Implications of spiritual experiences to the understanding of mind-brain relationship.



While there has been a large increase in scientific studies on spirituality, there has been too few of studies of the core of spirituality: spiritual experiences (SE), which often involve altered states of consciousness, reports of anomalous experiences and of consciousness beyond the body. This paper argues that SE, although usually neglected in debates regarding mind-brain relationship (MBR), may provide the much needed enlargement of the empirical basis for advancing the understanding of the MBR.


This paper briefly presents and discusses recent scientific investigations on some types of SE (meditative states, end of life and near death experiences, mediumship and alleged memories of previous lives) and their implications to MBR.


Neurofunctional studies of SE have shown that they are related to but not necessarily caused by complex functional patterns in several brain areas. The study of meditative states, as voluntarily induced mind states that influence brain states has been a privileged venue to investigate top-down (mind over brain) causation. End of life and near death experiences offer cases of unexpected adequate mental function under severe brain damage and/or dysfunction. Scientific investigations of several types of SE have provided evidence against materialistic reductionist views of mind.


The recent trend to scientifically investigate SE has already produced interesting and thought-provoking findings that deserve careful further exploration. Because of their potential implication, these findings may also contribute to the understanding of MBR, which remains an important, yet poorly explored way to investigate human nature.

Copyright © 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Consciousness, Mind, Mind–brain problem, Mind–brain relationship, Spiritual experiences, Spirituality

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