Respectful of the importance of self-deceptive practices such as religion: let us examine some reasons why as complex human beings, we allow ourselves to believe that such cognitive errors, and distortions of what we can call “primary reality” which is many times, if not all the time different from individual or “personal reality” are true.
The ability to distort or change reality (primary, or as the world truly is outside the interpretation of those crackheads I’m so fond of) is a strictly human skill. All non-human animals live in a world where their individual realities do not overlap or conflict with the primary, because they do not posses the cerebral apparatus to provide an interpretation or a set of misinterpretations of their experiences. To a bird or squirrel, a tree is simply a tree and past the actual benefits, its physical existence can provide, it cannot nor is it required to be anything else. In contrast, to the less elegant human inhabitants of our planet, a tree can be or become anything from firewood, to the embodiment of powerful spirit, or the reincarnation of a dead relative. Again this is because human animals have the sophisticated brain faculties to translate and then retranslate the incoming empirical information in a manner that reality can become or be transformed into anything at the level of the individual.
In his book “The Corruption of Reality – A Unified Theory of Religion, Hypnosis, and psychopathology” John F. Schumaker states that human reality is destined to contain large amounts of error. In saying this, he explains, he is using primary reality as a criterion by which to gauge the world as it really is. It can be held plausible, however, that primary reality as we perceive it or as it reveals itself to us, could also be false. Take the tree once again. It may be that the tree is the latest reincarnation of a departed human, which means hell for all those hard working Canadian lumberjacks. But in using empirical information to define what is real, one is proceeding on the basis of available data and probabilities and/or improbabilities. Therefore, in light of this empirical data it is highly improbable, that the tree is your uncle’s best friend’s grandfather reborn.
There are many reasons why humans need to deviate from or alter “real” reality. First, and perhaps the most logical of reasons, is the need to lessen or alleviate the load on our senses. I will apologize now to you, the reader, for leaning on a pseudo-psychological science in order to elucidate my flow of ideas, and illustrate the active series of perceptual filters through which we see the world. Proponents and defendants of NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming have maintained for nearly four decades that “The Map is not the Territory”. The idea behind this presupposition is that the world we see or we think we see is not the real world (primary reality), it is only a simplified model created by our senses throughout our experiences (personal reality). And it is true that if the loop of communication has a beginning. It starts with the senses, there is no question about it. Still, it’s the reason why we cannot perceive the world in its entirety that is important to our social and evolutionary success.
There are three mechanisms that we need to examine to better understand the above postulates.
1 – Deletion: This occurs when we pay attention to certain parts of our experience at the expense of others. It is evident that many times we choose to ignore and reject certain parts of reality despite the evidence provided to us by our own perception. It is fair to agree that we do this for safety as the amount of information the world provides us with would be overwhelming without our ability to delete or ignore certain stimuli.
2 – Distortion: Is a quality that all creative humans have in abundance. We need to be able to shift the meaning of, or to distort present reality to be able to create something new. However, as pattern making beings, we are inclined to distort reality in ways that deviate far from it, even when they cause conflict and distress.
3 – Generalization: The process by which a person takes one or two experiences and decides that this is the way all things are meant to be, all the time. Generalization is useful as a tool in learning. If we cut ourselves when we are careless with a sharp implement, we generalize to the extent that all sharp instruments are capable of injuring us. As useful a tool this can be it can also be the root of many misconceptions.
As modern humans, the richness of our perception and our maps are largely affected by these filtering mechanisms. They influence our choice process and allow us to make more efficient maneuvers in managing our lives. Deletion, distortion, and generalization combined with our preconceived unconscious biases are some of the reasons we choose to believe in certain things. This is by far one of the most difficult principles to accept by many, if not most people in the world today because it threatens to tear us away form our safe and complacent illusion of reality.
Second, we have the inherent human need for order and the ordering mechanisms of our mental functions which benefit biological, social and individual outcomes. It seems that our highly advanced cerebral cortex which is the center of all cognitive tasks is unable to interpret randomness and disorder without experiencing and expressing a sort of “tension” which can only be released once order is established. These ordering tendencies allow us to recognize, and acknowledge actual, naturally existing cycles which affect our perception of the mechanisms of time and space. From an evolutionary point of view this can be seen as a coping instrument that enabled us to make the transition from Homo Sapiens (Man that knows) to the self aware monster that is the Homo Sapiens-Sapiens (Man that knows he knows).
To better understand this we can look at what Schumaker calls justified and unjustified (artificial) order. Much of the ordering we do involve the acknowledgement of patterns of order where these patterns exist in actuality, or reality. Take for example the changing of the seasons. As the planet rotates on its axis, much information reaches our senses in direct relation to changes in our environment. These are readily ordered by us based on our knowledge of the physical world. This order is then justified because ordering tendencies are satisfied by data corresponding to primary reality. Order is unjustified or artificial when our ordering tendencies can not be satisfied by data collected from primary reality. According to Lancelot Law Whyte, the tension caused by disorder continues to motivate a person until that order is achieved even if that order must be contrived. The only solution to this, as Michael Gazzaniga explains in his book “the social Brain”, is for the individual to establish and maintain artificial order, which illustrates one of the many reasons behind religious beliefs. Gazzaniga argues that the human brain evolved to become capable of arriving at greater order than it perceives. This indicates that, when needed, human brains can lower their criteria for reality testing given that it allows for the establishment of order, and the release of tension caused by randomness and disorder.
Once again I want to express my respect for some of those who believe and engage in self deceptive practices. Being misinformed and ignorant (ignorant as it refers to the lack of factual knowledge, and we all fall into this category at one point or another) does not constitute stupidity or ill-intent. I maintain however, that those benefiting from our need for order and other emotional, social and evolutionary tendencies for pure financial gain without regard for our stability are to be judged harshly. In short, I still think that psychics and mediums are dirty sons of bitches. The truth is that I have no factual or empirical data to support the assumption that their mothers were bitches, yet the figure fits the behavior. Not exempt, So You Think You Can Dance and American Idol judges.
Edited by: Jeromee Juan