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Where God Lives In Your Brain 28

TheSync writes: "NewScientist has a story about research into the 'religious brain,' the part of the brain responsible for a deep, calming, spiritual feeling. Brains of Tibetan Buddhists meditating and Franciscan Nuns deep in prayer were imaged using Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT). It was found that during these spiritual experiences, an area of the parietal lobe in the brain became much less active." The article is interesting as well for the other areas of brain research it touches on. Where can I get a God helmet?
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Where God Lives In Your Brain

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  • What's a spiritual feeling?

    Exactly that. A spiritual feeling. Remember, when Spock told Mccoy, that he couldn't explain the feeling of death to him since he would have had to have been dead to understand it? Well, whether I agree with that or not, I do believe a spritiual feeling is a feeling that cannot be described otherwise.

    ticks = jiffies;
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    ticks = jiffies;
  • Apparently the brain "refreshes" consciousness every 10 milliseconds by sweeping a pulse of electricity over the brain. When you tinker with this, your consciousness seems to slow down, then collapse!

    So is this overclocking or underclocking? And could it be done elsehow?
  • anyone under extreme stress experiences tunnel vision. part of that fight-or-flight mechanism. the movie "trainspotting" had a fairly wonderful sequence depicting it.
  • No, nuns dream of ithyphalic incubi.

    Rural priests sometimes dream of sheep, but not electric ones.

  • > when the electromagnets are fired in a decelerating sequence around the head, gives the wearer the sensation that time is slowing down quite drastically.

    Heh heh. In the last episode of Futurama they dug up an old VW "bus" and started using it. When DrZ first got in, he asked "Where's the device that speeds up and slows down time?" Fry replied that it was under the seat, and fetched it out. They only gave a brief glimpse, but I believe it was a water pipe.

  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Monday April 23, 2001 @10:03PM (#270143)
    OK, he was looking for the neural correlate of religious experience, he found something, and he announced success.

    He should be the first person to exercise skepticism toward his own findings. Why not run the experiment on people practicing TM, or absorbed in a programming problem, or getting laid, or any other non-religious activity that brings about extreme focus in the brain, and see whether you get the same effect?

    It's way too easy to find some general phenomenon and think you've found the specific phenomenon you've been looking for. That's the danger of focussing your career on a search for something that you "know" must exist.

    Maybe he's right, but I'll hold out for a second opinion.

  • by norton_I ( 64015 ) <hobbes@utrek.dhs.org> on Tuesday April 24, 2001 @02:29PM (#270144)
    The mere fact that different parts of the brain are active during meditaion is not so significant. Certainly, the motor regions should be nearly quiecent during prolonged meditation. We have different brain patterns when sleeping as well.

    The fact that he can alter brain wave patterns to cause people to "feel the presence of God" is another thing entirely, and is rather significant. It puts the experience of the mystical on the same footing as other internal or externally triggered "altered states of conciousness" such as drug trips, frenzys, and clinical depression, excersise highs, and heightened awarness during crises.

    This is the difference between real science and nonsense. A lot of supposedly scientific work is entirely based on observeed correlations, especially in psycology and other "social sciences" as well as nutrition. While sometimes the results of these observations can be interesting and occasionally useful, they are hardly conclusive. Real science is about twiddling knobs and seeing what happens. Unless the researcher can control the independant variable, no statements of causality can be determined.

    In particular, "People who eat 3 servings of meat a day are 30% more likely to suffer from heart disease" (totally made up statistic) does NOT imply "eating meat causes heart disease." The *only* useful content of a statement like that is for assesing risk -- ie. for an insurance company. It provides no information on how to reduce that risk.
  • by pubudu ( 67714 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2001 @01:45PM (#270145)
    I don't think it's the beliefs that matter so much as the activity which such beliefs cause. While Buddhists certainly have a different conception of the world than nuns, the act of meditation seems similar to the way in which some people pray.

    Of course, looking at Buddhism does certainly help make sense of these findings. Since meditation is essentially the suppression of conscious thought, finding that the brain becomes less active in the frontal lobe would bolster the claim that much of conscious thought is centered in the frontal lobe. But I think this has already been shown.

    The really interesting thing is that similar activity was seen in the brains of praying nuns. This would suggest that their prayer was similar to Buddhist meditation, and therefore may hold some of the same appeal. Considering that the appeal of Buddhist meditation is the loss of personal identity ...

  • The book version is called Why God Won't Go Away [amazon.com]. The main experimental result is that the area of the brain that's consuming power during meditation is the same one that manages the "body model" used to keep your limbs from interfering and similar locomotion-related support functions. Apparently "out of body experiences" can occur when the body model isn't receiving much input.

    The experimental info is thin. Basically, they're seeing data about at the level you'd observe if you looked at the innards of a laptop computer with a thermal imager. If the computer has active power management, so that different parts are being powered up and down (remember Crusoe doing this in a big way), you can observe which sections power up for different kinds of operations. This is a very low-resolution data source.

    In fact, their experimental technique is even weaker than that. They inject their subjects with a low-level tracer that binds to active elements in the brain, then look at the tracer with a suitable scanning device. They get one data set per injection. So they're very low-rez in the time dimension, too.

    Upon this very narrow experimental base, the authors build a sizable philosophical superstructure. This is a problem with the book. Future experimental work may lead to more solid publications. But it's a good first step.

  • I read a great book by Mathew Alper titled:
    "The God Part of the Brain"
    (right on topic!)

    He gives a good scenario for why people perceive
    a god. Also interesting is that this "part"
    of the brain can be stimulated by certain
    drugs to create religous-like experiences.

  • >He should be the first person to exercise skepticism toward his own findings.

    Actually, you made me think...perhaps we could look into the brains of cynics - see if skepticism has its own part of the brain. We could alternate some stimuli between pictures of the pope, and pictures of James Randi, and watch the person explode!
  • Blockquote the orginal poster:
    Actually, I believe that the "light at the end of the tunnel" experience has an explanation that has something to do with loss of blood flow to the brain.
    "Loss of blood flow to the brain" is a physiological phenomenon, not usually associated with spirituality of any kind. For the context of that particular discussion, Eviltar and I were talking about medical causes of 'tunnel vision'.

    Hold your breath for three minutes, and when you wake up, tell us if your vision "tunneled" before you fell over.

    Louis Wu

    "One of life's hardest lessons is that life's lessons are hard to learn."

  • There are two major regions of light-sensitive 'sensors' in the back of the eye - the center of the retina, and the surrounding area. These areas see light differently due to different concentrations of rods and cones. Rods 'see' black and white, and cones 'see' color. Rods are more sensitive than cones to low levels of light, (which is why you don't see color well at night). This excerpt from The American Optometric Association's description [aoanet.org] of the eye may help:
    Cones are concentrated in the center of the retina, in an area called the macula. In bright light conditions, cones provide clear, sharp central vision and detect colors and fine details. Rods are located outside the macula and extend all the way to the outer edge of the retina. They provide peripheral or side vision. Rods also allow the eyes to detect motion and help us see in dim light and at night.
    When you go into 'tunnel vision', it is essentially a shutdown of certain parts of the retina (I think the rods shut down, I ain't sure.), such that only the center of vision is seen; it looks like a tunnel of light.

    BTW, this is from memory, and I can't find any references, so please check my facts if they don't look right. For more information on the eye, try The American Optometric Association's website, [aoanet.org] it has some good introductory information about vision problems.

    Louis Wu

    "One of life's hardest lessons is that life's lessons are hard to learn."

  • by chaidawg ( 170956 ) on Thursday April 26, 2001 @07:06AM (#270152)
    If you are interested in this, I suggest a book called The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, by Julian Jaynes.

    Jaynes speaks of consciousness as a development of only the past 3 millenia. Before that, the lobes of the brains comunicated in a way such that one half acted as the "God" brain. To say that is a huge generalization of the book, so I suggest you go read it.
    If you want, you can buy it at Amazon

  • I think there has been plenty of research measuring brain activity during specific tasks, and its possible that he saw his own work as an extension of that research.

    Keep in mind that this was simply an article and not a detailed lab report or research paper. He may have had a control group (including people doing nothing, or doing "less spiritual" tasks) which simply wasn't mentioned.

    Not that I would object to continued research. I believe that injecting people with radioactive fluid is a worthwhile cause in and of itself :)

  • Actually, I believe that the "light at the end of the tunnel" experience has an explanation that has something to do with loss of blood flow to the brain.

    I recall seeing a TV special on the Discovery channel or somewhere which covered the experience that pilots were having during training. Specifically, when they were in the part of training that spins them really fast and subjects them to really high G forces, they would pass out as the blood rushed out of their heads. They reported having the experience of seeing "a light at the end of the tunnel" while they were passing out. I can't remember exactly what the show attrbuted the phenomenon to, but I think it had something to do with the visual system shutting down, which started with the loss of peripheral vision. Hence, the tunnel effect.

    I couldn't come up with a link that backs this up, though. Sorry ;)

  • They don't really believe in a God figure (Buddha isn't really a god in the Judeo-Christian sense), but, to make a very long and complex story short, they do believe in a lot of spiritual stuff. So their beliefs definitely make them relevant to this study.

  • by yoink! ( 196362 ) on Tuesday April 24, 2001 @07:20AM (#270156) Homepage Journal
    Well the article leaves a lot to be desired. It seem quite full of rhetoric, and very little hard scientific fact.

    As we've often seen in early cognitive research, especially with the notion of humans as embeded, embodied, pattern-completeting, neural network-based organisms, we see that research of this kind is more inconclusive than ever. So what if part of the brain calms down when we meditate. Parts of it get excited when we procreate, and parts of it likewise calm down when we pass out afterwards.

    The modular synthesis of the brain, something which Jerry Fodor, a major proponent of the syntactic properties of the mind, has been slowly dropped by many people, as we find a flexibility in the brain that surpases anything else we've ever encountered. Did this "scientist" find God in the brain. It's dubious and since there are some other good comments above, concerning this ideal, I'll leave my rant right here.

  • Persinger's (now patented) "God Helmet" referred to in the NS story also, when the electromagnets are fired in a decelerating sequence around the head, gives the wearer the sensation that time is slowing down quite drastically. Apparently the brain "refreshes" consciousness every 10 milliseconds by sweeping a pulse of electricity over the brain. When you tinker with this, your consciousness seems to slow down, then collapse!

    Persinger is one of the more interesting researchers and has a _LOT_ of books and papers published to support his theories. Worth checking out...

  • I fear that somewhere in the future, they'll be using this kind of information to do stuff similar to Philip K Dick's "Do androids dream of electric sheep?", specifically the part about using mood-enhancers (or however they were called).

    So flip a few switches, set the unit on "Mystical Meditation", and voilá, you're on your way to deep artificial enlightment.

    Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earth-bound misfit, I
  • It is valuable any time we can attribute functions to areas of the brain. This allows, for example, surgeons removing a tumor or treating a severe head injury to plan their work so as to minimize damage to important areas of the brain.

  • The mere fact that we can see what areas of the brain are active or inactive under certain conditions is far significant than people seem to think. Sure, we can't exactly read whats running through the mind at the moment, but, all will come together in time. We've been able to detect this kind of activity for a wihle, and while not directly pertaining to how certain portions of the brain shut down under extreme calm such as this implies, the fact that we have gotten this far means that perhaps 15 years from now (very optimistic there ;)) we'll be commanding computers with thought, perhaps in virtual-realms or sorts. Oh well, we can always dream ;) As for decreasing activity under meditation etc, well that just makes sense. You are closed off from outside influences - your senses numb. Perhaps all these things which we subconsciously run through our brains take more, ahem, 'processing power' than once thought. I think its possibly as simple as that...
  • > Life is short, don't waste time on religion. Instead of
    > sitting in church on sunday, spend a couple hours thinking
    > about being alive and what that means to you.

    That's what sitting in church is for a lot of people, soldier. Geez, I'm and atheist, and I know this. Open your mind a little.

  • God might sue under the DMCA.

  • Actually, upon further reading, the decreased brain function and the related "religious" experience could be the "light at the end of the tunnel" experience that Life-after-Death people are always talking about.

    Dancin Santa
  • by Dancin_Santa ( 265275 ) <DancinSanta@gmail.com> on Monday April 23, 2001 @03:03PM (#270164) Journal
    So they found that the brain stops functioning when a person is "talking to God". Huge surprise!

    Dancin Santa
  • The reason that this type information is considered significant is that the brain behaves in ways that are "unnatural" when in deep (esp. yogic) meditation. I don't know anything about specific areas of the brain, but I do know that an encephalograph will show that during deep yogic meditation (and probably other types as well) the entire brain in general is in a state of profound relaxation that is distinctly different from any of the various stages of sleep. This pattern of neural activity is something that is never found in any "natural" state of consciousness or unconsciousness, including concentration, procreation, or LSD high (which produces its own distinct pattern of neural activity). The fact that it may be possible to isolate the area of the brain that essentially controls your state of consciousness is a huge breakthrough in both the field of neurological science and philosophy/religion. It normally takes serious students years to acquire the mental discipline necessary to achieve a truly altered state of consciousness (measurable by scientific means) through "pure" meditation (not enhanced by the use of chemical substances). What if someone could guarantee you full-blown meditational powers worthy of a guru for $99.99? Wouldn't that be cool? Would it be wrong? Some interesting reading on the subject: http://www.neovedanta.org/a28.html

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.