Brain scans of nuns have revealed intricate neural circuits that flicker into life when they feel the presence of God.
The images suggest that feelings of profound joy and union with a higher being that accompany religious experiences are the culmination of ramped-up electrical activity in parts of the brain.
The scans were taken as nuns relived intense religious experiences. They showed a surge in neural activity in regions of the brain that govern feelings of peace, happiness and self-awareness.
Psychologists at the University of Montreal say the research, which appears in the journal Neuroscience Letters, was not intended to confirm or deny the existence of God, but set out to examine how the brain behaves during profound religious or mystical experiences.
Mario Beauregard and Vincent Paquette used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brains of 15 Carmelite nuns who were asked to remember the most intense mystical experience they had ever had.
When the scans were compared with others taken beforehand, the scientists found electrical activity and blood oxygen levels had surged in at least 12 regions of the brain, and differed from other intense emotions.
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