Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman at the Center for Spirituality and the Mind, University of Pennsylvania publish new book on beliefs of God and neuroimaging data.
REVIEWS: Library Journal: “God” can be reality or metaphor for physician Newberg and counselor Waldman (Ctr. for Spirituality and the Mind, Univ. of Pennsylvania; Born To Believe). In their latest collaboration, they encourage questioning and contact with diverse beliefs and people. Americans, they reveal, mostly view God as authoritarian, critical, or distant—only 23 percent of believers see God as gentle and forgiving, but the notable trend toward the latter should be beneficial for the individual and society. In the most provocative section, readers learn that there are regions of the brain that respond to thoughts, emotions, and experience and can be changed by willed concentration and practice. The authors present an elaborate, engaging meditation program to reduce anger and fear and increase serenity and love. They embrace faith (not necessarily religious), diversity, tolerance, and “compassionate communication.” Extensive notes—73 pages—include hundreds of recent references to neuropsychological research. Though it may seem speculative to neuroscientists and upsetting to religious conservatives, this is a substantial advance in the self-help/spirituality genre and an excellent choice for general collections.—E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC
What if we have all been misled by language invented by our predecessors and the simple truth turns out to be that we are not “human beings” or “persons” but rather human brains that are intimately connected to all the organs and other parts of the particular human body in which we reside? What if the word “person” and the “personal pronouns” we commonly use such as “I”, “me”, “we”, “you”, etc. are only linguistic inventions of human brains that for one reason or another were unable to identify themselves correctly as actually being human brains?
It can be shown that a human brain has the ability to create and use spoken and written language through the use of certain areas of cerebral cortex located usually its left hemisphere. Strokes or other damage in these areas cause impairment or loss of a human brain’s ability to produce and understand spoken and written language. Precisely which linguistic abilities are impaired or lost in any given instance and to what degree depends upon the exact location and extent of the brain damage.
We know that every human brain and body has been built by a new combination of parental DNA that resulted from the union of a particular egg and a particular sperm which formed a single new cell; and over about a nine month period the information stored in the DNA inside that first new cell allowed it to divide and grow into trillions of new cells of various types, all of which were organized into what we linguistically describe in just two words: “newborn baby”.
We also know that having been built by DNA, each brain and body – beginning even during the building process and continuing ever after – has been continually modified by an enormous amount of environmental variables and experience up to and including the present moment.
Suppose for the sake of argument that my assumption is correct and I actually am a human brain that is continuous with a spinal cord and connected through nerves to all the organs and other parts of the body in which I reside. If that is true, does that fact automatically mean that it is impossible for anything else to exist that is not made of atoms and molecules like I am? Is it impossible for something to exist that may be orders of magnitude more intelligent and powerful than I am? Something that may in some way be related to the incredible and awesome complexity of what can be seen in the cosmos and in the living world on our planet? Something human brains might choose to call a “Supreme Being”, or a “Supernatural Force”, or perhaps “God”?
How does knowing what I am and how I came into existence – however desirable that may be – automatically inform me about everything else that may or may not exist, and what its nature may be?
If I am only linguistically a “human being” or a “person” – a fictional entity invented by my predecessors that exists only in language and can be thought of as “owning” a brain and a body – but in reality I am actually a particular human brain that is intimately connected to and living within a human body, then the brain inside my head – the brain that thinks precisely what I think, feels exactly what I feel, remembers everything that I remember, knows precisely what I know, and has experienced everything that I have experienced – that brain cannot appropriately be called “my brain”, because that brain is, in fact, “me”.