Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: How We Decide

http://www.amazon.com/How-We-Decide-Jonah-Lehrer/dp/0618620117

I bought this book for my Kindle because I was having a hard time deciding what book to download and read next. And surprisingly, it applies to atheism! Doesn't everything apply to atheism?




This book is about the neurology of decision-making. Each chapter addresses certain types of decisions, and I admit to being totally bored by some of the examples. I'm a girl. If you want to use a football play as an example in a book, keep the description under a paragraph, mmkay?  There's a multi-page description of some Superbowl play, which could have been described in about a paragraph but for some reason had to start years earlier than the actual play.  I dunno what the point of that chapter was.  My eyes glazed over and I just had to skip to the next chapter, ...which has an overlong description of some military event. I dunno what it said. I skipped that chapter too. There was probably some point to it, but you wouldn't know from the beginning of the chapter.

So, skipping to something of more universal interest, there's a chapter on moral decisions which of course refers to religious prescriptions, but also points out that the interpersonal parts of the 10 Commandments specifies not doing harm to others. I never made that connection before, perhaps because so much of O.T. interpretation got rewritten by people who didn't want us to touch ourselves.  We've all heard the contradictory self-congratulatory versions of what the 10 Commandments are supposed to mean:  1)  If not for those we'd be raping, stealing, and telling lies and generally running amok.  If some Christians are actually sociopaths who need to be told these things and then actually restrain themselves... hahaha who am I kidding?  That "explanation" is total bullshit.  2) says that there is a universal morality given to us by Gawd.  This #2 explanation is the neo-apologists' way of accommodating evolution and multi-cultural perspectives.  The secular #3 is more like that but without the Gawd crap, and this book basically says that.  They make the point that getting along in society is the reason for rules like the non-theological commandments.  (Well, of the Big 10 -- doesn't say anything about the other 600+ commandments in the OT)

There's also the famous fake-mom hugging rhesus monkeys of Harry Harlow.    I already knew about the study that resulted in the "discovery" (duh) that babies need a warm and nurturing mom to hug, but there were many other studies with rhesus monkeys.  One was even more revealing than the fake mom one.  A clique of monkeys in separate cages but who knew each other, learned that one lever dispensed super yummy foods and another one dispensed less fun food.  After they had learned it, the researchers had an unrelated monkey scream from being shocked when the good lever gets pulled.  After the first time, all the monkeys stopped eating the yummy food and two even starved themselves.  It seems that not wanting to harm to others is hard-wired into primate brains, but only assuming normal childhoods and not having something like autism or sociopathy.   Autistics wouldn't understand the communication of pain by others; sociopaths wouldn't care.

So... as I'd suspected, religious proscriptions and prescriptions about morality are really aimed at people with no internal moral compass, i.e., sociopaths, autistics, and people who got bad parenting as children.  Having watched way too many hours of "The First 48 [hours]" I've seen several instances when a detective gets a confession out of a suspect by appealing to religion or the supernatural.  "Your dad is watching you from Heaven.  What would he say to you  now?"

[I'm not just making that up:  Cal Thomas wrote as much in the Washington Post this week.  Without his religion he would be "lost" and he thinks non-believers are lost.  He doesn't bother to ezplain why so many believers commit crimes despite their moral compass, or why atheists are no more inclined to criminality than anyone else.]

The basic conflict, as described in this book, is between the amygdala, or the emotional and fearful part of the brain, and the frontal cortex, which can calm the amygdala and sort things out rationally.  Curiously, there is a limit to what the rational brain can handle.  The author's advice: gather information, and if there are more than 4-10 (depending on whose research you believe) factors, then you're better off deciding with your "gut."

I have made life decisions this way and been embarrassed because of it.  Like my current rental.  After all my checklists and research about what the features of the place are, I went with my gut. I did the same when i decided which college to attend.  But... without all that research to help me rule out no-go places, my gut could have misled me.

Dusty of youtube fame closes his videos with "Logic," even though his videos are often very emotional.  I have never believed that logic could dissuade most believers that their religions were bogus.  Their amygdalas put amygdala fingers in their frontal cortex's ears and sing "la la la la I can't heeeeeear youuuuu."  And they are better and better at willful ignorance because of techniques of modern churches, but I'll save that for the next post.

4 comments:

Cole said...

I use to feel the way that religious guy did when he said "without God I'm lost" or something to that effect. I was very insecure about myself and death. For me medicine has helped alot with my racing thoughts and delusional experiences. But medicine isn't enough for me. The way I see it is that we all have fears and insecurities. Some religious believers or God(dess) believers fill the need or void with Gods and Goddesses. While others (who come to recognize their insecurities) choose instead to love themselves and embrace death as being part of life and fill the void that way. Not that I'm going to, but if I was ever to believe in a God again it would have to be a Goddess. I'm not attracted to the masculine. I'm not gay, you see. If I'm going to entwine my soul or come into a love union with another soul (filling the void or insecurites) I would prefer a female. Let me put it to you this way. When you worship someone they are at the center of your life. Why would I place a man (Christ) at the center of my life unless I was attracted to the masculine? I'm not enthralled or stricken with awe and wonder at the masculine. I am with the feminine because I'm not gay. If it's going to be a soul union between two people then I prefer a woman. I don't want to be the Bride Of Christ in other words. If I'm going to find wholeness and completion by filling the void (insecurities) with an imaginary being then I would rather bond with a woman and fall in love with her rather than with a man and be His Bride. Nonetheless, I'm learning to love myself and take care of myself better and gain a true sense of my own value and worth. Learning to love others from this position only reinforces it. Not that I'm perfect. But I accept that. I try to find and see the beauty that is within me. The more of the layers of fear and insecurity I peel off the brighter it shines. I don't mean arrogance either. When I'm in the presence of what I consider to be beutiful I'm calm and compassionate to others. Here's something I wrote while in the presence of what I consider "Beauty." It's simply my experience and no one elses. Other people may disagree but here it is:

In the presence of Beauty I find the gentleness of mystical love. It is here that wonder is awakened and the beauties of humility, compassion, and kindness come alive. Within this matrix my fears melt away. I tremble at the thought of being inside this glowing radiance, for the longing of my heart is for a union with Beauty. To drink it in and become one with it. For me, Beauty brings warmth. Something in my soul longs for this delight, for Beauty inspires and delights my soul. When Beauty whispers Her tenderness to my soul I am filled with a childlike wonder and awe. If only I could stay this way forever.

For many years I would mistake my experiences with "beauty" as an experience with God. I now see that it was simply "beauty" I was experiencing. Nothing more.

Anyway, great post!

LadyAtheist said...

In the middle ages, monks and priests who weren't gay were probably the source of the devotion to the virgin mary so I think you have a good point there. Official theology is that "God" is sexless, which is pretty laughable considering what the bible actually says. And what woman would institute a law requiring women to cover their hair or call them "unclean" during menses?

We can all have aesthetic experiences. Prehistoric people wouldn't have understood the source of that, but we doo -- it's the brain!

Cole said...

Yeah, when I'm in the presence of what I consider to be beautiful those are the feelings I get. I don't ever have those feelings for the masculine. Christ was and is a man. The more I think of it the more it makes sense to me that if I'm going to fill the void (insecurities) in my heart and soul and come into a love union with another person, I would rather it be feminine. I don't want to be anybody's bride.

Cole said...

Also, How does God express His love towards people? The Christian counselor, Gary Chapman, lists five primary ways we express love. Gifts, physical touch, acts of service, quality time, and words of affirmation. God doesn't do any of those things. He doesn't help around the house, compliment me or give me hugs, neither does He talk back when I talk to Him. He doesn't say thank you or I love you.