Mirror Neurons

I copied this comment from a piece on CNN titled, “What happened to God in America?”

“They will be lovers of themselves and not of God, lovers of money, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, without self-control, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”

It’s a shame that Christians have been brainwashed into believing that if you don’t believe like they do then all these negative things will happen and apply to you. It’s simply not true. Religious people find it very annoying that people don’t need God to be good, as science has now incontestably proved.

For millennia, we’ve been brainwashed into believing that we needed the Almighty to redeem us from an essentially corrupt nature. Left to our own devices, people would quickly devolve into beasts, more violent, tactless, aggressive, and selfish, than we already are.

Today, we know that this isn’t true. With the discovery of mirror neurons by Italian neuroscientist Giaccomo Rizzolatti in the 1990s, we now have physiological proof of why – and how – our species became hard-wired for goodness. Mirror neurons are miraculous cells in the brain whose sole purpose is to harmonize us with our environments. By reflecting the outside world inward, we actually become each other – a little bit; neurologically changed by what is happening around us. Mirror neurons are the reason that we have empathy and can feel each other’s pain. It is because of mirror neurons that you blush when you see someone else humiliated, flinch when someone else is struck, and can’t resist the urge to laugh when seeing a group struck with the giggles. (Indeed, people who test for “contagious yawning” tend to be more empathic.) These tiny mirrors are the key to most things noble and good inside us.

It is through mirror neurons – not God – that we redeem ourselves, achieve salvation, and are “reborn” in virtuous ways once co-opted by religions. Evolution knew what she was doing. A group of successful cooperators has a much higher chance of thriving than a population of selfish liars. In spite of what we read in the headlines, the ratio of bad to good deeds done on any given day across our planet holds at close to zero any day of the year. Although we are ethical works-in-progress, the vast majority of us are naturally positive creatures – meaning not harmful to our environments – most of the time in most of the ways that matter. And God has nothing to do with it.

Spirituality does but God doesn’t. Evolutionary psychologists tell us that our brains are hard-wired with a five-toned moral organ that focuses on a quintet of ethical values – one of which is purity, or sacredness. In a world that can sometimes be disgusting, we evolved an upper tier of emotional longing – the aspiration for purity – to keep us balanced in this satyricon of carnal delights (where animality beckons and frequently wins). Our need for sacredness is part of our ancient survival apparatus, and manifests in what we call faith, the need to connect with that sacred dimension. This has been the primary purpose of religion, of course – to congregate people for the Greater Good – but God has been, in fact, the divine carrot. The important part was communion, a context in which to transcend ourselves, if only for an hour on Sundays. Without this ability “to turn off the Me and turn on the We,” moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt tells us, our species would still be wandering around as groups of nomads, unable to create a civilization.

Aside from mirror neurons, there’s oxytocin, the molecule of connection (also known as the molecule of love). It’s fascinating to learn that the vagus nerve produces more oxytocin when we witness virtuous behavior in others that makes us want to be better people ourselves. We are wired by nature to be elevated at the sight of other people’s goodness, mirror neurons and oxytocin conspiring to improve the species. Miraculous though it is, this natural human phenomenon has nothing to do with theology.


4 thoughts on “Mirror Neurons

  1. I like Kant’s categorical imperative, that we know what is proper and right and thebn we choose. It is within us and no god was needed.

    As an aside, M_R, on c-spann booknotes today there was a broadcast from Savannah, Ga bookfair. A speaker was Garry Weills who has written a number of boods on relligion., He was talking about his most recent book “Priests”. You might like to catch that program as he explains that the last supper was not the creation of the priesthood and that the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is a farce. It was St. Augustine who defened a priestless christianity and it prevailed until medieval times when Thomas Acquinas justifed the papacy”s move to have a priesthood. As the nation-states were developing into a monarchial government, so to did the papacy and so it established the church hierarcy of priests, bishops, and Pope along with the feudal system of knight-lord-king., He claims that the body and blood of Christ are the membvers of thethe chruch, well, all christians It’s the priesthood of all believers.

    It causght my attention, not because of the religiohn, but because of the historical movements…. I’m thinking that you may want to catch it. Probably will be re-broadcast later today or you can catch it on the booknotges web site and replay…..

    1. So, my friend, it’s all a farce! Look how the two of us have been duped for all of these years by the ‘good’ sisters and the priests. And the duplicity continues with the election of a new pope in the next few weeks. Who the hell cares!

      You and I are the ‘body and blood of Christ,’ he says. Not a wafer and fermented grape juice? All a hoax?? Of course, the word HOAX is short for hocus-pocus which arose from the Latin words said at Mass during the consecration, ‘Hoc est enim corpus meum.’

      Hocus-pocus indeed.

      Garry Wills, Apostolic Transgression: Why Priests


  2. “duped”?

    Were we falsely deceived? It seems to me we were taught by some good people, nuns and priests. Were they in on some grand scheme to fool us
    or trick us into believing something that was not true? Society in the 1940s and ’50s was of a more believing in the next existence.Times change; knowledge improves as you have aptly bought to our attentions oin the field of science. We now have the “god particle”, which was unheard of back when we were lads.. Apparently, we have been able to accept change, but what, 70% are still back in the Middle Ages…Maybe the Prot4estestant Revolutions of the 16th century were on tqrget about priests and the Papacy?

    1. but what, 70% are still back in the Middle Ages…
      The question is why? Why are these 70% still there? Is it because they don’t know? Or is it because they do know and choose to live ‘then?’

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