April 15, 2016
With the dawn of advanced neuroscience, the centuries-old dualism between mind and body has been reframed as a system of interactions better understood, medically and ontologically, as a unified whole of experience. That's where Jefferson neuroscientist Andrew Newberg shines in his field, stringing together the physiological links that help explain the nature of our beliefs.
Newberg, a radiology professor and Director of Research at Jefferson's Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine, will appear Sunday night on "The Story of God with Morgan Freeman," a National Geographic series in which the renowned actor explores various cultures and religions.
In his recently published book, "How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain: The New Science of Transformation," Newberg details the discoveries he's made through brain scans of religious subjects including Sufi mystics, Buddhist meditators, Franciscan nuns, Pentecostals, and members of secular religious groups who follow spirituality rituals. His original research uncovers the specific neurological mechanisms that operate during an enlightenment experience, providing clues to how we can activate those circuits in the brain.
One of Newberg's primary research areas is the effect of meditation on cerebral blood flow. During meditation, the "sense of spacelessness" practitioners experience is correlated with decreased blood flow in the parietal lobe, which helps us maintain a grip on our conscious self-awareness. Those who focus prayers on a particular visual object or mantra, however, display decreased blood flow in the frontal lobes.
In Sunday night's episode, "The Story of God," Morgan Freeman visits Jefferson Hospital to participate in one of Dr. Newberg's studies on meditation and prayers. The "God" of 'Bruce Almighty' is injected with a radioactive tracer to detect the difference in brain SPECT scans before and after meditation.
The episode airs Sunday night at 9 on the National Geographic Channel. In the video below, Dr. Newberg explains how the brain is evidently hard-wired for religion and spirituality.