Meet Dr. Andrew Newberg, assistant professor at the Departments of Radiology and Psychiatry at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, who studies the relationship between brain function and religious experiences. In the final part of this four part series, Dr. Newberg explains why we believe what we believe.
The Role of Biology in Mystical Experiences Part 4/4 Male1: Scientists who pushed the frontiers of neurological and spiritual research hope to find intersections between the two fields of study. Meditation and the experiences it can produce are one example of where these two fields may meet. While those who meditate can explain what they feel happening to them, Doctor Newberg wants to know what really happens. What in their brains enables those experiences? He also believes that while the transcended self can be positive it can also have negative results. Some of his newest studies are aimed at finding out answer to what happens when religion and spiritually go well and what happens when they go bad. Dr. Newberg: Why is it that somebody who is incredibility religious and spiritual on one hand, why do you have somebody like that who could be incredibly compassionate and loving and love all of humankind and have bore violence of any kind. And in the other hand you have another person who is deeply religious and spiritual and they feel that committing war and violence on other people is totally justified within the context to their religion. So I think that we have to understand what the difference between those two types of people is. Is it a difference in adoption? Is it a difference in their biology, in their genes? Is it a difference in how they think about the world and in their environment? Is it a difference in their experiences that they have had? Now I think we need to answer that question first and then when we do that maybe we can find a better ways more, effective ways of dealing with the negative consequences religion and spiritually when it does turn bad. And how we can turn it around in something that is more positive because certainly religion and spirituality offers a lot of very positive things for people but when it can offer the negative aspects as well. As what everything in the human world, technology can be wonderful but it also it can ultimately be detrimental. It’s great to have automobiles and cars so we can get around places faster but then it pumps up too much on carbon dioxide and we get global warming. So how do we, its good and its bad and we have to think about how we make it so that we can make are world and who are as people into a better place ultimately. And that’s the ultimate goal of both science and religion ultimately is all about. Male1: Doctor Newberg believes that humans have a basic need to understand how the world works and are place within it. Why we believe what we believe, explores this topic in detail. He discusses why we hold the beliefs that we hold. What factors into making those beliefs and why we hold them so strongly. He explains why we tend to think that are beliefs are right and everybody else’s are wrong. Dr. Newberg: Now on one hand that’s great because that is the way that human beings are successful over many thousands of years. But on the other hand that becomes as important and compelling to us as person that we sometimes forget the limitations that our own brain imposes on our views of the world. And we sometimes forget that maybe a little bit of that unknowing and a little of that anxiety may actually good for us because it pushes us to ask more questions. It pushes us to inquisitive. It pushes us to strive to understand another person’s perspective and sometimes we get so anxious and so limited in the way that we look at things and in many ways we don’t even think of ourselves that highly enough that we think that we can get by this world and still have uncertainly. That we really hold on to very, very strong sense of what reality is all about and exclude all others and we see that in everything. Even in science, I mean it’s something that I have seen so many times where belief about how a disease works or how certain process works. As soon as you start getting the scrap result people immediately rejected those results as being done poorly and so forth and not until you get so much overwhelming evidence that’s shows that maybe in different way of thinking. Do we actually change and do we actually go in new direction. Male1: Doctor Newberg thinks that most religious belief systems characterized god as something which is infinite or powerful and all knowing. Therefore, as human beings we are very limited and only have the ability to exam in a small aspect of what god or religion is all about. When we look at scriptures, there are thousands of verses and ideas within them. As a result Doctor Newberg says that we pick a limited number that we can understand and take as a part of our lives. All of us have limitation so we’re all in many ways doing the best that we can with the belief systems that we have. That’s why he believes that we should respect the belief systems of others because they maybe looking at the same thing but they maybe just seeing it a little bit differently. Dr. Newberg: I was like the analogy of having different flies on an elephant and then you ask each fly to describe an elephant. Well the fly that’s on the trunk is going to say something different than the one that’s on the tail and different in the one that’s on its tusk. And they are all right but they are also all limited in how they’re looking at. They’re not seeing the whole thing and I think when we talk about ultimately realty, we talk about god. These are such huge concepts that I think people really have to be very aware of and careful about. The limitations that they are putting on those ideas, on the ideas as they understand them and also recognize that everybody else is working with very similar kinds of limitations and hopefully this will give us a little bit more sense of compassion for each other to realize that we are really kind of all in the same boat. And we are all kind of dealing with the same problems of trying to understand our world the best of we can. Female1: As capable multi faceted as the human brain is its powers are finite. Confronted with the enormity of existence, we all try to figure out things out in spite of the limitations of our minds. Perhaps by approaching one another with humility and respect, we can further the goal of both science and religion. The betterment of ourselves and the world, Doctor Andrew Newberg studied Buddhist monks and meditation in Christian nuns of prayer. At the moment of spiritual transcendent or sacred joy, he notices similar brain activity in all of the subjects. From this and other research, he concluded that whatever the nature or origin of the divine our experience is tied to our very physical being. We seemed wired says Doctor Newberg to search for the ultimate and the infinite. I'm your host for matter and beyond, Laura Wells. Thank you so much for joining us in our continuing journey of exploration and understanding. Until next time.