Dissecting God and the Soul

Marty Hamrick
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Dissecting God and the Soul

I've read posts by theists who attempt to justify their beliefs scientifically by pointing to universal experiences among theists, particularly altered states of consciousness (meditation, prayer, etc) which are said to produce "cosmic, trancendental experiences". The uniformity among those who have reported such experiences has been cited as "proof" that these experiences are "real". Well no one doubts the reality of an experience, but is just having this experience REALLY evidence that it stems from a common, supernatural source? Does it prove that consciousness is something separate and independent from the brain and does it point to evidence of a personal god? Many theists, no doubt would want to claim it as such, for such experiences are often the chief motivation for folks to embrace a theistic stance. They cite changed lives and a host of "feelings' that they claim are "indescribable" as "evidence". Is this really evidence and what is it evidence of?

Enter Dr. Michael Persinger of the Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario.

Dr. Persinger is the inventor of the "God helmet", a device that he says can duplicate any religious/mystical experience by bathing the paretial lobes with weak electromagnetic energy. Subjects have reported everything from a feeling of being one with the cosmos to having conversations with dead relatives and religious figures. Richard Dawkins tried it, but only experienced mild relaxation. It appeared that the type of experiences subjects had was dependent on their own psychological background and beliefs.

I wish I had a dime for every time a theist told me something like,"I know Jesus (or Allah if talking to a Muslim)is real because I have a close personal relationship. It's not something that I can tell you about, it's something that must be experienced."

Apparently science has found a way many can enjoy the religion trip without the danger of ingesting the religion drug.     

"Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings."

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It is, apparently, a real

It is, apparently, a real phenomenon. 

On Being Certain: Believing You are Right Even When You're Not by Robert A. Burton, M.D.

I'm only part way into it, but there is evidence that this feeling is one of the primary emotions.  Similar to fear, anger, sadness, happiness, surprise and disgust.  As opposed to secondary emotions like embarrassment, jealousy, guilt, and pride.  The classification is based on a number ways of measuring emotions, but you can also base it on research on brain damaged patients.  There is no report in the literature of a brain damaged patient who has had any of the secondary emotions changed - unless they are so damaged they are generally impaired.

The author is a neurologist and has a theory that humans have a feeling of knowing.  This feeling appears to be one of the primary emotions.  There are documented cases of people who lose this feeling after a stroke or it may be enhanced during an epileptic seizure.  It is possible to stimulate this feeling with electromagnetic energy.  What people claim to feel appears to be related to their world view.  So of course, Dawkins would not claim a transcendent experience since that is not his world view.  

I haven't finished the book, and I am not sure I agree with everything the author proposes.  But it is interesting and may help explain why some people will just not let go of beliefs that are not supported by evidence.

edit:  Additionally,  Dr. Burton is not saying the feeling is from god/s/dess, or influenced by god/s/dess, he explicitly says it is an internal phenomenon within our brains.


-- I feel so much better since I stopped trying to believe.

"We are entitled to our own opinions. We're not entitled to our own facts"- Al Franken

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I would think the

I would think the 'uniformity' of the experience among those who experience is just as easily seen as evidence that it is generated by the same basic brain mechanism shared by all humans. The content of the experience among those sharing similar beliefs would also tend to be similar.

So they have no real argument there.

I see it as behind all non-empirical 'reasoning' - 'it makes sense to me, so it must be right'.

"Heavy objects must always fall faster than lighter ones", that feels right...


It's what I have often tried to get across to believers - the conviction that some experience is 'true' is itself just a subjective feeling itself.


Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

"Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings." - Sam Harris

The path to Truth lies via careful study of reality, not the dreams of our fallible minds - me

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Marty Hamrick
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BobSpence1 wrote: It's what

BobSpence1 wrote:


It's what I have often tried to get across to believers - the conviction that some experience is 'true' is itself just a subjective feeling itself.



Been down that road with them too. They immediately want to attack "objectivity", by stating that it's an illusion because all life experiences are subjective. I've always thought this odd coming from a group where the majority of them seem to espouse the idea of an objective morality or theology.

"Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings."

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I'm a proud collector of

I'm a proud collector of mystical and paranormal experiences and I'd wish my relationship with the divine would be closer. But without this theistic worshipping stuff. The transcendental experiences aren't here for us to worship them, unless that's your cup of coffee.

I'd like to achieve this peculiar way of life, when you make a plan and then in a day or so you encounter a beneficial and meaningful coincidence that helps you to make another step of your plan. Or you need an advice and you encounter a series of meaningful thematical synchronous coincidences that point your decision the right way. Or ideally, the best thing would be to train and refine my nerve system for internal intuitive rapport, so I wouldn't need any external signs and just know what to do. I know at least one such person and it's quite wonderful, except that it also means endless work, helping and advising many people around.

But according to people I interviewed, this is the relationship with god, Jesus, or whatever. Other people I know prove again, that this works also without religion. 
I know, it all sounds so dangerously irrational and delusional, but it's the results, that really count. As you know from history, some great successes depended on very small coincidences, acting on a hunch, going to the right place and right time. I definitely try to trust my intuition, and what is just as diffcult, to notice it. So far not much success.

So far, I had only success with evoking transcendental feelings of presence, love and bliss. These are wonderful, but not very instructive. On the other hand, hearing some very instructive voices in your head is not a good thing either.

Persinger claims that many paranormal experiences, feelings of having lived past lives, felt presences of non-physical beings, ghosts, muses, and other "spiritual beings", are examples of interhemispheric intrusions.

Well, I'd gladly try that God helmet of his, to compare how realistic ghosts and spiritual beings it can make you feel. I just hope it's not permanent.

Beings who deserve worship don't demand it. Beings who demand worship don't deserve it.

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I have mentioned

I have mentioned it on here before, but one of the first books that I ever touched on this subject was Neuberg's "Why God won't go away".

Certain parts of the brain, under the right circumstances, are stimulated and give a person a feeling of oneness.

It was noted that whirling Sufi Muslim Dancers, Buddhist Monks, Catholic Priests during liturgy, Pentecostals during frenzied tongue speaking events, and various others. all had the same exact part of the brain stimulated during these processes. A part of the neural process that tends to make a person feel less of their own selves and more "at one with everything".

Similiar effects on the mind were noted in places like concerts, political rallies and such. The repeated chanting, the frenzy of so many people together at once, often accounts for the mass excitement and feelings of immense energy.

When reading this I came to the conclusion  that religious experiences are merely byproducts of the brain.

But, towards the end of the book, it veers off into an obvious piece of theist propaganda. The authors even admit that all religious experience comes from the mind. But then, they start pushing that religion makes better people so it should be nurtured. I could not disagree more with their conclusion.

People interested in the phenomena of religion could do well to begin with this book, but I highly reccomend Religion Explained by Pascal Boyar, for those that wish for a better detailed and more rational explanation.

“It is proof of a base and low mind for one to wish to think with the masses or majority, merely because the majority is the majority. Truth does not change because it is, or is not, believed by a majority of the people.”
― Giordano Bruno