Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy

    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Archive for July, 2010

How your brain creates God (i.e. subjective ‘realities’)

Posted by robertpriddy on July 10, 2010


New Scientist article on human brain and its natural inclination for religious belief

In relation to the inset article: This is interesting because it indicates – at the least – how the human brain is most likely the creator of myths… rather than there being any spirit or soul which instructs the brain. On the other hand, the (admittedly tentative) conclusion that humans have a ‘natural’ inclination to religious belief is rather facile, to say the least. It is rather disappointing that the New Scientist publishes material which contains research based on imprecise or questionable usage of terms (eg. ‘religious ideas’, ‘natural inclination’, ‘hard-wired’).

The instance quoted to support this – hard times such as the Great Depression causing a rise in authoritarian church attendance – is not much of an empirical generalization… for surely countless counter examples could be found. The talk of the ‘brain being hard-wired’ for many different things, such as ’empathy’ and ‘romantic rejection’, then also ‘religious belief’ strikes a semanticist as an exaggeration in terminology for findings which are yet of a very tentative nature. For example, if the human brain is, through evolutionary pressures, now hard-wired for religious belief of some kind, how is that so many people are atheistic, agnostic or simply don’t care and never bother themselves with God in any shape or form.

Widespread atheism in a society is a recent development in human history, and does this not indicate that but the alleged “hard-wiring” proved soft after all? In the most progressively intellectual countries of Northern Europe, America (apart from the alleged USA religious majority), Australasia and so on, religion has lost it iron grip on the common mentality of people. Prevailing attitudes – which share the noosphere with opposite attitudes, can hardly be said to be evidence of ‘hard-wiring’. One suspects that there can sometimes even be a pseudo-religious agenda in emphasizing this supposed powerful ‘natural’ inclination (Thank goodness it is not called a ‘natural instinct’ any longer, as on the Cartesian-type model of a ‘God-embedded’ idea of God in human minds). In short, the jury must remain out and should not speak about their private conclusions until the evidence is overwhelming… which it most likely never will be, considering the huge exceptions I have so far only touched on.

The continued preponderance of religious ideas and their role in the arts, music, literature etc. can be explained in numerous other ways than by reference to evolutionary brain developments, which researches still remain in the shadow area of speculation, not verified and well-established hypotheses. Firstly, there is no longer a common religion in all cultures, and most religions were virtually unknown to one other in the main before the modern age of global communications. Besides, there were – and still are – many cultures where what religionists interpret as religion bears little resemblance to any of today’s mainstream religions. What can be defined as a religion is almost a political issue. This vastly complicates research addressing such sweeping terms as ‘religious’.

Secondly, the development of arts in civilised societies are understandably influenced by the other ideas, including prevalent religious beliefs. There can be many reasons for such influences other than then brain’s inclinations. There is the matter of getting accepted by others, which means communicating in terms they understand or prefer. The successful artist is almost always  dependent on a degree of pandering to prevailing tastes, fashions and the lingua franca of the ‘moral’ leaders or law-makers of society, often a priesthood,  if only so as not to be persecuted (one things of Bruno and Galileo for a start). Thirdly, that the brain can “conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters” is no more fundamental than what the mind of a child can create beyond the everyday world from which it draws its elements (especially of a religiously un-indoctrinated children) . Imagination is not limited to spirits, gods and monsters – of course – though these were employed by primitive humankind in an attempt to grasp the causes of the otherwise ‘mysterious’ nature (plagues, droughts, calamities rule a population and even that it rains ‘Deus pluit‘ and a thousand other daily enigmas to early people). This emphasis on religious element in imagination in the ‘hard-wired religion’ camp is without any empirical stringency, since alternative figments of the mind are innumerable too, especially today when all have potential access to everything all cultures have produced.

One of those who capitalizes on such research findings is Iona Miller of the Asklepia Foundation, 2003 writes: “The god-experience is a process, a subjective perception, rather than an objectively provable reality. Distractions cease, replaced by the direct impact of oceanic expansion, sudden insight, childlike wonder, ecstatic exaltation above bodily and personal existence, dissolution in a timeless moment, fusion, gnosis” I shall consider this in a separate blog later.

Se also On the roots of religious fanaticism

Posted in Belief, Creationism, Environment, Evolution, Ideology, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion, Science, Spiritual propaganda, Theology, Understanding | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

What comes first: matter or mind?

Posted by robertpriddy on July 1, 2010


To ask what came first, such as ‘matter’ or ‘mind’ is often brushed aside as an unsolvable riddle like ‘which came first, chicken or egg’ problem. The body-mind schizma, the god vs. creation argument and all related basic (epistemological) dualisms are, in some ways, glorified chicken-egg questions. What is much greater is the depth of interpretations that can be devised, the sophistication and breadth of the pro and contra arguments and – not least –  the degree of empirical evidence that can be brought to bear. To claim it is unsolvable because it is based on assumptions or supposed axiomatic data is a mentally short-circuited attitude. Even assumptions can eventually be tested and proved or disproved – and, failing that, shown to be extremely unlikely or the reverse. Blowing the mental fuse and breaking the flow of insights, the connections between questioning, investigating, observing and reasoning. It disposes of the essential problem without even an attempt to probe what it means or what consequences it can have for human thought and knowledge, culture and life itself.

The most contradictory standpoints and cultures are generated from one or another side of the ultimate ‘ontological’ dualism which takes many forms such as mind vs. matter, cosmos vs. universe, God vs. no creator, soul vs body, religion vs. science, spiritual idealism (‘mentalism’) vs. materialism/physicalism, belief vs. (empirically-based) knowledge. The questions ‘Was the cosmos created by God?’ and “Is God a mental creation of humankind” encapsulate the divergence as ‘creationism’ versus ‘evolutionism’. This is parallel to the issue whether mind can create matter or not (the latter implying that mind arises from matter).

Before summarizing the main reasons why I maintain that mind is matter-dependent and not the reverse, I shall examine some of the grounds on which the most subtle religious ideas about creation are based. Note, however, that belief is absolutely required in the case of the ‘spiritual’ side of the divide and – since belief is ultimately just ‘blind’ faith other than empirical nor methodically-tested rational knowledge – this brings us into the realm of speculation or religious mysticism. The influence that this has had on humanity and all cultures is immense, so it must be confronted and questioned where it stands on its own ground. Ideas of God’s existence, nature and all interpreted qualities vary more tremendously than one can encompass fruitfully, so I concentrate on some of the key or mainstream beliefs.

Indian cosmology has various explanations of creation by God (as creative Brahma) one representation of which is the cosmic egg . [One inadvertently thinks ‘was there a cosmic chicken?’] Some argue that the cosmic egg – which is though to be a spheroid rather than have a true egg shape – is alternatively represented as the Shiva lingam – which is at odds with the usual Shiva lingam shape as that of an erect ‘membrum virile‘. All most confusing. [Apropos what comes first, in a literal sense, the egg precedes the chicken, since dinosaurs laid eggs and are far from being chickens which evolved from them.] A more accepted Indian idea of creation is that it is the breath of Brahma which initiates the cosmos with the sound ‘Aum‘. This may be reflected in the Christian cosmology of St. John “In the beginning was the word, and the word was God…” The inevitable criticism would be, how did the owner of the cosmic lung arise? Since God is generally now recognized in Indian monotheism as a universal being as spirit (Atman) immersed totally in consciousness and bliss, one must conclude that the material universe is generated in and by consciousness. Again, from where did consciousness and/or bliss itself spring? It is inconceivable… and this is the catch. What one cannot perceive but must blindly believe to exist does not advance our understanding of anything, let alone ourselves (as it is doctrinally supposed to do). Was the original awareness just a tiny glimmer which expanded later – like the physical universe? If so, it is the Big Bang all over again, but in an immaterial sense – either prior to physical creation or possibly concurrent with this. This brings understanding of any spiritual creative origin no further forward… though the physicalistic theory of the Big Bang advanced human understanding by a huge empirical- and knowledge-based factor compared to scriptural words. Some would add that the Atman is eternal… but this is a vague assertion. ‘Eternal’ can mean enduring for ever through time, or else possibly existing independently of time (and space). The first alternative is ruled out since the Big Bang posits that time-space arises with it, before which was nothing. The second alternative is fraught with the same problem that is at the root of all spiritual ideas… there is nothing in human experience which can be called independent of time-space or even described symbolically with any reasonability or consistency.

Posted in Atheism, Belief, Creationism, Environment, Ideology, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Understanding | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens

Posted by robertpriddy on July 1, 2010

I have made a shortened transcript of some points (so Google will notice better) made in a YouTube video by these two very lively critics of religion.

In a debate on blasphemy Stephen Fry says:-
“If there is a god it seems to me so obvious and so absolutely clear that – if he does exist – he is capricious, mean and wilful.
To say that he’s loving, that he’s benevolent, that he cares for us, that we should spend our time on our knees in front of him – it’s outrageous.”
Christopher Hitchens says:-
“We are created sick and commanded to be well. That couldn’t happen. That means there is no evidence for the existence of god. … If (by) wishing this were true, it’d be wanting to be a slave and a plaything.”

This YouTube video is worth watching

Posted in Atheism, Belief, Creationism, Ideology, Religion, religious faith, Sexual abuses | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »