Science

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    Where God Lives: Brain Research and Religion

    Wolfgang Maria Weber/argus
    Researching into the brain

    What happens when we pray, meditate, or engage in other religious activities? Neuroscientists are using imaging techniques to shed light on what our grey cells get up to in such cases. Does God exist only in our minds?

    ‘God is dead.’ This sentence made the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famous, but it did not turn out to be true. Today, more than one hundred years after Nietzsche himself passed away and despite all the prophecies of doom voiced by both materialists and atheists, the religions of the world are enjoying uninterrupted popularity. It makes one feel like standing at the foot of Nietzsche’s grave and shouting, ‘People live longer when they are expected to die.’

    Up until a few years ago, the scientific community paid little attention to belief in a supreme being; religion was considered a purely socio-cultural phenomenon, a construct of the human spirit. Now, however, the scientific community appears no longer willing to give up the field to theologians and sociologists without a fight. A steadily growing throng of brain researchers, psychologists, and radiologists have set about searching for the roots of religious faith.

    Armed with state-of-the-art imaging techniques, these so-called ‘neurotheologians’ are scouring the brain for what a believer would call transcendental reality or the work of God so that they can explain them in terms of neuronal circuits and biochemical processes. And guess what - the quintessence of their efforts is a provocation for all those who believe in the existence of a superior spirit. According to the neurotheologians, religious sensations - like all other human feelings - are generated by the tangle of one hundred billion nerve cells beneath our skulls. Does this mean that God is nothing more than a figment of our imagination?

    Download SymbolUlrich Kraft: Where god lives (pdf, 234 KB)

    Ulrich Kraft is a doctor and editor for the magazine Gehirn&Geist.

    April 2007

    Translation: Aingeal Flanagan

    Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Fikrun wa Fann

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