The Programming of Humans for Spiritual Thought
Are Humans Built for Belief in the Supernatural?
A potentially controversial question, but one that deserves examination. Humans, from their earliest development as a species, have had some form of Spirituality. There must be a reason for this--is it a psychological coping mechanism? Is it evolutionary? Or are we actually created to believe in the supernatural?
The purpose of this hub is to detail, from a scientific (and somewhat philosophical) paradigm, the Biological, Psychological, and Social evidence that humans are predisposed to believe in the metaphysical.
God Spot: Recently the idea of a "God Spot" in the brain has drawn a lot of attention from both neuroscientists and theologians. In reality this "God Spot" is an inaccurate hypothesis not because spirituality does not manifest itself in our cranial chemistry, but because there is not ONLY one spot--many of the brains higher and every day functions are implicated in supernatural thought. In prayer/meditation, in making statements of belief, and in various "religious emotions" such as wonder, fear, and ecstasy, not only our higher brain functions are involved, but some of our basic and everyday brain structures as well. In some prayer and meditation, our temporal lobes may fire, giving us an experience much like that of sex. Our frontal lobes, unique to humans and used in decision making, attention focus, and impulse control, is generally more active in people who meditate and pray regularly. The activation of the parietal lobe, which generally processes sensory information, can activate to engage a feeling of transcendence or "not being alone". Finally, the limbic system and the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, provide feelings of joy, wonder, and in some cases (ghosts anyone?) fear.
Genetics: There is also evidence that there are evolutionary reasons for our spiritual nature. Spirituality, and more specifically religion, can act as an anxiolytic. In other words, it reduces stress and provides a critical coping mechanism. The evolution of common beliefs may have also provided a pathway to community driven goals and support.
16 Desires: New research has uncovered 16 basic needs that religion serves to fulfill. While these are fundamental desires that all human's have, people show them in different levels and preferences, and they can be fulfilled in different ways, spirituality is an unusually efficient method to fulfill the some of them. These desires are also on a scale of higher to lower as well, so someone may desire high "Curiosity" but low "Order" These needs are power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honor, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical exercise, and tranquility. Needs that may be fulfilled by religion are LOW INDEPENDENCE (AKA INTERDEPENDENCE), ORDER, SAVING, HONOR, SOCIAL CONTACT, CURIOSITY, and TRANQUILITY.
Collective Unconscious: Collective Unconscious can be defined as "a part of the unconscious mind, shared by a society, humanity and all life forms, that is the product of ancestral experience and contains such concepts as science, religion, and morality". In other words, as a species that has lived thousands of years, we have acquired sets of experiences and interpretations that have formed in the unconscious mind of the entire species. This is also true in a more narrow sense for individual societies, and in a broader sense by all life forms. Archetypes are a perfect example of this theory. The ancient flood, light vs. dark, the superhero, and the afterlife are all archetypes (symbols of a human experience or truth) that are housed in the human collective unconscious. This unconscious (which is possibly evolutionary in nature), may serve to promote human community and aid in communication, idea sharing, and development/evolution, and further supports that there is just something inside us that orients towards the spiritual.
Hierarchy of Needs: I've written an entire hub on this already, but basically, a fundamental desire of all human beings is the desire for "self-actualization"--to fulfill a purpose beyond themselves. It is this universal need that points to the spiritual nature of the human person and their natural tendency to think of things beyond themselves.
Community: Humans have a fundamental need for community, and spirituality, and religion more specifically, is community oriented. Whether its a shaman or mystic communicating with past ancestors, or a community gathered together at a church service to worship, religion is a basic and ancient fulfillment of one of our most basic human needs.
Proof of God?
Does all this scientific evidence prove that there is a God, or even a reality beyond what we can see? In actuality, no, of course not. But it does, to me at least, provide support for its existence. However, one could also argue that it gives evidence for the opposite. I can only hand you the truth, I cannot decide what you do with it. Data such as this can be interpreted however the person wants.
So what then, is the value of this info? I do believe that it proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that religion and spirituality are 1) an inherent part of the human person, and 2) an important and needed part of humanity.
Like it or not, humanity's belief in the supernatural is here to stay.
© 2011 rdlang05
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