© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Of things we think, say or do
THE five senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing constitute the windows through which, as human beings, we access the world around us, what it contains, how those things which it contains are arranged and what they are all about. You could say that without the five senses we would not only lack the capacity to know we simply could know nothing. We would literally be blind bats. The door on knowing is however not totally shut and forever bolted.
To be born as humans is to be born with the largest brain that you would find in any living organism. The potential of our brain is mindboggling. It is not only what makes us literally who we are, it is what defines us, holds all memories and all our thoughts. Even though we are all humans it is what makes us different from one another is trillion ways. The brain is the command centre for all of the activities of the five senses, sorting, organizing, processing, storing, and retrieving. Nothing of the details of the brain is erased except when a serious head injury occurs. Often it is the last thing to die when we die.
The human brain is wired with the ability to extract information from the past, from the present, integrate data and project it into the future, thus constituting for its owner projects with attached anxieties, fears and possibly death. It would mean then as various studies have shown that human beings are the only species on earth with the capacity to analyse, strategise and prioritise so we can alter for good or for bad everything that surrounds us. The brain is also the seat of imagination, speciation and fantasy. Put it in its shortest emphatic form, we are our brains. It is our entire life. All of it.
Human history, whatever it was and or has been, whatever it is and will ever be is the sum of our brain activities. To be more explicit, it is the sum of man’s thinking and reasoning, the two mental activities which the human brain makes possible. All humans, because of our brain and the way it is wired, we are able to think and reason and even though both derive from the same singular source, the brain, they are not in their essence not the same. Thinking if you like is an all-comers game that is loose and multidimensional. Everyone is welcomed to it. Reasoning, however, is methodical, orderly, and specific and governed by fixed rules. While most humans think far less reason. I used to so generously grant all humans the capacity and ability to think that is, minus idiots and imbeciles, who in the strictest sense might not be totally left out, some people, however with what we have seen them make of our world and of themselves, do not think. This strangely in a rather demeaning sense has nothing to do whatsoever with their level of literacy or education. They simply do not think.
The two mental activities of thinking and reasoning make us be aware just as they form the seat of our consciousness. Again in the strictest unique sense, human beings are the only species who are not only conscious but are conscious of their consciousness. They are therefore capable of naming themselves as subjects distinct and unique such that they are no duplicate copies to be found anywhere in the whole wide world.
Humans are not mutes. They talk and speak. They have language with which they identify and name things around them sharing and distributing their takes by communicating. The ability to speak at all is tied to the environment and the pressure brought to bear by the presence of others. Babies who grew up in heavily restrictive areas devoid of warmth, care and activities ended up mute, retarded with low IQs. Some even are victims of early death. Proper interaction with one’s surroundings is not just a precondition for normal brain development social psychologists would argue it is actually crucial to life’s living worth and survival.
Perception, of course, precedes speech articulation and communication. There must first be perception before any naming or communication can take place. Even though no two perceptions are ever the same, there is the general consensus that objects in the world are named as they are, that is how they appear. To contest this simple assertion will yield chaos. Imagine coming to various naming conclusions when a group of wandering boy scouts come across a tribe of lions. Unless they all perceive and name them correctly (and consensually) as man-eating lions, there might be none left among them to tell the horrible tale to eager reporters. With constant shifts in meaning, there would be no chance of consensus on language and meaning.
Language is made possible and most obviously so through speech or speaking. I am of course not oblivious of other forms of languages and means of communication; body, silent and sign languages but barring serious mental and physical defects, verbal language makes communication possible and meaningful. There is a form to every language when it is written, how it is written and spoken. It is only when the forms are adhered to that proper enunciation occurs and communication is then made possible.
When the baby babbles we assume meaning. When he or she says “water me” as distinct from ‘I want to drink water’ or ‘may I have some water to drink please’ or ‘All animals are wake-upped’ again we assume meaning and allow the oddity of arrangement and articulation. In the case of an adult uttering same however, we would conclude that he must be mentally retarded.
It follows then that there are things that we say as humans that would have meaning and make sense. Things that we would all as human beings agree on as being correctly put bearing some accepted meanings. On the basis of the latter we can adjudge some expressions as correctly put and others as misplaced simple mistakes, in which case their claims are untrue, that is false and or on the other hand, true.
Of the things or about those things that we think of and about, or put in language forms, these would then be those things that are present to our five senses and to them only. They would be things that are present to us. About other matters or perceived things that have no such status, it would be correct to say that we are either hallucinating, that is, having perception unaccompanied by reality, hearing voices when no one is present or suffering from illusions or that we are simply delusional, that is having false interpretation by the mind of a sense perception, a situation made so vivid with the Russell Crowe film, “The Beautiful Mind”. John Nash played by Crowe, won Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1994. He had been diagnosed at the age of twenty-nine with paranoid schizophrenia. With either cases, we would be making claims that are not real, and therefore neither true or false. We would on the one hand not be making sense in terms of perception and meaning. On the other, we would be using words wrongly and therefore would be speaking nonsense since the words that we are using do not correspond to reality. We might as well simply be mad. I can find no other place where this is clearly the case than with religion. Specifically about beliefs and the language used to convey those beliefs.
Of the things we think, say or do as Rotarians proclaim in their 4 way Test, such must be immediate and incontrovertibly present. They must exist first before any other procedure can follow, either that of reaffirming their status as existing or validating them thus underscoring their meaning. Where this is not the case, then the veracity of what is said, its meaning or otherwise is in serious doubt. It follows that about such claims we can have no knowledge about them in which case, there is a definite agreement particularly on matters of truth and falsify.
Is there then one might ask the possibility of an agreement on religious utterances or claims where matters relate to affairs that are beyond the realm of our world as we presently know it. Going from layer to layer, the first peel is that man grew religion as you would grow any seed from the nursery. The elements for such a nature were wired into the human brain. Again the brain is the source culprit.
Receptiveness to religion is determined by (feeling of) spirituality which is 50 per cent genetically determined. It has been established for example that chemical messengers like serotonin affect the extent to which we are spiritual. Alzheimer patients become less religious and spiritually interested while hyperreligiosity is associated with frontotemporal dementia, mania, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, schizophrenia and temporal lope epilepsy. The latter in patients have essential links with ecstatic experiences making them think that they are in direct contact with God receiving orders from him. In some others, it is visions of bright light and that of a figure resembling Jesus. Utterances from these victims would then not be factual claims that have concrete representation in reality. To use language to name or describe them would simply be mistaken.
The guilt here would be language misuse and mistaken inferences about reality where entities outside of our world are involved. Anthropomorphism, attributing human form or character to God or using human terms to describe metaphysical beings commits two fallacies namely that of identity and misplaced reference. It assumes first that as human beings, we de facto do actually have specific knowledge that God exists. From here we proceed to describe and refer to this familiar God, (seeing nothing wrong in doing so) in human terms. He fo example thinks, moves, plans, contemplates his actions, tarry in taking decisions, gives out favours to his sinless children, gets angry, sometimes happy sometimes sad, he loves to be praised, in fact, it is said to be his food. He writes down human failings, sanctions total annihilation of his enemies and infanticide, he cannot be rushed, loves to be begged and shows up with a bagful of miracles at vigils and during long days of fastings and so on.
The language adopted by the religious is bewildering. To claim as some of them do without any discomfort that ‘God spoke to them’, or that ‘Only God can save Nigeria’ or that “ God is planning his move” and that “ only God put people in positions of power” manifests gross degeneracy in the use of language. It clearly marks not just a misplacement of notions of meaning and reference, the specific context where these words are said to have meaning and concrete reference, such usages are simply mistaken. If for a minute we accept the absurd impossible notion that humans actually know God as existing (even when the biblical text declared that no one has ever seen God), if indeed he is God as conceived, omnipresent, omniscience, and enjoying the universal superlatives of all human dispositions, he will certainly be less a God if he is controlled by time such that he now thinks and deliberates when to act if he must act.
This classical case of abuse of language without apologies has become so pervasive among religious leaders and preachers. The apparent case of psychological abnormality aside, the only one that readily comes to mind is that of sheer idolatry. Man as clearly noted made and crafted religion with his own mind only now he turns round to worship his own creation to the extent of denying in total surrender his own humanity, his essence, rationality and of course sanity. It is called alienation and when precisely it is vehicled by language it threatens to substitute itself for living experience. In matters of religion, it confuses life and living with total surrender and submission.
To the human brain then we again must return. How it is wired for every human being is the driving force that drives the entire narrative of every existence. When it dies, that is, when it loses all of its functions, the individual dies. Religious experiences as earlier noted are brain states that human beings naturally have. So is the feeling of spirituality which as long-established can be induced by drugs. These experiences are transitory and fleeting conjuring and establishing no concrete realities independent of the states that constitute their source.
We are forced to conclude that there are no actual metaphysical realities (a rather bizarre contradictory statement to make) transcending the limits of all possible sense experience. Assuming there are in fact such realities, how in the absence of the five senses may we become acquainted with them. It simply follows then that all the labours of religious enthusiasts, pastors, preachers and of religions enthusiastically dressed up in anthropomorphic language aimed to establish the existence of such a reality or suggest a direct verifiable knowledge of it, have all been devoted to the production of nonsense.
Professor Wale Olajide is the Head of Department of Philosophy at Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti. He can be reached at [email protected]