Friday, September 11, 2009 By: Suzanne

The Traveler: an excerpt and discussion

I talked about this and the second book, The Dark River, in John Twelve Hawks series The Fourth Realm a little bit last year. The third book came out this week and I will be reading it as soon as I finish the second book again. These books have made a big impact on me and I hope anyone who has ever been interested in politics, REAL privacy, and freedom brought about by activism not war will read these books.

I won't spend the time reviewing them again since you can read that other review here if you're interested.

Instead I'd like to discuss an interesting passage that I either didn't really think about last time I read it or forgot about in the larger scheme of the novel. One of the smaller characters in the book is a neuroscientist, Dr. Richardson, who's world gets turned upside down when he is introduced to the existence of the Travelers, Harlequins, and Tabula. Before this though, he gives a lecture on the non-existence of God. I got the impression from the description of this man that he is based on Richard Dawkins who wrote The God Delusion, but I might be wrong about that. I'm about to quote quite heavily from this part of the book in order for you to understand my argument. He says:

For the last decade, I have studied the neurological basis of the human spiritual experience. I assembled a sample group of individuals who frequently meditated or prayed, then injected them with a radioactive tracer whenever they felt they were in direct connection with God and the infinite universe. The results are as follows...

When the person prays, the prefrontal cortex is focused on the words. Meanwhile the superior parietal lobe at the top of the brain has gone dark. The left lobe processes information about our position in space and time. It gives us the idea that we have a distinct physical body. When the parietal shuts down, we can no longer distinguish between our self and the rest of the world. As a result, the subject believes that he or she is in contact with with the timeless and infinite power of God. It feels like a spiritual experience, but it's really just a neurological illusion...

The individual having a religious vision is actually reacting to flashes of neurological stimulation in the temporal lobe...In order to duplicate the experience, I've taped electromagnets onto the skulls of my experimental volunteers and have created a weak magnetic field. All of the subjects reported an out-of-body sensation and a feeling that they were in direct contact with a divine power.

Ok, if you read all of that you're now primed for my argument and (hopefully) will even have some arguments of your own to either add to mine or dispute mine. I realize this is fiction and these studies are probably not real, however I have heard this argument from scientists before; most notable Richard Dawkins. I like Dawkins' work, I find it intriguing. I do not, however, agree with everything he says. So, taking into account this is fiction, I'm working from the premise that there are people that do believe this and I am making my argument to that.

My first thought when I began reading this was bull****. When I eat I will have brain activity that can be shown on scans. That does not mean the food is a figment of my imagination. When I hear music, I will also have brain activity that will show up on brain scans. Again, the music is not a figment of my imagination. I can cite a dozen similar examples but I think you get the point. If these people he was studying showed no change in their brain activity when in the midst of their out-of-body experiences or connections to God, then he would probably show that as evidence that they were making it all up. The reason? Because if there is no change in brain activity then nothing different from the ordinary is taking place. Clearly he is proving that SOMETHING different from the ordinary is taking place. I am not going to get into a religious discussion. I've done that before on here and it was fun. I enjoy talking about the differences and similarities in religion in my personal life too. Joseph Campbell is one of my favorite writers. What I want to say is that I think a study like this proves the experience was real, not the other way around. In fact, what if it is necessary to have this particular brain activity in order to have the experience? Some of the Eastern philosophies believe that you must have certain physical conditions met before you can achieve a spiritual goal. That's why meditation is so important. It is also why people sing and pray at church, it puts them in a certain mind frame. It is why some people fast for long periods of time. The group-ness of it helps too. Having people around who are experiencing the same thing you are, makes it easier to enter that physical space in order to achieve the spiritual goal. I believe this may be one reason why Christians (and even those groups before them) originally needed to gather in one place. So, when the scientist in the book creates the physical experience, maybe the subjects really did have a spiritual experience.

Please, I would love opinions on this!