Wim van den Dungen
The spiritual function allowing human beings to experience Divine Presence,
"numen praesens" or the holy has an exclusive executant
"spot" in the brain : the (right) amygdala, and by extension the
hippocampus and the temporal cortex. Spiritual exercises aimed at switching on
this "God-spot" may initiate the formation of a complete
"God-circuit", allowing for the mature expressing of the spiritual
function and its double bi-modal structure (bi-hemispheral and cortico-limbic).
Just as the neuroscience of sensoric perception may suggest ways to improve
sight on the basis of the executant structures of vision, namely the eyes, the
retina and the visual cortex, neurospirituality may suggest spiritual rules enabling
the optimalization of the development of the spiritual function. These should be
placed next to existing theologies, liturgies, ceremonies and rituals, i.e. the
approved ways, so as to suggest modifications of the latter in order to upgrade
the "means of grace" and facilitate spirituality and spiritual experience in
this life and not (only) in the afterlife.
At present, the following "spiritual rules" seem probable :
1. A focus on
Apparently, the spiritual function is not "switched on" automatically.
Its activity is directly linked with the voluntary association area in the
prefrontal cortex. Each person has a free choice to initiate the
spiritual function (cf. Maslow on the emergence of self-realization needs). The
best religious education will not suffice to turn a free human being into a
spiritual individual. As long as the latter refuses and opposes to "switch on"
the spiritual function, and this a priori or because the existence of
such a function is refuted, spiritual development will not take off. This condition points to a
safety-mechanism installed to make one 100% responsible for one's own
spiritual development after the point of "no-return" is passed, namely
the sincere and persued wish to experience the Divine. Humans may decide not to
persue this issue (yet).
Spiritual exercises stress repetition and daily practice. The making of new
neuronal pathways takes time, especially when blocks, lateralization and
deafferentiation have become habitual. The "total" human is
addressed. The release caused by healing is at times troublesome, but always
wholesome if the effort is seen through. Spiritual guidance must assist the
formation of new, wholesome habits. It should focus on the phenomenology and
not hinder the development of the fragile spiritual newborn by heavy theological
interpretations, declarations and other superstructures. This focus on spiritual
experience is meant to, as it were, take us "out" of the neocortex and
allow us to "enter" the limbic, but not to reinforce the neocortex
with new verbal (left) and visuospatial (right) information. Too much orthodoxy
in the beginning does not lead to a genuine spiritual orthopraxis.
The role of spiritual teachers is not to introduce orthodoxy, but help the
arousal of direct spiritual experience.
balance : ego-preservation versus relatedness.
History shows how religions try to preserve their traditions by way of blood. The "devil"
is projected outside, in some "evil" space
"out there" and next fought. Monastic and spiritual orders introduce
strong sexual and dietical regulations, for practice has learned them
extremes (total abstinence, fasting) influenced the "switch" of the
spiritual function (i.e. the amygdala). Heavy cortical justifications are
invented to motivate the undertaking of these and other drastic physical
measures (flagellation, mortification, pain, penitence, visualization of
suffering etc). The latter, associated with religious symbolism, arouse strong
emotional discharges and so its icons imply fear, death and
Here, the "shadow" side of the mind comes into play. In
called the "great war", and the clearing of personal passions &
evils (cf. Jung's "Shadow-integration") should be completed before
engaging in any "lesser war". Unfortunately, most religions fail
to "keep the demon inside", and instead of developing a "black
box technique" (a method of spiritualizing the reptilian & lower
mammalian brain in secret &
silence), they unleash their demons by demonizing their fellow human beings
(non-believers, women, gays etc). Instead of transforming
negative energy, they pile it up, causing decompression, crisis, turbulence &
balance : icons of belongingness versus verbal voluntary control.
The limbic pole of the spiritual function, the "God-spot", does not operate on
"monotheistic" lines. Indeed, Upper
Paleolithic, shamanistic spirituality is based on controlled trance allowing the
shaman to "enter" the spirit-world. Although in some systems, the
"Great Spirit" ruled (cf.
most of the time a polytheistic view dominated. Each "god & goddess" has its own
"domain" and ritual (cf. Santaria). The religions "of the book"
maginalize mystics and their direct experience of the Divine. "Rationalist" monotheism developed a superstructure negating
Divine plurality, although a
"problematic remainder" is left over :
: Divine Presence is the "feminine" side of
"God", called the "shekinah", manifesting in an
infinite variety of forms, in particular as the Law (Torah) ;
: the Holy Spirit (by some theologians associated with the
"feminine" - cf. Mariology), is both an objective order or
dispensation (the communion of the saints, the "living energies" manifesting the world,
the church, etc.), as well as a direct, intimate, tactful, inner &
subjective experience of God ;
: Divine nearness as experienced by the Sufi's (cf. Ibn al-'Arabî),
implies every thing is a Self-manifestation of the Divine through one of
the Names of the Divine.
The icons of belongingness,
established when the spiritual function is activated, invite us to
emotionally adhere to a set of "dogmatic" images. They define the
convenant between the terrestial and the celestial. These images gravitate
around the mythical life-story of the religious founder : the legendary Osiris,
the Vedic "seers", Moses, Gautama the Buddha, Jesus the Christ,
Mohammad the Messenger of Allah etc. To call in "their" grace (as
law, teaching, Divine Grace, Baraka, etc.), these "examples" (always mystics) become "images" to be "imitated". Even in Islam's radical
monotheism and its adjacent radical iconoclasm, the life of the prophet was and is
considered exemplaric (although his face is never shown) and in Arabic
calligraphy, letters become the bodies of abstract images (cf. the
as a way of thought). Images are more willing to be charged with emotions of
attraction, repulsion or express states of equilibrium.
The manipulation of fear also belongs to this level of analysis. The religions
use strong negative images (torture, mutilation, extreme pain, extreme
humiliation) to identify what happens when one falls "out of grace"
(cf. the horrible images of the hells in the various religions). In this way, they address the
"negative" side of limbic spirituality by a principal denial of
blood-thirst and violence. So Buddhism's emphasis on the end of all afflictive
emotions is very to the point.
Psychodramatic verbalization stabilizes emotions. The inability to communicate
makes emotions "loop" and causes "storms" or (if repressed)
stress and psychosomatic disorders. Confession and penitence are the Christian
"approved ways" to deal with the downside of the limbic pole of the
spiritual function. Buddhist meditations on "wrathfull deities" may be
If the icons given (by a religion) limit a person's voluntary control on his or
her spiritual development, no limbic-cortical balance can be achieved. In that
sense, monotheism poses a fundamental difficulty. By stressing the unity of the
Divine and the "approved ways" (the "left" eye of
remoteness), they "close" the door to the "abode of God"
(the "right" eye of nearness).
On the other side of the equation, polytheism has antinomic problems : the variety of the Divine does not allow a
higher order organization, limiting the expression of the spiritual function to
signals & icons. Henotheism is the first step away from a horizontal
"totemism" of "gods & goddesses" by introducing
verticality : One "God" is also in and above "millions" of other
Amun in Late Ramesside theology and Hindu
Christian trinitarism stands between Egyptian henotheism and Islamic monotheism,
for "One" in "essence" ineffable "God", exists as
three Divine Persons, who all share the same Divine nature (cf.
"homoousios"). Which concept of God is suggested by the executants of
the spiritual experience ? The neo-Platonic triadic scheme spring to mind (cf.
Proclus, 412 - 485 CE) :
(the principle on its own) - manation : "God" computed by the prefrontal cortex ;
(the principle as efficient cause) - emanation :
"God-circuit" of devotional practice ;
(the principle as final cause) - return : "God" as direct
Divine spiritual experience (cortico-limbic - cf.
Does the Divine exist ?, 2005).
4. Elementary rules for a critical, neohumanist superstructure. the "fourth state"
adds to our reptilian habits. But this is a highly individual (in the sense of
unique) and personal (in the sense of a someone experiencing) matter.
Humanism is usually associated with atheism. Neo-humanism must acknowledge the spiritual
function as a crucial feature of our humanity. It is at work together with other
operators, such as determination, verbalization, visuo-spatialization,
dualization, emotionalization, existentialization and conceptualization.
This view does not propose the return of any of the many religious dogma's regarding humanity and the
universe. Instead of discussing whether "God" exists or
not, neo-humanism fosters direct spiritual experience, allowing
everybody to find out the "color" of their own spirituality (which does not
spiritual council, guidance and devotion are no longer necessary). Especially in the beginning,
spiritual culture and context are most helpful. But, without opening the
"doors of perception", no self-realization needs are met
and a person's full potential to humanize and individualize is postponed.
Classical humanism, with its profound discourse on human freedom and dignity, liberated
the neocortex from its entanglements with outdated icons and signals. The
"old" spiritual superstructure was totally deconstructed, to the point
of Nietzsche's "God is dead" formula. The modern neocortex no longer
processed the concept of God (cf. Laplace), traditional theologies and adjacent
metaphysical systems. In
classical Marxism, communism and
materialist atheism, no reference to
"God" is made. A metaphysics of finity was the most positivist
philosophers would allow.
These elaborated iconoclasms did not eliminate "God" from the
intellectual scene. Why ? Only recently, and thanks to neurological studies of
spiritual practioners as well as epileptics, the limbic nature of the
"abode of God" was introduced to the debate.
The most elaborated critical language-game, theory or ideology is
incapable of eliminating strong icons & powerful signals. Icons may be overwritten by adjacent
emotional word/image-associations, but in cultural systems this process is slow
and persist only if these "new" charges are sustained over the generations (in
theology was eliminated from the record but returned in stories and tales
afterwards). Signals are the landmarks of our existence and next to the
"nominal" operations of the brainstem, only
The dangers of too much & too little superstructure have been discussed. Are
there elementary rules to keep in mind for building a spiritual superstructure
and singled out : the Divine "is on High" and separated
from profane, common & vulgar spatiotemporality (prefrontal cortex) ;
and diversity : the Divine is "one" supreme being, spirit,
energy and "many" supreme, imaginal existences as ancestors,
spirits, angels, saints, gods, goddesses, energies, world-soul etc.
(cortical synchronization & relay to limbic) ;
and incomprehensible : the essence of the Divine, the Divine qua
Divine, remains unknown and every system approaching this essence becomes
totally incomprehensible and perplexing (deafferentiation of the verbal
association area and relay to limbic) ;
and tremendous : the Divine is attractive because of its numinous
quality, power and ability to change fate (voluntary association area), but
also repulsive because of its overwhelming, dominating & crushing
presence (fear reflex of amygdala) ;
bliss, joy & happiness : in principle, the "peace" of
the Divine is open to all humans (a healthy brain has a functioning
amygdala-hippocampal complex) - the personal benefits derived from an
integrated spiritual function are also important motivators (prefrontal
5. Unity and plurality in the Divine. is such a danger present.
Theologians at work in the conservative branch of the Sunni tradition reject
"nearness" to Allah (Arabic for "The God"), conceived as heretical blasphemy.
Hence, the living source of spirituality is deafferented, for every movement of
the spirit is immediately recuperated by a cortical system of symbols, stressing
the impossibility of spiritual experience. In contrast,
is highly mystical and developed
a system of
thought enabling the mystic to experience the Divine. The notion of
"annihilation" became essential, for stressing the human
subject was eliminated, "God" was kept pure.
Hermeneutical investigations carried out
evidence the Divine as
bi-polar : in
essence, one and ineffable, in existence, multiple and mysterious (hidden,
invisible). Neurospirituality suggests a cortico-limbic circuit as the basis of an
integrated and mature spiritual function.
It has two anchor-points :
the limbic "God-spot" and the prefrontal voluntary association
area. Superstructures are inevitable.
When discussing the universal characteristics of human spirituality, these polarities are fundamental and hermeneutics, mystical experience and
neurospirituality confirm their importance. A conceptualization of the Divine, i.e. a
cortical discourse on the Absolute involving symbolizations which do not thematize
these basic polarities of
theonomy, will not
enhance the development of the spiritual function. Especially in radical
Another flaw in the construction of a spiritual superstructure is made abvious
with the opposite strategy. Suppose the
experience of the Divine is made easy (as in
Hinduism or more recently, in the
postmodern Paganism of the New Age). Gods, goddesses, ancestors, spirits,
entities, powers, energies, etc. exist on every corner, in every
natural phenomena, in the soul of every human being, etc. The
order of & dynamics between these spiritual entities becomes blurred, especially
when efforts are undertaken to conceptualize them rationally (ante-rationality
contains inherent conflicts which administer such possible confusions) ... Who
is the most important entity or set of entities ? How do they maintain their
dominance ? Who created them ? What is their relationship to this
creator ? How to make sure that entities are not just "invented on the
spot" to satisfy humans and not necessarily the Divine ?
theologies (reptilian) : a lot of entities exist in a well-defined
"place" (a natural setting, a temple, a totem, a statue, a magical
circle, a "Divine" animal or human etc.) and do not
"operate" outside it - requests are material (more food, health,
territory or victory over an enemy) ;
theologies (mammalian) : some entities "move around" (in
Egypt deities embarked and visited each other in their temples along the
Nile) and their stories ask for a set of emotion/word-associations involved with
belongingness, nurture & relatedness - requests are material and
psychological (a good social position, prosperity, happy life, stong family
ties, love etc.) ;
theologies (human) : the supreme entity or entities (hierarchy &
numeration) are "abstract" and are everywhere all the time - He,
She, It or They are addressed using prayer, ritual, recitation etc. and
involve a symbolical theology (material objects infused with Divine power) -
requests are material, psychological and universal (peace for all beings,
enlightenment for all sentient entities, universalism, paradise on Earth
Higher neurological structures reduce the number of entities. A balance between too much and too little has to be struck. In
Judaism, the "limbic" component is the "Shekinah" or the
"feminine" Divine Presence. Here we see the combination of a
monotheistic superstructure with an interesting "theophanic" limbic orientation.
Unfortunately, the structure was out of balance because of (auxiliary)
adherence to a reptilian place-conservatism (confusing the "chosen
people" with a race and "Israel" with a concrete geographical
region, whereas "all spiritual humans" and "the Kingdom of
Earth" are meant). In Qabalah (Hellenized Jewish mysticism), was this
superseded. Another constructive example is sophiology, i.e. "wisdom"
as the feminine side of the Divine, a mirror in which the Creator originates
& witnesses creation.
6. Reptilian/Cortical balance : permanent reformation and the expectation of the
This balance is the final neuronal outcome of spiritual emancipation : the
establishment of a circuit between the neocortex and the special neurons of the
hand in hand with the implementation of a "fourth state" (ARAS).
The triune brain has an upper, medial and deep structure. Traditional theologies
deal with the upper and medial levels. The "God-circuit" is
cortico-limbic, but "fed" by the ascending reticular system, adapted
to four basic states : waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep and "the
fourth" ("turîya", "samâdhi", "satori",
"nirvâna", "state of grace", "gatlut",
"baqa", "trance in sobriety", "station of no
station", "gnosis" etc.). This "fourth" state is the
net, automatic return (merit) on continuous spiritual training and permanent reformation
("always constructing" instead of "under construction").
Talent and training will always bear fruit. The executant arousal-characteristics of
spirituality (the "new station") are, ex hypothesi, recorded in the raphne nuclei and the "locus coeruleus",
forming a new rhythmical beat, upgrading the three-step of nature into the
four-step of the adept Homo sapiens sapiens (who acts as the
from the pull of the four "elements" of nature).
In neurophilosophy, the deep layer of the brain comes into play as part of a
general theory on meaning, or universal semantics on the basis of the wiring of the brain, the executant organ of consciousness and
free will. In this theory on language, three kinds of meanings were programmed
in our neurological evolution : signal language (hippothalamus), iconical
language (limbic system) and symbolical language (neocortex).
The semantic field
of signals is limited by place-relationships and power-struggles, as well as the
language of immediate survival and safety. Icons reflect emotional states,
ordered in terms of relatedness, belongingness, nurture, sadness or joy. Symbols
bring meaning untouched by context, like abstracts standing on their own.
These bring meaning to a higher abstract
order, influencing volition and constituting the fundamental
"objects" of higher cognition. More able to steer
the executant organ, the "brilliance" of consciousness may manifest and bring
solutions to the many problems facing humanity. The integration of the spiritual
function, like so many other functions and operators, is part of our human development and
viewed as such.