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© Wim van den Dungen
Antwerp, 2003 - 2014.


Imagining the Brain


1 The "God-spot" and the cortico-limbic circuit.
2 Ritual, recitation, prayer, mantra, meditation and the brain.
3 Spill-over & deafferentation in altered states of consciousness.
4 The "God-spot" and the amygdala-hippocampal complex.
5 The peace of a balanced "God-circuit".
6 Neurofeedback and a meditative protocol.
7 Imaginal monitoring & regulation of the amygdala.
8 Pedagogy and spiritual exercises in a secular society.


1 The "God-spot" and the cortico-limbic circuit.


Hunger, violence and impersonal sex are computed by the reptilian brain and controlled by its hypothalamus. Resources like food, water and land are also typically reptilian.

Only in the mammalian brain are these primal safety-needs emotionalized to the point of becoming belongingness-needs. Indeed, the limbic system excells in nurturing relatedness and fosters the geosentimental "clan" or "tribe" mentality. Emotionality adds flexibility, play and an array of emotional states, ranging from destructive rage to joyful happiness & bliss.

The hypothalamus is integrated in the limbic, emotional approach, and so the best of the reptilian brain (routine, watchfulness and basal arousal rhythm) serves the "higher" control of amygdala, hippocampus & angular gyrus. The hypothalamus, or "old" controller of the reptilian brain, also gained power over the expression of emotion (precisely absent in reptiles).

Neanderthal skulls and skeletons betray the fact they were violent and murderous people. If food was absent or danger lurked, this archaic Homo sapiens displayed all the calculated violence of the reptile combined with the furious rage of the mammal. Although they made exceptions of "friends", "mates" and "family", they saw one another often as a potential meal and manifested nearly no regard for strangers.

Although the Neanderthal's frontal lobes were not very developed, the temporal lobes evolved at a faster and earlier rate than the frontal (Gloor, 1997). From the Middle Paleolithic (ca. 150.000 - 35.000 BCE) onward, elementary mortuary rites have been practiced. Neanderthals and other Homo sapiens engaged in basic religious rituals. The former were buried in sleeping positions, at times with limestone blocks placed beneath the head (as a pillow), surrounded by goat horns placed in a circle (a skull surrounded by a ring of stones) and together with tools and food. They would also at times cut off hands and heads.

For Joseph (2002), the Neanderthals had a "Middle Paleolithic spirituality", demonstrating an awareness of death and a set of superstitious actions to channel their spirituality. Although these hominids had no symbolic representation of radical otherness (the Divine), they possessed a direct, nonverbal experience of the "holy", the "numen præsens" (cf. Otto's "mysterium fascinans et tremedum"), approached via visual "hallucinations", "dreams" and violent sacrifice (cf. the limbic blood-thirst). These experiences were executed by the temporal lobe, in particular the amygdala-hippocampal complex. Exactly the area responsible for violence and murder also mediates the fundamental experience of a spiritual presence, felt in emotional terms and giving rise to nonverbal, mythical beliefs. This ability of the brain to comfort its user in the face of physical death, rose next to the functions causing the Neantherthals to fear and care.

For Alper (2001), the last two million years or so, there emerged cognitive adaptations enabling our ancestors to cope with the awareness of "eternal" death. By neurophysiologically "generating" cognitive phantoms, the hominids were better equipped to survive their inherent fear of death. This line of argumentations has flaws. Firstly, before the Neanderthals, hominids display no real spiritual interests, "perfecting" the reptilian and mammalian responses. These creatures had no cortex which was complex enough to execute a conscious awareness of death, certainly not the fact this event would be "permanent" and "eternal" (a deduction executed by the frontal lobes). Secondly, the earliest myths (which are "late" representations of Middle Paleolithic spirituality) evidence a cyclical perspective on existence. Death was not "eternal", but (as winter) a passage to the new, resurrected life (of spring). Fear of death was not compensated by the emergence of a "God-spot" in the limbic system, but by an emotional grasp of the consequences of the continuous, ongoing process of life, causing birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth. The great goddess (who synthesized these natural processes) was introduced as soon as symbolism could be processed by the emerging frontal lobes (cf. Cro-Magnon). 

So, if the "God-spot" is an evolutionary answer to man's innate fear of "eternal death", then it should have emerged in the "abstract" frontal lobes, and not in the "old" mammalian brain. The introduction of "God" in the limbic brain was not a cognitive event but an affective one. It did not happen to compensate for a "difficult" thought (our death), but to complexify emotions to the point of cognitive structure. The fantastic nature of the limbic "God-spot" offered solutions, but also created new conflicts ("our reality" versus "my vision", "this world" versus the "other side", "matter" versus "spirit", "real" versus "ideal") which archaic man could only solve by developing finer and complexer neuronal structures : the prefrontal cortex. Instead of helping archaic man coping with death, the new "God-spot" placed additional pressures him, forcing him to start to think ! This always involves the essential tension between presence and absence ...

The amygdala were "spiritualized" as a result of evolutionary pressures. They allowed an additional control to emerge in this "old" emotional master controller. With the possibility of the direct, nonverbal, non-symbolical, iconical emotion of the holy and its co-relative visions (hallucinations), the "God-spot" allowed the early hominids to try to understand the "mystery" and "magic" of existence. Thanks to this, they were able to process feelings of awe, wonder & perplexity. These stimulated the emergence of symbolical superstructures of this direct, nonverbal, limbically processed experience of the Divine, as evidenced in the spirituality of the Cro-Magnon and the Neolithic peoples and their complex prefrontal cortex. 

Shamanism

Some features of the spirituality of the Homo Sapiens sapiens (like the Cro-Magnon), may be derived from the phenomenon of Shamanism, a hunter-religion probably initiated in the Upper Paleolithic and still active, in various parts of the world, down to the present age. In Shamanism, the shaman contacts the "spirit world", while consciously controlling his or her trance.

Conjecture the emergence of the "God-spot" in the amygdala of the Neanderthal brain allowed for the formation of a spirito-emotional language. This language was more than signal display (reptilian brain). Although still mammalian, it exhausted the latter's evolutionary possibilities by introducing cries and vocalizations as emotional icons of rage, anger, sadness, happiness & pleasure. Instead of signals, it manipulated icons representing emotional states.

The "new" shamanistic spirituality of the Homo Sapiens sapiens transformed the building blocks of this spirito-emotional language (calibrating the amygdala for spiritual experiences) into
a method of ritualized & verbal communication with the invisible limbic realm of Divine presence.

In Shamanism, the bi-polar loop or circuit typical for the developed spiritual function is already present :

  • the shaman (neocortex) in trance (amygdala) enters the spirit world (limbic system) at will (prefrontal cortex) ;

  • he gets possessed (apex of limbic spirituality) ;

  • he sees (vision), speaks (voice) and acts (rite) as the spirits (or gods, goddesses, pantheon, shekinah -Presence-, Holy Spirit, communion of saints, church as mystical body of Christ, the word of God, etc.) ;

  • he manages a feedback of emotional language of icons to the angular gyrus and establishes an ongoing circuit between an open frontal symbolization and a blissful direct experience of Divine Presence.

The shaman realized a voluntary control (neocortex) over his trance and so could "enter" the spirit-world (the diffuse spiritual presences around the limbic "God-spot") at will. In touch with this emotional pole of human spirituality, processing extraordinary feelings and experiences, the shaman got "possessed" with these "spirits" which spoke through him. The shaman also realized a feedback between these emotional, volatile but persistent "spirits" and language (neocortex).

In shamanism, the fundamental structure of all human spiritual experience, insofar as its executant structures are wired, is a cortico-limbic circuit :

  • from neocortex to limbic system : from waking consciousness to direct, emotional spiritual experience ;

  • from limbic system to neocortex : from ritual & limbic language to a higher order expression of waking.

From the Cro-Magnon onward, the "old" limbic spirituality got constructively integrated into the senior steering activities of the prefrontal cortex, with its conceptual and visuospatial bi-modality.

HOMO
ERECTUS
ca.1.600.000 -
10.000 BCE

HOMO SAPIENS
NEANDERTHALENSIS
ca.500.000 - 29.000 BCE

HOMO SAPIENS
SAPIENS
ca.35.000 - 10.000 BCE
brain doubles
in size
no trace of
rituals
developed
inferior temporal lobe
mortuary rituals
death as cycle
extra developed frontal lobe
complex rituals
death as object

The cerebral gap between Australopithecus and Homo erectus is slightly greater than between Homo erectus and Homo sapiens. Nevertheless, Howells (1997, p.102) suspects rudimentary language in Homo habilis ! Some scholars interprete this large jump of Homo erectus away from the early hominids like the Australopithecus, as indicative of the fact they must have been the first humans able to perceive a spiritual reality, but not express it. If the cortex of Homo erectus would have been adequate, his ability to process the perception of a spiritual reality (limbic) would have terminated in the expression of this spirituality, mostly in enduring, lasting, continuous forms (for these contrasted well with the changing tides of omnipresent nature). Of this, nothing has as yet been found.

This cranial difference with Homo sapiens, points to an insufficient cortical basis to express the higher order pole of the bi-modality of human spirituality (not enough association capacity, not enough "free space" at birth, strong limbic and motoric control). The outstanding features of Homo erectus being probably his archaic, primitive iconic speech, intermingled with strong emotional versatility, a variety of precise emotional contexts, a social structure and a strong "reptilian" vigilance characteristic of all mammals, but perfected by Homo erectus. Contrary to Australopithecus, who's master controller probably was largely limbic, Homo erectus set in motion the development of the cerebrum and its cortex.

Although Homo erectus lacked the neurological basis to execute a cognitive awareness of "eternal" death, he must have been able to process the feeling of danger, risk and the prey-panic of being confronted with lethal entrapment, shared by all higher mammals, humanoid pre-hominids and hominids as Australopithecus and Homo habilis. It cannot be excluded some cortical areas already computed a diffuse sense of terminal states, of things coming to their natural end. But just as in other mammals (and children), "death" did not feel "close". Neither was there an abstract conceptualization of death to the point of causing fear. Fear of death is a complex phenomenon. It implies a developed neocortex, a feat realized by the Homo Sapiens sapiens.

The mortuary practices of the latter show they were aware of the fact of nature : each being had a beginning (birth) and a natural end (death). Moreover, they expected rebirth, projected in the cycles of nature and the "secrets" of gestation, fertility, growth, becoming and continuous cyclical change characterized by "elemental" conflicts. Foremost, the emergence of the "God-spot" as part of the Neanderthal brain, is evidenced by the presence of special, "eternalizing" actions, giving special meaning to and cognitive consolidation of death as a fact of life. Not fear of death, but the mystery of life underlines the mortuary practice processed by the emotional brain.

Because they lacked a prefrontal cortex, the Neanderthals never developed an abstract sense of "I" able to posit itself as a first person. Survival was based on relatedness. The limbic "we" was stronger than the frontal "I". Self-experience must have been present, but remained restricted to immediate, concrete "collective" events (related to a fixed cycle, such as given by the Moon, the great goddess ?). But, massive grief and sadness for the loss of a loved one, caused the dead body to be "processed", so parts of it could be used as griefposts to return to.

For Alper (2001), the "God-spot" was "generated" to handle death. Is there not more to it ? Overtaken by grief & sorrow for irreversible loss, the Homo sapiens, because of the deep crisis caused by the destruction of concrete relatedness, reequilibrated the human brain on a higher level of operational complexity. The limbic brain computed imagination, a direct intra-sensoric awareness, or inner, imaginal vision of a profound presence, which comforted, caused bliss and joy and allowed one to "see" with one's "inner eyes" the spirits of deceased ancestors, gods & goddesses and communicate with them. This development of the antenna or receptor organ for the space of inner experience or imagination, is the "opening" consolidated in the "old" emotional master controller, namely the amygdala. 

"Intense activation of the temporal lobe and the amygdala has also been reported to give rise to a host of sexual, religious and spiritual experiences ; and chronic hyperstimulation (i.e. seizure activity) can induce some individuals to become hyper-religious or visualize and experience ghosts, demons, angels and even God, as well as claim demonic and angelic possession or the sensation of having left their body."
Joseph, 2002, p.282.

The brain did not "invent" illusions to allow us to cope with death, but the experience of death forced us to become sensitive enough to witness the difference between "this world" and the "other side" (visible versus invisible). The direct experience of this distinction (the birth of human spiritual expression) happened because the emotional brain got constantly overstressed by emotionally unsolvable issues. The limbic "God-spot" is indeed a "paraclete" or comforter. The "antenna" became active and was calibrated by the mystery of death and the strong powers of the limbic system. At some point, Homo sapiens was able to "capture" and "receive" the wave-length of the spirits and convince himself of their continuous existence, albeit in another "world". So thanks to a deep existential crisis, the Neanderthals became "religious" in a barbaric, savage and primitive kind of way. Shamanism is the closest to this primordial stratum of human spirituality.

Successful conversions mostly happen after periods of intense crisis. Turbulent and hectic times overstress the ANS as well as the limbic system (peak-stress does not harm the CNS, but high stress over long periods of time is unwholesome and a major cause of psychosomatic disorders). The spiritual function is pre-wired in the human brain, and was destined by evolutionary forces to first emerge in the Neanderthal brain as soon as they faced the painful emotional reality of losing the ability to share icons with their loved ones. They found solace in the profound experience of radical otherness (imageless icon), computed by the emotional control center (the amygdala) with new functions such as visions, illusion, the sense of the holy and the label "spiritual significant". The experience of deceased spirits assured them life is worth living and emotional turbulence may be tempered by "spirituality".

This "opening" made the Neanderthals develop their mortuary rituals, by adding tools or food-items in their tombs. Indeed, the "imaginal gate" provided by the amygdala (able to produce complex visual visions and hallucinatory illusions), made them envision what would happen after death. They experienced the "other side", contacted the "invisible" and probably exchanged special icons with close family. Maybe the association of the objective cycle of day and night with birth, death and rebirth was taken up at the same time. This highly emotional brain was able to execute complex hallucinations and could easily swing to extreme emotional extremes.

The specialization of the spiritual function

The Cro-Magnon took the next step, again a considerable upgrade. With them, we see individual identity, voluntary control and speech attaining the level of the archaic mythical constructs (cf. artistic notions, compositional patterns, meaningful sequences, etc.). Other constructs, such as pre-concept & concept were not yet operational, for thought operated exclusively in a mythical mode (cf. Clearings, 2006). But the change in perspective may be called a symbolic & technological explosion. The prefrontal cortex played an essential part in this. Moreover, the Neanderthals were of a completely different race, physically but also genetically (Ovchinnikov, 2000).

The complex, original, artistic and symbolic accomplishments of the Cro-Magnon and the other peoples of the Upper Paleolithic outstripped those of the Neanderthals. Central stood the great mother goddess, who ruled fertility, birth (and rebirth). Cro-Magnons relied on shamans and later on priests. Their art suggested magic & sorcery as well as notions of hell, heaven, god & goddess (Joseph, 2002). Here prefrontal organization is at work.

In this context, the finality of death was deemed relative, for physical death was viewed as a passage to the "other side". Once there, one might return and communicate with one's relatives, through shamans, magicians and priest. Family returned to the grave to mourn, pay respect or perform sacrifices. The concept of "eternal death" does not seem at work. In fact, a brain able to process pre-rational and proto-rational thought is necessary to do so. In Ancient Egypt, the first, truly skeptical sounds were recorded in the Middle Kingdom (Harpers' songs - ca.1900 BCE) : "None comes from there, to tell of their state, to tell of their needs, to calm our hearts, before we go where they have gone !" (Tomb of Intef).

The specialization of spirituality, from the hunter communities (shamans) to the rural groups (magicians, priests), illustrates the first steps in the organization of society according to the schemes of the prefrontal cortex. Specialization dispensed the emerging individual sense of "I", processed in the new prefrontal cortex, of  directly dealing with limbic spiritual experiences & traditions, which consumed time and contained risks (like insanity or sudden death). Brokers were installed. The emergence of "spiritual traditions" betrays a frontal organization of things. Step-by-step this leads to the narrowing of the channel between the increasingly self-centered frontal lobe and the slowly subjugated, repressed & shielded limbic "God-spot". It is largely because of this "trade-off", people become cynical about death and the afterlife.


"There can be no doubt that as a matter of fact a religious life, exclusively persued, does tend to make the person exceptional and eccentric. I speak not now of your ordinary religious believer, who follows the conventional observances of his country, whether it be Buddhist, Christian, or Mohammedan. (...) Invariably they have been creatures of exalted emotional sensibility. Often they have led a discordant inner life, and had melancholy during a part of their career. They have known no measure, been liable to obsessions and fixed ideas ; and frequently they have fallen into trances, heard voices, seen visions, and presented all sorts of pecularities which are ordinarily classed as pathological. Often, moreover, these pathological features in their career have helped to give them their religious authority and influence."
James, 1902, lecture 1.

A last remark : the amygdala also controls extreme emotional states, such as rage, violence, perverse & aggressive sexuality, as well as its memorization (in individual terms). Frontal spiritual traditions (from Shamanism to the contemporary world religions), always introduced Divine moral precepts (superstructures) to reduce the emotional extremes caused by violence and aggressive (and/or "unnatural") sexual expressions. A material breach of these, mostly entailed violent reactions, either by "God" (cf. Sodom & Gomorrah) or by "His representatives" justified by "Divine decree" (cf. the lesser "jihad"). The consistent interrelationship between religious moral systems, bridled sexuality and crusading violence is a historical fact. There has been more blood spilled for the cause of spirituality than for anything else. The neurobiological proximity of spiritual experiences, sex and extreme (bizar) emotions may explain the executant causes of this phenomenon (Joseph, 2002).

The way traditional spirituality has dealt with the reptilian brain has to be criticized. Notwithstanding a few exceptions, the dangerous nature of the reptile is stressed. It is demonized. When spirituality and demonization walk hand in hand, one is bound to go astray. The sheer force of duality will limit one's perspective and cause the fossilization of the "evil one" outside. 

Although it is possible to tame a lion and learn him some tricks (play), it is very difficult, if not impossible, to make a crocodile consistently throw a ball. The notion of "taming" a reptile is contra-intuitive. These "wild beasts" can not be tamed. The best one can do is somehow educate them within their limitations, to incorporate "new" fieldmarks (signals) as a function of territory & bait.

Probably within the parameters of dominance/submission, reptiles have the capacity to display elementary belongingness and "cool" affectivity.


2 Ritual, recitation, prayer, mantra, meditation & the brain.


The history of prefrontal spirituality (the rise of religions systems of thought), may be broadly sketched as a symbolical mediation of an individual's direct experience of Divine Presence processed in the limbic "God-spot". As the sense of "I" is computed in the prefrontal cortex, as well as in the spatial association area of the neocortex, it is interconnected with the overall mentality and artistic excellence computed by these particular cortical areas.

The ego is the empirical sense of individual identity, the most basic level of the conjectured fourfold of identity : empirical ego, transcendental Self, own-Self & nondual awareness (cf. Intelligent Wisdom, 2007). Empirical ego has voluntary control and makes use of the prefrontal cortex to execute its decisions. As already apparent in Shamanism, the ego seeking spiritual comfort decides to "enter" the "spiritual realm", separated from the ego by direction (inner instead of outer), function (emotional instead of cogito-visuospatial) & capacity (visionary & sacred instead of operational & profane).

Atran (2002, p.185) is right when he concludes mystical episodes may inspire the formation of religions but don't make religion. Although about 25% to one-third of American and British subjects say they had a "religious experience" in their lives, only 2 to 3% claimed to have had mystical experiences, i.e. extreme emotional states implying trance, visions, voices and possibly hallucinations (Hay, 1990, Spilka, 1992). The record of parapsychological events associated with mystical episodes is also consistent.

the genesis of the religions superstructures

The RULE of Mysticism :

(1) a human subject < >> the Divine (!)

< or :
(1) in 4 nominal dimensions of space-time aspiring to transcend (cf. "ascendat oratio")
(2) only an initiatoric procedure exists without an adjacent probable
>> or :
(1) more than 4 dimensions of space-time answering the call (cf. "descendat gratia")
(2) the subjective answer has objective validity
< >> or :
(1) direct, immediate, individual experience
(2) paradoxical, totalizing, in essence ineffable

! : this rule is coherent

The RULE of Theology :

The theologies of the religions change & add :

(2) a human subject = founder < >> the Divine (!)
(3) the founder(s) = the sacred symbol (?)
(4) subjects < the sacred symbol >> the Divine (??)

? : this rule is questionable but acceptable
?? : this rule is questionable & unacceptable

Ideally, the authentic elocutions & actions of a founding mystic (1) are transformed into the sacred symbols of the tradition, initiated by the first direct witnesses or companions of the founder, usually when the latter has died (2). In the world religions, these symbols encompass a model of the world, theor
ies on man, ethics & the afterlife and a standardized salvic road, defined as the "right path". This superstructuring is also and always political, i.e. meant to organize the mass of believers once the religion takes hold of the imagination & thoughts of its adherents.

Within a couple of centuries after the founder's death, a large number of such theological texts see the light, and a so-called "sacred" tradition ensues. A lot of this may be purely legendary & mythical. It usually involves the canonization of a selection of available texts, followed by their eternalization, justifying almost anything.

This symbolical tradition is then used to mediate the communication with the Divine (4), and thus clouds (shields, veils) the possibility of a direct experience with symbols. If so, then dogmatic theology is to be held responsible for the sea of direct experience (1) to have become the small river crossed walking. This does not imply salvic efficiency is completely lost, for otherwise the religions would not be able to market their superstructure and attract adherents.

The study of the ways theologies limited the potential of spiritual experience available to the human is much helped by digging up the operational "exoteric" and "popular" leftovers, which enables those who walk on this "standard way to God", to experience a narrow and short version of what mystics and deeply religious people go through constantly.

History shows the traditional testimony of faith to be always questionable because quickly after a founder's physical death corruption occurs, redundancy & conflicts rise, schisms are proclaimed & battles are unleached.

See : In the Name of Peace and Portal to Colorful Recital

These emotional and other epiphenomena of mystical experiences, caused the specialization of the limbic "God-spot". Shamans, magicians, priests, spiritual teachers and the like emerged. They were supposed to have received the proper "traditional" training, so as to be able to "open the inner gates" or "doors of perception" (Huxley, 1957) leading to the limbic domain. Only they had privileged access to the "domain of the god" and returned with news (divination), rules (religious legislation) & visions (prophetic declarations).

This "frontal lobe" strategy allowed the majority of non-shamans to specialize in their own area of interest. Foremost, the energy needed to directly "deal with the deities" was not invested by all. Of course, this process of the creation of "our Lord" instead of "my Lord" was very slow. Left alone after the death of their founding fathers, religious movements either struggled, vanished or were canonized. In Buddhism, Christianity and Islam this pattern persisted. When the latter happened, individual and collective spirituality and piety received standard forms of expression. The organization of spirituality in religious structures and bodies, meant the codification of the "standard", "exoteric" approach of the limbic domain, open to all believers. The esoteric, highly individual experience of "my Lord" was subsequently kept secret, concealed or veiled by many "mysteries in mysteries". At times, sane mystics were persecuted, tortured or executed for no other reason than to have insulted "God", i.e. "our Lord".

  • "my Lord" : the personal, intimate, direct experience of Divine Presence : limbic system

  • "our Lord" : the symbolical, collective, rather public form of approved approaches of the Divine : neocortex

In the past, "frontal" spirituality meant the consolidation of a dogmatic network of axiomatic relationships, mental structures, affects & behaviours (neocortex). Not to mix traditions was rule. Traditional religions still invest lots of energy in this "religious" organization of the neocortex. Each religion is based on a "holy tale", a "grand story" about how the religion started. In doing so, they standardize the approach of the Divine. These different "grand tales" invite a "grand war of stories". The self-defeating circle of this "one-eyed" frontal spirituality (cf. one-dimensional reason) is also at work in traditional Western metaphysics (as Kant noticed).

"Qu'on adhère ou non à la religion, on arrivera toujours à se l'assimiler intellectuellement, quitte à se représenter comme mystérieux ses mystères. Au contraire le mysticism ne dit rien, absolument rien, à celui qui n'en a pas éprouvé quelque chose. (...) Nous nous représentons donc la religion comme la cristallisation, opérée par un refroidissement savant, de ce que le mysticisme vint déposer, brûlant, dans l'ame de l'humanité."
Bergson, 1932, chapitre III.


As late as the Renaissance, the end of the monopoly of "religious reality" (read : fossilized religion) on the organization of the neocortex began. In Europe, the Age of Enlightenment brought the freedom to fill in the "empty space" of the neocortex as one liked. More and more, the abstract and logical neocortex firmly banished the phlogiston phantoms out of its domain, and drove them back to the "unconscious" out of which they would reemerge in the XXth century in psychology (Freudianism), art (expressionism) and unjust political systems (like dictatorial communism, fascism and so-called blind, "liberal" capitalism), to name but a few. Meanwhile, scientific theory and technology could progress, and the neocortex could excell in its strongholds : abstract thought, speech, visuospatial representation and toolmaking.

Finally, this "new man" indeed killed the concept of "God" (cf. Nietzsche). In the West, it was removed from all serious, deep, sustained, higher order logical & scientific language-games. In calculations, "He" played no role (cf. Laplace). In philosophy, "God" became a relic cherished in Christian thought, and materialism won the day.

Traditional "frontal" spirituality creates mental structures meant to invoke awe and Divine Presence more or less independently from the "God-spot", i.e. as part of neocortical computations. It standardizes certain approved approaches in order to "prove" its followers their cortical superstructure were and are ordained by "God Himself". Indeed, the unique salvic "standard" contain neurotheological "nuggets of gold" like ritual, recitation, prayer, mantra & meditation.


To guarantee the yield of their "approved ways", no believer is allowed to move outside the trodden paths (contamination by other spiritual symbols is untolerable). Mystics were and are not allowed to "correct" the cortical "principles of faith", for "revelation" is deemed "complete". In the religions "of the book" (Judaism, Christianity, Islam), the limbic system is problematic (cf. sexual liberty, the role of woman, ownership, punishment). Direct spiritual experiences are deemed available only to a very small number. These religions have not been open to constantly revolutionalize their religious language-game on the basis of the evidence left by their most profound, authentic and holy mystics. On the contrary, they invoke "heresy", i.e. the demonizing strategy of an overstressed neocortex, lateralizing its field of action in "we" and "they", forgetting non-believers are also human beings with a "God-spot".

Different neocortical computations execute different models of the Divine, i.e. cognitive maps indicative of how each religion envisages the Divine. From a philosophical point of view, each "map" contains constructive elements of importance to characterize the spiritual function, both in its "localized" (spot) as "dynamical" (circuit) approach. Isolate these, and the following list of positive characteristics ensue :


HINDUISM

  • strong personal component : the crucial role of both orthopraxis and oral transmission goes hand in hand with the importance of a personal relationship between the disciple and his "guru" (the "expeller of darkness" or initiator). Spirituality is not a textbook study, but the realization of a new "fourth" state, realizing the eternal soul ("âtman") is the universal God ("Brahman"). This asks for a lot of practice and detachment. In the vincinity of a guru, enlightenment comes faster because the dormant action-seeds are awakened by "the frequency of his vibrations" (his ways and teachings)

  • accessibility of the Divine : Brahman manifests and makes the Divine dwell on Earth, blesses the believers and stirs them to seek enlightenment. Spiritual giants ("avatars") are sent to teach and guide humanity. God is not only "far", but also "near". Not the Divine is absent, but only our turning to it is.

BUDDHISM

  • ethical system : without compassion, nothing spiritual can be achieved. To end suffering, one needs a code of conduct which allows one to exist in the law ("dharma") of Buddha. Theological questions are dealt with after enlightenment. But then they are no longer necessary ;

  • sobriety : the simplicity of true spirituality, the true nature of all things, avoids the confusion resulting from Babylonic constructions of the mind, especially theological. Meditational practices are necessary tools to still the mind and experience reality as it is, namely essential inter-connectedness, Buddha-nature and energetic display from the base. These practices will confront both constructive and destructive tendencies of the mind. There is no "grand tale" invoking the Divine or "God". There is no presupposed ontology, only direct spiritual experience, nothing else. Superior Beings ("Buddhas") must be acknowledged, for otherwise there would be no Buddhist "Dharma" in the first place. But the Buddha is egoless, wise and eternal. He is medical doctor offering a cure ;

  • tolerance : all sentient beings are respected and wisely guided to enlightenment without coercion ;

JUDAISM

  • verbalism : the Divine manifests in the prophetic speech of humans set apart "by God for God". As in Egypt, the auditive dimension is crucial : the "Word" is "heard", recorded ("found"), recited & listened to. Because the Divine "speaks", the "Will of God" becomes known and our actions can be "traced back" to one of these Divine elocutions. The fundamental question being the historical authenticity of what the traditions claim as the genuine "Word of God".

CHRISTIANITY

  • universal accessibility of the Divine : in all religions predating Christianity, access to the Divine was restricted (by shamans, seers, elected clans, priests, monks and the wealthy and/or powerful elite). Broadly speaking, Antiquity valued commoners and slaves less before the "Throne of God" (Buddhism is an exception, for its ethical principles are also deemed universal). Paul's "gentile" Christianity did away with all prejudices of Antiquity. For the first time in history, man & woman were in principle equal (in Christ) ;

  • humanization of the Divine : was Jesus Christ unique because Jesus fully assumed the Divine nature and purpose of Christ, the Messiah or "Word of God" incarnate and this for the whole of humanity, namely : to spiritually adopt every human being, a universal redemption which had been impossible in the religions of antiquity (cf. orthodoxy) ? 

  • sacralization of humanity (Passion, Resurrection, Pentecost, Ascension) : because "God's humanity" is acknowledged, the spiritual (heavenly) origin and aim of everybody "in Christ" may be underlined : everyman's soul is immortal and able to receive the Holy Ghost as well as return to heaven ;

ISLAM

  • affirmation of unity : the Divine is the One Alone without a second and all theophanies are manifestations of the Divine Names which emanated out of Sheer Being when the Divine Will and Intention to Create stirred the absolute in its absoluteness ;

  • uncompromizing respect for the Divine : as next to Sheer Divine Being (in which all takes place) there exists no other "god" or "goddess", there exists no other Deity to worship than "The God". Thanks to "Allah" all happens with Mercy and in Compassion humanity returns. The concept of "god" or "goddess" is abolished and replaced by an infinite number of Divine Names. In principle, the Muslim respects all religions affirming the unity of the Divine, as well as their various messengers and outer forms ;

  • unity and plurality in the Divine Names : the presence of more than one Divine Name (with "Allah" as the "all-comprehensive Name") refers to the various perspectives, words, planes & layers of being. But each Divine Name contains all other Names and is thus linked with Names which belong to "God" exclusively (namely those refering to Divine Unity). An ongoing, Arabesque balancing-out is suggested.

Let us investigate the approved ways of the religions and trace -using neuroscience as a hermeneutical tool- the "nugget of gold" in each. Neurotheologically, all paths to salvation involve outer as well as inner trajectories of approach. 

The "outer" trajectory always involves the use of the ANS, either arousing or relaxing it. This approach trains the hypothalamus, stimulating it into a "spill-over", so that amid hyper-relaxation (negating movement), a strong trance emerges (cf. infra) or amid hyper-arousal (affirming action), profound "eternal" moments of peace are realized (Newberg, d'Aquili & Raus, 2001). Both ways (the yogic and the dervish) make use of the mechanism of the PNS and its master controller. Emphasizing arousal will lead to a positive, katapathic theology (affirming the Divine), whereas relaxation is the "via negativa", the apophatic theology of "no tale" (negating the Divine by mystical agnosia and unsaying). Both are valid and complementary. 

The "inner" trajectory involves the voluntary stimulation of the "God-spot" in the amygdala. In its complete form, this path is the "shamanistic trajectory", which emerged with the Homo Sapiens sapiens. This trajectory leads to a positive, evolutive, constructive frontal-limbic spirituality (characterized by the double balance of hemispheral synchronization and frontal-limbic balance), involving complex procedures to :

  • bracket/change sensoric input in parts of the brain (deafferentiation, to set a range to afferentiation) ;

  • steer the limbic system, especially these parts which are "normally" not under voluntary, cortical control (such as hypothalamic status -aroused/relaxed-, amygdaloid monitoring sensitivity and hippocampal retrieval of strong emotional images) ;

  • experience the Divine, and

  • make a "safe return" to waking consciousness able to symbolize the experience linguistically & artistically and afterwards function in society. 

To do all this under voluntary control, a solid and stable cortico-limbic spiritual connection has to be forged. In the majority of cases, a long training is indispensable (20 or more years). This explains why the mystical pole of the spiritual function remained "esoterical", "exceptional", "hidden", "occult" & "secret". Whether this is a biological necessity or the result of the dominance of the neocortex over the mammal brain will be discussed later, when some of the more important pedagogic consequences of neurotheological thought are put forward. The question being : is this difficult training unavoidable ? In Buddhism, distinction is made between three types of students (low, middle, high) and three different paths (lower, greater and diamond). Students of high capacity who practice Vajrayana may attain liberation in six months !

The approved approaches of the Divine, developed by the religions, combine elements of both trajectories, but in general, they tend to reinforce a given set of symbols (neocortex), namely those invoked by their respective dogmatic theologies. They are adequate historical replacements of the "shamanistic trajectory" followed by mystics and profoundly religious people. They offer "mild" religious experiences, but are still effective enough to trigger full-blown mystical states in talented mystics. The structure of the "shamanistic trajectory" is universal (we see it for the first time at work in the "cave"-initiations developed by the Cro-Magnon) :

  • preparation : isolated from other activities, the mystical quest calls for all kinds of preparations ;

  • opening : fundamental spiritual technique to "leave" the neocortex and "enter" the limbic area ;

  • communion : ability to (also) focus on the limbic, experience the Divine directly, and exchange ;

  • return : ability to store data, "leave" the limbic for the cortex and recollect them for cortical use.

RITUAL

Ritual is the oldest and most approved way to communicate with the Divine. It works on the PNS (outer), but complex rituals always contain contemplative & meditative episodes (moments of prayer influencing the CNS). Ritual, because of its direct influence on the senses and their afferents, influences the reptilian brain and its master controller, the hypothalamus. It does this by way of sacred space, rhythm, repetition and hierarchy :

  • sacred space : all rituals take place in a particular "place of working" especially created for that purpose - this space is superimposed upon natural space & underlines the special nature of ritual - sacred space triggers the reptilian brain, invited to "enter" a "new" part of its natural territory ;

  • rhythm : the cadence of certain sequences of strong and weak beats facilitates resonance, allowing more neurons to get excited phasically by a common slow, rhythmic input and thus building up their democratic presence (resonance) - if each "beat" is associated with certain emotion/word-constellations, the amygdala will be stimulated ;

  • repetition : allows rituals to become part of individual memory (amygdala-hippocampal memory system) and stimulates the reptilian brain as well as the limbic system ;

  • hierarchy : the organization of action is not random but highly complex - the Divine is approached in steps, along a "scala perfectionis", stimulating the neocortex.

The symbolism used in rituals is processed by the neocortex. Animal ritual is without symbolism and verbal, discursive language. In human rituals, the three different building blocks of language are at work :

  • signal display : sudden, odd gestures attracts the attention of the amygdala, especially if they are inexplicable in limbic terms (animals do not slowly bow or prostrate, make deliberate hand and arm movements, dance or sing) and these signals may be invested with emotional and cortical meaning, so as to use them as marked meaningful actions (defining precise meaning, as in politeness & protocol) ;

  • iconical play : a set of "emotions" which express the nurturing relatedness of the "dramatis personae" of the key religious players (emotions "color" output from & input to the neocortex) ;

  • verbal sense : the "service of the word" gives ritual its final tool : a direct influence on the complete "sense" computed by the neocortex, i.e. the synchronization of analytical speech-activity and synthetic image-building.

Religious rituals simulate the shamanistic trajectory. If effective, they are more than a mere surrogate, but constitute a collective's shared "straight" path to and from the "abode of God".

MANTRA & RECITATION

The use of mantra (by the yogi) and recitation (by the lector-priest, rabbi, deacon, or the imam) implies a stable, relaxing bodily posture, for in order to repeat well (internally or audibly) and to recite properly, one's body must be poised. So, the PNS's relaxation response is triggered at the onset of any meditational or recitational episode. The individual calms down, takes on a relaxing posture, minds his or her breathing pattern, eliminates sensoric input and concentrates on the sound & meaning of the mantra or "sacred words", enabling one to contact and steer one's limbic experience. Mantra's with have personal meaning are more effective than abstract words or sounds. Mantra's of the "word of God" serve the purpose of linking the verbal association area (angular gyrus) of both hemispheres with the operations of the mammalian brain as well as provide stimuli to synchronize the hemispheres.

Here, the use of repetition, rhythm and emotion is combined in an audible and conceptual experience, namely the sound of the word (or the recited text) hand in hand with its "inner" meaning. Because of this conceptual nature of mantra's and recitations, we may well say this "service of the word" is tailored for integration. Through it, hemispheral synchronization as well as cortico-limbic balance is achieved.

PRAYER

In prayer, all the above consolidated approaches come together. Ritual actions, the repetition of certain words and the recitation of "sacred texts" are combined and expanded by the totally personalized approach of the Divine. Prayer is likely the most potent & enduring spiritual tool of all traditional religions. It is a total performance, involving all areas of the brain and all states of the PNS in one symphonic, meaningful whole which exceeds its elemental parts.

Non-liturgic prayer has a number of fixed elements. As a function of the completeness of the prayer, they may all be present or the prayer may focus on just one or a few selected elements (the examples are rubrics from the Roman Mass, which as "great prayer" contains all elements) :

  • contrition : the neocortex computes the guilt (prefrontal cortex) caused by thinking about how our achievements fall so far below the Divine (reptilian) and offend my Lord (limbic). The prayer of contrition releases the tensions guilt triggers and may stimulate the feeling of being forgiven by the Supreme - it is also used to place oneself "in the state of purity" before any major spiritual task (cf. the "Confiteor") ; 

  • adoration : the neocortex executes the formation of a set of concepts & feelings which express the holiness of the Divine. The prayer of adoration is an affirmation of hope, faith & love (cf. the "Gloria"). It arouses the limbic system because of the powerful emotion/word-constellations which form a candence of praise and high flown emotionality ;

  • supplication : when we humbly ask the Divine to be allowed to look forward to receiving more good things from It (He or Her), our prayer is one of supplication (cf. the "Offertorium") ;

  • intercession : when we look forward to good things from the Divine for others, we are intercessors (the "Oremus") ;

  • thanksgiving : when we look back at all the good things we have already received, we thank the Divine (the "Praefatio & Canon" or "Great Eucharistic Prayer").

Liturgy, or prayer in action, moulds the ideas of theology in material forms or symbols (cf. Dionysian mysticism), and manipulates these in a meaningful way, so as to enact the "shamanistic trajectory" as a function of revelation (i.e. the language-game of the religion in question). Insofar as liturgies approximate the neurotheological scheme, they give measurable frontal-limbic balance and thus genuine spiritual comfort, insight and even enlightenment. Grand examples are the Christian Mass and Tibetan Buddism's Kalachacra, in which the double bi-polarity (hemispheral and frontal-limbic) is addressed. 

However, the variety of details found in all formidable liturgies, shows their cultural relativity (computed by the neocortex). It is tempting to "adjust" traditional liturgies or even devise new liturgies (Apostel, 1986). As cultural differences can and should not be taken way, these "new" liturgies can semantically never be "universal" (at best "ideal" like Esperanto among the languages), although their neurotheological backbone is (in the sense all humans have brains which all share the same philogenetically features).


3 Spill-over & deafferentiation in altered states.


It was Tart (1975) who introduced the concept of an "altered state of consciousness". Such states have "einer bestimmten Struktur, eines Organisationsstils, der sich auf den gesamten gestig-seelischen Funktionbereich des Menschen zu einem ganz bestimmten Zeitpunkt bezieht" (p.25). Various types of altered states may thus be defined.

My hermeneutical studies confirmed the universal bi-polar (elliptical) characteristic of the object of mystical process. The experience of "radical otherness" is processed by the limbic brain. Intense, profound and overwhelming states bring a radical relationship into focus, namely between the ego and its spiritual function, or evolutionary need.

Neurospirituality seeks to explain spiritual experience and religions in terms of their executant organ : the brain and its complex activities, among which the computation of spiritual experiences. Cortical activity as well as the outgoing motor commands need the PNS to be in touch with the world and respond to it. As the voluntary branch is under control of the neocortex, an individual's neurophysical type is defined by basal skin resistance (ESR), which is under the control of the ANS. This nervous system and its two main responses come under the direct control of the hypothalamus, the "master controller" ruling the reptilian brain.

sympathic and parasympathic responses
of the Autonomous Nervous System
arousal
response
body
function
relaxation
response
UP oxygen usage DOWN
DOWN food and energy reserves UP
UP muscle tension DOWN
UP heart rate DOWN
UP blood flow to muscle DOWN
DOWN blood flow to organs UP
DOWN blood flow to skin UP
UP blood pressure DOWN
UP cortisone output DOWN

The sympathetic branch has a fight or flight-response. When the reptilian brain spots danger or feels treatened, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic branch. This mobilizes the body systems for immediate danger. The parasympathetic branch restores balance when the panic state is no longer of any use. Continuous panic (hyperarousal) blocks the ability to deal with the danger at a higher level. Basic skin resistance measures the four "basic" arousal levels of the PNS : panic, tense, normal, relaxed, underaroused (the neurophysical types).

In terms of altered states, Cade (1980, 1989) correlated basal skin resistance (ESR) with brain waves (EEG). Skin resistance measures & detects small changes in the state of the ANS and the hypothalamus, ranging from high resistance (fight & flight, ergotropic, sympathic) to low resistance (rest & digest, switch-off & withdrawal, trophotropic, parasympathic). Brain waves reflect the ongoing activity of the brain in terms of waves measured by electrodes placed around the head, and range from Beta (40 - 14 Hz), Alpha (13 - 8 Hz), Theta (7 - 4 Hz), to Delta (4 - 0.75 Hz). The methods developed by Cade (and later by Wise) proved very effective in guided meditations.

ESR high ESR low
EEG high Beta
attention strong
external focus
physical activity high
waking state
panic states
Zen-state
EEG Alpha
attention divided
threshold state

dynamic
states
in-between
outer
limit-states

EEG Theta
lucid attention
internal focus
EEG low Delta
no attention
dual-union
ecstatic states dreamless sleep
relaxation, trance
Adapted from Cade, 1980, p.20.

Spill-over

It was Jung (1875 - 1961) who noticed the psyche had a tendency to regulate itself and to balance out. Mental disorders were often nothing more than a psychological response to a situation of deep imbalance, caused by disconnecting parts of the psyche's activities, i.e. unwholesome adaptations hindering its completion through the process of individuation. Neurology identified similar mechanism : the homeostatic balance.

The ANS depends on the activity of the hypothalamus, also a key player in the computation of pleasure, and it may trigger both extremes (from feelings of bliss to rage and violence). In the sane brain, sudden switch-overs do not occur often or are quickly compensated because of the moderating hippocampal influence. A "balancing-out" or a "spill-over" happens :

  • "balancing-out" : sudden arousal leads to an overactivation which triggers a compensation leading to relaxation (and vice versa) - this is the natural tendency of a healthy CNS - during sleep, neuronal activity tends to synchronize in a rhythmical fashion - this balancing-out is different in different neurophysical types :
    * in panic states, deep relaxation will be very difficult to achieve and "narrow", at times violent pendulum-swings happen ;
    * in tense individuals the prolongation of stress leads to permanent damage or disease which suggest tension "builds blocks" (calling into life radical, turbulent re-equilibrations or decompressions) ;
    * in the normal range, both branches of the ANS are active : arousal when necessary, but always followed by relaxation, balancing out near the average ;
    * in the relaxed state, only very important issues are able to trigger strong arousal, but due to minimal energy-expenditure, the biological system is able to restore all imbalances on a deep level - this state is the goal of relaxation, meditation and all quiescent methods ;
    * in the underaroused state, notwithstanding a heavy meal, alchohol, drugs, smoking & organic pathologies, not enough motivation is present to be stimulated and the pendulum-swing is halted.

  • "spill-over" : when voluntary (inner) or unvoluntary (outer) circumstances mobilize the ANS to execute its hyperrelaxed (oceanic tranquility) or its hyperaroused (rhythmic motor activity) mode, pushing it to the limits of these relaxed or aroused states, the hypothalamus suddenly moves to the opposite direction, causing a hyperaroused (hyperrelaxed) breakthrough in hyperrelaxed (hyperaroused) states.

Active spill-over or arousal breakthrough is the result of deep relaxation

Altered states of consciousness are possible as soon as total passivity drives the parasympathicus to its maximum level. This maximum, triggers a pendulum-swing in the hypothalamus, causing the computation of an exhilarating absorption in the object of meditation or ritual action (indeed, very slow ritual triggers a relaxation response), i.e. silent concentration on the "seed" leading up to contemplation ("dhyana") and union ("samadhi"). Active spill-over is the haven of extremely lucid, vivid, dynamical, juvinal, all-encompassing, sanctifying, vivifying states.

Passive spill-over or relaxation breakthrough is the result of extreme arousal.

In panic states, the whole psychobiological system is excited, alert and focused (as in all professions engaged in critical situations). When motor activity is made continuous & rhythmical, as in ritual dancing, Native American Sun worship, Christian mortification of the flesh and Medieval "dance" movements, Sufi whirlings, Tantric rituals and prolonged periods of effort & fatigue (as in brainwashing), the maximum of the sympathicus is crossed, and a feeling of total merging takes over, boundaries feel like vanished and one's sense of identity becomes continuous with the environment. Passive spill-over permits a profound sense of peace, unity and fusion to materialize.

The "switch-over" realized by the hypothalamus shows that in (open & dissipative) biological systems, extremes touch each other by means of a mechanism of compensation and equilibration. The whole limbic system participates in this, as the amygdala detect danger and the hippocamus regulates the extremes. This "diplomatic" function of the hippocampus must be circumvented or no extremes in arousal or relaxation are possible. This is were the emotional (limbic), cognitive (left hemisphere) and artistic (right hemisphere) executants come in. When visualizing himself as the "axis mundi", the whirling Dervish sustains his circumambulation for a very long time. A normal individual would swoon or vomit for less. The shaman possessed by a spirit sticks needles in his body or walks on burning coal, while another individual would bleed or burn etc. 

A conscious use of this feature of the ANS is found in mystics and religious people, but spill-over may also be induced automatically.

Deafferentiation

In severe cases, unaided by medication, epilep
tic patients undergo a "commissurotomy", cutting the connector tracts between the two hemispheres (corpus callosum). This stops the seizure in one hemisphere to cross over to excite the other, with a generalized seizure as result. Incoming information (the afferents) in both hemispheres are "cutt off" or deafferented.

In general, deafferentiation means incoming data are unable to enter a brain structure.

"A particularly interesting aspect of deafferentiation is what happens when a certain structure is totally deafferented. Normally, all parts of the brain are affected by numerous other parts. Therefore, the function of any structure is determined not only by itself but also by its interaction with many other areas of the brain. If deafferentiation of a structure occurs to a significant degree, the neurons within that structure are no longer under the influence of any other parts of the brain and they begin to fire on their own. These deafferented neurons either fire randomly, or, more likely, function according to their own 'internal logic'. This internal logic derives from the function for which a given structure evolved."

d'Aquili & Newberg, 1999, pp.41-42.

The practice of sensory deprivation is an example of deafferentiation caused by relaxing spiritual exercises. The yogi eliminates all impulses from the outside. As a result, the spatial association area, receiving input from the sensory areas, is deafferented but continues to work by its own "internal logic", generating a sense of "infinite" space & time (no space & no time). The experience of timelessness (the "eternal now") is indeed part of the universal characteristics of mystical experiences.


4 The "God-spot" and the amygdala-hippocampal complex.


"The various 'other worlds', with which human beings erratically make contact are so many elements in the totality of the awareness belonging to Mind at Large. Most people, most of the time, know only what comes through the reducing valve and is consecrated as genuinly real by the local language. Certain persons, however, seem to be born with a kind of by-pass that circumvents the reducing valve. In other, temporary by-passes may be acquired either spontaneouly, or as the result of deliberate 'spiritual exercises' or through hypnosis, or by means of drugs."
Huxley, 1957, p.17.

Persinger (1987, 2002) reports how the application of weak, complex magnetic fields through the cerebral hemispheres, in particular the right temporal lobe, elicits experiences of a "sensed presence" or "Sentient Being", i.e. Divine Presence. For him, the amygdala are associated with cosmic meaning and the hippocampus with memory. Direct electrical stimulation of the amygdala-hippocampal area results in recollection of important, personal images, but also in the formation of complete visual and auditory hallucinations and hyperlucid visions. 

Moreover, in females, the amygdala have a tendency to become more easily hyperactivated than in males. Indeed, female amygdala neurons are more numerous and packed more closely together. The anterior commissure (the robe of axonal fibers interconnecting the right and left amygdala) is also sexually differentiated : in females it is 18% larger than in males, so in the former case, both amygdala can more easily communicate and excite one another (Allen & Gorski, 1992). Hence, structural and functional differences in the organization of the limbic system of both sexes is evident. Females have a tendency to become easily frightened and be more spiritual inclined than males (Joseph, 2002, p.519). 

In male homosexuals, the limbic system demonstrates the female pattern of development and the anterior commissure is hyper-feminine (Allen & Gorski, 1992). However, this "female" limbic system, unlike that of women, bathes in high levels of testosteron. This may lead to disorders in the limbic system, seizure activity within the temporal lobe, leading up to emotional problems and bizar and/or extreme sexual behavior of a violent nature (Joseph, 2002, pp.521-522).

The "God-spot" emerged in an area of the brain which also computes sexuality and violence, as well as a whole range of emotional functions like emotional arousal, pleasure, joy, socio-emotional recognition & reward, personal emotional reactions, emotional memory, learned fear, terror, rage, aggression, anxiety, illusion, fiction, hallucination, apparitions, deam states, depersonalizations, déjà vu etc. The "God-spot" executes the experience of a "higher" profound, sentient, holy, spiritual Presence, generating tremendous religious awe, yet comforting and near in an inexplicable way, except in signals & icons. 

The root of spiritual experience is emotional. Neurospirituality confirms the story of all love-mystics, who repeat that only through love the soul is able to experience the love of the Lover, making love the "via Regia" to the heart of spirituality. The "straight path" of peace is nothing else than the way of love, the Dantesk voyage from the "dark wood" of the prefrontal cortex to the spiritual domain of the limbic system, a "shamanistic" descent (hell, purgatory) carried to a good end because Vergil (synchronized neocortex) acts as a guide and Beatrice is one's leading star of love (or "higher", transcendent own-Self). It is she who introduces the heavenly experience of the Divine, computed when the amygdala-hippocampal complex is aroused to the point of producing hyperlucid visions, accompanied by hypothalamic states of exaltation. 

These profound personal experiences make powerful engrams and are stored in these basal centers of the temporal lobe. They may be evoked later, and potentialize the reverberations caused by adjacent sensoric inputs meant to trigger the necessary conditions for spiritual experiences and/or states in the brain. As Patañjali remarked : special types of spiritual experiences have a deep effect on memory and irreversibly alter the way new inputs are stored (the amygdala may remain stimulated even when the stimulus is gone).

But because of its emotionality and psychological dangers, the root of spiritual experience is avoided and partly or completely deafferented. 

Religions offer a standardized version of the true "vision quest" in which operational elements are incorporated. By and large, conjecture religions partly deafferent the limbic system. Although during ritual & prayer cortico-limbic circuits are addressed, waking consciousness is largely deafferented from the spiritual function and its ongoing emotional valuation of experiences (this is even more so for men than for women). No so in spirituality. Mystics report prayer may "deepen" to the point of merging with everyday life and generating the experience Divine Presence is everywhere all the time (but we fail to notice this). Prayer is continuous and concentration total & solid. The opposite of deafferentiation is at work here : a strong circuit is used to relay cortex and limbic system (in particular, the neocortex with the amygdala-hippocampal centers of the basal telencephalon).

Only recently, with the emergence of humanistic atheism, has the neocortex been made unsensitive to the emotional potential of spiritual experience and trained to specialize in its trade : conceptual thought and representational art. Atheism, or the total deafferentiation of the spiritual function, is realized by means of repression and denial. The neocortex invents the story "God" is a story invented by the neocortex. Spiritual experiences are "constructions" invented to "drug" the poor working classes, or to allow insignificant man his illusionary share of greatness etc. etc. Neurospirituality does not confirm this. The "God-spot" is not cortical but subcortical. It was very likely at work in the Neanderthals but flourished in the Cro-Magnon, Neolithic and historical man. It developed in an area of the brain which is not verbal but highly sensoric, visuospatial and emotional. Hence, spirituality is not an "invention", for the mammalian brain does not invent. 

The Homo Sapiens sapiens is neurologically wired to have spiritual experiences. Just as a visual system was developed because there is something to see, a spiritual function emerged because there is some spiritual agent to experience. This "agent" is the holy, the Divine ... the radical other. That we have a retina, does not produce light. That the spiritual function is a fact, does not make "God" exist. But : would there have been a retina without light or a spiritual function without Divine Presence in the universe ? Is the mark of the Designer not present in the design and is the human brain not the "locus naturalis" to find this trace, namely as the spiritual function enabling the human being to experience its Designer ?

Insofar as the adjacent features of the amygdala are concerned, we may conjecture this radical otherness is an "inner" agent, to be seen with the "inner eyes" of vision (cf. "visio spiritualis" of the "homo interior" - cf. Augustine, 354 - 430), hallucination & apparition. The same vincinity makes us also understand why the spiritual quest has always been deemed dangerous, leading to fanatical atheism (limbic deafferented withdrawal in the prefrontal cortex), insanity (loss of ability to taxate reality, i.e. distinguish the real -neocortex- from the illusions -amygdala-) or death (seizure).

We are not wired to enter the domain of the holy with ease. Spiritual "initiation" involves a confrontation with darkness (Dante's "hell", alchemy's "negrido", Jung's "shadow"), requiring "purification" (putrefaction divides the gross from the subtle). The Cro-Magnon aspirant entered a tunnel leading underground. He had to crawl in the total darkness of narrow spaces for quite some time before he arrived, probably exhausted, in a gigantic rock-cathedral lit by fire with huge drawings of real and fantastic animals on its walls, flickering in the light. An initiatoric ritual happened which would "mark" the individual for life. Likewise, before the Catholic aspirant priest is consecrated by the bishop, he prostrates his body on the ground and a dark veil is pulled over him. This symbolizes the "end" of his "profane" life prior to consecration. The sacerdotal "mark" or "imprint", the result of the imposition of the hands of the bishop, is permanent and irreversible (although the Church may hinder its practical use). But once a priest, always a priest. The neophyte enters the masonic temple blindfolded and pronounces his oath with the point of a dagger touching his throat. After a series of ordeals, the blindfold is taken off. A new life begins ...  

Augustine defined conversion, or the return to "God" as an act of remembering. "Memoria" is a vast storeroom of experiences, the "venter animi", in which all is consumed. In his Confessions (X.12), he conjectures Divine light is the cause of the fact "memoria" is also a source of knowledge. The deepest layers of memory are also the "highest" (ontologically), so that the "imago Dei" is buried at the lowest, deepest layer ... Just as we adapted to "light" and developed a retina, so perhaps we adapted to spiritual experiences by generating the "God-spot" in the amygdala and the structure to memorize these details of this important, personal experiences (hippocampus).

The religions and their approved ways made use of such devices to simulate the approach of the limbic without unforseen turbulences. They partly deafferented the spiritual function in space and time. In doing so, they remained within the boundaries of mass psychology and group dynamics and offered a collective object of worship. This "our Lord" is a function of history and the needs of circumstances. Insofar as religions are "living", their ways still generate a genuine spiritual experience, comforting enough for people to recognize Divine Presence. And this may be enough for the majority at large. But, to remain strong and inspiring, living religions need a mystical core influential enough to cause adjustments within or beyond the framework of their respective dogmatic theologies. And this is mostly not the case.


5 The peace of a balanced "God-circuit".


The world religions make use of the approved ways to stimulate the "God-spot" and trigger a mediated, indirect religious experience. They develop fundamental teaching and condition their believers from early childhood onwards to accept their dogmata. These tenets are never questioned, but blindly accepted. Jews are told they are "God's chosen people", Buddhists are taught Buddhahood and emptiness ("shunyata"), Christians are saved by the cross of Christ, the "unique son of God" and Muslims are told to believe Allah is alone and Muhammad is the last messenger of "God" ... As history shows, these religions were antagonistic towards other religious systems and rejected (if not persecuted) unbelievers. Because spiritual experiences and violence are neurotheologically close, it is not surprising people satisfy their blood-lust for "their God" and think they will be martyrs when, crusading for this self-created, cortical "God", they fight for "the good cause" and destroy as many unbelieving lives as possible.

These extreme reactions show that despite the approved ways, most -if not all- religious systems establish and maintain an unwholesome cortico-limbic imbalance. Although the spiritual abode is not completely deafferented, its output is channeled and processed by heavy cortical superstructures, keeping the controlling influence of the neocortex in place. Spontaneous spiritual experiences with conflicting contents are made impossible and if they do happen, mistrusted and marginalized. The violence associated with these religions further suggests such imbalance causes neurological decompressions, resulting in aggressive behavior justified by religious creed (in Islam this feature is very prominent, as it was in Catholicism a few centuries ago).

Clearly, world religions, and their largely "cortical" spirituality, have had their time. But why were they so successful ? The "nuggets of gold" present in the approved ways were the only procedures that "worked", but nobody knew why and so their salvic effectiveness was "expained" in terms of "grace", i.e. "God's favor". Unaware of the biological executants of the spiritual function, theologians could do nothing more than (reinterpreting scripture), invent cortical explanations for the spiritual experiences that happened (or bluntly deny the experience and attribute them to an "anti-God" as the "devil"). "Holy books" were written down to superstructure the direct experience of Divine Presence. By "explaining" limbic spirituality, they encased it and once "in the box of letters", spiritual experience slowly dried up, at times rejuvenated by the narrow beams of light still able to penetrate the thick canon of exoteric rule. Indeed, in all world religions, mystics and profoundly religious people continued to be at work. They reestablished a more direct link with the limbic "God-spot", founding new orders and spiritual movements (cf. Nichiren in Buddhism, Francis of Assisi in Christianity, Ibn-'Arabî in Islam). But after their death, the same process happened : cortical structures emerged narrowing down the extent of the new spiritual momentum, utilizing dogma to redefine their heretical nature (recuperation) and/or to summon the devil into existence to attribute the novelty to the adversary of "God". The movement may also be institutionalized (cf. the Franciscan order), and the fossilizing process that happened at large is repeated in particulars (cf. the influence of Asoka on Buddhism, of Constantine on Christianity and of Mu'awiyah on Islam). When man tries to manipulate the "God-spot" by inventing a manmade religion ("our Lord" instead of "my Lord"), the result spells disaster.

The history of the religions since the European Renaissance, confirms a slow retreat of "God" from the neocortex. This was enforced upon the institutionalized religions by the new scientific approach, which indeed eventually killed the cortical "God" (cf. Nietzsche). "God" was subjected to the laws of the secular, humanist (neopagan ?) society in which everybody is allowed to worship the "god" of his or her free choice. In fact, religion became a separate language-game, tolerated and funded (as folklore and good examples), but eliminated as a public source of empirico-formal knowledge, i.e. as explicit truth-bearing insights influencing political decision-making. This emancipation of the neocortex has had its effects all over the planet. Democracy, freedom and a constructive, participative globalism are the children of this radical change of conscious perspective, namely the replacement of "God" and "His kings" by the free choice of communicating ego's (cf. the French Revolution, the Independence of the USA, the Russian Revolution, etc.).

Is it not ironical, that religions intending to save people, in fact unknowingly shield their adherents from the hardcore of spirituality ? Today neurospirituality puts into evidence that this "root" was developed in the course of the biological evolution of the hominids. So, what can neurospirituality contribute ?

The executant brain structures of the spiritual function (enabling us to experience the spiritual) are meant to work together (as are all various structures of a neurological network executing some task) . If they do, a special spiritual balance is achieved, computed by an ongoing "God-circuit". This is, ex hypothesi, a multiple relay of information between the sensing, receiving amygdala-hippocampal comple
x (and its hyperlucid visions) and the symbolizing, processing synchronized neocortex and its prefrontal voluntary association area. This cortico-limbic circuit implies a double integration :

  • interhemispheral : the circuit stops with lateralization or hemispheral deafferentiation and runs on a synchronized neocortex only ;

  • intercortical : the circuit links neocortex with its basal telencephalon (amygdala, hippocampus), and the latter is part of the Papez circuit (which links with the hypothalamus and the reptilian brain).

The mystics exhalt the "God-circuit" by their example. They manifest the glory of Divine Presence in their actions. Although constantly in touch with the visionary, they refrain from being possessed by anything else but themselves. They dare to enter the "abode of God", but remain what they are (i.e. humble). Their neocortex may be dogmatic or scientific, their spiritual experiences are stronger and push them to symbolizations beyond what they have learned (theology, science, art, etc.).

The mystic moves beyond "God Himself". They thus manifest complex symbolizations, which serve as momentary, fleeting superstructures and wavering constructions erected upon a limitless and eternal spiritual station-of-no-station, which in its core belongs to un-saying, nondual love for the Divine and which they never wish to grasp or contain. This Presence always remains with them and stays comforting them to the point of charity for all other sentient beings and an active life in persuit of the spiritual ideal of goodness, solidarity, justice, equality, freedom and forgiveness.

In the mystics, the "two sources of religion" (the frontal superstructure and the limbic experience) come together and constantly interact. Thanks to the recent "secular turn", mystics have been freed from the burden of futile "exoteric" teachings and rituals. They turn to the source and revitalize their traditions for themselves. This is a considerable step forward. It turns out mystics do not entertain a solid, unflexible, dogmatic set of rules and regulations, on the contrary (cf. Zen Buddhism, the "via negativa" in Christianity, "fanâ" in Sufism). Beyond the rule of "virtue", these people experience spirituality in its direct "nakedness". Spiritual superstructures are at best inspiring and necessary to communicate a framework or spiritual symbolism to be changed by the user on the basis of his or her direct spiritual experiences.

Perhaps the best contribution of neurospirituality would be to devise a spiritual protocol enabling people to address the spiritual function for themselves. As most religious people do not like to change their habits (cf. reptilian place-conservatism), neurotheological adaptations of the approved ways could be proposed. In this way, neurospirituality would not affect the interpretation of the experience, but try to enhance the length & depth of the religious feelings. Specific studies on particular techniques for monitoring and regulating certain neuronal conditions in terms of spiritual emancipation are also needed.


6 Neurofeedback.


"A  nos yeux, l'aboutissement du mysticisme est une prise de contact, et par conséquent une coïncidence partielle, avec l'effort créateur que manifeste la vie. Cet effort est de Dieu, si ce n'est pas Dieu lui-même. Le grand mystique serait une individualité qui franchirait les limites assignées à l'espèce par sa matérialité, qui continuerait et prolongerait ainsi l'action divine."
Bergson, 1984, p.233.

As soon as the descriptive side of neurospirituality is sufficiently bold, the usage of this knowlegde may become a matter of debate. Fear is the natural response of the amygdala, not hyperlucid visions. Extreme excitement may trigger rage and murderous attacks, but also a hallucination or an insightful vision. How to "hit the God-spot" ? Can a sequence of significant actions (a protocol) be found ?

The biofeedback principle applied to the brain, or neurofeedback, is the most rewarding tool of practical neurospirituality. In general, the biofeedback principle states one can become conscious of an internal physical event of which one is normally not aware and then can learn to steer some aspect of the event. For example, one can learn to recognize various brain waves and reproduce them at will. Biofeedback is an instrumented kind of yogic bodily control. By becoming aware of the brain waves produced by the brain in "real time", the distinction between non-spatial consciousness and the mirrored brain-waves is more easily realized. Where is the decision-maker ? What are the natural limitations of the brain ? Indeed, how is voluntary control of internal states of the brain achieved if the causal agent is deemed to be part of the brain (as materialism holds) ?

Although one of the end result of neurobiofeedback is self-control, it is a control learnt in a relatively short time. In learning to control some aspect, one needs first to identify the item to be controlled. The feedback signal is just a label to identify the correct response once it has been elicited. We are not learning to produce Alpha-waves, but the calm, detached state of mind which happens to correlate an Alpha rhythm. If the feedback signal has been correctly identified, it is stopped by ending the causing activity. Training may be a "closed-loop" or involve "guided imagery". In the former, the subject watches the signal (meter, lightbulbs) continuously or listens to a variable tone while trying to relax. The reactions of the signal will be co-relative to the thoughts and feelings processed by the CNS. Once the correct mental "groove" is found, the wanted machine-response happens. If not, one continues to relax and find the "door" to reduce tensions and allow other states of consciousness to be processed.

Although helpful, this instrumented yoga has one disadvantage : the machine has no ability to identify those fundamental, cortical patterns, habits and repetitive attitudes making our lives unspiritual. It may identify blocks (like the inability to arouse Alpha or the presence of too much Theta), lateralizations (cortical asymmetry), fear and "hot" spots and help the trainee or trainer to adjust the parameters of the biofeedback session, but the machine on its own does not reveal the mental reasons for the observed excentricities.

An EEG is a monitoring device allowing an external observer (or a computer) to register in real time the waves produced by the activity of the brain measured cortically. An EEG neurofeedback-session (with an EEG machine like the Mind Mirror, BrainMaster or Pendant EEG) may indeed reduce stress, synchronize the neocortex and cause changes (which, if sufficiently repeated, may by themselves be beneficial, will be stored in memory and will thus have long-time effects on some behaviors), but, if an individual's overall lifestyle is not altered and atuned so as to facilitate one's "entry" into the "abode of God", then the emancipatoric impact will be superficial only (and thus miss its target). Hence, the living yoga teacher who experiences the "total" person of his pupil, is best place to alter the "general protocol" to accomodate a particular individual with specific unwholesome patterns. That is why all traditions stress the importance of a teacher. When such an individual utilizes biofeedback, the whole procedure will be upgraded, for the ability to monitor and regulate one's own brainstate has (also for the classical teacher) definite advantages.


7 Monitoring & regulation of the amygdala with the imaginal brainmind.


It does not seem difficult to "monitor" the amygdala-hippocampal complex. The inner members of yoga will reveal the subtle "basal" state of the limbic system and push repressed information upwards to the neocortex. The "coarse" state of the mammalian brain can be assessed by "looking inside" and "feel" whether tensions, stress, negative thinking, negative feeling (fear, anxiety, anger) are present. Going over "soar" or "sensitive" spots, remembering negative issues and thinking about difficult, dangerous and unpredictable tasks ahead will indicate the level of ennervation and its contents. Everything demanding special alertness and watchdog vigilance triggers this area of the brain. If objective data are needed, a quick ESR reading will show the basal state of the ANS and the hypothalamus.

But how to change the state of the amygdala to turn on the processing of creativity, joy and deep pleasure such as one may experience on "the best day of one's life" ? It is possible to "optimalize" each day of one's life ? The spiritual function is able to do so. When operational, a completely new functional state is introduced in the brain, allowing it to perform more tasks, solve more problems and experience more the move positive, constructive, joyous and beautiful sides of life. This is gigantic "reward", boosting a change in behavior, much more engaged in eliminating poverty & injustice, making the world a better place for all living beings (charity).

How to trigger the transcendent qualities computed in this area, so it starts to process these extraordinary, life-altering spiritual experiences ? Is there a simple technique (in accord with the features of the executant) to switch on the "big light" in the brain ? Has neurospirituality found a "way in" which does not imply 20 years of practice ?

When the visual association area is deafferented, the production of Alpha-waves becomes easier, as well as the construction of imaginal objects or visualization. The importance of visualization (together with suggestion and the placebo-effect) can not be underestimated. By visualizing certain objects, the right hemisphere is triggered. If these objects relate to the person visualizing, a limbic response is also likely. Because the activity is voluntary, the prefrontal cortex enters into the picture. It is these frontal lobes, and their uncommitted cortex, which -over time- must commit the trigger of the "God-circuit". Can, by doing certain things, the "magic" of the brain be made operational ? How to stop "driving" our brains blindfolded ?

When a person learns the basics about his or her brain, in particular some basic brain self-control and amygdala/frontal lobes control, then one begins to access radical and overwhelmingly positive changes in function, behavior and activity. Then we start to access more of the enormous untapped potential, as if we would give our brain wings (use the uncommitted cortex).  Self-stimulation of the amygdala without electrodes can be performed by using the brain's capacity for guided imagery & visualizations, as evidenced by the importance of visualization in most if not all traditional spiritual exercises.

Let us distinguish a between simple and a comprehensive visualization :

  • simple : daily visualization and self-stimulation of the amygdala, increasing the activity of the frontal lobes ;

  • comprehensive : daily visualization of the complete brain and problem/solution projections on it, triggering a frontal regulation of complex brain states.

A simple visualization : 

  1. relax : trigger a relaxation-response of the ANS (cf. stage of preparation) ;

  2. close eyes : deafferent visual association area ;

  3. visualize the right amygdala : try to "feel" its position & concentrate on it ;

  4. visualize a feather tickling the right amygdala : this imaginal activity is the key visual suggestion intended to ennervate the amygdala ;

  5. visualize the amygdala activated like a pulsating light bulb : the ennervated amygdala computes intense feelings of joy and well-being, which are synchronized with the pulsating light.

The more frequently you visualize, the more pronounced the results.  When a person learns how to internally stimulate the amygdala and voluntarily increase frontal lobes processes at will, this likely results in an immediate peak-experience.

The comprehensive form consists in visualizing the complete brain as accurately as possible. As this "mental image" is "made up" in the mind and, after considerable study & training, consolidated as a visual engram in the brain, it is called the "imaginal brainmind", i.e. a "brain" imagined by the "mind"
(a cognitive map). This brainmind serves as an interface, enabling one to locate the neuronal structure(s) & networks at hand and, if possible, modifying them at will through conscious, suggestive effort, like concentration on the brainmind and visualizing it "merge" with the actual, physical brain.

  1. relax : trigger a relaxation-response of the ANS (cf. stage of preparation) ;

  2. close eyes : deafferent visual association area ;

  3. visualize the brain : the imaginal brain is visualized ca.20 cm in front of the head, with its rostral end (cerebellum) turned to the head (in fact, the natural position of the brain, but "drawn out") ;

  4. spot area : concentrate on area to be modified and let it glow ;

  5. suggestive command : using the present tense only, command the area to adjust its parameters so as to generate a particular effect (hypothalamus : relaxation, altered stated of arousal, vigilance, watchfullness, sexual power, deception - hippocampus : retrieve/store personal memory, learning, establishing equilibrium - amygdala : unusual experiences, spiritual experiences, sexual emotion - neocortex : attitude, language, picture of the world, picture of oneself, etc.) ; 

  6. unspot area : switch off the glow, forget the suggestion and concentrate on the whole brain ;

  7. superimpose imaginal brain : visualize the image-form slowly moving backwards, coinciding with the brain ;

  8. merge imaginal brain : see the image-form completely merge with the brain, wait a moment, forget the form and open both eyes.

The power of suggestion is remarkable, and proves the point of the triune brain and the possibility of a temporary, total deafferentiation of even a large brain structure. Hypnosis and trance also reveal limitations beyond the paradigmatic view. Together with telepathy, telekinesis & other parapsychological facts, these phenomena belong to the periphery of the scientific language-game, and escape a clear description and/or lack repetition (i.e. these events are relevant to those who experience them but not significant to all the others). They too must have their neurological executants.

Because of its importance in medicine, the placebo-effect has been the object of various studies. The active component in this positive, healing effect devoid of material substance, is not the patients faith in the potency of the drug (as would be expected), but the doctor's conviction it works (while small, colored pills and painful needles work better). So, the transference here, involves the authority & status of the medical doctor, triggering the limbic "follow-the-leader"-reflex, mobilizing the defences and probably producing hormones and other biochemicals to issue the willed change to better health represented by the good doctor.

In Ancient Egypt, clean water was thrown over healing statues, stelae or votive statuettes covered with sacred words, and collected at the bottom to be used as medicine. The sheer convinction of the healing power of these hieroglyphs was enough to implement the suggestive, ante-rational notion the water running over these "energy-emitters" would be "charged" with their "heka" (magic). Ritual fitted the paroxism of this "transference" of the "charge" in a mythical spatiotemporal sequence charged with pre-rational, proto-rational and later, rational meaning, as well as various emotions, up and down the scale. The suggestive power of the placebo (in fact, a form of "material" suggestion) is thus enhanced. In all rituals involving the consumption of food, this "alchemical" self-healing is aimed at or at least suggested (the oldest example being the Cannibal Hymn, ca. 2378 - 2348 BCE).


8 Pedagogy and spiritual exercises in a secular society.


indoctrinations

"Throughout life, even into old age, our mental activities and interactions can lead to the proliferation of axon-dendrite connections. The living brain is never static. It is always subject to ebb and flow, always seeking a balance but never settling on any one balance."
Albright & Ashbrook, 2001, p.154.

The executant structures of human spiritual experience are very sensitive to emotionally charged thoughts (temporal lobe, limbic system), bizar (amygdala), ritualistic activity (reptilian brain) and complex concepts involving paradoxes (prefrontal cortex). The traditional religious education of the children of all world religions makes active use of these features, by developing a theology, a liturgy and a moral code, as well as engraving a series of image/word associations charged with emotional contents, like dramatical events in the lives of their sacred founders (Brahman, Buddha, Moses, Christ, Muhammad). Usually, these associations are sealed by individualized and/or collective rites of passage.

When does religious education become religious indoctrination ? Can neurospirituality provide a scientific superstructure ? Can spirituality work without the old theologies based on myth ?

The double bi-polarity of the spiritual function implies cortical structures are necessary. Without them, spirituality is a major emotional experience without interpretation. That various superstructures may be erected on identical experiences of Divine Presence, proves the point superstructures are not there to be definitive, but are called in to relay the experience of the Divine (limbic) with the voluntary association area (prefrontal cortex).

Authentic & pseudo-mystical experiences can be distinguished on the basis of their lasting effect on morality (actionalization) rather than on ideological contents. This fact can be explained by neurospirituality. The "spot" of the spiritual function is largely independent of the neocortex, i.e. is found in a different "cortex" of the triune brain. The ability to compute symbolical interpretation developed after emotional experiences had become habitual. Spiritual experience is rooted in these limbic executant structures, possessing signals & icons. Feeling the presence of the holy and the Divine is an emotional experience initiating the activity of the spiritual function.

Modern criticism has expelled theology from the prefrontal cortex. It also tried to banish metaphysics. In the latter operation it failed, for no scientific theory can be articulated without presupposing a set of metaphysical ideas and axioms (cf. Clearings, 2006).
In modernism, language, speech, logic & matter are the "major" players (i.e. consciousness focused on the left hemisphere). Art, emotion, religion & the irrational are "minor" players, not taken serious and so deafferented.

This "one-dimensional" model (cf. Marcuse) was able to influence educational standards worldwide, forming a "one-eyed" intellectual elite. It is with us today, and directly commands the downfall of intellectual standards in terms of criticism & inventivity.

"
Literary or scientific, liberal or specialist, all our education is predominantly verbal and therefore fails to accomplish what it is supposed to do. Instead of transforming children into fully developed adults, it turns out students of the natural sciences who are completely unaware of Nature as the primary fact of experience, it inflicts upon the world students of the Humanities who know nothing of humanity, their own or anyone else's."
Huxley, 1957, p.59.

Because of this "perverse reason" (Kant), the word "universitas" is depleted of its genuine, authentic moral and spiritual sense (cf. turning towards unity). Instrumentalization and strategy of knowledge (the net result of an overstressed and deafferented cognitive system), heralds the end of true communication (cf. Habermas).

"Speaking paradoxically we may say that incompetence, having been standardized, has now become an essential part of professional excellence. We have no longer incompetent professionals, we have professionalized incompetence."
Feyerabend, 1978, p.183.

Impressionism, expressionism, Dadaism, protest philosophy, depth psychology, surrealism, the school of Frankfurt, phenomenology, etc. have made clear the importance of "double coding". The logic of deconstruction of postmodernism indeed implies a return to "spectrology" (cf. Derrida, 1967 etc.), i.e. a "jump" into the "absurd" (cf. Kierkegaard and Does the Divine exist ?, 2005) of the "other side" of reason, computed by the "minor" cortex and the limbic system. Neurophilosophy must underline the fact our thoughts and cognitive apparatus are computed by a brain which was caught in evolution, i.e. a spatiotemporal sequence of emerging structures and functions. In a critical philosophy of mind, the capacities of these structures (the kind of software run on their hardware) have to be taken into consideration.


A triad of possible integrations unfolds :

  • reptilian/mammalian : the ability to emotionally contextualize the place-conservatism of the reptile is taught at an early age ;

  • mammalian/cortical : the ability to charge bi-polar reason (verbal and imaginal) with congruent emotions and non-verbal behavior can be trained as soon as the corpus callosum is completed (between 10 and 12 - cf. Piaget's formal operatoric phase) ;

  • cortical/reptilian : the ability to steer the basal states of the brain by means of bi-polar & nondual thought seems to be the "nugget of gold" of the religions, for it pertains to the spiritual function wired in the brain.

More than ever before, the development of the spiritual function lies in the hands of the parents, the school and the child's peers. But the role of the parents remains fundamental and formidable.

religious education

From a neurotheological point of view, the introduction of a new basic state of overall neuronal functioning is of paramount importance to understand the lasting impact of the spiritual function on human behavior. As explained earlier, this state is imprinted in the brainstem and added to the three states provided by nature, namely waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep. The fourth being the product of nature and (spiritual) culture.

"The fourth is without an element, with which there can be no dealing, the cessation of development, benign, without second."
Mândâkya Upanishad, 12.

The presence of this new "state of mind" is the mature expression of the integrated spiritual function, which develops in stages before the "God-circuit" may loop spontaneously and trigger or condition a permanent "fourth" state or station. But before its advent, continuous work and dedication are demanded.

"This soul often seriously examines what she only is, and what she should be, what she had, and what her desire nevertheless lacks. With all her seriousness, and with an always bigger desire, and with all the intelligence she has, she exerts to guard against and to shun what can hinder and prevent her from making progress in love. So she exerts to draw towards her and to keep everything which can help her and can bring her to love. And never rests the heart or does it subside from searching, demanding and learning."
Beatrice of Nazareth : Seven Ways of Holy Love, the First Way, 1237.

Religious educators in a secular society should be guiding people to experience the Divine for themselves and develop ways to make this experience available and sustainable. If they are just transmitting an existent dogma ("catechesis") or comparing systems to the benefit of relativity and its futilities (comparative religious sciences), nothing can be won insofar as
experience is concerned. The "nugget of gold" being hidden in the approved practices.

human spiritual intelligence among various intelligences

Neurologically, we distinguished between four association areas in the cerebral cortex (visual, spatial, verbal & volitional). They are involved in all higher-order operations of the cerebrum. If we define "intelligence" as the brain's ability to solve problems, then we may -neuro-epistemologically speaking- distinguish between nine types of intelligence (cf. the seven types of Gardner, 1993) :

  • musical : this is the first intelligence formed, the precursor to spoken language, and thus the most powerful intelligence. Rhythms, pitches (melody) and timbres (color) enhance learning and the ability to solve problems. Rhythm affects the reptilian brain, whereas the feelings of joy and sadness are processed in the limbic system of the mammalian brain. Words can not express overwhelming feelings at all. People sing to calm the soul. Music is a nonverbal language, with "meanings" of its own, not refer to the outside world (although this is not impossible, as in programmatic music). Its capacity for extemporalization is extraordinary, transporting the mind instantly to earlier times, situations, places, peoples. Words combined with music are the most potent teaching tools. Music evokes emotion and the latter is essential in complex learning and long-term memory formation (cf. amygdala & hippocampus). This intelligence is largely computed by the right hemisphere, but strongly interconnected with the limbic system and its emotional memory ;

  • verbal : hominids and other non-human mammals lack an angular gyrus (inferior parietal lobe), which sits at the juncture of the tactile, visual and auditory areas. The evolution and expansion of their linguistic capabilities was thus limited. The number of words heard by young children is a critical factor in later learning, for even if these sounds (not noise) are not comprehended, stimulate the formation of dendrites and neural connections. The brain computes verbal language by linking it with the process of thought (the temporal area of Wernicke) and by using syntax (grammar) and producing words (the frontal area of Broca), both situated in the left cerebral hemisphere (this functional lateralization or cortical asymmetry is still absent in young children). Literary tools to evoke emotion are very effective. The tale or epic of the storyteller invites one to listen and absorb. Simply listening to people telling their story often works cathartic. This intelligence shapes its "grand tale" (Lyotard) in order to explain everything as the effect (secundary cause, logical second) of a sufficient ground (cf. Albert's postulate of foundation).

  • logico-determinative : performing logical and mathematical tasks is a necessary, rather formal part of our cognitive apparatus or storehouse of intelligences. At an early age, children learn that different categories of determination are at work between events, of which efficient causality is the most common. This offers security and predictability (inference, induction). Patterning, modelling, cognitive mapping, sequencing, causality etc. happen in terms of precise intellectual functioning (i.e. a very low to inexistent margin of error is necessary). They are processed by both hemispheres, particularaly in the frontal lobe (left and right used nearly simultaneously). 

  • visual : the spatial association area situated in the posterior parietal cortex (of both hemispheres) is the cortical area of the highest integration of analysis and integration of higher-order visual, auditory and somaesthetic (touch & body position) information, resulting in a three dimensional image of the body in space. The left hemisphere is in charge of the verbal descriptions of and directions in space, while the right hemisphere processes all visual elements. It is this intelligence which enables us to visualize complex objects such as the human brain. It also enables us to "infuse" objects with certain meaning and then "use" this meaning by moving the object (cf. as in rituals). It gives a spatial understanding of oneself and one's immediate environment. In learning, it adds to the imprinting of new information.

  • kinesthetic : to perform simple movements, the three levels of the triune brain are needed : the cortex for motor control, the limbic system for triggering emotions that stimulate movement and the cerebellum (or "little brain" with nearly 50% of all neurons), which is part of the reptilian brain, involved whenever actual movement takes place. This neurological facts evidence that learning and movement are very interconnected. Abstract concept may be sequenced and then charged with emotions. If they can be enacted, for example by personalizing the concepts and dramatizing meaning through actions (made into rituals), they will influence the deep-software of the triune brain. This intelligence shows that in order to learn, various types of movement should be introduced. Too much monotony will eventually fossilize one's ability to learn new and better ways to solve problems.

  • emotional : the limbic system is involved with nurture and relatedness, as well as with the whole spectrum of emotions and sophisticated feelings. The importance of emotional intelligence has been recently put to the fore by showing how it affects one's social and relational life. At this level important icons are formed which affect they way experiences are "charged" with positive or negative reactions. Emotional thinking is anchored here. Some "feelings" translate "reptilian" reactions to the violation of territory or power. Geosentimentality is the emotional response to belonging to a particular group or nation which petrifies as a salamander on its stone. 

  • interpersonal : both hemispheres are at work here, for the ability to communicate to and work with others has been a crucial factor in the overall evolution of the human species on this planet. Social intelligence is the capacity to communicate with other persons. Body language and verbal language are both used, as well as values, norms, expectations and emotions (limbic system). Cooperative learning implies a social setting, an arena of social players coming together to talk, listen, ask questions, raise doubts, clarify misunderstanding, read, write, etc.

  • intrapersonal : autostructuration, autopoiesis, autoregulation, etc. all imply an "inner" set of resources allowing one to retrieve information "from within". This advanced form of intelligence requires a mature frontal lobe (adolescence) as well an extended databank. This intelligence is involved in reflection, the knowledge the "I" has of itself, as well as memories of what this "I" thought, felt and did. Thanks to this intelligence, depth-psychology was made possible, transcendental philosophy as well as surrealism.

  • spiritual : this is the intelligence of the own-Self, the enlightened soul seeking "some deeper union and further communion" (T.S.Eliot). It implies Self-knowledge and Self-realization, i.e. the emergence of the archetype of the unity of the psyche or "individuation" (C.G.Jung), the completion of the process of becoming one's own true form and idea, to be what one was before one became (Junayd - Hassan, 1976). In that sense, this is the intelligence of the spiritual function itself, its ability to, on the one hand, form a complex closely integrated neuronal circuit between the old and new brain, and, on the othe hand, sustain a "fourth" state of overall neuronal activity and arousal (cf. ARAS). This intelligence is used to solve existential questions of life : can Divine Presence be experienced, is there a "God", "gods", "goddesses", etc., is there life after death, is happiness possible, is humanizing humanity possible, and how ? This holistic intelligence is more than the sum of its parts and forms the highest higher-order function at work in the brain. In a way, it deals with what "happens" before and after our spacetime continuum (cosmological and anthropological, collective and personal). It is the zeroing of all intelligent positions for the sake of unity and (re)construction. This development is impossible without mastering all other intelligences, and spiritual exercises address the latter in various forms.


 

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initiated : 01 V 2003 - last update : 28 IX 2009 - version n°3