Religion was long seen as spiritual nourishment of the soul, but now, groundbreaking research looks at how it impacts the brain. Can ‘feeling the spirit’ be measured scientifically?
Of the seven billion of people on the planet it’s estimated that 84 percent are members of one of hundreds of religions. Despite the different gods, philosophies and rituals, most religions share a promise for a physical sense of spirituality.
“In our faith, we do believe that you have the spirit constantly with you,” Auriel Peterson, a Mormon believer, says. “It’s a very much peaceful feeling, I have clarity and I have a burning sensation throughout my chest.”
Her devotion to God and science made her a perfect subject for a University of Utah’s Religious Brain Project.
Researchers Dr Julie Korenberg and Dr Jeffrey Anderson conducted a study that combined brain scans (MRI) and blood tests on 20 devout Mormons to track their neurological reactions to biologically explained spiritual sensations.
“When a young boy goes off to join ISIL, or a Mormon in Salt Lake has some sense of connectedness with the divine in their view, we don’t know if that’s the same thing. What do people experience in their brains, when they feel religious and spiritual experience?” Anderson says.
By analysing the scans and self-reported feeling of spirituality, along with blood work (taken before and after to track hormones connected to positive feelings) the researchers believe that they’ve found the areas in the brain that are connected to the religious feelings of euphoria.
Their goal is to prove that the experience of faithful bliss could be tracked – and they want to widen their study to a variety of religions.
The researchers suggest that the brain’s reaction to religious stimuli in Mother Teresa might very well be the same as a ‘terrorist’s’ reaction.
“Perhaps it’s possible to recognise that our brains work the same way. Our feelings are the same, regardless of what doctrines they are associated with, and I think that’s provable,” Anderson explains.
TechKnow also goes to Los Angeles, and visits an unique community project. The BioScan project uses 30 volunteers with large malaise traps to find new species of insects.
This year’s BioScan project focused on flies. And at each of the sites, a new fly was discovered. This means a total of 30 new species were found, and it only took the first three months of the project to obtain these results.
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