Our minds pose a mystery. We perceive what goes on around us very well. In striking contrast to that magnificent awareness we perceive nothing of how our brains manage it. Electrical recording demonstrates that we have no awareness of the considerable brain action that brings it to consciousness. Zoltan Torey calls it the experiential riddle of awareness, the mind “knowing that it knows but not fathoming the way of it knowing”. Humans have a pressing need to know. As long as we do not know, we make it up. Our ancestors fabricated the fictions of mythology and religion to fill that gap. And why do I bluntly call them fictions? Their variation alone demonstrates that at most only one group can have the true faith. Even among those of the one true faith belief varies minutely from one sect to another. The real value of religions lies in the rules of conduct coming out of the values cycle that civilised us. They encapsulate the group’s accumulated wisdom.
Religions provide one other essential for group existence. They shape the law. Together religion and law created the group medium in which human evolution could take place. For the orthodox Jew the Hebrew religion is “the law” (Torah). Its tales of genesis and human struggle inspire rules of conduct that maintain group cohesion. In practice the law and the accumulated wisdom about human conduct matter, not the fantasies that seem to justify them. From the shape of the terrain the Australian aborigine developed the “dream time” stories about the exploits of animal spirits that left the mark of their yearnings, conflicts and congress on hills and valleys. They made the land a concrete guide to the morals of punishment and reward that set the rules of conduct for the group. As societies grew in size and complex organisation, increasingly their myths focused on the experiential riddle of human awareness. Each group ascribes it to their affinity with some divine plan, which also defines their law. We know enough of extinct and dying cultures to identify the final goal of the group mind. Law, morals and ethics succeed when they keep the members of the group devoted to the common good. But they do so erratically and often disastrously. With even greater disasters in the offing, how can we turn the concerted brain action that has created religion and law to better effect?