Back to my fascination with the spirit and the brain. While science can neither prove nor disprove the spirit’s existence, it can shed some interesting light on spiritual experiences.
Case in point: the brain is a physical organism that develops with use and atrophies with neglect just like a muscle. This goes for the areas that register and regulate spiritual experiences, i.e. the temporal lobes. If we don’t practice spiritual disciplines like prayer and meditation, or if we doubt our perception of God, our capacity to have spiritual experiences diminishes.
In her article, Prayer May Reshape Your Brain … And Your Reality, Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports:
Scientists are making the first attempts to understand spiritual experience—and what happens in the brains and bodies of people who believe they connect with the divine. The field is called “neurotheology,” … Scientists have found that the brains of people who spend untold hours in prayer and meditation are different.
Hagerty quotes Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, who says, “The more you focus on something — whether that’s math or auto racing or football or God — the more that becomes your reality, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain.”
Neuroscientist Richard Davidson agrees. “You can sculpt your brain just as you’d sculpt your muscles if you went to the gym. Our brains are continuously being sculpted, whether you like it or not, wittingly or unwittingly.”
This exposes the dilemma for people like me. To question one’s spiritual experiences shrinks the capacity to have them. To doubt one’s concept of God dulls the ability to know the Divine.
Studies show that praying or meditating for thirty minutes a day can improve one’s spiritual mindset in as little as two weeks. So why don’t I just pray anyway even though I doubt its efficacy? Why don’t I meditate on what I’ve been taught about God instead of questioning it?
Good questions, to which I only have weak answers. Answers I will explore in future posts.