Eric Hollander of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York is studying what happens when you give oxytocin to autistic adults. He has found that it improves their ability to recognise emotions like happiness and anger in people’s tone of voice, something autistic people struggle with. A single intravenous infusion produced improvements that lasted two weeks (Biological Psychiatry, vol 61, p 498).
Hollander has also found that oxytocin increases his volunteers’ ability to recognise faces and interpret emotional expressions. Prior studies have already shown that when autistic people see faces, they activate brain areas normally used to recognise inanimate objects. Hollander says his preliminary results show that when given oxytocin intravenously, autistic people are more able to recruit the normal face-recognition area, the fusiform gyrus. Oxytocin also reduced their repetitive behaviours.
A 1998 study detected lower levels of oxytocin in the blood plasma of severely socially-averse autistic children (Biological Psychiatry, vol 43, p 270), and more recently variants in the oxytocin receptor gene have been linked to the risk of developing autism (Biological Psychiatry, vol 58, p 74). [New Scientist]
Spiritual practices and neurochemistry
The link between spiritual exercises – altruism, generosity, and gratitude – has been shown in the laboratory to generate oxytocin, a molecule which seems to have a range of therapeutic effects on the brain. The link between a lack of oxytocin and alarming mental conditions such as autism is also clear; the strange lack of “mirror neuron” activity in the upper classes and to a greater extent in the sociopath has been pointed out in other studies. Additionally, a strong correlation between autism and atheism has been noticed, and verified by recent research.
Brain DNA has now been found to be in a constant state of change, “overturning all previously held theories”. I suggested in my last post that a lack of oxytocin might result in malformations in the brain DNA resulting in genetic deterioration witnessed in today’s society, i.e., the rise of yob culture and sociopathy, just two of boastful materialism’s freakish progeny – joining massive global pollution, a rise in slavery even over Roman times, the spread of nuclear weapons, one billion starving, threat of global war, mental illness (now the world’s number one health problem) and the echoes of eugenics still taking place in South America. Quite a burgeoning family!
Oxytocin is effective in therapy because its lack is a contributing factor to autism, a condition completely unknown a century ago but now doubling roughly every 3.5 years. This staggering rate of increase seems to be a last-ditch warning from Nature that something is disastrously wrong with society itself, and has set alarm bells ringing even among normally laconic, methodical researchers, now desperate to put their finger on the source of this incurable condition.
Individuals homozygous for the G allele (carrying two copies of the G version of the gene) of the oxytocin receptor tend to be more “prosocial,” defined by researchers as the ability to behave in a way that benefits another person.
In contrast, the carriers of the A version of the gene (AG or AA genotypes) tend to have a higher risk of autism, as well as self-reported lower levels of positive emotions, empathy and parental sensitivity. [bioscholar.com, Nov 15 2011]
From all this, it should be clear that carrying out actual spiritual practices (presented to the mass mind by the institutions of religion) must have a positive effect on human life. The correlation between their lack (folowing from the idea that they are merely wish-fulfillment and make no difference to human genetics) and the decay of society could not be any clearer. If in any doubt, pick up any newspaper from any town in the world and draw your own conclusions.
The antipathy shown toward religion by some activists and the more vitriolic anti-theists has no justification, certainly not on neurological grounds. Knowing human nature, corruptions found in some leaders of the institutions of religion (the kind found in all other human seats of power from time to time, including outright commercial ventures such as politics, business and sport, but also supposedly impartial intellectual areas of science, scholarship, medicine and research) are to be expected in a field holding such power. Notwithstanding this predictable pitfall, the spiritual practices underlying them, recommended by their founders and enshrined in scriptures, are placed beyond reproach by recent scientific research.
Corruption in any field of endeavour simply proves that a lack of genuine spiritual exercises causes deterioration of the moral element of the brain in the same way that a lack of hygiene causes corruption of the physical body. Failure to intuitively detect such deformed mental states because the individual appears normal and charismatic seems an idictment of a society which values superficial charm and demands “scientific proof” above the evidence of their own wits.
The sociopath is a problem everywhere, just as much as infection or disease or a lack of physical fitness is a problem to all, and no respector of titles or buildings or piles of assiduously maintained property. Belonging to a church or a supposedly religious royal family will hardly exempt one from the laws of the universe. The scriptures have simply attempted to set these laws out in a comprehensible way, but acting on them is a private matter.
It seems to me that the links between
- science, and religion
- spiritual practices, and the healthy evolution of the brain
- the absence of spiritual practices, and certain degenerative states of mind
..are already demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt.
Spiritual practices and evolution
If we suppose that a certain way of life promotes healthy evolution, and its absence causes degeneration, it points to human evolution running along a predestined path, or at the very least, one in which religion shows itself to be in harmony with the evolutionary needs of human biology. Since every religion has proposed a way of life leading to a concept of divinity, varying in expression (as did their language and customs) according to the personality, age and culture of the religion itself, but steadily becoming more intertwined with the destiny of individual people as time progressed, religion’s underlying intent can only be assumed to be to provide a distant model of human capability, as a target for the brain’s evolution.
If evolution could take any random form and still succeed, it would show that there is no pre-aligned path and man is free to act and live how he likes, adapting each time to the circumstances he finds himself in. However, we can see from modern society that this is not the case, meaning the genetic mechanisms must have a built-in safeguard causing societies whose structures and aims do not match the evolutionary level achieved to succumb to internal disorder and decay. The rule seems to be, evolve in harmony with the dictates of evolution, or start again. Religion, then, is a friend to evolution, and materialism is its enemy. These seem to be biological facts, and not a matter of opinion. The same process of decay occurred in major civilisations of the past, but now at least we are in a position to evaluate the processes scientifically.
Darwinism is based on the idea that genes accumulate traits by mutation, meaning that every advance is an error. The idea that planets and star systems have billions of years of stable behaviour while the life forms on them, products also of natural forces, mutate wildly in unplanned directions seems a little odd. But as has been pointed out elsewhere, the mechanisms of DNA – along with support systems such as mitochondria – are remarkably stable, as many life forms remain unchanged for hundreds of millions of years – even those which produce new generations continually (the queen ant can create a hundred new life forms in a single day, part of a species in existence for at least 170 million years) – putting their stability on a par with planetary systems.
There is therefore no evidence to support the idea that DNA copying procedures are so unstable as to retain billions of random, chaotic mutations which together amount to organised, perfectly functioning life forms. In fact 4.5 billion years is not enough time to create even the simplest chain of encoded meaning, a fact easily proved mathematically.
The idea that chaos can produce order simply by a random mutations within the DNA and a who-shags-who theory of “natural selection” sounds more like a joke than a proper explanation. It would mean the most complex life forms rely on the most unreliable designs, an absurd position. Currently, every biological complexity is waved away by the magic words “natural selection”, without ever admitting a constructive mechanism behind it.
The RM-NS model means that error checking procedures and machinery, and error correction procedures, and their associated machinery, have all arisen themselves by a series of errors. It is hard to know what kind of mental confusion or sheer desperation could cause one to defend such an illogical idea. This superstition, which is contrary to all the evidence in front of us, is a disgrace to science and once the energies behind life are detected, will be an embarrassing stain on its reputation for decades.
Intelligence and biological machinery
Intelligence is in evidence in all forms of life. In fact, there is no form of life which does not display intelligence as we define it: even the individual mechanisms within the cell display extremely rapid and precise performance of tasks. It seems as soon as you have biological machinery, you have displays of intelligence, though whether affected, programmed or learned, we still have no idea. But what we understand as intelligence is displayed by the actions of every piece of living biological machinery.
Suppose we attribute the search for nutrients and their conveyance throughout a plant, or its deft handling of waste products and use of photosynthesis, or its communication with neighboring plants to alert them to the presence of caterpillars (receiving trees increase their tannin content in response, defeating the caterpillar in advance), or the apparent cunning of the Venus Flytrap to its machinery and not to any sense of purpose on the part of the plant itself, we are still forced to associate the plant with intelligent actions.
If we dismiss the butterfly’s mimicry of a fierce animal (thereby discouraging its own predators) or a plant’s mimicry of a female bee (thereby attracting the male bee as a pollen carrier) as merely a product of its construction and arrangement, we still associate those arrangements with intelligence, since they clearly provide a method for carrying out actions aimed towards a specific purpose. This is what we understand intelligence to be.
No matter how loosely we interpret the association of biological equipment with the apparent intelligence displayed by it, the Turing test states that intelligence must exist whenever entities displaying those attributes cannot be distinguished from sources known to embody genuine intelligence.
Computers, which do not contain genuine intelligence, are nevertheless products of human intelligence, and therefore whatever mimicry they display – whether limited or excellent – is still, without any possibility of doubt, a product of and one step removed from what we know is genuine intelligence. Its components must be arranged in a precise way that only intelligence could achieve.
The difficulties with biological engineering are immense. For example, all proteins assembled by the ribosome begin as long strings of atoms, each group of about ten atoms having been already gathered into a stable, naturally occuring molecule called an amino acid. But they must be folded into a three-dimensional structure before they can be useful. Hemoglobin, for example, contains 541 amino acids and therefore has 540 separate three dimensional “hinges” which need to settle themselves into a stable pattern, which cannot be disrupted by any environment or molecules it meets in the normal course of events. Anfinsen’s rule states that the final three dimensional state is (1) unique (2) stable and (3) contains a minimum of free energy.
How the protein reaches this structure is the subject of the field of protein folding, which has a related rule called Levinthal’s paradox. The Levinthal paradox states that the number of possible conformations available to a given protein is astronomically large, such that even a small protein of 100 residues would require more time than the universe has existed to explore all possible conformations (1026 seconds) and choose the appropriate one. It would also make computational prediction of protein structures under the same basis impossible.
Therefore if a protein were to attain its correctly folded configuration by sequentially sampling all possible conformations, it would require a time longer than the age of the universe to arrive at its correct native conformation. This is true even if conformations are sampled at rapid (nanosecond or picosecond) rates.
The “paradox” is that most small proteins fold spontaneously on a millisecond or even microsecond time scale. This paradox is central to computational approaches to protein structure prediction. [Wikipedia]
I have elsewhere suggested that intelligence (which amazingly lacks a commonly agreed definition) can be judged as proportional to the rate, in any given situation, at which an unmanageably large number of possible states is reduced to a state with a high degree of significance, and to the degree of significance of that selected state. Biological activity fits this description perfectly, as does any human activity in which a result is achieved which surprises an onlooker, not gifted with that particular intelligence, facing the same problem. Talent and genius are therefore forms of concentrated intelligence, and measurable against the performance of any other person.
Anfinsen’s ideas have since been overturned, as it happens, because his idea that the amino acid sequence determines the subsequent folding pattern, while obviously holding some merit, does not (as Arthur Horwich, MD of Yale School of Medicine) expained in his new research into chaperonins, take into account “the rugged nature of the energetic levels experience inside the cell”. In other words, it’s a busy place in the cell, and for a protein to form “in time scales of milliseconds to a second”, an additional guiding energy is needed to avoid the hundreds of thousands of interactions with other molecules which would take place every second. These continual interruptions and changes of local attractions make the task of folding as difficult for a protein as we might find the task of moulding a perfectly formed sculpture from soft clay while riding a roller coaster.
Indispensible to the functioning of absolutely every single life form on Earth is a need for biological machinery to arise at exactly the same evolutionary moment as their precisely matched neural counterparts (neurotransmitters, chemical or electrical signalling systems, muscular or sensory monitoring devices, etc). This shows that intelligence, as we understand it, must be a product of co-ordination inside biology, and that a different kind of intelligence (of which biological equipment, and encoded intelligence are two derivations) must be a component of some very energetic and very influential deeper layer from which all this activity emerges. This logical conclusion is no different from the intuitive suggestion from religions that life emerges from a different form of intelligence than we are accustomed to observing in the biological world: the idea that this intelligence would need to be more powerful than human intelligence is an immediately obvious extension.
Intelligence is then not an abstract or random concept, but one intricately linked to the source – whatever that may be – of biology itself. These simple conclusions point towards some underlying matrix whose forms and energy are yet to be discovered, but from which biological engineering seems to proceed effortlessly and continually, solving every imaginable challenge. Once intelligence is seen as a more subtle component of the universe, it follows that its influence and activities might be arbitrarily complex or act on arbitrarily large and small scales, just as gravity does. Gravity’s mysterious nature does not in any way prevent it being accepted on the basis of observed fact. The proposal of intelligence existing on a universal level leads naturally to the question of God.
The unfathomable question of God
The idea of a God is not something provable one way or the other at present: we do not even know what to look for. We have no idea what comprises consciousness. We cannot even measure it. We do not even have a single, universally agreed, description of intelligence. We have no idea how physical energy is translated into thought because the brain at present is largely a mystery, and the lack of agreement as to how it manfests consciousness and why things go wrong is well illustrated by the existence of more than 500 different schools of pschiatry and psychotherapy.
This chaotic background adequately explans the many differing views on religion, since religion is a product of the human brain. In order for religion to be accepted by the intellect it needs to be shown to have a viable influence on the brain, which science has now achieved. There are presently far more questions about our own brains than answers, and this is true despite it having been available for study twenty four hours a day by the brightest minds in science for more than a hundred years.
Above all, the universe is infinitely well ordered. For example, the force required to lift an object is directly proportional to that object’s mass, and there are no random exceptions to this rule. Whether you believe in the laws or not, they still hold true. Since thought is undeniably a part of our universe – think about it – the same must apply in the world of thought, i.e. it cannot be a random affair. If a hundred thousand of the most intelligent scientists on Earth armed with the fastest computers and the slickest software, with teams of technicians and protein sequencing equipment are only starting to unravel the behaviour of the machinery within a cell, all this combined thought and energy must also be directly proportional to the intelligence and energy originally invested in those mechanisms; otherwise they should be simple to decode. For example:
..to simulate the activity of the ribosome, a team at the Las Alamos National Laboratory had to model the physical interactions of each of 2.64 million atoms–about 250,000 in the ribosome itself, but most involving water molecules inside and outside it. The simulation resulted in a movie that is 20 million frames long – but in reality the ribosome behavior that they simulated takes only 2 nanoseconds, or 2 billionths of a second – too short to even be labeled as “fleeting.” (cnet.news)
Instead of appreciating this, every discovery made seems to inflate man’s opinion of himself and deflate his opinion of the natural world. Richard Dawkins’ famous comment, “99% of the genome is junk” comes to mind. And yet when you ask why we are unable to build nanotechnology ourselves, having already got a completed example of every imaginable device working in front of us, the reasons are a little unconvincing. The Van der Waals forces are too great. The technology is still in its infancy. The mechanisms are still a hotly debated topic. The molecular assemblies require further research.
Apart from neurophysiological and evolutionary benefits, all religions also incorporate the idea of a cosmic intelligence. It must remain an open question as it is hard to imagine how such an idea should occur independently to the intuitive geniuses of every age and culture without some basis in reality.
The biological processes inside the cell are too fast for human comprehension. A small molecule such as glucose is moving at 250 mph and a large protein molecule at 20 miles per hour, and tumbling at a million rotations per second – 60 million RPM. These are not scaled-up speeds, but actual speeds, in a tiny area! In our world, they equate to speeds of millions of mph. A typical enzyme can collide with something else to react with half a million times per second. The cell is a place requiring almost infinite order to maintain stability and almost infinite co-ordination to duplicate itself. As the fastest human reaction time is 0.15 seconds, these patterns of activity completely defy human imagination, again pointing to the conclusion that human intelligence is only a subset of a far faster, more precise and more flexible one.
If we could fully grasp the complexities of biological processes, we might understand the nature of the proposed intelligence behind them. But at the moment we are completely unable to do this, so the concept of a God remains abstract for the moment, as we cannot decide on the viability of something we are incapable of even imagining. For example, if time is a creation only of the material universe – or as Einstein said, the way by which we can appreciate the totality of the universe bit by bit – then God would have no need of memory. If the past, present and future are one, then to be able to hold the whole continuum in mind would be enough. If three dimensional space is a construct of consciousness, then consciousness cannot be measured, in the same way that gravity, while being an unavoidable influence on the conditions of the universe on all scales, can never be measured in dimensions.
Thinking this way already makes the idea of God impossible to imagine for a mind enmeshed in a moving point of time flowing from the past to the future. The idea that proposing a God means a new problem of explaining how that God came to arise over time, is nonsense, since time is a secondary attribute just as gravity is. It would be like a piece of computer software insisting that any so-called software “creator” must surely inhabit a spinning disk of gargantuan size, and would implicate an even larger disk behind that one. And of course, as there is no sign of such disks, and as they would be liable to impossible mechanical stresses, there must be, ipso fatso, no creator!
What can be stated with certainty is that intelligence as we perceive it is not a solely human attribute but a natural one. Given the ingenuity, resilience and profound elegance in natural molecular technology and in the vastly larger systems they form part of, Nature must be a source of massively co-ordinated intelligence, or possibly multiple intelligences, completely beyond the human mind at present.
What waits beyond that, is anyone’s guess!