Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Have an evolutionary Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  While I was sitting here waiting for my Christmas day to ramp up, I looked over an old article I'd saved from over a year ago.  Back then it didn't have this finding to round it out, but it still had the concept of a biological cause for religious experience down to a T.  The article is a good grounder in the whole matter, despite that it needs to be as long as it is to cover the subject.  Make the effort because it is worth it.

The question of why we feel religion (and superstition, mystical feelings, etc) is still a strange one even when you know that there's a bit of the brain that you can slow down the activity of and get an instant religious experience.

There's much debate about whether it's an evolutionary step or a byproduct of an evolutionary step, but I posit my theory that religion serves as a unifying force, a way to meld a culture together.  Religion may simply achieve that, and pretty much nothing else.  We (as biological creatures) notice that when "we" aren't as much in evidence inside our heads, we get an elated feeling, a reward.  We also notice that when we're in a large group, the "I" tends to go away in favour of the group.  And we get that reward feeling again. Together, the feeling seems to say, is how we should be.

Maybe that's the feeling social animals like ants and bees and sheep get all the time.  For them too, the aggregatory behaviour is an evolutionary bonus - large groups are more survival-oriented.  When they leave the safety of the herd, the sense of self stirs, and to a herd animal that would probably feel very negative and unfamiliar.

And I'd dare say that for humankind, too, groups were better than individuals.  Only in our case, our brain wasn't wired as a mob-dweller brain, it was wired as a solitary organism brain, and in our case depression of the ego produced a reward feeling.

Perhaps the right parietal lobe is a leftover from earlier days, or a mutation that proved advantageous - either way, we gained an extra personality from it.

And either way, it's no wonder we're such troubled creatures, with so many conflicting imperatives in our brains, we're probably glad to blame things on an entity called "God" or "Luck" or "Fate" or whatever.   But look on the bright side - because of that evolutionary kink, we get several holidays a year, Christmas included...

Which brings me back to Merry Christmas again...

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