General

The brain function of abstraction acts as a doorway between direct perception and consciousness, for humans depend on concepts, labels, and words to shape their awareness. This is problematic when it comes to spiritual matters, which, by definition, refer to realms that have no physical reality. (Young children can form categories for concrete objects, but they have enormous difficulties with abstract concepts such as freedom, fairness, or God.) The brain transforms reality into abstract categories and labels, and these labels are intangible beliefs, assumptions about a world that cannot be directly perceived. In this sense, labels, beliefs, and reality are one and the same. If an ability to abstract is lost, the individual likely will end up living in a state of perpetual confusion, unable to navigate in the world, and unable to form beliefs. (Newberg, Andrew, MD and Mark Robert Waldman. Why We Believe What We Believe. P 76-80. NY:Free Press, 2006)

Attempting to stay in the moment helps one to achieve quality longevity. Mindfulness or mindful awareness, the subtle process of moment-to-moment awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and physical states, is key to sharpening memory and staying mentally fit. This ability not only reduces stress and anxiety, but also boosts the immune system and promotes health and healing for a variety of  medical illnesses and conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and chronic pain. (Small, Gary, MD. The Longevity Bible. NY: Hyperion Books, p 8-9. 2006)

Refer to Beliefs under Longevity

No matter what you see, feel, think, or do, it must all be processed through the brain. The human brain forms beliefs. A belief is like a map, a neural representation of an experience that seems meaningful real, or true. What constitutes a proof about anything is also a form of belief. (Newberg, Andrew, MD and Mark Robert Waldman. Why We Believe What We Believe. P 7, 17-22. NY:Free Press, 2006)

Brain scans: the amygdala that registers fear does react when one first observes a person from a different ethnic background—but there can be a significant variance in the response based on a variety of internal and external influences. The brain’s initial reaction can decrease in less than half a second. When faced with any belief that conflicts with one’s own, it takes additional effort and time to override biologically based cognitive biases, but by doing so you can become more open minded. (Newberg, Andrew, MD and Mark Robert Waldman. Why We Believe What We Believe. P 87-90. NY:Free Press, 2006)

Six cognitive functions (abstractive, quantitative, cause-and-effect, dualistic-oppositional, reductionist, holistic) work in conjunction with many other neural processes to create one’s belief systems. Some beliefs have strong emotional value and are deeply embedded in memory. Other beliefs elicit only mild responses and may never reach consciousness. (Newberg, Andrew, MD and Mark Robert Waldman. Why We Believe What We Believe. P 95-97. NY:Free Press, 2006)

The brain builds a conscious map of reality and a wide range of emotional responses will be assigned to everything we observe and think about. Even when we watch a horror film and know it is make-believe, part of the brain reacts as if it were real, and for a moment we react with fear. Any conscious awareness of the maps we are making occurs sometime after the event takes place—between one-tenth and one-half a second later, to be exact. (Newberg, Andrew, MD and Mark Robert Waldman. Why We Believe What We Believe. P 32-34)

Different areas in the brain appear to be associated with differing types of conscious decision-making; no one specific area of the brain has been identified as governing free will. Brain imaging studies do suggest that the frontal lobes are critical in directing one’s ability to act freely and make decisions. (Price, J.L., 2005)Rowe, J.B., et al, 2000. Hyder, F., et al, 1997. Frith, C.D., et al, 1991)

Refer to Emotions

Any intense experience, if maintained for more than half an hour, can leave permanent changes in the neural circuits involving emotion and memory. If the experience is frightening, the memory can continue to traumatize the individual for year. Brain-scan studies find that it takes less than one second for a word or a phase to trigger an emotional reaction in your brain. Negative states stimulate intensive limbic activity, and this causes the hippocampus to embed it into long-term emotional memory. Pleasant experiences do not trigger as strong a reactions and therefore are harder to recall than unpleasant ones. The more you obsess on a specific feeling, the more real I will appear to be. Be careful what you pray for, meditate on, or obsess about, because it may eventually become your personal truth. (Newberg, Andrew, MD and Mark Robert Waldman. Why We Believe What We Believe. P 182-190. NY:Free Press, 2006)

The right hemisphere is primarily involved in holistic representations, perceiving how things are connected into a whole. Holistic functions are not language based and so are more difficult to define or communicate. Spiritual experiences seem to rely on the brain’s holistic functions. Individuals often define spiritual experiences in broad, sweeping, poorly defined terms (e.g., enlightenment, transcendence). When holistic processing predominates, one consciously does not feel a very strong need to analyze, compare, quantify, or justify one’s perceptions or beliefs. Unconscious facial recognition relies heavily on holistic processing. The human brain is capable of both holistic and reductionist thinking but not at the same time. (Tovee, M. “Is face processing special?” Neuron 21:1239-1242. 1998)

Most everything is interpreted in the brain. For example, music is a neural interpretation of sound. Color is a neural interpretation of light—and to the brain color is primarily a subjective experience. There is no neural receptor that distinguishes any gradation of gray. It, like many other colors the human brain imagines, is a belief construction within the brain—a form of understanding. A thought. (Davidoff, J., 2001. Lamb, T, et al, 1995. Neitz, J., et al, 2001).

As with many beliefs, love may exist only in the mind. And it may not physically exist in the world outside your mind. Nevertheless, it has the power to alter the course of lives and change the course of history. If you define it as a form of nurturance and attachment, love can be found in many species besides human beings. Apparently only human beings exhibit romantic passion, however. The emotions triggered by a combination of romantic ideals and hormones are very powerful and often impart a strong impression of reality. Intimately, each person is free to choose which beliefs to accept and which to reject. (Lipton, Bruce, PhD. The Biology of Belief. P. 24-25. CA:Mountain of Love/Elite Books, 2005)

Love is a belief existing primarily inside one’s mind… and may not physically exist in the world outside the mind. Love seems real because the emotions triggered by a combination of hormones and romantic ideals are very powerful and often impart a strong impression of reality. (Newberg, Andrew, MD and Mark Robert Waldman. Why We Believe What We Believe. P 24-25. NY:Free Press, 2006)

Refer to Prayer/Meditation under Care of the Brain

In most forms of prayer/meditation, the practitioner has a purpose (e.g., to experience God, to calm the mind, to become more aware). The act of prayer is a problem-solving device, designed to consciously explore a spiritual perspective or belief and to integrate that awareness into daily life. This requires increased activity in the attention area of the brain. Brain scans have shown activation of the frontal lobes, especially the prefrontal cortex just above the eyes, during prayer and meditation. In addition, activity in the parietal lobes (that interpret sensory information to create a three-dimensional representation of one’s surroundings) becomes deactivated, allowing one to become more connected with the object of his/her attention. Quantifying the world is so important to brain function that it even impacts religious rituals. Recommendations are for Hindus to pray three times a day, Muslims five times a day, Roman Catholics seven times a day, and an orthodox Jew one hundred times a day. (Newberg, Andrew, MD and Mark Robert Waldman. Why We Believe What We Believe. P 80-82, 174-180. NY:Free Press, 2006)

Refer to Memory under Learning & Memory

Many of our memories about ourselves—particularly those about our early years—are believed partly a form of wishful thinking, an internal cognitive process that attempts to restructure one’s autobiography in a positive light. (Fotopoulou, A., et al. “Wishful realty distortions in confabulation: A case report.” Neuropsyhologia 42(6):727-744)

When you believe your perceptions accurately represent something in reality, your brain sends this information through a hierarchical processing system that allow you to compare the representation with your memories and other believes. These cognitive functions are largely preconscious. Specific cognitive processes are not only essential to the formulation of everyday beliefs but also responsible for the emergence of spiritual perceptions, mystical experiences, and unitive states of consciousness, including functions of:

  • Abstractive
  • Quantitative
  • Cause-and-effect
  • Dualistic or oppositional
  • Reductionist
  • Holistic

(Newberg, Andrew, MD, et al. Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. NY:Ballantine, 2001)

Refer to Relationships

When you spend a significant amount of time with certain people, you tend to adopt and share the same attitudes and lifestyle habits. You may not realize the impact these lifestyle influences make on the quality of your longevity. If you surround yourself with a health-conscious crowd, you tend to make healthier longevity choices. (Small, Gary, MD. The Longevity Bible. NY:Hyperion Books, p 63. 2006)

Refer to Spirituality under Care of the Brain—although it is acknowledged that spirituality and religion are separate concepts.

Extensive research showed that children who grow up in fundamentalist families do tend to obey the authorities and follow rules. However, they also tend to be self-righteous, prejudicial, and condemnatory toward people outside their group. They tend to develop an ‘us versus them’ mentality that many maintain throughout life. Fundamentalist congregations tend to experience a 50 percent dropout rate among members. (Altemeyer, B., and B. Hunsberger. “Fundamentalism and authoritarianism” Handbook of the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. NY:Guilford, 2005)

Refer to Spirituality under Care of the Brain

Spiritual experiences seem to rely on the brain’s holistic functions. Individuals often define spiritual experiences in broad, sweeping, poorly defined terms (e.g., enlightenment, transcendence). The right hemisphere is primarily involved in holistic representations, perceiving how things are connected into a whole. Holistic functions are not language based and so are more difficult to define or communicate. When holistic processing predominates, one consciously does not feel a very strong need to analyze, compare, quantify, or justify one’s perceptions or beliefs. Unconscious facial recognition relies heavily on holistic processing. The human brain is capable of both holistic and reductionist thinking but not at the same time. (Newberg, Andrew, MD and Mark Robert Waldman. Why We Believe What We Believe. P 80-100. NY:Free Press, 2006)

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