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The NATURAL HISTORY OF ANOMALOUS EXPERIENCE. Art & Organism 2011. Neil Greenberg Departments of Ecology, Medicine, and Psychology University of Tennessee, Knoxville. God in the Brain. BIOLOGY of RELIGION. DEVELOPMENT – ECOLOGY – EVOLUTION – PHYSIOLOGY. God in the Brain.

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slide1

The NATURAL HISTORY OF ANOMALOUS EXPERIENCE

Art & Organism 2011

Neil Greenberg

Departments of Ecology, Medicine, and Psychology

University of Tennessee, Knoxville

God in the Brain

slide2

BIOLOGY of RELIGION

DEVELOPMENT – ECOLOGY – EVOLUTION – PHYSIOLOGY

God in the Brain

Tiffany, “Education” (1890)

slide3

PSYCHOLOGY of RELIGION

Project for a Scientific Psychology – Freud 1895…

God in the Brain

Tiffany, “Education” (1890)

slide4

EXPERIENCE

Common

Extraordinary

Anomalous

God in the Brain

slide5

KNOWLEDGE

How do you know …

… anything ?

“we create connections!”

Connections create a

“feeling of knowing”

God in the Brain

slide6

We can look for connections, or connections can find us.

We were born to create connections ... From the beginning we see how things are put together, we tinker & tweak .. a little reverse engineering to see if we really understand how something is put together

and thereby arrogate the control of nature, the power of creation

God in the Brain

slide7

KNOWLEDGE

How do you know …

… anything ?

“we create connections!”

Connections create a

“feeling of knowing”

God in the Brain

slide9

KNOWLEDGE

How do you know …

… anything ?

“we create connections!”

The “feeling of knowing”

God in the Brain

slide10

EXPERIENCE

  • We can perceive and be unaware (agnosisa)
  • We can be aware of things we do not perceive (hallucinations)

God in the Brain

slide11

KNOWLEDGE

Agnostic

Gnostic

Hypergnostic

God in the Brain

problems

we are developmentally biased (2) we rely on words

PROBLEMS

words both enable and bias understanding

words “. . . are the instruments of thought; they form the channel along which thought flows; they are the moulds in which thought is shaped.” --Aldous Huxley

slide13

Words both enable and bias understanding

"the private mental lives of speakers of different languages may differ dramatically," not only when they are thinking in order to speak, "but in all manner of cognitive tasks," including basic sensory perception.

"Even a small fluke of grammar"—the gender of nouns—"can have an effect on how people think about things in the world…“

-- LeraBoroditsky

slide14

Names of God

  • EL ("mighty, strong, prominent")
  • ELOHIM (a plural noun)
  • ADONAI(Lord in our English Bibles (plural of "adon“)
  • JEHOVAH: (Yahweh, the covenant name from "to be,” "The Self-Existent One," "I AM WHO I AM”)
experience

“There are moments,

and it is only a matter

of five or six seconds,

when you feel the presence

of the eternal harmony ...

a terrible thing is the

frightful clearness with

which it manifests itself,

and the rapture

with which it fills you.

Dostoyevski

Experience
religious and spiritual experience
Religious and Spiritual Experience
  • To Gadamer experience may seem obscure and self-organizing; but we can speak of
  • anomalous experiences such as
    • perceiving things that are not there (false positives, type 1 errors) or
    • not perceiving things that are there (false negatives, type 2 errors)
    • In the extreme, this is pareidolia or apophenia involving the finding of images or sounds, connections or meaning, in ambiguous field of stimuli.
religious and spiritual experience1
Religious and Spiritual Experience
  • Spiritual experience: very broad; is pursuit of such an experience motivated by narcissism? (Maybe but it isn’t selfish)
  • Religious experience: within a faith tradition
  • Mystical experience: related to the pursuit and (hopeful) resolution of mystery (at an extreme: the mysterium tremendens of Rudolph Otto)
slide18
GRADUAL

Narrow attention,

“partial response information before the processing of a problem has been completed.”

SUDDEN

Diffuse attention

Greater right hemisphere resting state activity

Recruits right hemisphere association areas involved in semantic cognition

Experience and INSIGHT

slide19
Ineffable:defies expression, cannot be described in words.

Noetic:gives insight and knowledge into deep truths.

Transient: brief and cannot be accurately remembered, though easily recognized if it recurs.

Passivity:facilitated by preparation, but once begun it seems out of one’s control … as if controlled by a superior power

William James 1918

mystical experienceepiphany, insight

the language of extraordinary experiences
The language of extraordinary experiences”
  • Is Buddha's "awakening“ Jung's "individuation?" Is the "luminosity" of the Tibetan Book of the Dead the same as the Quaker's "inner light" or Jacob Boehme's "light which is the heart of God" or the "living flame" of Saint John of the Cross?
  • Is Saint Paul's "peace that passeth understanding" the same as Thomas Merton's "transcendental unconscious"?
mystical experiences

The language of extraordinary experiences”

“mystical experiences”

Could Blake's "divine intuition" be linked to Gurdjieff's"objective consciousness" or Brother Lawrence's "unclouded vision" or Arthur Deikman's"deautomatization"?

How are Arthur Clarke's "overmind" and Emerson's "Oversoul" related? Could Colin Wilson's "intensity experience," Eliade's"shamanic ecstasy," and Saint Teresa's "ecstasy" be the same as the LSD explorer's "moment of truth" ??

mystical experiences1

The language of extraordinary exexperiences”

“mystical experiences”

or what Julian Silverman (writing of acute schizophrenia) called "the oceanic fusion of higher and lower referential processes"?

Might all these be a manifestation of part of the neurophysiological "drive-arrest-release sequence in biogenic amine inhibitory systems, releasing temporal lobe limbic, hippocampal -septal hypersynchrony that lasts for long periods of afterdischarge?“

mystical experiences2

The language of extraordinary exexperiences”

“mystical experiences”

IS Dostoevski’s "eternal harmony" the same as Maslow's "peak experience”

or the Zen Buddhist's "satori"

or the yogi's "samadhi"?

experiences of scientists
“experiences” of scientists

"The personal participation of the knower in the knowledge he believes himself to possess takes place within a flow of passion. We recognize intellectual beauty as a guide to discovery and as a mark of truth"

(Polanyi 1958:300)

experiences of scientists1
experiences of scientists

"It was as though I had looked for a truth outside myself, and finding it had become for a moment a part of the truth I sought..."

we see the world not as it is but as we are
We see the world not as it is, But as we are . . .

Current experiences are BIASED by past experiences ..

cognitive change evokes more or less stress
COGNITIVE CHANGEevokes more or less stress

Conceptually, this also bears on the ORIGIN of BELIEFS

God in the Brain

experience1
EXPERIENCE

God in the Brain

experience2
EXPERIENCE

INPUT INTEGRATION OUTPUT

God in the Brain

slide31

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.

-- Albert Einstein

seeking mystery exploration curiosity
Seeking mystery exploration, curiosity
  • We have an innate NEED to enlarge our experience; this begins without regard for obvious utility, and tends to taper off when costs of exploring exceed utility (biological fitness).
  • When circumstances enable a cost-effective continuation of exploration, it will reach the limits of biological constraint both physically and conceptually.
seeking mystery exploration curiosity1
Seeking mystery exploration, curiosity
  • Stress associated with perceptions of needs-not-met “energizes” motivation and can elevate a real or perceived need to high intensity and seeming urgency
  • One element of stress-reduction is the resolution of the cognitive dissonance that can be evoked by the experience of constraint. Constraints are revealed by confrontation with unsolvable mystery.
mystery
MYSTERY

Two neurobehavioral phenomena are at work here; the first is

1. The need for accurate models of the world within us and confidence in our beliefs.

2. This derives from the “essential tension” between “reality testing” and the fining validated percepts into a narrative: “story telling”

high confidence truth
High confidence = “truth”

Confidence in a belief is grounded is grounded in the interaction of two reciprocal processes:

  • CORRESPONDENCE: our sensory experience of the world. Does it match reality? [“reality testing”] (Novelty evokes stress – it is anxiogenic – it evokes the stress response)
  • COHERENCE: our reasoning experience of our sensations. Do they fit in with all our other experiences? [“Story-telling”] (Familiarity mitigates stress – it is anxiolytic – it relieves stress)
main points to come
MAIN POINTS TO COME
  • THE BIOLOGY of MYSTERY
    • DEEP MYSTERY and BIOLOGICAL NEEDS
    • INFOVORES: the NEED to KNOW
    • WE ARE BORN INTO MYSTERY
    • THE MYSTIC in the CRIB
    • STRESS and DISSONANCE
we must come to terms in an environment of perpetual change and apparent paradox
We must come to termsin an environment of perpetual change and apparent paradox

We are “wired” to seek stability

HOMEOSTASIS: "La fixité du milieu intérieur est la condition d'une vie libre et indépendante" –Claude Bernard

God in the Brain

we must come to terms in an environment of perpetual change and apparent paradox1
We must come to termsin an environment of perpetual change and apparent paradox

Seeking stability andnovelty, like seeking to minimize stress andexperience stress ...

reflects the wisdom of the body in maintaining a developmentally and environmentally appropriate level of growth and alertness.

Like relaxation and exercise: the maintaining of “tone” (as in muscle tone) assures an organism rapidly ready to take action to cope with the exigencies of its environment.

God in the Brain

we must come to terms in an environment of perpetual change and apparent paradox2
We must come to termsin an environment of perpetual change and apparent paradox

For example,

We are “wired” to seek stability

"La fixité du milieu intérieur est la condition d'une vie libre et indépendante" –Claude Bernard

We are “wired” to explore, to seek novelty

“We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.”-- Little Gidding

God in the Brain

slide40

INTRODUCTION : SOME ASSUMPTIONS

  • PHYSIOLOGY of SEEKING and SOLVING MYSTERY is
    • Regulated by emotions: “states evolved to improve the Darwinian fitness of individuals as they seek resources and avoid dangers” (Nesse & Berridge 1997)
    • Guided by pleasure and pain: Recent … studies have demonstrated the important role of the opioid and dopamine systems in modulating both pain and pleasure.” Leknes & Tracey 2008)

God in the Brain

slide41

SCIENCE and SPIRITUALITY

As with all motives, when meeting this need is thwarted, a primary STRESS RESPONSE is evoked in proportion to the mystery’s perceived urgency …

an affective phenomenon that is interpreted in the context in which it emerges…

Among the key effects of stress is enhanced sensory and cognitive abilities

Link for DUALITIES and DICHOTOMIES

God in the Brain

slide42

INTRODUCTION : SOME ASSUMPTIONS

  • HOW IMPORTANT IS THE NEED FOR CONFIDENCE ?
    • You can “let the mystery be” or
    • Perceive the SEEKING and SOLVING of MYSTERY urgent enough to evoke the coordinated STRESS responses
    • STRESS will retask, reorchestrate, and regulate specific functional centers of the brain, leading to different choices and actions.

God in the Brain

slide43

NEUROLOGICAL CONNECTIONS : ALZHEIMER’S

  • Exploratory eye movements are diminshed in Alzheimer’s (Daffner et al., 1992)
  • The novelty P3 event-related potential (ERP) ... anindex of the neural processes involved in allocating attentionto novel events [is significantly diminished in Alzheimer’s] (Daffner et al., 1992)

God in the Brain

slide44

NEUROLOGICAL CONNECTIONS : EPILEPSY

  • Aura” indicates site of intense electrochemical activity preceding a seizure and often produces a “feeling.”
  • Temporal Lobe Epilepsy

God in the Brain

an aside about stress
An Aside about Stress

The brain structures and circuitry of the stress response -- mainly the autonomic nervous system – are always mildly in play – like muscle tone, autonomic tone keeps us ready to act and prevents atrophy … all coping with dissonance is at least a mild stress.

If more stressful episodes are too frequent, too great or sustained for too long, the subsequent reallocation of energy can lead to “diseases of adaptation.”

God in the Brain

modularity checks and balances
Modularitychecks and balances

FRONTAL LOBES: concentration; incr activity during meditation

MID-TEMPORAL LOBE: Affect … awe, joy

INFERIOR TEMPORAL LOBE: image focussed meditation

ANGULAR GYRUS: response to key words

PARIETAL LOBE: activity maintains boundaries

God in the Brain

slide47

“the boundaries of my body dissolved, I felt one with everything”

Left temporal lobe stimulation creates a “sense of self” … when the left temporal lobe is stimulated but the right temporal lobe is quiet, the sensation is that of A sensed presence that is not you.

God in the Brain

slide48

“the boundaries of my body dissolved, I felt one with everything”

superior parietal lobe, toward the top and back of the brain (orientation association area) processes information about space and time and the orientation of the body in space. right orientation area deprived of input, defaults to a sense of infinite space. The left orientation area creates the sensation of a physically delimited body.

God in the Brain

importance of reality testing
IMPORTANCE of REALITY TESTING

Acceptance of experience that doesn’t correspond to external reality

(False positive (confident match with memories); Type I Error; gullible, trusting)

hallucinations;

Bonnet’s Syndrome (filling in scotoma);

dismorphic body;

pareidolia.

slide50

IMPORTANCE of REALITY TESTING

  • Acceptance of experience that doesn’t correspond to external reality
  • (False positive (confident match with memories); Type I Error; gullible, trusting)
  • hallucinations;
  • Bonnet’s Syndrome (filling in scotoma);
  • dismorphic body;
  • pareidolia.
slide51
Denial of experience that corresponds to external reality

(False negative (failure to match with memories); Type II Error; skeptical, wary)

agnosias: eg, visual (left occip),

associative,

anasognosia (denial of dysfunction / right cerebral cortices),

prosopagnosia (faces)

Disorders of Belief

disorders of belief
DISORDERS of BELIEF?

Acceptance of experience that doesn’t correspond to external reality:kinds of hallucinations; Bonnet’s Syndrome(filling in scotoma); dismorphic body; pareidolia. (False positive (confident match with memories); Type I Error; gullible, trusting)

expectations
EXPECTATIONS

PLACEBOS exemplify the power of coherence:

  • Acupuncture IS effective in many cases, but application at arbitrary site is comparable (Melchart et al. 2005)
  • Antidepressant medications can be 80% replicated with placebo (Kirsch et al. 2002)
  • Parkinson’s patients experience an endogenous dopamine “rush” when nigrostriatal system activated by placebo (expectation of reward – Fuente-Fernandez 2001)
placebo effect not merely subjective
PLACEBO EFFECTnot merely subjective?

Extra endorphins were also released from sites not usually engaged in analgesia, including

  • rostral anterior cingulate (perception of degree of pain)(ACC: autonomic, error-detection, conflict resolution or management)
  • insular cortex (receives somatic pain information)
  • nucleus accumbens (assesses urgency of pain)
  • dorsolateral prefrontal cortex(involved in decision making, interpretation, and selective attention) BUT, only in those that expected relief.

(Zubieta et al. 2005) . . .

anosognosia
Anosognosia
  • ANOSOGNOSIA(from the Greek: A + nosos (disease) + gnosis (knowledge)
  • Ignorance or denial of the presence of disease
    • Most famously of paralysis in patients with non-dominant (usually right) parietal lobe damage -- patients deny their hemiparesis, & confabulate rationalizations
  • Detection of discrepencies impaired
    • When the right hemisphere is denied input from the reality-testing of the left hemisphere; internal model is “untested” by feedback, leaving left-side function seemingly “hallucinated.”
putative causes of anosognosia
Putative Causes of Anosognosia
  • Freudian denial: avoidance of confrontation with dysfunction, preserve self image.
  • Phantom function: as with phantom limbs, signals from motor cortex go to parietal monitoring area AND to muscles (that no longer exist). In the absence of feedback (confirming dysfunction) parietal area prevails
  • Right hemisphere impairment: muting emotionality and flattening affect creates the appearance of indifference
confabulation the illusion of coherence
Confabulation: The illusion of coherence
  • “The production of coherent but fictitious stories”
  • First observed by Korsakoff in alcoholics
  • Can be provoked (eg., to avoid embarassment) or spontaneous (Schnider 2003)
  • Involve anterior limbic structures (orbitofrontal)
  • Impressive when right hemisphere (and its “reality-check” on the left hemisphere) is damaged
causes of confabulation
Causes of Confabulation
  • Right hemisphere stroke: denial of left side paralysis.
  • Korsakoff’s syndrome: inability to form new memories due to temporal lobe dysfunction.
  • Acting out after a hypnotic suggestion will be rationalized with improvised confabulations
  • Schizophrenia: confabulations to rationalize hallucinations or to justify paranoia
  • Capgras syndrome: incomplete sense of who owns a familiar face: alien imposters?
left right hemisphere laterality
LEFT - RIGHT HEMISPHERE LATERALITY
  • When separated, EACH hemisphere is UNAWARE of the ipsilateral world
    • Yet neither is aware of being incomplete
    • Each functions as best it can with the information available
left right hemisphere laterality1
LEFT - RIGHT HEMISPHERE LATERALITY

REALITY TESTING engages BOTH HEMISPHERES and the balance of coherence and correspondence is easily tipped by biases such as past experiences and expectations

slide61

LEFT HEMISPHERE

Coherence:creates a consistent belief system – works to “save appearances”

(Ramachandran 1998)

Probabilistic reasoning

(Osherson et al 1998)

Abstract object recognition

(Marsolek 1999)

Activated by familiar percepts

(Goldberg 2001)

RIGHT HEMISPHERE

Correspondence:“skeptical,” tests reality and if damaged, confabulation runs rampant

(Ramachandran 1998)

Deductive reasoning

(Osherson et al 1998)

Specific object recognition

(Marsolek 1999)

Activated by unfamiliar percepts

(Goldberg 2001)

in other words
In other words,
  • WE ARE BORN INTO MYSTERY which
  • WE SEEK AND SOLVE in order to
  • BETTER ASSESS OUR ENVIRONMENTS and
  • KNOW OURSELVES as INDIVIDUALS or GROUPS
  • AS GUIDED by NEUROENDOCRINE AROUSAL, ATTENTION, and ACTION SYSTEMS guided by BELIEFS fine-tuned by STRESS and DISSONANCE

God in the Brain

slide64
"Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning, and under every deep a lower deep opens"--Ralph Waldo Emerson
problems problem seeking problem solving
PROBLEMSproblem seeking, problem solving
  • As organisms looking to maximize our biological fitness (“self-actualize” in Maslow’s terms) we have a NEED to enlarge our experience; this begins without regard for obvious utility, and tends to taper off when costs of exploring exceed utility (biological fitness).
  • When real or perceived resources enable a cost-effective continuation of exploration, it will eventually reach the limits of biological physical and conceptual competence.
  • We are a social species (and seem to have evolved to work together to solve problems)
problems problem seeking problem solving1
PROBLEMSproblem seeking, problem solving
  • WE ACT to FULFILL complementary IMPERATIVES:
  • TO KNOW
  • (gnothi seauton)
  • and
  • TO BE KNOWN
  • To individuate even as we are socially assimilated
problems problem seeking problem solving2
PROBLEMSproblem seeking, problem solving

ESSENTIAL TENSIONS

Are identified whenever we look closely

Stasis is not an option

Past (known by flawed memory)/ future (that can only be imagined)

stability/change

tradition/innovation

The “maelstrom of perpetual disintegration and renewal”

slide68
As far they refer to reality,

they are not certain;

and as far as they are certain,

they do not refer to reality.

WORDS

God in the Brain

experience3
Experience
  • How “different” do experiences have to be from the mundane to be regarded as “anomalous” ?? (Fischer’s “perception—hallucination continuum)
  • Is a Spiritual, or Mystical, or Religious exeperience anomalous? (immaterial, solving mystery, reuniting)
  • Does the experience resolve discontent related to “foundational reality?” (James) resolve a mystery?
  • Are we confabulating ?? (yes, always, more-or-less)
mystical experiences3

The language of extraordinary exexperiences”

“mystical experiences”

Or what Campbell calls aesthetic arrest:

“We may dance toward it and away, achieve glimpses, and even dwell in its beauty for a time; yet few . . . have been . . . fully awakened to the crystalline purity of . . . ground of one’s own and yet the world’s true being. Like perfectly transparent crystal, it is there, yet . . . not there; and all things, when seen through it, become luminous in its light”

slide71

SPIRITUALITY and MYSTICISM

“spiritual” is a favorite adjective for the feeling evoked by an acceptance of unseen and intangible reality. Sensu “incorporeal”

“mystical” refers to a transformative spiritual experience evoked by an attempt to exercise the “need to know” at the boundaries of competence. Sensu “mystery”

“religious” to the social context engendering or enabling spiritual or mystical experience. Sensu “re-unite.”

Link for DUALITIES and DICHOTOMIES

God in the Brain

slide72

EXPERIENCE

  • How “different” do experiences have to be from the mundane to be regarded as “anomalous” ??
  • Is a Spiritual, or Mystical, or Religious exeperience anomalous?

God in the Brain