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Neurochemical Origin of Afterlife

Today I’ll be taking you in the afterlife. Don’t worry, nobody needs to die to do that. Basically if you die, there is nothing more to experience for your soul. Because the moment your brain stops functioning, your soul ceases to exist. And it is so, because the soul is the expression of a functional brain.

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A lot of people apparently have visited heaven, as in afterlife, and apparently they have come back. That’s the claim made by many people. And the quantity of such claims is just too much to simply ignore. So, let’s not ignore, and try to unravel the truth underneath such claims.

The very first thing that you need to know is that putting aside the small portion of the claims made simply to draw attention, most of these claims are actually made based on actual experiences. Which means as far as the subject who’s making the claim is concerned, his or her encounter of heaven did indeed take place. So, to him or her, it is a real experience, as real as your experience of me talking to you right at this moment. And in fact, in most cases, that afterlife reality actually seems more real to the person than usual reality.

Now first lets look at the origin of this idea of afterlife – the idea of heaven or hell. The idea of an afterlife was created by the imagination of our ancient ancestors who lived in tribes and had way little intellectual capacity. And further this idea fueled in people’s actual encounter of an afterlife. Our ancestors simply could not comprehend the sudden immobility of a walking and talking human being. They had to come up with some sort explanation for the so-called death, which they could not comprehend whatsoever. So, their brain concocted the belief, that there is apparently a soul that runs the body – a life-force, and when the body becomes aged and unsuitable for the soul to function, it simply pops out of the body and goes to either a better place, such as heaven or a horrible place such as hell, based on the person’s deeds.

These ancient ideas have been passed on through generations, and in the process the minds of these people have been conditioned to believe genuinely that when they die, they’d go to another realm, unlike earth. So, one way or another, their minds expect it to actually happen to them when the time comes. They anticipate it, either consciously or subconsciously. Hence, there are people who claim that during a life threatening situation they actually have gone to haven and come back. And over time these claims have increased exponentially. And that’s because of the amazing advancement that we have made in modern medicine. Before when people used to face death, they didn’t come back so much to life, because we were yet to develop techniques to bring them back.

Let me give you an example, a simple one but a revolutionary one. It is the revolution brought by the development of what we the people in medical profession call a Defibrillator. It is a simple device, but often times, the availability of this simple device can determine whether a human being will live again or stay dead forever. If somebody’s heart stops beating for whatever reason, electrical impulses from the a defibrillator can jolt the heart back to life. The same can be done with an Epi-Pen. In this kind of situations where a person apparently faces death, after coming back to life, that person reports that he or she went to heaven while his or her body had been lying dead.

So what’s really happening here? Do these person really go to heaven? Well, in their subjective reality, the experience manifests as more real than the usual reality. And that is why it is almost impossible for them to defy it as anything but the truth. Which means, even though they did not actually budge even a little from their mortal body, the experience of visiting heaven did manifest in their mind as an actual lively experience.

These experiences occur often when a person faces a life and death situation – a situation that has to do with a peerless amount of stress. I have discussed this matter in detail in my book “Autobiography of God: Biopsy of A Cognitive Reality”. When people face death, in that extreme stress the brain releases a special neurochemical which happens to be more powerful in terms of its hallucinogenic properties than LSD. This chemical is called DMT or Dimethyltryptamine.

When your brain releases substantial amounts of DMT in times of utter distress such as a near death event, your mind goes into an altered state – a state of profound hallucinations where your deepest desires or darkest fears manifest as reality. And this reality seems so damn real that it does not matter whether you are an academic, a medical doctor, a scientist, or a lay person. It is so damn real that anybody would easily hail it as a real experience in heaven or in some cases hell, depending on the person’s internal knacks and desires.

Consciousness is the product of electrochemical signalling in the neurons of your brain. So when the brain stops functioning fully, your consciousness, or to a broader aspect, your mind ceases to exist with its unique individualistic qualities. It’s like the soothing flow of water. It is only water as long as its internal realm of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen, remains intact. If you break that structure which we call H20, it ceases to be water. Likewise a soul remains a soul, as longs as its neural structures remain intact. If you mess with those structures, then the entire personality of the soul may get radically altered. So, to think even further, if those neural structures inside your head stop working, then the soul ceases to exist forever. So, as long as you have a functional brain, you exist, and the moment that brain dies you die.

So, hard as it may sound to some, there is no heaven, or hell. And that is more reason that we need to pay attention to this life. Because one life is all you’ve got. Make the most out of it. Live that one life with your friends, family and neighbors. After all, the true value of life lies in living with our fellow human beings, while caring about each other, nourishing each other, growing with each other. And that’s called being human.

 

(Simultaneously published on Goodreads.)

Further Reading

Abhijit Naskar, 2016, Autobiography of God: Biopsy of A Cognitive Reality

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Rise of Neurotheology: The Science that studies God and religion

What happens when science and religion meet? Well – for starters you get a Scientist named Abhijit Naskar, that’s me. But jokes apart – when science and religion meet we get a field of human understanding that belongs to the domain of science as much as it belongs to the domain of religion. And that field is called “Neurotheology” – which is a communion of science and religion. It is the only field of science that actually has to do with religion as much as it has to do with science.

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But why? Why do we need Neurotheology? We need Neurotheology because it is the only field of rational thinking that attempts to understand the roots of religion, religiousness and god without a predominate urge to refute and undermine religion all together. And we do it based on empiricism, not mere optimism, even though optimism is there in us, aiding in out research.

The first criterion for doing research into the tangible earthly roots of religion, is that you need to be free from obvious religious biases – you cannot do such study with a predominant detestation of religion or a radical obedience to faith. For example, if you are to study the neuropsychology of racial biases then you cannot expect to do so with a predominately explicit attitude of racism. So to study racism you need to be not a racist. And to study religion at a molecular level you need to be neutral in terms of religious biases.

In Neurotheology we scientists study the roots of God and its associated religious sentiments in the human mind. And here by God, I mean the God or the Gods that humans worship. We are not trying to understand whether there is an actual Supreme Divine force out there that’s running the universe. Even if that God does exist, it has nothing to do with life on earth. The Gods that humans worship, like Jehovah, Allah, Krishna, Rama and all others, are creation of the human mind itself. And we Neuroscientists in the field of Neurotheology attempt to understand the roots of these Gods of the human world, and as for the Supreme Divine Entity running the universe, I’d rather leave that to the Physicists to find out. That’s their expertise. Which means that if the majority of the physicists come to me and tell me – “Hey Naskar, you know what, we just discovered that the universe is not run by a Supreme Divine Entity”. I would most graciously accept their consensus, because I know that they must have done their research on the issue quite rigorously and then they have come to the conclusion that there is no actual God. That’s called trusting the expert in the field.

If you truly want to know about the universe you need to seek answer from a physicist, not from a biologist or a celebrity. Likewise if you want to know about life you need to seek answer from a biologist, not from a physicist or a celebrity. Also if you want to know whether Global Warming is real, you need to ask a climatologist, not a president or any of his white supremacist pals. Ask the expert, if you seek real answer, not just an answer you feel comfortable with. Although in today’s society we see a behavior quite contrary to this. We see anti-intellectualism. And that may not be dangerous, but it surely is unprogressive.

I am Neuroscientist, which means, I can tell you about your mind, your emotions, your thoughts and your behaviors, but I may not be able to fix your water supply at home, when it’s not working. For that you’d need a plumber. The plumber is the expert in fixing your water supply. The electrician is the expert in fixing the electrical wiring of your home. A Neuroscientist, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist is the expert in fixing the wiring of your mind. Every work needs expertise. One expert cannot boast about being an expert in various fields. It is possible, but in rare occasions.

So the work that we Neuroscientists do in Neurotheology is to study the gods of the society. And we have come a long way in this path. We have discovered facts that would appear to the radical believer as nothing but blasphemy. But the point is, we are civilized beings today. We no longer are medieval idiots who used burn and slaughter innocent lives for holding different belief system. So I am sorry to say, the idea of blasphemy has no place in today’s society – no wait, actually, I am not sorry at all. It’s them who should feel sorry, for being barbarians still while endorsing primitive ideas of blasphemy, apostasy and all sorts of evil. These terms can no longer hold any value to the civilized conscientious human.

Now to get back to the topic at hand, which is Neurotheology – it is quite gloriously a newly emerged field of scientific endeavor. In this context, let me bring up an excerpt from my book In Search of Divinity: Journey to The Kingdom of Conscience.

“Through the newly emerged field of Neurotheology, Scientists such as Andrew Newberg, Michael Persinger, myself and a few others have already taken the first step from the side of Science, to diminish the gap between Science and Religion. Now it is time for Religion to do the same. And the moment any religion does that, the eternal battle between Science and Religion would slowly start to disperse.”

In the brief journey so far in this field, we have understood a lot about the neurological roots of religious and spiritual sentiments of the human mind. We have even analyzed closely the transcendental experiences of the past that gave rise to the religions of the world. And as we keep moving forward in this field with an unbiased look at religion and God, we will discover various new elements of the human mind that may contribute to the sentiment of religiousness and spirituality. And they will allow us to understand the human mind in a better way. And when we understand the mind better, we can develop techniques to deal with its issues in more effective ways.

 

(Simultaneously published on Goodreads.)

Further Reading:

Abhijit Naskar, 2016, What is Mind?
Abhijit Naskar, 2016, In Search of Divinity: Journey to the kingdom of conscience

Why I am not Atheist

I say things – things that would most gloriously make me appear as an atheist to people, such as – “God is a human creation” – “scriptures come from humans” – “forget the gods and pay attention to humans”. However I never hail myself as atheist, and you never hear me saying out loud that I am an atheist. And it is because one simple reason, I hate discrimination, I hate bigotry and I hate creating walls. I don’t want to create a wall between me and all the peace loving people in the world who are just happy with their religiousness and they are not trying to impose on anybody’s else’s beliefs. Now, these are the people are I work for, just like I work for all other humans who want progress, who want the world to be a better place, if not for us, at least for our children. That’s why I don’t call myself an atheist.

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Because when you put a label on yourself, that label comes along with a log of psychological baggage. And in most cases you may not be aware of these correlated psychological elements, but those who listen to you may do. So in their brain they would draw an image of your personality. And they will give that image qualities based on their subjective understanding of the label that you imposed on yourself. Like when you say you are an atheist, usually the religious population of the planet would very easily deem you to be against all of their religiousness – religiousness that is a part of their identity. And you cannot take away that identity – if you try, then there would be no difference between you and the religious fundamentalism.

And though I am not anti-religion, I am anti-fundamentalism. Fundamentalists do not make up the whole religious population on earth. As a scientist, as an educator, of course I am against indoctrinating children, I am against teaching them biblical stories as factual truth, I am against prayer given more attention than actual human contribution in the society. Still I am not against religion, because of those people who identify themselves as religious but do not take their scriptures literally and have the brain capacity to think which part of those books are good and which are not. And this process of taking the good things from the scriptures and ignoring the primitive ones, happens in most of the religious psyches of the world quite unconsciously.

I am not an atheist, because of these peace-loving religious people who are simply good people and they accept people from different religious orientation as equal. And no, not all religious people go around their neighborhood screaming the exclusive superiority of their religion and God over all others. They love their religion, but they don’t make a fuss over it, like the fundamentalists do. Religion is simply a part of their cultural identity, nothing more – it is fostered as a supremacist ideology only in the head of the fundamentalists. The fundamentalists are the enemy because they are driven by the elementary primitive notion of their religion being superior to all others, and hence other people are lesser humans. Fundamentalism is the enemy, not religion. In fact, fundamentalism is an enemy of religion itself, because in a progressive civilized society religion means realization of your inner divinity, not meek obedience to books of the dead people.

I am a scientist, and as such one of my core purposes is to understand the truth behind various phenomena of the universe with as much accuracy as possible And one of those phenomena is religion. And in order to understand it with as less subjective biases as possible, I must refrain from being called either “religious” or “atheist”. Now that’s the scientific reason for me to not hail myself as either atheist or religious. And as for the humane reason, which is more appealing to me as a human being, it is that the only label I go with is “human” – because that’s the label I received from Mother Nature. And that’s the label that makes me a part of human lives in human society, regardless of religion, regardless of race, regardless of gender and regardless of sexual orientation. The label of human is beyond race, beyond religion, beyond gender and beyond sexual orientation.

 

(Simultaneously published on Goodreads.)

Further Reading

Abhijit Naskar, 2017, Principia Humanitas

Abhijit Naskar, 2017, Illusion of Religion: A Treatise on Religious Fundamentalism

6 things to know about Mental Illness

Episode 2 – Nature, Naskar & Neurons WebSeries

Clearing the air around mental illness + two simple tricks to keep your mind healthy.

Subscribe to Nature Naskar Neurons for more videos.

Rise of Morality in Neurons

“A lot of you have asked to make a video on morality. What is Morality? The answer is quite simple – it’s just the basic human sense of right and wrong. Every human being has an internal mechanism that tells him or her, what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s good, what’s bad…”

 

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Life is not beautiful, if there is no human

They say life is beautiful. I ask – are you sure? Say all the humans suddenly disappear from the face of earth. Will “life” still remain beautiful? In reality, life is not beautiful, it is ugly and wild. Life is not beautiful, if there is no human self to deem and glorify it as such. Take away the advanced faculties of the human mind, and there shall be only one core force left at the root of life – that force is the force of survival. This very force has given rise to the wide array of life-forms on our planet. Among those life forms, there is us, the humans. The world is beautiful, because we see it as such. The world is ugly because we see it as such. All the ascetic qualities the world has, are imposed by the humans on the mental imagery of the world inside the human mind. Turn off the human mind, and all that remains is, rough, ugly and wild survival need.

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If we talk about life as a natural phenomenon, instead of seeing it as a human phenomenon, then it is all about survival. There is nothing else. It is the vanity of the human mind that adorns life with sophisticated qualities. It is the individual mind that determines the nature of life in its subjective reality. A person stuck in misery would see life as miserable. A person in the lap of luxury would see life as glorious and beautiful. The nature of life beyond the raw essentials of survival, purely depends on the internal realm of the human mind. A beautiful mind sees life as beautiful, whereas an ugly mind sees it as ugly. And throughout the lifetime of a human, the mind keeps evolving, hence, the qualities of life keep evolving. A teenager finds the beauty of life in the idea of finding true love, whereas, a parent finds the beauty of life in providing and being there, for his or her child. That’s what life is all about, or to be more accurate, that’s what human life is all about.

Think about the teenage version of yourself. What are the things that you wanted out of your life? Now think about the things that you want now? Are your wants now the same as they were when you were a teenager? Of course not! Why? Because your mind has grown. It has evolved into a more mature version of itself. It has grown new neural connections, while getting rid of many of the old ones. And this change is a relentless process. Which means, even right at this very moment, without being aware of it, your brain is going through various neurological shifts. Over time these shifts begin to show in your mental world, by transforming your needs, feelings, desires, passions, thoughts, beliefs and basically everything that makes you who you are. So, ten years from now, your needs and desires will be different, than they are now, just like, the needs and desires you have now are different from those you had as a teenager.

So, basically life is not about its true nature or anything like that, rather, it is all about your very personal subjective perception of life itself. Your perception can make life wonderful, and at the same time, your perception can make like pathetic. It is all in your mind. What you think, you see, and then, what you see, makes you think further. And the result is an ever-changing mesh of brain cells. Your brain determines who you are, what you are, and how your life is. Your brain creates your soul, and then gives a purely individualistic purpose to that soul. So, outside your brain, your life has no purpose. All the purposes in human life, that humans deem so valuable are all purely human creation. Without the humans, those purposes do not exist. Without the humans, life is merely about survival.

When a puppy dies in front of your eyes, you feel sad. But you feel a billion times more devastated if a human baby dies in front of you. That’s because you, as a biological creature, are evolutionarily programmed to have more affection towards the members of your own species than towards the members of a foreign species, or to be more accurate, an inferior species. It has nothing to with being immoral or cruel. It is just how life works. However, because you have an advanced neural network replete with circuits of humane elements, especially a fascinating neurological system called the “Mirror Neuron System”, you still feel bad at the agonies of other creatures. You can truly empathize with them. Now that’s called being human. Nevertheless, many of us will still continue to eat meat, even though we would not willingly cause harm to another creature.

The point is, there is nothing ideal in the world, no matter how much we pretend otherwise. We are not ideal. Life is not ideal. Nature is not ideal. Yet, it is our pursuit to attain that ideal absolute – that pure perfection, that makes us the real masters of this planet. So, keep on attaining that perfection bit by bit, but keep in mind that you shall never attain it. Perfection is not to be attained, but to be pursued infinitely.

 

(Simultaneously Published on Goodreads)

Further Reading

Abhijit Naskar, 2015, Neurosutra: The Abhijit Naskar Collection

Abhijit Naskar, 2016, What is Mind?

The Brain creates Morality, not the Bible

“Morality” – it is a fantastic term, so much so, that almost every single religious institution wants to claim its exclusive authority or rather copyright of this simple psychological element. The cave-men of the church keep claiming, “morality comes from the Bible”, and so does every other mindless fundamentalist on earth no matter their religion. They truly believe that without their holy scripture there would be no morality on earth. They truly believe, without their doctrines to guide humanity in the moral path, we are destined to be punished in an imaginary hell. So let me tell those fundamentalists – You need to visit a psychiatrist, pal!

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Here let me make something clear at the very beginning. Beliefs are a quintessential part of the human psyche, but they can be both healthy and harmful. And the beliefs of the fundamentalist Australopithecines are particularly harmful. These beliefs are what we call “delusions”. Except unlike in a neuropsychological ailment, the delusion of the fundamentalists is not just harmful for the individuals suffering from it, but more importantly it is the greatest threat to peace, progress and wellbeing of the entire human species.

I am not going to go into the details of which scripture is more moral than others and which one is most immoral. It does not depend on the scripture itself, as much as it depends on the person reading the scripture. All human creations, including all sorts of literature are bound to have flaws, because it is the human mind that creates them. No literature, including the ones in the domain of religion, comes from some Imaginary Big Monkey, high up in the sky. They all rise from the human psyche. Hence the elements of the composer’s mind gets distinctively imprinted into the content of the literature. So the morality depicted in a certain text is not the ultimate standpoint of moral characteristic of a species, it is merely the textual echo of the composer’s internal moral compass. If a pedophile writes a book, he would probably deem abusing a nine year old as morally justified. On the other hand, if the book is written by, say Tolstoy, it would have a completely reformed depiction of morality, ethics and human principles. The depiction of morality by Tolstoy can be something that the human civilization can look up to and expect to march ahead towards becoming less primitive. But a pedophile’s subjective morality would only drag the human civilization back to the days in the wilderness.

So, where does morality come from exactly? I will tell you where it comes from in a little while, but before that let me focus on where it does not come from. Morality does not come from the Bible. Morality does not come from the Quran. Morality does not come from the Torah. Morality does not come from the Vedas. This beautiful mental element which we call morality, does not come from any scripture, any institution or any God. Morality is born in the human brain, from the electrical impulses among the neurons. Morality like any other mental element, such as love, peace, orgasm, rage or hatred, is simply the expression of electrochemical impulses. These impulses in our brain define who we are, what we are, how we feel, how we think, how we behave and how we distinguish between right and wrong, and good and evil. In fact, we our the impulses within our brain. If you mess with even a tiny portion of the neural circuits constantly sharing electrochemical information among each other, it would radically alter your personality. It can alter your entire identity.

Part of that identity are your moral characteristics. These along with other analytical traits of your mind, are distinct creations of the frontal lobes of your brain. This is the region that is most responsible for making us a uniquely intelligent and wise species. This is the part that gives you the sense of an internal moral compass, based on all the available data. It is here that your innate primitive urges and instinctual responses born from the limbic system, are filtered according to the norms of the society as well as your internal ethical elements. Therefore, when a person thinks and behaves as a civilized human being, he or she is doing so because of the civilized elements within him or her, not because of some book, even though the book may have certain influence on that behavior. Burn all the scriptures in the world, still morality will remain intact. But mess with the frontal lobes, or to be specific the prefrontal cortex, of all the humans in the world, and you would inadvertantly jeopardize the intellectual faculties of the entire human species including morality.

To quote from my book “Either Civilized or Phobic: A Treatise on Homosexuality”

“Morality does not come to this mortal world from some imaginary paradise. It rises from the neurons of mortal humans to aid in the process of a healthy conduct in both personal and social life of the mortal humans. Hence, it is the existential responsibility of the humans to reconstruct the moral parameters of a time based on the advancements and achievements of that time.”

All kinds of external information regardless of where they come from, do engage in the shaping of a person’s neural network of moral characteristics as well as other mental features. The environment we live in, has a deep impact over our psyche, but for the human civilization to keep on moving forward in the path of progress all environmental information must be scrutinized by our internal civilized faculties. Nothing from the external world as well as the internal one, should be accepted to be true, good and healthy, unless it passes the test of reasoning.

 

(Simultaneously published on Goodreads.)

Further Reading

Abhijit Naskar, 2017, Principia Humanitas

Abhijit Naskar, 2017, Either Civilized or Phobic: A Treatise on Homosexuality

Abhijit Naskar, 2017, Illusion of Religion: A Treatise on Religious Fundamentalism