Insaine In the Membrain

I wish I was one of those people who can write about anything and keep you glued to the screen. They string together sentances into paragraphs that could say nothing but still leave me satisfied. I think these people, and artists in general, are some of the few people I envy on this planet. In anycase, Icaras again tries soaring...

Religion has consumed a lot of my thinking time lately. Over the last 6 years of college I have passed from psuedo-possibly-christian to agnostic to athiest in my own beliefs. Untill recently though I have remained largely friendly towards organized religion. I don't think I can do that anymore.

The why is not as important as the how but I suppose it is somewhat interesting too. Religion, to me, makes to much sense. I can understand why, in the complete absense of a god a belief system and social machine can evolve into organized religion as we see it today. I can also understand why individuals today would devote themselves to this system. If a god isn't necessary to explain the Church then is there a God? My answer is no.

I think the next 20 years are going to be interesting ones for organized religions and for the world in general. I have mentioned it before but cognitive neuroscience is making breathtaking advances into understanding the mechanics of the human mind. It wont take long till we can pin point, if not the location, then the underlying mechanism that makes us suseptable to religios tendencies.

Suseptable... I read an article recently that I had seen quite a while ago but as so often happens hadn't given much thought. It described how a certain parasite that lives in mice but that completes it's lifecycle in the intestines of cats actually changes the behavior of mice to increase their chances of being eaten by the cats. What it does is makes the smell of cat urin attractive to the mice. The selectivity of the parasite is amazing. It doesn't make the smell of all preditors like dogs and foxes attractive, just cats.

This parasite also infects humans. In fact, the researchers believe that probably 1 in 4 people host the little worm with the chances much much greater if you have had a cat as a pet. Now, the interesting question becomes this: what does the parasite do to us? So far the researchers in the study havn't found anything other then a possible slowing of reacting times, but that wasn't stated with much confidence.

What is more important is the open possiblity of other parasites that can change behavior in humans. The one mentioned above isn't the only one found in nature: parasites have been found in grasshopers that force them to jump into ponds where they drown and in snails that force them to crawl to the top of plants and waggle thier shells so that birds are more likely to eat them. This field is in its infancy and the possiblities are stagering.

I hope you have seen this coming! What if religion is the side effect of a parasite? Researchers have already found the area of the brain that when stimulated gives the feeling of "the pressence of another" and a chemical that when inhaled increases gullibility. Put these together with a few natural human tendencies like the urge to form groups and create hierachial social structures and you have all the fix'ns of a cult, if not full blown organized religion.

Like I said the next 20 years will be interesting ones. Can you imagine what would happen if we found a cure for religion? "Take 1 pill twice daily for two weeks and come see me if you still feel the pressence of 'God'." Would people take it?

In the deaf community cochlear implants have been fairly contraversial. Many adult and elderly deaf people fear the breakdown of their community if fewer people grow up truely deaf. Also, deafness to them was not a disease or a disability but now, with a cure, they are afraid of the change in perception of deafness within their own community. Regardless of this many parents still opt to give their children the implan because of the increased functionality they will have as adults.

With no clear individual benifit and all the cultural disadvantages of a cochlear implant I wonder if such a cure would even be offered. I have no doubt that it will be seen as an attack on religion by science and missinformation will abound. Even if the drug really does just kill a parasite growing in peoples brains there is little chance that the public will see it that way. Could this be the trigger that tips america into a theocracy? Never underestimate the power of strugling for survival to motivate a group of people.

Ok, so that was the why but the how is interesting too. About 15% of the population of Indiana can be considered without religion. The population of athiests is likely alot less then this since there is a difference between being willing to say "I am not religious" and "there is no god". In anycase since there is a negative connotation to athiesm, people don't talk about it and outside of certain circles one would have a difficult time finding others that believe similarly. 20 years ago this is expecually the case. TV, radio, newspaper, and every other source of media that I can think about from that time was dominated, if not explicity, by idea that religion is a natural part of life.

Now though, with the internet, things get very interesting. 15% of 300 million is still 45 million people. What makes the internet so different is the low cost of creating and distributing media. What does this blog cost me? Nothing but my time. Yet, people who searched for "mbti thinking feeling" or "Numa Numa" or "Human need for attention" or even "boyels law" have recently clicked on a results link that brought them to my blog (yes, this actually happens quite a bit. I think it is pretty amusing!). My blog isn't exactly a bastion of athiesm, in fact this may be the first time I have talked about it in length, but there are ones out there such as onegoodmove.org that serve as rallying points or nodes for the web of content out there. Now the minority can hear each other, loud and clear. 45 million people can now connect and communicate in ways never before possible. This is true for any non-traditional minority that doesn't already have an established culture.

There is a tremendous amount of power in the knowledge that you are not alone. The first ammendment of the constitution explicitly protects the right to peaceably assemble because it is such an impowering right that any government would be crazy not to squash it. 45 million people that were disenfrachized now can speak and act as one. As much as I hate to admit it moveon.org is an excelent example of this newfound ability.

As a side note: This is one reason why I don't think those 7 "terrorists" down in Miami should have been arrested. I believe you should be able to plan on bombing a building all you want. It is once you start to carry out your plan that you are no longer peaceably assembling.

And now my favorite part! Religion won't be the only disease of the mind that we find. For example I have always thought that my problem solving abilities came at the expense of my memory. What if we found that creativity was a disease that cured? Would I give that up to be more functional at everyday life? What if you find that some part of you can be cured, would you do it?