Tuesday, June 5, 2007

That Voice in Your Head

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was recently asked how he knew that the voice in his head was God’s and not his own. He claimed to understand why someone would have doubt. I understood too, from personal experience.

From the time I was in college, my “inner voice” would occasionally come up with things that I felt must have come from an external source because surely I wasn’t smart enough, or self-assured enough, to do so. Well, it turns out that I was, at least the subconscious part of me. As always I did some research, and discovered that the self-aware part of people’s minds is actually quite dumb; similar to the local memory that controls the display on a computer. It has some elementary computing power, but most of what it “sees” are the results of much more complex computations done by a microprocessor (or group of them). While consciously I have difficulty doing basic arithmetic, most of my brain is processing millions of points of data in complex calculations that our technology is still far from emulating.

I came to the inescapable conclusion that what I was attributing to “God” was really just a set of simple communications between the really smart part of my mind and the really dumb part of my mind. Quizzing other people, I concluded that they were probably the same. This conclusion is further supported by recent research identifying a physical part of the brain with people’s experience of spirituality.

When someone claims that “God” talks to them, I assume that they are simply not self-aware. Such lack of awareness is not necessarily bad; I did reasonably well through my thirties. But I attribute much of the huge increase in productivity and creativity I experienced since then to my discovery and the effort afterwards to improve the communications between the two parts of my mind. I can’t help but wonder if it might work as well for other people.

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