Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Seizures and the Sight of God

Seizures and the Sight of God
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Seizures and the Sight of God
Isabella Eguae-Obazee
Researchers interested in the connection of the brain and religion have examined the experiences of people suffering from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Apparently the increased electrical activity in the brain resulting from seizure activity (abnormal electrical activity within localized portions of the brain), makes sufferers more susceptible to having religious experiences including visions of supernatural beings and near death experiences (NDEs) (9). Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE) sufferers also may become increasingly obsessed with religion, the study and practice of it (1). Why is it that this form of epilepsy results in religious experiences among the other supernatural experiences possible? Can people who have never studied or practiced religion be susceptible to these same religious experiences? Why do some interested researchers claim that such notable figures as Paul on the road to Damascus, Joan of Arc, Ellen White of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and other persons suffered from TLE because of their range of reported experiences with God, angels, and demons (1,3)? In my first paper, I highlighted the connection scientists have made between religious experience and the brain. In this paper, I intend to focus on Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, as one of those connections, specifically the symptom of hyperreligiousity.

In 1997 Vilayanur Ramachandran and his colleagues from the University of California at San Diego headed a research study. The team studied patients of temporal lobe epilepsy measuring galvanic skin response on the left hands of the patients (11). This measurement allowed the research team to monitor arousal (specific autonomic nervous system response) and indirectly surmise the communication between the inferior temporal lobe and the amygdala, both important in response related to fear and arousal (9). In addition to two control groups a religious control group and a non-religious control group, each group was shown forty words, including violent words, sexual words, and simple words (like "wheel"), and finally, religious-related words. The results of the study showed a greater arousal in the temporal lobe epilepsy sufferers to religious words in comparison to the non-religious, whom were aroused by sexual words, and religious control groups, whom were aroused by religious and sexual words (10).

Ramachandran and his team concluded that although the patients were not experiencing seizures or experiencing supernatural occurrences at the time of testing, they were highly sensitive to religious words. Thus, the experiences of temporal lobe seizures strengthened the patients interest in religion (11). Such a conclusion seems fairly reasonable considering that these patients also reported religious experiences during their seizures. Is it possible that the increased arousal to religious words is not a direct result of their temporal lobe epilepsy, but rather a result of the supernatural experiences induced by their epilepsy? Possibly these patients began to research and study religion more to finds ways to explain the experiences that they had during their seizures. Subsequent research on very religious, non-epileptic subjects supports this idea. In a different experiment, the of very religious, non-epileptics' temporal lobes where noted to be more active (11). However, in epileptic patients, Ramachandran concludes that the seizure's damage to temporal lobe pathways makes these patients more sensitive to certain ideas that to others do not have great meaning; specifically, pathways that connect the part of the brain that gives recognizes to sensory information and the part that gives emotional meaning to the sensory information (4). Ramachandran believes that because of these specific damage, everything that these patients experience has great meaning (10).

Some people, interested in proving God's inexistence, speculate that some of the notable religious figures suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy. For example, they claim that Paul, a notable figure in Christianity had a temporal lobe seizure as he was walking toward Damascus (1). In the New Testament of the Bible, Paul claims to see God and hear Jesus Christ speaking to him. Other notable figures like Ellen Smith, of the Seventh-day Adventist Church also claims to have had profound visions directly from God. Contrary to these researchers belief, there are other components of temporal epilepsy beyond hyperreligiousity that would negate these ideas. Associated with temporal lobe epilepsy is also a change in personality. The person may become irritable and obsessive-compulsive; they focus on extremely abstract aspects of their daily life, and attach a great deal of importance to daily situations. In addition they experience emotions with more intensity. With respect to these religious figures, the only one noted have any possible experience with epilepsy is Ellen White, an influential member of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. She suffered from a head injury during her childhood however the head injury was suffered near the nasal-area of her face (3). I found very little evidence to support the claims that her among other religious figures suffered from TLE.

From the studies completed on Temporal Epilepsy patients, it appears that hyperreligiousity may simply be a result of increased interest in the details and experiences of everyday life. However, the visions and other supernatural experiences reported by these patients gives cause for researchers to examine the temporal area of the brain. This portion of the brain may be what researchers are calling the "God Spot," a part of the brain where religion arises from (11). It is not clear why this would be an ideal place for the so-called "God Spot." It is possible that the known functioning of the Temporal Lobe, recognizing sensory information and attributing meaning to sensory information is akin to the philosophies of religion. Maybe, the "God Spot" acquires its spot over time rather than having its presence in the brain early on in a human's life. If this were true, the next step would be to examine the Temporal Epilepsy cases of younger children. Do they also experience religion as older patients do?

Furthermore, if possible researchers should examine the prior religious experiences and lives of temporal lobe epilepsy patients. Did they have any interest in religion prior to their experiences with epilepsy? This may provide insight intensity and contents of the persons reported religious experiences. Hyperreligiousity is an interesting symptom of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. The action of the temporal lobe after experiencing epileptic seizures supports the idea that religion might begin in the mind (10). I hope that within the coming years more scientists will research this aspect of temporal lobe epilepsy. Thus, giving us more insight into whether the soul is within the brain.
WWW Sources
1)Epilepsy: Sacred Disease by Paul Newman

2)Yours, Mine, and Ours: Whose God is it, anyway?

3)Ellen G. White, by Don Hawley, Part 8

4)BrainPlace.Com, Temporal Lobe

5)"The God Spot"

6)Brainstorms, A book review by Robert Finn

7)Personal Experience

8)WebMD: Temporal Lobe Seizure

9)Touched by the Word of God


11)Genesis of Eden

Comments made prior to 2007

I would like to know more also. I've had TLE SINCE I was 5 and I don't recall thinking so strongly about religion then.I went to church on sundays and then to some kind of camp with church in the summer and I loved it but I wasn't as obssessed with it as I am now.Although some people think that the thoughts I have and ideas I come up with are crazy I feel like I am getting closer to the truth.When I first started reading and looking for answers it was because I was and still am depressed most of the time.looked into astrology hoping to find confidence boosters.didn't help but that told me that I was GODs child the same as JESUS and that I had the same abilities and that there were lots of hidden secrets.then I moved on to the god spot,the celestine prophecy,etc.The god spot told me a little of what I wanted to know but I want to know more.The initial reason was to feel confident around others (I never have) so that I could enjoy my life instead of hiding my true self.I continue to learn more and get closer to the truth of "what" GOD is but I don't feel confident in myself yet.My thoughts got more intense after I had my first daughter,I was singing rock a bye baby to her repeatedly because of her colic and I had an epiphany.rock a bye baby on the tree top had a hidden meaning it is a metaphor. the tree top is the uterus base of tree would be birth canal(vagina)-rock a bye would be contractions when your stomach gets "rock" hard-the bough breaks is when your water breaks-the cradle is the placenta-down will come baby cradle and all-the placenta comes out after the baby does.there is more I'm not sure of but just that got me thinking.when I told someone that they said ew that that was like talking about sex to a child. I started thinking about hidden meanings.there are usually 3 of certain things that has some meaning.the father the son the holy ghost-me myself I-ego jesus god,I believe in the ego instead of the devil now which I am assuming would be the earthly thoughts and desires-jesus is the connection to god-god is our loving,caring,creative,spiritual thoughts and feelings.after reading that the god spot is in the temporal lobe it got me thinking.god would be the right (I think)side of the brain,ego the left side, and the corpus collasum-the bridge-jesus is what connects the two.but all in all god is everyone,part of the big picture,god is all there is,everything.and part of the truth I am relearning (because I already know everything I just dont recall all of it)is that we have never been seperated from god because you are born with the corpus collasum in your brain.the bridge is there to transfer info back and forth.we are supposed to function on a balanced level with both sides of the brain working on an equal level together evenly to create perfect harmony and serenity.I havent allowed myself to accept these truths but I will soon I hope.there are other hidden meanings like being born again in the bible-it does not mean just accepting jesus as your savior it means reincarnation where you are truly born ... Wendy, 14 January 2007

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Submitted by Serendip Visitor (not verified) on Thu, 07/01/2010 - 6:15pm.

Hi all.

I'm trying to find a documentary that must be around 10 years old. I think its was by Dr Sarah Greene. It covered religosity and Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.

Does anyone know the documentary I'm talking about?



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Oneness with God
Submitted by Chandana (not verified) on Sat, 06/05/2010 - 11:44am.

I stumbled upon this page because I have had six severe attacks of deja-vu followed by intense nausea and dizziness since this morning, and therefore decided to do some research to find what could be wrong. I have had these symptoms for more than a year now, but did not take them very seriously until today. I always intended to do the research, but kept forgetting to do so, because the episodes were so few and far between.
I am completely dumbfounded by all that I have learnt since morning. I have fixed up an appointment with a neurologist, and hope to get a proper diagnosis.

I am not obsessed with God. In fact, God has been a rather recent phenomenon in my life. I am a Hindu raised in a family with fairly moderate views on religion. I have never taken God very seriously all my life. After learning Darwinism in detail during my Masters' in Zoology from an Indian university, I even became a non-believer. Until recently, I have never prayed to God even during the worst crises in my life.
However, in 2004, I went to a meeting called satsang organized by the Oneness people in the UAE. I was given a small portrait of a couple whom we all regard as Amma and Bhagwan, and asked to pray to them in times of trouble or even otherwise.
I put the picture along with other deities in the small shelf maintained by my husband. But I did start praying on an experimental basis. Lots of miracles started happening to me after that - far too many to even enumerate. I also started seeing intense light - bright golden, brilliant green, dazzling blue or red lights throughout the day.
This was in 2004 - I have come a long way since then. I have turned into a believer from a non-believer. However, my life is still very normal. I cook, clean, watch movies, write, travel, and do everything that normal people do. I pray in the evening for about 10 minutes. Every Friday, my husband and I go for the local satsang - where we sing devotional songs, and participate in a process called deeksha, where people put their hands on your head, and transfer divine energy. Deeksha is supposed to bring neurobiological changes in the functioning of the brain, whereby you experience the world in a different light. It is called Oneness, because the sense of separation goes away and you are able to experience everything fully.
For more than 6 years now, I have turned spiritual, without becoming obsessed with religion.
The TLC is a relatively new phenomenon in my life. I am not overtly thrilled about it, because it leaves me extremely dizzy and in turn worried. I am just writing this to help those reasearching this topic to get a new insight into the subject. Even as I keep my fingers crossed with my tomorrow's appointment with a neuro-surgeon, I am still hoping that the seizures I am experiencing currently are because of the altered state of consciousness rather than any malfunctioning of my brain.

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It`s interesting because in
Submitted by Sara (not verified) on Wed, 06/02/2010 - 2:09am.

It`s interesting because in Islam,
Allah says that ''I`m closer to my worshiper that the ''great vein'' or sthg like that

so if this really is the God spot,it `s closer that the jugular you know

and he also said '' The closest A worshiper can be to me is during Sojood so do it longer''

Sojood is when you see muslims on Tv with their heads,hands. and knees on the floor and backs up.
which you know is a positions that induces blood flow into the brain!

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Every time Ive met "god" I
Submitted by jimi jimenez (not verified) on Wed, 06/02/2010 - 9:55pm.

Every time Ive met "god" I wind up in that position although im not muslim

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Oh my GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!! are
Submitted by Sara Maklad (not verified) on Fri, 06/04/2010 - 3:48pm.

Oh my GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!
are you serious this is really interesting

do u have other seizures where u do not meet god??

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I just have 2 Questions i`d
Submitted by Sara (not verified) on Wed, 06/02/2010 - 2:04am.

I just have 2 Questions i`d be glad if any one answered me
so, the hyperreligious have increased activity in the temporal lobe like in the normal situations or only when they see a religious word or sthg?

and unreligious ppl have low(er) activity in that area?

and does the interest in religion increase the activity or the other way around?

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Submitted by jimi jimenez (not verified) on Fri, 04/23/2010 - 8:26pm.

Im a TLE who has these experiences, Ive met god in seizures but am otherwise an atheist.
A few points to make
1) a neurology of religious experience doesn't negate God, all our experience of the worlds stimuli has a distinct neurological correlate. Studying the pathology of these correlates doesn't mean the stimulus (e.g an apple) doesn't exist, does it? Merely, in this case God is the stimulus.
2) There is not a "god module" a specific part of the brain for experiencing "god", there is however a correlated particular activity and interaction involving the temporal lobes and amygdala. There is not a distinct part marked "god".
3) Entropy reduction of the perceptual system is the likely cause, This results in less distinction of the senses and in turn a higher amplitude of activity (thus seizures are associated).
When trying to find a meaning for the environmental stimulus
Here I would argue just the room the epileptic was in (i.e no god stimuli)
Sum of all color frequencies = white (the white light of god)
Sum of all memories = de javu (i know this)
Sum of past present and the future = eternity
Our perception is actually us observing ourselves (consciousness relating lower level sub conscious perceptions).In this self relative but finite system of bits in which to encode experience, the brain, the lower entropy functioning temporal lobes essentially assign stimuli to all degrees of experience. all colours all memories all time and space is experienced as near to one, "god".
As these lower level perceptions are actually within ourselves, and our experience in general is an observation of a mirror of our perception, when a seizures strikes the communication between these two levels becomes slightly out of phase. We (our observer level, our consciousness) mistake our lower level perception (our self) for a distinct being, we have telepathic experience with ourselves. We see the rocks are alive...for it is our observation of our perception of rocks.. which is alive, if not the rocks themselves. Thus everywhere we look we see god, for everywhere we look we see our perception, our selves. In everything there is a meaning, for in this lower entropy state every perception is more likely switched "on" and thus each perception less distinct.
The white light of God is The white light of Ourself

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Submitted by rejjie (not verified) on Sun, 06/06/2010 - 8:57am.

hi jimmi! saw your post on tle & i really liked it! (i've had to see god). you really had an impressive explanation. through all the years i've lived with this, i never hear proper considerd explanations. but maybe its hard to understand unless its happened to you, or you've studied a lot of people with it, & i get the feeling we're not that common. anyway i've been looking since it happened for a decent way to understand what happened. i think you gave me it - understanding. THANK YOU! rejjie.

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the existence of an epileptic's God
Submitted by Harold (not verified) on Tue, 10/06/2009 - 2:04pm.

I have had TLE since childhood (I knew I was having seizures when I was in 2nd grade although I had no idea what they were---I just thought I was crazy. I was finally diagnosed in 1983 when I was 38 years old).
I am not "obssessed" with religion. However, I am more highly religious than almost anyone I know---thoroughly Christian and very main-stream orthodox in my theology. However, if you read my blog (http://sumnonrabidus.wordpress.com/) you will soon discover that I consider my seizures, in fact, to be a means of reaching greater spiritual depth and awareness. My blog today, for example, is a mixture of an homage to Hildegard von Bingen and discussion of an article by two astrophysicists discussing the probability of the beginning of life in the universe. My understanding is not quite fixed yet, but I do know that all of this is heightened by and comes in conjunction with my seizures---which no longer frighten me but cause me great spiritual joy.

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the TLE blues
Submitted by rejjie (not verified) on Sun, 09/20/2009 - 12:47pm.

i've got tle. had the visions of god, the devil, angels, others,etc, felt them touch me. heard them "talk" into my head like you "talk" in a dream.felt it erased from my mind straight after. the de ja vu, the increadable feeling/thought of insight & revelation about whatever i was thinking of or looking at when the aura/seizure hits.those times when i felt i could do anything, i was going to fix everything, i would just tell everyone what was right - it was obvious. i can see my personality has changed. it's like i just forgot who the old guy was. i think i'm more principaled & ethical now, which sux because i argue a lot with people & feel very guilty about it - but what ya gunna do, not talk? that Ramachandran guy almost sounds like he understands. i think of my form of tle as the "phrophets" disease. i could fully see how you can think god has chosen you when it happens. i think your intrest in the experences of children is insightful. i've wondered as well ? i think that the "god visions" start late 20's - like a lot of (there are a LOT) the phrophets. i think god is a strong complex emotion we don't understand, it's law, culture, fear of death, ego, & more. but its an emotion the same as love,hate, empathy. compare love of god & empathy, to me it is the same, but empathy is easy to explain.¶for the record i have been athiest at least as long as i can remember, i still am & that belief was never changed. while i was seeing god - i felt a primal susperstition, like fear of the dark as a very young child. but straight after i new that something had gone "wrong" & i was sick. & finally to be fair i have to say my attitude to religion has changed, i used to be able to tolerate it - now it revolts me. i'll just leave at that.

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Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/10/2009 - 2:22pm.

I have chronic temporal lobe epilepsy (hippocampal sclerosis) and have skim read various pieces on temporal lobe personality.

Mmmm, I've never kept a diary and have no interest in God. The only out-of-body experiences are during the fits themselves: deja vu, memory loss, hallucinations that are clear at the time but that I cannot recall afterwards.

I'm also supposed to have aggressive outbursts. Errr, no. Yes, I've felt thoroughly fed up at times due to people's attitudes towards my epilepsy and day-to-day memory problems. But in many ways I come out stronger - or does that make me aggressive... I stand up for my rights but I don't shout and I don't swear, for example.

I presume that personality can be determined by numerous factors. And, no, I'm not getting all philosophical. I have to lead a fairly boring lifestyle but that is for practical reasons (especially as I am now pregnant) - not to do with "personality".

I wish people with temporal lobe epilepsy all the best. It can be an absolute nuisance to live with but I guess things could be worse. I try and concentrate on the positive things in my life. Errr, does that make me egocentric?

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Submitted by Isabella Eguae-Obazee (not verified) on Thu, 04/17/2008 - 4:03pm.

Its interesting to see the responses written to this paper. When I wrote it, I was interested in making connections between neuroscience and my faith (I am a christian). I wanted to see what science said about God and how the brain behaves when people like myself say they experience God. Its interesting that responses on the web (beyond this page) have been to use the paper as a launching pad for proving the nonexistent of God. In fact, I believe it to be the opposite...

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About God
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/23/2010 - 8:02am.

I have had seizures, but have had the one you describe only once. I did not see bright lights or God or Devils or anything, but in the days afterwards, my personality changed. I'm kind of shy and, in the past, have been uncomforatble with people---kind of like waiting for them to hurt me or something. In the days after this seizure, I wasn't afraid of anything. I laughed a lot and had a happy outlook. I was much more talkative and open with others. Also, when I heard music, it seemed to fill me up. I knew I had never experienced music in the way I did then. It was a very curious experience and I remember driving down the road thinking "What is wrong with me?" I was afraid something might have happened to my brain, because I knew I was different than I had been before. My brother is schizophrenic, so you can understand why I would have a concern about that. At the same time, I hoped the feeling/change would never go away, but felt sure that it would fade. It did fade after a couple of months. One thing I came away with from this is: Maybe the people who kill others and do horrendous things have something wrong with the chemicals in their brains. I wondered if only we could massage that part of a person's brain to bring out the good things, before the bad things happened. We are all God's creatures after all. Maybe there is a way to help others with this knowledge, but I don't know what to do. I thought maybe if I told someone they could do research on this---but not with drugs or something artifical, but some natural way that God has given us to soothe our minds---that we have just not discovered yet.
About God. I think God is very practical. If He needed some part of our brain to be an easy way for us to experience Him, it just makes sense that He would put it in our brains. I think there is no question about the existence of God. You really only have to look at the magnificent way our body works, or the universe, or a tree. This is what I believed before I experienced salvation. I did have several points in time, that I think I did experience God on a more personal level. After I repented to Jesus Christ, I felt inside my mind the fathomless power of God. I had 2 thoghts: What incredible power--power can be dangerous if misused. The other thought I had was simply that I did not love other people enough. That was it. After that experience, though, I am absolutly sure that God exists. I just am not sure about what we are supposed to be doing here on this earth. I kind of decided that we must just be here to share God's love.

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Submitted by Daniel (not verified) on Mon, 02/01/2010 - 2:39am.

"ts interesting that responses on the web (beyond this page) have been to use the paper as a launching pad for proving the nonexistent of God. In fact, I believe it to be the opposite..."
Could you elaborate further.. How do you find the studies to support the existence for god

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TLE comment
Submitted by Sharon (not verified) on Wed, 01/30/2008 - 11:55am.

I have had extreme religious experiences some of which have been Dante-like in nature prior to recieving the right medication. Prior to medication I had auditory as well as visual hallucinations. There were times that I could feel the touch of them. Many of them were religious in nature. I still have experiences during seizures as I am not completely siezure-free. Balancing my life is a holistic pursuit of health by watching my stress level through stress management, exercise, meds, diet and sleep. I find that creative work such as drawing helps tememdously with the pain and aggitation that accompanies the condition for me.

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