Thousand and thousands of people have experienced Near Death Experiences. Even some of Hollywood’s most A-List celebrities have admitted to these supernatural, most spiritual of experiences such as seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. Refresh your memory on these Hollywood stars’ experiences.
Very rarely, however, have scientists studied the functions of the brain during a near death experience. This article goes into the neurology of this supernatural phenomenon. How much do we actually know about the human brain??
Neural pathways to enlightenment
December 8, 2006
Researchers are exploring the science behind mystical experiences.
They’re among the most personal and mysterious sensations we might encounter – a vision of blinding light as death draws near, the ecstasy of prayer or meditation or the sensation of floating outside our own bodies.
For millenniums, people have given these experiences religious significance. But in recent years, scientists have begun exploring this spiritual realm, asking their own questions about what goes on in our brains during these extraordinary events and coming up with some fascinating answers.
In laboratories around the world, a few specialists have had their own insights into the neurology of spiritual experiences, using precise techniques to stimulate and monitor the brain’s function.
These new studies delve into questions that have long fascinated scientists, says John Watson, a neurologist at the University of Sydney.
“Neuroscientists are now doing bolder and bolder things,” Watson says. “We’ve already seen studies into the neurology of things like love, thirst and hunger, so it wasn’t a big step for them to start wondering about these religious and quasi-religious experiences.”
Some people call this new field “neurotheology”, a term coined by Aldous Huxley in his 1962 novel Island. Scientists often refer to it as the cognitive neuroscience of religious experience and spirituality.
In 1997, researchers from the University of California in San Diego announced there might be dedicated neural machinery in the brain’s temporal lobes specifically linked with religion. Vilayanur Ramachandran and his team studied the brains of people with an unusual type of epilepsy that affects the brain’s temporal lobes.
People who suffer this kind of seizure often report having intense mystical and religious experiences as part of their attacks. The researchers found that one effect of the seizures was to strengthen the involuntary response of the patient’s brain to religious words.
It wasn’t long before these regions were being referred to by newspapers as the “God spot” or “God module” – areas of the brain that become electrically excited when people think about their deity.
Most scientists, including Ramachandran, regard the idea of a single “God spot” as too simplistic. Last September, for example, a Canadian researcher, Mario Beauregard, and his student Vincent Paquette used a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brain activity of Carmelite nuns while they were reliving the experience of unio mystica, an intense sensation in which they feel the physical presence of God.