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God or supernatural power: Its all about your mind

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Image source: wikkorg.com

While scientists and faithfuls will ensure that the debate on the existence of a universal spirit — call it God or a supernatural force — goes on, a research study has revealed that the conflict between science and religion has its roots in your brain.

According to the researchers, human brain is divided in two parts — one given to analytical or critical think and the other comprising an empathetic network.

When it comes to chosing between faith or science, this is how the brain works.

In order to believe in a supernatural power or a universal spirit, people appear to suppress the brain network used for analytical or critical thinking and engage the empathetic network.

On the other hand, when thinking analytically about the physical and material world, people just appear to do the opposite, say researchers from Ohio-based Case Western Reserve University and Massachusetts-based Babson College in the US.

The brain has a role to play in everything that happens to and by the human body and mind.

“You cannot do anything without the brain. So the faithfuls suppress analytical/critical part of their brain while they are enjoying their faith or praying. It, however, does not mean that they cannot be nerds and analytical at other times,” Richard E Boyatzis, professor of organisational behaviour at Case Western and a co-author of the research study, told IANS in an e-mail interview.

In a series of eight experiments, the researchers found the more empathetic the person is, the more likely he or she is to be religious.

The research is based on the hypothesis that the human brain’s two opposing domains are in constant tension.

“Because of the tension between these two networks, pushing aside a naturalistic world view enables you to delve deeper into the social or emotional side,” says associate professor of philosophy Tony Jack from Case Western in a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE.

According to Santhosh Babu, celebrity coach and managing director of Organisation Development Alternatives, human brain is capable of understanding that we do not understand everything. Therefore, there is a “rational comfort” in trusting someone or something on issues which are beyond our understanding and capabilities.

“The moment we believe in something, there is a perceptual constraint that stops the analytical or curious part of our brain. Once the brain believes in something strongly, only the data that support that particular belief is allowed to enter our awareness,” Babu told IANS.

The US researchers also examined the relationship between belief in God with measures of analytic thinking and moral concerns, in eight different experiments — each involving 159 to 527 adults.

Consistently through all experiments, the team found that both spiritual belief and empathic concerns were positively associated with frequency of prayer, meditation and other spiritual or religious practices.

Experts feel that for the human mind, the uncertainty that surrounds a state of “not knowing” is a source of anxiety, fear and depression.

“Surrendering to a ‘higher power’ alleviates that state of ‘not knowing’ as it is easier to believe that things are happening as per will of God or destiny rather than not being able to put an explanation for those acts or phenomenon,” emphasises Dr Sunil Mittal, senior psychiatrist from Cosmos Institute of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences in New Delhi.

Religious beliefs, however, can help cope with difficult events like death of a loved one, loss, disability and calamities.

“The human mind does feel conflicted about believing in something that it has never seen or cannot define. However, the ‘power of belief’ itself is essential to help find answers and cope with difficulties in life, be it belief in God, in destiny or any other higher power,” Dr Mittal told IANS.

But some psychiatrists say the unknown also holds challenges for the mind.

“One can be spiritual without being religious and vice versa. Uncertainty may lead to depression, fear and anxiety, but may also be rewarding as it provides a stimulus for progression on a journey that may lead to the development of the self and personal beliefs in response to the challenges faced in life,” says Dr Shobhana Mittal, a Delhi-based senior psychiatrist.

To question, analyse and think critically is an innate quality of the human mind. But the religion-science conflict can, however, be avoided by remembering simple rules, say others.

“Religion has no place telling us about the physical structure of the world as this is the business of science. Science should inform our ethical reasoning but it cannot determine what is ethical or tell us how we should construct meaning and purpose in our lives,” explains Jack.

For Dr (Brig) S Sudarsanan, senior consultant psychiatrist from BLK Super Specialty Hospital in the capital, while the conflict between belief in God and atheism has gained significant momentum in the recent past, “spirituality is increasingly being thought of as a key function of the brain.”

That may be another debatable point.

Credits: IANS

  • Shriya Katoch

    This really interesting . Finally found a reason for belief .

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“We’re Only about 43 Percent Human”, Estimates Research

Less than half of the cells in the body are human. The rest belong to microorganisms that affect the health, mood and whether certain people respond better to certain medications

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Less than half of human body is human. VOA

New discoveries about what is inside the body are making scientists rethink what makes a person human and what makes people sick or healthy.

Less than half of the cells in the body are human. The rest belong to microorganisms that affect the health, mood and whether certain people respond better to certain medications.

“So to our 30 trillion human cells, we have on average about 39 trillion microbial cells. So by that measure, we’re only about 43% human,” said Rob Knight, director of the University of California San Diego Center for Microbiome Innovation and professor of pediatrics and computer science and engineering.

Microbes affecting health

It is common knowledge that bacteria, or even viruses and fungi, exist in areas of our body, including the mouth, skin and gut. However, it is only in recent years that scientists have discovered that each person’s gut bacteria is unique, and the collection of microbes can greatly impact a person’s health — such as their weight and whether they will develop ailments such as heart disease.

Microbes in the gut can even affect mood. Researchers are studying whether conditions such as autism, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease are linked to microbes.

“They changed the way we think about biology, and changed the way we think about what it means to be human,” Knight said.

The collection of microbes in each person is different, starting from when babies are born. How they enter the world, whether vaginally or through cesarean section (C-section), whether they drink breast milk or not, the animals they are exposed to and the medications they take, can all impact their development.

“The biggest problem with antibiotics is early in childhood, and especially the combination of C-section and antibiotics and bottle feeding is especially bad for kids. We’ll see impacts on that even at age 8 to 12, in terms of their weight, even in terms of the cognitive performance,” Knight said.

The cancer puzzle

Karen Sfanos, associate professor of pathology, oncology and urology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said researchers think at least 70% of a human body’s immunity and immune cells exist in the gut. She is studying the link between microbes and cancer.

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There are more microbial cells in a person’s body than human cells. The microbes in the human body include bacteria, viruses and fungi, like this fungal spore bacteria in water. VOA

“There’s still many cancers out there where we have no idea what even causes the cancer. We’ve been trying to solve this puzzle, and up until this point, half the pieces were missing because we didn’t even know half the pieces existed. There’s just a tremendous amount of knowledge that’s to be gained and to be researched to understand the profound influence that these microbes might have on both cancer initiation but also therapeutic response to certain cancer therapies,” she said.

What affects microbes in an adult body most is diet and how many different types of plants a person eats.

“By eating a high-fat diet or an unhealthy diet, (it) can lead to pro-inflammatory microbes. It can cause inflammation in the gut, in your GI tract, and, unfortunately, in that scenario, the inflammation that happens in your gut can have a really long-distance effect on many other organ systems in your body,” Sfanos said.

One company, DayTwo, is using the findings of gut microbe research to fight diabetes. “The diversity and abundance of the bacteria in the gut are a very useful predictor in how people process food,” said Josh Stevens, president of DayTwo.

Since each person’s gut bacteria is different, how a body reacts to sugar is also different for each person. “So by profiling the gut, we can actually help people get to a personalized prescription for food that works for them,” Stevens said.

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The microbes in the human body include bacteria, viruses and fungi, like E. Coli shown here. Each person’s microbes are unique to that person. VOA

Distinguishing the good from the bad

Microbes in the body are changing every day. A growing number of scientists are researching these microbes to learn which ones are good and bad. They are seeing promising results in treating a hospital-acquired infection called C. diff.

ALSO READ: Pit Bulls, Mixed Breed as Dogs Most Likely to Bite Children: Study

“You can treat C. diff by taking a stool from a healthy person and giving it to a sick person. And they typically recover in two or three days. And it has about (a) 90% cure rate, as opposed to 30% for antibiotics,” Knight said. This process is done by mixing a fecal sample from a healthy person into a liquid preparation and introducing it to a sick person via a feeding tube or colonoscopy.

Researchers are working toward a future where there is a more precise approach to weeding out the bad bacteria and introducing more good microbes into the body to improve health. (VOA)