Canada's National Post has started a five part series on the subject of belief and yesterday, Sam Harris, the author of a couple well known books, described some of his doctoral research at UCLA. Let's get to it:
What was particularly surprising, [Harris] said, was that there werevirtually identical patterns of brain activation whether someone was being asked to evaluate a straightforward proposition, such as two plus two equals four, or something that tested an ethical belief, such as whether torture is just or unjust.
We now know that emotion is necessary for thought. So the idea that dispassionate and passionate evaluations of propositional statements share similar brain patterns isn't necessarily surprising.
I believe that belief, whether it's the understanding that you won't fall putting one foot in front of the other or faith in a supernatural mover, goes to core of what it means to be human. It's basic. It is, as Harris says elsewhere, the basis for much human activity and the "engine for conflict and reconciliation." Being rid of belief means being rid of biology.
And since I had just written something on truth and beauty, this statement in the National Post piece also appealed:
Mr. Harris's study concluded with the poetic notion that 'truth may be beauty, and beauty truth, in more than a metaphorical sense and that false propositions may actually [physically] disgust us.'
Cognitive dissonance takes a bodily toll. Conversely, Jeffrey Schwartz might have something to say about how cognitive consonance might change our biology.
Whether it's Krista Tippet, whose series on faith I almost always manage to save to my del.icio.us bookmarks, or others, the centrality of belief to our waking, walking, spiritual lives, makes thoughtful conversation around the subject welcome here.
Give the National Post article a read. It's brief.