Introducing – the spiritual area of the brain

Humans have an area in the brain which is common to religious experiences, see Are humans hard-wired for faith?. This isn’t new, I’ve encountered it several years now. At first, it was an astonishing discovery, but thinking about it in retrospect, it’s kind of obvious for any person whose not an extreme spiritualist.

We know any thinking process has some neurological basis to it. We can’t see, hear, do math, read, recognize our grandma or feel pain without the neuronal activity. We can’t be totally sure as to what causes what, but its quite commonly agreed that it is the neuronal activity that somehow causes our perception of the sensations (specific stimulation of neurons in the brain by electrodes or chemicals can cause perceptions). Hence, it is quite obvious that something as common as religion, which affects over 90% of the world population, would also have some neuronal basis. The interesting part is that the activity is common to all religions – A Buddhist meditating has the same neuronal activity as a Christian praying. This somehow brings us all closer a notch, its a shame this also causes humans to become zealots. I think this notion makes this zealotry ludicrous – “My favorite stimuli for creating neuronal activity in the right frontal lobe is correct and your is false, therefore you must die!”. Now doesn’t that make sense? Why didn’t you just say so?

Another thing that’s interesting is that the activity (and thus spiritual revelations) can be reproduced by simple measures: Meditation, Prayer, Trance music and LSD. Apart from LSD which causes chemical reactions which could take some work to figure out, this demystifies spirituality to a point of absurd. There is nothing special about the AHUM syllable used in meditation, nor the rocking of Jewish prayer. Any repetitive motion will eventually induce spiritual activity in the brain, be it embedded in trance music created a year ago, or a religious ceremony created 2000 years ago. The importance of “ceremonies”* in the definition of religion become trivial, and a “create your own cult” handbook is already half written.

* ceremonies in the larger definition, meaning any action or thought required to be repeated in any time interval, usually daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly.


13 comments so far

  1. Sophie on

    Don’t think it’s much relevant for the topic of this piece, but i’ve noticed u used Buddhism as an example for religion. As far as i remember, (though unsure) Buddhism is not a religion, more a way of “tuning” the mind and body.
    in the same fashion,the AHOUM mantra, uses of all vawels because of a certain physical reaction, perhaps for the vibrations in the vocal cords or something like that, unlike the preyer and it’s affect.

  2. Ran Halprin on

    What I meant was that the AHOUM, like prayer, is meaningless in itself – its not the specific syllable that causes spiritual awakening, but rather the fact that an action or word has certain spiritual attributes, combined with repetition. What it means is that if instead of saying AHOUM u say BOOGI (and believe it is the correct one), u will get the same effect.

    The reference to Buddhism as religion is dictionary-based – its a set of
    rituals and beliefs.

  3. Guy Gur-Ari on

    To Sophie:
    Buddhism is a religion, not only in the ceremonies-and-rituals respect, but also in the worship-divine-beings respect.

    Perhaps you are thinking about Zen, which is indeed not a religion. Zen is a set of philosophical beliefs and practical techniques for achieving ‘enlightenment’. Unlike Buddhism, it has no religious components such as prayers, worship, divine beings, etc. In that sense, it is ‘pure’ practical philosophy.

  4. Ariel on

    Hi Ran,

    Very Nicely written! I enjoyed reading.

    I was with you till the middle, but after that
    felt you went too far-even though maybe that’s what made it an enjoyable read:)
    Let me elaborate.
    I agree that there are a lot of commonalities between different traditions and religons.
    Thus, there is probably a similarity between the internal state of a bhudist meditating, a chirsitian praying and yes, someone on ecstacy listening to trance music. And it does seem
    foolish to argue and fight over the ceromony around which you enter the internal state.
    However, just having the same brain area active
    seems like a very superficial indicator as to the internal
    state and not enough to draw the far-reaching conclusions you mention. For example,
    two people listening to music probably have(I’m guessing) the same area of the brain active even
    though their hearing different things.
    As another example , I’d guess that a 7 year old doing addition and a proffesional mathematician proving a difficult theorem have the same area active. This example seems more relevant to me

  5. Ariel on

    Ignore the last sentence I wrote-In the last comment

  6. Keren (or Shmoopy for you) on

    Hi Ran,

    I do agree with your major point (especially with the part that it’s really fulish that people argue about same neuron activities) and I absolutly enjoyed your writting.
    What I tend to doubt is the part about trance music having the exact same effect as mantras (for the rocking part I’m still looking for an explenation myself). That idea did lead me to the though that perhaps the same parts of the brain are used by people who suffer from OCD. (I will not elaborate ‘cos it’s 02:00) Do you have any knowledg of where or how we can find that out?!?!

    BTW: What about those Care-Bears episodes you promised me?!?! šŸ˜‰
    Your kinnda mean Shmoopy.

  7. Ran Halprin on

    @Ariel – “just having the same brain area active
    seems like a very superficial indicator as to the internal state and not enough to draw the far-reaching conclusions you mention. For example,
    two people listening to music probably have(Iā€™m guessing) the same area of the brain active even
    though their hearing different things.”

    Having the same brain areas active is the best indicator to internal state we have. All research in Neuroscience points to the perceptions and experiences having direct correlation on neuronal activity, and neuronal “setting” is very similar (although never identical) between humans. If two people perceive music differently (even the same music), their neuronal activity would be different.

    “As another example , Iā€™d guess that a 7 year old doing addition and a proffesional mathematician proving a difficult theorem have the same area active.”

    Probably (ignoring the fact that proving theorems and addition are quite different in nature), but their internal feelings of frustration and challenge would be quite similar, as well as their activity in the left frontal lobe (though I assume addition would require less activity, even for a preteen). The wiring would be, to begin with, quite different – but the activity would be similar. This is similar to the activity in people who have been praying for 20 years vs. people praying for 1 year – the 20 years praying person has much more wiring set for this cause and could probably achieve higher levels of activity and thus perception – but in principal the activity is the same.

  8. soyouth on

    Very concise and clear my friend ! I appreciate.
    Is there any way to trackback this blog ?

    Peace Love Unity & Respect

  9. Silver Bluewater on

    Nice to meet you, first of all. It’s very interesting to see what would come out next. : )

  10. Alfredo Zotti on

    It is interesting to read ideas of people who know little or nothing about the neural system. Write away. What are you all on about? The neural system includes brain, heart and spinal chord. It is all connected. Moreover, there is definite proof that the heart has an inner brain which functions separately from the normal brain. Heart and brain communicate on many levels just as they are connected in many ways. There is proof that the heart is intuitive and that it can think by itself independently from the brain.When you will have better knowledge of the neural system as a unit you will discover that what you have written here is nothing more than useless information. If you are looking for the spiritual experience look at how the heart works and you will find miracles at work just like scientists are beginning to do. No direct offense. I am not really religious I just am not an evolutionist. Thank you

  11. Herbal Incense Reviews on

    Hello there, normally I rarely comment on blogs however now I am afraid I have to do so. Recently I took the decision to install the latest version of the Opera Internet browser and your personal site doesn’t load properly ever since. Right now your sidebar hides part of the text and I can’t read it. I used to have the exact same issue with my herbal incense reviews Internet site and I was able to resolve it by changing the CSS code. Can you please fix it? Thanks in advance! Please excuse my bad English, it’s obviously not my native language. I am Polish šŸ™‚

  12. Vman on

    My concern here is that by turning from the scientific analysis of commonality of brain activations from the various forms of brain activating processes into a discussion on the claims of proprietary authority that various religions call their own, you have slipstreamed the core of the issue you initiated in this piece.

    Contrary to what many believe with regards to religious organizations, there are actually two religious eliments at play. True Religious and Power Seeking. This can also be referred to as true religion versus religious based cultism.

    But the article appeared to be a discussion on where and how the brain is activated from activities usually associated with religious processes. It is one of the more irritating things when people are using science as a means to attack religion without any real understanding about religion in the first place. That is compounded when people also don’t understand the way that anything that has power or the perception of power (as in political power not electrical or magnetic) can be manipulated by people who induce cultism.

    Your final statement that a ‘how to make your own cult’ book is half written shows that you do seem to know the difference and therefore make this article even more disappointing because of your slipping from a neutral scientific review of the neurological response of the brain to trying to attack religious groups for things that go beyond rituals and repetative practices.

    Religion and Cults are not just about rituals and repititious activities and it is the broader areas withing the Religion and Cults that cause the development of socio-psychological differences within the resulting cultures.

    Remember also, you can have a cult without the religious components. You can have science-cults and political-cults as well. The key to identifying a cult is by the attempts to push an idea or belief on others to control their thoughts and behaviors. When you began to insinuate that all religious groups are comonized by the fact that all humans have their brains activated by the reptitious activities found in rituals (which is not really a new thought), you are attempting, while ignoring the grander aspects of religions, to push a ‘can’t we all just get along’ philosophy in a cultish way.

    I would assume that the ritual activations of the brain can also be found to be similar in those who have a compulsive-behavior disorder, such as some one who must tough the same spot on a wall before leaving a room or other odd, repetative behavior. This concept is further utilized by schools in the effort to educate by ‘memorization’ and military or paramilitary orders to build a solidarity of mind or behavior. That, therefore would take this out of the realm of just being associated with religions that tend to fight over claims of authority (which is the assertion of cultism to control their associated people).

    So, rather than referring to these parts of the brain as spiritual, perhaps it would be better to refer to them as the Cultic Brain. This is because in all cultic environments the ‘ritual’ is used as a way to condition the people to conformity. Through conformity control and manipulation can be established.

    Just as a note, I am looking for reference to a part of the brain that is dedicated to spirituality. I had read an article about 10 years ago where a group of medical researchers were working with a group of mentally disabled people with a particular disorder that resulted in them having a higher propencity to spirituality which allowed them to identify a specific part of the brain activated associated with such connection. It’s funny how that kind of thing disappears almost for good if it can show a true supportive aspect of the Human as a spiritual being. It is hard to fathom how ‘scientists’ can be so religiously cultic about anything that can support a religious perspective on life and the world.

  13. j on

    ” Apart from LSD which causes chemical reactions which could take some work to figure out, this demystifies spirituality to a point of absurd.”


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