I recently read an article at The Guardian that seemed to back up a few ideas I'd read about on weblogs and heard in podcasts. In the article, titled "Our brains, and how they're not as simple as we think," Vaughan Bell describes the prevalence of neuroscience lingo in our everyday perceptions of ourselves. Bell writes,
The popular interest in the brain means that we increasingly have a "folk neuroscience" that is strongly linked to personal identity and subjective experience. Like folk psychology it is not necessarily very precise, and sometimes wildly inaccurate, but it allows us to use neuroscience in everyday language in a way that wasn't previously credible for non-specialists.
Carol Tavris calles this "pseudoneuroscience." Pseudoneuroscience acts like a means of discourse where we make reference to neuroscience to back up our perceptions of ourselves. Naturally, we do this backwards. Unlike scientific discourse, pseudoneuroscience tends to select a conclusion and seek a semiscientific means to back it up. It's practically a type of apologetics, where we see a conclusion and then selectively choose the references that will fit our preconceived conclusions.
I'm not entirely certain about which term I like best. "Folk neuroscience" might fit the concept better on a common person-to-person level.
I get really excited about neuroscientific findings, especially when they're reported from credible sources. I often can't help but apply them to my own life. But take a look at the list of examples at the end of the Guardian article. Haven't we all grabbed onto one of these little folk neuroscience myths at one time or another?
■ The "left-brain" is rational, the "right-brain" is creative
People make medical and social decisions based on these myths, decisions for themselves, their children, their friends and family. And these ideas are myths.
But how can you work a myth out of the culture? I guess you can't. That's how myths work. Sigh.
Fred and Sharon Spencer, of Kelowna BC, reached a certain degree of viral Internet fame back in 2008 with their "Who Needs a Movie" video. Since then, Fred has continued to make heartfelt, expressive videos of everything from love songs to celebrity impressions. Although their fame has since subsided, well, I think this misguided, yet wonderful video of Fred trying to rap could bring it back. I'm sad to see that it's only got 1000 views in its first six days.
I love the recording of "Gasoline and Matches" from Buddy and Julie Miller's Written in Chalk. I think the studio version has one of Buddy's best guitar solos. But this live version is solid as well.
I came across this wonderful "concert" the other day, with Lyle Lovett on Lyle and Luka Bella on fiddle. I would have loved to be at this gig.
The first song he plays, "Cowboy Man," is one of Lovett's best songs, with loads of ridiculous double-entendre and imagery. However, he recorded the song on his first album, and his first album drips with that reverby 80s production, when producers had forgotten how to record acoustic instruments. This version is much better than the studio recording. The performance of the song that he made for E-Town in 2001 is even better.
I have sat through many sermons about finding your way through the eyes of needles and the "love of money"'s ability to ruin your life. Preachers like to talk about money because it's an issue for everyone and churches need money to survive. It's an easy thing for religious leaders to tell people where to put their money. It's "low-hanging fruit."
At the same time, financially successful church members are often the most respected members of a religious community. People see their wealth as evidence that God has blessed them. As long as they don't brag about how much money they have, people don't tend to mind if you're a wealthy Christian, at least to your face. If you're wealthy, just be modest about it. It's a tension few Christians can balance before they shrug their shoulders and find a red herring to use.
Recently, the CBC posted a story about the ways richer countries abandon religion when times get better. The article reads,
More recent polls have found similar divisions between rich and poor nations. The 2009 Gallup Inc. religion survey, which sampled about 1,000 people in each of 114 countries, found that among nations with a per capita income of less than $2,000, 95 per cent of respondents, in the median, answered "Yes" to the question: "Is religion an important part of your daily life?"
In my Christian days, this statistic would have merely backed up my preconceived notions. I would have thought, "Of course money draws you away from God. Money is a powerful force that can control your life." I would have walked away fromm reading this article thinking that it confirmed my bias that money is evil and that I should stay away from it.
Now, my thoughts go the other way: "Of course people don't need God when the going's good; it gives them the opportunity to live a satisfying life on their own." Money buys education, leisure, mobility, and all the things that make preconceived notions harder to defend.
I don't have much money. I have an alright job and a good family. Currently, however, I live in Egypt where the divide between rich and poor is enormous and obvious. We have people who live in the parkades beneath the villas where we live. They have loads of children and next to no money. They are religious. At the school where I work, the workers who obviously get paid a pittance can often be seen praying more often, whereas the more well-off staff members are clearly more, well, liberal. But this is all anecdotal; the CBC article says it all clearer.
I'd even suggest that these different groups worship different gods altogether. Rich God has different characteristics than Poor God does. He has different interests, attitudes, and requirements. I don't think we have any way to know that we worship the same god as the person next to us, even if we worship in the same building or address the same name. Religion thrives on this subjectivity.
YouTube: ephemeral ideas
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