Who Are We? African.

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I want to clarify the title. This blog is not limited to modern Africans. It is about all humanity. My source is a 2014 magazine supplement published by Time Home Entertainment, Inc., NY, New York. The title of the supplement is How DNA Shapes Your Life.

In my last blog I mentioned my Irish and Swedish ancestors did not originate in Ireland and in Sweden. They migrated to those countries from elsewhere in Europe. Where did they come from before that? To answer that question, we have to add another question; what timeframe are we discussing?

DNA analysis and Anthropology provide the following answers. About 10,000 years ago my ancestors were located in Central Europe; 20,000 years ago they were probably in the Middle East; and 50,000 years ago they came from Africa. Africa is the origination point of all humanity. So if we all originated in the same place, how come we look different?

The physical differences we observe in the color of eyes, hair, skin, and other external physical features are accounted for by group interbreeding, natural selection, and random genetic mutations which helped us survive. However the differences we observe, though outwardly noticeable, result from differences in only 0.05% of our DNA. This means 99.95% of our DNA is the same for every human being who currently lives on earth.

Our observations, however, allow us to categorize people by differences. We enjoy this activity. We categorize everything to make it more understandable. Unfortunately we also create in-groups and out-groups as previously discussed. Thankfully we have science teaching us the truth about humanity. According to the science of DNA, we are overwhelmingly more alike than we are different.

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Who Are We? Our DNA.

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Last November I decided to order an analysis of my DNA through Ancestry dot com. I ordered the ‘test kit’ ($99.00) online on the 17th. It shipped on the 18th. I received it on the 23rd, placed my saliva sample in the tube provided, and mailed it back. By December 3rd it was in processing. On December 13th my results were available online. I printed them out.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the McAllister family came from Ireland and the Bergstrom family came from Sweden. My cousin, Jim Thomas, found a Finnish connection on the Swedish side when he visited Sweden in the 1990’s.

I expected a 50/50 split between the two families. I was surprised to learn I was 63% Irish (Celtic). The Swedish (Scandinavian) part was second at 21%. Eastern Finnish and Northwest Russian were 15%; the two groups intermingled along a common border. Great Britain was less than 1%.

The DNA process was quick and the results are enjoyable. I’ve started my own research by watching 6 hours of a DVD about the history of the Celtic people. Now I’m reading Celtic Myths and Legends by T.W. Rolleston, published in 1917. In spite of the title it devotes ample space to discussing the few facts that history has preserved; the Celts left no written records. They were first recognized as an ethnic group about 400 BC. They lived along the Danube river in central Europe. Around 300 AD they were pushed into Ireland, Wales and Scotland by the Roman legions. They remain there to this day, though there are no pure Celtic people left due to invasions and intermingling of cultures over centuries.

Have you watched the TV programs on genealogy, Who Do You Think You Are and Finding Your Roots? I enjoy them. I’m also enjoying my own research. I feel a deep connection to my ancient relatives. What else do I owe these hardy people besides names and cultures?

Who Are We? Beliefs – Hate or Harmony?

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We are born. We go to school. We go to church. In home, school, and church we learn right from wrong. We also learn what I’ll refer to as preferences. Our preferences include helpful, inspiring in-group data which family, teachers, and pastors have accepted into their own lives. Unfortunately it also includes out-group information, some factual, some fictional.

There was a time when everyone born in Sweden had to be Lutheran. It was the state religion. The Irish are typically Catholic. Indians are mostly Hindu. Pakistanis are mostly Islamic. Many people in our southern states are Baptist. The list goes on. If your parents were Democrats they wanted you to be a Democrat; if Republican, they wanted you to be Republican. As we grew up, some of our ideas changed. But the truth is we tend to become like the people we associate with. They become our in-group.

Did you ever try to change someone from a Democrat to Republican, or vice versa? How about changing a Baptist to a Catholic? These discussions usually result in hurt feelings, possibly even anger. We end up having bad opinions about the ‘out-group’ person and they don’t like us either.

The best way to handle the situation is to, not only recognize, but to expect there will be differences in political and religious beliefs. We shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously. We shouldn’t take others too seriously either. Differences in beliefs are the result of how our brains function. Their main goal is survival, not peerless social interaction, and certainly not the conversion of everyone else to our point of view. Remember, that would mean all 7 billion of us would have the same belief in God and politics. Talk about a miracle!!

The question of who is right and who is wrong will never be settled to everyone’s satisfaction. The true value of our beliefs is what effect they have on us individually. Our beliefs should bring us the kind of peace, love and harmony that will overflow through our actions and speech. If all faiths and political beliefs had this effect on us our world would be heaven on earth.

Who Are We? Our Beliefs.

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So we knew we had a conscious and an unconscious. Now brain scans and studies have demonstrated we have known really little of how they function. We believe we know, but we do not. There is a significant list of these misunderstandings:

  • Our unconscious processes the vast majority of data we receive without our conscious mind knowing it.
  • Our textbook understanding of reality is an illusion.
  • Our unconscious stores data it recognizes as important and discards the details.
  • Later our unconscious fills in the missing details by selecting data it views as probable, without our conscious knowledge.
  • Our unconscious operates in ways that tend to encourage stereotyping and in-group/out-group beliefs which are fictional and may create prejudice.
  • Our unconscious fosters the belief that we are ‘above average’ and capable of overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles.

Is it any wonder we have disagreements about politics and religion, much less sports teams? Is it any wonder there are many religions and spiritual paths considering there are seven billion of us on Earth? Is it any wonder we disagree with our friends and family members about past events: what he said and what she said?

Perhaps God has a great sense of humor and that’s why our lives sometimes seem like a grocery list of contradictions. Of course the truth is that God made us this way for a very important reason: survival. And He also gave us enough intelligence to discover, as we recently have, our misunderstanding of how our minds work. Now it is up to us!

At the beginning of this series of blogs I talked about healing. That’s the main thrust of these blogs. We must understand who we are and how our minds function so we can forgive others for their conflicting beliefs, so we can forgive ourselves for judging them so harshly, so we can forgive them for judging us so harshly.

Above all, we must understand that we, as human beings, are all God’s children.

 

Who Are We? Our Self.

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Considering how our brains gather and interpret data, it’s no wonder we make mistakes. Do mistakes harm our self image? Apparently not. We view our reality through our unique version of who we are. In this version we are kind, compassionate, rational, thoughtful, and sometimes misjudged. Most people, even criminals, have good self image.

We view ourselves as “above average.” For example, in one study doctors rated their diagnosis of pneumonia as 88% correct. However statistics showed they were correct only 20% of the time. Characteristically, we see this defect in others but not in ourselves. We start with the conclusion that we are above average and then look for supporting evidence. We all do it. It’s automatic! We use this reasoning about our beliefs as well. It’s why we are advised not to discuss religion or politics in social gatherings.

Why have our brains evolved this way? If you guessed the answer is survival, you are correct and above average. Think back to the dangers faced by our ancestors; wild animals, natural catastrophes, starvation, and hordes of warlike invaders, to say nothing of the difficulties of day-to-day survival. How did they do it? Chance played a part, but the truth is our ancestors refused to give up. Believing they were above average gave them hope. They grabbed the chances and ran with them, and survived. The following quote is from Subliminal, by Leonard Mlodinow, page 217:

“Motivated reasoning and motivated remembering and all the other quirks of how we think about ourselves and our world may have their downsides, but when we’re facing great challenges – whether it’s losing a job, embarking on a course of chemotherapy, writing a book, enduring a decade of medical school, internship and residency, spending the thousands of practice hours necessary to become an accomplished violinist or ballet dancer, putting in years of eighty-hour weeks to establish a new business, or starting over in a new country with no money and no skills – the natural optimism of the human mind is one of our greatest gifts.”

Next blog: Our Beliefs.

Who Are We? Humans With Feelings.

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We have heard or read about people who have multiple personalities. These cases seem unusual, especially because the personalities may not interact with or be aware of the existence of the others. Yet most of us have personalities which, while uniform, include emotional reactions. Our emotions can cause fast, dynamic changes in character. These emotions may affect our unconscious in ways we don’t recognize on the rational level, ways that result in mood swings.

We also know that emotions can cause physical stress. Scientists are confirming is that physical stress also affects our emotions. Sometimes it’s a chicken-and-egg scenario. Which came first, my headache or my dislike for the telephone conversation I am having? This emotional-physical interaction has been one of the foundation stones of the teachings of yoga. Having recently renewed my interest in yoga, I can tell you I want to spend more time doing it. It is such a great way to start the day: stress free and emotionally balanced.

The following quotes are from Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Rules Your Life, by Leonard Mlodinow. The first talks about how we don’t understand our feelings. This is from page 188: “Despite that, we usually think that we do. Moreover, when asked to explain why we feel a certain way, most of us, after giving it some thought, have no trouble supplying reasons. Where do we find those reasons, for feelings that may not even be what we think they are? We make them up.” This quote is supported by research in the same chapter.

So then, where do the reasons come from? On page 191: “When you come up with a reason for your feelings and behavior, your brain performs an action that would probably surprise you: it searches your mental database for cultural norms and picks something plausible.”

Why does the brain work this way? On page 194: “Evolution designed the human brain not to accurately understand itself, but to help us survive. We observe ourselves and the world and make enough sense of things to get along.”

Disappointed by this point of view? The author continues on page 195: “This doesn’t bother me: it gives me a greater appreciation of my unseen partner, my unconscious, always providing the support I need as I walk and stumble my way through life.”

Next blog: We’ll discuss how the functions of our two brains help us with our self-concept. The answer points to a possible solution to our world’s problems.

Who Are We? Group Members!

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There are in-groups and out-groups. Each of us belong to the in-group, though not necessarily the same in-group. Our in-group is important to our self image. We identify so strongly with it that we believe the fate of our in-group is our fate as well. And, as with individuals, we stereotype our in-group in positive ways while fearing imaginary negative traits in the out-groups.

We view in-group members as more varied and complex, out-group members as simpler and less intelligent, even though our knowledge of our in-group is as superficial as our knowledge of the out-group. Ironically we often identify with with in-groups with whom we share nothing in common. Yet our group identity influences how we judge others and how we think about ourselves.

This is most easily seen in sports. Here in Chicago you are either a Cubs fan or a Sox fan, seriously. A few years ago I met some friends I hadn’t seen for quite a while. We talked about old times and got around to sports. My friend Bud asked me, “So Paul do you root for the Sox or for the Cubs?” I replied I didn’t have a preference. Bud wouldn’t accept that answer and asked again so I told him I rooted for the Sox and the Cubs.

Bud studied me with a critical eye for a moment before replying, “Telling me you root for the Sox and for the Cubs is like telling me you are bisexual!” Our friends roared with laughter. I just smiled and shook my head. This story is a good example of how strongly we identify with our in-group, even on a casual basis.

Neurologists believe this in-group/out-group behavior is another inherently natural force that promotes our survival as a species. It’s counterpart in the plant kingdom is that plants help nourish nearby members of their plant family. In contrast, they may emit toxic chemicals from their roots when they detect non-related, competing plants encroaching on their territory.

The connection between stereotyping and in-group identification has to do with our survival as individuals, as groups, and as a species. Nature’s forces are at work deep within us.

Next blog: Our Emotions.

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