Over the course of our history, there have been people who claimed that they have seen God (Christian and others). These people are often able to vividly describe the ‘god’ that they have seen. They usually have an interaction with this ‘god’, which changes the way they live their lives. This phenomenon has been experienced by people, regardless of their stance on religion. But why? Did a ‘god’ really visit them? Or is it all in their minds?
Temporal Lobes and Spiritual Experiences
One theory proposes that there is a part of the brain, called the Temporal Lobe, which possesses the circuitry for religious experiences. This theory was proposed by Professor Vilayanur Ramachandran, who found that around 25% of people with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE) are obsessed with religion. After an episode of intense seizure, these patients claimed that they saw ‘god’ and afterwards are convinced that they should follow the path shown to them by that ‘god’. Prof. Ramachandran mentioned in an interview that after such an experience, most patients will be walking around with huge necklaces with crosses and bibles.
In order to test this theory, Prof. Ramachandran and his colleagues seeked to find out how people respond when they are shown neutral words (e.g. chairs and tables), sexual ones and religious words by measuring their Galvanic Skin Responses. What they found was that TLE patients are highlly responsive to religious words, but not on sexual and neutral ones. In addition, based on their skin responses, they are far less interested in sexually loaded words that neutral ones. Participants without damage to their Temporal Lobes on the other hand, were highly responsive to sexual words.
Can this be induced?
A better question, I suppose is that is it possible to give healthy (people without TLE) people these experiences by altering their brain circuitry? Dr. Persinger set out to do just that. He developed a helmet connected to a machine which if worn, alters the function of an individual’s Temporal Lobes. He asked participants, who did not know what the experiment was about, to wear this helmet while doing various activities. 80% of them reported feeling that something or someone (which they cannot see) was around them. It should be noted that Dr. Persinger insisted that the susceptibility to experience such a thing varies from one person to the next.