God on the Brain

Rudi Affolter and Gwen Tighe have both experienced strong religious visions. He is an atheist; she a Christian. He thought he had died; she thought she had given birth to Jesus. Both have temporal lobe epilepsy.

Like other forms of epilepsy, the condition causes fitting but it is also associated with religious hallucinations. Research into why people like Rudi and Gwen saw what they did has opened up a whole field of brain science: neurotheology.

The connection between the temporal lobes of the brain and religious feeling has led one Canadian scientist to try stimulating them. (They are near your ears.) 80% of Dr Michael Persinger’s experimental subjects report that an artificial magnetic field focused on those brain areas gives them a feeling of ‘not being alone’. Some of them describe it as a religious sensation.

His work raises the prospect that we are programmed to believe in god, that faith is a mental ability humans have developed or been given. And temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) could help unlock the mystery.

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  1. All religions build their foundation on the fear of death and promises of some type of existence after death. No living creature human or otherwise wants to just cease to exist and all rational though points to exactly that. When we die brain activity dies along with consciousness and life is then over so its understandable why religion has become something people are going to want to believe in so when the time comes to die you accept it with hope.

  2. Glad to see dawkins

  3. Damn strait Persinger!

  4. Didn’t expect to see Richard Dawkins in this one

  5. Very interesting, i intend on writing about it on my Epilepsy blog. 🙂

  6. Very interesting, i intend on writing about it on my Epilepsy blog. 🙂

  7. I have temporal lobe epilepsy.  It is not a mental illness.  It is a disease.  I didn’t translate the abnormal sensations with any presence of god or god-like belief.  Not all with temporal lobe epilepsy experience their disorder this way.

    • Epilepsy Isn’t a disease, its a condition. Granted you might get it from a disease which causes brain damage, but its not a disease in its own right.

    • When I said “I didn’t”, I’m speaking that way because I had brain surgery to remove my anterior temporal lobe.  Some abnormal tissue remains, only now my seizures are tonic-clonic rather than my previous experience.  I will be on medication, and have epilepsy, forever.

  8. A very interesting doc. I have always said that religion was a mental illness.