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Spirituality and wellness. Is God in our genes?. Time Oct. 25, 2004 “Does our DNA compel us to seek a higher power?” Do we seek spiritual outlets because they are adaptive? Does spirituality help humans cope and flourish? Foster health and well-being?. Buddhist Belief.

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Is god in our genes
Is God in our genes?

  • Time Oct. 25, 2004

  • “Does our DNA compel us to seek a higher power?”

  • Do we seek spiritual outlets because they are adaptive?

  • Does spirituality help humans cope and flourish?

  • Foster health and well-being?


Buddhist belief
Buddhist Belief

  • Existence of a spirituality “gene”.

  • Inherit a tiny fragment from a previous life.

  • This small “gene” merges with those we inherit from our parents.

  • Shape our physical and spiritual profile.


God gene
God Gene

  • Dean Hamer is a geneticist works at National Cancer Institute (NIH).

  • Ph.D from Harvard Medical School.

  • The God Gene: How faith is hardwired in our genes

  • Idea came from a study on smoking and addiction.


Temperament and character inventory
Temperament and Character Inventory

  • TCI designed by Robert Cloninger.

  • Researcher on genetics of addiction.

  • Self-transcendence trait made up of:

  • 1) Self-forgetfulness: To get entirely lost in an experience.

  • 2) Transpersonal: Connectedness to the larger universe.

  • 3) Mysticism: Openness to things not literally provable.


Self transcendence gene
Self-transcendence Gene

  • Hamer ranked 1000 subjects on Cloninger’s self-transcendence trait.

  • Got DNA samples from subjects.

  • Focused in 9 genes involved in production of monoamine neurotransmitters related to mood and reward (serotonin, dopamine).

  • Gene for vesicular monoamine transporter.

  • VMAT gene variation high in those with trait.


Vmat gene for spirituality
VMAT gene for spirituality?

  • Buddhists have found Hamer’s finding “amusing and fun”.

  • What do you think?

  • Is our tendency to believe in God due to levels of our brain chemicals?

  • Most religious leaders are not impressed.


John polkinghorne
John Polkinghorne

  • British clergyman.

  • Winner of the Templeton Prize in Science and Religion.

  • “You can’t cut faith down to the lowest denominator of genetic survival. It shows the poverty of reductionist thinking.”

  • Reductionist thinking: The nature of complex things can always be reduced to (explained by) simpler or more fundamental things.


Spiritual inheritance
Spiritual inheritance

  • God “gene” may be a stretch.

  • But spirituality does convey adaptive value.

  • Could be inherited in a broad sense.

  • Might help us cope and flourish.

  • Promote health and well-being.

  • Those who possess this trait more likely to have productive lives and strong families.


Minnesota twin studies
Minnesota Twin Studies

  • MZ twins share more in common than do DZ twins.

  • Phobias, illnesses, habits.

  • MZ twins more likely to share spirituality but not religious faith.

  • Spirituality is search for meaning in life, need to relate to something greater than one’s self.

  • Religion is how spirituality is channeled by institutions, specific beliefs and rituals.


Spirituality and religion
Spirituality and religion

  • Spirituality is found in all human cultures.

  • Expressed differently in religious faiths.

  • Common mechanism for transcendence.


Changes in brain function
Changes in Brain Function

  • Writing and speaking brain active now.

  • Processing language.

  • PET scans show language areas active.

  • Limbic system (emotional brain) is quiet.


Path to meditative state
Path to Meditative State

  • Begin meditation exercise.

  • Parietal lobe goes quiet: time and space.

  • Frontal lobes becomes more active.

  • Inputs from limbic system.


Deep meditation
Deep Meditation

  • Powerful feelings begin to emerge.

  • Time and space disappear.

  • Feeling of peace.

  • Lose world around you.

  • Spiritual experience

  • Centering prayer.

  • Quiet, reflective state.

A meditation class


What are the benefits
What are the benefits?

  • Spirituality has a biological expression.

  • Benefits: Provides good stress reducer.

  • Neuroscientist Michael Persinger:

  • “God experience is a brilliant adaptation. It’s a built-in pacifier.”

  • Seek meaning in our lives.

  • Hope there is a purpose to it all.

  • Religion provides additional benefits.


Religion and health
Religion and Health

  • Most medical schools now expose students to spiritual issues.

  • Harvard Medical School: Armand Nicholi

  • Question of God

  • Contrasts Freud and C.S. Lewis.

  • Viewpoints about the role of religion in psychological and physical health.


Religion and well being
Religion and well-being

  • Benefits of participation in religious behavior.

  • Not just beliefs.

  • Those that attend services on regular basis report greater well-being and better health.

  • More than just social association.

  • Six factors


1 provides social support
1. Provides Social support

  • Social support strong predictor of well-being.

  • Community of like minded individuals.

  • Social psych: we strongest bond with others like ourselves.

  • Help others with problems in mind, body and spirit.


2 support health lifestyles
2. Support Health Lifestyles

  • Many religions urge moderation in use of alcohol and drugs.

  • Some prohibit use.

  • Others promote family guidelines.

  • Discourage other risky behavior.

  • Natural helpers: Referral sources.


3 personality integration
3. Personality Integration

  • Deeper commitment helps people focus on goals and strivings.

  • Life-long path of discovery.

  • Meditation and prayer help us integrate our personalities.

  • Who we are and what we are about.


4 increase generativity
4. Increase Generativity

  • Erik Erickson’s Developmental Stages

  • Stage Seven – later adulthood, marked by generativity versus stagnation

  • In this stage generativity refers to the adult's ability to care for another person.

  • Not just your own children but the next generation(s).


5 unique coping strategies
5. Unique Coping Strategies

  • Providing hope, optimism.

  • Relief from stressors.

  • Place lives in a greater perspective.

  • Positive forms: Working with higher power to get through difficulty.

  • Negative forms (guilt and blaming) offer no relief.


6 sense of purpose
6. Sense of Purpose

  • Life has meaning and purpose.

  • Religion provides framework for life’s journey.

  • Traditions and rites of passage.

  • Add meaning to events.

  • Good times and bad.

  • Sense of control: Not just pawns.


Not alone on our journey
Not alone on our journey

  • Prayer: “You are close to us as breathing and further than the farthest most star.”

  • Provides moral code of conduct.

  • Most religions have a version of “do unto others as you would have them to unto you.”

  • Foster a sense of self-worth, shared meaning from the community.


Dark side of religion
Dark Side of Religion

  • Religion can become evil.

  • Religious wars.

  • Exclude and devalue others who don’t share your beliefs.

  • Ethnic cleansing.

  • John Lennon’s dream of a perfect world with “no religion too”.


Benefits from other sources
Benefits from other sources?

  • Commitment to an important cause.

  • Examples: Promoting peace, protecting nature, securing equality.

  • Might provide sense of purpose, social support, generativity, personality integration.

  • Healthy lifestyle?

  • Unique coping strategies?


Spirituality takes many forms
Spirituality takes many forms.

  • Have to be engaged.

  • Not just beliefs, but also actions.

  • Benefits come from active participation.

  • Walk the talk.

  • Generativity: Care for the next generation.

  • Amazing returns on your investment.


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