Richard G. Petty, MD


Over the last three decades researchers at a number of universities have studied meditators and people in prayer, or experiencing mystical experiences, and tried to pinpoint the region of the brain responsible for these experiences. Some researchers went as far as to suggest that there’s a specific region of the brain that’s responsible for direct communication with God, while others have been far more skeptical. One of my early teachers was convinced that mystical experiences were simply forms of temporal lobe epilepsy. I was just as convinced that he was wrong. But back then I was the student, and he the master. So I was put firmly in my place. Neuropsychologist Michael Persinger and his group at Laurentian University in Canada has reported that he can very precise magnetic fields to artificially stimulate regions within the temporal lobes to induce a state of “sensed presence.”

A new study conducted by Mario Beauregard and Vincent Paquette from Montreal has just been published in the journal Neuroscience Letters.

The investigators used functional MRI (fMRI) scanning in 15 Carmelite nuns to try to examine the brain processes underlying the Unio Mystica: the Christian notion of mystical union with God. This is the latest episode in a field that is becoming known as neurotheology.

The nuns were asked to relive a mystical experience rather than actually trying to achieve one. Rather than reveal a spiritual center in the brain – a “God spot,” as the popular press called it – the researchers found a dozen different regions of the brain were activated during the recall of the mystical experience. The experience was mediated by brain systems and regions that are normally implicated in emotion, self-awareness and body representation.

It is important to note that despite the title of the study – “Neural correlates of a mystical experience in Carmelite nuns” – this was actually an experiment on memory, and there were some technical objections to the study. There is a fine critique here.

There is also a point that I have brought up before: can we really try to reduce complex psychological and spiritual experiences to a groups or systems of neurons? My own view is that we are seeing necessary neurological correlates of an experience, but that these measurements tell us nothing at all about the key aspects of what the nuns remember: the sense of meaning, value and purpose that flow from the mystical experience.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!

logo logo logo logo logo logo