David Byrne = Neville Chamberlain?

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I like David Byrne. He makes interesting music and visual art, and now he’s making an interesting journal.

This is why intelligent people can be religious. That’s an arrogant statement – it presumes that religion and intelligence are incompatible, that anyone with any sense wouldn’t believe in unproven supernatural faith-based scenarios. But of course that is not the case. I personally might believe (believe!) that many religious beliefs are irrational and verge on lunacy – but I can both see their efficacy – their attraction and usefulness – and sense their beauty. One does not have to be a Catholic to stand in awe of the Sistine Chapel ceiling; be Muslim to hear the lure of the soulful cry of the muezzin and sense the power of the mass dance of the faithful in prayer; be Hindu or Jewish to read and enjoy a text that is often chock full of amazing and surprising metaphors and analogies. These dances, music, images, metaphors are, I sense, deep-rooted – they are like the neural propensities for grammatical structures that Chomsky goes on about – and are therefore similarly genetically inheritable. The dance that is religion has evolved within us, to be released and expressed in a thousand different forms, none of which make logical sense, and all of which, if looked at literally, require a large helping of denial. God is in the wiring, bequeathed by the genes.

To me, this is why the current (tiny) wave of atheism – the recent books by Dawkins, Dennett and Harris, for example – are also in denial. They deny that this propensity for people to believe is innate. Yes, they admit that religion offers many comforts and assurances, security and community – very attractive and seductive – but they stop short at admitting that we are genetically predisposed to believe, that it is in our very nature, a part of what it means to be human. Maybe an illogical part, but that all our innate evolved characteristics are not practical forever (context changes, the world changes) or even rational, from some points of view (does the peacock’s tail have to be THAT big? Isn’t all that just a wee bit of a wasteful allocation of resources?)


More on GNXPy business:

Among recent evidence for continuing evolution are the Ashkenazi Jews. It seems that possibly as a result of being banned from many labor and work opportunities over the last 1000 years, this mainly Eastern European gene pool has evolved a higher than average intelligence (12-15 points higher than average). The blowback from repression is the creation of a super race. Poetic justice of a twisted sort.

Other evidence:

Gene CCR5-Δ32 a gene found in certain parts of Africa affords some protection against HIV.

Gene DRD4 is the dopamine receptor gene. It has become more common in the last few thousand years. It is positively selected for, so it will probably become even more common as time goes by. It is also associated with attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity. Why humans should evolve FAVORING those conditions is still a mystery. My guess is that those conditions are the flip side of a genetic coin whose face side offers a more obvious suitability and advantage and, being linked on the same gene, you unfortunately get the bad along with the good. Aren’t the dopamine receptors also somehow related to the pleasure centers of the brain?

This could also be like the schizophrenia/creativity link mentioned in an earlier posting, or the genius-geek/autism link. A taste of Fugue gives a nice buzz, but too much and it’s your last meal.

Super race? “Never yet has there been a superman. I have seen them both naked, the greatest and the smallest men:—and they are still all-too-similar to one another. Verily, even the greatest I found to be all-too-human.”

17 Comments

  1. but I can both see their efficacy – their attraction and usefulness – and sense their beauty. 
    Is he implying that attractive, useful(?) and/or beautiful things are inherently not stupid? 
     
    God is in the wiring, bequeathed by the genes. 
    Is he implying that stupid ideas can’t be based in genetics? 
     
    They deny that this propensity for people to believe is innate. 
    Dawkins: “The propensity that was naturally selected in our ancestors was not religion per se. It had some other benefit(*), and it only incidentally manifests itself today as religious behavior.” 
     
    (*)My theory: the purpose of religion is to form in-groups of people whose behavior is made more predictable/reliable by their adherence to the belief system; and conversely to form out-groups of people who are treated differently.  
     
    The underlying (religious) ideas behind the group formations can be, and are, extremely silly, however.

  2. Ashkenazi Jews. It seems that possibly as a result of being banned from many labor and work opportunities over the last 1000 years, this mainly Eastern European gene pool has evolved a higher than average intelligence 
     
    In contrast, another endogamous religious group of Europe, the Mennonites/Amish, has limited itself to agriculture for most of its 500-year history. Does anyone know how that has worked out for them genetics-wise? 
     
    Dawkins on the Amish: 
     
    “But you quaint little people with your bonnets and breeches, your horse buggies, your archaic dialect and your earth-closet privies, you enrich our lives. Of course you must be allowed to trap your children with you in your seventeenth-century time warp”

  3. Dawkins trapped a child of mine in a horrible time-warp when he had his ruddy wife read out bits of his book at a bunch of people who’d turned up to hear him and question him. He then evaded their questions. God-bothering is tripe, of course, but could do with better disparagers than Dawkins.

  4. Of course you must be allowed to trap your children with you in your seventeenth-century time warp 
     
    The Amish lifestyle has more of the 19th than the 17th century about it from what I’ve seen. Anyway, one of the privileges of being a parent is that you get to pass your weird beliefs on to your kids. Dawkins will just have to deal with it. It’s not like the kids are physically prevented from leaving and adopting a modern lifestyle once they’re grown.

  5. Makes sense that Byrne is ruminating in this way. After all, many rock and pop-music types aim to give their audiences experiences that have aesthetic/religioius qualities: tribal, transporting, lifting you up while seating you ever more vividly in the body, etc, a sense of throbbing in rhythm with Larger Things, etc … And many artists are driven by a desire to connect with flow, Larger Rhythms, to sort of merge with and channel the great big pulsing something-or-other that many people (probably even including a few scientists!) sense is out there or that we’re part of … Like I say, makes sense that a toughtful rock/pop artist would muse about these things. Pluse Byrne has involved himself with Haitian and (I think) African musics, which of course are semi-explicitly intended to be throbbing pulsey-trancey experiences … 
     
    I dunno, to my culturebuff mind, any discussion of religion and the present day that doesn’t take into account such phenomena as pop music, the influence of African and Caribbean arts, the thriving sci-fi scene, the Elvis cult, the ongoing success of the movies, new age sex practices, the worship of celebrity and the idolizing of success, even the appeal of dogmatic atheism, is kinda missing some key points about the whole “religion” thing. Such as: Who cares if the “churches” are official ones?

  6. new age sex practices 
     
    man, what am I missing out on?? is that like getting it on while listening to Enya?

  7. getting it on while listening to Enya? 
     
    part of the foreplay is making an Enya-Sting mashup together. you can only use Desert Rose.

  8. Byrne’s statement is very much along the lines I’ve been pursuing for forty years or so. I’ve gotten so I can design an experience (geez– that sounds so grandiose!) that will truly affect people, using some very specific guidelines, such as Victor Turner’s notion of the three steps: crossing a threshold, occupying a sacred space, and stepping back out over the threshold again. It does mean carefully studying the context: the symbols, styles, associations, and so on. Theories of play, flow, mimesis, and other such material all come to bear. 
     
    For instance, I had a congregation that dearly loved to light candles “in honor of” something during the Sunday morning service. They never got enough of it. So one year for the candlelight service on Christmas Eve, I set up tables down the middle of the sanctuary and lined along them candles stabilized in salt in fireproof tumblers. The service was in seven parts and was all about babies: first babies, lost babies, the Christ child, unwanted babies, babies not quite here yet, etc. I started each part with a general statement meant to be sort of poetic. Then the congregants were invited to light candles and “testify.” It was amazing. People who had said nothing ever before said immensely powerful things. We all had tears running down our faces. I sent them out of the building singing Christmas carols while they put on their coats. 
     
    Theologically, there was little or no content. And we damn near burned the building down. More than fifty candles generate an incredible amount of heat. But as human experience, it was good as a rave. Michael B and I are on the same page here. 
     
    Prairie Mary

  9. Listen-perceptual life has evolved to construct meaning. We impose order on chaotic phenomena.  
    Man is the best at this there has ever been. 
     
    Religion, Art, and Science are the great symbolic achievements of mankind, all use to construct meaning of the forces that confront him. 
     
    Of these, science has the greatest “cash value”. Period. If you want to predict what the future experience will be, you use science. Want to build better tools. Science.  
     
    There are other things a man might value, however. i.e., as Nietzsche said, in a tyranny of science and empiricism, the lie will gain value.

  10. This is why intelligent people can [accept Neo-Darwinian evolution]. That’s an arrogant statement – it presumes that [acceptance of Neo-Darwinian evolution] and intelligence are incompatible, that anyone with any sense wouldn’t believe in unproven [statisically wildly improbable] faith-based scenarios. But of course that is not the case. I personally might believe (believe!) that [acceptance of Neo-Darwinian evolution] [is] irrational and verge on lunacy – but I can both see [its] efficacy – [its]attraction and usefulness – and sense [its] beauty.  
     
    THE POINT IS A GOOD ONE FOR ANY BELIEF SYSTEM, YES?

  11. THE POINT IS A GOOD ONE FOR ANY BELIEF SYSTEM, YES? 
     
    Are you saying that Neo-Darwinian evolution is a “belief system”? 
     
    Plagiarizing a previous GNXP post does not make a good argument for you. 
    On the contrary this highlight the deviousness of evidence deniers. 
    May be you didn’t fully read the original post nor the Source material or you did not understood that it exposes the trick: 
     
    Since the goal is not winning these debates but merely achieving symmetry, the hack’s most effective technique can be taking the accusation that would seem to apply to him and hurling it at his opponents. [Quotes accusing other side of malfeasance.] So, while you might think [skeptic] is a hack mining the data for results that would conform to his political preferences, he has already made the same charge against the other side. Who can tell who’s right?

  12. Would you bet your life and those of all you love on the proposition that you really, really can’t divide by zero? 
     
    And what’s more sure than that?

  13. Are you saying that Neo-Darwinian evolution is a “belief system”? 
     
    Yes.

  14. For example, see here and here.

  15. Would you bet your life and those of all you love on the proposition that you really, really can’t divide by zero? 
     
    In arithmetic? Yes, of course. What’s your point? :) That humans can be irrational cowards? We all know that. 
     
    If a religion is defined to be a system of ideas that contains unprovable 
    statements, then Godel taught us that mathematics is not only a religion, 
    it is the only religion that can prove itself to be one. — John Barrow

  16. Whatever. Dawkins and Co. are right about religion being irrational. But if it’s genetically mediated, it’s most likely never going away. In my younger years, I read a lot of Isaac Asimov and thought I was smarter than all those silly religious people. Over time I realized religion was too deeply rooted societally to ever disappear and made a lot of people happy. I also realized saying you were an atheist was a Really Bad Thing. So now I just tell people I’m Jewish, which I have the nose for and is technically correct by laws of descent, and it shuts them up. (If I ever move to the South I guess I could claim to be Italian.) Also makes Jewish people more likely to be friendly, which has some small advantage in my chosen field in my region of the country. I suspect the same works for Catholicism or most of the varieties of Protestantism, though in some parts of the country you might have to ‘convert’. 
     
    Technically I’m an agnostic. Sure there could be a God, but there could be an invisible teacup orbiting the sun on the other side of the earth. Just because there is a God, doesn’t mean he behaves the way people think he does. For all we know, God rewards people who behave selfishly. They certainly seem to do well enough in this life! So since God hasn’t seen fit to make himself knowable, I sort of ignore him. He might get mad at me after death, but then again he might not care, or it might turn out the true religion is Zoroastrianism and I was going to hell anyway.

  17. Why does a particular area of the brain light up on positron emisssion tomography scan when persons skilled in meditation techniques go into a “trance” and experience a disassociation from their self?  
     
    Why do Buddhist monks have more gamma waves on electroencephalography (EEG) than neophytes to meditation?  
    And why do these same monks have more gamma waves than controls when awake and aware? The latter suggests that the “mInd” can affect the neuronal connections of its brain; something we neurologist heretofore doubted possible.  
     
    Why did the brain evolve to allow for these processes to occur? 
     
    As one trained in science but also as a believer in God, I suggest that the ability to experience “spiritual wonder”, in the form of meditation or gazing in awe at a beautiful cathedral, is an evolutionary advance of humans, as distinct from our animal brethen. I say “spiritial ability” because I am convinced there are true “genetic atheists”–persons born without the ability to experience wonder spiritually–they can never hope or desire, for that matter, to “touch the face of God” because they are not capable of doing so. Like the ability to do a math problem of particular complexity, spiritual ability probably falls on a Bell Curve. Some have great potential for it, but never develop it.

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