Re: Neuroscientists and the "God module"

From: Michael LaTorra (
Date: Sat Jan 27 2001 - 15:58:41 MST

Damien Broderick wrote (re:

>I love the way this stuff is unfolding. I used to have these experiences
>too, as a pious Catholic kid, but my god module's gone on the blink.
>(Actually I crawled under and rewired it right.)
>I do think we should be cautious about calling these neurological
>short-circuits `god modules'. `God' is a local historically contingent
>construct. The article makes it clear that what is experienced is a
>delightful loss of self boundaries, so that the usual background sense of
>integral identity merges with one's ceaselessly updated construct of the
>rest of the world. In monotheistic cultures, people tend to experience this
>as a revelation of The One True God; in polytheistic cultures, I'm pretty
>sure you'd feel contact with one or another local god or demon; in god-free
>sub-cultures, what one would experience might resemble Buddhist satori, or
>the awe and wonderment we transhuman types tend to get when we gaze into a
>vast clear brilliantly starred sky, or listen to Bach, or hold a new-born
>baby (I'm told) for the first time, or read one of my novels. :)
>No `god' need apply, unless It's been applied in heavy strokes ahead of

Good points, all. Perhaps I should have gone beyond the journalist gloss
(religion = belief in God) to focus on the actual neurophysiology described
by the researchers. What you described, Damien, is the sense of wonder or
awe that is part of many profoundly moving experiential states. But I think
the sense of falling boundaries between self and world noted by the
researchers is a step deeper than mere awe.

A person can feel moved by the starry sky without feeling one with it. The
sense of oneness or union is qualitatively different. (By the way, the stuff
about holding the new-born baby is, in my experience, bunk. I have held each
of my 3 immediately after birth and I felt deep love, but nothing mystical,
or unitary, which are states I have experienced during meditation.)

What I find most intriguing about neurophysiological research on
meditative/religious states is that it may lead to the development of more
efficient means for entering these states, and more general, global
explanations of their origin and usefulness. History shows that people value
these states highly. My experience (and that of many others) shows me that
these states can be achieved by direct effort through meditation, but also
by ingestion of mind-altering substances under controlled conditions
(circumstantial and memetic). Here's the rub: People who enter these altered
states become extremely susceptible to outside memetic influences, which may
or may not prove benign in the long run. If the experiencer is in a
religious environment, then he or she can become a Christian, Muslim, Jew,
Hindu, Buddhist or any New Agey religion imaginable. But what would happen
if an individual entered an experiential state of feeling one with
everything (a state of nondifferentiation) while participating in an
Extropian "meditation workshop"? Would he or she become a more effective
advocate of transhumanist ideas, or a glaze-eyed fanatic?


Michael LaTorra
Extropy Institute:
Alcor Life Extension Foundation:
Society for Technical Communication:

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