Beliefs are held in the human brain
The human brain is made up from a multitude of neural cells, up to a hundred billion of them, as part of a sophisticated nervous system, which controls most of the human organism’s function. The neural cells (neurons) are interconnected by neural axons, dendrites and synapses, and each neural cell can have up to 10,000 connections to other cells. The level of complexity of this structure is just mind-blowingly complex. We humans are but scratching the surface in this field in scientific fields as computational neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, behavioural neuroscience etc. but we are making some progress.
With advanced technology, such as Functional Magnetic Resonance (FMR) machines certain portions of the brain performing certain functions can be determined. Science is NOT yet there that it can be *seen* what a person thinks, nor is it there that it can clearly see whether a person is telling the truth or not. But it is getting there.
So how does the brain actually work with regard of us believing things?
The best analogy that we can make is to use the analogy of the digital computer that most people are familiar with. In this case a *software* simulation model that *simulates reality* (much in the way that a Virtual Reality Game works) is running on the *hardware* of the brain. This simulator model is fed and continually updated in *real time (i.e. now)* by our senses, our eyes, ears, the gyroscope in our ears, skin, etc.
This simulation model or *program* does it's best to accurately simulate the reality of the natural world around us. The closer this simulation model correlates to the actual reality of the "real" world, the better it is for the particular human. For example it is better for the simulator model to predict that it is dangerous to play in the river with the crocodiles, than it is to predict that it's safe and a whole lot of fun. If the particular human has a malfunctioning or badly programmed simulator model running in this case, this human is likely to have a very sticky end and end up as crocodile snacks.
The internal working of this simulation model is quite complex. To simplify it somewhat it can be described as essentially working on the basis that there are logic rules encoded into the neural pathways of the brain, as well as stored memories that can be called up on demand. The storage encoding mechanism works in such a way that there are some small islands of *facts*, *truths*, or *axioms* stored in the memory circuits, the logic rules work on these axioms, and in the process a particular conclusion can be reached, if some new observations are fed from the outside. This particular conclusion can then be encoded as new axioms, and stored away for later usage.
A combination of these small *islands of truth* is logically combined in the brain to form belief systems. The whole functioning of the mind simulator model is based on the manipulation and updating of these belief systems.
For this simulation model to work effectively it also has to predict the future, as well as it can. This is done in the way that it knows things, in the form of its belief systems, of how the world works. When the human finds itself in some new external situation, the simulation model uses its belief systems, of things it *knows* to be true, and predicts the future based on this information, using its logic rules of deduction, and come to a conclusion of the best action to follow thereafter.
So why do we believe things?
The human mind is predisposed to believe things. Just like it has an *instinct* to learn language, it also has an instinct to learn as much about the world in as short a time as possible, especially when it is very young. As the immature young mind does not have the logical facilities to *logically* obtain new axioms (or facts/truths) about the real world, it will take as *truth* pretty much everything that is presented as the truth, typically by interaction with its parents and its society. Not only are the axioms (truths) sucked up at this time without question, but also the logical rules that work on the axioms.
So what makes something true or false.
The neural logic in the brain, plus the associated stored axioms, works on potentially new external information, and comes to a conclusion whether it’s true or false. It is very important to understand that different people have different criteria, or logic rules, that they use to determine what is true or not. Different people also have differing *islands of truth* stored in their brains. In some cases emotions and intuition play a very large role in determining what a certain person believes to be true or not.
In this world there are things that can be established with a very high probability of being 100% the truth, but in many cases, truth can only be established by believing something *within a reasonable doubt*. So in many cases things are accepted to be the *truth*, even if there is less than 100% surety of it actually being the truth. Typically the relative truth of a set of facts is determined by observing evidence, ascribing a certain *importance factors* to the evidence, and coming to a conclusion because of this.
So what does this *without a reasonable doubt* mean. In fact it’s a very fluid and ever changing threshold that varies widely over different people, with different educational and cultural backgrounds. So what one person would perceive to be the truth, another person would see to be false. Common sense for one person is not the same for the next person. It can almost be said that the concept of common sense does not really exist in the real world.
The initial beginnings of all of this.
So how is this simulation model constructed? When we are born this simulation model is very basic. It has some basic rules and axioms encoded in the brain. This information comes mainly from something that is commonly stated as *instinct*. A baby also knows *instinctively* that if it's hungry the solution to that logic problem is to get some food. It also knows that if it cries it will increase the likelihood of that food being presented to it.
From this point onwards the human brains learns, by assimilating new information and encoding that information into its brain in the form of axioms and logic rules. It is in this early stage of existence of the infant human brain that learning is at its most active. The information that goes into the infant mind tends to stick there for the rest of its life.
How did all this come to be?
Now the obvious question comes up of how the human brain and its associated consciousness or mind has come to exist. There are mainly two widely different held opinions on this aspect, the theistic one being that a divine powerful being, such as a God created the human some time ago and imbued him with a human brain (in Christian based societies this God would be the Christian God (Yahweh) and the person that he *created* would be Adam in the Garden of Eden. Done and dusted, the brain that Adam received is very much the same brain we have today, some 6000 or so years later. There are many variations on this theme, such as different versions of the Christian faith, such as differences between YEC (Young Earth Creationists), OAC (Old Age Creationists), ID (Intelligent Design) Creationists, as well as other religions that claim that humans and their brains came from different sources.
The other is the non-theistic (I don't want to use the word "atheistic" as that carries a lot of emotional baggage) proposition that the process of biological evolution took place. After some or other "Origin of Life" process occurred on Earth (abiogenesis) and that the human and associated brain is simply a product of this natural mechanism. In this case the human evolved from a simple single celled organism with a primitive nervous system, and through a cumulative directed selective mechanism (natural selection) combined with natural mutations in the organism’s DNA, increased in functional complexity up to the point where we are today. As the human organism became more functional, the human brain tagged along for the ride. As a matter of fact, us humans are not all that different from other animals, and are in no way special, except for our brains, that are more complex than most other animal brains.
So where does consciousness and the mind come from?
In the theistic belief system consciousness and the *mind* is something we were given by God, and that relates in some way to our soul. Typically it is believed that humans are the only species on earth that have this *mind*. The soul is typically not made up of matter, but rather *spirit*. The soul contains the mind and/or the consciousness and that prevails eternally. There are different interpretations of this occurrence in different theistic belief systems.
In the non-theistic belief system at this point some purported magic happens. Due to the somewhat controversial scientific field of *Emergence*, a sufficiently complex system or structure such as the brain generates an “emergent property”, in the same line of reasoning that *the system is more that its parts*. And this emergent property happens to be the “mind”. The mind gives us humans the ability to have consciousness, as well as to give us sentience. It also allows us to solve rather complex problems, and to change significantly the properties of the natural world around us.
So what happens when we die?
Again there are mostly two widely different opinions, held by individuals with differing belief systems. The one, and the one the most commonly held, is that the human consciousness, held in the *soul* will survive the process of death. This soul, in the form of *spirit* will move to a different realm, either Heaven, where it will continue to survive in eternal bliss, or Hell, where it will suffer extraordinary torture for eternity. The decision criteria whether you will go to one or the other are based on some rules that are based on how we live our lives during the time that we are alive.
The minority held opinion is that if the human body dies, the brain dies with it, all the brain functions cease, the consciousness ends, and that is that. It’s similar to going to sleep, but instead of waking up the next morning, you simply don’t wake up, ever.
Can we be immortal?
Again the two differing belief systems, theistic vs. non-theistic, differ widely on this aspect. For the typical theistic belief system, when a person dies, the human consciousness will continue to exist in the form of the soul or the spirit. The exact mechanism isn't understood; neither does it need to be.
For the non-theistic belief system, there are slightly differing opinions. The one and the most prevalent, is that with suitable usage of technology, a particular human brain can be copied and stored. For instance if a human is put under anaesthetic, and his brain is artificially replaced neuron for neuron, while conserving the exact same original structure and chemical state, the person would wake up with a new brain, without even being aware that there has been any change. Except perhaps for a bit of a headache from the hole in the head that was needed to get at the brain tissue. There is some opinion that this won’t work, due to the fact that there needs to be some *transfer of consciousness* from the original brain to the new artificial brain.
Another opinion exists that there is no causal link between the brain and its associated consciousness that resides in your head, to an external artificial or biological brain. This means that a new brain can be constructed, as an exact copy of the original brain, and then this new brain can simply be switched on. This new brain can be in a new artificial or biological body, and this new entity will simply believe that it is the original person, with all the original person’s life experiences. In this case the original person and the new artificial person can co-exist.
In both above cases the immortality of humans would be possible. We just need to wait until the relevant technology becomes available, and our medical aid would have to be convinced to pay for the operation.
Unfortunately it is estimated that this technology won’t be available until a few more decades of research. Maybe sometime in the 2050 – 2080’s. In any case, it doesn't matter for me, because I won’t make it that long.
We believe mostly what we are taught to believe at a young age. As we go through life and we learn through experience the original belief systems will get updated. In some cases for some people the belief systems will be replaced, and for others the original belief systems will be strengthened. In all cases however, what we believe, and what is actually true in real life, is in most cases not exactly the same.
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