The Prayer of the Soul, Meditation and the Pineal Gland
In the Eíriú-Eolas - Breathing Program thread
, Laura posted an interesting article.
After reading that article and some posts referencing the pineal gland and head pain/pressure related to the breathing meditation, I wanted to do some research to see if there was a scientific connection between the pineal gland and head pain/pressure during meditation. I haven't found anything specifically dealing with pain and pressure in the forehead, but I found some other interesting information relating to prayer, meditation and the pineal and wanted to post it here.
There is also a related post
regarding Andrew Newberg which looks at serotonin levels and spiritual experience, as well as a SOTT article
about selflessness and the neuropsychological connection.
Additionally, there is a thread on melatonin and the pineal gland where SAO ends a post with some good questions related to connections:
Ok, so if you don't sleep much, you lack serotonin (at least for people who normally sleep more, but in your case Simmi, maybe 2-3 hours is all your body needs?). So how do all these things connect: Pineal gland, serotonin, melatonin, "openings", channeling, sleep deprivation, psychic abiltities, and the noise in your head? I'm really tired and dense right now, but based on all of the above it seems like a matter of just connecting the dots and understanding the interrelationships. There may be other pieces of the puzzle needed, I'm not sure. But it may help resolve/explain some of what is going on with you.
Maybe some of the information in this thread can address some of these issues as well.
First, Andrew Newberg seems to be on the leading edge of the scientific research to date, with two books publishing his research results:
Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief (Hardcover)
How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist (Hardcover)
• Areas of the brain activated during meditation
Tracing the Synapses of Spirituality
June 17, 2001 - Washington Post
In Philadelphia, a researcher discovers areas of the brain that are activated during meditation. At two other universities in San Diego and North Carolina, doctors study how epilepsy and certain hallucinogenic drugs can produce religious epiphanies. And in Canada, a neuroscientist fits people with magnetized helmets that produce "spiritual" experiences for the secular.
The work is part of a broad new effort by scientists around the world to better understand religious experiences, measure them, and even reproduce them. Using powerful brain imaging technology, researchers are exploring what mystics call nirvana, and what Christians describe as a state of grace. Scientists are asking whether spirituality can be explained in terms of neural networks, neurotransmitters and brain chemistry.
What creates that transcendental feeling of being one with the universe? It could be the decreased activity in the brain’s parietal lobe, which helps regulate the sense of self and physical orientation, research suggests. How does religion prompt divine feelings of love and compassion?
Possibly because of changes in the frontal lobe, caused by heightened concentration during meditation. Why do many people have a profound sense that religion has changed their lives? Perhaps because spiritual practices activate the temporal lobe, which weights experiences with personal significance.
• "The brain is set up in such a way as to have spiritual experiences and religious experiences," said Andrew Newberg, a Philadelphia scientist who authored the book "Why God Won’t Go Away."
• "Unless there is a fundamental change in the brain, religion and spirituality will be here for a very long time. The brain is predisposed to having those experiences and that is why so many people believe in God."
The research may represent the bravest frontier of brain research. But depending on your religious beliefs, it may also be the last straw. For while Newberg and other scientists say they are trying to bridge the gap between science and religion, many believers are offended by the notion that God is a creation of the human brain, rather than the other way around.
• "It reinforces atheistic assumptions and makes religion appear useless," said Nancey Murphy, a professor of Christian philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.
• "If you can explain religious experience purely as a brain phenomenon, you don’t need the assumption of the existence of God."
Some scientists readily say the research proves there is no such thing as God. But many others argue that they are religious themselves, and that they are simply trying to understand how our minds produce a sense of spirituality.
Newberg, who was catapulted to center stage of the neuroscience-religion debate by his book and some recent experiments he conducted at the University of Pennsylvania with co-researcher Eugene D’Aquili, says he has a sense of his own spirituality, though he declined to say whether he believed in God because any answer would prompt people to question his agenda. "I’m really not trying to use science to prove that God exists or disprove God exists," he said.
Newberg’s experiment consisted of taking brain scans of Tibetan Buddhist meditators as they sat immersed in contemplation. After giving them time to sink into a deep meditative trance, he injected them with a radioactive dye. Patterns of the dye’s residues in the brain were later converted into images.
Newberg found that certain areas of the brain were altered during deep meditation. Predictably, these included areas in the front of the brain that are involved in concentration. But Newberg also found decreased activity in the parietal lobe, one of the parts of the brain that helps orient a person in three-dimensional space.
• "When people have spiritual experiences they feel they become one with the universe and lose their sense of self," he said.
• "We think that may be because of what is happening in that area ‚ if you block that area you lose that boundary between the self and the rest of the world. In doing so you ultimately wind up in a universal state."
Across the country, at the University of California in San Diego, other neuroscientists are studying why religious experiences seem to accompany epileptic seizures in some patients. At Duke University, psychiatrist Roy Mathew is studying hallucinogenic drugs that can produce mystical experiences and have long been used in certain religious traditions.
Could the flash of wisdom that came over Siddhartha Gautama ‚ the Buddha ‚ have been nothing more than his parietal lobe quieting down? Could the voices that Moses and Mohammed heard on remote mountain tops have been just a bunch of firing neurons‚ an illusion? Could Jesus’s conversations with God have been a mental delusion?
Newberg won’t go so far, but other proponents of the new brain science do. Michael Persinger, a professor of neuroscience at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, has been conducting experiments that fit a set of magnets to a helmet-like device. Persinger runs what amounts to a weak electromagnetic signal around the skulls of volunteers.
Four in five people, he said, report a "mystical experience, the feeling that there is a sentient being or entity standing behind or near" them. Some weep, some feel God has touched them, others become frightened and talk of demons and evil spirits.
• "That’s in the laboratory," said Persinger. "They know they are in the laboratory. Can you imagine what would happen if that happened late at night in a pew or mosque or synagogue?"
His research, said Persinger, showed that "religion is a property of the brain, only the brain and has little to do with what’s out there."
Those who believe the new science disproves the existence of God say they are holding up a mirror to society about the destructive power of religion. They say that religious wars, fanaticism and intolerance spring from dogmatic beliefs that particular gods and faiths are unique, rather than facets of universal brain chemistry.
• "It’s irrational and dangerous when you see how religiosity affects us," said Matthew Alper, author of "The God Part of the Brain," a book about the neuroscience of belief.
• "During times of prosperity, we are contented. During times of depression, we go to war. When there isn’t enough food to go around, we break into our spiritual tribes and use our gods as justification to kill one another."
While Persinger and Alper count themselves as atheists, many scientists studying the neurology of belief consider themselves deeply spiritual.
James Austin, a neurologist, began practicing Zen meditation during a visit to Japan. After years of practice, he found himself having to re-evaluate what his professional background had taught him.
• "It was decided for me by the experiences I had while meditating," said Austin, author of the book "Zen and the Brain" and now a philosophy scholar at the University of Idaho.
• "Some of them were quickenings, one was a major internal absorption ‚ an intense hyper-awareness, empty endless space that was blacker than black and soundless and vacant of any sense of my physical bodily self. I felt deep bliss. I realized that nothing in my training or experience had prepared me to help me understand what was going on in my brain. It was a wake-up call for a neurologist."
Austin’s spirituality doesn’t involve a belief in God ‚ it is more in line with practices associated with some streams of Hinduism and Buddhism. Both emphasize the importance of meditation and its power to make an individual loving and compassionate‚ most Buddhists are disinterested in whether God exists.
But theologians say such practices don’t describe most people’s religiousness in either eastern or western traditions.
• "When these people talk of religious experience, they are talking of a meditative experience," said John Haught, a professor of theology at Georgetown University.
• "But religion is more than that. It involves commitments and suffering and struggle ‚ it’s not all meditative bliss. It also involves moments when you feel abandoned by God."
• "Religion is visiting widows and orphans," he said. "It is symbolism and myth and story and much richer things. They have isolated one small aspect of religious experience and they are identifying that with the whole of religion."
Belief and faith, argue believers, are larger than the sum of their brain parts:
• "The brain is the hardware through which religion is experienced," said Daniel Batson, a University of Kansas psychologist who studies the effect of religion on people.
• "To say the brain produces religion is like saying a piano produces music."
At the Fuller Theological Seminary’s school of psychology, Warren Brown, a cognitive neuropsychologist, said,
• "Sitting where I’m sitting and dealing with experts in theology and Christian religious practice, I just look at what these people know about religiousness and think they are not very sophisticated. They are sophisticated neuroscientists, but they are not scholars in the area of what is involved in various forms of religiousness."
At the heart of the critique of the new brain research is what one theologian at St. Louis University called the "nothing-butism" of some scientists ‚ the notion that all phenomena could be understood by reducing them to basic units that could be measured.
And finally, say believers, if God existed and created the universe, wouldn’t it make sense that he would install machinery in our brains that would make it possible to have mystical experiences?
• "Neuroscientists are taking the viewpoints of physicists of the last century that everything is matter," said Mathew, the Duke psychiatrist.
• "I am open to the possibility that there is more to this than what meets the eye. I don’t believe in the omnipotence of science or that we have a foolproof explanation." [/quote]
Over the centuries, theories have abounded as to why human beings have a seemingly irrational attraction to God and religious experiences. In Why God Won't Go Away authors Andrew Newberg, M.D., Eugene D'Aquili, M.D., and Vince Rause offer a startlingly simple, yet scientifically plausible opinion: humans seek God because our brains are biologically programmed to do so.
Researchers Newberg and D'Aquili used high-tech imaging devices to peer into the brains of meditating Buddhists and Franciscan nuns. As the data and brain photographs flowed in, the researchers began to find solid evidence that the mystical experiences of the subjects "were not the result of some fabrication, or simple wishful thinking, but were associated instead with a series of observable neurological events," explains Newberg. "In other words, mystical experience is biologically, observably, and scientifically real.... Gradually, we shaped a hypothesis that suggests that spiritual experience, at its very root, is intimately interwoven with human biology." Lay readers should be warned that although the topic is fascinating, the writing is geared toward scientific documentation that defends the authors' hypothesis. For a more palatable discussion, seek out Deepak Chopra's How to Know God, in which he also explores this fascinating evidence of spiritual hard-wiring. --Gail Hudson
From Publishers Weekly
The collaborative efforts of science writer Rause, radiologist Newberg and psychiatrist d'Aquili (Newberg's late colleague at the University of Pennsylvania) result in a murky and overspiritualized remix of what should be a compelling scientific investigation into the neurology of mystical experience. The book's best material is its summary of Newberg and d'Aquili's research using advanced imaging technologies to study brain activity during "peak" meditative states
, which not only suggests a characteristic radiological profile but also uncovers some specific correlations between brain function and subjective religious experience.
For example, in subjects who reported a feeling of infinite perspective and self-transcendence during meditation, the researchers identified decreased activity in the brain's "object association areas" where perceptions of the boundary between self and other are normally processed. The authors conclude that these experiences are the result of normal, healthy neurophysiology, not to be dismissed as pathological or random events a point that believers and practitioners will doubtless appreciate. But the broader questions these results suggest questions about the origins and significance of human religious behavior lead the researchers quite out of their depth into a speculative rehash of Joseph Campbell, comparative religion and sociobiology. This culminates in a confused and confusing discussion of what it means to accept that religious experience is "neurologically real" or that spirituality "does us good."
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Publishers Weekly
Over the past decade or so, numerous studies have suggested that prayer and meditation can enhance physical health and healing from illness. In this stimulating and provocative book, two academics at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Spirituality and the Mind contend that contemplating God actually reduces stress, which in turn prevents the deterioration of the brain's dendrites and increases neuroplasticity. The authors conclude that meditation and other spiritual practices permanently strengthen neural functioning in specific parts of the brain that aid in lowering anxiety and depression, enhancing social awareness and empathy, and improving cognitive functioning. The book's middle section draws on the authors' research on how people experience God and where in the brain that experience might be located. Finally, the authors offer exercises for enhancing physical, mental and spiritual health. Their suggestions are commonsensical and common to other kinds of health regimens: smile, stay intellectually active, consciously relax, yawn, meditate, exercise aerobically, dialogue with others and trust in your beliefs. Although the book's title is a bit misleading, since it is not God but spiritual practice that changes the brain, this forceful study could stir controversy among scientists and philosophers. Illus. (Mar. 24)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From The Washington Post
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by Wray Herbert Gus was not a "meditation type of guy." He was more of a Joe Sixpack, a Philadelphia mechanic not much interested in religion. He hauled himself into Andrew Newberg's clinic for one reason: His memory was failing. Newberg, a neuroscientist and memory expert, has a special interest in spirituality; he has scanned the brains of worshipers ranging from Franciscan nuns to Pentecostals speaking in tongues. So why was he bothering with Gus?
Well, Newberg explains in "How God Changes Your Brain," his studies (with coauthor Mark Robert Waldman) had convinced him of a link between spirituality and cognitive health: The neurochemical changes that he observed during meditation and prayer appeared to improve brain function. But Newberg had studied mostly devotees with years of spiritual training; he wanted to see whether a novice might benefit, too. So Gus learned the basics of Kirtan Kriya meditation. Rooted in 16th-century India, Kirtan Kriya involves conscious regulation of breathing as well as repetitive movements and sounds. Gus picked it up right away, practicing 12 minutes a day for eight weeks. That's a blip compared to what many students of meditation do. Even so, Newberg writes, Gus had greater clarity of mind, empathy and emotional equilibrium. What's more, his working memory improved as much as 50 percent on some tests.
Gus's case may be inspiring to readers worried about the mental decline that comes with aging. But those looking for the loftier answers promised in the book's title may come away unsatisfied, and a bit confused. At times Newberg seems to be writing about a broad notion of spirituality, while at other times he focuses on rituals -- the mantras and mudras and prayer beads -- without any spiritual content or commitment. He doesn't want to leave anyone (even atheists) outside the tent, so his definition of God is whatever any individual's neurons are conjuring up at the moment -- or the next moment or the next, because God is "constantly changing and evolving."
Inclusiveness is all well and good, but loose theology doesn't necessarily make for rigorous testing. The second half of "How God Changes Your Brain" is a how-to book. There are lists upon lists here, and even lists within lists: eight best ways to maintain a healthy brain, including five essential reasons for yawning; nine steps for dealing with anger; six strategies for improving communication and six more for creative problem-solving. You get the idea. Aging baby boomers are hungering for good science writing on both brain health and spirituality. Happily, there are excellent books on this important topic, notably Sharon Begley's "Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain" and Daniel Goleman's "Social Intelligence." Start with them. Unhappily, this bloviating volume will leave most readers still seeking.
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.