January 2, 2010 Leave a comment
Neurosciences of Religion: Meditation, Entheogens, Mysticisim
How the Neurosciences Explain Religion or Not
We already know how humans evolved as hunter-gatherers and how our genetic, mental, and behavioral nature was conditioned by and for this kind of life, even as we now live in a very different environment of our techno-cultural creation. We considered how evolution had shaped our predispositions for religion and what functions and dysfunctions religion might have played in our species’ history. We were introduced to the idea that the human mind was modular, that there were instinctive dispositions that then developed in conjunction with social and environmental factors into various inference systems in our brains. Religion, we were told, could be understood as a potent combination of these different inference systems in our evolved brains – agency detection, ontological categories, intuitive physics, intuitive psychology, pollution-contagion templates, memory-recall patterns, and so forth, all assembled and accessed as independent mental modules.
In this entry, we are going to examine the human brain directly to see how the cognitive neurosciences try to understand and explain religious and spiritual experiences. And we note first that there has been a tremendous amount of new research and new insights into the working of the human brain in the last few decades. Powerful new tools also allow us to examine the function of healthy human brains and these tools have recently been used to study the brain functions of Buddhist monks, Catholic nuns, Pentecostals speaking in tongues, and others. Read more of this post