Neurological/Biological Basis of Religious Belief

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    Hamilton, Craig

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    Is God All in Your Head?: Inside science’s quest to solve the mystery of consciousness

    "...[A]s Newberg’s research demonstrates, there is little doubt that the brain is at least a big part of what is enabling us to perceive that higher order. This means that, in what may be the greatest miracle we know, life somehow managed to evolve an organ capable not only of refl ecting on itself but of perceiving something higher than itself—perceiving, even, that which many believe to be the very source and creative driver of the cosmos. Looked at in this way, the brain suddenly starts to seem a lot less like some frightening organic computer that we’d do well to distance ourselves from and a lot more like a rather mysterious and even spiritual event in its own right."
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    Newberg, Andrew B

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    Neuroscientific Study of Religious and Spiritual Phenomena: A Field Analysis

    "With the rapidly expanding field of research exploring religious and spiritual phenomena, there have been many perspectives regarding the validity, importance, relevance, and need for such research. There is also the ultimate issue of how such research should be interpreted with regard to epistemological questions. The best way to evaluate this field is to determine the methodological issues that currently affect the field and explore how best to address such issues so that future investigations can be as robust as possible and make this body of research more mainstream."
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    Newberg, Andrew B.

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    Part 2: Defining the Self: The Orientation Association Area

    "The process through which the mind might construct these fundamental categories of self and not-self are not clearly understood, though researchers have found some tantalizing clues. For example, we know that certain neurons in the left orientation area respond only to objects within arm's reach, while others respond only to objects just beyond...Whatever the origins of the orientation response might be, and however the brain supports it, the important point is that by working in concert, the two sides of the orientation association area are able to weave raw sensory data into the vivid, complex perception of a self and into a world in which that self can move."
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    Newberg, Andrew B.

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    Part 3: Reality from the Inside

    "The medieval German mystic Meister Eckhart lived hundreds of years before the science of neurology was born. But it seems he had intuitively grasped one of the fundamental principles of the discipline: what we think of as reality is only a rendition of reality, created by the brain. Our modern understanding of the brain's perceptual powers bears him out. Nothing enters consciousness whole. There is no direct, absolute experience with reality. All of the things that the mind perceives--all thoughts, feelings, hunches, memories, insights, desires and revelations--have been assembled piece by piece by the processing powers of the brain from the swirl of neural blips, sensory perceptions, and scattered cognitions dwelling in its structures and neural pathways."
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    Newberg, Andrew B.

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    Part 1: Brain Science & The Biology of Belief

    "As my first installment on Metanexus regarding our recent book entitled, Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, there are several primary points that require mention. Why God Won't Go Away is the culmination of almost 25 years of research into the relationship between the brain and religious experience. It strikes at the heart of questions such as: What makes something spiritual? Why are religious experiences so powerful? and What can religious and mystical experiences tell us about the mind and even about reality?"
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    Newberg, Andrew B.

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    Part 5: Towards a Neurotheology

    "A metatheology can be understood as the overall principles underlying any and all religions or ultimate belief systems and their theologies. A metatheology comprises both the general principles describing, and implicitly the rules for constructing, any concrete theological system. In and of itself, a metatheology is devoid of theological content, since it consists of rules and descriptions about how any and all specific theologies are structured. We propose that neurotheology, as presented in this book, is the best current contender for the title of 'ultimate metatheology.' Indeed, barring a major Kuhnian shift in fundamental scientific paradigms, it is hard to see how neurotheology, in general principle at least, can fail to constitute an ultimate metatheology."
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    Newberg, Andrew B.

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    Part 4: Pathological and Normal Spiritual Experiences

    "Certain psychopathological disorders, such as mania and schizophrenia, tend to be associated with a high prevalence of intense spiritual phenomena (Saver & Rabin, 1997). Some of the reasons for the association of spiritual experiences with neuropsychiatric disorders involve what appear to be hallucinations, visions, voices, and often unusual thought processes that can be misidentified as pathological. On the other hand, there appears to be a clear distinction between spiritual pathology and non-pathological spiritual experience."
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    Newberg, Andrew B. and Bruce Y. Lee

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    The Neuroscientific Study of Religious and Spiritual Phenomena: Or Why God Doesn't Use Biostatistics

    "With the rapidly expanding field of neuroscience research exploring religious and spiritual phenomena, there have been many perspectives as to the validity, importance, relevance, and need for such research. In this essay we review the studies that have contributed to our current understanding of the neuropsychology of religious phenomena. We focus on methodological issues to determine which areas have been weaknesses and strengths in the current studies. This area of research also poses important theological and epistemological questions that require careful consideration if both the religious and scientific elements are to be appropriately respected. The best way to evaluate this field is to determine the methodological issues that currently affect the field and explore how best to address such issues so that future investigations can be as robust as possible and can become more mainstream in both the religious and the scientific arenas."
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    Newberg, Andrew B. and Eugene d'Aquili

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    The Neuropsychology of Aesthetic, Spiritual, and Mystical States

    "An analysis of the underlying neurophysiology of aesthetics and religious experience allows for the development of an Aesthetic-Religious Continuum. This continuum pertains to the variety of creative and spiritual experiences available to human beings. This may also lead to an understanding of the neurophysiological mechanism underlying both 'positive' and 'negative' aesthetics. An analysis of this continuum allows for the ability to understand the neurophenomenological aspects of a variety of human experiences ranging from relatively simple aesthetic experiences to profound spiritual and unitary states such as those obtained during meditation."
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    Newberg, Andrew B. and J. Iverson

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    The Neural Basis of the Complex Mental Task of Meditation: Neurotransmitter and Neurochemical Considerations

    "Meditation is a complex mental process involving changes in cognition, sensory perception, affect, hormones, and autonomic activity. Meditation has also become widely used in psychological and medical practices for stress management as well as a variety of physical and mental disorders. However, until now, there has been limited understanding of the overall biological mechanism of these practices in terms of the effects in both the brain and the body. We have previously described a rudimentary neuropsychological model to explain the brain mechanisms underlying meditative experiences. This paper provides a substantial development by integrating neurotransmitter systems and the results of recent brain imaging advances into the model."