Friday, December 08, 2006

The Religious Experience and Proximal rewards

The Religious Experience and Proximal rewards

The religious center (so-called “God-center”) will exist in any entity with self-consciousness . The inverse is also implied , as the tie binding them is proximal rewards .

Firstly , what is meant by proximal rewards must be clearly understood .
( See “ Dopamine and Preparedness.” )

At a nuts-and-bolts level , the molecules and systems follow the steepest gradient of the applicable reward-system . They go for the biggest immediate reward and literally cannot “see” an even bigger reward in the future .

The donkey can only see the carrot before its nose .

There is another problem in multicellular organisms , in that Organ A may need to make sacrifices , but all the reward will go to Organ B .

Proximal rewards are the way this is handled . ( ie the carrot in front of the donkey’s nose .)

This is how any parent , salesman , politician , organism etc operates : by manipulating proximal rewards .

Secondly , how are these proximal rewards activated ?
Various mechanisms are possible . ( ie from hard-wired instincts to divine revelation)

Organisms with neurons evolved mirror-layers of neurons for time-binding .
( Why layers ? : see “ The Universum .” )
( Why mirrors ? : see “ Primitives_0 .” )

The brief argument for hominids runs as follows :
The need for trajectory-computing to throw and hit anything drives the evolution of mirror-layers in the cortex (time-binding). The process continues and accelerates when the mirror-layers are used to estimate the behaviour of other hominids , who also have the same capability . A positive-feedback arms-race ensues .

Some layers will mirror the hominid body , but not the layers mirroring itself ( equivalent to consciousness). Time binding is intensified , but predicting and changing its behaviour using factors involving its own behaviour does not work .

Up to this stage the network inside the hominid is not sufficiently complex and cannot generate a virtual self (eg self-consciousness) . Behaviour is governed by a straightforward summation of the various proximal reward vectors .

Now let layers mirror other layers entirely internally . A virtual self is created ( equivalent to self-consciousness) . This positive feedback process can generate output from the virtual self which is not derived from external input . This enables the hominid to do much better predictions , but the nature of the feedback process increases the noise-level (uncertainty) in its predictions drastically . The predictions(opinions) change continually .

It needs a proximal reward to tell it which is the correct one
(eg that feels “righteous” , “just” )

A further problem is sleep .
At sleep , the virtual self ceases to exist . At every awakening , the virtual self will be reset at random (due to the complexity of the underlying total vector-state) , unless it has a unique proximal reward vector . The sense of continuity of self requires it . This seems to have a particular site in the brain (“the God-site”) . Strong magnetic fields targeted on this site gives rise to feelings of immanence , somebody else around , unity with all . These are to be expected if the very basis of continuity of self is perturbed while the virtual self is running .

This should make religious brain-washing a snap , especially if an internal brain neurotransmitter used only for this proximal reward is involved (which is likely) .

Therapeutic uses are of great promise .
Even cosmetic or game-playing .
Tired of being yourself ?
You can become a monk , fast and meditate for years , etc, etc.

Or put on a helmet , take a pill and fire up the latest immersive VR game and be the great hero . I presume the come-down will be easier with practice .

The technique is really very simple . The only defense for a society is diversity , or a super-proximal reward : eg an intolerant religion . Does this seem familiar ? It is an iterative argument . We have already been through this with christianity , islam , communism , etc , etc ad nauseam .

Why did diversity win ?
The religious experience co-evolved with self-consciousness so that we could have a better prediction and understanding of our environment . One of God’s little jokes . You cannot be self-conscious without having a religious sense . Otherwise the hominid organism is just an assembly at the mercy of every passing whim ( a non-functional psychopath) .

At least , this answers the question of “Why does it feel Good to be altruistic ?”
At a nuts-and-bolts level , the self-consciousness knows that the best solution involves foregoing present rewards in lieu of greater future rewards for your kin or society . This translates into a proximal reward , which gives that warm glow of a good deed . If enough people do this , you have an organized religion .

Hominids tend to clump together in groups because of mutual grooming , kin and general laziness . So it is no surprise that some of the most intense religious exaltations are experienced by those deliberately going against these principles because their self-conscious tells them it is the right thing to do : military groups like the US Seals , Marines , SAS , Spetznatz , Templars , Hospitalliers , Shaolin , Janisseries , etc ,etc . Monks and missionaries . Christian missionaries have been the most effective and thorough conquering force known . And it is not force of arms . Look at the Celts in Ireland and Britain , the Norse , Danes , Swedes ,Russians or Romans for that matter for the Christian religion . Islam had a similar success. Most of both conversions were peaceful. Buddhism (especially in Mongolia) similarly . Most of the world would be Marxist today if it were not for the excesses of Stalin and Mao . Is it going to be Marxist in the future in any case? Mao and Stalin were just and episode . Discuss between the layers of your mind (the good old Socratic internal dialogue) .

What is happening on the revolution front these days ? What are large numbers of people willing to sacrifice present rewards for future good ? It needs to be something everyone is passionate about , and effects the survivability of everyone on the planet .

The right to have an unlimited number of children seems to fit the bill . It is the fashionable to assume that economic factors or pollution is responsible for the fall in the birthrate in Europe . What if it is a new Religion aborning ? The lack of large-scale revolts in China (with their one-child per family policy) seems to indicate that there is general perception of self-consciousness that over-population is a problem . Agreeing to a voluntary limitation on children in Europe and China for this reason must release a very large religious pulse ( a great “Aha” feeling) which has only been partially tapped and is gathering steam .

There is a perception of guilt in the populations of Europe , Russias and China that their population does not increase .

BUT this is the way it has always been . The population never increased to Malthusian limits . These areas have always kept their population below catastrophic collapse levels for the last 10 000 years . And the systems have learned . No catastrophe in the last 2 000 years was as bad as the Late Bronze age climate collapse . Even the Second World War , which was the equivalent of a limited nuclear exchange did not lead to a 99% depopulation . Religious systems had a lot to do with it . Extermination wars were limited and millions of people were kept alive by altruistic endeavours like the Red Cross .

Now the people of these same areas are refusing to have too many children . They are feeling “Aha” about it in their deepest hearts . It is a religious feeling . And an awful lot of them are feeling it . In Europe and the Russias they are made to feel guilty about it .

But it is the right thing to do .

And they should be proud .

It is like a large super-saturated solution .



Many sportsmen qualify as monks . Ascetic lives , training hours a day , restricted diets . They are essentially religious groups . There has never been such a large equivalent group in history (the closest was the Olympic athletes in ancient Greek times) .

They have not been mobilized .

Another ping.

Andre Willers7 Dec 2006

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