Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Religious Brain

You might have even noticed I haven’t been poking at religion lately over these pages, at least not as often as I used to. Religion has acquired the status of old news, and poking at this soft target feels like laying down banana peels in front of a blind person (although I will add that pointing the “virtues” of religion to the blind is analogous to handing them a walking stick, a guide dog and a pair of perfectly functioning eyes).

Which brings me to a new argument against religion, an argument of a type I was unaware of before. To give credit where credit is due, I read it in Sam Harris’ latest book, Waking Up.
It goes like this:
We already know that it is possible to severe the connection between a person brain’s left and right hemisphere. This is a medical technique that is used to reduce the damage resulting from electrical storms in the brain so as to avoid strokes and such. We also know that when this happens, the person displays two separate consciousnesses: one of the left brain and one of the right (with the caveat that the right one lacks the ability to talk; talking is a mostly left brain affair).
Now let us imagine that the left brain’s consciousness is that of a devoted Christian but the right is a rather sceptic atheist. Is this person going to hell or not? Or did this surgical procedure of severing the brain cause the person to have two separate souls?

In case you’re curious, the answer that science indicates at (disclaimer: we do not know that much about consciousness yet) is that what we perceive as consciousness is a multifaceted affair that should not be treated with religion’s blunt and archaic approaches (e.g., its concept of the soul).

Image by TZA, Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0) licence

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