Wednesday, January 21, 2009

God on the brain

This is rather interesting. It seems they've found a possible link between temporal lobe epilepsy and religious experiences:

Was Ellen Gould White truly divinely inspired? Were her visions authentic? Or were 12 million people misled?

Neurology professor Gregory Holmes believes that Ellen’s religious visions were the result of a neurological condition called temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE).

The temporal lobes are a section of the brain associated with higher cognitive processes such as attention and interpretation of visual and auditory input, and are located on either side of the brain just above the ears. Importantly, the temporal lobes are associated with the limbic system, which is responsible for attaching emotion to stimuli.

At times, individuals with TLE have seizures, which occur when there is a significant increase in electrical activity in some part of the brain — you can think of them as electrical storms in the brain. In TLE patients, these are rarely the type of seizures which involve physical convulsions; to the outsider the individual may simply look vacant and be uncommunicative.

Holmes’ hypothesis regarding Ellen White’s visions is supported by research on the clinical presentation of temporal lobe epilepsy. Seizures experienced by these patients are often preceded by “auras” involving sensations of bright lights and fragrances (such as “burning toast” for those who remember Wilder Penfield’s CBC Heritage Minute). During the seizure itself, patients engage in automatisms such as wringing their hands, pacing back and forth, or repeating particular words. They often have visual and auditory hallucinations which are religious or supernatural in nature. These hallucinations are very likely the visions that are commonly believed to be divine in nature.

Even during the periods between seizures, patients with TLE exhibit specific personality traits. They tend to display hypergraphia (extensive and obsessive writing), hyposexuality (a lack of sexual desire), hypermorality (obsessively following some high moral standard), as well as a preoccupation with religious and philosophical issues.

From the Manitoban. Fascinating, if this can be confirmed by further studies. I suspect a lot of people will find this a bit hard to accept, though.

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