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The Mysteries of the Human Brain

Tonight I went to see Sam Harris give a lecture about the science of morality as he promoted his new book, The Moral Landscape. Since Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, and since I'm endlessly fascinated by that organ known as the brain, I had a question that I had to ask him. Unfortunately, they never got to me, so I asked the question in an abbreviated form when I met Sam at the signing.

What I wanted to ask:

We all know the expression, "Once bitten, twice shy." I'm certain that I read or heard somewhere that when we experience something traumatic, our brain makes extra neurological connections. For example, a person won't go near even a Labrador Retriever because s/he has been attacked by so many "bad" dogs in his/her life. Hell, just seeing a picture of a dog will elicit the fight-or-flight response. This is a Pavlovian conditioning of sorts, I believe.

Given this premise, and given that one of religion's strategies-- especially in Catholicism and Islam-- is to program its followers with fear of hell, does this mean that there are extra neurological connections in conjunction with these beliefs? If that's the case, is that a reason why it is so hard to for some people to stop fearing hell, etc., even after they've left religion and even if they know logically that hell is nonsense? Is it a matter of "rewiring" the brain?

I asked a much simpler question of similar nature:

Why is it that people of the same intelligence will have different reactions when being raised in a religion? One person will say, "This is bullshit" from the time they're five, for example, while a person of the same intelligence will believe whatever they're being programed with. Why?

Sam Harris told me that studies have suggested that people who tend to make larger quantities of the neurotransmitter dopamine are more predisposed to religion. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think, like serotonin, dopamine is a chemical that regulates mood and impulse control? At any rate, he said that there really is no clear answer to my question yet. When I asked the second part of my abbreviated question-- "Why are certain people more at ease than others with the idea of there being no God?" he didn't have an answer to that either.

Brilliant guy, Sam Harris. I only wish he could have answered my question! But I guess it is such a complex question that nobody really knows the answers yet. I bet we will someday, however.

Let's discuss! And if anybody knows any studies regarding this that I'm not aware of, please let me know!




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