The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain

The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain

A Neurologist's Search for the God Experience

Book - 2011
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The world's leading neurologist on out-of-body and near-death experiences shows that spirituality is as much a part of our basic biological makeup as our sex drive or survival instinct.

If Buddha had been in an MRI machine and not under the Bodhi tree when he attained enlightenment, what would we have seen on the monitor?

Dr. Kevin Nelson offers an answer to that question that is beyond what any scientist has previously encountered on the borderlands of consciousness. In his cutting-edge research, Nelson has discovered that spiritual experiences take place in one of the most primitive areas of the brain. In this eloquent, inspired, and reverent book, he relates the moving stories of patients and research subjects, brain scan analysis, evolutionary biology, and beautiful examples of transcendence from literature to reveal the machinery in our heads that enables us to perceive miracles-whether you are an atheist, Buddhist, or the most devout Catholic. The patients and people Nelson discuss have had an extremely diverse set of spiritual experiences, from arguing with the devil sitting at the foot of their hospital bed to seeing the universe synchronize around the bouncing of the ball in a pinball machine. However, the bizarre experiences don't make the people seem like freaks; they seem strangely very much like us, in surprising ways. Ultimately Nelson makes clear that spiritual experiences are not the exception in human life, but rather an inescapable and precious part of every one of us.
Publisher: New York : Dutton, c2011
ISBN: 9780525951889
Branch Call Number: 200.19 NEL 2011 22
Characteristics: viii, 326 p. : ill


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Oct 03, 2017

I think the author probably shot himself in the foot with his title. New Agers are probably attracted, and skeptics alienated.
But in fact he attempted objectivity all the way through.
That must have been hard because, tho he never admitted it, the evidence he collected and generated all point to spirituality being mere hormonized sensation (emotion).
It turns out that most aspects of most Near Death Experiences are duplicated in REM sleep disorders and fainting. Even fear can produce NDE's! Now correlation does not prove causation, but it certainly doesn't help the case of those who take them at face value.
In his epilogue he recommends patience and open-mindedness to the potential reality of the spiritual.
The catch is that his arguments seem to suggest that he feels spirituality is a particularly beautiful sensation, that brains can generate, like hate or love. I think he misses the point: as C. G. Jung said, "The only question is whether humanity is connected to something greater.". If spirituality exists at all, it is connection, not sensation.
But this is a very common confusion, endemic in our sensation-crazed culture (if it feels good it is good). The singer Enya was once asked, "Is your music spiritual?" She replied, "no- it's romantic", showing rare restraint. Spirituality isn't 'stuff', however classy, an ultimate high. The difference between spiritual sensation and spiritual connection (assuming it exists) is that between masturbation and love-making. "The map is not the territory."
The author argues neuroscience will be able to produce it chemically and/or electrically soon. So, for instance, LSD experiences are real spirituality [it's the results, not the roots that count]. I doubt that. You can dance a tango solo, but it's mimicry at best and a pathetic travesty at worst. You can fill your stomach with water, produce a sensation of satiation, but that won't provide nutrition.
If spirituality is real mind is independent from brain, neuro-monism must be wrong. But dualism is universally scorned by science. (Mind is steam from the boiling pot of the brain, or the ghost in the machine can leave it when the machine breaks down.) Which is it?
Only physical evidence will satisfy science. The only attempt to produce such proof is operating room cards left on top of cabinets. The idea is that when (some) NDE'rs leave their body, they see the symbols on the cards, and report them later. But Dr. Nelson, the author, reacts, "It strikes me as unlikely that proof of an afterlife will be revealed through a card trick. consciousness outside the brain... remains an extraordinary of unnecessary claim in neuroscience." Maybe, but I'd find such proof pretty damned interesting.
PS: "Aping Mankind: Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity, by Raymond Tallis touches on similar themes, from a remotely similar perspective. But it's a real tome, and if you're interested at all, you'll probably have to buy it.
There's an interesting observation of the nature of emotion that seems counter to my understanding of the current orthodoxy. See page 164.

saclauser Jun 19, 2012

This book was interesting and had a lot of scientific facts. However, the author did not make any strong conclusions, and left me with a lot of questions at the end.

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