18 January 2013

Belief and Faith, What Goes On In Our Brain

Organised by:

 SCI's Health and Safety Group in conjunction with the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) London, South and South East Region

SCI HQ, London

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A definition of faith might be a 'Mental acceptance of and conviction, in truth, actuality or validity or something.' Symptoms include: 'credence, credit, faith.' ' We hold these truths to be self evident.' Faith is usually the context of a spiritual belief, but not necessarily 'I have faith in my brother's integrity'.

Underlying these considerations is the recognition of the validity of some aspect of our experience of life that does not necessarily require independent objective support. In what way does the brain predispose us to this cognitive position? Is the brain configured to take notice of phenomena not easily explained by pragmatic experience? Evidence suggests that it does. From birth babies show interest in the world around them. They distinguish 'objects' from 'agents'. Objects such as a ball can move but only if pushed. Agents - other human beings, pets, move without any discernible influence impelling their movement. Babies pay particular attention to agents, event stylized computer generated images. Babies will pay attention to a blue disc apparently chasing a yellow disc on a computer screen. After a while they lose interest but this is restored if the yellow disc now chases the blue disc.

The recognition of agents as distinguished from objects is at the heart of the religious maxim 'there can be no clock without a clock maker.' But religious faith goes further. It poses three important questions, articulated in the title of Gaugin's great masterpiece 'Where do we come from what are we, where are we going?' Recent fMRI studies of brain activity indicate the particular involvement of the medical left prefrontal cortex when imagining possible future events. Prefrontal regions of the cortex are particularly well developed in humans, as perhaps is our ability to conceptualize into the future. 'Mental time travel,' the road to religion.

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University of Westminster

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Professor Frank Hucklebridge
Department of Human and Health Sciences, University of Westminster