ANCHOR LEAD: DOES A COLLECTION OF NERVE CELLS GIVE RISE TO EXPERIENCES WE CALL RELIGIOUS? ELIZABETH TRACEY REPORTS
Joan of Arc, St. Paul, Muhammed. All of these people experienced transcendental religious experiences. But could their experiences be explained by looking at a small group of nerve cells residing in a certain part of the brain? Solomon Snyder, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins and author of a recent perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine, says brain lesions help researchers examine such questions.
SNYDER: The existence of brain lesions, either experimentally induced or caused by injuries such as tumors or epilepsy, the way that those lesions alter brain function, has for the last 150 years, been a royal road to understanding the normal function of those parts of the brain. In this instance we can assume that those parts of the brain have something to do with our sense of self in what can be regarded as some sort of religious, mystical sense. :29
Whether such neurons are intended to allow humans communication with a higher power is unknowable, Snyder says. I’m Elizabeth Tracey reporting.