A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discusses the brain's God-center, the region that seems to be responsible for feelings of the numinous and the sanctified -- why would evolution create a God-lobe? Is religion the by-product of biology?
Grafman started by interviewing 26 people of varying religious sentiments, breaking down their beliefs into three psychological categories: God's perceived level of involvement in the world, God's perceived emotions, and religious knowledge gained through doctrine or experience. Then they submitted statements based on these categories to 40 people hooked to fMRI machines.
Statements based on God's involvement – such as "God protects one's life" or "Life has no higher purpose" – provoked activity in brain regions associated with understanding intent. Statements of God's emotions – such as "God is forgiving" or "the afterlife will be punishing" – stimulated regions responsible for classifying emotions and relating observed actions to oneself. Knowledge-based statements, such as "a source of creation exists" or "religions provide moral guidance," activated linguistic processing centers.
Taken together, the neurological states evoked by the questions are known to cognitive scientists as the Theory of Mind: They underlie our understanding that other people have minds, thoughts and feelings.
The advantages of a Theory of Mind are clear. People who lack one are considered developmentally challenged, even disabled. Anthropologist Scott Atran, a proponent of the byproduct hypothesis, has suggested that it let our ancestors quickly distinguish between friends and enemies. And once humans were able to imagine someone who wasn't physically present, supernatural beliefs soon followed.
Eliza writes, “A researcher from Lehigh University has invented a light-based pacemaker for fruit flies, and says a human version is ‘not impossible.’ The pacemaker relies on the new technique of ‘optogenetics,’ in which light-sensitive proteins are inserted into certain cells, allowing those cells to be activated by pulses of light. Here, the proteins were […]
“A sneezing monkey, a walking fish and a jewel-like snake are just some of a biological treasure trove of over 200 new species discovered in the Eastern Himalayas in recent years,” reports the World Wildlife Foundation today.
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