Arbib, Michael A. Crusoes Brain: Of Solitude and Society."
In the first part of
Crusoes Brain: Of Solitude and Society, Michael A. Arbib develops a thesis
regarding social influences on brain function and hence on brain structure.
Social schema theory attempts to understand how social schemas, constituted by
collective patterns of behavior in a society, provide an external reality from
which a person acquires schemas in the head. There is thus a top-down
influence of social interaction on the microstructure of the brain through
evolutionary processes, with brain action effectuated through perceptual and
motor schemas. Conversely, it is the collective effect of behaviors that
express schemas held by many individuals that constitutes and changes this
The learning of language provides an example of how individuals
interiorize social schemas. Current research on mirror neurons (neurons that
are active not only when an action is performed but also when the action is
being perceived) provides a hypothesis that language specialization in humans
derives from an ancient mechanism related to the observation and execution of
motor acts. Arbib rejects Noam Chomskys hypothesis that language learning
depends on innate universal grammar. Instead, based on work with Jane Hill, he
argues that language in children begins with repetition of words and phrases,
shaped by the use of very rudimentary grammatical schemas that develop by means
of (neo-Piagetian) assimilation and adaptation. The richness of the
metaphorical character of language can be interpreted in terms of schema
theory: a word or phrase is an impoverished representation of some schema assemblage.
Thus, extraction of meaning is a virtually endless dynamic process.
In the second part of Arbibs essay he applies social schema theory to
a discussion of ideology and religion. Social schemas include those that we
take to be representations of the world, but others that we do not, such as
ideals of human life that are never realized and models that are false but
useful. While schema theory has no implications for the question of the
existence of God, it does offer new and useful vocabulary for discussing the
projection theory of religion, found already in the writings of Ludwig
Feuerbach and Sigmund Freud. An ideology can be viewed as a very large social
schema. It is, like language, something that the child comes to as an external
reality and internalizes to become a member of society. While it is central to
schema theory to analyze the mechanisms whereby social construction and reality
depiction are dynamically interlinked, it is important to note that many
realities are socially defined rather than physical. Thus, social schema
theory provides a way of asking whether the reality of God is both external
reality and social construction, or whether God is merely a social construct.
Arbib suggests that the wide variation among religious beliefs argues for the
latter conclusion. He offers this argument as an antidote to the unabashedly
Christian worldview of many other contributors to this volume, for whom the
reality of divine action is taken as a given.
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