According to Michael A. Persinger, if a person experiences God, their brain might just be playing a trick on them, for good reason.
In the episode “Is There a Creator?” of Science Channel’s Through the Wormwhole, Persinger explains how the sense of self must be tied to language and left-hemispheric processes.
The prototypical God experience
He goes on to say that the right hemisphere equivalent is what’s termed as the sense presence, or the sensation that someone or some thing is present (even though they cannot be physically seen). Persinger suggests that the sense presence is the “prototype of the God experience.”
Persinger draws from his research on inducing the “experience” of some spiritual entity or God using magnetic fields on the right hemisphere of the brain.
Is belief in God a pain killer?
Persinger describes why he thinks that God is just an illusion created by the brain:
“We hypothesize that as the human beings developed the ability to forecast their own self-dissolution, their own death, which is tremendously anxiety-generating, that another concept emerged which allowed that anxiety to be reduced.
And whatever that concept was it had certain parameters. It had to be infinite, and forever and everywhere, otherwise it would have an end — if you have an end, then you have anxiety.
So there had to be a concept inculcated within the brain itself that there is something out there that goes on forever and if you somehow relate to it and can be a part of it, the idea of anxiety becomes, a non-event.”
Connection or distraction?
This evolutionary account flips the God construct on its side.
The typical God construct entails that when you perceive God you receive connection, spiritual union — something good — that enhances life.
According to the evolutionary take, “perceiving” God is simply a panacea for the uncertainty of living. Or is it?
Soothing fears can be good, but attempting to soothe fears for the sake of not ever having to experience them can easily become dysfunctional. The long-term use of pain-killers isn’t necessarily a healthy or adaptive practice across all situations.
When “positive” endeavors are actually harmful
Just as searching for your perfect soul mate can be codependent, seeking enlightenment can be escapist, striving to make it to Heaven can distract you from Earth, and misguidedly seeking technological enhancement or trying to unify with God, Source, or Spirit, can distract you from your human form.
What do you think?
Technically, science can’t tell us whether God exists — or is just an illusion in the brain.
Whether or not God exists, do you think belief in God somehow masks, soothes, or relieves the fear of death? (Again can you answer this question without referencing your view on whether God exists? And if so, whether you can directly encounter s/he or it?)
How can believing that we’ll “be okay” once we die help us lead more fulfilling lives? How can it hinder us from living?
What about faith? How does faith — that we’ll go on after death — help or harm us in leading healthy, happy lives, right now?
Make your God construct more transparent. Take it out and take a look at it. What are its pros and cons, how does it serve you?
And if you don’t believe in God, make your constructs about “life after death,” mortality, and spirituality more transparent.
Without being mindful of your constructs, they can lead you astray from how you really want to live your life.
There’s an upside to fearing death
Death is a universally frightening topic. Unlike the rest of the animal kingdom cannot, we humans have to face existential questions like, “What happens after I die?” and “If I’m going to die, what meaning does my life have?”
But there is an upside to our predicament.
While you cannot know with certainty what happens after death, and while it’s easy to find this terrifying, you can choose to see it as a blessing.
Later this week, Mindful Construct will release a free guide that shows you how to view your mortality as a blessing, and how doing so creates the starting point for true emotional resilience.
To stay tuned for how to download that guide as soon as it’s available, click here to sign up for the Mindful Construct newsletter.
In the meantime, feel free to share your thoughts below.