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!

Copyright © 2016 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. I'm afraid that if science keeps on associating brain damage to mystical experiences it will lead to the conclusion that they are a distorted view of reality, an unnatural state of mind, a hallucination coming from an injured brain that deserves no credit. They could even transform it in another psychiatric/neurological disease.

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    1. One will still be left with the need to explain _where the hell these intense and broader experiences come from_, if brain activity is only reduced in the process. This is especially true in case of verifiably veridical experiences that transcendent ordinary sense perception. I discussed all this extensively in Why Materialism Is Baloney, so have a look there.

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    2. Correlates well with the fMRI studies of Carhart-Harris and Nutt with respect to inhibition of the default-mode network by psilocybin and LSD. The evidence is clear that the mystical experiences are MOST VIVID in the setting of reduced/inhibited DMN activity, consistent with the brain as 'reducing valve'.

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  2. But someone might make the argument that the damages injured regions that inhibit the brain, and the experiences are a result of brain activity that is no longer inhibited.

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    1. But as shown in Imperial College studies, brain activity increase nowhere else. The book discusses all these tentative alternative explanations.

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    2. One thing we have to remember is that brain activity is simply electrical impulses and there is no way to get from electrical impulses to an experience. You can probe electrical impulses all you want and never be able to predict what experience is associated with it without getting a subjective input from the experiencer. There is math and measurements you can make between a wire with current and magnetism for instance but There is no math, transfer function, or measurement you can make to predict or measure an experience.

      To say that electrical impulses can create an experience is an assertion that cannot be substantiated in any way.

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    3. And this particular study didn't say anything about excitatory activity? Because that's what a materialist would ask about.

      Btw, if I remember correctly, in your Buddha at the gas pump interview, you talked about how it might be interesting to do a podcast with John Hagelin. Any plans regarding that?

      Thank you for your time! :)

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    4. This study did no functional scans, just CT. So it's just about physical damage, they didn't measure activity or lack thereof.
      I was scheduled to do a panel with Hagelin last October, but he had to cancel. We will see when we can reschedule.

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  3. This calls to mind neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor's "My Stroke of Insight" that details her mystical experiences after she suffered a massive left hemisphere stroke.

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    1. Bernardo,

      What influence does the work of Dr. Rick Strassman have on your subject?

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  4. You might be interested in looking at Ed Kelly's writings on Myers' "filter theory" in "Beyond Physicalism" which makes a similar prediction. As far as I'm aware, quite a bit of the research mentioned in his previous edited book, "Irreducible Mind" involves similar instances where brain damage correlated with greater tendency toward mystical experiences. A phenomenological study and differentiation of the lumped together category of "mystical experiences," would also, i think, yield a great deal of insight.

    Congratulations, by the way, on your successful prediction!

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    1. Thanks Don. I am of course familiar with Ed's work. I cite his earlier book in Why Materialism Is Baloney (WMIB). His new one (Beyond Physicalism) was published after WMIB. And the "filter theory" goes back to Bergson at least, so it's very old. My claim is not to have merely observed that certain types of reduced brain activity correlate with broader experience, but to have provided a coherent ontological framework to explain how and why this should be the case, without contradicting the ordinary brain function-experience correlations. It is this that configures a true prediction and goes beyond the traditional 'filter theories,' which open many more questions than they answer. Cheers, B.

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    2. Hi Bernardo - fascinating. I didn't realize it was that precisely predictive. Good work.

      I'm wondering - can you specify what it is exactly that your framework provides in terms of explanatory functions that is missing from the half dozen ontological frameworks in BP? It was my impression - it's been a half year or more since I looked at it - that the whole point of BP was to offer a variety of potentially coherent ontological frameworks that would have precise predictive values.

      But again, I haven't looked at it for awhile. If you could spell out a bit exactly what is missing in those and what your framework provides, I would imagine that would be helpful for many of your readers.

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    3. Don, in all honesty, this is beneath you. I don't have interest, time or patience enough to engage in this game. Though most readers of this comment will not know the context for this brisk reply from me, you and I know very well, so let's skip the dissimulation. You're entirely familiar with my work as well as BP. No 'brain as filter' theory I have ever seen provides a closed ontology for all aspects of reality (not only the extraordinary) the way this summary, for instance, does: https://www.scribd.com/doc/295795222/On-Why-Idealism-is-Superior-to-Physicalism-Bernardo-Kastrup. Most (if not all) of them are based on one or another form of unclear and ambiguous dualism, which is untenable and raises more questions than it answers. You may agree or disagree but I won't re-word my case here having made it abundantly clear in the body of my work. You have been for over a year now on this mission to point out that nothing I say is new. That's fine. But at least be straight. Turning sardonic and disingenuous in my own website isn't constructive and borders on malicious. It's a waste of time for both of us. I'm sorry I don't do things the way you'd like me to do, but I am on my own journey here, not yours. Be well, B.

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  5. I haven't looked at these things in so long, I'm forgetting the specifics, but just a few things off the top of my head.

    There's a neuropsychologist - can't recall his name now - who wrote a massive tome on neuropsychology back in the early 90s and had an interesting chapter (some 100 pages) in which he correlated damage to extremely specific areas of the limbic system (related in part to epileptic seizures) to "mystical" experiences. The problem I found was that his idea of "mystical" is what most 'mystics" would call lower level occult experiences.

    McLaughlin? Laughlin? Not sure of the name, wrote a book a few years later in which he made further distinctions. within a larger non dualist framework, seeing the "brain" as the external image of processes occurring in Consciousness, he posited that changes - not just damage - to specific parts of the brain would result in different kinds of non-ordinary experiences. For example, damage to the frontal lobes would be more likely to lead to these lower level experiences, whereas further development - greater integration, coherence etc (which is consistent with the more recent brain studies of that French Buddhist monk whose name escapes me now) would lead to "higher level" experiences of profound intuitive insight, seeing the connection, for example, between the external image of the brain and processes in Consciousness! But seeing this without any loss of left hemisphere analytic functions, as occurred with Jill Bolte.

    I think that Jim Carpenter's First Sight theory, though not paired with an ontological view, presents even more specificity, and references hundreds of excellent empirical studies showing how changes or lower levels of activity in very specific regions of the brain lead to greater psi awareness. Paired with the many ontological frameworks presented in BP, these all have immense relevance to your own work.

    meanwhile, I'm really interested in learning more about the specifics of your own theory, and seeing if I can understand it in much more depth. Thanks ahead of time for taking the time to explain it.

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    1. My ideas are summarized here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/295795222/On-Why-Idealism-is-Superior-to-Physicalism-Bernardo-Kastrup. As per my other reply to you above, I think we've had enough dissimulation. So that everybody else reading this comment knows why I am saying this: you, Don, have been on a quest for at least months, perhaps over a year, going out of your way to point out that nothing I say is new, and that the world's wisdom traditions have been saying the same thing, in the same or better ways, for a long, long time. I not only concede, but emphasize that, insofar as its conclusions are concerned, nothing I am saying is new. I have written this much multiple times, even in my own books. But I believe that _the way things are articulated_ in my work is novel, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered to write six books and be busy with a seventh. And certainly previous articulations haven't done the job, have they? Otherwise we wouldn't be where we are today, as a culture. So there certainly is room for new and fresh perspectives and this is what I am trying to do. There is today no closed, unambiguous, _analytical_ articulation of a consciousness-only ontology that meets contemporary standards of logical consistency, empirical honesty and lack of ambiguity. I am trying to help produce one.
      I will not repeat this explanation anymore, because I have elaborated on it to you several times already, in the past several months. Frankly, I am tired of justifying myself to you. So I won't anymore. B.

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  6. I wholeheartedly agree that the clear, scientific and unammbiguous way you explain monistic idealism is far superior to the arcane and often deliberately cryptic traditions of the past. Thank you, Bernardo.

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