No “God spot”: spirituality a complex phenomenon, researchers say

Today ScienceDaily has an article up called “Distinct ‘God spot’ in the brain does not exist, study shows“:

“We have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality, but it’s not isolated to one specific area of the brain,” said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the School of Health Professions. “Spirituality is a much more dynamic concept that uses many parts of the brain. Certain parts of the brain play more predominant roles, but they all work together to facilitate individuals’ spiritual experiences.”

What does this mean? Not too much. Being able to blame spirituality on a particular mass of cells in the brain could possibly have been a convenient, if sloppy, way to explain it away as just the result of an aberration originating in the brain of one of our ancestors. But those who insist that a physical explanation for a phenomenon robs it of any possible transcendent meaning will nonetheless hang on the words, “We have found a neuropsychological basis for spirituality…”

I found the most interesting part of the ScienceDaily article to be the following quote:

“Neuropsychology researchers consistently have shown that impairment on the right side of the brain decreases one’s focus on the self,” Johnstone said. “Since our research shows that people with this impairment are more spiritual, this suggests spiritual experiences are associated with a decreased focus on the self. This is consistent with many religious texts that suggest people should concentrate on the well-being of others rather than on themselves.”

I wonder how “many” religious texts actually do preach the well-being of one’s fellow man. No doubt the preponderance of religious traditions that have existed in human history have not only not taught such things but have prescribed the opposite. It seems that only certain religious convictions would actually correlate with the right side of the brain, whereas people from certain other religious traditions, ranging from those institutionalizing human sacrifice and holy wars to those Christian traditions that place more emphasis on believing the right stuff rather than integrating Christ’s teachings in their action, would conceivably show significantly less right brain activity in a brain scan.

But remember, just because certain brain functions normally take place in a given region of the brain doesn’t mean that they’re rooted there: it seems neurologists are finding that the rule rather than the exception is that functions associated with a given area of the brain can be taken up by another area when the original area is damaged.

Is there anything of real interest in this story that I have missed?

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