Over at Neurophilosophy, you can find excellent coverage of a recent study involving patients with brain tumors. Removal of those tumors had some interesting effects on perceptions. In a post titled “Neurosurgical Patients Get Closer to God,” Mo nicely points out the difficulties with these kinds of studies:
One major drawback of the study is that it is based entirely on the patients’ own reports of self-transcendence. The results would have been more rigorous if based on an objective measure of the phenomenon. Furthermore, self-transcendence is a vague concept which means different things to different people. The authors’ definition of it is therefore somewhat narrow, as there is more to this trait than the three aspects measured by them. It is also unlikely that a trait such as self-transcendence can be localized to just two regions of the brain. Likewise, spirituality is an extremely complex phenomenon of which self-transcendence is but one aspect.
Now, if we could only get Sam Harris to understand these subtleties….