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Prayer for the Brain

prayer handsReligion and Science have for centuries been pitted against one another in the minds of many, seen as mutually exclusive sides of a universal coin. When Nietzsche announced toward the end of the 19th century (in Thus spake Zaruthstra) that “God is dead,” that edict (blasphemous, to many) paralleled advances not only in philosophy (Nietzsche’s M.O) but also in science, astrology, psychology and all the other burgeoning ologys of the time, most of which sought (and still seek) to explain how all that we do and all that we are can be explained away and hence delimited or dismissed. (Odd, when one thinks of it, how we might imagine that explaining a thing allows us to dismiss it.) Faith, in the face of the ologys and hardcore empirical science, was seen by hard science pushers as mere superstition, a zany holdover from our caveman days.

The Impact of Faith

Many recent scientific studies, however, have proven repeatedly that faith and prayer impact our bodies and minds in ways which affect our health. (See “Molecules of Emotion” by Candace Pert, “The Biology of Belief” by Bruce Lipton, “You are the Placebo,” by Joe Dispenza, to name just a few related reads on the subject). Quantum Physics has given the lie to the reductionist Newtonian notion that our bodies are machines governed by objective, unchangeable laws. Newton’s laws fail where our bodies really work, at the atomic (quantum) level, where electromagnetic energy rules.

Increasingly, Science has proven to contemporary scientists that prayer does matter, that faith matters. Regardless of one’s position regarding whether or not faith and prayer are simply superstitious acts, the fact has been established that prayer works. (And incidentally, that William James was dead-on balls accurate with his Pragmatism.)

The Science of Prayer

Since 2000, more than 6,000 studies have looked at the science of prayer. The modern science of prayer is increasingly studied by specialists such as neuroscientist Andrew Newburg* and others. They have seen how prayer strengthens the brain and prevents or delays mental decline, that prayer benefits people physically (lowers blood pressure, speeds healing, etc.), mentally (delays or inhibits dementia, increases focus, etc.), and emotionally (eliminates or helps control panic attacks, etc).

Prayer alters four distinct areas of the human brain, increasing activity in areas of the brain most helpful and diminishing activities in areas less helpful, or even harmful.

Prayer and the Parietal Lobe

ParietalThe parietal lobe, the activities of which can be viewed in brain scans, is a pivotal player in prayer. Located at the top of the head, behind the frontal lobe, in front of the occipital lobe, above the temporal lobe. The parietal lobe responds helpfully when dealing with matters of faith.

The parietal lobe works overtime when we pray so hard that we lose sense of the larger world outside the yoke of the body. The parietal lobe is also working overtime as we dream, or whenever we focus or meditate so deeply that we transcend the body’s boundaries. Other regions of the brain also get more playing time during prayer or meditation. The thalamus plays a role, as do your frontal lobes. But it’s your parietal lobe — a central mass of tissue that processes sensory input — that may have the most transporting effect.

Prayer for the Brain

More and more scientific evidence suggests faith may bring better health. People who regularly attend religious services do have a lower risk of dying in any one year than people who don’t attend, according to TIME magazine. Those who’ve had a diagnosis of illness and who believe in a loving God recover better than those who believe in a punitive deity. Even AIDS has been shown to lessen its viral load when hit with the power of belief.

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* Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist, studies relationships between brain function and mental states. Dr. Newberg is a pioneer in a field known as neurotheology, the neurological study of religious and spiritual experiences.

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