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How Understanding Neuroscience can improve our lives | Abhijit Naskar on Voice America Radio

Join Dr. Alise Cortez and Abhijit Naskar on Voice America Radio as they have a delicious conversation on How understanding Neuroscience can improve our lives.

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Listen now here:
www.voiceamerica.com/episode/106914/how-understanding-neuroscience-can-improve-our-lives

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What is Right Religion?

Today we are going to talk about perhaps the most significant element of human existence – the most significant part of human life – that is religion. You know about religion – you have heard about religion – perhaps you have been taught by your traditions to be religious in a certain manner through various rituals and various methods – yet all those rituals and methods vary throughout the world – they are not exactly universal – yet they talk about something universal – they talk about something ultimate – they talk about reaching an ultimate truth. All of the so-called advocates of religion talk about different religions being different paths to the same truth. I’m afraid they are not exactly right on this – they are partially right. I wonder whether they have any idea of what religion really is!

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Now before we continue I need to ask you something – I need to ask you to at least try to turn all those predominant ideas, notions and perceptions about religion off, because none of my statements is going to make sense if you try to find meaning in them by using your own predominant perceptions, notions, ideas, thoughts and opinions about religion. Traditions throughout the world have distorted religion – they have dismantled the very fundamental basis of religion – they have distorted it to such an extent that today’s humans deem rituals, orthodoxy, dogmas, doctrines, set of ideals, beliefs, imaginations, illusions, prejudices and stereotypes to be synonymous with religion. As a result the whole world is being burnt in the fire of religious violence. Perhaps most of the terrible violence on planet earth are actually occurring in the name of religion – it’s not my opinion – you know it as well as I do.

Now one wonders why? Let’s go deeper into this why. It is because, apparently devout religious people think by standing true to their own dogmas, traditions, orthodoxy, beliefs, ideals and set of doctrines, they are actually walking on the path of right religion. But that’s not right religion – that’s precisely the wrong religion – be it Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or anything else. Any religion that has to do with dogmas and doctrines, and does not evolve with time is only the most immature form of religion – it’s only the most barbarian form of religion. Now I’m not specifying any religion. I’m not going to say Christianity is barbarian – Islam is barbarian – Hinduism is barbarian. You can look at it yourself – we don’t need to conclude anything – we don’t need to belittle one religion and glorify another. All religions one way or another have committed great evils because they wanted to stand true to their doctrines – because they held their doctrines and dogmas to be more significant, valuable and holier than life itself. This has caused immense bloodshed.

So, now we must inquire – what is religion? The term religion means to unite – it refers to something that unites all of us. Now let’s look at it – don’t conclude – don’t be hasty please! I urge to you – don’t be hasty – let’s think over it – what is it that makes us unite! Is it our dogmas! No – because various regions of the world have their own unique dogmas – they have their own doctrines – they have their own scriptures – and because all of those scriptures came from humans, (yes they came from humans – no God gave them to humans – humans created the scriptures) all those scriptures have both good and bad elements just like their creators the humans do – we all have good and bad elements in us.

So books, scriptures, dogmas and doctrines cannot – just cannot – unify humanity. They can unify the humans of a certain region, which was probably the feasible and productive thing to do in the ancient times when humanity was not a global species, but now we have advanced a lot – we have come a long way since our ancient times. When we were barbarians, we needed to stay in groups, but that’s called “tribalism” which proved effective in the jungle – in the desert, but now is it necessary? Since, this tribalism is no longer necessary, why should we just give it a pompous name such as “religion” or “nationalism” and glorify it – and be proud of something like that – which is basically an over-glorified tribalism!

So what makes us unite – the whole humanity – not just a group of people thinking that they’re modern yet in their mind they’re so barbarian and foolish that they want to stay cooped up in their tiny little tribes! Humanism makes us unite – humanism as in the quality of being human – the fusion of all human elements – goodness, kindness, empathy, sympathy, love, compassion, strength of the mind and all these vivacious fundamental elements of civilized humanity – these are the elements that unify us – these are the elements that unite all humanity and these are the elements that can – that do – and that will – construct the foundation of right religion. That religion has no label – it’s not a Christian religion – it’s not a Jewish religion – it’s not a Muslim religion – it’s not a Hindu religion – it’s just the religion of humanity – “humanity” which is defined and unified by one quality, that is being human. And being human is the right religion – it doesn’t need any name – it doesn’t need any label – it doesn’t need any over-glorified title of an uncivilized barbarian tribalism. Being human is what makes us a civilized species and being human is our religion – the religion of whole humanity.

 

Recommended Reading

Illusion of Religion: A Treatise on Religious Fundamentalism, 2017

The Peace Talk | Abhijit Naskar

Neuroscientist, Author and Speaker Abhijit Naskar addresses the world on Peace and Harmony.

The Distorted Humanism

You know what humanity is best at! It is best at distorting stuff – distorting thoughts, ideas, and more specifically words. Among these distorted words lie terms like religion, philosophy, science, faith, and others. But the one term that we are interested in, in this piece, is the term “humanism”. Humanism is next in the line of distorted words, right after the word “religion”. To be very articulate in brief – the terms “humanism” and “religion” are essentially one and the same thing, yet a whole so-called human lifetime is not enough for most humans to actually fathom this simple mortal revelation. Most humans neurotically perceive religion to be the system of following doctrines and humanism to be a pompous philosophy of the intellectuals.

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In reality, religion is not a system of following doctrines at all. If anything, it is about not following any doctrine and finding out things for yourself. And, humanism is no more a philosophy than love is. Love is not a philosophy, neither is humanism. In fact, if we go underneath the layers of words and labels, we would see that love is essentially plain, ordinary, everyday humanism – it is as simple as that – there is nothing more for me to tell you about humanism. I don’t really intend to tell you anything about humanism in this piece. Rather, let’s find out together, what humanism is not.

For starters, it’s not a pompous philosophy or an ideology for a bunch of people to discuss over a cup of coffee. As I have said in “Principia Humanitas”:

“Humanism is not a pompous philosophy to be talked and debated about by a handful of intellectuals – it is the purest form of moral compass, which defines the civilized heart of thinking humanity.”

Humanism simply means to be human. Now you may wonder, what does “to be human” even mean! Does it mean you need to wear a specific sophisticated label that makes you appear as a smart and over-glorified intellectual! Does it mean, you need to talk sense all the time! Does it mean, you stop believing in anything that does not fit your ship-shape limited logical perception! Does it mean, that you have to be the smartest person in the group and make more sense somehow than all others around you! Does it mean, you have to be a so-called non-believer or atheist, and have to defend that atheism, at all costs, like the religious fundamentalists do with their own beliefs and delusions, above all humane fundamentals!

Let me go straight ahead and say it – No. You don’t need to do any of it – as in, none of it – you don’t even have to call yourself a so-called humanist – because most of the so-called humanists are not actually advocating actual qualities of being human, rather they are advocating radical rationalism – radical logicality. One recent incident comes to my mind in this context – it is their support for corporations that forbid their muslim employees to wear a hijab at work-place. Full-body burqa with niqab that covers the whole face of a woman, may surely be a sign of uncivilized cultural barbarianism, because it basically exudes a clear implication of segregation against all humans, but not a simple hijab, which is basically a scarf that one wears around the head. So, advocacy of banning basic cultural elements, is not a sign of progress or being human. This kind of radical attitude may not look as immediately dangerous as radical fundamentalism does, but, it is nevertheless, as harmful as that. In fact, radical rationalism is nothing but atheistic fundamentalism or logical fundamentalism. As I have said in “Principia Humanitas”:

“Fundamentalism of any kind, be it religious, atheistic, political or educational, is the greatest threat to human excellence – it is a threat to progress – it is a threat to greatness.”

The whole business of fundamentalism, which is basically an extreme sense of either romanticism or logicality, is unavoidably destructive and needs a bit of scolding from the real humans – by real humans I don’t mean intellectually superior humans, for intellect has very little to do with this real human thing – it has to do with acceptance of weakness and rejection of hatred and extremism. This extremism as we see more and more today, does not always rise from the obvious so-called religious sides. It can rise from any side – and it will keep on rising, as long as sides appear to be more important to humans, than human life itself.

We have this remarkable thing called “life”, yet somehow, quite disgracefully, it has become less glorious and significant, in front of the fake glory of labels and ideologies. This is what advancement without conscience does to a species. We have advanced externally, before we actually truly evolved internally. Biological evolution is a fact, and that very biological evolution led to our so-called psychological evolution – I am saying so-called not because it is false. We have evolved psychologically indeed and through this evolution we have gained extraordinary psychological capacities, that basically are not possessed by any other species on earth, yet those capacities are not utilized at their fullest and most productive potential. It’s like having money and yet wasting it on unhealthy non-sense like alcohol and expensive cigars, while your neighbor is starving in front of your eyes.

Correct application of the mental faculties cannot be taught to a whole species – it automatically starts when the species gets an actual grip over its true necessities. Earth is necessity, not Mars. Food and water are necessities, not alcohol and cigarettes. To be human is necessity, not being a believer or non-believer. Now comes the real question – what are you?

Recommended Reading
Principia Humanitas, 2017

 

For Speaking Engagement Inquiry or Interview Request, email at naskarism@gmail.com

Meditation beyond Traditions – An Interview

Psychotherapist Serge Prengel interviews Abhijit Naskar on Meditation and Mindfulness.

This conversation is available as a video, as well as audio only here www.activepause.com/naskar and a printable PDF transcript.

 

Dr Diane Hamilton Interviews Abhijit Naskar

Dr Diane Hamilton, MBA Program Chair at Forbes Business School, Interviews Abhijit Naskar on Neuroscience, Religion and Social Issues.

How the understanding of the brain can change our lives

People often ask me – what is my work about? I tell them – I study humans – I study how they think, how they feel, how they behave and why. This answer probably would induce another question in your mind, which is – “how does this apply to my personal life?” So, the real question here is – how does the understanding of the mind, which essentially is the understanding of brain functions in a large scale, can effect and change human life? How can the understanding of the mind be applied by the lay-person – the non-scientist, in his or her life, to live better, with friends, family and co-workers?

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These are the questions, which I attempted to address in one of my works, entitled “What is Mind?” I concocted various thought experiments to elucidate answers to such questions among other philosophical ones? So, in this piece, we are going to take a look, at two excerpts from the book, which are most appropriate in this context. First let’s bring up an excerpt to shed some light on how our behavioral capacities and traits can alter radically based on internal and external conditions.

Excerpt 1 from What is Mind?:

Imagine yourself having a fight with your romantic partner. The tension of the situation makes your limbic system run at full throttle and you become flooded with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenalin. The high levels of these chemicals suddenly make you so damn angry, that you burst out in front of your partner saying, “I wish you die, so that I can have some peace in my life”. Given the stress of the situation through highly active limbic system, your PFC loses its freedom to take the right decision and you burst out with foul language in front of your partner, that may ruin your relationship. In simple terms due to your mental instability, you lost your free will to make the right decision.

But when the conversation is over, and you relax for a while, your stress hormone levels come down to normal, and you regain your usual cheerful state of mind. Immediately, your PFC starts analyzing the explosive conversation you had with your partner. Healthy activity of the entire frontal lobes, especially the PFC suddenly overwhelms you with a feeling of guilt. Your brain makes you realize, that you have done something devilish. As a result, now you find yourself making the willful decision of apologizing to your partner and making up to him or her, no matter how much effort it takes, because your PFC comes up the solution that it is the healthiest thing to do for your personal life.

From this you can see, that what you call free will is something that is not consistent. It changes based on your mental health. Mental instability or illness, truly cripples your free will. And the healthier your frontal lobes are, the better you can take good decisions. And the most effective way to keep your frontal lobes healthy is to practice some kind of meditation.

So, you see, what you feel when you are angry or sad, or desperate, may not actually be the baseline emotional state of your individual mind. Taking that into consideration, you can take necessary precautions to prevent your angry outburst from ruining a certain relationship with another person. Now let’s look at one of the most significant thought experiments from What is Mind?, which actually depicts the real life benefit of the understanding of brain functioning. I named this thought experiment The PMDD Conundrum.

Excerpt 2, A Thought Experiment from What is Mind?

The PMDD Conundrum (Thought Experiment, What is Mind?, 2016)

Mental health influences your decision-making ability regardless of your experiences. However, experience is what makes you better at making the right decision in a given situation. Here the term right only refers to your subjective perspective of the choice. To explain how experience alters one’s free will,let’s carry out a little thought experiment in the context of two different scenarios.

CONTEXT 1

Imagine yourself to be layman with no notable awareness of biology. You start dating a woman planning a long-term relationship. Every month right before her period starts, she gets extremely cranky like all menstruating women. However, she tells you that she has a rare medical condition called Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder or PMDD, which is the extreme form of PMS. You have already heard all about women getting agitated during their PMS, so you think that it is just the same. However, in time things get real stressful. Every month during those days, she would turn into a completely different person. And one time, she gets so agitated that she bursts out – you are the worst decision of my life. Naturally, it feels beyond acceptable to you. You are a human after all.

You cannot ignore such behavior any more. You start perceiving every single insulting word from her mouth to be true. It seems that it is what she really feels. You start getting upset beyond tolerance. And after several of such intense insults from her during those days, you realize that you don’t deserve such nonsense. You have no practical idea of what PMDD really is, so you perceive the insulting and violent behavior of your woman to be extremely inappropriate. So, one day you simply go ahead and tell her – you are nothing but a psychopathic maniac who just likes to hurt people. I think it’s time we ended things. Here, due to the lack of deeper understanding of what PMDD really is, your lay brain makes a decision based on your limited perception and needs, that you need to end the relationship.

CONTEXT 2

Now let’s run the same experiment in a different context. Imagine yourself to be a person with a hobby of reading a lot of Science books, especially those connected to the mind. You like to learn new things. Now, you get into the same situation and the same circumstances as mentioned earlier. But, here when your girlfriend tells you about her condition after the first month of outburst in your relationship, you get really curious. Previously due to your curiosity you have already learnt about the basic biology behind PMS and how it affects the female psychology. So, hearing about PMDD, you don’t only feel responsible but also very intrigued to learn about it. You feel the urge to know how can such a cheerful person turn into a completely different human being, almost like a beast?

And as you start reading, everything begins to make sense. The first thing you realize is that, PMDD is nothing like the common PMS that almost every girl faces. It is the extremely violent form of PMS, which is very rare. Due to the intense hormonal storms of PMDD inside a woman’s head, her cognitive reality changes drastically during the pre-menstrual days. You start to realize what your woman has to go through every month, due to her condition. A man can never even imagine in his wildest dreams how such storm feels like.

PMDD leads to the worst of hormonal mood swings. Every month during these days she turns into a completely different person filled with hopelessness and gloom. As soon as the tides change she comes back to her real cheerful self. It is this condition which makes her say the things she would never say in a lucid mental state.

You begin to understand that for most women with PMS the hormonal changes are manageable, and they are able to somehow keep their agitation to themselves. But for your special lady, the story is different and quite unmanageable. Most weeks of the month she is brainy, creative, enthusiastic, cheerful and optimistic, but a mere shift in the hormonal flood on certain days makes her absolutely hopeless about the future, about herself, about your relationship and basically about everything that she can think of. On those days her inner instability forces her to hate herself as well as get irritated at every single action you take. And the most fascinating thing about her mental state during that time is that the hopelessness caused by hormonal imbalances feels so damn real to her that she literally perceives it as the everlasting reality of her life. The utter hormonal turbulence completely transforms her cognitive reality from a cheerful one to a gloomy one. It constructs an altered state of consciousness, in which she becomes a different personality filled with nothing but hatred and rage.

She becomes absolutely blind to all the cheerful moments of her life. And she gets so restless that she explodes with insulting words towards you. Over time, you learn that the best to do in this situation is to do nothing and just be there with her. And every time she gets cranky, you simply learn to remain patient and unaffected by her words. Every month, once the hormonal storm wears off, she comes back to her original sunny state. In time, you grow more attachment for her, and she even becomes fonder of you, because you are always there for her, even when she is mad as hell. Thus, you don’t ever feel to leave her, rather together you stay forever and beyond.

ANALYSIS

In both contexts, you had two available options to choose from – leave or stay. Yet, you made totally opposite decisions in exactly the same circumstances. The only thing that was different is your understanding and experience.

In the first context, you were a layman with a general view of the world. You perceived everything in a generalized manner, with no further need of your own to explore and have deeper understanding of a phenomenon. Hence, when it came to decide whether to leave or to stay in the relationship, your brain made the decision based on your generalized understanding of everything, and you willfully preferred to leave your woman in the pursuit of a better prize, with less crankiness.

In the second context, you had a better grip over natural phenomena. Moreover, you had the curiosity to understand things, in a better way than the general public. And your understanding allowed you to try seeing the world from your woman’s perspective. And the more you tried, the better you became at being next to her when she needed you the most and hated you at the same time. You got experienced at it.

Naturally, the thought of leaving her, never occurred in your mind. And even if it did, you brushed off as the spur of the moment. Because your PFC already had sufficient data on the situation to analyze and come up with a positive outcome. Your experience here served as the very foundation, of your willful support towards your woman.

Each emotional impulse, each thought, each behavioral expression, has a neurological basis. Understanding these bases can redefine how we look at a person, how we look at a certain behavior of that person, how we look at a certain emotional impulse or behavioral expression of ourselves, and then to choose whether or not to accept it as our usual characteristic. And this very looking can change how we see our lives, how we live our lives, and how we see the world which we live in. In this looking lies the true key to contentment. In this looking, lie precious jewels of graceful living.

 

 

Recommended Reading

What is Mind?, 2016

For Speaking Engagement Inquiry or Consultation Inquiry, email at naskarism@gmail.com