of god, the spirit, the soul, and life after death — R Joseph (2002) The Transmitter To God (University Press, San Jose CA): 7.

This statement appeared with the struck-out passages, which are unsupported conjectures. Before one can speak meaningfully of ‘transmission’, one must be able to detect (if not interpret) a signal. This has not been done. A more cautious researcher would have limited himself to the bracketed alternative words, which are unexceptionably factual. Joseph's defence is, ‘You don't develop a brain structure to help you experience something that doesn't exist’. This may be true, but Joseph's ‘realities’ are idiosyncratic interpretations of events whose mundane explanation must wait until Ch. 4.

We know that LSD works only with available information. Such, at least, is my conclusion. LSD scanned my memories, collecting everything I knew about ‘the evocative hand’ (e.g.: the musical conductor, the saluting soldier, the praying hands, the pointing finger, the helpless palms, the face palm, the lover's touch, …) and cross-filed it under this new rubric. It did not add basic instances (e.g., the handclasp of a dying friend, the death-defying grip of a baby, …) that I had not yet experienced.

The marvelous pyrotechnic visual displays that LSD produces can sometimes be seen during hypnopompic states also.
A process mimic'd by LSD works under the same restrictions, suggesting that revelation also works with what it finds in the brain: Catholics and Protestants, Native Americans and Zen Buddhists, Hindus and Sufis, receive only revelations that are compatible with (and generally predictable from) their pre-existing beliefs.

Mental events occurring at the Self end of neurological continua make a great impression on the brain (just as they do on the infant brain). Experiments with psilocybin at The Johns Hopkins University found that it produced ‘feelings of unity with all things, transcendence of time and space, deep and abiding joy’ in 22 out of 36 middle-aged volunteers. In follow-up interviews 14 rated the experience as among the most meaningful of their lives. RR Griffiths &3a (2006) ‘Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance’ J Psychopharmacology 187(#3): 268–283; doi 10.1007/s00213-006-0457-5. The description is precisely that applied to non-drug-induced Tilferet, a cabalistic Judaic initiatory experience in which one ‘transcends his ego’.

△   Michael Persinger   ▽

Michael Persinger, professor of neuroscience at Ontario's Laurentia University, stimulated the temporal lobe with induced electrical current with his ‘God helmet’ — and most subjects described religious experiences which were indistinguishable from those reported by mystics. MA Persinger (1983) ‘Religious and mystical experiences as artifacts of temporal lobe function: a general hypothesis’ Perceptual and Motor Skills 57: 1255–1262. 80% reported another presence in the room; 1% ‘experienced god’. The ones who did not respond — Richard Dawkins among them (and, guessing, myself) — are likely to measure low on psychological tests of suggestibility.

Persinger's procedure was non-invasive, and the equipment low budget, consisting of induction coils fitted into a snowmobile helmet. This process reversed electroencephalogram (EEG) readings, which measure the leakage through the skull of electrical potential from cortical nerve activity. The EEG essentially listens to a cocktail-party through a thick wall; the God Helmet called weakly from the outside to get the attention of somebody inside. Both tools are clumsy, imprecise, and primitive, compared to the signals of single cells and small networks that we are ultimately interested in.

Persinger’s work has been criticized P Granqvist &6a (2005) ‘Sensed presence and mystical experiences are predicted by suggestibility, not by the application of transcranial weak complex magnetic fields’ Neurosci Lett. 379(#1): 1-6. on both instrumental and design grounds. The magnetic fields were 6 orders of magnitude weaker than customary transcranial fields. A double-blind replication (with neither subject nor observer knowing when the machine was switched on) yielded no reproducible results. Evidently all that Persinger showed was that 80% of the population was highly suggestible to religious concepts. This in itself is interesting, if not alarming.

One point that Persinger makes is that a ‘flat-line’ EEG is not a signal of death; it merely indicates that there is no activity in the outer 5 mm of the cortex. People in comas, in whom only the brainstem is active, can live in such a ‘vegetative state’ for years — and may then (inexplicably) recover. An EEG does not respond to limbic activity, whose electrical field is shielded by the thickness of the cortex. How much emotional activity is occurring in a particular flat-lined brain is a wide-open question. ‘Near-death’ experiences come from an active limbos subjected to unusual stresses such as reduced blood flow or low oxygen from surgical procedures, with little or no sensory data or cortical input. The limbos does the best it can in this situation, which it surely interprets as seriously abnormal. MA Persinger (1989) ‘Modern neuroscience and near-death experiences: expectancies and implications’ J Near-Death Studies 7: 233–239.

△   Physical Effects   ▽

A couple of purely physical effects on the brain need comment. The first is ‘microwave hearing’. Microwave ovens heat human tissue; radar uses microwaves. Radar operators reported hearing pulses — the ‘Frey effect’ AH Frey (1962) ‘Human auditory systems response to modulated electromagnetic energy’ J. Appl. Physiol. 17(#4): 689-692. — which could be blocked with wire mesh (giving rise to the ‘tinfoil hat’ phenomenon). Work at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, in which the microwave carrier was modulated at acoustic frequencies (as in AM radio), successfully transmitted the words ‘one’ to ‘ten’, presumably by thermally induced pressure waves National Ground Intelligence Center (1998) ‘Bioeffects of Selected Nonlethal Weapons’, declassified in an FOIA response to Donald Friedman's request for information relating to the Frey effect., accessed 2011-01-04. near the cochlea.

Another curious phenomenon is known as binaural beating, in which each ear is fed a different dominant audio frequency, perhaps accompanied with pink noise, natural sounds, or music. This results in entraining the EEG at the beat frequency, and can be used to ‘encourage access to propitious mental states’ FH Atwater (1997) ‘Accessing Anomalous States of Consciousness with a Binaural Beat Technology’ J. Scientific Exploration 11(#3): 263–274. such as the meditative and hypnagogic states of consciousness characterized by parasympathetic arousal ME Sabourin &3a (1990) ‘EEG correlates of hypnotic susceptibility and hypnotic trance: Spectral analysis and coherence’ Internat J Psychophysiology 10: 125-142. (Fig. 1.11). Because this approach lends itself to DIY projects, much of its interesting literature lacks rigor, controls, double-blinding, and other accoutrements of reliable science. Caveat lector.

△   Puzzles   ▽

As an indication of how little we understand the brain, it is useful to review some well attested experiments. The process of learning is accompanied by the formation of new synapses, yet memory is not localized, and seems to be distributed holographically over the cortex. Holograms imply Fourier transforms of information between time and frequency domains, which the brain uses for processing both sound and sight, and which are fast in dedicated hardware. Any small bit of a visual hologram can reproduce the whole image (more hologram increases resolution), and 3-D optical holograms can store multiple images in different orientations. It is easier to see how the brain might do Fourier transforms, than to imagine how it stores holograms. Something complex is going on, because stimulating a particular spot may evoke a specific memory — but restimulating it moment later will evoke a different memory.

A-Images/1.12_hydrocephalus.jpg. MRI scans of 2 brains, one normal, one hydrocephalic. The normal brain has a narrow central ventricle filled with cerebrospinal fluid. In the hydrocephalic brain there is only a thin lining of tissue surrounding a large volume of fluid.
◀   Fig. 1.12     ▶ Hydrocephalus. Left: Normal brain. The irregular central shapes are overlays of the open ventricles through which cerebrospinal fluid circulates, added because the low contrast image made the boundary unclear. Right: Hydrocephalic brain, with most of the skull volume filled with fluid. Image after R. Lewin (1980). R Lewin (1980) ‘Is Your Brain Really Necessary?’ Science 210: 1232–1234.

John Lorber J Lorber (1978) ‘Is your brain really necessary?’ Archives of Disease in Childhood 53(#10): 834 ff. described cases of cortex destruction by hydrocephalus. In one the visual cortex — which, among other specializations, has structures for detecting edges and their angular alignment — was absent, yet normal vision remained. In another, only 1/45 of the cortex remained, yet the patient was normal in every respect save intelligence — which was extremely high. We cannot ethically experiment in this area except as nature offers subjects, so little has been learned in the 40 years since Lorber's report. These cases suggest that the brain is an incredibly flexible device, and that it has barely begun to understand how to use itself.

△   Quantum Brain?   ▽

[I]f there is any advantage, or improvement in efficiency, to be had from taking advantage of quantum mechanics, evolution will inevitably do so. — Lambert (2012) N Lambert &5a (2012} ‘Functional quantum biology in photosynthesis and magnetoreception’

Victor Stenger, a particle physicist and emeritus professor at Hawaii, tried in nearly a dozen popular bookse.g.:
• V Stenger (1990) Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World Beyond the Senses (Prometheus Books, Amherst NY).
• V Stenger (1995) The Unconscious Quantum: Metaphysics in Modern Physics and Cosmology (Prometheus Books, Amherst NY).
• V Stenger (2009) Quantum Gods: Creation, Chaos, and the Search for Cosmic Consciousness (Prometheus Books, Amherst NY).
to disabuse us of the epigraphical idea, calling quantum neurology a ‘mystical misinterpretation’ of quantum mechanics. His is the mainstream view. • K Hepp (1999) ‘Toward the demolition of a computational quantum brain’ In P Blanchard & A Jadczyk (eds.) Quantum Future (Springer, Berlin): 92-104.
• M Tegmark (2000) ‘Importance of quantum decoherence in brain processes’ Phys Rev E 61: 4194–4206.

Yet the intractability of the mind-brain problem means that the idea of quantum processes in the brain has stayed with us. Tarlaci's S Tarlaci (2010) ‘A Historical View of the Relation Between Quantum Mechanics and the Brain: A Neuroquantologic Perspective’ NeuroQuantology 8(#2): 120–136. review shows that Alfred Lotka, Arthur Eddington, John von Neumann, JBS Haldane, Niels Bohr, Norbert Weiner, Karl Pribram, Roger Penrose, and 2 dozen others of similar stature have felt that macroscopic physics was inadequate.

A fundamental difficulty is that progress here requires mastery of 2 of the most difficult areas of human endeavor: quantum field theory and neurology. Not belonging to this select group, I can only sketch the possibilities in Table 1.6.

◀   Table 1.6   ▶ Neuroquantology. Still speculative, these processes might explain capabilities that are problematic within the limits of classical physical chemistry.
Area Process Quantum Event Might Explain Problem
Synapse • F Beck, J Eccles (1992) ‘Quantum aspects of brain activity and the role of consciousness’ Proc Natl Acad Sciences USA 89:8 11357-11361.
• E Squires (1990) Conscious Mind in the Physical World (Adam Hilger, Bristol).
Chemical transmission of information between axons Heisenbergian electron tunnelling? Free will Quantum randomness in sensory and motor synapses is life-threatening.
Axon • M Jibu &4a (1994) ‘Quantum optical coherence in cytoskeletal microtubules: implications for brain function’ BioSystems 32: 195–209.
• S Hagan, SR Hameroff, JA Tuszynski (2002) ‘Quantum computation in brain microtubules: decoherence and biological feasibility’ Phys Rev E65: 061901-1 to -11.
Transmission along axon Thermal energy of tubulin molecules can pump ordered water molecules to emit laser-like biophotons (Dicke's RH Dicke (1954) ‘Coherence in spontaneous radiation processes’ Phys Rev 93: 99–110. ‘superradiance’). Speed of thought No evidence so far.
Whole Brain K Yasue (1999) ‘Quantum Monadology’ in Tucson 3: Towards a Science of Consciousness (MITCognet). Bose-Einstein condensation of biological tunneling photons Body-temperature quantum coherence of Nambu-Goldstone bosons. M Jibu, KH Pribram, K Yasue (1996) ‘From conscious experience to memory storage and retrieval: The role of quantum brain dynamics and boson condensation of evanescent photons’ Intern J Mod Phys B10: 1735-1754. Holographic memory storage This all seems unnecessary to many physicists.

The section epigraph remains true. Current progress in quantum communication will clarify the possibilities of ‘theoquantology’, making further speculation premature.

△   The Monist Approach   ▽

The naturalistic hypothesis — that religious experiences are entirely internal and do not depend upon external input — is simple, testable and compatible with known neural behavior. It is unpersuasive to supernaturalists, who dismiss experiment as ‘interference’ and deny that evoked religious experiences are relevant to ‘real’ religious experiences. Further progress requires experiments during an accepted religious experience. If (for instance) we were dealing with divine electromagnetism, a Faraday cage and magnetic shield would block the signal. External input to an on-going religious experiences could be switched on and off at will, unbeknownst to the prophet.

True Believers will object that electromagnetism is not necessarily the way gods choose to communicate. Perhaps not — but if there is communication, there must be a method. If the ‘god signal’ is detectable by the human brain, it is detectable (even if not interpretable) by other physical devices. Table 1.7 summarizes the modalities so far proposed to explain how religious experiences are received or occur. We will look at communication theory a bit more in Ch. 4, but for now we note that the only alternative to electromagnetism or psychoactive drugs that has been suggested as a stimulus for revelation is Mohammed's. As the recent history of Catholic priests demonstrates, pedophilia Aisha was 6 when Mohammed married her, 9 when he bedded her. as a source of Divine Inspiration is a concept open to rampant abuse.

◀   Table 1.7   ▶ Modalities of Religious Experience. None of them are exactly comforting.
Modality/Trigger Authority
* ‘The Divine Inspiration never came to me while I was under the blanket of any woman amongst you except [Aisha]’.
Stress, Cognitive dissonanceOld Testament bicameral prophets
EpilepsyMany MDs R Joseph (2001) ‘The Limbic System And The Soul: Evolution and the Neuroanatomy of Religious Experience’ Zygon 6: 105–136.
Psychoactive drugsKrishna, Rig Veda 9, 10
LimbosRhawn Joseph R Joseph (2003) ‘Sex, Violence and Religious Experience’ pp 473–562 in R Joseph (ed.) Neurotheology: Brain, Science, Spirituality, Religious Experience (University Press, San Jose CA).
ElectromagnetismMichael Persinger MA Persinger (1987) Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs (Praeger, NYC).
Pedophilia*Muhamad, {Bukhari 5-57-119}
Quantum Brain Dynamics I have found nothing directly relating QBD to religion by physicists.

Brain abilities evolve to solve specific problems. We are better at recognizing faces of our own race; we are more comfortable with integers than with other aspect of arithmetic; our ability to play billiards stems from deducing what someone else's eyeballs are looking at (probably in combat), so that we have a calculator which ‘knows’ about the Newtonian physics of contacting spheres. Such abilities ‘must be panhuman (universal) and must have evolved JMG Van der Dennen (1995) Origins of War (Origin, Groningen): 4. in the long period in which humans were hunter-gatherers’. If some of us have a detector for a ‘god signal’, it must be a general property. (For every Mozart, there are a thousand people who can compose acceptable music.) For a ‘god receiver’ to have evolved, it must have saved lives during the Paleolithic.

△   First-person Account: Telepathy?   ▽

I regret not analyzing as it was happening the only personal experience that might be related to these exotic phenomena. In the heady aftermath of young love, Since it might be relevant, I mention that we had twice answered the 567 questions of the cross-MMPI questionnaire, which when reduced to the standard graph and superimposed, showed a single line instead of the usual 4. Dr Paul Popenoe said that in 30 years of counseling, he had never seen anything like this: ‘If you 2 can't make it, no one can!’ So much for questionnaires! our forearms were lying side by side, and I was idly stroking hers. Or mine. The odd thing was that I could not tell, without looking, whose arm I was touching. I was 28 at the time, old enough so that I should have been scientifically interested in the phenomenon, which proved to be a unique event. However, QBD implies that intentional brain activity affects functional brain behavior, and I was not going to interfere with the experience. Nor can I ask her about it now: we, alas, lost touch long ago. The sensory signal returned from the arm was identical. Correspondents tell me that this odd sensations is not unique, and that they too have experienced it in similar situations. The closest analog I can think of is what happens the first few times you cross your fingers and stroke your nose: the naïve brain interprets this as stroking the adjacent sides of a pair of noses 2 finger widths apart. In that case, there are physical signals to interpret; the confusion lies in not integrating kinesthetic information about the position of the fingers. I was incurious about the arms because at the time the effect seemed perfectly natural. I did comment on it, but all she said was, ‘I know’. Was she feeling the same thing? Were we both a bit bemused? Entangled? O Romero-Isart &3a (2010) ‘Toward quantum superposition of living organisms’ New Journal of Physics 12 033015 (16pp). [One problem is that the only organism suitable for the experiment — smaller than the wavelength of light and capable of surviving in a vacuum — is a virus, which most biologists would not describe as alive.] Was the sensation of a finger running along ‘my’ arm when I stroked hers hallucination, or telepathy? How do these differ? Would the effect have persisted if a 1-ton magnetic-resonance imager had non-intrusively I jest. MRI scans are as distractingly noisy as a construction site with bulldozers, jack hammers, and large trucks reversing. materialized and started looking at neural activity?

△   △   ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW   ▽   ▽

[I]f one accepts the point of view that the whole of Indian mystical practice from the Upanishads through the more mechanical methods of yoga is merely an attempt to recapture the vision granted by the Soma plant, then the nature of that vision — and of the plant — underlies the whole of the Indian religion. — Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty, translator of the Rig Veda.

The epigraph is testimony to the power of lysergic amides, Principally ergotamine, an LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) precursor. natural hallucinogens from ergot fungi growing on finger millet. EB Havell (1920) ‘What is Soma?’ J Roy Asiatic Soc Great Britain & Ireland 3rd Series pp 349–351. Both the instructions for preparation and the effects of Soma {Rig Veda Books 9, 10} point to ergot. The host plant's identity was lost, probably during a climatic period too dry for ergot to infect millet. The later Brahmanas offer substitutes, some hallucinogenic, others that look like millet. The epigraphic suggestion is anathema to all who are loath to reduce a world religion to the effects of a fungus — although this origin is accepted for world-wide shamanism and witchcraft.

An underlying question is why samadhi and ecstasy are so pleasant, however induced. The usual response is that these are as close as we can get to god/universal consciousness/whatever: of course they are pleasant. The first-person accounts of 2 brain researchers are relevant to this question.

△   James Austin   ▽

A ‘mystical experience’ that hit neurologist James Austin unexpectedly while he waited for a London Underground train left him ‘graced by a comprehension of the ultimate nature of things’.

Austin's professional analysis J Austin (1998) Zen and the Brain (MIT Press, Cambridge MA). of his experience was that cortical functions were damped, including time-passage in the frontal lobe, self-awareness in the temporal lobes, spacial orientation and self/other discrimination in the parietal lobes, and fear generation in the amygdalae. His mystical experience did not ‘reach higher levels of awareness’: it shut down large parts of his brain. It seems likely that this was caused by a restriction of blood flow from a soft embolism, that just missed delivering a serious stroke. Others E d'Aquili, AE Newberg (1999) The Mystical Mind (Fortress, Minneapolis MN). report that some types of meditation shut down the (self/other) parietal lobes.

If so, we have a different interpretation of the mystic's ‘unity of all things’: the brain has simply lost its ability to distinguish between self and environment. This does not tell us anything about ‘reality’ that we didn't know as a newborn.

△   No Left Brain   ▽

Dr Jill Bolte Taylor, JB Taylor (2008) My Stroke of Insight (Penguin, NYC). neuroanatomist, woke up one morning with a stroke in the process of shutting down her left hemisphere. It is directly relevant to our discussion, since the left hemisphere contains the ‘I’ personality. A few of her descriptions of life without this persona include the joy of being ‘entirely disconnected from brainchatter’, with ‘37 years of emotional baggage’ gone. These appear to be similar to the goals of samadhi, as ‘her consciousness shifted into present-moment thinking whereby she experienced herself at one with the universe’. ‘Wow! This is cool! How many brain researchers have been able to watch a stroke from the inside?’ ‘Euphoria! Euphoria!’ ‘Nirvana! I found nirvana!’

The opportunity to do better focussed investigation occurs (so far) only with open-brain conscious-patient surgery, which requires close cooperation between a brain surgeon and the researcher. Even with a patient whose temporal lobe is exposed, time is limited; there are few markers on the brain to suggest where to stimulate; it is impossible to know everything about the patient's prior information (conscious and unconscious) — so the process is a matter of trial and error. Still, I implore any brain surgeon reading this to find a colleague (like Oliver Sacks) interested in temporal/parietal-lobe functions, and give her as much opportunity to poke around as is consistent with the patient's welfare.

Reliable hard data is limited, but we can safely say the following:

(The last finding is problematical for scientists, because quotidian research requires hard-nosed scepticism, while Nobel Prizes often spring from intuitive insights.)

△   Looking ahead   ▽

One can anticipate a research tool which might help resolve some of these questions. Consider a permanently installed version of Persinger's helmet, consisting of a flexible membrane covered with electronic devices at the spatial resolution of Apple's ‘Retina’ display, capable of emitting an appropriate signal, under precise computer control. Three signal modalities seem possible: electrostatic from small capacitors, electrical current from point emitters, and magnetic field from tiny solenoids. Such devices would represent an immense gain in areal resolution, but a corresponding loss of depth penetration.

The mechanics look doable. Ethically one might expect the traditional approach in which the doctor tries the procedure on himself. Given our apparent inability to refuse to do anything we are technically capable of, I should think that results from small versions might appear within a few years. A week after I wrote that, a 360-sensor membrane implant showed up in MIT's Technology Review (2011-11-25). Inside a decade, full coverage of lobe-sized areas seems feasible. Placement among the meninges I leave open, observing only that difficulty and resolution increase with proximity to the cortex.

Similar tools for investigating the limbos are an order of magnitude more difficult, electronically, physically, and medically. The superficial, cortical electronic patch looks to be straightforward extrapolation of existing techniques, almost the sort of thing one might find in the App Store next year.

△   A Less Magisterial Suggestion   ▽

He therefore that knows it, after having become quiet, subdued, satisfied, patient, and collected, sees self in Self, sees all as Self. — Brihaddranyaka Upanishad IV: 4.

It has perhaps not escaped the reader that several neurological continua seem to lead to similar ‘Self’ states. This is a hypothesis which has not been tested, but which is consistent with reports by mystics and scientists alike — and it can be falsified instrumentally. This follows if the ‘Self’ is the bare-bones genetically determined functioning of the various components of the brain, and the ‘I’ is their integrated time-and-experience functioning. Ockham's Razor then suggests that the return to the ‘Self’ merely represents a loss of contact with everything that distinguishes the ‘I’. One sheds awareness of all that he has learned or done, and returns temporarily to the perception of pure Self — in other words, a ‘good trip’ goes back to the womb. We do, after all, carry this with us, deeply buried: The ‘bad-trip’ version is any psychological stress that induces the fetal position. Perhaps this idea needs expansion. Psychiatrists concerned with entirely different responses have observed that psychotic and ‘borderline’ patients — the latter having both schizophrenic and neurotic features — ‘display behavior that is similar to the toddler’ T Michael (2004) ‘The child is father to the man’ (Colloquium on Violence and Religion, Annual Conference 2004). [Click ⬆ for current information.] , and that ‘All people still have within them, NG Hamilton (1988) Self and Others: Object Relations Theory in Practice (Jason Aronson, Northvale NJ): 150. at some level, residuals from all the stages of development they have traversed’.

The state of pure ‘Self’ is then not a state of Absolute Unitary Being, or Union with the Universe, or Cosmic Oneness. It is simply the contented NewIdea baby's Absolute Unitary Egoism of ‘ME’ being all that one is aware of. ‘[T]he newborn infant up to the age of 2 months [exists] in an autistic phase that precedes the capacity for relationships, … having no separate mental state’. NG Hamilton (1988) Self and Others: Object Relations Theory in Practice (Jason Aronson, Northvale NJ): 36. This is not to disparage the mental accomplishment of newborns. Babies instinctively know about faces and nipples; everything else is learned, with the beneficial effect of smiling being one of the early discoveries. Babies are the best learning machines, and the most creative imaginers, in the universe, partly because their brains are more active than ours, with some 15,000 synapses per neuron, A Gopnik, A Meltzoff, P Kuhl (1999) The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains and How Children Learn (Morrow, NYC). compared to an adult's 10,000. Early learning does not require new synapse formation, but the faster process of synapse removal. ‘The child is a budding psychologist. We parents are the laboratory rats’, says Alison Gopnik. Having said that, the newborn's ability to interpret unfamiliar sensory input is nearly non-existent, so it gets filtered out. The adult in samadhi is likewise bereft of meaningful sensory input, and aware only of his own ‘self-referential nature’. Yet the adult (unlike the infant) is subliminally aware that there is a whole universe ‘out there’. Lacking sensory input to distinguish ‘in’ from ‘out’, the idea that ‘Atman is Brahman’ — the Self is the Absolute — is a rational conclusion. This has been called ‘the highest contribution SP Rai (no date) ‘A Brief History of Eastern Ideas’ to thought from the sages of the ‘Upanishads’.

The alternative, less self-congratulatory, view is that the philosophically unacceptable egoism of the newborn is reinterpreted by an adult brain as philosophically desirable universal unity. An interesting feature supporting this idea is that EEG waves in the δ band of samadhi, below 4 Hz, are also characteristic of babies (and also of deep sleep). This makes good sense: the less a brain has to do, less bandwidth it needs, and the lower the frequency it can use, just as for silicon. Apparently no one has looked for meditation analogs in the brain waves of cats, but as a guess, a purring cat, kneading gently with her front paws in a return to the activity of a nursing kitten, is another analog of human samadhi: slow brain waves; utter peace; absolute contentment.

Recall the footnote to Fig. 1.11, in which Ronald Fischer describes the meaning of the numbers on his graph in perhaps confusing instrumental terms. In plain English, lower numbers on both scales indicate lower brain activity: the closer we come to the Self end of the axis, the less work our brain is doing, and the more of it is shut down. Neurotheologist Andrew Newberg, A Newberg (2001) ‘Brain Science & The Biology of Belief, Part 2’ (Metanexus: The Online Forum on Religion and Science ). at the University of Pennsylvania, has MRI images of experienced meditators during intense spiritual peaks, which show dramatic reduction of blood flow to the orientation-association area of the left parietal lobe. In Table 1.4 the left parietal was described as being responsible for the sense of a physical body. Shut it down, and one's sense of Self is no longer localized by a stream of sensory data.

It appears that reducing blood flow to particular brain areas produces altered states of consciousness that are interpreted as desirable spiritual experiences. In such states one is vulnerable to real-world damage, so natural selection has done its best to guarantee constant flow. It takes years of practice to change it at will, an effort that has contributed to the impression of desirability.

If slowing blood flow were the result of a medical procedure, the patient would be told not to worry about the associated transient feelings of dissociation. If it could be taught in a week (perhaps with biofeedback), or if it were as easy to achieve as a high from cannabis, we would legislate against meditation and lecture teenagers about the danger of permanent damage to the brain.

My tame shaman points out that I am assuming that shutting down the cortex is all that happens during meditation. I plead guilty, because that is the simplest hypothesis that explains the data:

It may seem egotistical for a sceptical scientist to dismiss 4000 years of interpretation by millions of earnest truth-seekers — with semi-divine teachers among them! But is it not also a little egotistical to assume that one has, by sitting still and doing as little thinking as possible, discovered the secrets of the universe?

△   First-person data: samadhi   ▽

My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there. — Jalal al-Din Rumi, Sufi philosopher, 1207–1273.

In discussions with Buddhist friends, it occurred to me that although sleep usually pre-empts my approach to meditation (as it often does for novice Zen monks), yet I knew one aspect of samadhi from a recurring childhood dream. Every time I had a fever (and was thus in a reproducible ASC) until I was about 6, I had the same vivid, but totally non-verbal dream, largely kinesthetic, and so difficult to describe that I did not mention it until I was in my teens, and then to an engineer friend, who immediately said that he had had the same dream. He interpreted it as a birth memory, and as soon as he said that, all the pieces clicked into place and I saw it as a coherent memory. This suggests that one runs a fever while being born — not an unlikely consequence of the process, and testable, but one that would naturally leave any memory of it normally inaccessible.
For what it is worth, Ray Bradbury also remembered being born. Perhaps the memory is more common than we thought.

In the dream, there was no time, no responsibility, nothing that needed doing (not even breathing). There was comfort, and ‘the peace that passeth understanding’. Above all, there was contentment. (80 years later, I did not write ‘I was contented’ — because there was no ‘I’ at this point. This is the ‘Self’ state, hardly conscious because there was nothing but contentment to be aware of.) Simultaneously supremely egoistic and at one with the then known universe, all was well. Nothing needed change, nothing needed improvement, then or ever. Time did not exist because all needs were cared for and all wishes granted before awareness of them. (A remotely comparable satisfaction might be some combination of relaxation after a monumental task well done plus post-coital lassitude.)

Suddenly, for no reason at all, this bliss, this idyll, was destroyed by the most horrible change and terrifying wrongness. No pain. Torsion, compression, distortion, loss, helplessness — and wrong, wrong, WRONG!  I — and now, for the first time, there was an ‘I’ — was cut adrift from the Universe. Terrible things were happening that I had no control over. I was totally defenseless in the face of absolute catastrophe.

No wonder newborns cry!

When my daughter was born, umbilical cord tied and cut, and laid face down on the bed, I remembered — and stroked her back. A feeble attempt, perhaps, but what other way to send a message? And it worked: almost as though startled out of crying, she relaxed, perhaps thinking, ‘Oh? New! Nice! Not disaster after all?’ — and with a big sigh, went to sleep, after the hardest and most terrifying day Otto Rank made the birth experience central to his psychoanalytic theory. It's probably a good idea to let newborns know they're appreciated as soon as possible. See O Rank (1924) The Trauma of Birth (Brunner, NYC, 1952). of her life.

Years later, when I described this dream to my shrink, he pooh-poohed the idea of a birth memory and suggested alternatives from familiar events of childhood — none of which came close to fitting. I had mentioned something about a sailboat in a gentle breeze; he suggested visual references — but mine was purely kinesthetic. I had said something about meat grinders and spaghetti sauce, but these were efforts to find analogs for the torsion, compression, and marginally visual aspects. It occurs to me as I write, that perhaps my ‘instinctive’ aversion to eating meat was an association between the intense wrongness and the ‘meat-grinder/spaghetti-sauce’ aspects of the experience, What a comedown that would be! I have always rather supposed that I had acquired just enough merit in previous lives so that now the question of eating sentient fellow travellers on the journey of life was a simple non-starter. We know so little about how the universe works that perhaps both interpretations are true. although this is certainly not a universal response. In any case, my first major disillusionment with the human race — probably when I was about 2½ years old — was accompanied by a similar horrible feeling of wrongness (had I gotten off at the wrong planet?) Obviously, this expression is an adult attempt to describe the childhood feeling of utter misplacement, for which there was then no suitable vocabulary. The vocabulary would have to wait another 2½ years, until I met Buck Rogers in the Sunday paper. and awareness that I was trapped in a place I didn't belong. It came when my mother explained that people really did eat animals here: Robinson Crusoe shared some of my horror when he saw footprints in the sand and realized that his island was visited by cannibals.

△   Samadhi: infantile and adult   ▽

The blissful stage of the dream seems to be very similar to published descriptions of samadhi. The similarity is strong enough to call into question all mystical discourse. Max Weber, judging by his sarcastic descriptions of rapture and samadhi (in the upper corners of Fig. 1.11), arrived at a similar conclusion — without calling attention to its infantile connection. (He did, after all, have his Oxford professorship to protect.) If this conclusion is correct, human adepts have devoted tremendous efforts to reducing themselves to infancy, in the hope of enjoying an experience which in the final analysis is pure narcissism. This casts an entirely literal light on Jesus's comment, ‘Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein’ {Luke 18:17}.

On the other hand, when the experience of universal unity leaves behind: TakeHome

it is useful indeed. Yet this is a rare consequence, and 4 millennia of pursuit of samadhi in Asia have seldom achieved it. ‘That's not the goal!’ say quietist Buddhists — making my point for me. It should be the goal.

There is a good reason why such insight is difficult to attain by natural means. Once you see the connection of all things, you are — by cortical logic, limbic emotion, and spiritual unity — as responsible for them as you are for yourself. Synthetic kinship expands to include all of creation. Few people are ready for this level of commitment, so the tendency is to rationalize away the logic, dismiss the emotion, etherialize the unity, and accept the altered state of consciousness itself as the be-all and end-all of the experience. This avoidance of adult responsibility, seeking infantile samadhi for its own sake, is a form of spiritual masturbation, indulgent and unproductive.

Because there is no known way to distinguish, by measurements or from descriptions, the condition of the newborn from the condition of the mystic and yogi, and because their historical influence on the real world are identically nil, samadhi and rapture alike appear to be exceedingly complicated replacements for thumb-sucking.

Interestingly, the Mediterranean mystery religions sought

to induce in the candidate a special kind of experience which would leave him with a conviction of the reality of postmortem existence and which also seems to have induced a sense of the kinship of all life, […employing] hypnosis, flagellation, fasting, whirling dances, the inhalation of fumes, the contemplation of sacred objects, [and] special music … singly and in combination — G.R. Taylor (1954),Sex in History (Thames & Hudson, London): Ch. 12} emphasis added.

A logical point seldom made is that the conviction that ‘The Self does not exist’ is identical to the conviction that ‘The Self is all there is’. There is only a single ‘thing’ to be aware of; its name is arbitrary. ‘Ātman is Brāhman; Anātman is Brāhman’. What happens when you reach this state depends on where you came from. Let a devotee of Instinct-1 come to this and you have a megalomaniac who knows he is god incarnate: ‘When the President does it, it isn't illegal’!

It is time for one of Gautama's own parables. In the Majjhima-Nikaya 22.113, a man on a journey builds a raft to cross a riotous whitewater river. After he reaches the other side, he is so impressed by the utility of the cumbersome raft that he straps it on his back and carries it through the forest, where it constantly impedes him by snagging on branches. Buddhism, said Buddha, is like the raft; essential for one part of the journey. So too is this business of samadhi — as well as the whole concept of religion.  

△   Wisdom   ▽

Wisdom may involve optimal balance between functions of phylogenetically more primitive brain regions (limbic system) and newer ones (prefrontal cortex). — TW Meeks, DV Jeste (2009)‘Neurobiology of Wisdom: A Literature Overview’ Archives of General Psychiatry 66(#4): 355–365; doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.8

Politicians, economists, and the media harp on the dangers of an aging population: a declining work force, an increasing need for medical services, unemployment, a failing Social Security system, ya-ta-ta, ya-ta-ta, ya-ta-ta. Aside from its sloppy logic, this is a highly warped point of view.

The logic? We cannot have a declining work force (too few workers) and unemployment (too many workers) simultaneously, unless there is serious intentional distortion of both political language and the labor market.

The warp? This interpretation arises because — and only because — in the employers’ view there are too few in the country who are willing to work 3rd-world hours, in 3rd-world conditions, for 3rd-world pay. This is a consequence of free trade between grossly imbalanced economies. We lose unions, jobs, civilized working conditions, the potential 30-hour work week, the living wage. In return, we get cheap clothes and toys — and an Army that is prepared to shoot anyone who objects. Our elected representatives made this choice for us, at the behest of their (and our) employers. A rational country would immediately impeach any President who ordered his armed forces to fire on striking workers just because his campaign contributors told him to. (If anyone in the system needs being fired on, it is those contributors!) A rational country would impeach any President whose FBI ‘treated the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat, [and functioned] as a de facto intelligence arm of Wall Street and Corporate America’, as Obama's did. This is not incipient fascism; this is full-fledged, working fascism. Another example: On 2012-06-26, long-time peace activists Sister Megan Rice, 82, Greg Boertje-Obed, 57, and Michael Walli, 63, cut through 4 fences to trespass on the Oak Ridge Y-12 nuclear-weapons production facility, where they hung up peace banners, spray-painted peace slogans, and sang peace songs while waiting for security people to notice and arrest them.
A proportional punishment would have had them pay to repair the fences.
By 2012-10-04 US Attorney General Eric Holder had replaced a tresspassing charge with sabotage, obstruction of national defence, and willful damage of national security property, for a possible 35 years in prison.
What did Obama fear so deeply that it led him to appoint a mentally unbalanced Attorney General?

Another view suggests that we spend a third of our lives in a primarily limbic mode, while the cortex is still getting organized. Dependent first on our parents, then interested primarily in sexual partners, then bringing up children, and learning all the time, we reach 30 with a well practiced limbic system and a functioning cortex. With reproduction out of the way, the limbos can subside, and we have a third of a lifetime that is primarily cortical. Still learning, we accumulate work experience, observe political and social experiments, and learn critical evaluation. By 60, the brain's components are well stocked with a lifetime's experience, both limbic and cortical, and we have another 30 years to think about it, integrate what we have experienced, and with luck arrive at that rare condition known as ‘wisdom’, in which the colored arrows of Fig. 1.10 swing together and the brain's incompatible approaches can work in harmony.

In the rational world of, say, 40 years ago (see Fig. 23.1), an aging work force might have been seen as an advantage. Age may not guarantee wisdom, but wisdom and youth seldom go hand in hand.

Meeks & Jeste(2009) ‘Neurobiology of Wisdom: A Literature Overview’ Archives of General Psychiatry 66(#4): 355–365; doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.8 suggest 6 components of wisdom, which we paraphrase a bit:

Note how little Instinct-1 contributes, and how long it may take to acquire and integrate the components!

If one were to propose a ‘mechanism for wisdom’, it would, I think, be based on the established facts that (1) we lose neurons over time, but (2) the surviving neurons gain synapses. The physical aspect might be seen as correlating with the mental aspect: knowledge is transferred from the removed neuron to the burgeoning interconnections — and in the process is integrated into a larger and more connected system. One thing known to contribute to the retention of synapse formation is use of the system. The brain is like any other organ: use it or lose it. The synapses of a couch potato are as flabby as his muscles.

Granted, most of us mess up along the way. In some, synapse formation falters and learning stops. In others, limbic catastrophes subvert cortical development. Too often, the alpha male's belief that peons should work 24/7 for their betters interferes — in the peon for lack of time to reflect; in the alpha from sheer egoism. We stumble into one or more of the 4 great life-shorteners: poor diet, lack of exercize, smoking, and obesity. All of these deflect us from life's principal project — for, as Socrates observed, ‘the unexamined life [in which one cannot acquire wisdom] is not worth living’.

△   △   Note: JHANAS   ▲

‘[T]he classifications of technical terms … has received its highest development … in the Buddhist philosophy. Indeed there is scarcely a branch of Buddhist teaching into which it has not been carried with an elaboration and detail perfectly astonishing’ — RC Childers (1870). ‘Khuddaka Pátha, a Páli Text, with a Translation and Notes’ J Roy. Asiatic Soc. New Series 4: 309–339.

In addition to its definition as concentration, samadhi is variously defined as ‘the Noble Trance’, AJ Edmunds (2001) ‘Buddha's Discourse on the End of the World’ The Open Court 15(#7): 428–432. or ‘meditative stability’, or ‘a sort of waking dream or reverie, J Edkins (transl.) (1893) ‘The Len-Yen-King’, in Chinese Buddhism (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner; London): 296n.
Oddly, Edkin's note is intended to explain Buddha's words to Ananda: ‘There is a samadhi called that of the Sheu-leng-yen Rajah …. It embraces all good actions, and describes how all the Buddhas were rescued from the world of sense and entered the glorious path that leads to confirmed rest’, suggesting that samadhis shared some properties of stories or texts.
occurring to Buddha or his disciples when engaged in deep contemplation, and in which an impression or vision teaching certain religious dogmas seems present to the mind's eye’.

In a wider context, terminology for meditational ASCs is fraught with controversy and 4-dimensional confusion. The dimensions of this ill defined terrain are:

(1) Traditions. Each language has its own specialized vocabulary. Chinese Chan, Hindu Dhyana, Japanese Zen, Korean Seon, Pali Jhana, EJ Thomas (1914) The Life of Buddha as Legend and History (3rd ed) (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1975) Ch. 6 & 13. Sufi (Arabic) Muraqaba, Tibetan Samten and Vietnamese Thien all refer to meditation and its many ASCs, but they do not necessarily describe identical concepts. We haven't even mentioned shamanism, which includes the myriad orally transmitted traditions of 1000 assorted tribes.

(2) Teachers. Within each tradition there are numerous authorities. Dhyana, for instance, contains many yogic systems, starting with those described by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita and continuing with every ambitious guru — each of whom introduces idiosyncratic practices (that work for him), and their associated vocabularies.

(3) Degrees. Even assuming that we were discussing a single neurological axis, there are any number of arbitrary states whose boundaries are ill defined in the absence of objective instrumental measures. Given that we know neither the number of neurological axes, nor how they interact, nor how to measure positions along them in real time, nor how objective measures and subjective experience correlate, we are left with verbal descriptions that are more poetic than precise.

(4) Individual Variations. No 2 brains are identical, and there is no reason why one person's ASCs should be identical to another's. We agree that a certain color is blue because we can point to it, but there is no way of describing my blue to you that doesn't involve pointing to others things we both call blue. It may be that if I looked through your occipital lobe, grass would be blue and the sky octarine, a sensation unknown to my brain. We can't establish a common vocabulary for ASCs except by pointing to instrumental records, but this tells us nothing about the subjective experiences.

In the Pali tradition there are 4 rupajhana which differ by level:

the object of
Rapture  Joy  Concen-
1st jhana *** *
2nd jhana ** *
3rd jhana * *
4th jhana **

and 4 ‘formless’ arupajhana which differ by object:

Because we are limited to first-person description of ASCs, and have no means of establishing a second-person description — as by reading a dial recording some aspect of a meditator's brain and being able to say, ‘You are in the same state that you called so-and-so’ — there is endless debate which contributes little to understanding. How, exactly, do ‘joy’ and ‘rapture’ differ?

Apparently the sequence of jhanas overlaps the zazen and savikalpi samadhi range in Fig. 1.11. These detailed classifications clearly require more exploration than we have room for, but it is significant that among the rupajhanas, progress is made by eliminating asterisks. Is this reminiscent of James Austin's description of his mystical experience as parts of his brain shut down? Brahmavamso A Brahmavamso (2003) The Jhanas (Buddhist Fellowship, Singapore): 63.
Recommended. Less hand-waving jargon per concept than anything else I've met.
refers to the jhana states as stages of blissful letting go. ‘First one lets go of the body and the world, of the five senses [sensory/motor frontal lobe?; occipital lobe?]. Then one lets go of the doer [left temporal lobe?]. Then one lets go of pleasure and displeasure [limbos?]. The one lets go of space and consciousness [right parietal lobe?]. Then one lets go of all knowing [prefrontal lobe?].’

The deliberately provocative ‘thumb-sucking’ hypothesis has 3 components. None requires a signal source external to the brain: ”NewIdea”

  1. Jhanas operationally result from shutting down parts of the brain (probably by teaching parasympathetic nerves to constrict blood vessels, in which case the difficulty of reaching ‘higher’ states is the difficulty of exerting conscious control over an autonomic system, and learning could be expedited with biofeedback);
  2. Relevant areas of the newborn brain contain minimal information at birth, and although they are filled by later experience, when shut down they register as ‘empty’;
  3. Shutting down the left (‘I’) hemisphere results in ‘Jill Taylor's nirvana’, by returning it to the newborn condition B.

With sufficient effort (such as invasive surgery), these are probably testable:

  1. To test A, one constricts (or observes) specific blood vessels of an adept who has names for various ASCs in a double-blind experiment;
  2. Testing B is more problematic, but perhaps scans of the newborn brain could tell us something, and infant psychologists have found clever ways of telling what is going on inside the baby brain;
  3. Shutting down one hemisphere is tricky because brain arteries evolved to prevent this, but it can be done.

    ⊲   Last update: Sun, 2017-Jul-23, 00:29 GMT   ⊳