Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Neuroscience: Stuff I didn't need to hear about what people care about, but pass along anyway

This from a recent study of religion, using neuroscience techniques:
While religious and nonreligious thinking differentially engage broad regions of the frontal, parietal, and medial temporal lobes, the difference between belief and disbelief appears to be content-independent. Our study compares religious thinking with ordinary cognition and, as such, constitutes a step toward developing a neuropsychology of religion. However, these findings may also further our understanding of how the brain accepts statements of all kinds to be valid descriptions of the world.
The study compares religious believers and non-believers, which I think is a bogus comparison. Everybody believes something. One must be quite the dull stick not to believe anything. Non-believers in traditional religions are often great fans of the environment, the government, their trade union, their home team, a political party, atheist book clubs, a rock band, their local Hell's Angels club house, or whatever.

It would be a big step forward if researchers recognized that religious beliefs are not different in principle from other beliefs. The fact that contrary nonsense is even entertained is an impediment to science.

Yes, religion is very important, at least to some people. But then so is membership in a Chrysler trade union or the Hell's Angels or the Flyers' fan club to others.

Thus, I am hardly surprised to learn that "the difference between belief and disbelief appears to be content-independent."

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose