The title of this post is obviously an interesting choice of words. However, those words were not mine, but that of V.S. Ramachandran in his book, The Tell-Tale Brain. He uses those words to describe why the brain does certain things, even though it is irrational.
In Ramas book, he uses it to show that the brain chooses absurdities to negate discrepancies of any kind. In that section of his book, he explains capgras syndrome, where a relative or loved one is classed to be an impostor. Rama explains that the patients brain chooses the impostor route, as the brain doesn’t feel the emotion due to a break that links certain parts in the brain. It is absurd for it to be an impostor, and the brain knows that facially and vocally that it is their mother, but since the emotional centre has lost connection, he doesn’t feel the same way towards them. As a result, the brain chooses the disposition, that they are a fraud.
I feel this disposition of the brain, to choose far-fetched analogies is what partly makes up religion. The brain cannot think it through as to why something happens, so assumes a spirit did it, or a godly intervention. this may in itself seem far-fetched, but when looking back into history, it clearly isn’t. Let us look to the Aztecs first.
The Aztecs. for all their wonder, believed that a solar eclipse was the sun-god being attacked. In an attempt to rescue the sun-god, they would sacrifice the crippled, disabled and deformed. When the eclipse was over, they believed that the sacrificing saved the sun-god, and in the future, would perform the same ritual. We know today is that an eclipse is the sun passing in between us and the sun, but they didn’t know this and so to explain it, their mind conjured up the majesty of a god. This is manifest in many religions, where unexplained phenomena are attributed to demons, ghosts and gods.
However, this raises questions as to why the brain would do such things, or why suppose things to begin with. While this question can stem from certain areas, i wish to focus on the Darwinian idea of natural selection. The reason I’ll focus on this, is because it is Darwinian selection which drives animals physically but also mentally. So why would natural selection favour a religious or supernatural disposition?
Firstly, I think that a ‘supernatural’ disposition is necessary for our primitive existence, not so much now however. So why this disposition? Well, it is better to mistake a shadow for a burglar, than a burglar for a shadow. Let me explain this further. In terms of preserving ones life, it is better to mistake a harmless thing as something dangerous than the other way around. This is a supernatural disposition, by fantasising an object. This can be demonstrated by the mind hearing voices in the wind, seeing faces in trees and clouds and feeling something is behind you, when there is nothing. These responses and fantasies are created by the brain for our survival. However, these have become exaggerated in our intelligent minds. Instead of seeing tigers, we picture other humans, and then interpret them as gods and ghosts.
This disposition to believe in a god or the supernatural not only lies in parts of the brain for protection and detection, but also as a by-product for other things. This is shown in children, who are not only dualists but theists. (Even without parental intervention.) Children generally create imaginary friends to play with and to look after the one who imagines. Children believe things have purpose, like the purpose of clouds is rain, the purpose of an apple is to be eaten. Both of these things are aggregated to form religious ideas. But Firstly, why do children think these things?
Firstly, the imaginary friend. Most of us, if not all, have had an imaginary friend. They were there when we were lonely, sad, lost or in pain. They are like our friend who pushes us on, and keeps us happy, to listen to our thoughts. This seems necessary for children, who feel they have no where to turn, or just to share to someone who can relate. It is like telling your subconscious your issues. But if you look closely, these things the imaginary friend does, is extraordinarily similar to what a personal god does. Listens, Helps, Comforts and becomes a Friend.
These imaginary friends stem form the dualistic behaviour of children, and humans as a whole. We know that when a fish is eaten by a shark that it is dead, we know it doesn’t need food, doesn’t move and doesn’t need the stuff of living things. But most children still think it feels pain, or is still aware. This is evidently wrong, but it is our brains not understanding again as children. It is a necessary comforter, an elder. When the elder of a tribe dies, you knew he was dead, but imagined he lived on in spirit, as you could remember him, and remembered what he told you. It is as if your brain imagines his ‘soul’ is alive, as to guide you in the right choices. As this is what he did in his life, told you what to hunt, eat and how to survive. And you hope his teaching, and presence will continue. This is similar to a god figure, to aid guide and enlighten.
This disposition of remembering elders and honouring them is not only human, elephants have been known to do it. Perhaps they to wish to seek comfort and guidance of what their relatives would have done. Or maybe they visit just out of respect. It is nice to think our elders live on in soul, purely for our comfort, aid and guidance. It is nice to turn to them in times of sorrow and pain. But these are purely the creations of our evolutionary brain. But why again, why choose these. Well again, it is shown in children.
Children have a natural, follow the elder principle. All children are born naive, and have to learn everything, from hunting, foraging, defence and shelter all from their parents. If children were born stubborn, (which despite appearances they aren’t, they can talk for example) then they would ever learn. But since they are open minded and followers, they pick up the state of the parents, on what the combined knowledge of generations has accumulated. This is now where I bring in the theist side, of things have purpose. A child is taught that an apple is for eating. Fish are for eating. Bears are for eating and using the pelt. It is taught that things have a purpose, as they do for a human. This creates in a childs mind that things have purposes to the whole world. But they are only taught the purpose on the human scale. Parents fail to mention (prehistorical) that apples are to eat, but are for also plant reproduction.
So now this child has an opinion, that things have purpose, things feel pain after death, as they must have a soul, otherwise there is no purpose to being alive. This is a cyclic thought process. Admittedly there are other factors fed in which strengthen these values of souls and spirits, in the fact that our ancestors couldn’t explain things, or would hear and see things. So we now have a human who had a disposition that things have a purpose, a defence seeing mechanism, and a belief in the supernatural spurred on by the imaginary friend etc.
It is now becoming clear hopefully that religion, the idea of gods, spirits and demons are merely manifestation of the mind overreacting, or behaving in a by-product sense with regards to certain matters. It is not a far jump to create a god from the things i have said.
A being to listen, care and teach. Usually a man, with a beard, typically old. Being in a spirit form, and his purpose is to guide and create ( your life). All these things are quite capable of being a Father or Grandfather. And it is when you add the spiritual idea that he is divine, or father to all, that it becomes different.
Unfortunately I haven’t put everything i have wanted to in this post, as I live to remain under 1500 words. But there are some amazing videos, books and journals about how the brain works, how we behave sociologically and psychologically. I can recommend all of V.S. Ramachandran’s books, Richard Dawkins God delusion, Oliver Sacks and various other neurologists and the like.
And finally a quote from V.S. Ramachandran: ‘Here is this 3 pound mass of jelly which you can hold in the palm of your hand, and it can contemplate the vastness of interstellar space.’