Thursday, October 11, 2007

Finding "God-spot" in our brains

This article amuses me to no end... some scientists are trying to 'map God' into regions of the human brain. What's amusing to me are: (1) how they try to see what's happening in the brains of several Buddhists as well as Carmelite and Franciscan nuns as they meditate / pray (or tried to pray, given that they are lying prone in an MRI scanner with electric caps attached to their heads), (2) how they explain 'away' the sensation of divine presence (and in the Buddhist cases, one-ness with the universe feeling), and then ironically, (3) how they would like to reproduce the apparent benefits associated with the practice of prayers in other (presumably non-praying) people by 'firing' on some regions of the brain to activate the 'God experience': "If you know how to electrically or neurochemically change functions in the brain, then you [might] in principle be able to help normal people, not mystics, achieve spiritual states using a device that stimulates the brain electromagnetically or using lights and sounds."

The conclusion seems a little disappointing to the scientists in this study, though not unexpected:

"There is no single God spot, localized uniquely in the temporal lobe of the human brain," Beauregard (ed: a neuroscientist) concludes. "These states are mediated by a neural network that is well distributed throughout the brain."

This is an interesting comment, although a little inconsistent, given that they did indeed volunteer themselves to this 'silly' study:

Although Beauregard had hoped the nuns would experience a mystical union while in the scanner, the best they could do, it turned out, was to conjure up an emotionally powerful memory of union with God. "God can’t be summoned at will," explained Sister Diane, the prioress of the Carmelite convent in Montreal.

To be fair, the article also mentioned that there are significant physical differences in certain areas of the brains amongst those who pray. The 'benefits' noted include alleviation of stress and sadness, as well as a slight reversal of the usual process of aging of the brain, which are still tangible benefits for anyone else who do not pray.

The reporter concludes thus:

[No] matter what neural correlates scientists may find, the results cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. Although atheists might argue that finding spirituality in the brain implies that religion is nothing more than divine delusion, the nuns were thrilled by their brain scans for precisely the opposite reason: they seemed to provide confirmation of God’s interactions with them. After all, finding a cerebral source for spiritual experiences could serve equally well to identify the medium through which God reaches out to humanity. Thus, the nuns’ forays into the tubular brain scanner did not undermine their faith. On the contrary, the science gave them an even greater reason to believe.

Read the rest here.

1 comment:

Jennifer F. said...

Very interesting study.

I'm not sure how I came across your blog, but I love the design! Really nice!