Why one is Needed and How it might be Derived

НазваниеWhy one is Needed and How it might be Derived
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Experience has taught us that everything has a beginning, and this causes us to think that the universe, too, must once have begun.89 The earliest origin-explanation was that it was created by a god, an interpretation based upon the assumption that such an entity exists.

This explanation has two great advantages over our modern understanding:90 it is simple, and it is easily understood. However, it also has two great disadvantages: it tells us nothing about the universe and it does not help us to understand cosmological behaviour. If we want to understand reality, then we must work from what we know rather than from what we assume.91

Religious founders and leaders rarely state why a god created the universe. But they always attribute purpose to our existence, and they always teach us to live in a manner that demonstrates we value attainment of this purpose. Living to attain this purpose, we are told, presents problems; these, just like all of our everyday problems, can only be solved by understanding the environment that holds the conditions to be met (as we saw in Chapter Two). This is why each religion's environment is described and explained, and why their God's criteria or commandments, the existence of a judgement day, heaven and hell, and so on, are detailed. In explaining such things, these leaders all (except, perhaps, a few) confidently believe that they are carrying out the instructions of a higher Being.

A belief in any purpose creates a mind that can make decisions with the clarity of vision and the certainty of conviction. A strong belief in any leader's vision creates an ardent proselyte. However, belief only makes the believed-in concept real to the believer. It cannot make it true in the real world, for the real world is quite unaffected by what its inhabitants think. And it often cannot make it true to others, where many may simply adopt the views of the local majority to avoid arousing trouble for themselves.

Over the centuries we have significantly added to the belief we started with--that a god simply created the universe. Many of us now infer that this god has a purpose in mind, that humans are intimately linked to this purpose, and that God periodically intervenes in our lives. We have made these assumptions because we cannot solve moral problems or make moral decisions (i.e., obtain peace of mind) without first holding (or, for many, actually believing) that our existence has purpose. Directing our daily activities toward accomplishing valued purposes gives us the comfort of feeling that our lives are meaningful.

But some beliefs prevent us from thinking logically about what surely must be important in life--the way we act when living. Behaviour blinded by benighted belief can have terrible consequences, as acts of terrorism regularly demonstrate.

"Rationality in Science and Religion" is a postscript to this chapter.


The rationale for stating that humans need religions (given in Part One) can be summarized as follows. First, the universe has taught us that survival can depend upon thinking and behaving rationally. Second, to make a behavioural choice rationally it must be directed toward achieving some purpose. Third, real-world problems must satisfy criteria found in the real world to be successful. Fourth, moral problems are invented through mental word-play, and a metaphysical environment and valued purpose must be assembled before moral behavioural choices can be rationally made. And last, we invariably do our best to believe in the truth of our constructions, because belief that we are correct eliminates the stress that accompanies doubts about the validity of what we think, say, and do.

In the previous chapter we noted that religions grow from the visions of (mainly) one person, a person whose beliefs are particularly strong, clear-cut and convincing. This raises two questions that beg to be investigated. First, what makes these beliefs so convincing to such individuals (and, later, to their followers) that they may willingly endure torture, and even choose to die rather than change their minds? And, second, from where do such beliefs come--could there be a source other than a god?

Both of these questions can be answered by returning to the discussion of how the mind works. We begin with a short review of how memories become linked together.

1. Memory Linking

Memories92 are synaptically linked to other memories, and these links can be made in several ways.

Transient links are made all the time. For instance, when preparing to take a holiday we typically think about where we are going, what the weather might be like, what clothes we should take, what money or documents we might need, etc. Our thoughts, in this example, might seem to be occurring more or less at random, jumping from weather to clothes to money, but they are not at all disconnected. If we really wanted, we could find the exact memory item that triggered the mental jump from weather to clothes, from clothes to money, and so on. There is always a path followed by our thoughts from one memory to the next; it creates what is often called a train of thought.

Sometimes, we make memory links in play. We build connections between memories in our thoughts and so make associations between events that may never have actually taken place. We do this, for example, when we daydream, or when we plan how we would spend the millions we might win in a lottery. Once chains of thought have been built in this way, they are often revisited.93 Replaying any chain of thought strengthens it, which makes future recalls easier.94

A more definitive linkage, discussed in Chapter Two, occurs when we problem solve. Permanent links between previously unlinked memories are likely to form whenever significant relationships are found.

Memory chains can be short or lengthy. Many older folk, for example, can recall exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first learned of President Kennedy's assassination. This is likely to be a short sequence, robustly formed in association with strong emotions, but not often part of a longer sequence. On the other hand, a journey once taken, or detailed plans to build an elaborate addition to the house, for instance, might be stored as very lengthy chains of linked memories.

We all possess many useful, short and long, memory chains, assembled during daily living or taught to us by others. They form actual mental structures, just like the ones we have been calling the neural networks that store discrete memories, but longer and more complex. Whenever activated, they give rise to thoughts and actions that usually play out in succession.95 As more-or-less permanent memory structures, they minimize the amount of thinking to be done (and therefore the amount of energy expended) when there is little novel to be considered in the triggering situation. Memory chains are important enough to deserve their own name: I term them constructs.

2. Constructs

Everyone's mind contains millions of constructs, most very small (such as the phrases we habitually use--our semi-automatic response ["Hello! How are you?"] to a neighbour's greeting, for instance), others much larger (such as those that auto-pilot the movements of our hands and feet as we drive to work thinking of other things). Every time a construct is used, additional synaptic knobs form along its pathways. These enlarge the construct's primary routes, which then offer less resistance to future biochemical transmissions. This, in turn, increases the probability that this route will be taken the next time one's locus of thought is in this region of the brain.

Constructs are supremely valuable for all animals because they facilitate rapid reaction to danger. Constructs automate some of the brain's activity, producing appropriate responses to stimuli for the least expenditure of energy and in the shortest possible time. Constructs in humans allow much mental activity to be carried out at the relatively fast, non-verbal, subconscious, second level of thinking. For instance, everyone (particularly athletes, musicians, and those executing rapid body movements) becomes more proficient through practice; an important part of practising involves the development of mental constructs.

However, acting solely in response to preformed mental constructs without at least some analysis of incoming stimuli to determine their implications can be dangerous for any animal. Constructs can undermine and limit the ability to perceive, analyze, understand, integrate and generally profit from observations. Furthermore, they diminish creativity and originality.96

Constructs cause each of us to become progressively more set in our ways, simply because biochemical flows take the path of least resistance through a neuronal maze. Thus thoughts tend to follow the same neural paths, constantly reinforcing them.97 As we age, we encounter fewer situations where we need to think afresh about how to respond, for we have previously experienced many of a similar nature. Our thoughts simply follow patterns locked within earlier-formed constructs whenever more-or-less appropriate ones are found. Consequently, we begin acting in characteristic, typical, or even stereotypical, ways. Eventually, if we never try to break out of these neuronal ruts, we start to think that nothing is new, and we may slowly lose interest in external happenings.

Constructs may also monopolize thoughts. This is a particularly interesting feature from this book's point of view. If a significant amount of time or energy is spent thinking about any one subject, a construct-dominated mind can develop. Hobbies, careers, lovers, philosophies, food, business, probably anything we care to consider, can create this effect. We probably all know an individual with whom any conversation soon turns into an exposition of their particular interest. This happens because their mind has long pursued one particular theme and found relationships between it and many other memories. Ideas which might simply be interesting but unconnected bits and pieces of information to other persons can become linked to the central theme of interest in an obsessed person's mind. What once were dozens of discrete constructs can become one major Construct. This can change a fixated person's whole outlook on life.

3. Reformations, Conversions and Revelations

Understanding that the mind develops (and is, to varying degrees, dominated by) a wide variety of mental constructs prepares us to investigate the two questions posed in the introduction to this chapter: what makes conversions so convincing, and from where might they come?

Reformations, conversions and revelations all involve mental constructs; we will consider each in turn.

3.1 Reformations

Reformations might be divided into two types: minor ones (which change one's way of thinking but little else), and reformations which change behaviour. Neither kind is particularly significant to the current discussion, but will be examined because doing so helps us understand what happens when conversions and revelations occur.

We "reform" our way of thinking when we accept another's point of view. For instance, someone might point out that we have always maintained that such-and-such was true, whereas, in fact, it is not true. They might then provide justifications that we realize are valid and, after a moment's thought, we accept. In such cases, just a few, often secondary, neural constructs are disassociated. During this minor reformation, new links between a few memories will be formed, leaving the old associations to atrophy from neglect. This behaviour is usually the result of third-level conscious thinking, and typically happens during conversations or while reflecting upon something recently read, heard or seen. It is often permanent and will affect our thinking, but it may never affect our behaviour.

Behaviour-changing reformations are a somewhat more complex form of neuronal modification because more constructs are involved. However, the new neural patterns that form may not be permanent. For instance, recognizing that an excess of calories is going straight to the waistline and deciding to diet often produces a "reformation" that lasts no longer than a few weeks. More significant reformations, perhaps on the scale of forsaking habits such as alcohol, recreational drugs or gambling, may be more permanent. Reformations (of any kind) often fail without regular boosts such as those provided by support groups, because mental links to earlier constructs which present enticing goals (usually rich with associated emotions) remain.

More permanent reformations occur when some new mental purpose is held to be more attractive than a previous one, and decisions are then made in order to attain this new goal. As long as the latest purpose is sufficiently valued, the mind's decision-making process refers to this new purpose for guidance. This means, of course, that reformations last only as long as the new purpose is held in higher regard than the previous one. For any reformation to last, the prior purpose must be permanently replaced by the new one. For example, memories of eating favourite chocolates and of their pleasurable taste sensations, might be replaced by thoughts of looking slim and being fit. Using the terminology used in Chapter Three, we might say that the purpose guiding our activities must be switched from valuing a sensation of gustatory pleasure to valuing slimness or health.98 For the reformation to be long lasting, a fresh construct must be deliberately built focused upon attaining the new end result. In short, it's not the diet that produces enduring results, it's the mind-set.

Reformations, then, are consciously made decisions to change one's behaviour in order to gain a newly desired goal. They fail as soon as the goal or purpose loses its attraction.99

3.2 Conversions

Conversions, on the other hand, create long-lasting effects. "Conversions" are the result of a change of belief, a belief that can be about anything. The following discussion relates only to religious conversions.

Religious conversions100 come in two flavours; those induced by some external influence (a speaker at a mass meeting, or in a church, for instance) and those self-induced (the ones that seem to arrive "out-of-the-blue"). The first kind happen relatively often; the second, rarely. The prerequisite for either kind to occur is a prepared mind (one that is usually quite stressed--see the next section for more about this).

Externally-induced conversions cause the converted to accept the theology of an existing religion. The environment, beliefs and purpose-for-living, often remembered from past exposures to the religion and usually already present as minor memory constructs within the mind,101 are accepted in their entirety. People undergoing induced conversions (whether from external or internal sources) are likely to explore and cement this happening by reading, talking to like-minded others, and thinking about what has happened. Mentally, they are realigning existing constructs, seeking and strengthening those that point toward the newly adopted purpose, and turning suddenly seen associations into connections, all the time reinforcing the new construct's position and significance within their revised mind-set. Eventually, if the conversion experience has been particularly powerful, many formerly small and unconnected constructs become realigned and joined to make one large Construct. And, as noted in the previous section, this new Construct may come to dominate much of such individual's thinking, and control much of their behaviour.

Externally induced conversions differ from reformations only in scale. Periodic refreshing is often needed if the adopted purpose is not to fade over time. This reinforcement is typically obtained by attending religious institutions or gatherings. Secular conversions occur, of course (to communism, for example) and these are commonly systematically reinforced by political boosts given in meetings. Terrorists, religious or otherwise, are often products of induced conversions; they, too, are given periodic indoctrination and training aimed at maintaining their level of commitment.

Self-induced religious conversions are also usually to an existing religion. Very rarely, they occur in the mind of individuals who do not convert to an existing religion but become the harbingers of a new one. It is this kind of event we must examine (although, as we will find, the causal mechanism in both situations is very similar).

Self-induced conversions are almost always the result of a "revelation."

3.3 Revelations

As mentioned in section four of the last chapter, leaders of any significance are invariably people who have thought long and hard about existing conditions and how matters might be improved. Some leaders only slowly realize they have a workable solution to offer and then act. They might write articles and books, as did Karl Marx. Others (in particular most everyday leaders) appear to decide and act without spending any appreciable time thinking about what to do. This is usually because they have already experienced (or have earlier spent time working through) alternative possibilities, and they come to the role armed with several appropriate solutions, primed and ready for different contingencies.

However, sometimes individuals recognize in one blinding flash that they actually have the solution. In such cases, they are often said to have had a "revelation." Such occurrences do not happen very often and only occur to those whose mind has been dwelling upon an apparently insurmountable problem for a considerable amount of time. For such individuals, there is an instant of recognition, when the truth is suddenly revealed. This has often been described (see next section for some documented examples) as being accompanied by misty patterns of light,102 and the whole experience is marked by a plethora of intensely strong and pleasurable emotions: surprise, wonder, elation, euphoria, and sometimes a feeling of being united with the universe. These emotions erupt the instant it is realized, with unequivocal certainty, that the definitive, long-sought, solution-to-a-critically-important-problem has been found. Accompanying feelings of pure joy sometimes continue for weeks.

Revelations that produce this effect need not always follow a search for meaning, or be the result of a religious mental struggle. Many scientists and artists have reported identical feelings to those mentioned above. These experiences occur, for them, the instant they realize they have found the answer to a problem long worked upon. Their emotions, just as the emotions of those experiencing a religious conversion, gush forth the moment their mind replaces many of its old and disjointed constructs with one that is more appropriate and functional. The "eureka" solution transforms disorder into order, doubt into certainty, complexity into simplicity, and stress into delight.

Those who have experienced a revelation of any kind, are often forced by their new Construct to become leaders, devoted to communicating to others the truth that has been revealed to them.

4. The Source of Revelations

But what is the source of such revelations? Such perfectly fitting, almost complete, solutions to long-pondered problems could not have come from nowhere. Some, even many, might insist that revelations could only come from a divine being. While this supposition cannot be entirely ruled out,103 it seems an unnecessarily complex explanation for the revelation experiences that have been reported by scientists and artists, and it simply obstructs further investigation when attempting to account for those of a religious nature. We should not accept the "divine origin" explanation too readily; there could be a more mundane source.

Once looked for, this source is not hard to find. The new-found solution, its organizing principle or purpose, and the accompanying Construct, all come from work done by subconscious second-level thinking.104 In other words, from the individual's own mind. To fully appreciate just what happens to produce a revelation, we should first discuss a few non-religious (and therefore likely less controversial) examples of its more common occurrence.

We are all very familiar with third-level thinking, where we use words in our minds to think consciously about things. But, as noted earlier, this is not the full extent of our thought processes. Second-level thinking (when associations between memories, or between memories and related incoming information, are found and when more or less permanent links between memories may be formed) occurs subconsciously all the time. While not discussed in depth previously, other stimuli besides incoming information can instigate subconscious neural link-formation or thinking. One cause, important to our investigations, is stress--in particular, stress caused by constantly ruminating about the same, apparently insoluble, problem.105

This kind of stress makes itself known in various ways--sometimes mentally, as with dreams or nightmares,106 occasionally physically, with ailments such as headaches or upset stomachs.107

That dreaming is often related to stress is generally well-known. We have all probably experienced waking in the middle of the night, feeling anxious, and thinking that our problems are particularly serious. But, upon waking in the morning, following periods of REM ("rapid eye movement") or dream sleep, we may feel that our predicament is not so bad after all. (We even have a saying, "you'll feel much better in the morning," that acknowledges this.) Occasionally, something marvellous happens: we awake with the answer we have been looking for, and know that our problem has been solved. Such occurrences illustrate a little of what our subconscious mind is capable; they also help to substantiate the fact that the mind is continuously working, even though we are not aware of it doing so. Dreams are secondary manifestations of this work; remembered portions of dreams provide fleeting glimpses of what has been happening at the subconscious second level during sleep.

Many people have recorded how long-elusive solutions sometimes arrive suddenly, quite unexpectedly, out of the blue. Henri Poincaré, a great mathematician, in an insightful essay Mathematical Creation,108 wrote that he discovered Fuchsian functions in a coffee-induced, semi-dreaming state, after spending fifteen days attempting to disprove their existence. In this essay, he explored how the subconscious must continue the search for a solution, then present the "good combination" to the conscious mind when found. He postulated that conscious thought liberated the elements of the problems, and that these might then fly about the subconscious mind like gnats or atoms of gas until a fortuitous encounter produced the sought-after "good combination."

Many similar examples of second-level subconscious thought breaking through into second- and third-level conscious awareness have been described in the literature. One probably known by all organic chemists is Kekulé von Stradonitz's 1865 realization that the benzene molecule is ring shaped. Kekulé reported thinking about possible structures while dozing in front of a fire, seeing long rows of carbon and hydrogen atoms dancing into different snake-like configurations in the flames, and eventually observing one snake seize hold of its own tail. He immediately awoke, recognizing instantly that this had to be the correct molecular arrangement.

Another example of this phenomenon was recently reported in the local press. The chairman of a company described how he was very surprised to find the answer to a problem he had been wrestling with for a week, written in his notebook when he opened it one morning at work. He remembered leaving the notebook downstairs when he went to bed the previous night, but nothing else. He then realized that he must have dreamed the answer, sleep-walked, written it down, and then gone back to bed, all without wakening. The answer in the notebook was perfect. It was immediately put into effect, and the company's efficiency doubled.109

Solutions so found are typically discovered upon wakening, but they can arrive, abruptly and unannounced, anytime.110 A recent book relates how a daytime breakthrough suddenly occurred to Dr. Folkman, a dedicated cancer researcher, while sitting in Boston's Temple Israel.111 In another publication, it is reported that Charles Darwin remembered exactly where he was when he suddenly realized why offspring differed from their parents.112

Returning to our main concern, it is now relatively clear what must be happening at the subconscious level before and during a revelation's occurrence.

When awake, our conscious mind seeks solutions to problems by searching for relationships between memories, or between memories and incoming stimuli (recall the "drill-bit search" example given in Chapter One). Using its knowledge of the properties of each element within the environment presenting the problem, the alert mind can determine when an appropriate solution has been found. Furthermore, both the conscious and subconscious are aware of ongoing searches and any resolutions. Similarly, when solutions cannot be found, this also is "known" both consciously and subconsciously.

However, unlike the conscious mind, the subconscious always addresses the same problem: stress. Any problem-related activity it undertakes is not aimed at finding a solution to a dilemma in mathematics, organic chemistry, cancer growth, or a reason to live, to use examples we have mentioned. The outcome sought by the subconscious is merely a path of lower bioelectrical resistance through the mental constructs continually being activated by the conscious mind. It seeks this because a path of lower resistance consumes less energy, and thus generates less stress.

The subconscious seeks routes of lower resistance when it can; that is, when its neural pathways are not occupied by incoming stimuli or pre-empted by demands from conscious-level activities. During this free time (obtained mostly when the body is sleeping), the subconscious seeks pathways of lower resistance (i.e., links that more directly join the involved memories) from within the mind's museum of memories and constructs. In finding networks that reduce its energy consumption, the subconscious solves problems that interfere with its primary task of directing a healthy body, not those related to the world outside its realm. But, the subconscious does solve such problems, indirectly, and must do so relatively frequently.

Thus, simply by seeking a network that produces lower resistance and lessened stress, the subconscious finds routes which position formerly overlooked memories within new constructs. It does all of this, it must be emphasized, with absolutely no knowledge that the solution it has uncovered has any possible meaning in the real world.113

Any time after a new neural network (construct) has been built in this manner, a revelation can occur. Revelations are simply sudden break-throughs, from the subconscious to the conscious mind, of the new understandings that a revised neural network denotes.

Revelations of any kind, scientific, artistic, managerial, or otherwise (including those that set the stage for, and result in, a self-induced religious conversion) occur abruptly and quite unexpectedly. And because the solution presented has been tailor-made by the subconscious to relieve stress caused by the conscious mind's incessant thinking about one particular problem, this solution solves that problem. It immediately feels right, there is a sudden release of tension, and a flood of emotion surges forth.114 The solution's presentation, the instant it passes from subconscious to consciousness, may seem to be inexplicable, to artists, scientists and religionists. Some may see it as a divine act, and its nature may be such as to precipitate a self-induced religious conversion.115

What had taken so long to discover, comes, seemingly, from the unknown.116 Most importantly, the solution appears flawless--all of the pieces fit perfectly and make a unified whole. While the solution may not yet contain answers to all the questions that will likely come later, the individual knows instinctively and emotionally, as well as rationally, that this new-found solution will be able to provide them. Every part of the experience is magnificent.117

Unfortunately, the found solution may be completely wrong. While the discovered solution is often accurate (for it is the result of much prior thought, both conscious and subconscious, by individuals well versed in their discipline), it can be erroneous, even for such individuals. The intense feelings and instant conviction experienced bear no relation to the truth of what is newly thought to be the answer. The solution always feels right, and it is right for the particular mind-set of constructs that conceived it. And it is also right in that it reduces energy consumption and stress. But the answer may be entirely false, and always will be, if the individual has had only incorrect knowledge or false assumptions to work with. Kepler's experiences can serve to illustrate the effect of working with unsound knowledge. Kepler (an extremely careful, sixteenth century mathematician and astronomer) deduced, via mathematical investigations into the properties of regular solid figures,118 that there could only be six planets. (Of course, there are more than six planets, but no one knew this at that time.) Kepler was immediately filled with "great joy,"119 because he believed that he had discovered one of God's mysteries.

The experiences related above demonstrate that hours of conscious, troublesome, problem-solving attempts usually preceded revelations. Since this kind of activity induces accompanying hours of stress-relieving, subconscious, mental activity, the most logical explanation for revelations (and the religious conversions that sometimes follow) is that they stem from this work amid the memories stored within the brain.120

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