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The God Part of the Brain : A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God
Acclaimed by a wide range of experts, The "God" Part of the Brain is a classic. Matthew Alper presents a stunning argument: that our brain is hardwired to believe in a God. He offers a scientific explanation that we inherit an evolutionary mechanism that allows us to cope with our greatest terror - death.
The author also evokes his personal odyssey as he sought to understand why mankind created the concept of a higher power to deal with the fear and terror we experience due to our species' unique awareness of the inevitability of death.
The "God" Part of the Brain has sparked praise by scientists such as E.O. Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner; E. Fuller Torry, "the most famous psychiatrist in America"; and Arnold Sadwin, former Chief of Neuropsychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. The book has been adopted by universities across the country.
First published in 1996, this is a minimally revised new edition of Alper's manifesto against belief in God. Beginning with philosopher Kant's supposition that humans cannot know a reality beyond their perception of reality, Alper uses his vast research into scientific phenomenon to build a case that humanity's perception of a spiritual realm is, in fact, the biological result of thousands of years of evolution. Alper writes that this is "'nature's white lie', a coping mechanism selected into our species to help alleviate debilitating anxiety caused by our unique awareness of death." Alper's theory is elegantly drawn, and he shows an admirable grasp of a wide range of scientific disciplines. However, generalizations weaken his case: Alper's proof relies on readers' agreement that all humans are equally spiritual creatures, whose "cross-cultural proclivity toward spiritualism suggests that we must be neuro-physiologically hardwired this way." A harsh anti-religion tone (i.e. "How much longer will be slaves to destructive religious creeds... ?"), though not entirely inappropriate, provides the book's main flaw; aside from the fact that his anti-faith proclamations themselves demonstrate a certain kind of blind faith, he gives no credence to others' views, nor is he compassionate to the helpful role that spirituality plays in peoples' lives. Ultimately, Alper is preaching to the choir, but in a time of renewed interest in the clash between religion and science, this cult classic will appeal to those caught up in the debate.
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August 31, 2008
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Excerpt from The God Part of the Brain by Matthew Alper
Excerpt from Chapter 1: Throwing Rocks at God "The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other in silence for some time; at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice. 'Who are you?' said the Caterpillar. Alice replied rather shyly, 'I-I hardly know, sir, just at present-at least I knew who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.'" -LEWIS CARROLL By the time I was twenty-one, my quest for knowledge of God had taken several unexpected turns. In this time, I had searched the world's myriad religions only to find myself frustrated by a gamut of flaws and inconsistencies in all their logic. I had investigated the various paranormal phenomena only to encounter a trail of false claims and chicanery. I had experimented with the mind-altering effects of psychedelic drugs as well as transcendental meditation, only to undergo a series of distorted sense-experiences, none of which had brought me any closer to acquiring verifiable knowledge of any spiritual reality or God. As a matter of fact, if anything, they had only served to draw me farther away. This was due to the fact that while exploring the effects of LSD, I had a bad trip that led to a severe clinical depression compounded by a dissociative, depersonalization, and anxiety disorder. For a year and a half, I suffered this unfortunate state until, finally, with the aid of pharmacological drugs, I was restored to my previous, relatively healthy self. Though it may have come at a very high price, I nevertheless managed to garner some extremely valuable information from this otherwise wretched experience, information regarding the nature of my allegedly immortal human soul. According to the various belief systems (religions) I had thus far encountered, the human soul was supposed to be spiritual in nature, a fixed and permanent agent, unalterable and everlasting. Again and again, I was told that when I died, though my physical body would perish, "I"-the sum of my conscious experience, the essence of my thoughts and feelings, what was perceived as constituting my soul or spirit-would persist for all eternity. The fact, however, that my conscious self had been so drastically altered convinced me that there was no fixed or eternal essence in me. Twice in a year and a half, I had undergone two complete transformations of my so-called eternal self. First, my conscious self was transformed into something other than it previously had been by psychedelic drugs. Then, a year and a half later, my original self was restored, this time by a drug known as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). But I thought consciousness was supposed to be conceived in spirit-fixed, eternal, immune to the influences of physical nature. If this were true, how was it that the core of my conscious experience had been altered, twice now, by ingesting physical substances? How was it that a combination of molecules-raw matter-could affect something as allegedly ethereal as consciousness, that which was supposed to represent my immutable, transcendental soul? To believe that matter could affect one's spirit, that it could impact upon the soul, would be the equivalence, it seemed, to believing that one could throw rocks at God. If spirits or souls truly existed, it would seem they should be impervious to material influence. The fact that my conscious self-my allegedly immortal soul-was susceptible to the effects of chemical (physical) substances convinced me that human consciousness must be a physical entity governed by strictly physical processes. If this was true, then in order to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of consciousness-what I previously believed might constitute a soul-I would need to conduct an investigation into the nature of the physical sciences. Up until this point, I always had the greatest respect for the physical/nat