Neurotheology

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

  1. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    With all due respect, I cannot help but feel Thomas' contributions are every bit as valid. In fact, considering the "post hoc, ergo proctor hoc" fallacy, I can't help but feel that it is really begging the question as to whether or not any genuine spirituality can be forced or induced. One step further, how can we be certain that the state induced is indeed spiritual?, and certainly of a kind and manner of spirit conducive to our well being.

    As you point to, use of entheogenic agents is not unique to monotheism...in fact, as a general rule it is discouraged in monotheism in my experience. Seems I recall, and would need to follow up with a Strong's, but if memory serves me the term "sorceror" as used in the Old Testament Hebrew was specifically what we today would call a drug peddler or drug pusher. Yes, monotheism does use other methods as you point such as fasting and flagellation, but since this thread wishes to be limited to the use of psychotropic agents (and increasingly more limited to psilocybin mushrooms only) then by such limitation monotheism as a whole is excluded. Neither Judaism, nor Christianity, nor Islam, and as far as I know not Zoroastrianism, utilize entheogenic principles to induce mystical experience. Even Hinduism does not rely solely on entheogens, and what little I understand I doubt that would include psilocybin. The arguments trying to drag monotheism into this are a bit...unfounded in this regard.

    Monotheism, when *not* incorporating such extreme practices to purposely invoke spiritual communion, seeks rather for the "top down" experience...in G-d's way and in G-d's time. It is those who perceive the Divine in a different manner, that humanly strive to provoke the spiritual communion, who enter that communion with the attitude of forcing G-d into their preferred schedule, on their time and terms. This "bottom up" way of approaching spiritual communion is quite contrary to Judaism and Christianity.

    There seems to me a great deal of wisdom to the monotheist way of approaching the Divine. For one, to return to the "post hoc, ergo proctor hoc" fallacy...reducing the spiritual communion with the Divine to the action of chemicals in the brain is short sighted (no offense intended). Because an illusion or dream or supra-normal reality can be artifically caused does not necessarily mean that experience is "reality," let alone truth. LSD may well make one see purple unicorns...but it hardly means purple unicorns exist, other than perhaps in the mind of that person under the influence and nowhere else in reality or truth. Because one sees "god" under the influence, doesn't necessarily mean they have indeed experienced G-d.

    The same chemicals that react on the brain to induce transcendental states approaching that of "experiencing G-d" are the exact same chemicals that act on the brain for the emotion of love. I've pointed to a number of studies to that regard in the past, and it so far has silenced the atheist critics who up to that point use the method of reduction to imply that love is "nothing more than" the act of chemicals in the brain. Here, we are faced with a very similar issue. If G-d is no more than chemicals on the brain, then we are left with the realization that He is nothing more than a hallucinogenic trip.

    And if monotheism were of the habit of using hallucinogens to pursue that spiritual communion, a case could rightly be made...a case that *can* be made for those polytheist or whatever pill-popping psychotropic sorcerors, that G-d is in reality and truth an illusion. This is not so for Judism, Christianity and I would dare say Islam, precisely because G-d does not require drugs to interact with followers of these paths.

    Sure, like you pointed to there are those on the periphery that do what they can to provoke or enhance that spiritual communion...fasting, flagellation, I'm sure there are a few others that escape me. But these are not the same as introducing a psychotropic substance into the brain to alter its perceptions. At least in the case of fasting, the idea is to *cleanse* the body of toxins, not introduce them, in order to make that spiritual connection.

    But there is a distinct difference between going to G-d on His terms, and bringing god to the person on that person's terms.

    I would be remiss if I did not add one important caveat...not all spirit has the interests of humanity at heart. If one goes looking, they will find...but what they find may not be what they want to believe it is. Whereas an agent of G-d coming to one on G-d's terms will make its presence known in no uncertain terms. I can't prove this outside of experience, but I know it as sure as I'm writing this.
     
  2. Nick_A

    Nick_A Interfaith Forums

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    Juan, where are your experts? You seem to be giving your opinion but this is worthless on this board. We need your experts.
     
  3. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

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    Hello TL,

    What is the questionnaire's validity and reliability?

    One of the things that research runs into is the tendency to rediscover the same/similar phenomenon and calling it something else. Recent research suggests that neurologically a Christian religious experience involves a state of enhanced empathy. Depending on how important a factor it is, we'd be better off studying social cognition than 'religious experience.'

    At any rate, it was suggested that a Christian religious experience is not an emotional state. Rather, it's a cognitive state. Maybe empathy training that targets certain kinds of social cognitions will increase the chances of these supposedly desirable religious experiences.

    Thought you might like this:
    http://www.uni-graz.at/~schulter/biopers_ss05/se05_neuralcorr_relexp_azari01.pdf
     
  4. juantoo3

    juantoo3 ʎʇıɹoɥʇnɐ uoıʇsǝnb

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    Very well, but I am only repeating myself for the third time...

    Strong's 3784; kashaph, translated both as witch and in the AV as sorceror, but the definition isn't what I remember. Let me look a bit more...Ah!

    Perhaps not an "authoritative source" in the strictest sense, but they have saved me a lot of formatting (I also stand corrected, it is the New Testament Greek, not the OT Hebrew):

    http://home.netcom.com/~horse/sorcery.html

    <edit: my bad, I neglected to cite my source>

    And while I could refer to multiple excerpts from the Bible to draw out the fact that Judaism and Christianity tend towards distancing themselves from the practice of intentionally drugging themselves with the intent to pursue spirits, I think it would bog down the thread. I will point to one specific instance that leaps to mind, the story of Saul and the witch of Endor, in which the king was forbidden to pursue advice from the witch and did anyway and it cost his life. I am certain there are any number of lessons to be taken away from this lesson alone, and the conclusions will not be exactly the same between Judaism and Christianity, but the general point that pursuit of such is generally discouraged still stands.
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2009
  5. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

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    The reason I previously asked for a definition of "mystical" experiences is that many of them are not particularly out of the ordinary. The major difference is that there has been a shift in the person's usual way of processing their experience. This shift may be secondary to someone altering their sensory input as a result of taking certain chemicals. I other words, epiphenomena. Getting sick on too much nicotine or sugar could do it if it wasn't for the disruptive toxic effects.

    Unlike Near Death Experiences, it appears that at least some kinds of religious experiences involve the person labeling them as being such. See the study I cited in my previous post.
     
  6. TealLeaf

    TealLeaf Soul Adventurer

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    All of the peer reviews that I have read concerning the study refer to it as especially rigorous.
     
  7. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

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    TL,

    Why would you take their word for it?
     
  8. seattlegal

    seattlegal Mercuræn Buddhist

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    Faith. :cool:
     
  9. TealLeaf

    TealLeaf Soul Adventurer

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    Because it is a consensus of experts in the field. Besides the general findings of the study jive with other studies I have read and my own personal experience.

    Why are you so hostile?
     
  10. seattlegal

    seattlegal Mercuræn Buddhist

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    Yep. It's looking even more like faith. :cool:
     
  11. TealLeaf

    TealLeaf Soul Adventurer

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    LOL ... That's retarded, Seattle Gal.

    Again why are you so hostile?
     
  12. seattlegal

    seattlegal Mercuræn Buddhist

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    I'm not hostile. Just making some observations.
     
  13. TealLeaf

    TealLeaf Soul Adventurer

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    I disagree. It seems obvious that you are reacting emotionally and not logically to this most recent subject.

    But for the sake of others let's just agree to disagree.
     
  14. seattlegal

    seattlegal Mercuræn Buddhist

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    No. There are too many unanswered questions for this to be considered totally scientific. First of all, there is the question of how you scientifically and objectively define the parameters of "a mystical state?" How can you be certain that your parameters fully encompass all of the qualities of "a mystical state" without leaving anything out? If you set some parameters, how many "mystics" will shake their heads and say, "You just don't get it?" Then there are the questions of "Is there a formula that can describe a mystical state?" Is there a specific quality that can be quantified and measured that is constant to all "mystical states?" What kind of individual variances are to be found within the parameters of a "mystical state," and can they be tracked, measured, and charted?
     
  15. TealLeaf

    TealLeaf Soul Adventurer

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    Seattle Gal, You seem to be a very intelligent person so it is hard for me to believe that you do not understand the scientific process. This is a scientific study not a scientific law. Your questions are valid and while some have already been addressed others would be the subject of further scientific inquiry. However they do not significantly undermine the general findings of this study nor do they render it unscientific.

    Again, I say that you are being uncharacteristically hostile towards this particular study. I can only imagine that it is because you do not like its results. Or perhaps you are just not comfortable with science in general and don't like to see it encroach into an area that you thought was "safe" from it. Whatever your reasons are you seem to be responding to it irrationally.
     
  16. Netti-Netti

    Netti-Netti New Member

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    There's a basic problem of interjudge reliability which in this case would relate to how the researchers think about the experience. It's possible that no one could agree on what's involved in the experience or on the defining characteristics.

    Someone might say that the experience is probably a delusion unless there is an activation of the divine mode by the Holy Spirit. (I believe bro Thomas has said as much.) Others would contend that that's not enough and would assert that we validate the experience based on how often the person has it: the person must have these experiences frequently and intensely in order for them to be a "real" mystical state. (see Fr. Jordan Aumann, Spiritual Theology).

    A Zen Buddhist on the other hand would probably say there is no discontinuity of any kind between the so-called "mystical state" and normal waking consciousness. As indicated in Post 65, I'm more likely to go along with the Buddhist idea that satori is not an extraordinary state, but a reset to Original Mind, that is, the regaining the ability to see things as they really are.

    It seems SG is a skeptic, which is a highly desirable trait for doing science. But I think we should put together a consulting group and visit the research team over there at Johns Hopkins University and help get them get these various issues sorted out before they do another study. ;)
     
  17. seattlegal

    seattlegal Mercuræn Buddhist

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    TealLeaf, the first thing scientists worth their salt do is try to poke holes in a theory in order to refine it. That is not being hostile. Dismissing someone as irrational who is trying to help refine a theory by asking valid questions and/or presenting different evidence/interpretations of evidence actually brings the scientific method to a screeching stop.
     
  18. TealLeaf

    TealLeaf Soul Adventurer

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    The things that I would specifically call irrational on your part are; when you referred to my acceptance of the studies general findings as "faith" based and when you essentially referred to the study as unscientific or to use your colloquialism not "totally scientific".

    Also I believe that in the past you have referred to and accepted the results of other studies without giving them so much scrutiny.

    All of this leads me to believe that you might be merely reacting to the results of the study not truly considering its merits.

    I suggest that perhaps the problem that you and others are having with this study is rather a problem with its premise that the mystical state is neuro-chemically based. This however turns out to be a problem with one of the basic premises of bio-psychology and perhaps all of modern psychology which is "The mind is what the brain does."

    If one can induce a mystical state by fasting, physical exhaustion, sleep deprivation, physical pain (self flagellation) or other ascetic practices that are physical in nature it stands to reason that this mental state(s) can be achieved through chemical means as well. To elaborate, the ascetic physical processes alter body chemistry which in turn alters brain chemistry.

    To help clarify the area of disagreement that we are having perhaps a few questions are in order.

    Do you believe that ascetic practices can help to induce a mystical state?

    Do you agree with the scientific premise that the mind is a function of the brain?

    Do you believe that ascetic practices can alter body and brain chemistry?
     
  19. seattlegal

    seattlegal Mercuræn Buddhist

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    Then what would you say you based your acceptance of the scientists review upon, other than faith?

    This is a case where my conclusions from my own empirical evidence (my direct experience with the use of psilocybin) does not jive with the conclusions reached by this study: i.e., the attainment of a so-called "mystical state."

    The non-correlation of empirical evidence does tend to throw doubt upon such conclusions.

    Alright.

    Induce, no. To help the ascetic recognize a mystical state, perhaps.

    Not necessarily. I see the brain more as a filter/sorter/interactive agent of mind, rather than a causal agent.

    Just breathing can alter body and brain chemistry. Anything you do can alter body and brain chemistry, including ascetic practices, so the answer to that question would be yes.
     
  20. seattlegal

    seattlegal Mercuræn Buddhist

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    :eek: I forgot to include my reason/source:
    The premise that mind is a function of the brain falls apart when you consider the well-documented placebo and nocebo effects, which are examples of cognitive processes influencing physiology.

    If you want to explore the chemical reactions associated with expectation, you might like this study. However, it does not serve to make a positive scientific connection between expectation and the mystical experience. Furthermore, the idea of the expectation of having a mystical experience being the cause of having a mystical experience runs contrary to many religious traditions, such as Taoism, which says "But if desire within us be, its outer fringe is all we'll see." (Tao Te Ching 1)
     

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