Neurotheology

Discussion in 'Theology' started by TealLeaf, Jan 23, 2009.

  1. TealLeaf

    TealLeaf Soul Adventurer

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    For those who are not familiar neurotheology is a word used to describe the study of the chemical and biological basis of religious experience. The word was originally coined by Aldous Huxley in in the 1950's but as recent as last year articles have been written on the subject in publications such as News Week.

    Recently a study was conducted at Johns Hopkins University that showed that psilocybin (the active ingredient in psilocybe mushrooms) effectively induced profound religious or mystical experiences in most of its subjects. Further followup studies indicate that this experience has had a lasting positive effect on the participants.

    HOPKINS SCIENTISTS SHOW HALLUCINOGEN IN MUSHROOMS CREATES UNIVERSAL ?MYSTICAL? EXPERIENCE

    I also can across this interesting and perhaps provocative paper when I combine the search term "evolutionary" with "neurotheology".

    http://www.cs.utk.edu/~mclennan/papers/EvolutionaryNeurotheology-long.pdf

    So what do you think? Does religious experience have a neurological or chemical basis? If so is it okay to use medicine in place of more traditional practices such as fasting, sensory deprivation etc. to achieve the same neurological state?
     
  2. Ahanu

    Ahanu Well-Known Member

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    Well, from the pdf file. . .
    [FONT=DAOEBG+TimesNewRoman]
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    [FONT=DAOEBG+TimesNewRoman]In the same page the writer said:[/FONT]
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    [FONT=DAOEBG+TimesNewRoman]I think so, because the religious experience activates these archetypes in our unconciousness. The religious experience involves moral behavior and "Jung argued that an archetype is a pattern of behavior." I am not familiar with neuroscience, but I am interested. I believe that the author said these archetypes are as deep as the midbrain or even the oldest part of the brain, which is the reptilian brain? It is on page 18, I think. The writer kind of lost me there.
    [/FONT]



     
  3. seattlegal

    seattlegal Mercuræn Buddhist

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    Emphasizing and pursuing the chemical/material side over the psychological side might produce psychological side effects. Methods such as fasting is a means of subduing material desire, whereas seeking a chemical means to the end might have the effect of increasing material desire. Do you want a religious approach based upon material desire, (increasing the likelihood of related effects such as greed,) or do you want a religious experience based upon suppression/control of material desire (decreasing the likelihood of related effects such as greed?)
     
  4. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    http://www.interfaith.org/forum/stoned-age-man-6763.html

    http://www.interfaith.org/forum/psychedelics-and-buddhism-752.html

    http://www.interfaith.org/forum/neurotheology-875.html

    These are some threads where we touched on this in the past, perhaps there may be some material to explore...

    http://www.interfaith.org/forum/applied-anthropology-4598.html

    And in this thread we noted the pharmaceutical implications of the agrarian diet and possible impact on the development or expansion of the conscious mind in humans.

    Another key word to consider is "entheogen," which is the term applied to a drug or similar substance ingested with the intent of pursuing psychic / spiritual experiences.
     
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2009
  5. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

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    Can the archetype be the pattern that shapes behavior but not be the actual overt behavior itself?

    Here's research suggesting that religion heritable....
    Genes may help determine how religious a person is, suggests a new study of US twins. And the effects of a religious upbringing may fade with time.

    The twins believed that when they were younger, all of their family members - including themselves - shared similar religious behaviour. But in adulthood, however, only the identical twins reported maintaining that similarity. In contrast, fraternal twins were about a third less similar than they were as children.
    Genes contribute to religious inclination - life - 16 March 2005 - New Scientist

    Look for more twin studies.
     
  6. TealLeaf

    TealLeaf Soul Adventurer

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    I think the best approach might be a combination of fasting and the use of psychedelics such as psilocybin.

    The problem with prolonged fasting is that it tends to reward those within the group that cheat and do not fast. Over the course of days there is no way to monitor who is cheating and who is not.

    Perhaps a single day of fasting followed by the taking of psilocybin would do the trick.

    It seems to me that one evolutionary biological explanation of archetype is that they represent distinct competitive strategies where different suites of genes and behaviors are activated thus actualizing the archetype. In this way archetypes are not just models but real. This would also better explain our innate instinct to categorize people by archetype.

    This being said there is still room for difference between a person's actual psycho-biological archetype and the archetype which others perceive him or her as.
     
  7. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    I had the distinct pleasure to attend a recent lecture by Dr. Francis Collins speaking on the field of genetics, and these are some of the notes I took away pertaining to this:

    And if I may be allowed to be bold enough to take a stab at your initial question, "Can the archetype be the pattern that shapes behavior but not be the actual overt behavior itself?" I think the study of epigenetics may hold some answers regarding genetic memory, which seems to be the scientific validation of Jung's collective consciousness and archetypal images, at least with the preliminary findings. But there is still a great deal to research.
     
  8. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

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    Hi Juantoo3,

    There has been some discussion on where archetypes are located. Prof. MacLennan with the University of Tennessee has written a lot in this area. He suggest that archetypes and the related imagery/symbols reside in areas of the brain that that deal with unconscious processing (i.e., the brain stem) but adds that they also "extend upward into the midbrain, and even into the cortical hemispheres."

    I suspect certain experiences evoke the potentials and make the imagery more conscious, possibly by facilitating how parts of the brain talk to each other by reducing the usual filtering action that modulates their functioning. The neurological substratum for these processes is probably largely determined by genetics.
     
  9. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Interesting discussion —

    We should not lose sight that in the minds of many, both 'God' and 'man' are more than biomechanical organisms. Consciousness of God for those so inclined therefore is not consciousness of a subjective determination, or even an archetype, but of an objective reality that shapes and informs us (and our archetypes).

    Descartes said "I think therefore I am" and chemicals can alter they way you think, therefore alter your appreciation of reality, but it is just another mode of subjectivity, it is no closer to the reality, and in many ways further from it. Ricoeur said "I am, and I am a being who thinks" which alters things radically. Unbalancing one's thinking and one's perception of reality is unbalanced. Most see this new view as 'better' richer in every sense, but others suffer it as worse, from the 'bad trip' to the destruction of the integrity of the person, as in the case of the guitarist Peter Green.

    Chemicals create imbalance and therefore effects are distorted. No-one assumes alcohol opens the 'windows of perception' in the same way psychadelics are supposed to ... but after a few pints everybody looks beautiful and the whole world is your best friend (unless you're an angry drunk). What both do is neutralise inhibitions, albeit inhibitions of a different order.

    Whatever else, we are left with the doubt that the experience might simply be 'the drugs talking' and not us, nor the cosmos ... to suggest chemicals as a means of acquiring objective insightful or spiritual experience requires that the chemical itself imparts to us that insightful or spiritual data, and in reality then that experience is never ours and never objectively real. The chemical would need to be consciously more than the mind or the soul, if that were to be the case.

    The vision of the mushroom then is not the vision of the real, but the vision the mushroom has of the real, which it imparts to us, much as a master seeks to impart to his disciple. That a master might employ such methods as aides points to his own and our own shortcomings.

    There was a TV prog in which, by the use of drugs, the skin pigment of a caucasian couple was darkened so they could pass as black ... each came back with a totally new insight into the world, having experienced life as a black person might experience it ... intolerance, bigotry, racism, etc. But neither could claim a black sensibility, that is intrinsic to a black person ... the best they could hope for was an analogous idea of what it might superficially be like.

    +++

    If one holds a subjective notion of God, not as an objective reality but as a mental construct, then of course the reality of this vision (which is entirely contingent and accidental) is altered as the mind which holds it is altered by the drug.

    The ancients tried many things: Chemicals, ascetic practices, orgiastic practices, trepanning ... of all methods, I think ascesis has come down, in all cultures, as the wisest and most reliable method. The fact that 'tune in, turn on and drop out' became the mantra of the 60s indicates the underlying existential nihilism of the hippy movement. It was not that they sought a better world, which would call for an ethic and morality which matched the vision, they just didn't want what was on offer, favouring a self-serving 'do your own thing' outlook which now became purely relative and subjective. 'Free love' became very much an orgiastic pursuit which, like anything over-indulged, left its path littered with casualties.

    In the same way, asceticism can itself become orgiastic when pursued in extremis — the flagellant monks of medievalism, for example, are now deeply suspect psychologically; even in our modern day we have evidence of fasting resulting in nothing more than a complete breakdown of a once healthy physical faculty — there is a big difference between denial, and not wanting in the first place. Ghandi fasted to shame his people, not to advance his own spirituality. The practice of stylitism (maintaining a fixed and immobile posture, usually on a pole) was very quickly ruled out, although there are saints who were stylites. This practice is abhorred in, say, the discipline practiced by Opus Dei, but is admired in fakirs of the Far East — I fail to see how being buried, walking on coals or sticking pins through one's body says anything meaningful about one's spirituality — I have no doubt that the most junked-up crackhead could compete with the best of them on a good day.

    The TV personality Tony Slattery, who underwent a complete mental breakdown after a period of heavy drug use, spoke of sitting for days, staring at the wall, with no sense of time, space or being. William Borroughs says the same in the grips of his heroin addiction ("The Naked Lunch") — but I would say these two are so far from the idea of Zen 'sitting' even though, outwardly, the seem to share much in common.

    Thomas
     
  10. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

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    I wanted to add that neuroimaging studies of meditation suggest that your practice can influence your mental functioning, too. (I'm trying to avoid biological determinism.)

    I think there have been some studies that differentiate advanced meditators from those with less practice. Has anyone looked at neuroimaging studies of prayer?

    In case anyone is interested, this came out last year: as compared to less experienced meditators, long-term practitioners' meditation states were characterized by higher levels of activation in the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex.
    Regional Brain Activation During Meditation Shows Time and Practice Effects: An Exploratory FMRI Study{dagger} -- Baron Short et al., 10.1093/ecam/nem163 -- Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
     
  11. seattlegal

    seattlegal Mercuræn Buddhist

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    Interestingly, I just saw this article from Science Daily describing factors that lead to dynamic asymmetry between the right and left hemispheres.
    Game Of Two Halves Leads To Brain Asymmetry
     
  12. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Thanks for that, Netti-Netti.

    I've been looking for over an hour trying to find some research I stumbled on in response to a critical atheist, and I finally found it (them):

    http://www.interfaith.org/forum/is-there-a-g-d-5685.html

    http://www.interfaith.org/forum/creationism-intelligent-design-evolution-or-6115-2.html

    See:

    "This study demonstrated that a dozen different regions of the brain are activated during a mystical experience." - Université de Montréal - Press releases - Brain scan of nuns finds no single “god spot” in the brain, Université de Montréal study

    "Professor John Bradshaw, an Australian neuropsychologist from Monash University, says the brain's medial temporal lobe is rich in *seratonin* receptors and has previously been described as the 'G-d spot' because it is active in transcendental states." -
    Health & Medical News - Magic mushrooms hit the God spot - 12/07/2006

    Please note, seratonin *specifically* implicated in "trancendental states."

    "There is the quandary of whether the mind created G-d or G-d created the mind." -
    New Page 2

    "In their research, Beauregard and Paquette weren't trying to prove or disprove G-d's existence." -
    Brain's 'God Spot' Hard to Pin Down

    "Whether G-d exists or not is something that neuroscience cannot answer." -
    BBC - Science & Nature - Horizon - God on the Brain
    --------

    I doubled checked the links and they are still active. Quite illuminating and eye-opening, in my opinion.
     
  13. Thomas

    Thomas Administrator Admin

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    Following from my post, Ruth Burrows, a Carmelite Abbess, has suggested that mystical 'experiences' fall into two categories, one 'lights on' and the other 'lights off'.

    She has drawn some 'revolutionary conclusions', one being that the 'feeling or experience of God’s presence', the accounts of which we regard as the hallmark of mystical experience, is really accidental to it.

    The point being that the vision, or whatever, is not synonymous, or even equal, to the grace that that produces it. Thus such phenomena are not a valid criteria by which the Divine Indwelling is measured.

    In her mind then, St Teresa of Avila, author of tracts on prayer and the contemplative life which are considered authoritative, are not without error. For the saint, the more intense the emotional experience, the more advanced the mystical experience.

    St John of the Cross took her to task on this point more than once.

    The Greek Orthodox Church is critical of St Teresa for this very reason, the power and presence she accords to her vision of her heart being pierced by the Dart of Divine Love, her intense focus on this imagery they view as somewhat unhealthy sentimentality, and regard it as a fantasia of the senses, rather than the illumination of the intellectus.

    The point I wanted to bring out in this however, is that Burrows observes a correlation between the measure of experience and the physical health of the body, many of the great mystics who offer us profound and compelling visions, for example, suffered ill-health. Indeed there is enough data there for critics to assert that mystical experience is entirely the result, albeit at distance, as it were, of illness — St Catherine of Siena, another mystic and with St Teresa a Doctor of the Catholic Church, was believed to be epileptic.

    Buddhists, as I know, eschew such phenomena as psychic and psychological by-products, and as such to be ignored.

    The pursuit of supposed mystical experience via drug use then, is the chemical pursuit of the excesses of the sensible faculty similar to those of the supposed mystical, which themselves may well be the result of nothing more than the fruit of a pre-existing chemical or neurological imbalance.

    The goal of the pursuit being the one element of an experience which should be ignored, for they are, in and off themselves, empty.

    This is not to discredit St Teresa, by the way, rather simply highlights an error within what is, in every other respect, an exemplary work on the meaning and nature of prayer.

    Thomas
     
  14. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

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    Yes. I would add that having mystical experiences doesn't have that much to do with the existence of G-d. On the other hand, they can have the power of authenticating religion.

    I see these kinds of experiences as personal revelations of a reality that transcends the person. I would say that neurotheology may be helpful in expaining individuals differences. However, the fact that some people do not have these experiences would probably not tell us much more beyond the fact that these folks are just not neurologically/constitutionally prone to them.

    As an aside, based on the UK survey I mentioned previously, the experiences seem to be very commonplace. It's just that people may not interpret them within an apophatic conceptual framework or talk about them using terms/ideas drawn from organized religion.
     
  15. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    This from one of the links I pointed to earlier:

    dated 29 October 1997, LA Times

    also dated 29 October 1997, Seattle Times

    New Page 2
     
  16. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Just an observation, but you do realize this is an opinion, right? ;)
     
  17. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

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    That's what I was responding to.

    As I see it, belief in G-d is different from certainty. Belief is often largely defensive (concered with countering one's own sense of helplessnes (e.g., petitioning the L-rd for protection and blessings, making sacrifices, negotiating deals with the L-rd, etc.). The defensive, selfish orientation usually does not go past intellectual assent to various ideological propositions about what one can expect or hope for from G-d (in the way of personal safety or security) and outward submission (rites and rituals).

    I'd say this position is several steps removed from authentic religion, which is a Living Faith which is constantly evolving in the context of environmental complexities through a faith process that involves the person's ongoing interaction with the Divine. In the course of this process, it is totally possible that one's prior understandings about religion will be thoroughly deconstructed (some archetypes will be recognized as delusional projections that are dependent on lower order neurological functions) to the point where they are made functionally obsolete. Previous mental imagery seems to burn up in the holy fire and all that's left is pure adoration (in Arabic, Ishq-e-Haqīqi = love of G-d) and total, absolute certainty (in Arabic, Haqq al-Yaqin = the Truth of Certainty). For more detail, check the Sufi literature.
     
  18. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Somebody recently dropped a bug in my ear about the brain separating into hemispheres...but for the life of me I don't remember where or in what context.
     
  19. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    There's something to be said for bulldog tenacity...


    The article earl linked to is quite interesting.
     
  20. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Netscape Search

    An excerpt from Earl’s link, emphasis mine.
     

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