The Friendly Ghost Is Dead
“Why do you doubt your senses?”
“Because,” said Scrooge, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”
– Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.
I told him, too, that he being in other things such an extremely sensible and sagacious savage, it pained me, very badly pained me, to see him now so deplorably foolish about this ridiculous Ramadan of his. Besides, argued I, fasting makes the body cave in; hence the spirit caves in; and all thoughts born of a fast must necessarily be half-starved. This is the reason why most dyspeptic religionists cherish such melancholy notions about their hereafters. In one word, Queequeg, said I, rather digressively; hell is an idea first born on an undigested apple-dumpling; and since then perpetuated through the hereditary dyspepsias nurtured by Ramadans.
- Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
There are not a whole lot of people in the world who were moved to religious devotion through a study of science. On the contrary, science has continuously withered religion’s claims.
The latest scientific insight that seems to contradict religion is perhaps more damaging than both the 16th century Copernican revolution, which destroyed the Earth-centered universe concept, and the 18th and 19th century advances in understanding evolution, which, accompanied by an extensive fossil record, turned the book of Genesis on its ear.
Discoveries into the true nature of the human brain threaten to project religion farther yet out into the universe of ethereal mystery.
Imagine an android-type of creature- a computerized brain atop a body made of synthesized or recycled body parts so sophisticated that it can perform every task necessary to make it indistinguishable from a human (ie: Star Trek’s “Data” character.) Or, imagine a robotic creature with nothing but a real human brain running the show. More challenging yet, try on a computerized helmet of artificial quantum neurons that multiplies your brainpower a hundredfold, and then imagine “phasing out” your own tired neurons one-by-one over the next twenty years or so.
Don’t say it won’t be done. They already have biomedical prostheses that rewire the brain and interact with it by sending outside stimuli in wirelessly for help with a variety of malfunctions, from vision problems to Parkinson’s disease, paralysis, epilepsy, and other human cognitive and sensory malfunctions. The New York Times recently reported on a memory implant in rats that can record neural firing patterns and then refire them later to recreate memories, “…like a melody on a player piano.”
Now, I’d like you to consider the people who, due to brain damage, cannot remember their own mothers or their own childhood. And there are otherwise healthy people who cannot remember anything at all of what happens to them from one moment to the next.
Parts of the brain governing memory retrieval or storage can be damaged. The actual area where the memory is stored can be damaged.
If you take away your memories, are you still you?
My brain is where “I” am located, and it is (I am) an interconnection of physical neurons. Neurons are unimaginably tiny cells that get excited when they receive electricity and which respond by sending out electrical pulses. Each are structured essentially the same as the neurons of a fruit fly, with 10,000 synaptic connections each, but amassed to an incomprehensible 100 billion individual neurons in each human brain. Small groups of these neurons are essential to who I am, as, for instance, I would be horrified at the threat of losing the memory of my mother. And they are just as unessential to who I will be. I would not miss my mother’s memory once it was stripped away, as you can’t miss something you are unaware of. So each brain state in each piece of time lives its own independent existence. It is as if the present and future only appear to me to be a continuum, but are, in fact, unrelated strangers, just as disconnected as my first moment of early childhood cognizance from the moment that preceded it.
Let’s say we take those 10,000 connections and multiply them by 100 billion. We get an extremely large number, a number big enough to control myriad physical and cognitive functions. And as our body is using these neurons to breathe, grow, pump blood, regulate how blood is pumped, operate and regulate all our other organs, think, remember, monitor our safety, balance… – I could go on all day listing in detail all the things the human body is doing- as all those neurons are running the show, I can still spare enough neuronal activity to coordinate my hand movement, so that it twists, not just up and down and from side to side like a robot, but in a graceful sweep, gesturing with each finger playing a different role, as I play a piano.
That incredibly large number allows incredible diversity, but it is also limited. I cannot beat a computer at chess. I cannot always remember where I left my glasses. I cannot write a message to one person simultaneously as I converse with another.
A good understanding of cognition, as a string of moments that exist independently from one to the other, with its vitality engaged in stored memories, takes apart our notion of identity.
The “spirit” I was raised to believe in- the one they taught me merely inhabited my body, invisibly, like Casper the Friendly Ghost- a spirit that I understood included my thoughts and memories- that spirit was invulnerable to the physical world. But a well-informed understanding of the brain presents the person I once regarded as my spirit as having a very physically vulnerable nature.
Over the last 30 years, science has been regularly defining the physical nature of phenomena once thought to be spiritual. Physical manipulation of the brain has been shown to be capable of producing feelings from déjà vu to pleasure, to anger or fear, and expressions like pouting, ardor, and surprise.
I’ll offer you a very good example. Over the last decade, one of the favorite last hold-outs of spirituality-sponsored scientific confusion has been soundly dispelled. In 2002, electrical stimulation of the brains of certain epileptics was shown to induce the illusory perception known as “out-of-body experience.” In August, 2007, Swedish Neuroscientist, H. Henrik Ehrsson working then at the Institute of Neurology at University College of London produced the same experience in healthy subjects using merely external stimuli.
Those operation-room testimonials of people’s spirits rising to the ceiling before being yanked back have actually been consistent with the brain’s inner workings. These are visual illusions called up by the confused misfunctioning of a rarely-discussed sense called “proprioception.”
The brain is capable of imaging a variety of views from or of its body, (especially on the operating table when you’re under deep sedation and someone’s digging around in your chest, stimulating internal nerves in ways you’ve never experienced before.) Vision is not an inner “you” viewing a video simulcast from your optical nerves. Rather, our eyeballs provide electrical impulses- electrical impulses, nothing more- to our brain, and our brain integrates that data with much other sensory data to create a neural experience we call vision. We get depth of field, for example, by comparing data from each eye, aided by a sound map provided by our ears. Our experience only seems like a proper picture to us.
Blind adults who have never seen may be able to gain perfectly-working eyes, but their brain, having already organized its neuronal networks without those functioning eyes, is incapable of making a useful picture from the data. In May of 2008, California Institute of Technology researchers published a study showing that people who, after having developed neuronal networks as sighted children and then losing their sight for many years due to disease or accident, actually have reorganized their use of neurons, so that, after regaining functioning eyes with new technologies as adults, even with two years therapy they can only interpret signals from their functoning eyes as shapes and blobs at best.
Our brain cobbles sensory information into what we experience, the same way it recalls sensory info from memories to produce vivid dreams or illusive sensations, so believable, they are spookily labeled, “astral projection” and “spirit walking.”
Despite what we were taught in school, we have more than five senses. Balance, makes six. Then there’s pain and the movement of internal organs. And then there is proprioception.
Proprioception is your sense of where your body is in space, or, maybe more accurately, where you are in your body. It is the sense that tells you to duck your head when you are passing through a doorway with a tall hat. Our feeling of place in our body is just an illusion of integrity …and an illusion of separateness at times, too.
Look at this illusion:
Your brain is telling you there are grey dots where the white lines meet, though there are not.
Like an optical illusion, out-of-body experience is a flaw in the brain’s function, not supernatural phenomena. So, when an emergency room physician who is tired of hearing stories of people floating on the ceiling puts an ace-of-spades face-up on a high shelf in the ER, (just like when you cover over one row of black squares in the preceding illustration,) they can debunk the spookiness and provide us a glimpse into the brain’s ever-active creativity.
It is more obvious than you might suspect. You can kind of do it right now: Imagine your body becoming weightless, and imagine watching from your eyes as your floating body turns in the air to face the floor, and then feel yourself float to the ceiling. Sure, there’s no visual sensation, but the information is all there. You know where the chair is. You know just what it looks like as you rise up, looking down on it. You even know what the weightlessness would feel like- like it felt the first time your father tossed you in the air as a child. (And who hasn’t experienced weightlessness vividly already in a dream?)
Of course, we could say there are still mysteries embedded in brain science, but each such “mystery” would be better labeled a “not-yet known,” as it seems reasonable to expect anything our brains do to eventually be revealed as attributable to natural law and subject to the confines of an organic, mortal anatomy- from reading to processing thoughts and memories, yearning, or hurting.
For instance, let’s say we say about an acquaintance: “That person has a spirit that is…” (let’s think up a good one here- a trait that seems very disembodied,) “…loving.“
First, we know how the brain can be manipulated to cheer people up. Once when I was working at a job where it was my responsibility to move trains around a railroad yard, I met the nastiest, meanest, most irrationally irritable dispatcher that surely ever existed on Earth. (No, really.) It was my first month on the job, and because I had not figured out he’d given me the wrong assignment, I tried to move the wrong train. He screamed at me, called me stupid, then told me, “I sincerely believe, Mr. Crane, you will not last another month on this job.” He was so bizarrely aggressive I had a hard time taking him seriously.
Three years later, the same guy was transferred to work a tower on a subway line that I was a regular on. He absolutely cooed when he saw me. As if he were the angel twin of that other guy, he introduced himself to me sweetly. “Mr. Crane, I am new to this line, and I look forward to working with you,” he said with an appealing smile and soft handshake. I answered with little response- waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was sure he was setting me up in some detestably sardonic way. I watched him every subsequent time I saw him, only after the passing weeks realizing he’d either had a brain transplant or he’d received a nice little prescription.
My buddy, his Assistant Dispatcher, told me what he was taking -but, ask your doctor.
Even now, a year later, I can’t help but study his eyes as he approaches me, calls out my name with joy, and wishes me a “…great and safe workday!”
So, if we want to say, without a likelihood of scientific contradiction, that “love” is part of the spirit, and not, rather, a physical part of cognition, we’ll have to separate out that feel-good part of it.
And empathy, too. About 30 years ago, Italian neurophysiologists discovered “mirror neurons” when they noticed subject macaque monkeys they were studying had neuronal firing patterns when manipulating an object that were identical to neuron activity when the monkeys were watching another person manipulate the object. Since then, wide networks of mirror neurons have been identified in a variety of animals, including humans, and even in birds. Mirror neurons allow us to turn observation into direct experience. Further than the implications for skill attainment, though, are the implications for empathy. Studies on people who are more empathetic have shown stronger activations in mirror systems related to both hand actions and emotions.
…And we’ll also have to chalk up to physical brain activity any sexual stuff, as thanks to some absolutely dismal, filmed experimentation from Tulane University’s brain stimulation program in the 1950’s, we know a mere electrical charge to a particular point in the brain can bring out wanton lustfulness. (Not that any man who hasn’t made love with his wife in a while can’t give sufficient testimony to the obvious physical- rather than spiritual- nature of lust.)
This reveals lust to be an electrochemical brain function produced by physical states of the brain, which are brought on by a variety of factors that only with the help of chemical or surgical intervention we can hope to gain any control over. Casper’s Aunt Hortense, then, cannot be expected to be lustful in ghost form even if she was so in life, because she’s left those neurons and electrochemical states behind.
The logical cogitation over one’s love is out, too, as neural processing is scientifically understood to be dependent upon and attributable to the physical integrity of the neuron. Neurons process every last bit of information that the central nervous system takes on- all of it: motor, sensory, and cognitive. These are electrical impulses that cause excitement from one to the next neuron through an electro-magnetic process, understood by science, but which would take a chapter just to explain how complicated the process is, involving sodium ions and potassium channels, axons and repolarization….
I’d be a liar if I made like I have a handle on it.
Magnetic resonance imaging can chart neural activity and we can, in essence, watch thoughts as they, in the form of electrical impulses, “pass” through our neurons. Not like a rodent running a course, the process is better compared to a set of dominoes falling over- ones that spring back up after reacting, let’s say. The result is not on some rodent that we call a thought that has made the passage- nothing is going anywhere. From one neuron to the next, a state of electrical pulse or no electrical pulse is passed- pure information, just like a domino being up or down, only a state of being is passing, a state of being, that along with billions of other states of being, will be capable of amassing to very complicatedly different states of being that we call thought.
It is the channeling of this information that makes what we distinguish as thought, not the very simple information itself. And the channeling is run by the evolutionary development of the very physical neural network structure.
The outcome of these passed states are nothing, either, beyond being other states of being; so that a lover’s words, spoken in your ear, go through your brain’s zillionious neural domino-dropping exchanges and eventually (a second later) result in your mouth moving open, your vocal cords vibrating the air, your tongue whipping the vibrated air that will carry a pattern that your lover’s brain will decode as “I love you, too, Sweetheart,” and new firing patterns stored away in memory neurons.
Particularly disturbing are filmed accounts of amnesia victims whose brains reset every couple minutes or so. They behave exactly the same over and over again, never varying their responses to conversation or visual stimulation. Like robots.
Neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio, tells us, “Consciousness begins as the feeling of what happens when we see or hear or touch.” His use of the word “feeling” is perhaps a romantic indulgence used in a failed attempt to try to improve upon what pioneering psychologist, William James, intuited quite perfectly 90 years before there was any such thing as an MRI: “Sensations, once experienced, modify the nervous organisms, so that copies of them arise again in the mind after the original outward stimulus is gone. No mental copy, however, can arise in the mind, of any kind of sensation which has never been directly excited from without.”
Putting aside the channeling of information, how about those memories? Just considering me having no memories of my lovely wife, I really can’t see how I’d have any love for her. It just needs those neurons to be love. Yet, memories are no more spiritual than the stuff sitting on your kitchen shelves. They are neurons, of a type that are good at holding their firing patterns the same, to which certain types of information are routed, originally for the purpose of defense, but, at this stage in our evolution, for much more lofty purposes.
In the September, 2008 issue of the journal “Science,” a variety of researchers published reports of their success in recording individual brain cells in the act of summoning a spontaneous memory. The recordings were made through tiny electrodes implanted in patients’ brains. The recordings demonstrated that the same individual neurons that are used for a specific memory’s storage are re-fired for its retrieval. The recordings actually preceded the patient’s recall by a moment, enabling researchers to know a memory was on its way before the patient knew.
Memories, then, can’t take flight with Casper, as they have at their base the weight and substance of the particular physical formulation of a particular neuron. And, even when he was a physical human being, Casper could not claim any integrity to his overall being or spirit- because our physical parts do not belong to us. They are connected through vulnerable physical attachments. A piece of a brain can be taken from a person by the whim of accident or disease.
So, the “Love” that I wish to glorify is made up of a variety of vulnerable physical states. And it is nothing hovering like an invisible glob in my body, but actual physical things in actual physical states of being.
So what’s left now? Have I taken everything from love? What is left to make Casper love a person? He is in no way under the influence of a good mood, sexual attraction, empathy, lyrical cogitation, or in possession of any memories. Is there anything left we might call the spirit?
There is something left.
Natural selection has made us a moral species, in part, due to the advantages of reciprocal altruism. Selfish, friendless humans did not survive as well as those whose brains were better inclined toward community. We have developed such an impulsive empathy that primatologist, Frans de Waal, calls it an “automated response.” We can find a physically manifestation of it in our scleras, or the whites of our eyes, which are three times as large as any other primate because they help us to see what each other are looking at when working cooperatively. In Why We Cooperate, developmental psychologist, Michael Tomasello, shows how, from childhood, we are naturally inclined to help each other, without being trained or even encouraged to do so. 
We might place parental bonding and loving parental nurturance as the source of that impulsive cooperation. After all, it is well-documented how humans who have been shown to be neglected of loving nurturance as babies are severely developmentally retarded, even though they were provided all their other needs.
Our evolution necessitated that parental nurturance. Unlike other mammals, human babies are born so early in their development that they require nurturance for a particularly long period of time. Our babies are born early because their big-brained heads must emerge early enough in their development to allow them to fit through a birth canal that was narrowed by their mother’s switch to bipedalism four million years ago- uprightness that allowed Mom to have a better perspective on the foods she might gather and on the threats that existed around her.
A picture of our brain’s true nature emerges that is both fascinating, familiar, and friendly to a person who takes an interest in science or in the way even our own human inventions work. None of it is spiritual.
As for the spirit, the only trait you might safely ascribe to it would need to be irrefutable by definition, such as by saying something like, “My spirit is the self-aware part of me.” As proof, you might offer, “A rock does not have self-awareness.”
That statement rings true not because rocks have no self-awareness or because we do have it, but because neither of those claims can be proved wrong.
But neither can be proven, either. I can prove you speak the words that you are self-aware, but I can’t prove it’s true. You are, in essence, telling me there’s a little homunculus in you who you can witness to me you know they know that you are there. It’s ridiculous. And if you prefer to ascribe to belief in a homunculus, you have not proved self-awareness, as the avoided question simply becomes how can the homunculus testify to his own self-awareness.
Besides that, you are witness to a great many things that are pure drivel. Like when you dream about things that really, really seem like they are happening. You are not an objective judge of what you know.
I hear you: “Oh, come on!” you protest. “It is obvious we are self-aware.” Or, on the flip side: “You can’t seriously say a rock might be self-aware!”
But, a computer can think about itself, too. It can be programmed to even act out emotions. I say, “act out” because “feel” is only used with humans. The difference between “feel” and “act out” is the indefinable value that would help define what a “spirit” is.
How about a rock? Well, a computer is made up of all sorts of inorganic material found in the earth. We might as well call that a rock. But, to make the argument harder, let’s just look at the rock.
A few years back, I decided to shake off the aversion to science I’d taken for granted since my first year at NYU when I dropped Chemistry 101 after finding the first 15 minutes of the first lecture unintelligible. Now, I started studying basic principles of science all over again before focusing in on the more difficult theories to get an elementary understanding of relativity, string theory, and quantum physics. I found science is not such a tough nut to crack if I can approach it from my own angles of inquiry and at my own pace.
One of the great openings of my eye: when food producers advertise “vitamins and minerals,” they are referring to the same minerals you find in a geology book. Of course, it all seems obvious now, but I’d never connected the zinc, iron, and magnesium on the side panel of the Fruity Bran box to the zinc they make roof gutters with, the iron cast to be a fire hydrant, and the metal spun for the Corvette’s “mag wheels.” So there is stuff in the dirt we must eat on a regular basis or we’ll quickly wither and die. Of course this is true. We evolved here on a planet covered with dirt, munching mainly dirty plants for our subsistence that appeared just out of the dirt and rain.
Another eye-opener: Science is confident that humans and plants are from the same lineage. We are both directly descended from the blue-green algae of 3.5 billion years ago.
And then I stumbled on the Miller-Urey experiment, where a couple of University of Chicago scientists were able to create organic material from inorganic material. By mixing up ammonia, water, methane and hydrogen in a closed system of glass jars in a process of evaporation, fog, and electric shocks, meant to recreate primordial conditions of rain and lightning here on Earth, they produced 22 amino acids- what are commonly referred to as the building blocks of life.
Once you understand the experiment, it leaves you with a confusion as to why it is really so important. Once you can see the continuum, the categories of organic and inorganic cease to have the magical boundaries that give the experiment its drama.
But a rock can’t be self-aware. It can’t even think!
Well, do you really need to think to have self-awareness? That is a question that cannot so easily be answered. If it is merely a process of the brain’s physical thought processes to be self-aware, and that is the one definition we can place on the spirit, then the spirit is wholly bound in the confines of the organic human brain.
A rock might very well be self-aware if we posit that self-awareness exists in a different area, independent of the physical processes of the brain.
Just like the self-attesting nature of the assertion to being self-aware, the source of people’s belief that they are more spiritual than rocks is often predicated on humans being somehow “higher” than other things. From birth, we are taught to see ourselves that way. We eat other mammals. We kill rodents and swat flies. Our roads go through mountains rather than over them. We are willful creatures, constantly affecting the world around us in directions we glorify.
There is nothing inherently glorious about a cathedral if first you haven’t been given the notion that cutting and moving large blocks of rock is better than sitting there singing a song. There is nothing glorious about reflecting on the course of the stars across the sky if you are not a thinking creature. In fact, to a stupid mosquito there is nothing less glorious than the latest wonder of bug-zapper technology.
We can dominate and kill other animals, which makes us greater.
Well, even if you accept the notion that dominating and killing is more advanced than not doing so, such logic would elevate the world’s most awful human specimens above its finest. Stalin over Gandhi.
We are emotional.
Yes, well that’s what we are.
We are verbal.
These are not things that prove we have invisible, everlasting identities. These are simply descriptions of our physical differences from other forms. A human is not any higher than a monkey or a shred of blue-green algae. If being a human were so great, they would not need such a thing as a monkey cage to get monkeys to come along to the zoo. Birds can fly, but we can’t. Bats, whales, and dolphins use sonar. Birds and bees can see a greater share of the electromagnetic spectrum than humans (who can detect a mere 1.5%.) The most complex structure in the known universe is the brain of the blue whale, compared to whose brain, ours is puny. Dogs smell better and hear better than us. We may be able to show a dog is different from a fish in that a dog can express sorrow at the loss of a loved one, but we cannot say the dog’s emotional capacity as perceived by us makes the dog any better. There is no scientific or rational basis for the value.
We marvel at how perfect and complicated the design of the universe is, another example of this narcissism, as the universe’s design is only sophisticated relative to our ability to understand it, not by some universal standard of sophistication (which would, of course, rate the universe’s design to be of average sophistication, by definition.)
Not that my idea of what a spirit is supposed to be is the bottom line. There are people- maybe you’re one of them- who are inspired by a concept of spirit that includes even rocks and plants. There are those who see spirit as being separate from memories and something that carries forth without any ability by your memory to stay in residence. And that somehow still inspires their faith.
There are people who, perhaps inspired by string theory, believe everything is connected and interrelated. They call that spirituality.
But the farther away you get from the very material God of old Charlton Heston movies- however much you may become more rationally reasonable- you move farther from saying anything relevant or consequential to our daily struggles.
Spirituality is all about finding answers, isn’t it? It is about gauging meaning. Truth. Real truth, right?
The question then must be: In the face of scientific insights, where do we find the real truth that gives our lives meaning?
In its premise that threatens to measure faith with fact, this question offends religious orthodoxy, promising to repel those who abide comfortably in faithful convention. But, the truth is not encased in amber. It is not to be found scratched on some ancient cuneiform tablets, nor penned elaborately on some yellowed scroll of parchment. It is up ahead there. Keep your eyes peeled…
Early in 1798, in the mountains of Southern France, a strange, filthy, naked boy, of about nine or ten, was captured by villagers who had found him running in the woods. He was covered with scars, he was indifferent to bitter cold weather, he understood no language, he was “unhousebroken,” he was completely intolerant of clothing, and he would refuse virtually all food but water and root vegetables. He moved always at a trot or gallop, and he showed no ability to focus his attention. The sole human trait he displayed was an ability to stand upright.
After being put on public display, he escaped, but he was recaptured 2 years later near the village of Saint-Sernin.
His case drew the attention of the French public, and he soon became known as the “Wild Boy of Aveyron.” From that point, the boy, who they named “Victor,” was under the care of scientists, educators, and benefactors. Though Victor never learned to use spoken language, the doctor who trained Victor claimed Victor made significant progress from his initial state:
Such was the state of this boy’s physical and moral faculties that he ranked not only among the lowest of his species but even among the lowest animals. One could go so far as to say that he differed from a plant only because he could move and make sounds.
And, as a man, despite much intervention, he only made a little more progress, still described as “half wild” by an anthropologist shortly before Victor’s death in 1828.
There are several well-documented historical cases of “feral children,” who are left alone in formative stages of their early childhood. Though these cases vary depending on the extent they were nurtured and/or abused, a review of these cases makes it apparent that a child who is neglected loving human guidance will fail to develop many vital human traits, such as language, remorse, sorrow, anticipation of the future, an upright gait, artistic expression, selflessness, trust, knowledge and an ability to use it to improve… And, in fact, depending on how extreme, the child will have great trouble developing even rudimentary versions of these traits later in life despite much effort by scientists, social workers and educators to correct the damage.
Just about everything we are that we think of as distinguishing ourselves as human we get from observing, learning, patterning, modeling from some external guidance. This need for guidance is as integral a part of our humanity as our frontal lobe. Even the most critical and skeptical of us get everything we are from the sources we scrutinize. It is our only way of becoming human.
Go back 150,000 years, and humans with essentially the same cognitive capabilities as you or I functioned much like these feral children. It has been an evolution- not the physical type popularized by Darwin- but an evolution of nurturance and enculturation, instilling vital skills and understandings, as it has been passed down from one generation to the next over those thousands of years that has made us human. Today, as babies, we are unformed, no different than the babies of tuber-rooting humans who had yet to develop a proper language. Just a few years of loving nurturance brings us from that bestial state to our modern sophistication, over a hundred thousand years of progress.
Focus, skillful movement, the control over our environment, empathy, cooperation, skills related to food, health, and hygiene… and so on. All these abilities develop in early childhood at a nurturing parent’s guidance separating us from Victor of Aveyron, and together they are perhaps as vital to being human as our memories.
So, it is reasonable that our highest intellectual aspiration should be finding out the ultimate meaning, learning the reason, finding the end point, the great father/mother that guides us to finally end our insecurity for once and for all. Our life’s main struggle, to grow and learn, the struggle that makes us human, must end somewhere to relieve our most basic anxiety- purpose.
What is it that religious people have that atheists do not? A place outside oneself to source one’s own actuation, finding final release of responsibility, a great peace and settlement. A place of final belonging and security that is reached by finding a point at which knowledge stops expanding and finally ends. This ideal answers to the basic earthly needs of a creature that has evolved to master striving for security and belonging in the natural world. Heaven is a cognitive achievement.
And, so, too, humanity achieves nothing greater than its own earthly concepts in heaven. Belonging, survival, peace, settlement, and security are each human experiences. Their idealization does nothing to change them—it only makes them last longer or more constantly.
Seeking this ideal place is a reward-focused or needs-satisfying self-focused journey
A child, too young yet to have developed speech, crawls across the living room carpet, eyes focused on an extension cord, and from the other side of the room comes a voice: “Don’t touch,” introducing a stressor.
The subsequent intellectual industry of that child’s life will ultimately lead to the source of that voice’s authority over the child’s will.
In the face of scientific insights, where do we find the real truth that gives our lives meaning?
This is not a question for any of us to fear.
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For source/more info, see: http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F60610FB3A5B0C758CDDA10894DD494D81&scp=2&sq=”can%20of%20beets”&st=cse
 Broda, E. (1975) “The Evolution of Bioenergetic Processes”. Pergamom Press, Oxford
 Miller, Stanley L. (May 1953). “Production of Amino Acids Under Possible Primitive Earth Conditions”. Science 117: 528.
 see Shattuck, Roger, The Forbidden Experiment (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1980) pp.160-161.
 see Shattuck, p. 177.
Come back next week for: Chapter Three: “Poor Foundations for Faith”