To escape counterapologetics, we can step back and view ourselves from the evolutionary perspective. One of our evolved traits is to assume free will, to see ourselves as unconstrained agents. But either natural selection or memetic selection shape all of our traits. While we think we're where the action is, we are not what counts going forward. Gene and meme ratios in their respective populations, that's the real action. We're like chess pieces, pushed and pulled by nonsentient "players." Each generation, some genes are winners and others losers. On time scales orders of magnitude faster, some memes are winners and others losers. We chess pieces come and go, having served "our purpose" for the players.


While it's easy to see opponents as memebots, the greater challenge is to accept the extent to which our entire frame of reference is distorted by inherted traits and memetic blinders.


How is this helpful? If we accept, not only intellectually but internalize, what science tells us about human traits, we would approach the theism dialogue differently. Paul MacLean showed that we decide what's real and true not with the neocortex but the limbic system. [The Triune Brain in Evolution, 578] This is how our brains evolved. We know many of the tricks incorporated into  religious memeplexes, that exploit such genetic weaknesses. We need an entirely new approach to "dialogue" that incorporates all of this knowledge. But so far the information has frightened us (nonverbal limbic system response) and we turn our attention away, and go back to useless reasoning with the infected.

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I have no problem accepting that  we are all just products of bits of genetic and cultural information. This fits in just fine with the conclusions the three moderators of this group have come to in rejecting free will. However, I am not sure that this would be a terribly successful method for arguing with theists. WE may have respect for evolution and know (or accept the opinions of experts on) how the brain evolved, and we may come to understand that free will is an illusion, and that we are products of genetic and cultural evolution, but theists resist these facts at every turn. None of us are frightened by any of this information, but theists seem deeply afraid of it. I think this is because while this information fits in just fine with our atheistic worldview, it would corrupt or completely overturn a theists worldview, something which their psyche's find unacceptable, and rightly so. To so destroy one's concept of reality is to destroy any sense of one's self and any sense of one's self being good in any way. They have built their entire set of values around these religious edifices, and to tear them down in the name of science without offering them any new edifices on which to reconstruct their value systems is anathema. I agree they are "infected", and I like the way you put that, and I also agree that reasoning with them fails to get very far with them. But arguing along these lines doesn't seem very promising, to me at least. This is why I have been arguing that a more successful approach might be to take an indirect attack on their sense of self by trying to preserve as much as possible about their worldviews, in particular their sense of self, making them feel safe and secure before the demolition crews come in. If we can get them to see that both theists and atheists believe that it is the experience of the self which is the most valuable thing there is, and is in fact the essence of all values, then perhaps we can get them to "look over the other side" without making them feel as if their "lives" were in jeapardy.
Indeed. This is why I have been going for the "spirit" angle so much of late. The whole "force" thing, the life-force, the fire of life, that is where I think we could really engage theists about how they feel about themselves, why they feel good about themselves, and what they admire most in themselves and others. Then I think it goes over to how and why they direct their own personal energies/powers towards various beliefs/values, including the supernatural. Obviously, if it is their own power that they value and which they value in others, the power to bring life to bear in their universe, the appeal to the supernatural is quite an obvious one - they want this power to increase and last forever, not diminish and fade with time. A belief system which allows them to think they will only become more powerful would make them feel more powerful. And so on from there...

Wanderer – I understand where you are coming from here – I’m in a situation currently with a friend who is in a cult that asks her to remember god and live a simple life not thinking about the foods she eats – but asks her to eat a strict vegetarian diet – unfortunately she has hepatitis and sorosis of the liver – I am concerned for her health and life – her belief is that if she remembers god she will gain a good position in heaven – so her motivation according to her belief isn’t connected to living long necessarily.  They call it settling of bad past actions, perhaps many lives ago.  What do I do?  She might be gluten intolerant and need to get off sugar for colitis – so as to free up her immune function for the virus, so a hunter gatherer diet would help – but that would mean eating meat – which god says is wrong???

Wanderer said, "WE may have respect for evolution and know (or accept the opinions of experts on) how the brain evolved, and we may come to understand that free will is an illusion, and that we are products of genetic and cultural evolution, but theists resist these facts at every turn. None of us are frightened by any of this information, but theists seem deeply afraid of it." "They have built their entire set of values around these religious edifices, and to tear them down in the name of science without offering them any new edifices on which to reconstruct their value systems is anathema."


 I think we have a lot in common with theists, despite intellectually recognizing that we are products of genetic and cultural evolution. We are more frightened by this information than might appear at first glance. We have built an entire set of values around "rational" edifices and resist "tearing them down in the name of science" too.


First, we refuse to acknowledge that our "reason" memeplex also contains nonverbal, nonrational, limbic response components. To understand what I mean, it helps to look at the media history of "reason." Recall that Marshall McLuhan claimed our capacity for reason arose as a result of habitual print literacy. Before print literacy became widespread, people commonly spoke aloud or subvocalized as they read. Spelling had not yet become standardized. You had to sound out the script. Print was both purely visual and purely symbolic more than any previous medium of communication. The habit of making sense with symbols and vision alone, with other senses suppressed, enabled a new way of thinking. This symbolic/visual thinking made it possible to greatly divorce emotional response from thought. We could formulate ideas without strong emotional loading built into them. McLuhan claimed that widespread print literacy made the Enlightenment possible.


In effect, we learned to suppress emotional bias at the level of sense ratios, what we would pay attention to and not pay attention to. This is not a cerebral cortex function, but more primitive. This continues to play out in the way Secular Humanists protect themselves from religious mind viruses. We avoid ritual elements associated with emotional arousal and sabotage of clear thinking such as chants, rousing songs, incense, drumming, spinning, long hours of meditation, repetition of motions or words (as in rosary use), excessive decoration, raising the arms and swaying, lighting candles, etc. This avoidance will be defended by reasons but the real defense is that we get very very uncomfortable when someone urges us to do such things. We "know" in our gut, nonverbally, that it's dangerous. This is the limbic system component of "reason", the not-reason component of the reason memeplex. We have built an entire set of values around this "rational" edifice, and just as challenged to overcome fear to find our common ground with theists as they are.


As to offering them a new edifice on which to construct their and our values, I envision presenting "we are all products of genetic and cultural evolution" with both reason/evidence and limbic system appeal. Many already recognize the role of awe in valuing science. We can go beyond awe to careful use of ritual tools to communicate reinventing ourselves by embracing  our place in genetic/cultural evolution, to build on it. In other words the entire package of our message will also appeal to community bonding, uplifting hope, and a glorious future in which we work together to manage our planet. It would compete with the packages offered by religions emotionally, not just with words. If you like, I can give examples of what I mean by "careful use of ritual tools."

Park Bierbower said, " I'm not sure how evolution or natural selection is really applicable in more recent human societies~ one of the issues with that is that discrimination (inefficient genes die out, efficient genes advance) isn't as applicable in human societies where what matters are societal traits and behaviors, not ability to survive/prosper.  For example, even the poorest, most mal-equipped individual can still have just as many children as the richest, or best equipped."


When "mal-equipped individuals" can have as many children as healthier people it's  called relaxed selection. In 1955 Herman J Muller warned in " Radiation and Human Mutation" published in Scientific American that relaxed selection would have the mutagenic effect within "some 10 generations" as radiation of the most heavily exposed survivors of Hiroshima. In other words, medicine permits people to survive and reproduce who would have, in nature, failed to reproduce. This removes selective pressure which normally cleanses the gene pool of maladaptive mutations. This slow invisible process inexorably increases the human disability burden. He predicted that within 2,000 years the population would be unable to survive, if this trend were not reversed. Civilization would collapse and extinction would result because the population would be too unhealthy to survive without civilized disability aids.


This threat of extinction is unfolding here and now, slowly. Every generation the gene pool becomes more burdened.

I think we will become extinct just like Nakalipithecus, who might be the common ancestor of us apes. But from him we came.


Evolutionary history shows us that we will eventually become extinct as a species


from us, something will evolve.



Park Bierbower said, " should we discuss how our limbic system views the world?..  maybe you can explain a little better what you are getting at, maybe by giving an example."


First, my academic reply. "... one is led to infer a dichotomy in function of neocortical and limbic systems that may account for a dissociation in intellectual and emotional mentation. Moreover (and this cannot be overemphasized), the phenomenology of psychomotor epilepsy suggests that without a co-functioning limbic system, the neocortex lacks not only the requisite neural substrate for a sense of self, of reality, and the memory of ongoing experience, but also a feeling of conviction as to what is true or false. This presents a problem of crucial epistemological significance because there is no evidence that the limbic structures of the temporal lobe are capable of comprehending speech, nor is there any basis for inferring a capacity to communicate in verbal terms. Hence, it would appear that the manufacture of belief in reality, importance, and truth or falsity of what is conceived depends on a mentality incapable of verbal comprehension and communication. ... it is one thing to have a primitive, illiterate mind for judging the authenticity of food or a mate, but where do we stand if we must depend on that same mind for belief in our ideas, concepts, and theories?" Paul D. MacLean The Triune Brain in Evolution (Plenum Press, 1990) 578-579.


Second, my metaphor. The easiest way to visualize how the human limbic system functions is to think about the perceptions and responses of a nonhuman mammal, like a cat. Your also have a reptile brain, that operates like a lizard. Perception and memory in both are nonverbal. There is no separation of fantasy from reality. Looking at pictures of babies or kittens makes you feel good. An ad for ice cream makes you hungry for ice cream. A sexually charged movie scene rouses you. That's not your cerebral cortex working.


Third, my personal experience. The first time I "got" the role of the limbic system, was walking away from an undergrad lecture. We'd just learned about a study in which undergraduates were introduced to a mentalist who claimed to be able to bend spoons. He said he needed their help to make it bend, they had to concentrate really hard and chant "bend" over and over. Of course he used Uri Geller's trick. After it bent, he congratulated them on their mind power. Then the professor came out and revealed the hoax. The mentalist was a grad student in a robe, playing a role. They showed the undergrads how the spoon bending trick worked. It was part of a study. Before the subjects left, they filled out a questionnaire. Something like ten percent "knew" without any doubt that they had bent that spoon with their minds. As I walked away from that lecture the "ah-hah" struck. This is what human beings are like. This is how we acquire unshakable knowledge.


Paul MacLean said that the Limbic System ( which he also calls the Paleomammalian Formation), which includes the limbic cortex and structures of the brainstem with which it has primary connections, has been known since 1952. [The Triune Brain in Evolution, 16]

Yeah Park, I don't know just what you mean here. There is a difference between identifiable brain structures and identifiable mental structures. There has been plenty of debate and discourse over the composition and operation of mental systems since at least the time of Plato and Aristotle. Plato himself may have been the first to postulate three separate parts of mind (Reason, Thumos, and the Appetities), which is known as his tripartite theory of the soul. This has some important parallels (and also some important differences) with Freud's tripartite theory of the psyche (id, ego, and superego). And there are still many other mind theorists who propose only two divisions of mental life, or perhaps many other veriations thereof. On the other hand, the structures of the brain are not so hotly contested, they are far more easily identifiable through the scientific method, and surprisingly perhaps we have virtually the same brain systems as rats and other mammals, making it relatively easy to study and analyze our brain through animal testing. So perhaps you are confusing the two. Or perhaps I am just going off on a tangent. My point is just that there are very specific processes associated with each structure of the brain, processes which are becoming more well-defined practically every day, so I'm not sure what your confusion consists of.
Ah, I see your point. But this wouldn't completely ruin Ruth's point, which was I think merely to show that we are mostly emotional creatures, and even when we think we are performing the highest, most rational tasks imaginable there is still a large element of emotion involved in every act of thinking and belief. But then again, this does mean that we should speak less about particular regions of the brain and instead address the processes themselves.

It's not merely that we rely on our primitive brains for meaning. That their operation "elides the intellect" and they compete with our higher brain for control of behavior matters most in discussions of free will. To what extent does neural architecture and function internalize the competition between the memes infecting our higher brain and our genetically programmed primitive brains? Many memes succeed because they exploit primitive brain functioning, they get us conditioned to associate genetically rooted impulses such as sexual arousal or submission to their propagation. In other words they short-circuit free will by a combination of conditioning and the ability of primitive brains to take over control for particular functions. As long as we cling to self concepts (memeplexes  part of our selfplex) that trivialize the role of our primitive brains vis a vis behavior, we make ourselves vulnerable to that manipulation.


Consider that the reptile brain functions in territoriality, dominance and submission, and self defense. The Stockholm Syndrome is just one example where submissive instincts completely override rational thought and free will.


Consider panic behavior. When confronted with danger, our reptile brain automatically overrides the cerebral cortex and takes control not only of physiology (sympathetic responses such as increased heart rate and blood pressure) but also of perception and behavior. Panic behavior, for example, is just this instinctive Reptile brain override in response to danger. When we panic, we visually scan our environment very rapidly but with a narrowed focus of attention. The more frightened we become, the less we're able to think clearly. This is why fire doors have to open outwards and have to have a push bar instead of a knob. It was discovered that in a burning building people would die in a cluster at an exit with a door that had a knob and opened inwards. Reptiles don't know how to turn doorknobs, neither do our reptile brains.


While people have acknowledged such effects for decades, each has been treated as an anomaly. We need to feel as if we're in control of our lives in order to take action. Learned helplessness is dysfunctional. Proof that we're not in as much control of our choices as we'd like to be is inconsistent with the "self" we cherish. Instead of seeing the constellation of ways memeplexes manipulate us as part of a larger picture, instead of reinterpreting and reinventing ourselves in light of scientific knowledge from many studies, we turn away in denial. We don't want to know, willful ignorance.


The thrust of my argument is that we can step back for a new perspective on this cognitive dissonance. Only by examining these influences on us, dispassionately, in detail, integrating it all into a larger frame of reference, can we ultimately create a new possibility for free will. This cognitive dissonance is our concrete experience of that fractal edge I discussed.


In this sense, understanding what I'm trying to say requires more than psychology and scientific information and philosophical discussion. It also requires introspection, examination of one's inner unease or anxiety as you contemplate cases such as Stockholm Syndrome and panic behavior, or the way religious ritual can subvert reason (ritual is rooted in the reptile brain). That unease is part of the equation, necessary information. You have to include it rather than allowing it to guide your arguments.


Paul MacLean described the history of his introduction of the term Limbic System to neuroanatomy literature on pages 26-227 of The Triune Brain in Evolution. In his 1990 book, he draws upon the entire range of neural research to distinguish  parts of the human brain as belonging to the Neomammalian formation (our higher brain), the Paleomammalian formation (the Limbic system), or the R-Complex (the reptile brain). He cites not only anatomical and histochemical differences but studies of comparative anatomy, fossil evidence, comparative embryology, extensive animal brain research, clinical findings from human pathology, and studies of animal behavior. Functions are identified experimentally for the three main subdivisions of the limbic system, the amydgalar, the septal, and the thalamocingulate.


A link to the author of your critique would be helpful, so we can determine the particular researchers he's criticizing and consider the evidence he uses for that judgment.




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