Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Spiritual Doorway in the Brain Chapter 1

Have you ever had a near death or spiritual experience? Can you remember what happened and how you felt, during and after your experience? Have you told anyone about it? People generally won’t disclose information about their near death experience and the results of it. A spiritual experience is very personal and tends to lead to a change in a person’s life or religiosity. We may be able to explain the actions of the brain during a spiritual experience due to the research I will be discussing for the next few weeks, which can show us how this phenomenon is expressed physiologically.

I was recently given a book that will aid us in the search for truth entitled The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain by Kevin Nelson M.D. I will be summarizing each chapter and discussing points I find interesting and pressing for our intellectual search. Dr. Nelson noted in the prologue and at the end of the first chapter that his research has shown that spiritual experiences during a near death experience can be linked with the brain system that controls REM cycles during sleep. This was really exciting to find out because I have been interested in this type of research ever since I decided to study neuroscience. Plus, it makes so much sense, seeing as REM is the only sleep cycle in which we are dreaming, hence the strong emotions and dreamy-state.

Dr. Nelson refers to Henry James whose foundation many neuroscientists have, and are currently building on. Nelson uses James’ four qualities he found to be standard in all spiritual experiences:
  1. It is beyond words.
  2. It imparts some knowledge or insight.
  3. It is brief in duration.
  4. It is passive in nature.

Nelson uses case studies to describe the effects of brain injuries and he uses the description any acquaintance would give of their near death experiences.

1. Those who have had a spiritual experience will attest that it is difficult to describe what occurs during the dream-like state that surrounds someone during a spiritual experience. Nelson states that this indicates that the areas of the brain dedicated to language are not involved.

2. If you had a spiritual experience you felt as though something important and outside of yourself imparted some knowledge to you. Some people take this very seriously, depending on the intensity of the experience, and begin to base their lives on how it made them feel. The limbic system is usually the culprit for this phenomenon because it increases heart rate and gives a flight or fight reaction. It is the connected with emotions and emotional response and can impart a feeling of awe or shock (the only type of middle ground).

3. This type of surge of electrical or chemical impulse can only last so long due to the complex physiology of the brain. (Hopefully one day I’ll get that far along in my explanation on this blog!) Due to the intensity of the experience it seems brief. If this feeling lasted longer it wouldn’t give the intensity of emotion that leaves an impression deep enough to make someone want to change their lives.

4. The strangest thing about spiritual experiences is usually when and where the event occurs. The event seems to come on suddenly and without any sort of obvious trigger (more obvious now that we have a deeper scientific understanding of the brain) to the person having the experience. Therefore, they usually attribute the experience to something great and outside of them (often times God).

Further in the book I’m sure we’ll find more information on Dr. Nelson’s research and his fascinating conclusions. I can’t wait to move onto the next chapter and leave the next post. Keep an eye out if you found this interesting!!


  1. This is really cool. Your specific knowledge base will be a very pleasant addition to this blog. I'm pumped to see what else you guys have coming.

  2. Hey thanks JJ we appreciate the attention!

  3. Can't wait to see your thoughts on future chapters! Keep us updated.