Specttrum News: Neuroscientist Dr Andrew Newberg says in his latest book "The Metaphysical Mind: Probing the Biology of Philosophical Thought", "We all speculate about the meaning of all kinds of things, from everyday concerns about dealing with a co-worker to our ultimate beliefs about the purpose of existence. Accompanying solutions we find to these problems, there’s a range of satisfied feelings, from “ah-ha” or light-bulb moments upon solving an everyday problem to ecstatic feelings during mystical experiences."


Newberg is a pioneer in the field of neurotheology, the neurological study of religious and spiritual experiences. In the 1990s, he began his work in the field by scanning what happens in people’s brains when they meditate, because it is a spiritual practice that is relatively easy to monitor. Since then, he’s looked at around 150 brain scans, including those of Buddhists, nuns, atheists, Pentecostals speaking in tongues, and Brazilian mediums practicing psychography - the channeling of messages from the dead through handwriting, reports The Atlantic.


As to what’s going on in their brains, Newberg says, “It depends to some degree on what the practice is.” Practices that involve concentrating on something over and over again, either through prayer or a mantra-based meditation, tend to activate the frontal lobes, the areas chiefly responsible for directing attention, modulating behavior, and expressing language."

 


Believers could say this proves that another entity is speaking through the practitioner, while nonbelievers would look for a neurological explanation. Newberg takes into account both perspectives. When he defines neurotheology in his book, Principles of Neurotheology, he writes, “An ardent atheist, who refuses to accept any aspect of religion as possibly correct or useful, or a devout religious person, who refuses to accept science as providing any value regarding knowledge of the world, would most likely not be considered a neurotheologian.”


Newberg believes everyone can benefit from some type of meditation practice. If one practice isn’t working for an individual, she should try something else. As a general rule, these practices lower depression, anxiety, and stress.


He adds that at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, where he is director of research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine, researchers have found that meditation can improve memory and concentration.


It’s debatable whether these practices are more effective when founded on religious or spiritual beliefs. Dr Dean Hamer, author of the book "The God Gene: How Faith is Hardwired into our Genes" discovered that research subjects with a particular variation of a certain gene were more susceptible to self-transcendent, spiritual experiences.

 

Newberg said it’s “the only description that I’ve ever seen where somebody will say ‘I got beyond my brain, I got beyond my ego self, I got beyond the subjective and objective nature of the world;’ and then they see the universe, and they experience the universe in a very, very different kind of way.”


He added, “I think these experiences need to be taken very seriously. I think they tell us something about the nature of reality and how we perceive that reality.”