OUR PSYCHE AND BELIEFS
By: Shelton Ranasinghe
Copyright © 2015, by Shelton Ranasinghe
Published in United States of America.
All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission from the author.
Discover the other titles written by Shelton Ranasinghe at Shakespir.com
Self – A Delusion?
The Phone Rang in the Middle of My Shower
Our Psyche and Beliefs
Though we do not give much emphasis and accept it as an integral entity of life, our psyche and how the psyche operates is uniquely out of the ordinary, weird and mysterious. Given below are some of my thoughts on the nature of our psyche and about its inseparable companion “beliefs.”
Each individual has its own operational traits associated with its psyche. This includes its preferences – likes, dislikes, secrets, behavior patterns, affiliations with various organizations such as sports teams and political parties, affinity to superstitious ideas, religious beliefs and many other boundless traits that one can think of. However, undoubtedly the beliefs (i.e. Religious, superstitions, other metaphysical phenomena and supernatural ideas) that each individual associate, is one of the core drivers of our ego based life operation. The belief system is the strongest domineering element of the human psyche. It is estimated about 90% of the world population follows some form of a religion. The rest of 10% cannot be ruled out as atheists or materialists for not following any religions. A good proportion of these people, also have alliance to other belief systems or have inclinations to numerous metaphysical ideas. It is interesting to note that in Japan the total number of people who have accounted for following a religion is more than the population of Japan. This is simply because many people follow more than one religion. The above facts explain how closely our psyche is associated with beliefs.
Our attachment to belief systems is so intense; it isn’t surprising to find people who could be motivated to sacrifice their lives for the sake of their beliefs. This is quite evident from the reports that we find in the newspapers and other communication media. Most people, who commit suicide motivated by religious causes, believe that their act of suicide is an easy ticket to heaven. Or perhaps, they may be assuming such acts will help them to gain an exceptional level of pleasures, comforts and rewards in the life after death. A life after death is another concept commonly prevails in almost all the religions, giving hope to people something beyond this life. Our psyche adores such ideas.
History tells us, that there have been more wars in the world due to conflicts stemming from belief systems than other causes. Most wars have been motivated by religious instincts, implying the notion “Nothing other than what we believe should exist.”
The word “belief” implies something that is not known definitively. As an example, if someone says that person has a gem in his closed fist and if we think what he says is true; then the mental accord we constitute is “belief”. The very moment he opens his palm, the state of belief does not exist anymore and the status turns into a state of “knowing”. In fact at that moment it gives a state of realization of the truth of the belief (right or wrong) you had earlier. As this example suggests, there is a difference between belief and actual definitive realization. The cognition associated with belief always has a degree of doubt as explained by the above example. Belief dangles from the thread of doubt. Knowledge eliminates the doubt!
It is interesting to investigate why the “belief systems” are so strongly bonded to our psyche. I think this bondage has come to us through two principal channels. One channel is our genes. We inherit genes from our ancestors for over millions of years through the cells’ evolutionary process. The process of evolution dictates progressive transmission of changes through our genes. Due to this fact, we can presume that the cells in our body encompass a full or partial form of historical information associated with the experience that the cells have acquired from our ancestors, over millions of years. The other channel is our parents, siblings, friends, clergy, schools, social elements and other miscellaneous sources that keep bombarding with information to us from our childhood. This form of information conditions us. Scientists say by the age of five our brains are well set with ideas that influence our adult life. The parents should be well aware of this fact when feeding information to the children, as false information can get permanently etched into their psyche. The etched ideas in the psyche are analogous to non-erasable memory or “ROM – Read Only Memory” in a computer.
In regards to the information propagating through the genes, we need to understand the living cells in our bodies are new as few seconds and as old as over millions of years. This is simply because there are no births of cells. The cell re-generate by cell division. Because of the division of cells the new cells are always related to the old cells. We are part of the process of cell division. All our present cells in the body have components derived from the very first human cell ever existed. Our parents created us with a single cell coming from each of them. In that process, they passed the rudimentary information they had from their parents. Their parents had the rudimentary information from their parents. This process shows how we have the information from the rudiments from the primitive man. Thinking along the fundamentals of the evolutionary process, I am of the opinion, that the process of cell division has a mechanism of etching most of the favorable properties that are useful for the human survival. The characteristic which is commonly explained as instincts is one of the core properties that we have inherited this way. Instincts are associated with both physical and mental traits of the living beings. No proper scientific explanation for “instincts” exists to date. On the physical side babies instinct to go for breast milk from the moment of birth is a good example. On the non-physical side, I believe babies do not learn emotions from others; the emotional feelings that they express at very early days of their life proves that the emotions are mere inherited traits.
In support of the idea of cells being able to carry information from one person to another (ex. parents), there are many recorded cases of human organ recipients experiencing the behavioral characteristics of the organ donors. For example the following is an extract from a news heading of a leading newspaper a few years ago; “A transplant patient has developed an insatiable craving for junk food – after receiving a new heart from a teenager with a taste for fatty snacks.” This example accentuates the possibility of the donor cells carrying the behavioral pattern of the donor and those cells influencing the psyche of the recipient. In other words, though it’s not proven by any scientific means, it’s possible that the donor cells carrying behavioral information about a donor eventually migrating to the recipient’s brain circuitry. In considering the vastness of a single cell genome data, this shouldn’t be a surprise. For the purpose getting an idea of the immensity of data the cells carry; if a single cell genome data are printed in the form of yellow page telephone directories, then these directories could be stacked up to 32 ft. This gives us an idea to visualize the enormity of the quantum of data in a donor organ.
Origination of Belief Systems
In order to understand the history of belief systems, it will be good to get an idea of as to how and when the origins of the supernatural beliefs intruded the human brain. The earliest human fossils found are about 4.5 million years. According to historical findings, we have started our life journey as hunters. Primitive man was a food-hunter. Prior to the first ever historically known civilizations, the era of hunting-man, lasted over four million years. During this time, the forces of nature influenced the life of the hunting man tremendously. Primitive man didn’t understand the natural phenomena such as day and night, hot and cold, sun and moon, thunder and lightning, rain and drought, wind and snow, diseases, animal migrations, tides, floods, tsunamis, cyclones, earthquakes, volcanoes, stars, eclipses, meteorites, etc. They considered these natural phenomena as creations of the supernatural powers. Along with these ideas, the superstitious ideas imagined by the man conditioned the human psyche continuously. The hunters didn’t live as long as the present people. Their destiny depended on their agility, strength and the ability to cope with the injuries that they sustained from hunting. Just as an old animal becomes prey to a predator, most hunters didn’t have natural deaths, but they became the prey to the wild animals in the hunt.
Researches of human evolution have found an extraordinary rapid growth taking place in the human brain just around 100,000 yrs. ago. This is relatively recent times, compared to the 4.5 million years of human existence. The size of the brains of our ancestors lived prior to 100,000 years were small. Then, within a very short time, it developed to the size of a present day human brain. According to research data the brain size prior to this sudden growth had been about one third the size of the present brain.
The information based on archeological diggings, the people lived in the period from 2,000,000 BC to about 100,000 BC had been extremely primitive; indeed in many ways. The primitive hunter had been using the same type of stone tools for over millions of years without any improvements, whatsoever. The improvements to the stone aged tools had really started to evolve around 70,000 – 60,000 BC immediately after the apparent brain size growth mentioned earlier. The reason for the sudden brain growth is still being debated by the scientists. Some scientists attribute this to the change in the food habits with the possible use of fire for food preparation. With the bigger brain, the man became an innovator at around 70,000 BC. He was still a hunter, with the improved versions of the primitive tools.
Around 10,000 to 8,000 years ago, the primitive hunter became the herders and gatherers (collectors and growers) and paved the way for our first known human civilization. As the herders and gatherers, they had more time to socialize, and do things other than gathering the food. Most importantly, they had spare time to think. But like the hunter, the herders also held on to their superstitious ideas. Natural events like the rain, drought, flood, pest problems, plant diseases and weather conditions, which affected their prosperity, were regarded as signs of either good luck or bad omen by them. However, this is the era at which various supernatural belief systems appeared to have originated.
A remarkable difference between the “hunter & gatherer” and the “hunter,” was their longevity. Because of their longevity, they experienced the natural deaths. In other words deaths without violence or injuries the hunters experienced previously. A death was a supreme shock, and was a mystery to the ancient man. He was unable to understand the reason for dying without a cause like an injury. When a person who was living a moment ago dies without any violence or injury, they wondered as to what really happened to that person. This led to, the conceiving the idea of a “spirit” associated with the dead man. This idea eventually resulted in developing rituals and burial customs associated with the dead. When they were hunters, there were no burials, as most deaths happened during the hunt. The injured bodies were eaten by the carnivorous animals, birds and other creatures. The hunter gatherer’s long life led to extended families. The children could see their grandparents and sometimes they even saw their great-grandparents. Such situations didn’t exist in the primitive hunter period, due to the short lifetime. The people observed that some of the children born into their families resembled their ancestral grandparents. This particular observation led to the idea of reincarnation of their ancestors and hence the conception of the belief in reincarnation or rebirth in man’s psyche. This concept was caught-up in certain societies rapidly, as they thought what they observed was evidence to believe in reincarnation.
The primitive man believed that the ancestors, from whom they sought help when the ancestors were living, could help them even in their “spirit” lives. However, they were also feared that the ancestors would take them away to the world of the dead, if they disobeyed the ancestors’ spirits. The spirits were considered as super human; meaning “more powerful than the man.” The ancestors that they saw in their dreams confirmed the existence of the spirit worlds. They didn’t know how to communicate with the spirits that they saw in their dreams.
The mystic forces of the spirits that the primitive man believed, affected their psyche considerably. The primitive man didn’t have any clue of the natural forces that they observed and experienced in their day to day life. They didn’t have any knowledge about the diseases, including the mental diseases like epileptic that they experienced. Hence, perpetually they attributed all those diseases to the powers of the evil spirits. The beliefs of supernatural powers somewhat comforted the human psyche in a psychological sense, as these beliefs answered some of the nagging questions in their mind that they were searching for. Centuries of trial and error guesswork, the man realized that the good and bad events, over which he had no control before, can now be influenced and governed through the powers of the mystic spirits by performing various rituals for them. The rituals they developed included even animal and human sacrifices to the spirits. They wondered who had the capabilities of influencing the mystic powers. Many people tried to communicate with the spirits using their own ways. As time passed by, the man inferred that some people are better at this task than others. Soon after the realization of this (over many years), it added a new functional category of service providers to human society – the “Shaman or Spiritualist”. At this time in history, people embraced the idea of shamanism. The Shaman became an essential part of the social structure. The Shamans were opportunists. They mastered their profession by performing complex rituals and other acts to convince people that they are good in their job. They acquired skills to address both physical and mental aspects of the people who sought treatment or favors from spirits. The Shamans secured their dominance and assumed a high status in the society. They even codified behavioral systems to the communities and dictated their terms to those who sought their services. In many instances, people were more scared of the Shamans than the bad spirits. The favors that the primitive man sought from the spirits through the Shamans (or spiritualists) expanded to a wide range of things. This included seeking personal favors to them as well as causing deliberate ill effects to their enemies.
The belief-based answers that were speculating made sense to the primitive man in understanding some of the worldly matters, thus quenching the anxiety of the savaged psyche. Moreover, it gave them the most important gift that human psyche needed for hope and survival of their existence. Gradually, with time, the man’s vision of looking for answers expanded to deeper psychological visions such as the meaning of life, life beyond this life, etc. The progression of man’s imaginations, demonstrates that it was the man who created spirits, gods, devils and the supernatural phenomena. The human mind is the creator of all the above. Our dreams tremendously helped to reinforce some of these ideas, because all the ingredients required for the dreams come through the psyche itself. The imaginary ideas spawned by the dreams, rooted in man’s psyche. By this process man could have easily created millions of gods and spirits as required. There is no boundary to these numbers for the man to imagine, dream, design and define these entities and broadcast to others what those entities empowered by.
It is interesting to note that even around a recent time as 3000 BC, the man didn’t have the concept of hell and heaven. The gods that the man created at that time were mostly nature related gods such as sun, moon, stars, rain, fire, thunder, ocean, mountains. Also, he created gods who were responsible for special events of human life, such as love, war, deceases, death, fertility, farming, etc.,. For example, the god responsible for farming brought fertility necessary for the soil. The man performed selective rituals to the relevant gods build the relationship with them on the particular aspect. The gods in turn supposed have provided what the man wanted when the rituals were performed. What was required for a particular ritual was choreographed and dictated by the man and not by the gods. Some rituals included animal and human sacrifices, thus involving the spirits of others’ lives. These rituals impacted the human psyche tenaciously.
Astrology and Seasonal Predictions
From the time ~5000 BC, the man started to observe the changes of the seasons, intentionally. The changes and behaviors in plant and animal life during the seasons of autumn, winter, spring and summer were tracked and recorded. The man observed the remarkable day-time fluctuations during the summer and winter seasons. Early man accepted the view that the supernatural powers were responsible for creating these fluctuations. The records kept on the tracking the seasonal changes, enabled the man to predict the changes in the incoming seasons. Because of the benefits of these predictions, the record keeping and predictions became the functional responsibility of the leading advisors of the rulers. A few thousand years later, the religions including the idea of monotheisms came into existence. After that, this function became the responsibility of the priests. The priesthoods mushroomed, because of the demand for their service. For the man who became a farmer from the previous hunter-gatherer role, the correct prediction of the seasons and seasonal changes were very important. With the predictability of the seasons well under the grasp of the man, the seasonal ceremonies, rituals and many other related activities were sprouted for the community participation. These events were orchestrated by the priests with the direct support of the rulers. At certain times in our world history, the priests held a supreme role in the society. During these times, some high ranked priests held more power in the society than the rulers. The people, who didn't follow or obey the social traditions dictated by the priests, were victimized and sometimes killed mercilessly by the rulers to please the priests.
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