‘Satan’, er, i mean ‘green’!

Still on the look out for cognitive neuroscience bloggers i’ve found Brain Waves, Cog News, Psychscape, Brainworld and, also, Cognitive Engineering, who reports on hearing a radio evangelist evoke the Stroop effect to explain the temptation of evil. Apparently:

?just like you need great concentration and will-power to prevent reading the name of the word, you need great strength to prevent the temptations and influences of Satan.?

I hear the nascent field of neuro-theology beckoning!

2 replies on “‘Satan’, er, i mean ‘green’!”

Yes, neuro-theology! Part of the great neurobabble movement (see the second quote in this post ), somewhere in credibility between neuroaesthetics and neuroeconomics. Two weeks ago I asked VS Ramachandran if the fact that temporal lobe stimulation could generate religious experience derived that experience of meaning. To cut and paste from the interview for a second:


TQS: I was thinking more about the ‘feeling of meaning’ and the Temporal Lobe epileptics you mention in Phantoms in The Brain, who along with their seizures get a religious feeling of certainty and enlightenment.

VSR: That harks back to what I said was one of the most enigmatic parts of art ? the transcendental. You look at a lot of Indian art, it is all beautiful. It is all sensual art, but there is also another aspect of it. There is harmony. The beauty of true art is the perfect balance between the real and the ideal, between the human and the divine. So there is a striving. You know you are an angel trapped inside the body of a beast, with a sense of striving, a craving for transcendence that some art brings out. If you ask me to explain it biologically ? why is this useful ? that’s hard. We haven’t got there yet!

TQS: But isn’t the biological grounding of that – by saying it’s stimulation of the temporal lobe – diminishing to the value of the experience?

VSR: No. It only takes care of two of three questions we need to ask as scientists. It takes care of what it is, of what produces it. It takes care of the biological anchor. But it doesn’t say why the function is? why does it help the organism?

With grouping I can tell you why it exists ? it is to discover an object. With peak shift I can tell you why. But with transcendence, I can’t tell you why. All I say is that it feels good. So it could be epiphenomenal but that’s hard to believe because it’s so compelling and so important to the brain, to the aesthetic experience. There?s something going on that we don’t really understand.


Thinking about it now this seems like a bit of a dodge. If religious feelings are biological and have evolved (which he seems to imply) then surely they don’t have any meaning outside of biology. Ie there is a feeling of transcendence, yes, but there is no actual transcendence!

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