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Metaphysics & Psychology

What Happens to the Brain During Spiritual Experiences?

Lynne Blumberg

The field of neurotheology uses science to try to understand religion, and vice versa.

“Everyone philosophizes,” writes neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg in his latest book, The Metaphysical Mind: Probing the Biology of Philosophical Thought. We all speculate about the meaning of all kinds of things, from everyday concerns about dealing with a co-worker to our ultimate beliefs about the purpose of existence. Accompanying solutions we find to these problems, there’s a range of satisfied feelings, from “ah-ha” or light-bulb moments upon solving an everyday problem to ecstatic feelings during mystical experiences.

Since everyday and spiritual concerns are variations of the same thinking processes, Newberg thinks it’s essential to examine how people experience spirituality in order to fully understand how their brains work. Looking at the bigger questions has already provided practical applications for improving mental and physical health.

Newberg is a pioneer in the field of neurotheology, the neurological study of religious and spiritual experiences. In the 1990s, he began his work in the field by scanning what happens in people’s brains when they meditate, because it is a spiritual practice that is relatively easy to monitor.

Since then, he’s looked at around 150 brain scans, including those of Buddhists, nuns, atheists, Pentecostals speaking in tongues, and Brazilian mediums practicing psychography—the channeling of messages from the dead through handwriting.

As to what’s going on in their brains, Newberg says, “It depends to some degree on what the practice is.” Practices that involve concentrating on something over and over again, either through prayer or a mantra-based meditation, tend to activate the frontal lobes, the areas chiefly responsible for directing attention, modulating behavior, and expressing language.

Dr. Andrew Newberg/The Atlantic

In contrast, when practitioners surrender their will, such as when they speak in tongues or function as a medium, activity decreases in their frontal lobes and increases in their thalamus, the tiny brain structure that regulates the flow of incoming sensory information to many parts of the brain. This suggests that their speech is being generated from some place other than the normal speech centers.

Dr. Andrew Newberg/The Atlantic

Believers could say this proves that another entity is speaking through the practitioner, while nonbelievers would look for a neurological explanation. Newberg takes into account both perspectives. When he defines neurotheology in his book, Principles of Neurotheology, he writes, “An ardent atheist, who refuses to accept any aspect of religion as possibly correct or useful, or a devout religious person, who refuses to accept science as providing any value regarding knowledge of the world, would most likely not be considered a neurotheologian.”

Newberg believes everyone can benefit from some type of meditation practice. If one practice isn’t working for an individual, she should try something else. As a general rule, these practices lower depression, anxiety, and stress. He adds that at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, where he is director of research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine, researchers have found that meditation can improve memory and concentration.

It’s debatable whether these practices are more effective when founded on religious or spiritual beliefs. Dr. Dean Hamer, author of the book, The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes, discovered that research subjects with a particular variation of a certain gene were more susceptible to self-transcendent, spiritual experiences.

In a lecture given at Marlboro College titled, “Gays, God, and Genes,” Hamer compares the effects of this variation to an enhanced capacity for natural highs. This spiritual tendency also depends on a person’s environment, according to Hamer, which can direct their innate spirituality to particular religious beliefs, and/or steer them away from religion altogether. He says that science will never replace spirituality because a reliance on facts will never have the same emotional appeal.

Newberg agrees that spiritual beliefs are influenced by a person’s genetics and environment, and that meditation practices are more effective when they reinforce a practitioner’s belief system. However, he says researchers are still investigating whether religious beliefs in general make healthier and happier people. He considers atheism to be a belief system as well, and says that a possible a mental health benefit of belonging to a religious denomination could be not just belief, but the built-in social network.

If the euphoria a person experiences during a meditation practice can’t be integrated into their preexisting belief system, these feelings may become disturbing. Newberg gave as an example a meditator who sought out a clergy member to talk about his practice and felt a bit brushed off by the cleric. When meditation practices enhance a rigid, authoritarian belief system, Newberg said they can lead to more intolerance and violence towards those of different beliefs. In the book he co-authored with Mark Robert Waldman, Why We Believe What We Believe, he writes that due to some overlap between spiritual beliefs and psychological disorders, patients with obsessive compulsive disorders often develop rigid religious beliefs.

Newberg had always wanted to be a medical doctor, but didn’t realize he could combine that with his interest in searching for answers to metaphysical questions until he attended medical school at the University of Pennsylvania and worked with Dr. Eugene d’Aquili, a psychiatrist whose research focused on religion.

Newberg has studied Eastern and Western thinkers to understand their differing perspectives on whether or not an objective reality exists outside of human perception. What fascinates him about mystical experiences—the goal of many meditation practices—are the reports of experiencing a higher reality that is “more real” than everyday perceptions.

Newberg said it’s “the only description that I’ve ever seen where somebody will say ‘I got beyond my brain, I got beyond my ego self, I got beyond the subjective and objective nature of the world;’ and then they see the universe, and they experience the universe in a very, very different kind of way.”

He added, “I think these experiences need to be taken very seriously. I think they tell us something about the nature of reality and how we perceive that reality.”

When Newberg scanned the brains of nuns and Buddhists undergoing mystical experiences, they reported feelings of timelessness, spacelessness, and self-transcendence. Newberg believes a cause of these feelings is the reduced activity he saw in their parietal lobes, the orientation area of the brain responsible for perceiving three-dimensional objects in space. A meditator may experience a sense of oneness with all living things or unity because the reduced activity blurs the perceived lines between the meditator and other objects.

When the parietal lobes are damaged, patients have distorted beliefs about their own bodies and are sometimes confused about their spatial orientation to outside objects. In an example from Why We Believe What We Believe, patients think one of their own legs is not theirs, and have been found trying to throw this other leg out of their bed. In his new book, Newberg cites a study led by Dr. Brick Johnstone that found that damage to the right parietal lobe caused patients’ self-transcendent experiences to increase.

Newberg suggests in his new book that mystical experiences are described as blissful or ecstatic because they share many of the same neural pathways in the parietal and frontal lobes that are involved in sexual arousal.

To take his scans, Newburg uses functional magnetic resonance (fMRI), and single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) imaging. The book Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, lists their technological limitations. The authors, Drs. Sally Satel and Scott Lilienfeld, write that one limitation of brain imaging is that researchers can’t make a neat map of the brain centers for different activities like phrenologists once did. Even if most people process language expression in one particular area, this processing is highly dependent on connections to other brain activities. The brain is also plastic, so if the usual area for speech is damaged, other areas in the brain may reorganize and take over the function.

While locating the appropriate brain centers, researchers must also break down the steps involved in a seemingly unified mental task. The authors provide a simple arithmetic problem as an example. Researchers must consider that one section of the brain enables a person to visually recognize the numbers, another section registers the magnitude of the numbers, and a third section computes the sum. If neuroscientists are trying to understand attitudes or emotions, they have to take into account more complicated steps. Furthermore, the technology isn’t advanced enough to pick up all the rapid neural changes that occur during a mental process.

When e-mailed to comment specifically on Newberg’s work, Satel responded that today’s imaging is enabling researchers to make clinical inroads into dementia and other major mental illnesses, but she’s skeptical that knowing a person’s neurochemical and other physical processes will ever provide a detailed understanding of someone’s subjective beliefs. Even with advances in technology, “we can’t predict the real world contexts in which perceptions, cognitions, or emotion will manifest. The interaction of these dimensions with environment is crucial to understanding behavioral outcomes.”

Asked about the technological challenges, Newberg said that “it’s not easy doing this research.” However, “up until the last 20 years, we’ve never been able to see anything. So it’s certainly a vast improvement over nothing, but it’s still not nearly as ideal as what we would like.”

Supplementing the scans, Newberg and his team interview meditators about their subjective experiences in order to get a better understanding of what is happening to them physically. For this method, a challenge has been figuring out precisely what interviewees mean when they use concepts like God or spirituality. Newberg has found that everyone defines God a little bit differently even when they belong to the same religion. When describing spiritual experiences, some report that these experiences enhance their religious beliefs, and others turn away from religion and engage in individual practices.

Given the challenges of the technology and the multitude of beliefs and practices, I asked Newberg if he ever gets overwhelmed.

“It’s a little overwhelming. You sort of take one thing at a time and just proceed slowly, and I try very hard not to get too far ahead of myself or too ahead of the data,” he said. “But I guess it’s somewhat of a calling for me. I’ve always felt like I’ve got to go down this path, and I’ll keep going down it, and maybe someday I’ll figure something out that will really be helpful to everybody.”

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Metaphysics & Psychology

Man is able to induce controlled hallucinations without psychotropic substances

The human brain is so cunningly designed that accidental damage or malfunctions in the neural network can generate large-scale effects that do not harm a person, but, on the contrary, deliver a lot of new sensations. 

We are talking about hallucinations, influences on the sensory system, which stem from the inside of the brain itself. Modern technologies make it possible to purposefully launch such reactions without harm to humans.

The technique of guided hallucinations is based on the Ganzfeld effect, which states that when the brain receives a powerful stimulating signal in only one area, it automatically begins to “think out” signals in other areas. 

For example, if you peer into the darkness and listen to white noise, the brain draws an imaginary picture, although the eyes do not receive a single photon of light. And if you run noise on the screen in absolute silence, the brain will complement them with sound hallucinations.

Hallucinations

One interesting experiment with guided hallucinations was conducted by TV host and inventor Derek Müller, who locked himself in an anechoic and completely darkened chamber for 45 minutes to conduct a sensory deprivation experiment. 

His brain, which at once lost 90% of the signals from the outside world, remained fully functional, and Derek did not go crazy. Moreover, in the absence of external stimuli, he began to feel the subtlest vibrations of his heart and the flow of blood through the veins. 

It was not a hallucination, it was just that the brain switched to processing the signals that remained at its disposal, amplifying them and presenting them in the form of sensations understandable to the mind.

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Metaphysics & Psychology

Angels showed the End of the World to a child from Indonesia?

In early October, on many eschatological and conspiracy sites (The End Times Forecaster , 444prophecynews.com), a video was posted by a girl named Jacqueline, who lives in South Africa. The video tells that on September 16, in some altered state of consciousness, similar to a lucid dream, Jacqueline was given a warning: on October 10, 2020, there will be some kind of nightmarish geological catastrophe – either a volcanic eruption, or an earthquake. 

Jacqueline does not specify where the catastrophe will occur, but immediately after the volcanic eruption, she saw President Trump in Washington and the destruction of the Washington Monument with fiery stones falling from the sky. The full text of Jacqueline’s video was posted on the forum and can be viewed at the link, but her revelation itself is not very informative. It is only clear that on October 10 something may bang, and very strongly. Another thing is much more interesting. 

Since Jacqueline was shown truly creepy things, she, like anyone in her place, doubted that all this was true. However, she noticed that in her dream, before the horror broadcast began, she was shown a calendar on which she read the KIMIKO inscription.

“Kimiko” is a popular Japanese female name that literally means “wonderful unusual child”, so Jacqueline decided: if she got it right, then she needed to look for a girl from somewhere in Japan who would kind of hint at her deciphering what was shown in her dream. 

Kimiko was never found, but another girl named Catherine was found. She lives in Indonesia, is in 4th grade and is 9 years old. Jacqueline had her dream on September 16, and on September 18 some angels took this Catherine to heaven in a dream and showed her what would be on Earth in the very near future. 

According to Catherine, everything will begin on October 10, 2020, when some kind of catastrophe occurs – a catastrophe, most likely of a geological nature. Buildings will collapse and coastal cities will suffer from terrible tsunamis. At the same time, a terrible rain will pour, which in some regions will flood buildings up to the fourth floor. Thunder will thunder in the sky, which is 10 or even 20 times stronger than ordinary thunder, and after the thunder, hail will fall the size of a car windshield. But besides the hail, all the planes located there fall from the sky. 

However, the End of the World will not happen as life goes on and Trump wins the US election. After that, Israel will begin to restore the Temple, but they will not have time, since a war will start around. At this moment, the Earth will face unprecedented catastrophes.

A huge new planet will appear in the sky and the atmosphere will take on a reddish tint. It will get hotter. H achnut erupting volcanoes, and terrifying winds will become commonplace. And further, in the region of the Bermuda Triangle, a hole is formed in the lithosphere, and armada of some strange flying machines will appear from there. On TV they will say that these are good aliens. 

In parallel , a total vaccination will take place on Earth, after which people who have received the vaccine will be endowed with some unthinkable ability to communicate with their gadgets – phones will show them everything at the click of a finger and connect to subscribers with the power of thought. But happiness will not last long, because then the skin of the vaccinated will begin to turn green and many will be covered with ulcers. Further, these people mutate into a kind of zombie who will engage in cannibalism and those who have not taken the vaccine will become their preferred food. And for those who will not be eaten by mutants, aliens will chase in their flying cars, kidnap, throw bombs at them and burn them with rays. 

Finally, to top it all off, mutations will affect flora and fauna. So, insects will become gigantic, and algae will begin to crawl ashore and whoever gets into their nets will be devoured. Mutations will affect birds, jellyfish, and the rest of the fauna. Dinosaurs and real fire-breathing dragons will appear, which will fly everywhere and pour fire on everything. 

In general, the girl tells something that is impossible to believe – no reality can stand that. However, the probability that reality is real, according to estimates of the theory of probability, is no more than 50%. That is, we live in the Matrix with a probability of 1/2, although nothing can be proved / disproved somehow. But if we take into account various strange quantum effects and other miracles, then the probability of the Matrix is ​​already seventy percent and 30% remain for a flat / round Earth, for the rest of “natural science”. Therefore, maybe we are now on the eve of the reboot of the Matrix, during which we will begin to load characters from other entertaining games. 

It is possible, of course, that all these stories were invented by her mother, but similar stories are told by other children, and even adults, who were thrown either somewhere into the astral plane, or into the next world, or generally into the deepest warp. Different, unrelated people cannot tell the same tale. Therefore, most likely this is not a fairy tale and there is something in all this. But what – here we do not know, so we just have to wait and see. 

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Metaphysics & Psychology

Clinical death helped the inveterate egoist to change his attitude towards life. He is grateful for this experience

William F. did not live the most righteous life. His selfish, authoritarian behavior caused a lot of suffering to the people around him, especially his wife. And it is not known how his marriage would have ended if one day William had not had an accident.

On that fateful day, November 6, 2019, a man was riding a motorcycle and crashed into a truck as it changed lanes. William tried unsuccessfully to get out from under the heavy truck, as his helmet got stuck under the front axle of the car.

A policeman was the first to come to help, then an ambulance arrived. The motorcyclist was evacuated by helicopter to the hospital. The man in the helicopter told William not to sleep, but he collapsed into unconsciousness.

What William saw in oblivion made a strong impression on him and changed his future life.

xusenru / pixabay.com / Pixabay License

William’s near-death experiences

The next thing I remember happened on a large field. There was a fence about 100 meters away from me. There was a black hole in the fence on the other side of the gate.

I was drawn to the gate. The closer I got, the more love and warmth I felt, the more selfishness and bad feelings went away.

When the gate was about five steps away, and I was about to open it, someone’s hand stopped me, grabbing my forearm. Looking at this man, I noticed a few more.

– You need to stop. I watched you for a long time, son, you made a lot of mistakes. Do you know where you are? The man asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said, looking around.
“You are dead,” he said.

I panicked.

“You’re scared,” he remarked.
– No.
“Then [during your life] you were always afraid of it for no reason,” he said softly. I nodded in agreement, and our dialogue continued.
– Do you feel that everything is under your control?
“I don’t know… no.
– You have never controlled anything in your life. It’s an illusion …
– Yes, you’re right, – I nodded again.
– You are given a choice that many do not have. God gives you a choice: come back and correct your mistakes, or you can go through the gate. If you enter this gate, all the regrets of life will torment your soul until you are given another chance. It will feel like eternity.

I still have regrets about my past life, ”he added after a pause. – If you come back and do not start working on yourself to become better, if you do not find happiness in the righteous way, you will always remember and crave the feeling that you are experiencing in this place now, but you will not get here again.
When you return, recover, heart and mind will be restored. You are given something great … But you understand that God already knows your choice.

Then he looked at me and asked:

– What are you going to do?
“I’ll be back,” I replied.

At that moment, the feelings that gripped me were gone, and I let go of the gate.

“See you again very soon,” he said at last.

Then I woke up and saw my mother. I told her that I was back for good and that I would not go anywhere. She had a tired face.

“You’ve been in a lot of pain,” she said.

I said that everything would be all right with me, and told that I saw Him. She clarified who exactly. I replied that I did not know for sure, but they gave me a second chance. Mom laughed and said that probably my grandfather kicked me in the ass to bring me back here.

William’s life has changed

William underwent several operations, but the doctors said that physically he would not be the same. Among other things, the man had to learn to walk again.

About a month after the accident, thoughts of the pain inflicted on his loved ones and loved ones flooded into William, so he focused on correcting the mistakes of the past and changing his future.

Five months later, William was walking without limping. Now she runs for several kilometers, and the only evidence of an accident is scars.

The biggest proof of the reality of what he saw during clinical death is a complete change in himself, says William.

haomao57 / pixabay.com / Pixabay License

“I saw mistakes, especially in my relationship with my wife, and I understand things that I didn’t understand before. It is strange to think that someone was watching my life from a distance and knew about my actions. If I had not changed, I would have yearned for death. “

“I used to have sociopathic tendencies and no empathy. I have never felt guilt or remorse. Now I am selfless and empathetic, I feel the emotions of others, and it is overwhelming. I know how people feel just by looking at them. This is a kind of intuition.

Remorse and guilt help me re-evaluate the past. I also notice that when I do something instinctively, in the old way, I realize it and I can stop. “

“People believe when I share my experience because they see a big change in me.”

Source: NDERF

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