Neurotheology strikes again, this time in an article that begins,
Jan. 4–Having a spiritual experience may be all in your head — or at least part of it. A group of University of Missouri researchers recently completed a study that claims a particular area of the brain is linked to spirituality.
At the risk of over-simplifying the matter, here’s what’s wrong with studies like this one. First, correlation does not equal causation. Knowing what part of the brain is involved doesn’t mean that you know the whole story of what’s happening. Second, strong evidence some of which I’ll have to post later today (please come back in a few hours) shows that the physical brain is not the whole story.
Dr. Brick Johnstone led the study reported on here. His take on spirituality is rather, well, patronizing. Comically so, actually, if the article has represented him accurately.
Dr. Johnstone said he believes the finding is important because it means people can learn to become selfless by decreasing activity in that part of the brain.
If only we’d known that a long time ago! Instead of pre-frontal lobotomies we could have been practicing right parietal lobotomies. Then, finally, everyone would take care of each other and we would all get along at last! Of course Dr. Johnstone doesn’t recommend that–he says prayer and meditation are the way to decrease that activity. But hey, if the mind/brain is just a machine, why not go ahead and do some serious tinkering with it? Well, maybe that’s not fair to Dr. Johnstone. After all,
he cautioned against reducing spirituality to a mere brain function.
No, its not just a brain function. It’s a brain function and a feeling.
“Just because the brain is shutting down, allowing you to be more selfless, that doesn’t take away from the spiritual experience you feel,” Dr. Johnstone said in several news sources.
As the song goes, “Feelings… nothing more than feelings”-–with some selflessness thrown in, by the neat mechanism of turning off some neural circuits and switches. I wonder if he has considered that there is a spiritual core to reality, and that connecting with that spiritual core is a reality too, not just a feeling?