The Mystery Of God & The Brain

As science has steadily undermined the long-held beliefs of religion, almost all that remains for people of faith is to say that God is and will forever be a mystery. Insofar as Einstein was religious, he possessed a feeling of awe and wonder at the mystery of the universe. But science hasn’t stopped chipping away at mystery, promising to reduce spiritual experience to measurable brain activity. It’s doubtful that belief in God, the soul, heaven and hell, and other tenets of faith will be drastically affected – polls continue to show that these things remain articles of belief for around 80-90% of responders.

Will neuroscience eventually be able to locate God in our neurons, and if so, should that tiny area of the brain be excised or boosted? No doubt there are arguments on both sides, depending on whether you hold that God has been good for the human race in the long run or bad. Setting aside such judgments, it turns out that the possibility of finding God in the brain creates a baffling mystery that neither religion nor science can tackle alone.

Now that advanced brain scanning can map the way our brains light up with each thought, word, or action, it’s clear that no experience escapes the brain. For a mystic to see God or feel his presence, for St. Paul to be suddenly converted on the road to Damascus, or for St. Teresa of Avila to have her heart pierced by an angelic arrow, such experiences would have to register in their brains. However, this indisputable fact (so far as present knowledge extends) doesn’t give science the advantage over religion. For it turns out that the brain has definite limitations on what it can experience.

The work of the late Polish-American mathematician Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950) is relevant here, because Korzybski worked out the layered processing that goes into the way we perceive everyday reality. Billions of bits of data bombard our sense organs, of which only a fraction enter the nervous system. Of that fraction, more of the raw input is filtered out by the brain, which uses built-in models of reality to discard what doesn’t fit. When people say “You’re not hearing me” or “You only see what you want to see,” they are expressing a truth that Korzybski tried to quantify mathematically.

Sometimes the things a person doesn’t see are simply outside the range of human experience, like our inability to see ultraviolet light. But a great deal more depends on expectations, memories, biases, fears, and simple close-mindedness. If you go to a party, and someone tells you that you are about to meet a Nobel Prize winner, you will see a different person than if you are told he is a reformed Mafia hit man. When all the filtering and processing is complete, there is no doubt that the brain doesn’t actually experience reality but only a confirmation of its model of reality.

Two interesting points follow:

  1. All models are equal as viewed from the level of the brain.
  2. Reality transcends any model we can possibly make of it.

These two points allow God, the soul, and all other spiritual experiences back into the picture. The first point demolishes the notion that science is superior to religion because it gathers facts while religion deals in beliefs. In truth, science filters out and discards a huge portion of human experience – almost everything one would classify as subjective – so its model is just as selective, if not more so, than religion’s. As far as the brain is concerned, neural filtering is taking place in all models, whether they are scientific, spiritual, artistic, or psychotic. The brain is a processor of inputs, not a mirror to realty.


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New Understanding of Time

It turns out Doctor Who was right: “Timey-wimey” is, indeed, a bit “wibbly-wobbly.”

Scientists have confirmed, several times, that the speed at which time passes is both variable and malleable. We can speed it up. We can slow it down. In fact, you do so every day without even knowing it.

Now, before we explore the concept of time we need to first explore the concept of gravity. We would appear to experience gravity two-dimensionally: up and down. However, Gravity is not two-dimensional. If you were to drop a bowling ball off of a tower, it would fall down to the ground. If you were to drop a bowling ball off a tower in New York City at the same moment your Aussie friend dropped a bowling ball off a tower in Perth, both bowling balls would fall “down”—but they’d also be traveling in opposite directions. They’d be falling “down” as well as toward one another.


Earth’s gravity pulls all objects—from all directions—toward the center of the planet. We define “up” and “down” based on that gravitational pull and relationship to the center of earth. If you were to jump into a big underground drill and travel to the center of the Earth, you’d reach a point where there was no more “down”—only “up.” “Down” doesn’t exist at that point—at least in terms of the Earth.

All physical objects are manifestations within a Gravitational Field, and it is even a tiny form of Gravity that stuck those original particles to create the Mass in the first place. Mass creates gravitational force.  The more mass an object has, the more gravitational force it exerts.

Now, let’s take a step off the surface of these planets and explore what’s going on in the space around them. Our moon is held in orbit by the Earth’s gravitational pull. The Earth circles the Sun because of the Sun’s massive gravitational force. That’s all basic stuff we learned in fourth grade, but here’s where it gets Wibbly-Wobbly: Gravity also tugs at time and space.

In his 1905 special theory of relativity, Einstein asserted that space and time were not two separate phenomenons or entities. Instead, space (height, width, length) and time (forward? now? backward?) were mixed together in one continuum—woven together in one fabric. This single continuum of time and space has come to be called “spacetime”—the physical manifestation of all space and all time.

I think of it as a soup. The noodles and vegetables are as much a part of the soup as the broth is, and together they have combined to create the entire wholeness of the soup. 



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“Ghostly Presence” Created In Lab

The unsettling feeling that there is someone else in the room with you can be artificially induced.

Scientists have succeeded in identifying the parts of the brain responsible for the feeling of an unseen presence in the room, a sensation that is typically associated with the paranormal.

The researchers used brain scans of 12 people with neurological disorders to pinpoint the affected regions of the brain and then used that information to develop an experiment that could reproduce sensations of a presence in healthy volunteers.

Each participant was asked to manipulate a robot with their hands while a second robot traced the same movements on that person’s back. When the two movements were in sync the volunteer reported nothing out of the ordinary, but when a delay was introduced between their movements and the corresponding movements of the robot they began feeling as though someone else was there.

Two of the volunteers were so freaked out by the experience that they were unable to finish.

The scientists behind the experiment believe that under the right circumstances the brain becomes confused and misinterprets the body’s position, believing it instead to be that of someone else.


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Simulation Shows Time Travel Is Possible

Australian scientists created a computer simulation in which quantum particles can move back in time. This might confirm the possibility of time travel on a quantum level, suggested in 1991. At the same time, the study revealed a number of effects which are considered impossible according to the standard quantum mechanics.

Using photons, physicists from the University of Queensland in Australia simulated time-traveling quantum particles. In particular, they studied the behavior of a single photon traveling back in time through a wormhole in space-time and interacting with itself. This time-traveling loop is called a closed timelike curve, i.e. a path followed by a particle which returns to its initial space-time point.

The physicists studied two possible scenarios for a time-traveling photon. In the first, the particle passes through a wormhole, moving back in time, and interacts with its older self. In the second scenario, the photon passes through normal space-time and interacts with another photon which is stuck in a closed timelike curve.

According to the researchers, their study will help to find a link between two great theories in physics: the Einstein’s general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.

The question of time travel features at the interface between two of our most successful yet incompatible physical theories – Einstein’s general relativity and quantum mechanics,” said Martin Ringbauer of the University of Queensland who led the study. “Einstein’s theory describes the world at the very large scale of stars and galaxies, while quantum mechanics is an excellent description of the world at the very small scale of atoms and molecules.”

Einstein’s General Relativity suggests the possibility of moving back in time if the time-traveling object is stuck in a closed timelike curve. Yet, this possibility is known to cause a number of paradoxes, such as the famous “grandfather paradox”, in which a time traveler prevents his own existence by preventing his grandparents from meeting each other.


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