14 October 2010

Spiritual Neuroscience

Neurotheology (aka spiritual neuroscience) is the study of correlations of neural phenomena with subjective experiences of spirituality. The following is a fascinating BBC documentary:



Another related documentary:





Though evolution by natural selection easily explains most of our behaviors, certain things have been so hard to explain in evolutionary terms such as why we like music, why we like comedy, why we believe in Gods, ghosts and spirits, why we commit suicide, why we get addicted to alcohol, smoking and drugs, etc. Now neuroscience slowly reveals the indirect hidden connections and how our brain structure might predispose us to certain things. But as they become prevalent in the environment/culture, some of which might have further evolved in direct terms.

Neuroscientist V S Ramachandran is one of my heroes and he also speaks my native language Tamil! His work on Phantom limbs (and brain map), Synesthesia (and metaphors/analogy), Spiritual experiences and Art are remarkable! (If you like, search him in google video or youtube).

There are few essential things to know about how Mind works, in order to make any sense out of these phenomena.
  • As we grow up and learn, our brain builds models of the world, a kind of user interface to the world. We only perceive these models – as real as it gets! Though these models are reasonably constructed to represent the external world, the brain can easily create them without any external stimuli such as during dream, illusion, blind-sight (another bizarre cognitive phenomenon), etc. (Also check: Colorful Spiritual World)
  • Brain is a collection of so many different resources or processes. At each mental state, some of these processes are on and others are off (or in-between stages). Each emotion we perceive corresponds to different combination of these processes. Very rarely turned off processes (because usually it is not useful for our real world survival), create the greatest experiences. For example: if critical-analysis process is turned-off, we would perceive the world as heaven and perfect; if salient-feature-detector is turned-off, each and everything become deeply important.

3 comments:

CorText said...

Neurotheology seems to connect all religions as different paths to attain a same/similar neuronal phenomena! Then, why fights? Cool!

Anand said...

Nice series! I think it was aired in PBS? but I missed most of it.
Thanks for the link. I'll watch it in full as soon as I can.
-Anand

Anonymous said...

The God Helmet:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HW16Jy1HnH4