The Seat of the Soul is the Right Parietal Lobe

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Philosopher Rene Descartes famously thought that the seat of the soul was located in the pineal gland in the human brain.  While modern neuroscience may not have revealed where the soul resides, Unversity of Missouri researchers have figured out that spiritual feelings of selflessness and transcendence arise when the activity in the right parietal lobe is reduced.

parietal lobe

According to the press release reporting the research:

"The brain functions in a certain way during spiritual experiences," said Brick Johnstone, professor of health psychology in the MU School of Health Professions. "We studied people with brain injury and found that people with injuries to the right parietal lobe of the brain reported higher levels of spiritual experiences, such as transcendence."…

"The ability to connect with things beyond the self, such as transcendent experiences, seems to occur for people who minimize right parietal functioning. This can be attained through cultural practices, such as intense meditation or prayer or because of a brain injury that impairs the functioning of the right parietal lobe. Either way, our study suggests that 'selflessness' is a neuropsychological foundation of spiritual experiences."

So there you have it—spirituality and selflessness is the result of brain injury. OK, OK. A person can also mimic brain injury through meditation and prayer. 

Study press release available at ScienceDaily here

Disclosure: Some of my best friends suffer from brain injury, ah, I mean, regularly experience spiritual transcendence and selflessness. Especially the latter with regard to putting up with me. 

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  1. Unversity [sic] of Missouri researchers have figured out that spiritual feelings of selflessness and transcendence arise when the activity in the right parietal lobe is reduced.

    Richard Dawkins was optimistic. Religion isn’t just delusional, it’s brain damage!

  2. While modern neuroscience may not have revealed where the soul resides

    Haha! Good one, now where is my pitchfork and torch?

  3. This is going to be good. I need some popcorn.

  4. oh dear.

    at least we’re a bit closer to a religious experience in a pill, though. eating all that san pedro gets yucky after a while.

  5. spirituality and selflessness is the result of brain injury

    Well, perhaps a CERTAIN KIND of brain injury. Other kinds of brain injury have the opposite effect.

  6. Now I see my problem: I’ve been eating peoples left hemispheres…

  7. Religion is just a drillbit away.

  8. The Seat of the Soul is the Right Parietal Lobe ?

    More like the right parietal lobe is the guard blocking the soul from taking a seat.

    From what you write, it sounds more like r.parietal is inhibiting “soul expression” rather than increasing it. The title is not apt.

    The REST of the brain (or whatever system the parietal is inhibiting) is the seat of the soul.

  9. The researchers seem to mean “selflessness” not in the moral sense, which makes sense, since so many spiritual people are anything but selfless.

  10. Warty! You bastard! ROFL!!! Its the holidays dammit! I got family over here and they are mystified as to why I’m on my couch laughing my ass off. They think I’m weird enough already, no need to add to the stories about me.

  11. How will the ID Theorists deal with this one? I mean, God designed the human brain in such a way that it needs to be functioning non-optimally in order for us to be spiritual? Yeah, that makes sense. I suppose that since He didn’t foresee the NFL when he designed the human knee he would make some mess-ups in the brain too.

  12. They think I’m weird enough already, no need to add to the stories about me.

    Talk to the screen, dude! Say something out loud about damage to your right parietal lobe!

  13. We’ve also heard this week that cocaine triggers altruism. Hmmmm.
    I am not above declaring a War of Spirituality based on specious circumstantial evidence such as ties to the drug trade.

  14. Ethan, it doesn’t have to be suboptimally functioning for spirtuality. Rather, suboptimal function in one inhibitory system increases spirituality. This doesn’t affect ID at all, really.

  15. Ronald:

    Please leave it to Mr. Sullum to poorly interpret psychological research. He does a much better job at failing than you do, since he can get the whole article messed up instead of just the title.

    Thanks!

    LD

  16. Some of my best friends suffer from brain injury

    Heh heh. Ironically, the injury is often self-inflicted.
    Right, Bill O’Reilly? Right, Nancy Grace?
    What other animal on earth spends his days in such an effort?*

    *H&R aficionados exempted, of course. Or are we?

  17. You know, Ron, this is all well and good, but they should be doing research into what happens when you stimulate the pineal gland. Maybe with some sort of resonance.

  18. So there you have it — spirituality and selflessness is the result of brain injury. OK, OK. A person can also mimic brain injury through meditation and prayer.

    Thank you for the funniest quip I’m likely to read this week.

    PS. I only meditate to the extent it helps my Tae Kwon Do technique. Not interested in the spiritual aspect, or taking it so far I turn into the little Buddha boy who lives in a self induced vegetative state.

  19. Epi,

    Come on. They’ll think I’m talking in tongues if I say that out loud.

  20. I am a victim of hyperactive right parietal lobe syndrome. I need medicine.

  21. We’ve also heard this week that cocaine triggers altruism

    That’s certainly true when you’ve just permeated the tiny zip-lock on that bulging 8-ball (or so I hear) but watch the altruist disappear when there’s only 2 lines left (or so I hear).

  22. Episiarch,

    @ 2:21 post. Not thinking of deifying yourself are ya?

    “Charlie: Okay, okay. First of all, there are people out there who actually have been molested and you guys are going to exploit that for your own personal gain? You assholes are securing your places in hell.

    Ryan: We’ve thought about it. We’re willing to roll the dice.”

  23. “This doesn’t affect ID at all, really.”

    nothing can, short of god showing up on cnn and holding a press conference.

  24. Naga, regarding deification, I think this is better:

    “Now technically that stain did appear to me. Also, I am familiar with carpentry, and I don’t know who my father is, so…am I the messiah? I don’t know. I could be. I’m not ruling it out.”

    Also, maybe I’m incorrectly reading your statement, but my reference was to this and this.

  25. We’ve also heard this week that cocaine triggers altruism. Hmmmm.

    But… but… then why there the ’80s the decade of greed???

  26. dhex:

    I agree, in the strict sense it’s impossible to affect via science, without a press conference. But having spirituality work through a brain mechanism isn’t even a strike making it less likely: I am sure there are possible findings that make it seem sillier.

  27. Epi,

    Sorry. I was on the right track but going the wrong way when I saw the resonance part of your post. Walking around with some sort of ray gun that caused people to view you as some sort of demigod was what I had in mind. RESONANCE, bithces!!!

  28. Wow… You know how religion and substance abuse are generally concomitant or closely related? “I only got sober through the grace of God?” I used to think that the booze and the drugs tickled the same fancy in these people, but it sounds like it might be more chicken and egg than that. Alcoholism can damage the parietal lobe, so maybe you can drink yourself to sainthood.

  29. that means that libertarians have overly functioning right parietal lobes because their selfish and think that all the earth revolves around selfishness. well guess what not everybody is as egotistical as you all maybe you should go meditate and try not to be such self centered assholes

    the ideology of degregulation is dead!

    rotfl!!!1!

  30. Obviously, the next fertile areas of research will be in determining whether and how the ritualistic practices and sacraments of religion affect right parietal lobe activity: peyote, marijuana, psilocybin, cocaine, alcohol, and LSD, for starters.

    While we’re at it, let’s do some brain scans to determine the level of hyperactivity in the right parietal lobes of the drug warriors. Or perhaps such activity is absent entirely for those who believe ridding us of the scourge is a mission from God.

  31. But seriously for a second, is anyone even slightly worried that nasty theocratic regimes wouldn’t use this finding to justify “fixing” (via drugs and/or lobotomy) religious dissidents or religious lawbreakers?

    “Your God radio is badly tuned. Here, let me tune that for ya…”

  32. Have they discovered what kind of brain injury leads to blogging?

  33. Walking around with some sort of ray gun that caused people to view you as some sort of demigod was what I had in mind. RESONANCE, bithces!!!

    I like the way you think, Naga. No wonder your family thinks you’re a freak.

  34. But seriously for a second, is anyone even slightly worried that nasty theocratic regimes wouldn’t use this finding to justify “fixing” (via drugs and/or lobotomy) religious dissidents or religious lawbreakers?

    Not while it is still easier just to kill them.

  35. Episiarch,

    Not so much my friend. I’m the only geeky one in a family of mean spirited badasses and losers. I’m the only one in my immediate family that graduated high school and I’ll be the first in my entire family to ever have a college degree. We aim high in my family.

  36. Have they discovered what kind of brain injury leads to blogging?

    Oh, Mad Max, come on. Religious behavior is something that has various intensity and expression, and some people do seem to be “more wired” for it than others. What, you’ve never noticed? Now, I disagree with the characterization that it is “brain damage” or a “suboptimal state”; it is, to my mind, just one of the many ways a human brain can operate.

    But you can’t be seriously making fun of the plainly obvious notion that every human behavior (including “religious” ones) are supervenient upon specific brain states. Otherwise, how does the poor human experience them at all?

  37. I’m the only one in my immediate family that graduated high school and I’ll be the first in my entire family to ever have a college degree.

    Impressive. But is a Bachelor’s in Cougar Banging really worth that much?

  38. Brain damamge also causes utilitarianism.
    http://www.emaxhealth.com/85/10426.html

  39. Episiarch,

    Thats was a side project. I’ve been back to my age group for over a year. Granted we broke up the first week of November but still my point is valid.

    “Dennis: Margaret, you like sweat, don’t you. Margaret–it is Margaret, isn’t it? Of course it is. You know, your eyebrow, drives me crazy. It’s so thick, its so dark, so very… connected. You’re a stone cold fox, Margaret. You’re a stone cold fox, and I want you. I gotta have you–I need you. I want you inside me. But you know that, don’t you, Margaret?”

  40. I realize only too late that my post would have been much funnier if I had said, “God is just a drillbit away”. Flubbed lines, blown chances, and wrong decisions; the story of my life.

    And now I will forever imagine Naga as Stringer Bell and the rest of his family as the crew in the pit.

  41. This can be attained through cultural practices, such as intense meditation or prayer or because of a brain injury that impairs the functioning of the right parietal lobe. Either way, our study suggests that ‘selflessness’ is a neuropsychological foundation of spiritual experiences.”

    Ha! I knew progressives were brain damaged!

  42. The pineal gland is where certain neurotransmitters, namely triptamines, are formed.

    DMT, dimethyltriptamine is released during dreaming and in large quantities in a dying brain. DMT has very psychedelic effects and when large enough doses enter the brain, the experience resembles what some people describe during a near death experience.

    Apparently you can sometimes see a bright light and then you feel like you are floating through the cosmos and you are contacted by other beings, whether they are aliens or dead relatives, you feel connected to the whole universe at once.

    Anyway, this is what is reported by people who have smoked a large enough dose of DMT to go that far. In smaller doses you just trip like you’re on LSD for a couple of hours.

  43. I suppose that since He didn’t foresee the NFL when he designed the human knee

    Or maybe he has a wicked sense of humor and finds ACL injuries really, really funny.

  44. She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie
    left brain

  45. Apparently you can sometimes see a bright light and then you feel like you are floating through the cosmos and you are contacted by other beings, whether they are aliens or dead relatives, you feel connected to the whole universe at once.

    Anyway, this is what is reported by people who have smoked a large enough dose of DMT to go that far. In smaller doses you just trip like you’re on LSD for a couple of hours.
    _____________________________________________
    The smoked dose of DMT is 80-150mg It is NOTHING LIKE LSD! The “high lasts for 10-15 minutes with an almost instant onset. Exploding through light and tunnels into the alternate realities is common, beings and guides wait for you, elves prance glowing energy beings inform you etc etc. not like the lsd visions at all. more like a very quick heroic mescaline dose with high dose mdma mixed in. DMT is not to be played with, even an experinced person like myself will only touch it once every few years. It IS THAT STRONG! after 1 hour, you are back to baseline. can be extracted from mimosia hostilis.

  46. Hm…do you think CVS stocks DMT? This sounds like fun.

  47. SpongPaul,

    That would be a whole lot easier for the kid’s parents to spot than heroin use.

  48. can be extracted from mimosia hostilis.
    link pls

  49. When I click on “Submit Comment,” it releases endorphins that stimulate the smugness center of my brain.

  50. Aaaaah. That was really a superior comment.

    Try to reach the bar I’ve set. If you can.

  51. “Try to reach the bar I’ve set. If you can.”

    Well, I reached for my bar and stimulated myself. So I guess your post can’t be all bad.

  52. link pls

    Are kids really so lazy these days that they can’t even wiki the damn thing?

  53. Great, now when the libs want to “cure” “greedy capitalists” they know right where to cut.

  54. I can’t really see this as coming as a surprise to either the religious, who’ve traditionally viewed reason and intellect as at least obstacles to, if not down right enemies of faith, or to the irreligious, who’ve traditionally seen things exactly the other way around.

  55. See, if they would feed us DMT instead of bland wafers, Christmas mass would be pretty bad ass.

  56. Here the whole problem of reductionist science exposed, still looking in the little bits and pieces of the brain for the cause and source. Same reasoning that made lobotomy cutting edge mental health treatment!!

  57. “The researchers seem to mean “selflessness” not in the moral sense, which makes sense, since so many spiritual people are anything but selfless.”

    I think you mean “religious” people. I don’t think this is the part of brain that turns you into an intolerant zealous bastard ready to wreak inquisitorial violence upon anyone who questions the fantasy which sustains your fragile sense of self-importance in an uncaring universe.

    It’s the part that gives you a feeling of egoless oneness with the world and out-of-body experiences and shit. It’s practically the opposite, actually.

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