Neuroscientists Recorded a Man's Brain Activity While He Was "Seeing God"

Tuesday, 17 May 2016 - 11:27AM
Neuroscience
Tuesday, 17 May 2016 - 11:27AM
Neuroscientists Recorded a Man's Brain Activity While He Was "Seeing God"
Patients with epilepsy are known to experience religious conversion experiences, or episodes in which they claim to "see" or "hear" God communicating directly with them. Now, Israeli scientists have published a fascinating case report chronicling the brain activity of an epilepsy sufferer during a religious vision.

The patient in question is a 46-year-old man who, according to the article published in Epilepsy and Behaviour, has been suffering from right temporal lobe epilepsy for his entire life, and has never been particularly religious. His type of epilepsy can lead to seizures as well as sensory hallucinations, and in order to study these seizures, the researchers asked him to stop taking his anticonvulsant medication. While he was plugged into an EEG, he had what the researchers term a "delusional religious conversion," and they were able to record his brain activity in real time. 

The researchers describe the patient's behavior during the conversion in their paper as follows (via Discover):
Opening quote
While lying in bed, the patient abruptly "froze" and stared at the ceiling for several minutes, stating later that he felt that God was approaching him. He then started chanting prayers quietly, looked for his Kippa and put it on his head, chanting the prayers more excessively. Then, abruptly, he yelled "And you are Adonai (name of the Hebrew God) the Lord!", stating later that god had revealed to him, ordering him to bring redemption to the people of Israel.

The patient then stood up, detached the EEG electrodes from his skin, and went around the department trying to convince people to follow him, stating that "God has sent me to you". When further questioned, he said that he does not have a concrete plan, but he is sure that God is going to instruct him what he and his followers should do on their way to redemption.
Closing quote

Since this experience occurred a few hours after a partial seizure, the researchers found that his symptoms were consistent with postictal psychosis (PIP), a recognized condition in which epileptic patients experience a psychotic episode following a seizure, which can lead to hallucinations and delusions as well as paranoia, aggression, and depression. The researchers found that, during the patient's vision, his brain activity was localized to the left prefrontal cortex, which led them to conclude that this particular form of PIP is related to prefrontal lobe-related processes rather than activity in the medial temporal lobe, an insight that may help doctors treat this condition in the future.
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