#139 This week, my amazing guest is Dr. Andrew Newberg. Andrew is a neuroscientist who studies the relationship between brain function and various mental states. He is a pioneer in the neurological study of religious and spiritual experiences, a field known as “neurotheology.” His research includes taking brain scans of people in prayer, meditation, rituals, and trance states, so he can better understand the nature of religious and spiritual practices and attitudes.
This episode is incredibly interesting because we discuss a rather new, but highly crucial, field. It’s amazing to see how religion and science can come together and even explain each other. How do we as humans have all these contradictory perspectives that can make us even go to war against each other? Are the brains of people who have undergone mystical and or spiritual experiences different than those who have not? How do we even know if we’ve gone through a spiritual experience?
Are you really sure of what you believe in? Why is that? These are only some of the deep and important questions we try to answer in this episode as we try to figure out ways to bring us all together as humans.
If you enjoyed this podcast, you may also like: How Your Brain Creates Reality | Dawson Church
About Andrew: Dr. Andrew Newberg is the director of research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health and a physician at Jefferson University Hospital. He is board certified in internal medicine and nuclear medicine.
Andrew has been asking questions about reality, truth, and God since he was very young, and he has long been fascinated by the human mind and its complex workings. While a medical student, he met Dr. Eugene d’Aquili, who was studying religious experiences. Combining their interests with Andrew’s background in neuroscience and brain imaging, they were able to break new theoretical and empirical ground on the relationship between the brain and religion.
Andrew’s research now largely focuses on how brain function is associated with various mental states—in particular, religious and mystical experiences. His research has included brain scans of people in prayer, meditation, rituals, and trance states, as well as surveys of people’s spiritual experiences and attitudes. He has also evaluated the relationship between religious or spiritual phenomena and health, and the effect of meditation on memory. He believes that it is important to keep science rigorous and religion religious.
Andrew has also used neuroimaging research projects to study aging and dementia, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, depression, and other neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Key points with time stamp:
- Andrew’s work in his own words (4:39)
- What is Neuro-theology? (6:18)
- How does neuro-theology deal with our biases? (9:10)
- Are religion and science coming together? (11:27)
- How did Andrew start in the field of neuro-theology? (15:15)
- Is there significant change in the brain of those who meditate and or pray? (21:52)
- Can mystical experiences really change us for the better? (25:27)
- 5 key elements to enlightening experiences (30:54)
- How long can it take to make long-lasting change within ourselves? (34:00)
- How has Andrew’s work changed his life? (40:03)
- What does Andrew’s morning routine look like? (43:39)
- Andrew’s meditation practice (44:27)
- Andrew’s choice of a dinner guest, from any timeframe (45:31)
- What Andrew leaves us with (46:40)
Mentioned in this episode:
- Thomas Jefferson University
- Principles of Neurotheology, Book by Andrew B. Newberg
- Donald Trump
- How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain: The New Brain Science of Transformation, Book by Andrew B. Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman
- University of Pennsylvania
- Abas Alavi
- Eugene D’aquili
- Kundalini Yoga
- Why We Believe What We Believe: Uncovering Our Biological Need for Meaning, Spirituality, and Truth. Book by Andrew B. Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman
- Leonardo Da Vinci
Dr. Andrew Newberg’s Website:
Hey, awesome people. This is guy Of course, your host. Welcome to my podcast if you’re tuning into the for the first time, welcome, I hope you stick around you, I’m sure you’ll enjoy what we have to share on you, myself and my guests, where I have, of course inspiring conversations that go well beyond conventional health, wealth and wisdom to inspire change in our lives. And I have another awesome guest for you today and his name is Dr. Andrew Newberg. He is a neuroscientist who studies the relationship between brain function and various mental states. He is a pioneer in the neurological study of religious and spiritual experiences a field known as neuro theology. I had never heard of that before, actually, before. I mean, Andrew, his research includes taking brain scans of people in prayer, meditation, rituals, and trance states, in an attempt to better understand the nature of religious and spiritual practices and attitudes. And of course, how all this affects us in our lives. And people like Andrew is brilliant to have on the show. It really gives weight and evidence to these different experiences that are possible, and how they can fundamentally change our lives and support us moving forward in our own growth and the human experience. And it was a wonderful conversation, we cover many things. And as always, it’s just really fascinating and fascinates me and I’m genuinely excited. I certainly encourage you if you are new to just start digging around into some of the past shows if you enjoyed this one because we cover all sorts of topics and there’s there’s some been some wonderful conversations and if you didn’t check out the recent episode with Dr. Gabor Mate as well, we did, I highly recommend you go and check that one out as well. Because that’s had some phenomenal feedback, as well. And as always, I want to give a shout out for the review on iTunes view the week please keep them coming in. This is wonderful to read them and connect with you guys. I read every single review. If you’re in a foreign country, let me know. So I can go and check it out. Because I have to go and change a tag in iTunes. They don’t make it easy for you. If you’re outside of Australia for me to read the review, so please let me know if you do and it certainly helps spread the word of my podcast in a foreign country. So it’s always a great film. This one is a measurable positive impact on the viewers and listeners. Tao kdd five stars always intriguing, true and inspirational guys, guests include many of the world renowned influential people as well as people who are not as visible but by sharing their real life experiences, encourage and inspire others, Guy’s podcasts have a measurable positive impact for current and future viewers. And I just want to say thank you, and I appreciate it. And absolutely, it’s amazing what one conversation can actually potentially do for someone’s life, especially if they’re leaning into this work for the first time. So yeah, please keep them coming in. The last thing I want to mention as well, you might have noticed, I haven’t really spoke about the retreats much we’ve had them we’ve had dates locked in for January here in Australia in northern New South Wales. But we have we’ve done zero promotion to be honest here. But just because of the global situation, as you can understand, we are going ahead with it. So what we’ve decided to do, we’re only running one retreat in January instead of two. And off the back of that that means over 50% of this is has sold out with zero promotion and as talking about it. And now we’re going to start promoting it. So if you’re keen to come and you want to get amongst this work and make this work, a tangible reality for yourself, then I suggest you book booking sooner rather than later because it will sold out. We’ll sell out all our previous five retreats sold out. And I think people are craving this work more than ever right now. So just come back to Guy lawrence.com.au or live in flow co To find out more about that as well. And just email us if you have any questions. We’d be happy to point you in the right direction and help. That’s it. Let’s go over to Dr. Andrew Newberg. Enjoy this one. It’s a cracking episode. Much love from me and Andrew, welcome to the podcast.
Thank you. Thanks for having me on the program.
I love asking this question. And let’s say you’re at a dinner party with a full of strangers and you sitting at the dinner table and the person next to you says what do you do for a living? What would you say?
Well, it depends on what kind of mood I’m in I think sometimes. But you know, well I start off by saying that I’m a doctor. I am someone who works in the field of integrative medicine. And we actually have a department of integrative medicine here at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. We do a lot of things that you used to do in terms diet and nutrition and all that kind of good stuff. And we do a lot of research. But over time, and part of how I got into Integrative Medicine has been through the study of various religious and spiritual practices and experiences. And especially when you start to think about how they’re combined with what we can know about the human brain, it becomes a field called neuro theology. And it is a way of trying to understand what the relationship is between our spiritual selves, and our biological selves. And I’ve been doing this research for the last 30 years, scanning people’s brains and learning all I can about the experiences that people have during these intense spiritual moments. And, and that’s what I do and try to understand them better. And ultimately, it’s trying to understand who we are as human beings and how we work and, and how we hopefully can use this information in a way that helps us to better understand ourselves. And hopefully, it’s beneficial to everyone who’s on the same kind of path to find out who they are
incredible. And, and I’d hope to be sitting next to you in that dinner party hence, like a conversation today, because I find out what you do. I was I was just so curious about especially bringing the neuroscience back to the you know, the experiences. The first question that triggered me then is like, what the hell is neuro theology? You know, that’s what I probably first ask.
Sure, sure. Well, so so neuro theology, the way I define it is that it is the field of study that seeks to understand the link, or the relationship between our brain and our religious and spiritual selves, can be practices, experiences, beliefs. And for me to make it work as a term, there’s a couple of important extra points to make one is, is that I think it’s very important for people to realize that it is not just science, looking at religion, it’s not just religion, looking at science, but it’s the two of them looking at each other. So it’s a true two way street, I feel it needs to be a true two way street, we, sometimes we will do a scientific study doing a brain scan of somebody in meditation or prayer, sometimes we might explore the theological perspectives on science and things like that. But in the grand scheme, it really has to be it’s not just science, looking at religion or the other way around. And then the other aspect, the other thing that I think is important in neuro theology for to work as a term is that both sides need to be defined very broadly. So the neuro is neuroscience, neuro imaging, but it can also include psychology, it can include anthropology, it can medicine and biology. So you know, many different facets of, of what that sort of biological neuroscience is. And then theology is a very specific discipline, it’s the ability to kind of look at the foundational beliefs of a given religion, and trying to extrapolate from them and understand them, you know, analyzing sacred texts and things like that. And that’s certainly part of what neuro theology is, how does our brain wrap itself around those theological ideas, but theology needs to be defined more broadly as well, it needs to be include various practices like meditation and prayer experiences, which can be you know, a range of experiences from walking into a church or a synagogue to having full blown you know, mystical Kundalini kind of experiences, and all the all the experiences in between, it can include our beliefs. And, you know, so so many different aspects of what religion and theology is all about. So, so for me, you know, if you kind of bring all that in, I think neuro theology works nicely as a term and for for lack of, it seems like it’s the term that has stuck. And so you know, that’s what we work with. There are a lot of other possibilities. It could have been psycho spirituality or bio theology. But I think in the end neuro theology just sounds cool.
It sounds very cool. And and, to me, you did, the first thing that springs to mind when you were describing all that is that as human beings, we tend to have a habit of space, by beliefs are this way is the best way or we look at these things. And you’re looking at more of trying to include everything and just see what the data and everything is telling us so we can make unbiased opinions and assume.
Yeah, well, absolutely. You know, I wrote a book about 10 years ago now called the principles of neuro theology. And one of the most important ones is what you just mentioned, you know, it’s about, it’s about being open to ideas. It’s not, it’s trying to be aware of the biases that we all have, and trying to be open. And I think most importantly, the term or the phrase that I like to use is to have a passion for inquiry, to always be asking questions to never totally be satisfied with what you think and what you believe, but to explore, to push the boundaries and to be open to what we can learn and what we can understand and, And that, to me is a fundamental part of what it is. So to me, it one of the things it gets me excited about it is that I find that neuro theology, I remind my scientific colleagues that it’s a challenge. To science, you know, how do we how do we explore these kinds of questions? How do we develop science and advanced science in those in that regard? And for my religious and spiritual colleagues as well, you know, how do we use this information to better understand what that religious and spiritual side is? And how we can? How can engage it use it in different kinds of ways?
Yeah, there’s so much wisdom in both camps, and it’s
be able to bring it together, you know,
right. Well, and, you know, I like to say, I mean, if you look at the human history, there really been two primary aspects of humanity that have propelled us into, you know, since the dawn of humanity, which is the religious and spiritual on one side, and we see the evidence of that going back, you know, even hundred thousand years to burials where, you know, people were buried with trinkets and beads and things, you know, the idea that there’s something more, there’s an afterlife or something, all the way through Egyptian religious traditions, and the monotheistic traditions, and Buddhism, Hindu and so forth. out till today, and, and of course, the other is science and technology, that the ability to start with fire and the wheel, and then build pyramids and mathematics, and now, you know, genetics and, you know, all the incredible and going to the moon and all the incredible things that we have today. So, so those are the two most powerful forces in human history. To me, it makes sense to try to find a way to bring them together.
Totally. And if you think they come in together, do you think more scientists have been opening because I’m in my little bubble, I’ve realized that now of the last few years, I’m having conversations like this all the time, I bring different scientists in that are researching and heavily looking at this, then on the flip side to people that have had mystical experiences, or just openly talking about it as well. And and it’s for me, it’s kind of the same trying to look at both both areas. But I appreciate that I’m supporting my own beliefs in my own little world. And it’s, you know, it’s shaped like that. But do you think on the biggest scale it they really are merging? Because one thing that struck me, I didn’t realize that you’ve been looking at this work for 30 years? Now, I didn’t even I didn’t even know about any of this until 10 years ago, right? Like, my whole was like, you know, my whole world changed. Right? So with yourself, like, from 30 years ago, what was it like when you started look going and looking into this work to given where we’re at today?
Sure, Well, I think, you know, there’s a couple things. First of all, when you look at the big picture of science and religion, there are certainly areas that are very, you know, very antagonistic, and, you know, whether it comes to sort of the origins of the universe, or, you know, or even questions about abortion and things like that, I mean, it’s where you get into these very difficult areas at times. However, to me, I think, you know, one of the, the natural areas where we’re science and religion can come together is in the context of the human brain, and perhaps maybe a little bit more generally, human health and well being, because for so many people, their spiritual well being their spiritual health is a fundamental part of what it means to be a healthy person. And, you know, I mentioned in the beginning that I’m in the department of integrative medicine, and we understand that, you know, on one hand, you know, you might have heart disease, or cancer, and there’s a biological thing that you have, and you have to deal with that. And there’s medicines. And again, the science is wonderful at trying to help people to survive those problems. But there’s a psychological component of how we deal with that people can become depressed, anxious, and dealing with all the different emotional responses. There’s the social element, which obviously, from a healthcare perspective, has become extraordinarily important. And people who have the most social support, you know, all the data points to that being a powerful way of helping a powerful predictor of how well people do. And then there’s the spiritual side, and certainly, when people do have a spiritual or religious side to them, that can be a very powerful source for coping and helping them through various issues and problems. And I think, you know, in the health care community, over the last 30 years, there has been a growing appreciation of that. And, and I would say that, you know, so as I have, you know, seen this field develop and this perspective developing nowadays, practice says, like, mindfulness are all over the place. And so people really do recognize, you know, even when you kind of secularize some of these ideas that is very, very important. But, but I think also, again, part of what I tried to do and hopefully I do it successfully, is to kind of walk that fine line you know, where I’m not out there saying, everybody has to be religious. I’m not out there saying religion is horrible. But you know, as you asked before, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s how do we ask the questions, how do we get information? How do we be open to understanding and I think as long as we do that, and kind of respect the science respect their religious and spiritual perspectives at the same time, Both sides can feel somewhat more comfortable with it. And I think that nexus of the human mind, the human brain, is a wonderful place where science and religion can come together to help us kind of figure out who we are, and then use that information to maybe explore some of the more problematic areas.
Yeah, totally hundred percent. And I’m curious as well. Why did you start exploring this work? Had you had your own experiences? Or were you just curious, were you asking the questions? How did it happen for you?
Well, it was, it was a little bit of everything that you know, I would say certainly, you know, as a kid, I was always asking questions. And to me the the big question. And this is really the question that has driven everything that I do is, how do we know what is real? How do we understand the reality around us? And I would look around and say, Well, you know, how is it that there’s somebody who’s, you know, religion, x, and then there’s someone who’s religion? Why, and they both think that they’re completely right, and they think the other person is completely wrong. You know, what, how did that happen? And of course, I don’t know where you guys are in Australia. But you may know a little bit about American politics. And it’s kind of like, you know, how do people look at the same world and, you know, one group says, you know, Trump is fantastic. The other group says, Trump is horrible, you know, that this is the right way to run the world, this is the wrong way to run the world, or the country or whatever. And, and so, you know, how do we come to these different perspectives? And so, as a kid, I said, Well, you know, let’s start with the main thing, the most obvious part, which is, it’s, it’s our brain, you know, our brain is looking at the world and trying to figure things out, and how do we make sense of the world? How do we use our different faculties to understand the world around us? From there, I began, kind of, I began to realize that as wonderful as science is, there are certain limitations that science has, especially when it comes to things like human consciousness and spiritual perspectives. And even certain philosophical question. Science is great, you know, with the how questions, but not always so great with the wide questions. And, and so I kept kind of pursuing this line of questioning. And then when I was in college, I started taking courses in philosophy and other spiritual traditions, Buddhist and Hindu perspectives on things, realizing that it becomes far more complicated. And, and so as I kind of kept pursuing all of this, I ultimately took this kind of perspective of, well, how can I try to figure all of this out and I said, you know, as I go through, if there’s ever something I took a very, I didn’t realize at the time, but very Descartes perspective, Cartesian kind of perspective of, if I wasn’t sure about something, I said, Well, I would, I would kind of fall into this realm of doubt, I would call it and demeanor was wrong, it just been I didn’t know. And as time went on, more and more things went into this realm of doubt. And actually, I talked about this, in a book I wrote recently called how enlightenment changes your brain, that it was in between college and medical school, where I finally said, You know what, I’ve got to figure this out. This is just, you know, I, before I’m going to embark on this huge endeavor to become a doctor, I really need to have an answer here. And so really, you know, kind of pushed it and pushed it, I had this whole sort of three, four months over the summer to figure this out. And at one point, I had an experience that I have always kind of, called infinite doubt. And it was really this moment where it just, it was kind of like, where I realized that I would not be able to know anything in particular and didn’t even know if I would know that didn’t even know if I would know that and there was this infinite regression kind of thing. But it was a very interesting experience, because everything was part of this doubt, you know, there was there was nothing outside of it. So there was this incredible feeling of a oneness, have kind of a unity of all things. There was a kind of nothingness, if you will, because everything was was downloadable. And, and it was a very powerful experience that I had never had before. And it was and then, from that point, I thought, well, now I want to see what other people have thought. And as I started to read about people’s, you know, other people having mystical experiences and different spiritual experiences, realized a lot of the similarities that I felt in my own experience, and, and so all of that kind of came with me as I went into medical school, and then finally, is a very long story.
No this is great! Please…
But I believe, you know, what kind of crystallized everything for me was when I was in medical school, which I was at the university, Pennsylvania. They had this program where you could do this extra year to do research, and I met two of the really incredible mentors in my life. One was this doctor Alavi, who was in nuclear medicine, and he brought me into the whole imaging field and learning how to do brain scans. And we did studies of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and depression and all that kind of stuff. And then the other person was this Dr. d’aquili, who was a psychiatrist. And he had been exploring these questions, actually, since the 1970s. From a more anthropological perspective, but we started to think about, you know, more detailed what’s going on in the brain when people have mystical experiences, and meditate and pray and all that. And then one point, you know, the proverbial light bulb went off, and I said, Well, gee, you know, if I’m studying the brain of people, you know, with depression or anxiety, why can’t I study the brain of people when they’re meditating or praying, and that was what really kind of launched a lot of this, you know, that this field of neuro theology and a lot of ways, at least, you know, in terms of, I guess, to some degree, it existed before that, but but really kind of pushed the new work going forward to be able to do these kinds of studies. And, and for me, it I’m still on this path, you know, again, it’s still this path of understanding of doubting, of questioning. But it is kind of a combined scientific and spiritual approach that I continue to take and continue to look for those answers. And as I tell everyone, if I ever figure it all out, I’ll be sure to let everyone know, but but I’m still trying, I’m still working on it. But but that’s how I really got into all of that trying to kind of understand the nature of reality and what we can know as human beings.
Yeah, I love it. Love it. And the the, from all your 30 years of research and, you know, measuring brains and looking at people have had mystical experiences or enlightenment or prayer, religion, whatever it might be. Is it safe to say that you will, you’re seeing significant change, like measurable tangible change within the brain and the body? as
well? Absolutely. You know, we, you know, over the 30 years, we’ve scanned probably four or 500 people doing all different kinds of practices and having various experiences, people from all different traditions, monotheistic traditions, I me an, I know, very few that we haven’t studied, at least in some kind of way. And, and and, you know, to answer your question, very briefly, yes, I mean, you know, there are all kinds of changes. And, and I guess, you know, one of the, one of the take home messages for me has been over the years is that there isn’t just this, like one spot of the brain or one part of the brain, that is the spiritual part, you know, it’s not like when you walk into a church or synagogue or whatever, that suddenly this one little part lights up, and your brain says, Okay, I’m spiritual. Now. In fact, if anything, you know, if anyone who’s had any kind of religious or spiritual experiences, again, anywhere from the very minor, to the very incredible, recognizes that there are so many different facets of them, there are emotions, there’s cognitive processes, there’s all different kinds of experiential things, body feeling divisions, you know, all this up. So, it really involves so many different parts of the brain. And in fact, if you really do think about the huge varieties of all these experiences, I think you would, you know, I would, I would argue that it, you know, if there’s a spiritual part of ourselves, it’s the whole brain, I mean, it’s really all the different parts of the brain that can theoretically become part of that. And, and once again, if we talk about integrative medicine, we know that the brain and the body are all intimately connected. And so it’s really all of us. And, and some of the early work that I did with Eugene de quilly, we talked about rituals, and how the body and the rhythms that affect the body itself, and what’s called the autonomic nervous system, ultimately has a substantial impact on what’s going on in the brain. On the other hand, if you start with the brain and meditation or prayer practice, it ultimately affects the body. So so everything goes in many different kinds of directions, and many ways.
To it’s a two way street kind of thing. Absolutely.
Absolutely. So. So it’s, you know, it’s it’s really I mean, not, you know, we can get into the specifics. I mean, again, if each person, what we’ve talked about a lot, and some of our work has been this kind of network of structures in the brain, in particular. So for example, if you have an experience where there is a huge experience of joy, well, then you’re going to activate some of the emotional centers of the brain that are involved in a feeling of joy. If you don’t have a feeling of joy. Well, you don’t activate that area of the brain. And if you have a feeling, you know, I mentioned in this in this feeling of infinite doubt, I have this experience of oneness, everything became all part of the same thing. Well, you know, there’s a part of our brain that helps us with the spatial representation called the parietal lobe, and it’s located in the back of our brain. And so when we do brain scans of people where they have an experience of oneness or connectedness, and whether it’s oneness with God or oneness with the universe or oneness with some universal consciousness or something like that, the parietal lobe, which normally helps us to create our sense of self and how our self relates to the world actually starts to quiet down. And we see this on the brain scans, the activity in that area of the brain starts to quiet down. And that to us makes a lot of sense. When it turns on, it gives us our sense of self, then as it shuts off, we lose that sense of self. And we lose that sense of space and time. That is so you know, prominently described in a lot of these kinds of mystical experiences.
Do you think I’d love to because I’m not a scientist, right. But I often ponder these these things, and what’s going on in the body and try and figure out my own Welsh lingo, you know, but if somebody has a traumatic experience, like a heightened experience, where you’re triggered off, all of a sudden, they can be reliving that experience, they’d be thinking it feeling it cognitively. And it alters their perception of what’s happening in any given moment. On the flip side, if somebody has a mystical experience, I would like these ecstatic states of joy, do you think it can have the same kind of rewiring effect for the for the positive to take on into their lives?
Absolutely. You know, I mentioned our book how enlightenment changes your brain. And a lot of the data that we used in that book was actually from a survey where we asked people about the experiences and the after effect of those experiences. And so just qualitatively, people describe the incredible, long lasting effect of these experiences. And we asked them to rate a variety of things, we ask them about their, their health and well being we asked them about meaning and purpose in life, their sense of spirituality. And, you know, about four or 5%, will say, things got worse, but 90 to 95% will tell you that as the result of that experience, they there has been improvements in their life, there’s improvements in many different facets of their life. And so you know, that in and of itself is fascinating. brain scan studies, including a number that we’ve all already done, have pointed to the fact that the brain of people have had these experiences, or people who do these kinds of religious or spiritual practices for long periods of time, are fundamentally different than those people who don’t do those, those kinds of practices or do not have those kinds of experiences. And some of the areas that are affected include our emotional areas, and a very central area called the thalamus, which basically takes sensory information into the brain, but it also connects different parts of the brain to each other. And we found alterations in this part of the brain in people who have had these deep spiritual experiences. And since this is such a core area of the brain back, some people have actually referred to it as the, as the, as the center of consciousness, which, you know, I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it’s clearly it’s an important area. And certainly, it’s an important area for how we think of reality and how we experience reality. So if somebody is changing this part of the brain as a result of these experiences, then it’s clearly something that’s going to have a long lasting impact on many different aspects of their life, on their beliefs, how they think about their relationships. And now, you know, the the other piece to this, which is really a fascinating neuroscientific question to me, is exactly how does this happen? You know, what’s going on? In, you know, what, oftentimes, these experiences may last moments, you know, seconds even, and yet somehow rewire a person’s entire brain? So then the real question is, how does that happen biologically? To me, there’s two main answers, and we don’t really no, yet? Well, one answer is that it literally rewires the brain, you know, you have all these connections, and then suddenly, it just shifts all these connections. And, I mean, the thing that’s, that’s pretty fascinating about the brain, is that subtle changes can have very dramatic effects. So it’s not like you have to turn a part of the brain on 18 times, you know, it’s normal amount, if you turn on 10%, that’s a huge amount. So if you have thousands of connections, and then you change, you know, 10 of them, that may be enough to change a lot about how a person is I’m making up numbers, but you know, the listeners will get the gist of it. So so one possibility is that it literally just rewires the entire brain in that moment. The other possibility is that those the other way of being is already in our brain, and that somehow it gets released. To me. I, the analogy in today’s world of all the video games, is that, you know, if, you know there’s players are different, you know, areas that you can go, you can’t get to them right away. But if you get the right score, you unlock them, and then they’re there. But there were already they were always there. It’s just that now you have access to them. So we don’t fully know exactly what’s going on. And whether it’s a rewiring in those moments for those, those ways of being are already in the brain and now we kind of unlock them in some kind of way, or some combination of those two, but those to me would be the two main things that might be possible.
Yeah, incredible. I’m, I know, we were speaking OFF AIR about my experience earlier. And I did, I did a brain scans before and after over a five as well. And it was instantaneous. When the when the the the energy moves and the Kundalini moved, it was incredible. And I felt it in the brain a filter in the body that energy. And I swear to God, and Ray was like, the shifts, I’d almost forgotten how I used to think the old way, like, some of the negative connotations and the fundamental belief systems, self sabotage and things. It was like, they had evaporated. And I was able to, I don’t know, see the truth of what things were, without all my, my condition stuff in the way. And I felt the physiological shift. There was incredible. Yeah,
well, you know, so in how enlightenment changes your brain, I mean, we talked about sort of the five key elements of these experiences, and you mentioned several of them just right back, which is, you know, one of them is that intensity, you know, the energy, whatever it is, there’s some intensity to it, which goes far beyond anything that the person had ever experienced before. And that’s part of how they identify it as spiritual, mystical, whatever. The other is a sense of clarity, which is what you were just talking about, you know, this, that they get it, you know, like they understand the world, they see the world clearly, you know, and whether that has to do with the thalamus that we were just talking about a little while ago, but it changes the way they look at the world. So the sense of the intensity of it, the clarity of it, the sense of unity, the sense of oneness, typically some some connection with the world with, you know, God, whatever it is that the person may feel. One of the other aspects of it, the other two, one of them is a sense of surrender, is how I refer to it, which is basically that it feels like it’s happening to you, rather than you making it happen. It’s something that you didn’t really control, like, you might have been striving for it, you know, a lot of people are striving for it. And you know, they’ve meditate many years. Some people, it just happens out of nowhere. But, but when, you know, no matter when it happens, there’s this kind of, it just happened to me kind of thing. And then, and then the fifth element, which is what we were just talking about a few moments ago, is the transformational piece that it really does change how you are completely and edited, you know, the from a, again, a very sort of basic neuroscience perspective, part of what happens going forward is, is that the more you now focus on these new ways of thinking, the more those are the neural connections that become a part of who you are, and how you think. And the neural connections that were part of the past that may have been negative, or maybe you know, what, even if they weren’t negative, but just, you know, just the way you now think, those those start to fade away, and they die out. I mean, that’s the more traditional way in which we how we understand how the brain works, you know, if you want to learn that one plus one equals two, you say one plus one equals to one when you know, you keep saying it over and over again, until it sticks. And then eventually, those neural connections, you know, they’re the ones that stay there. And the neural, you have neural connections at birth, that say one plus one equals four. But you quickly learned that that neural connection isn’t a good one, you know, maybe maybe you say, you blurt that out in class, it is in elementary school, and the teacher says, Now that’s wrong, and then you’re embarrassed, and then that neural connection goes away. But again, it’s you know, whether it’s its beliefs about morality, the beliefs about the world relationships, life, same sort of thing, if you believe one way up until now, those are the neural connections that are supporting that belief. And then there’s this shift, those old neural connections, either are no longer accessible, and then ultimately fade away. But the more you know, this is we wrote a book called why we believe what we believe in, in that we talk about, you know, how do these beliefs form, and it takes time and so forth. But they can be radically changed through these kinds of experiences
experience as well. And one thing I want to clear and ask you, because what you said is just brilliant. And but since I’ve moved into this field of work, myself, and I started looking, it’s very easy to go chasing these experiences, like I want, I want to I want to fix overnight, you know, I’m just going to get one and it’s going to rewire most stuff, and hey, here I go, you know, and, and reality is, that’s not, you know, likely. So by doing the work daily, just by having a practice, what kind of what have you noticed in terms of timeframe to see the shifts, the subtle shifts in the changes over time, that allow us to have this changes that we’re talking about anyway, whether we have a mystical experience or not?
Well, you know, I guess, you know, there’s a couple ways of thinking about how to answer that. One is that going from a very basic sort of health related perspective, you don’t fundamentally need a mystical experience, to change the way you are. And so, you know, we see a lot of people who come in to our centers and they’re dealing with various health related issues. So part of what we want to talk about is just reducing the amount of stress and distress that they have. And I mean, the research actually shows that a 32nd meditation practice is enough to at least change you a little bit, you know, I mean, and this could be a person at work, who’s gonna, you know, go in and have some difficult conversation with a boss or a client, you know, or whether it’s on the phone nowadays, or COVID. But, you know, taking, taking 30 seconds to take a few deep breaths, and to just focus your mind a little bit, actually helps to improve the way you respond in that moment, and helps to keep you you know, more relaxed during that. Now, the more you do those practices, if you can make that a part of your daily life, the more you do it, the more those are the neural connections that become part of how your brain operates and works. And so people can become less stressed over longer periods of time. And again, you know, the, what we don’t fully have the data on is how long does it take, and how long does it last and all that, but but the data that we have seems to be pretty promising. I mean, people who’ve done like, for example, mindfulness programs, will show you know, the data, even the longer term follow up shows that those effects can last at least a year or more, and especially, you know, if you continue to practice those things, so so that’s all, you know, very, very important. And, as you mentioned, I mean, ultimately, it may be that you have some more intense experience, and people certainly can strive for that. Hopefully, they derive benefit from doing a practice, like meditation or prayer along the way. But, but then there can be that added level when you get to those kinds of experiences. And in fact, in how enlightenment changes your brain in that book, we talk about some some general steps, again, as you mentioned, I mean, certainly there’s no way to guarantee who’s going to have this mystical experience and who isn’t. But part of it is, is starting off on the path, you know, setting yourself up to, you know, say, this is something that I would like to have I mean, in in my own life, it was I this is a question. I wasn’t looking for a mystical experience, per se, but but I was looking for answers to questions, it was a purposeful process. Part of that is, is being prepared is preparing yourself. And that’s an important thing, you know, people don’t always realize, and especially, you know, you’d mentioned the Kundalini experience that you had, there are a lot of examples of Kundalini experiences that don’t go well. And part because people aren’t prepared. They don’t know what’s going on, they fight it, you know, various issues come up. So So part of it is trying to be as prepared as possible, you know, again, it’s hard to be prepared for something that you don’t know what it is what it’s going to be like, but but at least being open to it and saying, No, I’m looking for this kind of an experience. As you mentioned, part of it is finding the right practices and rituals that that work for you. And that’s a little bit more, you know, individualized, there isn’t inherently one absolute right way or wrong way about, you know, in terms of how one goes about doing it. I usually encourage people to, again, explore, you know, ask questions, find a teacher, find somebody who they can ask questions about, see if whatever particular program they’re thinking about is consistent with their goals is consistent with their beliefs. And then and then ultimately, after, kind of try it a little bit and see how things go. You know, if, if things really feel very bad, then it may not be the right thing. So you know, people do have to be aware of that sometimes, you know, there’s thousands of different meditation practices out there. And they may or may not be right for you, you know, and so you have to kind of explore different possibilities. And then ultimately, there’s this sense of kind of letting go and surrendering oneself to the experience. And then ultimately, if one does wind up with having that kind of experience, then the last part is how does one begin to integrate that into the way in which they think about things? And, you know, how does it change who they are? How do they want to incorporate that into their belief system, and, and that in and of itself can be very challenging. There’s some interesting data out there about, you know, people who have wonderful experiences, but you know, it sometimes, you know, let’s say, and I’m just making up one example. I mean, it could be like a Catholic individual who, you know, has this incredible mystical experience, and then they go to their priest, or they go to their friends, and they get a lot of, you know, they’re there or, you know, that was just crazy or whatever. And sometimes it could really be a challenge for people to integrate an experience into their way that they think and sometimes they have to break away from the ways that they were thinking, or sometimes they find a way of putting it together. And that just, you know, each This is part of what neuro theology is about, you know, trying to understand each person, each individual aspect of the experiences, and both the good and the potential bad, you know, how to what, what is it when a Kundalini experience was bad, and why is that different? Or, you know, can we help people avoid that and are there certain ways which we can think about that, that might be helpful for people on a very… on a very practical level as well as spiritual.
Yeah, totally. I couldn’t agree more. I was this work changed your life from studying this, obviously, is because you would have, you must have spoken to some incredible stories and people and what they’ve come back with and like you said, you’ve looked at all these different modalities and been measuring their brains, like, what’s it done to you on a personal level?
Well, you know, on one hand, it has been this just wonderful, ongoing process for me, you know, I have certainly learned a lot. But it and in some ways, you know, again, I continue to kind of work on my fundamental question about the nature of reality, I hope that it has kind of continued to push me in a direction that is positive, and, and helps me to get to the answer to that kind of a question. But I think also, you know, in some ways, I think the things that have changed me, has been, you know, a couple things, one I mentioned a little earlier, which is, I came to realize that, that it’s really our whole our whole being, which is spiritual. And in that context, you know, thinking about the biology and the spiritual side of ourselves is, is something that I think is really fundamental to understanding who we are as human beings. And I so I think that’s one thing. And the other main thing that I guess I’ve come away with, and I think this may be even a take home message for everyone listening is, is that, you know, for me, I think part of what I’ve come to realize, is a very healthy respect and appreciation for everyone’s beliefs, you know, for everyone’s views on things, and, you know, everyone who is sincere about the way they think and the way they believe, whether it’s a religious belief, a political belief, a moral belief, you know, that’s all of our brains are basically in the same boat, you know, we are looking, we have a very limited, flawed finite brain, which is looking out on a virtually infinite universe. And somehow, we think we understand what’s going on, you know, I mean, it’s remarkable that we even get up in the morning, let alone when people start saying, No, this is the right way to be, this is the right answer. This is this, this is, you know, this is the way you need to be. Um, and so, so part of what I try to encourage people is to say, you know, look, you know, a fundamentally important point is that all of us come to our conclusions, through our experiences, our genetics, you know, the various people that we’ve met in our lives, our parents and so forth. And, and it’s not a surprise that we have all come to slightly different conclusions. In fact, I always say, you know, look, if there’s 7 billion people in the world, there’s 7 billion religions in the world, you know, every, not one Jewish person, Catholic person, Muslim person, Hindu, Buddhist, whatever, not one, Republican, Democrat, you know, whatever parties there are in Austria. Yeah, everyone thinks about things a little bit differently. And that’s the beauty of who we are as human beings. And hopefully, we can kind of learn from that and develop a maybe a greater sense of, of understanding and compassion. And I hope that’s part of one of the things that comes out of this, this field of neuro theology, which is to basically help people to understand that, that particular point that, that we all have our different ways of looking at the world, and we need to be open and understanding and, and try to figure out the best ways of, you know, putting it all together and moving forward as a species. And yeah,
we can division all the time, you know,
yeah, it’s Yeah, and it’s a shame. I mean, you know, the hopefully that there are ways of coming to better ways of thinking about it.
Totally. I got a couple of questions before we wrap it up, I’m aware of myself as well. And one question is, what does your morning routine look like?
Well, I don’t know if it’s particularly exciting, but I have a fast metabolism. So I get up and I have breakfast. And I always have a very hearty breakfast and whether I make eggs or pancakes or waffles or whatever. And but it’s it’s usually pretty fast and pretty efficient, and kind of move through my, you know, what I have to do to get dressed and ready to go and, and out I go and, but it kind of keeps me it. There’s a ritual aspect to it. And it kind of helps me to stay grounded and and get my day going.
Totally did you do you have a meditation practice yourself? Or do you have any specific go to tools? You know that…?
So it’s always a bit of a challenging question for me to answer and because some degree, I’ve said a little bit about it in the sense that, you know, part of what I you know, this experience I had about doubt and sort of understanding the nature of reality. My meditation has basically been my own kind of philosophical slash scientific meditation on those questions. And so I do don’t actually have a meditation that I do, too. I don’t do the meditation to relax myself. It’s not really part of a specific spiritual tradition in any kind of way religious or spiritual tradition. But it is where I basically, you know, sit down or lie down and spend some time just thinking about those questions and asking questions and seeking and waiting to see what answers come back to me. And, and so that’s kind of my practice, if you will, but
It doesn’t follow a particular path.
Yeah, no, no problem at all. And then, if you could have dinner with anyone from any timeframe, anywhere in the world, who do you think it would be? Does anyone spring to mind?
A couple… Well, I’ve always been a big fan of Leonardo da Vinci. So I got to go with, you know, someone with that kind of a mind to explore and to ask questions and to be creative and to think about how to solve problems, but how to be artistic and creative at the same time, you know, quite fascinating to me. I guess the other similar kind of mind, to me would be like an Aristotle, you know, to think about, you know, the science of that time, but but to think about things scientifically, but philosophically and analytically. Those to me would be, at least, to two people off the top of my head, who would be fascinating to spend a little time with,
yeah, no doubt, no doubt.
And that’s a lot of other people too.
I know, I’ve heard them all on the show as well, like, bigger, great party, actually,
Descartes would be made me by my third choice.
And last question for you everything that we’ve covered on the show today, is there anything you’d like to leave the listeners to ponder on?
Well, I think the biggest thing to ponder is, you know, yeah, how? How Sure, you have the beliefs that you have, you know, can you can you always challenge your your ideas? You know, where do your beliefs come from? how certain Can you be? And? And how, how much can you continue to push and ask questions about these fundamental issues about who we are as human? You know, what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be a good person? And and what is the nature of reality? And how do we try to find that out? So that to me is I hate to, I hate to punish people by trying to go down the same path. I’ve been going down the last 30 years, but but that would be I could use all the help I could get to be honest, if anybody has any suggestions.
Yeah, I don’t doubt it. Right. I don’t have it. That’s brilliant. And where can I send everyone if they want to find out more about your books, your work and everything that you do?
The best way is to my website. It’s just Andrew Newberg, N E W B E R G.com , and people can go there, they can look at some of the research studies that we talked about. A lot of the research articles or their information on current books and future books are going to be there and a bunch of links to other interviews and, and various aspects of the things that I’ve done. And hopefully we’ll keep updating it as we keep getting more answers.
Or more questions.
Yeah. No more questions, it becomes more questions that need answers, I would say absolutely. No, thank you for coming on the show today. Andrew, I appreciate all that you’re doing. I’ve been really enjoying your work personally and and appreciate all that you do. And I just love this conversation today.
Thank you. Hopefully we’ll have another one soon.
Totally. Thank you.
awesome guys. Hope you enjoy the show myself and Andrew today. I certainly did. Always wonderful fascinating rabbit holes to dive into. Got some amazing guests coming up. Please keep an eye out. And of course, if you enjoy this episode or any then please be sure to share with a loved one or a friend this episode or any episodes that you think might help. podcasts are certainly a great way to help support somebody else’s journey, especially if they’re not familiar with this work at all. That’s it. I have an amazing week. And I look forward to next one. Alright, see you!