DOI: 10.14704/nq.2010.8.4.355

The Neurobiology, Genetics and Evolution of Human Spirituality: The Central Role of the Temporal Lobes

David E. Comings


Spirituality is defined as a sense of being connected with something greater than oneself. That something can be a supernatural entity, nature, a social group or a family. Different studies show that a wide range of factors that influence temporal lobe function can produce hallucinations, paranormal, spiritual, mystical, and religious experiences. These factors include the electrical stimulation of the temporal lobes; spontaneous temporal lobe epilepsy; trauma; psychedelic drugs; and the severe anoxia of near death, G-forces and carbon dioxide inhalation. Studies of the very short acting psychedelic drug DMT, which exerts its effect by binding to serotonin receptors in the temporal lobes, show that even highly rational subjects can be absolutely convinced that their induced experiences of being in contact with non-humans beings were absolutely real. This suggests that hippocampal memory cannot always distinguish between external real experiences and internally induced spiritual experiences. Twin studies show there is a significant genetic component to spirituality while religion and church going are more cultural. It is likely that the genes for spirituality were selected because the social cohesiveness that spiritually fosters has a strong survival value. The neurobiology of spirituality suggests that our rational brain occasionally needs to step back and give the spiritual brain some space to have beliefs and feelings that do not always make rational sense.


Evolution; Human Spirituality; Temporal Lobes

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