Belief System and Brains
This is about belief systems and is a response to a Biblical supporter that thought/thinks beliefs come from the heart and not from the neural networks of the brain.
(I admit that I am not credentialed in neuroscience, but I have spent years reading and trying to understand consciousness and thinking).
My view is that thinking is an adjunct to the brain, a skill that was learned after language came about. (Hence the Christian worldview or scientific worldview could not have come about until after language).
Beliefs are a learned item (something conceived by and stored in the brain). Beliefs are separated from ideas and thoughts in that they are deep convictions within us. Something we really “know” or really “believe”. It is the core understanding that helps us have a worldview. Opinions are more superficial and thoughts can be about anything. Beliefs we hold true.
To understand how this works, let me first describe our set of brain functions in two parts: stimulus-response and internal dialogue.
The stimulus-response system evolved over all of evolution and is the brain’s way of handling the outside environment. That is, all our senses are tied through the nervous system to our brains which have learned (developed skills, developed neural pathways) to handle the inputs from our senses.
Very simple example is a deer with large ears for sound capture, hears a twig break and responds by first listening intently and then perhaps action like running. Sound captured by the senses, information transferred to the brain, pathways activated, action.
Anything with a brain and nervous system does this and primates 10 million years ago did this well.
Please note: the goal of life, of a living entity, is to survive, which means persist through time. Our senses and our brains have evolved with this principle as a guideline. To stay alive and healthy at any level means to be in balance with your surrounding environment and to have the proper energy intake to keep the metabolic process going.
The stimulus-response system has evolved to be able to handle the environment surrounding the biological entity. As primates, our ancestors (10 million years back) did this.
The second part of the brain functions I call internal dialogue. Some have called it “intelligence” or “the mind” or other things. I think of it as the dialogue we have with ourselves when our attentions are not otherwise engaged.
If you running from a bear, you stop thinking and without dialogue or reasoning, you move your body. This is stimulus-response taking over.
If you are meditating, you try to complete quiet your mind so that you become more aware. The goal is to quiet the internal dialogue to quiet the mind.
If you are talking you are externalizing your internal dialogue and projecting out into the world.
It is my contention that this internal dialogue was learned skill for hominoids (and possibly other species). For us, it came about coincidentally with the development of language. You will note, your internal dialogue is in a language that you know.
(Here is a question, when you pray do you use language?)
As I have explained elsewhere sound is very energy efficient for communication or information exchange. Humans developed a large sound repertoire (produced and understood) and they developed the ability to connect a sound to a neural network that provided conversion of sound impulse to something meaningful. This later conversion from sound to meaning is a brain function and uses the neural pathways to expand and recognize the meaning.
This the start of the belief system that leads to worldviews.
The neural pathways and the activation of them to transfer information resulting in action is how we work. This is true for logic, belief systems and everything (even stimulus response).
It is hard to understand in detail because there are approximately 10 trillion or some huge number of potential pathways and no one has come close to decoding how this pattern recognition goes from signals to meaning. In time, we will know more about this mystery of neuroscience.
Learning is the development of new neurons and pathways as the brain grows. This starts as a fetus (getting signals from the umbilical cord and the mother’s womb — the environment). Growth continues at tremendous rate from birth through early years. Think about the learning of a language and the number of words that a three year old knows. Growth (learning and new neural activity) continues until you die, but it slows after adolescence, and slows even more when we get old. Your brain learns, that is, your brain builds new pathways and circuitry, or it modifies or repurposes existing neurons (pathways).
What’s going is that you are storing memories and storing patterns are processing. You are enhancing certain patterns and accentuating certain memories or thoughts.
Belief systems are deep in the neural networks and have a very powerful influence on what you think. Because you learn throughout your life, some beliefs, which depend on language to understand, do not get built until later in life and can be changed.
This is what is going on and this is how we develop and understanding of the world about. Remember that the goal of life is to be able to handle the world around us and to persist through time. Having a worldview that makes sense, gives balance to your life and therefore stability.
Now let us go back to the internal dialogue and language. Language and sound and the ability to conceptualize gave us the ability to think about non-physical items such as friendship and love and algebra and God.
Language is the stringing of sounds to make new combinations, new conceptualizations, ideas, and thoughts. The number of combinations of sounds is nearly infinite.
I think that the internal dialogue (a stream of consciousness, running thought) was a learned skill. It needs to be thought of as continually looping neural activity that turns a stream of sounds into sense. The internal dialogue can be altered and changed by neural activity from the stimulus response system. .
Once we start building our internal libraries of stored memories, stored procedures or patterns, we (that is, Homo sapiens) developed an incredible inventory of ideas and conceptualizations that led to the civilization we know today.
Belief and systems of beliefs are learned patterns embedded in the neural pathways of our brains.