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On The Menu
Finding God in the network – by James Kent
The Poetry of Christina Rossetti
Art:Dante Gabriel Rossetti
One of my favourite bands and perhaps a special song of theirs as well….
Finding God in the network
by James Kent
The field of neurotheology got a jolt last summer when researchers at Johns Hopkins demonstrated that psilocybe mushrooms could readily elicit full-blown mystical experiences in clinical settings. Add this to recent findings that targeted transcranial magnetic stimulation can also produce mystical experiences, and it seems that God is finding it more and more difficult to hide these days. In fact, pioneering scientists have nailed him down to a fairly distinct region in the medial temporal lobe, a region quaintly dubbed the God module.
While the God module sounds like a neat little brain gizmo, it is actually right at the center of many of the brain’s most complex associative functions. To be precise, the God module sits behind the amygdala (emotional response center) and adjacent to the entorhinal cortex (pattern compression and recall center), and just in front of Wernicke’s area, where language syntax and grammar is processed. Is it any wonder that when this area is stimulated (or interrupted) that we may begin to feel strange familiar feelings or hear “voices” that we recognize as coming from a higher power? I don’t think so. I think if you look at the manufacturer’s schematics it would indicate that tinkering in this area is likely to elicit all sorts of profound emotional and mystical responses.
I predict that these studies, though just beginning to scratch the surface, will stand as tipping points between the eras of archaic faith and modern neurotheology. No longer will our understanding of God be mediated by prophets, priests, and dusty tomes. The people will finally have access to the one true religion, and the institutions of dogma and spiritual artifice will come crumbling down.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the trends.
Humans have always associated the forces of fate, nature, and “that which cannot be explained” to personified deities. Temples, shrines, and alters have been built to the timeless wizened caricatures of Gaia, Yaweh, Sol, Poseidon, Zeus, Odin, and their ilk. Even the human prophets among us — saints with the gift of “true vision” and “true speech” like Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, L. Ron Hubbard — have been anointed to the level of deity, worshipped with cult fanaticism, and are held as perfect above all other faiths, symbols, or creeds.
To a strict Darwinian behaviorist the answer is obvious: Religion and the belief in a higher power is a tribal unifier, and one that makes a religious tribe stronger than a tribe with no central unifying belief system. Cunning leaders from the age of the Egyptian Pharaohs forward have known that a populous sworn to one central God was easier to control than a populous divided by tribal cults. Thus, the tribal cult leaders and tribal cult totems were destroyed, and monotheism became the rule of the land. One god, one people, one ruler. Under strict monotheism, religious and political power fused and became centralized, and true fascism could be deployed over large populations with no internal checks and balances to restrain it.
But there was one problem. The sacrament which allowed the individual to bypass centralized dogma and connect with the mind of God directly was still out in plain sight, growing in the fields where the cows graze, and sprinkled along the forested tracks of the migrating reindeer. Surely cults of purist would discover the secret sacrament and challenge central authority and dogma. Surely clever alchemists would decode the secret symbols and might pose a threat, but they were few and could be persecuted and marginalized. The power of Central Authority would be absolute, and could not be challenged, that is the way of things. When the Church rules the State the Dark Age shall see no end. Control of intelligence will be complete.
And now there is a new problem: The secret is loose, and it is spreading. The secret has spread into a human intelligence network called the internet, and continues to spread worldwide. And though the secret continues to be ridiculed and diluted with media hype and nonsense, the research is all there, staring us right in the face. If you tickle your brain in just the right way, God appears. It is pretty much a done deal. The central dogma is not about the word of one man or one text, it is a neural spike ratio formula applied to a specific region you can point to on any anatomical chart of the human brain.
You’re busted God. You cannot hide from us any longer.
This essay was adapted from Cartoon Gods and Chaos Geniuses a lecuture present by James Kent at the Sacred Elixirs conference, 2005.
The Poetry of Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)
A DAUGHTER OF EVE
A fool I was to sleep at noon,
And wake when night is chilly
Beneath the comfortless cold moon;
A fool to pluck my rose too soon,
A fool to snap my lily.
My garden-plot I have not kept;
Faded and all-forsaken,
I weep as I have never wept:
Oh it was summer when I slept,
It’s winter now I waken.
Talk what you please of future spring
And sun-warm’d sweet to-morrow:–
Stripp’d bare of hope and everything,
No more to laugh, no more to sing,
I sit alone with sorrow.
Oh why is heaven built so far,
Oh why is earth set so remote?
I cannot reach the nearest star
That hangs afloat.
I would not care to reach the moon,
One round monotonous of change;
Yet even she repeats her tune
Beyond my range.
I never watch the scatter’d fire
Of stars, or sun’s far-trailing train,
But all my heart is one desire,
And all in vain:
For I am bound with fleshly bands,
Joy, beauty, lie beyond my scope;
I strain my heart, I stretch my hands,
And catch at hope.
A Blue Eyed phantom far before
Is laughing, leaping toward the sun:
Like lead I chase it evermore,
I pant and run.
It breaks the sunlight bound on bound:
Goes singing as it leaps along
To sheep-bells with a dreamy sound
A dreamy song.
I laugh, it is so brisk and gay;
It is so far before, I weep:
I hope I shall lie down some day,
Lie down and sleep.
Too late for love, too late for joy,
Too late, too late!
You loitered on the road too long,
You trifled at the gate:
The enchanted dove upon her branch
Died without a mate;
The enchanted princess in her tower
Slept, died, behind the grate;
Her heart was starving all this while
You made it wait.
Ten years ago, five years ago,
One year ago,
Even then you had arrived in time,
Though somewhat slow;
Then you had known her living face
Which now you cannot know:
The frozen fountain would have leaped,
The buds gone on to blow,
The warm south wind would have awaked
To melt the snow.
Is she fair now as she lies?
Once she was fair;
Meet queen for any kingly king,
With gold-dust on her hair,
Now these are poppies in her locks,
White poppies she must wear;
Must wear a veil to shroud her face
And the want graven there:
Or is the hunger fed at length,
Cast off the care?
We never saw her with a smile
Or with a frown;
Her bed seemed never soft to her,
Though tossed of down;
She little heeded what she wore,
Kirtle, or wreath, or gown;
We think her white brows often ached
Beneath her crown,
Till silvery hairs showed in her locks
That used to be so brown.
We never heard her speak in haste;
Her tones were sweet,
And modulated just so much
As it was meet:
Her heart sat silent through the noise
And concourse of the street.
There was no hurry in her hands,
No hurry in her feet;
There was no bliss drew nigh to her,
That she might run to greet.
You should have wept her yesterday,
Wasting upon her bed:
But wherefore should you weep today
That she is dead?
Lo we who love weep not today,
But crown her royal head.
Let be these poppies that we strew,
Your roses are too red:
Let be these poppies, not for you
Cut down and spread.