Department Of Why Aren’t You Listening To This Podcast?  [1]

I refer to Hidden Brain, hosted by engineer/journalist/NPR science correspondent Shankar Vedantam . The podcast aims, as per their website, to help “…curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.” Linking research from fields including psychology, neurobiology, economics, anthropology, and sociology, Hidden Brain aims to provide “… insights to apply at work, at home and throughout your life.”

If you’ve ever wondered…

-Why is our tendency to associate with those who share the same interests, sense of humor and political views demonstrably not the best way to cultivate creativity?

– What causes mild-mannered people turn into fearsome mama and papa bears?

– Can the way you park your car reveal crucial details about you?

– Why do we think back to turning points in our lives and imagine, ‘What if….?’

– Do unconscious biases keep people from finding interesting jobs?

 

…then this is the show for you. And if you never wonder about such things, then you need to get interested in Life.  [2]

 

 

 

martha

 

 

 

From the seemingly mundane to the profound, here is a sampling of recent subjects and questions Hidden Brain has tackled:

* Who Gets Power — And Why It Can Corrupt Even The Best Of Us

* Baseball Umpires Don’t Get Overtime. Does That Affect Extra Innings?

* Hungry, Hungry Hippocampus: Why and How We Eat

* Admit It, Parents: You Play Favorites With The Kids

* Don’t Panic! What We Can Learn From Chaos

* Looking Back: Reflecting On The Past To Understand The Present

Probably the most interesting topic the show has presented involves the origins and purposes of the world’s religions, and how religions “evolved” to help human societies survive and flourish. Most interesting is, I realize, a subjective qualifier, which is used by moiself due to both current and ongoing events and experiences which makes this topic of particular interest.

If you’ve taken part in a religious service, have you ever stopped to think about how it all came to be? How did people become believers? Where did the rituals come from? And most of all, what purpose does it all serve? This week, we explore these questions with psychologist Azim Shariff, who argues that we can think of religion from a Darwinian perspective, as an innovation that helped human societies to survive and flourish.

For most of human history, we lived in small groups of about 50 people. Everyone knew everybody. If you told a lie, stole someone’s dinner, or didnt defend the group against its enemies, there was no way to disappear into the crowd. Everyone knew you, and you would get punished.

But in the last 12,000 years or so, human groups began to expand. It became more difficult to identify and punish the cheaters and free riders. So we needed something big — really big. An epic force that could see what everyone was doing and enforce the rules. Since individual people could no longer police large groups, the policing had to be done by a force that was superhuman. That force… was the popular idea of a “supernatural punisher” – also known as god.

( excerpts from “Creating God,” Hidden Brain, 7-16-18 )

 

 

angrygod

Cue the wrath.

 

 

The development of religions as a cultural tool is not a new idea (to moiself) – I’ve encountered similar theories across a wide spectrum of disciplines and scientists, including psychologists and cultural anthropologists. Still, this podcast contains one of the most accessible explanations I’ve ever read or heard for the evolution of group religious practice.  [3]  Of course, the answer(s) to the opening questions about the origins of religious practice, if posed to religious believers and not scientists, would be along the lines of,  Because it’s true!, and/or Because my god is real and gave our belief to us! and other simplistic non-answers which fly in the face of the reality that one believer’s religious truth is another believer’s heresy.  [4]

“… Besides the psychological studies, there is evidence from history and psychology that shows modern religions evolved to solve problems related to trust and cooperation…  All the world’s major religions today arose at times when human societies were struggling with the problems of size, complexity, or scarcity.”
( “Creating God,” Hidden Brain, 7-16-18 )

Religions arose as a mechanism – like fire and agriculture – to help us survive as a species. The historical period known as the Neolithic (or Agricultural) Revolution saw the creation and rise of towns and cities.  As humans transitioned from living in small, mostly nomadic, family bands to living in larger groups of unrelated people, we needed a way to get along with strangers. We needed a way to determine who was “one of us” and trustworthy to, say, trade with or intermarry or share water rights and other finite resources…

But, not just any old religion or deity would do, when it came to regulating group behavior amongst strangers.  And how much you believed in a god mattered less then what kind of god you believed in.

The more wrathful/angry the god, the more successful the religions were, in spreading across large groups, and maintaining control of and adherence to social norms.  Correspondingly, the more “costly” the rituals and rites associated with public declaration of adherence to the religion  – i.e. physical and behavioral modifications (e.g. circumcision, clothing and dietary restrictions, sexual practice proscriptions) the more confidence the others had in you as being one of them (and not just faking it to gain access and trust).

 

beard

So, you’ll trust I’m one of you if I cut off the tip of my…what ?!?!?

 

Interestingly, our ancestors who remained in hunter/gatherer groups – which did not have the stranger danger/trust issues – tended not to develop belief in larger, punitive gods. 

Scientists who study (the few remaining) modern day smaller tribes, whose lives resemble those of our ancestors in the pre-civilization/Agricultural revolution days – who live in small group where everyone is known to everyone else – note that these tribes’ gods tend to be “smaller and weaker and less morally concerned…they are more like trickster spirits… that don’t have the power nor the punitive ability nor the concern (to enforce) moral issues.”

 

trickster

 

Anyway, I highly recommend this episode of Hidden Brain. Go listen to it yourself,      because I could go on and on about this (and yep, I already have).

 

 

confusedspock

“That’s putting it mildly.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Afore-Mentioned “Current And Ongoing Events And Experiences Which Makes This Topic Of Particular Interest.”

I’ve been thinking about the development/role of religion a lot recently – before, during and, especially after an out of town trip to attend a family wedding last weekend. While I was happy for the adorable young couple to be starting their married life, the marriage ceremony itself was – like all conservative Christian services are, for me –something to be endured, not celebrated.  Once again I found myself walking the ethical balance beam: trying to avoid attracting attention to moiself while trying to maintain a shred of integrity and not have my presence nor my silence be taken as acquiescence to the preacher’s words and the scripture readings – which essentially amount to a sermon (to a captive audience) on primitive, Bronze Age  blood sacrifice and patriarchal theology.

 

 

 

bridestoningjpg

 

 

 

You just gotta take those small opposition opportunities when they arise, like my refusal to join the clapping after the couple is introduced by the officiant, after he has pronounced that they are married.  In a mere 30 minutes the woman has gone from being addressed by her first and last name to having her identity announced as the mistress of the man.

It gives me great joy to introduce to you, for the first time,
Mr. and Mrs. Husband’s first name/husband’s last name!

And, holy patriarchal poopfest – the preacherman at this wedding actually read the bible verses about how wives should be submissive to their husbands, and went on at some length about how his god created Eve for Adam (as if they were real people) and thus women for men and how that is the only relationship (man-woman marriage) that is   approved (and mandated )by his god and the only path for happiness….

When I find myself in a church-type venue (either a wedding or a funeral, these days) I always maintain open eyes during the let us bow our heads and pray moments. I pass the time by looking around at the audience (? guests? Whatever we are), noting who does the same. I sought out one of the Eyes Wide Open People  [7]  after the wedding concluded –  someone I’d seen stifling a flinch at a particular rhetorical low point during the ceremony – and ventured to ask his opinion.  He too was surprised by the waaaaay conservatism of the ceremony.  He said couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard such archaic speechifying,  “…and I’ve been to a lot of Catholic weddings recently.”

The overt sexism (and concurrent if covert anti-LGBT sentiment) in (many, but not all) Christian wedding ceremonies is not new to me. But this time, knowing the personal histories of several of the guests and family members, it made me sad in ways I cannot fully articulate.  As the preacherman orated about the Christian god’s plan for marriage and men and women, women and men, blah blah blah, I felt the sense of exclusion, intentionally or otherwise, which the ceremony cast upon  gay family members/guests.  In that world, you’ll take a seat at the back of the bus… if they let you board at all.

 

oneman

Thank you for celebrating our special day! However, if you’re gay, we will not help you celebrate yours.

 

 

 

*   *   *

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Musical Interludes, Via One Of The Best Covers
Of An Already Really Good Song

That would be Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell’s rendition of Spanish Dancer, a song written and originally recorded by Patti Scialfa on her album, Rumble Doll[8]

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Unexpected Bonuses

Moiself has notice that, besides the retail outlets and weed growers themselves, the legalization of marijuana in Oregon has give rise to other businesses offering correlated services.

 

 

stoner

*   *   *

 

 

May all of your announcements be applause-worthy;
May you find your own ways to maintain integrity during institutionalized absurdities;
May you never stop asking the
how did it come to be/where it come from/what purpose does it all serve? questions;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

 

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] That is, if you’re not. And if you’re not, you should.

[2] And don’t show up at one of my dinner parties and just talk about the weather.

[3] The origins of religions as just that – evolutionary tools – is the only origin story that makes sense of the otherwise implausible and downright silly post-Iron age belief systems.

[4] And then if you posed the questions to a room of believers in different religions you could watch the fundamental fur fly as they try to sort out why the one god they claim to believe in would give vastly different dogma, rituals and practices to its peoples.

[5] Or, as many a religion-free observer has noted about the various religious proscriptions on sex and diet and attire,  “If you can get people to give you their balls, they’ll give you anything.”

[6] And it has links to interesting/relevant research and other articles.

[7] As usual, there were several of us.

[8] Yet another example of a person who might be more well known – and appreciated on her own merits – were she not married to someone famous in the same field (in this case, Bruce Springsteen. Aka – in a just universe – Mr. Patti Scialfa).