The Biological Components of Spiritual Experiences
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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
PLUMBING THE MYSTERY OF PRAYER WITH THE INSTRUMENTS OF SCIENCE
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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