Ever have a heated conversation about, say, politics or religion and come away wondering why they just “don’t get it”? Did ever feel like their minds were just wired differently?
Maybe they are.
A recent study by researchers from York and UCLA discovered that suppressing a region of your brain will change your views about things like religion and politics.
Say what? No, really. There is a center of your brain responsible for problem solving (and risk assessment) that was targeted in a study.
Magnetic fields were used to temporarily suppress that region of the brain. Researchers found that having that part of the brain suppressed changed both the subject’s religious and political ideologies.
While so suppressed, the subjects were more open to atheism, (Measurable 1/3 drop in belief in God/angels/demons) and were more receptive to a recent immigrant essays critical of the subject’s homeland.
This is data: factual information.
The trouble with data, is that application requires interpretation. And this is where the interpreter’s own beliefs come into play. (This is why two researchers can fight over the meaning of same data.)
Let’s look at the interpretation offered in the article that accompanied this piece.
The study’s spin (or, at least, the article writer’s assumption about it) is that comfort-seeking for unsettling fears like death is the key driver of religion. Therefore, if you remove the influence of fear, you remove the interest in God. That is very Freudian in its assertions about religion which I’ll come back to in a moment.
What accounts for the changed response to the immigrant’s essay? That’s harder to pin down.
A cynic could spin it this way: the fear/risk functions of the brain are suppressed, and you are more open to an outsider’s criticism. So maybe, this is suppressing some form of xenophobia, and permitting an open mind to a new perspective. In fact, “open mind” might be the line of argument that could tie the two together.
This would, in fact, be a line of argument consistent with earlier studies about fear and risk contrasting Conservative and Liberal personalities, where there was a statistically significant divide between both groups along these line. Headlines read that Conservatives are more fearful people.
The argument might make superficial sense: except for one problem.
During the study, the brain function is not augmented, but suppressed. What other examples do we point to where artificially disabling the healthy brain produces a better result? Any at all?
Let’s look at another explanation.
We know the suppressed area affects both problem-solving and risk.
What if the courage associated with “open mindedness” is the intellectual equivalent of false bravado? We’ve all seen that one guy who had one too many, and thought himself ten-feet-tall-and-bulletproof.
Is it not possible that this open-mindedness is really just a blindness to reality?
For example, plenty of religious people seldom think of death or judgment, they trust Him for positive reasons, not negative ones. So a reduction of fear of death shouldn’t affect them.
Likewise, the mistrust of an outsider’s criticism doesn’t have to be driven by a negative reaction like racism.
But if a stranger slandered your friend to you, you’d trust the character of your friend over the words of his accuser, right? We reject ideas we think of as flaky all the time. Why a stranger’s slander of our country be a different dynamic?
Maybe suppression just makes us less likely to trust our own judgment on such areas, giving the critic the benefit of the doubt.
And all this got me to wondering:
If this result has to do with the areas of the mind that measure, assess, and respond to potential threats, could our ultra-safe society be subtly rewiring how we think?
Could our sanitized, helicopter-parent, don’t-offend-anyone existence be giving us an underdeveloped ability to recognize real risk, and a proper proportionate response?
Could this partially explain the rise and fall of empires? (And even why we now see so many whiny Progressives?) Seemingly strong, safe, societies crumble, implode, bankrupt themselves, descend into decadence, or are simply overrun by their neighbors.
If we don’t recognize risk when we see it how would we know how to respond to it when we face it? If we don’t know how to react to risk, we will succumb to it.
Looking around, how many do in Washington do you think that already describes?
God help us.