Brain scans of spiritual experiences and oneness

From Andrew Newberg

When the parietal lobe shutdown, we have that experience of becoming one with God or with the universe in a very powerful and ultimately mystical kind of way.

Video Interview Transcript

These are SPECT scans. So these are those single photon emission Computed Tomography scans. They are reflecting blood flow in the brain. And the red areas are the most active followed by the yellow, the blue, and the black, where the arrow is pointing is in the limbic system, in the emotional centers of the brain which are very involved whenever we are having some intense emotional experience.
This is the scan of somebody when they are at rest and then we ask them to engage in a spiritual practice where they have this very intense spiritual experience and if you focus right where that arrow is what we see is that the limbic system the emotional centers of the brain turn on as part of the intense emotional aspect of that experience.
So another area that we think is very involved in these experiences is a structure called the thalamus it's a very central structure. Some people have argued that the thalamus is the seat of our consciousness. It connects to a lot of different parts of the brain, it brings up our sensory information into the brain. So in many ways it's related to our whole experience of reality. This is an area of our brain that we have seen change in people who engage in meditation practices over long periods of time.
So you have the scan of somebody here again at rest while they're not doing anything in particular you see kind of a balance between the two sides of the thalamus, but when they are engaged in the meditation practice we see that one side becomes much more active than the other. And in fact these also become more permanent changes and this is again a critical piece of how meditation practices work. This is goes back to the idea that our brain is in many ways kind of like a muscle that the more we exercise that muscle the stronger it becomes, the larger it becomes physically and the stronger it becomes physiologically. The brain works in much the same way. Studies have shown that people who do long term meditation actually have thicker brains in particular the frontal lobes that help them to concentrate becomes physically thicker and our brain scan studies show that these areas also become more active, more intense even when the person is at rest. But certainly when they are meditating as well.
We also spoke about the importance of the parietal lobe and helping us feel that sense of connection. So when we look at the back of the brain, when we look at a person while they are at rest for the most part we see that both areas of the parietal lobe are fairly equal in activity and comparable to the other areas of the brain. But when the person begins to get into a deep state of meditation where they feel an extremely powerful sense of oneness and connectedness with God or with some type of universal consciousness, we start to see this area of the brain shut down. It turns almost all into yellow here compared to the red that we see on the other side. So as this area starts to shut down it shuts down our sense of self we begin to lose our sense of self and see a blurring of the boundaries between ourselves and the rest of the world or ourselves and God and we have that experience of becoming one with God with the universe in a very powerful and ultimately mystical kind of way.

Director's note

After this interview with Dr Andrew Newberg, you will be familiar with term like: limbic system and thalamus 😉but more then that, you will understand a bit more what science has to say about our spiritual experiences.
A fascinate introduction to that field of study.

Explore more videos from Andrew Newberg

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