New imaging techniques have allegedly pinpointed the region of the brain that allows us to imagine ourselves in the future:
"Our findings provide compelling support for the idea that memory and future thought are highly interrelated and help explain why future thought may be impossible without memories."Speaking of which, the World Question Center recently asked Daniel Dennett what future event he felt optimistic about living to see. Imagine how surprised they must've been when he answered "the evaporation of the powerful mystique of religion."
If you're wondering how this is going to happen, or what the world will look like when it does, Dennett is happy to enlighten you:
Of course many people – perhaps a majority of people in the world – will still cling to their religion with the sort of passion that can fuel violence and other intolerant and reprehensible behavior. But the rest of the world will see this behavior for what it is, and learn to work around it until it subsides, as it surely will.QED, motherfuckers!
If it seems like Dennett has made his work a bit lighter than it ought to be, that's probably because he feels that religious faith is a cultural phenomenon along the lines of smoking cigarettes:
Recall that only fifty years ago smoking was a high status activity and it was considered rude to ask somebody to stop smoking in one’s presence. Today we’ve learned that we shouldn’t make the mistake of trying to prohibit smoking altogether, and so we still have plenty of cigarettes and smokers, but we have certainly contained the noxious aspects within quite acceptable boundaries.See? It's the exact same thing. In essence, fanaticism will become "uncool," as the world comes to realize that it's far preferable to dwell within "quite acceptable boundaries" per Dennett, than to believe in a god who can only be properly worshipped by overstepping - or demolishing - those boundaries.
Anticipating the reader, Dennett asks "Why am I confident that this will happen?" O ye of little faith! Obviously, you've never heard of "the asymmetry in the information explosion":
With the worldwide spread of information technology (not just the internet, but cell phones and portable radios and television), it is no longer feasible for guardians of religious traditions to protect their young from exposure to the kinds of facts (and, yes, of course, misinformation and junk of every genre) that gently, irresistibly undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance.Yes, thanks to the Intertubes and its handmaidens, the day is soon coming when most people won't believe stuff that isn't true anymore. Why should they, when they can simply Google the eternal verities, and download them as a podcast?
I also look forward to the day when the externalities of pornography become less worrisome. I'm thinking that the Internet could help with that, too. After all, there are lots of facts about human sexuality and women's rights online, as long as you know where to look.
I think it's fair - if not mandatory - to say that Dennett comes off here as a hypercredulous schmuck. I'm sure most of us share his holiday wish for an "avirulent" religion that exists solely to relieve suffering and poverty and injustice - one that will never be radicalized by (or collude with) state powers that have ordained suffering and poverty and injustice for a certain population, or otherwise drive its followers to "the teleological suspension of the ethical."
But some of us, unlike Dennett, can recognize this prediction as harebrained Candyland bullshit with no basis in fact or rationality. And we're accordingly troubled when it's offered up for public consumption as a "rationalist" worldview.
"Eventually," says Dennett, stroking his beard meditatively, "the truth will set us free."
Well, why not? It's always done so in the past.
(Illustration: "Christ Carrying the Cross"  by Stanley Spencer.)