Skip to comments.Neurotheologists Claim Religion is all in the Mind
Posted on 11/27/2001 9:32:17 PM PST by prisoner6
It's all in your head. Literally. At least that's the theory of scientists studying a budding new field of science called neurotheology. They believe that our religious experiences are really just blips in your brain chemistry that you mold to fit around your personal belief system.
In their quest to figure out just how our minds work, they have mapped out what happens in different areas of the brain during certain experiences and compared them with the responses of others in order to determine what physical changes in our brain take place in conjunction with certain emotional or psychological experiences. The patterns they are observing are intriguing but predictably very controversial. One scientist of neurotheology unabashedly summed up their beliefs with the declaration that, "instead of God creating our brains, our brains created God".
Pascal Boyer (the author of the above statement) stated that the brain is an organ of complex architecture that by its very nature is receptive to "supernatural ideas". Our human ancestors managed to continue to exist because of their ability to outwit predators and by their vigilance and wariness to their surroundings. These traits also fostered a belief in invisible spirits and gods, thus turning us into willing receptacles for "the airy nothing of religion". In his opinion, religious thinking is a cerebral virus that infected our minds as soon as we were evolved enough as a species to be able to embrace it.
Although his views may be somewhat extreme, he is not alone in believing that the brain is the vehicle through which we process all our experiences and that there may be a neurological basis for religion. One of the more well known examples of testing this out involves scanning the brains of meditating Tibetan Buddhist monks and praying Franciscan nuns to map what they believed was the brain's spirituality circuit. They were trying to find out how brain waves change, and which bits of grey matter are switched on or off. In the experiments, the volunteers meditated or prayed until they had reached what seemed to them another plane of being. After signaling this to researchers - say, by tugging a piece of string - the volunteers were injected in the arm with radioactive tracers that would reveal blood flow in the brain.
Dr. Andrew Newberg and the late Eugene d'Aquili discovered that some regions of the brain fizzled into action at the time of these experiences (namely, those involved in attention and concentration) while other parts stalled. Those that quieted down included the superior parietal lobe, that part which allows an individual to orient him or herself in space and time. This could possible explain that feeling of transcendence over space and time that many report accompanies their deepest religious experiences.
Newberg asserts that these findings do not necessarily mean that religion is no more than an artifact of our brains. He says that it is possible that we create religious experiences in our heads, but equally possible that we are detecting a spiritual reality that actually exists. Another provocative and significant piece of research was done by Michael Persinger from Laurentian University in Ontario. He has found a way of inducing religious experiences, or a "sensed presence", simply by bathing the skulls of volunteers in a mild but precisely controlled electromagnetic field called the "Thomas pulse", named after the researcher who developed it.
Four out of five of those who don the magnet-laden helmet in Persinger's human consciousness laboratory report some kind of mystical experience while wearing it. He claims that his ability to activate the parts of the brain that create the phenomenon prove that "spontaneous" religious experiences can be duplicated at will and are thus created by the brain and not the product of some higher power's influence over a person. Persinger believes that when someone feels spiritual, his or her brain undergoes a miniature electrical storm similar to the Thomas pulse.
He also believes that similar storms can be triggered by changes in the Sun's magnetic field, earthquakes, sleep deprivation, emotional trauma, or rituals such as fasting, illness (both physical and mental), all of which may spark a religious experience. Mr. Persinger is also careful to clarify that he is not seeking to address the sticky issue of whether or not God exists.
Perhaps Dr. Daniel Batson summed it up best. The psychologist at Kansas University declared that to say the brain produces religion is like saying that a piano produces music. Indeed, only time and further research will tell if we are all player pianos simply going through the motions by playing out the sheet music we are hard wired with, or if we are simply vehicles through which a Master Conductor gives voice to His deepest music.
Source: The Times
The article itself then goes on to state that Boyer is not alone BUT..."Newberg (poster comment - other researchers) asserts that these findings do not necessarily mean that religion is no more than an artifact of our brains. He says that it is possible that we create religious experiences in our heads, but equally possible that we are detecting a spiritual reality that actually exists".
This artcle is just another vapid attack on religion, and the writer of the article twisted the headline to his own ends. Actually the writer is probably just out of school, green as heck and trying - and failing - to be clever in concocting a hook.
Be that as it may what I find really interesting is the reference to the "Thomas Pulse".
"He has found a way of inducing religious experiences, or a "sensed presence", simply by bathing the skulls of volunteers in a mild but precisely controlled electromagnetic field called the "Thomas pulse", named after the researcher who developed it.
Four out of five of those who don the magnet-laden helmet in Persinger's human consciousness laboratory report some kind of mystical experience while wearing it".
Does anyone else remember the mid '60's song "Mellow Yellow" by Donovan?
Maybe "Electric Banana" is finally here.
Plus, is the term "neurotheologist" a replacement for "mind burned out on drugs and I'm-feeling-guilty-about-all-the-free-love-and-sex-and-no-morals dippie hippie"? If so how does one actually obtain employment in that field?
This happened in history, not in the mind.
They are right about Islam, because the 72 virgins can only live in one's head.
LoL! Did you here the latest about the matyrs and virgins? Word is there are so many Muslims dying in the Jihad that there aren't enough virgins to go around! So instead of getting 72 virgins, a martyr is limited to ONLY ONE 72 YEAR OLD VIRGIN!
The jealous and the morally-blind would like to think that a moral life coupled with the reception of real grace, which results in supreme happiness, is all just a mental construct easily replicated with a magnetic helmet. I'll hold my formless, shoreless Ocean of blissful, conscious, loving Light against their magnets any day.
One day a frog from the ocean fell into a deep well. Inside the well was a well frog, who asked the newcomer where he came from. "I came from the ocean," said the ocean frog. "And how big is this ocean of yours?" Stepping from side to side, the well frog asked, "Is the ocean this big?" "No," said the frog from the sea, "The ocean is much bigger than that." So then the frog from the well leaped from one side of the well to the other, and asked, "Is the ocean as big as this?!" "Oh, no," said the frog from the sea, "The ocean is much bigger than this well." At that the frog of the well declared, "That's impossible! There is nothing bigger than this well!"
At one time I was quite enthralled with CS, and paid good money to attend one of his lectures at Carnegie Hall in Pittsburgh. I even dressed in beige slacks and a brown cordoroy jacket with leather elbow patches.
Boy, was THAT 35 bucks down the terlit, Not to mention the cost of the clothes! Although when I walked around smoking my pipe I have to admit the outfit WAS quite a babe magnet. Of course that's before it was "out" to smoke a pipe.
Oh and I had LOTS more hair.
The science is merely discovering the architecture, but reveals little of the Architect, God Himself. Carl Yung, the noted Swiss Physician and Psychologist, opined that there was within all humans, a collective subconscious. He was onto the same thing.
Most organised religions tap into this architecture, for good purpose, much of the time. Religous belief systems, evolved into civil laws, structure many aspects of man's lives. True in primitive and advanced societies, for good and for evil.
You KNOW.....the MIRACLE of CHRIST'S ASCENSION is just buggin' them to .death! .pun intended
Sad thing is Christ DIED on the CROSS for THEM, too!
They'll NEVER GET IT.... so sad.......just so sad....
That's OK, though....more room in Heaven for the rest of US!!!
You KNOW..... Heaven will be FILLED with FREEPERS!!!!
WAY TOOOOOO KEEEWWL!!!!
* * * * * * *
There....my mind, my HEART, AND my SOUL... all feel MUCH BETTER now...
My brother-in-law used to get furious with Sagan, saying that he delt with science opinion, not science fact.
Oh and I had LOTS more hair.
Youth...it's wasted on the young. One thing can be said for aging though...it beats the alternative. :^)
Start quick ramble - Carl Yung...collective thought...the Great Mind...the One Mind...God in us all...the soul, perhaps that bit of the collective that resides in us all, and returns to the collective...reincarnation, not in a strict sense but as a reformulation of the energy of The Spirit or soul. - /ramble
Years ago a very close friend and I were working on an admittedly junk science book. The working title was "The Off The Wall Book Of Physics" although that was really a misnomner. Over the course of about a year it became more a book on philosophy and theology. We had concoted rather intricate models of Life, The Universe, and Everything to steal a phrase.
Sadly the work came to an end when my friend, who at one time was a very intelligent fellow, went quite mad while trying to resolve some of the Great Mysteries and moved to a different level via a shotgun in his mouth.
I'd add that before working with this fellow I had quite a fascination with a philosophy teacher in college. She never groomed, barely bathed and wore ragged clothes, basically whatever happened to be handy. Her holy grail was to reduce logic to mathmatics.
Before we finally parted she warned me that to those not strong of faith or mind, pondering The Great Mysteries could prove fatal. One might become so abosorbed in thought one might go mad.
That's what happened to the fellow I was writing about. Ever since his death I backed off and now only occasionally dip my toe in the pool.
But I'll bet the "babes" did too.
Here's an excerpt I found especially hilarious.
The (Inner,hyper)-Dimensional Grid configuration can be buried in the ground and use as an artificial grid. This grid system could also be used as a portable grid point in moving vehicle for various science projects.
The grid consists of a pair of 3/4" copper tubing forming a cross with a multi-dimensional Sirian PHI amplifier in the center which creates an energy whirl. Both rods are filled with quartz crystal shavings.
The Rods are wrapped in clockwise-counterclockwise rotation with 21 gage magnet wire forming a Mobius electro magnet. The length of the rods is based the harmonics of an exponential function of the PHI ratio (1.618034..).
The dials on the IDR can set to the harmonic values of the spiritual or well being level one wants to reach. A pendulum or rubbing plate may use to program the circuitry.
Interestingly enough these folks disabled the "copy" function on their website, however some of us are bit more clever than they are.
I think I'm gonna order my (Inner-Hyper) Dimensional Grid with the Deluxe extra Chakra plates as well as a Rubbing Plate ( which sounds just erotically divine!). Of course that boosts the price up to near 2 thousand bucks but hey, when it comes to spiritual bliss one can't be concerned about cost!
Krishna krishna, rama rama, Ommmmmmmmmm!
You may go to your room without dessert! ;)
Granted that I've retired from debates on religion because they're a waste of time - but I'm always curious about things like this because I wonder if people believe that Jesus is sitting in the lower stratosphere as we speak.
As for the article - it should be self-evident that the experience of religion is a neurological rather than a supernatural phenomenon - a gazillion different religions with incompatible and contradictory theologies all show up as the same subjective experience would point to religion as tapping into some sort of common brain structure. Or if you wanted to shoehorn some supernatural explanation - God doesn't care what you believe about him - it's all good.
As for the cause, obviously people will differ - my thought is that it's an artifact of some other basic brain function or some property of neural networks that cults [the general term for an organized body of belief and ritual] have evolved to exploit.
BTW this morning instead of thanking God for another day, why not thank your local neurotheologist?
It's in your mind, IOW science can come up with physical eveidence, but religion exists outside of it too.
The Greeks on these boards find much to ridicule and deride about the Christian faith--the true Christian faith, not its dead and powerless two-dimensional caricature that lauds Jesus Christ merely as a great ethics teacher.
They are especially disturbed by the assertion that as a historical FACT a crucified man actually, physically rose from the dead. Their vehemence in rejecting this truth is shared by Muslims, among others. The defining mark of a Christian is that, alone among all people, he or she believes this actual, physical, historical, powerful truth and loves God for it.
Far beyond disputes over obscure points of doctrine, far beyond the Genesis versus Darwin battles, the plain, prosaic, unadorned fact of the historical crucifixion and resurrection is the simple truth that fractures and shatters the world and shames rebellious men who are wise in their own eyes.
2. A whole bunch of the eastern philosophies have various practices to induce the 'mystical' mind state, and at least until the Renaissance so did Christianity ... there are plenty of accounts of monks or even ordinary people who through devotional exercises had religious experiences. I would say by the Enlightenment this had largely died out as a regular practice. BUT neither Christian or other regarded this state as the end-goal. Great, you had a vision of Christ, fine, but what are you going to DO with it? ... and the Middle English Christian accounts always have them putting experience into practice.
3. However all these systems insist that the mind must be prepared for this experience (symbolic framework), and they say so using some sort of metaphor or another. Without that the result is chaotic and possibly ruinous (as in the example provided by um, my opposite "number" here). So although I fully expect that people will be making 'Thomas pulse' machines not too long from now, we might see a backlash and call for regulation not long after that.
Funny logic. So when very myopic me puts on my glasses and suddenly perceives things that I couldn't perceive before, this proves the things I perceive are created by my brain?