Artificial Intelligence is beginning to revolutionize the way we interact with the world. But this technology – and the power it brings – is not available to everyone, including those who struggle with communication skills like children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. People who have trouble forming sentences or recalling the correct words have difficulty functioning independently. Extensive therapy can help them find their voice, but it is arduous for all involved, requiring hours of careful repetition and instruction. With the development of ever more sophisticated digital assistants for everyday tasks, we now must ask the question: can they be assistants for those most in need?
The Epigenetics Project issued a call for a deeper and more considered dialogue on the human condition. Epigenetics refers to the suite of chemical processes that regulate genes, activating or suppressing proteins – regulation patterns that may (or may not) be heritable to some degree despite not being recorded in DNA base pairs. These processes have broad implications, from understanding human embryonic and childhood development (including intersex conditions and developmental disorders) to the possible inheritance of the effects of trauma to children or even grandchildren.
Radical groups who rely on violence to achieve their political agendas are found around the world. Due to their use of terror, subversion, and asymmetrical warfare, their tactics are often hard to comprehend or predict. Policy professionals seeking to combat these groups can struggle to understand their origins and how they manage to attract new members. To thwart and disrupt the multi-pronged problem that is extremist violence, we need new research that employs psychology and politics, security and simulation for a multifaceted solution.
CMAC’s Healing Causation Project worked to move beyond the hundreds of correlational studies identifying the health effects of dietary, spiritual, and social practices. Instead, the CMAC research team focused on identifying the causal, biochemical mechanisms that produce physical and emotional healing. Researchers can determine cause and effect based on longitudinal studies, computer modeling, or experiments including clinical trials. These techniques can be more difficult to coordinate and carry out, but are highly worthwhile, as they can show the relationships between variables.
Social change and global mobility lead to restlessness and upheaval. Recent trends in migration and the ongoing flow of refugees from war-torn regions have added new dimensions of uncertainty. Governments and organizations seek policies that will encourage cohesion over conflict, but it’s hard to know what ideas will lead to harmony and tolerance, facilitating integration between local and immigrant communities. Problems like these need a road-map that can point us towards a better future, and tools for considering all of the possible outcomes.
For centuries, scholars and scientists have posed the question: what are the most compelling features of religion? Is it complex theological systems? Rituals that increase social solidarity? Fear of the afterlife or the unknown? In response to these questions academics from philosophers to evolutionary biologists who study religion have developed numerous theories to help explain religious beliefs and behaviors. But how do these approaches relate to one another? How could their relative merits and flaws be tested systematically?
On this project, CMAC investigated the effect of Parkinson’s Disease on cognition and emotion. The project used advances in functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI) techniques, new psychophysical cognitive priming techniques, and classical “on-off” levodopa (LD) comparative techniques to identify brain system alterations linked with patients’ cognition changes. t. CMAC believes that this work with these patients helps to identify key sources of their challenges as well as illuminate fundamental issues in the neuroscience of beliefs, behaviors, and experiences.
Sex Differences developed new methods to update the conversation and explore new theories of sex differences and religion by drawing upon pre-existing research that indicates people of different genders differ in both their levels of religiosity and the types of religious experiences they have.
Spectrums approaches the questions of political and religious differences by combining a deep dive into social-psychology research literature with quantitative tools that provide a detailed image of personal ideology. The basic assumption of the Spectrums team is that ideology and political conflict must be understood through a biocultural lens, taking seriously the evolutionary basis of human thought and behavior as well as the effects of cultural context and conditioning. The project draws upon a long history of philosophical and psychological research on ideology, such as the openness/disorder dichotomy of John Jost and Moral Foundations theory developed by Jesse Graham and Jonathan Haidt.
Spirit Tech is a book based on research conducted by CMACers Wesley J. Wildman and Kate J. Stockly. Together they examine brain-based technologies, including the contemporary manifestations of the use of psychedelic substances for spiritual growth, neurofeedback-guided meditation practices, transcranial magnetic stimulation applied toward the development of paranormal skills, church services held in virtual reality, and even technology for brain-to-brain communication that may enable groups to drum up a high degree of collective fervor more efficiently. But these exciting developments are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the future of spirit tech.
Stories of Intersex and Faith has created transformational experiences for individual viewers, faith communities, and physicians. Five powerful stories, gently and beautifully told, create empathy for those born different from the majority, correct inaccurate understandings of human sex differences, and dissolve anxieties that plague conversations about sex and gender. Stories of Intersex and Faith helps viewers enter into more constructive conversations on one of the most divisive issues facing communities of faith and American society at large. More than this, it saves future children from what the United Nations has called “torture” and heal some of the deepest anxieties we all carry about ourselves.
Visit the documentary’s website at www.intersexandfaith.org/documentary.
The scientific study of religion is generating research at a rapid pace. This growth of knowledge is exciting, but it can be too much for any one researcher to handle! Yet in order to successfully build on and address existent research, scientists and scholars need to be able to assimilate findings and understand what new discoveries mean. The Synthesizing Empirical Findings and Theory in the Scientific Study of Religion (SEFT) Project aims to help researchers in exactly this task. CMAC Research Associate Connor Wood collaborated with scientific leaders around the world to survey, report on, and interpret the most important publications in the field. This effort combats redundancy and lack of integration, allowing for more a more progressive, incremental, and productive science of religion.
The way that we think about the world and our own place in it is often revealed in the language we use to speak about those worldviews. Inspecting language thus provides a window into the cognitive processes and connections involved in forming belief systems. The Religious Language Project analyzed different patterns of speech involved in the practice of religion versus in secular environments.
CMAC’s Quantifying Religious Experience Project developed a new method of measurement for religious experiences, able to quantify their distinctive cognitive and emotional features. The tool, called the Enhanced Phenomenology of Consciousness Inventory (EPCI), tied together narratives and quantitative profiles and uses each one to make sense of the other. This inventory created a multidimensional construct of consciousness that can furnish a basis for the comparison of religious and spiritual experiences across demographic groups (such as men and women) and across cultures.
The Artificial University (TAU) is an epidemiological model with a special feature: it takes seriously human factors in the spread of the SARS CoV-2 virus, including compliance (or non-compliance with public health recommendations and the effects of social networks. Under the hood, TAU is agent-based simulation equipped with a contact network describing university classes, dorms, and activities both on and off campus. It also includes pretty much every kind of intervention you can imagine, from social distancing to hybrid classes and from quarantining infected students to over a dozen testing regimens. Users of TAU can select a combination of interventions, expressing politically acceptable possibilities in a given university context, and TAU calculates the the degree of infection spread after a semester.
The rapid rise of the religious ‘nones,’ secularist activism, nonreligious movements such as ‘New Atheism,’ and policy debates around nonreligious inclusion have all fueled interest in and debate about so-called ‘unbelief.’ Unbelief is broadly conceived as unbelief in religious phenomena, the afterlife, and the ultimate purpose of life, but there is still a substantial lack of knowledge about its precise nature. The Unbelief Project built a framework for classification and by developing a multi-dimensional instrument for measuring unbelief.
This project developed a more sensitive prediction of exposure and infection rates due to COVID-19 by accounting for the impact of human values on viral spread, the social consequences of the pandemic, and people’s varying attitudes toward vaccines. Policy proposals can be tested in a simulated environment in a way that attaches measures to outcomes and optimizes against key criteria.
Teaching students Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) has become one of the bedrocks of a modern education. These fields are considered essential to the future success of individuals and nations. But not everyone has equal access to this type of education. Minority students, students from a lower socioeconomic status, and those with sensory differences (such as those with hearing and visual impairments) face a number of barriers to a meaningful STEM education. viaSTEM sees ensuring universal access for what it is: a civil rights issue.