• Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
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Entries in neuroscience (50)


Your brain 'on forgiveness' - a journey to wholeness and health

I came across this very insightful post on the neuroscience of forgivness on tumblr - in other words what happens in your brain when you forgive.  The post also gives some great insights into what it takes to truly forgive, and how your brain is wired to 'deal' with forgiveness.  Here's a sneak.  You can read all of the post after the jump.

From a brain’s perspective, forgiveness takes far more than merely letting go. It takes deliberate decisions to move beyond another person’s  judgment of you.   Replace a sad or disappointing encounter with memories of events that stoke healing, for instance, and your brain shifts focus.

The willingness to drop any need to blame diminishes your need to explain your perspective.  A brain forgives as a commitment to understand the other side, to feel empathy for another, or to regain compassion for a person you care about who hurt you.

A Brain on Forgiveness by Dr. Ellen Weber

I don't know about you, but I don't always find it easy to forgive others or myself. It can be quite debilitating to have your mind occupied, and energy tapped, by holding on to some personal failure, or experience of hurt. Indeed, I have always discovered a great sense of relief in the journey towads forgiving myself or someone else.  At times I have needed help (in the form or a friend, or even someone a little more skilled like a counsellor or coach).  But the journey has always been worthwhile, and the destination of freedom, is a great reward!

Can I encourage you to begin this journey if you are bound in unforgiveness? Perhaps today is the day that you can read the post linked above, or reach out for some guidance and assistance?




Intuitive? Try God!

I was alerted to this fascinating research, done at Harvard, by my friend Philip Collier.

In summary, the researchers found that persons who are capable of making intuitive decisions are more likely to be people of faith. Intuition is an extremely complex function of the human brain, since intuition relies on gathering lots of data, processing it at speed, and reaching a conclusion.

God is related to decision-making style, with those who rely more heavily on intuition reporting higher rates of belief, while those who are more reflective tilt toward atheism.
By linking religious belief to intuition, the study supports the idea that there is something in the cognitive makeup of humans that promotes belief in a higher power. For example, the natural tendency that people have to see a purpose behind random events, or the need to reduce uncertainty in their lives — as well as the anxiety it causes — may promote a belief in God.

The research makes no value judgement on intuitive versus reflective cognitive ability (since this is a matter or style rather than intelligence).

What do you think? Are intuitive thinkers more likely to be persons who hold faith convictions?

PS. My doctoral work was in cognitive neuroscience and theology. You can read more about that work on this blog by clicking the neuroscience link (tab) at the top of the page or the tag below.

Here's the link to the Harvard Article:


Is faith incompatible with science (and vice versa)?

After speaking at a secular conference recently I was asked a very thoughtful question (via email) by one of the persons in attendance.

In short, the question asked whether with my background in science (neuroscience in particular) I did not find a conflict with my faith as a Christian.

This is a common question.  It is a good question!

I'd love your input and response!

Here is my answer:

It is great to hear from you!  Thanks for taking the time to drop me a line.  The question that you pose below is one that I have heard many times before.

My area of specialization is neuroscience (rather than neurology). Of course the disciplines are linked, but my specialization is much less diagnostic in nature (it deals with understanding rather than pathology).  

I have had a longstanding interested in science, with a particular interest in physics, having done work in that area in my first degree and work in quantum theory (specifically quantum mechanics and quantum physics) in my master's degree.

The basic supposition of many people who ask this question is that there is a dualism (an ontological separation) between science and spirituality. This is a false supposition.  Please see the link below for my reasoning on this.

Even some of the most ardent atheistic scientists don't hold this view (for example of you read Richard Dawkins' 'God delusion') you'll see that he proposes a method of viewing the world from a scientific point of view - this form of spirituality is  known as scientism.  Basically any way of understanding the world in its entirety is a form of faith (in its most basic form).  For some people their meaning and greater value is found in service, some find it  in politics, some find it in spending, sport, sex and others in formal (and non-formal) forms of religious belief.

Sadly, many scientists do pseudotheology and many theologians do pseudoscience.  However, those who do solid epistemological study in both science and belief soon come to realize that there is not a great divide between science and faith.  In fact the opposite is true.

What we soon come to realize is that science depends as much on faith as faith depends on science!  Think about this for a moment.  The central 'proof' that something is scientifically true is based on a process of experimental repeatability.  The scientist has a 'hunch' or 'belief' that something is true and sets about to test that hypothesis.  This is an act of faith.  When the experiment is largely repeatable with the same results it is believed to be true... However, how many times have we discovered that what we believed to be entirely true was only partially true when we discovered another level of complexity in material reality?  However, faith in our results allows us to build bridges and fly in airplanes!  Science relies on a 'kind of faith' - we learn things, we believe they're true, we structure our lives accordingly. However, as times passes we learn new things that contradict old things we believed to be completely true. In the process we discover that not all science is 'absolutely true' - all faith is fluid in some senses.

Faith (in the traditional religious sense), on the other hand, relies a great deal on science!  I was asked to review a wonderful book entitled 'The fall of man and the foundation of science' (Oxford University Press, 2010, Peter Harrison).  It is an exceptional explanation of the relationship between contemporary science and religious belief, and religious belief and scientific methodology. See the book here: <>  It is not an easy read!  My review will be published in Studia Historiae Historiae in the next edition.  I'll gladly send you a copy of you're interested.

Whereas science is epistemic, religion tends towards phenomenology (i.e., the interpretation of what we hold to be true).  If a person comes to hold something to be true they will test their belief (consciously or unconsciously).  When they find evidence to support their belief they integrate it into their framework of dealing with joy and tragedy, bliss and suffering in their daily lives.  It is this process that helps us to deal with disappointment, discouragement, fear, opportunity, hope and a myriad of daily realities.  As I point out above some people frame the way in which they deal with these existential realities through relying on science, others (like Christopher Hitchens - a fellow anti-theist with Richard Dawkins) rely on secular humanism, others on religion, others on economics...

Can I suggest that you take a look at one of my posts on belief and the neurobiology of the human brain here:  <>

My friend Gregory Benvenuti (an atheist from Australia) made some super remarks in the comments.  Please also see my reply to him.

Please feel free to come back to me with your input, thoughts etc. Would you mind if I published my response to your basic question on my blog (no names mentioned of course)?

Grace and peace,



Do you want a bigger bonus? Perhaps not! Money and performance.

Would you work harder, and do better work, if you were paid more?  I am guessing that most of us would answer 'absolutely'!

However, this great video by Daniel Pink (that deals with the research he did for his book 'Drive') suggests otherwise.  In short his research shows that the relationship between monetary reward and performance does applies differently to manual and cognitive tasks.  Persons who performed basic manual tasks did better work for higher rewards.  However, persons who performed cognitive tasks seemed to perform worse when presented with a financial incentive to do so!

In the video he suggests three alternative rewards that motivate better performance among skilled, technical, cognitive workers.


What do you think? I sure would love to have 'the question of money' taken off the table! If I had the freedom not to worry about money I guess I would be able to concentrate on doing better work.  How about you?


Dailyness - learning to live without need for constant excitement

My 4 year old son is a source of immeasurable blessing and joy!

This morning I had to be at work just before 6am so I didn't get to see him. So, just before Megie took him to school I phoned him - the first thing he said when he got on the line was 'daddy, when you get home tonight I want to ride my bicycle'!

Liam loves riding his bike with me! In part I think it is the excitement of gaining a new skill (he has only just learnt how to ride his bike), and in part it is the joy of the two of us spending time together.

However, I remember when my daughter was that way - she too loved to ride her bike! We spent countless hours riding up and down the street. Now that she is 11 years old riding her bike up and down the road with her dad is not quite as exciting as it once was! She prefers to leave that activity to her brother.

Life can be like that! The things that excite us today tend to loose their 'shine' with time. We become accustomed to them, we master them, they loose their initial challenge and attraction, and eventually they become part of our routine; they become mundane.

Every aspect of life is prone to this propensity towards becoming mundane or familiar.

From a neuroscientific point of view I know that in part this has to do with the body's attempt to become (and remain) as efficient as possible. It takes energy to generate excitement, to learn new things, and to be stimulated. The brain literally requires more energy to fire the synaptic junctions and activate the dopamine system that makes one interested in something (or someone), thus making you alert to the many new aspects and possibilities of such an encounter.

Relationships move form passionate lust to stable love. Shiny cars soon pale in comparison to newer, faster, models.... The list of 'exciting to ordinary' examples could go on and on!

In spiritual circles we call this tendency 'dailyness'.

A healthy spirituality is one that moves from the immaturity of seeking pleasure through excitement and exotic experiences, to one that allows you to enjoy and be blessed by everyday life.

Such a spirituality celebrates 'dailyness', it seeks out and finds the blessing and joy of the 'ordinary' aspects of one's life by training the senses to be alert to them; encouraging the mind to see simple things in the light of wonder, grace, and gratitude.

Hedonism is the enemy of a 'spirituality of dailyness'. It constantly seeks pleasure and gratification. In the West we have become obsessed with the pursuit of comfort and pleasure. So much so that many of our laws and economic systems are based on an ethical / moral philosophy called 'altruistic hedonism'. What that means is that we want to seek the maximum pleasure for the most number people. The point is that we have become a pleasure directed society.

When you first consider this you may ask 'So, what is wrong with wanting to make as many people as possible happy all the time?' Well, one obvious problem is that it is not sustainable! If we cannot learn to appreciate what we do have we will constantly seek more, and better, things. This consumerist attitude is behind many economic forces in western society. We will never be satisfied because 'happiness' will always be over the next hill or around the next corner. There will always be a desire for a bigger budget, a larger house, a faster car...

In the end we chase after those things that cannot bring fulfillment, and in the process we destroy others and the environment. In the process more and more of the earth's resources are consumed for unnecessary pleasures. Why should you have a car that can go at 200km/h when one that can do 100km/h is all that is required? I think you get the idea?!

So, for the last few days I have been consciously attempting to focus on 'blessed dailyness'. I am deliberately trying to find joy in, and celebrate, what I already have. I am making it a discipline to give thanks for what I have and to fight the urge to want what others have.

It has been a remarkable experience. I am realizing anew just how fortunate and blessed I am!

Have you every applied a similar discipline, or spirituality, to 'blessed dailyness' in your life? Have you got any experiences you would be willing to share? I'd love to hear from you! God bless, Just Dion (living each day to become more truly 'Dion the just')


Don't bother with that PhD in neuroscience... Just watch this... It is better than a doctorate!

When I saw this excellent explanation of the human brain (in under 2 minutes), I realised that I had wasted 6 years of my life doing a PhD in neuroscience and theology...  I should just have watched this video!  

So, to save you the same trouble I would encourage you to just watch it now!

I particularly liked this bit (from the transcript) by TheRitual24 in the comment sectionthe liviating duds immediatly lubberdutch making contaste and togethatee slip temperance and expandasutatity. A reflection into ocean corrisponse who is perverts supercredity multiveratury equation E=2r… I’ll say that again, E=2r. Where R is the radiency of a homemade measure of the vultry affect and i find that in the pervinity stems of the parishilton reserdity overleshes the rihanheteramervan to and effect so as to neglectance of nomad of prosperaty super contraction causes structurmention.


Psychopathic tendencies and success - do you need to be a little bit 'crazy' to succeed?

I have the great privilege of working with a number of very successful people.  I have had the immeasurable honor of working with some of the world's top scholars, ministry and mission leaders as well as titans of industry and sport.

I am often accused of being an eternal optimist - I don't mind!  Perhaps I am a little too optimistic, but I have generally found that most people that I encounter are sincere, well meaning, having a genuine desire to do well for themselves without harming others.  This has been my experience with most of the people I have met at various levels of success in society.

Some generally observable traits in highly successful people:

Of course there are some traits that set the very successful aside from marginally successful or less successful persons. Among those traits I have observed such things as:

- A willingness to work harder than others.

- A measure of courage that is greater than the norm (some call this an appetite for risk).

- A singular focus and commitment in spite of adversity and opposition.

- Some exceptional skill or ability (whether it is business acumen, the ability to manage people or resources, or an above average ability in sport).  Let me just say on this point that this has been much less important in the overall balance of success than I had initially considered. Determination, hard work and courage are certainly more important than 'giftedness'.  I have met many average persons who have achieved exceptional things through sheer determination, hard work and risk. 

Then there are some additional elements that I have seen that help in achieving success.  These include: 

- Confidence.

- Above average communication skills.

- Very good people skills.

- A network of strong and supportive relationships.

However, for some time I have been looking out for one additional trait - I first became aware of it some years ago when working with a Bishop who had an incredibly loyal following of clergy and members.  He was courageous beyond measure, worked incredibly hard and had a clear and strong focus of social transformation and human rights.  However, there was an additional element that I observed in his personality.  Because I have seen that element in my own personality, and now observed it in his, I started looking for it in others.

What is a psychopath?

The condition that I am referring to is a mild form of psychopathic tendency.  Psychopaths are characterized as having a strong lack of empathy, which is often expressed in amoral or antisocial behavior.  

For example, when the average person sees a scene of murder or physical abuse they will experience a negative emotion. Something inside of them empathizes with the victims of the murder or abuse and so they distance themselves from the experience.  The observer feels something of the pain, struggle and fear of the victim and the negative emotion that results causes a change in behavior.

So, for example, most people will not beat a helpless animal, a child, or an elderly person.  Our ability to 'feel' what it must be like to be abused causes us to choose not to inflict such pain on others.

The psychopath, on the other hand, either feels no empathy, or has a reduced experience of empathy with the suffering of others.  So for example studies have shown that psychopaths who inflict violence on women and children not only do not feel pain, disgust, or regret about their actions, in some severe cases the violent abuse actually causes their blood pressure to drop and their heart rate to slow.  In other words the emotional response at violent abuse is so difficult to interpret that they wrongly associate the emotional response positively.

Now, let me be clear, that with the exception of truly violent criminals and political despots I don't think that there are many truly psychopathic individuals who achieve a great measure of success.  They may achieve notoriety, but not success.  Society, in general, does have a tendency to expose, restrain and even punish truly psychopathic individuals.

Mild psychopathic tendencies and success. 

However, in its milder forms I am certain that there are some measure of psychopathic tendency in highly successful people.  Why would I say this?

Well, I have seen that highly successful people often press ahead in spite of negative feedback, sometimes even from close friends or family.  Moreover, they have a capacity to block out painful experiences and not allow the emotion of such an experience to slow them down, or at least stop them, from achieving their stated aims.

The simple reality, as my learned psychologist friend Philip Collier will tell us, is that all of us are regulated by our emotions.  If we experience a positive emotion about something we tend to favor it and adjust our behavior accordingly.  So, if you are good at something and people affirm your performance or behavior you tend to favor that activity.  The converse is also true, if we experience a negative emotion associated with something (or someone) we tend to try to avoid that measure of 'pain'.  There is a complex system of reward and aversion in the brain that is mainly associated with the hippocampus, the mesolimbic pathway, the mesocortical pathway which are primarily associated with the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine.

I wonder if you have seen the same thing in highly successful people?  Take the olympic athlete for example.  While others teenagers are responding to the promptings of their hormones on a Friday evening, dancing at nightclubs, eating at fast food restaurants and drinking alcoholic drinks with empty calories, the prize winning athlete is resting at home, having eaten a bland meal that contains the correct nutrition for training and performance.  The athlete trains through the pain and even denies himself small pleasures for the sake of performance. 

I have certainly seen the same traits among scholars who fill forego sleep (and even holidays) to get an article published, or authors who will spend years researching a new book.  Of course there are many stereotypes in business of the successful business woman or business man who 'gets to the top' to find that they have lost their family and their friends, and perhaps even the true friendship and respect of their colleagues.

Something in them caused them to deny 'normal' emotional responses to conflict, desire, fatigue, hunger, and even love.  As a result that they rose above what is common to most other persons.  They ran faster, rode longer, worked harder, took greater risks, and achieved more.

As I have thought about it I have come to realize that it is far more complex than just writing off success to psychopathic tendencies.  Of course there are those 'normal' persons who are coached and supported to greatness (I certainly spend a lot of time helping great people to achieve much more than they thought they could in business, and I know my friend Phil does the same of sports people).

But perhaps there are some persons who just have a little less connection with emotion, not so much that they become a danger to society and themselves, but just enough to rise above what is common to most people.

So, as always I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts!  Do you think that this may be as common as I am suggesting?  Do you have any examples of people (such as Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet - or others) that you could share?


He said She said... Web design and gender

It would be an understatement to say that the brains of men and women are wired differently for communication.

I sometimes wonder whether we're even from the same species! Only kidding (watch out for the FLAME war!)

But, the simple truth is that men and women have different approaches to sharing information and consuming information.  We relate differently to facts and emotions.  Some persons prefere a story (narrative) to facts.  Others prefer safe spaces for interaction and relationship, while some prefer clinical repositories of ideas...

This helpful infographic (download a LARGE VERSION here) gives some wonderful insights into research on how women and men design their websites and blogs in different ways.  I found it fascinating to read.

I see from this that I am 'trustworthy' and 'approachable' (brown...)  Perhaps I should get a little red or pink on here to spice things up a bit!?

So, do you think this infographic is accurate?  Has this been your experience?  I'd love to hear your feedback!


Rigging the American elections... Neuromarketting and voting

How would you feel if you discovered that you had voted for someone, or something, that you don't agree with?  How is that possible?  

Well, it is not as far fetched as you may imagine.  This week I taught a class on the neurological processes of choice - how the brain makes decisions is quite predictable (and can even be 'gamed').  Please see this earlier post as an example.

The brain follows certain processes in making decions, and once those processes can be understood and engaged it is quite plausible that one could bypass some of the more subtle rational faculties of human decision making in order to get persons to act or react in a certain manner.  Fear is one common trigger to alter sensible behavior.  If you can get a person to become suspicious, or even fearful, of a certain group of persons, or a possible situation, you can get them to act in absolutely irrational ways.  Take for example the atrocities that are committed by entirely sensible people during wartime situations.

Of course not every aspect of engaging the neurological functions of the brain in decision making is unethical or bad.  There are some instances in which one would want to help persons to understand how their brains work in order to help them to make different choices - for example cognitive therapies for addictions help to change destructive behavior in some persons.

Then there is the simple reality that important messages deserve to be shared with effectiveness and clarity so that persons can make informed and reasonable decisions - the gist of the course that I taught earlier this week was to help the students at Media Village to understand how to frame their messages for the best possible outcome.

Well, all of this leads to this incredible story that my friend Aaron Marhsall sent through to me today.  It got me thinking whether it is ethical to employ subtle neuromarketting techniques in a democratic process?

What do you think?  Is this a form of coercion, rigging the elections?

There are a multitude of reasons the Republicans regained control of Congress in Tuesday’s elections--unemployment, voter discontent, tea party-ism. But the one influential factor you aren't likely to hear about is the use of political neuromarketing during the campaign.

During the 2008 presidential election, neuromarketers went public with research showing how political ads can drive emotional triggers in our unconscious brains. By reading the responses taken from people linked to fMRI or EEG machines, neuromarketers and their clients aim to optimize stimuli (political messages) and reaction in consumers’ brains and drive their (voting) decisions.

But with public trust in elected officials at an all-time low, politicians today won't talk about anything that even vaguely associates them with Orwellian "mind manipulation." But are they doing it? While most everyone agrees that neuromarketing was used in the 2010 midterm elections, none of the politicians we spoke to admitted to using the techniques in their own campaigns.

Darryl Howard, a consultant to two Republican winners on November 2, says he crafted neuromarketing-based messages for TV, direct mail and speeches for Senate, Congressional and Gubernatorial clients in 2010. “We measure everything including the storyline, level of the language, images, music. Using critical point analysis, we identify specifics that may drive voters away or attract them," he says. The techniques are non-invasive, and include measuring muscle, skin, and pupil response. "We prefer our methods over some EEG/fMRI methods because our approach is quicker and more importantly can be done in the script phase, saving production time and money and tells us the level of honesty of the ad.”

Fred Davis is a big believer in neuromarketing as well. He is a luminary in the GOP advertising world whose client list includes George W. Bush and John McCain. Davis, who advised Carly Fiorina's senate bid, says, "We've had a pretty decent success rate in campaigns, and it's all based on that principle of neuromarketing."

Oregon Republican State Senator Brian Boquist also admits to having employed political neuromarketing in his campaigns. “I don’t know how it works, all I know is that it works,” says the former Army commander who received a Bronze Star for his service in Iraq. Boquist was also careful to say the technology is part of a broader mix of campaign tactics, and has a way to go before it becomes effective.

Republicans appear to be using neuromarketing more than Democrats, if this midterm is any indication. They are appealing to the emotion of voters' “Red Brain” triggers. "No Democratic candidate I know of has used them [neuromarketing tactics], nor has any major Democratic organization appeared to express any interest in them,” says Drew Westen, author of The Political Brain and consultant to major U.S. national Democratic Party candidates.

Then again, 17 of 19 neuromarketing and political consultants contacted for this story stated they did not engage in the practice--including Neurofocus, which bills itself as the world leader in the emerging field and whose Chief Innovation Officer, Steven Genco, did political neuromarketing work previously at Lucid Systems.

"The real risk is that politicians will not want us to know that they are using influencing tools," says Patrick Renvoise, a neuromarketing consultant. "The one with the most knowledge wins and this probably explains why a lot of people are reluctant to talk about neuromarketing, especially with the word politician in the same sentence.”

Read the rest of this article here...

I'd love to hear your thoughts on the ethics of neuromarketting in general, and its use in political (and even religious) messaging in particular?


A map of the world IN Africa - the real size of Africa

Boing boing posted this wonderful visual representation of the true size of Africa in relation to other geographical regions on earth. It is fascinating to see how North America compares to West Africa, or how England relates to Madagascar.

Once again this confirms that our perceptions of the size of countries is so often shaped by social, cultural and historical bias, rather than by geographic land mass!

I previously posted about this in a post entitled "What the world really looks like".

Bias can be a powerful thing! Also see my post on bias and ethics which shows why it is easier to steal time or pencils from your employer than money.

The following quote rings true for me:

@DanDeWitt: Those who refuse to acknowledge their bias are destined to be blinded by it.

How can we counteract our own biases on reality? Is it necessary to do so?

You can read the original boing boing article here.


The predictable irrationality of ethics - why we find it more difficult to steal money

I read Dan Ariely's fascinating book 'Predictably Irrational' last month.  It gave me a great deal of insight into how we make irrational decisions, but more importantly how we can understand (and perhaps even predict) such blunders.

In chapters 11 and 12 of the book Ariely deals with the matter of ethics and morals.  He shows through a series of experiments how we make unethical decisions because of the way in which our brains value different things of the same value...  Perhaps you should read that sentence again?

Simply stated, let's say a Coke costs US$1, what is more valuable to us, the Coke or a US$1 bill?  Well, he conducted an experiment where he placed 6 Cokes in some University dormitory fridges, and a plate of 6 US$1 bills in other fridges.  After 72 hours he returned to see which of the items (the money or the cokes) were stolen more easily.

It is not surprising that he discovered that in almost all the cases the Cokes were gone, but the plate of money was untouched in almost every case.  

In short this experiment (and a few others that he uses to verify his assumption) shows that people are less likely to 'steal money' than 'steal coke' - why?  Well, there seems to be a far greater social stigma attached to taking cash than there is to taking objects.

Here's another example.  Let's say you're at work and your wife phones you and tells you that your child needs a pencil for school.  Would you feel OK -> Not too bad -> Too guilty to take a pencil home for her? Most people answered that they would feel OK to take a pencil home.

Now, let's say that there are no pencils at work, but there is a shop downstairs that sells pencils for 60cents.  The company's pettycash box is in your possession and no one is checking.  How would you feel about taking 60cents from the pettycash box to buy a pencil for your daughter (the value of the pencil you would have taken from your company is 60cents)?  

Most people indicated that it would be much more difficult to steal the money than it would be to steal the pencil from their employer... 

Why?  Well, we have been socialized to think that money is 'worth more' than goods or time!  People go to jail for stealing money, but we seldom hear about people going to jail for 'stealing a pencil', or 'stealing time', or 'stealing private phone calls' from work...

I was fascinated by this (predictably) irrational element to my own ethical decision making.  What do you think?  Is Ariely's interpretation of his findings correct?  Is the value of goods and time the same as the value of money?  


The presence of God and functioning of the human brain

Some years ago when I was preparing to start my doctoral research I came across a wonderful book by Andrew Newberg and Eugene d'Aquili called "Why God won't go away: Brain science and the biology of belief".

I had come to the discipline of neuro-theology through my interest in quantum theory and the new science (which I covered in some earlier graduate work - my book 'Christ at the centre' has a chapter that seeks to rephrase the doctrine of Christ in more contemporary language, so instead of the traditional Greek philisophical concepts of ousia and hypostasis I sought to rephrase the unity of the divinity and humanity of Christ using quantum physics, theoretical microbiology and transpersonal psychology (later I discovered integrative philosophy to be more apt). It was a wonderful journey of discovery and rediscovery). 

At more or less that time there was a popular movement that focussed on the 'God spot' in the brain - the theory was that religion and belief can be disregarded because some neuroscientists had discovered the place(s) and functions of the brain that caused belief.  It was popularly dubbed as 'the God spot' in the brain. This line of argumentation is fundamentally flawed since it presuposes an dualism between spirit and matter (i.e., that the body and the spirit are somehow seperated).  It is what Ken Wilber calls a 'flatland' perspective that tries to collapse the complexity of reality into an objective system.  These scientists had fallen into the same trap as religious fundamentalists - they had closed the possibility of other points of view by suggesting that their perspective was the only valid option.  In this instance they suggested that because you could show the bioligical functioning of a part of the brain, the experiences that result from that function were not valid.

Can you see the logical inconsistency in that argument?  If we acccept that line of argumentation we would have to say that the human heart does not truly 'work' because we understand its biological functioning.  Just because we understand something does not mean that it is not true!  In fact it may be MORE true because we understand it.

It was this line of argumentation that I employed to present the exact opposite of their conclusion - simply because there is physical proof of the existence of a place in the brain that shapes religious experience does not mean that faith is not valid or true!

In fact the converse is more likely - we are created with a capacity to experience God and God's divine presence.  This is a gift, and in fact validates the truth that humans are created to be religious beings! Years later when I wrote up my Doctoral thesis I showed how these 'a-priori' (pre-existent) neurological pathways are the foundations of our identity as human persons.  We are integrated physical, psychological and spiritual beings.  Our identity depends on the development of all of these aspects of our being (see p.215 of the thesis forward).

In short, God has wired God's presence into our being!  We are hard-wired to experience and know God who is in all and above all.

My research went on to discuss the concept that the truest form of 'knowledge' (what is knowing in the Hebrew scriptures as yadah') is discovery through relationship.  Simply stated, a fact is useful (to know that my wife Megan exists is a fact which I can prove objectively - that is quite useful), however, to experience her love which is mediated through our relationship is transformative (this is known as subjective knowledge or experience, or more precisley, intersubjective knowledge that changes my life). 

Jesus is the essence of truth (the logos, the primordial person who is known through love). In my relationship with God in Christ I come to discover transformative truth, not just doctrinal certainty.  My friend Kevin Light wrote a wonderful chapter that discusses this relationship between experienced truth and rational truth in his chapter entitled 'What about an affirmative action for theological application' (see Forster, D and Bentley, W 'What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists' (Methodist Publishing House: Cape Town, 2009:107-116).

Thus, I have concluded that the most transformative knowledge of God is that knowledge that comes through a relationship with God in Christ.  We are transformed, renewed, recreated and reshaped as we grow in love (and knowledge) of Christ.

This little Latin saying has been living within me for the last while:  "Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit" [bidden or not bidden, God is present / invoked or not invoked, God is present].

It is variously attributed to Erasmus (a Enlightenment scholar and humanist) and Carl Jung (the Swiss psychiatrist).

There is a great truth contained within these simple words.  Indeed, God pre-exists our thoughts, our actions, our intentions, and even our will.

This is not only a theological statement (the Bible is filled with reminders that before we are, God is!)  God is the source from which all life comes.  God is creator (and so we are creation).  However, it is also a neuro-scientific reality.

If you ever have the inclination to understand the neurobiology of belief there is a wonderful book, written by Andrew Newberg and Eugene d'Aquili entitled "Why God won't go away: Brain science and the biology of belief"

Here is an endorsement for the book:


"Why God Won’t Go Away is a thrilling exploration of the intersection of modern brain science and religious experience by one of the leading researchers in this field. Theologians and religionists, don’t worry; this is no exercise in God bashing. For, unlike most books exploring the connection between science and religion, Dr. Andrew Newberg is exceedingly mindful of the limits of science- what it can and cannot say, where it can and cannot go. He realizes that for every question science answers about religious experience, a dozen more arise to take its place. The respect this book displays toward the great mysteries, such as the nature of God and the origin and destiny of consciousness, is one of its most appealing qualities. Newberg’s reverential attitude toward the great unknowns is reminiscent of Einstein." Larry Dossey, MD Author: Reinventing Medicine, Healing Words

I have, however, progressed beyond the dualism that separates belief into physical and spiritual categories.  For me the dividing wall between spirit and mind, between my body and my faith, has been broken down.  In Christ the Spirit of God is present fully in a human person.  And, through His saving grace my life is being transformed into that state of 'being present' to God.

So, no matter what you face today I would like to encourage you with the knowledge that whether God is invited, or not invited, God is always lovingly present.  Amazingly God has even given us the biological capacity for this truth to be discovered within the depths and complexity of the brain!