The idea that there a "God spot" in the brain, a circuit of nerves which could explain mankind's almost universal belief in a deity, is questioned today by a study of Carmelite nuns.
Scientists have been in the pursuit of the brain processes underlying the Unio Mystica - the Christian notion of mystical union with God - and this endeavour is now part of a newly-emerging field called "neurotheology".
But the God module, as some scientists call it, is a mirage, according to the study by Dr Mario Beauregard, of the Department of Psychology at the Université de Montréal and his student Vincent Paquette, published in the journal Neuroscience Letters. "The main goal of the study was to identify the neural correlates of a mystical experience," said Dr Beauregard. "This does not diminish the meaning and value of such an experience, and neither does it confirm or disconfirm the existence of God."
Fifteen cloistered Carmelite nuns ranging from 23 to 64 years old were subjected to brain scan using a method called functional magnetic resonance imaging while being asked to relive a mystical experience, rather than actually try to achieve one. "I was obliged to do it this way seeing as the nuns are unable to call upon God at will," said Dr Beauregard.
This method was justified because previous studies with actors asked to enter a particular emotional state activated the same brain regions as people actually living those emotions.
Rather than reveal a spiritual centre in the brain, a module of neural circuits specifically designed for religious experience, the study demonstrated that a dozen different regions of the brain are activated during a mystical experience.
In other words, mystical experiences are mediated by several brain regions and systems normally implicated in functions such as self-consciousness, emotion and body representation.
In the past, some researchers went as far as to suggest the possibility of a specific brain region designed for communication with God. This latest research discredits such theories.
Speculation about the God spot was triggered when a team at the University of California, San Diego, saw that people with temporal-lobe epilepsy were prone to religious hallucinations.
This led Michael Persinger, a neuropsychologist at Laurentian University in Canada, to stimulate emporal lobes artificially to see if he could induce a religious state. He found that he could create a "sensed presence".
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
In the Telegraph...
Interesting article in today's Telegraph: