The Atheist’s Prayer March 16, 2008

The Atheist’s Prayer


The text:

Our brains, which art in our heads, treasured be thy names. Thy reasoning come. The best you can do be done on earth as it is. Give us this day new insight to resolve conflicts and ease pain. And lead us not into supernatural explanations, deliver us from denial of logic. For thine is the kingdom of reason, and even though thy powers are limited, and you’re not always glorious, you are the best evolutionary adaptation we have for helping this earth now and forever and ever. So be it.

Somewhere, there’s a t-shirt with this image…


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • I think that’s called the Law of Cafe Press:

    Any image that exists on the internet exists also on a tee shirt or a sticker.

  • Hmm, that prayer seems to imply we have brains, when we actually are brains. That is, what exactly possesses the brain “you” claim to have?

  • Doris Tracey

    The Chevy is my auto;
    I shall not want another.
    It leadeth me beside the repair shop.
    It vexeth my soul.
    I annoint its tires with patches.
    Its radiator runneth over.
    Its rods and pistons annoy me.
    It has a breakdown in the presence
    of mine enemies.
    And if this thing shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
    I shall dwell in the bughouse forever
    By Mark Lyle Prophet

  • Friar Z,
    That’s hilarious! Hemant has to blog about it. 😀

  • I liked both the prayer and the apocalypse comic!

  • Doris Tracey

    Remember, the brain is not the mind.

  • Hi, I reposted that but gave you credit. Thanks for it, and I hope you don’t mind me reposting it?

  • Remember, the brain is not the mind.

    Are you sure? I’ve never seen them apart.

    Unless you mean it like “the stomach is not the digestion.”

  • NYCatheist,
    First off, I thought you were making a Cathy Griffin joke for a minute– my Facebook religion used to be Cathy Griffinism.

    Don’t worry, I figured it out.

    You seem to be playing a rather roundabout semantic game to make a point, or else have a very interesting (and in my opinion, annoying) way of starting a discussion. You’re saying that a brain is all we are. So tell me, are we the meninges as well? Or just the grey and white matter? What about the capillaries that feed the brain? Couldn’t you say that we’re only the electrical impulses that happen to occur in the brain, and not even the brain itself? Is the myelin sheath in which some signals travel really a part of our mind? Are we the fibers that project from the brain and pass through it as well? Or do you exclude the red nucleus, the tectospinal pathways, that thalamus, the pyramidal and extrapyramidal systems, etc? If you don’t exclude these, then don’t you have to say that we are also the spinal cord and lower motor neurons?

    Do we exist as the brain stem, or just the frontal cortex? If we can’t say we “have” a brain, can we say we “have” an occipital lobe? If we had no input from our senses, would we still be the same person? On what could we base our reasoning or knowledge with no appreciation of any stimuli? Could you really convince yourself or anyone else that you exist, if you could produce no voluntary or involuntary movement, even of smooth muscle?

    Why not just define who “we” are like everyone else does, as the brain and the body it controls (and that, incidentally, control it– try maintaining a bright, alert and responsive mental status with hypoxemia, or in the absence of digestion and/or gluconeogenesis!) That way, when someone says they “have” a brain, everyone is clear on what the person means, and no one has to sound pretentious and play seemingly pointless semantic games.

    Speaking of semantic games, I think a more appropriate analogy to “the brain is not the mind” would be “the stomach is not the gastrointestinal tract.” Which is true, even though the stomach is a part of the gastrointestinal tract. If anything, it seems to me that the mind is “smaller” than the brain– since if you only are talking about those parts which directly produce consciousness, you would certainly be excluding anatomical structures that are normally defined as parts of the brain. Therefore, in the same way that that mind “has” a body, the mind would “have” a brain, in which it would reside.

  • That went on a little long. Sorry. If you mean to start a discussion over what the mind really is, that is certainly a point worth discussing, but (a) it’s definitely an oversimplification to say that the mind IS the brain and (b) what the mind is and what “we” are aren’t the same things, by commonly accepted definitions of the words (ie, most of us consider the body to be a part of who we are- when someone hits me in the arm with their fist, I say “you (physically) hurt me”).

  • trancer

    Mind? Brain? Not two, not one either!

    Nothing butterism: A poem is nothing but some words on a page.

    Information is not it’s medium. A process is not the sum of it’s parts.

  • Shouldn’t it be creed, rather than a prayer? Prayer implies that it goes to a deity.

    Battlestar geek also says: So Say We All.

  • or else have a very interesting (and in my opinion, annoying) way of starting a discussion.

    Yeah, I was being annoying. Sorry about that.

    When I read The Mind’s I back in jr. high school I was blown away by the line “You don’t have a brain, you are a brain.” I think that quote is trying to knock down the idea of duality. I thought it was a little amusing that an atheist prayer was implying duality, but I admit the implication was either faint or non-existent so I was just using it to spur discussion in an admittedly annoying way.

    Those are all excellent questions you ask, and I certainly don’t have the answers. I suspect that medical science will eventually have the ability to do full body transplants (brain into a different skull). In that case I think that you’d say the “person” has a new body, and the mind went along with it.

    I don’t see any scientific limitations to full body transplants, but another idea that is definitely more sci-fi is the idea of uploading minds into a computer. If you could scan every neuron and simulate their activity “perfectly” in a hypothetical future computer wouldn’t the “mind” now be in the computer? The computer mind would have all the memories of the brain and would think it has successfully crossed over into its new cyber-existence.

    when someone hits me in the arm with their fist, I say “you (physically) hurt me”).

    I was playing a pretentious semantic game, and I certainly say things like “my brain” all the time in everyday life and only bring up these topics during late night drunken discussions, or on blog posts when I have too much time on my hands. Besides that I have to note that an amputee does say they lost a limb, not part of themselves. (Although they might have psychological trauma along those lines, I don’t think it is their eventual healthy mode of thought.) But your general point is correct of course.

    If anything, it seems to me that the mind is “smaller” than the brain– since if you only are talking about those parts which directly produce consciousness, you would certainly be excluding anatomical structures that are normally defined as parts of the brain.

    Excellent point. I don’t have enough knowledge of the brain to say anything intelligent here, but what if a certain brain structure was found that was definitively the seat of consciousness. Would that structure actually be the mind? Could we then say that structure “has” the other structures in the brain, including the stomach, arms, legs, etc.? But it doesn’t have itself, because it is itself. Anyway, I’m just rambling here.

    Along the lines of uploading brains maybe the “mind” can be viewed as the software running on the hardware of the brain. But I have heard many scientists reject that analogy saying the two can’t be separated like in a computer, but who knows for sure?

    This is the book I mentioned:

  • NYC,
    Sorry for being a grump. It was 4am, and I had been procrastinating since 8pm for a 9am exam I should have been studying for. You bring up some very interesting points.

    I do think that a brain is capable of being transplanted or “uploaded” to a computer. I guess its hard to discuss the issue of ownership, then, without getting into a semantic discussion. Since historically, one brain controls one body, the body is perhaps the only piece of property that is rarely controversial in ownership considerations. Even then, things like abortion and selling organs bring that into question. As the saying goes, possession is 9/10ths of the law.

    I guess the problem is that possession itself is not a reality, it is a man-made idea, and is therefore subjective. is what you own only what you can defend/protect? Or do we all own everything, in a way? These questions simply depend on how you define ownership. We say only humans can own things, but if you transplant a mind into a computer, you now have the question of whether that mind is a human, and if so, does it control the computer it’s in instead of the original owner of the computer? I suppose someone could argue, then, that if there is only one mind in a computer network, and it has access to the server, the whole network belongs to that person?

    Hmm… fun to think about. These things may actually become issues some day. Here’s another great reason to fight for a society not structured on religion– the best way to address these issues is to rationally consider what sets of definitions and operants will make the most minds the most happy in the long run, and ensure their survival. Religious thought, on the other hand, requires immediate freaking-out about brain transplants and “playing God”, followed by an impossible exploration of what a soul is and what can have a soul.

  • Sorry for being a grump.

    No problem. You were right to call me on it. It was pretentious and apologies to Doris for my snarky reply.

    I guess the problem is that possession itself is not a reality, it is a man-made idea, and is therefore subjective.

    Great point. If the new technologies we are considering here ever become commonplace new meanings will have to be developed I guess.

    Besides The Mind’s I which I mentioned above I must recommend stories by Greg Egan which have these mind/brain issues as central themes. Here’s some:

    “Learning To Be Me” is one of my favorites. It’s about a future where everyone has little “jewels” in their heads which are almost magically powerful computers that monitor every event in your brain, basically learning how it operates from moment to moment. At some point when your brain starts to decline from old age you can have it scooped out and put the jewel in control which is supposedly “you” now and therefore immortal. The person in the story can’t decide if he wants to go through with it, and I won’t give anything else away if anyone wants to read it someday.

    I read them awhile ago, but looking at the list linked above I think”The Kidnapping” is about a guy’s uploaded version of himself (essentially his backup) being kidnapped and ransomed. What would you do if your (presumably fully conscious) backup copy was being tortured somewhere?

    His novel Diaspora is also great, where there is a whole society of uploaded minds.

  • NYCAtheist: “Are you sure? I’ve never seen them apart.”

    A coroner probably has, though. Well, a coroner has seen a brain without a mind, anyway.

  • GoDamn

    A suggestion-
    Perhaps “treasured be thy names” should be changed to “treasured be thy neurons”.

  • Carol G from BOS

    Great prayer. Next time I hear someone ask for someone to lead a prayer, they might just have an unexpected volunteer. Thanks!

  • ary

    when you pray to your own brain, you are saying that you are the of your own universe.
    1. what if your brain falsely react to certain stimulus? although your brain is spectacular, your brain is limited. could you accept different mechanism which goes beyond your brain ability? i’m sure you and your brain can not. it is not because you are not that clever, but your self esteem is too high to tackle and to compromise that reality.
    i do believe that so will jump into a mirage in the middle of the desert because your limited brain told you so

    2. how good is brain when you are old, weak and sick? will you be brave enough to heavily rely on your old, weak and sick brain too?

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