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Scientists See God on the Brain

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  • medit8ionsociety
    arrticle from livescience.com Mon Mar 9, 5:41 pm ET Scientists See God on the Brain Science can t say whether God represents a loving, vengeful or nonexistent
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 11, 2009
      arrticle from livescience.com Mon Mar 9, 5:41 pm ET

      Scientists See God on the Brain

      Science can't say whether God represents a
      loving, vengeful or nonexistent being. But
      researchers have revealed for the first time
      how such religious beliefs trigger different
      parts of the brain.

      Brain scans showed that participants fell
      back on higher thought patterns when reacting
      to religious statements, whether trying to
      figure out God's thoughts and emotions or
      thinking about metaphorical meaning behind
      religious teachings.

      "That suggests that religion is not a
      special case of a belief system, but evolved
      along with other belief and social cognitive
      abilities," said Jordan Grafman, a cognitive
      neuroscientist at the National Institute of
      Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland.

      Such results fit with previous research which
      shows that no single "God spot" exists in
      the brain. Both believers and nonbelievers
      participated in the new study, detailed in
      this week's issue of the journal Proceedings
      of the National Academy of Sciences.

      A first part of the study established a
      range or spectrum of religious beliefs relating
      to God's perceived involvement in this world,
      God's perceived emotion, and personal experiences
      as opposed to abstract doctrine. The second part
      examined how participants responded to religious
      statements reflecting those beliefs, with the
      help of fMRI scanners.

      The brain scans showed that people use known,
      higher-function brain regions to sort out their
      thoughts on God and religion. For instance, parts
      of the brain linked with theory of mind (ToM) lit
      up when trying to understand a supposedly detached
      God's intentions - although individual minds varied
      wildly when pondering a more involved God.

      A possible explanation: "Probably because we
      would tend to use theory of mind when we were
      puzzled, concerned, or threatened by another's
      behavior," Grafman told LiveScience.

      People again relied on theory of mind, as well as
      brain regions that detect emotion through facial
      expression and language, when they read statements
      reflecting God's anger. Statements of God's love
      stimulated regions connected with positive emotions
      and suppression of sadness

      Unsurprisingly, statements of religious doctrine
      activated parts of the brain that help decode
      metaphor and abstractness. That contrasted with
      statements reflecting religious experience, which
      prodded the brain to retrieve memories and imagery
      of self in action.

      Even statements that believers or nonbelievers
      disagreed with produced intriguing results.

      "Reading a statement that you have been asked to
      compare your own personal beliefs with certainly
      will activate your own belief system," Grafman
      pointed out. He and his colleagues observed brain
      regions relating to disgust or conflict lighting
      up in response.

      One question that remains unanswered is
      whether religion evolved as a central functional
      preoccupation for human brains in early societies,
      or whether it simply relied on brain regions
      which had evolved for other types of thought-processing.

      Future research may also try to see if human brains
      respond similarly for different religions, given
      that this study focused only on Western Christian beliefs.

      "The more interesting studies will wind up
      comparing different belief systems with similar
      dimensions to see if they also activate the same
      brain areas," Grafman said. "If they do, we can
      better define why those brain areas evolved in humans."
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