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Spirituality and Genetics

Tim Spector, Professor of Genetic Epidemiology at King’s College London, reported recently on studies indicating that spirituality is genetically influenced. Money quote:

Twin studies conducted around the world in the U.S., the Netherlands and Australia as well as ours in the U.K. show a 40 to 50 percent genetic component to belief in God.

This isn't the first time such a link has been shown: D. T. Lykken, T. J. Bouchard, Jr., M. McGue, and A. Tellegen, writing in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 1993 (Vol. 78, No. 4, 649-661,) also found evidence of genetic factors in behavioral traits, including "religious orientation." Working on a large population of twins from Minnesota (no, not the baseball players...) they concluded: 

These findings extend the already large body of evidence that indicates the important influence of genetic factors on virtually all traits that are of interest to applied psychologists. 

And this takes us back also to the hotly-debated 2005 book by Dean Hamer, the director of the Gene Structure and Regulation Unit at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes. (NB: Spector and the Minnesota twin researchers don't point to a specific gene, as Hamer did.) 

Behavioral genetics is tricky business, and it's important not to overreach. There was criticism of Hamer's work, both scientific (is it replicable? does he over-interpret his data?) and theological. Among the theological skeptics was John Polkinghorne, an Anglican priest and member of the Royal Society and Canon Theologian at Liverpool Cathedral. Commenting for The Daily Telegraph, he said "The idea of a God gene goes against all my personal theological convictions. You can't cut faith down to the lowest common denominator of genetic survival. It shows the poverty of reductionist thinking." Hamer insisted, (correctly, I think,) that his thesis was not about the existence of God, but about human capacity to experience what we might describe as spiritual awareness.

Of course, it's possibe to consider these findings from a more scientific perspective. Human beings are adept at perceiving patterns, whether or not they're actually there. (Two easy examples are the way we so easily see a face on the moon, or the way superstitions arise from temporally-but-not-causally related events.) Obviously this deep trait is adaptive—one can imagine the usefulness for hunters of being able to infer from this set of imprints in the mud that a deer walked here. A more ethereal version of the same would be spiritual awareness. One could also posit a strong community-building function to spirituality, regardless of the nature or existence of its referents. 

But is there another way to think thelogically about this?

In Christian tradition we affirm a God who rather fervently wants to be in communion with creation. God continually establishes covenants with erring humankind, and ultimately came to walk with us as a human being, like us in all things but sin. Taking human evolution as a given, and also God's involvement somehow in our creation, (yes, yes, I'm thinking final cause, and not wanting to open that particular can of worms here,) why wouldn't a God who so clearly wants to be known be pleased at the presence in creation of a capacity for knowing God? We have eyes with which we perceive light, ears with which we hear sound, so why not some kind of capacity for knowing God? And if, as Aquinas said, God wills for us what is good for us, why couldn't that capacity have adaptive/survival/evolutionary benefit as well as spiritual mojo? A two-fer?

Like many traits, this one is affected by environment and is present to a differing degree in different individuals, just as some have keener hearing or sharper vision than others. And in some ways we seem to cultivate our perception in our worship spaces. We can see one example in church architecture, which, ideally, is designed to enhance or elicit particular kinds of affective responses that may be related to spiritual self-transcendence. And the particular effect varies—a gothic catheral almost forces one's eyes heavenward, while an intimate contemporary setting draws a community together to feel God in its midst. Music should create an atmosphere of—well, it varies too, right? Reflection, joy, a sense of being loved, insight, etc.?

So a genetic dimension of spirituality? Sure, why not? Some are more attuned or capable than others? Anyone who's ever directed the Spiritual Exercises or discussed experience in prayer shouldn't be surprised by that. But all in all, this seems like good news to me—we are fearfully and wonderfully made, after all, and our species seems to carry in its very genes a capacity for God. 

 

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It does seem like our bodies/brains have something to do with our perception of God ... people with epilepsy and with Alzheimers have radically different abilities to have religious experience.  But that doesn't necessarily say anything about God's existence.

The article strikes me as awfully fuzzy and perhaps does not do justice to the science behind the report. It leaves me with many questions. Here are the three that bug me most:

1. If a predisposition to faith is genetic, then couldn't some of us have been born without the genetic cocktail needed for faith? And, if some of us are born without the mix necessary to believe, doesn't that mean Calvin was right? God does have an Elect and some of us are not it. 

2. The twins in the example are supposed to illustrate a link between belief in God and faith. But what is really measurable and observable (i.e., scientific) only seems a shared predisposition for organized religion. That strikes me as somewhat different than a predisposition to faith.

3. I am always hinky about surveys that purport to show what percentage of a population believes in God. Are these surveys just "yes" or "no"? Or do such surveys take into consideration the waxing and waning nature of faith? Can people choose "most of the time," "once in awhile," "I have no idea," "I don't care," "not today"? And, while I'm pretty sure what most people mean by "no," I always wonder what the "yes answers mean: Yes, there could be a God. Yes, there's a God, but He cut out of here a long time ago. Yes, and he and other super-intelligent beings live on the planet Kolob. 

Articles like this remind me why the sincere and scholarly work of the Jesus Seminar folks made me uncomfortable: You slice and dice the Good News into only what can be verified and corroborated, and limit it to what does not strain mundane human credulity, and you're left with just another story of an innocent man trying to do the right thing who got strung up for it. 

We are social animals through and through, with very little chance of thriving or even surviving entirely on our own. It helps to be able occasionally to subordinate our individual well-being to the needs of the group, which means self-sacrifice in small ways and great. It will be easier to make that sacrifice if we believe that there is more to life than what we see before us, and that there is a chance that we will survive and even be rewarded for our selflessness. So it should not be very surprising to find that such a belief is heritable. even if we still do not know the details.

But that belief need not necessarily be true to be useful. Our perception of color, to take another case, is very useful to us, even if it is an interpretation the mind imposes on what we see, and not the external reality.

Robert Bellah, who died the other day (RIP), published his masterpiece in 2011.

Religion in Human Evolutions:  From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age, Belknap Press, Harvard University.

http://www.amazon.com/Religion-Human-Evolution-Paleolithic-Axial/dp/0674...

I hope anyone who hasn't read it will take a look at the Editorial Reviews and see if they make you want to know more about the Ancestors and their rituals.  (The quotation from Randall Collins is particularly good, imho.)

(Sorry for the misspelling of Evolution.  I wish non-subscribers were allowed to edit.)

Augustine would not have liked this. The reason is how do you determine if all those people you are forcing to join the Catholic Church have the God gene.  That is an awful burden of proof put on those who choose domination over persuasion. Be that as it may it is totally absurd to pose a God gene. It is like saying your children do not have your dna. This is another example of an attempt to take away free will. There is a God gene in all of us. It is our choice to foster its growth.

My problem with the Specter article (or the articles upon which his  is based) is not that there *might* be some specific gene or combination of genes that incline(s) one to believe or to not-believe.They have not determined *which* specific gene/genes it is, nor have they explained why *other* genes might not account for those disposition(s).  For instance, being *generally* gullible or skeptical, or being excessively imaginative or deficient in imagination might account for those different inclinations.  

Somewhat off-topic:  This week it was reported that there is now some evidence supporting the belief that there really are such things as "near-death" experiences in which the dying  person has visions of a wonderful light and of different people or celestial beings, etc.  It seems that a study of some rats has shown that *even if the rat's heart has stopped* its brain brain can show a burst of electricity activity just prior to death.  See, for instance, the CBS report about the experiment. 

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-205_162-57598161/near-death-experiences-aren...

The electrical (nervous) systems of our hearts and brains are not identical, though they are connected.  This allows the heart to live/function somewhat longer than the brain and (contrary to common belief)  vice versa -- the brain sometimes survives the heart for a while.  So perhaps humans do have some near-death experiences, as many have claimed =   it is physiologically possible. 

Theologically this might be interpreted as a "last chance" for a person to ask forgiveness, and one might even see the hand of God in the evolutionary process producing this last chance.  Or a theologian might simply see it as one more sort of evidence for man's possible immortality.

I say hold the scientists to their own highest standards and believe them when they do meet them, but never assume that science can explain everything.  (Back to Nagel, et al.)

 

There are a lot of chemical changes in the body that can occur naturally or that are induced by meds at the end that could account for any number of "near-death" experiences that are touted as proof of heaven or hell.

I don't doubt that some people take advantage of what they see (or think they are seeing) to make their final peace, even if they can no longer communicate with those in this earthly vale. But that is predicated on prior beliefs and whatever sense they are able to make of the experience. Some (not many in my experience, thankfully) die in fear or discomfort and are unable to focus on anything but that. I pray that Jesus, remembering his own death, has special compassion for these souls.

St. Julian of Norwich's "Shewings," in which she delineates carefully and lucidly the types of visions she experienced, are about the best description of what can happen when someone is near death that I've ever read. She had what Oliver Sacks called a "privileged consciousness" when he wrote about St. Hildegard of Bingen's mandelas--someone who, in affliction, is able to turn their experiences into something meaningful and beneficent in great bursts of creativity. i would call it grace. 

A few thoughts back:

--The lead scientist wrote the report I first linked to, so failures to be true to the science are entirely his own, istm. In the other sources I mentioned, and to some degree also in Spector, indeed, precision often gets lost in the transition to popular media. 

--The definition of "spirituality" they used is deliberately broad, viz: "'the capacity to reach out beyond oneself and discover or make meaning of experience through broadened perspectives and behavior.' The scale is based on three main factors: self-forgetfulness, transpersonal identification and mysticism." So it seems to be trying to get at capacity more than specific belief.

--Near death experiences are intriguing, but surely do not prove anything vis a vis the afterlife. The same God who seems to want so deeply to be known seems also not to want that "known-ness" to be objectively, intellectually provable. 

--Which gene? Almost certainly polygenic, so not as simple as Hamer tried to make it.  in the way that, e.g., the gene identfied for arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy. In humans, there are 141 different mutations in 8 different genes that can lead to the disease, and environmental factors and other genetic factors also play a role. So to establish that a trait is genetically influenced is one thing--to say exactly how and where is another. All the Spector data showed is that there's a genetic component.

--But I'm fascinated by the fact idea that this genetic component is expressed more strongly in some than others. (I wanted to talk about this in the original post, but it was already too long...) What might this imply about religious vocation, and vocational discernment? How about how we understand different "ways" of being in the Church? One person has an intense prayer life, seemingly effortlessly, while another helps the community by making the coffee, but can't say much about personal self-transcendence. Church communities certainly err by not providing enough support for those who have great aptitude for spiritual things, but also must provide, istm, for the spiritual growth for those who are, perhaps, more colorblind to the numinous than others. We know now that "intelligence" is not one thing, but several. A person might have great physical or artistic intelligence, but be lousy at math. Spirituality might be more like an "intelligence" to be cultivated to the best of one's capacity. 

Lisa --

You've raised half a dozen great questions about "spirituality" -- including:  what are the various important meanings of "spirituality"? (Not to mention the adjective "spiritual".)  I suspect that your last question, about our various capacities for spiritual experience can't be clearly answered till we define "spiritual" and "spiritual capacity", much less "mysticism".

I also suspect that you're right that our genetic consitutions have a lot to do with our different spiritual practices.  But I disagree that near-death experiences are irrelevant to the general topic == those experiences seem to reveal the reality of a spiritual dimension of human life whose existence many people deny.  To the extent that they open up the minds of the skeptics, I think they're very valuable.  Some of them do provide some evidence of an after-life -- in many cases the dying person says that a parent has come to meet him or her with news/information about the afterlife.  

Such experiences, of course, raise epistemological questions -- why should we believe these people?  I say that if we would have believed ttheir testimony about other topics, that it makes sense to believe them unles we have reason to think they're lying or suddenly a bit crazy or whatever.  I other words, our criteria for belief should be the same for them as for any other person we have known to be sensible and truthful before.  But that's yet another thread :-)

And none of this touches on the *value* of these varied experienced.  Merely having a splendid ecstatic experience of God doesn't guarantee love of God, apparently.  St. Teresa of Avila said that at one point God showed her her place in Hell if she didn't stop being so proud of her mystical experiences.   

"It is totally absurd to pose a God gene."

"If some of us are born without the mix necessary to believe, doesn't it mean that Calvin was right?" 

That would be extreme. All that is suggested is that some are genetically predisposed so that it's easier for them to believe. And why not?  Tomorrow's gospel reading is immediately preceded by: " And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not knowit, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more."

Belief is a virtue, but belief alone doesn't assure salvation, at least according to Catholic teaching.  One can believe with the Church and sin very badly.  I think that Graham Greene's novels are particularly good on this point.

 

"Belief alone doesn't assure salvation." That's true, but you can't have salvation without belief, and unless your works flow from belief, they have no impact on your salvation (as I understand it from the joint Catholic/Lutheran statement on justification seems to indicate, see item #25). 

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_31101999_cath-luth-joint-declaration_en.html

Without wishing to get too serious about hypotheticals, here's a thought experiment: Imagine that the genetic components that allow for spirituality/religion/belief, now only suggested, are one day identifiable and testable. In utero. Mr. and Mrs. Jones can be told that their impending bundle of joy is physically healthy and will have blue yes and a facility with languages, but will have little capacity for belief, a necessary component for salvation. How to raise such a child? What religious instruction to provide? What will the Church teach about his immortal soul? 

Claire believes that those who cannot act out of knowledge/understanding get a pass. But the Church has not been so generous in its teachings about the unborn who die before they can be baptized. It only counsels parents that they "may hope" that the child is with God. It's the whole reason abortion is viewed as more heinous than murder, no? It not only ends a life but possibly sends a soul to perdition before the soul can find its way to faith.

"Claire believes that those who cannot act out of knowledge/understanding get a pass." Rather, I belive that those for whom faith comes easily have a heavier responsibility. Everyone is called to have faith, no? (if I may borrow a turn of phrase from our pope - now it's ok to end a sentence with "..., , no?".) And if for some people faith seems impossible in spite of their best efforts, it must be that we have not found a way to reach them. That is, those who have difficulty should be carried by others around them, for whom it is easier, and who therefore must make radical choices in their lives and grow in holiness in such a way that their witness converts even those who think they cannot believe.

Many of us have had the experience at Mass of being carried by the prayers of others around us, so that's not so far fetched, yes?  

I think I've exceeded my ability to understand the responses here; possibly just not plugged into the Catholic mode of thinking about this, so I'll bow out of the conversation.

My only departing question is that if belief/spirituality/a quest for the Almighty is somehow part of our normal genetic code, then how come it's so damn hard to get a teenager to go to Mass or to engage in any conversation about religious matters that doesn't end in the kid telling you that "you're close to death, so of course you want to believe that stuff."

No more success at my end, I admit. But that does not mean it's impossible, only that we still have to work at it.

Advice from the saints: How many years did Monica pray for her son's conversion? She just wouldn't give up. Maybe we can even enlist her help???

Advice from the Acts: St Paul, when he talked to Jewish people, always started from the old testament to explain the good news. Maybe if we start from something that our kids take seriously, that is important to them, then we can get somewhere. He also repeated the story of his own conversion over and over again shamelessly. Maybe if we're willing to talk about ourselves with the same openness, about why we are Christians, it may make an impression.

 

Advice from the hierarchy: Pope Francis suggested once that it is by putting our fingers in the wounds of Christ (looking at poverty, social injustice, getting involved) that faith will come.

There are so many possibilities yet to be explored!

Many years ago I had a psychiatrist friend who said quite seriously that he thought that all teen-agers are a bit crazy, that such mild craziness is part of being an adolescent.  The psychologists are telling us today that people's brains keep developing into their mid-20's, including the parts having to do with more difficult levels of rational thinking.  I wonder if maybe the kids' on-going brain development has something to do with their very common irrationality.  For instance, the psychologist say that teen-age boys willingly take unnecessary risks that adults consider highly dangerous.

So maybe their not-very-sensible behavior is not a result of stubbornness or ill will.  Maybe it's just due to their limited adolescent understanding and reasoning.  In other words, it's genetic and not to be taken personally.

Ann O.,

In many primate societies, it is the role and function of subadult males to run extreme risks in taking on predators such as leopards. Although the behavior seems crazy and often proves suicidal, it is nevertheless adaptive if it promotes the survival of the group as a whole. A one-to-one balance between males and females is not required. Up to a point, males are expendable.

In our own warlike societies, young men have been the primary risk takers on battlefields, where some degree of irrationality may become a virtue. No one has much time to think about falling on a live grenade to save half a dozen comrades, and the more time one had, the less likely the action might be. There the impulse to act without weighing the consequences is beyond praise.

It is mostly in civilian life that young men's underdeveloped thought processes and hair-trigger responsiveness can be as troublesome as old men's endless debates and dithering.

Wow, John Prior!  What a fascinating viewpoint, one that would never occur to a woman.  The insane attraction of war for some men become slightly rational.

This evening I saw part of a documentary on Winston Churchill.  It portrays him as a warrior from childhood.  And, sure enough, his strange, reckless attraction to war eventually served his country mightily.

To be clear, Ann, I am not saying that an easy resort to war, which is almost always a decision made by older folks, is itself a good thing, but only that once in a war, the ability to act without fear or caution may be an advantage, although usually not for the soldiers themselves.

Ah, teenagers and risky behavior: Terra firma!

I recently took a course on aging, and John Prior is right; the area of the human brain that controls impulse is the last to develop (about mid 20s) -- and also the first to go. Some neuroscientists want to do studies to see if that accounts for those so-called  mid-life crises when impulse control begins to dwindle and but health (and the ability to make mischief) is still good. May also explain why  many older people are more outspoken.

In the Middle Ages, European males of a certain class began military training in early adolescence and were went out to battle in their earlier teens. I don't have a reference for this, but I seem to remember dimly that somewhere around the twelfth century there were many more young men than women, and the surfeit who could not be married off or sent to monasteries were rounded up for wars.

Jean --

it seems to me that aggressiveness in boys is much more of a problem than aggressiveness in girls -- the psychologists seem to have established quite firmly that boys are simply more physically aggressive on average than girls are.  Couple this with the need of societies to defend themselves from aggressive neighbors and aggressiveness becomes a value, and the rearing of boys becomes of particular interest.

In Europe in the middle ages a man got to become an aristocrat by being a heroic leader in battle  If such a leader wasn't killed in battle (they very often were -- officers are the first targets in battle), he was rewarded with land and social position when he got back home.  In other words, particularly brave boys who take risks were of particular value to the whole community.

Eventually , to preserve the status of rich, powerful families, the families would harden their boys by sending them off to schools to become hardened leaders, schools  in which the boys were treated in a manner we would call abusive.  Consider especially the notorious English public schools in which the masters were expected to beat the little aristocrats unmercifully not with switches but ith sticks.  Consider also that the British empire probably thrived because it produced such military leaders.  

I suspect boys don't need such an educational system to have boy groups emerge into the same sort of leader-with-troops today.  It's why boy-gangs still thrive and are a problem, but girl-gangs don't develop any further than high-school cliques.  It's why parents have to caution their sons about their associates much more often that they have to caution their daughters.  It's part of human nature. 

 

John --

It seems to me that  young men (and others as well) develop  a different attitude towards war after they have experienced war.  It used to sometimes be relatively easy for a leader to inspire a romantic view of what a war would entail when the young men were ignorant of all the horror that war  involves.  See, for instance, Bernard of Clairvaux gathering troops for a Crusade.  Sometimes the young were even eager to go to war.

ISTM that photography and especially TV have educated everyone, including the young, as to  just what the horrors of war really are.  No one with TV romanticizes war any more.  And that, I think, is why many people are now so very anti the military establishment -- they wrongly think that all generals are bloodthirsty.  What they often dont' realize, however, is that there is such a thing s an aggressive neighbor or aggressive forces even with a country and that a military is sometimes necessary.  Just look at Egypt today.  But many people automatically assume that the military must be the worst of the bad guys

After the police, the military are the most dangerous, because they come with a legitimacy of sorts. If they abuse their power, who does one turn to?

I wonder if you are not overly optimistic about people nowadays being educated about war. If people were educated about war, would the US have engaged into the Iraq war as easily as it did ten years ago? Also, see http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/Blog/2013/08/05/At-Hunger-Games-summer-camp-kids-fight-to-the-death/3801375725800/

 

 

 I'm fascinated by the fact idea that this genetic component is expressed more strongly in some than others. (I wanted to talk about this in the original post, but it was already too long...) What might this imply about religious vocation, and vocational discernment? How about how we understand different "ways" of being in the Church? One person has an intense prayer life, seemingly effortlessly, while another helps the community by making the coffee, but can't say much about personal self-transcendence. Church communities certainly err by not providing enough support for those who have great aptitude for spiritual things, but also must provide, istm, for the spiritual growth for those who are, perhaps, more colorblind to the numinous than others. We know now that "intelligence" is not one thing, but several. A person might have great physical or artistic intelligence, but be lousy at math. Spirituality might be more like an "intelligence" to be cultivated to the best of one's capacity. 

Lisa, yes, I agree - very interesting stuff.

FWIW, when I was in formation, I took a Myers Briggs test (not for the first nor last time).  If there are any Myers Briggs geeks out there, It turns out that my particular M-B profile (which is, I believe, ENTP) is somewhat atypical for people in ministry.

One of the interesting little nuggets I took away from the exercise is that people in ministry tend to cluster around the same specific personality profiles (according to the Myers Briggs taxonomy), while there are other profiles for which people in ministry are relatively rare - including a couple of profiles that are notable gaps, i.e. almost *nobody* with those particular profiles ever goes into ministry in the Catholic church.  The facilitator's overall point of view of personality profiles is that no one profile is better nor worse than another, and that people with a variety of profiles are known to succeed and find satisfaction in any given profession, and he wondered what it is about the church, and/or the process of calling forth and discerning ministers, that accounts for those gaps; perhaps, if we could figure out how to call forth more ministers with those gapped-out profiles, our church would be the more enriched.

Inasmuch as there is a physical dimension to psychological behavior, it doesn't surprise me to read that there may be a genetic component to faith "aptitude".  While I don't suppose anyone is determinatively barred from Christian faith because of his or her genetic profile, it makes sense that a physical explanation may at least partially account for the fact that some of are attracted to particular ways of expressing our humanity.  It also strikes me as profoundly in accord with Christian anthropology: I am body, mind and spirit, all knit together as one creature.  

 

Ann, I don't know if boys have bigger aggression problems; I've only got the one. I would not underestimate female aggression. I've seen some little girls who are able to cause an awful lot of strife and misery without raising a finger.

APOLOGIES IN ADVANCE: This is a rant about Meyers-Briggs, and my feeble attempts to tie it to the original thread won't fool anybody.

I'm a M-B INFJ, and I have certainly always resisted the caring, sharing, intuitive love muffin I'm supposed to be (ideal for the ministry, but, whoops! Catholic woman, not going far in that endeavor).

We had to do the M-B profiling as part of an offsite retreat years ago, and I felt at the time that some of the questions/options seemed to have a clearly desirable answer, and I was left with the nagging feeling that I lied to make the test happy because sometimes I do that just to get things over with. 

Anyway, I spent most of the retreat thinking about how dicey these tests and profiles are, how characteristics associated with my astrological sign (Virgo) seemed more predictive of my attitudes and behaviors than the M-B profile (though I realize now that astrology is a sin), and I came away wondering if other psychological profiling was this slipshod.

I was even more skeptical of the M-B enterprise when I read a lists of famous people who were supposedly INFJs: Chaucer, Aristophanes, Jesus, Adolph Hitler, and Shirley Temple. How would anyone know how these people would respond to the questions?

The whole idea of the retreat was that we would learn our strengths and learn how to form up complementary and enthusiastic work teams. Like we couldn't figure that out without a retreat? Other than the fact that my co-workers called me Hitler (maybe jokingly, but who knows) whenever I criticized anything, the whole thing seemed to be a waste of time.

Frankly, I would have been more enthusiastic if the company had just divvied up the money they blew on the retreat and given us a bonus.

Jean --

i think of aggression as meaning physical aggression, though of course there is also psychological aggression.  All I know about it is what I read in Psychology Today, but it is published by the American Psychological Association, so I doubt that it makes stuff up and suppose that it is at least fairly accurate.

My understanding is that there is a great deal of evidence now that male humans are indeed generally more physically aggressive than female humans, and the cause seems to be testerone -- the more testerone, the more physically aggresive the person is, whether male or female.  (Yes, women have some testerone).  

The good news is that we're all malleable to some extent at least. 

Claire --

I'm not very optimistic about people avoiding war.  I just think that now that people generally know more about how horrible it it that they will *be less* likely to choose it.

 

This is somewhat off=topic, but it is about the basic mind-body issue:  The NYT's blog The Stone has published a summary by Nagel himself of his arguments in his controversial new book about mind-body differences.  Comments are hot and heavy.  You can throw in your two cents :-)

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/category/the-stone

It seems to me that  young men (and others as well) develop  a different attitude towards war after they have experienced war.

Yes, they certainly do, Ann. I have seen newsreels from the earliest days of the First World War that show young men marching gaily off to battle. Martial music, cheering crowds, glorious expectations. It's pretty much the same at the start of any war.

And this is the reality:

http://www.english.emory.edu/LostPoets/Dulce.html

A segment on consciousness, art, and science that aired on Science Friday last week that might be of interest to folks on this thread. I found the artist frustratingly vague and the scientist's conviction toward the end that science could explain everything emblematic of the frustration trying to get spirituality and science to communicate.

http://sciencefriday.com/segment/08/16/2013/marina-abramovic-experimenting-on-consciousness-through-art.html

 

Jean - I'm a Virgo, too.  No wonder we're so simpatico :-)

As far as I can tell, Jim, Virgos are not simpatico with anyone.

They are critical, obsessed with cleanliness, undemonstrative, unromantic, do not like people to move their stuff, do not want other people's stuff mixed in with theirs, are prone to nervous disorders, dislike having a lot of people around, and, if pushed too far, will tell people off in public for needlessly holding up lines, not having the exact change ready, or spelling words wrong on menus and cocktail napkins. Virgos overexplain everything, and they will also notice and judge you for setting the table incorrectly or accessorizing with the wrong colors. 

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About the Author

Lisa Fullam is associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).