According to a report in the Journal of Neuroscience, the concept of religion and spirituality is profoundly ingrained in our brains. Because researchers have now identified an essential location in the brain stem — an extremely ancient part of the brain in terms of evolution — we now have an understanding of the brain stem’s significance.
If this part of the brain was injured during surgery, it can have a positive or negative effect on religious feelings depending on the damaged area. Spirituality may be fundamentally linked to brain functioning.
can religion and spirituality be explained in terms of biology?
People have been debating this issue since ancient times. Based on modern imaging techniques, it now appears that meditation and religion may also affect certain areas of the brain, such as the limbic system and reward circuitry. It has been suggested that some brain damage or epileptic seizures may induce religious experiences. Such extremes have little to do with whether the two components of “normal” spirituality and religion can be found in the brain.
Michael Ferguson of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and his colleagues conducted a before-and-after study on 88 neurosurgery patients to look for an explanation. Due to brain tumors, different parts of the brain have to be removed.
Before the surgery, all of the patients completed a survey detailing their religion and spiritual emotions and beliefs. To learn more, they measured how different parts of the brain were affected when various parts of the brain were injured.
spiritual area in brain stem
Religiosity was unaffected by most brain surgeries, however, it was affected by interventions in a specific region of the brain stem. As Ferguson and his colleagues found, when the so-called periaqueductal grey (PAG) was damaged, the patients’ spiritual experience altered dramatically in certain instances.
Pain inhibition, fear and flight responses, as well as pleasant emotions, are all controlled by a collection of nerve cells called the periaqueductal grey. In the mesencephalon, the periaqueductal grey is found inside the innermost region. Thus, it is located in the top portion of the brain stem.
The evolutionarily ancient region of the brain, which can now be viewed, seems to be intricately tied to the formation of religious thoughts and emotions. Both inhibitory and promoting regions seem to be present in the study’s findings as testing showed individuals who had injury to their PAG nerve cell nodes had a substantial reduction in religiosity, while removing other sub-areas led to an increase in religious and spiritual emotions.
“To my great surprise, the spiritual circuit is situated in one of the brain’s earliest structures”, according to Ferguson. Even nonmammalian vertebrates such as reptiles and fish already have comparable structures in their brain stem. In this study, they observed that spirituality and religion seem to be based on basic brain processes.
Through the use of a supplemental study, which inquired about the religion of 105 US Vietnam War veterans, the “Spirituality Center” was located. Also, a shift in the intensity of spiritual experiences and thoughts was observed by veterans with damage to their periaqueductal grey area. A few earlier case studies from the literature state that individuals who injured this brain stem region afterward developed hyper-religiosity.
It’s also worth noting that Parkinson’s disease, hallucinations, and the alien limb syndrome are all linked to the same brain region. Zones that encourage religiosity while they’re intact, coincide with regions that are frequently affected by Parkinson’s disease, as shown by the lesion mapping.
Patients with hallucinations and poor bodily awareness frequently have damage to the regions of the brain that may lead to uncontrolled hyper-religiosity in the case of an accident.
“We may understand this phenomenon better because of these overlaps,” adds Ferguson. “When we stress, however, that our findings do not indicate that all religious people in history have had a brain injury, or that Parkinson’s and religion are connected, we must bear in mind that the conclusions we have drawn here are not representative of all historical personalities.
We found that, as opposed to this previous assumption, human spirituality has deep origins and is intricately connected to fundamental needs.”
Originally published on https://medium.com/ 11 August 2021