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Searching for God in the brain

Published October 25th, 2007 by Bobby Henderson


Scientific American published an article on the the physiological cause (or effect) of religious feelings in those who claim to feel it. They studied nuns, but it could just as easily apply to hardcore pastafarians. (In our own research we’ve found that eating pasta causes a much larger surge in blood sugar than non-FSM related foods such as chicken. It even works on non-pastafarians, proving that He loves all, even those who do not yet Believe.)

I think this sort of scientific research of religious phenomena is important, and we’re going to see more of it in the future.

An excerpt of the SciAm article:

Researchers are unearthing the roots of religious feeling in the neural commotion that accompanies the spiritual epiphanies of nuns, Buddhists and other people of faith.

The doughnut-shaped machine swallows the nun, who is outfitted in a plain T-shirt and loose hospital pants rather than her usual brown habit and long veil. She wears earplugs and rests her head on foam cushions to dampen the device’s roar, as loud as a jet engine. Supercooled giant magnets generate intense fields around the nun’s head in a high-tech attempt to read her mind as she communes with her deity.

The Carmelite nun and 14 of her Catholic sisters have left their cloistered lives temporarily for this claustrophobic blue tube that bears little resemblance to the wooden prayer stall or sparse room where such mystical experiences usually occur. Each of these nuns answered a call for volunteers “who have had an experience of intense union with God” and agreed to participate in an experiment devised by neuroscientist Mario Beauregard of the University of Montreal. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Beauregard seeks to pinpoint the brain areas that are active while the nuns recall the most powerful religious epiphany of their lives, a time they experienced a profound connection with the divine. The question: Is there a God spot in the brain?

The spiritual quest may be as old as humankind itself, but now there is a new place to look: inside our heads. Using fMRI and other tools of modern neuroscience, researchers are attempting to pin down what happens in the brain when people experience mystical awakenings during prayer and meditation or during spontaneous utterances inspired by religious fervor.

Read the whole thing here.

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