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My soul is just fine, thank you

So much of human culture and its history seems like a long slow journey through the ebb and flow of various ideas that have shaped the dominant cultures of one era or another. Much of what underlies modern Western civilization is the scientific method and its approach to truth. Unfortunately, as Tom Wolfe shows us in "Sorry, Your Soul Just Died" the method tends to break down when it gets applied to touchy subjects like the brain and why (or if) it makes us do the things we do.

Ironically, at just the point when the humanities are beginning to pull out of their navel-gazing obsession with societal constructs as the root of all human behavior, the neuroscientists seem poised to ram us right back to the other extreme by maintaining that we're all hard wired by our genes to do the nasty things...we must? A little historical perspective would be valuable to help resist the ramming, since history tells us that in fact man can become something more than what his genes shape him to be. For that matter, a cursory acquaintance with biofeedback and motivational theory tells you that you can, in fact, make changes in your (genetically determined! preordained!) brain chemistry by sheer force of will alone....and those changes can go better with a shot of the right psychotropic chemicals, as anyone taking lithium or Ritalin can tell you.

I think this is one of the reasons that people who adhere to a consistent religious ritual tend, on average, to be happier than those people who don't. Yes, religion can make you happy. There are various reasons for this, but the bottom line is that religious people are engaged in an activity that changes their brain chemistry and makes them happy...whether their genes want them to be happy or not. There are other ways to get happy, of course, but one would be a fool to reject something that's worked consistently for over two thousand years of recorded human history unless one had a damned good reason. I'm thinking the latest report from the boys in the neuroscience lab and their flacks in the press isn't that reason.

(h/t Ed Driscoll, who went in a completely different direction with this)