Selective brain damage modulates human spirituality

February 10, 2010, Cell Press

New research provides fascinating insight into brain changes that might underlie alterations in spiritual and religious attitudes. The study, published by Cell Press in the February 11 issue of the journal Neuron, explores the neural basis of spirituality by studying patients before and after surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Although it is well established that all behaviors and experiences, spiritual or otherwise, must originate in the , true empirical exploration of the neural underpinnings of spirituality has been challenging. However, recent advances in neuroscience have started to make the complex mental processes associated with religion and spirituality more accessible.

"Neuroimaging studies have linked activity within a large network in the brain that connects the frontal, parietal, and temporal cortexes with spiritual experiences, but information on the causative link between such a network and spirituality is lacking," explains lead study author, Dr. Cosimo Urgesi from the University of Udine in Italy.

Dr. Urgesi and colleagues were interested in making a direct link between and spirituality. They focused specifically on the personality trait called self-transcendence (ST), which is thought to be a measure of spiritual feeling, thinking, and behaviors in humans. ST reflects a decreased sense of self and an ability to identify one's self as an integral part of the universe as a whole.

The researchers combined analysis of ST scores obtained from brain tumor patients before and after they had surgery to remove their tumor, with advanced techniques for mapping the exact location of the after surgery. "This approach allowed us to explore the possible changes of ST induced by specific brain lesions and the causative role played by frontal, temporal, and parietal structures in supporting interindividual differences in ST," says researcher Dr. Franco Fabbro from the University of Udine.

The group found that selective damage to the left and right posterior parietal regions induced a specific increase in ST. "Our symptom-lesion mapping study is the first demonstration of a causative link between brain functioning and ST," offers Dr. Urgesi. "Damage to posterior parietal areas induced unusually fast changes of a stable personality dimension related to transcendental self-referential awareness. Thus, dysfunctional parietal neural activity may underpin altered spiritual and religious attitudes and behaviors."

These results may even lead to new strategies for treating some forms of mental illness. "If a stable personality trait like ST can undergo fast changes as a consequence of brain lesions, it would indicate that at least some personality dimensions may be modified by influencing neural activity in specific areas," suggests Dr. Salvatore M. Aglioti from Sapienza University of Rome. "Perhaps novel approaches aimed at modulating neural activity might ultimately pave the way to new treatments of personality disorders."

More information: Fabbro et al.: “The Spiritual Brain: Selective Cortical Lesions Modulate Human Self-Transcendence.” Publishing in Neuron 65, 309-319, February 11, 2010. DOI:10.1016/j.neuron.2010.01.026

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kuro
4.2 / 5 (6) Feb 10, 2010
So, a lobotomy can make you into a prophet? Nice to know.
PinkElephant
4.2 / 5 (5) Feb 10, 2010
It would be rather difficult to damage posterior parietal cortex, via lobotomy, without destroying pretty much the entire brain in the process...

On the other hand, LSD seems to have the desired effect. And it's not even permanent (for the most part =D)

"I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together."
- John the Prophet, a.k.a. The Walrus...
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (4) Feb 10, 2010
^^ err... The paper only found a correlation between brain damage in a specific cortical region, and the feelings of "oneness with the universe" -- or put another way, it seems those parts of the cortex are important to the perception of the "self" as being localized to one's own body. It doesn't speak to any other aspects of religion, though it might also have relevance for out-of-body experiences. Generally speaking, the parietal cortex is where a lot of the spatial processing occurs (where we map our environment, determine our location and orientation within it, and such related stuff.)
CarolinaScotsman
1.7 / 5 (6) Feb 11, 2010
Science does not teach religion and religion does not teach science. They are two totally separate subjects with no overlap. It is impossible to prove anything by using one to comment on the validity of the other.
ormondotvos
3.9 / 5 (7) Feb 11, 2010
To the extent to which people get funny ideas about the morality of the universe and affect my life, my REAL life, there certainly IS an overlap!

I have nothing against private brain lesions, but teaching children to ignore evidence and believe claptrap merely because the parents were taught claptrap is a BAD THING.

Someday it will be named what it is: child abuse!
NameIsNotNick
3.4 / 5 (5) Feb 11, 2010
"So. In other words religionism is the result of brain damage." No, except in extreme cases. A sense of wonder about one's place in the universe is an important part of our humanity... religion is one way addressing it. I'm not sure I would want to see a pill to cure religion... might not like the side effects ;-)
NameIsNotNick
4.1 / 5 (8) Feb 11, 2010
Science does not teach religion and religion does not teach science. They are two totally separate subjects with no overlap. It is impossible to prove anything by using one to comment on the validity of the other.
"religion does not teach science" Where have you been? When Religion makes claims about the physical world it is most certainly possible to verify them. If Religion would stick to the spiritual world we would all be better off... and so would Religion.
NameIsNotNick
4.5 / 5 (13) Feb 11, 2010
Of course, spirituality is "all in your head" and is due to brain lesions. Most people are spiritual, ergo, most people are brain damaged.

Isn't it amazing how people will call such biased "studies" science?

Isn't it amazing the conclusions biased people will read into a report?
danman5000
4.8 / 5 (5) Feb 11, 2010
I bet the title was crafted to arouse controversy (and attract the attention of marjon). I'm sure any sort of damage affects some aspect of a person. "Selective brain damage modulates human (insert emotion or bahavior)"
human brain as overevolved, unwieldy, resource-hungry, and thus more prone to defect than not.

Would you prefer to have the intelligence of a fire ant? I'm pretty happy with our current hardware :)
CarolinaScotsman
3 / 5 (4) Feb 11, 2010
Ormondotvos and NameIsNotNick

I didn't say that some religious people don't try to use religion to teach science. I said religion (not religious kooks) doesn't teach science. In other words, any argument about science that is based on religion is not valid. Any conclusions about the physical universe based on religion are without merit. And any argument about religion based on science is not valid. The two do not overlap and any attempt to make them overlap is faulty.
PinkElephant
3.6 / 5 (7) Feb 11, 2010
@CarolinaScotsman,
And any argument about religion based on science is not valid.

I beg to differ, in one vital aspect. When people put forth proclamations such as yours, they mostly refer to the existence of the "supernatural" or "divine" in the abstract. However, there's a very concrete assertion most religions make regarding tangible and testable reality: they claim that human mind/consciousness/self constitutes a "spirit" or "soul" that is immaterial, separate from body, and exists past death. THIS is definitely a scientific matter, and SCIENTIFIC evidence indicates that there is no such thing as souls, spirits, etc. We are our brains, and our brains don't live past death. There's no "afterlife". That's at least one case where science can make some VERY solid arguments about religion.
JayK
3 / 5 (4) Feb 11, 2010
@CarolinaScotsman

The only people that claim that science and religion have no overlap are those that don't think their religion should be answerable. Religious texts make serious claims that are scientifically testable. The "great flood" for instance is testable through geological evidence. Turin's Shroud being a religious artifact from approx 30AD is scientifically testable. Pi equaling 3, thats scientifically testable. The stars being painted onto the firmament, thats scientifically testable.

The problem is that those that believe that religion isn't testable don't want to hear the scientific answers.
JayK
3.4 / 5 (5) Feb 11, 2010
How is faith testable?
Faith is the Bible's main theme. Why is faith important and how would you test faith?
Why do you have faith in science?


Read the article, for one. I know it is difficult for you, and I've pointed that out in many different threads, but unless you understand the measurements of spirituality that are being discussed, you're just wasting everyone's time with repetitious questions.

There is no faith in science. Scientific discoveries are --repeatable-- by their very nature. Faith doesn't have that feature.
NameIsNotNick
3 / 5 (2) Feb 11, 2010
Ormondotvos and NameIsNotNick

I didn't say that some religious people don't try to use religion to teach science. I said religion (not religious kooks) doesn't teach science. In other words, any argument about science that is based on religion is not valid. Any conclusions about the physical universe based on religion are without merit. And any argument about religion based on science is not valid. The two do not overlap and any attempt to make them overlap is faulty.


Don't tell me... tell the Creationists ;-) We are obviously on the same side of the argument...
JayK
1 / 5 (2) Feb 11, 2010
From the actions of those practicing science today, skepticism is not high on their list.


One would have to wonder why one that is so anti-intellectual would keep coming back to web site that must be so frightening for them.

Tell me, marjon, can you tell me?
PinkElephant
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 11, 2010
@frajo,

Teilhard's noosphere and phenomenology in no way supports either "souls" or "afterlife". He was concerned only with increasingly complex arrangements of *matter*, and therefore not with anything "supernatural".

Attacking theodicy is pointless, as various religions give rather self-consistent accounts. For example, Cabbalists believe that there is no supernatural "evil": there are only angels whose job it is to test the faith and fidelity of man (without travail, there is no growth.)

Far more central to ALL religions (as opposed to just some), are the concepts of afterlife and the notion of souls. These concepts stand in STARK contradiction with existing and expanding scientific knowledge; they are in fact by now clearly failed hypotheses, and from a scientific point of view, must be summarily discarded.
JayK
2 / 5 (4) Feb 11, 2010
nice try, marjon. I would actually rate that comment as a two, but you still fail to understand my comments or the actual studies that you attempts to recall.
PinkElephant
2.5 / 5 (2) Feb 11, 2010
Self-correction:
For example, Cabbalists believe that there is no supernatural "evil": there are only angels whose job it is to test the faith and fidelity of man (without travail, there is no growth.)

Aside from misspelling (Kabbalists is the proper rendering), I think I actually meant Gnostics. I'm actually not sure what the Kabbalistic view of evil is...
PinkElephant
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 11, 2010
^^ this goes only to benefits of generic meditation and communal cohesion (i.e. positive thinking, and a "sense of belonging", respectively.)

It has absolutely nothing to say regarding any truth value in any religious framework. The same effects will be manifested by practitioners of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Santaria, Satanism, Judaism, Falun Gong, Islam, Wicca, Bahai'ism, Shintoism, or pick your favorite 'ism. And again the same effects will be manifested by socially well-connected nonreligious practitioners of meditation.
ununhexium
3.7 / 5 (7) Feb 12, 2010
The "believers" should be rejoicing, this new understanding of the brain would allow them to "fix" their son or daughter who isn't religious enough (or at all). Imagine a couple who's son or daughter who subscribes to logic and reason (as opposed to religious beliefs) being diagnosed with scientist-itis. The parents could take them to the local neurologist and have their brain fixed (damaged) in the left and right posterior parietal regions thereby repairing their son or daughter and rendering them religious and spiritual.
Parents pre-op:
Mathew: isn't the procedure expensive, complex and dangerous?
Mary: yes, but it's worth the risk for our child's salvation
Mathew and Mary together: Praise to our deity
Parents post-op:
Mathew: look our child is drooling and speaking in tongues
Mary: Praise to our deity, the procedure was a success
Mathew: oh Mary
Mary: oh Mathew
(okay, this was just for laughs) Although, I could see someone thinking it could actually be a good idea. YIKES!
ThisArisingThatArises
1 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2010
Let's see if we get this straight: the "brain" is the source of spirituality. Now, I didn't read where anyone actually "saw" a physical entity clearly defined as "spirituality" so I'm left to conclude we are speaking of.....what? A non-existent form? And if it is non-existent, then-we-can-say....it's just an illusion? But wait....what does tham make other brain-based entities, such as..........? Why don't we just cut to the chase and say what we mean? Hello.
samba
5 / 5 (1) Feb 13, 2010
Looks like two wobbly legs to this stool. Self Transcendence, as a measure of spirituality may or may not be useful. Several cultures of spirituality seem to have beliefs that support the notion, but that doesn't mean those belivers have self transcended to spiritual attainment, understanding or whatever.Second,if ST scores are obtained through questionaires, how are the criteria established? Very difficult to avoid assumtions in such a process.What is this Self? Memories emotions repetetive thoughts?
I suppose I shouldn't be but I'm amazed by how many people here seem to think there is sufficient data from which to draw conclusions. Seems quite irrational .
Parsec
5 / 5 (1) Feb 13, 2010
Much of the known functionality of the brain has been determined by correlating brain damage with corresponding damage to specific neurological functioning.

This article is somewhat vague on this issue, but since most people know this, I would assume that the brain lesions they are discussing are disabling the sense of self-awareness, and destroying any spiritual sense.

Reading into this that the study discovered that brain damage CAUSES religious feeling or spiritual sensitivity is ludicrous.
ch4o7ic
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2010
So ST is apparent in nearly all religions (besides Satanism, but I'm sure there's an equivelent there too), as is the concept of a soul and an eternal after-life (besides Satanism - oh no, I think I may have made my point prematurely). Perhaps you can make a logical conjencture based on these two factoids alone regarding the merit of believing in the Psyche existing outside/beyond time/space - do you mind (oh, I'm full of puns) if I use the Greek word for soul? Isn't logic really the root of science? Then again...things that we can describe scientifically, and perhaps even a primitive form of science itself, led to the proliferation of our attraction to logic. But I digress. It's quite logical then, if you've experienced ST or are experiencing it, to believe that who "you" are (you may see yourself as your family/dynasty or your entire species - both of which from my understanding could have an evolutionary role - or as something far beyond that - again having its own role in evolution
ch4o7ic
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2010
at a grand scale) is eternal, immortal. Because who are you really, if not your impact on the world? I don't mean that in a superficial sense...I mean the thoughts you have are electrical impulses as is every little twitch you make - that's a more acceptable understanding of your "self", isn't it? Much better than, "what you consider to be yourself," because as we've said, we're all very flawed, from our brains to our perceptions (more irony!) - so, from my (mis?)understanding, that creates a magnetic field (or do certain magnetic fields create electricity?) which will interact with other forms of matter and manner (sorry, i mean energy - not the very dense kind though. Not related to Mana, either), leaving a permanent and yet transient mark in this close-minded, open system, hence tying you/connecting you to it (what are we but a loose collection of ideas, thought and cells). If you can find any mistakes in my logic, do tell. Maybe my premise is wrong but isn't there only ONE premise?
ch4o7ic
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2010
In the sense of the Big Bang being a premise...the premise to contain all premises (encapsulating all premises into the one "original" allows me to gain the support of Big Bang Theory opponents as well as the proponents - if anyone's still reading.)

To give you a simple example. Right below the comment-entrance box there's a string of words: Brevity is the soul of wit. This states that to do things in a brief manner creates the matter of wit. Using this definition of soul, which is quite common sense to me if no-one else, allows for a peaceful blending of the concepts of the psyche, the soul, ascension [in vibrational energy (and yet I'm confused, since matter contains so much energy, it must actually be a million-fold higher in vibration than free-form energy, right? Sometimes logic can be confusing - i.e. it brings together the natures of - as in the Latin con and maybe the greek physion - before the two have been properly understood individually)], chaos theory, etc.
Le finn!...
ch4o7ic
1 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2010
Self-transcendance. I was reffering to the Soul, calling it the Psyche, and people claiming that it exists outside/beyond time/space. If the inner workings of our minds, hence our personhood, affects and is affected by - or related to - everything else through interactions of EM waves (not all simultaneously, of course) and the beginings and ends of the universes both (the alpha and the omega?) being related to an existence where there is no time or space, then our psyche (again, the greek word for soul) is also connected - however paradoxical this seems - to an existence outside/beyond time/space. If an elimination of a restricted sense of self, and an expansion of the feeling of self to include the infinite past, the infinite future, and the infinite lateral variations of time is acheived, then one could have an accurate facsimile of the apparent connection there-in. Those claims of the soul existing beyond time/space are not invalidated, by this definition. What's the real premise?
ch4o7ic
1 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2010
Anyway, the real clincher is the (as far as I know) scientific theory of the universe (time/space) being a "2-D" projection on the event horizon of THE singularity (One-ness?). I'll be the first to admit I picked most of this stuff up on science channels and such...hell, I'm the only one who can admit and attest to that. I've picked up the things that interest me...and a conviction in the existence of God or not does not. What does is the incredible overlap between ancient sciences (such as the art and science of dying and "religions" that predated and influenced it) and modern science. The word science means knowledge, or knowing, correct? As far as I can tell, if you whole-heartedly believe in something, you also believe you know it. Is that still belief? Because YOU believe you know what you think you know...but do you know that you know this (you probably do)? So, it seems to me that the whole scientific, un-biased affair is a load of bollox. Just as much as goodwill and love is BS
CDClock
1.5 / 5 (2) Feb 17, 2010
Wow! I find it very interesting that the "self-transcendence" described by this article accurately describes feelings experienced during extremely deep meditation or while under the influence of psychedelic drugs. I am excited for a time when the stigma of these drugs is reduced so that we can research their effects on the brain - as they are really quite fascinating.
CDClock
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 17, 2010

I also find it sad that people need to argue over the subject of spirituality and science. Yes, religion has and does cause a lot of problems - this doesn't mean that spirituality is useless. Spirituality and science go hand-in-hand in describing the beauty of the universe we live in. I don't see how someone can appreciate the incredible world around us without realizing the beauty of the science that describes it, and I don't see how someone can look at that beauty and not be filled with an immense sense of the fact that there is something amazing going on. Just because you're scientific doesn't mean that you have to discount the merits of spirituality, don't let ignorant religious-types ruin it for you.

But that's just my $0.02; have fun arguing with each other.
ch4o7ic
1 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2010
I hope you're not talking about me. For the most part I was just playing the Devil's advocate in regards to spirituality (psychosis?). I totally agree with otto's comment on God. If we're going to bring God into this, I think it's been our own incredible, over-evolved brain and it's various structures and capabilities (empathy and related imaginative abilities) that we couldn't (and can't) understand, that we created this entity.

If any sort of observation creates the daemons associated with quantum theory, however, then perhaps even plants, rocks and atoms have their own forms of observation, lending credence to the connection I've personally made between quantum theory, the merkabah and the seed of buddha.

Are the micro-tubular structures in every neuron of our brains capable of a sort of quantum computation?

The new-age trend of using pseudo-scientific ideas to explain traditional spiritual beliefs does bewilder, baffle and bother me quite as much as it does you, I'm sure.
ch4o7ic
3.3 / 5 (3) Feb 17, 2010
Religionists object to the realities of evolution or genetics basically because the idea that we came from animals is distasteful to them.


As it must be to you to make the distinction between coming from and still being animals (you could have just as easily said "because the idea that we are animals is distateful to them". Clearly you were highlighting religious rebellion regarding the theory of evolution, but I had to give you some $#!%, man). So even scientists can, to some degree, object to those realities. Whether that objection is in their thoughts or merely in their words.

And I see now that your little list and comments regarding trolls and stalkers (though I may be a troll and a stalker, I didn't see myself as having said anything that was to a greater degree, religious so I'd taken offense to your perception of me as a religionist (not because I see religionism as bad, but because I don't like being misunderstood)) was probably a dis to marjon [of error]. Peace!
ch4o7ic
1 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2010
No sir or madam

This is in reference to the micro-tubules, yes? Yes. Obviously it was a wild conjenctural leap. I didn't mean much by it, except that there could possibly be a correlation...

As a note to what you said about being drunk or high and posting on here...I was most deffinitely drunk when I wrote most of those comments. Unfortunately not high.

But the irony is in the fact that when creating my account, solely so I could comment on this thread, I noticed that ch4o7ic could, in 1337sp33k, not only say chaotic, but also chronic, if you look at it right.
JayK
1 / 5 (3) Feb 17, 2010
@ch4o7ic:

Marjon is one of our resident religious trolls that posts one line questions or statements that tend to be built of crude woven straw and dressed up in finery, ready to be knocked down.

Keep up your commenting, please.
ch4o7ic
1 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2010
Perception is reality.
All individuals perceive the world differently so how can 'Knowledge' be same for everyone?

Close. I think you mean what we call reality is merely our perception of it, meaning that our conception of reality is an illusion. Well, a concept. Language is far more adequate in its accuracy than I previously thought. The subtleties of it are there for thoe who choose to be sharp (anal) enough to see them. Reality is the same for everyone, though. Even if the physical universe changes according to how we perceive it, the reality is then that "the physical universe changes according to how we perceive it," and that is the same for everyone. So the Truth is that there is nothing (ONE is close enough to nothing relative to the infinite possibilities of perception) and we're all experiencing the various permutations of nothingness.

I'm just arguing for the sake of it. I don't have any [other] personal reason for arguing the points you've all made. Love you all!
ch4o7ic
1 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2010
It was wine! Hence my whining? It was box wine at that...so I suppose the subtlety implicit in it was cancelled out.
rickschettino
not rated yet Feb 27, 2010
This might be like saying a broken radio gets all radio stations - sort of. If consciousness arises in the brain, then transcendent experiences might well be a delusion. However, If the brain is a consciousness tuner then a broken brain will have a different type of conscious experience depending on how it's broken.
ch4o7ic
not rated yet Feb 28, 2010
hahahaha. hey i think i like marjon. he's got those wicked associative skills. he's like a meaning making machine

oh sry this post is not properly written
bye

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