The quest for grabbing anything forbidden has been a crucial aspect of human existence; else the apple in the Garden of Eden would have left hanging. The act to sin has stayed on with us ever since. Be it the Christianity’s seven sins or the Hinduism’s five, all efforts to stay away from sins have only brought us closer to committing a sin. Despite a consistent religious and moral battle to stay away from them, there are some unseen forces that tempt us to take a call on them. In a closed society where everybody is guilty of some sin, the only crime seems to be getting caught. Come to think of it, in a world of thieves ‘stupidity’ of getting caught may indeed be on top of all sins!
It goes to the credit of Saint Gregory who, in the 6th century, enlisted seven deadly sins as pride, gluttony, lust, sloth, greed, envy and wrath, which seem an expanded version of the five Vedic sins – Kama (desire) , Krodh (anger), Moh (lust) , Lobh (greed) and Anhkaar (pride). Irrespective of its religious connotations, these traits have been acknowledged detriments to mental peace, individual prestige and social reputation. Yet, as experience shows, the impulse to indulge in sinful behaviour is so strong that people easily succumb to the forbidden temptations - the mythical apple continues to hang low.
For aeon ‘why we do the things we know we shouldn’t’ has been a subject of intense religious and philosophical inquiry, however, without any end to the battle between temptation and restraint. Labeling certain human traits as bad behaviour has hardly been a deterrent. Is it because people do not ascribe the same negative value that has been historically assigned to the sin under reference? If that be so, is it the reason for sinful traits to persist or is there more to understanding nature and proliferation of sins than what has been understood till now?
Jack Lewis, a neuroscientist and a television presenter, gets deeper into examining the origin and societal relevance of sins as viewed through different religious lenses. In last 10 years since attaining a doctorate in neuroscience from University College London, Lewis has focused his attention on making the latest neuroscience research the widest possible audience through print, radio and television. His radio show Secrets of the Brain is currently being aired in 20 countries, and his co-authored book Sort Your Brain Out has gained popularity. In all of his works, Lewis comes out clear that in varying degrees sins are considered major obstacles to peace and enlightenment. Curiously, however, the world has done pretty little to limit the temptations that surround us. Instead, social media, live streaming, and online shopping has spurred greed, gluttony, lust and envy, while reinventing narcissism as the leading new normal behaviour.
When the term narcissism was coined by Sigmund Freud some 100 years ago, it was with reference to loving or caressing one’s own body to appease one’s romantic partner. Today, it means an obsession with the self that is as much a cause for social pain of rejection as a physical pain of isolation, resulting from an over-inflated sense of self-importance.
The Science of Sins peeps into the world of seven deadly sins in their many dimensions, both historical and contemporary; to understand the neural battles between temptation and restraint that takes place within our brains. Using the enormous amount of scientific data on the human brain that has accumulated over the years, the book explains how the neural circuitry of the brain is involved not only in tempting us to be sinful, but also how tweaking parts of our brain could help dissuade us from committing a sin. Although medical terminology thrown across makes it a heavy reading narrative, anecdotal reference to real-life stories sustain readers’ interest.
While Lewis uses intriguing scientific facts to explain why committing sin is impulsive, he leaves the reader in the lurch when it comes to getting over it. Acknowledging that there are no magical cures, he nonetheless advocates ways to train brain to resist temptations. Magnetic stimulation and medical interventions can curb pathological behaviour in extreme cases, mindfulness meditation has been found to be an effective way of remodeling various parts of the brain as a steady process. In the world where each of the seven deadly sins has been systematically taken advantage of by the nefarious forces of global commerce, the quest for remaining healthy, happy and productive warrants a serious application of mind.
The essential take away from this well-researched book is that sin is a mind game, and only mindful action can dissuade humans from committing a sin. Assessing each of the seven sins - pride, gluttony, lust, sloth, greed, envy, and wrath - from philosophical and neuroscience perspectives, Lewis lets the reader get a clear sense that only by eliminating inner turmoil and personal suffering can an external sinful stimulus be checked. The Science of Sin falls short of a self-help book as it leaves much for the reader to decide upon. It is nonetheless a book that offers deeper insights on various shades of sins, and how people grapple to reduce their individual vulnerabilities to cope with it. The book concludes that it is not hard to do things we know we shouldn’t, provided we remind ourselves on it frequently.
The Science of Sin
by Jack Lewis
Bloomsbury, New Delhi
Extent: 304, Price: Rs 499.