The Neverending Godfomercial, part n+1: “Monkey See, Monkey Did”
As promised in the first installment, how visual and anecdotal validation of the “existence” of supernatural demons “validates” the belief in the existence of life after death, and the concepts of Heaven and Hell.
First, that which can be concluded about the nature of the human animal based on the behaviors of early civilizations, direct observation, and behaviors of other mammals. Man is a pack animal, similar to dogs in that stone-age man practiced cooperative hunting. It is also likely to a degree of near certainty that early proto-tribes were based on the same type of alpha-male hierarchy as can be observed among the great apes. This culture was further refined into the bureaucratic hierarchies that we know today through refinement of the pecking order. This refinement came about through specialization of tribe members, the taking of slaves in inter-tribal war, and the self-promotion efforts of early shaman-priests. Whatever your opinion of their methods, you have to admire the success of the priest class in becoming the power behind the throne. If you think much has changed since the early days, contemplate the toppling of the Shah of Iran, or the fact that no atheist is electable to high office in the US at the present time.
The success of religious practices to form patterns of belief is attributable in part to the behaviors of early man. The earliest form of communication is by example. This is how a mother cat teaches her kittens to hunt, and how the earliest hominids passed on knowledge that helped them survive. There is a hard-wired mechanism in the brain that actually acquires sense memory of an observed action before a person actually repeats that action.
Formation of a Motor Memory by Action Observation Abstract:
“Mirror neurons discharge with both action observation and action execution. It has been proposed that the mirror neuron system is instrumental in motor learning. The human primary motor cortex (M1) displays mirror activity in response to movement observation, is capable of forming motor memories, and is involved in motor learning. However, it is not known whether movement observation can lead directly to the formation of motor memories in the M1, which is considered a likely physiological step in motor learning. Here, we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to show that observation of another individual performing simple repetitive thumb movements gives rise to a kinematically specific memory trace of the observed motions in M1. An extended period of observation of thumb movements that were oriented oppositely to the previously determined habitual directional bias increased the probability of TMS-evoked thumb movements to fall within the observed direction. Furthermore, the acceleration of TMS-evoked thumb movements along the principal movement axis and the balance of excitability of muscle representations active in the observed movements were altered in favor of the observed movement direction. These findings support a role for the mirror neuron system in memory formation and possibly human motor learning”.
Katja Stefan,1,3 Leonardo G. Cohen,1 Julie Duque,1 Riccardo Mazzocchio,1 Pablo Celnik,1 Lumy Sawaki,1 Leslie Ungerleider,2 and Joseph Classen3
1Human Cortical Physiology Section, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke-National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, Maryland 20892, 2Laboratory of Brain and Cognition, National Institute of Mental Health-NIH, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, and 3Human Cortical Physiology and Motor Control Laboratory, Department of Neurology, University of Würzburg, 97080 Würzburg, Germany
Before there was a spoken language, humans communicated through gestures and signals. This allowed hunters to coordinate their efforts over distance. This represents a leap forward in mental acuity. The meaning of a gesture is now tied to an agreed-upon interpretation. In other words, the gesture is symbolic. The reliance on symbolic interpretation deepened as the Human Race developed written language. Humans have an instinctual prejudice toward assigning meaning to, and interpreting symbols such as flags, emblems, and ritual behavior.
Brain activity during observation of actions. Influence of action content and subject's strategy
"PET (Positron Emission Tomography) was used to map brain regions that are associated with the observation of meaningful and meaningless hand actions. Subjects were scanned under four conditions which consisted of visually presented actions. In each of the four experimental conditions, they were instructed to watch the actions with one of two aims: to be able to recognize or to imitate them later. We found that differences in the meaning of the action, irrespective of the strategy used during observation, lead to different patterns of brain activity and clear left/right asymmetries. Meaningful actions strongly engaged the left hemisphere in frontal and temporal regions while meaningless actions involved mainly the right occipitoparietal pathway. Observing with the intent to recognize activated memory-encoding structures. In contrast, observation with the intent to imitate was associated with activation in the regions involved in the planning and in the generation of actions. Thus, the pattern of brain activation during observation of actions is dependent both on the nature of the required executive processing and the type of the extrinsic properties of the action presented."
J Decety, J Grezes, N Costes, D Perani, M Jeannerod, E Procyk, F Grassi and F Fazio Processus mentaux et activation cerebrale, Inserm Unit, Bron, France.
How does this all relate to the Neverending Godfomercial, and the fostering of supernatural and religious belief? Every time you watch a movie where some poor slob is running away from a growly-voiced minion of Pure Evil ®, there is a part of your brain that processes it as if it were happening to you. If your critical thinking skills have been impaired through years of repetitive brainwashing, bullshit, and induced self-doubt and shame, you will be prone to accept this fictional input as possible, or even real. In your mind, you will run in front of the threat along with the protagonist, like an animal running ahead of a forest fire. The same impulse that brings the armchair athlete out of the chair when a player scores a goal will cause your heart to pound as if the fantasy you are watching is really happening to you. If you have a prejudice for believing in supernatural beings and magic, you have just had that prejudice validated through fictional events that part of your brain treats as actual events. Or, to express this symbolically, “Oooga Booga!” You’ve been had (again).