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March 27, 2001

Is the Concept of God Hard-Wired into Our Brain?

Study Finds Intriguing Link Between 'Mystical' Experience
In Meditation and Physical Response in the Brain


Despite a science grown so powerful that researchers "hear" the echo of the Big Bang -- despite technology profound enough to create microscopic machines that mimic a living cell -- human beings continue to be comforted and guided by the thought of God.

Why? Why does the concept of an over-arching reality remain so consistent in a species of animals with an evolved intelligence piercing enough to harness an atom, transplant a heart, and conceptualize string theory?
Andrew B. Newberg, MD, Assistant Professor of Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, has spent 10 years examining this question -- not from the viewpoint of philosophy, but from the perspective of a radiologist using a SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography) camera, which measures brain activity.

With his research partner, Eugene D'Aquili, PhD, of Penn's Department of Psychiatry, Newberg has been studying the brains of mystics and meditators.
What they've found is that intense contemplation alters the brain in a specific manner. And that change is associated with an experience of reality that feels more authentic to an individual involved in meditation than the experiences of his daily life.

"In other words, mystical experience is biologically, observably, and scientifically real," Newberg says. He and D'Aquili have published their findings in a book written for the general reading public, entitled Why God Won't Go Away. It will be published by Ballantine Books on Sunday, April 1, and it promises to be a major book for 2001. In 1999, the two Penn researchers collaborated on The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience, a book on the same subject for the scientific community.
Newberg will be spending much of April on a national book tour, but he will try to accommodate journalists wishing to interview him throughout the spring. D'Aquili died before the book was completed.


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Editor's note:
Newberg may also be reached directly at the email address: asnewberg@aol.com

 



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