Iona Miller, ©2011
The "sensed presence", including the God-image, arises when the right hemispheric sense of self falls out of phase with the left hemispheric self. The right ‘self' is experienced as an external presence. Commonly, a person feels that the sensed presence is not themselves at all, but an outside, ego-alien, being -- "Not-I." The two hemispheres can act independently, as shown in ‘split brain' studies, giving the person a partitioned awareness. The sensed presence might be likened to a temporary split brain, but limited to its senses of self (Persinger, 1993).
If the experience involves one of the amygdala more than the other, the result might be an emotionally intense experience. If one amygdala or the other really dominates the experience, then a terrifying demon, or a deeply comforting angel might be the result. If the experience involved the sensorimotor cortex, it could include feelings of movement, which can be extrapolated into sensations of flying, rising or falling.
If the experience includes the lower (ventral) portion of the temporal lobes, where long-term memories are stored (Squire, 1991), it might include exotic memories, such as ‘buried' childhood memories), ‘past life' memories, memories of encounters with aliens (Schnabel, 1994). These mysteries are seen to be truths which one had only forgotten, as their content is perceived through neural avenues that usually manifest memories. All these implicate the parahippocampal gyrus, the entorhinal cortex, and the perirhinal cortex, where long-term memories are accessed or consolidated (Miller, 1998). Several brain structures outside the limbic system further color excitation or inhibition of the functions below the limbic system, such as the thalamus (whose pulvinar nucleus can induce aura vision when stimulated), or the reticular formation, which has been implicated in the life reviews (Taylor, 1979).
The sensed presence is only one example of a whole class of experiences called visitor experiences, or just visitations (Persinger, 1989). It falls at one end of a spectrum. At the lower end we should expect to find the sensed presence, and at the other, we find a very affective being, such as God or Satan in a fully extrapolated environment, complete with heavenly or hellish sounds, smells, bodily sensations, etc. One approach to the phenomena develops self-delusions or cults, while the other develops psychologies or defines neurological pathways.
As the experience deepens in intensity, recruiting more and more brain structures, it can include visions, smells, tastes, vestibular feelings of falling or rising, parasthetic feelings of tingles, and energetic effects in the body. Visual components emerge as the temporal lobes spill over to the occipital lobes. The Presence becomes a figure of some kind; an angel, a ghost, the spirit of a beloved dead friend or relative, a guru, a God. Spiritual claims arise in a vacuum of other more plausible theories and are most often conditioned by unscientific cultural tropes. Paradoxically, junk science is often enlisted to support such claims.
The idea that we are naked before the moral deity is a real mirror neuron trick. If we can 'feel' them, they can feel us by the same mechanism is a faulty conclusion. Self-generated illusions aren't necessarily reciprocal, but they do form self-amplifying feedback loops and strange attractors, even Black Holes and "gravity wells" in the psyche. Experiences are just qualitative perceptions associated with feelings and attitudes about them -- sensations and abstractions. But observations of nature and cosmos can only be accurate if physical occurences are correctly conceived and unconscious mental mechanisms understood.
Esoteric knowledge is "acquired" in a moment of intuition when sensory perception and thought combine. Knowledge is an important part of religion that also gives rise to incompatible concepts and understanding, rooted in historically diverse traditions, cultures, paradigms and frames. Esotericism, a medieval repository of alternative ideas, seeks congruence of material and spiritual ideas attached to natural phenomena. It is a subjective hermeneutic interpretation. Traditional worldviews are challenged by other ways of perceiving reality.
So even if everyone 'sees' God it doesn't mean a figurative or 'non-figurative' God exists. Of course we also have the genetic argument that religious belief is selected for because it fosters larger more dominant societies. Again this is no reason for God to exist. It also doesn't mean individual experiences aren't "real" - but they can be caused by a variety of brain variations such as full-blown or sub-clinical temporal lobe epilepsy (TLTs, or temporal lobe transients) or peculiar EM wave interaction or intrusions from the environment, as demonstrated by Dr. Michael Persinger's ongoing "God Helmet" experiments at Laurentian University.
He theorizes that the sensation described as "having a religious experience" is merely a side effect of our bicameral brain's feverish activities. Simplified, the mind generates a "sensed presence" when the right hemisphere of the brain, the seat of emotion, is stimulated in the cerebral region which controls notions of self, and then the left hemisphere, the seat of language, is called upon to make sense of this nonexistent "entity."
Iona Miller, ©2011
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