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Oct 10 2009

NPR’s Brain On God


Image (and story), NPR

Part 1: The God Chemical

Serotonin, in the human, is found mostly in the gut;
It helps peristaltic motion not to quit.
Serotonin—“the God chemical?”—If true, I’ll tell you what:
In both processes, the end result is shit.

Neurotransmitters will regulate the way we think and feel,
Or hallucinate or daydream, just the same.
We may feel a holy presence, but that doesn’t make it real;
It’s just serotonin, playing at its game.

Part 2: The God Spot

Teasingly, seizingly,
Neural activity,
Mostly confined to the
Temporal lobe,

Looks diagnostic to
Epileptologists,
Pointing to Abraham,
Moses, or Job.

Part 3: Spiritual Virtuosos

The brains of those who meditate (or speak in tongues, or pray)
Exhibit odd activity, or so researchers say.
It shouldn’t be surprising that their brains are acting odd—
That’s quite a lot of work for them to do… creating God.

Part 4: The Biology Of Belief

Can I influence things with my mind?
In experiments, run double-blind,
The clear answer is “no”;
But the money will go
To the studies more poorly designed.

The data, so far, have been clear;
Your mind won’t, when you’re gone, persevere.
Once you draw your last breath,
There’s no life after death,
Though that isn’t what some want to hear.

And the numbers are clear about prayer:
No effect (maybe God isn’t there?).
And I don’t find it funny
To hear that my money
Is spent on this sordid affair.

Part 5: Near-Death Experiences

The cases all vary, as well you might guess—
There cannot be “standard conditions”
The end of a life is a terrible mess—
Too bad for the researchers’ missions.

Reports of a “near death experience” may
Involve seeing a light, or may not.
Did your life flash before you, as some people say?
(I guess sometimes, they simply forgot.)

Was your heart being monitored? How ‘bout your brain?
You may guess that such cases are rare.
The claims may be many, but sometimes we strain
To find something reliable there.

But always the stories will grow in the telling
To tales we can hardly conceive!
(Especially so, when there’s books to be selling)
Some people just want to believe.

A couple of comments… I really really really found this article annoying. In what appears to be “showing both sides to the story”, weasel-like language is used again and again. “Scientists are looking at…” um… how many scientists? What percentage of the people looking at this topic are looking at it from this perspective? “[A] small but increasing number of scientists…” increasing from what to what? Again, what percentage of relevant researchers fit your description?

In this case, I have taught courses in relevant subject areas, and I know that they are presenting a very highly distorted view of the picture. But you don’t have to believe me; there are libraries and databases you could check. Libraries and databases that NPR must have studiously ignored.

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4 comments

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  1. 1
    janna

    Your poetry is always excellent! As a fellow nerd, I have to point out that in part 3, you wrote quit in the final line, but I think you meant quite. If I'm wrong, sorry for taking up your time, and either way, keep up the excellent wordplay :)

  2. 2
    Cuttlefish

    Thanks, Janna! I have made the edit, but will leave your comment here exposing my error and your kind correction!

  3. 3
    EcoGeoFemme

    Perhaps a letter to NPR is in order?

  4. 4
    jdhuey

    For those who wish to read more, I recommend Susan Blackmore's _Dying to Live: Near-Death Experiences_. She presents a well researched examination of the topic. She doesn't just engage in an armchair investigation but actually goes and interviews some of the doctors and nurses that were present at a NDE – it seems that first hand witness reports don't corroborate the stories that developed around the NDE, go figure.

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