Religion is not a disease

This is a great article, if, for no other reason, that it talks about Dawkins and Dennet without mentioning controversy or bothering with some nod to religion as a good thing. The ideas that were fought over, yelled about, called blasphemy are getting to the mainstream. We’ve been standing out in a field listening to crickets when we asked for an explanation about what God is, but the science is taught in regular college courses now. Non-religious people are going to seminary. And it is directly related to social media has spread the lies of dictators. There might be hope for us yet.

A neuroscientist explains how religious fundamentalism hijacks the brain (

Daniel Dennett insightfully described how ideas can control minds when he said, “The haven all memes depend on reaching is the human mind, but a human mind is itself an artifact created when memes restructure a human brain in order to make it a better habitat for memes.” In this regard, it is often not the brain that controls the mind, but the memes that compose the mind that control the brain. This is especially the case when the meme is a religion.

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For me, religion is a drug, with everything associated, loss of sense of reality, habituation and dependence

Yes, it is remarkable that this brain of ours can be so easily misled. But consider that our brain only knows what it has previously experienced and, if not exposed to an alternate view of reality, that engram becomes the brain’s “best guess” and it is wrong.

Let me demonstrate how that works.
This is a famous optical illusion, but the problem is that even if you know what it should look like, your brain is unable to to see the actual reality. This optical error is a naturally selected hardwired survival mechanism.
As you can see from the bottom pic that A and B are the exact same shade of gray but B is in the shade which the brain sees as lighter than A.

But even if you try to make this work in the top pic, your brain won’t let you.
It is impossible to see A and B as identical without the proof provided in B.

And so it is with all knowledge. The brain is a completely isolated organ, connected to the sensory network only via neurons and EM data. The brain only knows what it has been taught from the sensory experiences.

Of course this phenomenon was made famous by Descartes’ “brain in a vat”.

Brain in a vat

Philosophical thought experiment

In philosophy, the brain in a vat (BIV) is a scenario used in a variety of thought experiments intended to draw out certain features of human conceptions of knowledge, reality, truth, mind, consciousness, and meaning. It is a modernized version of René Descartes’s evil demon thought experiment, originated by Gilbert Harman. Found in many science fiction stories, it outlines a…


Isn’t that Descartes error? The brain is a thought creating machine, so it is aware of other realities, creating them constantly. It’s also very good at pattern recognition, so, if reality is discernible, then the brain is fit to keep discovering it, honing the picture of it.

Your optical illusions prove this because we can show that they are illusions. The problems begin when someone gives a wrong explanation for the illusion and gets others to accept that explanation. If the alternate reality is comforting or even adaptive, helping the tribe survive, then it can live beyond the original believers.

I agree to an extent. Religion is more like a virus and if taught that what your grandparents and parents teach about religion and that’s the only right religion, without any exposure to any other religion, then you grow to believe that is the only way to believe and think. Thus one is doom to that [non-]reality, doom to pass the religious virus onto the next generation.

I don’t think so.

I agree that the brain is a thought-creating machine, but much like a computer, the brain itself has no direct awareness of anything at all. It can only function when receiving data and it can do so only when receiving input from the senses via neural transmission of electrochemical “data”, not pictures or sounds.

If it does not receive any input such as in a sensory deprivation chamber, the brain begins to hallucinate from its own stored memories and eventually goes mad in a totally self-created fantasy world.

For the brain to function properly it must have continual input. This input is always of a secondary nature as transmitted by the neural network.

Data from the senses creates conscious processing. Data from the organs creates the unconscious homeostatic control processes
But theoretically, the neural network can be replaced by another neural network such as a computer, and will process that data without knowing the source or what reality it is transmitting.

This is a difficult concept as we are familiar with our normal sensory processes that we believe the brain is doing the observing, but it doesn’t. It only processes data.

This is why there are visual or auditory impairments, but those anomalies are not created by the brain but by errors in the senses. Color blindness starts in the eye, not in the brain. Deafness starts in the ear, not the brain.

Interestingly, the brain’s homeostatic control mechanism remains functional even if part of the brain is rendered unconscious (see anesthesia). With homeostasis the brain gets notified by the organs via EC data that creates physical “discomfort” such as pain or nausea.

That is why you can make the brain experience “walking outside in the sun” if it has no other “controlling” source of information.
This is why Anil Seth speaks of controlled and uncontrolled hallucinations.

That little Ted-lecture by Seth is so on-point, I refer to it all the time.

You’ve somehow misinterpreted Anil. It’s too trivially obvious for me to spend much time on. I respond in the order of your post.

But I’m not talking about a fantasy world, I’m talking about brains with bodies in the real world.

Yes, transmitted by the neural network, receiving data from the real world.

It’s not difficult. The brain processes, and the body sends data to process.

It’s imperfect, but if it was wildly wrong, how could we survive? Do you believe we evolved as brains in vats, so now we don’t realize it? That’s an invention of a complex universe of other beings, with zero evidence. If not vats, then something that filters reality and fools us into not knowing what the filter is.

[quote=“lausten, post:7, topic:10436”]
You’ve somehow misinterpreted Anil. It’s too trivially obvious for me to spend much time on. I respond in the order of your post.

If this sounds trivial to you it is you who does not understand Anil Seth. In fact, it is quite an extraordinary phenomenon in all brained animals.

The brain is an isolated organ and the only way it can perceive anything at all is via coded data transmitted by the senses and the neural network.

In the sense of quantum the brain is not an observer as defined in physics, but a true passive processor that responds to the quantum activity of the neurons in the brain, specifically the microtubules.

It’s imperfect, but if it was wildly wrong, how could we survive? Do you believe we evolved as brains in vats, so now we don’t realize it?

Brains are completely separated from direct contact or awareness of the exterior. The brain might as well sit in a vat for all it knows.

Inside the skull the brain is in the dark, silent, and submerged in liquid.
It is the evolution of the sensory system that allows the brain to make sense of the world.

As Seth says: “when our brains agree, only then can we call it reality”.

This is why empathy is a remarkable aspect of brain function. We can look at a beautiful sunset and truly experience a shared emotional response.

OTOH, a color-blind person could never truly appreciate what it means to live in a colored world.
This little example shows the emotional experience to be transported into a colored reality.

and how this actually works

And as with religion, unless one is allowed to read books that contradict the bible, the brain will be absolutely convinced that God is a real and defined object. It has no way of knowing differently!

I would not call that a disease, but an incorrect programming system.

Extraordinary it might be, but by ignoring the connection to the body, where the brain gets its input, you ignore what i wrote my post about. You are not just off topic, you aren’t on any topic. You are floating in your hallucinated world, talking about how it is a hallucination.

I’m not disagreeing at all. Of course the brain is isolated. It doesn’t have eyes, the eyes send their signals to it. Here’s the question for you, how do I know that?

[quote=“lausten, post:9, topic:10436”]
Extraordinary it might be, but by ignoring the connection to the body, where the brain gets its input, you ignore what i wrote my post about. You are not just off topic, you aren’t on any topic. You are floating in your hallucinated world, talking about how it is a hallucination.

The question then becomes if hallucination is a disease, no?

I’m not disagreeing at all. Of course, the brain is isolated. It doesn’t have eyes, the eyes send their signals to it. Here’s the question for you, how do I know that?

Put you hand in front of your eye and you will not see through that sensory organ.
Put your hand over your ear, you won’t be able to hear but you can still see.
I believe that demonstrates the brain’s sole reliance on sensory input and transmission of electrochemical data to the brain via the neural network.

If you are a paraplegic, your brain has no control over the parts of the body that are affected. Hence deafness, color blindness are not diseases of the brain but of the senses. However, in a sensory deprivation chamber, your brain may go mad from lack of new input and it begins to loop internal data and combinations, like “Pink Unicorns”

This also proves that theoretically you could hook up the brain in a vat to a computer via the computer’s “neural network” imitating sensory input and making it believe that it is walking in the park on a sunny day.
Color blindness, Deafness, Hypoesthesia (lack of feeling) are all symptoms of disease or injury to the senses and neural network, not the brain.

Belief is not a disease, but a conditioned hallucination that, when there is lack of contrary information, is considered by the brain as truth. It has no way of “knowing” anything unless it receives “understandable” information from a source.
Then that becomes the brain’s reality, unless there is a controlling factor such as memory. Then according to Anil Seth the brain is able to make a “best guess” and come to a “controlled hallucination” of its environment.

At no time does religion create a diseased brain. Religion is a source of “false information”.


And how would write the program to make it believe it lives in a 13 billion year old universe with billions and billions of stars and black holes and micro organisms?

What are you talking about? Evolution is not a process
that accummulates complexities. It selects for the ability to survive and fill the gene pool with refined behaviors.

Our brain runs on very simple principles of self-referential data processing.

Decoding the Language of Neurons

A new study reveals surprising variations in the neural code

In the dystopian world of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the government of Oceania aims to achieve thought control through the restriction of language. As explained by the character Syme, a lexicologist who is working to replace the English language with the greatly-simplified “[Newspeak]

(Newspeak - Wikipedia)”: “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?” While Syme’s own reflections were short-lived, the merits of his argument were not: the words and structure of a language can influence the thoughts and decisions of its speakers. This holds for English and Greek, Inuktitut and Newspeak. It also may hold for the neural code, the basic electrical vocabulary of the neurons in the brain.

Neural codes, like spoken languages, are tasked with conveying all manner of information. Some of this information is immediately required for survival; other information has a less acute use. To accommodate these different needs, a balance is struck between the richness of information being transferred and the speed or reliability with which it is transferred. Where the balance is set depends on context. In the example of language, the mention of the movie Jaws at a dinner party might result in a ranging and patient—if disconcerting—discussion around the emotional impact of the film. In contrast, the observation of a dorsal fin breaking through the surf at the beach would probably elicit a single word, screamed by many beachgoers at once: “shark!” In one context, the language used has been optimized for richness; in the other, for speed and reliability.

In the brain, this same type of balance is usually thought to be an effect of the division of labor. Certain regions—for example the cingulate cortex—are involved in processing higher-level emotional and motivational information. Other regions, like the amygdala, work to keep you safe from more immediate dangers. In other words, one helps you at the dinner party, and the other at the sea. These specialized functions have often been attributed to anatomy: one region might have greater or fewer neurons than the other, and those neurons might wire into different circuits. In either case, it has been assumed, the neurons present are using neural codes with the same basic design.

Neurons can either fire or remain silent, and the combination of the two over time gives rise to a neural code, like dots and dashes in Morse code. As with Morse code, there are theoretical limits on the richness and speed of information transfer. A new Morse code with a thousand characters could exchange richer information, but the speed and reliability of its SOS signal would suffer. Neural codes accommodate this trade-off in their design, and it has been presumed that from neuron to neuron and region to region the balance between richness and speed is the same.

But a closer look at what exactly the neurons in the human cingulate cortex and amygdala are saying has revealed that they employ strikingly different neural codes. One is optimized for richness, and one for speed—just such a trade-off as might be expected given the function of these brain regions. Moreover, a comparison of human and monkey brains has revealed that in both of the studied brain regions, the code used by human neurons is more rich. In effect, different regions—and the brains of different animals—use different neural codes.

These discoveries, published earlier this year in Cell, have wide-ranging and potentially stunning implications. The function of a neural circuit—whether it underlies echolocation, feeding, or any other behavior—is often understood by its wiring diagrams. As with an electrical diagram, many pieces are considered to be interchangeable—a resistor is a resistor and a switch is a switch. Thus, a circuit diagram made up of mouse, monkey or human neurons might be expected to perform the same computation. These new findings challenge that idea, showing that even the basic building blocks in two regions of the same brain can behave very differently.

It is as though some regions of the brain employ an English vocabulary; and others employ that of Newspeak.

All brained animals employ microtubules in their brains and cytoskeletons for data transmission and processing.

Microtubules are identical in several functions, and sensory data is transmitted in a similar manner from single-celled organisms to sperm whales which have the largest brains of all.
The differences in the languages employed by different neural networks lie in their adaption to specific environments or breeding!

Deaf people do not consider themselves as having a disease, but there is Meniere’s, congenital nerve deafness, and other things that cause deafness.

No doubt. And there are people with brain disease such as tumors. But that is not the norm and in the wild such handicaps always result in death and removal from the gene pool.

Is mad cow disease only in the brain?

Experts are not sure what causes mad cow disease or variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD). The leading theory is that the disease is caused by infectious proteins called prions (say “PREE-ons”). In affected cows, these proteins are found in the brain, spinal cord, and small intestine.

Condition Basics

What is mad cow disease and variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease?

Mad cow disease is a fatal disease that slowly destroys the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) in cattle. It also is known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE.

People cannot get mad cow disease. But in rare cases they may get a human form of mad cow disease called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which is fatal. Over time, vCJD destroys the brain and spinal cord.

But nothing about this is related to religion or how it is spread.

So why do you keep talking about it on this thread?

Isn’t it the subject we are discussing?

Thank goodness the human species is better than other animals in that respect. I’d hate to lose my grandmother because she was legally deaf without hearing aids and even with hearing aids she didn’t hear well. The same goes for my mother and late aunt.

No, mad cow isn’t related to religion, but religion does spread like a virus. Have you read “The God Virus” by Darrel Ray? I think you may find it an interesting read. I also think you’ll find “Leaving the Fold” by Marlene Winell an interesting read too. In her book as well as other work she’s done, she talks about Religious Trauma Syndrome, which is more a mental/psychological issue. Religion is definitely a disease, but not in the way you’re viewing diseases.

IMHO, you are thinking of disease as a physical/medical ailment. You are not looking at disease as also being a mental/psychological ailment. PTSD and other psychological disorders are forms of disease and they truly are dis-eases. Anything which ails the mind and/or body is a disease and one really cannot have one without the other. If the mind ails, so does the body and vise versa. Think of the last time you had a cold or the flu. You were mostly mentally and physically down. The same happens with mental disorders and if you looks up the word disease, you’ll find the history of the word, as well as synonyms for it, which includes the word disorder. Not only that, Merriam Webster gives the example of crime being a disease. So, again, I really feel you are looking at only one definition of the word disease. Disease is not just medical/physical.

I don’t know what subject you are on or how it relates to the OP

Somebody figured this out before there were books. Actually a lot of people did. The archaeology is pretty definitive on this. We have shrines and rocks with shapes carved into them and altars. Almost all of them were abandoned because the rain didn’t come like the priests said it would. People didn’t need a different shaman to tell them to pack up and go find a flowing river.

So, reviewing this because I lost an argument with the forest while clearing some trees. I should be busy right now, but I’m busy letting my body heal. So, we agree apparently, with some variation and minor differences. I don’t see how “brain in a vat” fits this though. It’s not the input, or the misperception of it, it’s the thoughts about it, and the memes created by those thoughts.

This is a good point. There is some place where, if you expand the definition of “disease” enough, religion fits in it. I would still say it’s not a disease in the sense that there is something defective with a brain or mind and that can be treated with psychotherapy or drugs. It’s more of a societal disease, maybe. I’ll have to think about that.

Here’s an angle to consider. The “reference” to God is trivially wrong, but there many ways to have a “sense” of something, some spirit or larger reality. This lecture seems to drag on at first, with the Jay Z example, but it helps to make the second half more understandable. The whole thing is almost pedantic, but when you think about how much blood has been spilled because of arguments over the definition of single word, it’s an important concept.

(24) Gottlob Frege - On Sense and Reference - YouTube