Tag Archives: Communication

The Decline and Fall of the Manufactured Consent Cartel

Although this documentary is about viral videos, there are some interesting undertones in its storytelling that illustrate how culture has undergone a massive shift in recent years as a result of the democratization of information sharing through social media technology. The documentary outlines who and what rose to prominence, and who fell, as a result of the shift. It almost inadvertently documents the reasons for the decline of the influence of media and large corporations as the manufacturers of consent and popularity. Perhaps why they are so desperately grasping to regain control of the manufactured consent reigns through a bonfire of self congratulatory prattle and obsessive repetition these days.

Mate Selection Expressed on a Molecular Scale

The level of detail through which behaviors are expressed that are aligned with ensuring adaptive advantage extends to the microscopic. In this case a strategy for sexual selection involves the production of some kind of protein or chemical in the ovarian fluid of ocellated wrasses which helps define the acceptance or rejection of sperm based on whether the male that emitted it will be more inclined to tend the nest or not. The idea being that those males more fit to carry on the species will be more likely to breed, enabling the species a better chance to continue forward.

From the article: “Female ocellated wrasses prefer males that build nests and take care of the fertilized eggs as they develop. But there are other types of males that do not provide parental care and compete to fertilize the eggs a female lays in the nest prepared by a nesting male. Small “sneaker” males hang out around the nest and dart in to release large amounts of sperm when a female is spawning. The females, however, seem to have found a way to thwart the sneaker males by giving an advantage to the nesting male’s sperm.”

Among the questions that might ride in the undercurrents of such a fantastically coordinated biological process if we anthropomorphize the situation a bit is; How does the female know that the chemical signature of “sneaker” males is different than the nesters? How was she able to translate this information into a coordinated process to produce a chemical in response that is able to  differentiate between sneakers and nesters and select based on criteria that is advantageous to the female? Regardless of whether or not these are legitimate lines of questioning, the behavioral dynamics expressed through the relational field we call biology certainly is intricate, and whether or not these are the right questions is not as important as recognizing that there is room for questions – plenty of food to feed a passionate curiosity.

To read the full article in Science Daily Click Here

What if relationship, rather than genetics is the dividing line between organisms?


In the video below, Gershom Zajicek M.D speaks about certain viruses as necessary (obligate) symbionts; meaning we were once infected with a virus that is now in an inseparable relationship with us. The common idea is that viruses are infections, but he argues that they span the spectrum of relationships from destructive, to beneficial and in some cases, necessary for our survival.

Some of these vital viral strings, embedded in our genome provide services such as helping forge the relationship between the uterus and the early stage embryo, the formation of the placenta and so on. Because they offer adaptive advantage they have formed an obligate relationship over time and this is how they get to ride on the wave of relationships we currently call human. One example of the fruits of this relationship is the proto-oncogene which governs cell division. It helps our cells grow and divide in specific and limited ways to form and maintain such things as cells and tissues. In fact, when this process is broken we see cancer.

Among the things Dr. Zajicek proposes is that transposable elements (TEs) and Human Endogenous Retro Viruses (HERVs) are two names for the same phenomenon. Transposable elements are snippets of DNA coding that can communicate one cell to another, or across organisms or species, and changes the way an organism operates. This means they can actively modify biological functions during the lifetime of an organism. This method of evolution may need to be added to the currently understood mechanisms which include , descent, genetic variation, mutation, genetic drift, natural selection, and coevolution.

If HERV’s and TE’s are synonymous, this would have enormous implications not only to evolution, but to many other disciplines such as medicine, ecology and so on. TE’s, for instance, may be in some cases an immune response from one creature to defend against what it perceives to be a pathogen (from its perspective). We would receive this as a disease. There may be vectors, such as bacteria that mediate this process. If we look through this lens, we see the dynamic root of many of our own diseases in the way we relate in the context of the larger biological body of which we are part, and on which we depend for nourishment.

Of course, whether this vision is an ghost due to the lens or a clear image of what is really going on remains to be seen. If we expand the notion Dr. Zajicek proposes on to the larger biological relationship landscape, this would indicate there is an active dynamic and far less than random communication flow by way of meaningful structures, not only within species, but between them. It would mean that species may not be the level at which we should define organisms, but by relationship spanning from antagonistic to obligate. (Necessary). If we were to apply a ven diagram to the biological landscape, we would see many overlaps that violate what we have traditionally considered species. In other words, defining organisms by genetics alone may have blinded us to how the larger, more revealing biological relationship landscape works. 

While we have a long way to go to unravel this Gordian knot we call biology, if this proves true, it would explain quite a bit, have enormous predictive capacity, and if applied properly would have a huge impact on our understanding of evolution on many levels beyond the scope of Mendelian (inherited) genetics.

The Coming Social Age

Luther Standing Bear

The Japanese have a word “kodokushi” that means “lonely death”. It refers to people who died so socially disconnected they got noticed as a result of unpaid bills or the stench of their decay. From a wider view, this kind of death is an expression of social stress on a cultural level. It is increasing in places like Japan, where an individual’s social identity has been strongly tied to what that person does – their status in an atmosphere of decreasing opportunity to fulfill roles of that nature. When jobs dry up in a culture that heavily associates social identity to roles such as work and status with nothing of merit to replace it, so does a person’s social life and identity.

This type of expression of social stress is also true in the context of cultures that use unspoken inferences to imply false paths to satisfaction like; monetary and or material success is the path to satisfied social standing. Or a celebrity culture,where popularity is equivocated with success and satisfaction. In these cases it sometimes leads to the opposite; isolation in the form of a prison of superficial relationships and a servile life of superficial show that looks enticing from afar, but is quietly alienating and unsatisfactory to those within its grips. The false illusion can ultimately craft a pluralistic ignorance engine in the culture where people are enchanted by the notion and spend their lives desperately chasing the empty dream – the missing piece of satisfaction that is never to be found in a social maze that is actually a prison disguised as a prize – with only the promise of fulfillment, but no actual satisfaction.

Expressions of stress due to cultural identity crises happen anywhere there is a false path to satisfaction, but also anywhere a former means of forming a social identity is shattered and a path for a new social identity is not clearly established. When disruptions to the social economy, and by extension our connections to each other, are stressed and or destroyed, we become displaced and exhibit stress responses. Various exhibitions of stress like kodokushi are the result in individuals or whole cultures displaced by changes in the environment for which we are ill equipped to adapt.

We have witnessed this identity problem in indigenous people’s throughout the world. Those that have been displaced by western civilization suffer in the wake of social economic stresses. The basis by which the people established their identity was destroyed, and with it, the people. Where the means to form a valuable identity in a social context is disrupted, and no clear alternative path to cultivate a solid socially valued identity is presented, much less cultivated, we see expressions of stress. These social malnourishment stresses are expressed in many forms, including kodokushi. Sometimes self destructive alienation and deterioration take the form of life ending addictions, crime, and other predatory acts such as abuse, or in the case of western technological societies; a sacrifice of quality intimate relationships for gadgets, entertainment and superficial social posturing, none of which are fitting staples of nutrition for our innate human social hungers. As a result, we elevate the most vacuous inconsequential banalities to the status of ultra importance and proceed to swarm on it as if it had real merit – a cycle of self perpetuating distractions that keep us from addressing the reality of our desperately unsatisfied state.

In the west, our fickle passion for a flurry of distracting gadgets and banalities increasingly consumes our time, but does not lead to fundamental satisfaction. As we have distanced ourselves from nature, we have distanced ourselves from ourselves, and this has led to many expressions of cultural stress. When displaced from satisfying forms of social nutrition, we become socially ravenous creatures, desperately consuming anything that remotely looks like food, including social junk food, and each other, for the sake of forging a social identity – even if that identity is an unsatisfying and self perpetuating farce.

On a larger cultural scale, these expressions of cultural stress are the pre quake tremors that precede a much larger tectonic shift laying at the threshold of our near future. One of the fundamental challenges we face as a global culture is how to establish a satisfying identity in the context of the fact that our material needs will be increasingly met through technology. As technology increasingly replaces the need for human participation in the traditional hunt-gather-perform aspects of human sociality, we face a social identity crisis of unprecedented proportions as a species. Our traditionally formed social identities were based on necessary roles which are now increasingly being displaced by automation. If we do not act preemptively to craft a a new social economy, we will face the backlash of stressed humans desperately trying to get their bearings in a world we longer understand.

As we are carried forward on the inevitable currents of time that move us toward the future, in order to succeed, we need to understand that we are primarily social creatures with material needs – not material creatures with social needs. It has always been so, although the social currency has been historically based on material, this is changing and we need to adapt, or suffer the consequences of maladaptation. Although we have historically conflated material needs with social ones out of necessity, as this base erodes we need to recast our understanding of ourselves. We need to focus in on what has always been the driver of human satisfaction all along, sociality. This is the common denominator, and of paramount importance to recognize to successfully move forward. With this in mind it is perhaps wise to recognize that we are entering the social age.

As technology increasingly fulfills our material needs, the stability of our future will need to be built on what we bring that is of social value, rather than what has been of material value. This requires some rewiring of our traditional perceptions of what is of value. We need to move from material mindset to a social one. It is not a mistake that the stone age, bronze age, iron age and the industrial age gave way to the information age. The move has been from material to non-material values. We must now recognize now that the common denominator that has always been social. The variable has been what fills our fundamental hierarchy of needs. Social is what we must now put at the forefront of our understanding of what is of value. Adding value in a social context is what we need to recognize, cultivate and strive for as humans in order to have our bearings in the social age – in order to adapt. Our attempt to fill our social needs with materials pays an ever diminishing return on our level of satisfaction. This is based on the law of supply and demand. The degree to which we make the transition to the social age economy effectively is the degree to which we harmonize with what has been at the foundation of our human nature all along – and that is social. Delivering products of constructive social value is heart the new economy.


Here is an article related to kodokushi http://nautil.us/blog/alienation-is-killing-americans-and-japanese

The Interpretive Dance That Is Biology

Every atom that meaningfully participates in the composition of organized relationships that defines our body,s a common behavioral thread; they’re all hungry for specific kinds of relationships. These relationships are shaped by the context of the local community of atoms they are surrounded by and together they form the coherent harmony that is us. Oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus, and so on engage in specific relationships and the natural dance that forms in the wake of this relational hunger is the engine that drives raw nature to condense into our coherent form.

It’s no wonder we are hungry for specific relationships that, if not satisfied, leave us wanting for nourishment and expressing that hunger, sometimes ravenously and destructively. There is an eloquent message woven into the structure of our biology that communicates clearly that in order to realize our full potential, we need to live in the context of a nourishing community of relationships. The same principle of community on which the atoms from which we are composed is also true in grander scales. It is up to us to cultivate a nourishing relational climate that nourishes our full potential and that is founded on the community principle.


Things That Matter – Can we work together toward a better world?


Episode 0001- What is a realistic approach to move us forward as a global culture?

There are a lot of ideological systems throughout the world. We absorb them, as well as our behavioral values from our family and local culture. Many of these cultural idea-behavior profiles conflict with others. Some cultures appear to get along with others despite differences, others – not so much. Some express behavioral values that conflict their stated beliefs and completely miss the hypocrisy – so what we say and do might not line up – but the bottom line is – some of us behave in direct opposition not only to each other, but against the common good of the world. We will explore “Why is that?” AND – “Is there anything we can do about it?”

Earth is Our Tribe


We are social creatures far more than we are rational ones. The same way raindrops form on the backbone of a particle of dust, our abstract identities are an interpretive dance of interconnected values based on the particulate backbone of imperfect perception faculties coupled with what is communicated through our environment and the established cultural ideas we nurse from in youth. As social creatures, we’re wired to sacrifice accuracy on the altar of belonging. This isn’t because we’re more inclined to intentionally lie in order to belong to a group. Lies are a semi-irrelevant extension of our social nature. Our perception is geared to see what we need to see to cement the social bonds we depend on to live.

We ride aloft on the thermals of our innate social hungers, interpreting imperfect sensory data through a distorted cultural lens that was forged by environmental factors largely beyond the reach of our time, place and capability to influence. Once established, this lens becomes much more an inward projection of installed prejudices than an accurate interpreter of outward events. This is why what looks like common sense to one group looks completely insane to another. Our connection to ideas is an emotional one founded on the intimacy driven by the dependency of social hunger, it is not a rational one based on objective evidence.

We build our identity from the ideological breast milk of the culture we’re baptized in from youth. This ideological perspective is largely constructed at critical periods in development – prior to developing the potential to critically question the premises on which these perspectives stand, much less the discipline to do so. Along with an installed perspective forged on social dependency and how ideas serve as social glue, we also develop an ideological immune system to protect that same identity because, in so doing, we protect what it is we conceive of as our self. In aligning this ideological profile with how it serves to bind us to a group, we become an integrated part of a larger tribal body and thus historically more resilient, adaptable, and by extension, able to survive. An examination of accuracy is not as important as an evolutionary axiom of utility. It is what is useful and arguably essential to belong that trumps accuracy.

Allegiance to local sports teams is one of the recent manifestations of tribal instinct, as is allegiance to organizations, scientific and religious ideologies as well as abstract notions like property and nationalism. So powerful is this social currency that an abstract idea can form the basis of membrane to distinguish an in-group and out-group so powerful that people will fight and die over it. This tribal social attribute has served us well in a world where we needed to navigate some almost impossible adversity over the years. At times, without these kinds of uncompromising bonds to our local tribe we would have literally died off. Social currency is the coin of the realm that outwardly symbolizes the innate values that have been structured into our human cognitive frame over the years by nature to increase our potential to endure.

Along with every advantage conferred by some innovative structure born out of nature comes a potential downside. Our emotional-social attachments to abstractions along with our social hungers can become manipulated such that they are cemented to destructive things by the same engine that once drove our survival. Our innate traits can and have been exploited in some cases to drive emotional attachments to such things as corporate brands and causes which are in opposition to our best interests. People now routinely back causes that are destructive to our individual and collective well being because of ignorance, accidental appropriation and the deliberate and artful massaging of these natural social traits to serve narrow agendas.

The wealth of any local tribe has always come from it’s capacity to cultivate its people such that they lived within their means and continually cemented the bonds of unity and awareness of that which sustained their future. Each member carried the torch for and passed it to the next generation. Finding a harmonious equilibrium with the environment while cultivating and maximizing the fruits that nourish the community is the foundation of wealth. While desperate times have called for desperate measures, from the larger perspective, tribal wealth is a byproduct of how much the members of the community give to the community, not from how much power and resource they extract from it. A vested interest in the entire social and environmental ecosystem, including each other, is the life blood of the tribe.

Over time the sharing of resources and ideas is what led to our current capacity to no longer be bound as tightly to the whims of nature’s irregular bounty. We have the capacity to steer with far more intention and have far more impact through technology, but that does not mean that we have always chosen to steer wisely. Technology has provided the capacity to greatly enrich our lives, but only if it is appropriately applied. Our technological sword comes with two edges. We now have the capacity to greatly improve our lives, but we also have the capacity to destroy our future on the altar of now. Because of overpowering tools, we are faced with the new proposition of needing to apply our capacities judiciously and from a global community perspective to ensure our survival. We cannot afford to leverage our capacities capriciously without risking the destruction of the very channels that we depend on to nourish us.

Our local success now depends on the success of the many interconnected entities that collectively form our global body. We are no longer capable of operating as separate entities – different bodies. Each of us is a vital organ in the collective body. Together we are a singular whole. To strangle one part of the body for the sake of another is not only not effective, but can only be justified on a foundation of ignorant or wanton destructiveness. It is now a matter of self interest and sustainability to have, and actively cultivate, a stake in each others success and to cultivate the environmental channels that nourish us. Each of us is individually limited to the confines of that which we collectively decide we are. A world where we nourish each others potential, instead of exploit each others weaknesses, is a world that maximizes its capacity to unlock the fruit it has to offer itself. To strengthen our voice to its full potential we must strengthen each other. To effectively raise the experience of life we have as individuals, we need to recognize how contingent each of our success is on the success of the entire tribe.

A strategy that serves well in one context can be disastrous in another. We once lived in a world where local tribal unity was essential for survival -a world where we could leverage every tool at our disposal without concern for the backlash. The environment was the primary influence that shaped our ideologies and culture. If we didn’t listen to and change with the message delivered to us through the environment, we dissolved back to the soil from which we came and no longer have a voice. We now live in a world where technology has erased the need to bend to as many aspects of the environment. Along with this capacity we have effectively eliminated the protective membrane of local geography. We now all swim in the same pond and it’s a whole lot smaller than it used to be. What we do affects us all, and to survive and thrive, we need to shift our tribal perspective from the narrow set of ideological anomalies that are metaphoric echoes of a local people’s relationship to local environments over time to see the entire earth as our tribe.

A Map To The Future is through Community


It’s been said people reflect the environment they’re exposed to. This is particularly true at times when we are more emotionally excited. We remember trauma more so than the much more abundant time periods of the mundane. As children we’re in a perpetual state of excitation and wonder. As children, while we don’t have the wherewithal to absorb and retain the shaping events in the context of words, these events are nonetheless a powerful influence on the way we think and act later on.

We have a tendency to drape the cultural values and experiences we’re baptized in as a veil over our eyes and then use that veil as the filter through which we see each other and the world. A well traveled or deliberate individual might occasionally breach the veil and cross the cultural divide, at least intellectually, to see a bit of the common threads that weave together humanity. This is one such attempt, to understand the current state of our global culture and perhaps glimpse at some of the unrealized opportunity we may have at our disposal. With that understanding , perhaps we might dare to dabble our collective oar in the currents in which we ride to steer toward a more fulfilled state of being.


A coral community with a concentration of Madracis decactis on top of one of the pinnacles at Stetson Bank.

It is not beyond the pale to recognize that mankind has historically had to both literally and figuratively fight against nature in order to survive at times. In desperate times, this spawned the need to commit the most profane acts of cruelty and dehumanizing degradation, and over time this temporary necessity became inseparably intertwined with our collective cultural identity. Disease, predators, natural disasters and climate catastrophes came to be seen in some circles as things needed to be dominated in order to survive. This fight against nature was particularly pronounced in cultures that had to navigate harsher climates, endure famines and the like.

The same way an individual reflects the expressions of their local environment, cultures tend to reflect the environment they exist in and have been exposed to over time. The harsher climates some of us endured, spawned cultural reflections of themselves in the form of parasitic and predatory values that affected in the way we saw the world and each other. It shaped our myths, our cultural values and the relationship dynamic by which we pulsed – and these cultures that were refined in the fires of adversity became the warrior class of mankind. Although it has morphed into something far afield of its original appearance on the human cultural scene, war may have been spawned as a survival mechanism during desperate times. When we perceive our survival as being under threat, we opt to fight or take flight as a reaction. These fight and flight behaviors are an apt description of much of our history. Not everyone, everywhere, but as a trend, those with the capacity to dominate came to associate dominating nature, and each other, with “natural right” and “progress” – as the means of making a living on a cultural level.

The dominators came to dominate even those that didn’t have any need nor desire to live as expressions of fear – those that apply maximum pressure to nature’s bounty – that use exploitation on the altar of dehumanization to vacuum value toward the few at the expense of the many – those that sacrifice the future for the sake of the now and scorch the very earth that feeds them were born in these fires of adversity or carried on the cultural currents of those that spread these dominating values. The people who lived more in harmony with the body of life were eventually swallowed by those of us that developed concepts like property, debt, government, society, and duty as the means of establishing the false comfort of ownership and the false safety of the upper echelons of hierarchical safety. Expending societal skin to pleasure themselves…

life-sustaining river contaminated

Zayandeh-rood, a critical and life-sustaining river contaminated by oil, industrial wastes and chemicals illegally dumped in it

All of this dominance has not come without a cost. In beating back nature to continue existing, and then holding on to that fierce ritual of domination as a means of existing, we have sacrificed a portion of the spirit of life for the sake of the ritual of existence. We have deadened the opportunity of authentic relationship by staying prepared for the disaster we fear lurks in the shadows – that disaster we have come to expect and that we have also come to cultivate on our social landscape – and in so doing we have robbed ourselves of our own nature. Every organ in our body must willingly contribute something of nourishing value in the context of the community it exists in order for the body to maintain its integrity. Biology, at its core, is a gift economy, not a parasitic and predatory one. Each cell and organ in a body of any size lives in and depends on the rest of the community to share value for the sake of the collective being it depends on for life. In the long run it is a community principle that sustains us, not a dominance one. When the entire community operates on an economy based on sharing nourishing values with each other, we experience the comfort of community as well as the exhilaration of being able to navigate at our peak. Parasitic and predatory behaviors may be necessary to negotiate acute and terrible circumstances, but as a way of life, they become self destructive.

We now live in the echoes of a cultural tragedy of the commons – in the midst of treacherous waters where the social currency is aligned more with the notion that “If I do not participate in the harsh and dehumanizing coin of the realm, then I will be swallowed. I must exploit, I must dominate, I must compete, or I will be dominated.” In so acquiescing to the banality of evil stitched into the fabric of our cultural memory we have lost touch with the fact that cultivating the fullness of life requires we have a community and not a culture of exploitation – a community where we cultivate each others values instead of attempt to cease, dominate, and consume them. Although desperate times call for desperate measures, it is also true that we must gravitate back to our true nature lest we become the cause of the very thing we rail against. The dominator can become a victim of its own success – dominated by domination like a snake that eats its own tail. We must recognize that our tribe is earth, and our people are us – all of us – we must recognize that our body is the whole body of life – and that body is the Earth itself – it is not this local eddy of relationships we call our individual body. Our strength and our life depends on our capacity to express the community principle. The fullness any one of us can attain is contingent on what we collectively express in terms of community values. Every “I am” is because “we are”.

We need a world that recognizes the opportunity expressed through nature. We need a world that sees wealth as a function of giving to each other and cultivating nourishing relationships throughout the environment that lead to more life giving nourishment – and not from the seizure and demand from each other and the stripping of the environment. We need to use our individual voice in this choir – to sing that tune. To live in the context of a community that cultivates the fullness of life through sharing our best with each other. As a reward for this expression, we get to live in a world that cultivates our fullest experience of life and not one that keeps us beneath the threshold of our full potential. It is a self interested act to live by the community principle – to cultivate community. Our biological economy speaks to the validity of our own need to cultivate community through its structure. We need to contribute to the larger body of life in which we live and on which we depend in order for us to exist at all. Together we are one body of life. Divided we cultivate our own poverty.

If we were to do a sincere autopsy on the cause of our current predicament, we would not be able to trace blame to those that currently acquiesce to the “system” as it stands. Those of us that dominate are a cultural echo of fear, or a direct unwitting victim that cultivates an experience of life beneath the threshold of its full potential. We can become vectors of poverty, but not the cause. We would have to trace blame largely to a mindless conspiracy of environmental circumstances, accumulated over the years, which we now subliminally reflect and onto which we overlay our linguistic abstractions. As a global culture we reflect the full tapestry of our environmental experiences and perpetuate these on our social landscape as blindly as the dung beetle rolls it ball of waste across the dirt – we are a cultural expression of our phyletic memory – our cultural genetics were forged in the primordial soup of environmental circumstance.

Photo Credit, TheDailyMail.com

We are social creatures by nature. We hunger for intimate nourishing community. It is our nature, it is the principle on which we sustain ourselves. Our need for intimacy with air, nourishing food and water sources, and the need to process and eliminate those entities in ways that benefit other life forms speaks to the interdependent community of life in which we live, and on which we depend for life. Our very structure is an expression of our nature. Should we choose to see it as the guide by which we might live, and through which we can thrive, we will act in service of our own best interest. To serve the community is to serve ourselves. We have yet to fully realize that our local community is Earth, and that we need to have a vested interest in each others success and well being to realize the full flower of that opportunity that exists in the context of the real government under which we all live – the laws of nature. To violate these laws, or to do anything less is to become the author of our own poverty and perhaps our own extinction. What has led to where we are will not take us forward. Like any womb, the thing that nourishes us to a certain point will strangle us if we do not emerge into the next paradigm of existence.

Each of us that understands the community principle as the way to nourish our future must do what we can to cultivate a wider expressions of this. Those of us on the cusp of this new paradigm of awareness must cultivate more tangible expressions. To move forward, we must integrate the community principle into our personal, community, business, governmental and environmental values. We can become authors of our collective wealth if, and only if, we recognize our individual potential depends on how much we collectively nourish the community of life in which we live, and on which we depend for life.

Be well.

Happiness is Inside-Out


The whole world starts the lens through which we see it. Charles Swindoll once said; “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it.” Some of us look for happiness on the outside, some expectation we overlay on our world. While the outside is of some consequence, it it the inside that shapes most of what we see and experience. The same way a seedling must first develop in the darkness of the soil before developing the strength to show itself to the rest of the world, the soil from which our public identity emerges largely determines what we experience. Happiness is an inside-out journey.

The Origins of Faith


We are a species extremely well endowed with the capacity for faith. For the purpose of clear communication, faith is defined here as believing without necessary and sufficient evidence to hinge a particular position to reality. Instead of objective evidence, faith is defined here as being supported with things like authority, popularity, wishful thinking, charisma, trust and force. Faith is sometimes a blend of reality and these other things, but the portion that is faith is defined here as the portion that is unhinged from objective reality. Along with the ability to dribble abstractions out of our face and other appendages to describe what’s real, we also use these abstractions to craft images that aren’t real, or that are so distorted they barely have a toehold in reality.

Even greater than our ability to craft unhinged ideas, we’re able to believe them with ease depending on circumstance. We may have the illusion that our senses produce a fairly accurate rendering of reality, but far more of our biological wiring is dedicated to produce a “useful” image than is dedicated to produce an accurate one. Accuracy is a surprisingly expendable commodity in the human biological framework.

Adelson-Checkershadow-Illusion01To illustrate the useful rendering factor of our biology we can look at this image; square “A” and square “B” are identical in color, but our brain renders square “B” lighter in color. Our brain doesn’t render things as they are, it interprets information and conjures up what it thinks will be useful for us to navigate. Our senses are notorious among those that study them closely for filling in the gaps. Accuracy is not a priority, useful is the priority. The fact that our brain renders useful, and not accurate, images has profound implications when it comes to what we can reliably believe with certainty. This is especially true when we consider how socially useful it is to believe the things our in-group does. It is also significant when we consider the social currency we gain from the ability to be influential in getting social traction for our own notions in the social economy.

Adelson-Checkershadow-Illusion03This “useful over accuracy” aspect of our biological senses is not confined to the relationship we have between the internal and external world. It is also true of the relationship we have within ourselves. For most of us, accuracy is a shadowy afterthought even when it comes to understanding ourselves or at best, a hard fought and tenuous discipline that requires extreme vigilance.

Faith can be seen as a one of the “useful” renderings of the mind. Faith and subjectivity are far more powerful players in the global social economy than is objectivity. Although we have many a trinket produced by technologies that are inseparably grounded in reality, faith still dominates our everyday lives. Most humans believe some set of ideas with no empirical grounding. One common faith based belief is that we are separate from the rest of biology, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Somehow we see ourselves as far superior. We support our superior notions with various abstract special endowment qualifiers such as we are of divine origins, or use our capacity for symbolic language as a means of generating distance between us and the rest of biology. The bottom line is our conversation with the unknown is a fertile spawning ground for magical thinking.

Maybe it’s a cosmic irony that the most essential questions about life are also the most elusive to answer with tangible evidence, but here we are, mining the dark for illumination. “Why are we here? Why do we die? Do we have a purpose, and if so, what is it?” As questions like these come into focus, we attempt to put some structure on them. So far what we’ve been able to extract from beyond the horizon of our senses are various flavors of abstract bubblegum – wordy wads we can chew on and blow a few abstract bubbles with, but that lose their flavor when exposed to the direct light of reality. The fact that reality doesn’t agree with and/or support our ideas doesn’t seem to deter us from believing them. A few of us attempt to brave the unknown using what’s real as the measure of truth, but globally speaking, our most common relationship with the unknown is to sacrifice the darkness on the alter of false certainty.

Our penchant for faith could be a quirk of evolution formed on a backbone of contradictory needs; one being able to respond rapidly and the other to gain the advantages that careful rational thought has to offer. This internal competition between the reactionary and the carefully considered may have set us up for a shadowy relationship with ourselves. This could have been the spawning bed for our love affair with the mystical.1

Any exploration we attempt on the parts of ourselves that defy analytic dissection would naturally bring about a litany of guesses. There is an inverse relationship between the level of rational insight we are capable of using and the perceived level of urgency with which we see a given situation. The more urgent we perceive a situation, the less useful the higher functions of our brain. Higher functions essentially shut down or are significantly diminished when we are under perceived threat.

Perhaps the more recent arrival on our biological scene of rational thought means this system is as yet undeveloped, therefore gets easily swamped by emotion. It may also be that the slower speed of our rational capacities is the reason they’re so easily overwhelmed by the older, more quickfire and far more established portions of our biology.2 It could be that our slower functions cannot grasp the chaotic rapidity with which our reactionary functions operate. Like the particle trying to understand the wave, we cannot know the position and the velocity at the same time so we are left with generalized pointers and probabilities.

We’re also biologically equipped to focus on novel events. When we face novel things we’re triggered into a heightened state of awareness. It’s not difficult to see the survival value of this, but this heightened state is not a fertile environment for processing new things using our thin and questionable capacities for critical thought.

When we are young, we are highly plastic. The need to adapt to new environmental conditions specific to us is thought to be the foundation of this early developmental plasticity. The same way a fight or flight situation diverts energies away from immediately unnecessary functions to the ones that serve our urgent needs, we adapt to the perceived relationship climate during our developmental stage. If the environment is stressed, our biological faculties will be more inclined to be reactionary. As we age, in mass the generation takes hold of the social narrative and uses the established channels to react. The general aversion older adults have to the new could explain the mechanism by which traditional ideas and rituals are preserved. Because that segment of the population operated the controls, perhaps it strives to maintain relevance. This can also cause a situation where the ante to get in the game is to lay claim to observing the status quo.

No matter the cause, we use faith to defend against the fear that comes with dawning awareness. Faith stands in when evidence is lacking, or is inconveniently destructive of what we’re emotionally invested in. We may find the idea of expiring into nothingness upon death unbearable, so we invent abstractions as a coping mechanism. Our compulsive tendency to explain the inexplicable overwhelms our capacity to be rational. The irony is that the things we use to defend ourselves may become the enemy of clear vision. We become emotionally attached to ideas that we then defend as we would any other part of our person.

Perhaps the faith based ideas that crop up from the soils of the unknown initially caught on as a means to reassure our young somewhere back in time. Children by nature are profoundly inquisitive. Parents are inclined to give them some kind of grounding so they can function in the world. Quenching fears would be one of the priorities. Couple this parenting drive with a dim awareness of cause and effect and we can see how comforting lies and misperceptions could eventually morph into widely accepted and largely unquestioned facts.

The way ideas take root in both individuals and cultures is like the campfire that crosses a threshold from unviable without direct support to one increasingly hungry for fuel. It can be difficult for an idea to catch on, but once it does, we tend to embrace and spread it. After it’s well established it becomes part of the social currency. We generally accept the ideas we are bathed in from youth as fact. If threatened, our ideological identity is social flesh, we protect and defend it as we would our body. Tradition is only one of the ways false ideas are transmitted and perpetuated; authority, popularity, among other social pressures are mechanisms that propagate and perpetuate myths.

An “availability cascade”3 is a social phenomena where a self-reinforcing communication loop causes certain kinds of collective beliefs to take root in a culture. When an idea is expressed simply and seems to explain something complex, it rapidly gains social momentum. The more popular, the more it generates a feedback loop of further spreading and acceptance within a culture. After it reaches critical social mass, people adopt it because other people have already adopted it.

The reason it spreads is due to a combination of its unique nature and new found popularity. We are genetically prone to pay attention to new or unusual things. We are also prone to do things to fit in with our group. Availability cascades cause widespread acceptance of ideas regardless of whether the people in fact fully believe in the idea they now express. The need for social acceptance overwhelms our critical thinking capacities.

It’s possible we cling to unfounded ideas out of a need for axioms by which to navigate. We act on ideas we believe are true, not necessarily those that are true. This can make the skill of persuasion an extremely valuable social currency. As a result we may have developed the skill to deceive a means of protection or establishing an elevated more secure place in the world.

If our goal is to avoid the hazards that arise when we drive blind through life we might want explore why we feel so compelled to fill in the gaps in our awareness. We might also want to explore what weakness in our sensory faculties enables us to so readily confuse words with reality?

We are tickled by the unknown, unable to stop responding unless we do something to scratch the itch. Maybe comforting delusions provide protection from primal fears that would otherwise distract and cripple us. Once we’ve established illusory control with our words we seem to feel better. In the absence of evidence, we build mental castles fortified with abstractions to maintain our sense of safety and right.

Another function of abstractions in human culture is that they serve as a means of persuasion. Social construction is a phrase used to describe how people are grouped into categories using the language a culture uses to communicate. This categorization trait of linguistics has an enormous impact on lives and relationships of the people within a culture. While classifications can be descriptive of existing realities, they can also have a prescriptive power when fueled by faith. We use language to describe reality, but we also use it to prescribe it. The more people believe in and evangelize a particular stereotype categorization, the more influence it has to shape attitudes and behaviors within a culture. Social constructs can do things like confer artificial privilege to certain segments of a population while oppressing others, all powered by faith in the ideas.

Learned helplessness and false entitlement alike can emerge as social constructs in a culture. Once established, the faith process can sustain itself without the participants being aware of the drivers undergirding their experience. This can lead to something called “pluralistic ignorance” where a majority of group members may privately reject a particular view, but they incorrectly assume that most others accept it, so they go along with it.

While physical wealth might be measured by the amount of resources within the control of individuals or groups, social wealth can be measured in terms of the capacity of individuals or groups to influence the culture. The two are often intertwined, but like length and width are to the area of a rectangle, one cannot exist without the other. There is a largely unspoken social contract based on faith that keeps notions like property and class in vogue.

Character could be measured by the nature of what we spread with our capacity to influence. Money is social construct as is the concept of leaders. Leaders, without the currency of social influence are nonexistent. Social constructs may not be strictly the domain of faith because we could objectively describe the real world implications, but this impact is built on a foundation of faith.

One of the more serious downsides of embracing ideas unhinged from reality is their stagnating effect on developing greater awareness. If we operate with the belief that we’ve arrived at the truth, it comes with a side dish of “no reason to explore further”. The illusion of a complete view of reality can be rendered by virtue of the vision limiting capacity of an ignorant perspective. We can be unknowingly locked in a prison of self induced self perpetuated ignorance.4 Our current beliefs can act as projector onto reality rather than a lens through which to see it clearly. As a result, many, if not all of us live in a world of our own making, blind to the one that is.

Cultures and persons with ideological positions that are significantly detached from the fairly glaring realities of everyday life also tend to be the ones that produce more elaborate webs of ritual display. Maybe the fact that faith based ideas have such a tenuous hold on reality is the self same reason they must be elevated from mundane to sacred – to protect them with shrill emotions from the jaws of reality which would otherwise devour them. Elaborate ritual display is also related to how much a particular ideology is perceived to be under threat from outside influences. The greater the perceived threat, the more social energy goes into demands for oaths and other symbolic commitments to the faith.

Once we develop an established baseline of beliefs about the world, any additional perspectives we’re bathed in can only influence us from the frame of reference we already hold. As a consequence, evidence that counter our belief systems tend to be dis-confirmed by that same belief. Belief can be a powerful anchor for delusion because our vision is shaped by ideas we already hold true.

The ideas we pull out of the dark can start their lives as known symbols and later morph into a perceived reality. We can begin confuse the map we once drew in our minds with the actual landscape. We can then live in a world of partly our own making, semi-detached from the realities that persist despite our inabilities to see them.

Another of the unpleasant side effects of believing ideas unhinged from reality is our tendency to defend them with more passion than ideas that are solidly planted in everyday evidence. Generally speaking, we don’t rush to defend the ordinary if it’s challenged. If someone makes the argument that the earth has no water, it doesn’t typically draw a sharp defensive reaction. We can see touch taste and experience the water for ourselves. When a faith based idea we hold is challenged, we’re far more likely to unsheathe a fat roll of theological duct tape and begin the process of spinning a dogmatic cocoon to contain the heresy.

In some of the more seasoned and gentle organized faiths, the overt intent of spinning verbal cocoons around heretical thoughts and behaviors is to “correct”, “evangelize”, or at least to protect the believer from evil thoughts. Should the theological cocoon be effective at containing the target, it enables a metamorphosis of the wayward to believer. In the absence of a successful conversion, some alternative approaches include demonizing the offender, punishing and/or expelling them from the social circle.

Certain brands of faith come wrapped in a particularly harsh variety of intolerance. In more extreme cultural mindsets, there is no evangelistic step, the expectation is ideological purity and the move is from recognition of “heresy” to expelling the heretic from their own life. Many a squabble and war have been catalyzed or powered directly by ideological fuel. This might stem from the fact that the cost of holding a faith based idea requires a certain denial of reality in the first place. Although denial almost always a factor in supporting all forms of faith, there’s more to it than denial alone.

One reason we’re intolerant of perceived heresy might be found by looking at how our communal social bonds are built. Our integrity as a community is built on a framework of similar entities that collectively nourish each other. Shared symbols are part of what communities are built on. We use shared ideas as social DNA to bind our community identity into a coherent order. If faith is part of the social bonding process, we share and replicate faith. Whatever the social currency is, that’s what people tend to trade in. Acceptance and rejection of the shared ideas define who’s in and who’s out of the tribe – what is “self”, and what is “other”.

The fact that we distance ourselves from, assimilate and/or destroy faiths outside our own may be a cultural echo of the fact that we must devour other forms of life to survive. Our lives depend on sacrificing the “other” so that the “self” may live. We may have unconsciously ritualized our understanding of our nature by crafting myths that we then use to consume each other, expelling some waste farming others as food and so on. Culture may be essentially participating in an interpretive tribal dance that expresses our understanding of our environment and nature.

Unconscious ritualization could explain why cultures that developed in environments that require male dominance to survive tend to produce masculinized rituals, myths and patriarchal bellicose social norms.5 This may also be why hunter gatherer cultures with a variety of food sources tend toward polytheism and pastoral cultures with a narrow band of food options tend toward monotheism. Ritualization could be the outward expression of necessary things like population control for an island nation. The occurrence of feast and famine, seasons geography and so on would also impact the nature of the myths, the language and the rituals that define a culture.

The ideas we hold as “true & false – good & evil” may be symbolic stand ins of our unconscious understanding of our natural biological drives. Drives like food, water, relationship and reproduction are strong themes in this natural mix, and show up in our cultural rituals and surrounding myths. With this in mind, we might be destined to be in conflict with each other as a kind of unconscious acting out of our drives.

Intolerance may be part of our cultural immune system. Our language words and behaviors may be a cultural echo of the various relationships we must have with the environment and the rest of biology. Consequently we may ritualize the devouring and digestion process of “other” in relation to the cultural “self” on our social landscape. The irony here is that we would need to spread a set of pluralistic values in order to craft a sustainable equilibrium that involves the peaceful coexistence of differing cultural ideologies.

The fact that we lack tangible evidence for the questions we find so essential to life may be why we make more frequent ritual displays of our faith once it’s established. Rituals may be the mechanism by which we express our understanding of what is real, but they may also be how we reify the unreal. Because our faith is made real in our minds through ritual, we subsequently defend our cultural traditions as if they are vital organs. Perhaps it’s because they are vital social organs, perceived as necessary for the cohesion and survivability of a particular group.

Religion is by no means the only domain of faith. We make solemn pledges to national flags, ritualize patriotism, take oaths, hold parades, join clubs, fraternities and organizations with shared faith as part of the social equation. Some of us have attachments to political parties with the same fabric of faith and the same levels intolerance, the same evangelical fervor and the same dehumanizing dichotomy between “us” and “them”. We also develop many forms of personal faith. Some of us use the ritual of getting other people to believe a story as the impulse to count that same story as real. Addicts are notorious for this type of propulsion into chaos, as are their counterparts, the enablers. Even though the paint job is different in these two cases, the same underlying engine is based on faith – belief without tangible evidence.

The down side of the way we develop and sustain culture is that it is slower to adapt than the the technological climate we now live in demands. We have been quite used to using everything at our disposal to tame nature and each other. We have now crossed the threshold of development where we need to ask more than “Can we?”, we must now ask “Should we?”. The side dish of aggression that comes with cultural hegemony threatens the network of cooperative relationships we now need to sustain a global culture. We could destroy ourselves with our attachment to ideas that no longer serve to strengthen us, but threaten to destroy us. Faith may have been the womb that protected us through our early development, but like any other womb, it nourishes development to a point, then strangles its inhabitants if they don’t break free of it’s confines.

1For more exploration on this topic, read “The Origin of Faith” by Reg Morrison http://www.zo.utexas.edu/courses/THOC/GeneticSpirituality.pdf

2Two parts of our nervous system are especially significant in taking command whenever it sees fit; the limbic system and the autonomic nervous system. The limbic system is a group of forebrain structures including the hypothalamus, the amygdala, and the hippocampus among others. These are heavily involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory. The autonomic nervous system is a control system that acts largely unconsciously and regulates things like heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal, but it is also the primary mechanism in control of the fight-or-flight response. When we react, these systems are at work.

3For more information read “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman or

4For a deeper perspective on how this happens from a historical perspective read “Confirmation Bias: What is it, why is it important, and what can we do about it?” thewisdomoflife.wordpress.com/2012/06/09/confirmation-bias-what-is-it-why-is-it-important-and-what-can-we-do-about-it-2/

5For more information on this perspective look up the term; “Cultural materialism”.