Continuing with the theme of the bogus dichotomy of logical thinking vs. illogical, another important question is raised by these phenomena: alter brain chemicals and you frequently change the behavior of that brain. If person A has high levels of serotonin, for example, and tends to interpret a scenario in a rosy fashion, while low-serotonin-levels person B interprets the same scenario differently, can we say one being more or less logical than the other?
Here’s a problem: we can’t just magically remove all the chemicals that influence the functioning of brains without crippling those brains. This very moment your brain is “under the influence.” And it’s a good thing. Is there an optimal level for serotonin, for testosterone and oxytocin and the countless other neurotransmitters and hormones, etc.?
In a fairly recent article found over at the Huffington Post (forwarded my way, I don’t read the site), I encountered material about religious belief that pertains to the topic of this discussion. In I Know Because I Know – Christian Belief Through the Lens of Cognitive Science: Part 3 of 6, Valerie Tarico makes some very important points. But also seems to fall into the black/white thinking about human cognition.
First the good. Tarico shares the opinion of neurologist Robert Burton -
“feeling of knowing” (rightness, correctness, certainty, conviction) should be thought of as one of our primary emotions.
Other research has likewise highlighted an emotional aspect to conclusions of right/good wrong/bad.
Tarico hits a supremely important nail on the head with this statement:
Nonetheless, it is a healthy mistrust for our sense of knowing that has allowed scientists to detect, predict, and produce desired outcomes with ever greater precision.
Yes, none of us is a cold computer capable of perceiving the world with perfect accuracy. We aren’t logical creatures; nor are we illogical. Logic is the wrong word. However, where we know our thinking can go astray and want to prevent and correct it . . . we have the insights and methods of science.
Lastly, here is where I think Tarico gets it at least a bit wrong. She writes,
Religious belief is not bound to regular standards of evidence and logic. It is not about logic but about something more intuitive and primal.
What regular standards of evidence? And primal? As mentioned before, I love Einstein’s description of science as the refinement of every day thinking. So we don’t have logic here and primal irrationality there. We have a spectrum of thought from more refined to less. If we must simplify a very complicated issue.
I don’t think it is helpful to approach the why of differing conclusions — no god and no belief vs. god and belief — by claiming the two positions rely on distinctly different categories of cognitive processes. Convenient as it may be, I just don’t think that is the case.