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Early in the history of this blog, I showed some disdain for some of my reductionist biologist brethren who in their frenzy to tie religion to brain impulses ascribed the visions of Mohammed and Joseph Smith to epilepsy.  The desire to reduce the entire unseen world into mechanisms, impulses, and a pile of biological functions drives some science worshippers to distraction.  In the comments, I commented on how rare these seizures really are, and I stand by that comment.  As a child neurologist, I don’t run into spiritual seizures.  However, In fairness, any child who feels a profound oneness with God during his seizures, likely does not have the vocabulary to express the wonder of their experience.  I may just have patients who have this experience who cannot express it.

      While the experience is rare, it is not unique.  There are many who have described these spiritual seizures.  Perhaps the most verbal and most eloquent description comes from the great Russian author and epileptic, Fyodor Dostoevsky.  

” For several instants I experience a happiness that is impossible in an ordinary state, and of which other people have no conception.  I feel full harmony in myself and in the whole world, and the feeling is so strong and sweet that for a few seconds of such bliss one could give up ten years of life, perhaps all of life.

I felt that heaven descended to earth and swallowed me.  I really attained god and was imbued with him.  All of you healthy people don’t even suspect  what happiness is , that happiness that we epileptics experience for a second before an attack.”

  In fact, Dostoevsky himself stated the belief that Mohammed in his great vision of God must have had epilepsy because he recognized the experience.  Curiously, though he knew and recognized this event as a seizure, It did absolutely nothing to cast doubt on the singular spiritual reality of his experience.  Even though the seizure was an event happening within his brain, he was convinced that it was a physical event within his brain that gave him a very priveleged glimpse of the face of God.  Far from throwing doubt on God’s existence, this experience drove him forward in the face of all kinds of obstacles, trials and discouragement.  This siezure formed the absolute foundation of his faith.

     The folly of discounting subjective experience with a materialist explanation is that the impulses in the brain simply do not mean that what we are sensing from those impulses is in any way not real.  It would be silly to say that because you measure visual impulses in the occipital lobe as you look at an apple, olfactory impulses as you smell it, gustatory impulses as you taste it, that therefore the apple did not exist.  Similarly, Dostoevsky saw the ecstatic and profound euphoria he experienced preceding his siezures as an inborn gift that put him in touch with a higher truth that people cannot ordinarily experience. 

  Working in this same vein, the 1996 movie Phenomenon features John Travolta as George Malley, an ordinary man who develops a brain tumor that enhances and supplements his brain function rather than destroying it as an ordinary tumor would.   A neurosurgeon sees an opportunity to advance scientific knowledge by operation on his tumor in order to learn about brain function in a way that had never been done before, calling himself George’s “biographer” in a sense.  George then point out that ” that isn’t me, it’s just my brain.”   

 

   The real challenge for any of us when we come to any profound experience or realization is to embrace it, to share it and to help others experience it as well.  What the fictional George had to offer was a glimpse of what was inside each of us, our true human potential.  While the story is fictional, the moral rings true.  We are more than our synapses and neuronal impulses.  These represent sensations, ideas, inferences and experiences of something more, something real and powerful, something central to our humanity. 

   So when an atheist lazily discounts religious experience and accounts of the divine as simply seizures, he is missing the point.  He is buying into an all to prevalent attitude that sees brokenness or dysfunction where true beauty and mystery might lie.   This theme is masterfully explored by author Mark Salzman, in his book, Lying Awake.   Based on a true story, he recounts the story of a Carmelite Nun who experiences the very seizures Dostoevsky describes, which drive her lifes choices to enter the sisterhood.  Over time these ecstatic visions are accompanied by a more and more severe headache, leading to the discovery that seizures are behind her experience with the divine.  The Nun is then given a heartbreaking choice, have her temporal lobe lesion removed surgically and cure her headache, losing a profound connection with God in the process, or to keep the connection, knowing her headaches may grow worse, and the episodes may eventually debilitate her.  Salzman makes a very strong case for the counterintuitive, that one could very reasonably choose to keep their seizures, seeing them as key to their sense of self identity and happiness.  That to lose her seizures would be to lose something wonderful and amazing.  Doubtless the New Atheist crowd would be stupefied at such a crazy idea.  Perhaps because they have already severed this profoundly human connection and experience from themselves, leaving them the poorer for it.

 

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   Witnessing a seizure is a very frightening experience.  Parents who witness seizures in children fear for their child’s life.  It is extremely traumatic.  Even now, as a trained professional, knowing all the steps I could ever need to take care of the problem, I will feel my heart rate climb with a knot in my stomach as adrenaline starts to flood my system to this day.

      So it’s not surprising that in the past, seizures were thought to be caused by demonic possession.  Many an epileptic in the middle ages were treated with exorcism.

Matthew 17:15- "Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he afalleth into the fire, and oft into the water."

Matthew 17:15- "Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he afalleth into the fire, and oft into the water."

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premiodardos

Yanub, at Yet Another Never Updated Blog has honored my site with its first ever pass along blogger award.  These are awards given to blogs you think do an outstanding job, who are then instructed to give the award to several other blogs.  Read the rest of this entry »

    It’s back.  I have journeyed hither and yon, leaving no corner of the the ethernet unexplored, (except those unseemly ones) in my tireless effort to bring, you, the reader, the very best the internet can offer on all things mind, soul and body.  Today I have Zombie spiders, the terrifying dangers of shampoo, brain enhancing chewing gum, what we think Stephen Colbert is really thinking, how the elderly predict the weather, and repairing genes gone bad 7 million years ago to name just a few.  So grab a chair,clear your calendar, and enjoy the very tip top (IMHO)- 

Regarding the Mind-

Bill Hendrick at WebMD reports on a fascinating study that found that chewing gum improved students scores in math on standardized tests. 

 One of the strangest stroke syndromes is hemineglect, in which patients are paralyzed on one side of their body but do not comprehend it, or even recognize that side as themselves, impeding any effort for physical rehabilitation.  BPS research digest rep0rts a fascinating new study in which hemineglect is improved by having patients observe themselves on video.

The Situationist reports how our political ideology changes how we interpret satire, examining a study on college students and Stephen Colbert.  I can never decide what Colbert really believes, what does that say about me?

Regarding the Soul-

 In a first ever for this blog, I wade into the prickly subject of Gay marriage with an article in Time magazine that reports how the union of church and state in regard to marriage is at the heart of the conflict, and whether a “divorce” could possibly enact a solution to the conflict.

At Urban Monk, Evan Hadkins emphasizes the return of the conquering hero/heroine in life’s spiritual journey, encouraging the remembrance of the entire purpose of the journey in our celebration.

    At the Millennial Star, JA Benson gives a fascinating religious history lesson on the Sephardic Jews, whose experience diverged from the rest of Judaism during the reign of King Solomon, and were at the heart of the Spanish inquisition.

Regarding the Body-

At World of Psychology, Diana Walcutt, PhD, examines the role of the adrenal gland, and the stress hormone cortisol in our ability to predict the weather, in a fascinating biology lesson.

At Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong has an excellent summary of breakthrough new research that has discovered for the first time some of the genes that are related to autism and their function in the brain, helping neurons connect with other neurons, for the very first time.

Having a particularly good week, Ed Yong at Not exactly Rocket Science also reports a fascinating find,  how fixing a gene gone bad 7 million years ago holds promise in the fight against HIV.

or All the Above-

At the Boston Globe, Jonah Lehrer examines the very subject to which I have dedicated my career, the amazing Baby brain, and the surprising finding that in a very real sense, Baby’s experience much more of the world than we do.

The wonderfully named Coco Kraft and the Village Elders has an insightful discussion on the idealized version of the patient so much of our ideas on health care reform depends on, asking if we are setting ourselves up for failure.

At World of Psychology, Therese Borchard critically examines the response of the mind to criticism in depression., expounding on this profound, if confusing thought,  “I’m not who I think I am…. Nor am I who you think I am…. I am who I think you think I am.”

AtMusings of a Distractible Mind, Dr. Rob takes an insightful look at worry and fear, in the context of both doctor and patient in a way that refreshingly humanizes both, noting we all fear worrying too much (fear itself).

At Neuronarrative, David DiSalvo discovers that when it comes to resisting bullies, girls are much better friends to have than boys, according to a very interesting study out of San Francisco.

and just because I Liked it=

Zooillogix is busy working out the plot for the next big horror flick, describing real research into spiders that appear to wake from the dead.   Bwahahahaha!

Dr. Rob of Musings of a  Distractible Mind gets his silly, satirical groove back as he expounds of the newly celebrity endorsed dangers of shampoo.

Here is a video of some contagious laghter that I guarantee will brighten your day, and maybe even think for a minute that quadruplets might not be SO bad.  (HT- No Surf Girl)

  How can you top that.  I’m out of here.  I will be back later to bring you more as always.  Until then, happy surfing.

brainspam

From Its all about you, by Tony Murphy

At long last, it has returned.  It’s time again for the fabulous fruits of my travel over the vast concourses of the internet.  Every time I try to go more than a week, I just end up with more I feel compelled to include.  So I have provided a bounteous helping of the the best of  the internet’s mind, body,  and soul.  Dig in and enjoy. Read the rest of this entry »

From the Argyle Sweater, by Scott Hillburn

ocd

After an all too long break it’s back, the best and brightest of all things Mind, Soul, and Body on the internet-that I could find, anyway.  I am a bit short on introduction today, dig in and enjoy- Read the rest of this entry »

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