Science, religion unite at T2F

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Friday, November 28, 2008
By Jahanzaib Haque
Karachi

Is the human spiritual experience a result of the interaction of chemicals and electric impulses in the brain? Can such experiences be artificially simulated? Controversial questions such as these were raised at The Second Floor Cafe following a viewing of the BBC documentary, ‘God on the Brain’ on Thursday.

The documentary focused on the latest scientific advances in the field of Neurotheology, which tackles questions related to the existence of God, reports of miracles and psychic phenomenon using the scientific method of testing.

An intimate but highly charged crowd of sixty people showed up for the viewing, featuring a significantly high number of youngsters.

“Science and God are relevant to all societies, and looking at both sides of the picture helps to make informed decisions” says Zaheer A Kidvai, founding member of the Peace Niche NGO which runs The Second Floor. “A private school even asked us to hold a screening of the documentary for its senior students”.

In one study highlighted in the film, Canadian scientist, Dr Michael Persinger found that an artificial magnetic field focused on the brain’s temporal lobes could induce a feeling of ‘not being alone’ akin to religious experience. A remarkable 80% of subjects he studied reported this sensation. As such, the film raised the prospect that we are hard-wired to believe in God.

A second study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania monitored blood flow patterns inside the brains of those in religious trances using a brain scanner. The blood flow patterns showed that along with the temporal lobes, the brain’s parietal lobes appeared to almost completely shut down during meditation. The parietal lobes give humans a sense of time and place, and their closure would induce a loss of the sense of self.

The viewing of the documentary was followed by an animated discussion led by Zaheer Kidvai, Dr Ghazala Aziz and a number of youngsters who built upon the documentary’s controversial theme.

One Lecole graduate found the idea that religious experience could be generated by manipulating the brain an oversimplified viewpoint, but she conceded that it was an important issue which should be discussed openly within society. Julian Padilla, a young university graduate visiting from abroad said it was interesting to see an objective field such as science try to unify such a subjective topic as religion, as each society tends to build its own form of spiritual beliefs.

While heated debate veered close to the borders of the sacred and the profane, the overall consensus was that the documentary had raised a number of vital questions which both science and religion had yet to answer fully.

The screening was held as part of the monthly, Science Ka Adda project which highlights advancements in science through lectures and debates held at The Second Floor.

Published in The News.

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