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What is Neuromythology?

Neuromythology explores how humans use myths, narratives, and stories to produce their sense of identity, and shape their lives. We use memory, attention, emotional marking, and temporal sequencing to construct and respond to the narratives by which we form our identities and build meaningful lives. It is the narrative structuring of our conscious lives that provide the basis for the construction of meaning, relationship, morality, and purpose that extend beyond our personal boundaries.

Much of human uniqueness is produced by a childhood extended to almost a third of our lives. This extended childhood means that our physiological patterns have several decades to be shaped and channeled by the close and interdependent relationships we have with important others in our lives. Such socialization produces a variety of emotional scripts that are below the level of any conscious beliefs we have about the universe we inhabit, and they are likely to drive preferences for different beliefs, and our engagement with different worldviews. There are species-level universalities in our nervous systems and in our emotional expression, but there are also cultural variations in display rules, intensities, emotion concepts, and the degree to which we think about them. There are also cultural variations in the relationships between emotions and moral judgments, and the emotions produced by perceived moral violations. Second-order emotions like shame and pride also produce and maintain different self-boundaries. Emotional dynamics can also be used to better understand cross-cultural differences and the difficulties in navigating diversity.

Religion and mythology provide the larger stories within which our own stories make sense, and without which they cannot. Narrative may have the potential both for healing and for disruption for us as individuals and as a species. It can also provide a solution to the alienation and fragmentation of persons, relationships, and communities. There is a difference between narrative and historical truth, but I argue that narrative truth is more powerful. After all, we are constituted by what we imagine ourselves to be.

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