Here's an interesting letter in the October 6, 2018 issue of New Scientist:
From Steve Brewer,
St. Ives, Cornwall, UK
Sofia Deleniv describes self-awareness as an illusion, and on your cover you call it a "delusion" (8 September, p 28). What wasn't discussed was its power to turn the whole world as we view it into "illusions" by the process of forming abstract concepts and ideas about it.
By developing and interconnecting these abstractions, we have produced our various sciences. Through them we have achieved enormous power over ourselves and the natural world.
Self-awareness may yield this great power, but it also results in the broader illusion -- held by many -- that this world of abstractions is more real than the natural one. In this world of concepts, individuals have become just another concept and so are dehumanized.
Recognizing this as the most dangerous delusion may help defend our humanity.
It's impossible to know exactly what the letter writer is referring to when he speaks of the dehumanization of individuals via abstract concepts.
But, hey, I'll jump in and share my idea: it is religion.
After all, what else has very little connection with the natural world, being almost wholly made up of abstract concepts? Religion is nothing but concepts. So is mysticism. So are all other forms of supernatural spirituality.
As I frequently point out on this blog, there is no way to discern whether a person standing in front of us has an intimate connection with God or some other supposed divinity.
If they claim to be an athlete, we can ask to see their athletic prowess. If they claim to be a musician, we can ask them to play a song. If they claim to be a scientist, we can ask for their academic and professional credentials.
When it comes to all things godly, though, words, concepts, and abstractions are all we're going to get. Sure, maybe the person appears to be a moral, upstanding, compassionate human being. And so are countless other people who don't claim any connection with God.
Further, religions often downplay the importance of this world, and of the human body, because they embrace concepts about some more perfect supernatural realm, often called "heaven."
So as the letter writer says, individuals become just another concept. Instead of being who they are, in all of their human complexity, they become categorized as a sinner, a fallen soul, someone trapped in maya, a person needing redemption, a shadow of their true spiritual self.
Again, these are just a bunch of concepts.
Science, at least, engages in concepts about the real world. Religion engages in concepts about imaginary worlds, which is why religious dogma has no predictive power. That's why I much prefer science over religion.