Study finds link between brain damage and religious fundamentalism
A new study finds a connection between brain lesions and the ability of a person to consider other beliefs.
Scientists found that damage in a certain part of the brain is linked to an increase in religious fundamentalism. In particular, lesions in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex reduced cognitive flexibility - the ability to challenge our beliefs based on new evidence.
The researchers, led by Jordan Grafman of Northwestern University, utilized data gathered from Vietnam War veterans as part of the Vietnam Head Injury Study. They compared levels of religious fundamentalism between 119 vets who had lesions and 30 veterans who didn’t.
The study further confirms that the prefrontal cortex is associated with religious beliefs and is the latest in a number of recent studies that look to find the neurological basis for religion.
“The variation in the nature of religious beliefs are governed by specific brain areas in the anterior parts of the human brain and those brain areas are among the most recently evolved areas of the human brain,” said Grafman.
How free these areas are from disease, in particular the part known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, may determine a person’s mental openness - necessary to appreciate the “diversity of religious thought.” The prefrontal cortex was previously linked to having a cognitive function in spiritual experiences.
The scientists specify that they are not stating religious people overall are mentally inflexible or that belief is caused by brain damage. There are many cognitive processes involved in forming beliefs. But in some people, the system of “belief revision” may become suppressed due to brain damage.
The researchers define fundamentalism as a cognitive approach that “embodies adherence to a set of firm religious beliefs advocating unassailable truths about human existence.“ They write in their paper that the appeal of such a rigid way of thinking is in promoting “coherence and predictability” within a religious group. People in fundamentalist groups tend to value strong commitment to their community, rejection of other beliefs, often combined with science denial and violence. Deliberation becomes victim to conviction.
The scientists themselves point out the limitations of their study and call for more research into the subject. Grafman notes the fact that the sample was all male American veterans, certainly not representative of all demographic and cultural groups.
This study contributes to a growing body of knowledge about how religious experiences are formed in the brain.
“We need to understand how distinct religious beliefs are from moral, legal, political, and economic beliefs in their representations in the brain, the nature of conversion from one belief system to another, the difference between belief and agency, and the nature of the depth of knowledge that individuals use to access and report their beliefs,” Grafman added.
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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