Introducing – the spiritual area of the brain

Humans have an area in the brain which is common to religious experiences, see Are humans hard-wired for faith?. This isn’t new, I’ve encountered it several years now. At first, it was an astonishing discovery, but thinking about it in retrospect, it’s kind of obvious for any person whose not an extreme spiritualist.

We know any thinking process has some neurological basis to it. We can’t see, hear, do math, read, recognize our grandma or feel pain without the neuronal activity. We can’t be totally sure as to what causes what, but its quite commonly agreed that it is the neuronal activity that somehow causes our perception of the sensations (specific stimulation of neurons in the brain by electrodes or chemicals can cause perceptions). Hence, it is quite obvious that something as common as religion, which affects over 90% of the world population, would also have some neuronal basis. The interesting part is that the activity is common to all religions – A Buddhist meditating has the same neuronal activity as a Christian praying. This somehow brings us all closer a notch, its a shame this also causes humans to become zealots. I think this notion makes this zealotry ludicrous – “My favorite stimuli for creating neuronal activity in the right frontal lobe is correct and your is false, therefore you must die!”. Now doesn’t that make sense? Why didn’t you just say so?

Another thing that’s interesting is that the activity (and thus spiritual revelations) can be reproduced by simple measures: Meditation, Prayer, Trance music and LSD. Apart from LSD which causes chemical reactions which could take some work to figure out, this demystifies spirituality to a point of absurd. There is nothing special about the AHUM syllable used in meditation, nor the rocking of Jewish prayer. Any repetitive motion will eventually induce spiritual activity in the brain, be it embedded in trance music created a year ago, or a religious ceremony created 2000 years ago. The importance of “ceremonies”* in the definition of religion become trivial, and a “create your own cult” handbook is already half written.

* ceremonies in the larger definition, meaning any action or thought required to be repeated in any time interval, usually daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly.

Brain Map

The BBC has a nice applet for exploring the Brain Map.

Enjoy :)

The difference between a scientist and a regular person

Simple and concise, xkcd got it right :)

Growing a Brain in Switzerland

Now that the human genome is complete, I guess the natural next step would be to attempt to simulate the human brain:

Print – Neurotechnology: Growing a Brain in Switzerland – International – SPIEGEL ONLINE – News

Reading Shakespeare has dramatic effect on human brain

I came across this interesting post:
Reading Shakespeare has dramatic effect on human brain | Science Blog

Maybe I should replace my new book recommendation page with Shakespeare’s works?

Anyway, the type of word-play suggested in this post has been a very common custom for me over the years (I have no idea where I picked it up), and has in fact annoyed several people at some points of time. Saying that I will winrar them things, or that I will sempai tomorrow, they would look at me angrily. Now I understand why – it probably just actually made them accidentally think for a second…

Penrose, consciousness, incompleteness

Scott Aaronson wrote a very nice piece about consciousness and Quantum Mechanics. Actually, he’s just bashing some of Penrose‘s ideas about consciousness and the inability of machines to achieve it.

I personally dislike these ideas of Penroses or Searles (Such as the Chinese Room). I find that any logical proof regarding a computation machine must apply, by definition, to humans (the thought experiments such as the Chinese Room or the halting problem do not refer to a computer – they portray ideas inherent to any logic system).

If you think otherwise, it means you are assuming humans are beyond computers to begin with – and then no wonder you reach this conclusion eventually.

Savants and Synthesia

I’ve hemi-neglected this blog for too long, but now that exams are over, maybe I’ll have more time to post.

Sunil wrote A very nice post about Savants and Synthesia. We tend to see perception as something that is unisensual, meaning we percieve sensory stimuli via one sense at a time. A picture is only percieved by our vision, sounds are only percieved by our hearing, etc. But for some people, this is not so.

Interestingly enough, I find this topic relevant to the idea I have for a research thesis, but only in the slightest form. Since I’ve not yet refined it, and due to academic competition, I won’t be able to explain this further right now – maybe in a month or two.

The Tenth Dimension

Ever wonder how many dimensions exist? Ever read the wonderful book “Flatland: A romance of many dimensions” by Edwin Abbot?

This animation presents clearly and consicely the theory of Ten Dimensions, which is (to my best understanding) at the basis of String theory and M-theory. It is actually not very relevant to this blog, except that it shows how a simple logic stream can give beautiful and unexpected results.

Free Will – another opinion

Jonah Lehrer from The Frontal Cortex believes that free will exists. I can’t say that the post’s information has much relation to that topic, but he does bring about some interesting notes about the plasticity and chaos in the human brain.

Regarding free will, in order to claim that there exists free will, we need to claim that there exists some “I” which can have this will. Each and every one of us claims that they have this “I” (in fact, it is the only thing a person can be sure of), but since we can’t even prove that it exists for another person (or animal), how can we give it traits such as “free will”?

Mirror neurons and Autism

It has been lately shown that mirror neurons deficiency is related to autism. This is an interesting development.

Mirror neurons are traditionally accepted as responsible for mirroring actions, i.e.: If you see a person eat with a spoon, you will immediately know how to eat with a spoon yourself (monkey see monkey do). It does make sense that there is also a relation to feeling mirroring, perhaps via the motor stream – see a sad face, make a sad face yourself, feel sad, understand that the other person is sad. At some point the action step can perhaps no longer be required – action perceiving and feeling can be wired with no need for actual action, recall Pavlov’s dog.

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