Newberg on the Neuroscience of Spirituality

Newberg on the Neuroscience of Spirituality July 5, 2018

Andrew Newberg, Eugene D’Aquili, and Vince Rause’s book Why God Won’t Go Away is outstanding. Their research on the neuroscience of spirituality is fascinating. As the title of the book suggests, the neurological manifest of spiritual and mystical experiences are undeniable. Whether or not there is an actual ontological source, we all subjectively/epistemologically have these transcendent experiences at the level of the brain. Imaging studies of the brain during these experiences (prayer, mediation, etc.) – the actual physiological manifest is aptly described by the timeless mystical and religious description of “rapture”, “unity” and “oneness”.

To quote Newberg et al:

“Neuroscience itself appears to be unable to provide information regarding the ultimate level of reality, whether that level is called God, nirvana, or AUB (Absolute Unitary Being). . . . Reality happens in our brain, and while our imaging studies do not prove the existence of a higher spiritual plane, they do strongly indicate that to the brain, these states are as real as any other. . . . Time and time again, people who experience intense mystical states insist that these states feel more real than everyday reality. Neurology can neither prove nor disprove this point, but informed speculation tells us that it’s possible that AUB may be as real, if not more fundamentally real, than what we perceive as ‘ordinary’ reality. . . . It may even be the case that the state of AUB is a primary reality, one from which all objective and subjective perspectives of the world are derived. Whether or not AUB is ontologically real, it provides us with a common source of all spiritual urges and a universal goal that has been interpreted in a myriad of ways by all the great religions of the past and present.”

Newberg, Andrew B., Eugene G. D’Aquili, and Vince Rause. Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief. New York: Ballantine, 2001, 178.


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