Tag Archives: Sense vs. Sensibility a.k.a. Reason vs. Faith

The brain’s default network: Anatomy, function, and relevance to disease. Plus three other important networks in your brain.

This is a very good and easy to understand article about the Default Mode Network (DMN) in our brain.

It is in the DMN the process of scene construction takes place, a kind of mental simulation of reality rather similar to what William James used to call the “stream of consciousness”.

Also read this article: http://emergentcognition.com/2015/11/17/scott-barry-kaufman-scientific-american-the-real-neuroscience-of-creativity/ . About how creativity is implemented in the brain.

In that article you can read about another default network in your brain: the Default Imagination Network (DIN).

The DIN is involved in constructing dynamic mental simulations based primarily on personal past experiences. It provides us with alternative perspectives and scenarios to the present “view”. The DIN is, in turn, dependent on how we are primed (i.e. what we are taught/conditioned to believe and/or how we interpret what we see, hear, experience and so on).

The DIN cooperates with two other neural networks: 1) the Executive Attention Network (EAN), and 2) the Salience Network (SN).

The EAN is all about attention vs. inattention. It helps us to focus and concentrate – or stop focusing/concentrating.

The SN tags the events (both external and/or internal) that we experience (become aware of), either consciously or unconsciously, and tells us how relevant (= salient) any information is with regard to solving the task at hand.

All three networks can, of course, be influenced by how our brains are primed. That’s why a believer in demons or angels interprets his experience as evidence of existence of spiritual other-worldly religious beings, whereas the UFO believer is convinced he has had an encounter with aliens.

Emergent Cognition Project

A shared human experience is our active internal mental life. Left without an immediate task that demands full attention, our minds wander jumping from one passing thought to next—what William James (1890) called the “stream of consciousness.” We muse about past happenings, envision possible future events, and lapse into ideations about worlds that are far from our immediate surroundings. In lay terms, these are the mental processes that make up fantasy, imagination, daydreams, and thought….

While remembering, envisioning the future, and conceiving the mental states of others are different on several dimensions including temporal focus (e.g., past versus present) and personal perspective (e.g., self versus another person), they all converge on similar core processes (Buckner & Carroll 2007). In each instance, one is required to simulate an alternative perspective to the present. These abilities, which are most often studied as distinct, rely on a common set of processes by which…

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Hormone from Hell? About the neurotransmitter dopamine.

A very good – and easily understandable – summary of in what ways we are influenced by the neurotransmitter dopamine.

I only want to add: This competent blogger has yet another blog, called Victoria Neuronotes. You should follow that blog too.

NeuroNotes

| 1K pharm  |  Dopamine is a small molecule. Nothing too complicated really. Two neighboring hydroxy groups on a benzene ring with an amino group just around the corner. But, oh! What a molecule. It is a neurotransmitter produced in various parts of the brain and has five known target receptors. According to the Wikipedia entry for the compound: “Its main function as a hormone is to inhibit the release of prolactin from the anterior lobe of the pituitary.” But, that belies a whole host of issues for which dopamine is responsible. Dopamine, after all, has a role to play in behavior and cognition, in voluntary movement, in motivation, in our level of concentration, working memory, learning, sleep patterns, our moods, sexual gratification, punishment, and, of course, reward.

Reward

We all know it when we receive it. It’s that most pleasurable feeling, that emotion that drives us…

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The logical paradox of ghost hunting

Most of us know – and it’s reiterated over and over again by true woo bullshit believers – that supernatural phenomena can’t be tested or measured the same way as is the case for natural physical phenomena, because supernatural energy emanating from the spiritual world doesn’t behave the same way as energy from the real physical world does.

Supernatural energy always hides from such equipment that is used to detect and measure “natural” energy.

This is as plain as a pikestaff. *Shush, don’t question this woo-ish claim, or else you risk becoming insane; it’s not worth it, unless you intend to become a woo yourself.*

So instruments and gadgets used to measure physical phenomena are worthless to use if you are aiming at detecting/measuring the supernatural, for example ghosts and other purely spiritual beings/entities/energy fields.

Yet we can see/hear/read almost daily that ghostbusters use scientific tools in their search for ghosts.

How come? Why is it so?

This 64,000 US dollar question is a real logical one since it’s building on so illogical woo premises.

The blogger himself prefers to call it a logical paradox. That’s very kind and humble by him, because some true woo believers can thereby misunderstand the whole thing and instead interpret that term (“logical paradox”) as evidence of something worth being considered as useful and taken seriously although it’s just ordinary woo bullshit.

You need not be blind in order to not seeing that. It’s enough if you’re a woo.

Woo-ish true believers won’t see anything contradictory at all by using scientific equipment to detect ghosts.

This talented blogger, whose post I’m now reblogging, claims that the tradition to use scientific equipment to look for ghosts is inherently self defeating! He is so right.

According to this blogger we basically have the following three possibilities:

1. Ghosts don’t exist

2. Supernatural ghosts do exist, but cannot be tested using science

3. “Ghosts” exist, but then that must mean they are natural, not supernatural, physical phenomena, and that claim is, in turn, proved by the fact that the ghosts can be documented using science apparatuses.

The Logic of Science

paradox inception meme Arthur Joseph Gordon-LevitMany people believe in the paranormal, and a great deal of time and effort is spent searching for evidence of it. Indeed, shows like “Ghost Hunters” are extremely popular, and the notion of using scientific equipment to detect the supernatural is well ingrained into our literature, movies, and culture more generally. The reality is, however, the ghost hunting is a perfect case study in pseudoscience, and it is based on a series of logical fallacies and amusing paradoxes.

Most obviously, ghost hunting (along with related pseudoscientific ventures such as UFO spotting, searches for Big Foot and Nessy, Creation Research, etc.) suffers a serious flaw which automatically removes it from the realm of science. Namely, it starts with a conclusion (i.e., ghosts exist), then tries to prove that conclusion. In contrast, real science always starts with the evidence, then forms a conclusion based on that evidence. This distinction is extremely important…

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About woo-ism, psychiatric symptoms and immune system disturbances

Autoimmune and inflammatory activities in the brain seem to be linked with psychiatric symptoms. Have a look at this article: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/10/25/451169292/could-depression-be-caused-by-an-infection

I even suspect there may be a positive correlation between woo-ism (believing woo experiences must be true/genuine/real phenomena PLUS also displaying a higher disposition towards experiencing such paranormal – and psychic – phenomena).

It’s undeniable that there exists an overlap between mental and physical illness. They have many symptoms in common.

Furthermore, lately researchers have detected a network of vessels that seem to be able to directly connect the brain with the immune system, so it’s not farfetched to assume that neuroinflammatory and/or neurodegenerative diseases are associated with immune system dysfunction.

For details, see: http://www.nature.com/articles/nature14432.epdf?referrer_access_token=M_gEqyTF4woL1TO0pPtt_dRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0PP9svrp_06Oir1YyDWe7ejvVLL2VbrH_EwNtYJfrQFs76c429WdrHUa3kC6-ROdf0a_sf0Wq3y-_lXvDuWqqE81teEmgu9jJgiCo644XrZpoQFLHRhQL_oQbZPSnuILCbsmK4rEXRW91jKrI6Im8RIguooFs6WobJt6z2yuX7A2pJD0k4VDG0jAeie6V4PmjIrmox96-6NYWQfQMxCVLxb&tracking_referrer=www.npr.org .

There are also many indications that stressors of any kind, especially in childhood, can activate our immune system. A hyperactive immune system alarm goes hand in hand with autoimmune diseases. And woo believers are known to have more autoimmune disorder diagnoses than non-woo believers.

Examples of such stressors are physical abuse, sexual abuse, feelings of neglect and grief, nutritional deficiencies, sleep deprivation, and much more. A childhood full of stressors like these might pave the ground for woo beliefs later on.

This finding is, in turn, completely compatible with the positive correlation between woo believers and mental disorders like depression, GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. And those diagnoses are, in turn, suspected to be caused, partly, by an infection that has activated the immune-inflammatory system of their bodies.

So it’s easy to imagine that both stressors (like those I just mentioned) and Infections during childhood – maybe already in the womb – might work in concert with genetics to make that individual (already as a fetus) sensitive to not only psychosocial factors but also to become prone to believe in, and experience, paranormal phenomena.

BTW, Here’s a book I can recommend to all those interested in the woo-personality traits: http://www.davidritchey-author.com/hoa.htm .

The author David Ritchey summarizes his findings here: http://www.davidritchey-author.com/hoa-findings.htm . The following six points are listed (especially point #5 is of extra interest here):

1. Various factors including Biology (“nature”), Trauma and Abuse (“nurture”) and Temperament Type Preferences (“personality”) can predispose an individual to be an Anomalously Sensitive Person (ASP).

2. If an individual is anomalously sensitive in one realm (the “Physiological,” for example), s/he is very likely to be anomalously sensitive in the other realms (“Cognitive,” “Emotional,” “Altered States of Consciousness” and “Transpersonal Experiences”) as well.

3. The Anomalously Sensitive Person is likely to: be female, be hypopigmented (blond hair/blue eyes), be Non-Right-Handed (left-handed or ambidextrous), be artists, be born as one of a set of twins/triplets/etc. and have an other-than-conventionally heterosexual sexual orientation.

4. The Anomalously Sensitive Person is likely to: have an Introverted (rather than Extraverted) Orientation, have a preference for an Intuitive (rather than Sensate) mode of Perceiving and have a preference for a Feeling (rather than Thinking) mode of Judging.

5. The Anomalously Sensitive Person is likely to: have unusually sensitive immune systems, be highly reactive/responsive to sensory stimuli, exhibit learning/attention styles that differ from the norm, be very attuned to the emotions of both themselves and others, be especially facile at accessing Altered States of Consciousness and to frequently have Transpersonal (“metaphysical,” “paranormal,” “psychic”) Experiences.

6. The HISS data support the position of those negativists who hold that anomalous sensitivity is indicative of temporo-limbic epilepsy. The HISS data also support the position of those positivists who hold that anomalous sensitivity is indicative of kundalini arousal. The HISS data also support those who have no position and hold that anomalous sensitivity is indicative of anomalous sensitivity.

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A common non sequitur

A blog post containing good examples of illogical conclusions so easily drawn by woos and others using the magical & religious thought processing system in our brains (a.k.a. IPS #1, the Information Processing System #1; for details, see https://bbnewsblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/02/the-two-information-processing-systems-ipss-in-your-brain-one-is-woo-ish-the-other-is-rational/ ).

Skeptical Exaddict

Recently I found an interesting non sequitur posed to an “atheist and freethinkers” Facebook group I belong to. Interesting because it’s an argument I’ve seen before. I commented that it was a non sequitur, and the OP didn’t know what that is. (Neither did I until recently, but Google is my friend.)

So what is a non sequitur? It’s Latin for “does not follow”. Very simply, it’s a bad logical argument where a conclusion is drawn that is not derived from the arguments presented. There are many different kinds of logical fallacies that result in non sequitur statements, but they do seem to follow a basic pattern, which is that some inference happens between the arguments and the conclusion; there’s a disconnect and some sort of implicit assumption going on, which is unstated.

For example: The sky is blue. My pen is blue. Conclusion: Who wrote the sky?

See…

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How smells can influence and bias your mind (not only the smell of fear). Why ghost believers and ghost busters often have scary feelings.

Your brain is able to literally smell the sense of fear. It’s not a sixth sense. Nothing paranormal or supernatural at all.

Instead, this unconscious ability can help explain, for example, why ghost believers, if being in the same allegedly haunted house, often trigger each other to share the same spooky experience. 

As a matter of fact, the smell of fear is very contagious (cf. the mass hysteria phenomenon, in which a large group of people exhibit the same state of mental agitation). 

In many animals this ability to smell the chemicals of fear is pretty advanced. Just think of dogs who nowadays are trained for detecting cancer, bomb chemicals, truffle, dope – you name it. 

It’s all about the vomeronasal organ (VNO), an auxillary olfactory organ located in the brain. The VNO contains sensory neurons specialized to detect chemical stimuli. These neurons target the amygdala, the brain’s fear center. 

The vomeronasal system is important for reproduction and social behavior (think of pheromones, chemical substances secreted externally in order to influence the physiology and behavior of others belonging to the same species). 

The presence of a VNO structure in adult human beings is still debated, expecially how functional such a VNO in adult human beings might be. For details, have a look at this paper: http://chemse.oxfordjournals.org/content/26/4/433.full . 

Here’s a quote from the abstract: [There are] conflicting evidence for and against human VNO function but chemical communication does appear to occur among humans. However, several examples reported in the literature do not meet the proposed definition for communication by pheromones: ‘chemical substances released by one member of a species as communication with another member, to their mutual benefit’.

And here are three more articles about this interesting topic: 1) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/3545435/The-smell-of-fear-is-real-claim-scientists.html  (Title: The smell of fear is real, claim scientists); 2) http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2015/10/20/4333431.htm (Title: Sharing the scent of fear); and 3) http://www.livescience.com/24578-humans-smell-fear.html (Title: Humans smell fear, and it’s contagious). 

Many woos are convinced that they can detect paranormal scents. For instance the scent of a ghost. Here is one of the best articles I’ve found on that matter:  http://www.assap.ac.uk/newsite/articles/Paranormal%20smells.html (Title Paranormal smells). Highly recommendable reading! 

Among the bizarre olfactory phenomena mentioned in that article are phantom smells, for example phantosmia. This is a form of olfactory hallucination, i.e. the perception of a smell in the absence of any physical odors.

If there is a misinterpretation of an existent physical stimulus,the proper medical term is parosmia. Such olfactory dysfunctions (a.k.a. dysomias) are characterized by the inability of the brain to properly identify an odor’s “natural” smell. 

These distortions of smell are not as common as phantom smells, but parosmia is still something that must be taken into consideration whenever a certain odor is associated with a haunting. 

Among ghost hunters a well-known sub-category of parosmia is known as troposmia or cacosmia. 
 
What then happens in the ghosthunter’s brain is that the natural odor is transcribed into what is most often described as an unpleasant aroma, typically a burned, rotting, fecal, or chemical (like sulphurous) smell. (So its not a totally odd idea to believe some ghost “souls” seemingly must have been dwelling in Hell before returning to the surface of Earth in order to pay us a visit.) 
 
Nevertheless, sometimes there might instead be instances of pleasant scents. so-called euosmia (which perhaps may induce thoughts of an afterlife in Heaven).
 
Because foul odors are so easily associated with negative hauntings, falsely smelling a foul odor may cause a bias in perception of a haunting.
 
Smells are known to become trapped in fabrics, wooden structures, even masonry and so on. The scent ions may be released years later, if the right humidity, temperatures, or barometric pressures are at hand. 
 
So, just to summarize: Neither conscious nor unconscious odors are proof of any ghost activity. But smells are able to influence and bias your mind, especially if you are a woo that has primed your brain to process information in a magical and religious way by clinging to the intuitive, illogical and preposterous information processing system a.k.a. IPS #1, the way a child’s mind is processing information. For more details, see:  https://bbnewsblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/02/the-two-information-processing-systems-ipss-in-your-brain-one-is-woo-ish-the-other-is-rational/ .

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17 not-so-stupid questions for Atheists

I found this nice and lovely post on Tiffany’s Non-Blog (run by Tiffany267, a “professional” bullshit debunker and, at the same time, pearl finder); see: https://tiffany267.wordpress.com/2015/10/21/questions-for-atheists-asked-and-answered/

Tiffany267 tells her followers that the original post can be read here: https://boldquestions.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/17-not-so-stupid-questions-for-atheists/

She also gave this motivation for “reblogging” the post: “One of my favorite atheist bloggers shared this list of questions targeted to atheists and some wonderful responses. Please enjoy!”

I just say: Hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I – and seemingly Tiffany267 – did.

From now on I’m following this “Question With Boldness” blog.

Question With Boldness

Godless Mom was contacted by a christian student with a series of questions.  And, surprise, instead of being “gotcha” questions, they seem to be actual genuine questions, a real effort to understand non-belief.  So I’ll answer them here, and also cross-post them in the comments to the original blog entry, here:

http://godlessmom.com/questions-for-atheists-from-a-college-student-answer-them-yourself/?utm_content=buffera2f92&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Other bloggers and commenters have answered them, but I’m going to give my own answers without comparison to theirs.  So I apologize if this comes out as repetitive.

1. Why are you an atheist?

Because I don’t have enough evidence to warrant belief in any god.

2. Have you ever believed in a Higher Power?

Sure, I was raised liberal Protestant, and it was just the assumption everyone made.  God’s in charge, Jesus loves you, so let’s sing some more songs about love.  I was the kid that was involved in everything – Sunday school, youth group, youth…

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