I recently posted about SciFi writer Peter Watts, who I’ve begun to appreciate a great deal. He shares my obsession with science and what it means to be ‘human,’ or even ‘conscious.’ Unlike me, however, he’s actually a scientist. In a recent post on his blog, entitled “The Neurology of Transcendence,” he summarizes what appears to be a very important neurology study (conducted on willing patients dying of brain cancer).
In that study, the surgical removal of specific neurons in a specific part of the brain (go read the article, please) resulted in a sense of increased ‘spirituality,’ and a relative lack of awareness of self in space, leading to a sense of what I might call ‘cosmic feeling.’ The images below are ganked directly from Watts’ page, entirely without permission.
It’s an elegant little study, and another carpet-tack in the casket-lining of the supernatural — yet still we tread so very lightly to avoid giving offence, to reassure the world that we sit atop some pinnacle. “We’re dealing with a complex phenomenon that’s close to the essence of being human,”neurojock Salvatore Aglioti tells Scientific American, as though we’re the only species on the planet whose brain has a subroutine for keeping track of body parts. “They need to be very careful how they word things as they proceed,” warns one of the comments on the same page, “there are people who will take great offense otherwise. It’s going to be important to make clear the FEELING may be biologically based, and make NO comment on the stimuli leading to the feeling.” Even Urgesi et al refer to spirituality, in their introduction, as “a view of the human condition in transcendent contexts and in relation to unseen realities/supernatural agents” (italics mine). Continue reading