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The Biological Components of Spiritual Experiences

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 483 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... EDITOR S COMMENT: Here s more information on the
    Message 1 of 1 , May 9, 2001
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      NHNE News List
      Current Members: 483
      Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message.



      Here's more information on the biological components of spiritual
      experiences. See "In Search of God"
      (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nhnenews/message/1401) for additional

      Thanks to Dave Haith and Sherry Stultz.

      --- David Sunfellow


      By Gareth Cook
      The Boston Globe

      [The URL to the original article has expired.]

      In a quiet laboratory, Andrew Newberg takes photographs of what believers
      call the presence of God.

      The young neurologist invites Buddhists and Franciscan nuns to meditate and
      pray in a secluded room. Then, at the peak of their devotions, he injects a
      tracer that travels to the brain and reveals its activity at the moment of

      A pattern has emerged from Professor Newberg's experiments. There is a small
      region near the back of the brain that constantly calculates a person's
      spatial orientation, the sense of where one's body ends and the world
      begins. During intense prayer or meditation, and for unknown reasons, this
      region becomes a quiet oasis of inactivity.

      "It creates a blurring of the self-other relationship," said Professor
      Newberg, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania whose work
      appears in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

      "If they go far enough, they have a complete dissolving of the self, a sense
      of union, a sense of infinite spacelessness."

      Professor Newberg and other scientists are finding that people's diverse
      devotional traditions have a powerful biological reality. During intense
      meditation and prayer, the brain and body experience signature changes, as
      yet poorly understood, that could yield new insights into the religious

      An example is a National Institutes of Health-sponsored clinical trial at
      Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore that will study the effects of group
      prayer sessions among black women with breast cancer -- the first such

      Already, scientists say, the young field has provided evidence that these
      meditative states -- which rely on shutting down the senses and repeating
      words, phrases or movements -- are a natural part of the brain; that humans
      are, in some sense, inherently spiritual beings.

      "Prayer is the modern brain's means by which we can connect to more powerful
      ancestral states of consciousness," said Gregg Jacobs, an assistant
      professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

      With meditative states, people seem to turn off what Professor Jacobs called
      "the internal chatter" of the higher, conscious brain. During meditation,
      researchers have observed increases in the activity of the "theta" brain
      wave, a type known to inhibit other activity in the brain.

      Following a preliminary analysis of recent data, Professor Jacobs said he
      had observed inhibitory theta activity coming from the same area of the
      brain that contains the becalmed oasis during prayer.

      Eventually, researchers hope to identify a common biological core in the
      world's many varieties of worship.


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