Our Lady of Lourdes appears 18 times to a miller’s daughter collecting firewood in a small market town in France. A young woman leads an army through critical strategic victories in the 100 Years’ War, claiming to be guided by divine insight. In the very first hours of the 20th century, a student asks God to fill her with the holy spirit and begins to speak in tongues.
Are these incidents case studies in undiagnosed mental illness, spiritual transcendence, or something nebulously in between?
It’s an interesting and elusive question for neuroscientists, with big implications on our understanding of consciousness. As the Nobel-prize winning neuropsychiatrist Eric Kandel has said, reductionism — the idea that a system is nothing more than the interactions between its parts — is an extremely successful theory of biology, but as a “theory of everything,” it fails to provide us with a sufficient explanation of a few basic, fundamental elements that shape human perception.
Particularly, religion. Why do we care whether or not God exists? And why do so many people believe? A new generation of neuroscientists is addressing those questions directly, with the ambitious goal of measuring what happens to the human brain during spiritual experiences. Dr. Andrew Newberg is the Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine and a pioneer in the field of neurotheology. Newberg doesn’t identify with a particular religious group, but he’s fascinated by the profound significance and persistence of human faith throughout history.
Related Situationist posts:
- The Religious Situation of Compassion and Generosity
- Can Meditation Make Us More Compassionate?
- God’s Situational Effects
- The Fundamental(ist) Attribution Error
- With God on Our Side . . .
- The Situation of Political and Religious Beliefs?
- Seeing Faces
- Self-Fulfilling Doomsday Prophecies
- The Stressful Situation of Religious Zealotry
- Holier Than Thou
- Think Progress or Die
- The Situation of Faith in God or Science