The Biological Roots of Religion

Prof. Robert Sapolsky talks about the biological roots of religion through schizophrenia (hearing the voice of a god), OCD (ritual), and temporal lobe epilepsy (mystical experiences):

There’s a condensed version of some of these thoughts in Sapolsky’s essay “Belief and Biology.”


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  • Personal Failure

    I blogged in the middle of a temporal lobe seizure, last week, I think.

    It does feel like god touching you, or at least it can. Then the seizure’s over, your all postictal tired and cranky, and god’s gone away. And that’s to say nothing of the occasional hallucination of basketball sized spiders.

    • LRA

      There’s a reason that epileptics are/were thought to be touched by the divine!

      • wazza

        the divine is a basketball-sized spider?

        • LRA

          no, having a seizure feels like *god touching you* (apparently, I don’t know personally)

  • LRA

    Sapolsky is the bomb. Seriously. He is one of the *premiere* neuroscientists in America, and his research focus is on neurodegenerative mechanisms in the brain. He was at the Salk for a while, but now he’s at Stanford. Thanks, Dan for posting this!!!

    • John Johnston

      Seconded. The neurological roots of religious impulse are fascinating.

  • Janet Greene

    I watched this vid last week when somebody on this blog mentioned it. It’s absolutely fascinating. So many implications. But you may want to have 90 minutes to kill when you watch it – I tried watching in two sessions, but couldn’t fast-forward to the middle, so I had to watch the whole thing over again. Well worth the effort, I’d say. Highly recommended.

  • Phrankygee

    I feel much more educated than I did two hours ago.

  • billybee

    I guess it is comforting to find out I’m only “half” crazy…..just kidding.
    This was like riding on a bullet trail. Terrific presentation.

    I also just read “The God Virus” by Darrel Ray. If you enjoyed this video, you will enjoy Dr. Rays book.

    It’s so cool that even a total layman (like myself) now has access to some of these ideas that are beginning to explain why we are/were so vulnerable to religious kookyness.

    • Janet Greene

      I’ve been wanting to read that book….