Harry Potter vs. the Bible -- A Neurocognitive Approach

By MatTehCat | MatTehCat's Blogs | 10 Aug 2021


Abstract

 

In this paper, I explore several elements of the Bible and Harry Potter, define them via the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, and associate their semantic structure to two core epistemological frames of knowledge, Rationalism and Empiricism, which are defined via the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. I then explore the neurocognitive architecture of the Human mind to see which semantic and epistemological framework is analogous or homologous to how our neurocognitive architecture works.  I conclude that the Bible more soundly maps on to the neurocognitive workings of the Human Mind compared to the narrative of Harry Potter.  I did this to expand upon how we can measure the utility of Religions and how they confer benefits onto the people that adopt them; why they are evolutionarily advantageous or not.  I.e., considering whether or not a narrative maps onto the neurocognitive architecture of the Human mind could, in part, tell us whether a narrative or a religion is conducive to Human flourishing over time.

 

 

Aims of the Paper

 

Harry Potter vs. The Bible. Perhaps a conflict as old as time. But what's the difference? Is the narrative of Harry Potter a legitimate way to interact with the world like the Bible or not at all, or is it better?

 

 In this blog, I hope to explore the differences between the Bible and Harry Potter and how the worlds are structured from a semantic and neuroscientific standpoint. I will do this by exploring several semantic points from the Bible and Harry Potter, the epistemological world views of Harry Potter and the Bible, and how our minds work relative to how the two narratives are constrained semantically. The latter assumes that both extend from a Mind and thus, asks the question: which narrative is more in line with how humans perceive reality, interact with it, and thus survive or die.

 

Semantic Aspects of the Bible and Harry Potter

 

It is essential to understand how either narrative semantically unfolds. The Bible unfolds in three ways: Revelation, Miracle, and Prayer. Harry Potter, on the other hand, is structured through Spellcraft and Magic, which includes: spells, spellwork, charming, enchantments, sorcery, and curses. To define these terms, I will be using the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology (CDE).

 

Reveal is described in the CDE as to make known, disclose, unveil, drawback, uncover. Thus, Revelation is an act that uncovers, makes something known, discloses, or draws back. Miracle in the CDE is defined as an object of wonder, through the intervention of God, causing surprise, awe, or astonishment. And lastly, Prayer is generally defined as the act of earnestly demanding, requesting, questioning, or inquiring.  To whom one prays may vary, but I think it is fair to say that this could either be a supernatural entity, the world itself, or one’s self.

 

In contrast, the CDE defines magic as the practice of sacred rights reserved for Persian priests, who were learned men; sorcery. Sorcery is then defined as witchcraft, the influencing of lot, fate, or fortune. And witchcraft, the act of bewitching or divining, which could best be described as fortune-telling or predicting, saying something, or identifying something before it occurs or is seen. Altogether, sorcery is the act of a learned man or woman who influences fate, lot, or luck by predicting something before it occurs or is seen; literally making it happen by speaking it. The book shows how this is done through Spells, Spellbinding, Charming, Enchanting, and Cursing (the Dark Arts).

 

To start with the second half of defining the mechanisms of Harry Potter, I will begin with spellcraft or spellwork. Spellwork can best be defined as the work of incanting or charming, which are defined as a set of words to cast a magic spell (literally to chant a magic formula) and to chant pleasantly or to ward off evil. Enchanting is best defined as being put under a magic spell, which can very broadly be seen as being defined by words that influence fate, lot, or luck in a particular direction. And lastly, cursing, which the CDE defines as a prayer or a wish that evil or harm befall someone, the formal sentencing of ex-communication, to cast out or ostracize someone. In other words, Spells are a series of words, sung or chanted in a particular manner (e.g., pleasantly), to ward off evil, alter someone's future for the better or worse, define someone's life course, or to cast someone or something out (formally or informally) through ex-communication or the act of ostracism. 

 

How the Semantic Structures of Harry Potter and the Bible Relate to Empiricism and Rationalism

 

I think these two narratives of reality are best defined through the philosophical lenses of Rationalism and Empiricism; epistemological frameworks that express how one interprets, understands, and interacts with Reality. But first, what is experience. Experience, according to the CDE, is knowledge gained by repeated trials – the essence of experience comes from trial and error. So how is that knowledge attained – through a rationalist framework or an empirical framework? To define these terms, I will be using the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy.

 

The empiricist believes that experience, learning or gaining knowledge through trial and error has primacy in human knowledge and justified belief. There is also a distinction between types of empiricists. One group is known as concept empiricists who "agree that concepts apply to some actual experience or they have been derived from such by someone's performing of an actual experience." I.e., "the concept must have been evoked, or the person must have recognized that the concept applies to his or her experience." There are also belief-empiricists who hold the idea that "for a belief to be truth-relevant, it must be related in one or another way to someone's experience"; "notions of personal experience may vary, but the fact remains that the truth of a claim must be personally experienced [in some way] to be true."

 

The rationalist on the other hand, but the same body (the body of experience), "relies primarily on theoretical knowledge on the hidden workings of the human body." They have a secret gnosis. Some might believe that they "have access to the Forms and general principles that govern reality, and reject sensory knowledge of the imperfect realization of those Forms in the material world." However, this was the ancient conception of Rationalism, which certainly seems to color its later forms but does not necessarily hold there. For example, Descartes starts from "first principles," and through intuition "all other knowledge is deduced. He claims "our senses cannot be trusted, but can be considered useful for the preservation of life." Spinoza also has a conception of Rationalism that differs from the ancients and Descartes. Spinoza believes "we cannot have adequate knowledge of the world through our senses." However, he does not deny the utility of the senses and uses them in his ethical analysis, believing that they aid in general knowledge. This allows him to use the senses but to affirm them through reason solely, i.e., he still prioritizes his faculty for reasoning, his rational self, as the main source of structure for the sensual world. However, suppose the rationalist identifies an error. In that case, it could be that his senses are lying to him or obscuring the truth, and thus, to rectify this error he may only restructure his rational framework until the mistake no longer exists; he may not be the problem.

 

Then the question must arise: which better describes either narrative – does the Empirical model better define the world of Harry Potter, or does the Rationalistic worldview better define the world of the Bible. I believe that the Empirical model better defines the world of the Bible, while the Rationalistic worldview better defines the world of Harry Potter.

 

To start, Harry Potter. From the beginning of the rationalist movement, theoretical knowledge was hidden from all except only a select few who understood the workings of the human body in relation to its environment. For most intents and purposes, these people sound like priests or a priestly class, or even Magi who share an etymological history with the world Magic. Through this knowledge, these priests could use their ability to reason and rationalize to predict the happenings of the sensory world, which might be considered less true than the rationalization itself. That is, the Spell cast on reality, which may predict the future, is emitted as language from our rational self and frames the sensory world. This linguistic framing, spell, charm, or divination may structure the world in a way that makes it more manageable or provides predictive power, giving words or language a kind of utility and strength that may seem magical for most intents and purposes. In this way, from a rationalist viewpoint, words (logoi) structure reality rather than being structured from reality and experience.

 

On the other hand, the Bible appears to be empirically based, though loaded with metaphorical language, image, and narrative that obscures this fact. To start, the empiricist gains knowledge from trial and error feedback via his senses and reasoning, which is found in another word that comes from Experience, Experiment. This can be exemplified through the idea of Revelation. Through sensory observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and secondary observations or findings, things can be unveiled, uncovered, or made known, i.e., revealed. Here, hypothesis can very loosely be grasped as prayer. The act of prayer requires the actor to make an earnest demand, request, question, or inquiry. The latter two having the greatest semantic significance. Suppose we never believed we could commune with Reality or God in some abstract way via prayer. In that case, it may be reasonable to assume that a hypothesis, a mechanism for grasping Reality via experiment, would not exist. Thus, Revelation could be seen as a very archaic notion of empirical scientific evidence or experience achieved via prayer after some tribulating experience (observation). Secondly, the idea of a miracle. Again, a miracle can best be defined as an object of wonder that causes great surprise, awe, or astonishment. This could be a matter of personal experience that is simultaneously observed or personally observed and recorded as such. This personal observation of awe, surprise, or astonishment, attributed to God or divine intervention in the Bible and out, may be categorically defined as a miracle and is a matter of empirical experience. Lastly, concept empiricists generally agree that concepts apply to some actual experience or they have been derived from such by someone's performing of an actual experience. If this is true, then the experience of God must be from some actual experience, independent of how it is expressed or if it even could be fully expressed, and thus must be taken as a matter of experience to some empiricists. What then is the response to the rationalist's claim that the empiricist may not trust his sense? Yes, which is the reasoning for Faith; i.e., confidence in what is hoped for and certainty in what is not seen. In this definition, the empiricists acknowledge that they trust what they believe is the case but are certain that not all can be seen or in what can't be seen.  E.g., God, i.e., the senses may only provide different levels of confidence for Reality or God, but despite not being able to grasp Reality or God with our senses fully, the empiricist is still certain it's, He's there.

 

A Brief Examination of Several Parts of Human Neurocognitive Architecture

 

Lastly, how do these worldviews compare with how our minds actually interpret reality? To identify this, I will start with how we see the world, move on to object recognition and spatial recognition, our linguistic system, and lastly, how we remember and pay attention. 

 

To start, the visual system. Do our senses lie to us, our visual senses particularly? Yes, as a matter of fact, they do. In Pearson and Westbrook, 2015, what was identified was that our experiences were not solely determined by sensory input. This can be experienced through a Blind Spot test, which demonstrates that our visual system appears to fill in any missing information. This isn't so much our senses "lying" to us as our interpretive pathways ignoring irrelevant and competing information, which is highlighted in the work of Tong and Engel, 2001. What can be observed from this, as from studies like Polonsky et al. 2000, is that our perception of the world is indeed altered by top-down mechanisms that mediate between competing stimuli to provide people with the clearest picture of reality that they can. In fact, this may not be a matter of the unconscious, mechanical top-down effects on perception either; it may be related to perceptual decision-making (Blake et al., 2014). I.e., executive functions may affect the mediation of stimulus competition, enabling us to focus on our desired point. As such, this would suggest that it's not merely our senses lying to us, but that we can lie to ourselves about what we're perceiving, given that what we're aiming at causes us to ignore irrelevant information to that aim.

 

Secondly, object recognition. The main issue highlighted with people who cannot recognize objects is that they suffer from apperceptive agnosia and associative agnosia. Apperceptive agnosia is when an individual cannot bind together data about an object to form a meaningful whole. Associative agnosia is when individuals can see, i.e., build a mental image of an object, but are unable to associate it with what they see in reality. Respectively, this either means the sensory mechanisms and systems cannot amalgamate the parts of the object to make sense of the whole, or they cannot match their mental image to the object because of their sensory mechanisms and systems. Both forms inhibit object recognition. To solve this, It is important to ask how objects are combined into a whole to determine where the problem lies. The answer: Conjunctive Encoding.

 

There were initially two forms of encoding, Conjunctive Encoding and Nonlocal Binding. In Conjunctive Encoding, features are explicitly conjoined or linked together through hierarchal processing in which low-level regions representing features send their output to higher-level regions that represent shapes, resulting from the joining of those features. In Nonlocal Binding, the whole of an object is represented simply by the co-activation of units representing the object's parts in particular locations. In Baker et al., 2002, monkeys were taught to recognize objects, resulting in cells in the inferotemporal cortex becoming sensitive to the combination of two or more features that were part of the object. Other research has clearly expanded on this idea, such as Erez et al., 2015 and Liang et al., 2002, which examine which mechanisms and systems are responsible for achieving this within the brain.

 

Ultimately, this process can be observed in logic through the informal fallacy of composition. The informal fallacy of composition goes something like this. A, B, and C are members of group D. A is X, and B is X, therefore C is X as A, B, and C, are members of group D. This can certainly be inferred probabilistically, but until we know that C is X, we cannot describe C as X. To put it another way, a bicycle contains a wheel, chain, gear, etc., but to identify it or describe it wholly as any one of its parts would cause you to make a compositional fallacy. For example, let us say I gave you a gestalt test, and asked you to identify a bicycle in an image where the wheel could not be seen, but I assured you that the wheel was there and the bike was real. You should have an idea of what a bike is in your head, made from your previous experiences with a bike, so despite not being able to see the wheel on the bike, you should be able to make a sound guess that the there is a bicycle there.  It could only be an inference, though, as you cannot fully see that the shape in the image has a wheel attached to it, or that the shape is, in fact, a bike and not a cardboard cutout. Nevertheless, you do not impose a top-down idea of a bicycle on the bike in the image. From the parts you can see, you infer that the rest of the object is indeed a bike. From there, you form a mental model, associate it with like-objects from your previous experience (see Baker et al., 2002), and make the sound guess that there is indeed a bike there even though you cannot see the wheel. Neither the apperceptive nor associative agnostic could achieve this per se. The apperceptive agnostic could not bind the data that he could see to guess that the image contained a bike, nor could the associative agnostic apply his concept of a bike to the object in the image; he could not form a mental model from what he saw to associate it with his internal model.

 

Thirdly, our spatial system. Unlike the systems that deal with object recognition, which deal in What's, the spatial system deals with the How's, Where's, and When's. No more clearly is this seen than in Man's mathematical conceptions of reality, which deal with objects moving (how's), or as a whole (how many), in space (where's) and time (when's). This is obviously highlighted in the fields of geometry and physics. But how does our brain achieve this or express the world this way?

 

To start, being capable of doing arithmetic is generally an innate human trait (Tyson, Respos, and Rochet, 1995; and Gordon 2004; see Pica et al., 2004, which explores how language plays a role in arithmetic). The area associated with addition, subtraction, and multiplication is mainly the Intraparietal Sulcus (IPS), especially in symbolic algebra.  This area is a fold in the brain connecting the inferior and superior parietal lobe regions (Chochon et al., 1996 and Pinel et al., 2001). In conjunction with the frontal lobe region, or frontal cortices (e.g., the prefrontal cortex), this area supports both symbolic and linguistic forms of arithmetic (Piazza et al., 2007). More clearly, the frontal-parietal regions appear to work on abstract forms of mathematics (Emerson and Cantlon, 2012), while the fusiform gyrus, located near the inferior parietal lobe region and the temporal lobe, reacts to changes in object identity (Gill-Specter, Sayers, and Ress, 2004). Altogether, these areas work in tandem, reacting to changes in object identity, quantifying objects, and react to changes in object location. The integration of these areas, the frontal lobe (prefrontal cortices), the parietal lobe (superior, IPS, and inferior), and the inferior temporal (fusiform gyrus), and exposure to abstract mathematical concepts at a young age, affect and predict mathematical ability overtime (Amalric and Dehaene, 2016). The innate nature of mathematical reasoning and the minimal requirement for exposure to mathematical concepts needed for a child's mathematical success in the future, which can be predicted, suggests there's an evolutionary origin for mathematical ability (Halberda et al., 2008), likely affected by selection and genetic drift. Given that mathematical knowledge is required for making spatial representations of the world that have predictive power, this would suggest that, through chance, some people would be better at making predictions than others. This chance outcome would be selected for individually and at a group level, for the good of the individual and the group, as it would likely increase the chance that either pass on their genes.

 

Next, our linguistic system. Two neurological illnesses that affect humans are alexia and agraphia. Alexia affects the ability to read, while agraphia affects the ability to write. These are affected by the same regions but are not necessarily mutual. We learn to read via two routes, grapheme-to-phoneme, and a direct (lexical) route. The grapheme-to-phoneme route is achieved when there's a correspondence between the symbol for a word and how it is pronounced, e.g., cat, c.a.t., cat. The direct route is needed when the grapheme-to-phoneme route does not correspond to how the word sounds or is stated, e.g., yacht or colonel. This causes both surface dyslexia and phonological dyslexia, which can be explored further via the work of Coltheart, 1982; Shallice et al., 1983; and Patterson and Kay, 1982. Other issues arise from reading, such as deep dyslexia (or alexia), which results in semantic paralexias. Semantic Paralexias are reading errors that occur when a word is misread for another word that has a related meaning, e.g., forest for woods, ocean for sea, beach for shore, et cetera. Such people also have more difficulty reading semantically complex words, such as sympathy or faith, and have difficulty with words that represent concrete entities in the world, such as guitar, refrigerator, television, et cetera. Lastly, these people have difficulty reading small function words that serve as grammatical markers, e.g., prepositions. Deep Dyslexia is thought to occur because of left hemisphere lesions or a lack of white matter, which relates to neural connectivity (see Zaidel, 1990, Coltheart, 2000; Pitchford et al., 2007; and Ripamonti et al., 2014).

 

The aforementioned issues are indicative of a relationship between the right and the left hemispheres of the brain, and various areas, particularly in the Left Hemisphere, including: Broca's Area, the Inferior Frontal Gyrus, Posterior Superior Temporal Gyrus, Supramarginal Gyrus, Angular Gyrus, Visual Word form Area, and the Middle and Inferior Temporal Gyrus. These areas respectively effect: Phonology to Speech, Sound to Letters, and Symbol to Sound. The areas responsible for interpreting meaning from sound are: Broca's Area, the Posterior Superior Temporal Gyrus, Supramarginal Gyrus, and the Visual World Form Area. The areas responsible for direct interpretation, where meaning is passed on via print are: the Inferior Frontal Gyrus, Angular Gyrus, and the Middle and Inferior Temporal Gyrus. This suggests that linguistic processing is cobbled together from a diverse set of areas of the brain, trained for a whole separate set of tasks unrelated to reading and writing. For a broader discussion on the relationship of these areas, feel free to read Many et al., 2008; Dien, 2009; and Salmelin and Kujala, 2008.

 

It is important to note that while the type of language may impact how these areas interact (Paulesu et al., 2000), the linguistic systems are universal across societies and cultures. For example, see how American Sign Language uses the same neural systems as written and spoken English language systems (MacSweeny et al., 2008); see also Neville et al., 1998 for insight into how these affect different linguistic mechanisms in the brain. There has also been work done on Japanese speakers of Kana and Kanji (Usui et al., 2009) who had lesions that affected certain areas but not others, affecting their ability to interpret either Kana or Kanji. Despite the differences in the areas affecting interpretation of either Kana or Kanji, there is still substantial overlap, i.e., they are actually only partially separate linguistic systems (Ino et al., 2009.). This suggests that though they are separate linguistic structures, how we interpret them causes neurological overlap of different brain regions that relate to linguistic interpretation. I.e., the mechanisms for linguistic comprehension of different language types slightly differ between cultures but generally remain universal. Music exemplifies the diffuse yet universal nature of linguistic mechanisms in the brain as well (Patel, 2008; Peretz and Zatorre, 2005), yet it also involves different regions (see Alossa and Castelli, 2009 and Merrett et al., 2014). This suggests that Music and Language per se are separate linguistic systems but rely on overlapping neural mechanisms for interpretation (Sergent et al., 1992), as was the case with Kana and Kanji, ASL, and spoken English.

 

Lastly, in individuals with right hemisphere damage, there at least appears to be issues with individuals interpreting the semantic significance of narrative, metaphor, and allusion (Delis et al., 1983; Rehak et al., 1992; Moya et al., 1986; and Kaplan et al., 1992). Individuals with such damage also appear to have issues interpreting jokes and innuendo (Brownell et al., 1983). As such, individuals that have some right hemisphere damage or are left-hemisphere dominant may, or will, have trouble, or seem to have trouble, interpreting non-literal, metaphorical, or idiomatic language (Brownell, 1998, Winner and Gardner, 1977, and Foldi, 1987). As you may remember from the breakdown of how our brains process and engage in arithmetic, the frontal lobe was involved in interpreting and manipulating abstract language and mathematics. Thus, you would be prudent to attribute issues interpreting metaphor, non-literal, or idiomatic language that still has semantic significance to individuals with right hemisphere damage. Particularly, such individuals have issues in the middle temporal gyrus and the frontal pole, the latter of which does indeed relate to the frontal cortex (Bottini et al., 1994). To briefly put it without drawing out the anatomy too much more, the right hemisphere generally affects the ability to interpret metaphor. Still, it works in tandem with the left hemisphere as well, suggesting that there's an overlap of neurological mechanisms of different languages, between and within languages, for interpreting both literal and non-literal statements and narratives (Obert et al., 2014 and Lai et al., 2015.) This occurs when information must be reconciled that's too novel to be fully understood and thus must be constrained via metaphor, idiomatic speech, or a non-literal narrative (e.g., Diaz and Hogstrom, 2011 and Prat et al., 2012).

 

Finally, attention and memory. Our ability to pay attention and maintain self-generated thought is generally attributed to the Default Mode Network, or DN (Andrews-Hannah, Smallwood, and Spreng, 2014). The regions of the brain related to this network, which are related to conscious thought and memory, cover a large portion of the brain and include the: Superior Frontal Cortex, Temporo-Parietal Junction, Inferior Frontal Cortex, Superior Parietal Cortex, Posterior Parietal Cortex, Anterior Insula, Anterior Ventral Temporal Lobe, Superior Frontal Cortex, Anterior Medial Prefrontal Cortex, Ventral Posterior Cingulate, and the Posterior Cingulate Cortex. All of these areas contribute to executive control over both explicit and procedural memory via experience. I.e., our experiences shape how we think, behave, respond, and perceive reality, and the DN enables some control over these memories. For example, the amygdala is responsible for Pavlovian conditioning (Cahill, 2000) and thus relates to the emotional baggage associated with memories. However, these emotional memories could be regulated and modulated via the DN, the Lateral Temporal Cortex or Anterior Ventral Temporal Lobe, leading to altered episodic memory representations and a difference in emotional response to certain primed stimuli (Buhle et al., 2013). This also suggests that our theories about how other people think, our Theory of Mind (ToM), do not necessarily have to be tied to an actual episodic memory (Rosenbaum et al., 2007). This ability to use ToM to interpret the intention of others can be trained via areas within and without the DN (Mar, 2011). Exposure to stories, anthropomorphic, non-anthropomorphic, historical, and ahistorical, has been shown to increase empathy and our ToM abilities (Mar et al., 2009, Oatley, 2008, and Zunshine, 2006), which affect how we consciously and unconsciously perceive and interact with others and Reality.

 

For example, remembering the past impacts how we perceive and interact with the world and others for future goals (Schacter et al., 2007). Specifically, planning for the future relied on the hippocampus, a region involved in memory allocation and distribution throughout the brain, and increased in activity for events further in the future than those closer to the present. Interestingly, the Lateral Prefrontal Cortex seems to play a role in the assessment of greater long-term reward versus short-term rewards (Finger et al., 2010), depending on how much attention we give to either, which is also altered by personal relevance, arousal, and valence, the latter of which is specifically associated with the amygdala (Peters and Buchel, 2010).  Lastly, planning through both space and time for a future reward was explicitly mediated by the frontoparietal control network over the DN (autobiographical) and the dorsal attention network (DAN) (visual-spatial planning) (Spreng et al., 2010). This finding suggests that the frontoparietal control network mediates control over immediate stimuli by activating or incorporating past stimuli to make mental maps of reality that enable us to move through time, towards particular goals, mediated by self-thought. As was noted previously, these stimuli do not have to be real for them to be impactful, but for them to be useful, they must likely relate to Reality in a way that is conducive to our fitness; i.e., narratives that are related to the survival of our species last longer than those that do not (Boyer, 2008), as they are better at moving us across time.

 

How Does Our Neurocognitive Architecture Relate to the Semantic and Epistemological Frameworks of the Bible and Harry Potter?

 

Then how does all this information relate to the two narratives and their apparent relationship with the two epistemological frameworks of Rationalism and Empiricism?

 

The questions we must answer to achieve this are, for the rationalist viewpoint, or the narrative of Harry Potter: do some people inherently have more access to information than others; can you predict what happens in the world; can our use of language affect the predictions we make; does language provide us with a manageable structure; do words structure reality or not – is this dichotomy too simple? For the empiricist viewpoint, or the narrative of the Bible: do we gain knowledge through experience; do things reveal themselves to us through experience; can we use language to communion with Reality or God, direct attention towards an end; are there outliers in our experience that we do not literally account for; can we fully grasp Reality with our senses, or must we rely on faith to increase confidence in our senses?

 

To begin, Harry Potter: do some people inherently have more access to information than others? Yes. As we can see from our examination of the spatial system, some children have demonstrated that they are capable of more abstracted forms of thought than others and that this behavior predicts success in the future. 

 

This leads us to the next question: can you predict what happens in the world? Yes, you can. Our spatial system also enables us to make abstracted models of reality with arithmetic, which enable us to predict future outcomes through experimentation or observation, which for the rationalist, would be consolidated by their rational self. 

 

Next, can our use of language affect our ability to predict the future, i.e., can our use of language lead to our predictions (charms, enchantments, curses)? No, it cannot. This fact is a bit more complicated than it first appears, however. For any linguistic statement to be predictive, it must be related to reality in some way (metaphorical or literal). If you are trying to alter the future through what you say alone, you will not succeed in manifesting your prediction. However, our use of more abstracted language in arithmetic may affect our ability to conceive of reality and come up with a model for reality that makes accurate predictions. Once again, however, for this model to make accurate predictions, it must rely on data from reality, which would suggest that the language making the prediction is merely representative of reality and does not constrain reality. 

 

Next, does language provide us with meaningful structure? Yes, it does, as we have identified in our analysis of the linguistic system, but this semantic significance may be lost when we make use of another language (e.g., Kana, Kanji, English, ASL, and Music). When this occurs, the semantic structure that any one language provides us is lost, and we must engage similar areas of our brain to make sense of reality again through the newly acquired language (e.g., Italian and English). Thus, while the linguistic mechanism are universal, the semantic structure of each language is relative. 

 

Finally: do words structure reality or not; is this dichotomy too simple? No, words do not structure reality per se. However, I believe this question was too simplistic. Language provides us with a model for reality that emerges from reality through a process known as Conjunctive Encoding. This process enables us to make mental models of real things in reality from their composite parts. Without the experience of a thing, we would not be able to perceive reality in part or as a whole, which itself must require some conjunctive model, albeit only a representative one. Thus, our use of language can enable us to focus on particular parts of reality, affecting how we work within it, plan for it, and interact with others (e.g., the DN's ability to mediate attention from semantic and procedural memories). Thus, without those experiences, which likely were garnered through trial and error, or someone's trial and error (e.g., fictional stories enable us to have an expanded ToM, which we can use to plan for the future and interact with others), we would not make mental models of reality. So do words structure reality? No, but it seems like they work via a feedback loop, which affects the semantic maps that we create.

 

Next, the Bible. Firstly, do we gain knowledge through experience? Yes, we do. As we can see in our analysis of our memory and attention systems, object recognition, and linguistic systems, knowledge is generally acquired through trial and error or experience. To start, our ability to recognize objects through Conjunctive Encoding, real or metaphysical, requires some experience with parts of the object to build a mental model of that object that we can use through association to interact with like objects or reality itself. This fact also answers the second question: Do things reveal themselves to us through experience? Yes, without the experience of any object or space, without interacting with either, we could not build a mental model that we associate the real-world object with. Thus, through interaction with objects and spaces, we form abstracted models that are revealed to us, made known to us, through our experience with them; i.e., revelation enables us to update our mental models of reality.  In other words, there are no Universal Forms in the ether imposing themselves on reality; the Forms emerge from reality.

 

Next, can language or communion with Reality or God, direct our attention or help us? Yes, it can. If we are to understand prayer as an earnest request, demand, question or inquiry as the CDE has defined it, then prayer really can direct our attention and help us. For example, actively questioning reality or praying to God may be seen as an abstract act, activating areas in the right and left hemispheres. Areas associated with abstract thought are also associated with the frontal cortices and the frontal lobe, enabling us to make maps of reality, arithmetical and linguistic, to give reality a sense of semantic significance; narrative significance, especially concerning the right hemisphere. With these narratives of reality, autobiographical or otherwise, we can plan for long-term goals and focus our attention on relevant stimuli. When mediated by the DN or the DAN, we can exert executive control on ourselves, and thus, focus on our goals and achieve them while ignoring immediate temptations given that we’ve primed them with certain feelings of relevance, arousal, or valance. Without the ability to make an honest inquiry, demand, or request of reality, to pray to reality or God, we would find it more difficult to make these autobiographical, or graphical, models of reality, a narrative map of meaning, and thus we would find it harder to focus on certain aspects of reality to achieve our goals in the future for others that immediately present themselves to us.

 

Next, are there statistical outliers that we do not account for, that extend beyond our constrained conception of the natural order that, when made known to us, provide us with awe, surprise, or astonishment, can these be acts of a preternatural entity (an entity like God that extends beyond our constrained conception of reality) – are there miracles? Of course, and this is identified through our visual system and our linguistic system. To start, the linguistic system. Miracle as it's described in the Bible may in fact have its metaphorical or abstract structure from being a novel or unique experience that the people in the Bible underwent themselves. Thus, because such events activate our right hemisphere rather than our left hemisphere, we respond to these events with metaphor or symbolism. Secondly, as was identified in our examination of the visual system, not all information can be perceived at once. Thus, our visual systems cause stimuli to compete for our attention. Thus, when we make abstracted models of reality (models that are ordered as we can or willfully perceive nature), we intentionally or accidentally exclude potentially relevant information. When this happens, we consciously and unconsciously block out seemingly unnecessary information. More often than not, this likely causes us problems, but the inverse would also likely be true, which is why we have the notion of felix culpa or happy mistakes. When these happy mistakes occur, they may cause us surprise, awe, or astonishment, which if they are attributed to God or a preternatural power, would definitionally be identified as a miracle. Thus, miracles clearly exist as they are defined etymologically in the Bible.

 

Lastly, we cannot fully grasp reality with our senses. As we noted with our examination of miracles, the visual system enables stimuli to compete for our attention, which causes us to focus on certain stimuli, both consciously and unconsciously. Thus, we can simultaneously lie to ourselves about what we perceive relative to our aims, and our sense can lie to us. To account for this, the Biblical notion of faith can be seen as a useful linguistic abstraction to solve this problem. Without the idea of faith for what we perceive to be the case, confidence in what we hope we are experiencing, and certainty that something is indeed being experienced, we could not garner experiences that update our models of reality. We would not be able to integrate metaphorical information, or we would be less inclined to integrate metaphorical information into our models of reality, as we might assume such information is merely our senses lying to us about what we're perceiving (rationalist viewpoint). Thus, the notion of faith, because it is an abstract linguistic tool that likely enables the integration of metaphorical or abstract novel experiences into our mental maps of reality, formed through the Conjunctive Encoding process, ensures the empiricist that, whatever it is that he is experiencing, something is being experienced, something is there; his senses are likely communicating something to him that’s relevant, they are not merely lying to him.

 

 

Conclusions and Discussion

 

For a final count, three of Harry Potter's precepts were affirmed, while two were not. All five of the Bible's precepts were affirmed. However, what's more important than the score is where Harry Potter is flawed. 

 

The very idea of a spell, as Witches and Sorcerers use to charm, enchant, or curse others, cannot alter reality per se. Such Spells must rely on real-world mechanisms for their linguistic statements to alter reality or to be predictable. Ultimately, this means that the use of language here essentially obfuscates reality or causes the user of such language to avoid perceiving reality or the object in reality that they're cursing, for example. 

 

Secondly, do words structure reality or not? The answer to this question obviously was no if you knew about Conjunctive Encoding. But more importantly, that the users of magic believe they can structure reality with language without acknowledging that language is a representative tool from reality, comprised as a composite model from experiences of reality, the user's or not, suggests that the worldview of the Magician (Witch or Wizard) is deeply and essentially flawed. More than any other, this fact denotes the fallacious and deeply erroneous conception of reality that the witches and wizards of Harry Potter experience. And thus, anyone who would use Harry Potter as a narrative model of reality. 

 

Why then would we ask such a question? From our discussion on the attention and memory systems, you may remember that planning for the long-term increases survivability (Boyer, 2008). Moreover, shared narratives or religions also benefit the adopter of the narrative software or religion (Sanderson, 2011). Given that there are multiple religious narratives or shared narratives about reality, which may or may not include God, one of the ways we can determine if a narrative is conducive to Human wellbeing is whether it corresponds to how we conceive of reality through our neurocognitive architecture. Although this paper does not deal with the moral nature of religions or software, as previous papers have explored (Stich 2018), it does deal with whether or not our neurocognitive architecture impacts whether a religion or group narrative is conducive to our long-term wellbeing as a species. This paper presupposes that narratives or religions that more accurately map to our neurocognitive architecture are more conducive to human wellbeing over time, which I am confident is sound. Given the longevity of the Bible, the fact that religions are evolutionarily advantageous, and that religions likely affect cultural norms (for the better or worse depending on your moral map, see Graham, 2011 for a brief explanation of the five moral sentiments), for the Bible or any religious narrative to more succinctly map onto our neurocognitive architecture than any other would partially explain why people adopt and maintain certain shared religious narratives over-time, like the story of the Bible.

 

As the Bible maps to our neurocognitive architecture through the precepts that we defined via the CDE and CDP, I think it is sound to say that this partially explains why the Bible has been maintained as a form of adaptive architecture for the flourishing of those who adopted it as a religious text. 

 

 

 

 

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MatTehCat
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