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The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist's Search for the God Experience
The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain: A Neurologist's Search for the God Experience
by Kevin Nelson
Edition: Hardcover
82 used & new from $0.01

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mystics, Zen Masters & Neurologists, January 23, 2011
In his classic study, Mystics & Zen Masters, Thomas Merton wrote that he was driven by one central concern: "to understand various ways in which men of different traditions have conceived the meaning and method of the 'way' which leads to the highest levels of religious or of metaphysical awareness." Kevin Nelson, a practicing neurologist and scientist whose recent studies of Near Death Experience (NDE) have attracted worldwide attention, shares Merton's passion for understanding what has traditionally been seen as irrelevant or outside the scientist's territory. Yet, as Nelson shows, the contemporary tools of neuroscience now make it possible to pick up the work of pioneers like early twentieth century psychologist William James, who understood that religious and spiritual experiences were important to empirically investigate. James's work was limited by the skull's invulnerability against the brass instruments of his day, but as Nelson lucidly demonstrates in this book, it is now possible to visually explore the questions raised by philosophers and theologians about the human need and capacity for religious experience. Unlike many contemporaries who use neuroscience to reduce spiritual experiences as the epiphenomena of basic brain processes, Nelson avoids this category error and proceeds to explore the "how" of these experiences, rather than the "why". He demonstrates his fundamental premise is irrefutable: The brain is the primary organ for all spiritual experiences such as NDE and contemplative rapture--experiences which can be ultimately mapped through the brain's complex circuitry. Indeed, Nelson provides the lay reader with a compelling and lucid account of those brain processes crucial to such experiences. Many of the findings generated by his own studies and his generous rendering of classic investigations and cutting-edge scientific work, will surprise the reader. For example, he argues that religious experiences are not generated from the higher, cortical regions of the brain but are centered in the human brainstem. Thus we have inherited the capacity for such "highly evolved" experiences from our earliest human ancestors, such as the beings who inscribed their burgeoning understanding and wonder on cave walls 32,000 years ago. Nelson has also drawn on the recent science of sleep, and maps the borderlands intersecting REM and awakened states of human consciousness, which can create both troubling psychopathology and profound mystical experiences. (The reader familiar with contemplative writers will be struck by the non-accidental connections between Nelson's terminology and the traditional religious language of sleeping and awakening.) Fortunately, Nelson eschews determinism, which would claim that Gregorian chant is simply the product of neuronal firing. Instead, the author invokes his personal hope that brain science can help us understand the complexities of religious experience so that readers might freely consider the ultimate 'ways' and 'doorways' that writers like Merton, and now Kevin Nelson, compellingly reveal and unlock.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 5, 2011 11:36 PM PDT

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