Is Religion Good For Your Brain?

When you think of religion does your body get invigorated? Do you feel your soul flutter? Does your brain reach a higher state of functioning? In answer to the last question, Jeffrey Anderson, assistant professor of nueroradiology at the University of Utah states that,

We think we have the tools now to do a study of brain activity during the really profound and deep types of emotional and social interactions associated with religion, and we’re really excited to try and understand more.

religion science god

Religion constantly falls under the close scrutiny of science.

Anderson and other researchers are launching a new study that will examine exactly how religion and spiritual rituals impact the human brain. The study will consist of participants between the age of 20 and 30 who are currently active in their faith. An MRI scan will be performed while the participants are surrounded by faith oriented activities, such as listening to spiritual music, listening to proclamations from their religion, and acting out religious rituals associated with their particular faith. Very interesting indeed, but it will take some time before the results of the study are posted. If you believe your self to be a prime candidate for the study, and of course as long as you are in the immediate area of the University of Utah, you can apply to be a participant on the Religious Brain Project website.

Related ArticleMorals or More Rails (to guide us)

The study does beg another set of questions however: can religion and belief be measured by science? Or rather, should science be used to gauge religion? Is it morally correct to accept religion over science, or vice versa? Essentially we arrive at a very pertinent question: should religion be completely replaced by science within the school system as a more viable teaching strategy?

Bill Nye (yes, the science guy) and Ken Ham (Answers in Genesis, supporting the side of religion and creationism) squared off in a debate last night about religion which addressed these issues directly. The overarching question of the debate was : Is creation a viable model of human origins in today’s modern scientific era? Both sides had their own opinions as well as evidence to back up their claims.

religion creation science

Which Religion is right? Which book do your prefer? sciencebasedlife.wordpress.com

In the debate, Ken Ham defends religion by stating that science should be split into two separate categories. The first would pertain to observational science (a science based on models). This category involves what we experience now and how the world works today. The second category involves historical science (a type of theoretical science of origin) which is used to define our origins and makes sense of the world around us from a historical perspective. He stresses the importance of separating the two to help with the confusion that children are being exposed to. He gives the example that by only teaching evolution, which to most starts with a random beginning for no reason other than “it happened,” we limit children to thinking that science is just as random. This randomness can crate incredible confusion when making conclusions about existential quandaries children are trying to work through. Ken Ham asserts that instead, children should be taught religion and to embrace the idea of God because it empowers them to think they are indeed special, as they are made in the image of God.

Related ArticleIn 1610 God Was a Binary, Fractal, Self-Replicating Algorithm

Bill Nye on the other hand focuses on accepted scientific evidence to disprove Ham’s assertions regarding religious truth. For example, he refers to the different layers in stone and snow that have been compressed to form ice which would take far longer than the amount of time Creationism allows for. He talks about the allotted four thousand years since the Great Flood and the improbability of the amount of species we see today to exist with the limited time that Creationists claim elapsed since then. He stresses the idea that we need to depend on natural law and orders, not religious or divine laws, to predict practical and accurate future theories and laws. He asserts that the basis of scientific education must be information derived through the scientific process, such as evolution, in order for children and future scientists to make reasonable scientific predictions in the future. In essence, he is claiming that one must understand and accept theories like evolution which have been supported with scientific evidence in order to understand why a fish can come to walk on land, why there are over 8.7 million different species on Earth, why layers in rocks and trees and ice exist, and so on.  He stresses that by allowing religion and Creationism to thrive in academic settings we are impeding the scientific literacy of future generations and essentially stifling the United States in future scientific breakthroughs.

Related Article: Watching Evolution Occur

The debate finished with questions and rebuttals, but the underlying theme of the debate, I fear, was lost. Instead of trying to prove why one or the other is wrong in the school system, it turned into a contest of ego and the denouncing of each others ideals.

religion science stats

Some surprising statistics about religion and science. blog.faithlife.com

I wonder, why not accept both ideas? Why not teach every child in every classroom the idea of science, and then, on your own time, teach your children your worship, your religion, and your belief. Allow for both religion and science to be taught in their own settings (in schools and at home/place of worship respectively) and allow for the child to then choose which idea they support and believe. What is with this unyielding hatred between the two schools of thought? What ever happened to being free and allowing for choice? Most importantly though: can’t we all just get along?

In the end, much of the issue is largely based on opinion, some opinions stemming from facts, others stemming from observed information. One thing is for certain, all this debate and speculation on religion is definitely causing your brain to function at an elevated level. Maybe you’ve been unintentionally participating in Anderson’s experiment this whole time!

To feed your own opinions further, or for the sake of debate itself, check out the Bill Nye and Ken Ham debate on Creationism vs. science in the video below!

Cheers!


Sources:

Religious Brain Project

Deseret News: What’s the effect of religion on the brain? U. launches new study

University of Utah

Youtube: Bill Nye Debates Ken Ham

Youtube: Bill Nye: Creationism Is Not Appropriate for Children

Youtube: Ken Ham Responds to Bill Nye “the Humanist Guy”

Answers in Genesis – Creationism

Wikipedia: Genesis flood narrative

Backreaction: Models and Theories

Models, Theories, and Laws

How many species on Earth? 8.7 million

 

Wondergressive: Watching Evolution Occur

Wondergessive: Morals or More Rails (to guide us)

Wondergressive: In 1610 God Was a Binary, Fractal, Self-Replicating Algorithm

The Almighty Escapism: Creating Distraction

Contention 1: Life is suffering.

Sword makers of old understood that the more they heated the steel, the stronger the blade would become. The mightiest tools have always been forged in the fiercest fires, and, likewise, the trials of man’s life sharpen the tenacious ones into razor-edged forces that shape the annals of civilization. To the initiated, life’s sufferings are turned to purpose, and this is why the greatest achievements in history are often preceded by the greatest defeats, because life, like the aged swordsmith, knows to test the metal it’s forged with before setting it to its Herculean tasks. Whether one defiantly taunts adversity or nestles into safety, life is suffering, and suffering is abound on life’s road to enlightenment.

Contention 2: Enlightenment is the purpose of life; we are all already enlightened.

Among the countless teachers professing to be enlightened, one of the most common yet ironically dualistic claims is that each of us is enlightened already. Christ, Mohamed, Zoroaster, Osho, David Icke and even Scientology’s L Ron Hubbard all pointed out that divine wisdom is our true nature. Yet, simultaneously, they say reaching for enlightenment is our reason for being, the so called great answer to life. Wait what! Become what I already am? Not being enlightened (or rather, aware of the inherent enlightenment ever-present) we struggle to wrap ourselves around how this double-talk isn’t some cosmic catch-22. If reaching for enlightenment is the highest purpose, then survey a thousand pedestrians on what they want more than anything and how many would say “divine understanding?” Not many.

There is a calculated purpose, though, behind why countless methods of realizing our divine nature within a single lifetime have been known to humanity for millennia, such as Kriya Yoga or sun-gazing, yet go widely unheard-of in general. Delusion is mandatory for existence. Yes, the transcending of mind, a necessary step, is often misunderstood to mean forfeiture of critical thought, and this is one of many pitfalls, but the harder pill to swallow and the reason for epidemic ignorance is this: Without deception, without lies, there is no meaning to anything.

Contention 3: There IS a soul; the soul DOES reincarnate.

Imagine the soul this way: energy, the pulsating power rippling through existence, the animating essence behind your beating heart and thinking mind, is inherently incapable of being either created or destroyed, according to the first law of thermodynamics; this power that drives you is absolutely eternal. This notion, for many, is proof positive of the immortal soul and its propensity for reincarnation. For the “seeing is believing” mind of western understanding, there is Dr. Ian Stephenson’s Expansive study into reincarnation back in 1975, lauded by the Journal of the American Medical Association as a “painstaking and unemotional” collection of cases that were “difficult to explain on any assumption other than reincarnation.” This study has been a vital resource in the tipping of the collective scales toward acceptance of this ancient belief structure. European Cases of the Reincarnation Type is the title but the study continues.

Ok, so what are you getting at?

So on the pretenses here that enlightenment is the ultimate purpose of life, reincarnation is an absolute, and this life cycle will continue indefinitely until the soul realizes its oneness with all existence, let’s take this train of presumptions one step further. When Hunter S. Thompson took his life after the end of the 2005 football season, perhaps it was because he understood this great truth: like water and breath, entertainment and distraction are a finite resource. Man’s inability to sit with himself in a quiet room can be seen as the root of all modern man’s problems in a perfect way, because distraction itself serves only one enormous overarching purpose: delaying pain. And pain, further still, is what we feel when we fear what we’ll realize when there is nothing left to worry about. When there is nothing left to consider, you are simply a human “being” (not a human ‘doing’ or a human ‘having’), just being, or, in other words, enlightened. Entertainment, therefore, is our barrier to enlightenment.

Contention 4: Life is but a dream.

Because we are all enlightened by default, all of civilization and its achievements can be seen as a massive distraction from this state of is-ness. When we are enlightened, the cyclical cosmic ride is over and we merge with the almighty oneness of existence, the Godhead. Here is the point. In order to perpetuate existence, collectively we must be distracted from the truth, because the truth is there is no existence (Descartes said, “I think, therefore, I am,” but I only think I am, therefore, I am what I think).  If it seems at times that everything is a lie or too crazy to be true, that is because it is… Everything the senses perceive and interpret is a fabricated dream we are collectively creating to allow the Godhead (us) to experience itself as the illusion of less than everything. That old stoner question of “if God is so powerful, can he make a stone that not even He can lift,” has an answer: You are God, and you have told yourself the stone is too big so you can experience your only limitation, lack of limitation. Without believing the illusion that you are separate from the mountain, moving mountains makes no difference.

So what does any of this have to do with creation?

Creation, in every conceivable form, from writing a novel, doodling a stick-figure, building a desk, or amassing an empire, all expand the Godhead. Here’s how. Your unique experiential wisdom, through what you create, is transformed into a vessel for others to divine new relative wisdom, previously unexperienced.

When we consume escapism and distraction (TV, drugs, games, work, sex, anything at all), it eventually leads to boredom (“I’ve already seen this movie, heard this story, been here, done that a million times”). The boredom, in its beautiful necessity, drives us to create (a new game, new idea, new records and feats), adding to the collection of consumable distraction from is-ness for the hive. Rinse. Repeat. But every creation is meaningful in its own way, as a portal to move another into your same state of consciousness. This is why the greatest art wells up the strongest emotional charge.

Starting in the mid-60’s, Dr. David Hawkins lead a 40 year global kinesiological study on levels of human consciousness, with hundreds of thousands of subject. His findings systematically proved man’s divinity. His map of levels of consciousness (above), on a graded scale, showed how even the most ignorant of racist rants (terrible) holds value, because there is wisdom to be found for an audience of child-rapists (more terrible).

When we create, we activate a higher level of our minds, advancing ourselves. But through advancing ourselves, we contribute to the advancement of humanity as a whole via the ones we affect and the ripple effect. When Roger Bannister became the first in history to run a mile in under 4 minutes, he lifted a veil of possibilities that 36 others, in only the subsequent year, followed him beyond. When you create, the realm of the possible expands.

When you learn you have the power to move mountains, you’ll know you were already the one who put them there.

Sources:

Greatest Achievements of Human History (rationalwiki.org)

50 Famously Successful People Who Failed at First (onlinecollege.org)

Jesus Christ Quotes and Dying Statements (free-spiritual-guidance.com)

10 Prophet Muhammad Quotes: A Taste of Honey (islamicrenaissance.com)

Zoroastrianism (heritageinstitute.com)

Osho on Enlightenment, Osho Enlightenment Quotes (oshoteachings.com)

Remember Who You Are – David Icke (youtube.com)

My Philosophy By L. Ron Hubbard (lronhubbard.org)

thefreedictionary.com

In 1610, God Was a Binary, Fractal, Self-Replicating Algorithm (wondergressive.com)

Europe PubMed Central (europepmc.org)

Living of Light Research (home.iae.nl)

Meditation – Pitfalls on the Path (lifepositive.com)

First Law of Thermodynamics (grc.nasa.gov)

Ian Stevenson (wikipedia.com)

European Cases of the Reincarnation Type (amazon.com)

The Last Words of Hunter S. Thompson (phrases.org.uk)

Veritas Publishing (veritaspub.com)

Gold Eluded Banister, But Track Immortality Did Not (nytimes.com)

Elizabeth Gilbert: The Elusive Creative Genius (youtube.com)

 

 

A How To: Behavior Changes and Breaking Habits

 

wf360.typepad.com

wf360.typepad.com

 

Stanford University and their Persuasive Tech Lab have released a list of the top 10 mistakes in changing behavior. Great, now I know what I’m doing wrong. What I want to know next is more about what I can do instead of continuing to make the same mistakes.

So let’s take a look at the mistakes and some alternative solutions.

Mistakes in Behavior Change

1. Relying on willpower for long-term change (Imagine willpower doesn’t exist. That’s step 1 to a better future.)
2. Attempting big leaps instead of baby steps (Seek tiny success– one after another.)
3. Ignoring how environment shapes behaviors (Change your context & you change your life.)
4. Trying to stop old behaviors instead of creating new ones (Focus on action, not avoidance.)
5. Blaming failures on lack of motivation (Solution: Make the behavior easier to do.)
6. Underestimating the power of triggers (No behavior happens without a trigger. )
7. Believing that information leads to action (We humans aren’t so rational.)
8. Focusing on abstract goals more than concrete behaviors (Abstract: Get in shape. Concrete: Walk 15 min. today)
9. Seeking to change a behavior forever, not for a short time. (A fixed period works better than “forever”)
10. Assuming that behavior change is difficult. (Behavior change is not so hard when you have the right process.)

In my research for this I found some really interesting behavioral theories and behavior research. So, here’s the list of what I have found most effective and links to original sources so you can continue the investigation and find what works best for you.

Ways to Change Your Behavior

Take Baby Steps

Stanford University’s BJ Fogg works on behavior theory and founded the Persuasive Technology Lab to help him further his research into technology that can change behaviors for the better. Fogg has a program that he personally directs to help change behaviors. It’s free, and he runs a session every week. If you’re interested in joining a session head over to tiny habits. Fogg’s model for behavior change has three factors that affect behavior: motivation, ability, and triggers. The idea of the theory is basically to make target behaviors with high motivation easier to do. Set triggers to encourage positive behaviors and start with small habits.

You can train people, giving them more skills, more ability to do the target behavior. That’s the hard path. Don’t take this route unless you really must. Training people is hard work, and most people resist learning new things. That’s just how we are as humans: lazy.The better path is to make the target behavior easier to do.

So why are tiny habits and baby steps important? Big change is difficult, but small change is doable. Incremental changes have a history of working for groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and addiction recovery programs. Stanford’s Mobile Health recognizes that big changes often fail and organized an event in 2012 entirely dedicated to the idea of baby steps. Remember, if you want to change a habit, any change in that direction is better than no change at all. If you want to be a runner, no matter how slow you are when you start, you’re still running laps around the person on the couch. So start small, and as you continue, change will become easier and you can add to your goals. Self-regulation is a limited resource. If you regulate too much you quickly run out of endurance and become passive.

Don’t Multi-task

Research from the University of Utah proves that most of us are not very good at multi-tasking. We try so hard, but it doesn’t ever seem to work out in our favor. In the Harvard Business Review’s article Multitasking’s Real Victim, they note:

For the modern professional, multitasking is an immutable part of daily life. Yet 97% of us are hopeless at it.”

The article focuses on how the real victim of multitasking isn’t the individual doing it, but the others around them who suffer from that individual’s lack of productivity. They detail a list of activities that others can do to help multitasking obsessed individuals with their bad habit. Since multitasking isn’t effective, the most logical thing to do is focus your tasking on one activity. In The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time, Tony Schwartz states that focusing on one activity at a time and then taking a real break increases productivity. That is backed up by the compilation of research linked from another article in the New York Times. Do one thing at a time. It will increase your efficiency and make change easier to achieve.

Replace Bad Habits with Good Habits

thewaybyelle.tumblr.com

thewaybyelle.tumblr.com

Change the situation so that positive decisions are easier to make, or better yet, your only choice. If you’re removing certain foods from your diet, remove them from the house. Set yourself up for success. Fill your fridge with healthy foods you enjoy eating. If you’re quitting smoking, take up a new hobby during the times when you would have taken a smoke break; drink a cup of tea or challenge yourself with a crossword. Remember that making the new behavior as easy as possible is important to your success. Goals that are difficult to reach often fail.

Make a Plan

So now we know what types of goals can help us change our behaviors, but we need to make a realistic plan to get us to the finish line. Taking into account what we’ve learned so far: our plan should be focused; it should replace old behaviors with new positive behaviors; and it should be composed of small changes. Now at least we know what the plan should look like; it needs to go from the abstract to the concrete.

Your goals should be realistically achievable and manageable. They should include specific times and specific activities. If you want to quit a bad habit like biting your nails, replace it with a good habit. Your goal can look something like this: when I get the urge to bite my nails I will chew gum as a replacement activity. When I catch myself biting my nails I will do five push-ups. Making definitive goals allows you to see your progress take shape.

Activate Social Networks

Let others around you know what your new habits are so they can help remind and encourage you when you forget or when you feel the motivation is not strong enough. Having people to watch you and hold you accountable for the new behaviors is an important benefit of having a social network that you can take advantage of. Ten Ways to Get People to Change points out that:

Peers can set expectations, shame us or provide role models.

We can use our peers to help us achieve our goals. Let others around you know what your goals are and they will be inspired to see you succeed. They can help create a supportive environment to ensure that your desired habits flourish.

 

So basically what I’m saying is:

Decide what you want to change, and make a small, realistic, focused plan to get there. Replace your bad habits with good habits. Tell your friends and family about your plan and enlist their help. Most importantly, don’t give up. 

Remember, the key is to start small.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. ~Lao-tzu

 

 

 

Sources and Resources for Further Reading:

Stanford University: Top 10 Mistakes of Behavior Change

Stanford University’s Persuasive Tech Lab

BJ Fogg Tiny Habits

BJ Fogg

A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design

Mobile Health’s Baby Steps for Big Results

Senior News 50 and Better: Baby Steps to Lasting Change

Harvard Business Review: Multitasking’s Real Victims

Harvard Business Review: Ten Ways to Get People to Change

New York Times: Only a Few Can Multi-task

University of Utah: Supertaskers: Profiles in Extraordinary Multitasking Ability

Pub Med: Ego Depletion: Is the Active Self a Limited Resource?

Psych Central How To Change Your Drinking: A Harm Reduction Guide To Alcohol

Pinnacle Counseling: Addiction Recovery: Baby Steps

Harvard Business Review: The Magic of Doing One Thing at a Time

New York Times: Slow Down, Brave Multitasker, and Don’t Read This in Traffic

Forbes: The Secret to Breaking Bad Habits in the New Year

Wondergressive: Green Tea Powers

Fooling People into Passionate Belief

What you believe in may not be as strong of a belief as you might have thought. Researchers have found that people can be tricked into believing the opposite of what they claim to believe  and will even create well supported arguments in opposition of their initial beliefs.

People were asked to answer questions regarding their opinion on moral issues using a clipboard with two sheets of paper.  The first sheet of paper secretly contained two statements glued on top of each other.  When the unsuspected victim of adhesive magic flipped the page to fill out the second sheet, a strong adhesive on the back of the clipboard removed the first statement, revealing a second, identical looking statement holding the opposite stance.

After flipping the page back over they were asked to read the statements aloud and discuss why they answered the way they did.  Reserachers found that:

“About half of the participants did not detect the changes, and 69% accepted at least one of the altered statements. People were even willing to argue in favour of the reversed statements: A full 53% of participants argued unequivocally for the opposite of their original attitude in at least one of the manipulated statements”

More than half the people changed their mind and even argued for the opposite stance they had just completely disagreed with moments before.

Researchers state that this shows how inaccurate questionnaires actually are. It also reveals how incredibly complex our opinions and beliefs actually are, and how easily we can be swayed one way or another.

The conclusion this study brought me to personally is that 53% of people have absolutely no clue what they are talking about when they tell you their opinion.  But we all knew that, didn’t we?