Seizures and the Sight of God
Seizures and the Sight of God
Isabella Eguae-ObazeeResearchers interested in the connection of the brain and religion have examined the experiences of people suffering from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Apparently the increased electrical activity in the brain resulting from seizure activity (abnormal electrical activity within localized portions of the brain), makes sufferers more susceptible to having religious experiences including visions of supernatural beings and near death experiences (NDEs) (9). Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE) sufferers also may become increasingly obsessed with religion, the study and practice of it (1). Why is it that this form of epilepsy results in religious experiences among the other supernatural experiences possible? Can people who have never studied or practiced religion be susceptible to these same religious experiences? Why do some interested researchers claim that such notable figures as Paul on the road to Damascus, Joan of Arc, Ellen White of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and other persons suffered from TLE because of their range of reported experiences with God, angels, and demons (1,3)? In my first paper, I highlighted the connection scientists have made between religious experience and the brain. In this paper, I intend to focus on Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, as one of those connections, specifically the symptom of hyperreligiousity.
In 1997 Vilayanur Ramachandran and his colleagues from the University of California at San Diego headed a research study. The team studied patients of temporal lobe epilepsy measuring galvanic skin response on the left hands of the patients (11). This measurement allowed the research team to monitor arousal (specific autonomic nervous system response) and indirectly surmise the communication between the inferior temporal lobe and the amygdala, both important in response related to fear and arousal (9). In addition to two control groups a religious control group and a non-religious control group, each group was shown forty words, including violent words, sexual words, and simple words (like "wheel"), and finally, religious-related words. The results of the study showed a greater arousal in the temporal lobe epilepsy sufferers to religious words in comparison to the non-religious, whom were aroused by sexual words, and religious control groups, whom were aroused by religious and sexual words (10).
Ramachandran and his team concluded that although the patients were not experiencing seizures or experiencing supernatural occurrences at the time of testing, they were highly sensitive to religious words. Thus, the experiences of temporal lobe seizures strengthened the patients interest in religion (11). Such a conclusion seems fairly reasonable considering that these patients also reported religious experiences during their seizures. Is it possible that the increased arousal to religious words is not a direct result of their temporal lobe epilepsy, but rather a result of the supernatural experiences induced by their epilepsy? Possibly these patients began to research and study religion more to finds ways to explain the experiences that they had during their seizures. Subsequent research on very religious, non-epileptic subjects supports this idea. In a different experiment, the of very religious, non-epileptics' temporal lobes where noted to be more active (11). However, in epileptic patients, Ramachandran concludes that the seizure's damage to temporal lobe pathways makes these patients more sensitive to certain ideas that to others do not have great meaning; specifically, pathways that connect the part of the brain that gives recognizes to sensory information and the part that gives emotional meaning to the sensory information (4). Ramachandran believes that because of these specific damage, everything that these patients experience has great meaning (10).
Some people, interested in proving God's inexistence, speculate that some of the notable religious figures suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy. For example, they claim that Paul, a notable figure in Christianity had a temporal lobe seizure as he was walking toward Damascus (1). In the New Testament of the Bible, Paul claims to see God and hear Jesus Christ speaking to him. Other notable figures like Ellen Smith, of the Seventh-day Adventist Church also claims to have had profound visions directly from God. Contrary to these researchers belief, there are other components of temporal epilepsy beyond hyperreligiousity that would negate these ideas. Associated with temporal lobe epilepsy is also a change in personality. The person may become irritable and obsessive-compulsive; they focus on extremely abstract aspects of their daily life, and attach a great deal of importance to daily situations. In addition they experience emotions with more intensity. With respect to these religious figures, the only one noted have any possible experience with epilepsy is Ellen White, an influential member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. She suffered from a head injury during her childhood however the head injury was suffered near the nasal-area of her face (3). I found very little evidence to support the claims that her among other religious figures suffered from TLE.
From the studies completed on Temporal Epilepsy patients, it appears that hyperreligiousity may simply be a result of increased interest in the details and experiences of everyday life. However, the visions and other supernatural experiences reported by these patients gives cause for researchers to examine the temporal area of the brain. This portion of the brain may be what researchers are calling the "God Spot," a part of the brain where religion arises from (11). It is not clear why this would be an ideal place for the so-called "God Spot." It is possible that the known functioning of the Temporal Lobe, recognizing sensory information and attributing meaning to sensory information is akin to the philosophies of religion. Maybe, the "God Spot" acquires its spot over time rather than having its presence in the brain early on in a human's life. If this were true, the next step would be to examine the Temporal Epilepsy cases of younger children. Do they also experience religion as older patients do?
Furthermore, if possible researchers should examine the prior religious experiences and lives of temporal lobe epilepsy patients. Did they have any interest in religion prior to their experiences with epilepsy? This may provide insight intensity and contents of the persons reported religious experiences. Hyperreligiousity is an interesting symptom of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. The action of the temporal lobe after experiencing epileptic seizures supports the idea that religion might begin in the mind (10). I hope that within the coming years more scientists will research this aspect of temporal lobe epilepsy. Thus, giving us more insight into whether the soul is within the brain.
WWW Sources1)Epilepsy: Sacred Disease by Paul Newman
Comments made prior to 2007
I would like to know more also. I've had TLE SINCE I was 5 and I don't recall thinking so strongly about religion then.I went to church on sundays and then to some kind of camp with church in the summer and I loved it but I wasn't as obssessed with it as I am now.Although some people think that the thoughts I have and ideas I come up with are crazy I feel like I am getting closer to the truth.When I first started reading and looking for answers it was because I was and still am depressed most of the time.looked into astrology hoping to find confidence boosters.didn't help but that told me that I was GODs child the same as JESUS and that I had the same abilities and that there were lots of hidden secrets.then I moved on to the god spot,the celestine prophecy,etc.The god spot told me a little of what I wanted to know but I want to know more.The initial reason was to feel confident around others (I never have) so that I could enjoy my life instead of hiding my true self.I continue to learn more and get closer to the truth of "what" GOD is but I don't feel confident in myself yet.My thoughts got more intense after I had my first daughter,I was singing rock a bye baby to her repeatedly because of her colic and I had an epiphany.rock a bye baby on the tree top had a hidden meaning it is a metaphor. the tree top is the uterus base of tree would be birth canal(vagina)-rock a bye would be contractions when your stomach gets "rock" hard-the bough breaks is when your water breaks-the cradle is the placenta-down will come baby cradle and all-the placenta comes out after the baby does.there is more I'm not sure of but just that got me thinking.when I told someone that they said ew that that was like talking about sex to a child. I started thinking about hidden meanings.there are usually 3 of certain things that has some meaning.the father the son the holy ghost-me myself I-ego jesus god,I believe in the ego instead of the devil now which I am assuming would be the earthly thoughts and desires-jesus is the connection to god-god is our loving,caring,creative,spiritual thoughts and feelings.after reading that the god spot is in the temporal lobe it got me thinking.god would be the right (I think)side of the brain,ego the left side, and the corpus collasum-the bridge-jesus is what connects the two.but all in all god is everyone,part of the big picture,god is all there is,everything.and part of the truth I am relearning (because I already know everything I just dont recall all of it)is that we have never been seperated from god because you are born with the corpus collasum in your brain.the bridge is there to transfer info back and forth.we are supposed to function on a balanced level with both sides of the brain working on an equal level together evenly to create perfect harmony and serenity.I havent allowed myself to accept these truths but I will soon I hope.there are other hidden meanings like being born again in the bible-it does not mean just accepting jesus as your savior it means reincarnation where you are truly born ... Wendy, 14 January 2007