The podcast is here:http://mormonmatters.org/2012/03/07/77-78-recognizing-the-spirit/
It's about how to differentiate between emotion and promptings of the spirit.
Summary: They spend almost two hours discussing brain and behavior, cognitive biases, etc. It is interesting to hear mormons discuss the science, and then in Part 2 conclude some things that have no bases in what they were discussing.
The question they're after is If the holy ghast is infallible, then how can one know infallibly when we have its promptings? They conclude that you just can't know until it happens. You just have to leap and see what happens. If it plays out to confirm your promptings, then you can conclude post-dict that it was the spirit. If not, it was just your silly emotions. They agree that at least we get negative feelings to ward off bad directions. That following your heart, whether it is just you or some spirit, is still probabilistically your best bet.
In other words, they haven't a ####### clue.
Discussion of biological side of spirituality
The host and guests Scott Holley & Kristine Haglund are probably NOMs. Michael Ferguson started out vague about his TBMness. I would guess he's a closet exmo.
Michael Ferguson, a PhD candidate at UofU in bioengineering with specialty in functional imaging of the brain/social neuroscience/development of the brain. He's also a gay mormon and is going to host a podcast about gay mormons soon.
Michael's points of discussion are really the most interesting, and I'll list some of them now.
- dualism vs monism
- essentialism vs. constructionalism (Michael defines essentialism a little different than I'm used to: His essentialism is not dualism nor does it contradict naturalism. To him essentialism religious experience & belief elicits unique brain processing while at the same time it does not legitimize god as existing objectively.)
- It seems his essentialism means that the spiritual presence/experience cannot be used as evidence to support the truth of god.
- Michael believes the relationship of humans & spirituality has influenced evolution
- studies of belief in supernatural affects morality (invisible judge, etc)
- research into brain systems that encompass religious/spiritual processing (a 'god network' in the brain)
- Dunbar's hypothesis that portion of the cerebral cortex is related to the level of social interaction, which is big in humans. This region is a highly complex, developed, energy hungry processing portion of the brain
- Same region involved in social interaction seems to also have play in religiosity
- Michael wonders if evolution of social interaction and supernatural beliefs aren't the reason we anthropomorphize the universe, god and other mystical elements.
- He also wonders why processing the of the big questions: god, universe, meaning; uses the social interaction portion of the brain.
- mention of Jonathan Haidt's moral elevation (the burning of the bosom probably caused by oxytocin release)
- Michael still believes that just because science is explaining "spiritual" experience through biology, it does not rule out essentialism/dualism. (later he uses an analogy of the study of the piano strings (brain biology) without seeing who or what is playing the piano (essence/spirit).)
- Michael separates them as "sensory experience" & "attribution". The former being the biology, the latter being how we psychologically interpret the meaning & source of the experience.
- Scott Holley talks about the spirit promptings as a "feeling of knowing & comprehension" and "elevation/burning"
- Michael discusses three "touchstones" of the biology of spirituality. (1) Geschwind syndrome (e.g., hyper-religiosity presented in epilepsy), (2) God helmet -- has been debunked as more about suggestivity than about actual neurological event, (3) Marsh-Chapel experiment (Harvard Psilocybin Project, which users claim having a life-changing spiritual experience after using drug)
- Generally neuroscientists do not attempt to assign all religiosity to brain pathology/damage.
- discussion of upwards causation (spiritual meaning comes inside from individual) and downward causation (spirituality from external sources--god, own spirit, etc).
- Despite the others insisting that spirituality is more than biology, Michael seems to carefully avoid agreeing outright with them. He plows on in the biological basis discussion.
- Differences between Eastern & Western mystical practices with regard to how they respond to power structures.
- Michael: The cross-culture experiences we assign to religious/spirituality show us that they exist in the biology (this statement sounds supportive, but it actually isn't), but, he says, they don't seem to have been explored thoroughly through the scientific lens.
- Psilocybin shuts down the "Default network" which seems very related to spirituality and meaning.
- They charge Michael with constructionalism. Michael responds that he's bringing all this up as a reference point. (doesn't deny it exactly, even though he put himself in essentialism category earlier.)
- Kristine Haglund discusses "scientism" and how it stops humans from believing in something beyond science. She uses as an example, art. We can break the process and physcial components of art into a study of science (paints, culture, psychology), but the actual artwork is more than what science can express.
- Michael or Scott (I couldn't tell who's voice) disagrees, that science doesn't claim to know everything. It claims that for now, it is the best method we have to learn about our world.
- Scott discusses issues of mistaking emotion with spiritual presence. He thinks biases can explain the problem. (1) We uses language that assigns cognition to our heart, even tho it has none. Feeling always attached to thought, and thought always attached to feeling. (2) Metaknowledge arises involuntarily--we're not truly in control of what we think about or even decide/intend especially since conscious thought is a small percent of all thinking/processing. (3) How much of our processing is conscious versus subconscious depends on all kinds of factors (e.g., fasting) (4) none of these rule out a metaphysical component -- subconscious thought being biological does not mean that there is no downward causation. The subcon could have contact with something else.
- Scott: Religions are not the only practices that claim to bring downward cause or to consciously influence the subcon.
- Scott: we can only think about what we have experienced. Sensory input is needed for our subcon and conscious thoughts.
- Scott: Cognitive Bias--Primacy effect: preferentially biased toward what we have heard & seen as children, less so to what we learn later. Childhood learning is a hook and a filter of most things that come later.
- Scott: Cognitive Bias--confirmation bias: Our current world-view filters out views that are contrary to it. Given the brain has to filter the overwhelming amount of info, it tends to ignore input that has little reference/association with experience.
- Scott: Cognitive Bias--Loss aversion: playing not to lose, where hanging on costs more than the gain because we've already invested so much into something. Many people will accept a lot of cog diss in order to hold on to their personal myths/history and sense of meaning.
- Scott: simplicity bias--a bias towards Occam's Razor.
- Scott: there is no brain circuitry to process objectively and in certainty regarding meaning. We feel certain but it is subjective.
- The host & scott agree that the way to distinguish between truth and subjectivity, even the internal biases we have, is through the holy ghast. They posit this without a single ounce of evidence, of course.
- They assert that the cognitive experience representing the holy ghast should be and ought to be attributed to a message from god. (**The leap here from biases to acceptance of a bias is astounding**)
- Scott has quotes from apostles declaring the holy ghast as infallible. *Ug*
Discussion of spiritual side of the cognitive equation
- Scott: different kinds of problems and different kinds of answers. The more serious the problems, the more often the (appearance of) revelation. When and how we get revelation is circumstantial and varying. Nothing is assured and nothing is consistent.
Scott (and Kristine & host) drones on and on about moism. Not making notes. Blech. Generally they are discussing the confusion between emotional and spiritual answers are difficult to differentiate. The podcast was supposed to answer how to do this.
- Scott finally addresses the main question (around 25 minutes into Part 2): If the holy ghast is infallible, then knowing when it is the spirit should be nearly as infallible. Mentions a book he bought in Deseret book which concludes that something is true and you get a spirit confirmation, then if true it will come to pass (fall in place as predicted). In other words, you won't know until it happens. You just have to leap. *This is the same bullshit as always*
- Scott concludes here that at least we get negative feelings to ward off bad directions. Scott uses the lottery as an example of how someone does hit it, always, and the spirit is kinda like that. (*unbelievable*)
- Michael finally pipes in here: he's been misguided by feelings. Reconciling the difference between emotions and something else: He sees a comparison to evolution vs creationalism. The flow is toward a scientific explanation. (implied here is that perhaps all of religion is a naturalistic process.) That if something feels good, regardless of source, it is more likely to be a good decision (the subconscious mind deciding is as accurate as whatever else it might be).
- Host asks each of them to give a testimony.
- Scott's testimony: spirituality is just being comfortable. Doesn't need an explanation. But he still believes in personal revelation. Think harder about the questions. He stays in the church because he feels it.
- Michael's testimony: he believes in the co-evolution of biology and religion such that there must be an essential aspect of spirituality in our biology. (*that sounds like a version of constructionalism to me*). He feels religion and it enlivens him. The book of mormon musical actually helped him reconcile his own differences of being a gay mormon. He sees the gospel/church teaching metaphor and not literal.
- Kristine's testimony: she rambles on and in the end says that she believes for complex reasons. I half-listened here.