TED Conversations

Jeffrey Wise

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In the debate about whether God exists or not, there is a third possibility: that "God" does exist, but only within our brains.

In recent years, neuroscience has greatly expanded our understanding of the fabulous capabilities of our brains, especially our subconscious minds. This is made dramatically apparent when computer scientists try to duplicate things humans find easy like vision, speech, inference, etc. (e.g., IBM's Watson Jeopardy-winning super computer).

Isn't it possible that spirituality springs from our subconscious brain as it bridges between the outside world and our conscious minds; that the only truly supernatural force is us - our conscious minds? Isn't a jet airliner flying at 35,000 feet across the Atlantic at nearly the speed of sound a better "supernatural" accomplishment than a burning bush?

As I suspect you will agree, this is a very rich and complicated topic, but perhaps by working together, we can begin to establish a case for it, or against it!

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    Feb 22 2011: I would argue that's just a subset of the "God doesn't exist" category.
    • Feb 22 2011: You are correct - in the framework of the traditional debate, my proposition is certainly in the "God doesn't exist" category. My point is that there is something "out there" that can seem like an external supernatural entity, but isn't actually external to us. I'm hoping that if we can get to the position that "God exists, but he isn't anything like what you thought", the heated debates and battles might eventually abate. Spiritually oriented people and atheists are both right in this alternative way of understanding. So I hope you will agree that this isn't just a matter of "just."
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        Feb 23 2011: You really don't know the religious if you think they're going to settle for a God in the brain. It's besides the point anyway. Either God exists or he doesn't.
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          Mar 18 2011: MM Ever hear of panentheism ? I am one of THOSE PEOPLE who would not settle for a god that is only a human construct.
      • Feb 23 2011: Matthieu, isn't inferring 'the religious won't settle' a bit stereotypical? Religious people and atheist people are all human and therefore all have varying views to an extent. Just like any other subgroup of society, there would likely be many religious people willing to listen and legitimately consider positions similar to what Jeffrey was suggesting.
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    Feb 27 2011: Your argument is actually part of the "God does not exist" camp. Some of the prominent psychologists and neuroscientists argue that belief in God is a mindset, in which the person seeks to create a personally unique worldview where "closure" and "pre-ordainment" are part and parcel of every action, belief, occurrence or circumstance.
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      Mar 18 2011: Oh really ! I have no closure and preordainment. Let them argue their views, I believe what seems reasonable to me and not what someone else has ordained. I am not doctrinal nor dogmatic. If they think they are being reasonable, more power to them.
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    Feb 23 2011: The universe functions by what we define as natural phenomena. Any supernatural phenomena, by definition, cannot work. If god exists then he will be a 'natural' phenomena.
    • Mar 3 2011: I don't think anybody was suggesting that God's existence would or could be within the universe! Calling God a phenomena further moves you away from what it is to talk of God. Phenomena are distinct, categorical and finite; God surely is none of these!
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        Mar 10 2011: Rory,

        Religion seems to fall into the category of distinct, categorical, and finite.
        Could you give me an argument on why this isn't true to you?

        Also, could you differentiate between God as a phenomena and talk
        of God.

        I would love to hear your point of view on this
  • Feb 22 2011: God = The Universe = All of us.

    There, problem solved. =)
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    Feb 22 2011: I dont agree with the next:
    "that the only truly supernatural force is us - our conscious minds? "

    I wouldnt say it is supernatural, and im not sure from whom its the next quote but I think it works pretty well: "Everything which can be done is natural"

    I agree with the idea that the spiritual notions and the idea of god comes from a construction from our mind, but also agree with Matthieu that this is just part of the same framework of "god doesn't exist" category.
    • Feb 22 2011: I agree that we are not "supernatural" entities in the traditional sense of the term - of being outside/above nature. We are totally a product of nature! But doesn't have to mean that we cannot create things that are outside/beyond nature - "supernatural" in that sense. I don't mean this on a philosophical, metaphysical level; of course, anything we make or do is part of the natural world. But there is something very special about our intellectual creations - but for our (natural) conscious minds, they are beyond nature's ability.

      The point I'm trying to make is that we are capable of doings that are outside/above nature in that they can not occur in the natural world without our conscious intelligence - like a Boeing 747 jet or a super computer. So in that sense, we are the the only provable "supernatural" force (and I think the only one). In saying this, I'm not trying to elevate us to the level of gods, rather I'm trying to enhance the meaning of the term "supernatural." Being that there is nothing beyond/above the natural world, the traditional use of the term is obsolete, but I think there is value in keeping the word but using it in this expanded sense.

      Please suggest a better way of expressing this.

      But the bigger issue remains: can a common ground be found between the spiritualists and the atheists based on our growing understanding of ourselves? Can we develop a new synthesis that gets us past the "God" issue?
      • Feb 22 2011: I do not believe in the existence of the supernatural (in the traditional definition of above-nature).

        Since we are a part of nature anything we do (such as building a Boeing 747) must also be a part of nature, in the sense that it is created by nature. There are many examples of nature constructing it's own transport mechanism to distribute part or all of itself to another location. How is this different?

        To me the use of the term supernatural today is synonymous with magic (not illusion), in that they are both used to describe something that can not be explained using our current understanding of nature/science/so on.

        Unfortunately it seems to me that the current state of human nature prevents such a synthesis. But I do believe this will not always remain the case, that there will be a time when the general consensus is that the debate is irrelevant.
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    Mar 19 2011: my question is, if something is supernatural, than how is it contained in a natural world?
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    Mar 18 2011: supernatural like.....anti matter? strange matter? the speed of light? fusion?
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    Mar 10 2011: The question..........Does God exist..................is non-sensical because God is not a BEING.
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      Mar 11 2011: Neither is a place, you can still ask if a place exists. Neither is a non-living object, you can still ask if an object exists. Neither is a state, you can't still ask if a state exists...and so on.
  • Mar 7 2011: Jeffrey,

    God does exist. He created you, so that you could create other things. Just open a bible.
    Felt compelled to jump in, but will not debate.
    Love you.
    Have a field day people.
  • Mar 7 2011: God exists in our brains when we want Him to. Or rather when we want It to.....
    How any of our opinions here unfold should briefly begin with how we as the individual defines who or what God is.
    From my studies, research, experiences and affiliations( which i find credible on a personal level where you may not), God to is a form of energy. An energy source to be precise. Not a big bearded man commonly illustrated similar to that of Zeus. I shall continue to refer to this energy source as God.
    Is God in our Brains?
    Yes he is. When we pray, plead for divine mercy/intervention, guidance and so on, our brains(or rather the mind) taps into the cosmic energy. This is the sole purpose for people who practice forms of meditation. The mind acts as an antenna to tap into the surrounding cosmic energy given off by God(Satellite).
    This cosmic energy then is absorbed into our minds and souls and gives us the calmness and the ability to sub-conciously think clearer which would then help to solve issues.
    This all may seem like i am trivialising the idea of God, however this is only because i have very briefly touched on what i actually know. Dwell deeper into the divine and it would simply fascinate.!
  • Mar 7 2011: The question is : What is god? Everyone has a different concept of deity, I think the goldfish in his tank, which can be said that the man who gives him food and living space, and therefore perpetuates its existence, is god. Now for me as a Christian, I believe that God is in what is good in what is beautiful on earth, and what is fragile, like life. So for me yes we can say that God is in my brain, it is my emotions and my stability. But this concept is different for everyone, someone say he exist for there pursuit of peace of mind, and someone say he don't exist because there brain are closed. This topic is really hard to explain. Sorry for my english!
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    Mar 7 2011: Timothy O'Leary said "Man is a worshipping animal." I don't exactly hold Mr. O'Leary as a model for myself, but I must agree with that statement. Having said that, I would go on to say that "God" is not a person. God is not a being.
    God is the ground of being. God is existence, love, truth, justice. I am ok with not being able to wrap my mind around that. I think life is meant to be lived, not understood.
  • Mar 6 2011: i am sure that before we did not even thought of an existence of god before someone tells us that there is a god. spirituality is not the thoughts of the mind, it is how we justify our thoughts. i am sure a teaching of god can make us psychologically find peace of mind.
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    Feb 28 2011: God exist whatever we think about Him ................. suppose you never was in New York and you never see anything about it but others are saying you that New York is a real place and you when other describe you the city are imagining something, I'm imaginig also something about it if I'm in the same situation but yet our perception at that point of New York is very different ......................... God can't exist into our brain because is a person .................
    We can't imagine the reality, noone could ..........we are limited

    Why would exist the idea of God in our brain if God really doesn't exist ? are billions of posibilities ,,,,,,,,why exatcly the idea of God?
    And why should we base our trust on neuroscience if when we think at God we are thinking at something immaterial (neuroscience is a very material science) ? Do we try to explain something immaterial with something material?

    and other questions...........
  • Feb 24 2011: God is every man's best friend! Or is that Dog?
  • Feb 23 2011: We have no point of reference here, no past experience. Sometimes I see the beauty, I am tuned to recognise it and I think God does exist! I don't quite understand what do I mean... but I miss this sensation very much and want to be in it again and again. There is no "in"or "out", you don't ask questions, you simply know. I wish I were inside this feeling forever,but no... It's glimpses, little breakthroughs, and I am so greatful for them.
  • Feb 22 2011: There are many definitions of God, some of which are along these lines.

    "A singular omnipotent being in theistic and deistic religions (and other belief systems) who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a principal deity in polytheism."

    Given such a definition, could it not be said that God both exists (for those that believe it) and does not exists (for those that do not)?

    "Any supernatural being worshipped as controlling some part of the world or some aspect of life or who is the personification of a force "

    Given this type of definition, and ignoring the debate over 'supernatural', could it not be said that we are all God.
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      Feb 23 2011: No and no. The second example is like describing a dog as a "canine human companion" and then saying "ignoring the 'canine' word, could it not be said that we're also talking about cats?".
      • Feb 24 2011: I meant to ignore the debate over the existence of the supernatural. Canines exist, this is fact. The simple nature of the definition of 'supernatural' excludes it (logically) from being fact.

        In any case, care to elaborate on 'No and no', this is a discussion after all, and i am legitimately interested in your actual thoughts.
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          Feb 24 2011: Whether God exists or not is independent of whether people believe in his existence or not and I just don't see how you could derive your idea from that definition.

          Degrading the meaning of God so that it can mean just about anything doesn't actually help. You're just playing around with words. By changing the definition of God you're not solving the problem you're merely moving to a more solvable problem.