May 22nd, 2009

neuroplasticity and religion

The more you focus on something — whether that’s math or auto racing or football or God — the more that becomes your reality, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain. (Andrew Newberg, neuroscientist)

Apparently religious focus (such as Christian prayer or Buddhist meditation) can shape our brains in a particular way. Our brains become attuned to activities such as concentration and feelings such as compassion.

Baime is a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania and a Tibetan Buddhist who has meditated at least an hour a day for the past 40 years. During a peak meditative experience, Baime says, he feels oneness with the universe, and time slips away.

“It’s as if the present moment expands to fill all of eternity,” he explains, “that there has never been anything but this eternal now.”

When Baime meditated in Newberg’s brain scanner, his brain mirrored those feelings. As expected, his frontal lobes lit up on the screen: Meditation is sheer concentration, after all. But what fascinated Newberg was that Baime’s parietal lobes went dark.

“This is an area that normally takes our sensory information, tries to create for us a sense of ourselves and orient that self in the world,” he explains. “When people lose their sense of self, feel a sense of oneness, a blurring of the boundary between self and other, we have found decreases in activity in that area.”

Newberg found that result not only with Baime, but also with other monks he scanned. It was the same when he imaged the brains of Franciscan nuns praying and Sikhs chanting. They all felt the same oneness with the universe. When it comes to the brain, Newberg says, spiritual experience is spiritual experience.

“There is no Christian, there is no Jewish, there is no Muslim, it’s just all one,” Newberg says.

Read/listen to more at NPR.


1 Comment »

Comment by Aengus
  • Very, very neat. Bookmarked for safe-keeping until July 12th! ;)

    May 24, 2009 @ 1:16 pm
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