Friday, April 24, 2009

This is your brain ... on God

ReligionDispatches has a 10 question interview with the authors, Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman, of How God Changes Your Brain. Take-home message money quote:
Spiritual practices, be they secular or religious, are inherently good for your body, and especially your brain. Meditation and prayer—be it about God, or evolution, or peace, or the Big Bang—will strengthen important circuits in your brain, making you more socially aware and alert while reducing anxiety, depression, and neurological stress. And meditation can be adapted in endless ways.
Meditation and prayer, then, are value neutral. Secularists and athiests, those who practice meditation and prayer, can still reap the physiological and psychological benefits that religious adherents receive; these benefits are not exclusive to religions. When asked about possible misconceptions of their work, Newberg and Waldman discuss whether or not their research proves or disproves the existence of God:
People use our research to say that we’ve proven that God exists. Other people use the same research to say that we’ve proven that spiritual realms are solely a construction within the mind. In fact, we are saying neither. We argue that the human brain can only grasp a vague notion of what actually exists “out there,” and we document how the brain uses its perceptions to build useful models of the world, other people, morality, and God.
That's right. Finding the biological mechanisms for faith and spirituality does not implicate the existence, or lack thereof, of a divine power, showing, instead, how the body functions during spiritual moments. Finally, although the interview covers some random and off-the-wall questions, I want to conclude with this quote:
Basically we document that overall, most people, be they religious or secular have good hearts and high morals, showing altruistic compassion for the majority of people in the world. That’s good news for many, and it contradicts many recent books criticizing religion and spirituality in the world.

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