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MicroscopeMinds and Gods by Todd Tremlin


Copyright © 2011, Lorin Friesen

The concepts in this essay may be used freely as long as the source is acknowledged.


(2013 Note: When I first wrote this article, I used the term 'living mental network' rather than 'mental network'. I originally came up with the idea of a mental network back in the 1980s or 90s, but when I encountered the concept of the Agency Detection Device in the cognitive science of religion, I decided to give more prominence to mental networks. Since then, I have found the concept of mental networks to be extremely helpful, and it now forms a core aspect of the theory of mental symmetry. Thus, I am indebted to the cognitive science of religion for this change in emphasis.)

I just recently began looking at the new field of the cognitive science of religion. (I will refer to this field as CSR.) I was vaguely aware of this research before, but this is the first time that I have examined it in some detail. It is also the first time that I have encountered a field of research that has a lot in common with my approach. I am hoping that there is enough overlap that I will be able to connect with other researchers and have meaningful dialogue.

As I normally do with a review like this, I will be quoting extensively from the book Minds and Gods by Todd Tremlin. I should mention that he refers to the research of a number of other individuals. Therefore, while all of my quotes will be from Tremlin’s book, many of these quotes will refer to the findings of other researchers in the field. Thus, this volume provides a good introduction to the field of cognitive science and religion. One quick housekeeping note. When I talk about Sensing, iNtuition (with the capital N), Feeling, or Thinking, I am talking about an MBTI® category. When I describe something as being intuitive or counterintuitive, I am referring to Tremlin’s concepts of mental reasonableness.

In general terms, the basic assumptions of cognitive science and religion are remarkably similar to my assumptions. In addition, I have found that we share a lot of common content. What seems to be missing from CSR, though, is a general cognitive model that ties everything together, something which the theory of mental symmetry can provide. While I have not discovered anything yet in CSR which cannot be integrated into the theory of mental symmetry, I definitely encountered some new aspects which I have not considered before and Tremlin’s book helped me to add some refinements to the theory of mental symmetry.

We will begin by describing the assumptions that cognitive science and religion share with the theory of mental symmetry. These common assumptions are extremely important, because without them, dialogue is impossible.

I have tried to write this essay as a standalone unit. Therefore, it should be possible to understand what is written here without having gone through the rest of my material.

Common Assumptions

1) When studying the topic of God and religion, what really matters is a person’s mental image of God. It is possible to use cognitive science to analyze logically and rationally how a person constructs a mental image of God.

In the words of Tremlin: “What is different about the answers offered here is that gods are described not primarily as theological concepts or as social or cultural constructs but as the products of human cognition. Explaining why people believe in gods requires first explaining the way people think. Describing the variety and nature of god concepts and their place in religious systems requires first describing the structure and functions of the brain.”

I should mention in passing that Tremlin makes a rather bold claim in his introduction:  “A complete, detailed explanation of the relation of heavenly gods and earthly minds is the reason for this book.” He does discuss a number of concepts regarding god and does analyze the difference between theoretical and practical religion. But, there are also a number of specific doctrines about deity which he glosses over. Therefore, it is difficult to consider his analysis to be ‘complete and detailed’. In this regard, the theory of mental symmetry appears to be more complete and detailed.  

2) The mind is not just a monolithic ‘blob’. Instead, it contains a number of cognitive modules which interact to produce human intelligence. In addition, most of these cognitive modules are subconscious.

In Tremlin’s words: “We now recognize that though the brain literally looks to be, and is experienced by each of us to operate as, a single, seamless organ, it is in fact an astoundingly complex machine comprised of numerous specialized parts, or “modules.” These modules are dedicated to specific tasks that, for the most part, are executed unconsciously. Again, this applies both to tasks related to receiving and interpreting information from the outside world and to those responsible for maintaining internal life and thought...Understanding the modular architecture of the brain and what such a structure means for conceptualization is essential for explaining the ideas we produce, including gods.”

What mental symmetry provides is a description of the major mental modules and the way in which they interact: According to mental symmetry, the mind contains seven major modules as shown in the diagram of mental symmetry. The four of these modules which reside in the cortex appear to have an automatic part in the back of the brain together with an ‘internal world’ within an area of the frontal lobes. In addition, there appear to be submodules which handle specific interactions between the main modules. And, each of these modules and submodules is comprised of numerous computing units. Finally, there are additional automatic pre-processing modules which interpret sensory information before it reaches conscious thought. The level of detail which the diagram of mental symmetry provides appears to be just enough to be able to analyze human thought intelligently.

Mental symmetry also suggests that people fall in one of seven different cognitive styles, with each cognitive style being conscious in one of the seven major modes and subconscious in the other six.

3) The mind is fractal; the same mental modes handle thought at all scales and in all areas of thought. There is not a secular brain and a religious brain; instead, all aspects of thought can be analyzed by studying a single set of mental modules. Thus, for instance, the interaction between Perceiver and Mercy thought is responsible for object detection, building maps, constructing a self-image, working out intuitive psychology, and conceiving of moral rules.

Quoting again from Tremlin: “At the level of human cognition, ideas about gods and religion are not ‘special’ kinds of thoughts; they are produced by the same brain structures and functions that produce all other kinds of thoughts. As Tom Lawson notes, ‘whatever it takes to explain how minds work generally will be sufficient to explain how religious minds work.’”

4) The mind is not a blank slate. Instead, it contains hardware modules which are wired up to process certain forms of data in specific ways. The infant mind may lack mental software, but the mental hardware is already present and functioning (though some of these hardware modules do not become fully functional until several years after birth). The theory of mental symmetry provides a detailed model of what these mental modules are, how they function, and how they interact.

As Tremlin says,  “For most of the past century it was assumed that babies arrived in the world as empty vessels that do little more than respond to external stimuli and acquire knowledge only as they are exposed to culture. Mental ability and content were assumed to be the products of rigorous social learning, not of innate programming. Of course learning from others is important, and adults as well

as babies spend a good amount of time doing it. But what is crucial to see is that biology has bestowed both the functional mental abilities babies are born with and the powerful learning mechanisms they use to rapidly increase and restructure their knowledge.”

5) Humans are tied together by something which is deeper than culture and which crosses culture; humans are similar to each other because they have similar brains. What mental symmetry adds is the concept that while everyone has the same brain modules, not everyone is conscious in the same brain module. Therefore, what is conscious in my mind may be subconscious in your mind. This implies that if an individual uses only conscious thought to develop his mind, then his mental content will not be the same as that of another cognitive style. This concept will be used later on in this essay.

In Tremlin’s words, “Because the modern brain, with its many specialized devices and corresponding processes of thought, is characteristic of humans as a species, the way people think and the ideas they produce are largely the same for everyone everywhere...It is because all humans possess the same cognitive hardware that we can speak to each other—an activity that really amounts to the transfer of mentally constructed ideas. This means that concepts are tractable not only between people who are related or who live in the same country but also between cultures.”

6) If you want to understand the mind and religion, then you must be willing to deal with emotional topics. Emotional processing may not follow rules of formal logic, but it is subject to its own set of processing rules, and these rules can be studied and analyzed. As I point out elsewhere, science usually tries to protect logical thought by avoiding personal emotions. However, if one wants to study the mind, then one must include feelings, especially when dealing with religious topics. 

As Tremlin puts it: “Discussing human emotion summarily and separately here is awkward because emotional responses play a more crucial role in human thought and action than typical treatments of cognition would suggest and because emotions are not independent from the mind’s other processes of thought. Neurologically speaking, emotional and cognitive processes may comprise different brain systems but psychologists insist on the complex interrelations of emotional responses and cognition. Humans have what Daniel Goleman calls ‘emotional intelligence’ (1995). Thought and emotion are both expressions of normal brain activity.”

“The most recent discussion of the role of emotion and experiential states in religious thought comes from Illka Pyysiäinen, who argues correctly that “the cognitivist, or functionalist, account of the nature of the human mind focuses on symbolic thought processes alone, leaving little room for emotions as a necessary concomitant to all sane cognition” (2001b: 78). Pyysiäinen certainly subscribes to the current cognitivist perspective on religious representation, but he also reminds those working in the field that human thought, despite its computational nature, is not a dispassionate, machine-like crunching of data.”

In closing, let me reiterate that communication is only possible to the extent that people share similar assumptions. Otherwise, discussion will grind to a halt because of a basic disagreement over fundamentals, and there will be no meaningful exchange of information. A meaningful exchange of information is very helpful. I have experienced it in the past and look forward to experiencing it again in the future. (2015 Note: This dialogue has not yet occurred. I do not think that the problem lies with a deficiency in the theory of mental symmetry, because it is possible to use this theory to explain the latest findings of CSR. Instead, it appears that one is dealing with a conflict between a mindset that recognizes God and theology as valid concepts and one that does not. This is like a paradigm shift but deeper, because involves both the TMN of a general theory and the MMNs of personal identity.)

How the Mind Forms an Image of God

Now that we have looked at common assumptions, I would like to turn to the content of Minds and Gods. We will see that what Tremlin says about the nature of a mental image of God is very similar to the concepts of mental symmetry. However, I suggest that mental symmetry adds some theoretical elements which Tremlin implies but does not explicitly state.

Mental symmetry says that a mental image of God emerges when a universal theory in Teacher thought touches personal identity in Mercy strategy. In order to understand what this means, we have to know more about Mercy and Teacher thought. I should mention that Mercy and Teacher processing was worked out using three methods: First, we looked at cognitive styles, studying the behavior of the Mercy person and the Teacher person. Mental symmetry says that the each cognitive style is conscious in a different module of the mind. Thus, the Mercy person provides a conscious window into the function of Mercy strategy, and so on. Second, we looked at brain regions. While neurology was not sufficiently advanced back in the 1980s to work out all of these traits, it could provide corroborating evidence along with a number of behavior clues, and it appears that neurology has now reached the level where it can be used to work out behavioral traits. Finally, we also used the concept of mental symmetry to extrapolate from one mental mode to its ‘mirror image’. I say ‘we’ in this paragraph, because at that initial of research, I was working together with my brother Lane Friesen.

Mercy strategy works with concrete experiences and Mercy processing attaches an emotional label of good or bad to each if its experiential memories. Mercy strategy is initially programmed by the physical body, which provides the mind with experiences which come with a pre-attached emotional label of physical pain and pleasure. Because of this emotionally potent, direct stream of information from the outside world, Mercy mode is the first mental strategy to begin operating in the mind of the child.

Mercy labels spread from one experiential memory to another through the process of mental association. (That is why Mercy processing is labelled as associative on the diagram.) For instance, suppose that a baby is hungry. This is an unpleasant Mercy experience. When the baby is hungry, then mother shows up with food. Being fed is an experience that feels good. Therefore, the Mercy memory of mother acquires a good emotional label by association, and when the baby sees mother, the baby feels good. At the most basic level, this is simple Pavlovian conditioning, but it can extend far beyond it.

Because Mercy experiences and emotions are initially provided by the physical body, and because every person lives within a physical body, Mercy strategy naturally thinks in terms of people and subjective emotions. And, because I can only directly sense feelings that come from my own physical body, the core of Mercy thought will involve personal identity. For the young child, nothing exists in his mind except personal identity, and the baby assumes that the entire universe revolves around his own person and treats everyone else as an extension of himself. It is only as Perceiver thought begins to emerge and starts to organize Mercy experiences into different facts and objects that the child learns to distinguish ‘me’ from not ‘me’. This describes the basic relationship between Mercy thought and people. We will develop this connection further later on.

Teacher thought is completely different. Teacher strategy works with abstract theories, but like Mercy thought, it also attaches an emotional label to each memory. However, Teacher emotion is produced by order-within-complexity. When one item can represent or summarize a number of other items, then that item feels good to Teacher thought. Saying this another way, Teacher emotion is related to generality. The more general a concept is, the better it feels to Teacher thought. When there is an item that does not fit the general pattern, then this exception to the rule will bring emotional pain to Teacher thought.

The physical body does not provide the mind with Teacher emotions. Instead, a person only learns about the existence of Teacher feelings as he begins to put concepts together and discovers the joy of order and the pain of disorder. The initial content for Teacher thought comes from words. It is possible for Teacher strategy to move beyond words, but the first general theories that a person learns are usually verbal theories.

One more concept is required and that is the idea of mental life. Whenever enough similar emotional memories get together, then that network of memories will ‘become alive’ and begin functioning as a unit. Once a network of memories becomes alive, then it will want to stay alive by continuing to function. The simplest example of mental life is a habit. A habit is a behavioral pattern that has acquired a life of its own. In order to break a habit, one has to ‘kill it’ by continually choosing not to allow that network to express itself. Eventually, this will cause the network of memories to fall apart, at which point it is no longer ‘alive’. Thus, life is related to integration, and death to fragmentation. How large does a mental network have to be to become alive? That appears to depend upon the strength of the emotional labels. As a phobia shows, if a memory is sufficiently emotional, then it may only take one or two related memories to cross the threshold into mental life. In other words, it appears that a certain total amount of emotional content is required for a mental network to become alive. 

In summary, mental life has the following characteristics: First, it wants to function. This means being ‘fed’ with a steady ‘diet’ of input which it can process, allowing it to process this information, and giving it a way of producing output. Second, it wants to stay alive. In order to stay alive it must continue to function and it must remain in one piece and not be torn apart. Third, it functions emotionally. It contains memories with emotional labels, therefore when it functions, it will produce emotions. Fourth, it is emotionally vulnerable. If its existence is threatened, then it will produce an emotional pain which goes beyond normal emotion and is distinct from normal emotion. This feeling is related to integration and fragmentation and I refer to it as hyper-emotion.

Saying these various points in the language of cognitive science, mental life acts as an agent because it wants to function. It appears intelligent because it processes information. It contains an essence and must be treated as a unit. It has emotions, and it produces emotions which take precedence over normal feelings. In summary, it will be viewed as a person.

Mentally speaking, the thought and behavior of a human being have their source in the living mental networks that reside within his mind. Normally, the responses of these various living mental networks are combined to produce an integrated response. However, in the case of multiple personalities, it is possible for a living mental network to function in isolation, without being aware of other mental structures. The result is a sort of 2-dimensional person—a mental slice of human individuality. Our studies suggest that the Mercy person is most prone to multiple personalities, because he can use conscious thought to isolate a living mental network, overriding subconscious attempts by the rest of his mind to integrate this living mental network with other living mental networks.

Notice that we are referring here to software modules, which are based in the hardware modules of Mercy thought or, as we will see later, Teacher thought. These software modules provide the seeds for human personality which are then developed into full blown behavior by the other five hardware modules.

Tremlin says that even a child knows that it is possible for individual memories to integrate to form living mental networks and that a living mental network must be treated differently than an individual memory. He refers to this knowledge as intuitive biology: “Humans naturally sort the external environment ontologically. At the most basic level, we know that living things and inanimate objects are fundamentally different. Thinking about the class of living things also prompts a wide range of inferences that apply only to biological organisms, including organic composition, vital functioning, movement, and intentional behavior. Extensive research shows that very young children possess this knowledge, too, and they reason accordingly. One intriguing way that living things are understood is through “essentialism.” What a plant or animal is is based on the attribution of a species-specific “essence” that cannot be changed despite appearances.”

Why do even little children know intuitive biology? Because, it is rooted in Mercy processing, and Mercy strategy is the first module to become active in the mind.

Notice that there is both an external physical definition of life and an internal cognitive definition. External life belongs to the realm of biology. Internal life springs from Mercy processing. In both cases, a similar definition applies. Which one is more basic? That is a hard question to answer. On the one hand, every person begins existence with biological life, which provides the initial programming that forms mental life. On the other hand, the only thing that a person can really know is mental life, because everything that a person senses or knows is being interpreted by his mind.

There is often a mismatch between these two. Suppose that I live in a home for many years and build up a potent network of memories. In my mind, that home has become alive. I will begin thinking of it in personal terms, and tearing it down will make me feel as if someone is dying. But, externally, it is still only an inanimate object. Looking at this from the other direction, it is common for a leader or boss to treat people under him as mere objects without personal feelings. Here, the biological life exists, but there is no corresponding mental life.

Now let us re-examine our initial statement: A mental image of God emerges when a universal theory in Teacher thought touches personal identity in Mercy strategy. We can now understand why a mental image of God forms. It is the result of Mercy strategy interpreting a general Teacher theory in personal Mercy terms.

Suppose that I spend time with another person. Emotional experiences associated with that person will enter Mercy strategy and become mentally connected. Eventually, that mental network will reach the threshold and become alive. That person will now ‘live’ within my mind. I will want to spend time with that person in order to ‘feed’ my mental network of memories which are associated with that person. When that person leaves, then I will feel as if something inside is dying, because something inside my mind is dying.

Therefore, when a new Mercy experience comes along, then the natural tendency will be for Mercy strategy to try to attach that Mercy experience to some living Mercy network of memories. So, if I hear a rustle at night, Mercy strategy will be reminded of a cat, a dog, or a burglar.

Now suppose that some network of memories becomes ‘alive’ within Teacher thought. This will happen if Teacher strategy comes up with a theory which is sufficiently general, because remember that Teacher emotion is provided by generality. Because words provide the basic building block for Teacher strategy, a living Teacher network will want to express itself through speech. Therefore, I will feel driven to read about this theory, think about it, and talk about it.

Teacher based mental ‘life’ is much more difficult to construct than Mercy based ‘life’. That is because Teacher emotions have to be constructed out of generality and they do not arrive ‘prefabricated’ by the physical body. In order to encounter Teacher feelings, Teacher strategy must first encounter a number of mental ‘bricks’ and then form these mental bricks into an integrated mental structure. Only then will Teacher feelings emerge. One sees this illustrated by the student. The school instructor would like his students to be motivated by Teacher feelings, because once a general Teacher theory becomes ‘alive’ then the student wants to learn. But, it takes many words, a lot of facts and repeated theorizing from the instructor and the student before the typical student discovers the Teacher pleasure of a general theory and acquires a general Teacher theory that wants to ‘stay alive’. For some students, this mental transition never occurs and they never discover the joy of learning.

For instance, I distinctly remember when the theory of mental symmetry became alive in my mind. I and my brother had spent some time trying to work out the character traits of the different cognitive styles. Then, I sensed a mental threshold being crossed. The theory began to activate itself in order to explain my behavior. I no longer had to choose to think about the theory. Instead, I would respond in a certain way and a few seconds later I would be reminded of the theory and its explanation for why I had responded in that fashion. After that, it felt as if the theory gradually but uncontrollably ‘ate up’ my mind as it continued to grow in generality by explaining more and more of my behavior. From then on, no matter where I went or what I did, the theory of mental symmetry would eventually make its appearance and provide an explanation for what was happening.

Saying this more simply, if you have to choose to think about a theory, then it probably is not alive. But, if you have to choose not to think about a theory, then it probably has crossed the threshold into mental life.

So how will Mercy strategy interpret a living Teacher network? In personal terms. It will view a general Teacher theory as a type of living person. But, what sort of person? An imaginary person who is not associated with any specific Mercy experience or location, a person who is constructed out of words instead of experiences, a person who relates more to left hemisphere sequences and actions than to right hemisphere facts and experiences, and a general type of person who does not occupy any specific time or location but who rather ties together many different specific events, people and experiences. The end result is a mental image of God.

If a general Teacher theory is to be interpreted by Mercy thought as God, then this general Teacher theory must apply to the part of Mercy strategy which deals with personal identity. This explains why the general Teacher theories of science do not produce a mental image of God. They are objective and do not relate to personal identity within Mercy thought. But, if these theories do touch personal identity in Mercy thought, then the result will be a mental image of God.

In addition, while there can be many different people in Mercy strategy with their individual personal experiences, there is only room for a few general Teacher theories, because a general theory only emerges as many separate items become mentally integrated. Going further, there is only room for one universal Teacher theory, and Teacher strategy will feel emotionally driven to eliminate any items which contradict this single Teacher theory. Thus, if personal identity in Mercy strategy is governed by many unrelated general Teacher theories, this will lead to a belief in many lesser gods. This is what happens with tribalism. Each tribe has its own god—its own system of general Teacher order which governs personal Mercy experiences. In contrast, when a single universal Teacher theory rules over all personal aspects of Mercy thought, the mental result will be monotheism. Therefore, when referring to a mental image of God, I will talk about both general Teacher theories and universal Teacher theories. A general Teacher theory that touches subjective identity is sufficient to produce an image of God, while a universal Teacher theory of the subjective will generate a monotheistic image of God.

Before we continue, I should mention that there is also a non-verbal way of constructing a general Teacher theory. If you look at the diagram of mental symmetry, you will see that Teacher thought and Server strategy are the two left hemisphere modes, and these two modes of thought interact. Server strategy is the part of the mind that handles physical action. If a set of similar Server actions is repeated enough times, then this network of related Server actions will lead indirectly to the formation of a general theory within Teacher thought, one which is based in Server actions and not Teacher words. When a general Teacher theory that is based in Server actions ‘becomes alive’, then this leads to the ritual. A ritual produces Teacher feelings of order within complexity, and if it acquires sufficient emotional intensity, then it too can  ‘become alive’ and want to be expressed by carrying out the appropriate set of Server actions. If a ritual generates sufficient feelings of Teacher generality and becomes associated with personal identity, then it can become a religious ritual which is associated with a mental image of God. 

Because Teacher thought can express itself through speech and Server thought can express itself through action, verbal general theories tend to remain distinct from action based general theories. This appears to be the mental mechanism responsible for creating the MBTI division between iNtuition and Sensing. This is discussed in greater detail elsewhere.

Agency Detection Device

Tremlin says that human belief in God is primarily the result of two mental tools: “It turns out that thinking about gods, while requiring the complete brain system, actually pivots on just a handful of quite ordinary mental tools that are present at birth and mature in the first years of life. The two most important of these mental tools are the Agency Detection Device (ADD), which recognizes the presence and activities of other beings around us, and the Theory of Mind Mechanism (ToMM), which ascribes sentience to agents and tries to interpret their intentions.”

ADD is simply the human tendency to look for a personal cause to events—to ascribe an event to the work of some personal agent. This tendency is so strong that some researchers call it hyperactive: “The propensity of ADD to attribute agency at the slightest provocation has led psychologist Justin Barrett to describe this mental system as ‘hyperactive’ and to refer to it instead as the Hypersensitive Agency Detection Device, or HADD.”

Mental symmetry suggest that ADD results from living mental networks within Mercy thought attempting to activate themselves. Like a habit that is triggered by some environmental clue, a living mental network is triggered when Mercy strategy encounters an experience that relates to the function of that living mental network. For instance, suppose that I am a drug addict, or a former drug addict. Simply seeing drug paraphernalia will trigger an urge to take drugs. Likewise, hearing the snap of a twig in the middle of the night will trigger the living mental network of a wild beast. And, because a wild beast is dangerous and has the ability to kill me and eat me, this living mental network will contain strong emotions and be very easily triggered.

One can tell that such a living mental network has to be constructed, because wild animals who have not experienced harm from humans are not afraid of humans. In other words, living mental networks can also form within the minds of animals and if they have not formed, then there will be no instinctive fight or flight response.

Notice that one of the traits of a living mental network is that it attempts to activate itself. Thus, it is not just an ADD, but rather a hyperactive ADD or HADD.

Thus, mental symmetry agrees with Tremlin and Barrett that ADD is a basic element of human personality. But, mental symmetry provides a different explanation for this trait. Tremlin says that its primary purpose is to provide a quick way of detecting potential predators in the jungle: “I hear a leaf being broken. That may be a lion. Quick, run and hide before we get eaten.” That may be a useful function of this circuit, but mental symmetry suggests that it actually has a cognitive cause and that the fight or flight response is a specific expression of this cognitive function.  

So, why would science think that it is unusual for the human mind to put a personal interpretation upon events and situations? I suggest that it is natural for people to have personal feelings and for individuals to interact in personal terms and that objective science is the unnatural entity because its objective approach has created a mechanistic world that is so emotionally hollowed out that researchers now think that it is strange to have personal feelings.

And it appears that science is slowly coming to this realization. Repeating part of an earlier quote: “the cognitivist, or functionalist, account of the nature of the human mind focuses on symbolic thought processes alone, leaving little room for emotions as a necessary concomitant to all sane cognition. Pyysiäinen...reminds those working in the field that human thought, despite its computational nature, is not a dispassionate, machine-like crunching of data.”

Thus, when objective research ‘discovers’ ADD and the human desire for personal life, then it is simply returning to a concept which it never should have left in the first place: Humans have personal feelings; humans need to interact emotionally and personally and not just objectively and scientifically. Saying this more bluntly, the fundamental abnormality is not a mind with a hyperactive ADD, but rather the mechanistic Western mindset and society with its underactive sense of humanity.

This does not mean that everything should be interpreted personally. Instead, I suggest that the approach of objective science has actually created a mental split between two different emotional processors—leading to two incompatible types of mental detection systems—which now compete with one other. On the one hand, Mercy strategy is trying to put a personal interpretation on events with its HADD. On the other hand, Teacher thought is attempting to place a theoretical spin on events, seeing each situation as a specific example of some general law of nature: “What was that noise? Is that a cat walking on the roof or is that the wind blowing through some branches.” The first is a personal Mercy explanation, the second is a theoretical Teacher reason. Both of these modes of processing are emotional. Both have a tendency to be ‘hyperactive’. These two mental detection systems are viewed as incompatible because the general Teacher theories of science are based upon a mental foundation of objectivity which avoids both Mercy feelings and the Mercy tendency to interpret events in personal terms.

In a tribal society, the Mercy based agent detector is dominant because Mercy strategy is the dominant mode of thought. In contrast, scientific education teaches the student that he should use his Teacher theory detector and not use his Mercy agent detector. Therefore, when the scientifically trained mind observes the average person who is still using his Mercy based agent detector, he views it as something unusual or abnormal.

Mental symmetry suggests that an image of god emerges when both of these detectors are activated simultaneously: “Look, up in the sky. It’s a bird, it’s a plane. No, it’s Superman.” In other words, “Look, it’s a Mercy based agent. It’s a Teacher based mechanical construct. No, it’s both of these together.”

Theory of Mind Mechanism

In order to understand how ToMM, or theory of mind mechanism, functions, we need to look at the mental module of Perceiver thought. Perceiver strategy is a secondary form of thought which is based upon Mercy experiences and which goes beyond Mercy thought. Perceiver thought organizes Mercy experiences into categories based upon similarities and differences. The most basic type of Perceiver categorizing is object detection and object recognition. At a higher level, this same process of categorizing Mercy experiences builds facts, knowledge, truth, and belief.

Perceiver thought, like Mercy thought,  begins functioning at a very early age, but only in areas of thought where Mercy feelings are minimal and Perceiver categories are obvious. If Mercy feelings are too strong, then Perceiver thought will be overwhelmed and be unable to function. That is why Perceiver thought functions first in the area of object recognition. An object stays in one piece, it is solid and does not change its shape, and it is distinct from other objects, making it easy for Perceiver thought to place it into a fixed mental category. In addition, a physical object does not emote. Therefore, it produces no strong feelings that can overwhelm Perceiver thought.

The result is what Tremlin calls intuitive physics: “Intuitive physics refers to tacit knowledge about basic mechanical properties and principles that adhere in the world of physical objects, such as solidity, motion, and causality. Experiments with very young children confirm that they understand a set of rules that govern material objects—rules that differ from those that govern mental concepts and living things—and, like adults at a magic show, they are surprised when these rules are violated. Researchers such as Renée Baillargeon and Elizabeth Spelke have found that infants are capable of reasoning about the physical properties of objects involved in simple events (for example, Spelke 1991, Baillargeon 1995). Babies only a couple months old take into account the continuity and solidity of objects and have a range of expectations about how such qualities apply. For example, infants grasp the continuity of shape and make assumptions about partially occluded objects. They understand that solid objects collide with each other and do not normally pass through other solid obstacles.”

This means that Mercy memories are subject to two different forms of processing. In areas where emotions are strong, Mercy thought dominates, living mental networks emerge, and intuitive biology rules. In areas where feelings are minimal and objects are obvious, Perceiver thought functions and intuitive physics is in charge. As I quoted from Tremlin earlier, “At the most basic level, we know that living things and inanimate objects are fundamentally different.”

Perceiver thought divides Mercy experiences into distinct categories. This means that, by its very nature, Perceiver processing is taking Mercy memories apart and putting them back together. Mental life does not like being disassembled and reassembled, because this triggers the hyper-pain of mental fragmentation. This leads to the fundamental mental distinction between life and objects. Life is ruled by hyper-emotion where Perceiver thought dare not tread. Objects lack mental integration and thus can be taken apart and put back together by Perceiver thought. Imagine, for instance, the child picking up the family cat and trying to pull off a leg. Obviously, he will not pull it off. Instead, the cat will scratch and run away. In contrast, if the child tries to take a toy apart, then there will be no emotional reaction and the attempt will probably succeed.

As Tremlin puts it, “Most importantly, people do not employ the idea of essences when thinking about artifacts. Material objects can be put to new uses and therefore can be thought of in totally new ways. Things made of plastic blocks, for example, can be broken apart and remade into completely different objects with no sense of lost continuity.”

But mentally speaking, a person is composed of many different and often conflicting living mental networks. Perceiver thought will naturally attempt to categorize and organize these various mental living networks. This Perceiver meddling is emotionally permissible as long as it only analyzes these mental living networks and does not attempt to dissect them. And that is where intuitive psychology comes in. Tremlin says that: “Intuitive psychology refers to the natural attribution of mental states to other people and the cognitive skills involved in the ongoing interpretation of those states. As the first chapter discussed, we are all consummate psychologists who spend large amounts of time and energy attempting to read the minds of others, especially as their beliefs and desires pertain to ourselves. But working from a theory of mind also helps to explain the causes of behaviors and events in the world more generally, particularly within the social networks that define human life. A large body of research in child development reveals the extent to which a mentalistic perception of the world is present at birth and the degree to which it  matures in a few short years.”

Intuitive psychology is the result of interaction between Mercy thought and Perceiver processing. That is because living mental networks cannot be seen. They can only be inferred. And that inferring requires a lot of Perceiver processing. In essence, Perceiver thought will do as much organizing and categorizing as it can without being overwhelmed by Mercy emotions.

There is a dynamic relationship between Perceiver confidence and Mercy emotion. Whenever Perceiver thought manages to function successfully in some emotional area, then Perceiver confidence in that area will rise and Perceiver thought will be able to tackle more emotional issues. In contrast, when Perceiver thought is overwhelmed by emotional pressure, then Perceiver thought will become less able to handle emotional pressure in that area of thought.

Defining Religious Thought

When mental processing begins to deal with the integrity of living mental networks themselves, then I suggest that one crosses the boundary from psychology to religion. Religion deals with life and death issues. It specializes in topics that involve fragmentation and reintegration. When religion talks about physical death and life after death, it is discussing the fragmentation and reintegration of external, biological life. When it refers to the creation of the universe, a coming time of judgment, or the existence of heaven and hell, it is talking about physical fragmentation and reintegration. And, when religion addresses the topic of living mental networks and how they can be constructed and reconstructed, it is dealing with the psychological aspects of fragmentation and reintegration. Because all of this thinking and discussing is being done by the mind, if one understands the mental mechanisms behind living mental networks, then it is possible to use cognitive analysis to examine what is being said by religion.  

It is the approach to mental life which distinguishes God from Mickey Mouse. Tremlin says: “As one considers the persistence and preponderance of counterintuitive concepts like gods, one cannot help but note that people everywhere entertain a large variety of extraordinary concepts that, though they are not thought of as “gods,” still seem very much like them...So why aren’t these kinds of concepts, which share all the hallmarks of successful minimally counterintuitive concepts, “religious”? How is it that non-natural agents like Santa Claus and the boogey man remain the stuff of whimsy rather than taken as reality?”

It is possible for Mercy memories related to Mickey Mouse to become a living mental network within my mind, but Mickey mouse does not address issues of personal integration and fragmentation. Mickey Mouse cannot help me with the hyper-pain of mental fragmentation. He cannot ease my way through the major transitions of life which threaten the integrity of my living mental networks. And, he cannot promise that my living mental network of personal identity will survive the great biological fragmentation of death. If Mickey Mouse did address these issues, then people would begin to deal with him in religious ways.

Tremlin touches upon this emotional connection but does not recognize the concept of mental life: “For Pyysiäinen, the answer to the ‘Mickey Mouse problem’ lies precisely at the intersection of cognition and emotion: it is emotional variables that produce the crucial difference between ordinary counterintuitive representations and explicitly religious ones. Pyysiäinen argues that counterintuitive agents evoke strong emotions because they are represented in such a way that thinking about them triggers hardwired emotions like fear, sadness, happiness, and anger.”

Cognitively speaking, how is it possible for the mind to handle the emotional hyper-pain of mental fragmentation? How can Perceiver thought be allowed to take mental life apart and put it back together? I suggest that the only way is by replacing one type of mental integration with another. Mental life cannot handle falling apart. But, if something else holds it together when its original source of integration falls apart, then it will remain in one piece, just as a person can survive falling off the cliff if he is attached to a rope that holds him up. And what else exists that can hold mental life together? Teacher thought, Teacher theories, Teacher emotion, and Teacher-based living mental networks. But, this transition from Mercy-based mental life to Teacher-based mental life can only occur if Teacher-based life exists and if it touches Mercy-based life. And, what is a general Teacher theory that touches personal Mercy identity? An image of God. Thus, religion says that the only way to handle personal trauma is by calling on God. Why calling on God? Because a general Teacher theory is based in words.

Before we continue, I should point out that we have just described a cognitive basis for some of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. Christianity says that a person is incapable of allowing truth to apply to his personal identity, because the hyper-pain of vivisecting Mercy-based living mental networks overwhelms Perceiver confidence. But, if a person calls upon God, then God will give him the ability to work out the facts about himself, and God will put him back together when he falls apart. Cognitively speaking, the living mental network of a universal Teacher theory makes it possible for personal identity to handle the vivisection of Perceiver logic without being either emotionally overcome or remaining in a fragmented state. In fact, Christianity states that it is this specific mental process that defines what it means to be a Christian.

Summarizing, religion deals with the building and rebuilding of mental living networks within Mercy thought; it addresses the issue of hyper-emotion. It does this by introducing the concept of God. An image of God is a general Teacher theory that relates to living mental networks within Mercy thought. A Teacher-based living mental network provides an alternative source of mental integration when Mercy based structures are threatened with fragmentation. Religious doctrine describes the type of Teacher content that is required for Teacher strategy to assist, protect, and transform Mercy identity; religious practice expresses the various ways in which Mercy strategy attempts to contact, influence, and receive assistance from Teacher thought.

Returning to Tremlin, we have seen that intuitive psychology is the result of interaction between Mercy and Perceiver thought. Tremlin says that intuitive psychology is the basis for ‘theory of mind’ or ToMM: “Theory of mind is called a ‘theory’ because ToMM appears to operate on the basis of internal assumptions about how minds work (Wellman 1990), assumptions described in the previous chapter as ‘intuitive psychology.’”

In simple terms, ToMM is Perceiver thought categorizing aspects of Mercy based mental life, assuming the existence of living mental networks, and doing as much categorizing as it can without disrupting existing living mental networks: “Our personal belief that agents operate mentalistically is referred to as “theory of mind,” and the mental tool responsible for this perception is called the Theory of Mind Mechanism, or ToMM. A complete picture of the nature and significance of agents is the result of ADD working together with ToMM. As ADD examines the objects we encounter, those displaying characteristics of agents activate ToMM, which in turn initiates a rich array of inferences about what agents are like. It also engages some powerful cognitive skills for interacting with them. As with ADD, ToMM functions rapidly, effortlessly, automatically, and mostly nonconsciously.”

Perceiver Reasonableness

Tremlin states that ToMM functions effortlessly, automatically, and mostly nonconsciously. This brings us to the concept of Perceiver reasonableness. Mental symmetry suggests that each of the four simple styles (Perceiver, Mercy, Server and Teacher) has an ‘internal world’ in a section of the frontal lobes and ‘automatic part’ in the back of the cortex. Automatic Perceiver thought is in the right parietal lobe, automatic Server in the left parietal, automatic Mercy thought in the right temporal lobe, and automatic Teacher in the left temporal lobe.

Automatic thought functions exactly the same way as the internal world of thought, but it works effortlessly, automatically, and mostly nonconsciously. It analyzes incoming information and provides a suggested answer along with a possible emotion or label of certainty. For instance, suppose I ask you what you ate for breakfast last Tuesday. You may respond that you probably ate bread and that you might have had some eggs, but you are not really sure. You may also add that they tasted fine. That is the type of information which automatic thought provides. It is vague, containing neither certain facts nor strong emotions. But, it does provide the raw material for conscious thought. The person who ‘drifts through life’ is relying primarily upon automatic thought, permitting himself to be driven by vague desires and guided by partially defined facts.

Tremlin says that certain brain regions are associated with theory of mind: “Baron-Cohen, for instance, distributes the components of his mindreading  system throughout a three-node brain circuit including the amygdala, superior temporal sulcus, and the orbito-frontal cortex, associating ToMM specifically with the latter structure.” According to mental symmetry, these three regions comprise the three major aspects of Mercy thought: the right amygdala is the Mercy processor, the right orbito-frontal cortex is the Mercy internal world, and the right superior temporal sulcus is the automatic aspect of Mercy identity.

Other research, though, suggests a combination of Mercy and Perceiver involvement: “Over the past decade, a highly consistent observation in cognitive neuroscience has been the demonstration that this human ability to mentalize about others engages a set of brain regions that includes medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), temporo-parietal junction, and superior temporal sulcus as well as temporal poles and amygdala.” Mental symmetry suggests that the MPFC is the location for internal world Mercy-Perceiver interaction and that the tp junction is where automatic Mercy-Perceiver interaction is occurring.[1]

When Perceiver thought establishes facts about personal Mercy experiences, this lead to the formation of self-image. The actual memories about personal identity reside within Mercy thought, but the facts about myself and other living people are worked out by Perceiver thought.

There are two main ways of defining self-image, and that will be discussed later. However, at its most basic form, self-image is simply the set of emotional Mercy experiences that continue to reappear most frequently. Self-image begins with my physical body, because that is the object which always reappears in my presence and which is the constant source of my emotional experiences; every time I look in the mirror, I see the same body. Every time I touch a part of my physical body, I get a similar physical sensation.

The automatic aspect to self-image may be related to what neurology calls mirror neurons, because these fire when one person is observing the behavior of another, and these neurons are located in the inferior parietal region, a region of automatic Perceiver thought that is close to the Mercy temporal region. (Again there is the question of lateralization, which is less pronounced in the monkey than in the human brain.) In the frontal lobes, neurology has discovered that self-image is definitely related to the medial frontal cortex, the area where core facts about personal identity are stored.

For Perceiver strategy, automatic thought provides a sense of reasonableness. Reasonableness is like a set of concentric circles. Whatever lies within the inner circle of reasonableness is probably true. Whatever lies outside of the outer ring is probably false. Thus, at current prices, it is reasonable for gasoline to cost $3 a gallon, for that price falls within the inner circle of reasonableness. Gas might cost $6 a gallon, but that is unlikely. However, it is totally unreasonable for gas to cost 30 cents a gallon or $15 a gallon. The Perceiver person is consciously aware of Perceiver reasonableness, but Perceiver reasonableness also functions in every mind.[2] In addition, it plays a major role in the thinking of the Facilitator person, which leads us to the idea of the counterintuitive concept.

Facilitator Thought

If you look at diagram of mental symmetry, you see that Facilitator thought is the final mental strategy. Facilitator strategy can be compared to the mixing board in a recording studio. All of the various inputs from the performers pass through the mixing board, and the sound engineer adjusts the level of each signal in order to produce the desired sound. Similarly, Facilitator strategy observes the rest of the mind as it functions and is able to adjust the relative levels of each mode of thought. The function and wiring of the thalamus corresponds precisely to this sort of behavior, leading one to hypothesize that Facilitator processing occurs within the thalamus.

This has two major implications, which we will be exploring in more detail later on. First, a recording engineer cannot function without performers. If no one is singing, playing, or talking in the recording studio, then there is nothing for the recording engineer to do. Similarly, Facilitator thought requires a functioning mind. If the other six modes of thought are not operating, then there is nothing for Facilitator thought to do.

Now imagine the predicament of the Facilitator person. He is conscious in a mode of thought which requires a functioning mind, but like every other person, he begins life with a mind that is not functioning. Therefore, he is strongly driven to get the rest of mind operating, just as a recording engineer is driven to fill his studio with performers so that he has something to mix. How can the Facilitator person get the rest of his mind to work? He can get his content from the environment, he can turn to other cognitive styles for help, or else he can use conscious thought to program the rest of the mind.

As a result, the Facilitator person is strongly driven to bring order and structure to his existence. Other cognitive styles can survive in an environment of semi-chaos; he can not. If the mental activity which he requires to function is not present, then he will be motivated to produce it. Thus, one finds the Facilitator person over-represented in scientific research, in bureaucracies, and in various forms of philosophy and psychology.  

The second major implication is that Facilitator strategy acts as the mental filter. Suppose that one of the singers is out of tune, or that there is some noise on one of the recording tracks. The recording engineer will decide that this input is unreasonable and filter it out. And what tells Facilitator thought what is and is not reasonable? Perceiver circles of reasonableness indicate which facts are reasonable while Server reasonableness (in the left hemisphere) determines which actions are reasonable. Perceiver and Server thought generate the circles of reasonableness while Facilitator strategy uses them. These circles of reasonableness provide the context for Facilitator thought.

This means that it is the rest of the mind which produces the context for Facilitator thought while Facilitator thinking is limited to the context which the rest of the mind provides. Within this context, Facilitator strategy will remove ‘outliers’ which are deemed to be unreasonable and use mixing and balancing to adjust the relative levels of signals which fall within the bounds of reasonability.

It appears that statistical analysis is a mathematical expression of Facilitator thought, because it looks at all the items in the current context, eliminates any spurious data, and then uses some form of mixing to come up with an answer. Similarly, if one examines the behavior of the Facilitator person, then one sees a similar form of mental processing being expressed.

The Counterintuitive Concept

And that brings us to the concept of the counterintuitive concept, which figures strongly in Tremlin’s book. In essence, it is Perceiver reasonableness extended in one dimension by Facilitator mixing. Facilitator awareness is limited to the current context. The only way that Facilitator thought can go beyond the current context is by taking one of the levels on the mixing board and either pushing it past 100% or else below 0%. Saying this more mathematically, Facilitator thought can extend beyond the current context through extrapolation. Notice that we are looking here at how Facilitator thought can use Facilitator processing to go beyond the existing context. It is also possible for the rest of the mind to alter the context, or provide a different context for Facilitator thought.

In Tremlin’s words: “Perhaps the best way to demonstrate the structure of a counterintuitive concept is to build one, something that is exceedingly easy to do. The first step is to think about any ordinary object—a human, a horse, a house. Forming a mental concept of objects like these is simple not only because they are real things but also because we know intuitively what such things are like...The second step in building a counterintuitive concept is to contravene one or more of the expectations about the way an otherwise ordinary concept ought to be. This too is simply done. Take a horse and make it invisible. Imagine a house that speaks. Talk about people who cannot die. The way intuitive expectations come together to form ordinary concepts under normal circumstances makes it easy to re-make them into extraordinary, counterintuitive ones.”

Tremlin also says that a counterintuitive concept can be generated in one of two ways, one corresponding to Facilitator filtering, and the other to Facilitator blending: “There are two principal ways to render a counterintuitive concept. The first way is to violate intuitive expectations associated with a given ontological category. For instance, the primary counterintuitive property of vampires is that they live forever (unless killed in a special way). This is counterintuitive, of course, because vampires are people and people, like all living things, are expected to die. The concept of a vampire violates a major intuitive expectation associated with the ontological category Person. This particular violation is used in many common counterintuitive concepts. The second way to make a counterintuitive concept is to transfer the expected properties of one ontological category to another. Animals are not expected to speak, at least not in English or Portuguese, so the idea of an animal that speaks like a human involves the transfer of a particular expectation about people onto the ontological category Animal.”

While Facilitator thought is only conscious in the Facilitator person, it acts as a mental filter for every individual. It may be functioning subconsciously, but it is still functioning, and it will automatically filter out concepts which are deemed to be unreasonable. This explains, for instance, why people will believe a lie if the lie that is told is big enough, because it is unreasonable that a person would defraud others to such an extent. Similarly, if a truth is big enough, it will also be rejected, for it is unreasonable that a single individual should come up with so much new information.

On a related note, when it comes to facts, the Perceiver person is not subject to this process of automatic mental filtering. That is because Perceiver thought sets the context for Facilitator thought. Therefore, whenever the Perceiver person comes up with a new set of facts, then this creates a new definition of reasonableness for Facilitator thought. If you examine the behavior of the Perceiver person, you find that he is much more willing to accept facts from unreasonable and unusual sources. This explains both why I have taken an unusual path in my research on human personality and why this path has been rejected as unreasonable by most ‘normal’ researchers.

However, if this reasonableness filter is violated in only one dimension, then information has a strong chance of passing the Facilitator filter. Facilitator thought will look at the mixing board, notice that only one of the channels is sending an error signal, and decide that the information is plausible. That describes the counterintuitive concept. It is something that passes the Facilitator filter in all except one or two dimensions.

But, why would the mind want to accept information that is unreasonable? Tremlin implies the answer to this question: “Day in and day out, people encounter ideas best described as fantastical. The fiction we read is often full of imaginative and abnormal characters. Many of the movies we watch feature otherworldly landscapes populated by creatures with improbable skills. Our holidays and festivals open up mundane time and space to unearthly beings ranging from the charming to the monstrous. And we hardly need to create special opportunities to entertain the fanciful. As every parent knows, the minds of children are playgrounds for fabulous ideas, and the human penchant for the strange and peculiar is retained in the thought life of adults.”

Summarizing, a counterintuitive concept is exciting, imaginative, abnormal, fabulous, opens up the mundane, and satisfies the human penchant for the strange and peculiar. All of these traits describe another of the seven modes of thought, known as Exhorter strategy. Exhorter thought provides the motivation for the mind. It is the source of imagination. It provides mental excitement and energy. It also requires novelty. Whenever a situation remains the same, then Exhorter strategy gradually habituates and loses interest in it. Exhorter thought appears to be associated with the chemical dopamine, and provides the initial processing within the basal ganglia.

If you look at the diagram of mental symmetry, you see that Exhorter strategy connects to Mercy and Teacher thought. This is because Exhorter drive, imagination, and energy appear to have their source in the emotional memories and living mental networks that are located within Mercy and Teacher thought.

Thus, we are dealing with a mental conflict between Exhorter and Facilitator thought. Exhorter strategy is attracted to the bizarre and the counterintuitive, while Facilitator strategy filters this out as unreasonable. The solution is to find something which is minimally counterintuitive, reasonable enough to satisfy Facilitator filtering while novel enough to provide Exhorter excitement.

In the words of Tremlin: “While this combination of intuitive and counterintuitive properties is essential to well-formed counterintuitive concepts, so too is the balance between them—it makes a difference just how counterintuitive a concept is. Concepts with too many counterintuitive properties, though perhaps recognized as highly creative, will nevertheless be rejected as nonsense. A successful counterintuitive concept must remain sufficiently familiar to be intelligible and generate further inferences. Boyer calls the delicate balance between intuitive and counterintuitive properties the ‘cognitive optimum’ position, and, through experiments conducted with Barrett and other colleagues, has isolated the general parameters of cognitively optimal counterintuitive concepts (Barrett and Nyhof 2001, Boyer and Ramble 2001). Barrett refers to concepts with this right mix of intuitive and counterintuitive properties as ‘minimally counterintuitive’ (MCI) concepts because it is now clear that the most widespread counterintuitive ideas are those with a small number of violations.”

I would conclude that the counterintuitive concept is extremely significant in the spread, the acceptance, and the teaching of concepts that deal with the supernatural. But, I suggest that other deeper mechanisms are at play in the formation of such concepts. This is consistent with the analysis of Tremlin because he limits his discussion to the propagation and acceptance of counterintuitive concepts but does not look at any of the concepts themselves.

Mental symmetry also suggests that the concept of counterintuiveness should be expanded to include the role played by Teacher thought and Teacher theories. If one views the concept of God from purely a Mercy perspective of natural, human behavior, then it is quite counterintuitive. However, if one adds Teacher thought to the mix, then this redefines reasonableness to make the concept of a universal, verbal Being seem intuitively reasonable.

However, we have seen that while Mercy thought develops naturally in the childish mind, Teacher understanding only grows through the process of education—be it religious or secular. Thus, if an individual is to be taught about religious concepts, then these ideas will only be allowed to pass his Facilitator filter and enter his mind if they are couched in ways that are minimally counterintuitive—from a personal, Mercy perspective. However, if these religious concepts lead to the development of a general Teacher understanding, then this will alter the reasonableness filter to accept a new range of concepts as reasonable.

For instance, think of the concept of quantum mechanics. According to the layman’s rules of intuitive physics, it describes particle behavior that is totally unreasonable. Therefore, the average person would reject the very concept of quantum mechanics as utterly counterintuitive. However, it is possible to describe these unreasonable concepts in terms of a general Teacher theory. Therefore, what the Mercy-based man-on-the-street rejects as unreasonable, the Teacher-based physicist accepts as totally reasonable.

But, how can religious concepts be described as a general Teacher theory? That is precisely what I claim to do in my analysis of Christianity—explain fundamental Christian doctrines (as well as many aspects of other religions) as an expression of the theory of mental symmetry. And, the very existence of a general Teacher theory that explains subjective emotions and Mercy-based living mental networks will lead to the mental concept of a universal, non-corporeal, superhuman, godlike being.

Before moving on, I should mention that I first encountered the concept of a counterintuitive concept two weeks ago when reading Tremlin’s book. It is a significant concept which I have not considered before, and which I as a Perceiver person would not normally come up with. However, it also fits quite well into the theory of mental symmetry. This illustrates the type of independent confirmation which I find myself repeatedly encountering when examining the research of others.

In Summary

We have now looked at Tremlin’s three fundamental concepts:

1) ADD (Agency detection device) is the result of Mercy processing. When a sufficient number of emotional Mercy experiences connect together, they become ‘alive’ and form an operating network. A living mental network wants to be ‘fed’ information. Whenever a new experience enters Mercy strategy, it reminds Mercy thought of similar experiences. If one of these similar experiences is part of a living mental network, then that mental network will attempt to activate itself in order to be ‘fed’ with that information. For instance, suppose that I have a habit of scratching my chin. Whenever I think of my chin, my hand will automatically reach up and start scratching.

But, the mind contains two emotional modes: Mercy thought and Teacher thought. It is also possible for a living mental network to form around a general Teacher theory, but it takes a lot more effort for this to happen, because general Teacher theories must be constructed before strong Teacher emotions become apparent. When a general Teacher theory becomes alive, it will also want to be ‘fed’. How does one mentally ‘feed’ a theory? By thinking about situations and examples which illustrate or express that theory. Because words form the basic building blocks of Teacher thought, the easiest way to do that is by talking about the theory.

Notice that a general Teacher theory is easy to ‘feed’. In order to activate a verbal Teacher theory, it is sufficient to talk or write about it. Similarly, a non-verbal ritualistic Teacher theory can be activated by performing the appropriate actions. How can one tell that a general Teacher theory is ‘alive’? It will want to be activated. If it is based in Teacher words, there will be an emotional need to talk about it. If it is rooted in Server actions, one will feel that it is necessary to carry out this ritual regularly.

2) ToMM (theory of mind mechanism) is the result of interaction between Mercy and Perceiver thought. The actual emotional memories of people and experiences are stored within Mercy strategy. Perceiver strategy organizes these memories into categories by looking for similarities and differences, leading to the formation of self-image, both for me, and for people which I encounter. Self-image generally consists of a number of partially related living mental networks. ToMM uses Perceiver thought to classify and recognize these various living mental networks and attempts to identify which living mental networks are currently being activated within another individual.

Some of this processing occurs automatically in the back of the brain, in the area where Perceiver and Mercy thought interact (and possibly in the left hemisphere as well where Teacher and Server thought meet), but the cognitive aspect of ToMM occurs in the medial prefrontal cortex, where the internal worlds of Perceiver strategy and Mercy strategy interact.

3) A counterintuitive concept comes from applying Facilitator thought to Perceiver reasonableness. Perceiver strategy organizes Mercy memories into categories. When Perceiver thought thinks about a certain factual category, this establishes a mental context. This mental context then brings to mind all of the facts and experiences which fall within this context, building a circle of reasonableness for Facilitator thought. A circle of reasonableness provides a guide for Facilitator filtering by establishing the set of acceptable ranges for each parameter, allowing Facilitator thought to accept or reject incoming information.

When a new fact comes in, it reminds Perceiver thought of related facts, establishing a mental context. Facilitator thought then compares the various aspects of this new fact to see if they fall within acceptable ranges. If all of these aspects lie well within acceptable boundaries, then the new fact will be accepted as intuitively reasonable. If some of the aspects lie near the boundaries of acceptability, then the fact will be regarded as unreasonable but possible. However, if one or more of the aspects lie outside of the acceptable boundaries, then the fact will be judged as counterintuitive and probably rejected.

4) A minimally counterintuitive (MCI) concept is one that strikes a balance between Facilitator reasonableness and Exhorter excitement. All of its aspects except for one or two lie within acceptable boundaries. In other words, if you look at the mental mixing board, then only one or two of the lights are flashing red while all of the other lights are a solid green. Because most of the lights are green, Facilitator thought judges it to be plausible, and because some of the lights are flashing red, Exhorter strategy finds it novel and exciting.

A counterintuitive concept is most likely to pass the Facilitator filter if either Facilitator adjusting or blending can be used to make the flashing red lights turn green. Adjusting turns a light green by moving that specific parameter either past 100% or below 0%. For instance, Superman is a normal person who can jump tall buildings. Thus, his ability to jump is an extrapolation of the normal human ability. If you take the ‘ability to jump’ level and set it to 2000%, then Superman’s abilities make sense. Blending involves more than one concept. When some aspect of a new fact extends beyond the current context, then that aspect may trigger another context. (When words trigger multiple Perceiver contexts, this is the mental mechanism behind the pun.) Facilitator blending takes an element from the secondary context and mixes it with the primary context. For example, Superman can fly. Flying reminds a person of birds. Therefore, Superman is a normal human who also has an ability which belongs to birds.  By mixing this aspect of human with bird, the offending red light can be turned green.

5) A mental image of God emerges when a general Teacher theory touches personal identity in Mercy thought. For the image of God to achieve true cognitive potency, this general Teacher theory must be as universal as possible, and this general Teacher theory should have become a living mental network.

How can one tell if a mental image of God is based in a living mental network? Simple. One can choose to ignore a mental image of God that is not ‘alive’. In contrast, an image of God that is mentally alive will ‘hunt you down’. Like the theory of mental symmetry that became alive in my mind and kept intruding into my daily life in order to explain my behavior, an image of God that is mentally alive will keep intruding mentally into more and more aspects of personal existence.

One is reminded of King David’s complaint in Ps. 139: “O LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways.  Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.” That is what it feels like when one’s mind is being ‘eaten up’ by a mental image of God that is ‘alive’ and based in a sufficiently general Teacher understanding.

Tremlin’s Description of God

Now that we have gone over Tremlin’s basic concepts, let us move on to his discussion about God and religion.

First of all, Tremlin agrees that religion involves a set of emotions which go beyond normal feeling: “What is more, religious ideas are not simply interesting and memorable—a great many ideas fit that bill. Nor are supernatural concepts like gods merely fanciful notions that people just happen to like to talk about. Cognitively optimal concepts are a dime a dozen, populating everything from children’s stories to state holidays to local folklore. Religious ideas, however, engender mental ascent and stir serious emotional responses. God concepts are for many people eminently believable and worthy of considerable commitment. So there is a point at which the conversation regarding infectious ideas shifts from quantitative measurements of cognitively optimal characteristics to the psychological links between ideas and things like motivation and behavior. Few other outcomes of thought are as capable of garnering such dedication and devotion, of prompting such prepossession and passion.”

Tremlin suggests that two primary functions are related to the mental formation of an image of God: “First, of all the objects in the environment, agents matter most. The connection?—gods are agents. Second, humans understand the world, and particularly agents, in light of minds. The connection?—gods have minds. These facts are exceedingly trivial, but they are also exceedingly explicative. They tell us exactly what kind of things gods are and how we think about them.”

Using the language of mental symmetry, a god acts like a living mental network. It is ‘alive’ and it processes information intelligently. Perceiver thought examines the operation of a general Teacher theory and notices that it falls into the Perceiver category of living mental network. And, this Perceiver category then establishes the context for the Facilitator reasonability filter.

Saying this more explicitly, Tremlin says, “It’s quite easy to reach the conclusion that, of the available ontological categories, a god is best understood as Person. Evidence drawn from comparative religion strongly supports this supposition. Gods are never merely Animals, Plants, Natural Objects, or Artifacts.”

How does the mind build the concept of a person? When a sufficiently integrated network of emotional Mercy memories comes together, that network becomes the mental equivalent of a person: it wants to stay in one piece; it needs a steady diet of compatible information; it wants to be activated regularly; it processes information; it responds emotionally; it responds with pain when its integrity is threatened; it dies when it is torn apart. Perceiver strategy observes this from the sidelines and concludes that there is a mental category known as ‘person’.

The problem is that mentally speaking it is possible to build a living mental network using either emotional Mercy experiences or general Teacher theories. However, the only external people that we know are humans based in Mercy experiences.[3] Therefore, when a general Teacher theory begins to touch personal identity in Mercy thought, the result is mental confusion, because the general Teacher theory appears to act intelligent and personal but it is not a normal human being. Perceiver thought notices that it falls into the Perceiver category of ‘person’ but also sees that it does not have the normal attributes of  person.

This idea of an intelligent being who is not a normal human is fundamental to religious thought: “As Pascal Boyer has come to see, the notion of superhuman entities and agency is the only substantive universal found in religious ideas (1994a: 9). If a ubiquity of gods is indeed the case, then it would seem that contrary to the dominant views of religion just mentioned, gods are in fact foundational and it is religion that is instrumental.”

What makes an image of God both appealing and necessary to the human mind is that a being which is based in a universal Teacher theory has a universal awareness which extends beyond the finite, limited awareness of Mercy-based humans. Tremlin talks about this at some length in his discussion of strategic information: “One of our intuitive expectations about other minds is that they have limited, incomplete, and imperfect access to information. Everyone has false beliefs. No one knows everything. No one possesses all of the available strategic information in a given situation—that would require the ability to read minds in the literal sense. It’s because people are naturally represented as having fallible, limited minds that social exchange is both possible and necessary. As a result, we spend a lot of time limning the boundaries of other people’s knowledge. That is not the case, however, when it comes to the supernatural agents that matter. Gods are treated as social agents and therefore activate the same cognitive systems that guide social interaction with other humans. This is, in part, why gods are so easily and so naturally conceptualized. But whereas human agents are assumed to have limited access to strategic information, supernatural agents are represented as possessing full access to strategic information.”

However, the only thing that a Teacher-based living mental network shares with a Mercy-based human-like living mental network is that it is a living mental network. It is the theologian who comes to this realization, because he is the one who studies the general Teacher theory which is responsible for creating a mental image of God, which leads him to work out the various properties of a Teacher-based living mental network: “Theologians especially seek to do away with inevitable but unfortunate anthropomorphic ideas by distancing gods from humans. Yet no matter how different theologians make gods, they never abandon the idea that gods have minds. ‘Anthropologists know that the only feature of humans that is always projected onto supernatural beings is the mind.’”

The average person on the street has only encountered human intelligent life. Therefore, when he encounters a Teacher theory acting in intelligent ways, he interprets it as a counterintuitive Mercy based life form which is a Facilitator extrapolation of a normal human being: “It is worth noting, though, that anthropomorphism is still at play even when we attribute minds to nonhuman sources. Mind is not a generic concept. We know of only one kind of mind—a human mind—and it’s this sort that we attribute to other agents. We imagine that our pets understand us because we give them human understanding. Geometric shapes “chase” each other because that is the kind of action human minds instigate. Gods know as humans know, they just know more.”

The scientific researcher observing from the sidelines with his objective Teacher theories tends to put a Mercy-based spin on this theological struggle and may even suggest that nothing more exists: “Like previous writers, Guthrie sees anthropomorphism as basic to religion, but he also claims forthrightly that anthropomorphism explains religion. The most pressing need from a cognitive standpoint is to explain anthropomorphism itself. With that done, religion can be understood for what it is, systematized anthropomorphism.”

But, if the researcher probes deeper, he realizes that a mental image of God has its cognitive source in an overarching worldview which goes beyond finite specific humanity to something far more universal: “Nevertheless, one of the recurrent attributes of the supernatural beings that people pay attention to is a supernatural epistemology. In every culture the gods that matter know the truth, keep watch, witness what is done in private, divine the causes of events, and see inside people’s minds.”

What both the researcher and the average person on the street don’t realize, though, is that the theologian is being driven by the Teacher emotions of a general theory. Because the non-theologian lacks these Teacher feelings, he does not find theology emotionally appealing, and because he does not find it emotionally attractive, he tends to disregard the general Teacher theories of religion as irrelevant: “Here, again, is another way in which theologians and philosophers of religion are fundamentally irrelevant: their profundity and their abstract, tightly reasoned statements of the properties and logic of gods are of little practical value to us common folk. Many people seem to feel no need for a general, theoretically consistent expression of the qualities and powers of supernatural agents. What all people do have are precise descriptions of how these agents can influence their own lives, and what to do about that.”

For the average non-theological religious believer, these two concepts of mental life struggle to coexist: “In keeping with the mind’s natural categories of thought, Barrett and Keil found an overwhelming tendency for subjects to think of “God” as exhibiting Person-like characteristics rather than theological attributes. Though questionnaires revealed that the participants shared similar theological ideas about what gods are supposed to be like, these theological ideas were not used in their online reasoning. For example, the participants agreed that God is all knowing, omnipresent, and atemporal, yet when reasoning about situations within individual stories they represented God with physical and psychological limitations. Participants readily characterized God as having to accomplish one task at a time, having a limited focus of attention, having fallible perception, and having a single location in space and time.”

The Separation between Theology and Practice

Why does this cognitive dissonance exist? This question is discussed in greater detail elsewhere and goes beyond the scope of what we will cover in this essay but I will provide here a brief summary. I suggest that the separation between verbal understanding and practical comprehension has its basis in the mental division between words and actions, which is the cognitive cause for the MBTI® division between iNtuition and Sensing. Words form the basic building blocks for Teacher theories, and Teacher thought can express itself through the use of speech. Server strategy, in contrast, deals with actions and can express itself through the use of physical movement. Because both Teacher and Server thought have their own private entrance to the outside world, there is no mental need for them to interact. As a result, the natural mental state is for words to be unrelated to actions, and it takes extensive mental programming to bring these two together, a process which I analyze in detail elsewhere.

When a person studies a theoretical subject, Teacher strategy within his mind feels that it is building a general Teacher theory involving universal concepts. In addition, the student of theology feels that he is studying the various attributes of a universal being. However, Teacher thought is only dealing with verbal descriptions of universality, and not with universality itself. Normal life, with its vast repertoire of individual Mercy experiences, is connected with the Server actions of Sensing, which remain distinct from the theological words of Teacher understanding.

This natural mental dichotomy between what a person says and what a person does makes it possible to reprogram the mind by first imparting a verbal theory Teacher thought and then changing Server actions to line up with this new Teacher understanding. As Thomas Kuhn points out in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, this process of words first followed by actions later is used when teaching scientific subjects. Scientific instruction begins by teaching the laws of nature using the symbolic Teacher language of mathematics and logic and then backs up this verbal instruction with extensive hands-on problem solving, forcing the student of science to add Server actions to his Teacher words.

It appears that Christian instruction uses this same mental process of beginning with verbal understanding and then using this as a starting point for changing action. Theologically speaking, this corresponds to a person being ‘verbally declared righteous’ before he actually becomes righteous.

Thus, when Barrett and Keil uncover a cognitive dissonance within the mind of the typical Christian believer, I suggest that they are taking a mental snapshot of the intermediate student, who knows the theory but has only started to put it into practice.  

It is possible to analyze why so many ‘theological students’ seem to be stuck at this intermediate stage, but that too goes beyond the scope of this essay. Stated briefly, I suggest that it is because Christian doctrine itself is at the intermediate theoretical stage of soft science. One could compare a soft science to a mental conglomerate, with the ‘stones’ of partial Teacher theories embedded within a ‘matrix’ of Mercy-based anthropomorphism.

However, the purpose of this essay is not to analyze the reason for this cognitive dissonance, but rather to focus upon identifying the two sides of this mental conflict. Therefore, let us continue.

Tremlin and the Two Views of God

Tremlin take several pages to look at the theological view of God versus the experiential concept of God. His final conclusions may be slightly different than those of mental symmetry, but he describes both Teacher thought and Mercy thought quite accurately, and he emphasizes that these are the two mental modules which are involved in forming a person’s mental image of God. Based upon the findings of Tremlin and his colleagues, one can conclude that an image of God requires a combination of Mercy and Teacher thought and that there is an inherent struggle between these two modes of thinking—two concepts which lie at the heart of mental symmetry’s analysis of religion.

Tremlin says that cognitive science has discovered that there are two main types of mental processing, which he contrasts in table form:

Features of the CEST dual-processing model.

Rational System

Experiential System

1. Deliberative, analytical

1. Automatic, rapid, effortless

2. Medium of language

2. Holistic, nonverbal form

3. Relatively affect-free

3. Intimate affects, highly compelling

4. High-level abstractions

4. Crude, concrete conceptions

5. Brief evolutionary history

5. Long evolutionary history

The ‘Rational System’, I suggest, corresponds to Teacher thought. It is a rational system because it uses Perceiver facts to build general Teacher theories. It is deliberate because Teacher theories have to be mentally constructed. It is analytical because Teacher strategy is driven by structure and order and is located within the analytical left hemisphere. Because words form the basic building block for Teacher theories, it uses the medium of language. It is relatively affect-free because it is not driven by personal Mercy emotions. It deals with high-level abstractions because Teacher strategy builds general theories. And one could says that it has a brief evolutionary history because one does not find this type of thought in animals. Even in humans, it must be learned and does not emerge immediately in the infant mind.

The ‘Experiential System’ corresponds to Mercy thought. It is an experiential system because Mercy strategy deals with experiences. It is automatic because the physical body programs the infant mind with emotional experiences. It is rapid because Mercy emotions do not have to be constructed. Instead, the physical body provides Mercy strategy with experiences which already have emotional labels. It is effortless because the mind naturally thinks in Mercy terms: Mercy processing is consistent with physical experience and the childish mind is organized around Mercy processing. It is holistic because Mercy strategy operates associatively, mentally associating in a nonverbal way from one experience to another. It is the location for subjective emotions and intimate affects which are highly compelling because they relate to personal identity. It is crude because it makes snap judgments based upon subjective impressions. It deals with experiences or concrete conceptions. And, saying that it has a long evolutionary history is equivalent to saying that animals also exhibit Mercy processing.

Two main factors are missing from this list. First, it appears that cognitive researchers do not realize that Teacher thought is also emotional. Mention emotion to the average person and he immediately thinks of Mercy emotion. In fact, it took us years to realize that Teacher emotion exists. The key was learning that the brain contains two amygdalae, one in each hemisphere. The right amygdala lies within the experiential right temporal lobe, while the left amygdala is buried within the verbal left temporal lobe. Thus, we concluded that there had be an emotion associated with words, and when we examined the behavior of the Teacher person, we discovered this emotion.  

Second, I should emphasize that both Teacher and Mercy thought act as elements within larger mental circuits. Teacher thought contains words and general theories, but there is also a mental circuit of abstract thought which works with Teacher thought and which manipulates general Teacher theories, a circuit which I refer to as ‘intellectual Contributor thought’ or Ci. Similarly, Mercy strategy contains experiences and personal identity, but there is also a mental circuit of concrete thought which works with Mercy thought and which attempts to improve personal Mercy experiences, a circuit which I call ‘practical Contributor thought’ or Cp. Ci and Cp are both technical circuits, which begin to function when a field of research or practice becomes sufficiently advanced. Using the circuit of Ci corresponds to what Kuhn calls ‘normal science’, while the circuit of Cp is used whenever performing a professional skill. The circuit of Cp is also used in a more symbolic way in the field of commerce. Because Tremlin’s analysis of religion deals with the subject at a more basic level, these two mental circuits do not need to be included and will not be discussed further in this essay. However, they do play a major role in my analysis of Christianity.

Tremlin calls the Rational System explicit and the Experiential system implicit. He points out that the Rational System and the Experiential System correspond to the two different ways in which people view God: “Theological representations are explicit, analytical, and abstract while basic representations are implicit, intuitive, and inferentially rich. In terms of the computational process each type of representation engages, theological representations employ slow, reflective thinking while basic representations provide for fast, reflexive thought. This is because theological representations require conscious activation while basic ones are unconscious and automatic.”

As I have already mentioned, Tremlin points out that these two views of God often coexist within the mind of a religious believer: “Barrett’s work shows that people simultaneously hold in their minds two parallel, often incompatible representations of gods, one an explicit, ‘theological-level’ representation learned through instruction, and the other an implicit, ‘basic-level’ representation rooted in intuitive expectations about intentional agents...Theological representations are explicit, analytical, and abstract while basic representations are implicit, intuitive, and inferentially rich.” Thus, people can view God from either a verbal, theoretical Teacher perspective or else from an experiential, practical Mercy viewpoint.

And Tremlin explicitly connects Teacher and Mercy type thought with these conflicting views of God and suggests that a similar mental distinction is at work in science: “Connecting dual representation with dual processing can elucidate Barrett’s discovery of theological correctness and perhaps instances of duplicitous thought in nonreligious domains as well, such as differences between “folk” explanations for natural events and scientific ones.”

This is all consistent with mental symmetry, which suggests that both religious or secular knowledge can be approached from either a personal, experiential Mercy perspective or a theoretical, abstract Teacher viewpoint.

But which of these two forms of processing is more basic and which one is in charge? Tremlin answers that question: “People use intuitive expectations about how a mind works, which are available automatically since they are constantly activated to make sense of people’s behavior at all times. When the task allows for conscious monitoring, we get the theological version; when the task requires fast access, we get the anthropomorphic version. This not only shows that the theological concept has not displaced the spontaneous one but also that it is not stored in the same way. Very likely the theological concept is stored in the form of explicit, sentencelike propositions. In contrast, the spontaneous concept is stored in the format of direct instructions to intuitive psychology, which would explain why it is accessed much faster.”

In the language of mental symmetry, Mercy thought is in charge. The verbal Teacher theory is an afterthought. Mercy thought has been programmed by the ‘intuitive psychology’ of childhood personal Mercy and Perceiver interaction, whereas Teacher strategy has been programmed through the verbal teachings of religious theology. And, Mercy and Teacher thought are two different mental modes which store information in different ways.

And which of these two modes of thought is more helpful to me as a human being? According to Tremlin, the Mercy view of God has more computational utility:“One of the distinctions between the two types of representations is that the theological are abstract while the basic are inferentially rich...Theological gods are learned propositions with little functional utility; they do not lead to further inferences. In Sperber’s words, ‘the cognitive usefulness of religious and other mysterious beliefs may be limited.’”

In other words, abstract Teacher theory does not relate to the normal world of Mercy experiences. As I briefly outlined, mental symmetry suggests that this is because Teacher theories are being built upon words, and that there is a natural mental split between Teacher words and the Server actions of normal life, a split which corresponds to the division between iNtuition and Sensing.

The Mercy view of God also has more psychological relevance: “But equally significant to the ‘relevance’ of god concepts are the noted contrasts between theological representations as propositional and affect-free and basic representations as experiential and highly affective...Representations produced via this processing system come complete with emotional coloring that makes them more evocative and, as a result, psychologically relevant.”

Tremlin then states that Teacher-based religion will always lose out to Mercy-based religion: “Religion that becomes detached from daily life or promotes abstract theological concepts and practices will become irrelevant to adherents and undergo either revision or decline. Certainly adherents within such traditions can be expected to visibly display theologically incorrect thought and behavior.”

And, he backs up this claim by looking at the ‘small group movement’ in Christian churches: “A decade ago a team of fifteen scholars headed by sociologist Robert Wuthnow conducted the first in-depth study of the extent, functioning, strength, and implications of “small groups,” a religious phenomenon that has exploded on the American church scene during the last twenty years.”

The mental result of the small group has been to replace Teacher-based theoretical religion with Mercy-based personal religion: “the study also reveals that small groups create a context in which explicit representations of gods are rapidly replaced by implicit concepts. Intriguingly, people even frequently vocalize their personal struggles with thinking about and relating to ‘God’ according to the official concepts used by their churches. Wuthnow’s study thus further supports both Barrett’s experiments with theological correctness and the proposal made here that theological concepts are not only expendable but also rife with cognitive tension. As Wuthnow’s work describes, the god concepts used in small groups are eminently practical and eminently personal.”

Tremlin then makes a rather puzzling statement. So far, one would get the impression that Mercy-based religion will naturally win out over Teacher-based religion, and yet Tremlin informs us that theological, Teacher based religions have taken over the world: “In spite of these findings, doctrinal religion has clearly monopolized the marketplace. In terms of cultural success, the winning religions today are in fact those that have become the most institutionally and doctrinally developed.”

Before we keep going, let us review: There are two main forms of thought: Teacher strategy uses words to build abstract theories while Mercy strategy uses emotional experiences to construct personal identity. God and religion can be viewed from a theological Teacher-based perspective or a Mercy-based experiential perspective. I suggest that this is because a mental concept of God and religion requires both of these two perspective working together. In the mind of the typical religious believer, though, these two viewpoints are not integrated but rather juxtaposed. Depending upon the specific situation, one of these two viewpoints will dominate.

Experiential Mercy type thinking occurs naturally within the human mind. Abstract Teacher type thinking must be taught. As a result, the average person prefers Mercy thought to Teacher thought, and gravitates to Mercy-based religion instead of Teacher-based religion. However, if one analyzes the successful religions of the world, one finds that they are Teacher-based while also containing elements of Mercy-based thought.

If Theology is so Lousy, then Why did it Win?

Tremlin’s information makes sense and is consistent with the theory of mental symmetry. However, if one steps back and looks at the big picture, then one becomes confused. Tremlin spends many pages describing the conflict between theological religion and folk religion, outlining many cognitive reasons why people find folk religion superior to theological religion. Then, he informs us in a single paragraph near the end of his book that theological religion has taken over the world.  

So, how did the religious loser become the religious winner? Tremlin points us in the direction of the solution by suggesting that successful religion actually combines both Mercy thought with Teacher thought: “It must also be mentioned here—for an erroneous impression has perhaps been made—that doctrinal religion is not necessarily inchoate, cold, or irrelevant. If it were it simply wouldn’t exist. Doctrinal traditions like the current world religions provide a wide variety of practices that give intuitive processing free reign in personal religious expression. Prayer, meditation, chant, confession, offerings, worship, and a lot of profoundly experiential rituals help to keep doctrinal religion relevant to those who practice it.”

Or, stated more explicitly: “This suggests, second, that the most stable and durable religions are those that gravitate toward a balance of explicit and implicit forms of religiosity. What we see, then, is a kind of “cognitive optimum” equation operative at the level of cultural systems. Private religious belief and practice are motivated and sustained by relevance. If public religion is to continue to be acquired and transmitted, it must conform to and foster this same functional requirement. Religious systems that fail to maintain this balance are likely to be revised or abandoned.”

But, why does religion need to combine Mercy and Teacher thought? According to Tremlin, Teacher based doctrinal religion provides external organization: “Again, Pyysiäinen concurs that highly doctrinal religion is ‘constantly threatened by the fact that its concepts seem irrelevant and are difficult to use in everyday reasoning;’ and yet, ‘only doctrinal religions have the potential to spread beyond the boundaries of the local community and unite large masses of people.’”

But, how can mere organization be powerful enough to completely dominate the potent personal emotions of natural religion? The only possible answer is that the abstract theories of theology are capable of creating an emotion which is just as potent as the personal emotions of Mercy-based religion. But, these Teacher emotions must be constructed. They are an acquired taste and not a natural preference. Why do religions build external structure and organization? I suggest that this is because external structure produces internal feelings of Teacher order-within-complexity—as does any bureaucracy or large organization. Thus, it appears that Tremlin is confusing the effect of external organization with the cause of internal Teacher emotion. According to the cognitive approach to religion, it is the internal cognitive motivation which is most fundamental.

Besides, what motivates Tremlin himself to study the cognition of religion? Teacher emotion. Like all researchers, he feels good when he comes up with a general theory that works. Teacher emotion is an acquired taste and when it comes to the topic of CSR, Tremlin has acquired this taste—he has constructed a mental network within Teacher thought.

But, when it comes to the general Teacher theories of theology, then it is clear that Tremlin has not acquired a taste. According to Tremlin, theology is irrelevant and has nothing to say about cognition: “This, of course, is to enter into the realm of theology—an interesting enterprise but one wholly irrelevant to understanding the way minds think.” In fact, Tremlin suggests that what Christian theology tells us about God makes no sense from a cognitive perspective: “So from the perspective of cognition, the real attributes of gods turn out to be rather different from those provided by theology, such as the list of divine properties drawn from Christianity in the last chapter. A cognitive perspective on the connections between god concepts and intuitive knowledge reveals that the properties that make supernatural agents important are social in orientation, practical in nature, and less dramatic than the divine characteristics that are so often dogmatic.”

As for theology in general, Tremlin concludes that it is basically ‘soothing background noise’: “It is sometimes all too obvious that the religious system works quite well without depending to any significant degree upon such theological notions. Sometimes theology seems to do little more than provide soothing background noise. Even if this is an unnecessarily harsh characterization of theology’s place in religious systems, at least it must be said that such notions are not the motor that drives religious ideas and the practices these ideas inform, nor does it play any significant role in the growth and decline of religious traditions.”

As for the concept of God itself, Tremlin is confident that it has nothing to do with Teacher generality and instead is only relevant in terms of personal Mercy experiences: “Once again it turns out that, from the perspective of cognition, the characteristics that make gods noteworthy are not necessarily the same characteristics that have been so rigorously detailed by theologians. Just as the properties that make god concepts plausible are the ordinary rather than the extraordinary ones, so the counterintuitive properties that make gods salient to people are not found in any primer of theology. Gods, like religions, are practical concerns. Gods matter, we’ll see, primarily because they hold personal, not cosmic significance.”

Tremlin’s Real Concept of God

However, if we analyze this subject from a cognitive perspective, then it appears that there is more to the picture than initially meets the eye. If one applies Tremlin’s definition of God to what he writes in his book, then it is possible to conclude that Tremlin really does believe in a theological type of God that is based in a general Teacher theory. Let us remind ourselves first of Tremlin’s definition: “Foundational to any discussion of religious representations is the insight that gods are, first and foremost, intentional agents.”

And, elsewhere, “It turns out that thinking about gods, while requiring the complete brain system, actually pivots on just a handful of quite ordinary mental tools that are present at birth and mature in the first years of life. The two most important of these mental tools are the Agency Detection Device (ADD), which recognizes the presence and activities of other beings around us, and the Theory of Mind Mechanism (ToMM), which ascribes sentience to agents and tries to interpret their intentions.”

These statements make sense and they are consistent with the theory of mental symmetry. Because of ADD, the mind looks for a personal cause for events, and because of ToMM, the mind treats that implied person as intentional and intelligent.

Let us begin our cognitive analysis by examining the word Engineer, which Tremlin uses seven times in his book in one form or another. I have a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering, and so I believe that I am officially qualified to speak about Engineering and what it means to be an Engineer and do Engineering.

The most fundamental statement that can be made about this field is that Engineering requires intelligent, intentional agents—at a very high level of detail and precision. Engineering systems don’t design themselves. Systems are designed by agents. And, these agents must be intentional and intelligent—they must know what they want to design and they must choose to implement this design.

Tremlin specifically refers to people like me in one of his uses of the term Engineer: “With the advent of direct data exchange between computers—a marvelous idea that has changed all our lives—engineers solved the problem of communication by designing modems that allow one computer to receive  information sent by another.” In addition, Tremlin refers to his general area of research as a sort of reverse engineering: “Put another way, explaining the contents of culture requires the anthropological equivalent of reverse engineering.” And, I think that it is safe to say that Tremlin is also an intentional, intelligent agent.

Therefore, in the five other cases where Tremlin uses the word engineered or Engineering, one can safely conclude that they also refer to intentional, intelligent agents:

“Even the simplest brain, like each bit of living flesh, is a marvel of engineering with an astounding evolutionary history.”

“By anyone’s lights, the modern human brain is extraordinary; a marvel of organic engineering whose blueprint is only partly understood. Yet all of it, from its peculiar shape to its powerful calculations, is the result of selected adaptations accumulated over the course of hominid history, a testimony to the handiwork of evolutionary processes.”

“[the] massive modularity [of the brain] better falls in line with the engineering methods of natural selection.”

“The evolutionary engineering of the past was completed without regard to present circumstances or with an eye to enabling cognitive skills beyond those necessary to solve problems within the Pleistocene environment.”

“As chapter 2 strove to demonstrate, evolutionary and developmental psychology provides compelling evidence that human brains are genetically engineered to do all kinds of work from the moment of birth. From intuitive ontology to face recognition to language acquisition, human beings arrive hardwired with an array of mental tools—what David and Ann Premack call “original intelligence” (2002)—designed to make sense of an otherwise confusing world.”

In a similar vein, if I counted correctly, then Tremlin uses the word design 48 times in his book to describe the work of evolution. The dictionary defines design as: 1.  to work out the structure or form of (something), as by making a sketch, outline, pattern, or plans 2.  to plan and make (something) artistically or skilfully 3.  (tr) to form or conceive in the mind; invent 4.  (tr) to intend, as for a specific purpose; plan. This clearly describes the work of an intentional, intelligent agent.

Thus, we conclude that Tremlin believes that evolution is an intentional, intelligent agent. Why? Tremlin provides the answer: the Agency Detection Device, together with the theory of mind: “ADD is everything a device designed for its purpose should be: rapid, effortless, and intent. ADD constantly scans the environment for agents, and it is eager to find them. The power and tenacity of ADD make frequent appearances in daily life. In addition to instantaneously identifying the people and creatures that cross our paths, we are also prone to make up agents based on minimal input from any of our senses.”

Thus, a person like Tremlin views the vast spectrum of biological life and ADD in his mind responds by seeing an intentional agent at work. It is interesting that Tremlin says that evolution has designed the ADD, but he does not appear to realize that it is his ADD which is mentally prompting him to make this statement: “So evolution has designed a mental mechanism, ADD, to quickly detect and respond to agents.”

Similarly, Tremlin says that evolution came up with the solution of theory of mind, but he does not realize that his description is ascribing a theory of mind to evolution: There was a problem with human interaction. Evolution noted this problem and came up with a solution. “Human beings are complex systems. At the same time, cohabitation requires some means for explaining and predicting human behavior. Evolution’s solution is theory of mind. Attributing mental states to others is the best way to understand their actions. Theory of mind doesn’t just ascribe desires, intentions, thoughts, and motives to others; it also assumes that mental states cause their activities.”

A Cognitive View of Evolution

The point I am trying to make is that Tremlin’s cognitive theory of religion applies equally well to Tremlin’s concept of evolution. In other words, like religion, the theory of evolution does not involve a special kind of thinking. Instead, just like religion, it too can be analyzed in terms of cognitive processing—using precisely the same form of analysis which Tremlin applies to religion.

As Tremlin says, “We need not search for special cognitive processes to account for ‘special’ kinds of thinking. What people think is explained by how they think. We can account for a great range of human ideas by connecting them to the kinds of hardwired programs and processes described above...This book, of course, is concerned with explaining religious thought, a mode of thinking long deemed ‘special.’ Yet CSR is demonstrating that religious ideas and behaviors—some of the most sublime uses of the human mind—are eminently tractable.”

As we know, the typical scientist will tell you that evolution is not a religious concept and that evolution has nothing to do with an image of God. That may summarize the words that are being said, but remember that there is a difference between verbal doctrine and practical doctrine. As Tremlin quotes Barrett, our analysis must “move beyond individuals’ professed beliefs about gods to the kinds of ideas about gods they use in daily life.”

Elaborating from a quote used earlier, “The question for Barrett and Keil was, which “prior beliefs” crop up most frequently, professed theological attributes of gods or more natural, Person-like ones? In keeping with the mind’s natural categories of thought, Barrett and Keil found an overwhelming tendency for subjects to think of ‘God’ as exhibiting Person-like characteristics rather than theological attributes. Though questionnaires revealed that the participants shared similar theological ideas about what gods are supposed to be like, these theological ideas were not used in their online reasoning.”

Thus, the theory of evolution may have the ‘theological’ attribute of being impersonal and mechanical, but one notes an overwhelming tendency for people, including Tremlin, to think of evolution as exhibiting person-like characteristics rather than theological attributes.

Mental symmetry suggests that this is because the same underlying cognitive mechanisms are at work, because both religious theology and the theory of evolution are based in a universal Teacher understanding of the subjective. Theology begins as a general theory of the psychological aspects of personal existence, while evolution starts as a general theory for the biological aspects of life. Does Tremlin claim that evolution is a universal Teacher theory of human behavior? Definitely: “As Robert Wright says, ‘if the theory of natural selection is correct, then essentially everything about the human mind should be intelligible in these terms.’”

And, according to mental symmetry, when a general Teacher theory affects personal identity in Mercy thought, then this produces a mental image of God. However, notice that the god of evolution begins from a different source than a traditional image of God. Tremlin tells us that “There are three categories of intuitive knowledge that are almost universally accepted and which illustrate well the nature of the operating system guiding human thought: intuitive biology, intuitive physics, and intuitive psychology.”

Most mental images of God are related to intuitive psychology: “What Barrett discovered, however, is that his subjects preferred to ask god to act psychologically. Because god is implicitly conceptualized as Person-like, the mechanistic limitations that define personhood incline those who pray to ask god to act in the same way that people get things done—by influencing psychological states.” The believer in God may then extend his concept of Deity to believe that God is also responsible for the natural laws of physics and that God also created biological life.

Evolution, in contrast, began as a general Teacher theory describing the biological aspects of human life. It was extended to describe the physical development of the universe; not only did humans evolve, but the universe evolved as well. And, evolutionary psychology is now extending the theory of evolution to the psychological aspects of personal existence, the area of thought traditionally regarded as the primary domain of religious gods: “Answering these kinds of questions requires the aid of the powerful new discipline called evolutionary psychology, a recent synthesis of evolutionary biology and cognitive psychology.”

 Tremlin describes this extension from biology to psychology more explicitly: “Nevertheless, the main point being expressed here is that we come to learn, as well as what we come to learn, are both grounded in biological inheritance. The human computer arrives packed with both the knowledge it takes to immediately begin interpreting the world and the mechanisms necessary for assimilating new information.”

Thus, it appears that Tremlin’s cognitive theory of religion leads us to conclude that Tremlin implicitly views the theory of evolution as a type of god. If this is the case, then one should be able to go through the various traits which Tremlin ascribes to an image of God in his book and find that they line up with Tremlin’s description of evolution, with the proviso that because evolution began as a general theory of biology, we will find many of these divine traits expressed in biological form.

Before we continue, does this mean that I am trying to ‘explain evolution away’? According to Tremlin, applying cognitive reasoning to a ‘special topic’ such as religion should not feel emotionally threatening: “From a cognitive standpoint, religion is neither revelatory nor enigmatic nor inextricable. Religion is simply one outcome of faculties of thought common to all normal brains. Explaining religion, however, is not to explain it away—a fear of those who eschew the naturalistic enterprise. Religion remains extremely noteworthy, and precisely for the reasons that it is so often newsworthy.”

I agree that cognitive reasoning should be applied to religion and I have spent several years applying cognitive reasoning to the religion of Christianity and have written a book on the subject. I am simply insisting that the same cognitive reasoning be applied to the theory of evolution.

First, the theory of evolution is optimally counterintuitive—from the Teacher perspective of a general theory. It is not intuitively reasonable to say that God stepped in and created the universe, because that is not consistent with what we experience today. What do we experience? Natural processes. Therefore, evolution takes intuitive concepts of natural processes and extends them in the direction of time. Like the giant who is like a human in every way except for his size, the process of evolution uses normal natural processes in every dimension except for time. Can an amoeba evolve into a human? No, that is unreasonable. But, evolution says that if enough time is added to a natural process, then one can explain the amoeba turning into the human.  

Second, evolution has a knowledge of strategic information. Humans are finite beings with limited knowledge. God has the big picture and can use this knowledge to make global sense of limited human decisions: “What make gods simultaneously important and extraordinary is what they know and how much they know. The quality and degree of gods’ knowledge, in turn, have consequences for human cooperative behavior...Whereas human agents are assumed to have limited access to strategic information, supernatural agents are represented as possessing full access to strategic information. In Boyer’s nomenclature, supernatural beings that matter are ‘full-access strategic agents.’ The counterintuitive properties of gods—that they know strategic information that has consequences for social interaction—renders gods immediately salient. Gods know what matters to human interaction, so gods matter to humans.”

The god of evolution possesses immense strategic knowledge because it can take the small random mutations experienced by the individual and put them together in a way that leads to progress for the species as a whole. The individual does not know which mutations are helpful or harmful. But, evolution does. In Biblical language: “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” What is the purpose of the god of evolution? The evolution of life.

That brings us to our third point. Evolution is teleological. It is goal oriented. In the words of Tremlin, “Inevitably, natural selection moved some trajectories of mental development in the direction of improved cognition over basic life support. As brains get better, so do their problem-solving abilities and the benefits that accrue to their owners.”

As Tremlin points out, approaching existence from a teleological perspective causes the mind to believe in the existence of God: “Intuitively, humans create purposes for things, and things for purposes. And because useful designs and apparent purposefulness make the most sense in relation to intentional agents, teleological reasoning evokes inferences provocative to both Christian apologists like Paley and cognitive scientists like Kelemen, who asks if, as children, humans might not be ‘intuitive theists.’”

Fourth, Tremlin’s cognitive version of the theory of evolution is personal. Like most abstract theology, the theory of evolution may seem to have little connection with personal existence, but Tremlin emphasizes that it does affect how I behave today: “At first glance there may seem to be little point of contact between evolutionary history and the thoughts you are entertaining at this very moment. Even if the ins and outs of natural selection are accepted, it remains hard to see how ideas we humans ponder here in the twenty-first century have anything to do with the thoughts of strange hominids eking out a living millions of years ago. Likewise, it is difficult to clearly relate the physical structures and functions of the brains that we carry around inside our heads with the amorphous ideas that spring so naturally from them. Yet the connections between ancient past and present day, and between gray matter and invisible thought, are direct and paramount. A central tenet of cognitive science is that we cannot understand what we think until we understand how we think. And how we think is the result of mental mechanisms molded by selective adaptation over many millennia. Intriguingly, it is possible to speak of the ‘history of ideas’ in biological terms.”

Fifth, Tremlin views evolution as the source of morality. Tremlin states, and mental symmetry agrees, that an image of God is closely connected with a sense of morality, a connection which is analyzed elsewhere: “As full-access strategic agents, supernatural beings are represented not only as knowing everything that is important but also as maintaining a moral perspective on human behavior. Around the world, gods are consistently represented as concerned with the morally relevant aspects of social interaction, attentive to people’s inner attitudes and outward behaviors.”

But, when discussing morality, Tremlin is careful to point out that he believes that morality comes from evolution and is not associated with any religious concept of God. The fact that he assigns personal morality to the theory of evolution is another indication that Tremlin mentally regards evolution as deity: “Now, concepts like “values” and “morality” are used very loosely here because they do not intend to signify some set of divinely endowed ideas of right and wrong described by moral theologians as the ‘natural law’ or culturally contrived codes of behavior. As discussed in chapter 1, human beings are indeed endowed with moral instincts but our moral instincts are precisely that—instincts—naturally selected attitudes and behaviors related to the demands of group living and species-typical.”

Sixth, evolution judges the choices of individuals. As Tremlin points out, “People tacitly acknowledge that right and wrong behaviors are, or at least ought to be, followed by corresponding consequences. They also expect the proper response to be doled out by the affected party. With limited-access strategic agents, injustices may go undetected, but gods see the whole picture. As a result, gods reward moral behavior and punish wrongdoing. They are easily connected with the bounties and blessings (rich harvests, victorious battles, healed diseases, pay hikes, and so on) as well as with the curses and calamities (droughts, famine, foiled plans, sickness, death, and so forth) that befall individuals and groups.”

And how does evolution judge personal choice? Through the biological method of ‘survival of the fittest.’ “For every successful mutation there are many more that prove flawed and fail to propagate. But this is the basic blueprint for constructing a modern human.” The god of evolution sees the beneficial mutation and rewards it with the blessing of evolutionary development. The individual may not have made a conscious choice to mutate, but biologically speaking, a choice was made, and choices have consequences.

Seventh, evolution concerns itself with the biological aspects of both hidden motive and public behavior: “Around the world, gods are consistently represented as concerned with the morally relevant aspects of social interaction, attentive to people’s inner attitudes and outward behaviors. Ancestors know a hidden source of pollution in the village and who is responsible for it. The Buddha is aware of the subtle abuses of monks. The biblical god sees the sins of the heart as well as those committed in public.”

What is the biological side of social interaction? Mating. Sex describes what is ‘committed in public’, but it is the genes which contain the ‘sins of the heart’, for it is a person’s DNA which determines whether his progeny will survive or not.  

Eighth, evolution defines the individual as part of a group, another task which Tremlin assigns to an image of God: “Because full-access strategic agents are equally relevant to all people, their presence extends the boundary of interested parties to an entire community of believers. Through their link with general moral intuitions but especially with local conventions, gods can easily serve as rallying points for group identity, where shared commitments quickly broaden social contacts and strengthen social cohesion.” A normal religious image of God usually assigns a human to the appropriate psychological group, but distinctions can also be made on the basis of biological, racial differences. The theory of evolution states that the god of evolution is responsible for defining all of the various categories and groups of biological existence, including human life.

So, does this mean that evolution is wrong? That is not the primary issue here. As Tremlin points out, it is possible to approach religion from a cognitive viewpoint without looking at the content of religion itself. Similarly, it is also possible to approach evolution from a cognitive perspective without examining the content of evolution itself. However, when one uses Tremlin’s cognitive definition of god to analyze Tremlin’s description of evolution, one concludes that, cognitively speaking, the theory of evolution has created a mental image of God. This may not have been the case when the theory of evolution was limited to the realm of biology, but now that is being extended to both the physical and psychological realm, then it has definitely crossed over from a mere Teacher theory to a mental image of God.

And, like any mental image of God, it can cause a believer to make strong, universal, irrational statements such as: “Evolution is interactive; it takes place at the interstices between an organism and its environment. Its method is natural selection, the only process capable of producing complex design, and its means is adaptation through genetic mutation, changes in form or function that better solve survival problems. None of this need involve oversight or foresight.”

As an Engineer who has studied the process of producing complex design, I must insist that evolution is not ‘the only process capable of producing complex design.’ And, if you want to see what happens when complex designs are produced without sufficient ‘oversight or foresight’, simply search on the Internet for Engineering disasters.

Or for one more quote, “The biological computer, model Modern Human Brain, arrives preinstalled with an operating system prepared by evolution that contains all the instructions for human computation as well as programs for processing new input. Like computer models whose operating systems are the same right out of the box, MHB 1000s run on MHB 1.0.”

I know enough about computer software to recognize that random mutations do not create operating systems. Instead, software errors are the prime enemy of operating systems. The software industry goes to extreme lengths to ensure that no random bugs are introduced into a program. Here is an enlightening article on the obsessive steps which NASA takes to ensure that its computer programming is as free of error as possible.


As Tremlin so ably points out, religious behavior may be irrational, but there is a logical, cognitive reason for this irrationality. And this is where Thomas Kuhn’s book on The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is very helpful. As a trained scientist, Kuhn has studied how human minds work with general Teacher theories or, as he refers to them, paradigms. His findings fit well into the theory of mental symmetry and I put together a 56 page analysis of his book here. Kuhn says that science cannot exist without a paradigm. Scientists may say that their paradigms are based in logical facts and that they will change their paradigm if a counterexample is ever found, but in practice scientists cling to their existing paradigms even when counterexamples multiply. An existing paradigm has to be falling apart before scientists will consider abandoning it and they never let go of an existing paradigm unless a new and better paradigm emerges.

In other words, we are back to the issue of mental networks. When a scientist grabs on to a paradigm, it eventually becomes within his mind a mental network in Teacher thought. Like any living mental network, it does not want to die. The only way to voluntarily let go of one mental network is to replace it with another. And, an existing mental network generally has to start falling apart before an individual will even consider leaving it for another.

The theory of evolution is a paradigm. A paradigm is a general Teacher theory that produces positive Teacher emotion. It feels good to understand. As Tremlin both states and implies, the theological paradigms of religion are not emotionally satisfying. Even religious believers tend to shy away from religious doctrine in order to embrace religious experience.

But, why is religious doctrine not emotionally satisfying? I suggest that it is too counterintuitive, not from a Mercy viewpoint but rather from a Teacher viewpoint. Mercy counterintuitiveness deals with Perceiver facts and their reasonableness. Teacher counterintuitiveness involves Server sequence—how things work.[4] The general Teacher theories of science tells us how the natural world works. It defines which Server sequences are and are not reasonableness. The theory of evolution is minimally counterintuitive from a Teacher viewpoint, because it accepts the existence of natural process in all areas except for time. Religious theology, in contrast, is not reasonable because it postulates the occurrence of all sorts of unnatural processes which are scientifically unreasonable. In fact, most religious teaching does not even consider the concept of time and sequence, whereas evolution is all about time and sequence.

However, it is possible to approach this topic with a different general Teacher theory—the paradigm of cognitive science. Tremlin suggests that the paradigm of cognitive science can be used to explain the concepts of God and religion. We have just seen that the paradigm of cognitive science, as Tremlin states it, can also explain the concept of evolution. Going further, I suggest that the paradigm of cognitive science, as described by the theory of mental symmetry, can include Tremlin’s concept of cognitive science, the primary content of the theory of evolution, the fundamental content of religious doctrine, and in addition, the primary content of many other facets of human behavior. Thus, by picking the most general paradigm, it is possible to redefine what is intuitively obvious to include much of what is currently being rejected as counterintuitive.

What the previous paragraph describes is a major aspect of Teacher processing. When the Teacher person thinks, he works with generality. He will temporarily lift up one Teacher memory in order to see if it can be used to explain other Teacher memories. According to Tremlin, the theory of evolution is the most general. It is the universal theory which is used to explain everything else, and Tremlin never attempts to use either cognitive science or religion to explain the theory of evolution. In Tremlin’s hierarchy, cognitive science lies below evolution, whereas religion is merely an expression of cognitive science. In contrast, I suggest that cognitive science should be placed at the top. As Kant pointed out, everything that we know or experience is interpreted by our minds, and the functioning of the mind is guided by wiring of the mind. Religion and the theory of evolution can both be explained in terms of cognitive science.  

Therefore, we will take the rest of this essay to use cognitive science, in the form of the theory of mental symmetry, to explain the primary content of both evolution and Christianity. I should emphasize that much of this analysis goes beyond the concepts of standard cognitive science to include personality traits that were discovered by observing the behavior of various cognitive styles. However, because there is such extensive agreement between the theory of mental symmetry and the findings of cognitive science in the areas where they do overlap, this suggests that studying personality types is a valid approach.

Facilitator Thought and Evolution

Whenever I use mental symmetry to analyze some topic, the first question I ask is which mental strategy is being used. So, is there a mental mode which thinks in terms of small changes and adjustments? Yes, it is Facilitator thought, which we have already discussed at some length. Having made this initial connection, the next step is to compare Facilitator thought with evolution in more detail.

The theory of evolution says that evolution occurs through the three main mechanisms of natural selection, random mutation, and genetic drift. Natural selection says that organisms which are more fit will survive, whereas those that are less suited will die off. In processing terms, natural selection is a form of local optimization, picking the best of the current crop while abandoning the runt of the litter.

The Facilitator person excels at local optimization. He is continually using balancing to emphasize streams of thought which are deemed to be more favorable while using filtering to eliminate elements which are unacceptable. As we saw earlier, it is this Facilitator filtering which is mentally responsible for rejecting concepts which are counterintuitive. For instance, the Facilitator person has a natural tendency to present a situation in such a way that makes him look good and others look bad. The facts of the situation are not altered. Instead, what is changed is the relative emphasis that is placed upon each fact. Facts that make the Facilitator person appear good are stressed, whereas those that place him in a bad light are filtered out. This is a mental version of natural selection or local optimization.

Facilitator optimization, though, is limited to the current context. It can make the best of the existing situation, but it finds it very difficult to change the current situation. That is because Perceiver thought, guided by the rest of the mind, provides the context for Facilitator thought (in the right hemisphere). Now look at the situation of the Facilitator person. His thinking is limited to the current mental context, which is being established by modes of thought which are subconscious within his mind. How can he change his mental context? The easiest way is by using clues from the external environment. Therefore, the Facilitator person writes notes to himself, puts his thoughts down on paper, keeps records of events, or collects souvenirs of significant events. All of these are ways of using external items or objects to trigger the desired mental context. This method works so well that the Facilitator person often feels that he is too adaptable and that his very person is shifting to suit the environment in which he currently finds himself. This mental trait of the Facilitator person is reflected in the evolutionary concept that change is driven by environmental pressure. 

The Facilitator person can also try to break out of his current context by using Facilitator thought to make random adjustments, the mental equivalent of the mutation. Facilitator thought will adjust one parameter and then adjust another in order to see what the result will be. As we saw earlier, this is the mental mechanism behind the minimally counterintuive concept. It is a mutation of something which the Facilitator filter finds to be intuitively reasonable.

What is result of a mutation? As I mentioned earlier, random errors are the main enemy of computer programmers, and when an error occurs during the chipmaking process, then either the entire chip must be thrown away or a portion of the chip must be disabled. However, the situation is different when dealing with the mind. Remember that Facilitator strategy is the final strategy of the mind. It is adjusting streams of thought which are being produced by intelligent modes of thought. When Facilitator strategy adjusts these various streams in random ways, then this can cause other modes of thought to see things in a new light and come up with novel solutions.

However, while Facilitator strategy can see most of the mind, it appears that this is only a surface awareness. Facilitator mode can view and adjust the various streams of thought, but it is not aware of the mental processing which is producing these streams of thought. Therefore, what will the Facilitator person conclude when he uses counterintuitive thinking to come up with random mutations, and some of these random mutations have lasting, beneficial, mental results? The Facilitator person will think that these beneficial results were caused by using Facilitator balancing to randomly adjust the levels on the Facilitator mental ‘mixing board’. Instead, these improvements were caused by subconscious processing—which the Facilitator person cannot see—and only triggered by the random Facilitator changes. Thus, the Facilitator person will think that random mutations can have a lasting, beneficial effect, because in his mind, they do. 

The mind of the Facilitator person is also subject to a cognitive version of genetic drift. Facilitator thought is continually making small changes and tiny adjustments, like a sound engineer at a mixing board. As far as the Facilitator person is concerned, he is simply making small semi-random changes. Because Facilitator awareness is limited to the current context, the Facilitator person will not notice if these small choices point in a certain direction. But, Perceiver mode and Server mode look for general patterns, and if these patterns exist, then these two modes of thought will end up changing what the Facilitator filter considers to be intuitively reasonable. When the Facilitator person steps back after several years and examines himself, he will realize that all of his small seemingly random choices ended up moving his personality in a certain direction.

Of course, the mechanism involved in genetic drift may be different, but the Facilitator person will find the concept of genetic drift reasonable, because it matches what is occurring within his own mind. 

If one examines the cognitive behavior of the Facilitator person over time, one of the most common ways in which his mind develops is along a path of cognitive development which I refer to as the path of philosophy. The Facilitator person begins his journey along this path when Perceiver thought in his mind experiences confusion or uncertainty. If the Facilitator person never experiences major internal uncertainty, then his mind will not follow this path. Remember that Perceiver strategy sets the context for Facilitator reasonableness. Therefore, if Perceiver facts become uncertain, then the Facilitator person no longer can determine what is intuitive and what is counterintuitive.

This leads to the second stage in this path which is a search for mental clarity. Facilitator thought will sort through his various memories and dissect his various streams of thought in order to discover what is and is not solid. This solid information may come from an aspect of intuitive psychology, intuitive physics, intuitive biology or else it may come from the opinions of various highly respected experts. This search for solid Perceiver information can take several forms, many of which I have attempted to describe elsewhere. Whatever the method, Perceiver thought will eventually be filled with solid mental bricks of information. Interweaving all of this will be the common thread of Facilitator processing—which will also be noticed by subconscious Perceiver thought as a solid, repeatable Perceiver category.

This will lead to the final stage, which is a search for Teacher understanding. Mental confusion motivated the Facilitator person to search for solid Perceiver categories. The presence of all of these unrelated, solid, Perceiver ‘bricks’ will lead to Teacher feelings of chaos and disorder. Subconscious Teacher thought within the mind of the Facilitator person will then feel emotionally driven to take these disconnected Perceiver facts and put them together in the form of a general Teacher theory. When a general Teacher theory finally emerges, then this will bring order to the complex mind of the Facilitator person and this Teacher theory will become his emotional source of stability. Furthermore, if Facilitator strategy spends enough time analyzing some emotional aspect of thought, then it will also turn into a mental network. And, the final general Teacher theory that emerges will almost certainly turn into a mental network.

Recapping, if the Facilitator person encounters Perceiver uncertainty, then the resulting mental confusion will drive him to search for Perceiver facts. If he discovers enough solid Perceiver facts, then Teacher thought within his mind will feel driven to bring order to these facts by coming up with a general Teacher theory. This process was facilitated by Facilitator mixing, but it was caused by subconscious Perceiver and Teacher modes. But, because the Facilitator person is not aware of subconscious processing, he will think that Facilitator mixing was responsible for creating both the solid Perceiver categories and the general Teacher order.

The theory of evolution simply states that this same mental process has occurred in the external world. Evolution says that if Facilitator type emphasizing, filtering, and mutaories and dissect his various streams of thought in order to discover what is and is not solid. This solid information may come from an aspect of intuitive psychology, intuitive physics, intuitive biology or else it may come from the opinions of various highly respected experts. This search for solid Perceiver information can take several forms, many of which I have attempted to describe elsewhere. Whatever the method, Perceiver thought will eventually be filled with solid mental bricks of information. Interweaving all of this will be the common thread of Facilitator processing—which will also be noticed by subconscious Perceiver thought as a solid, repeatable Perceiver category.

This will lead to the final stage, which is a search for Teacher understanding. Mental confusion motivated the Facilitator person to search for solid Perceiver categories. The presence of all of these unrelated, solid, Perceiver ‘bricks’ will lead to Teacher feelings of chaos and disorder. Subconscious Teacher thought within the mind of the Facilitator person will then feel emotionally driven to take these disconnected Perceiver facts and put them together in the form of a general Teacher theory. When a general Teacher theory finally emerges, then this will bring order to the complex mind of the Facilitator person and this Teacher theory will become his emotional source of stability. Furthermore, if Facilitator strategy spends enough time analyzing some emotional aspect of thought, then it will also turn into a mental network. And, the final general Teacher theory that emerges will almost certainly turn into a mental network.

Recapping, if the Facilitator person encounters Perceiver uncertainty, then the resulting mental confusion will drive him to search for Perceiver facts. If he discovers enough solid Perceiver facts, then Teacher thought within his mind will feel driven to bring order to these facts by coming up with a general Teacher theory. This process was facilitated by Facilitator mixing, but it was caused by subconscious Perceiver and Teacher modes. But, because the Facilitator person is not aware of subconscious processing, he will think that Facilitator mixing was responsible for creating both the solid Perceiver categories and the general Teacher order.

The theory of evolution simply states that this same mental process has occurred in the external world. Evolution says that if Facilitator type emphasizing, filtering, and mutating is applied to an externally chaotic realm, then the result will be life which can be divided into Perceiver categories and which is subject to general Teacher order.

It is interesting to note that Charles Darwin, the Facilitator person who developed the modern theory of evolution, was preceded by Carl Linnaeus, the Facilitator person who categorized the confusion of biological life into solid categories. This historical progression illustrates the mental principle that the Facilitator mind first had to form the solid Perceiver categories of genus and species before it could come up with the general Teacher theory of evolution.

Does this mean that the theory of evolution is wrong? One can answer this question with another question. If one comes up with a cognitive analysis of religion, does this make religion wrong? Not necessarily. However, I suggest that we can conclude that if the Facilitator person uses Facilitator thought to develop his mind, then he will find it natural to believe in the theory of evolution, because it matches the process by which his mind developed as seen from the viewpoint of Facilitator thought.  

But how do we know that the Facilitator person is using Facilitator thought to control and develop his entire mind? Because the theory of evolution explains all of existence through the use of Facilitator thought. Facilitator strategy applies mixing and adjusting within a specific context to produce small, smooth changes. The theory of evolution says that it is possible to take Facilitator thought and extend it through the process of Facilitator extrapolation to produce a universal Teacher theory that is capable of explaining everything. Thus, the starting point for evolution is Facilitator thought, it is turned into a universal theory through the use of Facilitator thought, and Facilitator filtering is used to eliminate anything that does not conform to this universal theory.

But why does the Facilitator person use Facilitator thought to develop his mind? Because, Facilitator mode is the final stage of thought. Thus, Facilitator strategy requires an operative mind in order to function. Therefore, if the mind of the Facilitator is not developed sufficiently through the process of education or upbringing, then he will be forced to take matters into his own hands and program his mind by himself. 

Does this mean that Facilitator thought is wrong? Of course not. Facilitator strategy is designed (there’s that design word again) to act as the final stage of thought, adding a final smooth dimension to the stick figures and rough sketches provided by the rest of the mind. (This is not just an analogy. As far as I can tell, this is precisely what Facilitator thought does.)

So why does the theory of evolution insist that there is no personal God and then ascribe the attributes of deity to the process of evolution? Part of the reason has to do with HADD and ToMM as described earlier. But, I suggest that there is an additional reason, related to the mental makeup of Facilitator thought. The Facilitator person often feels as if he is observing himself go through life—because he is. The ‘himself’ that is going through life is the mental network of emotional personal experiences within Mercy thought. The observing part is conscious Facilitator thought, watching and dispassionately emphasizing and filtering the various streams of thought.

And that matches the ‘god’ of evolution. It is neither alive nor does it deal directly with life. But, it controls the way that life interacts and it selects which forms of life will be allowed to exist and which will be condemned to the dustbin of evolutionary failure. Thus, even though it is not ‘alive’, it is still an intelligent, intentional agent.

Summarizing, the basic premise of the field of cognitive science and religion is that thought and behavior can be explained in terms of cognitive mechanics. A person thinks the way he does because his mind functions in a certain manner. I am suggesting that is also possible to apply a version of this principle to mental software and religious doctrine.

If a person develops his mind in a certain manner to the extent of constructing a general Teacher theory and building mental networks, then he will believe that the external world functions in a similar manner. His general Teacher theory will want to become more universal by extending its explanation beyond the mind to the external world, and his mental networks, both Mercy and Teacher based, will want to be activated by encountering similar structures in the external world.

Thus, the religious believer who constructs a mental image of God will be mentally driven to believe that such a God really exists, and the Facilitator person who uses Facilitator thought to develop his mind will be mentally driven to believe that the theory of evolution also applies to the external universe.

A Cognitive Approach to Christianity

Let us turn now to the topic of Christianity and apply the cognitive model of mental symmetry. In order to limit the length of this essay, our analysis will be limited to the initial aspects of Christian doctrine. Two concepts are required to work out the first cognitive steps of Christianity: First, I need to point out that Perceiver strategy can acquire facts in one of two competing ways. One way is for Perceiver strategy to work out facts on its own by looking for connections which are repeated. Thus, if I continue to see a box with four wheels rolling down the road, Perceiver thought will conclude that these various items belong together to form the object known as ‘car’. (The Perceiver category is nonverbal. The verbal label is added by Teacher thought.)

The other way to acquire a fact is for Mercy emotions to overwhelm Perceiver strategy and mesmerize Perceiver thought into knowing what is ‘true’. This emotional Mercy pressure can come from either an experience or a person. Suppose that a robber accosts me while I am in the park. This traumatic incident will convince Perceiver thought that parks and robbers always go together. Or, suppose that my father tells me that the moon is made of green cheese. My emotional respect for my father will convince Perceiver thought within my mind that moon and green cheese belong together.

These two ways of knowing are separated by a gap of mental uncertainty. That is because with one method, Perceiver thought is awake and functioning, whereas with the other, Perceiver thought is asleep and mesmerized. When Perceiver thought is half-awake, neither method works and there is mental confusion.

As a Perceiver person, I am quite aware of this internal struggle. I distinctly remember feeling as an adolescent that I did not have sufficient status to interact with people whom I regarded as important: “He is an orchestra conductor. I am just a violin player. Who am I to talk to him? He is far too important for me to be around him or to interact with him.” When I did start to think for myself, at first it felt as every step was like walking through mental mud: “I am a nobody. I don’t have the right to think for myself.” And even now, when I attempt to hold on to some Perceiver fact in the presence of emotional pressure, I still experience regular episodes of doubt. However, if I respond to this doubt by re-examining the facts of the situation and concluding afresh that things really do fit together in that manner, then that realization will cause the doubt to subside.

Now let us look at the childish mind. On the one side, the physical body is bombarding it with emotional experiences of pain and pleasure. These experiences fill Mercy strategy while the associated strong emotional labels overwhelm Perceiver thought. This causes the mind to equate good with true and bad with false.  Good and bad are Mercy definitions; true and false describe Perceiver connections. If a fact is true, then it describes a solid Perceiver connection; if it is false, then no Perceiver connection exists. This mental error of confusing feeling with truth is especially prevalent when dealing with personal identity, because the Mercy emotions here are very potent. Therefore, if an experience comes along which feels good, then Perceiver thought will be fooled into ‘believing’ that this experience has a solid Perceiver connection with personal identity, leading to emotional identification. In contrast, if personal identity encounters an experience which feels bad, then Perceiver thought will be mesmerized into ‘believing’ that the connection between it and personal identity is false, leading to emotional denial.

A Cognitive Basis for Sin

This mental linking of good with right and bad with wrong provides a cognitive explanation for many types of ‘sins’. For instance, suppose that I see a necklace that I admire in a store. Emotional identification will cause me to feel that it belongs to me and I will steal it. Then, if a security guard comes along and accuses me of stealing it, the theft will turn into a bad experience and through emotional denial it will become false: “No, I did not steal the necklace.” A similar principle applies to someone encountering an attractive individual of the opposite sex, or having a chance encounter with some famous person. In both cases, the emotional pleasure deceives Perceiver thought into ‘believing’ that this desirable experience is part of me.

I should emphasize that this is all happening non-verbally. It is occurring on the practical side of the split between theology and practice that is described by Tremlin. As Barrett has discovered, given enough time, a person may be able to verbalize the correct rules of morality, but when dealing with a real situation and a split second decision, then the emotional identification takes over and defines the facts.

Let us move now to the other side of the childish mind. As I mentioned earlier in this essay, in areas where repetition is obvious and emotional pressure is low, it will be possible for Perceiver thought to develop without being emotionally overwhelmed. This leads to the common sense regarding physical objects which Tremlin refers to as intuitive physics.

Now let us add the additional factor of the mental network. Childish personal identity is being defined by Mercy identification and Mercy denial, but it is also alive. Mental life hates to fall apart, whereas the mental ‘gluing’ of Mercy identification and the mental ‘tearing’ of Mercy denial are continually threatening the integrity of mental life. For instance, think of the young child and his favorite teddy bear. Is that object part of the child’s personal identity? According to Perceiver thought, there is no physical connection. But, within the mind of the child, the emotional experiences associated with the teddy bear have formed a mental network within Mercy thought and Perceiver thought has been mesmerized into ‘believing’ that this mental network forms a part of personal identity. Therefore, if someone takes the teddy bear away, the child responds as if part of his personal identity is dying—because mentally speaking, it is. 

Notice that this type of personal identity is an inevitable stage in human development, because pleasurable and painful experiences from the physical body transform the empty mind of the infant into a functioning cognitive entity.

Summarizing, we now have a cognitive basis for the Christian concept of being ‘born in sin’, because emotional identification and emotional denial cause childish personal identity to emerge in a form that is unstable, emotionally vulnerable, deceptive, irrational, and greedy. In fact, it appears that one can find a cognitive basis here for all seven of the deadly sins: Lust is when Perceiver thought is fooled by the emotions of sexual attraction into ‘believing’ that an attractive person is connected with personal identity. Gluttony occurs when the emotional pleasure of eating overwhelms Perceiver facts about hunger and obesity. Greed occurs when there is emotional identification with some desirable object, whereas envy is associated with emotional identification with some other person. Sloth occurs because the mind identifies emotionally with good experiences instead of doing the work that is necessary to acquire them legitimately. Wrath results when an inadequate mental network of personal identity is disturbed. Finally, pride results from the attitude of basing Perceiver truth in the emotional status of people.

Building an Accurate Self-Image

The solution is to define personal identity using solid Perceiver facts, leading to the formation of an accurate self-image. This stops lust because Perceiver thought is able to assert that the attractive individual does not belong to personal identity. Gluttony ceases because Perceiver thought can determine which food really should belong to my physical body and which is surplus, and it can also look in the mirror and make an accurate assessment of body shape. Greed and envy are both stopped because seeing something good no longer automatically connects it with personal identity. And, when a person cannot identity emotionally with what he wants, then he must work to obtain it, removing sloth. When self image is accurately defined, then it is much less vulnerable to being randomly disrupted, heading off wrath. And, because facts are now independent of emotional status, pride ceases to be an issue.

Unfortunately, two major mental barriers prevent Perceiver thought from being used to define personal identity. First, there is the mental confusion which occurs when Perceiver thought is half awake. With emotional identification, Perceiver thought is asleep. In order to define self image accurately, it must be awake. This mental transition from sleeping Perceiver thought to awake Perceiver thought is especially troubling for Facilitator strategy, because Perceiver uncertainty leads to Facilitator confusion.

Plus, this process of defining personal identity is not continuous. Instead, it involves a mental discontinuity—leaping across a mental chasm. And, Facilitator strategy, by its very nature, takes mental discontinuities and makes them smooth by adjusting and averaging. Thus, we have a mental strategy which abhors discontinuities being asked to go through a personal discontinuity. How much does Facilitator strategy abhor discontinuities? So much that when it is in charge of the mind it comes up with the theory of evolution—a theory which says that everything occurs through gradual change and that discontinuity does not exist.

Second, building an accurate self-image means disassembling the existing mental network of personal identity and replacing it with a new mental network that is based in solid Perceiver facts. As far as Facilitator thought is concerned, this is totally counterintuitive. Facilitator thought works within the existing context and makes the best of the existing situation. Mental rebirth means destroying the existing context and replacing it with another, a concept which Facilitator strategy finds intuitively abhorrent. And, Facilitator thought acts as the filter for the mind, whether this mode of thought is conscious or subconscious.

In addition, any attempt to disassemble the mental networks that make up personal identity will cause major emotional trauma. Somehow, the mind has to endure this emotional pain, and somehow Perceiver thought has to gain the confidence that is required to think clearly in the midst of this emotional pressure.

That describes the mental predicament. We now need to define the solution and then the way in which this solution must be presented in order to be accepted by the Facilitator filter as minimally counterintuitive.

Using Teacher Thought to comfort Mercy Thought

The solution involves Teacher thought. Suppose that I construct a general Teacher theory that describes the behavior of personal identity and suppose that this general Teacher understanding becomes a living mental network within Teacher thought. Now, the positive Teacher emotion of understanding why I behave will counteract the negative Mercy emotions that result from how I behave. In addition, when the various mental networks within Mercy thought threaten to fall apart, they can be held together by the mental network of Teacher understanding.

This is what happens when someone, such as a Facilitator person, follows what I call the path of philosophy. The final result is a general Teacher theory which describes personal behavior and which makes me feel good about who I am. And, if one examines Tremlin’s book, it is a good description of religious behavior.

The problem with a general Teacher theory that describes personal behavior is that it makes it even more difficult to change this behavior, because now both Mercy and Teacher thought are supporting the same way of thinking. Thus, a Teacher theory that merely describes personal behavior is actually a false solution because it takes the mental mechanism that could change behavior and uses it to reinforce behavior.

I suggest that Eastern mysticism uses another method by which a general Teacher theory can be used to bring emotional comfort and pleasure to personal identity. There are many variations to this method, but the fundamental principles appear to be quite similar. First, one constructs a universal Teacher theory which takes all the complexity of existence and bundles it up in one single ordered package. The hard way to build a universal theory is take all of the various puzzle pieces of information and put them together so that they form the ‘big picture’ of an integrated structure. The ‘easy’ way is to stick all of these pieces into a mental blender, press the button, and pour out the mental sludge of a universal theory. Saying this more scientifically, if Perceiver thought can be dissuaded from separating Mercy experiences into solid categories, then it is possible to achieve within Teacher thought the feeling that everything fits together. Therefore, Eastern mysticism combines some method of convincing Teacher thought that everything fits together with some way of keeping Perceiver facts out of the way. One method of achieving Teacher unity is by simply asserting the verbal theory that ‘All is One’. Another way is by repeating a verbal mantra enough times so that Teacher thought focuses upon it to the exclusion of anything else. Perceiver facts can be eliminated by suggesting that mystical oneness is ‘beyond logic’, that Perceiver facts about the real world are illusion, or by using a koan or some other nonsensical riddle to get Perceiver thought to accept the existence of illogical thought.

Once Eastern mysticism has ‘constructed’ a universal Teacher theory, then all that remains is to connect this universal Teacher theory with personal identity in Mercy thought. The easiest way is to assert in some way that personal identity is God.

Metaphorically speaking, Eastern mysticism looks at the exam of life, ignores all of the questions, writes in a mark of 100% and then signs its name on the exam paper. If the ultimate goal is to produce the feeling of getting a perfect grade, then this method suffices. Similarly, the method of Eastern mysticism will lead mentally to an emotion of divine presence.  

And Eastern mysticsm also tends to be accepted as minimally counterintuitive by the scientific researcher who understands Teacher theories. First, it recognizes the existence of Teacher thought and the need for a universal Teacher theory. Second, it avoids the non-scientific anthropomorphisms of normal religion. Third, it is compatible with the Facilitator concept of blending. Fourth, it states that personal identity is already where it should be and does not need to go through any discontinuous change. Fifth, when the mind senses an emotion of divine presence, this produces measurable biological benefits. Sixth, like scientific thought, it goes beyond specific situations to general principles. Where Eastern mysticism appears to be counterintuitive is in the extent of its objectivity. Normal science treats subjective experiences as mental ‘noise’, invalid topics for Teacher thought, whereas Eastern mysticism says that all experiences are mental noise, unworthy of analysis by Teacher strategy.

Using Teacher Thought to Change Mercy Thought

If a general Teacher theory is to change childish identity and replace it with an accurate self-image, then obviously the process of mental rebirth must be stated as a general Teacher theory. If this is done, then a person will experience Teacher pleasure when he goes through the Mercy hyper-pain of falling apart inside and having personal identity rebuilt. Mercy thought may be going through personal anguish, but Teacher thought is conducting an experiment which is validating and extending the general Teacher theory of rebirth. But, not any general Teacher theory of rebirth will do. Instead, it has to be the general Teacher theory that rebirth occurs when Perceiver thought is permitted to define personal identity. Thus, when a cult figure or government leader tells a follower to ‘be reborn as my disciple’, this does not qualify, because it leaves intact the mental system of using Mercy status to mesmerize Perceiver thought. 

Notice that we now have a mental conflict between two universal Teacher theories: the theory of evolution and the theory of rebirth. If evolution is the ultimate universal theory, as Tremlin and many others assert, then the theory of rebirth cannot be a universal Teacher theory, because evolution says that there are no discontinuities, whereas rebirth says that human existence is full of personal discontinuities. Does this mean that the theory of evolution is wrong? No, instead, it means that it is a subset of the theory of rebirth. Most of life consists of smooth roads with gradual inclines. But, these smooth sections are interspersed by major gaps which require some form of rebirth.

Notice that this general theory of rebirth holds even when the mind is fully programmed and all mental modes are functionally adequately, because control of the mind still has to pass from one mental mode to another, and that mental transfer will be experienced as a form of cognitive rebirth.

Let me state this more clearly. The childish mind is cognitively dysfunctional. In order to become cognitively functional it must go through mental rebirth. It can only survive the Mercy trauma of mental rebirth if the Mercy pain is balanced by Teacher pleasure. Teacher pleasure comes from a general Teacher theory. This Teacher pleasure will only be produced if the process of mental rebirth is treated as a general Teacher theory. Mental rebirth contradicts the theory of evolution. If the theory of evolution is accepted as a universal Teacher theory, then the theory of rebirth cannot be a general theory.

Put into a single sentence, if a person accepts the theory of evolution as a universal theory, then it is cognitively impossible for him to experience personal salvation. This does not mean that the theory of evolution is necessarily wrong, it just means that believing that it is true shuts the door on the process of mental rebirth.

Duelling Universal Theories

This mental struggle between the general theory of evolution and the general theory of rebirth is brought out very clearly in Thomas Kuhn’s book on The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. The entire premise of his excellent book is that the history of science is marking by evolutionary periods of ‘normal science’ interspersed by episodes of ‘revolutionary science’ during which the  Teacher-based mental networks of a scientific paradigm fall apart and come back together in a more advanced form. Thus, he proves that rebirth is a universal theory, and even states that it applies to many fields of thought. In his words: “To the extent that the book portrays scientific development as a succession of tradition-bound periods punctuated by non-cumulative breaks, its theses are undoubtedly of wide applicability. But they should be, for they are borrowed from other fields. Historians of literature, of music, of the arts, of political development, and of many other human activities have long described their subjects in the same way. Periodization in terms of revolutionary breaks in style, taste, and institutional structure have been among their standard tools. If I have been original with respect to concepts like these, it has mainly been by applying them to the sciences, fields which had widely thought to develop in a different way.”

And then, Kuhn spends the last three pages of his book contradicting everything that he has written in order to affirm that he still believes in the ultimate supremacy of the theory of evolution.

North American education is currently experiencing a similar struggle between the two theories of evolution and rebirth, and I am not referring to the conflict between Evolution and Creation. That, I suggest, is only a symptom of a deeper cognitive struggle. At the heart of the matter lies the question of smoothness versus personal discontinuity. Is the childish mind simply a miniature version of the adult mind which requires only minor adjusting and polishing, or does a major personal gap separate childish identity from adult thought? For the past several decades, educators—led again by prominent Facilitator thinkers—have operated upon the premise that it is possible to turn the childish mind into the adult mind through a smooth process which does not disturb or question personal identity. I think one can safely conclude from this massive social experiment that children are not little adults but rather little savages who can only be turned into functional adults through some sort of personal rebirth. My personal experience teaching in a high school as well as the conversations that I have had with other teachers backs this up.

Cognitive Theology

So, what does all of this have to do with religion? Everything. Remember that an image of God emerges when a general Teacher theory impinges upon personal identity in Mercy thought. Therefore, saying that Mercy identity requires help from a general Teacher theory is cognitively equivalent to saying that a person needs help from God. And, if childish personal identity can only be reborn through the help of a general Teacher theory, this is mentally the same as saying that an individual must call on God for personal salvation. And, if the process of ‘being saved’ means allowing Perceiver facts to redefine personal identity, this means that a person must admit that he is born in sin, accept that God has sentenced the sinner to death, and must honestly confess (to ‘confess’ means to verbally agree) his sin to God.

In addition, there is also a theological equivalent to stating that rebirth is a universal Teacher theory. Quoting from the Biblical book of Philippians: “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW.” The name Jesus, by the way, means ‘salvation’. Also, if rebirth is a universal Teacher theory, then it is also an aspect of a person’s image of God, which is cognitively equivalent to saying that Jesus is God.

One could pursue this analysis in much further detail, which I do elsewhere, but by combining the three concepts of Teacher versus Mercy emotion, Perceiver strategy being either awake or asleep, and mental networks, we have basically derived the skeleton of Christian theology along with the essence of the Christian message of salvation.

Does this means that Christianity is really true and that all of this really happened? Not necessarily. It just means that if one goes beyond a mere description of the mind to include mental development, then it is possible to come up with a cognitive explanation for the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.

But, why does Christianity describe these various steps in such anthropomorphic terms instead of as a series of rational cognitive steps? Because they will only be accepted by people if they are presented in a way that is minimally counterintuitive. Tremlin points out the counterintuitiveness of referring to talking horses and zombies who refuse to die. However, there is a counterintuitiveness which extends far deeper—the counterintuitiveness of attempting to view a general Teacher theory through the lens of Mercy experiences. As Tremlin states, we are only familiar with intelligent human life. But, personal salvation requires the presence of a general Teacher theory. Thus, the only way to get a Teacher theory to pass the Facilitator intuitive filter is to describe it using anthropomorphic language.

Every school instructor faces the same challenge. His purpose is to fill the minds of his students with general Teacher theories of knowledge. But, the typical school student does not know about Teacher emotion, he does not care about Teacher theory, he has no desire to learn, and he does not even want to be in school. So, somehow the instructor has to present his information in a way that will pass through the Mercy based reasonableness filter with the hope that eventually Teacher thought will wake up and the student will want to learn. Once that happens, then a new form of Teacher based reasonableness will emerge and information will then be accepted by Facilitator thought as intuitively reasonable if it is consistent with existing general Teacher theories.

My analysis suggests that Christian doctrine becomes minimally counterintuitive—when it is stated as a general Teacher theory. How is it counterintuitive? In the same two ways that a universal theory of evolution is counterintuitive: Evolution extrapolates Facilitator thought through time and it extends it from the domain of biology to the physical and psychological realms. Similarly, a cognitive model of Christianity extrapolates the process of reaching mental wholeness past physical death and it extends  the psychological theory of Christianity to the realm of biology and physics. 

But, how could a religion that was formulated thousands of years ago contain information that makes such cognitive sense? As Tremlin would put it, it was designed that way.

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[1] What about left and right hemispheres? On the one hand, neurological research tends to treat the two hemispheres as one single unit and then gradually realize that corresponding parts in opposite hemispheres really do have different functions. On the other hand, I as a Perceiver person naturally start my analysis with the right hemisphere and then discover that it is possible to perform similar functions using a left hemisphere approach. For instance, the philosopher Heidegger describes space, location, and personal identity in left hemisphere terms. In my experience, when it comes to lateralization, over time my interpretation and the findings of neurology tend to converge.

[2] Server reasonableness helps the mind to determine which actions and sequences are reasonable.

[3] Mentally speaking, it is also possible for a mental network to be based in the specific Teacher emotions of a name—which provides a possible rational explanation for angelic beings. That concept is developed further elsewhere.

[4] These two definitions of reasonableness interact. Thus, when a general Teacher theory emerges, then Perceiver reasonableness expands to include a sense of cause and effect.