Questionable Motives

February 12, 2010

Is spirituality wholly an expression of biology?

Filed under: Biology,Neurology,Science,Spirituality,Transcendence — tildeb @ 1:42 pm

One of the strongest proofs for the existence of realms of reality ‘beyond’ our own is the transcendental experience. People have long relied on this personal revelation of becoming aware of an expanded consciousness to be evidence for god. But what if it is strictly a biological event, a neurological process in our bicameral brain that reduces our sense of body boundary? Consider this evidence from  Dr. Cosimo Urgesi from the University of Udine in Italy, posted on Physorg under the title Selective Brain Damage Modulates Human Sprituality:

“Neuroimaging studies have linked activity within a large network in the brain that connects the frontal, parietal, and temporal cortexes with spiritual experiences, but information on the causative link between such a network and spirituality is lacking,” explains lead study author, Dr. Cosimo Urgesi from the University of Udine in Italy.

Dr. Urgesi and colleagues were interested in making a direct link between and spirituality. They focused specifically on the personality trait called self-transcendence (ST), which is thought to be a measure of spiritual feeling, thinking, and behaviors in humans. ST reflects a decreased sense of self and an ability to identify one’s self as an integral part of the universe as a whole.

The researchers combined analysis of ST scores obtained from brain tumor patients before and after they had surgery to remove their tumor, with advanced techniques for mapping the exact location of the after surgery. “This approach allowed us to explore the possible changes of ST induced by specific brain lesions and the causative role played by frontal, temporal, and parietal structures in supporting interindividual differences in ST,” says researcher Dr. Franco Fabbro from the University of Udine.

The group found that selective damage to the left and right posterior parietal regions induced a specific increase in ST. “Our symptom-lesion mapping study is the first demonstration of a causative link between brain functioning and ST,” offers Dr. Urgesi. “Damage to posterior parietal areas induced unusually fast changes of a stable personality dimension related to transcendental self-referential awareness. Thus, dysfunctional parietal neural activity may underpin altered spiritual and religious attitudes and behaviors.”

This experience of a loss of body boundary and a feeling of transcendentalism is also well documented by neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor who describes the effects of the stroke she suffered in her book My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey.

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