Friday, June 14, 2013

Neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor: Religious Fundamentalism as a Mental Illness (or Mind Control)


I don't know if fundamentalism is a mental disorder as much as it's a developmental stage for a lot of people. Nearly religions pass through an egoic, authoritarian stage where all rules worth following are divinely given. Those who are fundamentalist simply get stuck in this worldview.

On the other hand, fundamentalist parents often control their children in joining them in their religious worldview - see Jesus Camp for a sad and clear perspective on this topic.

You can listen to Taylor's talk in the audio clip below, as well as read the summary from Huffington Post.
THE BRAIN SUPREMACY: NOTES FROM THE FRONTIERS OF NEUROSCIENCE

Wednesday 29 May 2013 • Venue: Google’s Big Tent

Funds are pouring into brain research, but what does this relatively new science mean for us? Taylor looks at the promise of drugs that could boost our brain-power, at the potential for more subtle marketing techniques and even at the prospect of machines that could read our minds. She looks at the science behind these claims and at how scientists look inside the human brain.


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[NOTE: After this had already posted, I changed the parenthetical in the title from brainwashing to mind control. Brainwashing implies forced reprogramming of thoughts and beliefs, while mind control is more subtle and covert, relying on environmental cues and supports as much as, or more than coercion. More on this in a later post.]

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Kathleen Taylor, Neuroscientist, Says Religious Fundamentalism Could Be Treated As A Mental Illness


The Huffington Post | By Meredith Bennett-Smith Posted: 05/31/2013


An Oxford University researcher and author specializing in neuroscience has suggested that one day religious fundamentalism may be treated as a curable mental illness.

Kathleen Taylor, who describes herself as a "science writer affiliated to the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics," made the suggestion during a presentation on brain research at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales on Wednesday.

In response to a question about the future of neuroscience, Taylor said that "One of the surprises may be to see people with certain beliefs as people who can be treated," The Times of London notes.

“Someone who has for example become radicalised to a cult ideology -- we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance," Taylor said. “In many ways it could be a very positive thing because there are no doubt beliefs in our society that do a heck of a lot of damage."

The author went on to say she wasn't just referring to the "obvious candidates like radical Islam," but also meant such beliefs as the idea that beating children is acceptable.

Taylor was not immediately available for comment.

This is not the first time Taylor has explored the mind processes of a radical. In 2006, she wrote a book about mind control called Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control, which explored the science behind the persuasive tactics of such groups as cults and al Qaeda.

"We all change our beliefs of course," Taylor said in a YouTube video about the book. "We all persuade each other to do things; we all watch advertising; we all get educated and experience [religions.] Brainwashing, if you like, is the extreme end of that; it's the coercive, forceful, psychological torture type."

Taylor also noted that brainwashing, though extreme, is part of a the "much more widespread phenomenon" of persuasion. That is, "how we make people think things that might not be good for them, that they might not otherwise have chosen to think."

However, Taylor has also been a voice of caution in terms of the ethics of delving too deeply into the human brain's mysterious workings.

"Technologies which directly scan or manipulate brains cannot be neutral tools, as open to commercial exploitation as any new gadget," Taylor wrote in a blog post for The Huffington Post in 2012. "The brain supremacy offers chances to improve human dignity, but it also risks abuse."

Watch the video below to hear Kathleen Taylor discuss her book Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control.

Here is a brief description of the book from Amazon:
The term 'brainwashing' was first recorded in 1950, but it is an expression of a much older concept: the forcible and full-scale alteration of a person's beliefs. Over the past 50 years the term has crept into popular culture, served as a topic for jokes, frightened the public in media headlines, and slandered innumerable people and institutions. It has also been the subject of learned discussion from many angles: history, sociology, psychology, psychotherapy, and marketing. Despite this variety, to date there has been one angle missing: any serious reference to real brains. Descriptions of how opinions can be changed, whether by persuasion, deceit, or force, have been almost entirely psychological.
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