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  1. SCIENCE and SPIRITUALITY Neil Greenberg Departments of Ecology, Medicine, and Psychology University of Tennessee, Knoxville ORICL April 2008

  2. BELIEFS Neil Greenberg Departments of Ecology, Medicine, and Psychology University of Tennessee, Knoxville ORICL April 2008 Tiffany, “Education” (1890)

  3. MAIN POINTS SO FAR • We have an innate NEED to enlarge our experience to serve our biological fitness • An artifact of this adaptive activity is its extension into areas not immediately relevant to meeting needs • Stress “energizes” motivation and can elevate a real or perceived need to high intensity and seeming urgency • One of those needs is the resolution of cognitive dissonance when confronted with an unsolvable mystery. • If sufficiently intense, this is recognized as a “mystical experience” and its resolution as “spiritual,” implying that the resolving insight derives from an unintended or non-rational source, often attributed to a transcendent power.

  4. MAIN POINTS TO COME • Perceived “reality” is tested for authenticity and validity and rejected or represented within us with more or less CONFIDENCE • High confidence strongly implies “TRUTH.” • The “testing processes” are more or less conscious and involve neurological procedures that determine “correspondence” and “coherence,” enabling the most efficient memorization and recall. • The neurological substrate is delicately balanced. • Truth is recognized VALIDITY after being subjected to We “learn” to neglect stimuli that are irrelevant to survival but in certain contexts they can be huge • Curiosity leads to mysteries … leads to wonder… and a more or less urgent “need to know” • The need to know can extend to a mystery that cannot be solved • But solving the mystery can seem very urgent • the efforts expended can force an assimilation or accommodation which can be perceived as an epiphany or mystical experience

  5. The war between TRUTH and REALITY Assumptions: There is a reality outside our minds… We perceive fragments of that reality, filtered through our past experiences Those fragments, when validated, are organized into coherent beliefs

  6. Assumptions: There is a “reality” outside our personal consciousness. “Reality” can never be perfectly known. We strive to know reality as best we can by developing a scaffold of successive approximations

  7. Assumptions: Whatever aspects of “reality” we do feel we know can never be perfectly communicated. The organism “tests” experiences to see if they are the best possible representations of reality.

  8. Assumptions: “tests” of reality engage our perception and the integrative function of our brains, which has a modular organization that is delicately balanced and easily “disorganized.”

  9. The Star (1960) by Alexander Calder

  10. An aside on TRUTH as a work of ART

  11. The aggregate of our beliefs is arguably a work of art "Une oeuvre d'art est un coin de la creation vu a travers un temperament"

  12. Art is a lie… that I use to tell the truth --Picasso

  13. That willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith. Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1817

  14. The war between TRUTH and REALITY TRUTH represents BELIEFS in which we have very high CONFIDENCE That confidence may be ill founded, but it can be very comforting Flawed beliefs are often better than no beliefs

  15. We NEED explanations Coherence helps us feel better: “A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But on the other hand, in a universe divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. . . .” Albert Camus

  16. ATTITUDES about FAITH FAITH, as a source of BELIEF, can be powerful at resoving dissonance BUT is highly subjective, making it very vulnerable to individual bias and thus error. "Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe." --Augustine

  17. ATTITUDES about FAITH • "Faith may be defined briefly as an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable." –HL Mencken • "Crede, ut intelligas" ("Believe in order that you may understand") (Augustine) • All knowledge is based on faith

  18. NEED for FAITH The “need to know” serves the need to consolidate information into a coherent theory. “coherence” is a requirement of the nervous system for accurate storage and retrieval of information necessary to cope and prevail with real or apparent survival and fitness needs In the absence of valid information, an unvalidated belief can be “inserted” to maintain coherence. The “God of the gaps.”

  19. "Miracles happen, not in opposition to Nature, but in opposition to what we know of Nature." --St. Augustine Are MIRACLES MYSTERIOUS?

  20. Intuition and imagination draw on implicit (nonconscious) cognition – not easily available to validation “The voice of God you hear is your imagination!” “Of course,” said Saint Joan, “how else does God speak to us?” The VOICE OF GOD … for a medieval adolescent, or a troubled adult you can’t have better authority. CREATIVE FAITH

  21. IMAGINATION? “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.” (Sir Arthur Eddington) There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion. (Bacon, Essays (1625) ‘Of Beauty’).

  22. The Triumph of Faith Nicolas Lebrun 1660

  23. WHAT is BELIEF? Belief is the psychological state in which an individual is more-or-less confident in the validity of a proposition. (confidence can translate into biological fitness) If confidence is sufficiently high, the belief is recognized as TRUE ! And we may rest satisfied

  24. CONFIDENCEis a biologically important quality Much of our behavior is structured by the possession and pursuit of confidence in the validity of our beliefs – their “truth.” The neuroethology of consciousness and its dysfunctions have helped us identify the manner in which establishing correspondence and coherence function and converge to create a sense of doubt or confidence in the veracity of a belief.

  25. HOW IS the VALIDITY of BELIEF ESTABLISHED? Internal validity Limited to the case observed or experienced (“is this just me?” “am I crazy or did I just see …”) External validity Extends to other cases, (“transcends” the immediate case) is generalizable

  26. We derive our beliefs… “…through argument and experience. Argument brings conclusions and compels us to concede them, but does not cause certainty nor remove the doubts in order that the mind may remain at rest in truth, unless this is provided by experience.” Roger Bacon (1268)

  27. HOW IS BELIEF ESTABLISHED?The source of “knowledge claims” • CORRESPONDENCE: Empiricism and Reality-Testing • data-based, induction-driven • PERCEPTS CORRESPOND to reality • COHERENCE: Rationalism and Story-Telling • theory-based, deduction-driven • PERCEPTS COHERE with each other

  28. An aside about how beliefs are derived • We each bring congenital (relatively fixed), acquired (experiential, relatively flexible), and circumstantial “personality” to new information. • For example, our disposition to assimilate / preserve tradition versus accommodate / innovate could be attributable to subclinical stress • Learning styles are also part of this “personality” (Kolb) • Concrete Experience - (CE) • Reflective Observation - (RO) • Abstract Conceptualization - (AC) • Active Experimentation - (AE)

  29. Are beliefs more important than truth?TRUTH and STRESS SELF-DECEPTION serves a vital function(Daniel Goleman’s use of Ibsen’s term: “Vital Lies” 1985) “You can’t handle the truth!” (Jack Nicholson in In “A Few Good Men,” 1992) DENIAL ---The more-or-less “…willing suspension of disbelief…” (Wordsworth) – is that the function of art?… to provide a safe zone for exploring the otherwise troubling, stress-evoking truth? Or of myth? (“theory used to be an “enchanted circle”)

  30. DISORDERS of BELIEF? Acceptance of experience that doesn’t correspond to external reality:kinds of hallucinations; Bonnet’s Syndrome(filling in scotoma); dismorphic body; pareidolia. (False positive (confident match with memories); Type I Error; gullible, trusting) Denial of experience that corresponds to external reality: agnosias: eg, visual(left occip), associative, anasognosia(denial of dysfunction / right cerebral cortices), prosopagnosia(faces) (False negative (failure to match with memories); Type II Error; skeptical, wary)

  31. PLACEBO EFFECT EXPECTATIONS: the power of coherence: • Acupuncture IS effective in many cases, but application at arbitrary site is comparable (Melchart et al. 2005) • Antidepressant medications can be 80% replicated with placebo (Kirsch et al. 2002) • Parkinson’s patients experience an endogenous dopamine “rush” when nigrostriatal system activated by placebo (expectation of reward – Fuente-Fernandez 2001)

  32. PLACEBO EFFECTnot merely subjective? Extra endorphins were also released from sites not usually engaged in analgesia, including • rostral anterior cingulate (perception of degree of pain)(ACC: autonomic, error-detection, conflict resolution or management) • insular cortex (receives somatic pain information) • nucleus accumbens (assesses urgency of pain) • dorsolateral prefrontal cortex(involved in decision making, interpretation, and selective attention) BUT, only in those that expected relief. (Zubieta et al. 2005) . . .

  33. Anosognosia • ANOSOGNOSIA(from the Greek: A + nosos (disease) + gnosis (knowledge) • Ignorance or denial of the presence of disease • Most famously of paralysis in patients with non-dominant (usually right) parietal lobe damage -- patients deny their hemiparesis, & confabulate rationalizations • Detection of discrepencies impaired • When the right hemisphere is denied input from the reality-testing of the left hemisphere; internal model is “untested” by feedback, leaving left-side function seemingly “hallucinated.”

  34. Putative Causes of Anosognosia • Freudian denial: avoidance of confrontation with dysfunction, preserve self image. • Phantom function: as with phantom limbs, signals from motor cortex go to parietal monitoring area AND to muscles (that no longer exist). In the absence of feedback (confirming dysfunction) parietal area prevails • Right hemisphere impairmentby muting emotionality, and flattening affect, might create the appearance of indifference

  35. Confabulation: The illusion of coherence • “The production of coherent but fictitious stories” • First observed by Korsakoff in alcoholics • Can be provoked (eg., to avoid embarassment) or spontaneous (Schnider 2003) • Involve anterior limbic structures (orbitofrontal) • Impressive when right hemisphere (and its “reality-check” on the left hemisphere) is damaged

  36. Causes of Confabulation • Right hemisphere stroke: denial of left side paralysis. • Korsakoff’s syndrome: inability to form new memories due to temporal lobe dysfunction. • Acting out after a hypnotic suggestion will be rationalized with improvised confabulations • Schizophrenia: confabulations to rationalize hallucinations or to justify paranoia • Capgras syndrome: incomplete sense of who owns a familiar face: alien imposters?

  37. LEFT - RIGHT HEMISPHERE LATERALITY • When separated, EACH hemisphere is UNAWARE of the ipsilateral world • Yet neither is aware of being incomplete • Each functions as best it can with the information available

  38. LEFT HEMISPHERE Coherence: creates a consistent belief system – works to “save appearances” (Ramachandran 1998) Probabilistic reasoning (Osherson et al 1998) Abstract object recognition (Marsolek 1999) Activated by familiar percepts (Goldberg 2001) RIGHT HEMISPHERE Correspondence: “skeptical,” tests reality and if damaged, confabulation runs rampant (Ramachandran 1998) Deductive reasoning (Osherson et al 1998) Specific object recognition (Marsolek 1999) Activated by unfamiliar percepts (Goldberg 2001)

  39. Kant: "The senses cannot think, the understanding cannot see.”

  40. "Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning, and under every deep a lower deep opens" --Ralph Waldo Emerson