What do you fear?

What do you fear?

I watched a child in the mall yesterday as she was kicking and screaming. Her parents were trying their best to calm her down.

I also watched the people passing by them. Some shook their heads and saw the child as a spoiled, “give me what I want now,” child. Others paused and offered a few kind words to both the child and parents.

“You’re such a beautiful little girl. Such a beautiful girl shouldn’t cry,” one lady said.

“Don’t be so sad. We all have bad days,” added another.

“I think she’s a spoiled brat,” I heard one whisper to a friend.

None of themwere right. The child was neither spoiled nor having a bad day.

She was afraid.

The parents told me afterwards that someone carrying a coat scared her. She’s afraid of dogs. The coat looked like a big dog.

They went on to explain that it is a challenge for them to go places. Friends have dogs, neighbors nearby walk their dogs down the street.

So, you can imagine what it’s like to try to get through a day without sending your child into a panic.

I can remember, as a child walking up the steps at night I would get the feeling that someone or some thing was going to grab my feet. So, I ran most of the time.

I’ll admit that occasionally as an adult I do the same thing.

Fear – what you fear the most in life, owns you, controls you, limits you.

I struggle with the fear of heights, but I fight it. My wife sent me off in a glider on my 60th birthday. I was fine. I was better than fine, I was great!

If I could have one foolish child-like wish come true it would be to have the ability to fly like a bird.

The truth is fear can be debilitating. Fear cripples many, limits abilities to enjoy even the simplest things in life and in some cases stops people from having medical procedures that could prevent major health issues.

Fear also crushes dreams.

Sometimes our own fears are imposed on others around us affecting their views and impacting their ability to live life fully…all in the name of love, concern and good parenting.

Someone once used the acronym F.E.A.R as False Evidence Appearing Real.

I’m not sure that applies to all fear. One might have had a bad experience with a dog and now that fear is real, relevant in their lives.

But, I think the kind of fear I believe we can deal with is the fear that reinforces doubt.

In particular poor self image issues either self imposed or wrongfully fed to you by others in your life or the world in general.

Fear and doubt are enemies of faith. They are the enemy thatyou permit to control your decisions, even when you declare your faith in God.

You give them power over you. The enemy doesn’t want you to be happy, successful, or faithful. The enemy wantsyou to fail and stay there. Why?

Because successful, happy, healthy people give credit for their happiness to God even when they face their fears they declare their belief in the God who fears nothing.

“Fear prevents, faith prevails!”

Bob Perks

Bob Perks is an inspirational author and speaker. Bob’s new book I Wish You Enough has been published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. A collection of stories based on his Eight Wishes expressed below. Available through your favorite bookstore or online. Visit www.BobPerks.com

“I Wish You Enough!”
(c) 2001 Bob Perks
I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish you enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final “Goodbye.”

 

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Oedipus Complex 2.0: Like it or not, parents shape their children’s sexual preferences

On June 6, 1969, a detective in southern Michigan, apparently sensing some scholarly significance in the unusual case report before him, sat down at his desk and typed up a matter-of-fact, single page cover letter to an associate at the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University in Bloomington. The detective was writing with regard to a male patient who was being held voluntarily at a Kalamazoo psychiatric ward, a polite, self-confessed “rubberphile” who, in the darkest burrows of his own deep shame and mortification, with the electric summer hum of cicadas, the shrill of rusted gurney wheels and the groans of fellow patients as an orchestra for his thoughts, had for several long weeks before sat hunched over in his bed trying furiously to expurgate his sexual demons through his pen. “ This report is my soul and will save my life ,” wrote the patient. And it’s this report that came to land soon after on the detective’s desk, was looked at askance and stuffed in a manila envelope, borne off by airmail to Bloomington and eventually shelved discreetly with tens of thousands of other such reports in the Kinsey Institute’s unpublished archives.

Forty years later, under the soft glow of fluorescent lighting in the Institute’s library, I happened across this fetishist’s handwritten sexual autobiography—along with the detective’s austere covering note—while working on my new book Perv, and I must say that this man’s presentation of his condition was an articulate, startling self-exorcism. In a document still effervescent with fear and spanning some fifty pages of lucid, densely packed prose peppered with biblical scripture, this tortured forty-one-year-old rubber-lover—who’d been arrested for various rubber-related crimes, the most minor of these being his making thousands of indecent phone calls to department store saleswomen, inquiring about rubber bikinis for his imaginary wife while fondling laminated advertisements of elastic-clad models with one hand and himself in the other—worked feverishly to understand the origins of his own insatiable desire forrubber and flesh. To the best of his knowledge, it all started when, at the age of seven, he’d stumbled upon his mother’s glistening white rubber bathing suit hanging on a clothesline on the back porch, an arousing event that coincided with his first becoming aware of that strange stirring in his loins.

What began as an innocent enough youthful peccadillo, however, would eventually grow horns and become a highly fetishistic—and criminal—adult sexual identity. “He would type on a 3X5 card that he liked to squirt sperm into rubber caps or rubber girdles,” wrote the detective, who in clichéd administrative dishevel left the signature stain of a coffee mug on the police station memo. “Then [he would] place the cards in the victims’ mail box and sometimes under the windshield wiper of their cars.” You may think this pathological rubber-lover is an extreme case of sexuality gone awry, which it may very well be. But in studying the sexually abnormal, researchers can gain unique insight into the nuanced, otherwise hidden mechanisms of standard human sexual development and psychosexuality. The rubberphile’s early childhood exposure to his mother’s bathing suit, an impossibly white piece of material still beaded with lake water and fragrant with her perspiration, was perhaps simply coincident with a happenstance erection. Yet this alchemy was so powerful that once he massaged that elastic between his little thumb and forefinger, all was forever lost.

This basic developmental system, one in which certain salient childhood events “imprint” our psychosexuality, may not be terribly uncommon. In fact, that early childhood experiences mould our adult sexual preferences—specifically, what turns us on and off, however subtle or even unconscious these particular biases may be—could even be run-of-the-mill. And just like the institutionalized rubber-lover, the more carnally humdrum and vanilla among us might also owe our more secret preferences in the bedroom to our becoming aroused, at some point in the distant past, by our own parents, relatives or childhood friends.

Consider the case of a 29-year-old woman reported in an old Archives of General Psychiatry article, who noticed to her dismay that she wasn’t averse to a bit of sadomasochism and penis-gazing when having sex with men. On accounting for these strong erotic triggers, the woman recalled:

 

When I was four, my father once caught me masturbating. He put me over his knee and smacked my buttocks. He was in pajamas, and the slit in front of his trousers opened widely, so that I could see his big penis and dark scrotum moving quite near my mouth each time he raised his hand … Ever since, I subconsciously connected the smacking of my buttocks with the view of his penis and my first sexual excitement.

The trouble, of course, is that childhood sexual experiences, and in particular their causal relationship with adult human sexuality, is an elusive topic to study, at least in any rigorously controlled sense. It’s also an area of research that a prudish society—or at least one that views an individual’s sexuality as appearing out-of-the-blue with the first pubescent flush of hormones (or, alternatively, as unfolding in some highly innate, blueprinted sense impenetrable to experience, e.g., “the gay gene”)—prefers to look away from, in spite of its centrality to the human experience. Unlike, say, studying children’s acquisition of language, examining the precise developmental pathways to adult sexuality is more or less impossible. That’s not because it’s empirically impossible but rather only because childhood sexuality is one of those third-rail topics that gets zapped by the electric fencing of university ethics boards and is therefore at risk of always remaining little understood. So as intriguing as retrospective self-reports like the ones above may be, they are, alas, little more than anecdotes.

But never underestimate the cleverness of a good experimentalist. Although examining the precise causal links between early exposure to specific stimuli and later adult sexual preferences is not exactly amenable to experimental manipulation, there may be ways yet to explore some more general developmental mysteries of sexuality using controlled laboratory methods. For example, for many investigative purposes, children are easily enough replaced by rats, and that’s just what Yale University researchers Thomas Fillion and his colleague Elliot Blass did in a now-classic study showing just how important early developmental experiences can be in shaping adult sexuality. As reported in their 1986 study in Science , Fillion and Blass took three female rats that had just given birth to a litter of pups and experimentally altered the mothers’ odors in different ways. One of the rat dams had her teats and vagina coated with a lemony scent called citral; another dam had only her back coated with the same citral scent; and finally the third mother rat went lemonless—instead, her teats and vagina were simply painted with an odorless isotonic saline solution. So, if you’ll follow this through, once the dams were placed back with their suckling babes, the females’ litters of pups differed from one another with respect to the particular odor—or at least the location of the odor—emanating from their mothers while she nursed.

Once they were weaned, the young rats were removed permanently from their mothers and went about doing things that juvenile rats do (such as playing and, apparently, laughing). Then, at about 100 days of age, the sexually mature male rats from these initial litters were introduced, individually, to one of two receptive female rats. Here’s the trick, though. Prior to their introduction to the males, Fillion and Blass had coated one of these females perivaginally with citral scent, and they left the other with her vagina smelling au naturel. Although the citral-scented female genitals made little difference to males from the two other litters—they were happy to have sex with either female—those males that, as pups, had suckled from a mother whose teats and vagina were redolent with lemon ejaculated significantly faster when they were now paired as adults with a lemony female sexual partner. In fact, the investigators reported that these males even had trouble achieving orgasm when mating with the odorless (or at least, odorless as far as rat vaginas go) females.

But can we generalize these Oedipal rat findings to the development of human sexuality? As far as I’m aware, similar studies have not been done with our own species—although it is interesting to speculate on the possible effects of human breastfeeding on the sexual preferences and biases of adult men. (I have oftentimes wondered how many exclusively gay men there are out there who were bottle-fed as infants and whether or not, as one factor among many in such a complex phenomenon, male homosexuality is more frequent in societies in which bottle-feeding is more routinely practiced.) Tethered as we are to the idea that children are asexual, however, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know for certain whether or not these data have any analogues with human sexuality; and furthermore I’d imagine that it would be a real challenge to find mothers willing to tinker with their child’s development in this shame-ridden domain. Turning one’s son into a fetishist with an unhealthy attraction for reproductive organs that smell like Lemon Pledge may well be going above and beyond the call of scientific duty, even if it is done for admirable humanitarian reasons.

Yet there is at least one recent study that hints at related mechanisms in our species. In a forthcoming report in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign psychologist Chris Fraley and New Mexico State University’s Michael Marks—a study that would make Freud smile in his grave and give a long-fingered salute to his many critics—these investigators show that sexual attraction to one’s own biological parents isn’t as deviant or abnormal a thing as you might assume. In fact, evidence of these hidden desires, say Marks and Fraley, raise important questions for traditional psychological accounts of incest avoidance.

First, a quick primer on incest avoidance theory. Over the past few decades, and in contrast with Freud’s psychoanalytic model, most evolutionarily-minded researchers have argued that human beings possess evolved psychological adaptations designed to avoid incest. Steering clear of biological kin as sexual partners makes good sense in this respect, because having intercourse with someone who shares too much of your own genetic material tends to produce offspring with various abnormalities hindering their reproductive potential, and thus you’re compromising your own overall genetic fitness. And, indeed, numerous studies, in both our own species and others, reveal a so-called “Westermarck effect,” the alleged adaptive system named after the late-19 th century Finnish anthropologist, Edward Westermarck, who was the first to use Darwinian logic to account for the culturally universal taboo against sex with close relatives.

Over the years, scientists have worked to refine Westermarck’s basic idea, with many arguing that our species has evolved something of an unconscious kinship calculator to estimate the likely genetic relatedness of others in our environment. If the calculator produces too high a hypothetical figure in its shared genes number-crunching, then disgust and sexual aversion kicks in. For example, being raised in close proximity with another person of similar age means—to your unconscious brain that has evolved to detect such patterns, anyway—that there’s a good chance that he or she is your biological sibling. This is often cited as the main reason that cultures with “minor marriage” practices, where young girls are raised together with their future husbands in preparation for their later matrimony, tend to produce barren households, since these individuals feel little to no sexual desire for one another as adults.

The trouble with adhering too rigidly to such Westermarckian ideas, say Fraley and Marks, is that people very often end up with spouses that resemble themselves along a variety of physical dimensions—a widely observed phenomenon known as homogamy . This seems to be a matter of sexual imprinting rather than a simple preference for others who resemble us. In one study, for instance, adult married women who’d been adopted as young children were asked to bring to the lab a photograph of their adoptive father along with a separate photograph of their husband. Another group of participants, naïve to the purpose of the study, were able to match which husband went with which adoptive father at a level better than chance.

Homogamy doesn’t apply to every couple, of course, and in fact my own partner is Mexican and, fortunately for him, couldn’t look less like me—or my father, for that matter. My brother and his wife, however, could easily be mistaken for fraternal twins, and their children are perfect miniatures of the Bering-esque gestalt. Empirically, there’s no accounting yet for such individual differences in same/different erotic preferences (although, ahem, my own taste for Latinos may be due to my spending many formative years in South Florida).

While there are always exceptions to the rule, Fraley and Marks have produced a set of startling findings that have temporarily hobbled conventional Westermarckian notions . First, when college students were asked to judge photos of strangers on a scale of sexual attractiveness, the faces in the photos were seen as being significantly more appealing when they were preceded by photos of the student’s own opposite-sex parent via subliminal primes (rather than the face of another student’s opposite-sex parent). That is to say, the participants were more aroused by strangers when the image of their mother’s face (for males) or their father’s face (for females) were still burning unconsciously in their mind’s eye.

On a similar task in which participants were again asked to rate the sexual attractiveness of strangers, individuals got more hot-and-bothered by faces that were morphed with their own faces than they did for faces that were morphed with an unrelated face. In fact, the more that the participant’s face was morphed with that of the target, the more sexually attractive the participant felt the target was. Since we share 100% of genes with ourselves—a sort of experimentally created identical twin, in this case—such findings raise some intriguing new problems for traditional kinship calculator models of incest avoidance, which are often said to factor in salient physical cues reflecting likely genetic relatedness. But interestingly enough, when participants were explicitly informed that their faces had been morphed with that of the target image, this led to “diminished feelings of desire” for their own hybridized face. When individuals were made consciously aware what exactly it was that they were getting aroused by, the “incestuous” effect flat-lined. As the authors point out, it was only once Oedipus Rex—the most famously literal mother-f’er of all time—discovered that he was sleeping with his mother that he gauged out his own eyes.

Based on these findings, Fraley and Marks conclude that, although cultural taboos against incest continue to serve an important adaptive function in preventing our having sex with people that are too closely related to us,

 

 

the so-called Westermarck effect is not a result of innate mechanisms that inhibit desire for individuals with whom one was raised but is instead a result of [cultural] habituation … beneath the surface, those early experiences are setting the stage for a set of preferences that essentially co-opt early attachment and caregiving experiences in the service of sexuality, leading people to find attractive in others features that are shared by their family members.

If only that long-forgotten rubberphile knew of such curious mechanisms of sexual imprinting in humans and other animals, he may have found some solace in science rather than being relentlessly hounded by feelings of religious guilt. What an unfortunate thing to be the same in underlying principle but, owing to something largely out of one’s control, so different in technical expression.

Actually, perhaps it’s not too late for him after all. In his 1969 cover letter, the detective wrote that our rubber-lover was presently in the psychiatric ward, “ where he hopes to spend the rest of his life and he wishes to live to be a real old man.” According to my calculations, the fetishist would be eighty-two years of age today. If the Kalamazoo hospital staff was ever computer savvy and liberally-minded enough to permit their inpatients to browse online, I do hope he lived long enough to experience the sexual Renaissance of the Internet…he’d have found tens of thousands of others like him who would have happily indulged his fantasies without his resorting to criminal activity.

And maybe, just maybe, he’s reading this article right now, thinking fondly of his mother clad in white rubber.

 

 

By Jesse Bering

White Winter Hymnal – Fleet Foxes

I just love Fleet Foxes for their unique music & lyrics !

 

 

I was following the,
I was following the,
I was following the,
I was following the,
I was following the,
I was following the,
I was following the,
I was following the,
I was following the pack,
All swallowed in their coats
With scarves of red tied ’round their throats
To keep their little heads
From fallin’ in the snow
And I turned ’round and there you go.
And, Michael, you would fall,
And turn the white snow
Red as strawberries in the summertime.

I was following the pack,
All swallowed in their coats

With scarves of red tied ’round their throats
To keep their little heads
From fallin’ in the snow
And I turned ’round and there you go.
And, Michael, you would fall,
And turn the white snow
Red as strawberries in the summertime.

I was following the pack,
All swallowed in their coats
With scarves of red tied ’round their throats
To keep their little heads
From fallin’ in the snow
And I turned ’round and there you go.
And, Michael, you would fall,
And turn the white snow
Red as strawberries in the summertime.

God may work in mysterious ways–but cognitive science is getting a handle on them

God came from an egg. At least, that’s how He came to me. Don’t get me wrong, it was a very fancy egg. More specifically, it was an ersatz Fabergé egg decorated with colorful scenes from the Orient. Now about two dozen years before the episode I’m about to describe, somewhere in continental Europe, this particular egg was shunted through the vent of an irritable hen, pierced with a needle and drained of its yolk, and held in the palm of a nimble artist who, for hours upon hours, painstakingly hand-painted it with elaborate images of a stereotypical Asian society. The artist, who specialized in such kitsch materials, then sold the egg along with similar wares to a local vendor, who placed it carefully in the front window of a side-street souvenir shop. Here it eventually caught the eye of a young German girl, who coveted it, purchased it, and after some time admiring it in her apartment against the backdrop of the Black Forest, wrapped it in layers of tissue paper, placed it in her purse, said a prayer for its safe transport, and took it on a transatlantic journey to a middle-class American neighborhood where she was to live with her new military husband. There, in the family room of her modest new home, on a bookshelf crammed with romance novels and knickknacks from her earlier life, she found a cozy little nook for the egg and propped it up on a miniature display stand. A year or so later she bore a son, Peter, who later befriended the boy across the street, who suffered me as a tagalong little brother, the boy who, one aimless summer afternoon, would enter the German woman’s family room, see the egg, become transfixed by this curiosity, and crush it accidentally in his seven-year-old hand.

The incident unobserved, I hastily put the fractured artifact back in its place, turned it at an angle so that its wound would be least noticeable, and, to this day, acted as though nothing had ever happened. Well, almost. A week later, I overheard Peter telling my brother that the crime had been discovered. His mother had a few theories about how her beloved egg had been irreparably damaged, he said—one being a very accurate and embarrassing deduction involving, of all people, me. When confronted with this scenario—through first insinuation and then full-blown accusations—and wary of the stern German matriarch’s wrath, I denied my guilt summarily. Then, to get them off my back, I did the unthinkable. I swore to God that I hadn’t done it.

Let’s put this in perspective. Somewhere on a quiet cul-de-sac, a second-grader secretly cracks a flashy egg owned by a woman who’s a little too infatuated with it to begin with, tells nobody for fear of being punished, and finally invokes God as a false witness to his egged innocence. It’s not exactly the crime of the century. But from my point of view, at that moment in time, the act was commensurate with the very worst of offenses against another human being. That I would dare to bring God into it only to protect myself was so unconscionable that the matter was never spoken of again.

Meanwhile, for weeks afterward, I had trouble sleeping and I lost my appetite; when I got a nasty splinter a few days later, I thought it was God’s wrath. I nearly offered up an unbidden confession to my parents. I was like a loathsome dog whimpering at God’s feet. Do with me as you will, I thought to myself; I’ve done wrong.

Such an overwhelming fear of a vindictive, disappointed God certainly wasn’t something that my parents had ever taught me. Of course, many parents do teachtheir children such things. If you’ve ever seen Jesus Camp (2006), a rather disturbing documentary about evangelically reared children in the American heartland, or if you’ve read Sam Harris’s The End of Faith (2004), you’ll know what I mean. But my family didn’t even own a copy of the Bible, and I doubt if I had ever even heard the word “sin” uttered before. The only serious religious talk I ever heard was when my mother—who as a girl was once held down by exuberant Catholic children sifting through her hair for the rudimentary devil horns their parents told them all Jews have—tried to vaccinate me against all things evangelical by explaining how silly Christians’ beliefs were. But even she was just a “secular Jew,” and my father, at best, a shoulder-shrugging Lutheran. Years later, when I was a teenager, my mother would be diagnosed with cancer, and then, too, I had the immediate sense that I had fallen out of favor with God. It felt as if my mother’s plight were somehow related to the shenanigans I’d been up to (nothing worse than most teenagers, I’m sure, but also certainly nothing to commit indelibly to print). The feeling that I had a bad essence welled up inside me; God was singling me out for special punishment.

The thing is, I would never have admitted to having these thoughts at the time. In fact, I didn’t even believe in God. I realized there was a logical biological explanation for the fact that my mother was dying. And if you had even alluded to the possibility that my mom’s ailing health was caused by some secret moral offense on my part or hers, you would have forced my intellectual gag reflex. I would probably have dismissed you as one of those people she had warned me about. In fact, I shook off the “God must really hate me” mentality as soon as it registered in my rationalconsciousness. But there’s also no mistaking that it was there in my mind and, for a few bizarre moments, it was clear as a whistle.

It was around that time that God struck me as being curiously similar to the Mafia, offering us “protection” and promising not to hurt us (or kill us) as long as we pay up in moral currency. But unlike a hammer to the shin or a baseball bat to the back of the head, God’s brand of punishment, at least here on earth, is distinctively symbolic, coming in the form of a limitless array of cruel vagaries thoughtfully designed for us, such as a splinter in our hands, our stocks tumbling into the financial abyss, a tumor in our brains, our ex-wives on the prowl for another man, an earthquake under our feet, and so on. For believers, the possibilities are endless.

Now, years later, one of the key motivators still driving the academic curiosity that fuels my career as an atheistic psychological scientist who studies religion is my own seemingly instinctual fear of being punished by God, and thinking about God more generally. I wanted to know where in the world these ideas were coming from. Could it really be possible that they were innate? Is there perhaps something like a “belief instinct”?

In the chapters that follow, we will be exploring this question of the innateness of God beliefs, in addition to many related beliefs, such as souls, the afterlife, destiny, and meaning. You’re probably already well versed in the man in the street’s explanations for why people gravitate toward God in times of trouble. Almost all such stories are need-based accounts concerning human emotional well-being. For example, if I were to pose the question “Why do most people believe in God?” to my best friend from high school, or my Aunt Betty Sue in Georgia, or the pet store owner in my small village here in Northern Ireland, their responses would undoubtedly go something like this: “Well, that’s easy. It’s because people need . . . [fill in the blank here: to feel like there’s something bigger out there; to have a sense of purpose in their lives; to take comfort in religion; to reduce uncertainty; something to believe in].”

I don’t think these types of answers are entirely intellectually bankrupt actually, but I do think they just beg the question. They’re perfectly circular, leaving us scratching our heads over why we need to feel like there’s something bigger out there or to have a sense of purpose and so on to begin with. Do other animals have these same existential needs? And, if not, why don’t they? When looked at objectively, our behaviors in this domain are quite strange, at least from a cross-species, evolutionary perspective. As the Spanish author Miguel de Unamuno wrote,

The gorilla, the chimpanzee, the orangutan, and their kind, must look upon man as a feeble and infirm animal, whose strange custom it is to store up his dead. Wherefore?

Back when I was in graduate school, I spent several years conducting psychological research with chimpanzees. Our small group of seven study animals was housed in a very large, very sterile, and very boring biomedical facility, where hundreds of other great apes—our closest living relatives—were being warehoused for invasive testing purposes under pharmaceutical contracts. I saw too many scenes of these animals in distress, unsettling images that I try not to revisit these days. But it occurred to me that if humans were in comparably hopeless conditions as these chimpanzees, certainly the question of God—particularly, what God could possibly be thinking by allowing such cruel travesties—would be on a lot of people’s minds.

So what exactly is it that can account for that instantaneous bolus of “why” questioning secreted by our human brains in response to pain and misfortune, a question that implies a breach of some unspoken moral contract between ourselves, as individuals, and God? We might convince ourselves that it is misleading to ask such questions, that God “isn’t like that” or even that there is no God, but this is only in answer to the knee-jerk question arising in the first place.

To help us understand why our minds gravitate toward God in the wake of misfortune (as well as fortune), we will be drawing primarily from recent findings in the cognitive sciences. Investigators in the cognitive science of religion argue that religious thinking, like any other type of thinking, is something done by a brain that is occasionally prone to making mistakes. Superstitious thinking, such as seeing causal relations where none in fact exist, is portrayed as the product of an imperfectly evolved brain. Perhaps it’s understandable, then, that all but a handful of scholars in this area regard religion as an accidental byproduct of our mental evolution. Specifically, religious thought is usually portrayed by scholars as having no particular adaptive biological function in itself, but instead it’s viewed as a leftover of other psychological adaptations (sort of like male nipples being a useless leftover of the default human body plan). God is a happenstance muddle of other evolved mental parts. This is the position taken by the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, for example, in The God Delusion (2006):

I am one of an increasing number of biologists who see religion as a byproduct of something else. Perhaps the feature we are interested in (religion in this case) doesn’t have a direct survival value of its own, but is a byproduct of something else that does . . . [Religious] behavior may be a misfiring, an unfortunate byproduct of an underlying psychological propensity which in other circumstances is, or once was, useful.

Evolutionary by-product theorists, however, may have been a bit hasty in dismissing the possibility that religion—and especially, the idea of a watchful, knowing, reactive God—uniquely helped our ancestors survive and reproduce. If so, then just as with any other evolved adaptation, we would expect concepts about supernatural agents such as God to have solved, or at least to have meaningfully addressed, a particular adaptive problem in the evolutionary past. And, indeed, after first examining the mechanics of belief, we’ll eventually explore in this book the possibility that God (and others like Him) evolved in human minds as an “adaptive illusion,” one that directly helped our ancestors solve the unique problem of human gossip.

With the evolution of language, the importance of behavioral inhibition became paramount for our ancestors because absent third parties could now find out about their behaviors days, even weeks, after an event. If they failed to bridle their selfish passions in the face of temptation, and if there was even a single human witness to their antisocial actions, our ancestors’ reputations—and hence their reproductive interests—were foolishly gambled away. The private perception of being intelligently designed, monitored, and known about by a God who actively punished and rewarded our intentions and behaviors would have helped stomp out the frequency and intensity of our ancestors’ immoral hiccups and would have been strongly favored by natural selection. God and other supernatural agents like Him needn’t actually exist to have caused such desired gene-salvaging effects, but—just as they do today—the mental biases we’ll be examining certainly gave our ancestors reason to think that they did.

One of the important, often unspoken, implications of the new cognitive science of religion is the possibility that we’ve been going about studying the God question completely wrong for a very long time. Perhaps the question of God’s existence is one that is more for psychologists than for philosophers, physicists, or even theologians. Put the scripture aside. Just as the scientist who studies the basic cognitive mechanisms of language acquisition isn’t especially concerned with the particular narrative plot in children’s bedtime stories, the cognitive scientist of religion isn’t much concerned about the details of the fantastic fables buried in religious texts. Instead, in picking apart the psychological bones of belief, we’re going to focus on some existential basics. Perceiving the supernatural isn’t magic, but something patently organic: a function of the brain.

I should warn you: I’ve always had trouble biting my tongue, and we’re going to address head-on some of life’s biggest questions. Is there really a God who cares about you? Is there really a special reason that you are here? Will your soul live on after you die? Or, alternatively, are God, souls, and destiny simply a set of seductive cognitive illusions, one that can be accounted for by the unusual evolution of the human brain? It seems Nature may have had a few tricks up her sleeve to ensure that we would fall hook, line, and sinker for these spectacular ruses.

Ultimately, of course, you must decide for yourself whether the subjective psychological effects created by your evolved cognitive biases reflect an objective reality, perhaps as evidence that God designed your mind to be so receptive to Him. Or, just maybe, you will come to acknowledge that, like the rest of us, you are a hopeless pawn in one of natural selection’s most successful hoaxes ever—and smile at the sheer ingenuity involved in pulling it off, at the very thought of such mindless cleverness. One can still enjoy the illusion of God, after all, without believing Him to be real.

Either way, our first order of business is to determine what kind of mind it takes to think about God’s mind in the first place, and one crucial factor—indeed, perhaps the only essential one—is the ability to think about other minds at all.

So, onward we go.

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The Power of Perception

“While it is important to attempt to rise above individual perspectives at times, we may also use our power of perception for creative playfulness.”

 

Our greatest power as humans is our ability to perceive. To perceive something is to understand, notice, or interpret something in a particular way. In that, our ability to choose how we perceive something is our innate power of creation. Reality is to each individual what is perceived by each individual. Reality cannot ever be truly solid when it fluctuates according to each person’s understanding of it. Simply speaking, it is what one thinks it is to them. And although two people may have differing ideas of what it may be, no one person can be right or wrong. To each individual, the world is expressed through the processes of their mind and each mind is different.

Because so many humans understand this truth, the race has begun to find a way to rise above individual perception and arrive at ultimate truth. The various avenues that we take are endless. Science, religion, mysticism, philosophy, and intellectual disconnect all seek out definitive truth that is free from the interference of self. There is glory in this pursuit and it serves its purpose well enough. Yet this pursuit can sometimes inflict an unbalance in one’s ability to serve their purpose. Although we must be cautious to not solely believe in a self-created singular reality, we must also not forget that the ability to choose how we perceive is a blessing. Understanding the power of our perceptions allows us to rise above self created illusions. Using the power of our perceptions allows us to playfully create as beings in God’s image.

Seeing Beyond the Self

To avoid getting trapped within the confines of the ego, we each must learn to first identify and then consciously control our perception. There are countless tricks to identifying our ‘perceptional niche’, or the singular way that we choose to perceive and thus experience our reality. Beginning as early as childhood, one can simply explore the world around them with pure curiosity, unhindered by personal judgment. As simple as this task sounds, it can be more and more difficult as a person ages and has already begun to create the template for their world. As children, this comes simply. The ego is still fresh and new, it is yet without form seeking the role it will take in self identity and eventually the world’s identity. But as a person develops, the ego also develops, bringing with it a structure that determines how that person will see, feel, and believe what is around them. To continue on in such a way without taking the next step in identifying one’s personal perspective is to continuously limit the world to smaller and smaller restraints until, eventually, all beauty and mystery has been stripped from its capacity. Although common, such a devastating transition is not compulsory. As adults, we must take steps to avoid falling into this trap and teach ourselves how to keep our perception liquid and pliable, thus constantly renewing the awe we had for life as children.

 

The first technique that keeps our perceptions liquid is to attempt to maintain the mindset of a child. Taken out of context, this statement is outrageous. But it is the wonder and curiosity of childhood that we should seek to retain into adulthood. Curiosity is the building block for outward thinking. It gives us the reason to see things through the understandings of another. Curiosity lacks judgment and does not jump to conclusions. Rather, it is a simple interest, a question that one admits they cannot yet answer. As adults, curiosity can fade as people begin to feel as if they have the answers and begin to believe that there is only one good answer to most questions. This only helps to shrink the size of their box bit by bit.

Empathizing with others is another trick to keeping an open and changeable perspective of experience. When we concern ourselves with the experience of others, we invite that experience to become our own. Miraculous changes can occur both mentally and spiritually as a result of understanding the workings of another’s mind or emotions. Suddenly, we can perceive the world through their eyes. Many times, just a moment of doing this can lead to transformational realizations, a moment of awakening when one realizes that they are not the center of the world. Rather, they learn that they are but a mere piece to an enormous puzzle where each piece has a different angle of view.

Integrity is a direct path to unfixed perceptions and thus to unending knowledge. When a person is truly honest with their self, they unavoidably acknowledge that they are not perfect. Integrity leads a person to embrace mistakes, failures, and being wrong; welcoming these things as invitations to growth. The more that we acknowledge our own imperfections, the more open we are to experimenting with new ways of seeing and understanding things. If I admit that I do not know it all, for example, I am willing myself to seek out the places where there may be more to learn. This then inevitably leads to experimentation with new perspectives and fresh outlooks.

The Power of Understanding Perception

There is great personal power in understanding what perception can do in one’s life. When a person understands the level influence that their outlook has on events, they can learn how to control and even extinguish the damaging ones. This allows a person to fully experience the world around them without the interruption of a limited viewpoint. In the 1950s, the perspective of many U.S. citizens was played with and used as a pawn in a game of wars. Because of this entrapment of perceptional limitations, many things were completely misunderstood and led to actions that would have otherwise been unthinkable.

Because of history such as this, some people focus intently on singling out personal perceptions, questioning them, and re-aligning them as much as possible. This of course is the only way to learn. If any one person continues to look at things the same way day in and day out, then they will never learn anything new about what they are seeing. But, if a person chooses to question themselves and what they think they know, suddenly a whole new world of understanding can open up before them.

The Power of Using Perception

Although there are clear dangers in the ability to choose how we perceive things, there is also great wonders and excitement. Perceiving the world in the way that we choose is a gift that literally gives us the ability to choose our experience. How I see the world today should not be the way that I see the world tomorrow. If it is, then I have learned nothing today. However, how I choose to see the world today also dictates how I will experience it tomorrow. What each of us perceives is what we will react to and thus what we will create. Knowing this, we can choose to perceive it however we like in order to create what we like. The key is in remembering to never stick to one limited scope. If a person wishes to experience happiness, for example, then all they have to do is perceive the world as encouraging and embracing it. This does not have to be hard. On the contrary, the possibilities are endless. Every single event in a day is a provocation of our minds to choose how we experience it.

 


Falling in Love with the feeling of falling in love

The feeling of falling in love is of the most exciting, thrilling and life changing events. Falling in love can change your entire outlook on life. Falling in love can occupy your mind and seem to take away all of life’s problems. However, falling in love can bring about a serious problem of endless heartaches if a person falls in love too fast. Let us look at what brings about the feeling of needing to fall in love, what defines true love and the string of broken hearts that can occur if one falls in love too quickly.

With these key elements examined, a person may realize that they are too rapidly generating the feeling of falling in love, and in doing so, producing unfortunate consequences. A life filled with a great amount of broken hearts predictably points to a great amount of relationships in which the person fell in love too quickly. Once acknowledged as a source of heartaches, one can achieve a more realistic approach to falling in love and finding someone special.

The majority of adult single people undoubtedly desire the ultimate feeling of being in love with another person. Instilled in people’s minds is that love will bring happiness, safety and security. Most people are witness to a loving relationship from a very young age, as we witness the love of our parents. As adults, the media overwhelms us with love stories. Countless advertising bombards us to find love. When one is single, it may seem that everywhere they look; there are couples holding hands, talking and laughing together. This can produce an overpowering desire for a person to find love.

Real and genuine love means connecting in ways that are almost indescribable. Present are the key elements that each desire in a relationship. There is a strong emotional attachment, as well as an intense physical attraction. The two people in the relationship spent time thoroughly getting to know the each other. These people will understand each other quirks and habits. They will learn each other’s history and the life that they lived up until they met. After sometime, a feeling of comfort and admiration occurs. As beautiful as it sounds, if love is going to happen, both will have a feeling of “fitting together” and “finding their better half”. If both people involved in the relationship are content and their desires fulfilled, as time moves on, an increasing feeling of devotion and affection will change into a deep and strong feeling of love.

Without these fundamentals in place, having the feelings of falling in love exceedingly prematurely can result in needless heartbreaking outcomes. It is true that being single can sometimes produce intense feelings of loneliness. These feelings of solitude and wanting acceptance into a loving relationship can make one push for a relationship that is not correct for them. Beginning to spend time with another, sometimes a person will mistake the feeling of acceptance for the feeling of love. Love is not something easily obtained. For long periods, love can escape us, as we search for that someone special that we wish for in our lives.

Telling yourself that you are in love, does not create love. If not all of the essentials of genuine love are in place, convincing yourself that you are in love does not magically produce those necessary elements. If in almost every relationship you enter, you fall in love within a couple weeks or even days, you must ask yourself; are you really in love?

Undoubtedly, falling in love produces a magnificent euphoric high. The emotion of finding one’s “soul mate” fulfills a deep desire to bond with someone. True love is such a rare find. In terms of realistic expectations, one simply cannot sincerely be in love with every person they meet or date. Allowing yourself to feel you are in love with almost everyone you connect with, in a small measure of time, only will lead to ultimate disappointment. Sincerely asking yourself the question, “Was it really true love?” may give you the knowledge that perhaps you did not actually experience love. This is not to imply you did not admire someone, like spending time with him or her or had lust for him or her. However, did real love exist? Comprehending that it did not, may lessen the sense of feeling betrayed and the feeling of being wounded from relationships gone astray.

To free yourself from being the victim of lost “love”, give yourself the time to unequivocally get to know and appreciate someone, allowing love to happen in it’s own due course. Do not impulsively rush into a state of feeling in love. Seriously consider all of the factors that ensure a real and lasting love. Give this feeling time to develop. Only then, can you truly know that you are in love.