The God Parts of The Brain Damage

Excellent reading in the NEJM. Free text, you don't have to be a Doctor (but it helps pay the bills).

In his recent book The Soul in the Brain, British neurologist Michael Trimble looks to his area of expertise, epilepsy, to explore a possible relationship between the human brain and religion: religiosity, he notes, is often brought to the fore by seizures. Trimble points out that some of the greatest religious figures in history had what were probably complex partial seizures, which are known to be associated with religious ideation. For instance, during Saint Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus, he is said not only to have suffered 3 days of blindness but also to have fallen to the ground frequently and experienced ecstatic visions. Muhammad described falling episodes accompanied by visual and auditory hallucinations. Joseph Smith, who founded Mormonism, reported lapses of consciousness and speech arrest, noting that "When I came to . . . I found myself lying on my back looking up at heaven." Joan of Arc reported, "I heard this voice [of an angel] . . . accompanied also by a great light."

There was another book I read by a neurologist who said that maybe St Theresa's orgasmic ecstatic epiphanies were probably epileptic seizures, as he had a female patient who suffered from the same, um, complaint of having knee-trembling orgasms randomly and unexpectedly, such as when shopping in the supermarket, whenever she missed her medication (which was surprisingly often!)

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron's point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. Autobiography - Teresa of Avila

Yeah, right, ooo-ooh the sweet pain. We all know that feeling after sufficient spear thrusting.

Apart from epilepsy as an excuse for orgasms, neuroscience looks for God all over the place, and finds Her in the cerebral cortex. Mostly.


Halleluiah! Oops! Bucket and mop to Aisle 3, please.



Posted by: expat@large on Jan 04, 08 | 12:03 pm | Profile


There had to be some type of rational explanation for the nonsense dribble that passes for religious teachings and experiences.

I guess St Theresa was hardly the only woman to think that she had found god in the midst of a knee trembler...

Posted by: sino man on Jan 04, 08 | 1:16 pm

Sino: LOL!

Posted by: expat@large on Jan 04, 08 | 2:42 pm

And yet you still fail to explain why on the point of orgasm no-one cries out "Ohhh Evvvoooolllutiioon" or "Ohhh My Fucking Darwin"


Posted by: Indiana on Jan 04, 08 | 3:57 pm

Indy: it's because God and orgasm are so far from the rational and scientific parts of the brain.

You can't call the person's name as you may get it wrong.

Posted by: expat@large on Jan 04, 08 | 4:21 pm

Hmmm I do believe the lord picture is from the Holy Grail...Monty Python...ya gotta' love 'em :)

Posted by: Scorpy on Jan 04, 08 | 4:24 pm

Scorpy: mmm, I believe you are right... Just might have to tie down those naughty nuns and give them a good spanking... followed by the oral sex...

Just finished reading "Through The Narrow Gate" by Karen Armstrong, who relates how as a 18-19 year old noviciate nun, whipping her back visciously with a knotted cord in the 'castigation room', she had an unexpected and completely misunderstood orgasm! I kid you knot. That was in 1964-65 or so, not the Middle Ages.

Posted by: expat@large on Jan 04, 08 | 5:12 pm

expat I think I was guilty of mentioning the wrong name twice. I am only human.

Perhaps I should take the egomaniac approach and just call out my own name, it could be safer?

Posted by: sino man on Jan 04, 08 | 7:08 pm

Sino - stick with the proven deist alternatives. She'll think you're a holy man.

Posted by: expat@large on Jan 05, 08 | 1:01 am

Ironically I've been reading Karen Armstrong's "The Spiral Staircase", and in spite of suffering from epilepsy, apparently she claims to have had no experiences of 'consolation' nor having 'found God' in the convent - a little contradictory to your theory there E@L!??

- And orgasms - I believe God invented them for a purpose, ie to make sex even more compelling, interesting and enjoyable for the purpose of male and female bonding - in order to unite and express the ultimate in love, to create families, to propagate the human species?! I think sex is a spiritual connection also which adds to that feeling of bonding, and to the pleasure and joy of it. That's why I believe we're ideally meant to unite with one partner to whom we're committed - it means more then - doesn't anyone agree? In all of 'Nature' there seem to be unwritten 'rules', which if broken appear to have consequences.
(We've all broken them of course, including me – I claim no innocence – just working it all out as best I can!)


Re a couple of your comments in particular E@L:-

Et tu, Brute.
[And you too, Brutus.]

PS: There don't seem to be too many Irish Catholics on your site, so you're probably safe from castigation re your insinuations about St Theresa.

As Mum always said "There's no-one more anti-Catholic than an ex or lapsed Catholic!" ?

Wonder what that is - could it be some unresolved issue/s, 'denial'? - up to the individual to work it through I guess.

Also please do not put Joseph Smith in the same league as St Joan of Arc and St Paul - there's no comparison! Joseph WAS having delusions... (as far as I can ascertain anyway - or put it this way - his strange experiences weren't synonymous with those of saints who've been canonised over the past 2,000 years by Coptic, Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox Christian Churches - whose lives have been labouriously studied and questioned in extreme detail). Basically it's not easy to be classified as a saint - thus my defence of St Theresa!

Love and peace to all - hope there aren't too many Mormons listening out there??

Excuse my deep stance on a shallow site - but sometimes E@L needs pulling into line, and that is my role. ACH TUNG!! (love him just the same - God help me...)

Posted by: Sister on Jan 05, 08 | 8:23 pm

Mariah - I did not say Karen Armstrong found God in the nunnery - she went looking for him there, but instead, as I did say, she whipped herself to orgasm with a knotted cord. (I have just started on The Spiral Staircase which tells some of the same stories a TTNG in the early part.)

Anyway, *I* didn't speak of Joseph Smith, Prof Micheal Trimble did. And is there any essential difference between his experiences and that of the erstwhile Saul of Tarsus, other than what you might know through having being told by a priest or nun, who have vested interests?

What's so special about Irish Catholics? Were you brought up in Ireland? No? I'm guessing not... How then can you claim to know about the Irish Catholic experience which I suggest could be vastly different to say, at random, the Western District of Victorian Catholic.

Ha, got you there!! ;-)

You were brought up an Aussie Catholic, if you were born somewhere else and brought up as a 7DA you'd revere John Smith the way you do St Paul now...

This arbitrariness of birthplace makes it all something of of crying sham.

If you were born a Moslem in Malaysia, even if you converted to Christianity they'd try and bury you as a Moslem (after you'd died of course...)

Posted by: expat@large on Jan 05, 08 | 8:55 pm

p.s. I'm off to unite with one partner now. My honey-roast chicken partnered with a nice Alsace Gewurtztraminer!

Posted by: expat@large on Jan 05, 08 | 8:58 pm

Because people often say: "You're a Roman Catholic!" I'm not 'roamin' and not Roman. I inherited my Catholic faith through my Irish ancestors who became Australian (but that was only two generations ago - so I acknowledge the Irish influence). I have English ancestry too, but my father chose to convert from the Anglican faith of his forbears to the Catholic faith to marry my mother - and he became very devout. I acknowledge and respect that also.

The Western District of Victoria was predominately settled by Irish Catholics, as well as Anglicans, but the Irish culture, heritage and customs have still somewhat been passed on in some of my family - and as I can recall my grandmother saying "To the divil with ye..."
Before she died, she said "I saw the Banshee last night..." (scary I know, but Irish custom, and I don't want to lose what I remember of the Irish traditions we've inherited - the music, the faith, etc...) - the Banshee thing - not too sure - but obviously something spiritual? But the scone baking, the chicken plucking, the roast dinners, the loving principles, the affection, the sense of decency and honour, the inbred instinct to work hard, to fight for the truth, integrity etc...

Yes, there is a difference between Joseph Smith's experience and that of St Paul - one was a Godly experience, the other possibly an evil delusion - the fruits!

(I knew nothing of Joseph Smith's experience except for what I researched myself - bizarre! - doesn't fit with traditionally Godly stuff basically!)

PS: My father was christened an Anglican, but buried a Catholic! - his choice!

(nothing against the Anglicans - good people)

I'm proud of my ancestry, and being into genealogy, I know how hard they worked and strived to achieve what they did, in a strange, harsh and sometimes cruel country. The Irish spirt is a strong spirit!

Posted by: Sister on Jan 05, 08 | 10:32 pm

Two or Three or Four Generation Irish is not the same as actually growing up yourself in the bogs of backwater County Clare... I don't recollect any real Irish "culture" (an oxymoron?) in Colac apart from the growing of potatoes and the prediliction towards alcoholism, thankfully. Though they used to say "Catholics Need Not Apply" for some jobs in Colac, like at Mr Myer's Emporium.

Karen Armstrong in the first book also talks of an Irish nun and contrasts her family's expectation of every child hopefully becoming a priest or a nun with that of the English Catholics.

Re: "sense of decency and honour" - that is total rubbish and also confimrs a) your bias and b) your ignorance of other religions. Such a credo fails to differentiate between Christian Moslem, Jew, Buddhist, Confucian, Vedic, everything... because EVERY religious person thinks that their religion has the main track on morality. But the fact is that all religions advocate COMPASSION and very similar version of the Golden Mean - do unto others, minimise bad and maximise good, love thy neighbour, what you wouldn't want for you self don't offer to others, etc... I can get you the refernces if you wish.

This is what the comparative study of religion teaches us, has taught Karen Armstrong. All religions do is extend a common sense of altruism and decency to give it an ultimate spiritual or metaphysical justification - the First Cause in classical thought. In fact we all want to behave properly as it is obvious that cooperation maximises benefit for the group we are in. But what religion provides an unassailable authority beyond the group itself. That this is authority is actually non-existent is why we are taught as children (as Karen Armstrong was taught as a nun) to obey unquestioningly. It smooths the way, it answers the childish question "Why?" with something more than "Because."

Re: John Smith and St Paul - your antagonism merely confirms my point about your bias. You need to step out of religion in order to examine it properly, as I have done, as Karen Armstrong has done. Just the Reichian psychologists canot see the limitations of Reich (a looney). I agree that Smith was also a looney. I strongly suspect that Paul and many of the pillars (Augustine, Ignatius Loyala) of the Christian Church were loonies as well.

& If you were truly Irish Catholic you would NOT have any good words to say about Anglicans.

Posted by: expat@large on Jan 05, 08 | 11:59 pm

p.s. The Irish were Roman Catholics, in that they believed that the Bishop of Rome was the head of the church, as opposed to the Bishop of Constantinople...

Just got distracted by the Wikipedia articles on the Nicean and subsequent Councils. Following lead-up to the eventual schism is most edifying, where Roman Catholicism followed that of the Roman Bishop in the Latin speaking half of the Roman Empire and the Greek speaking Eastern half of the Roman Empire, after Constantine moved it to his new Bosphorus straddling city of Constantinople.

Posted by: expat@large on Jan 06, 08 | 12:36 am


"Methinks thou protesteth too much..." Hmmm


You keep saying I'm biased - but have I criticised other religions? Maybe the Mormons' founder perhaps, but overall I would consider myself extremely tolerant of others' religious choices and beliefs - not that I have to agree entirely with each of those beliefs. The Mormons and similar religions do not believe in the Trinity for example, which distances them greatly from the traditional Christian religions.

You claim that it's rubbish that I say my Catholic Irish ancestors taught the importance of decency and honour - they did teach that, and I acknowledge very much that other religions teach similar principles. Religions are like that - they usually have fundamental precepts for their followers to live by.

I choose to be a Catholic - that does not make me biased - I find this religion meets my spiritual needs, and to me it speaks the Truth. It traces back to the early Christians, and is not a breakaway cult. It is the original Christian religion, yes with the Pope it's head, Saint Peter, Christ's very apostle being the first Bishop of Rome. Okay, I'm a 'Roman' Catholic, but that via my Irish ancestry, plus I choose to retain the faith of my fathers.

Of course there have been many evil acts performed, purported to be in the name of the Christian Religion, but in these cases the precepts of God's Law were broken.

Regarding being truly Irish Catholic - would my Mum having said, when I was looking at marrying in an Anglican church, "You can't do that to my relatives - marry in a Protestant church?!" signify a little inherant touch of the old 'orange and green' stuff?

Basically I'm a true Aussie though,

Yet as Edmund Burke once said:

"People will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors."

- Might start growing some potatoes and onions, (and barley and wheat) - then I could make my own beer!!

(actually I'm thinking 'prosperity' rather than 'posterity'..)

Posted by: Sister on Jan 06, 08 | 7:41 pm

Oh, my Darwin. Smarternu, I accidentally deleted your comment - I am not kidding!

Will restore it as soon as possible! For some reason this tablet thing is not letting me cut and paste from my email.

P.s. thanks for dropping by. 'Sister is my real sister actually. We get on much better than it sounds here!

Posted by: expat@large on Jun 12, 11 | 3:14 pm


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