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)

Hypothesis: the human brain is inclined to accept the reality of spiritual beliefs separate from the influence of others. Different types of hemispheric reactions may bias an individual from embracing or rejecting creationist and evolutionary perspectives. (Niebauer, C.L., et all. “Interhemispheric interaction and beliefs on our origin. Laterality 9(4):443-447)

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)

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