Scientists using MRI on a study population of nuns have been unable to determine an exact location for the seat of spiritual consciousness in the brain.
Mystical experiences appear to be mediated by several brain regions and systems normally implicated in a variety of functions (self-consciousness, emotion, body representation). The study was published in the current issue of Neuroscience Letters was conducted by Dr. Mario Beauregard from the Department of Psychology at the Université de Montréal and his student Vincent Paquette.
The main goal of the study was to identify the neural correlates of a mystical experience," explained Beauregard. "This does not diminish the meaning and value of such an experience, and neither does it confirm or disconfirm the existence of God."
Fifteen cloistered Carmelite nuns ranging from 23 to 64-years-old were subjected to an fMRI brain scan while asked to relive a mystical experience rather than actually try to achieve one. "I was obliged to do it this way seeing as the nuns are unable to call upon God at will," said Beauregard. This method was justified seeing as previous studies with actors asked to enter a particular emotional state activated the same brain regions as people actually living those emotions.
This study demonstrated that a dozen different regions of the brain are activated during a mystical experience. This type of research became very popular in the United States in the late 1990s. Some researchers went as far as suggesting the possibility of a specific brain region designed for communication with God. This latest research discredits such theories.