The Spiritual Brain
David Comings, Contributing Writer
Spirituality is one of the most uplifting feelings that man can experience. While usually defined in terms of religion in a broader sense it is related to sensations of being in the presence of something greater than one’s self. This can occur in a church, on a walk in the woods, in a family gathering, or in a tight knit group of friends and relatives. The latter situation may be how spirituality came to assist in the evolution of humans. In times of great stress or danger the cohesiveness and protectiveness of small groups is likely to have had great survival value.
Is there a specific part of the brain for spirituality? While many parts of the brain may be involved, the studies of the famous neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield in the 1930s strongly implicated the temporal lobes. These are the part of the brain behind the ear and thus it is not surprising that the processing of hearing is one of the functions of the temporal lobe. Two other important parts include the hippocampus, essential for memory, and the amygdala, important for the memory of intense feelings.
Wilder Penfield’s brain mapping studies clearly placed the temporal lobes front and center, as the site for many complex spiritual experiences, including the re-playing of past experiences, thought intrusions, out-of-body sensations, trances or fugue states, feelings of being in the presence of others, of hearing angelic voices, of intense meaningfulness, of being connected to some force greater than themselves, and of talking to God.
In addition to stimulation by electrodes, the temporal lobes can also be activated by seizure activity in the form of temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE). Religious conversions have been reported in individuals with TLE of both the right and left temporal lobes. In addition a temporal lobe syndrome has been described consisting of excessive religiosity, hyposexuality, lack of humor, increased concern with philosophical, moral and religious issues, and compulsive writing on religious or philosophical themes. Temporal lobe epilepsy and its spiritual manifestations may have played a major role in the religious conversions of many historical figures and in the origin of several religions.
Individuals with near-death experiences (NDEs) have many features with a strong spiritual content including a feeling of great peace, depersonalization or out of body sensations, changes in visual perception interpreted as passing down a dark tunnel and coming out into a bright light, a review of one’s life, and a feeling of seeing God and being in heaven. NDEs exert their effect on the temporal lobes. As much as some would like to use NDEs as proof that God, heaven, and a life-after-death exists, NDEs are due to severe lack of oxygen to the brain.
Psychedelic drugs often produce a sensation of “contact,” of being in the presence of and interacting with a non-human being. Sophisticated test subjects who knew these feelings were drug-induced nevertheless insisted the contact had really happened. The temporal lobes emotional tape recorder sometimes cannot distinguish between externally generated real events and internally generated non-real events. This provides a system in which the rational brain and the spiritual brain are not necessarily in conflict. It is simply necessary for the rational brain to understand that one of the characteristics of the spiritual brain is to strongly believe in something, have faith in something, even when the rational brain says it is unreasonable or that it did not and could not have happened. The rational brain needs to give the spiritual brain “its space,” to have faith without being derogatory and critical.
If you have ever had any doubts about your faith or religion but lacked the scientific background to answer your questions, David Coming’s book, Did Man Create God is the book for you. It will strengthen your spiritual brain, stimulate your thinking brain. For more information, please visit:http://www.DidManCreateGod.com.
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