Mitchell Diamond: The Problem with Consciousness


MitchDiamondpicThe human acquisition of higher-order consciousness, our cognitive capabilities that differentiate us from other animals, is a crowning achievement...or so it seems. Not that long ago, we thought humans were the only creatures to have tool use, language, extensive historical memories, and self-awareness. We now know that other animals are capable of these traits—except perhaps for the belief in gods and religion. All the attributions we make about humanity that appear to make us unique turn out to be mostly erroneous. The more scientists learn about the human brain and behavior, the more it becomes clear that we behave like other animals.


And yet humans have culture, the ability to adapt to different environments conditionally, temporarily, and locally in ways that no other animal can. Humans can pass that knowledge to their progeny, leading to mythology, art, writing, and ultimately our contemporary, technological society.


So how does our consciousness fit into the grand scheme? How much of human behavior is conscious? Day to day, are we consciously directing our own movie? When the scientific evidence suggests that most human activity derives from emotions and heuristics, which conflicts with people's intuitive beliefs about their motivations, do you do what most people do: side with your cognitive biases and deny the science?


Mitchell Diamond is the author of Darwin's Apple: The Evolutionary Biology of Religion. In his first talk for the East Bay Atheists last year, he examined the weaknesses of the various accounts for the origins of religion and hinted at a novel solution. In this talk, The Problem with Consciousness, Diamond draws on neuroscience and psychology to provide many examples of how consciousness does not function the way people perceive that it does and introduces the reason for the advent of religion. He may also provide an explanation for the Garden of Eden metaphor that reflects the origin of human consciousness (as opposed to original sin and patriarchy).


After the discussion we will walk to dinner at our usual venue at King Dong, 2727 Milvia (at Haste) in Berkeley. The walk is nearly the same distance as it was when we met in the library.


When: Sunday, February 19th, 2:00 PM to 4:30 PM


Location: Sports Basement, 2727 Milvia St, Berkeley. Four blocks from Ashby BART. Parking in the neighborhood, and you can use the store's parking. Like many stores today, the Sports Basement is not heated to a comfy home temperature. We suggest you wear a coat or sweater, and bring another warm layer in case you get cold sitting during the talk. The store is certainly warmer than the outside, be we have had some cold days lately. Our room is large with lots of comfy sofas, but we were concerned that the retail area might intrude on our space, which is only partially partitioned off from the rest of the store. At our Solstice Party we found this was not a problem. Several people said they became oblivious to the nearby store space, and really enjoyed our pleasant room.


To Find Us: Enter the front door and proceed to the main shopping area. Then turn right. We will be on your right.


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Information: Larry Hicok, Coordinator: 510-222-7580

Ski Grabowski, Treasurer: 510-652-8350

Albany Hill Cross On the Way Out

As a result of pressure applied by the City of Albany, PG&E has replaced the electrical service for the Albany Hill Cross, located in the city park in Albany. The replacement makes the cross many times safer than before, when it used a small euclayptus tree as a utility pole. This was particularly egregious because it was in a critical fire area. The history of the cross is a case study of the special privileges given to religion, and the current city administration wants this to end. Below is a postcard sent to every Albany household in December, when the council doubted PG&E would properly repair the service. Ultimately we are confident that the cross will soon be gone from the park.



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