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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Expand Your Knowledge Through Self-Conscious Reflection

Self-conscious reflection is the highest level of operation of a human brain. Although human beings have evolved from primates, these organisms lack the ability to reflect. This is evident in the behavior of primate species, such as chimpanzees. Chimps like to play games with their friends but cannot strategize and think about how to improve their skills while playing a game. They lack the ability to organize multiple thoughts and ideas in their brains because their brains are not as complex and well-developed as human brains. However, the brains of primates are well-developed compared to brains of lower order mammalian species such as dogs and mice.

So how has such a marvelous characteristic evolved in human brains? Self-conscious reflection is built on several levels of processes that Marvin Minsky calls the Six-Level Model of the Mind:
1) instinctive reactions
2) learned reactions
3) deliberate reactions
4) reflective thinking
5) self-reflective thinking
6) self-conscious reflection

Instinctive reactions are already operating in a human at birth since these reactions have evolved from the time of the earliest humans. The next two processes are developed at an early age as a young human being explores and studies their surroundings and interacts with their imprimers (family and friends). Throughout adolescence the remaining processes are developed and strengthened as a result of new experiences that challenge an individual to think about their choices and reflect on their actions.

Education tremendously facilitates a human's ability to problem solve and make informed choices and goals. It helps an individual gain knowledge of life and the universe and, in turn, expand their minds to different possibilities in nature. Educated individuals have the freedom to reach the highest level of the mind which is self-conscious reflection. For those who are oppressed by their communities, families, and poverty there is much difficulty in reaching this level because they lack the basic knowledge of life and nature to facilitate their human abilities-- they are limited in their abilities to learn and grow as a human being. This is the case for Muslims around the world, particularly women. It is also the case for many people who are forced to believe in religion at an early age without the proper knowledge of other religions and belief systems.

In many parts of the world, there is no open discussion about religious beliefs of other peoples around the world and, as such, a person's scope of nature and world views is limited to the belief system their family and community hold so strongly. When a child grows up in this environment and is forced to adhere to one religious belief system they are robbed of their freedom to learn about all religions and make informed choices. They become limited to learning only about their parent's religion. This hinders a child's ability to reach the higher level processes in the brain because they are taught about a world-view that is skewed and inaccurate. Since there is little discussion about religion in the modern education system today a child remains closed-minded about the differences and similarites between all people and their world-view is reduced to their own communities and families. Their level of understanding of life and nature remains immature and simple. As they grow up their transition to adulthood is more difficult because their view of the world does not change so much as a result of the influence on them to adhere to their religious belief.

Any idea they encounter throughout their life which encourages them to question their belief system is ignored and dismissed because of what they have been taught to believe by their family and community. To these people the complexities of science are misunderstood, like the structure and function of the cell, so they remain immature in their thoughts and practices. They build their knowledge around their religious belief, whether moderate or strong, and leave out important facts, such as quantum physics, neuronal transmission in the brain, and evolution, which they find unnecessary or insufficient to learn. Their religious belief helps them to fill in the gaps so there is no need to further their understanding of the facts. But, what their religious belief actually does is hinder the development of their mind. Having a religious belief is closing one's mind to the world and all the possibilities in the universe, it negatively effects the way people live and think.

Self-conscious reflection, the highest level of the mind, can be reached by an educated human being that considers all the possibilities of a given idea and that can let go of their pre-conceived beliefs about an idea. The reason for this is that in order to comprehend a particular fact or concept one cannot believe in something that is unproven or make-believe because it may conflict with a given fact and cause the person to be confused and misunderstand the fact itself and all other facts and concepts related to that fact. When ideas and concepts are understood properly a person can self-consciously reflect on their thoughts and come to accurate conclusions and decisions. Moreover, this reflective process can stimulate new thoughts and questions that are completely in line with existing facts and concepts.

Self-conscious reflection is important because it gives human beings the power and encourages them to understand their own nature and the nature of the universe. It helps people to understand their niche on earth-- that we have evolved over millions of years for the purpose of surviving for as long as possible on planet Earth. And in doing so, we have been able to sense the beauty of nature and depend on the fruits of it. Isn't life grand?! It should be, since all life has worked hard to survive for millions of years and make the Earth their home.

Charles Darwin was a very intelligent man that had reached the highest level of the mind, and this is a remarkable feat in his time. He was able to properly collect, analyze, and organize his thoughts to correctly explain the concept of evolution. He devised a concept from previously built concepts. What a remarkable human being indeed! If it weren't for him, our children today would not have the benefit of understanding the history and biology of life on Earth.

Why should we hinder our children's brain development by teaching them about our religious beliefs thus limiting their horizons. What ever happened to the idea that "our children are our future". Education in today's modern societies cater to the proper care and development of our children, which is funded by the citizens. Why should we interrupt this education by teaching our children about magical beliefs that conflict with what they are learning in school. There is no benefit in this but rather the cost of burdening our children with the difficulty of grasping scientific, mathematical, historical, and social concepts. What a burden! It will be our children that will build institutions and projects, based on the foundations earlier generations have built and preserved for them, to carry us all safely into the future (Dennett, Breaking the Spell 2006). Our children need to be encouraged and given time to grow and learn. Open discussions about religion at home and in the education system are important for there to be an open society and for expanding our knowledge of nature and the universe. With this knowledge people can focus on making the world a better place to live and recognize that their lives do have meaning.

By Rajvee


Andy said...

"Self-conscious reflection, the highest level of the mind, can be reached by an educated human being that considers all the possibilities of a given idea and that can let go of their pre-conceived beliefs about an idea."

I'm an agnostic pondering true philosophy. Could you detail what you see as your 'pre-conceived' beliefs about religon? Could you also describe how that helped you in you decision to be an athiest. Do you really feel you've considered all possibilities as well? Thanks for your help.

Rajvee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rajvee said...

My pre-conceived belief about religion in particular was that it is a collection of rules and practices that are governed by a supernatural being or power which is followed by human beings of different races. Although there are a variety of collections such as Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam most humans around the world believe in a supernatural being or power. Religion, or the belief in God, has been passed down from generation to generation by our ancestors which has helped the belief survive as a tradition. Not only this, but eye witness accounts in our history, stories, and old practices and rituals have helped to trasmist this ideal to newer generations. Society dictates that we must all believe in God in order to protect ourselves from selfish powers and to give us hope for a more positive future.

This is what I believed about religion. My parents were Hindu so I called myself a non-practicing Hindu. From my experiences with other people I determined that others too believed in God but under a different set of religious rules and practices. But there were so many unanswered questions like who and where is this supernatural power?, how does it have such powers?, how do I distinguish between the act of God and probability?, how was the universe built by such a power or being?, what are ghosts made of? how can the Hindu god Ganesh have an elephant head?, how does one person have more than one life?, etc. There were just way too many questions about religion without any logical answers. Also, the concept of God conflicted with many aspects of math and science that I learned in school and in books.

Science gave me a different perspective of life with more answers and it taught me that religion is a by-product of the evolution of human beings. It was simply a means of building loyalty and cooperation in a large group of people for safety and efficiency. Science explains the biology and evolution of life and the composition, properties, and motion of matter and there is much factual evidence for all of these concepts. The existence of God does not fit in to any concepts of science. I cannot believe in both science and religion since they conflict with one another. Since science can provide factual evidence to me about universal concepts such as the laws of thermodynamics and the structure and function of the atom, I must put aside my belief in God in order to accept and build my knowledge and understanding around these concepts. In my view, a supernatural power cannot exist in the realm of scientific knowledge and understanding so I have chosen to be an atheist or reject the existence of God.

I did consider all of the possibilities when I made my decision to become an atheist. This involved developing a good sense of understanding about science and human social behaviour through school, books by scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennet, and Marvin Minsky, and open discussions about religion and science with friends, family, and other people. I especially learned a lot about human evolution from Nicholas Wade's book Before the Dawn and from the movie Species Odyssey.

I hope I have been able to thoroughly answer your questions and sorry for the long response.