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A different way to define the religious impulse and experience, or to get away from terms like spiritual - "effervescence... [or] finding [that they could] induce altered states of consciousness" -
this also sees off the 'big gods' and 'false agency' scenarios!

By Allamanda8
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I find that a Trance state and a flow state share a great many similarities. I fail to see how either is indicative of anything more than a mental state.

well, and this is just my very small ideas on the subject - yes it's the same - but I think there are almost certainly levels beyond levels in them, or in it. The question isn't so much are they mental - they must be - but whether they induce something beyond that, that relates to mental health, bondedness, and at the upper levels, what used to / might be called enlightenment?

@Allamanda Then again it could be self delusion.

@Atheist3 could be, but the brainwaves changes etc. are measurable... and many people find they don't need the drugs they were on at a certain point...

@Allamanda However, we"re still talking about a physical response & not a metaphysical phenomenon.

@Atheist3 evidently, since we (mostly) don't believe there is such a thing as a metaphysical phenomenom, we can't use that, and must use measureable effects. If it makes the attainer at peace with the world how can we object? Can you measure happiness, or depression, or anger?

@Allamanda So, if delusion (religion) makes one happy then it's ok? What about all the untoward side effects of entertaining a delusion? If it just stopped at being happy, groovy. But it doesn't.

@Atheist3 no - this is about getting back to the impulse which it's here postulated may have lead to religion. ie. to have a private practice without a formal religion of any kind, if that is your interest.

@Allamanda To be human is to love ritual. OCD

@Atheist3 not sure of your point there, nor able to follow your logic. Most of us, as atheists, are fairly resistant to ritual beyond the quotidian. And this is a little boring, being so far from the subject, sorry.

@Allamanda The point being is; if stuff gives you a sense of well-being, you will indulge yourself whether it has any basis in reality. Such is human nature.

@Allamanda All mental states have an effect. The ability to remain calm and focused in combat is of great survival benefit, as is the tendancy to leap to conclusions (as assuming a tiger in the bushes leaves you alive, investigating might end you), so we have evolved to assume . . .making asses of us all at some point.

WE are evolving now. We began, like all life with strictly biological evolution. Then we added social evolution which many animals share, herds, flocks, schools, murders, all have benefits to species survival. Then we added techological evolution, which only a few species exhibit. That evolution is faster than social, which is faster than biological, and moved us from gatherers, to farmers, to Industrialists, to data technicians.

BUT Biologically, we are still on the Savannas.

Those mental states which aid survival will last, and aiding humans in coping with existential reality as concious beings is a survival trait.

Might a mental state be of personal benefit to you? That depends on you and what you need and what you do with any given mental state.

Are these mental states superior somehow, perhaps in a given circumstance. I often favor a contemplative mental state of mind, but that mindset is useless in a survival situation. It is of benefit in avoiding the next survival situation.

@Davesnothere yes! and we have fewer survival situation for the most part of the hunter/hunted type, ours are more calculating long-term risk, I think. As in is it better to have an eco-revolution now or bet on science 'rescuing us' later? Better to do some work on what holds society together now, or stockpile weapons in a bunker?

@Allamanda "To be human is to love ritual. OCD" I think he means almost everything becomes ritual to people, they way you make your morning coffee is, they way you personally bathe, dress, sleep, eat, all of it in a habitual or ritual fashion.
Some folks even refer to it that way "Well, onto my face routine (ritual)" from my sisters growing up.

@Davesnothere I wonder if that's not a misuse of the word, where routine would do fine? Some people may actually be performing rituals for their own consolation or some other reason I guess? Hence the craze for 'mindfulness' ? But a ritual in the religious sense is different, usually taken to be public, or involve a group, and to promote a specific set of circumstances that may allow for metaphysical/mystical, what, events/ideas/imaginations depending on your views - which is why it's hard to discuss this need [in some people].

@Allamanda I agree with you in principal, but reality dictates that in order to have peace, all people must want that MORE than they want personal success. All People must want peace MORE than they want liberty.

You can have perfect peace in fascism after a couple of generations, all dissent is executed. Does not make it a peaceful ideology.

in order for the species to survive long term we need the majority to unite, so much so that we could all hear the sound of collective heads popping out of asses, globally, but I do not expect that.

For instance we could all put a huge dent into pollution and CO2 if we just gave up autos except for emergency services and a few other exceptions.
Do you think people will SELF SACRIFICE that liberty, OR are they trapped and dependent on the auto for food now, as it gets you to work?

Which is more important to the whole, peace or liberty?
Now ask yourself how much liberty of yours would you give up before you were no longer peaceful, but felt obliged to resist some authoritarian to preserve your liberty.

Liberty, as in the freedom to live as you choose as long as it does not break anothers leg or pick their pocket?

As a vet I long for peace, but it will always be peace with a sword, because I also know men who enjoiy war, who revel in combat, and if those folks think their liberty is infringed upon, they will fight for it, so we must always be prepared for that.

What I think we both want is some global epiphany so that the whole damn world wakes up and realizes that co-operation is a better survival strategy than competition.

@Davesnothere yes... have to walk to work myself right now so! later! but that is what I want... and I'm not putting down my flower until they put down their gun.

@Allamanda I am old enough to recall daisies in M-16s meself


while i still hold the opinion that humans have evolved a brain prone to superstition, that altered states of consciousness. can happen from meditation and drugs. . i take part in it when i am in a relationship. though love can be shown as a brain state, in an mri scan. it still borders on nonmaterialism.

absolutely! It's possible that many of today's atheists/agnostics while rejecting some or most of the avenues to mystical experiences (eg. in rejecting 'charismatic' type events, church attendance, or use of certain classes of drugs) may still find them accessible in say, dance, or infatuation states, or...

@Allamanda sam harris meditates. as example, he is a neuroscientist and brilliant atheist

@MichaelSpinler right, also I think there's a certain level produced by physical endurance that's reached by climbers, runners, yoga practitioners, probably long-distance swimmers, etc. as well as dancers, drummers, and more - that isn't recognised as being the same thing.

@Allamanda yes, just like the nde thing, that can be reproduced and is, by every centrifuge when testing pilots and astronauts.what i have seen is there are physical explanations for these things , but because our brains are geared for superstition people jump to woo interpretations

@MichaelSpinler yes, but going beyond that - do we have a need for these states? should we all (or whoever wants to) allow for them to happen, practice them? What can they give us? If it's an individual enlightenment, sense of peace etc. and also a social cohesiveness, it's something we're neglecting/rejecting at our peril. If a person doesn't achieve it, or can't access it, in any way, could it be the cause of many ills?

@Allamanda its been shown humans love using drugs, be it caffeine, pot, drink etc. it ll plays into the same thing.. i find a rational demostrable approach to be all inclusive, that requires no emotional or special circumstances or claims. i pride my rewiring of my brain towards the facts over our natural state of jumping to the wrong conclusions and superstition. it takes an extra effort to do such but the reward is clarity of mind

@MichaelSpinler that's true, but is it also maintaining society, or can we set ourselves apart from that? I don't know - I think the gulf we've made between man and nature has spread to man vs. society, and as individuals we may be ok, but are we surviving that well en masse? Is it possible to continue as a species with this degree of separation?

@Allamanda well we can't lower standards just to make the less educated included. there is always a drive to tribalism, inflamed by the political and religious systems. i look at it as i do when combating the people who don't accept climate change or evolution. we can't compromise the science to make a bunch or uneducated feel better. some pills may be hard to sell and swallow. but we have to stick too our guns and use kindness when ever possible to sway them into the light., we need to aim high. not lower the bar

@MichaelSpinler yes - but we may have to accept that the more intellectual appeals to reason don't work on some people, and we've lost a lot of the other methods, or we're not adapting them very well. I don't have any answers here, just feeling my way to some dim glimpse...

@Allamanda there will never be a 100% effective method. but lowering the bar just hurts us in the end. it would be no different when we are talking about climate change. we can't afford to play nice with people who claim its a hoax. we have to fix the problem no matter what, in spite of their ignorance or opinions.

@MichaelSpinler yes for sure. On this though, it's enough if one arrives at a point of having ways to articulate this as a personal matter, to other people who are interested in the same. There are so many barriers even to that.

@Allamanda yes, why debates and other forums are effective, as is continued education. like everything, there needs to be a village mentality. many approaches leading to the same end.some leave religion based on theological concerns, some through science. some through philosophy. the problem tends to be people get emotionally attched to an idea, won't look at the facts. then wonder off rather than dealing with it, i am dealing with this on here with corporate media watchers and there talking points that are easy to refute, because the facts are on my side. yet so far they pull the same creationist type moves, from we will have to agree to disagree. to the latest of sanders supporters are just whiners. . i am betting the facts i just used to further my point go ignored. and he vanishes, rather than being proven wrong.. where i am happy to be proven wrong, i want to accept as many true things as i can, and not accept things untrue as much as i can as well. i learned to curb my emotions when new evidence is found.or an idea i may like is debunked.

@Allamanda Just b/c something 'gets you off' doesn't mean that it's a mystical experience. I'm sure everyone that has experienced an orgasm would say that it is a mystical experience. But it's just sex, or dancing, or painting, or whatever.

@Atheist3 it may be, or it may sometimes be more - obviously you'd have to be open to that, and to putting the effort in to achieve it.

@Allamanda The problem is: "it may be something more." Is there any evidence for this 'something more' other than subjective anecdotal testimony?

@Atheist3 beyond the brain wave research, I don't know of such. But we're talking 'testimony' from every hman culture for several thousand years. Without a spirit of inquiry we'd not be here.

@Allamanda "without a spirit of inquiry" Human curiosity.
"We'd not be here" Where's here?
Evolution doesn't give a damn about the mystic notion of our species.

@Allamanda testimony has no value scientifically, that type of direction is for someone that is still holding onto magical thinking, its what i was saying about shelving our emotions. that i am fine with what is, and to not know all the details , as in the whole of evolution is a fact. the finer points and undiscovered fossils etc. are just that finer points. or the scope of the universe. we have a good handle on rapid expanse to planet formation to knowing that most stars have planets in orbit. . but all the new information of the formerly unknown won't change the basic facts we do know. people tend to not be content with some unknowns, and feed the need for superstition .

@MichaelSpinler I don't see the need of testimony either, was just trying to respond to this line of inquiry to the extent of being polite.But the practice of meditation or search for a non-chemical alteration of brain states is not unscientific, though it may be a fringe interest.

@Allamanda brain research and meditation are documented in science. but testimony is never scientific and can be dismissed. and i am being polite back, but the hard facts are just that, it may seam harsh . that is how to best make sure you are not adopting ideas that sound good rather than what is demonstrable. and plausible.. whats possible is an endless chain of woo and wishful thinking. which are of no interest, and i refuse to pander too it.when ever there is demonstrable evidence , then i look into it.

@MichaelSpinler no quite! I agree, and the 'polite' didn't mean yourself but some of the other commenters who appear to want anyone they converse with to prove to them that thought itself exists, something I really am not inclined to or qualified to do... some evidence is 'sideways' - eg. we had no knowledge of brainwaves or REM etc. until very recently, but we've always known thought, dreams, and trance states exist. So for me this is interesting as 1) an individual method to calm the mind or the emotions or whatever one sees as one's problem, and 2) this article posits we may need (or have needed) this as a social cohesion mechanism... which may have lead to 'organised religion' but that's a side issue. I would personally like to follow that idea, I think we're a group (if indeed we're a group in any valid sense) that has the grasp, to do so, and it's a valid addition to re-using one's plastic bags and recycling etc.

@Allamanda guns germs and steel describes the reasons for the reasons of having the time to develop more complex gods and religions to the free time available in cultures . if you are hunting and gathering as example, you will only have a basic naturalistic type of religion. like we see with native americans and the tribes of africa. . its only when a culture took up cultivation and domesticating animals do we see more complex religions and gods. as far as why humans do this, its explained in our evolution and in neurology. why humans are evolved and naturally selected for superstition.

@MichaelSpinler been some years since I read it - must hunt down a copy again

@Allamanda you can watch it on line in documentary form I also posted the first part on here


This was fascinating. Thank you for posting. Social cohesion, and transcendent states, I really liked that argument.

yes - they've always seemed to me the things we lose sight of as atheists, and that's very evident in the discourse on this site... I think we've lost the habit of one and mostly, the desire for the other...

@Allamanda agreed! Having no belief in a diety does not mean we have lost our need for connection or the ability to recognize awe inspiring events.

@GreatNani to me, this is about more than that - it's about the human need for something beyond the material. Regardless of whatever explanations our ancestors made up from their perceptions of this 'other realm' by anthropomorphising the effects seen in trance states into spirits (and deities), or ghosts or whatever, those states are real and obtainable and beneficial. They need not involve drugs or living in a cave for 30 years, or being a psychiatric case - and I think our modern societies tend to neglect them at our peril?

@Allamanda I would agree. It is why meditative states, chanting etc are part of most world religions. Stillness is something we have forgotten in the modern world. Getting out of your own head, for lack of a better expression, is important.

@GreatNani Just b/c we're atheists doesn't mean that we stop feeling. We just don't have a religious feeling.

@Atheist3 I am not sure what religious feeling is or how it differs from the awe you feel having a child or being in nature. Maybe it is the same?


A change has come over the public discussion of religion in recent years. In the decade of the New Atheists, religion was the root of all evil. Nowadays, however, it tends to be thought of as a good, even necessary, part of society

I struggle to get past the opening two sentences which are just statements of the author's own prejudices really. On closer examination the new atheist turns out to be no different from the old in substance. And nothing has changed for many atheists: religion is and never has been the root of all evil. But it's a massively useful tool for those who commit evil. So not a great start!

However mind altering states are clearly fascinating - and can give humans extraordinary insights...

very clever -" religion is and never has been the root of all evil"

@Allamanda ill need to start using that mistake deliberately: nice contradiction in a single sentence. I’ll practice it

@Allamanda Yes! I don't accept religion in any form- but there are some people involved in religion, although misguided, do some honest, humanitarian work. Some have even been executed because of their work.

I am not talking about criminal, TV evangelists- most of whom deserve long prison terms for fleecing the stupid.

@Diogenes sure, agreed - but to me this isn't about that at all - it's about rejecting the mystical along with the hierarchical and political aspects of religion.

@Allamanda I believe that we are both on the same page. As Thomas Paine has put it,(excuse my paraphrase) "All gods are man-made." "Walking on water" is some form of satire. If all the funny parts of the bible were taken out there wouldn't be anything left. But Christianity is just one of the doctrines that are bad jokes.

@Diogenes for sure - I just think they had their day, all of them, now we are past that.


The three main theories are of course not mutually exclusive, but could reinforce each other.


I like the term spiritual. it pisses off the atheists.

hankster Level 9 Nov 8, 2019

Okay then.


As an atheist since age 13, I like the word "spiritual."

Hiking is a transcendent, spiritual and uplifting experience for me.

@LiterateHiker good enough. well it pisses off some it seems. atheist since 13. young. I'm curious. was agnosticism something you knew about then? at that age i was atheist because it was the only choice outside of everything was so unreally b & w. finally i heard the agnosticism thing. allowed me to sense/feel what you're talking about on those hikes. maybe without the conflict of god in the mix. enjoy your hikes. peace.


In college, I first heard about agnosticism. I have been a lifelong skeptic.

As a young child, I knew Bible stories were just fables like Grimm's Fairy Tales. Never believed in an invisible god. It seemed ridiculous.

Growing up on a lake, I learned to sail at age 8. The angle of the sail and wind speed powered sailboats (not "God's hand," as Christians profess). Natural science made sense.

To believe religion requires blind faith. Never had it.

@LiterateHiker i understand. my childhood was very conservative mind police god and stuff.


Simply put..people crave acceptance and order..religion in part is required to aid in creating conformity.. discipline and a certain amount of brainwashing just happen to be the unfortunate vehicles to accomplish this on a societal level The church and the legal system are the twin cattle prods that keep the herd moving, more or less, in a straight line.

Davekp Level 7 Nov 8, 2019

well kinda - but that misses the whole point of this, that religion is a sort of codification of transcendent experience which we may need both evolutionarily and individually

@Allamanda missing the point is a specialty of mine🤣🤣


It is interesting that the pursuit of altered states is cited as a possible origin of religion. In the running (in my mind) for the origins of agriculture is also the pursuit of altered states--drugs, making alcohol. I personally reject all the leading thoughts on the subject.

not sure I'm following? Pre-Agricultural societies and non-farmers do make alcohol but also often know about many other mind-altering substances...
What leading thought are you rejecting?

@Allamanda both thoughts, that altered states may have led us into religion and also into agriculture, speak to the strength of the draw of altered states--broadly, not just alcohol.

@DavidDuhon oh yes!


the article also covers this tremendously important idea - 'that religion is necessary for most people' as social control etc. -see quote below - this is what agnostics battle, in a sense - but there may be truth to it regardless -

"when villages and then towns appear, they massively increase social stresses, which is to say that new techniques for managing social pressures are required.

A release was found with the creation of what Dunbar calls ‘doctrinal religion’, by which he means religious systems that include specialists such as priests and impressive constructions we’d call temples and/or domestic house-based shrines. Such features increase the prosocial effects of religiosity beyond what’s possible through shamanic rituals alone because constructed sacred spaces, coupled to visibly enacted theologies in the form of sacrifices and feasts, maintain the presence of ancestors, spirits or gods in built-up communities. They give meaning to the years and seasons, as well as the comings and goings of every day, by translating the sense of transcendence originally found in visionary experiences to a sense of transcendence generated by temples and house shrines. ‘Doctrinal religion’ thereby sustains the prosocial effects of earlier types of religiosity for groups that are now growing very large indeed."

I especially liked the bit where he stated that there are NO big gods, i.e. they are all small gods that expand in magnitude as the numbers of believers ( Buyers) increase.
I tend to think that the same has worked with money/wealth over the millenia where originally humans lived by a barter system quite successfully UNTIL someone invented money and then everything seemed to go 'tits up' ( excuse the expression).
For example, in the Barter system there is a basis of an equal trade where each person involved comes out with what they wanted BUT in the money exchange systems we are now stuck with, in my opinion, the Merchant, Wholesaler/Retailer or whatever dictates the exchange and the purchaser has very little or no choice at all in the matter.
To my mind the same works for most religious belief systems, i.e. the Vendor ( Church, Priest or whatever) makes the rules, controls the exchange and gathers the profit whilst the Purchaser simply abides by those rules of exchange or MUST go without.
As to that Gray person and his/her comment that Atheism is just another system of belief, i.e. a form of religion, well, technically any Religion MUST have a PRIMARY and Supreme Deity for the followers to adore, worship and venerate ergo, IF Gray were to be correct, then Atheists, like myself, MUST spend part of time upon bended knee with clasped hands PRAYING to literal Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses drawn from ALL the disciplines of the Sciences, something which, and speaking only for myself as ONLY anyone can truly do, I for one most definitely do NOT.

@Triphid I agree re modern economics, it's a religion for sure! As regards atheism being one, obviously only in the limited sense of functioning instead of one - which it doesn't do well at anyway.

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