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. Some ideas may have been disproved or are out of date by the time you read this. Nevertheless it is an important and challenging area which demands to be examined. The human brain In the following discussions of neuroscience, different parts of the brain will be referred to and so we start with a very simple overview of the structure of the brain.
It also regulates the central nervous system. If the pathway between the frontal lobe and the limbic system (hypothalamus etc) is severed. If this is severed. hunger. It regulates consciousness. [The endocrine system is a series of glands which secrete hormones. The hypothalamus controls body temperature. pancreas and kidneys]. Interestingly both hemispheres of the parietal lobe are believed to play a role in “self transcendence” which is a measure of predisposition to spirituality. The Brain Stem is connected to the spinal cord and is the conductor for nerves controlling motor and sensory functions throughout the body. The occipital lobe is the centre for visual processing and is also the area where dreams come from. The thalamus is like a switchboard as it relays sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex. sleep and alertness. There have been reports of difference in size of the hypothalamus “clock” in individuals of different sexual orientation. The left hemisphere deals with symbolic functions like language and maths while the right hemisphere deals with images and spatial relationships like understanding maps. It is here that recognition of the consequences of your present actions occurs. thirst. Anatomists have subdivided the cortex into 51 “Brodmann areas” but we will not look at so much detail. It is where a knowledge of numbers and their relations occurs and is involved in the manipulation of objects. The hypothalamus is about the size of an almond. The two hemispheres are connected by a large nerve bundle called the corpus callosum. and is important in maintaining consciousness and regulating the sleep cycle (Wikipedia). Well known glands involved are the liver. where choice is made of the “best” action and where unacceptable social responses are suppressed. It has a role in long-term memory. this is called a “frontal lobotomy”. short term memory tasks and planning and motivation. the patient might behave as two different people – for example the left hand may undertake some action while the right hand undoes it. fatigue. sleep and our circadian cycles. relating to the hippocampus. attention. . It is where one can determine similarities and differences between things or events. Lastly the temporal lobe processes auditory inputs and semantics in speech and vision. The frontal lobe contains most of the dopamine sensitive neurons in the cerebral cortex and is associated with reward. It links the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland. The parietal lobe integrates sensory information form various parts of the body. as in “split brain” patients treated for epileptic seizures.The brain is divided into left and right hemispheres with the left hemisphere controlling the right side of the body and vice versa. The cerebral cortex is the largest part of the brain and consists of four lobes.
They may also abandon their spiritual practices of bible reading and prayer. He was momentarily distracted so that when he began tamping the powder with an iron bar. It is one of the first regions to suffer damage in Alzheimer’s disease and is also affected by post traumatic stress disorder. 3 foot 7 inches long and ¼ inch diameter. It connects to the brain’s pleasure centre and relates to sexual arousal and the “high” you get from recreational drugs. one on each side of the brain. Back in 1848 Gage was a railroad worker preparing to detonate some explosive to remove rock from the path of the railroad. Some have sought to discredit the euphoria of Christian conversion as being an example of TLE.The hippocampus consolidates short term into long term memory and is used in spatial navigation. he set off an explosion. entered Gage’s left cheek and left through the top of his head. landing 100 feet away covered in blood and brains. The amygdala is part of the limbic system. There are cases where formerly lovely spiritual people violently resist the commands of their nurses and may describe bizarre sexual experiences in an explicit manner. Nerve cells in the brain are damaged so that a deficiency of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine occurs. In another context special experiences have been reported by patients with temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) or “complex partial epileptic signs”. The amygdala is involved in the processing and memory of emotions and deals with our sense of smell and fear responses. The famous story of Phineas Gage dramatically illustrates the effects of damage to the brain. This system influences the endocrine system and the autonomic nervous system. The main function of the cerebellum is motor control. It also is involved in processing of language. The iron bar. We have two hippocampi. aspirations. ethics and morals had all changed. They sense the presence of another being with them and other paranormal experiences. It receives input from the sensory systems and controls fine motor activity. Psalm 88 vividly describes their experience. Differences in the amygdala have been observed between persons with different sexual orientations. but the TLE experiences are much more bizarre and unlike Christian conversions. Gage recovered but his whole personality had changed: his likes and dislikes. Damage may be associated with temporal lobe epilepsy. Somewhat similar changes in personality have been reported from people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. This may have serious spiritual consequences: the person may get the conviction that he/she is separated from God. and this results in the brain being no longer able to sustain its normal psychological functions. Michael Persinger is one of the . attention and mental imagery. Dyslexia has been related to small brain lesions and more recently differences in brain structure have been associated with autism. Effects of brain interferences.
Two properties of the brain are unique to humans – cerebral asymmetries (most people are right-handed) and “speech areas” in the neocortex. [The neocortex is that part of the cortex which has most recently evolved. so that it is no wonder that Dawkins did not see God or angelic beings.1 times bigger than we might expect from a nonhuman primate (monkey) with the same weight. These drugs activate the serotonin system of the brain. The large amount of folding allows a greater surface area to be contained in a given volume and results in greater cognitive ability]. Whether the subject experiences a psychedelic trip or something spiritual or transcendent was found to depend on the setting where the drug was taken and again on the subject’s cognitive and theological outlook which would affect their expectations. Persinger’s results are still a matter of controversy as some other workers have been unable to reproduce them. Richard Dawkins tried out this apparatus and only sensed dizziness! The conclusion of this is that subjects will only report what they deem to be within their experience. humans have larger brains on a per weight basis: the human brain is 3. Comparing human brains with animal brains.researchers in this area. . The God helmet Hallucinogenic drugs may also induce some of these signs. A large proportion of animal brains is given over to control of motor functions. He is also famous for the “God helmet”: fluctuating weak magnetic waves are directed to the temporal lobes and patients may again sense a “presence”. Whereas elephants and whales have larger brains than humans.
not simply communication. Malcolm Jeeves suggests that mental activity is embodied in brain activity rather than being identical with it. not brains. and the ability to manipulate internal symbols sets humans apart from others. In contrast Newberg found that.Thus language. frontal lobe activity decreased indicating a loss of intentional control of behaviour – the opposite response to meditation. It is interesting to hear what Newberg has to say about religion: “However. The former reacts to increased attention and concentration while the latter gives us our sense of orientation in space and time. what we can say is that the brain has two primary functions that can be considered from either a biological or evolutionary perspective. Religious influences on brain behaviour Andrew Newberg has used brain imaging techniques such as PET (positron emission tomography) to study the behaviour of the brains of Buddhist monks while they were meditating. The brain performs both of these functions . The mind-brain relationship The “mind brain problem” belongs in the realm of philosophy and will be discussed later when we examine dualism. are about three times bigger than in comparable primates. It is people. monism etc. These two functions are self-maintenance and self-transcendence. in a study of glossalalia (speaking in tongues). which are responsible for associating information that comes from other parts of the brain. The cerebellum and neocortex. that make choices. He found increased bilateral frontal lobe activity and decreased right parietal lobe activity.
So. will be involved.” Ramachandran has suggested there is a “God module” area in the brain dedicated to religious experiences like those sometimes found in TLE subjects. Similar differences are reported by people who have had “near death experiences”. It turns out that religion also performs these two same functions. It is basic in our relationships with other people and fundamental in our relationship with God. not just one. Because thought originates in the brain. . Now listen to the video discussion of some of these matters.throughout our lives. religion and God will be here for a very long time. religion is a wonderful tool because religion helps the brain perform its primary functions. But again other workers find that whether a subject has religious experiences depends on the subjects’ “over-beliefs” which are culturally inherited. Religious people may see Jesus while others might see hellish pictures or nothing at all. it should be no surprise that religious ideas and feelings give rise to corresponding brain activity. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). an interesting study looked at brain processes that occurred when a subject was evaluating the trustworthiness of another person by looking at their face. Unless the human brain undergoes some fundamental change in its function. But the idea of trustworthiness is very important in religion. Notice how that early question “Did man invent God?” comes up again. from the brain's perspective. It is more likely that many areas of the brain.
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