This is Your Brain on Religion — This is Your Brain on Science

By Doug Marman

The main premise of the Lenses of Perception theory is that there are fundamental lenses—ways of seeing—and we can only perceive through one lens at a time. A recent series of experiments validates this idea.

Researchers from Case Western University and Babson College published a study three weeks ago titled, Why Do You Believe in God? Relationships between Religious Belief, Analytic Thinking, Mentalizing and Moral Concern.

Their test results show that when people think of religious matters, their brains suppress critical thinking. And when they focus on scientific topics, their brain suppresses religious thoughts.

“It suggests religious beliefs and scientific thinking clash because different brain areas are involved in both cognitive processes.”[1]

Thinking about science and thinking about religion requires two different brain networks, and both networks suppress the other. ("Say your prayer" photo by Joachim Bär. Eucaryote cell illustration from Wikipedia.)

Thinking about science and thinking about religion require two different brain networks, and both networks suppress the other. (“Say your prayer” photo by Joachim Bär. Eucaryote cell illustration from Wikipedia.)

In other words, the experiments showed clearly that working with science involves one brain network, while religion works with a completely different network. And the two networks interfere with the other, making it hard to use both at the same time.

The fact that these brain networks clash with each other is one reason we see conflicts between religious belief and science. However, lenses of perception theory suggests that this isn’t the underlying cause.

Our brains evolved these two networks for a reason: The world is governed by different ways of seeing. This isn’t just about the lenses that human beings use. It reaches all the way down to the level of subatomic particles.

Everything works this way because the world isn’t created by outer forces. It comes into existence through conscious experiences, at every level. That’s why perception plays such an important role.

For example, the scientific perspective uses a third-person lens. That’s the lens we use when looking at the world as if we’re outside observers. This turns out to be the best approach for studying mechanical reactions because particles go along with the outsider perspective. This is why, when trying to analyze a cause-and-effect process, third-person lenses give us the clearest picture of what’s happening.

But the world isn’t just mechanical. Relationships also hold groups together and connect beings to each other. These ties emerge from second-person experiences, created by common interests shared with others.

Second-person perceptions are the basis of all relationships. However, they come in two distinct forms.

First, there is a sense of empathy that allows us to relate one-on-one with another person or animal. We experience this with friends and our pets when we connect with them.

When someone we care about is in pain, we actually feel it. At the subatomic level this is known as entanglement. If two particles become entangled, they literally form an invisible alignment that reaches across time and space. This is one of the many mind-boggling features of quantum physics that make sense when we see them as relationships.

The second type of second-person perception gives us our moralistic sense of the right thing to do. Moral concerns emerge from connections to groups such as communities we belong to, companies we work for, or even our feeling for the human race or the whole of life. Working together with others shows us that we can create something greater as part of a group.

This is where our sense of responsibility comes from. We want to contribute. We want our lives to mean something. I call this the “all-for-one bond,” because it’s a special relationship that team members have with each other when working toward a singular goal.

At the level of fundamental particles, the same force holds atoms together. And in biology, cells bind to the organisms they belong to for the same reason.

So, our brain evolved ways of seeing these patterns of behavior because the world is shaped by these relationships.

The research paper, above, ran tests to see the difference between empathy and moral concern. They wanted to determine how each of these two types of relationship relate to religious belief. Surprisingly, they found that only the moralistic sense showed a strong connection. Empathy played hardly any role at all in the religious experience.

This is exactly what the lenses of perception theory predicts. Religion comes from our sense that there is a higher purpose to life and that a life with meaning comes from working with others for something beyond ourselves. This doesn’t belong to religion alone. Scientists also feel the sense of purpose that comes from working with others for the advancement of science.

This raises another interesting point reported by the above paper: There is no reason why we can’t move back and forth between religion and science, between our moral sense and an analytic perspective. We simply need to learn that they engage two different ways of seeing. Two different brain networks are involved. This means that we need to change lenses when shifting from one to the other.

“The study also points out that some of the great scientists of our times were also very spiritual men. ‘Far from always conflicting with science, under the right circumstances religious belief may positively promote scientific creativity and insight,’ says Tony Jack, lead author of the study. ‘Many of history’s most famous scientists were spiritual or religious. Those noted individuals were intellectually sophisticated enough to see that there is no need for religion and science to come into conflict.’”[2]

[1] http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/critical-thinking-suppressed-brains-people-who-believe-supernatural-1551233

[2] http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/critical-thinking-suppressed-brains-people-who-believe-supernatural-1551233

Making Life Your Friend

By Doug Marman

What’s everywhere but is hard to find? The spiritual path. Discovering it is never easy. First we must to go through a major struggle and search. Only a deep hunger and desire for the inner meaning of life can bring us to the threshold where the spiritual path is possible.

"Stairway to Heaven" by Beniamin Pop

“Stairway to Heaven” by Beniamin Pop

Why? Why is it that no matter how openly the path is taught and how simply it is explained, it’s still so difficult to find? This is the age-old paradox.

With the new understanding described in the book, Lenses of Perception, we have a new way of explaining what is happening: A new lens—a new way of seeing—is needed to recognize the spiritual path. It can’t be seen by only looking at the world as if we were standing on the outside looking in.

The problem is that changing our fundamental way of seeing is traumatic. We need to let go of how we view ourselves and our place in the world. Then we must pass through a zone of not-knowing, before we can recognize the reality of a new perspective.

As a result, people feel lost just before finding the spiritual path. This is a universal experience. It feels as if the whole foundation of life disappears before a new light dawns.

The spiritual path only opens up for us after we make an inner connection with life. This is why many people feel that something is missing. They felt closer to life as children, but they don’t know how to get that joy of discovery back. How do we restore the link?

The good news is that we never lose this ability. We’ve simply forgotten the path because we change our way of seeing when we grow up. Our objective, third-person view of ‘the world out there’ blinds us to our inner experiences. This is why we miss the subtle opportunities of the spiritual path all around us. The solution is simply to remember the lens we used as children.

"Boys Will Be Boys" by Amy Burton

“Boys Will Be Boys” by Amy Burton

Our childlike sense if wonder comes from a second-person point of view. This way of seeing doesn’t look at the world as an object. It sees everything as if it were alive, as if it were a living being.

Think of the words you write to a lover or a close friend. “I wish you were here. I miss you. I thought of you today…” You call your friends YOU. That’s a second-person perspective. Spending time with your friends creates invisible connections. These bonds are made from the second-person perceptions you share with them.

We can feel the same relationship with all of life. We only need to change our lens. That’s when we remember that we have always been connected and always will be.

But remember: If you want to make the whole of life your friend, you must be a friend. Look forward to every day. Greet your mornings and evenings with a kiss. Become a lover—not of the outer world—but of life itself.

However, this is just the first step in finding the spiritual path. Waking up to our second-person connection with life isn’t enough. The real change takes place after we find the “all-for-one” bond. This is what lifts us up out of our limited consciousness into something larger.

As I explained in, Lenses of Perception, the all-for-one bond is a special relationship that forms from second-person connections. It only happens when conscious beings connect with beings at a higher level, such as living cells bonding with an organism, forming its body. We see the same thing when employees follow leaders in an organization.

"Magic Forest" by Rodrigo Lozano

“Magic Forest” by Rodrigo Lozano

Therefore, the spiritual path begins when we find an Inner Master. That’s where our search is leading us.

Finding a true inner teacher links us to a higher consciousness that uplifts us. This connection is what allows us to experience the magic of the spiritual path. It’s an inner experience, and once we see it working in our lives the whole meaning of life changes for us.

Following the spiritual path requires a commitment, but not to an outer form or person—it’s an inner relationship. The same is true with all second-person relationships, they’re not held together by outer forms, they are inner bonds. Friendships and families survive because people are willing to make sacrifices for each other. That’s what keeps the bonds alive. The same is true for the spiritual path.

However, we need a whole new way of seeing, to understand what it means. This has nothing to do with belief. It’s all a matter of perception.

The commitment we make is not to the Inner Master directly, but to the uplifting wave of spirituality that flows through the all-for-one bond. This only works if the Inner Master is also working for a higher state of consciousness. As Lenses of Perception shows, the same force drives all of evolution. That’s why we see a hierarchy in the structure of life forms, with genes working for cells, cells working for organisms, and organisms coming together for the sake of societies.

The difference with the all-for-one bond on the spiritual path is that it connects us to an inner hierarchy. Thus, no matter where we might stand in that hierarchy, we always seem to be in the middle, since there are always those above us who we can learn from, and those below who we can help.

With the right lens, the invisible path becomes visible.

Spirituality and Atheism Are Not Opposites

By Doug Marman

Previously, I wrote about The Difference Between Spirituality and Religion.

Here’s a quick summary: Followers of religion look to outer forms for worship—whether a holy book, a savior, a sacred place, or God.

Seekers of spirituality, on the other hand, look more to inner experiences as the source of their inspiration. These can be simple feelings of a connection with life, or a deep sense of wonder that changes how we see the world.

This difference leads to a surprising conclusion: Spirituality and atheism are not opposites.

Religion and atheism are clearly at odds with each other. Atheists openly reject the existence of God. They see deities as myths created by human beings. Most religions, however, say that belief in God or a higher power is crucial.

These positions are polar opposites. How can spirituality escape this age-old battle?

The answer comes from what causes the conflict between atheism and religion: It springs from differing beliefs.

Belief, however, is secondary for those who walk the spiritual path. Inner experiences can occur at any time and change our relationship with life. So, it’s more important to stay open and listen inwardly to the purpose hidden in the present moment. Planting a flag in the ground to demonstrate our belief can limit our abilities to catch life’s subtleties.

bird-in-the-wind-800px-DavidMackenzie

Bird in the Wind by David Mackenzie

All of this means that spirituality-minded people can, at times, find themselves aligned with atheists in surprising ways.

For example, both atheists and spiritual seekers agree on the importance of searching for truth and that each person should come to their own conclusions about God and the meaning of life. The personal quest to understand is too important to settle for simplified answers passed down by others.

Traditional followers of religion disagree. Their teachings are built on practices and doctrines that have been tested and proven by thousands of people, over the centuries. They see their teachings as timeless, originating from a divine source.

As a result, religious belief often leads to the perception that there are outsiders and insiders.

This is an idea that both atheists and those who follow their own individual spiritual path oppose. However, they have different reasons for rejecting the idea of outsiders and insiders.

Atheists claim that the religious emotion of being on the inside—the feeling that they are “the chosen ones”—is irrational and based on superstitious thinking. Atheists want to have nothing to do with being in such a group.

Spiritual seekers agree that we shouldn’t be sorting people into outsiders and insiders, but for a different reason: Everyone can experience a spiritual connection with life. Neither birth nor belief are the deciding factor, because we all have this inner link. It’s only a matter of becoming aware of it. Therefore, those who follow spiritual paths often feel closer to the founders of religion than their followers, because the founders went beyond religious traditions to make contact with a deeper truth.

In other words, spiritual freedom is more important than being right, to those who follow their own path. Belief can trap and limit a person’s consciousness just as much as it can open new doors. Even objectivity and logical thinking can be way too limiting for the human spirit.

This unexpected alignment between atheism and spirituality is not just a theory. It’s real.

In her book, Science vs. Religion, Elaine Ecklund describes the surprising results of the largest study of scientists and what they really think about religion.

“Since surveys of scientists’ religious beliefs began nearly a century ago, no one has produced a study as deep and broad as Ecklund’s. Perhaps its most surprising finding is that nearly a quarter of the atheists and agnostics describe themselves as ‘spiritual.’”

Ronald L. Numbers, Professor of the History of Science      (On the back cover of Ecklund’s book.)

“Rice University sociologist Elaine Ecklund offers a fresh perspective on this debate in “Science vs. Religion.” …

“Fully half of these top scientists are religious… Even among the third who are atheists, many consider themselves “spiritual.” One describes this spiritual atheism as being rooted in “wonder about the complexity and the majesty of existence,” a sentiment many nonscientists—religious or not—would recognize.”

Josh Rosenau, Washington Post, May 30, 2010

Indeed, the sense of wonder is a spiritual experience.

However, another startling turn of events that recently occurred even better illustrates the ties between atheism and spirituality. Sam Harris, an outspoken critic of religion and well-known atheist, surprised even his own followers when he published “Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.”

“Harris…describes [his book] as ‘by turns a seeker’s memoir, an introduction to the brain, a manual of contemplative instruction, and a philosophical unraveling of what most people consider to be the center of their inner lives.’ Or, perhaps most aptly, an effort ‘to pluck the diamond from the dunghill of esoteric religion.’”

Maria Popova, BrainPickings, September 15, 2014

Sam Harris has a moment of awakening that came from an inner experience. This changed his perspective on spirituality:

“It would not be too strong to say that I felt sane for the first time in my life. And yet the change in my consciousness seemed entirely straightforward… I had ceased to be concerned about myself. I was no longer anxious, self-critical, guarded by irony, in competition, avoiding embarrassment, ruminating about the past and future, or making any other gesture of thought or attention that separated me from him. I was no longer watching myself through another person’s eyes.

“And then came the insight that irrevocably transformed my sense of how good human life could be. I was feeling boundless love for one of my best friends, and I suddenly realized that if a stranger had walked through the door at that moment, he or she would have been fully included in this love. Love was at bottom impersonal—and deeper than any personal history could justify.”

Sam Harris, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, p. 4-5.

The key to spirituality is inner experience. Connecting with the presence of life can change us in deep ways. Belief isn’t necessary. In fact, the spiritual path often begins with doubt.

Spirituality and atheism are not opposites. In fact, they have more in common than you might think.

Waking Dreams — The Unfinished Story

A book review by Doug Marman

If you are familiar with this web site and the discussions here on Spiritual Dialogues, you have probably heard about “waking dreams.” David Rivinus has just published a new book that tells the rest of the story.

Always_Dreaming_David_Rivinus-540pxDavid explains the idea:

“Suppose life could be taken at more than face value. Imagine seeing the individual events of our waking world metaphorically—like symbols in a dream. How would that affect how we live, what decisions we make, who we associate with? This intriguing idea was one I began to ponder in earnest…”

Hearing David tell the story is like discovering the origins of the idea of the waking dream, since he was the one who introduced it to Eckankar. Few ECKists realize the role that David Rivinus played in spreading the concept. He led workshops on waking dreams around the world, in many different languages. His new book takes the subject to far greater depth.

It began in the 1970’s, after David graduated from college. He started working in a clinic with children who had emotional problems and brain disorders. At the same time, he was exploring the writings of Paul Twitchell and other new ideas that were being sparked by psychologists in those days. In particular, he became fascinated by Fritz Perls and his role-playing approach as a way of getting inside the experience of dreams.

The more David studied his own nighttime excursions, the more he realized that there must be an easier way to understand them. He began developing a simpler, more effective approach. That’s when a new thought hit him:

“It is the idea that there is essentially no difference between the dream world and the world of our waking lives. Through my own work and experimentation…I discovered that when one understands one’s waking life as if it were a dream and then acts upon the personal insights that are revealed by that understanding, the world takes on a whole new meaning.”

He began helping others use his new techniques and immediately saw the transformational impact it has. The idea that the world around us is a reflection of who we are and that we create our own universe isn’t new. Countless spiritual teachers have taught this down through time. But once we see the way our outer lives speak in the language of dreams, it changes how way we interact with our daily events.

If we can see that all the truly bizarre events in our lives have a deeper meaning, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that we are unconsciously shaping the world around us. The same problems keep happening to us over and over again for the same reason that we have recurring dreams: Life is trying to show us something. The experiences are telling us that we have an unfinished story. There’s an important lesson we need to learn.

Always Dreaming 2How is this possible? The idea that the outer world can act like a dream seems to defy science. But this isn’t true, as David spends a whole chapter explaining. The scientific process of cause and effect is logical, but the hidden meanings of life’s events are not. Logic will never explain them fully. If we reject the dreamlike quality of life, then we’re missing half of what it means to live in this world.

David writes his book for readers who want to understand the waking dreams in their lives, as well as their nighttime dreams. He also writes for those who want to teach and help others learn how to do this. He offers pointers on what works and what doesn’t. It is filled with real life stories and amazing examples of how waking dreams have changed people’s lives.

The stories come from the many workshops he has led on waking dreams in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy, Canada, Mexico and throughout the US. His conclusion is that dream symbols are the vocabulary of a universal language, while at the same time they are highly personal. This, in itself, makes the idea of waking dreams a valuable message for our times.

However, I believe the importance of David’s work is that he shows us a way to move dreaming from an unconscious process to a conscious one. When the messages behind the personal events in our lives sink home, we can consciously take the reins of the seemingly wild subconscious forces within us. If we act on this new understanding, it changes us. We are then no longer the character in some drama. We become the author of the play.

If we’re interested in learning mastership of our selves, we need to master the language of our dreams. That’s when the unfinished story of our lives becomes finished. And in many ways, reading David’s book is like discovering the unfinished story about waking dreams.

David’s book, Always Dreaming: Gaining insights from the Metaphors of our Sleeping and Waking Lives, is available through Amazon and other booksellers: http://www.amazon.com/Always-Dreaming

David continues to lead workshops, give radio interviews, and help others understand dreams. You can get more information from his web site: http://www.teacherofdreams.com/