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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Research: Why revelations have occurred on mountains? Linking mystical experiences and cognitive neuroscience

I found yet another interesting article while investigating the effects of high altitude on brain function. However, this time the article is of a more spiritual nature; the article describes how anoxia can impact specific parts of the brain and cause a knock-on spiritual experience. This is an interesting and entertaining read. Find and download this article. And if you're wondering, I do have a spiritual side. (link)

Why revelations have occurred on mountains? Linking mystical experiences and
cognitive neuroscience

Shahar Arzy a,b,c,*, Moshe Idel d, Theodor Landis b, Olaf Blanke a,b
a Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, Brain-Mind Institute, Ecole Polytechnique Fe´de´rale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland
b Department of Neurology, University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland
c Department of Neurology, Hadassah Hebrew University Hospital, Jerusalem, Israel
d Faculty of Humanities, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel
Received 26 March 2005; accepted 21 April 2005


The fundamental revelations to the founders of the three monotheistic religions, among many other revelation experiences, had occurred on a mountain. These three revelation experiences share many phenomenologicalcomponents like feeling and hearing a presence, seeing a figure, seeing lights, and feeling of fear. In addition, similar experiences have been reported by non-mystic contemporary mountaineers. The similarities between these revelations on mountains and their appearance in contemporary mountaineers suggest that exposure to altitude might affect functional and neural mechanisms, thus facilitating the experience of a revelation. Different functions relying on brain areas such as the temporo-parietal junction and the prefrontal cortex have been suggested to be altered in altitude. Moreover, acute and chronic hypoxia significantly affect the temporo-parietal junction and the prefrontal cortex and both areas have also been linked to altered own body perceptions and mystical experiences. Prolonged stay at high altitudes, especially in social deprivation, may also lead to prefrontal lobe dysfunctions such as low resistance to stress and loss of inhibition. Based on these phenomenological, functional, and neural findings we suggest that exposure to altitudes might contribute to the induction of revelation experiences and might further our understanding of the mountain metaphor in religion. Mystical and religious experiences are important not only to the mystic himself, but also to many followers, as it was indeed with respect to the leaders of the three monotheistic religions. Yet, concerning its subjective character, mystical experiences are almost never accessible to the scholars interested in examining them. The tools of cognitive neuroscience make it possible to approach religious and mystical experiences not only by the semantical analysis of texts, but also by approaching similar experiences in healthy subjects during prolonged stays at high altitude and/or in cognitive paradigms. Cognitive neurosciences, in turn, might profit from the research of mysticism in their endeavor to further our understanding of mechanisms of corporeal awareness and self consciousness.

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