Newberg: Orientation Area
Working Properly!?
Jim Dew

From: "James Dew"
To: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
Subject: Re: ProofList: the Newberg piece
Date: Saturday, April 21, 2001 6:20 PM

Cliff,

I read through the intro to Newberg's book. [See the April, 2001, issue of Positive Atheism.]

I laughed when I read the following: "...a fascinating possibility emerged: What if the orientation area was working as hard as ever, but the incoming flow of sensory information had somehow been blocked."

Here's a guy sitting with his eyes closed, in a quiet room, ignoring proprioceptive sensations and the researchers conclude that "sensory information had somehow been blocked?!" Did I miss something "fascinating" here? Also, why would they conclude that reduced positron emissions might suggest the orientation area was still working normally. This truly would be supernatural, since it's reduced it's use of energy for functioning!

With my background in cognitive and developmental psychology, I find this a very interesting topic. I have argued, based on valid research, that religion can have beneficial psychological health effects -- an argument that upsets some of my fellow atheists who equate religious beliefs with unhealthy delusions.

I think the notion that it can have positive physical health effects and increase longevity is very weak at best, but more likely nonexistent. Certainly nothing like smoking cigarettes! If religion did have such an effect, insurance companies would definitely be asking us how often we pray, go to church, etc.

Jim

James R. Dew PhD
Madison, Wisconsin

Personal website: http://personalpages.tds.net/~jamesdew/
AAW website: http://www.atheistalliance.org/aaw

 

"Its seems to me -- it's likely that heaven's here right now. If you could take life with its pain and misery, where you fail and you sometimes win, and if you package it into a game, people would pay a fortune to have this game. And I don't know that I'd want it to be resolved so peacefully that the game would be all over."
-- Gene Roddenberry

 

Graphic Rule

From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "James Dew"
Subject: Re: ProofList: the Newberg piece
Date: Sunday, April 22, 2001 9:48 PM

Here's a guy sitting with his eyes closed, in a quiet room, ignoring proprioceptive sensations and the researchers conclude that "sensory information had somehow been blocked?!"

That part of the brain, he says earlier, is one of the busiest parts of the brain, and works even while we sleep.
 

Also, why would they conclude that reduced positron emissions might suggest the OAA was still working normally.

Therein lies the controversy.

I think neither Newberg nor Shermer are being entirely reasonable. Just as abortion is neither murder nor is it a tooth extraction, the religious experience is neither a seizure (Shermer) nor a normal function of the brain (Newberg). It particularly is not an additional "sense" for us to "detect" some "ultimate reality." If an "ultimate reality" exists, we will find ways to detect it with our instruments and verify our theories and equations with that data. Newberg's theory that this is a function of the brain is verified by the brain scans. I see no way for Newberg's hypothesis that this is a new "sense" to be verified, because he admits that it cannot be falsified. Hell -- the object of his hypothesis, he says, cannot even be explained!

I feel that if Newberg wants to call this experience "normal," then he needs to admit that the Vincent Price film Confessions of an Opium Eater described normal brain function as well, because the shapes of the narcotic molecules line up precisely with the shapes of the neural receptors (or so says Dr. Timothy Leary).
 

Certainly nothing like smoking cigarettes! If religion did have such an effect, insurance companies would definitely be asking us how often we pray, go to church, etc.

Ah! Just the language I was looking for! Thanks!

Cliff Walker
"Positive Atheism" Magazine
Five years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

Graphic Rule

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