Jewish Platonism and the neuroscience of prayer

Using the concepts of Platonism to analyze Israeli policies based on ‘Jewish ideology’ should not seem strange, It was noticed by several scholars, of whom the most important was Moses Hadas, who claimed that the foundations of ‘classical Judaism’, that is, of Judaism as it was established by Talmudic sages, are based on Platonic influences and especially on the image of Sparta as it appears in Plato. According to Hadas, a crucial feature of the Platonic political system, adopted by Judaism as early as the Maccabean period (142-63 BC), was ‘that every phase of human conduct be subjected to religious sanctions which are in fact to be manipulated by the ruler’, There can be no better definition of ‘classical Judaism’ and of the ways in which the rabbis manipulated it than this Platonic definition. In particular, Hadas claims that Judaism adopted what ‘Plato himself summarized [as] the objectives of his program’, in the following well-known passage:

“The principal thing is that no one, man or woman, should ever be without an officer set over him, and that none should get the mental habit of taking any step, whether in earnest or in jest, on his individual responsibility. In peace as in war he must live always with his eyes on his superior officer … In a word, we must train the mind not even to consider acting as an individual or know hew to do it.” (Laws, 942 ab)

If the word ‘rabbi’ is substituted for ‘an officer’ we will have a perfect image of classical Judaism. The latter is still deeply influencing Israeli-Jewish society and determining to a large extent the Israeli policies.

-Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, section “A Closed Utopia”

This put me in mind of the “theory of mind” experience of prayer in neuroscience:

Current Studies on Prayer and the Brain

Theory of mind in prayer

So far, there have been a very limited number of pub­lished studies centered on directly investigating brain areas related to social cogni­tion during Christian prayer. One of the few studies used fMRI to examine Danish Chris­tians praying to God, who was not specifically defined in the study (Schjoedt, Stødkilde-Jør­gensen, Geertz, & Roepstorff, 2009). As a control, the participants were asked to silently make wishes to Santa Claus with eyes closed because they all believed that God was real, but that Santa was a fictional character (Schjoedt et al., 2009). The results showed increased activation in temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), the temporopolar region, and the anterior medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) – all areas involved in mentalizing or understanding others – when praying to God compared to when they were making wishes to Santa (Schjoedt et al., 2009).

The TPJ, temporopolar re­gion, and anterior mPFC are the main areas associated with “theory of mind,” which is the inherent and automatic ability in humans to understand and predict the thoughts, mo­tivations, and actions of oth­ers (Gallagher & Frith, 2003). The TPJ is involved in social attention, eye-movement ob­servations (Caruana, Brock, & Woolgar, 2015), and assess­ing intentionality and efforts of others’ actions (Mizuguchi, Nakata, & Kanosue, 2016); specifically for Christians in prayer, the TPJ could be in­volved in understanding God’s actions or will. The temporopo­lar region has been associated with autobiographical memory (Dolan, Lane, Chua, & Fletcher, 2000) and processing of social narratives (Olson, Plotzker, & Ezzyat, 2007), which could be involved in the recounting of personal daily experiences to God. The anterior mPFC is activated during the mental­ization of the self and others (Gallagher & Frith, 2003), in­dicating that subjects believed that God has a mental state, unlike a fictitious Santa Claus.

These findings suggest that the participants in the study mainly think of and at­tempt to communicate to God as a physical being, rather than as an abstract entity or a fictional character (Schjoedt et al., 2009).

It’s clear, at least to me, that the purpose of Plato’s injunction is to make a personal Jesus out of the social hierarchy. Gas the plebs, Moshiach now!

An interesting association here is that, concomitant with my (relative to IQ) unusually poor autobiographical memory, low executive function, lack of internal monologue, poor performance on Pumpkin Person’s Gestalt IQ test, and lifetime achievement to date, I also have a great deal of trouble focusing when I pray. I could get better with practice, but in terms of raw talent you wouldn’t expect someone at my level of literacy, STEM proficiency, and Christian religiosity to have serious trouble praying for five seconds in a row without getting distracted.

About Aeoli Pera

Maybe do this later?
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3 Responses to Jewish Platonism and the neuroscience of prayer

  1. Heaviside says:

    Jews get pretty miffed if you point out how much of their culture is derivative of Egypt and Greece like Gmirkin does.

  2. another handle says:

    Same. Is why canned prayers that limit deviation potential are best.

    Puritans have some nice ones.

  3. rillxn says:

    Idk if this is helpful, but maybe approach prayer like an exercise in organizing your values. That way it has the problem-solving immersion element involved as well as insights whenever you find a better way of addressing or contextualizing a particular value.

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