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The 'God' Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God

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Overview

Acclaimed by a wide range of experts, The "God" Part of the Brain is a classic. Matthew Alper presents a stunning argument: that our brain is hardwired to believe in a God. He offers a scientific explanation that we inherit an evolutionary mechanism that allows us to cope with our greatest terror - death.

The author also evokes his personal odyssey as he sought to understand why mankind created the concept of a higher power to deal with the ...

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The 'God' Part of the Brain: A Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God

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Overview

Acclaimed by a wide range of experts, The "God" Part of the Brain is a classic. Matthew Alper presents a stunning argument: that our brain is hardwired to believe in a God. He offers a scientific explanation that we inherit an evolutionary mechanism that allows us to cope with our greatest terror - death.

The author also evokes his personal odyssey as he sought to understand why mankind created the concept of a higher power to deal with the fear and terror we experience due to our species' unique awareness of the inevitability of death.

The "God" Part of the Brain has sparked praise by scientists such as E.O. Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner; E. Fuller Torry, "the most famous psychiatrist in America"; and Arnold Sadwin, former Chief of Neuropsychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. The book has been adopted by universities across the country.

Praise for The "God" Part of the Brain

"This cult classic in many ways parallels Rene Descartes' search for reliable and certain knowledge...Drawing on such disciplines as philosophy, psychology, and biology, Alper argues that belief in a spiritual realm is an evolutionary coping method that developed to help humankind deal with the fear of death...Highly recommended."
- Library Journal

"I very much enjoyed the account of your spiritual journey and believe it would make excellent reading for every college student - the resultant residence-hall debates would be the best part of their education. It often occurs to me that if, against all odds, there is a judgmental God and heaven, it will come to pass that when the pearly gates open, those who had the valor to think for themselves will be escorted to the head of the line, garlanded, and given their own personal audience."
- Edward O. Wilson, two-time Pulitzer Prize-Winner

"This is an essential book for those in search of a scientific understanding of man's spiritual nature. Matthew Alper navigates the reader through a labyrinth of intriguing questions and then offers undoubtedly clear answers that lead to a better understanding of our objective reality."
- Elena Rusyn, MD, PhD; Gray Laboratory; Harvard Medical School

"What a wonderful book you have written. It was not only brilliant and provocative but also revolutionary in its approach to spirituality as an inherited trait."
- Arnold Sadwin, MD, former chief of Neuropsychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania

"A lively manifesto...For the discipline's specific application to the matter at hand, I've seen nothing that matches the fury of The 'God' Part of the Brain, which perhaps explains why it's earned something of a cult following."
- Salon.com

"All 6 billion plus inhabitants of Earth should be in possession of this book. Alper's tome should be placed in the sacred writings' section of libraries, bookstores, and dwellings throughout the world. Matthew Alper is the new Galileo...Immensely important...Defines in a clear and concise manner what each of us already knew but were afraid to admit and exclaim."
- John Scoggins, PhD

"Vibrant ... vivacious. An entertaining and provocative introduction to speculations concerning the neural basis of spirituality."
- Free Inquiry Magazine

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Editorial Reviews

Art Bell
Hauntingly logical...Fascinating.
Coast to Coast AM
Library Journal
This cult classic (originally published in 1996) in many ways parallels Ren Descartes's search for reliable and certain knowledge. Descartes concluded that it was certain that he existed, and everything else was derived from this certainty. Contrasting with that is Alper's personal search for an understanding of the nature of God and why people believe in such a being. He concludes that the only certainty in the quest for God is that God is a word originating in the human mind. Thus, everything else about God has to be deduced from this starting point. Drawing on such disciplines as philosophy, psychology, and biology, Alper argues that belief in a spiritual realm is an evolutionary coping method that developed to help humankind deal with the fear of death. Ultimately, Alper seeks not to eliminate religiosity but instead to put it in proper context. One wishes he had updated this revised edition more thoroughly, backing up his argument with current studies. Nonetheless, this book is an excellent starting point for anyone wishing to investigate this topic further. Highly recommended. Brad Matthies, Butler Univ. Lib., Indianapolis Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402214523
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/1/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 575,018
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew Alper (New York City) graduated from SUNY Stonybrook with a BA in philosophy. He has worked as an electrician in England, a photographer's assistant in New York, a fifth-grade and high school history teacher in Brooklyn, a truck smuggler in Africa, a tutor in the Philippines, and a screenwriter in Germany.
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Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Chapter 1: Throwing Rocks at God

"The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other in silence for some time; at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

'Who are you?' said the Caterpillar.

Alice replied rather shyly, 'I-I hardly know, sir, just at present-at least I knew who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.'"
-LEWIS CARROLL

By the time I was twenty-one, my quest for knowledge of God had taken several unexpected turns. In this time, I had searched the world's myriad religions only to find myself frustrated by a gamut of flaws and inconsistencies in all their logic. I had investigated the various paranormal phenomena only to encounter a trail of false claims and chicanery. I had experimented with the mind-altering effects of psychedelic drugs as well as transcendental meditation, only to undergo a series of distorted sense-experiences, none of which had brought me any closer to acquiring verifiable knowledge of any spiritual reality or God. As a matter of fact, if anything, they had only served to draw me farther away. This was due to the fact that while exploring the effects of LSD, I had a bad trip that led to a severe clinical depression compounded by a dissociative, depersonalization, and anxiety disorder. For a year and a half, I suffered this unfortunate state until, finally, with the aid of pharmacological drugs, I was restored to my previous, relatively healthy self.

Though it may have come at a very high price, I nevertheless managed to garner some extremely valuable information from this otherwise wretched experience, information regarding the nature of my allegedly immortal human soul.

According to the various belief systems (religions) I had thus far encountered, the human soul was supposed to be spiritual in nature, a fixed and permanent agent, unalterable and everlasting. Again and again, I was told that when I died, though my physical body would perish, "I"-the sum of my conscious experience, the essence of my thoughts and feelings, what was perceived as constituting my soul or spirit-would persist for all eternity. The fact, however, that my conscious self had been so drastically altered convinced me that there was no fixed or eternal essence in me.

Twice in a year and a half, I had undergone two complete transformations of my so-called eternal self. First, my conscious self was transformed into something other than it previously had been by psychedelic drugs. Then, a year and a half later, my original self was restored, this time by a drug known as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). But I thought consciousness was supposed to be conceived in spirit-fixed, eternal, immune to the influences of physical nature. If this were true, how was it that the core of my conscious experience had been altered, twice now, by ingesting physical substances? How was it that a combination of molecules-raw matter-could affect something as allegedly ethereal as consciousness, that which was supposed to represent my immutable, transcendental soul? To believe that matter could affect one's spirit, that it could impact upon the soul, would be the equivalence, it seemed, to believing that one could throw rocks at God. If spirits or souls truly existed, it would seem they should be impervious to material influence.

The fact that my conscious self-my allegedly immortal soul-was susceptible to the effects of chemical (physical) substances convinced me that human consciousness must be a physical entity governed by strictly physical processes. If this was true, then in order to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of consciousness-what I previously believed might constitute a soul-I would need to conduct an investigation into the nature of the physical sciences.

Up until this point, I always had the greatest respect for the physical/natural sciences. I was always impressed by their ability to rationally explain most any phenomena as well as to lead to the creation of tools and technologies that worked to make our lives easier. Whereas in the past, however, in which I had admired the sciences, I now revered them. Science had saved my life. I was indebted to it. God didn't save me. I didn't save me. Science, the tool of reason, had saved me. I was my own living proof that science worked. And so, the same faith that many placed in a god or religion, I now placed in science. Simply, it was a paradigm which brought verifiable results. Not that I didn't have faith in science before this. Every time, for instance, I flipped a light switch, one could say I had faith the lights would go on. The difference was that, whereas in the past I had taken my faith for granted, I was now a staunch believer.

As I saw it, science had resolved the riddle of the human soul. Science had proven it could come up with chemical formulas that could manipulate the contents of one's cognitions, emotions, and perceptions in almost whatever way it saw fit. It could electrically or chemically stimulate parts of one's brain in such a way that it could make one passive or aggressive, tranquil or manic, happy or sad. In essence, science could alter and manipulate one's cognitive and emotional states as if pulling the strings on a marionette.

As a result, I was now convinced that the mind, which I previously believed to constitute my transcendental soul, instead represented the workings of my physical organ, the brain. There was no soul. There was no ghost in the machine. My thoughts-human consciousness-were not the manifestation of some ethereal force or will but rather the consequence of synaptic transmissions, electrical and chemical signals being registered throughout my brain, generating a host of sensations, perceptions, emotions, and cognitions in me-pure neuromechanics. Consequently, as far as I was now concerned, the riddle of the human soul had been solved. From hereon, I would interpret the origin of all perception, sensation, emotion, and cognition from a strictly neurophysiological-that is, scientific-perspective.

As secure as I now was that there was no such thing as a transcendental soul, I still found myself plagued by that more essential problem of God's existence. As God supposedly constituted the embodiment of all things spiritual, not until I possessed some rational explanation through which I could resolve the problem of His existence could I be absolutely certain there was no such thing as a transcendental/spiritual reality. And as long as it was possible that God might exist, it was therefore also possible that I possessed a transcendental soul. Consequently, before I could commit to anything, I needed to resolve the greater and all-encompassing problem of God.

As the physical sciences had helped me to rationally interpret the underlying nature of consciousness, I now wondered if it would be possible to apply this same tool of reason to resolve that ever-persistent problem of God. Could the physical sciences crack that nut as well? Up until now, it hadn't come close. From biologists to astro- and quantum physicists, no one had ever advanced anything resembling a scientific interpretation of God. But why was this? Did God truly exist only beyond our grasp, beyond the range of human comprehension? Or was there a physical solution, only no one had discovered it yet?

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Table of Contents

Prologue

BOOK I: THEORY'S EVOLUTION
Chapter 1: Throwing Rocks at God Chapter 2: What Is Science?
Chapter 3: A Very Brief History of Time or Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Universe but Were Afraid to Ask Chapter 4: Kant Chapter 5: God as Word Chapter 6: Universal Behavioral Patterns

BOOK II: INTRO TO BIOTHEOLOGY
Chapter 7: The "Spiritual" Function Jung Universal Spiritual Beliefs and Practices The Argument For a Spiritual Function Chapter 8: The Rationale The Origin of Mortal Consciousness The Pain Function The Anxiety Function When Mortal Consciousness Meets the Anxiety Function Advent of the Spiritual Function The Origins of Immortal and God Consciousness Chapter 9: The "Spiritual" Experience Origins of the Spiritual Experience The Ego Function The Transcendental Function Chapter 10: Drug-Induced God Chapter 11: The "Spiritual" Gene Chapter 12: The Prayer Function Chapter 13: Religious Conversion Chapter 14: Why Are There Atheists?
Chapter 15: Near-Death Experiences Chapter 16: Speaking in Tongues Chapter 17: Why Is America So Religious?
A Bio-Historical Hypothesis Chapter 18: The Guilt and Morality Functions Chapter 19: The Logic of God:
A New "Spiritual" Paradigm Chapter 20: What, If Anything, Is to Be Gained from a Scientific Interpretation of Human Spirituality and God?
Epilogue: Quest's End Addendum: Experiments That Might Help Prove the Existence of a Spiritual Function

Endnotes Bibliography Index About the Author

Matthew Alper (New York City) graduated from SUNY Stonybrook with a BA in philosophy. He has worked as an electrician in England, a photographer's assistant in New York, a fifth-grade and high school history teacher in Brooklyn, a truck smuggler in Africa, a tutor in the Philippines, and a screenwriter in Germany.

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First Chapter

Book Two - Chapter One
Universal Spiritual Beliefs and Practices

UNIVERSAL SPIRITUAL BELIEFS AND PRACTICES –

As I explored the world's various religions and mythologies, it became apparent that every human culture from the dawn of our species has maintained a dualistic interpretation of reality. In other words, every human culture - no matter how isolated - has perceived reality as being comprised of two distinct realms, the material [physical] and the spiritual. According to this cross-cultural perception, each realm is composed of its own distinct substance, the material realm being composed of matter and the spiritual being composed of spirit - a concept for which every known culture has either possessed a symbol or a word.

All things that exist as a part of the material realm, that is, all things composed of matter, are cross-culturally perceived as existing in a state of constant flux, susceptible to the forces of birth, change, death, and decay, rendering them destructible, fleeting, finite. They are corporeal, capable of being perceived with our physical senses and therefore empirically verifiable.

Things existing as a part of the spiritual realm are cross-culturally perceived as transcending the physical forces of nature and therefore as being indestructible, infinite, and everlasting. Because things that exist as part of the spiritual realm are perceived as being incorporeal, that is, incapable of being detected by our physical senses.

This universal perception, that there exists a spiritual reality, is made evident by a number of cross-cultural beliefs and practices. For instance, every culture has universally expressed a belief in the concepts of a spiritual realm, a supreme spiritual being [a god or gods], a soul, and an afterlife. The universality of these beliefs are made evident by a series of universally performed rites and practices. As an example, every culture has exhibited a tendency to pray to, worship, and petition a god or gods. This is made evident by the fact that every culture has erected sites of worship from which members of the community can conduct their prayers. Whether it be a Muslim mosque; a Catholic church; a Jewish synagogue; an ancient Aztec, Greek, or Egyptian temple; a Shinto shrine; a Babylonian ziggurat; or the underground ceremonial chamber of the Anasazi, every culture has constructed physical edifices specifically designed for the purpose of praying to and petitioning one's gods. Such sites of worship constitute physical evidence that all cultures have believed in the existence of a spiritual reality.

In addition, every culture has created religious works of art. The first examples of this exist in the form of cave art which dates as far back as to the early Paleolithic age, from about 40,000-12,000 BC. Such cave paintings often depicted representations of a hunt in which an animal is covered with javelin wounds highlighted with red ochre. Because the spear designs were often painted over one another, it is believed that these paintings were constantly renewed for magico-religious purposes to effect a kill in the chase.

In spoken and written form, every culture has expounded upon its spiritual beliefs through scriptures and mythologies. That all cultures have possessed such tangible works of art and text constitutes further evidence that humans cross-culturally believe in a spiritual reality.

Furthermore, every world culture has maintained a belief that humans possess a spiritual component within ourselves. This spiritual component, as it exists within us, we refer to as a soul - another concept for which every culture has possessed either a symbol or word.

According to our cross-cultural belief in a soul, humans perceive themselves as being comprised of a unique combination of both matter and spirit. While we cross-culturally perceive our bodies to be constituted in matter, we, at the same time, cross-culturally perceive human consciousness as being constituted in spirit, or what we refer to as a soul. In this way, we project our dualistic conception of reality onto our own selves.

Just as we perceive things that consist of spirit as being indestructible, eternal, and everlasting, we perceive our souls as possessing these same attributes. In other words, we believe that by virtue of our souls, we, our conscious selves, are indestructible, eternal, and everlasting. This leads us to cross-culturally believe that though our physical bodies will perish, our spiritual selves, our spirits or souls, will continue to endure for all eternity. It is through this universal belief in a soul that human beings derive their sense of immortality. "Through religion man affirms his convictions that death is not real nor yet final and that we are endowed with a personality which persists even after death."17

This notion that all human cultures have believed in a soul as well as in their own immortalities is supported by the fact that all human cultures have expressed a belief in an afterlife, "a new or continued or transformed existence after death, belief in which has been found in virtually all cultures and civilizations."18

Whether we are speaking of Heaven, Purgatory, Hell, Valhalla, Niflheim, Nirvana, Tartarus, the Elysian Fields, Hades, Oblivion, the Realm of the Dead, the spirit land (Te Reinga), the Mystical Garden, Paradise, reincarnation, or transmigration of the spirit, all cultures, both eastern and western, have expressed a belief that our spiritual selves or souls persevere long after our physical bodies have perished. This universal belief in an afterlife has been physically manifest through the cross-cultural practice of a funerary or burial rite. Not only have all cultures practiced the disposal or burial of their dead, but, most significantly, this act is cross-culturally performed with a rite that anticipates sending that individual's spiritual component or soul onwards to some next or other realm. As further evidence, many cultures have buried their dead with artifacts meant to facilitate the deceased person's transition from this realm to the next. In essence, every culture has believed there exists some transcendental quality in us that endures after our physical bodies have perished. Burial represents the last of a series of cross-culturally practiced rites through which the individual's soul is sanctified before its culture's gods.

While burial represents the last of these rites, all cultures inaugurate the newly born into their spiritual community with a rite of birth. Whether it be a Jewish or Muslim circumcision, the immersion of a Catholic child into the baptismal font, or the Australian Aborigine rocking its newborn through the purifying smoke of the Konkerberry fire, every culture sanctifies its newly born with a rite in which the young are introduced into the spiritual community. As the cultural anthropologist, Mircea Eliade, expressed in his book, The Sacred and the Profane, "When a child is born, he has only a physical existence; he is not yet recognized by his family nor accepted by the community. It is only by virtue of those rites performed immediately after birth that he is incorporated into the community of the living."

As the child grows, he or she goes through a series of life passages. After the birth rite, the next passage to be cross-culturally recognized in a spiritual format is exhibited in the form of an initiation rite. This rite, which is usually celebrated in tandem with puberty, signifies one's passage from childhood to adult, and is meant to sanctify an individual before his gods as a grown and responsible member of the spiritual community. Whether it be a Jewish Bar-Mitzvah, a Congolese Kota face-painting ceremony, a Catholic Confirmation, an adolescent Baptism of the Southern Baptist, or a Hindu Sannya ceremony, every culture ritualistically assimilates its individuals into its spiritual community as an adult. Using Jungian terms to express the cross-cultural nature of this rite, the author, Anthony Stevens, writes in his book, On Jung, "Comparison of rites from all over the world suggest that these initiation rites themselves possess an archetypal structure, for the same underlying patterns and procedures are universally apparent."

After being initiated into the spiritual community, members of the opposite sex are united in order to promote procreation. Such unions are consecrated through a cross-culturally practiced marriage rite.

More evidence that points to our species' cross-cultural belief in a spiritual realm rests in the fact that each of the aforementioned rites are presided over by some member of the community who is assigned the role of spiritual guide or leader. Every culture has possessed some form of a priesthood, some individual or group of individuals whose role is to act as the community's intermediary between the material and spiritual worlds. Whether this individual is referred to as a shaman, priest, rabbi, swami, yogi, oracle, mystic, psychic, medium, or imam, all cultures have possessed some such member, group, or caste whose role is to serve the community's spiritual needs.

To further confirm our species' cross-cultural nature to believe in a spiritual reality, all cultures have demonstrated a tendency to ascribe magical, sacred, or supernatural, that is, spiritual properties to certain people, places, or objects. As mentioned, all cultures have possessed a site of worship. In addition to these, every culture has also ascribed "sacred" status to a number of sites referred to as shrines. Whether it be the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the Kaaba Stone, Delphi, the Pyramids, the dakhma of Cain, the Ganges River, Bethlehem, or a Buddhist Stupa, each represent centers of pilgrimages and adoration because of their spiritual significance and the spiritual values they've come to symbolize.

Sacred status has also been cross-culturally ascribed to various objects. Totems, relics, icons, amulets, talismans, charms, or fetishes, as they are called by their various cultures, represent examples of physical objects believed to carry the substance of spirit within them. Whether it be the wafer and wine of the Eucharist, the ceremonial Calumet or Peace Pipe of the Native Americans, the hairs of the prophet Mohammed, the sacred tooth of Buddha, fragments of the holy crucifix, a mezuzah, an African gris-gris, or a crystal for the new-age spiritualist, all represent material objects that are believed to possess some magical or "spiritual" quality. That all cultures have assigned sacred status to physical objects further attests to the fact that all human cultures have believed in the existence of a spiritual reality. Furthermore, all cultures have also expressed a belief in the existence of spiritual/transcendental forces that guide and influence all that transpires in the world. This is made evident by our cross-cultural beliefs in such abstractions as luck, karma, kismet, fate, fortune, and destiny. Such concepts demonstrate our cross-cultural perception that there exist transcendental forces which influence all that occurs within the material universe.

Humankind's universal belief in a spiritual element is further evinced by the fact that all cultures tend to associate the sentiment of guilt in a religious context. Though we may feel guilty for things we've done to other men, all cultures show an express concern for how they will be judged for their actions by their gods. This is made evident by a variety of rites of atonement and penitence through which individuals from every culture have sought to repent for those crimes committed against their gods, otherwise known as "sins," yet another concept for which every culture has possessed a word. Physical evidence of penitent behavior is manifest by a variety of sacrificial rites. In such rites, individuals or the group as a whole makes offerings to the gods in the hope that it will solicit their sympathy, mercy, or forgiveness. We seek divine mercy and forgiveness because we believe that our actions can influence the quality of our lives both here on Earth as well as in the afterworld. The universality with which the sentiment of guilt seems to be exhibited in a religious context suggests that it may somehow be associated with our inherent spiritual sensibilities.

So, all human cultures have practiced a belief in the existence of a spiritual realm, a God or gods, a soul, and an afterlife. Strange that we should all perceive reality with this same spiritual bent, that we should all hold such similar beliefs and then express them through such similar rites and practices. Is it possible that we all practice such similar beliefs and express them through such similar rites as the result of some vast coincidence? Or is there something deeper, something much more essential to our inherent neurophysiological make-ups at work here? Similar to the manner in which all planarians have a tendency to orient themselves towards the light, the fact that all human cultures have a tendency to believe in a spiritual reality would imply one of three things. The first possible reason that all cultures have conceived of the same spiritual concepts would be as the result of some vast coincidence. This would be tantamount to believing that all planarians orient themselves in the direction of light for the same reason. Both possibilities, I imagine, are equally unlikely.

The second possible reason that every culture has shared the same beliefs and then practiced them in such similar fashions is that during the emergence of our species, the concepts of a spiritual realm, a God, a soul, and an afterlife were created by a few inspired individuals whose innovative ideas were verbally passed from one generation to the next as our species spread across the continents. This would imply that our cross-cultural belief in a spiritual reality represents a learned as opposed to an inherited behavior.

The problem with this possibility is that, as our species spread across the globe, it's hard to imagine that any one set of learned beliefs and behaviors could have so persistently endured. Learned, as opposed to inherited behaviors, come and go like the wind. This is why, for instance, though a variety of words have flourished and then become obsolete throughout the history of our species, language in general has existed among our species as a constant. The same, I am suggesting, is true for our spiritual beliefs. Though scores of religions have flourished and disappeared throughout the history of our species, religion, in general, has existed as a constant. Similarly, though scores of various rites, practices, and beliefs have come and gone with time, the more fundamental beliefs in a spiritual realm, a God or gods, a soul, and an afterlife has persisted throughout. It is these fundamental beliefs that represent the foundation of all world religions. It is simply the manner in which these primary beliefs have been manifest that is constantly shifting and evolving. The fact that these primary beliefs have so tenaciously persisted in every culture, and under such diverse environmental and historical circumstances, leads me to believe there must be some underlying physiological force at work here.

Take, for example, our feelings of grief or sadness. Why is it that all humans express these sentiments in the same way? Why is it that all humans cry? No one has to be taught to shed tears when mourning the death of a loved one. This is something we do innately, a reflex, a specific response to a particular stimulus. But let's imagine for the moment that crying was a learned behavior. Let's imagine that we had to be taught to cry as a means of expressing our sadness. If this were the case, wouldn't it be likely that at some point in time, some culture - just one - would have deviated from its original teaching and eventually come up with some other means of expressing this emotion? If crying were a learned behavior, it is incredibly unlikely that every culture on earth would, to this day, all express grief in the same exact way. Analogously, I propose that the same principle can be applied to our universal spiritual beliefs and practices.

If such concepts as a belief in a spiritual realm, a God, a soul and an afterlife were merely invented by a few inspired individuals during the dawn of our species, it seems highly unlikely that every world culture would still be practicing these same beliefs today, and all in such similar ways.

This leaves us with the last possibility which asserts that our universal spiritual beliefs must represent an inherent characteristic of our species, a genetically inherited trait. This would suggest that we inherit our spiritual perceptions and are therefore innately predisposed to believing in the existence of a spiritual reality. If this is true, then such an inherent trait could only come from one place: information stored within our genes, thus implying that humans possess "spiritual" genes. This further suggests that we must possess a physiological site, a specific cluster of neurons from which our spiritual perceptions, cognitions, sensations, and impulses are generated.

Imagine we were to study ten separate and totally isolated colonies of honeybees, all of which constructed their hives in the same hexagonal honeycomb fashion. After witnessing this, would we say that such behavior represents an example of "free thinking" bees all coincidentally building their hives in the exact same way? Or would we, instead, say that the bees, as a species, must physiologically "wired" to construct their hives in such a way, that is, that they do this on instinct? Do all bees construct their hives in the same hexagonal honeycomb fashion because they admire this design or because they are programmed to do so? In such a case, I imagine we would agree that the fact that all bees construct their hives in such a similar fashion must be as the result of a physiological impulse, that somewhere in the bee's brains there must exist a cluster of neurons which compel them to construct their shelters this way.

With this in mind, why, I ask, should we view our own universal [cross-cultural] behaviors any differently than we might the behavior of bees? In the words of the pioneer (if not the founder) of the science of sociobiology, E.O. Wilson, "The same principles of population biology and comparative zoology that have worked so well in explaining the rigid systems of the social insects could be applied point by point to vertebrate animals." If we are ever to make any progress in the understanding of our own physical natures, mustn't we study and assess ourselves with the same objectivity that we do all the Earth's other creatures? If a group of aliens were to study our species from above, what might they conjecture after witnessing approximately one hundred thousand years of the vast majority of our species disposing of its dead in a hole in the ground? Would they not view such behavior as representative of an instinct? Would they not regard our behavior similar to the way we view the universality with which all planarians turn towards the light or bees construct their hives? Wouldn't these aliens surmise that the burial of the dead must represent an inherent characteristic of our species, the behavioral consequence of a genetically inherited instinct?

In the same way that planarians are "wired" to turn towards the light, humankind is "wired" to believe in a spiritual reality, a god. Because this impulse is cognitive in nature, it must originate from a part or parts of the brain. In other words, there must exist a particular cluster of neurons within the brain from which our spiritual cognitions, perceptions, sensations, and impulses are generated. This would further imply that should we alter this cluster of neurons, this spiritual or "God" part/parts of our brain, it would have the effect of altering one's spiritual consciousness. Should this part or parts of a person's brain, this spiritual function, be surgically removed, it's likely that the individual would lose his sense of spiritual consciousness. Never again would that person have a spiritual experience. Never again would he sense the presence of a spiritual force. Never again would he feel compelled to pray, to look outwards to some transcendental being for guidance. Similar the way that a person can develop a linguistic aphasia, I'm suggesting that it's possible to develop a spiritual aphasia. For example, when a priest who suffers from Alzheimer's disease loses the vast majority of his mental faculties, does he not lose his sense of spiritual consciousness as well? Are we to believe that though he can't feed or go to the bathroom by himself he would still be able to preach the gospel or pray with lucidity? Apparently, spiritual consciousness is just as integrally linked to our neurophysiological make-ups as is any other of our other cognitive capacities.

Perhaps most controversial of all, if what I'm suggesting is true, it would imply that God doesn't exist as something "out there," beyond and independent of us but rather as the product of an inherited perception, the manifestation of a biologically-based evolutionary adaptation that exists exclusively within the human brain. If such a hypothesis is correct, it would imply that there is no spiritual reality, no God or gods, no soul, and no afterlife. Such spiritual concepts as these would only exist as manifestations of the particular way that our species has been neurally "wired" to perceive reality. In such a light, humankind can no longer be viewed as a product of God, but rather, God must be viewed as a product of human evolution, the perceptual manifestation of our species' inherent cognitive processing.

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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A stunning disappointment

    Anyone with a solid education in science and philosophy will recognize this as a weak attempt by one poorly educated individual to justify his pre-formed conclusions. I forced myself through this book because I do NOT disagree with his conclusion that god is but a manifestation of neurochemical functioning in the brain (as is all consciousness). I was looking for the real, scientific meat of the argument, but he has articulated an inadequate, porous defense. In Alper's view, there is a gene for everything, including a "spiritual function" (a function posited on an a priori basis). As a result, he reaches some stunningly obtuse conclusions, such as his claim that atheists are "spiritually retarded." Unbelievable! He does not understand natural selection or evolution and, frankly, has a simplistic grasp of science that would leave him challenged to pass a rigorous college science exam (in whatever branch). Sorry to be so negative, but this was an absolute disappointment.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 15, 2011

    A book to make you think what it is all about

    A great read for the religious and the non-religious. It will enlighten your thinking process and give you hope for the future of man. If you are a believer, you can say God planned it this way. If you are not a believer, you can reflect on the wonderment of nature and how emotions,decision making, and the other mechanisms of the brain came to be. Either way, you will gain a renewed appreciation for who we and what we represent.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2003

    Disappointing pseudo scientific manipulation.

    While enjoying the personal begining, I was looking forward to a stimulating reading, only to be disappointed. The writing style is pleasant, the author's misuses of scientific trivia, with bold and unsupported statements and without any humility made it rather disapointing. It's the typical journey meant to justify one's choices, but if you are trying to get a sincere understanding of how to reconcile G-d's role in our life, I wouldn't recomend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 21, 2010

    THE book for curious minds

    I initially read "The 'God' Part of the Brain" over ten years ago, and I've read it several times since. There is so much to consider in this relatively brief book, as it very accessibly explores science, theology and philosophy, to arrive at its ultimate conclusion. I was a akeptic before reading it, but Alper allowed me to think about the questions of God and a spirtual realm in a way I never had before. I now feel completely at peace with my own nonbelief.

    I'd like to note that I have read a number of other books on the subject, curious what others might have to say, but have found none of them as satisifying or insigtful. I highly recommended "The 'God' Part of the Brain" for any open-minded reader. Even those that remain believers, seekers or skeptics after reading this thoughtful book will nevetheless be changed by the experience.

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  • Posted August 20, 2010

    An Amazing Book!!!

    I teach "Philosophy of Science" on a college level and have been successfully using this book to teach both graduate and undergraduate students for the past seven years. I can't speak highly enough of this work and would include it as a "classic" in philosophy. It is as bold as it is brilliant. The prose is clear and concise and oftentimes poetic. It is an interdisciplinary gem chock full of information that is as thoughtful as it is accurate. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in science and/or philosophy.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    Awesome

    Woderfull book, very well investigation, pure knoledge. A classic.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2010

    Just terrible

    That's really all that needs to be said about this book. It's a wonder any one published this pseudo-scientific nonsense. Don't waste your time. It's less a book about God or science and more a book about the author's life and half baked ideas. If you want to read an autobiography from an uneducated person believing he knows what he's talking about, then this is the book for you, but if you're looking to learn about God and the brain look elsewhere.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2006

    A Revolution of the Mind!!!

    Matthew Alper is high maintenance. Not only is his intellect superior to most Ph.D. candidates that I know, but his intensity in displaying that intellect and arguing his world view is more compelling than many of my grad school courses. So, here I am, fiercely advocating this unconventional, first time author who, with one slim book, has thrown hundreds of years of human religious beliefs out the window and replaced them with a concise scientific view of spirituality that is impossible to argue with...The brain is the secret. In our brains lie nature's survival mechanisms in which God is nothing but a protective lens through which humanity is programmed to view the world. Matthew Alper has the chutzpah to remove that lens, to crush it under his heel, and then, as we cringe in the unfiltered light, he dares us to look up and stare into the pure scientific truth he has discovered. The God Part of the Brain is a challenge at first, but once you open your mind to the potentials of its theories, there is nothing to do but follow its arguments to their logical conclusions. And although he rips away our old stiff crutches, this audacious philosopher is kind enough to spoon-feed us a new and positive way to approaching our existences.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2004

    Those of a religious bent beware!

    This is one of the better books that I have read dealing with Religious Studies and the study of the religious drive in humans. If you are a believer you had best be sure you have some thick skin and expect a further bifurcation of your 'religious' and 'scientific' mind. Matthew Alper has written a fascinating book that explores the idea of looking at homo sapiens proclivity for belief in god as something that can be traced to a physical cause (our brain structure) and compares that proclivity to other traits and characteristics such as hair color, smiling, organ development, etc. that are unique to all those who are of the species homo sapiens. All of the above are determined by our genetic makeup which determines the development and structure of our brain which is the organ that brings forth these behaviours, according to the paradigm presented by Mr. Alper. I especially enjoyed his treatment of language. The faculty of language has been quite often pointed at as a unique trait of our species and many religious have used our ability to speak as proof-positive of the paradigm that asserts our 'divine' origin'. As Mr. Alper convincingly shows, there is a better paradigm that both explains the origin and location of the ability to speak and understand language. I won't steal Mr. Alper's thunder but I will say that one would do well to read and reread this one chapter and let the implications of what Mr. Alper is saying sink in. He is looking at language through the paradigm of science and he produces a very power explanatory model with this paradigm. It is incumbent on those who disagree with the effectiveness of this paradigm to prove him wrong. This paradigm (the scientific paradigm) is the operative one in most of our thinking process, except in those areas which some humans have reserved as off-limits to scientific investigation because of various factors (I will let the reader be their own judge of other's motivations in these areas). For me, it seems apparent that these are the last areas where the biblical ideas of homo sapiens intrinsic specialness still are the operative view. The resistance that is put forth by believers who refuse to allow these areas to be studied by the scientific method and dismiss the conclusions that scientific studies produce as false because the inevitable result will be the closing of a few more gaps where their god currently resides. I have often wondered how religious folks who firmly believed that the earth was flat, or that it was really at the 'center' of the universe adapted when the facts of the matter became real to them. We may be able to study this psychological phenomenon when the thesis of the book becomes the working hypothesis of cognitive researchers which, I anticipate, it should in the very near future judging from some of the luminaries that wrote little blurbs for the inside covers. As Mr. Alper's thesis is acted upon by researchers in various fields that look to substantiate his proposals and develop working hypothesis regarding genetic structure and the location in the brain of belief structures and attempt to test them, we will begin to see that color blindedness, musical and language ability and the willingness or unwillingness to believe whatever myth the culture you happen to be born in holds as being the 'true' revelation from god are all determined by the genetic sequencing in each individuals DNA. Perhaps one day, we may be able to engineer scourges out of human existance such as breast cancer, cystic fibrosis, cancer, etc., and, if Mr. Alper is correct and I believe he is, there will be no more Jonestowns, Holy Inquisistions, World Trade Centers, Wacos and scores of other examples as this psychotic behaviour known as belief in the supernatural can be eliminated by some fortuitous genetic engineering.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2002

    A good summary of old conclusions.

    A word of warning ... this is <u>not</u> a scientific text. It is a story told in first person of one man's spiritual journey - an autobiography. For someone who is only beginning to search for truth in the subject, this book holds potential to be groundbreaking. Be forewarned, however, that <b>you will learn nothing new here - assuming you paid attention in high school</b>. The case studies and research that the educated reader will expect are largely absent. For some, the conclusions presented in this book may seem like incredible eye-openers. For others, this text will closely resemble the many conversations you've already had on the subject. 'The God Part' seems to have a tunnel vision. It follows one dangerously long path of educated assumptions and never stops to see if anything was missed. It tends to be repetitive - stressing points over and over with little solid backing - a lecturer who enjoys his own voice. The writing often seems course and/or careless. Again, if you are new to this subject, I highly recommend. If mediocre writing style doesn¿t bother you, this would make for an interesting read. But for veterans or discriminating readers, I encourage you to look elsewhere for new answers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 16, 2000

    My Quest

    I began skeptically reading Matthew Alper's book, as the subject is contradictory to everything I was taught throughout my childhood. For the first 15 years of my life, I never questioned the religious beliefs my family and church imposed on me. After that age, I began to have my own thoughts, and to wonder if what had been 'programmed' into me really existed. I began to doubt that I would experience eternal life, and began to be more inclined to believe that when I die, I will totally cease to exist. However, I never explored these possibilities, and chose rather to try to ignore my concerns and fears. I have been reasonably successful in subscribing to the 'ignorance is bliss' theory until I unexpectedly happened upon Matthew Alper's thought provoking, stimulating, and well written book. I read it in its' entirety today, and I feel that in some ways I may have opened Pandora's Box. But I also feel that thanks to Mr. Alper, I can now begin to form a solid foundation to explore these issues more thoro

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2000

    'For the Interests of Humanity'

    This book has Nobel written all over it!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2000

    Outstanding

    From cover to cover, this book is the best piece of writing that I have ever read.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2000

    The Birth of a New Science: Neuroreligion

    All 6 billion plus inhabitants of Earth should be in possession of this book. Matthew Alper's tome should be placed next to the sacred writings section in the libraries, bookstores and dwellings throughout the world. Matthew Alper is the new Galileo. (Watch your back Matthew!) Immensely important. Defines in a clear and concise manner what each of us already knew but were afraid to admit and exclaim. The cat's out of the bag....

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2000

    been there, did that

    I thoroughly enjoyed digesting Mr Alper's thesis. The only thing missing is my testimonial. I have one relative who had several months of obsessive compulsive prayer episodes in conjunction with a head injury. The episodes cleared up on their own with the added twist that the victim has no memory of them. And, I have another relative who died on an operating table who will tell you how much one should believe in NDE's and how it changed her outlook on life...how she can be at peace with herself and how she doesn't fear death anymore...yet her day to day actions and attitudes not only do not reflect this but are often downright unpleasent. As for the style in which the book is written,use of multiple examples of such things as various religions, gods, or practices is helpful to those who may not be aware of their existence, their correct context or to those in need of exact references. Of all the other books on this subject that I have read by more erudite authors, none have been this forthright with their ideas and that is what makes 'The God Part' an interesting read. Mr. Alper stakes his claim without apology or disrespect to others.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2000

    Good but.....

    While I agree in most part with Mr. Alper and his premise, I found the book to be a bit repeative in the beginning. The constant repeating of a position or examples well after the point has been made was tiresome. I found the beginning chapters where the foundations are being set down to be light in hard science and heavy on assumptions, albiet assumptions I lean towards. The book would be a good starting point for someone who is beginning to explore the subject, but the more advanced or indepth reader I believe would find it lacking.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2000

    A Spiritual Journey

    Just as did I, as a teenager Matthew Alper asked the big questions: Who is 'God' and what is my relation to him? Which, if any, of the hundreds of religions and sub-religions is correct? Why do religions change so much over time? How come every person's religious view is different from everybody else's? Just as I did, Alper began a personal search for the answers to these questions. He looked everywhere. Like me, he found that the answers to the big questions of 'faith' lie not 'out there' but within us. He then continued his search far beyond mine, came to many well-reasoned conclusions, then documented and explained his findings in 'The 'God' Part of the Brain'. This work draws on many scientific disciplines, including evolution, psychology, anthropology and history, to put into clear perspective the origin of the human need to seek a higher power and, more important, the effect this need has on humanity and its cultures. I found the book to be a 'revelation' of sorts in that it finally makes sense out of the din of competing religious views. In this book Matthew Alper shows an enviable commitment to truth, exacting logic and scholarly research as well as a vast intelligence as he explains his search and the answers he found. I did not want the book to end! It explains a very important part of what it means to be human. 'The 'God' Part of the Brain' has already made a very great, very positive impact on my life.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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