Study of the human brain is one of the most amazing, frustrating, enchanting, and fear-inducing topics ever.
But it’s downright enlightening when it comes to religion and the Holy Books.
Let’s start here:
We are figuring out all kinds of things about the brain including memory. Autobiographical episodic memory is one of the ways we store information and autobiographical episodic memory is pieced together from experiential moments that we retrieve. Those moments are affected by our knowledge, our mood, the social context, our physical perspective, and even language. So we encode these memories based on all of those things and retrieve them based on those things.
Thus, every time we retrieve a memory, psychologists say it’s contaminated, and, of course, affected by the list above.
So when we say we remember something. Yes, we do. But probably not what actually happened.
Then throw in all of these ingredients:
Confirmation bias. We all do it. We get a belief, lock it in place and then screen everything through that belief. We hear and see in a biased way in order to confirm the thing we already believe. In other words, two people could read the same article and come away with the idea that the article is proving their own belief.
This happens in many experiments. The same article will make one person feel more correct in their assumption of global warming being false and another person will feel more correct in their assumption that it is true.
The same words, perceived differently.
Optimism bias: This is another thing we all have, sometimes called better-than-average effect. This is the way we look at ourselves as better than everyone else. Or in a more positive light.
This also works when we are talking about our own risks. We think very differently about the risk of someone walking “downtown at night” than we do about ourselves walking “downtown at night”. The risk is usually lower for ourselves than for the general population.
Hindsight bias: We always make the past appear better than it was. In large part, because we now know, looking back, that all those fears we had about the past, didn’t pan out. So, looking back, it feels safer, less frightening and overall better than the time we are in... where we don’t know how those fears are going to pan out.
A great example from the book The Science of Fear (which everyone should read) was an article by Thomas Friedman in 2003 about how great 1985 was.
However, in 1985 the Cold War was raging, AIDS was ready to be an epidemic and there were a whole host of other fears... that all turned out alright. So we go back and remember 1985 as being much better than it was.
One more: Whenever our brains move a “mystical” experience from the part of our brain that stores “experiences that we can’t put into words” into the section of our head that is language and words… we, of course, alter the actual experience. In fact, those two section of the brain don’t really work together.
So when we try to explain the sunset, just by trying to explain it, we alter it in our own brain, before saying a word.
Now if you stir all of that into a bowl, what do you end up?
A group of people having mystical experiences and then trying to confirm their bias about being chosen by God in a certain context, knowledge, perspective and culture and then writing stories about those experiences while trying to retrieve those memories and looking back thinking things were much better than they actually were and thinking they were better than most people around them as well.
People collect these stories, letters, and ideas and then read them with their own bias, perspective, mystical experiences, etc…
And then have the audacity to say that they are infallible, inherent, and other fancy words that ignore just about everything about humanity, brains, and how we experience life.
The Rabbis said there were 77 interpretations to every passage of Scripture and only 1 right interpretation that no one but God knows.
Thank God for the Rabbis.