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God and Memes

God and Memes

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Published by John M. Watkins
A linguistic theory of spirtuality.
A linguistic theory of spirtuality.

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Published by: John M. Watkins on Apr 07, 2013
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08/19/2013

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God and memes:
Language and the construction of God
 byJohn MacBeath Watkins
As I've discussed inthis blog post, I have a theory of spirituality based on language. When people invented language, they createdan existence for things that is separate from those things.Everything had a real existence and a symbolic existence.But the strange world of symbols the human mind lives in(and, in part, is made up of) was only about as visible to people asair is to us or water is to fish, because it is the sea our minds swimin, so we did not interpret the strange, non-physical existence of things as a linguistic phenomenon. We instead thought of that interms of spirits.This does not mean that spirits and gods and soul do notexist. It means whether or not they exist as supernatural phenomena, they exist in the social construction of reality. It isthat complex, symbolic world that makes humanity so strangecompared to other animals.When we think of the soul, for example, we think of the
 
continuation of our consciousness separate from out bodies. But what is human consciousness?In large part, we are made up of each other -- our minds (or consciousness, or soul) are shaped by the interactions we have with others. From the base state of the animal we are, with certaincapabilities, we become human through a process of acculturation. Every person we interact withshapes us, sometimes because we accept their views or their behavior, sometimes because we rejectthem thereby setting the boundaries of our selves. And that part of ourselves that has become a part of others lives on after us, a ghost in the very structure of human consciousness.The complexity of our culturedepends on how many mindsare in communication, and whatknowledge they carry, communicate, and play with. ResearchersAdam Powell1,3,Stephen Shennan2,3,and Mark G. Thomas1,3, in a paper titled Late Pleistocene Demography and the Appearance of Modern Human Behavior ,argue that upper paleolithic behavior -- the jewelry, art, andcomplex tools that indicate complex symbolic thought -- appeared more than once in human history, but disappeared when something caused the population to crash. This could be a drought, a famine, or a plague. Not only did the number of people in a society matter, so did the trade and communication withother people.We can imagine that in a small group, the knowledge available has to be as much as parents cancommunicate to their children. Upper paleolithic culture needed more minds to hold it, moreknowledge than the single family unit (or even a small hunting group) could contain in its few heads.Part of that knowledge would be about how to more fully exploit the food sources in the environment,allowing it to support a more dense populations and thereby making more minds available to hold theknowledge of the culture.With the increasing complexity of society came the problem of coordination. Wild minds wereas much a danger to social cohesion as rogue males. We still had our evolved sense of wanting to belong to a family and a pack, but the symbolic world gave our persons an existence that was not
 
entirely organic, and that needed to be integrated into a cohesive whole as much as our naked-apeorganic persons did.The instrument of this is what we call religion. It organized our minds as part of a people,usually with a creation myth explaining why our group was special. We called upon this ethereal worldof spirit/symbol to explain the unexplainable. We called upon it to coordinate society. If Julian Janes isright, we formed a sort of societal hallucination that contained the way to live together and prosper.Janes heldthat people prior to about 1,200 BC, human minds were not self-conscious. In fact,since he defined consciousness in terms of the metaphorical space inside our heads that we regard asourselves, he claimed that humanity was not truly conscious prior to that, sharing a sort of dream worldwhere the gods spoke to us and told us what to do. The command and the action were such, he said,that "volition came as a voice that was in the nature of a neurological command, in which the commandand the action were not separated, in which to hear was to obey."[1]The remnant of this system still crops up, according to Janes, in schizophrenia.But of course, the myths did not die out when our minds became self conscious (which Janestheorizes we did because the world was changing too fast for the social hallucination to correctlyinstruct us.) It is still a part of us, still motivates us, but it is now mediated by self-consciousness.But of course, religion and myth was not the only possible use of the world of symbols we hadinvented. Symbols could also be mated to our problem-solving ability directly, to solve problems for ourselves through an internal dialogue we call reason.Our problem-solving ability, of course, existed before this, and we solved problems withsymbolic thought. But I do not need to talk myself through most of the problem solving I do, likesetting a crate were I can stand on it to reach something. It helps to do that when I'm thinking about myown life, or solving a higher-level problem. And reasoning can solve complex problems quickly.But the advent of agile, self-conscious minds led to a tendency to question the myths central to

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