posted on Nov, 23 2014 @ 09:47 PM
The more I study and research interpersonal neurobiology, the more impressed I am that humankind is finally arriving at a clearer idea of how we can
share a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the Universe.
Just the other day I finished Darcia Narvaez' phenomenal book "Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality". When I was done reading and I
had time to think about it, I thought "This is IT. This is exactly what humanity needs: a more objective way to think about the subjective mind".
One of the problems that plagued human ideology is it's arbitrariness. People lament again and again - and this is what post-modernism and
post-structuralism was all about - "Its Arbitrary! Every belief system is a castle of air built on a few flimsy facts"; and to be honest, that
critique is largely true.
When you look at the dominant religions of the west - and in all of human history - we run again and again into a belief system that might be dubbed
"an imagined order". Imagined orders are what human beings create - largely unconsciously - but feel the intersubjective pull to create them, in
order to tame the beasts of conflict and suffering. You can look at some of the earliest ones, such as the Code of Hammurabi, and you can think "wow,
that was good" - an it was; Hammurabi's code was a progressive development in mankinds history. Yet, at the same time, much of what it is predicated
upon is utter nonsense: Enlil, Marduk, three classes of people? None of it is remotely objective: it's exists purely in the imagination. Similarly,
one could look at modern day Islamism and Evangelical Christianity and come to the exact same conclusion: all these suppositions that are made aren't
even acknowledged as suppositions! And its precisely this absent minded positing of things that can't be objectively validated that FUELS and
instigates human conflict.
The problem I speak of is the issue of myth. Jesus and the stories of the New Testament; Moses and the various stories of the old testament. Mohommad
and the stories of Quran. Of what value does an "objective" i.e. historical reading, add to human society and relations? Absolutely none. In fact,
it is quite apparent that a literalist reading feeds into a dynamic of social heirarchy; those who claim "superior knowledge" because they have
identified themselves "with the in-group" who accepts the historical "facts" of Jesus, Moses or Mohommad. This issue wouldn't arise if the myths
were seen as myths; if they were understood as allegorical representations of an ancient theology which resonates with the worshipers chosen theology.
But this is not the case. The literalist concept holds, and as it holds, people are broken off from one another, and one could veritably say "this is
subjective, mythological nonsense".
Conversely, although Eastern religions are riddled with a similar mythological packaging, it is less strenuously concealed by popular imagination as
western religions are. This has allowed the development of Buddhism, in 500 BCE, a spiritual tradition devoted to an EMPIRICAL exploration of
Why is this so important? And why do I claim that Eastern religions will be the 'spiritual basis' of a future humanity? It is simple. When every
individual comes to face the reality of his own existence, in realities terms, and not his own, every individual comes to a similar understanding of
what sort of situation the human being finds itself in. In other words, by relating to ones own consciousness in a metacognitive way, an "objective"
perspective is established. The non committed "inner observer" looks at what happens within, and can see "ah, ok, so I'm influenced at every
moment by other minds; and they by mine; each of us exist in a web of intersubjective relationships".
This is important knowledge, and it's factual knowledge. From the very first moment we enter this world, our biology has been shaped by the thoughts
of another person: our mothers. Not just her thoughts, but her own relationships, the foods she chooses to eat, and the rest she gets - all of which
happens in a relational matrix - 'trickles' down into the placenta as relevant molecular cues that guide the infants neurobiological development.
From the get go, mind and body - life - are in constant interaction.
But what about differences in temperament? Developmental Neurobiology is giving us insights that promise to transform Human society for the better. Is
it genes? Is that what makes us different? This is what selfish gene theorists believe, but the fact is, thus far, all research indicates that events
which shape the developing mind are epigenetic - which means "above" the gene. Some of these processes are DNA methylation and acetylation of
histione proteins. Molecular biologists studying rats have shown that "good mothering" i.e. licking and grooming of rat pups, leads to methylation
of genes that control the production of 'reactivity' to the environment. In other words, methyl groups switch genes "on" or "off".
The implications of such research are astounding. If what we regard as "temperament" is nothing more than a personality enculturated to an
environment that discourages or encourages intersubjective connection, than that means how our societies work, and indeed, how human beings feel with
one another, is almost entirely under our control.
The problem is sticky because human beings are extraordinaily social creatures. In fact, social neuroscientists have shown that the 'default' brain
state - as shown by fMRI - is identical to states where the subject is told to think about somebody else. In short, our brains are wired, from the get
go, for intersubjectivity. Which means, traits we generally describe as vices - narcissism, greed, aggression - are largely defences against that
quintessential social emotion which governs human self development: shame. And because shame leads to anxiety and a general breakdown of the conscious
mind, our minds unconsciously activate surprisingly sophisticated mental structures to defend against it.
Whats taken for normal today, with our consumerist, romanticist, capitalistic culture, are simply bad-habits emerging gradually but becoming over time
a "baseline" from which certain thinkers and theorists treat to be 'biologically inevitable'. This is what Steven Pinker, Daniel Kahneman and
other 'dispassionate' evolutionary psychologists aver. But given the constant interaction between biology and culture, and the prominent role
epigenetics plays in "turning on or off" certain genes which control certain neuromolecular processes, human beings DO have power to influence how
Western Science gives us an objective view into the world around us and inside of us. Eastern Spirituality, for it's part, gives us a concept that
turns the subjective mind into an "objective object" - namely, mindfulness. Mindfulness turns the mind into a "thing", which gives each of us the
much needed 'detachment' necessary to see just how it is our minds function; how they're influenced by others, by foods, and what each of us can do
to maximize states of joy, pleasure and well being, and diminish depression, pain and suffering.