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God in the Brain's Machine?,
This review is from: Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief (Hardcover)
Science cannot determine that gods of any type exist, nor can it determine that no gods exist. However, there may be scientific reasons why the belief in gods remains strong. In the surprisingly titled _Why God Won't Go Away_ Ballantine Books) by Andrew Newberg, M.D., Eugene D'Aquilli, M.D., and Vince Rause, we get a fascinating scientific answer to the title question, and a review of the current scientific understanding of the roots of belief. The authors have done research by means of brain scans on those who are having mystical or religious experiences. The brain scans show that something is going on among the neurons that doesn't happen at other times. Most of the scans described in the authors' research show an increase in activity in the posterior superior parietal lobe, an area just behind the top of the head. They call this for operational purposes the "orientation association area (OAA)," because the OAA orients a person in physical space. "To perform this crucial function, it must first generate a clear, consistent cognition of the physical limits of the self. In simple terms, it must draw a sharp distinction between the individual and everything else; to sort out the you from the infinite not-you that makes up the rest of the universe." When this area is damaged by trauma or stroke, patients have difficulty maneuvering in physical space; when it is extra active, it seems to be a source of an inexplicable feeling of connection to all creation. A meditator describes the ineffable state in terms that are typical: "There's a sense of timelessness and infinity. It feels like I am part of everyone and everything in existence."
The authors explain that the gene-driven wiring of the brain to encourage religious beliefs exists because it has been evolutionarily good for us. Stimulating the OAA or the autonomic nervous system can produce calm and a sense of well-being which may be not only pleasant but physically beneficial. Beliefs driven by neurology could reinforce themselves by building myths, encouraging ritual, uniting societies and providing social support from fellow believers. They can check worry about eventual annihilation. They can provide a feeling of control.
Those of a religious bent will find matter to argue with inside these pages, even though the authors are very careful not to argue for or against the existence of deities, only that "the neurological aspects of spiritual experience support the sense of the realness of God." Some may also find disconcerting the idea that ecstasy of religious mysticism may have its roots in the structures that bring on orgasm. Others will find the practical answer to the title's question just too pragmatic and pat, but given the extraordinary research as it now stands, it is the best that science can do as it begins to look into religious feeling: "What we know beyond question is that the mind is essentially a machine designed to solve the riddles of existence, and as long as our brains are wired as they are, God will not go away." This book is a wonderful introduction into this fascinating research.
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Initial post: Sep 10, 2010 9:55:30 AM PDT
John Slattery says:
You have this entirely backwards. The parietal lobe does not become "more active", to the contrary, it becomes "hypoactive" and has a drastic decrease in it's neural firing rate. The parietal lobe is an area that works in concert with the frontal lobe and is responsible for attention, spatial orientation, and other things. Since it is the area that is always making sure you know what separates yourself from your environment, when it "quiets down", you tend to loose this since and can feel more one with the environment, hence a transcendental state of being
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