Brain Secretion Byproducts

“God” is a secretion of the human brain, says Michael McGuire and Lionel Tiger.

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In their 2010 book “God’s Brain,” McGuire and Tiger strongly suggest and demonstrate that the concept of God, or a God, is a byproduct of human cerebral secretions. Historically the various divine tenets, revelations, traditions, and expressions of social orders around the world are encapsulated from that specific culture’s or civilization’s perceived, geographical, organizational needs not just for survival, but for their perceived perpetuation, then recorded and implemented in a Code of Principles relevant to their time-period. McGuire and Tiger state there is simply no compelling evidence for any type of cosmic, monistic Being manipulating us and Earth’s events.

Now that Homo sapiens are more evolved, at least intellectually and socially no matter the multitude of progressive and digressing methods, historically speaking have our cerebral secretions of Gods and religions been helpful? On a micro scale Tiger has an intriguing perspective on the question:

I found Tiger’s elaboration of the individual and social functionality of ‘optimism’ or hope — that it seems to be a useful tool for survival and perhaps for thriving throughout life — to be of special interest. Why? Because its use requires no patent or jurisdiction other than culturally, in a specific time-period to a specific locale. How is trust defined by those people and their circumstance? One thing is evident, none of this religious human behavior can be adequately or universally traced to one source.

On a macro scale E.O. Wilson of Harvard University (retired) goes in a different direction. Organized religion has a dark side and ugly track-record.

[Intent of religious deities have] “been perverted many times in the past — used, for example, to argue passionately for colonial conquest, slavery, and genocide. Nor was any great war ever fought without each side thinking its cause transcendentally sacred in some manner or other.”

Hence, this could beg the question:  Have we modern humans evolved or should we humans further evolve to a more practical, more progressive new social Code of Principles? What are/would those principles based upon? How many social affiliations should/can a human(s) be involved? Are the affiliations beneficial or detrimental to them and their family? Non-family? Do you already have affiliations and belief-systems that are more highly evolved than others?

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I think whether you agree or disagree with Tiger’s assessments of transcendental beliefs or empirical biological consequences concerning the origin of God and religions, it is paramount to develop and maintain a certain amount of scrutiny, or neutrality, or critical-thinking when considering this source or that source and its mechanisms.

Critical-thinking is not to be confused with agitation, or argumentative, or a personal attack upon someone. Critical-thinking actually helps us acquire more knowledge, expose ignorances, refines our theories, improves collaboration and construction, and strengthens or weakens premises for what they are. I feel one of the most beneficial aspects of applied critical-thinking is that it promotes “thinking outside the box,” a very healthy form of human empowerment and creativity. These two conditions are not achieved to their fullest in a restrictive or constraining closed-system typically preached and protected by religions. They are best achieved in environments of freedom of thought and scrutiny, as well as positive support for a person’s and all person’s natural-born abilities. Agree? Disagree? Why or why not? Share your thoughts below.

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Self-Worth

I have to pause (again) my current 4-part series, Games of Unknowledging, for this one very important thermometer on life; a happy, thriving, giving life that most doctors, therapists, and altruists would also consider a most important check-up. I promise my next post will be the conclusion. Promise!

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How we define our worth often hinges on what others around us say and do, or don’t say and don’t do, correct? Afterall, how can our own self-perception be accurate, honest, and objective if we have nothing to compare by? What constitutes worth and what exactly are those litmus tests that define it? Are they accurate? How much attention and energy should we give to our worth, its creation and its perpetuation? Peter Gabriel had something to say, or rather sing about self-worth in his 1986 hit “Big Time,” remember?

No matter how we choose to measure our own worth, there are fluctuating degrees of external feedback we seek, consciously or subconsciously, and this can be healthy and/or unhealthy.

Thoreau quote

In our modern age of booming technology, something seemingly new every month, sporting frantic paces, competition, and only 24-hours in a day to get it, manage it and finish it, sometimes at the expense of restful sleep, the insatiable beast of technological-consumerism demands ever-growing absorption. I’m not sure how aggressive it is in other countries, but in the U.S. it’s not just fierce, it has reached the intrusive levels of addiction. Tristan Harris with web-portal Big Think:

So… how do you define your self-worth? One way? Two, three or four different ways? Share your thoughts about how to define self-worth, I’d like to know them.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Mind and Matter

this-is-fortyEveryone can relate to the changes our bodies traverse one decade to the next. Changes? Perhaps the better word is brawls. At thirty-nine my physician informed me in no uncertain terms what I had medically to expect and monitor by regular checkups and tests for a white male in his forties in “good health.” These tests and checkups would vary and change into my fifties in order to search for common and uncommon anomalies before they became unmanageable.

Honestly, I wondered then the benefits of telling a patient, a person, in a number of different contexts what possible ailments await them in the looming? exciting future of preventative/reactionary medicine and treatments. How much should we know? How much CAN we know? Is it possible to know too much? Is it detrimental to know too little? More importantly, what are the effects on the mind and body of “too much” or “too little“?

This past August I was forced heavily persuaded to register for a Life-Line Screening October 7th. I conceded because there was no denying my last FULL physical exam was done over 17-years ago. As a few of my blog-posts attest — e.g. Snip-Snip and Done! — I become a messy blob of shivering jello around needles, syringes and all things designed to stick in, open up, modify, simplify, or rectumfy rectify the human body. Just the name of this screening (Life-Line? Are you freakin’ serious?) frightened the SHIT out of me! I obsessed, “If they perform this god damn screening at a funeral home or next door to or near a funeral home, I was prepared to do an immediate 180° turn and sacrifice my $350 to the god and altar of Fuck That.

When my name was called by the nurse (named Temple; I kid you not) to start matters upon me, I immediately asked “When would be a good time to tell someone about my history of feinting since a boy?” With a warm grin she replied, “Oh? Now.” She was not only extremely attractive, near my own age, and chatting with a sweet sense of humor, everything seemed a silly figment of my hyper-nervous imagination with her by my side! As she took my measurements, including around my lower waist, my pulse and blood-pressure rose. Indeed, in a most natural way of course. Then she moved me to a station and chair where there was a large open-container of needles and collection tubes. Everything, inside and out of me changed. And as if that sight was not enough, she wants to take my blood-pressure before sticking me for vials of blood.

needlesI feel my palms getting clammy as she wraps the velcro-band around my bicep. Pump, pump, then the hissing… “Hmm,” she says with slight bewilderment, “that’s not so good. Is it all these needles and vials?” I inhale deeply, “They don’t help.” Temple begins giving me relaxation instructions, how to breath and to go to my “happy-place.” Umm, that would be out the nearest door… with you, I think to myself. “Okay.” I take several long deep breaths. She takes my blood-pressure a second time, then has to record it. She tells me with minor certainty “It’s a little better than before.” But waiting to be lead to the next station, she announces my name (to everyone in the church conference room) “We need to take your blood-pressure again. It’s too close to ‘Critical’.” What is going on? I think I feel better because the “needles” I perceived there were only the microneedle finger prick cases. I made it through that station with shaky flying colors!

Despite my lifelong embarrassing history of feinting around such objects in such places, there is a profound silver-lining to this post. Mind over matter, or what I’ve changed to Mind and Matter. Specifically the placebo effect on the human body and brain.

The Theater of Performance and Belief

For several thousands of years we have all engaged in a performance of relief to make us feel better. On the flip-side, we have all participated at various points in our life things we do not feel pleasurable about, but as necessary or unavoidable like I did for the Life Line Screening after 17-years. Others do it for some “expected” result. In some cases, and I’d say in most cases, we find ways to get addicted to relief… or a feeling of relief through belief of betterment even though it may never come to fruition in real life or this pre-mortem life.

Ted Kaptchuk of the Harvard Medical School says based on his decades of research that knowingly participating in a performance, which has no guaranteed desired results, activates regions of the brain to manage undesirable or pain symptoms.

“This new research demonstrates that the placebo effect is not necessarily elicited by patients’ conscious expectation that they are getting an active medicine, as long thought. Taking a pill in the context of a patient-clinician relationship — even if you know it’s a placebo — is a ritual that changes symptoms and probably activates regions of the brain that modulate symptoms.”
Dr. Ted Kaptchuk, ScienceDaily.com, Oct. 2016

placebo-effectHowever, he and many medical researchers observing the placebo effect state the performance of expectation is a key component to improved symptoms or “healing” in test studies. The experiments have shown over and over that with a supportive patient-practitioner relationship, along with all the props and costumes of a medical-theatrical stage, improved or successful outcomes were induced from self-relieving, self-healing brain processes, not placebos or necessarily pharmaceuticals.

“The [theater of performance and belief, i.e. placebo] results were not surprising: the patients who experienced the greatest relief were those who received the most care. But in an age of rushed doctor’s visits and packed waiting rooms, it was the first study to show a “dose-dependent response” for a placebo: the more care people got—even if it was fake—the better they tended to fare.”
Harvard Magazine, The Placebo Phenomenon, Jan-Feb 2013

But there’s more. A related study conducted by Karin Jensen of the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden has found it didn’t matter if the test participants experienced clearly visible or non-recognizable stimuli. According to further studies, they indicate that mechanisms responsible for placebo and nocebo effects can operate without conscious awareness of the triggering cues, i.e. theater. In other words, it is not what a person thinks will happen, it is what the non-conscious mind anticipates, despite any conscious thoughts. Dr. Jensen goes on to say…

“Such a mechanism would generally be expected to be more automatic and fundamental to our behavior compared to deliberate judgments and expectations”, says Karin Jensen. “These findings can help us explain how exposure to typical clinical environments and routines can activate powerful health improvements, even when treatments are known to be ineffective.”
Dr. Karin Jensen, Placebos Can Be Activated Unconsciously, Karolinska Institute, June 2015

Hospitals, clinics, apothecaries, even fitness gyms are common venues for the Theater of Belief. There are hundreds if not thousands of groups and locations to harness the power of expectations, all with varying levels of observable efficacy. Tanya Luhrmann of Stanford University carries this phenomenon a step further. She includes sanctuaries and congregations of “divine” worshipping…

Luhrmann suggests that “belief is natural. It comes partly from the way our minds are hardwired.” She has spent most of her professional career deconstructing people’s interaction with a divine being. Her findings say that belief-based relief/healing requires not only a good theater, a wrenching story, but also the earnestness of an active listener — someone with the desire to make what is being performed and imagined FEEL real. She goes on to emphasize that “humans have the capacity to change their experience.” It is why authors of popular fiction become best-sellers literally overnight — their readers engross themselves in the story, in the theatrical performance.

Personally, I see no reason at all to exclude religious fervor for the divine, or for sacred scriptures, or for objects or miracles to be any different from the Theater of Belief at hospitals, clinics, apothecaries, fitness gyms, and yes… at churches, synagogues, or mosques.

Throw in Peer Assimilation and…
lakewood_church_interior

Lakewood Ranch Church, Branson, MO

The power of group-belief and the theater of performance, whether based in fact, placebos, or verifiable data, can be easily demonstrated by religious pilgrimages. Every year some 5-million pilgrims make the journey to Lourdes, France for the seasonal Our Lady of Lourdes’ Healings. The Black Madonna pilgrimages all over the world are another example which attracts millions of believers every year. The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia by over 2-million Muslims is one of “the five pillars of Islam.” Then the largest pilgrimage of all religions, the Maha Kumbh Mela to Allahabad, India occurs every 12-years and draws approximately 120-million Hindus. Pilgrims essentially attest to the same purpose or expectation, and ‘all are here for personal reasons, but all are here for each other as much as themselves.’ The more they feel they belong to a popular trend, the more they are convinced it comes from divine sources. If this doesn’t perhaps offer one definition of strength in numbers, then what does?

It seems that not only are you what you eat, or do, or consciously think, you can also be what you believe or expect, whether it is based on anything verifiable or not, especially if thousands or millions think and perform alike and with you, or you with them, then that performance and expectation makes it feel real for that individual! What an amazing revelation, borrowing the popular term. These neurological psychological studies can help explain why I have an aversion (to say the least) to all things designed to stick in, open up, modify, simplify, or rectum rectify the human body. But on a bigger scale these neurological psychological studies (placebos) can also explain a long long history of humanity’s most brilliant and blind, most virtuous and vile of human acts. Agreed? Disagree? Let me know below with your comments.

For further details and studies go to My Library page:  Bibliography – Mind and Matter
as well as this 2001 Newsweek article.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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