Brain surgery boosts spirituality
Removing part of the brain can induce inner peace, according to researchers from Italy. Their study provides the strongest evidence to date that spiritual thinking arises in, or is limited by, specific brain areas.
To investigate the neural basis of spirituality, Cosimo Urgesi, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Udine, and his colleagues turned to people with brain tumours to assess the feeling before and after surgery. Three to seven days after the removal of tumours from the posterior part of the brain, in the parietal cortex, patients reported feeling a greater sense of self-transcendence. This was not the case for patients with tumours removed from the frontal regions of the brain.
"Self-transcendence used to be considered just by philosophers and crank new age people," says co-author Salvatore Aglioti, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Sapienza University of Rome. "This is the first really close-up study on spirituality. We're dealing with a complex phenomenon that's close to the essence of being human."
The authors pinpointed two parts of the brain that, when damaged, led to increases in spirituality: the left inferior parietal lobe and the right angular gyrus. These areas at the back of the brain are involved in how we perceive our bodies in spatial relation to the external world. The authors of the study in the journal Neuron1, say that their findings support the connection between mystic experiences and feeling detached from the body.
"The most surprising part was the rapidity of the change," says Urgesi. "This discovery shows that some complex personality traits are more malleable than previously thought."
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