"The results change the perception of who a Viking actually was," said project leader Professor Eske Willerslev.
- A team of international researchers spent years analyzing the DNA of 442 people, most of whom lived during the Viking age.
- It's the largest DNA analysis of Viking remains to date.
- The results show that Vikings were more genetically diverse than previously thought.
An artistic reconstruction of 'Southern European' Vikings emphasising the foreign gene flow into Viking Age Scandinavia.
Jim Lyngvild<p>The results deal a blow to our modern image of Vikings.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We didn't know genetically what they actually looked like until now," project leader Professor Eske Willerslev, director of The Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre, University of Copenhagen, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/sjcu-wld091120.php" target="_blank">statement</a>. "We found genetic differences between different Viking populations within Scandinavia which shows Viking groups in the region were far more isolated than previously believed. Our research even debunks the modern image of Vikings with blonde hair as many had brown hair and were influenced by genetic influx from the outside of Scandinavia."</p>
A mass grave of around 50 headless Vikings from a site in Dorset, UK. Some of these remains were used for DNA analysis.
Dorset County Council/Oxford Archaeology<p>Part of that genetic influx came from afar. The team's genetic analysis — which is the most comprehensive ever conducted on Viking remains — revealed influences from Southern Europe and Asia. For example, some Viking remains showed influences of mixed European and Sami heritage. (Known for reindeer herding throughout Scandinavia, the Sami people <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/ejhg200888" target="_blank">share some genetic links with Asian populations</a>.)</p><p>Findings like these suggest the Vikings might have had less hostile interactions with some groups than previously thought.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"We have this image of well-connected Vikings mixing with each other, trading and going on raiding parties to fight Kings across Europe because this is what we see on television and read in books - but genetically we have shown for the first time that it wasn't that kind of world," Willerslev said. "This study changes the perception of who a Viking actually was — no one could have predicted these significant gene flows into Scandinavia from Southern Europe and Asia happened before and during the Viking Age."</p>
Redefining the 'Viking' identity<p>What's more, some of the people who received Viking burials weren't genetically related to the Vikings, suggesting the term "Viking" might have referred more to a job description or cultural identity rather than genetic heritage.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Importantly our results show that 'Viking' identity was not limited to people with Scandinavian genetic ancestry," study co-author Søren Sindbæk, an archaeologist from Moesgaard Museum in Denmark, said in a <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/sjcu-wld091120.php" target="_blank">statement</a>. "Two Orkney skeletons who were buried with Viking swords in Viking style graves are genetically similar to present-day Irish and Scottish people and could be the earliest Pictish genomes ever studied."</p><p>Although Vikings idolized warrior culture, took slaves, and focused much of their energy on conquering Europe, they also <a href="https://www.historyonthenet.com/vikings-as-traders" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">helped expand trade throughout the continent</a>, developed <a href="http://www.sourcinginnovation.com/archaeology/Arch07.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">innovative farming and crafting techniques</a>, and were <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-46194699" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relatively egalitarian in terms of women's rights</a>. Using a genetic framework, the new study adds a deeper layer to history's understanding of the Vikings.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The results change the perception of who a Viking actually was," Willerslev said in the statement. "The history books will need to be updated."</p>
Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.
In his new book, "American Rule," Jared Yates Sexton hopes to overturn a centuries-long myth.
- In "American Rule," Jared Yates Sexton wants to eradicate the myth of American exceptionalism.
- Since its founding, Sexton writes that America has been constructed to protect the wealthy elite.
- In this interview, the writer suggests that facing up to our tragic history affords us an opportunity to build something new.
Conspirituality 17: Interview with Jared Yates Sexton<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="15ef8bcd30b09c9541cc8d5d51d16893"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/XpQJfxzLAik?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>America's leaders were suspicious of the public's intellect well before that war. The founding fathers created our particular system of democracy because they didn't trust common people. The protection and success of white, wealthy landowners has always been the focus, regardless of the generational veneer pained over the top. </p><p>At one point, Sexton had to leave his desk and walk around. The <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/white-settlers-buried-truth-about-midwests-mysterious-mound-cities-180968246/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Moundbuilder Myth</a> made him shake his head in disbelief. This conspiracy theory promoted the idea that Native Americans were not sophisticated enough to build mound complexes in the Ohio and Mississippi River Valleys and throughout the Southeast, which must have meant Europeans were on the land well before indigenous people. This myth was so woven into the societal fabric that Andrew Jackson, who Sexton calls "a total genocidal madman," mentioned it during the State of the Union address. </p><p>This isn't the only flummoxing footnote. Americans are particularly primed for paranoia. As he says, "You cannot understand modern America without understanding conspiracy theories."</p><p>The recent horrors of <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/jemimamcevoy/2020/09/15/pelosi-calls-for-investigation-into-claims-of-mass-hysterectomies-poor-covid-19-care-at-ice-detention-center/?fbclid=IwAR030JRc9pYvYwvgQMoeBDndZpSbqHkSw16Fn0YLPxwS1O-U2pvmA0DZCgk#4dc1d55e5f7c" target="_blank">hysterectomies performed without consent</a> (not a conspiracy theory) point to another long-standing stain on America's reputation: eugenics. British thinker Francis Galton's bastardization of his cousin Charles Darwin's idea of natural selection fell into favor throughout America. This biologically (and religiously) determined call for selective breeding laid the basis of Nazi Germany, though today few Americans recall how much we inspired Hitler's pogroms. </p><p>The problem, Sexton says, is that we constantly choose to deny or overlook past grievances, which keeps us primed to commit new ones. Germany fessed up to their horrors; so did South Africa. Not so America. Sexton cites Jimmy Carter's "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCOd-qWZB_g" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">malaise speech</a>," an oft-denounced address that was one of the most honest declarations by a U.S. president. Instead of living up to Carter's impassioned call to action, the public chose an actor that spent eight years coddling a nation's ego instead of holding up a mirror. </p>
Jared Yates Sexton<p>And so here we are, a failing empire foolishly gripping onto the myth of a time that we were supposedly great. In fact, Reagan asked us to make America great again; so did Bill Clinton. With this myth comes the proliferation of conspiracy theories, most notably QAnon, though dozens persist. And they all point back to the founding myth in some capacity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If America is so special, how are we failing right now? Within the myth is the idea that we're being sabotaged from beyond and from within. Nationalistic conspiracy theories are what happens when a country's mythology starts to wane." </p><p>While critical, Sexton is not without optimism. Our failures shouldn't not erase the incredible progress we've made. Right now, however, that mirror Carter tried to wield is needed. Otherwise, we could be reliving the end of the Cold War. The dismantling of the Soviet Union destroyed Russian optimism, which the government used as a wedge to attain absolute power. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"After the Cold War, they became as a people and a culture incredibly depressed, and incredibly oppressed. It reached a point where they knew their leaders were lying to them. But it was met with a big shrug. Eventually that apathy and powerlessness breeds more apathy and powerlessness."</p><p>Which is where America stands today: skyrocketing rates of depression and anxiety, as well as the blueprint for a new Civil War—a possibility Sexton calls a probability. Nothing new here: instead of collectively focusing our energy on the accumulation of wealth by the moneyed class, culture war issues and conspiracy theories keep us engaged in turf wars. </p><p>If you think it can't happen here, "American Rule" is a reminder that it has, and likely will. Sexton's advice: to achieve any sort of unity, we have to resist the urge to become apathetic. This isn't a red or blue issue. We're still neighbors, part of a community that stretches sea to shining sea, even if at the moment the seas are covered in smog. </p><p>And the road to healing begins with a recognition that we need to rid ourselves of the greatest myth in the history of the republic. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Once we disabuse ourselves of the myth of American exceptionalism, and we start looking at American history and say it's really problematic and inspirational at other times, it allows us to build something new."</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
What responsibility should government authorities and Big Tech take in policing the spread of sedition-oriented content?
- It can be hard to believe that comical images online are enough to rile people up enough that they'll actually attack.
- Originating in the darker corners of the internet, Bugaloo is now prominent on mainstream online platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
- The Network Contagion Research Institute's recent series of Contagion and Ideology Reports uses machine learning to examine how memes spread.
What’s in a meme?<p>The Network Contagion Research Institute's recent series of <a href="https://ncri.io/reports/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Contagion and Ideology Reports </a>leverages machine learning to examine how memes spread. The idea is to unearth a better understanding of the role memes play in encouraging real-world violence. </p><p>So what exactly is a meme, and how did it become a tool for weaponizing the web? Originally coined by Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book "<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/may/29/selfish-gene-40-years-richard-dawkins-do-ideas-stand-up-adam-rutherford" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Selfish Gene</a><em>," </em>the term is defined there as "a unit of cultural transmission" that spreads like a virus from host to host and conveys an idea which changes the host's worldview. </p><p>Dawkins echoes "Naked Lunch" author William Burroughs's concept of <a href="https://www.twisttheknife.com/william-s-burroughs-playback-from-eden-to-watergate/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">written language as a virus</a> that infects the reader and consequently builds realities that are brought to fruition through the act of speech. In this sense, a meme is an idea that spreads by iterative, collaborative imitation from person to person within a culture and carries symbolic meaning.</p><p>The militant alt-right's use of internet memes <a href="https://journals.openedition.org/angles/369" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">follows this pattern</a>. They are carefully designed on underground social media using codes, before attaining approval by like-minded users that disseminate these messages on mainstream platforms like Twitter or Facebook.</p><p>Sometimes these messages are lifted from innocuous sources and altered to convey hate. Take for example Pepe the Frog. Initially created by cartoonist Matt Furie as a mascot for slackers, Pepe was appropriated and altered by racists and homophobes until the Anti-Defamation League branded the frog as a <a href="https://www.adl.org/education/references/hate-symbols/pepe-the-frog" target="_blank">hate symbol</a> in 2016. This, of course, hasn't stopped public figures from sharing variations of Pepe's likeness in subversive social posts.</p>
Slenderman and the Boogaloo Bois<p>Indeed, these types of memes have a tricky way of moving from the shadows of the internet to the mainstream, picking up supporters along the way – including those who are willing to commit horrific crimes.</p><p>This phenomenon extends well beyond politics. Take, for example, the Slenderman. Created as a shadowy figure for online horror stories, Slenderman achieved mainstream popularity and a cult-like following. When two girls tried to <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2014/06/03/the-complete-terrifying-history-of-slender-man-the-internet-meme-that-compelled-two-12-year-olds-to-stab-their-friend/" target="_blank">stab their friend to death</a> to prove that Slenderman was real in 2014, the power of the meme to prompt violence became a national conversation. </p><p>Slenderman creator Victor Surge told Know Your Meme that <a href="https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/slender-man" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">he never thought</a> the character would spread beyond the fringe Something Awful forums. "An urban legend requires an audience ignorant of the origin of the legend. It needs unverifiable third and forth [sic] hand (or more) accounts to perpetuate the myth," he explained. "On the Internet, anyone is privy to its origins as evidenced by the very public Somethingawful thread. But what is funny is that despite this, it still spread. Internet memes are finicky things and by making something at the right place and time it can swell into an 'Internet Urban Legend.'"</p><p>While Slenderman is obviously a fiction, political memes walk many of the same fine lines – and have galvanized similarly obsessed followers to commit attacks in the real world.</p>
Understanding digital indoctrination<p><a href="http://www.ncri.io/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Network Contagion Research Institute</a> (NCRI) uses advanced data analysis to expose hate on social media. The institute's scientists work with experts at the ADL's <a href="https://www.adl.org/who-we-are/our-organization/advocacy-centers/center-on-extremism" target="_blank">Center on Extremism </a>(COE) to track hateful propaganda online and offer strategies to combat this phenomenon. By better understanding how memes spread hateful propaganda, the NCRI is helping law enforcement, social media companies and citizens get better at preventing online chatter about violence from becoming real action.</p><p>Founded by Princeton's Dr. Joel Finkelstein, the NCRI is finding that the spread of hate online can be examined using epidemiological models of how viruses spread, only applied to language and ideas, much as Burroughs imagined decades ago. </p><p>Now that the internet has obviated the need for people to meet in person or communicate directly, recruiting and deploying members of violent groups is easier than ever before.</p><p>Before social media, as <a href="https://njjewishnews.timesofisrael.com/princeton-scientist-connects-web-hate-and-the-acts-it-spawns/" target="_blank">Finkelstein reminds us</a>, organizing underground hate groups was harder. "You would have to have an interpersonal organization to train and cultivate those people," he said. "With the advance of the internet, those people can find each other; what it lacks in depth it makes up in reach. The entire phenomenon can happen by itself without a trace of anyone being groomed."</p>
Can anything be done?<p>Memes generate hysteria in part by being outrageous enough for people to share – even the mainstream media. This is a concrete strategy called <a href="https://www.technologyreview.com/2019/10/24/132228/political-war-memes-disinformation/" target="_blank">amplification</a>. The extreme alt-right manages to reach mainstream audiences with racialist and supremacist memes, even as these messages are being denounced.</p><p>Content spreads virally whether those spreading it support the embedded ideology or not, making it difficult to intervene and prevent meme-incited violence.</p><p>Some people may unwittingly amplify messaging designed to spread violence, mistaking memes like ACAB (all cops are bastards) for harmless if somewhat dark humor.</p>
NCRI<p>So what can be done about the meme wars, and what onus is on law enforcement and Big Tech?</p><p>Finkelstein recommends a three-pronged approach to combating the violent outcome of subversive memes.</p><ol><li>Push for more stringent boundaries defining civility online using technology.</li><li>Educate courts, lawmakers and civil institutions about how extreme online communities operate and create better industry standards to regulate these groups.</li><li>Bring the federal government, including the FBI and Homeland Security, up to speed on the new reality so they can intervene as necessary.</li></ol><p>But not everyone thinks Big Tech or the law have much ground to stand on in combating viral hate. Tech companies haven't gone the mile in truly enforcing stricter standards for online content, but some companies are closing down accounts associated with <a href="https://www.voanews.com/silicon-valley-technology/can-shutting-down-online-hate-sites-curb-violence" target="_blank">extremist leaders' websites</a> and their movements. </p><p>But this is largely tilting at windmills. The proliferation of memes online spreading ideology virally might be too big to combat without dramatically limiting freedom of speech online. Facebook and YouTube have <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/social-media-2020-us-election?rebelltitem=4#rebelltitem4" target="_self">banned thousands of profiles</a>, but there's no way of knowing how many remain – or are being added every day. This leaves the danger of meme radicalization and weaponization lurking beneath the surface even as we head into elections. </p>
What we stand to lose<p>Boogaloo and other seditious groups have been empowered by recent crises, including the pandemic and the anti-racist protests sweeping the country. Greater numbers of these community members are showing up at anti-quarantine protests and are disrupting other gatherings, and the press they're getting – this article included – is only bringing more attention to their violent messages.</p><p>Extremist memes continue to circulate, as America heads to the polls amidst a global pandemic and widespread civil unrest. It stands to reason that more blood will be spilled. Getting a handle on Twitter handles that spread hate and shutting down groups whose sole purpose is sowing the seeds of brutality is vital – the only question that remains is how. </p>
Psychedelics are going mainstream. Here's your reading list.
- Hundreds of millions of dollars are pouring into psychedelics companies right now.
- With loosening restrictions on clinical research, new therapeutic modalities are being investigated for anxiety, depression, and more.
- The psychedelic literature is rich with anecdotal accounts and clinical studies.
Huxley on Psychedelics<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="860039e99016c9c251594b7ad04606db"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/I6xp0XxVvOk?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1786495503?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">Am I Dreaming? The New Science of Consciousness and How Altered States Reboot the Brain</a> — James Kingsland</h4><p>Science journalist James Kingland takes a broad view of altered states of consciousness, including lucid dreaming, virtual reality, hypnotic trances, and microdosing (and larger doses) with psychedelics. His journeys with ayahuasca, LSD, and psilocybin recount intense personal experiences and are worthwhile for anyone interested in the science behind these substances. In the end, Kingsland reminds us the real work of any trip is done in sobriety.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"In some ways the trip is the easy bit. The hard work starts when you try to integrate the lessons you have learned into ordinary life."</p><h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B015YMP9Z4?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">Drugged: The Science and Culture Behind Psychotropic Drugs</a> — Richard J Miller</h4><p>Northwestern pharmacology professor Richard J Miller was exposed to the power of psychedelics while attending Woodstock. This "religious experience" inspired his career in pharmacology. He wanted to discover how substances can alter neurochemistry this profoundly. In "Drugged," Miller investigates a range of mind-changing substances, including coffee, opium, cannabis, and antidepressants. The chapters devoted to psychedelics provide a great overview of their clinical and spiritual applications. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The powerful effects of natural products such as <em>Amanita muscaria</em> or ergot suggest that they contain important chemical substances that, if isolated and understood from the structural point of view, might provide us with new insights into disease mechanisms or potential therapeutic opportunities for treating diseases." </p><h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1585421669?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">Hallucinogens: A Reader </a>— Edited by Charles Grob</h4><p>UCLA Medical Center professor of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, Charles Grob, was the first researcher approved to clinically study MDMA and ayahuasca in the '90s. His pioneering (and continued) work in these fields has pushed the field of psychedelic research forward. This 2002 collection features the writings of Ralph Metzner, Terence McKenna, Huston Smith, Rick Strassman, and an interview with Dr. Andrew Weil. The book closes with three exceptional essays by Grob on the psychology of ayahuasca, the politics of MDMA research, and psychiatric research with hallucinogens.</p><p>As Weil says of his experiences with psychedelics,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It can give you a vision of possibility, but then it doesn't show you anything about maintaining that possibility. When the vision goes, the drug wears off, you are back where you were, you haven't learned anything but you have seen that something is possible. It is then up to you to figure out how to manifest the possibility. </p><h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0892819790?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers</a> — Richard Evans Schultes, Albert Hoffman, and Christian Ratsch</h4><p><strong></strong>This 1998 encyclopedia of psychedelic plants and fungi is the bible of cosmonauts. Everything is covered: history, culture, pharmacology, therapeutic applications, regional distinctions, chemistry, maps, and tons of photos. This resource should be in any serious cosmonaut's library. While grounded in research and respectful of the cultures that practice plant medicine, the trio of experts also understand their broader context.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The psychic changes and unusual states of consciousness induced by hallucinogens are so far removed from similarity with ordinary life that it is scarcely possible to describe them in a language of daily living. A person under the effects of a hallucinogen forsakes his familiar world and operates under other standards, in strange dimensions and in a different time."</p>
American writer William Seward Burroughs (1914-1997), author of the cult novel "Naked Lunch."
Credit: Evening Standard/Getty Images<h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1620556979?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">Psychedelic Medicine: The Healing Powers of LSD, MDMA, Psilocbyin, and Ayahuasca</a> — Dr. Richard Louis Miller</h4><p>Richard Louis Miller has been a clinical psychologist for over a half-century. He's also the host of a popular syndicated talk radio show, where he discusses health, mindfulness, and politics. This platform led him to explore psychedelics in a broad scientific and political context. </p><p>This book is a collection of interviews from his show, featuring David Nichols, Stanislav Grof, Charles Grob, Roland Griffiths, Amanda Feilding, and Dennis McKenna. They cover a range of issues, such as MDMA as a therapy for PTSD, the efficacy of the current psychiatric paradigm, and psilocybin in depression treatment. These invaluable conversations include this important insight from MAPS founder, Rick Doblin.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The fundamental problem with our drug policy is that it ascribes good and bad qualities to drugs themselves—"this is a good drug, that's a bad drug"—when really it's the relationship that you have with the drug that determines the value of it and whether it's harmful or helpful." </p><h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002LCSVB0?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">The Doors of Perception</a> — Aldous Huxley</h4><p>Aldous Huxley's landmark 1954 book on mescaline remains fundamental to psychedelics advocates. Huxley wanted to experience mystic visions, a feat mescaline offered. Yet he never fell prey to the whims of useless metaphysics. This stunning essay details a political and spiritual thinker applying pragmatic as well as transcendental understandings of the psychedelic vision.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The other word to which mescalin admitted me was not the world of visions; it existed out there, in what I could see with my eyes open. The great change was in the realm of objective fact. What had happened to my subjective universe was relatively unimportant."</p><h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/1608682048?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness</a> — Alan Watts</h4><p>When you get the message, hang up the phone. That summates the British philosopher's take on psychedelics. While his lane was more meditation and philosophy than drugs—though he was known for enjoying a drink—Watts has plenty to offer on altered states. Watts applies a critical eye to the slacker looking to get off on drugs, yet also recognizes the essential need for connection to nature in an ever-speedy society—this book was published in 1962. That's the thing about reading Watts: it always catches up to you, wherever you happen to be, trademark humor and all.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It is not really healthy for monks to practice fasting, and it was hardly hygienic for Jesus to get himself crucified, but these are risks taken in the course of spiritual adventures." </p><h4><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0872864480?tag=bigthink00-20&linkCode=ogi&th=1&psc=1" target="_blank">The Yage Letters Redux</a> — William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg</h4><p>This correspondence between two of the Beat generation's top writers is a gem. Burroughs spent months traveling around South America looking for the legendary ayahuasca (yage), long before private planes shuffled Silicon Valley execs to glamping retreats. That meant purchasing bootleg ayahuasca and having colorful run-ins with locals. Many remember Burroughs as a junkie—he had his moments—but the writer also meticulously documented the pharmacology of his drugs. Kerouac owned the road, but Burroughs claimed the sky.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Yage is not like anything else. This is not the electric euphoria of coke which activates the channels of pure pleasure in the brain, the sexless, timeless, negative pleasure of opium. It is closer to hashish than to any other drug. There are also similarities between Peyote and yage. But while hashish intensifies all sensual impressions, yage distorts or shuts down ordinary sensations, transporting you to another level of experience."<br></p><p><br></p><p><em><em>W</em><em>hen you buy something through a link in this article or from <a href="https://shop.bigthink.com/" rel="dofollow" target="_self">our shop</a>, Big Think earns a small commission. Thank you for supporting our team's work.</em></em></p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
The major temples seem much more interesting than what also appears on the landscape: apparently random mounds of earth.
The Bayon temple at the famous temple area of Angkor Archeological Park.
Ian Walton/Getty Images<p><span style="background-color: initial;">T</span>he generated maps reveal both areas of dense occupation with city blocks and streets, and lower-density areas with scattered community temples, sometimes marked by little more than a scatter of bricks or just a faint impression of a mound with a moat around it. These community temples probably served a somewhat similar function as churches in the agricultural communities of modern America do: not just to promote religion but also to facilitate social networking and help neighbors coordinate their activities. When growing rice, it's important to coordinate and manage water collaboratively with your neighbors. If one farm hoards all the water, neighboring farms may have to let their fields go fallow. When that happens, pests take over and devastate everyone's crops.</p><p>Our team realized that the key to cracking the code of Angkorian agriculture was to understand these community temples. The new maps showed <em>where</em> the temples were on the landscape, but we needed to figure out <em>when</em> they were built.</p>
Christians and Muslims that pick out unconscious patterns are more likely to believe in a god.
- Georgetown researchers found strong implicit pattern learning implies belief in a god.
- The study included American Christians and Afghani Muslims, representing two different religious and cultural backgrounds.
- Further research on polytheistic religious believers could provide insights into a cognitive basis of religion.
Why religion is literally false and metaphorically true | Bret Weinstein | Big Think<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bb748b6454d9ea27e58c41be9c4b50f6"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/c0_J998UD9s?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The answer, according to their research, is yes. As Green <a href="https://gumc.georgetown.edu/news-release/study-suggests-unconscious-learning-underlies-belief-in-god/" target="_blank">notes</a>,</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is not a study about whether God exists, this is a study about why and how brains come to believe in gods. Our hypothesis is that people whose brains are good at subconsciously discerning patterns in their environment may ascribe those patterns to the hand of a higher power." </p><p>Consciousness only provides a sliver of data that our brains pay attention to. Bottom-up processes operate below the conscious threshold, such as the biological operations that maintain our body's homeostasis. Threat detection and other forms of perception are also processed from the bottom-up, although, as the authors write, top-down processing is not an entirely separate domain. The two inform one another. </p><p><a href="https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/how-does-intuition-work" target="_self">Intuition</a> is another example of bottom-up processing that appears in consciousness. We pick up signals from our environment and process it unconsciously all the time.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Because individuals are not aware of such bottom-up influences, intuitions drawn from unconscious processing may instead be consciously interpreted via explicit belief narratives that provide a rationalized context for beliefs and behaviors."</p>
A general view of the beach and a surfer as photographed on March 20, 2014 in Marina del Rey, California.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images<p>Face processing, implicit racial bias, and pathogen avoidance provide further context. In fact, cleansing rituals likely evolved from an unconscious fear of disease. Our ancestors applied a spiritual dimension to their bathing rituals to make sense out of unconscious drives.</p><p>For this study, 199 (mostly) Christian volunteers in Washington, D.C. and 149 Muslims in Kabul watched a sequence of dots on a computer screen. They were tasked to press a corresponding button every time a dot appeared. Participants with strong implicit learning abilities began to unconsciously recognize patterns in the appearance of the dots, preemptively hitting the corresponding button <em>before</em> they appeared. None of the volunteers claimed to have seen a pattern, suggesting their guesses were unconscious. </p><p>The team observed a link between the strongest implicit learners and religious belief. Recognizing patterns before they appear is correlated with belief in a god. The team was surprised to discover such a strong correlation between two disparate religious and cultural groups, suggesting the potential of a universal theme. As Green notes, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"A brain that is more predisposed to implicit pattern learning may be more inclined to believe in a god no matter where in the world that brain happens to find itself, or in which religious context."</p><p>An interesting next step could be studying polytheistic groups, where pattern recognition is likely stronger. It's one thing to give credit to one god for everything, but quite another to assign a variety of divine figures for the relationships between natural phenomena. </p><p>The authors conclude that they cannot write off top-down processing as part of religious belief. Indeed, faith likes has multivariate influences. Still, this research details another cognitive basis of belief, highlighting common ground we all share regardless of the form of our deities. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>