Science and Spirituality

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.

"This diagram shows a synaptic vesicle, which is the part of a neuron that releases neurotransmitters from one neuron to another, and it omits 1/3 of the proteins - so real membranes are even more crowded.. ..instead of thinking of membranes with proteins floating in them like icebergs, we should think of membranes as packed with proteins like a cobblestone pavement." (Ken Shirriff, arcfn.com)

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.

Materialism in action: above, Dubai. Below, slave labour from Bangladesh, used for Dubai skyscraper construction. Promised $400 a month for a 9 hour day, workers had passports confiscated on arrival and were offered 12 hour days (in 55 degree heat) for $90 a month. As one worker said, "I sold my land to come here. I complained that they were paying us less than a quarter of what we were promised. I was told, 'go home then.' I said, how can I? You have my passport, and I have no money for a flight! They replied, 'you had better get working then.' It has been two years since I saw my family. I still cannot pay back the $2,300 agency commission fee for finding me this job. We have lost everything. We cannot escape." Some went on strike after not being paid for four months, at which time police arrived with water cannon and razor wire, surrounding the camps and literally blasting them back to work.

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.

Sociopaths at heart: George and Jeb Bush. Other notables in this large-scale criminal family enterprise include Bush Sr, and Marv Bush, the latter being in charge of security at the WTC in the period leading up to 9/11, a time in which large unmarked vans were caught on CCTV arriving in the underground parking lot between 03:00 - 05:00 hours every day for some weeks, as reported by CIA whistleblower Susan Lindaeur. She later realised their purpose could only have been to install explosives within the building. In early 2001, as the main link between the CIA and Iraq, she had been shocked to hear that despite Iraq's eagerness to help American interests in any way possible, in return for eliminating sanctions, George Bush had ordered her to relay his intention to blame them for whatever "attacks" would be made against the USA. The only people who knew anything about these hypothetical attacks, the Iraqis stressed, were those in the White House threatening retaliation over them!

US Marine after American chemical attacks on Fallujah. In September 2009, Fallujah General Hospital, Iraq, had 170 new born babies, 24% of whom were dead within the first seven days - of which a staggering 75% were classified as deformed. This can be compared with data from the month of August in 2002 where there were 530 new born babies of whom six were dead within the first seven days and only one birth defect was reported. Doctors in Fallujah are witnessing unprecedented numbers of birth defects but what is more alarming is a significant number of babies that do survive begin to develop severe disabilities at a later stage.

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

  1. science, and religion
  2. spiritual practices, and the healthy evolution of the brain
  3. 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.

Spiritual icons have attempted to imprint a tangible image of the intelligence behind the Universe on the human mind, and also to portray its omniscient and colossal stature

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.

Indo-European roots of modern language. 'Existentialist philosopher Martin Heidegger once said that “Language is the house of the truth of Being”..this flow of language is a mirror of the flow of spiritual ideas and religious concepts throughout history as well.' (spillspace.com)

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.

Pre-Cambrian stromatolites from Glacier National Park, containing (according to William Schopf of UCLA) the oldest ancient fossil microbe-like objects known - dated 3.5 billion years old, approximately one billion years after the formation of the Earth itself. Reliable fossil evidence of the first life has been found in rocks 3.4 bn yrs old, and isotope studies show life to be widespread 2.4 bn years ago.

Chimera, also known as ghost sharks or rabbitfish, are one of the oldest species of fish on the planet having branched off from sharks nearly 400 million years ago. They live in deep water and have a venomous spine near their dorsal fin for defense.

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.

Frilled shark spoted recently near Japan. The species is thought to have survived since the Paleozoic era, as long as 500m years ago

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.

Over the past 80 million years, some 25,000 wild species of Orchids have taken root on six continents, in nearly every kind of habitat. Representing a full fourth of the world’s flowering plants, there are four times as many orchid species as mammals, and twice as many as birds. To affix yellow pollen sacs to a male sand bee, this wild Italian hybrid Ophrys eleonorae dresses up like a female bee. (http://zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.org/most-beautiful-orchids)

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.

Antheraea polyphemus (moth) antenna. Covered with tens of thousands of tiny odor-sensitive hairs, the moth's antennae are constantly being bombarded by odor particles, certain types of which are allowed to penetrate through a hair's outer surface and strike delicate sensors within called dendrites. Upon impact, the dendrite becomes excited and an electrical pulse travels down the antenna. Organized, grape-bunch-like clusters of neurons at the base of the antennae called glomeruli sort these pulses into their different odorant classes, a hugely complex physiology. The moth can detect its mate from as far as seven miles, via a single molecule of scent. (Penn State)

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.

Sorting office: Each one of our trillions of cells contains roughly a billion protein molecules. Proteins need to be transported from the place they were produced to the place they are to perform their tasks. These proteins have an address label, a signal sequence that specifies what place inside or outside the cell they need to be transported to. Note the change of structure once the signal sequence is attached. This transport must function flawlessly if order is to be maintained and for the cell to be able to communicate with its surroundings. If a protein winds up in the wrong place, it can lead to serious disorders like cystic fibrosis. Protein left, without signal sequence, and right, re-shaped by signal sequence (marked with red arrow). (..bioscholar.com)

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.

ATP synthase - 700 revolutions per second-much faster than a jet engine! This is a fuel generator and an electric motor combined into one unit. It can convert an electrical imbalance to rotational energy, and then use the rotation to assemble ATP fuel. Hundreds of thousands of these exist in the mitochondria of every cell. Astonishingly, the design also works perfectly in reverse: converting an excess of ATP to a change in electrical balance, via rotational energy. This design is far beyond anything presently considered achieveable by man-made nanoscale engineering.

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.

Ribosome: 250,000 atoms combine to make the machine which extrapolates two-dimensional data within DNA into three-dimensional molecular forms

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.

Electron micrograph image of shark skin. These sharply pointed placoid scales are also known as dermal teeth. The tip of each scale is made of dentine overlayed with dental enamel. The lower part of each scale is made of bone. The scales create tiny vortices and disrupt turbulence over the skin, considerably reducing the drag on the shark as it swims, and cutting noise to zero. Each scale remains the same size but as the shark grows, more grow automatically and fit themselves into place.

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 lizard’s adhesive capability has awed scientists ever since Aristotle's observation of them in the 4th century BC. Nanoscale imaging of gecko feet shows millions of long, tubular filaments with branched tips, each containnig 100 to 1,000 even smaller fibers. These structures are so small you could fit more than a thousand of them on a flat pinhead. When a gecko sets its foot down, small but powerful molecular bonds form between the surface and the millions of fibers, a phenomenon known as van de Waals forces, creating the adhesion allowing the lizard to cling to a vertical surface by only one toe. (Audubon.com)

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.

The fuel which enables life on Earth: ATP, or Adenosine Tri Phosphate. Molecular machinery works by breaking off a phosphate molecule and releasing a large amount of energy. The single phosphate and the ADP can be recombined with zero wastage: the most perfect fuel ever created. Click on the image to see an animation of the mitochondria (Harvard Animation)

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.

Our most advanced man-made nanotech motor: it turns a crude flap on a crude stick (external battery required)

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.

Why do catastrophes happen to good software? Some religious programs blamed the atheist ones for their armageddon.

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!

Intelligence, whether a source or product of the arrangement of biological machinery, is an inextricable component of the Universe directly surrounding us. As such, it is likely to exist in the same gradations and varied forms as matter

About iain carstairs

I have a great interest in both scientific advances and the beauty of religion, and created www.scienceandreligion.com about 15 years ago with the aim of finding common ground between the scientist and the believer, and to encourage debate between the two sides.
This entry was posted in ATP Synthase, Bees, Biology, Brain Hygiene, Designs in nature, Dubai, Evolution, Genetic damage, God, Hinduism, Insect world, Materialism, Nanotechnology, Oxytocin, Proteins, Religious disciplines, Retrotransposons, Ribosome, Science and Religion, Slavery, Spiritual Genius, The Brain, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Science and Spirituality

  1. Ms. Grundy says:

    What? no other comments yet? But this is brilliantly illustrated and intriguing to read! One challenge about the harmony of oxytocin and religion…is Dubai not part of a theocratic state? Wouldn’t those slave masters actually be running off to prayer about five or six times a day and a couple more at night?

    Personally, I have attributed the power struggles between the people there to their constant lack of sleep, as when I lived there it took me months to get used to being awakened all night by the imam’s call to prayer. I was rather grumpy and quick tempered, plus it was so hot…but I digress. Perhaps a general lack of sleep hinders oxytocin production and leads to greater anti-social behaviour.

    In terms of the autism-oxytocin connection, I wonder what the impact is on the mother and child in the midst of birthing when mother is given even more oxytocin artificially? On the other hand, one wonders then about the C-section delivery, where there would be no natural oxytocin present, and then perhaps a lack again if the child were bottle fed? Perhaps there has been research into the links there with autism, I`ll do some reading.

    I am working with a student this year who is extremely autistic yet she works with my class in an inclusive educational setting. The universal design of lessons keeps her learning alongside others…and I also notice leaps of empathy in the non-autistic students. I do keep reading to try to find new ways to teach her.

    • A person could go to University and not learn anything, or go to the gym and remain fat too, if they wanted! I remember someone at a conference in 1979 asked Gopi Krishna what effect meditation would have on a person who nevertheless committed immoral acts. He replied it would have the same effect as shining a beautiful light on a pile of manure. The reality is what people do; you could spend all day imagining the nicety of eating some fresh bread, and, failing to take action, still die of starvation.

      I think a nurse reported that every c-section child she had seen had displayed anger. It might have been the lack of opportunity to express physical action in the course of birth, or it might have been the lack of exposure to oxytocin – as if the child knew they had been cheated somehow. My daughter was born by c-section and the first photo of her, hanging onto my index finger with her whole hand, shows her little face, spattered in blood, looking absolutely furious.

      I don’t know anything about the genetic result of children of autistic parents, but I would suspect there would be a lot of difficulty in two autistic parents trying to raise a child without assistance. I read last week about a lab manager who only hired autistic people because of their attention to detail. Of course they are warm individuals and have superb skills, the problem being the sheer amount of time and energy it takes to get such a child through to adulthood.

      As Temple Grandin said, she would never exchange her autism for a “normal” mentality, but when a child requires a million dollars of special education, and a decade of one-on-one tutoring just to find their feet, it means most of them are going to go by the wayside because modern life doesn’t allow for this kind of resource to be devoted to more than a few people. This is probably why it’s viewed with such alarm by the CIS, who are actually treating it as a pandemic

  2. sweetopiagirl says:

    Reblogged this on Inspiredweightloss.

  3. donsalmon says:

    I hope this file is not too big to paste here – thought it might be relevant to this conversation:

    Consciousness in plants and single-cell organisms: Some more examples of (relatively) simple consciousness

    According to Anthony Trewavas, professor of biology at the University of Edinburgh, “plants have senses and can detect a wide variety of external variables, such as light, water, temperature, chemicals, vibrations, gravity, and sounds. They can also react to these factors by changing the way they grow. Plants can forage and compete with one another for resources. When attacked by herbivores, some plants signal for help, releasing chemicals that attract their assailants’ predators. Plants can detect distress signals let off by other plant species and take preventive measures. They can assimilate information and respond on the whole-plant level. And they use cell-to-cell communication based on molecular and electrical signals, some of which are remarkably similar to those used by our own neurons. When a plant is damaged, its cells send one another electrical signals just like our own pain messages.”[4]

    Trewavas does not claim that plants can think or have anything resembling human self-awareness. However, he does consider these facts about plants to be a clear demonstration that they are sentient and respond intelligently to what they sense.

    Toshiyuki Nakagaki is an associate professor of biology at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. In articles such as “Amoeboid Organisms May Be More Clever Than We Had Thought”, Nakagaki describes some remarkable abilities in the organism known as the “true slime mold”—a creature formed by the merging together of thousands of amoebae into a single cell. Though it does not have eyes or a nervous system, it is able to “move, navigate and avoid obstacles. [It] can also sense food at a distance and head unerringly toward it.”[5]

    When researchers place separate pieces of a true slime mold into a maze, the pieces rejoin to form a single organism that spreads out into every corridor of the maze, covering all the available space. “[W]hen food is placed at the start and end points of the maze, the slime mold withdraws from the dead-end corridors and shrinks its body to a tube spanning the shortest path between food sources …[and it] solves the maze in this way each time it is tested.” Nakagaki and his collaborators conclude “[t]his remarkable process of cellular computation implies that cellular materials can show a primitive intelligence.”[6]

    III. The Emergence of More Complex Consciousness

    Insects

    As consciousness evolves, the organism becomes capable of distinguishing more of the world. That is, it knows more of the world, has a wider range of feeling about it, and a wider array of responses to it. This progression ranges from the slime mold’s extremely limited registration of external stimuli, to the sea anemone’s ability to recognize distinguishable patterns, the bee’s capacity to “understand” some simple relationships between those patterns, the lizard’s ability to define a particular territory, and the crow’s capacity to engage in complex problem-solving within and around its territory.

    Whatever the nature of the primitive intelligence Nakagaki identified in a single-celled organism, the way in which it experiences the world would be unimaginable to us. What kind of consciousness could one possibly ascribe to such a primitive creature? At best, we might imagine its experience to be little more than the faintest blur. It has no sense organs, yet is able in some way to detect the presence of food, indicating it has a primitive “knowing” of its environment. The fact that it was able to determine that the substance was desirable is thought to indicate the presence of a primitive form of “feeling.” Its response to the food—arranging itself to optimally obtain it—reflects a primitive form of “willing.”

    What began as a faint glimmer of knowing in the most primitive creatures was greatly enhanced in early multi-cellular organisms by the emergence of primitive sense organs. The dim blurry world of the true slime mold became a world of distinguishable patterns. The senses of a sea anemone living in a rock pool, for example, are stimulated by certain patterns in its environment. In response to these patterns the anemone registers a “feeling”—slightly more differentiated than in the slime mold—that is positive, negative or neutral depending on whether the pattern is perceived as friendly, unfriendly or irrelevant to its survival. If the pattern signifies food, in a primitive act of “will” it will grab at it; if it signifies a threat, it will attack or retreat. These responses are even subject to a primitive form of learning known as habituation. For example, if you gently tap a tentacle, the anemone will initially withdraw. If however, repeated taps prove to be harmless, it will cease to respond.

    In multi-cellular creatures, the specialized sensory cells developed into sense organs. A primitive nervous system emerged which could coordinate the information taken in by the various senses and a more complex external world of hue and shape began to emerge on the canvas of consciousness. The more complex capacities for knowing, willing and feeling that accompanied these changes are evident in [insects such as the spider the honeybee].

    With insects there is an enhanced capacity to manipulate the environment. This comes as a result of the greater development in their surface consciousness of the first mental function of sensation. The spider, for example, is capable of making a crude mental map of its environment and using it as an aid for hunting prey. Neuropsychologist Merlin Donald recounts that

    [The jumping spider] will often “ambush” a potential quarry. Having spotted its prey perched on a flower stem, it will move away from it, rather than toward it, drop to the ground, and climb up the other side of the plant, out of sight of its victim. It will then approach it stealthily, always from behind, and, once close, suddenly attack.[7]
    In spite of this advance in behavioral complexity, the spider is limited to actions which are controlled by genetic mechanisms. Beyond its genetically programmed activity, the spider’s awareness of the environment and its capacity to adapt are extremely limited. According to Donald:

    It seems blissfully unaware of the most significant objects in the larger environment. It goes on weaving webs and ambushing anything that resembles a prey, no matter where it is. It shows no signs of adapting its behavior to the larger scenarios that might be imposed by a wider world. The spider’s world is tiny, restricted to a small number of players and situations. It misses any feature that might demand significant… capacities to perceive or remember.[8]
    [Increased capacities for knowing, willing and feeling are also evident in the “waggle dance” of the honeybee.] In the course of its search for nourishment, when a bee sees a patch of flowers that promises to be a rich source of nutrients, it will retrace its route several times in order to memorize the location. Returning to the hive, it performs a complex series of movements that has come to be known as the “waggle dance.” Moving in the form of a figure eight, “its orientation indicates the direction of [the] find relative to the position of the sun. The speed of her movement, the number of times she repeats it, and the fervor of her noisy waggling indicate the richness of the food source.”[9] The observing bees assess the intensity of her movements and thus discern the relative value of her find.

    YouTube video: Bee dance (waggle dance)
    [This video could not be included on this webpage,
    so please click the link and go to YouTube]
    In this ritual, the bees demonstrate several acts of knowing which include judgment, memory, and the performance of some fairly complex calculations. Both the ability of the dancing bee to perform her highly detailed movements, and the concentration required of her audience, indicate a more highly developed capacity for willing than that of either the sea anemone or slime mold. Scientists have not yet developed techniques or technology for distinguishing levels of complexity of feeling between creatures as primitive as the slime mold, sea anemone and bee. However, assuming that consciousness evolves in an integral fashion, it seems likely that whatever level of feeling is present is to some extent commensurate with the bees’ capacity for knowing and willing.

    Though impressive, this ritual dance is largely instinctive. The bees’ capacity for learning is limited, and their response patterns can be quite inflexible. For example, “if placed in a maze with a glass cover, they perform as well as rats up to the point of reaching the food reward, but they are incapable of turning around and going back to where they have come from. Once bees eat, they are rigidly programmed to fly upward,”[10] and will thus remain trapped in the maze.

  4. Pingback: Rebranding Atheism | ScienceAndReligion.com

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