This Is Your Brain On Religion | SIKH PHILOSOPHY NETWORK
  • Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

This Is Your Brain On Religion

spnadmin

1947-2014 (Archived)
SPNer
Jun 17, 2004
14,500
19,212
For thousands of years, religion has posed some unanswerable questions: Who are we? What's the meaning of life? What does it mean to be religious?

In an effort to address those questions, Dr. Andrew Newberg has scanned the brains of praying nuns, chanting Sikhs and meditating Buddhists. He studies the relationship between the brain and religious experience, a field called neurotheology. And he's written a book, Principles of Neurotheology, that tries to lay the groundwork for a new kind of scientific and theological dialogue.

Newberg tells NPR's Neal Conan that neurotheology applies science and the scientific method to spirituality through brain imaging studies.

"[We] evaluate what's happening in people's brains when they are in a deep spiritual practice like meditation or prayer," Newberg says. He and his team then compare that with the same brains in a state of rest. "This has really given us a remarkable window into what it means for people to be religious or spiritual or to do these kinds of practices."

Newberg's scans have also shown the ways in which religious practices, like meditation, can help shape a brain. Newberg describes one study in which he worked with older individuals who were experiencing memory problems. Newberg took scans of their brains, then taught them a mantra-based type of meditation and asked them to practice that meditation 12 minutes a day for eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, they came back for another scan, and Newberg found some dramatic differences.

"We found some very significant and profound changes in their brain just at rest, particularly in the areas of the brain that help us to focus our mind and to focus our attention," he says.

According to Newberg, many of the participants related that they were thinking more clearly and were better able to remember things after eight weeks of meditation. Remarkably, the new scans and memory tests confirmed their claims.

"They had improvements of about 10 or 15 percent," Newberg says. "This is only after eight weeks at 12 minutes a day, so you can imagine what happens in people who are deeply religious and spiritual and are doing these practices for hours a day for years and years."

Newberg emphasizes that while neurotheology won't provide definitive findings about things like the existence of a higher power, it will provide a deeper understanding of what it means for a person to be religious.

"For those individuals who want to go down the path of arguing that all of our religious and spiritual experiences are nothing more than biological phenomena, some of this data does support that kind of a conclusion," Newberg says. "But the data also does not specifically eliminate the notion that there is a religious or spiritual or divine presence in the world."

Because of that, Newberg says the success of neurotheology hinges on open-mindedness.

"One could try to conclude one way or the other that maybe it’s the biology or maybe God's really in the room, but the scan itself doesn't really show that," Newberg says. "For neurotheology to really work as a field it needs to be very respectful and open to both perspectives."

Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

http://www.wbur.org/npr/132078267/neurotheology-where-religion-and-science-collide
 

Attachments

Ishna

Enthusiast
Writer
SPNer
May 9, 2006
3,249
5,184
Interesting. The existence of God would be a difficult thing to prove scientifically, because It is a force which needs to be perceived within and can't be perceived without (definitively). If brain scans can show brain activity associated with spiritual practices, isn't that proof in a way that the individual's experience/perception is actually occuring?

People might say then that "God is all in your head"... I might say "perception of God is all in my head because I can't perceive It another way... much like the smell of those cumin seeds you're sniffing is all in YOUR head"

I dunno. I'm out of my depth here!

Ishna
 

spnadmin

1947-2014 (Archived)
SPNer
Jun 17, 2004
14,500
19,212
Interesting. The existence of God would be a difficult thing to prove scientifically, because It is a force which needs to be perceived within and can't be perceived without (definitively). If brain scans can show brain activity associated with spiritual practices, isn't that proof in a way that the individual's experience/perception is actually occuring?

People might say then that "God is all in your head"... I might say "perception of God is all in my head because I can't perceive It another way... much like the smell of those cumin seeds you're sniffing is all in YOUR head"

I dunno. I'm out of my depth here!

Ishna
Ishna ji

Actually I think you have it right. Where else would the perception occur? It just seems funny to say "it is all in your head." But that does not make it invalid or unreal. The author points out two things: 1) that he is not out to prove or disprove God, as it is beyond his scope to do that as a scientist; and 2) it is important to be open-minded.

Wonderful to hear that from a scientist, as they are so often cast as atheists, secularists, humanists, as a group. And of course, how do we know that? We don't.
 

Create an account or login to comment

You must be a member in order to leave a comment

Create account

Create an account on our community. It's easy!

Log in

Already have an account? Log in here.

Shabad Vichaar by SPN'ers

This is one of my favourite shabads. Very simple but truly packs a punch with its message. Unfortunately it is not widely known. As previously English literal meanings first, Rawel Singh's...

SPN on Facebook

...
Top