Several years ago there was a media storm about the discovery of a ‘God Spot’ in the human brain. Religious leaders and apologists around the world grabbed onto it with both hands and even to this day refuse to let go of the concept. There is just one problem, the ‘God Spot’ doesn’t exist.
This is another case of the media promoting an unconfirmed statement without fact checking, just to get some attention. In fact, there was never any evidence presented for the existence of the said phenomenon. A researcher made a statement saying he had found a brain region that if stimulated would trigger a religious epiphany. However he never actually published or even submitted any research relating to the region. Due to the media attention that his statement garnered other researchers started looking for it themselves.
Many studies have sought to locate this mythical region of the brain to no avail. Most research has actually suggested that such a spot is impossible. One in particular that used brain imaging techniques on Catholic Nuns while inducing religious memories and experiences found that they are far to complex to be processed in just one brain area.
There may be a suspect in this whole thing, although it actually goes some way to prove the opposite of what apologist would have us believe. The closest thing that neuroscience and neuropsychologists have been able to find is the Temporoparietal Junction (fig 1), in particular, the Right Temporoparietal Junction (rTPJ). These are very complex areas of the brain that incorporates information from the Thalamus, Limbic System, and the Visual, Auditory, and Somatosensory Cortexes.
This part of the brain appears to play a very significant role in our sense of self. One of its main functions is to gather information from many senses about our body and where it is in the environment, It also plays major roles in attention and our ability to recognise our ‘self’. This is confirmed by the fact the shutting down of this area of the brain in a lab environment, a safe procedure that uses magnets, has been shown to trigger an Out of Body Experience (OBE) and a reduced sense of self. Both of these can go along the way to describe the feeling of self-transcendence that can be experienced during a religious epiphany.
Research from 2012 by Professor Brick Johnstone with brain trauma patients showed an interesting pattern. His study looked at twenty patients who had damage to their rTPJ. He found that the greater the injury the more connected the person felt to a higher power. While not all religious people have brain injuries Neuroplasticity allows the increase or decrease of activity in certain brain areas. It is entirely possible that religious practices and rituals may, over time, reduce the activity of the rTPJ and with it our sense of self.
This along with lots of other research into the area shows the idea of a ‘God Spot’ to be false. The closest we have been able to find is damaging or shutting down the rTPJ. Recent research has also shown shutting down other parts of the brain can also reduce religiousness in test subjects.
Thanks for reading, if you have any suggestions for a post or any apologist’s arguments you would like me to look into please email me at Ross@BecomingGodless.com