A Review of"Can We Be Good Without God? Behaviour, Belonging and the Need to Believe." by Dr. Robert Buckman and some other important Neuroscience findings near the end of this page
I mentioned before that the most interesting fields of science that are "booming" are astronomy, molecular biology, and neuroscience. I believe in the long run it is better to know the truth of reality than be ignorant of it.
Neuroscience has made some great strides in the last 2 decades, and a lot of it is due to research done by teams of Canadian researchers. We can be proud! (Neuroscientific research done by Montreal neurosurgeon, Dr. Wilder Penfield, M. A. Persinger of Sudbury, Ontario, L. A. Ruttan, S. Koren, K. Makarec, and others have experimentally shown that the source of religious experiences is the brain.)
Very, very briefly, some interesting results from only 1 chapter -- the book is so full of information
The following is based on data on thousands of
college aged students.
(1) When the right temporal lobe of the brain (the part in front of the right ear and level with it) is triggered it activates the limbic system. These activations can trigger:
"auras' auditory hallucinations,
deja vu, visual hallucinations,
funny smells and tastes,
a feeling of particular peace and serenity,
a sensation of deep understanding or of profound knowledge,
a feeling of being outside one's body,
a sense of a presence,
being at one with nature,
understanding in some tangible way the working of the cosmos,
near-death experiences -- even though no death threatens,
7% of people experience an "I would kill in God's name" -- scary!
and other experiences that people usually associate with the supernatural (including God).
They also found the more sensitive your temporal lobe is the more likely it is that you will have regular (and deep) religious experiences.
These experiences are very real to the person that is living through them -- as real as the feeling of pain, or pleasure in regular experiences.
(2) All these can be triggered in a number of ways -- they all point to the same results. Some of the ways are:
(a) disease or damage to the right temporal lobe -- called right temporal lobe epileptic seizures.
(b) low voltage electrical stimulation under surgery and when the patient is awake (you feel no pain in the brain).
(c) low intensity electromagnetic fields from outside the skull -- play back imitations of the electromagnetic patterns the brain itself produces when it experiences some of the above events.
(d) SPECT SCANS
(e) MRI Scans.
(3) Right temporal lobe sensitivity varies from person to person. The most sensitive are the people with the medical condition mentioned before, to people with absences episodes, to people such as poets, people in drama (people that easily get into an imaginary world), to people that have low sensitivity. There is an inborn, hard wired level of sensitivity in people.
The more sensitive you are the more likely you will have regular (deep) religious experiences.
(4) Also thoughts from the right side of the brain that cross to the left side are not recognized as our own, but coming from outside ourselves.
(5) The kinds and quality of religious experiences people have depends on the person's make-up and that person's cultural environment. A major cultural influence is parental influence -- it is a large factor in the belief system, the actual details of the religious experiences, and behaviour that the child will accept when an adult. The danger comes when a person considers his religious experience more true or real than someone else's or considers himself a better person than one that doesn't have religious experiences.
To see details of this and the research done, an excellent book (especially chapter 4 -- a long chapter) is
"Can We Be Good Without God? Behaviour, Belonging and the Need to Believe." by Dr. Robert Buckman, 2000, Penguin Books of Canada Ltd., ISBN 0-670-89222-X
An excellent book well worth buying or borrowing from the library. The above barely skims over only 1 chapter of the book.
Dr. Buckman is a cancer specialist and professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto. He has written a number of other books including "I Don't Know What to Say -- How to Help and Support Someone Who is Dying"
Buckman says this research is in it's infancy, but has made some great strides. He suggests it doesn't absolutely disprove a God or the supernatural, so people can still take comfort in these experiences. He himself, however, thinks all these are purely brain and environmentally caused -- that he doesn't believe there is a supernatural realm.
The book makes good sense of the Humanist stance.
In chapter 7 Dr. Buckman talks about ethical principles. One of them is the Golden Rule which is superceded by a better one.
Some other important
(1) Another result of Neuroscience is about dreams. Research indicates that while sleeping the brain is cross-referencing the information input from the waking times. The parts that the brain cannot fit into the brain's information organization and seem somewhat chaotic end up in dreams. Interesting!
(2) Another most interesting book "The Feeling of What Happens" by Antonio Damasio (a Neurosurgeon) (153 Dam) ISBN 0-15-100369-6. 1999 book. In this books he presents brain research on emotions, feelings, reason, consciousness, mind, and the self. Again, great strides are being made in finding the source of Consciousness, mind, and self in the brain.
(3) Brain research has shown that it takes about half a second for a person to become aware of an event, thought, emotion, etc. Many bodily activities, speech, thought processes, decision making, imaginings require less than this time for sensory input (if needed) and to react to it.
It has been found that brain activity becomes intense during this half
second, then we become aware of the bodily activity, words, thoughts, decisions,
and opinions that come from the unconscious part of our brain. In other words
these things have already been formed in the unconscious, before they suddenly
"pop" into our head and we become aware of them.
The physical changes in your body due to an emotion are happening before you realize you are emotional. Example: Anger. Your body is already changing for anger before you know you are angry.
It looks like the conscious "I" is not the origin of these things, but is only a receiver of these things after they have been produced by the unconscious part of the brain.
The question of free-will arises here. Is there such a thing as unconscious free-will? Does free-will really reside only in the unconscious and the conscious part of us is pre-determined?
I read the fiction book "The Rhinestone Button" by Gail Anderson-Dargatz.
A Canadian writer living on Vancouver Island. In real life she was brought
up United Church, her husband was brought up Evangelical Baptist. In
the early '90's her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumour that
affected his behavior. He started to get epileptic seizures which became
more severe with time (eventually every day). Accompanying these seizures he
also started to have intense religious experiences.
I first heard Gail in an interview on CBC radio. After a number of these God encounters and other religious experiences she and her husband concluded these experiences were just the product of his tumour infected brain. She said the book was very much influenced by her life experiences with her husband's brain problem.
I bought the book at Costco for $22 Can instead of the usual $37 -- I found it well worth the money.
The main character is a man that sees color when he hears something. Each voice in a choir, for example, produces a certain colored changing shape some 45 cm in front of him. He also feels certain textures when hearing sounds. He will listen to a vacuum cleaner for hours just to feel the smoothness that it produces in his hands. This phenomenon is called synaesthesia -- any senses can be involved and mixed not just sight, touch and sound, but also taste, smell.
At the end of the book Gail lists some books dealing with this topic.
Daughter, J has some of this. She sees color and certain shapes for given days in the week -- she thought everyone did, until we told her otherwise. (Another remarkable thing about J is that she has remissions of life-threatening tumours that the doctors at VGH say have to be removed -- a week later they check on the size of the tumour and find it has completely disappeared. They say this happens for about 5% of severe cancer cases -- spontaneous remission)
Gail's description of the small hamlet life reminded me a little of my early life in Greendale, except her's is more extreme.
Gail has written other books of fiction which I have requested from the library and have read.
There are a number of web sites on neuroscience as well.
Hope this was of interest.
TC O. Hooge
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