Prelife

Moderators: DrVolin, Wombaticus Rex, Jeff

Prelife

Postby brainpanhandler » Tue Jan 28, 2014 3:30 pm

Belief in immortality hard-wired? Study examines development of children's 'prelife' reasoning
Date:January 27, 2014
Source:Boston University
Summary:By examining children's ideas about "prelife," the time before conception, researchers found results which suggest that our bias toward immortality is a part of human intuition that naturally emerges early in life. And the part of us that is eternal, we believe, is not our skills or ability to reason, but rather our hopes, desires and emotions.


Most people, regardless of race, religion or culture, believe they are immortal. That is, people believe that part of themselves-some indelible core, soul or essence-will transcend the body's death and live forever. But what is this essence? Why do we believe it survives? And why is this belief so unshakable?

A new Boston University study led by postdoctoral fellow Natalie Emmons and published in the January 16, 2014 online edition of Child Development sheds light on these profound questions by examining children's ideas about "prelife," the time before conception. By interviewing 283 children from two distinct cultures in Ecuador, Emmons's research suggests that our bias toward immortality is a part of human intuition that naturally emerges early in life. And the part of us that is eternal, we believe, is not our skills or ability to reason, but rather our hopes, desires and emotions. We are, in fact, what we feel.

Emmons' study fits into a growing body of work examining the cognitive roots of religion. Although religion is a dominant force across cultures, science has made little headway in examining whether religious belief-such as the human tendency to believe in a creator-may actually be hard-wired into our brains.

"This work shows that it's possible for science to study religious belief," said Deborah Kelemen, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Boston University and co-author of the paper. "At the same time, it helps us understand some universal aspects of human cognition and the structure of the mind."

Most studies on immortality or "eternalist" beliefs have focused on people's views of the afterlife. Studies have found that both children and adults believe that bodily needs, such as hunger and thirst, end when people die, but mental capacities, such as thinking or feeling sad, continue in some form. But these afterlife studies leave one critical question unanswered: where do these beliefs come from? Researchers have long suspected that people develop ideas about the afterlife through cultural exposure, like television or movies, or through religious instruction. But perhaps, thought Emmons, these ideas of immortality actually emerge from our intuition. Just as children learn to talk without formal instruction, maybe they also intuit that part of their mind could exist apart from their body.

Emmons tackled this question by focusing on "prelife," the period before conception, since few cultures have beliefs or views on the subject. "By focusing on prelife, we could see if culture causes these beliefs to appear, or if they appear spontaneously," said Emmons.

"I think it's a brilliant idea," said Paul Bloom, a Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale who was not involved with the study. "One persistent belief is that children learn these ideas through school or church. That's what makes the prelife research so cool. It's a very clever way to get at children's beliefs on a topic where they aren't given answers ahead of time."

Emmons interviewed children from an indigenous Shuar village in the Amazon Basin of Ecuador. She chose the group because they have no cultural prelife beliefs, and she suspected that indigenous children, who have regular exposure to birth and death through hunting and farming, would have a more rational, biologically-based view of the time before they were conceived. For comparison, she also interviewed children from an urban area near Quito, Ecuador. Most of the urban children were Roman Catholic, a religion that teaches that life begins only at conception. If cultural influences were paramount, reasoned Emmons, both urban and indigenous children should reject the idea of life before birth.

Emmons showed the children drawings of a baby, a young woman, and the same woman while pregnant, then asked a series of questions about the child's abilities, thoughts and emotions during each period: as babies, in the womb, and before conception.

The results were surprising. Both groups gave remarkably similar answers, despite their radically different cultures. The children reasoned that their bodies didn't exist before birth, and that they didn't have the ability to think or remember. However, both groups also said that their emotions and desires existed before they were born. For example, while children generally reported that they didn't have eyes and couldn't see things before birth, they often reported being happy that they would soon meet their mother, or sad that they were apart from their family.

"They didn't even realize they were contradicting themselves," said Emmons. "Even kids who had biological knowledge about reproduction still seemed to think that they had existed in some sort of eternal form. And that form really seemed to be about emotions and desires."

Why would humans have evolved this seemingly universal belief in the eternal existence of our emotions? Emmons said that this human trait might be a by-product of our highly developed social reasoning. "We're really good at figuring out what people are thinking, what their emotions are, what their desires are," she said. We tend to see people as the sum of their mental states, and desires and emotions may be particularly helpful when predicting their behavior. Because this ability is so useful and so powerful, it flows over into other parts of our thinking. We sometimes see connections where potentially none exist, we hope there's a master plan for the universe, we see purpose when there is none, and we imagine that a soul survives without a body.

These ideas, while nonscientific, are natural and deep-seated. "I study these things for a living but even find myself defaulting to them. I know that my mind is a product of my brain but I still like to think of myself as something independent of my body," said Emmons.

"We have the ability to reflect and reason scientifically, and we have the ability to reason based on our gut and intuition," she added. "And depending on the situation, one may be more useful than the other."

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/20 ... 164835.htm
"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." - Martin Luther King Jr.
User avatar
brainpanhandler
 
Posts: 4895
Joined: Fri Dec 29, 2006 9:38 pm
Blog: View Blog (0)

Re: Prelife

Postby BrandonD » Wed Apr 23, 2014 4:38 am

This article is a great illustration of how desperately we try to cram new information into our pre-existing systems.
"One measures a circle, beginning anywhere." -Charles Fort
User avatar
BrandonD
 
Posts: 768
Joined: Tue Oct 25, 2011 2:05 am
Blog: View Blog (0)

Re: Prelife

Postby brainpanhandler » Wed Apr 23, 2014 10:46 am

Interesting.

"new information" = ?

"Pre-existing systems" = ?

It's a thought provoking study. It seems to me children can give us glimpses into fairly unadulterated information about intrinsic, fundamental predispositions of our existence here, possibly even knowledge lost to western culture we so devalue the world of the child.. If children believe we exist before we are born that means something more than if an adult does. The older we get the more I imagine we are influenced by our own growing knowledge of our mortality. This gives rise to the ego's belief that we are more than our corporeal existence and we continue after we shed our mortal coils. At least that is one conventional view. but children it would seem intuit that if we exist after we die then there is no reason to believe that that is anything other than infinite and if our existence is infinite it cannot have a beginning and we must therefore have existed before we were born. The way of imaging that is in the form of emotions because they have not built a world view yet; their models are not yet abstractions.
"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." - Martin Luther King Jr.
User avatar
brainpanhandler
 
Posts: 4895
Joined: Fri Dec 29, 2006 9:38 pm
Blog: View Blog (0)

Re: Prelife

Postby BrandonD » Wed Apr 23, 2014 12:36 pm

brainpanhandler » Wed Apr 23, 2014 9:46 am wrote:Interesting.

"new information" = ?

"Pre-existing systems" = ?

It's a thought provoking study. It seems to me children can give us glimpses into fairly unadulterated information about intrinsic, fundamental predispositions of our existence here, possibly even knowledge lost to western culture we so devalue the world of the child.. If children believe we exist before we are born that means something more than if an adult does. The older we get the more I imagine we are influenced by our own growing knowledge of our mortality. This gives rise to the ego's belief that we are more than our corporeal existence and we continue after we shed our mortal coils. At least that is one conventional view. but children it would seem intuit that if we exist after we die then there is no reason to believe that that is anything other than infinite and if our existence is infinite it cannot have a beginning and we must therefore have existed before we were born. The way of imaging that is in the form of emotions because they have not built a world view yet; their models are not yet abstractions.


I didn't consider the article to be necessarily *your* point of view, but it certainly seems to be implying to some degree that this childhood belief in immortality is some sort of biological quirk and doesn't really represent reality.

What would it mean for an article to say "human brain hardwired to believe law of gravity"? People would likely respond, there is no "belief" in the law of gravity because the law of gravity objectively exists. A statement such as the hard-wired one above implies the idea that there is no objective reality to the phenomena, that the belief is due to some internal biological factor.
"One measures a circle, beginning anywhere." -Charles Fort
User avatar
BrandonD
 
Posts: 768
Joined: Tue Oct 25, 2011 2:05 am
Blog: View Blog (0)

Re: Prelife

Postby brainpanhandler » Wed Apr 23, 2014 1:37 pm

BrandonD » Wed Apr 23, 2014 11:36 am wrote:
brainpanhandler » Wed Apr 23, 2014 9:46 am wrote:Interesting.

"new information" = ?

"Pre-existing systems" = ?

It's a thought provoking study. It seems to me children can give us glimpses into fairly unadulterated information about intrinsic, fundamental predispositions of our existence here, possibly even knowledge lost to western culture we so devalue the world of the child.. If children believe we exist before we are born that means something more than if an adult does. The older we get the more I imagine we are influenced by our own growing knowledge of our mortality. This gives rise to the ego's belief that we are more than our corporeal existence and we continue after we shed our mortal coils. At least that is one conventional view. but children it would seem intuit that if we exist after we die then there is no reason to believe that that is anything other than infinite and if our existence is infinite it cannot have a beginning and we must therefore have existed before we were born. The way of imaging that is in the form of emotions because they have not built a world view yet; their models are not yet abstractions.


I didn't consider the article to be necessarily *your* point of view


I didn't mean to give the impression it was, if I did, and I didn't respond with the idea in mind that you thought I was endorsing the author's view by posting the article. I just thought it was thought provoking.

, but it certainly seems to be implying to some degree that this childhood belief in immortality is some sort of biological quirk and doesn't really represent reality.


The "hardwired" language are Moran's words:

Moran wrote:Emmons' study fits into a growing body of work examining the cognitive roots of religion. Although religion is a dominant force across cultures, science has made little headway in examining whether religious belief-such as the human tendency to believe in a creator-may actually be hard-wired into our brains.


The authors are more nuanced:

"This work shows that it's possible for science to study religious belief," said Deborah Kelemen, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Boston University and co-author of the paper. "At the same time, it helps us understand some universal aspects of human cognition and the structure of the mind."

Why would humans have evolved this seemingly universal belief in the eternal existence of our emotions? Emmons said that this human trait might be a by-product of our highly developed social reasoning. "We're really good at figuring out what people are thinking, what their emotions are, what their desires are," she said. We tend to see people as the sum of their mental states, and desires and emotions may be particularly helpful when predicting their behavior. Because this ability is so useful and so powerful, it flows over into other parts of our thinking. We sometimes see connections where potentially none exist, we hope there's a master plan for the universe, we see purpose when there is none, and we imagine that a soul survives without a body.

I know that my mind is a product of my brain but I still like to think of myself as something independent of my body," said Emmons.


but sure, they're coming from a mechanistic, materialist point of view. They're scientists, not poets. but each have something to say.

The paper can be read here: http://www.bu.edu/cdl/files/2014/01/Emm ... uppmat.pdf

What would it mean for an article to say "human brain hardwired to believe law of gravity"? People would likely respond, there is no "belief" in the law of gravity because the law of gravity objectively exists.


Yes. People have been conditioned to mistake models of reality for reality itself, if that's what you mean. but if it gets you to the moon it can't be completely discounted. If nothing else our models have utility.


A statement such as the hard-wired one above implies the idea that there is no objective reality to the phenomena, that the belief is due to some internal biological factor.


Maybe. This:

We sometimes see connections where potentially none exist, we hope there's a master plan for the universe, we see purpose when there is none, and we imagine that a soul survives without a body.


...certainly seems to suggest that possibility. I need to examine the full paper more closely to see what they say. but I'm guessing they are agnostics on the objective reality of pre and post life existence and make no definitive statements about it. They are just trying to determine if there is some underlying basis for the belief in immortality and found a novel, somewhat scientific way to approach the question. It takes all kinds.

I myself saw an apparition as a child; the only truly unexplainable event of my life. That had a profound effect on me and continues to loom over my life as a foundational experience. I have to wonder also about the ability of children to more directly perceive the world with senses not yet dulled and elided by the biased world views of well meaning adults.
"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." - Martin Luther King Jr.
User avatar
brainpanhandler
 
Posts: 4895
Joined: Fri Dec 29, 2006 9:38 pm
Blog: View Blog (0)


Return to Spirituality

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest