Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Feeling religious? Look within (the neurons)

It looks like the ancient Hindu adage of 'tat twam asi' (roughly translates from Sanskrit to English as ‘you are that’), meaning the key to the collective soul is within an individual - the seat of the almighty might actually reside within the individual - and one only needs to seek it out through sufficient introspection is coming true after all.

Michael Persinger, a neurophysiologist at Canada's Laurentian University in Ontario is trying to prove that the sensation described as "having a religious experience" is merely a side effect of our bicameral brain's feverish activities. About a year back, Simplistic talked about this in relation to Pentecostal adherents speaking in tongues and their altered mental/brain functions as they were going through a religious experience particular to their group. Michael Persinger in his research hopes to take on the neural underpinnings behind an actual manifestation of religious experience one step further...

In an article here, a Wired reporter goes through the motions of being a willing participant of Mr. Persinger's experiments and claims to experience feelings of religiosity himself in response to appropriate prods, pokes and simulation to parts of his brain... That the almighty and feelings thereof might be within us will be a bit hard to take for a lot of us (including me), but it will be interesting to see what comes out of this individuals lab in the coming years.

In his words: The fields are no more intense than what you'd get as by-product from an ordinary blow-dryer, but what's coming is anything but ordinary. My lobes are about to be bathed with precise wavelength patterns that are supposed to affect my mind in a stunning way, artificially inducing the sensation that I am seeing God.
His theory is that the sensation described as "having a religious experience" is merely a side effect of our bicameral brain's feverish activities. Simplified considerably, the idea goes like so: When the right hemisphere of the brain, the seat of emotion, is stimulated in the cerebral region presumed to control notions of self, and then the left hemisphere, the seat of language, is called upon to make sense of this nonexistent entity, the mind generates a "sensed presence.

Related links here:
- The God Experiments - More on Michael Persinger's work.
- The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.
- The Apparitions Of The Blessed Holy Virgin Mary To Millions In The Coptic Orthodox Church In Zeitoun, Cairo, Egypt (1968-1970).

Hendrick Goltzius (1558 - 1617), ‘The Judgment of Midas’, Pen and brown ink, red violet, brown and gray watercolor, green tempera, heightened in white tempera; traced with a stylus. Signed and dated 1590. 15” X 26”. Collection of the Pierpont Morgan Library (From the book In August Company, the Collections of the Pierpont Morgan Library).

About the painting: In the center is the victorious Apollo playing a viol. On his rock hewn seat is Tmolus, king of the mountain, whose judgment of the musical contest in favor of Apollo was accepted by all except by King Midas. Standing to the left are Midas, identified by the asses ears bestowed upon him because of his dissension, and Pan or Marsyas. Toward the right of the scene are nine muses and Athena, one of whose attributes, an owl, hovers above her.

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