Life as an Extreme Sport

God in the Gene (or, The God Problem)

Originally written in Spring of 2005 for a class on biotechnological communication.
GodPersinger, Michael. 1987. “It may be called Allah, God, Cosmic Consciousness, or even some idiosyncratic label. Slightly deviant forms include references to intellectual abstracts such as ‘mathematical balance,’ ‘consciousness of time,’ or ‘extraterrestrial intrusions.’” In Neuropsychological Bases of God Beliefs (New York: Praeger), pp. 1-2 has a problem. Specifically, s/heFor the purpose of this essay, the spiritual Being referred to by Persinger, Hamer, etc will be referred to as God, for simplicity, and s/he to respect as many beliefs as possible. has suffered a reductionist downsizing of massive proportions, going from an omniscient, everywhere being to a genetic predisposition, a singular regulatory gene. In the reductionist, geneticized view of God commonly referred to as “the God Gene”, after a book of the same name, God occurs in a particular gene, VMAT2, and is an expression of monoamines designed to make us feel better about life, stress, and death. The singular gene theory is also a fallacy that not even the author of the problematic title, Dean Hamer, subscribes to. And if it is such a fallacy that not even the author believes it, then why was it published? What point is it trying to prove, or serve?

In The God Gene, Hamer builds on the work of several scientists who have been studying spirituality, religion and the brain, including (and leaning heavily on) Michael Persinger, who studies the construction of the temporal lobe and how its construction affects one’s God experience. Hamer takes the idea of God in the brain a step further, looking for and finding a single gene he believes controls how spiritual we are. This, the aforementioned VMAT2 gene, and is involved in how the brain uses monoamines, a class of neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. In simple terms, VMAT2 makes a protein that packages all of the different monoamines into secretory vehicles – the biological packages that the brain uses to store its signal molecules.Hamer, Dean. 2004. Hamer spends several chapters describing the role of VMAT2 on serotonin, dopamine, and how that combination would create perceptions of Persinger’s universal God-feeling. In The God Gene (New York: Doubleday), pp 56-69. Hamer and his team focused on finding a gene that would control both dopamine and serotonin functionality in the brain. Dopamine has been associated with a sense of self-transcendence and good will, while serotonin is well known to affect emotions, particularly negative ones such as depression an anxiety. He found this combination in VMAT2.

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First Paper of the Quarter

I had to turn in my first paper of the quarter today, and, if I do say so myself, it sucked. If I was grading it, I wouldn’t fail myself, but I would strongly suggest a rewrite, a better attention to detail, and to not cover quite so much in the paper. I’m trying to remind myself that I didn’t know until last night that it was due, having basically left for a conference immediately after getting all the class syllabi for the quarter. Still, I’m a smidge of a perfectionist, and unhappy about it. If you’re really masochistic, you can read the paper here. I gave it some suitably pretentious title, something like “Ghost Outside the Machine: Emergent Functionalism as an Option” or somesuch. Good title, at least – maybe I’ll pursue the concept in my final paper.

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