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Communications Science

Scientists Deliver 'God' Via A Helmet 1020

Posted by Zonk
from the don't-forget-the-devil-in-the-details dept.
prostoalex writes "Scientific American is reporting on scientific work done to map the euphoric religious feelings within the brain. As a result, it's now quite possible to experience 'proximity to God' via a special helmet: 'In a series of studies conducted over the past several decades, Persinger and his team have trained their device on the temporal lobes of hundreds of people. In doing so, the researchers induced in most of them the experience of a sensed presence — a feeling that someone (or a spirit) is in the room when no one, in fact, is — or of a profound state of cosmic bliss that reveals a universal truth. During the three-minute bursts of stimulation, the affected subjects translated this perception of the divine into their own cultural and religious language — terming it God, Buddha, a benevolent presence or the wonder of the universe.""
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Scientists Deliver 'God' Via A Helmet

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:25AM (#20893881)
    First post.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by SnapShot (171582)

      Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.
      Don't mod the parent "off topic". It's possible that God is posting AC. Check the bottom of of the thread to see if the last post is AC as well.
  • Acid (Score:5, Informative)

    by 56 (527333) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:25AM (#20893887)
    The effect described sounds like the euphoric feeling you sometimes get while on acid. Minus the hallucinations.
    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:28AM (#20893903)
      Sensing something that is not there.... surely that classifes as hallucination
      • by 56 (527333)
        I meant visual hallucinations, like patterns appearing to move. However, you make a valid point.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          like seeing visions of God, Moses, Virgin Mary etc? I think I'd rather go for the acid.
          • I think I'd rather go for the acid.

            Hey, Christianity is the belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie, who was his own father, can make you live forever if you eat his flesh. [pizdaus.com]

            What's not to like?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Coming soon to a government near you. Big Brother loves you.
    • Re:Acid (Score:5, Interesting)

      by klenwell (960296) <klenwell@@@gmail...com> on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:44AM (#20894049) Homepage Journal
      In his book, Phantoms in the Brain, neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran mentions this device in his discussion of psychological disorders. IIRC, he compares the sensation to those symptoms that are exhibited by individuals with a messiah complex.

      He describes it as excessive emotional "kindling" (often associated with epilepsy -- the tact I believe Scorsese adopted in the Last Temptation of Christ) that leads one to invest spiritual significance in events and experiences most people would experience as ordinary or mundane.

      Now place your God Helmet on your head and reread this post -- you'll see what I mean.
      • by Sentri (910293) on Monday October 08, 2007 @02:36AM (#20894783) Homepage
        Tact

        1. The sense of touch; feeling.
        2. The stroke in beating time.
        3. Sensitive mental touch; peculiar skill or faculty; nice perception or discernment; ready power of appreciating and doing what is required by circumstances.
        ( http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/tact [wiktionary.org] )

        Tack

        1. small nail with a flat head
        2. loose seam used to temporarily fasten pieces of cloth
        3. (nautical) part of a sail (Wikipedia) specifically the lower corner on the leading edge of the sail relative to the direction of the wind.
        4. (nautical) direction, hence approach try a different tack. Specifically a course or direction that enables the vessel to head upwind. See also reach, gybe.
        5. part of the harnessing for a draft animal or riding animal, e.g. a horse pulling a wagon, or a riding horse. Includes bit, bridle and reins.
        ( http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/tack [wiktionary.org] )

        Tack No. 4

        People miss this one all the time, you adopt a tack, tact is what I lack :-)
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:06AM (#20894207)
      Neuroscientists find God in mushrooms [nzherald.co.nz]:

      ...

      For the Johns Hopkins study, 30 middle-aged volunteers who had religious or spiritual interests attended two eight-hour drug sessions, two months apart, receiving psilocybin in one session and a non-hallucinogenic stimulant - Ritalin - in the other. They were not told which drug was which.

      One-third described the experience with psilocybin as the most spiritually significant of their lifetime and two-thirds rated it among their five most meaningful experiences.

      In more than 60 per cent of cases the experience qualified as a "full mystical experience" based on established psychological scales, the researchers say. Some likened it to the importance of the birth of their first child or the death of a parent.

      The effects lasted for at least two months. Eight out of 10 of the volunteers reported moderately or greatly increased wellbeing or life satisfaction. Relatives, friends and colleagues confirmed the changes.

      The study is one of the first in the new discipline of "neurotheology" -the neurology of religious experience. The researchers, who report their findings in the online journal Psychopharmacology, say that, though unorthodox, their aim is to explore the possible benefits of drugs like psilocybin.

      Google has more on neurotheology [google.com]

    • by Moraelin (679338) on Monday October 08, 2007 @03:26AM (#20895061) Journal
      It's not entirely a new phenomenon, and your mentioning acid reminds me of the rampant ergotism [wikipedia.org], a.k.a. St Anthony's fire they had at times in the middle ages.

      Short version: it's produced by the toxin a parasitic fungus that grows on certain kinds of grain and grass. Eating contaminated grains produces LSD-like hallucinations, but also extreme vasoconstriction that often (but not always, if the dose is low enough) results in gangrene. Which in turn often resulted in death.

      Apparently, the problem was big enough at times that (A) they had a monk order (the Order of St. Anthony) specialized in trying to save people affected by the result, and (B) outbreaks of whole freakin' cities dancing euphorically in the streets and having mystical/religious visions and revelations.

      Kinda makes me wonder how many of the prophecies and martyrdoms that the the various religions were based on, well, were just the result of hallucinations. I mean, obviously some people lied their arse off to gain an advantage or revenge in the name of religion, but I'm willing to admit that some were genuinely honest and relating miracles and stuff they actually witnessed. Or, rather, and this is the important part: thought they witnessed, while on an ergot trip. Or while they were delirious with fever, or having a bad heat stroke (having visions and revelations in the desert sure was common), or any other kind of hallucination and delirium.

      For example, at the risk of offending the French, I wonder about Joan d'Arc. Went and fought for the good ol' Salic law that women can't inherit anything at all, and got burned at the stake... all supposedly because of a divine vision commanding her to. Could it be that the poor girl had just eaten a bit of bad rye?

      How many other saints and prophets had?

      Or given a tightly knit group that travelled and ate together (e.g., monks in the same monastery, or let's say... 1 guy and his 12 apostles?) it only takes one contaminated meal for _all_ of them to have an acid trip together.

      Or here's another thought: almost 1% of the population are schizophrenic, and at least _some_ forms of it are characterized by hallucinations. And in the ancient times and middle ages, it could only be worse, since they didn't have psychiatrists and neuroleptics: once started on the road to madness, the only way was towards worse. Stuff like hearing voices, seeing ghosts, etc. Given thousands of years and populations of millions of people, odds are good some will eventually have delusions of divine miracles and messages.

      Briefly: Is it still a miracle if it only happened in someone's drug-addled brain?
  • Obligatory (Score:3, Funny)

    by SnoopJeDi (859765) <snoopjedi@gmaiCOUGARl.com minus cat> on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:26AM (#20893891)
    I, for one, welcome our new brain-controlling divine overlords.

    Angry religious leaders @ 9.
  • Proof! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:31AM (#20893925)
    This is proof that Science is a Tool of the Devil!

    Oh, Jebus, curse these rotten, immoral Satanic Scientists to the ever-lasting hell they deserve!
  • by J_Omega (709711) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:31AM (#20893931)
    Ok, so it isn't the quite the same... but it sounds similar to the "Penfield Mood Organ" from "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

    If it doesn't harm the brain, sign me up for one. As a born-again atheist (raised in a religious household,) I'd like to have some of those euphoric "divine" feelings that I've never experienced - even if I know its just electrically induced.

    (And yes, I've tried recreational chemistry.)
  • by mad.frog (525085) <steven@criERDOSnklink.com minus math_god> on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:32AM (#20893945)
    ...maybe the fields actually force "God" to show up in the room while it's switched on.

    (Hey, no less crazy than any other hypothesis out there)
    • Hard to imagine being able to force the Supreme Being to do anything He doesn't want to do ... but it might attract God to a more compliant receptacle.

      Hey, no less crazy than your original hypothesis.
  • by Dachannien (617929) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:33AM (#20893951)
    I grok helmet.

  • Star Wars? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ZeroSerenity (923363)
    It's like the force. I mean, make it seem like something is there that isn't. But unfortunately this is profoundly less useful as it stands, or it can be used to induce a different religion in folks.
  • Hmm, now we know what is inside the Pope's Egyptian style helmet. So those Pharaos really did have advanced technology...
  • On the wire. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Adambomb (118938) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:36AM (#20893977) Journal
    Sounds like a hop skip and a jump from Niven's wireheads [wikipedia.org].
  • by MillionthMonkey (240664) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:41AM (#20894015)
    Bugs Bunny: [singing] Oh, mighty warrior of great fighting stock! Might I inquire to ask-Eh, [eats a carrot] what's up, Doc?
    Elmer Fudd: [singing] I am going to kill the Wabbit!
    Bugs Bunny: [singing] Oh, mighty hunter, twil be quite a task. How will you do it? Might I inquire to ask?
    Elmer Fudd: [singing] I will do it with my spear and magic helmet!
    Bugs Bunny: [singing] Your spear and magic helmet?
    Elmer Fudd: [singing] Spear and magic helmet!
    Bugs Bunny: [singing] Magic helmet?
    Elmer Fudd: [singing] Magic helmet!
    Bugs Bunny: Magic helmet.
  • Which is here: http://www.rifters.com/real/shorts/PeterWatts_Heathens.pdf [rifters.com]

    Along with several of the rest of his stories: http://www.rifters.com/real/shorts.htm [rifters.com]

  • by Keyper7 (1160079) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:43AM (#20894041)
    ...after seeing the volunteer scream "Oh, GOD! Oh, GOD!" while being stimulated.

    I think they discovered a G-something, but not exactly God.
  • by eegad (588763) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:54AM (#20894109)
    Just because you can replicate the sensory experience of something by "poking" at the brain doesn't mean that a real outside stimulus is false. For instance, I think you could probably make the brain experience the sensory perception of color by "poking" at the visual cortex. That doesn't change the fact that there are real world stimuli that evoke this experience as well. In short, showing that the brain is capable of experiencing something because of a different, artificial stimulus does not predict or rule out the primary "natural" source of that experience. Although it does present an interesting question for evolutionary theory - why does this perception ability exist?
    • by hackingbear (988354) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:00AM (#20894155)

      Although it does present an interesting question for evolutionary theory - why does this perception ability exist?
      Because it is clearly advantageous for the highly intelligent beings to have faith and believe in God (whether it exists or not). For example, people will be less likely killing each other on the fear of revenge by the God. Evolution creates God.
    • by ranton (36917) on Monday October 08, 2007 @02:21AM (#20894695)
      Everything you say is correct except for saying that these results are completely inconclusive.

      The first and most major result of such experiments is to show that no "religious experiences" can be trusted as personal proof of an almighty being. Just because you have had a few instances in your life when you truly felt God's presense, that alone should mean virtually nothing without some other verification. If this sensation can be created without God's presense, then it is no longer valid "proof" of his existance.

      While this induced stimuli is artificial, it still shows that such stimuli can be false. A computer screen can "trick" the human brain into thinking there are actual monsters on a screen, but that just shows that simply seeing something is not proof that it is really there. I will need some other form of proof other than just a vision of a monster is inside my wall, because there could be a tv projector creating the image.

      There are also natural causes of false stimuli. I could see a mirage of water on the road ahead of me when there is no water for instance.

      Of course nothing in this study "proves" that there are no such things as true divine experiences. All it "proves" (as if a single study could ever prove anything) is that simply believing that you have had a religious experience is largely meaningless. The next step in the research is to find natural causes of such metaphysical perceptions. That would still not prove anything, but it would again make if far more likely that any divine experience is untrustworthy.

      --
    • by tukkayoot (528280) on Monday October 08, 2007 @02:58AM (#20894921) Homepage

      Just because you can replicate the sensory experience of something by "poking" at the brain doesn't mean that a real outside stimulus is false. For instance, I think you could probably make the brain experience the sensory perception of color by "poking" at the visual cortex. That doesn't change the fact that there are real world stimuli that evoke this experience as well. In short, showing that the brain is capable of experiencing something because of a different, artificial stimulus does not predict or rule out the primary "natural" source of that experience.

      True, it just tells us that there is probably nothing "magical" or "divine" about the experience itself. Indeed, if the experience can be triggered in a laboratory, it is reasonable to assume it happens "naturally" outside of the laboratory as well -- it doesn't necessarily follow that the such natural experiences accurately correspond to actual phenomena any more than is the case when people put on this helmet. Feeling as if you're in the presence of a god, demon, ghost or lurking shadow monster is something most of us can say we've experienced, but empirical evidence for gods, demons, ghosts and shadow monsters is decidedly lacking. The most rational explanation for such experiences is they are all "in our heads" so to speak. That doesn't mean it's the correct explanation, but it's the one I'm going with for the time being.

      Although it does present an interesting question for evolutionary theory - why does this perception ability exist?

      It is an interesting question, but it should be asked with the proper emphasis, in the proper context. Being capable of sensing the presence of empirically unverifiable entities is an ability in the same way that being fooled by an optical illusion is an ability. So instead of asking "why" we have evolved this "ability," I would ask how we have evolved this attribute.

      It could be that this attribute itself conferred some useful survival and reproductive benefit, or it could be a neutral or slightly counterproductive "side effect" of attributes that are too advantageous to have been eliminated by natural selection. Humans, like many animals, have an agency detection system of sorts ... we need to be able to detect potential predators, prey, comrades, mates, etc. This agency detection system is a bit overactive ... false positives are not unheard of, because the evolutionary cost/risk of being a little too sensitive may be lower than being a little under-sensitive. Also, humans are social animals capable of running elaborate internalized social simulations, vividly imagining the moods, motivations and behaviors of real or imagined entities, both human and non-human ... this is something else that we've evolved to do rather liberally. We've even been known to shed tears for beings that we know exist only in our imaginations or in a story book.

      Combining these two attributes (overactive agency detection + social simulation, projection and empathy) it's not hard to imagine why people might sometimes have experiences such as those described in the article and that they would take the shape of religious icons that have been conditioned from youth to treat as real, true and important. Given the self-propagating and self-reinforcing (what you might call "memetic") quality of these beliefs and their consequential social importance, it may indeed be in one's best interest (from a survival and reproductive point of view) to at least give the appearance of earnestly believing in them, which the occasionally "feeling" of an invisible "presence" would help produce. So it could be a component of a sort of evolutionary feedback loop.

      For more on religion from a sociobiological perspective, and its potential implications, I recommend Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel Dennett and Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought by Pascal Boyer. The preceding is mostly a crude reformulation or extension of the ideas contained within those volumes.
  • by SourGrapes (1003959) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:00AM (#20894149)
    First of all, this is an old experiment, I remember reading about it a long time ago. But while it's interesting from a neuroscience point of view to discover the location of these experiences within the brain, it doesn't give us any philosophical insight into the existence or non-existence of God. On the one hand, it could be that the religious experiences that people have had throughout history were caused by random events stimulating this bit of the brain. But from the theistic perspective, it seems obvious that if God exists He would build the brain with some capacity to detect His presence under certain circumstances -- just as we can't say that the fact the experience of seeing colour is caused by certain brain regions being stimulated means that colour doesn't exist except in our heads, we can't say that this experiment proves that God is just in our heads either. So: philosophically uninteresting.
    • by pohl (872) * on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:09AM (#20894227) Homepage

      But from the theistic perspective, it seems obvious that if God exists He would build the brain with some capacity to detect His presence under certain circumstances

      Interesting spin, but you're stretching it. And I think this is interesting, because every time science learns something about the universe or the mind like this the rhetorical effort required to work God back into the model gets more tortured. And that trend, I would say, constitutes a hint as to where to look for philosophical insight, were one inclined to glean some.

      • by mstone (8523) on Monday October 08, 2007 @03:26AM (#20895057)

        Science and religion are orthogonal to each other. The set of axioms that runs:

        1. Science deals in falsifiable statements.
        2. 'God' cannot be falsified.
        3. Science disproves (falsifies) 'God'

        wouldn't last five minutes in Introduction to Logic 101.

        The only rational thing to say is that science does not allow us to make statements about the existence of 'God', which should hardly be a surprise to anyone.

        Science deals largely with the study of symmetries.. things that allow us to ignore some kind of change. The laws of projectile motion remain the same (are symmetric) regardless of whether you're facing north or south; whether you're standing in Boston or Beijing.

        One thing that's extremely easy to ignore is 'agency'. You can write a doctoral thesis on the kinetics and aerodynamics of a curveball, but you can't use any of it to 'prove' or 'disprove' the existence of Nolan Ryan. Science only allows us to talk about how the ball behaves subsequent to a given set of initial conditions. It doesn't allow us to extrapolate that behavior back to the agent which imposed those original conditions.

        At the end of the day, there are only two possible end-states for science: Either we'll be able to reduce the creation of our universe to a set of repeatable phenomena that could be reproduced by an intentional agent with sufficient resources, or we'll find that we can't reduce the creation of our universe to a set of repeatable phenomena. In other words, we'll either prove that 'God' could exist, or we'll prove that 'God' must exist.

        Besides, science doesn't have all that much going for it in the Universal Truths department. It has a tendency to paper over difficult fundamental questions by slapping a name on what happens, and sweeping the rest of the mess under the rug of combinatorial complexity.

        When Newton published his theory of gravity, it was denounced as mysticism by his peers. They considered the idea of 'action at a distance' tantamount to saying, "God did it." General relativity papered over the problem by calling it 'curved space/time'. We still don't really have any solid answers on what 'space' or 'time' are, and the mechanism of 'gravity' is still an open question, but GR has great predictive power, and tons of experimental validation.

        In 1909, Rutherford discovered 'the hand of God' when he proved that electrons don't fall to the lowest possible energy state as predicted by the most basic laws of electrodynamics. Quantum theory papered over that problem by calling it 'uncertainty'. The fact that we can't explain 'uncertainty' in any terms other than 'it just happens' is something we can ignore. QT also has great predictive power and tons of experimental validation.

        The small fact that GR and QT are mathematically incompatible -- meaning they can't both describe the same universe -- is something we don't talk about when the children are in the room.

        Ffor all the intricate math, and all the really cool things we've done by reducing physics to engineering, we're still dealing with the simplest cases of the simplest pieces we can find. Inverse-square law? We're so excited about being able to call it a Universal Truth that we'll ignore the fact that the N-body problem is provably unsolvable in the general case. Protein folding? Meh.. let's harness a few teraflops of distributed processing power and brute-force our way through the umpty-zillion possibilities. Consciousness? It is to laugh. 'God'? Not even on the map.

        A large part of what makes science and math such great tools is that they tell us their own limits. We know for a fact that mathematics as we practice it today cannot derive all possible truths from a finite set of axioms. We know that science doesn't give us the tools to discuss matters of agency or initial-first-causes.

        Watching people ignore those limits and use 'science' to 'disprove God' offends me as a mathematician.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Science and religion are orthogonal to each other. The set of axioms that runs:

          1. Science deals in falsifiable statements.
          2. 'God' cannot be falsified.
          3. Science disproves (falsifies) 'God'

          As a logician, your construction of this logical system astounds me. Your conclusions about this set of statements is correct; these statements are inconsistent. However, how that relates to science and religion being orthogonal is beyond me. The claim that science and religion are orthogonal would be true if the entire substance of religion was contained in the existence/falsifiability of God. But it clearly does not.

          Furthermore, it's not the existence or non-existence of God that really causes

    • by Joe Tie. (567096) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:35AM (#20894415)
      What does God need with a brain? Aren't religious experiences supposed to involve that special nonbiological soul thing?
  • by treyTTU (931851) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:03AM (#20894175) Homepage
    but perhaps, and I am just saying perhaps, this is a communication region in the brain, and stimulating it analogous to stimulating the nerve of the ear, or stimulating the region of the brain interpreting signals from the eye. It would seem if you wanted a religious explanation, this could be the "communication center" for an other state of being than the one we're currently in. Like I said, this will be an unpopular opinion.
  • by dtjohnson (102237) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:03AM (#20894179)
    We're Catholics here. For us, God is more like the feeling of working for a really, really great supervisor rather than the euphoric high with the helmet thing. For that, I need about 48 oz of cold beer.
  • There is no divine (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sqrt(2) (786011) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:07AM (#20894215) Journal
    This seems like more proof of what I personally believe, that there is nothing mysterious or supernatural in our universe. Everything in human history about religion and spirituality is just our minds and imaginations running around playing tricks. Religion is a Ouija board; and we're all moving our own hands and pretending there's something great and magical out there that's doing it. Our minds are so primitive and easily tricked that we can even induce this feeling artificially. People have been doing it for a long time, long before this device. LSD users report the same kind of experiences as well as hallucinations. I'm not trying to say that having these experiences is a bad thing, but take it for what it's worth. It's an interesting or novel change in your perception, but it's transient, and only "real" insofar that it really happened to you, outside of your own mind everything is chugging along normally and the world is no different, no more mysterious or wondrous than it was before.

    There's plenty of wonder in the world to be experienced without using a Ouija board.
  • Proves nothing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SurturZ (54334) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:11AM (#20894249) Homepage Journal
    This proves nothing. If I can make a drug that causes you to think that a dog is in the room when there isn't one, it does not prove the non-existence of dogs.
  • by Heir Of The Mess (939658) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:13AM (#20894265) Homepage

    Imagine if you could get a machine that could give a whole room full of people the feeling of god at the press of a button. Has amazing potential for abuse. What if it fit in your pocket and worked within a proximity - then everyone around you would feel your presence! hmmm, I wonder if my wife would then show me respect? Probably not :-(

    I wonder how it would apply to sales, getting a job, meeting the oppsite sex, a president negotiating with another one. Certainly would add value to face time.

  • by Samarian Hillbilly (201884) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:42AM (#20894463)
    Researchers failed to repeat the "God Helmet" experiment. It is therefore pseudo-science, even though it may agree with your prejudices. It's funny how people only see what they want to see...
  • Torture Device (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:56AM (#20894563)
    Why aren't the NSA and the CIA all over this?

    Forget waterboarding and all those other physically traumatic methods of torture. They ought to be all over this stuff looking for ways to convince their secret prisoners that their god is speaking to them directly, ordering them to give up their secrets to the interrogators.
  • Big deal (Score:3, Funny)

    by schnitzi (243781) on Monday October 08, 2007 @03:22AM (#20895035) Homepage
    Big deal. The sybian has been around for years, and gives you the same effect.
  • by G-forze (1169271) on Monday October 08, 2007 @06:04AM (#20895979)
    What none of the posters here seem to realize - especially those that ask why evolution developed an ability like this one - is that it is really not something being turned on by the helmet, but rather off! The helmet interrupts the area of your brain that controls self awareness (and keeps track of where your body ends) so that you feel at one with the universe, one with whatever god you have been thought is the real deal. Studies of buddhist monks and catholic nuns deep in meditation or prayer have showed a concentrated effort can effectively shut down the brain activity in these areas resulting in the same type of experience.
  • by martyb (196687) on Monday October 08, 2007 @10:16AM (#20898409)

    The article referenced a number of studies investigating a variety of "spiritual experiences", and the increase/decrease in activation of several locations in the brain. The emphasis on spiritual and/or religious "experiences" was an interesting approach, but the authors point out a difficulty:

    Other research problems abound. None of the techniques, for example, can precisely delineate specific brain regions. And it is virtually impossible to find a perfect so-called reference task for the nuns to perform against which to compare the religious experience they are trying to capture. After all, what human experience is just one detail different from the awe and love felt in the presence of God?

    I suggest it would be interesting to investigate something for which there IS a control, and for which there is a greater ability to find matching experiences of it: Flow [wikipedia.org]. See, especially: religion and spirituality [wikipedia.org]

    Disclaimers: IANAN (I am not a neurologist). I DO experience "flow" regularly when writing computer programs. I have had a couple "spiritual experiences" in my life, but do not subscribe to any particular religion, nor do I believe there is some "great power" that reaches down and intervenes in my life, or of anybody else.

    Background: When writing computer programs, I regularly experience periods where I lose all sense of what is around me except the task at hand. These periods _feel_ brief, but when I look at the time, invariably an hour or two has passed. If I do get interrupted while in the "flow", there's a feeling of a sudden inrush of external awareness, AND a sense of "dropping" the balls (concepts and interrelationships between them) I was juggling. It's like I can only focus on so many things at once; but, being in the flow, I free my mind of awareness of the "outside" so that I can be aware of more aspects of the program I am working on.

    Others have told me they felt this feeling when they were involved in sports -- they could ignore the crowd, all the other inputs and distractions, and become one with the play at hand. Still others have shared with me about having this feeling when they were listening to music. At the same time, they could selectively listen to individual instruments or the whole piece and the interactions between those instruments, all within the flow of the whole composition. Yet others still have told me about playing MMORPGs and how it felt when they became immersed in the game. And, yes, I've heard others use similar terms to describe how it felt for them when they had a "spiritual experience". (My own experience supports that, too.)

    Question 1: Could it be that a "spiritual experience", a sensing of God, a feeling of oneness with the universe, etc. ... could these be akin to a "flow experience" with respect to something commonly described in religious terms?

    Question 2: Are there any researchers here who would like an able and willing volunteer to investigate this? I'd volunteer in a heartbeat to be hooked up to an fMRI, or SPECT, or whatever to see what was going on when I was working on writing a program!!! Given the /. population, I suspect I'm not alone and there would be a large number who would also volunteer for such a study.

    Summary: Inquiring minds want to flow! ;^)

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