The God Module Explains Everything? ... Yeah, Right!

I once read this article on the "God Module" or "God Spot" of the brain (located in the frontal lobe) which proposed that religious experience may simply be a function of physiology. In other words, there is a neural basis of religious experience which accounts for many if not all such experiences or most of such experiences. The scientists propose that whether or not a person believes in a religion or in God may depend on how developed is a certain part of the brain's electrical circuitry.

Granted there is a connection, but this may be a chicken-and-the-egg type of thing ... Which came first? A belief or spiritual practice or tendency that caused development of that portion of the brain, or that portion being overdeveloped because of genes and heredity ... or was it diet, environment, social teachings, etc. that caused an over-development or assisted in extra development? And if we subscribe to Bruce Lipton's ideas that genes and biology do not control our biology and destiny, which I believe (And which Mencius would certainly ascribe to) and that we can rise above them, then what does this have to say about matters?

From studying epileptic patients who suffer seizures of the brain's frontal lobe, scientists found that the patients frequently experienced mystical episodes and often become obsessed with religious spirituality. From their study of epileptics they surmised that the affected region of the brain might be responsible for many of the religious experiences people encounter. It's sort of like shocking the brain with electricity in a certain spot, and the patient seeing a bright light or recalling ancient memories from the stimulation of the spot, and therefore assuming that stimulation of the brain in certain spots produces spiritual states.

This is making too far reaching a conclusion about the role that this spot plays. Mind and material things have one ultimate same source, so of course there is a relationship. But one should not over reach in speculative conclusions as to the mind-body ultimate connection especially when you lack a degree of cultivation knowledge and attainment yourself. The underlying philosophy of the authors is materialistic rather than oriented toward mind. But as all true cultivators know, if you cannot get beyond the condition of physical sensations and phenomena on the cultivation trail, you are wrong.

Now in my opinion the authors postulate far too much for several reasons, most of which is due to an underlying hidden reliance on a materialistic explanation for consciousness. Their conclusions ignore the changes in chi channels of the body and purification of the five elements, as well as the opening of the chakras and kundalini and all sorts of other phenomena that happen in the course of spiritual work and which lead to various states of altered consciousness. These don't happen to the physical body but to the inner etheric body. Granted there are touch points to the phsyical body, but how much of the correspondence runs both ways? We must be careful in our conclusions.

This work ignores gong-fu phenomena such as the yang shen body double, levitation, and other superpowers that don't involve that area of the brain. If we are not careful with our thought, it reduces religious experience, and cultivation experience, to something entirely physical ... and the implication is that consciousness itself is just a physical process in the ultimate sense. The very idea that every aspect of your conscious experience could be reduced to neurophysiological processes is ignorant of the principle that chi and consciousness, at the highest stages of the cultivation path, are not interlinked as they are at the levels of ordinary experience and the lowest levels of the path. And via the chicken-versus-the-egg scenario, it sheds no light on whether pure spiritual or mental practice in turn develops that region as well.

On the road of spiritual cultivation, you try to cultivate a pure spiritual illumination that leaves behind the physical body and material world. The God Module hypothesis doesn't even come close to touching upon this realm, so its conclusion cannot extend past its small horizons. When you can achieve this type of spiritual illumination, can it still have another existence? If you think so, then where does the effect of the body end? yes, science can help find out. If you think not, then why do all the sages of countless different religions say attachment to the body should be discarded?

Of course the brain is involved with lower states of consciousness. Michael Persinger's transcranial magnetic stimulator,which shoots an electromagnetic field at a specific portion of the brain, can produce a spiritual experience in people when directed at the temporal lobe. Functional MRIs show that meditation and prayer activate specific parts of the brain as well. There are lots of proofs and tie-ins to this basic science. I applaud it. But don't overreach in your conclusions.

Of course there are brain regions that are involved in various religious experiences just as certain regions are involved in ordinary consciousness experiences of different types. The "religious experience," for instance, seems to be focused in the temporal lobe of the brain but "spiritual impulses" that impel us to seek connection with a higher power through direct experiences, seem to be connected to a combination of the amygdala, the parietal lobes and the right frontal cortex of the brain. Good work researchers!

As you break through the skandhas and proceed up the cultivation trail, different regions of the brain are affected. But to make an over-reaching proposal that one tiny area explains more than it does is the height of the wish to put spirituality in a materialistic box. Physiology, as much as people might wish, does not explain away the existence of other spiritual realms, the soul or inner chi body, and karma as well as reincarnation and the afterlife. When you read Feinberg's Altered Egos, you quickly learn how disorders in the brain can change the effective boundaries of the self, and how the brain structure itself plays a role in the creation of the personality. Great work. Baars' In The Theater of Consciousness gives a brief overview of psychology comibned with brain science, and I like his conclusion that any single nerve cell, or population of nerve cells in the brain, can come under voluntary control. In Newberg's and D'Aquilli's Why God Won't Go Away you see how brain science is finding connections between the religious impulse and biology of the brain. But the purpose of spiritual cultivation is to rise above all this, and these findings DO NOT throw all spiritual phenomena into the realm of imaginations caused by areas of the brain. Be careful of the conclusions and being too reductionist.

I always champion the various brain scan studies that are going on in cognitive science. I champion neuroscience. I have many, many, many of the books in these fields. But I dislike the over-reaching proposals of such authors because they have a strong tendency to try to reduce cultivation into pure materialism rather than match the two, or to recognize that spiritual cultivation is to help you become free of the biology of the body, along with its pulls and influences and inclinations. The yang shen body double, confirmed by countless religions, is an example of life separate from the body and therefore a perfect example of the need to be cautious in over reaching conclusions. You become the master when you start to cultivate meditation and the spiritual path - it is not the body nor influences thrown up by the body and its biology that remains the master.

The scientists don't know this because as my teacher would say, they have no cultivation experience themselves.When you personally cultivate you will understand the effects of cultivation. My teacher used to argue with university professors all the time telling them that if they wished to teach the classics of cultivation, they had to cultivate themselves and gain some experience. They also said nonsense, as academics do. Forty years later one or two would drop by and with the experience and wisdom of age, admit to him they found he had been right. That's what we're missing here.

It is only by breaking free of the image of being a body, though breathing practices and meditation work of detachment, that one can let go of the body and achieve higher mental states. Scientists rarely even study the people who can do this. Naturally the body plays an initial role in this progressive refinement, but at the highest levels your chi stops moving, your breathing stops, your pulse stops ... and what area of the brain is involved in that? And these are just gong-fu changes for form achievements on the Path, not the real achievements of the Tao. So I caution you when you read such books to be careful about their conclusions in reducing everything to the physical nature.



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