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Medicine

Brain Surgery Linked To Sensation of Spirituality 380

Posted by timothy
from the applied-psychology dept.
the3stars writes "'Removing part of the brain can induce inner peace, according to researchers from Italy. Their study provides the strongest evidence to date that spiritual thinking arises in, or is limited by, specific brain areas. This raises a number of interesting issues about spirituality, among them whether or not people can be born with a strong propensity towards spirituality and also whether it can be acquired through head trauma." One critic's quoted response: "It's important to recognize that the whole study is based on changes in one self-report measure, which is a coarse measure that includes some strange items."
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Brain Surgery Linked To Sensation of Spirituality

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  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @04:34PM (#31105324)
    Removing a part of brain makes you sensitive to things that AFAWK aren't there... Hemispherectomy, anyone with guru ambitions?
  • Re:Flamebait (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @04:42PM (#31105468)
    FTFA: "But spirituality does not seem to involve exactly the same regions of the brain as religion."

    I'm guessing it's more of a "lighted, windowed room at night" effect. Sit in a lighted room at night, and you can't see out the windows, because the information you're receiving is much more effective. Turn out the lights, and you can begin to see what's outside of your windows (perhaps a whole city). Perhaps our kinetics and structure (the part of the brain they were cutting up) keep us more grounded in immediacy? Perhaps that keeps us more worried and less "transcendant"? It sounds like they're just scratching at the surface, so it'll be interesting if they study this further.
  • by hey! (33014) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:03PM (#31105850) Homepage Journal

    Well, a lobotomy reduces the patient's capacity for introspection and self-consciousness. So what you write is true of lobotomies.

    That said, it's premature to characterize these results as "blissful ignorance". In fact the researchers pinpoint two areas: the right angular gyrus and left inferior parietal lobe. It's intriguing that both of these areas are related to arithmetic abilities, but that's all the result is -- intriguing. We don't know whether it's the same thing going on in both cases, or whether either case is related it any way to what we think of as "spirituality".

    You can look at the things these areas of the brain are supposed to do and make all kinds of interesting conjectures, but it could be something as simple as some of these patients not being able to understand the sense of the questions being put the them, or others not being able to monitor the kinds of emotional sensations they're being asked to report on. One area is believed to be used in the understanding of metaphors, the other in terms of bodily awareness.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:13PM (#31105984)
    Actually, nothing in the study proves anything that could be construed as invalidating spirituality, that's just your biased interpretation. Personally, I think it's quite plausible that willfulness is the primary source of rejection of spirituality, and that therefore altering the brain could indeed reduce a person's resistance to spirituality. Of course, that doesn't mean we should do it. :)
    It's always interesting to see how many "scientifically-minded" people have the same exact "true believer" mentality as some fundamentalists. Personally, I prefer a more balanced approach that relies more on thinking, feeling, and observing and less on blind faith.

    --
    Posting AC to avoid the hordes of "true believers" in science who would inevitably mod me down for not sharing their fanatical views. :)
  • Re:PROFIT! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:13PM (#31105986)

    1. Research 2. Simulate 3. Lobotomy 4. Prophet

  • Re:Not a new idea (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:24PM (#31106128)

    And then there's the God Helmet [wikipedia.org]...

  • Kooky (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ShakaUVM (157947) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:29PM (#31106200) Homepage Journal

    >>So, this is proof that religious people aren't using their whole brain then?

    Err, no.

    If there's a part of our brain devoted to religion/spirituality (and since it's such a large part of human experience, I wouldn't be surprised by it), then it means that *atheists* are not using their whole brain.

    In fact, over time, the neural map for this region in strict atheists ought to atrophy, making them incapable of being spiritual. Which may or more may not be a good thing, depending on your perspective. But I'd bet that in most atheists this region would start getting used for religious-ish things that aren't precisely religions, like belief in ghosts or aliens (more atheists believe in alien abductions and ghosts than Christians), or Gaia ("The earthquake in Haiti was Mother Nature's way of punishing us for global warming!" --Danny Glover) or any one of a number of other ideas that are much less likely to be true than Christianity.

    "Originally," my atheist friend told me, "there were four elements, earth wind water fire, that since then became self-conscious and then divided into all the elements of the periodic table." Ok, I said, what was water made of before we had hydrogen and oxygen? He couldn't answer that.

    As much as atheists like to make fun of Christians believing in kooky notions like the beginning of the universe and universal human rights, it's nice to see that Cog Sci can explain why atheists believe in even kookier stuff.

  • by Narcocide (102829) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:29PM (#31106206) Homepage

    That's very true however FWIW I read somewhere that Newton had claimed he'd gained many of his initial insights about physics and mathematics while in process of re-translating the bible to English. Only having read a couple recent popular English translations myself, it seems a bit strange as a source for that type of inspiration but I'd also read that he was not the only huge figure in science that claimed this.

    I think maybe it is possible that there are times in human history when in certain societies being extremely religious may have actually been an enlightening pursuit... perhaps one of the only few available. Keep in mind there wasn't a lot of funding of public libraries or schools or even literature going on outside the walls of the church back then.

  • by HeckRuler (1369601) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:35PM (#31106290)
    Yeah, you probably also prefer the more balanced approach of Fox News.

    But you're right, in part, in that this does not invalidate spirituality. But it does explain spirituality. It's an attempt to accurately define what spirituality is. And it appears that it's chemicals in your head. It does not invalidate it any more then lightning is invalidated by knowing that it's a transfer of electrons.

    Not that any of the grandparents implied that spirituality isn't real. Just your personal view of spirituality as some sort of mystic out-of-body experience.

    But you know, I'm with you, fuck blind faith. In any form.
  • "Spiritual" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mqduck (232646) <`mqduck' `at' `mqduck.net'> on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:36PM (#31106314)

    They use the term "spirituality" like its a defined psychological term. They just chose some arbitrary ideas and declared them to be a measurement of spirituality. Perhaps the worst is "belief in a higher power". If "spiritual" is a basic mental state, then whether or not one agrees with the proposition that X exists is hardly a measure of that state. It would make more sense, but still be utterly bogus, to take belief in angels and an invisible man in the sky as a measure of psychosis.

  • Re:Not a new idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sznupi (719324) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @06:11PM (#31106800) Homepage

    I can certainly vouch for this.

    In my early teen years I was diagnosed with a form of this epilepsy. The thing not mentioned in the post above is that such form of spirituality goes away somewhat if the condition is dealt with quickly, as happened in my case. Few years later I stumbled upon some info and came to realize that I'm almost a textbook example (for short summary, see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geschwind_syndrome [wikipedia.org] )

    What many of you can't really grasp, without experiencing it, is how real it feels - basically the question about existence of spiritual part of reality doesn't come into it at all; it's just present, that's...obvious. Only after it lessens the grip, you might ask yourself "what was that all about"?

    The thing that it's often exploited by religious "guidance" certainly doesn't help to escape. And with TLE being one of more underdiagnosed forms of epilepsy (heck, it was almost a chance in my case), I wouldn't be surpised if statistically significant number of deeply religious people had a mild form. In case of such, you end up arguing against what is...very much real.

  • by wealthychef (584778) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @06:30PM (#31107092)
    I think it's more subtle and complex than that. Religion is like a virus that has benefits to its host. It transmits certain successful memes and in exchange it replicates itself. It cannot be denied that simply telling people to "be good" does not motivate them to act wisely. But giving a loving environment to practice kindness and support for each other is what religion excels at. As an atheist, I wish I had more such structures for myself. I turn to mens teams and personal development for finding more evolved and kind people.
  • by sznupi (719324) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @08:45PM (#31108492) Homepage

    It's still hijacking. "A loving environment to practice kindness and support for each other" is family, often quite extended. And that's governed by more basic instincts. On the "loving" level, the succesful religions are mostly tapping what's already there. It's getting a bit fuzzy on the level of tribe; religion certainly can help it to be somewhat bigger and more stable, hence giving bonuses when competing (OTOH it also gave certain level of religious tolerance when larger loose society did form - "our gods" and "their gods" was just a fact of life).

    But here's the kicker: historically typical "natural" faiths of such societies aren't held in much regard by many of most succesfull religions. And since the latter emphasise unity, it gave them the strenght to outcompete native faiths, forming much more integrated societies in the process. Which ultimatelly gave us agrarian, industrial and informational revolution...

    I guess organised religions somewhat loosing relevance nowadays is related to the last revolution. Absolutist worldview present at their core suddenly doesn't work nearly as well when people have access to whole world at their fingertips; when they find themselves in a world not totally unlike of "loose tribal society"...in which completelly different kind of faiths worked.

    Worked, and was replaced by stronger contestants. What will emerge this time?

  • by Arthur Grumbine (1086397) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @10:53PM (#31109322) Journal

    people can be born with a strong propensity towards spirituality and also whether it can be acquired through head trauma
    Weeellll... that's one way to get it I guess.

    Definitely adds a very interesting potential to the story of Saul (St. Paul) who was famous for persecuting the Christians before he was thrown from his horse on the road to Damascus, and saw "a light from heaven", after which he heard Jesus speak to him and was converted. The official story [wikipedia.org] is that he saw the light first, and was then thrown from his horse - but head trauma has a funny way of messing with the memory of the sequence of events...

  • Re:Flamebait (Score:2, Interesting)

    by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Friday February 12, 2010 @12:02AM (#31109656)

    BTW, there is no "atheist club"; most atheists are independent thinkers by definition, otherwise they'd probably be Unitarians (joking, joking). One of the few things that most atheists can agree upon is that there is nothing wrong individual spirituality or religion, as long as it isn't forced on anyone. It's when organized religion tries to force its opinions on everyone that people take issue. Sort of like when the RIAA forces through legislation we don't agree with then uses their clout as a large organization to legally bully you into submission.

    In theory, this is true. In practice, it is not. If I dare to call myself a "free-thinking, religious individual" then 95% of atheists will roll their eyes and offer up some ridiculous strawman, as if on command. This is not tolerance, and it is not due to their oppression. It is due to hatred, groupthinking, and the manipulation of high-profile persons in this camp. There is a noticeable difference between a man who is raised without a god in his life, and a man who would label himself an atheist.

    For starters, by definition, an atheist must grant that that their belief "that there is no God" is not based on scientific principle. It is based on faith. "Uncertainty" is the scientific approach to a lack of tangible, repeatable observation. To go forward with the inference "I have never seen God before, therefore the men who claim to have seen him must either be lying or crazy, and anyone who listens to them is wrong" is nothing but faith. Atheism is the faith that you will not stand accountable for your actions. It is a gamble made in convenience.

    Most importantly, however, is that there IS an atheism camp. Atheism and theism simply cannot coexist as entropic states. The entropy is agnosticism, which atheism abhors for being its logical counterpart.

    Ah, but I'm rambling on for too long, to the point where I won't even get to the moral of the story: The morally dead will choose atheism. The baby-killing, wife-cheating, porn-addicted, sociopathic, sexual-experimenting person will choose atheism as an attempt to escape their guilt. For example, the larger and more deviant your porn collection, the harder it is to believe in God. (The reverse is not neccessarily true-- one does not have to be morally damaged to question the existence of God) It is interesting from a psychological standpoint, if not a religious one.

    And don't even bother to go telling me how pornography is now thought to be a good thing. So are abortion and divorce, yet here we see how they all cause moral ambiguity in ones' own conscience. Religion has known this as a "deading of the soul" for thousands of years, but to call it such, after the last paragraph, would be too close to circular reasoning for your comfort, I'm sure.

  • by crazycheetah (1416001) on Friday February 12, 2010 @01:12AM (#31109992)

    Seems related to the Paul being the anti-christ [answering-...ianity.com] theory that some are fond of. Definitely an interesting line of thought you can continuing adding on other points to (there's plenty out there, going several directions).

  • by hazem (472289) on Friday February 12, 2010 @03:42AM (#31110584) Journal

    Here is an interesting lecture by Robert Sapolsky, "Evolution, religion, schizophrenia and the schizotypal personality", http://www.boingboing.net/2009/06/06/evolution-religion-s.html [boingboing.net]

    It's an interesting talk about how while schizophrenia may be the result of a full expression of a recessive gene, the schizotypal may be a mild expression of the same gene, leading to people like shamans. That would tend to support your "born with a strong propensity"...

    His recent graduation day talk at Stanford was, while not related (on the uniqueness of humans), even more interesting:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrCVu25wQ5s [youtube.com]

  • by imakemusic (1164993) on Friday February 12, 2010 @07:54AM (#31111740)

    However, his son was a zombie so probably loved them.

  • by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted@slashd o t .org> on Friday February 12, 2010 @08:00AM (#31111766)

    GP simply knows nothing about psychology/neurology. Religion is literally what one could call a simple form of... well... “schizophrenia”. Now this might leave some people insulted. But you have to know, that that is actually a useful tool, to keep us surviving. So if you call it “bad” depends on your point of view. (Like everything in psychology and every mutation.)

    You see, humans MUST at all times have a working inner model of the outer world. Or else we are unable to predict any result of any of our actions. Which would leave us unable to follow any goal... to do anything useful. This, to the human brain, is probably the worst possible state, and literally results in the same strong fear as the fear of death. So we avoid it at any cost.

    There are many ways to deal with this. Of course the most obvious one, is to try to understand it, trough playing with it, experimenting, acquiring more information about it. But what, if that it literally impossible? Like the question where the universe comes from?
    Or what if we are mentally unable to make it fit with out known reality? We can’t just leave it there, because we would still know of that conflict, and stop being able to live our life.

    So what to do?

    Well. First there’s repression. Which basically is, when your brain shuts off one piece of knowledge from the rest of your brain. This often happens, after you experienced something so crass, that the association just spilled over, so that you link it to things it shouldn’t be linked to. Like when someone raped you and had a mustache, and now you get a sad feeling and pain down there, whenever you see someone with a mustache!
    The problem is, that you will, because of that repression, not be able to remember that actual bad cause. But hate mustaches anyway, not knowing why.

    But the worst-case scenario, is when you stop being able to trust the outside world, and don’t find any way to make it work or hide it. Then you end up with schizophrenia. Which is basically (simplified!), that you turn cause and effect on its head. You start to trust your inner model more, that new experiences from the real world.
    Does that remind you of something? ^^
    I must say that religion mostly still is a thousand times better than full scale schizophrenia. Like dangerous UV in sunlight, compared to powerful gamma rays, for your skin.

    Now it’s obvious, that this is unrelated to intelligence. But to the ratio of what you know that does not fit, and what you can make fit. So a dumb person is more prone to it, because it is much harder to make it all fit. But can live a happy simple life.
    Such people just have more needs for make do mechanisms, to survive. But is that bad per se? Evolution would not agree.

    And someone like Newton... he likely was pretty intelligent. But my guess is, that he simply knew so much that he could not make sense of. He was able to make sense of some things. But others were just waaayyy out of everything conceivable in his time. So religion was a good way out, to not become crazy over questions he would never have been able to solve.

    I, myself, can only solve the “where came the universe from” question, trough repression/ignorance. Some choose to use a “god”. Of course this still leaves the question open, where “god” came from.
    Fun experiment: If you want to see this protective “Schweinehund” (as we in Germany call it) in full glory, go and try to push a religious person on answering where god came from? ^^ But please don’t bee too cruel, as I could just as well do this to your weak spots. ;)

God doesn't play dice. -- Albert Einstein

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