How God Changes Your Brain

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  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2010-03-23
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books

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"How God Changes Your Brain" is a highly practical, easy-to-read guide on the interface between spirituality and neuroscience, filled with useful information that can make your brain and your life better.--Daniel G. Amen, M.D.

Author Biography

Andrew Newberg, M.D., is the director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. He is one of the founders of the new interdisciplinary field called neurotheology. He is an associate professor in the department of radiology, with secondary appointments in the departments of psychiatry and religious studies, at the University of Pennsylvania. His work has been featured on Good Morning America, Nightline, Discovery Channel, BBC, NPR, and National Geographic Television. He is the co-author of Why God Won’t Go Away, Born to Believe, and The Mystical Mind.

Mark Robert Waldman is an associate fellow at the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a therapist, the author or co-author of ten books, including Born to Believe (with Andrew Newberg), and was the founding editor of Transpersonal Review. He lectures throughout the country on neuroscience, religion, and spirituality and conducts research with numerous religious and secular groups. His work has been featured in dozens of newspapers and magazines and on syndicated radio programs.

From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

Author's Notep. xi
Religion and the Human Brain
Who Cares about God?p. 3
Prelude to a Neurological and Spiritual Revolution
Do You Even Need God When You Pray?p. 22
Meditation, Memory, and the Aging Brain
What Does God Do to Your Brain?p. 41
The Neural Varieties of Spiritual Practicep. 41
Neural Evolution and God
What Does God Feel Like?p. 67
The Varieties of Spiritual Experience
What Does God Look Like?p. 83
Imagination, Creativity, and the Visual Representation of Spirituality
Does God Have a Heart?p. 106
Compassion, Mysticism, and the Spiritual Personalities of the Brain
What Happens When God Gets Mad?p. 131
Anger, Fear, and the Fundamentalist in Our Brain
Transforming Your Inner Reality
Exercising Your Brainp. 149
Eight Ways to Enhance Your Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Health
Finding Serenityp. 170
Meditation, Intention, Relaxation, and Awarenessp. 170
Compassionate Communicationp. 214
Dialogue, Intimacy, and Conflict Transformation
Epilogue: Is God Real?p. 241
A Personal Reflection
Compassionate Communicationp. 249
CDs, Workshops, and Online Research
How to Participate in Our Research Studiesp. 251
Meditation and Mindfulnessp. 253
Book?, CDs, and Resources
Acknowledgmentsp. 257
Endnotesp. 259
Indexp. 335
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


Chapter One

Religion and the human brain

Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the inquiring and constructive mind.—Albert Einstein, The Human Side

Who cares about God? Prelude to a Neurological and Spiritual Revolution


In America, I cannot think of any other word that stirs up the imagination more. Even young children raised in nonreligious communities understand the concept of God, and when asked, will willingly draw you a picture-usually the proverbial old man with the long hair and a beard. As children grow into adults, their pictures of God often evolve into abstract images of clouds, spirals, sunbursts, and even mirrors, as they attempt to integrate the properties of a reality they cannot see. In fact, the more a person thinks about God, the more complex and imaginative the concept becomes, taking on unique nuances of meaning that differ from one individual to the next.  

If you contemplate God long enough, something surprising happens in the brain. Neural functioning begins to change. Different circuits become activated, while others become deactivated. New dendrites are formed, new synaptic connections are made, and the brain becomes more sensitive to subtle realms of experience. Perceptions alter, beliefs begin to change, and if God has meaning for you, then God becomes neurologically real. For some, God may remain a primitive concept, limited to the way a young child interprets the world. But for most people, God is transformed into a symbol or metaphor representing a wide range of personal, ethical, social, and universal values. And, if you happen to be a neuroscientist, God can be one of the most fascinating of human experiences to explore.  

The Science of God  

For the past fifteen years I have investigated the neural mechanisms of spirituality with the same fervor that a minister contemplates God. Some religious rituals do nothing more than relax you, others help to keep you focused and alert, but a few appear to take practitioners into transcendent realms of mystical experience where their entire lives are changed.  

Our research team at the University of Pennsylvania has consistently demonstrated that God is part of our consciousness and that the more you think about God, the more you will alter the neural circuitry in specific parts of your brain. That is why I say, with the utmost confidence, that God can change your brain. And it doesn't matter if you're a Christian or a Jew, a Muslim or a Hindu, or an agnostic or an atheist.   In Why God Won't Go Away, I demonstrated that the human brain is uniquely constructed to perceive and generate spiritual realities.1 Yet it has no way to ascertain the accuracy of such perceptions. Instead, our brain uses logic, reason, intuition, imagination, and emotion to integrate God and the universe into a complex system of personal values, behaviors, and beliefs.  

But no matter how hard we try, the ultimate nature of the universe continues to elude our brain. So the bigger questions remain. Where does life originate, where does it end, and what ultimate purpose does it serve? Is there a spiritual reality, or is it merely a fabrication of the mind? If there is a God, does such an entity reach out to us like the hand that Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Or is it the other way around: Does our mind reach out to embrace a God that

Excerpted from How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist by Mark Robert Waldman, Andrew Newberg
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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