A detailed work that looks at the possible biological basis of spiritual faith.
In his intriguing nonfiction debut, Antal locates what he considers to be a genetic predisposition to spirituality in the “gazing” phenomenon, observed in infants during the first 24 months after birth. During this period, infants start paying unfocused attention to their surroundings, but they’re not yet limited by understanding or categorization. From these cognitive processes, Antal extrapolates that spirituality has a neurobiological foundation. He’s aware of how odd that idea may seem to readers: “For some it might seem insufferably counter-intuitive—even preposterous,” he writes. But this doesn’t distract him from his goal to demonstrate that the “pleasurable arousal” that infants feel toward their principal caregiver is in fact the physiological basis for the human tendency toward spirituality: “worship, a behavior, might be prompted electrobiochemically,” he says, “before feelings of the sacred or conceptualizations of Divinity come to mind.” His case rests on an analysis of how the brain chemical dopamine shapes one’s cognitive categories. Through gazing, he says, infants eventually learn to associate pleasure with an all-powerful caregiver, and this process hardens into a religious reflex that lasts long after the memory of infancy fades. Although the author’s linkage of spirituality and morality is fuzzy at best, he does offer an engaging explanation of the universality of the impulse to worship. His analysis gets increasingly complicated: “The simulated dyadic object is actualized, made real, i.e., becomes bodily felt, by the fact of the neurochemical, ‘supercharged’ infusion of dopamine.” However, he breaks down the complexities of his subject matter with enough skill and clarity to keep the attention of lay readers. In the end, the book’s argument—connecting the urge to worship to dopamine habituation—lends new meaning to the idea that religion is the opiate of the masses.
A thought-provoking assertion that humans are hard-wired for worship.