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The Mind And Belief

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Storm

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Over the past several weeks, I have been contemplating various attributes of the human mind. I have been reading research on the Psychology of Belief and researching motivated reasoning and confirmation bias. At this point, I have come to the conclusion that, much like the cosmos and our universe, the human mind is incredibly complex and, at this point, has not been fully understood. There are numerous theories as to why humans think the way they do, and why humans act the way they do. And much like the discussions regarding our origins in the universe, there is still so much we don't know or understand about the mind and why we think and reason the way we do and what purpose the way we think and reason and interpret our world serves us in the now and in the future.

 

In my puffed up brain, it would be my desire to show many wonderful and awesome things about the way humans think and reason and get you all to learn new and exciting things that I have come to understand over the past several weeks. A lofty goal, indeed. But I also understand the limits of my ability to write articulately and the fact that most people reading this are not where I am in my quest for understanding why I believed in the Christian god for so long and how my thoughts and actions were so greatly influenced by my own perceptions and understandings of my world. But, maybe for the sake of me just thinking out loud for others to see, or just for my own cathartic experience, I would like to share some of what I have discovered. I am by no means an expert, but a fledgling behaviorist, trying to find understanding in why and how we do the things we do.

 

If you remember Psychology 101 from school, you will likely remember the name Piaget. He is famous for his work with children. But what you may not realize about him is that he experienced a crisis in his youth regarding faith and the things that his family was telling him in regards to religion. This crisis resulted in him being influenced to start the path that led him to developing our current understanding of how beliefs form.

That being said, Piaget understood the concept of Schema, which you can read about here, and how children use schemata to build their knowledge base and ultimately use that knowledge base to develop their worldview. He developed his theory of cognitive development using schemata.

 

Why is this important? Well, for many of us, we adopted the religion of our parents, and likely, their families. You adopted their worldviews as you grew and began to process that knowledge. They adopted their worldviews from their parents and so on it goes. As a child you developed your schemata and as you did, the information you were given influenced further information you were given and you developed whatever worldview you ended up with. At this point, I could go on and on about how schemas work and how they affect who you are and what you think. I want to stress that this is incredibly important if you want to understand why you fell for the Christianity trap. You really likely had no choice in the matter. It was only until you started to receive information that consistently challenged the established schemata that you began to find out that there existed different information which, subsequently, began to start a new process of thinking for you.

 

This translates to the other areas that I have been studying: motivated reasoning and cognitive bias. These concepts shape the way you interpret information and how you determine whether or not it will shape your worldview. Every person uses motivated reasoning for all the information that you receive, accept and place in your schema. Every second of every day, your brain receives and interprets numerous data. Much of it is processed and discarded without it even being consciously known to you. A perfect example of this is the fact that you wear clothes every day. Your skin receives sensory information when your clothes touch it, but your brain has become accustomed to that sensory information, so it has learned to ignore the general information regarding what your skin is feeling. It is only when that information is different, that the brain processes it differently, and you notice it.

 

In the same way, we also receive numerous information from people, through the internet, tv, radio, etc. We process that information in real time and ultimately, our brains determine whether or not that information is relevant at that time. This processing involves the schemata that we have previously developed in our past and the brain processes each bit of information it receives based on the schemata that it has formed from previous information. This is why confirmation bias exists. As humans, we tend to only accept information that fits into our already developed schemata. And this is where motivated reasoning fits in as well. Humans actively seek out information that confirms our already preconceived notions, beliefs, and ideas. We seek to be validated in our worldview and because of this; we seek out information that confirms our already determined worldview. It is because of motivated reasoning that we immediately discard anything that goes against what already exists in our schemata. It is only a brief few moments of cognitive dissonance that can potentially affect our schema related to the information and at that point, we can either investigate further the information presented and then update our schema, or we can use a self-defense mechanism, and simply create a plausible (in our minds) scenario as to why that information is the exception rather than the rule, thus resolving the discrepancy.

 

Why is all of what I just explained important?

Well, because of this understanding, we can better understand why we fell into the trap of believing Christianity (or any other religion) for so long. You were already “doomed” to become a Christian (or whatever religion your parents chose) before you even had a fighting chance. Secondly, once you embraced your particular worldview, your brain primarily sought out information that solidified that worldview and developed a much more deep rooted belief system. So, in many ways, you couldn’t help to believe what you ended up believing.

 

Another important thing that you need to understand about how your mind works is this: your mind does so much more in processing information than you are aware of. This means that your mind is making decisions for you before you are actually aware of these decisions. Studies have been conducted that have shown that researchers can predict when a decision has been made in people’s brain as many as a few seconds before the person actually decides. Our brains process information in a particular way and sometimes that particular way is not the most efficient way. This explains why, after a speech or debate with someone, that you start to have those thoughts about what you should have said, or why you remember things after the fact. Our brains can only recall so much information at a time and, depending on the schema that the information you were looking for was stored in, you may or may not remember something because of what your brain is attempting to access.

 

This whole process also affects something that is very important to Christianity: Free Will

How your brain receives, processes, filters, and stores information is something that you have only so much control over. This affects the possibility of free will. If your brain can only access so much information at a time or it accesses only certain information at a time based on the schema system of storing information, how can you legitimately say that we are actually making a fully informed decision? Or if our brains are making decisions before we are consciously aware of it, how is it that we are actually making a truly, fully informed, thought out decision about something? How can we be held responsible for something that we are not consciously aware of, or that we have no control over?

 

It is because of this information that I have come to the conclusion that Free Will is an illusion. It isn’t physically possible to have free will, even if we really wanted it. But that might be a whole other discussion...

 

As I am writing this all out, I can’t help but think back to Jesus. In the forums, someone posted a thread about whether or not Jesus sinned (or something like that). Ultimately a short discussion ensued as to whether or not Jesus was fully tempted or whether he was truly human. Applying this information about the mind to Jesus (assuming he was a real person and he was actually fully human) then only one of two possibilities can exist that I can see:

 

1 – Jesus was truly human and his mind worked just like any other human, thus making him a victim of his own mind. His own mind would have caused him to sin, regardless of whether or not he wanted to. He was limited by the information that his brain processed. His parents made mistakes, so there is no possible way that he could have not made any mistakes. Humans learn by watching and mimicking the actions of their caretakers. He likely would have believed false or inaccurate information, and his behavior about said information would have been affected by those beliefs. This is what it truly means to be human. If Jesus was actually human, then he had to sin.

 

Or

 

2 – Jesus was in fact the Son of God and was fully God and fully human. But because of his divinity, he was able to overcome the pitfalls of his own mind and he was able to use motivated reasoning in the most efficient way possible, thus streamlining his thoughts and his schemata. He was able to avoid sin because his mind was protected by his divinity and was not subject to the same processes that normal humans have. His mind processed information that only related to his mission on earth and what he had to do to accomplish that mission. All of this was only accomplished because Jesus had an unfair advantage. This makes the “sacrifice” he made, less than honest. It makes him less than human and more divine. This gave him an unfair advantage that the rest of humanity did/does not have. And this makes him unable to relate to anyone else, despite what Hebrews says that he was tempted in all ways as we are. If number 2 is true, then Jesus was not what the bible claims and is not what Christianity claims and makes him a fraud.

 

What you just read is my understanding of the human mind and how it relates to our creation of our own worldview and how what we think and believe is influenced by forces that are, in some ways, beyond our control. It is certainly not comprehensive and certainly needs more work. But it is where I am at right now in the whole process of understanding why my mind works the way it does. I would like to stress that there is so much more regarding this topic that I have not addressed that applies well to this discussion, but that I have already written a long entry.

 

Please read more about this if you wish. I welcome any thoughts or other information that you might want to add.

 

Thanks

Storm

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Storm,

 

I still plan to post a longer comment on this essay. (And I apologize for delaying so long.) Soon after reading it, I wrote a lot of thoughts, in stream-of-consciousness style (as usual). I've been trying to refine my ideas before posting. Something you wrote on your forum thread helped me understand a little bit better why I'm having trouble clarifying my response here. I quote you from the following thread:

 

http://www.ex-christian.net/topic/66081-challenging-the-belief-that-atheism-is-the-default/page-3#entry1015436

 

Thanks Human for your input. I have read trough Orbits thread you referenced. While I understand that they're related, I struggle with philosophy. I understand many of the constructs of psychology and how the brain works, but I struggle with the more abstract concepts of reality and thought and perception that is so heavily addressed in philosophy. I will keep tabs on that thread and if I find something I can contribute, I will surely see what I can add.

 

(end quote)

 

So, I'm not sure how you are looking at this dilemma concerning Jesus. Are you viewing it theologically, psychologically, or in some other way? On the forum thread, you wrote that you struggle with philosophy. Are you struggling with the philosophical understanding of this Jesus issue here? Or are you approaching it in another way? I now tend to view the Jesus narrative (particularly in canonical scriptures) as mythical literature. So, theology and logic may not yield a fully satisfactory answer. I can, and do, view his literary character in a psychological, sociological, and philosophical manner. So, I'll look over my notes and try to post again with those approaches in mind.

 

Peace

Human

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Human

 

I think the direction I was going with the Jesus portion of my post was simply thinking out loud (if you will) on my thought process concerning how the brain works and what it does with the information it receives. Truthfully, I never intended to add the Jesus part until after writing it all out I came to those conclusions. I guess that it was just another thing that I realized made christianity less likely to be true. I think that, though I have come a long way, I am still deconverting and this was simply another thing that I have come to realize about all that I used to believe.

 

As far as philosophy goes, I would say that I sometimes have trouble with abstract thought and it sure seems that philosophy has a lot of that. Taking philosophy in college, I really found that I did not enjoy it and there was a lot I failed to connect with and, therefore, did not understand. I enjoy psychology and how the brain works. I guess you could say I enjoy the science of the mind. While I am certainly not an expert by any means, I feel like I am beginning to understand more and more about how the brain processes information and how beliefs and worldviews come to exist in our minds. I am fully aware that philosophy is very involved in this process and that it goes hand in hand with all the things that I am presenting, either here on this blog or in the thread I started.

 

As far as the dilemma involving Jesus, I think I was simply applying psychological understanding to my perception of how or why he may have acted the way he did. As I continue the deconversion process, I am challenging my own ideas of who Jesus is or was, and even whether or not he really existed.

 

Truth be told, my desire to work through my deconversion waxes and wanes daily. Some days I am interested in challenging my long held beliefs about certain things, and other days, I couldn't care less. So it appears that my deconversion will be a long process. Some days I enjoy the deep, thought provoking ideas that some of the members present (yourself included). I know that those days will likely yield good things about my understanding of the human condition and how our minds work and so on. And other days, I really have no interest in pondering the world, I prefer to just be me and let the cards fall as they may.

 

I hope this helps you understand where I am coming from.

 

Storm

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Storm,

 

I do understand. You will get to where you need to be, in the time and manner that is right for you.

 

I was about 39/40 y/o when I consciously began my deconversion. And it lasted to age 51 when I abruptly cut the cord and walked away from Christianity and the church culture for good. That was just over three years ago. Since then, I have openly regarded myself as a Humanist who is now in recovery from Christianity. And now it doesn't matter to me whether or not Jesus existed as real historical individual. I view Jesus in the New Testament literature as a mythological character. And my interests are now with the psychological and sociological implications of that myth.

 

If psychology is the science of the mind, then perhaps philosophy is the poetry of the mind, or the art of the mind.

 

Human

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We would have control, and therefore "free will," in our response to what the brain does. And we don't need the qualifier "free," because "will" itself implies autonomy, at least in intent. We have will. We have human will. Human will, with human consciousness, human awareness, is the emergent property that responds to the brain and in turn influences the brain. The brain is the vehicle, and the mind is the driver. I see the brain and mind as operating together, but also being distinct from one another. I wrote a few thoughts about this on my blog:

 

http://www.ex-christian.net/blog/225/entry-1118-thoughts-on-the-mind-and-brain-the-human-and-divine/#.VKE1R5CAA

 

Further thought, from another of my blog entries (see my blog page):

 

Believing and saying that humans don't have "free will" sounds awfully like the Calvinist Christian doctrine of predestination. Thus, acceding to this idea is simply fatalism. And submitting to predestination and fatalism is letting "God" win. And you know that can't be right. wink.png

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I can agree with what you say in regards to the mind and brain working together. But, I think that the brain does more to affect the mind than you are possibly giving it credit for. Your analogy of the brain being the vehicle and the mind the driver is a good one, but it falls short because the brain also does some of the driving. I would liken it to more of a Google car and also a driver working together to get where they want to go. The brain has a say in where the car goes and how it operates, and the mind does have some control as well.  

 

Sam Harris has written a book entitled Free Will. I haven't read it yet, but I have listened to a couple lectures that he gave while on the book tour, and he brings up some really good points about the idea of free will and why he thinks its not a viable reality. Sam is a neuroscientist and has written several books that address the topics we are discussing. I wish I was capable of reading his books more easily, but as you know, I am in the closet with my disbelief, so I haven't been able to work out a way to be able to read his books. Some day soon, I hope.

 

But Mr. Harris provides a good argument that free will is an illusion, and even more strangely, he also argues that the illusion of free will is an illusion as well. Its all crazy. My favorite lecture of his regarding free will is here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCofmZlC72g

 

I hope you have time to listen to what he says. He makes some great points and I have come to accept his view of free will.

 

I checked out your latest blog. I will ponder your thoughts and comment when I have contemplated more about it.

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