To specific centers of the brain?  Or epileptic stimulation to them?  Or a genetic tendency toward additional stimulation of those brain centers?  What would this mean to religious believers and non-believers if true?


Although it is well established that all behaviors and experiences, spiritual or otherwise, must originate in the brain, true empirical exploration of the neural underpinnings of spirituality has been challenging. However, recent advances in neuroscience have started to make the complex mental processes associated with religion and spirituality more accessible.

"Neuroimaging studies have linked activity within a large network in the brain that connects the frontal, parietal, and temporal cortexes with spiritual experiences, but information on the causative link between such a network and spirituality is lacking," explains lead study author, Dr. Cosimo Urgesi from the University of Udine in Italy.

Dr. Urgesi and colleagues were interested in making a direct link betweenbrain activity and spirituality. They focused specifically on the personality trait called self-transcendence (ST), which is thought to be a measure of spiritual feeling, thinking, and behaviors in humans. ST reflects a decreased sense of self and an ability to identify one's self as an integral part of the universe as a whole...

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i believe religious experiences are simple mind farts or miss fires in the brain most of the time and man being the animal he is needs to make sense even of these miss fires, even when we lived in caves we had fears and wishes and some more inteligent members would have been able to use these fears and wishes to get control of the group, we also have a built in need to conform and obey people in positions of power starting with mother and going on to father older siblings and finaly elders, religion is only the most recent way of indoctronating the pop-ulation, simple feer of the dark and unknowen places or straingers would have been an easy way of indoctrinating small groups, religion just expands this top larger un related groups.
The great atheist Baron D'Holbach (1723-1789) suggested much the same.

“If we go back to the beginning we shall find that ignorance and fear created the gods; that fancy, enthusiasm, or deceit adorned or disfigured them; that weakness worships them; that credulity preserves them, and that custom, respect and tyranny support them in order to make the blindness of men serve its own interests.”
Great quote Dr. Meaden... Definitely one for the books.
yes but this only covers a small minority of people today that really believe, i think my conditioning or indoctrination idea is more on the mark, we are geneticaly programed to accept indoctrination or you could say instruction that would help us survive to a breading age, and this is what religions abuse, the acceptance of information as fact from those viewed as authority figures.
Author Stewart Elliott Guthrie asked in his book, "Faces in the Clouds," why religion is such a powerful emotional paradigm for most human beings. He said Marx's statement that it is the opiate of the people is not enough. Why does it act like an opiate? What is it about humans that makes religion an opiate? These are philosophical, as well as scientific questions.

I believe this study, and many like it, point to a biological explanation of religion. This not only explains its powerful emotional hold, but why it is universal among widely varying cultures in time and place. If religion is biological, we've ALL inherited some measure of that tendency.

I believe this is all true. And if it's so, it's an aspect of human reality atheists and other non-believers will finally have to start taking seriously. Unfortunately, most of our most noted and outspoken fellow non-believers think religion can be scolded out of existence or reasoned out of existence. I don't agree with them.

I think the only thing we can do is come up with very powerful non-religious descriptions of reality that in some similar way may engage those powerful emotions.
Thomas Paine: “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

Gore Vidal 1998: “The great unmentionable evil at the centre of our culture is monotheism. From a barbaric Bronze Age text known as the Old Testament three anti-human religions have evolved – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These are sky-god religions. They are, literally, patriarchal—God is the Omnipotent Father—hence the loathing of women for 2000 years in those countries afflicted by the sky-god and his earthly male delegates. The sky-god is a jealous god”
as repeatedly taught to worshippers . . . and acceptably violent and vindictive in their indoctrinated minds.
These quotes express truths, as far as they go. But they don't get at the heart of the question addressed in this thread.

WHY does religion in all its various guises have this profound affect on human beings of all kinds? I reiterate: It's because mystical experiences, feeling the presence of the "unseen Other," desiring a personal relationship with a spirit or a god, expressing beliefs in community rites are extremely ancient human activities and show indications of being biological activities.

Until we non-believers come to grips with this fact, we will have very little impact on religious belief in the modern world and the bad effects it has.
As the Buddhist proverb says:

"All instruction is but a finger pointing to the moon; and those whose gaze is fixed upon the pointer will never see beyond. Even let him catch sight of the moon, and still he cannot see its beauty."

God, is but the finger pointing to a moon we have yet to fully recognise. We have just begun to fashion tools from the bones of our technology to probe its secrets. Who knows what we will discover once we have managed to fleck off a proper blade by which to disect its mysteries?

What will we find? It very well could be that we uncover only the deluded rationalizations of a confused and bewildered primate. Or, we may find a mental process we can think of as a lock within our psyche. A lock which ancient religions have picked at with crude attempts to open, failing more than succeeding, becoming more refined over time. Who's key, when properly fashioned, may open pathways of Human progress yet unseen.
Sally,

Please excuse the lengthy reply but there was mush food for thought here.

I imagine that the title to your post was tongue-and-cheek but I don't think that the religious experience is an abnormal behavior that arises out of some pathology. I offer another perspective.

We all know thought arises from the brain. It is a biological process that occurs in an organ that as with all other organs has been shaped by our evolutionary history. Although the neurological processes that occur in the brain are far more plastic than other biological processes occurring in different organs, it is just as much a product of our evolutionary history as any other biological process.

I think a better question is to ask how have the selective pressures from >200,000 years ago that shaped the brain we have today also shape our cognition? I think that human history and our everyday behavior reflect this history. Are we predisposed to religion?

In our distant history, religion may have fulfilled the role of strengthening bonds among individuals within groups. It has been proposed that as group size increased, one-on-one bonding through direct contact (like grooming) became insufficient to maintain group cohesion. It is likely that religion was a mechanism that fostered group cohesion and strengthened bonds among individuals in larger groups.

But why religion and not some other behavior? It’s not a distant leap from grooming to religion. The emotional, neurological and physiological experiences of religion are closely associated with the (pleasurable) social bonding experiences, much like the grooming that our distance ancestors likely exchanged among them. In other words, the experience of religion was not a great departure from existing behaviors. Our early culture and brains coevolved making us biologically predisposed to certain behaviors, one of them, in my opinion, being the religious experience.

Unfortunately the traits that benefited small tribes more than 200,000 year ago are now completely out context. The outpacing of our social over our biological evolution has had dire consequences.

This is the very reason we are here – although we are predisposed to the religious experience, we recognized that the beliefs associated with religion are irrational and that the behaviors associated with religion have negative consequences.

We should also recognize that there are many other irrational behaviors that we all exhibit (such as mass consumerism) that have an even greater negative impact than religion. It is good to think about the nature of the beast.
I agree a lot on this one. Because, when you sleep there is a chemical in your brain that is released, I'm not sure the name of it, but when it is released it floods your brain and causes you to 'hallucinate' or dream. When someone is put to sleep by a Dr. they are essentially...sleeping. and if a person is starting to die, all the brain activity goes haywire basically which in turn causes this chemical to release and flood your brain causing you to dream about what you either want the most or fear the most. i think that is what explains these stories of people going to heaven or hell during surgery when they almost die. Now, as far as conscience religious experiences, i think its basically the same principal with the chemical being released, and people just experience a state of euphoria. They think it is so amazing and that nothing else is better than that. It's all basically just a state of Euphoria.

Oh, and the god talking to them part....its just that curious little voice in their mind. They are only talking to themselves.
i think what you are talking about is dopamine, when it floods the brain you hullicinate, i hear about this often... when peoples heart stop and they "die" but are revived seconds or minutes later alot say the saw a bright light, thats because dopamine floods the brain like 10 minutes after actual death. i think dopamine levels have alot to do with so called "religous experiences" because its a natural chemical in the body and it causes hullicinations
A very interesting article. As a teenager I had a few "religious experiences" which (at the time) I believed were direct communication with God. As I grew older and my scepticism grew I had great difficulty figuring out what these experiences really meant.

Then at the age of 30 I suddenly discovered that my wife was having an affair and I had a very similar experience.

My later research led me to believe that essentially the two experiences were pronounced forms of psychological dissociation. I felt removed from my body, my perception of time was grossly distorted. The experiences certainly differed in some regards, the religious experience was self-induced and "ecstatic", and the latter was the result of emotional shock.

Of course this is only one anecdotal account, but I'd be interested to see if anyone else has linked "religious experiences" to psychological dissociation.

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