Predictions that aren't baloney
|'Connected to Source,' by Selene's Art.|
Copyright by Selene's Art, used with permission.
In Chapter 2 of my book Why Materialism Is Baloney—my best-seller thus far—I elaborate on the notion that the brain is the extrinsic image of a process of localization of universal consciousness. As such, individual people are like whirlpools in a universal stream of transpersonal experiences. If this is the case, one would expect that disruption of the right types of brain activity should induce a de-localization—an expansion—of consciousness. In the book, I substantiate this prediction with a number of studies and known examples of cases in which reductions of brain activity do, indeed, correlate with an expansion or de-localization of experience, which physicalism cannot explain.
There is a tricky balance involved in showing this empirically, in a controlled and statistically significant way: not all brain activity should relate to the mechanism of localization itself; much of it should consist instead of already localized contents of experience. Returning to our analogy, both a large and a small whirlpool can be perfectly localized: one simply has more contents than the other. A de-localized whirlpool is not necessarily a small one, but one losing its coherence and beginning to release some of its contents into the broader stream. Indeed, much of the activity in our brains relates to already localized cognitive and executive functions, such as motor control, language centers and self-reflective cognition. Damaging the associated brain areas or otherwise inhibiting their activity won't necessarily de-localize our awareness, but simply impair motor and cognitive function. Not all reductions of brain activity will open the doors to transcendence; only the right ones.
Therefore, to test the prediction in the book robustly, one has to have a sufficient number of study subjects in which the right types of brain activity have been inhibited—e.g. by prior physical damage to the brain—but without damage to the motor and cognitive functions required to allow the subjects to report their experiences. For instance, it is conceivable that people who suffer widespread brain damage due to accidents may very well have nonlocal, transcendent experiences all the time, but be unable to report any of it because they are in a vegetative state. A very fine balance is thus required; one that may only very seldom occur. Most of the times, chances are that the subject either doesn't have sufficient damage/inhibition in the right brain locations, or has so much other damage that they lose self-reflection, language skills, the ability to speak or move their bodies, etc. In other words, they become unable to report their experiences.
This is why a recently published study is so interesting: 100 subjects were studied; a significant and unprecedented number. Here is how the Daily Mail described the study and its results:
The group looked at more than 100 patients who were veterans of the Vietnam War, and who had undergone a battery of cognitive tests before the war and once they returned. From CT scans showing the extent of damage to certain parts of their brains, the researchers were able to predict how likely they were to have a mystical experience. ... The researchers found that those with damage to the 'God spot' region of the brain, in the frontal and temporal lobes, were more likely to report mystical experiences compared with those without damage to these regions.
And here is the Daily Mail's summary:
[The] study has found that 'dialing down' the brain's inhibition boosts mysticism. ... Damage to the frontal and parietal lobes increased mystical experiences. These regions are linked to inhibitory functions, suppression of which appears to open up a 'door of perception', exposing us to the mystical.
I chose to quote the Daily Mail, instead of the scientific article itself, because it so well captures the essence of the study's conclusion, which directly corroborates what I wrote in the book. There is also a LiveScience article that is worth reading.
It is not every day that one makes a prediction widely in contradiction to prevailing wisdom, and then sees it rather spectacularly confirmed, less than two years later, by a large study. Such short-term vindication is an unexpected bonus, especially because the conclusion of the study is exactly what I had predicted.
Emboldened by this, I will make a new prediction here: further research will pin down more precisely what the specific regions of the brain are that, when damaged or otherwise inhibited, lead to de-localized consciousness and transcendent experiences. I also anticipate that we will eventually invent technology—based, for instance, on transcranial magnetic stimulation—that, by inhibiting those regions, will induce mystical states routinely.
Indeed, in Part 3 of my upcoming book More Than Allegory, I tell a story that describes exactly what this technology may look like, and how it may work... a story that is a mixture of fact and fiction. After all, who knows what kinds of secret technologies aren't already out there? ;-)
Acknowledgment: I am grateful to Ian Wardell for directing me to this study!