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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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  • Frist (Score:4, Funny)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:31PM (#31105266) Homepage Journal

    Frist ... where was I? ... my brain has disapno carrier

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:31PM (#31105280)

    Yeah, you can make someone a lot happier with a lobotomy too. And stupid people who don't *use* their brains are often amused by the human equivalent of shiny keys (aka "reality television"). And people who drug themselves into a brainless stupor are are often in a complete euphoria (even a rat-infested, filthy trailer becomes paradise with just a little dab of meth).

    But the rest of us, stuck with all of our fully-functional brains, are forced to sometimes contemplate serious matters that aren't so happy. Sure, we sometimes get depressed. But humanity probably wouldn't make much scientific, intellectual, or cultural progress if everyone was walking around every day drugged-up and lobotomized, with stupid goddamn grins on their faces.

    • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:36PM (#31105366) Journal

      It's not quite so simple. Remember that Newton was highly religious. It would be hard to describe him as not having a fully functional brain.

      • by JerryLove (1158461) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:43PM (#31105480)

        Why would that be hard to do? Geniuses often have brain abnormalities leading to schitzophrenia, paranoia, depression, or autism. Why would religion be any different?

        Also, it would be a mistake to confuse tendancies with hard-fast rules. That a part of the brain affects congnative decisions doesn't remove the role of cognition.

      • by mellon85 (1723140) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:59PM (#31105754)
        at the time of newton if you were a declared atheist, you would have gone into serious serious problems, falling apples and math would have been your last concern
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Narcocide (102829)

          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 b

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gd2shoe (747932)
          Newton would have been branded a heretic, but only because he had non-mainstream beliefs about the trinity. He was deeply religious. (I thought it was in a Nova program on Hulu, but I can't find it now.)
      • by sznupi (719324)

        Newton certainly didn't have your average brain. Abnormalities which, in connection to his enviroment, made him the father of classical mechanics...could as well contribute to his religious state.

        Also, remember that in his times being highly non-religions still wasn't exactly the safest thing to do...

      • Remember that Newton was highly religious.

        He took holy orders because it was a requirement for his job, but he also dabbled in atheism.

        And despite being brilliant, he was in many ways flawed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by SleazyRidr (1563649)

        You must consider the times in which he lived. Other people have mentioned that not being Christian was rather dangerous, but I think it's even simpler than that.

        Newton was on the search for truth. He was also quite interested in the occult. He didn't know where the truth lay, so he searched everywhere until he found it.

        Of course, now we can stand on his shoulders and see further than he did but no-one should forget that he was the one laying the foundations for what we take for granted today.

      • by 0xdeadbeef (28836)

        > It's not quite so simple. Remember that Newton was highly religious. It would be hard to describe him as not having a fully functional brain.

        An overclocked processor can be spectacularly fast, and spectacularly wrong.

      • by Albinoman (584294) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @09:44PM (#31108482)

        Newton was also known for his work in alchemy. He enjoyed his share of share of toxins (like mercury). Don't get me wrong, Newton was sheer brilliance. I'm able to be taught calculus, but to make that leap intuitively is absolutely amazing. That doesn't mean he wasn't damaged.

        I saw a video by Neil deGrasse Tyson called "God of the Gaps" [youtube.com], highly recommended. He points out that even the most incredibly brilliant people invoke God add the edge of their intelligence. For Newton, he managed to come out with incredible breakthroughs in motion, energy, gravitation, and math. But when Newton couldn't mathematically balance the "6 planets" in stable orbits, he decides it must be God. He quits trying to understand and explore it after that, as do a great many intelligent people in history. The disturbing thing is that it means that that once "God" is accepted as an answer, they are either unable or unwilling to explore that subject further. God is the antithesis of discovery.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by erroneus (253617)

        Back in those days, to be taken seriously at all, one had to claim strong religious affiliation and belief. Hell, even today a person cannot become president of the U.S. without being Christian and attending a particular church. (Yeah, I know Jefferson was supposedly an atheist or agnostic, but some of his most famous quotes contain references to god which is kind of my point. He may have been atheist, but had to speak of god to people would accept him.)

        And we all know what happens to people who cross th

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hurricane78 (562437)

        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 r

    • by jollyreaper (513215) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:52PM (#31105624)

      Yeah, you can make someone a lot happier with a lobotomy too.

      Not me. I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

      • by VValdo (10446)

        Not me. I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

        Just different ways to kill the pain the same.

        W

    • Its all about control of the subject. Society fears people that can't be controlled. Laws work for most of us, but it doesn't for some. Think about it you don't know if the person might spontaneously kill someone. Unlikely almost all of the time. You have no idea how they will react to situations so they are labeled dangerous. They used to dose people with insulin causing convulsions to make them more sedative. That can't be health no matter how you look at it. Most of the treatments are for society's benef
    • by hey! (33014) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @06:03PM (#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 200_success (623160) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @06:58PM (#31106610)
      Put more simply... [wordpress.com]
    • by wealthychef (584778) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @07:22PM (#31106958)
      Why do you think that happiness is the same as stupidity? In my experience, many people go from blissful ignorance (childhood) to unhappy ignorance (teenagers) to arrogant unhappiness (young adulthood) to resignation (midlife crisis) to mature joy. Some people skip various steps and there are others possible, of course. I'm just saying your view is extremely narrow and not particularly accurate. There are many very intelligent people who live very happy lives, laughing and loving their lives. Just because you are serene and have deep inner peace and happiness doesn't mean you never cry or don't get upset.
  • The church (Score:2, Funny)

    by Dyinobal (1427207)
    Earlier today the Vatican issued a statement recommending this procedure for all individuals who are having independent thought. Claiming this will bring them closer to god.
    • by ircmaxell (1117387) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:35PM (#31105348) Homepage
      More news from the Vatican, "spreading the word of Christ" now involves a sledge hammer...
  • Flamebait (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192)

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

    To be less inflammatory, this doesn't really change anything. For a religious person, they would accept that God created the brain in such a way that makes the spiritual experience possible. Why would there not be a physical substrate for that experience?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      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 i
    • It begs the question anyway: which brain is right?

      Does the theist have an underactive brain portion, or does the atheist have an overactive one? It's subjective.

      • Re:Flamebait (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:52PM (#31105634) Homepage Journal
        It's possible for theists to become atheists and vice-versa. Born-again Christians, after all, are among the most rabid religious fanboys.

        It's not a predisposition to religion so much as it is predisposition to zeal.
      • There is no "right" or "wrong"...there's just survival. Fact is, a certain level of spirituality was beneficial for most of organisms with complex neural system - oversensitive alertness helps survive. False positives in noticing things end up better than false negatives.

        There was always a sweet spot of course - too much "internal stimuli" and the organism also was less succesfull in passing its traits. On human level you have complications with fullblown religions and societal dynamics, but it's still esse

    • Re:Flamebait (Score:5, Insightful)

      by IorDMUX (870522) <mark@zimmerman3.gmail@com> on Thursday February 11, 2010 @06:14PM (#31105996) Homepage

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

      You keep using that word.

      I do not think it means what you think it means.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by cjb658 (1235986)

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

        It would explain Mac users...

    • Kooky (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ShakaUVM (157947)

      >>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

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        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.

        Whoa... you think Christianity's mystical claims are more likely than the e

  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:34PM (#31105324)
    Removing a part of brain makes you sensitive to things that AFAWK aren't there... Hemispherectomy, anyone with guru ambitions?
  • Ragu Soul (Score:5, Funny)

    by handy_vandal (606174) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:38PM (#31105406) Homepage Journal
    The soul is to the body as "Italian-ness" is to Ragu Spaghetti Sauce: "It's In There!"
  • What conflict? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Matey-O (518004) <michaeljohnmiller@mSPAMsSPAMnSPAM.com> on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:49PM (#31105590) Homepage Journal

    You are a thing. A Marvelous machine. If you are poked and prodded we can illicit love, hunger, fear...why NOT spirituality? It does not make the phenomena any less real, you've just figured out how to manipulate the machine to do it on command.

  • Not a new idea (Score:5, Informative)

    by Idiomatick (976696) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:49PM (#31105598)
    Neuroscientist VC Ramachandran (sp?) a bunch of years ago was dealing with patients that had temporal lobe epilepsy. The temporal lobe is in control of 'meaning', it is the part of your brain that recognizes objects for their significance. He found that after an episode the patients had overwhelming feeling of spirituality. The idea is that they were seeing meaning and importance in everything down to individual blades of grass. One of his patients refused any support since he believed he was a prophet and that it was his link to god. (I since have read that many prophets historically have been epileptics such as Ezekiel and Mohamed).

    You can find the guy in NOVA (secrets of the mind). He also gave a talk or two on www.TED.com .
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

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

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

      by sznupi (719324) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @07:11PM (#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.

  • Try LSD (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:52PM (#31105632)

    It does the same thing.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by xealot (96947)

      I think most intelligent people who have used psychedelic drugs would attest to this. There's definitely certain things hardwired into our brains, and certain drugs can open up those areas for exploration. LSD and psilocybin both induce a predisposition for religious and spiritual thoughts, as well as many of the patterns and images found in the earliest of art.

  • by Gandhi of War (1741426) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:57PM (#31105700)

    *whack*
    How about now?

  • Well, duh (Score:2, Funny)

    by Conchobair (1648793)
    I could have told you that, after all, this isn't brain sur... er... nevermind.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 11, 2010 @05:58PM (#31105740)

    http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

  • Removing part of the brain can induce inner peace, according to researchers from Italy.

    That sounds a lot more interesting when you say it like this:

    Spirituality can induce inner peace without drugs or surgery.

    • It causes me to wonder if the "transcendental meditation" that Ralph Waldo Emerson was always raving about was functionally disabling this portion of the brain through meditation -- which would raise a greater question like: how/why that's possible.
  • One that everyone could agree on, I might take this study seriously.

    But the quote in the article "It's important to recognize that the whole study is based on changes in one self-report measure" is quite telling. We see a change in a trait, commonly associated in some religions traditions as "spiritual." Interesting, certainly. Meaningful? Probably not.

  • I can see the picket signs over this now: "God is Not a Tumah!"

  • by StefanJ (88986) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @06:36PM (#31106310) Homepage Journal

    GOD HATES BRAINS!

  • "Spiritual" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mqduck (232646) <mqduck AT mqduck DOT net> on Thursday February 11, 2010 @06:36PM (#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.

  • by slasho81 (455509) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @06:53PM (#31106530)
    If you're interested in a quick introduction (19 minutes) to the neurobiology of religion, check this out: Part 1 [youtube.com] Part 2 [youtube.com].
  • by __roo (86767) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @06:54PM (#31106546) Homepage

    It's pretty well known that religious epiphanies and other feelings of religiosity, spirituality, or sensations of a "presence" can sometimes be linked to neurological events such as some temporal lobe seizures. (Wasn't this the plot for an episode of House?) It's common enough that there's a section on religious and paranormal experiences [wikipedia.org] in the temporal lobe epilepsy Wikipedia page. There was a good BBC documentary a few years ago on this called "God on the Brain" [bbc.co.uk] (here's a transcript [bbc.co.uk]).

  • by nitehawk214 (222219) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @07:00PM (#31106632)

    So Terry Pratchett was on to something when he invented the concept of reverse phrenology. Hitting someone in the head enough times will change their personality.

  • Does it not occur to them that a lack of ability to be spiritual can be due to injury, birth defect, or illness? They are seeing the problem in reverse due to bias.

  • by bobdotorg (598873) on Thursday February 11, 2010 @07:24PM (#31106988)

    Good to know that I might finally reach Zen nirvana, at least for a moment, as the zombies gnaw through my brain.

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