Saturday, February 13, 2010

Religious people may have a "damaged" brain

So, I have to share the final straw that made me snap and decide to create a blog to voice my opinion publically. Today, while checking the headlines on the CNN and FOX News websites, I stumbled across the following link:

I was stunned after reading this article from FOX News website. The story described the contents of a recent Neuron (Cell Press) journal article by an Italian research group that performed a clinical study of 88 patients that had various forms of brain cancer. In this study, Urgesi and colleagues report that the surgical removal of cancers in a certain region of the brain caused small increases in a supposedly scientific and quantitative questionnaire that was designed to measure the spirituality of an individual. This article goes on to say that damage to certain brain regions is responsible for post-operation increases in spirituality among patients who had a lesion within this particular region of the brain.

Now, it's true that some people suffering from certain mental illnesses or dementia exhibit changes in self-transcendence (ST), which is a term described in this recent Neuron article as the ability to "identify the self as an integral part of the universe as a whole," which is tied to one's spirituality (Urgesi et al, 2010). Also mentioned in this article, nuns and monks that practice meditation are known to have increased brain activity in the same region of the brain identified in this Urgesi et al brain cancer study.

What I am deeply concerned about is that this research will lead to a theory that people who possess faith or spirituality will soon be viewed as damaged in some way, or chemically imbalanced to say the least. And we all know what comes after a medical discovery, research to find a pharmacological drug to "cure" the disorder or disease. Soon, the religious and spiritual can overcome these "delusions" by taking a simple pill once a day.

Am I being an alarmist? Yes, probably I am. But, does that make me wrong? After all, the Neuron journal article alludes to such an idea in the last paragraph of the discussion section that states "some personality dimensions may be modified by influencing neural activity in specific areas. This would carry out the fundamental implication that novel approaches aimed at modulating neural activity" may "ultimately pave the way to new treatments of personality disorders" (Urgesi et al, 2010). So, yes, I am quite concerned that I might one day be diagnosed as having a spiritual personality disorder because of exhibiting symptoms of higher philosophical, spiritual and religious beliefs. Am I alone in this fear?

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