The Noah Project

Rebuilding a sustainable world.

How Mysticism Affects the Brain

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Douglas Todd writes about research being conducted by “non-traditional” neuroscientists that indicates that current scientific left-brain, right-brain theories are far too simplistic:

…researchers such as Beauregard are discovering that spiritual and artistic states are linked with all parts of the brain, including white matter, grey matter, the temporal lobe and the postulate cingulate cortex. In other words, spiritual and artistic moments light up all over the map of our brain.
In recent years, Beauregard has delved further into human experience.
He has employed magnetic resonance imaging to measure the brain waves of people who had near-death experiences.
When people who had near-death-experiences were in a contemplative state, re-connecting with their out-of-body experiences, Beauregard’s technicians found increased activity in their temporal lobes.
What does it all mean?
In his book, Brain Wars: The Scientific Battle Over the Existence of the Mind, Beauregard acknowledges brain-imaging studies cannot prove the existence of a “higher power.” That’s not his goal.
He points out, however, it would be equally incorrect to assume that proving there are neural correlations to spiritual experiences means the latter are “nothing but” brain activity.
That, Beauregard says, would be like “assuming that the painting you are contemplating is an illusion because it is associated with identifiable brain activity in the visual portion of your brain.”
There are far-reaching philosophical implications to such research. Among other things, it confirms the theories of quantum mechanics — that the universe is not ultimately “materialistic;” it’s not made up of minuscule billiard balls of matter.
In other words, we are much more than our physical, material brains.
Quantum mechanics arose at the beginning of the 20th century, after the discovery of atoms, to better explain the universe. That’s when Nobel Prize winning physicists such as Werner Heisenberg concluded atoms are not bits of matter; they’re “potentialities” or “possibilities.”
To Beauregard, the kind of research he’s doing suggests humans are much more than “meat puppets,” controlled by robot-like brains. The mind, he is clear, is more than the brain. The brain makes possible marvellous non-material experiences such as emotion, consciousness and the perception of potential.
In a talk with the Dalai Lama, Thomas Keating, a leader in centring prayer, has joked that it’s about time for spiritual people and scientists to stop “being at each other’s throats, if they were ever that close.”
Keating applauds neuroscientists such as Beauregard for finally “taking mystical and inner experience seriously.”
Why should they not? A vibrant inner live can contribute to both individual and community well-being.
There is likely much to gain from more collaborations between contemplatives, artists and those who probe the mysteries of the brain.

Author: Daniela

I was born in Croatia, at that time Yugoslavia. My family moved to the US when I was very young, but I still treasure the memories of my grandfather teaching me how to protect myself against the "evil eye," my grandmother shopping early every morning, at the open air market, to buy the freshest vegetables for the day's meals, and the traditions that were the underpinnings of our society. Someone once noted that "For all of us that want to move forward, there are a very few that want to keep the old methods of production, traditions and crafts alive." I am a fellow traveler with those who value the old traditions and folk wisdom. I believe the knowledge they possess can contribute significantly to our efforts to build a more sustainable world; one that values the individual over the corporation, conservation over growth and happiness over wealth.

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