From the dawn of our species, every human culture—no matter how isolated—has believed in some form of a spiritual realm. According to author Matthew Alper, this is no mere coincidence but rather due to the fact that humans, as a species, are genetically predisposed to believe in the universal concepts of a god, a soul and an afterlife. This instinct to believe is the result of an evolutionary adaptation—a coping mechanism—that emerged in our species to help us survive our unique and otherwise debilitating awareness of death.
Spiritual seekers and atheists alike will be compelled and transformed by Matthew Alper's classic study of science and religion. The 'God' Part of the Brain has gained critical acclaim from some of the world's leading scientists, secular humanists, and theologians, and is as a must read for anyone who has pondered the question of God's existence, as well as the meaning of our own.
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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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, 'II hardly know, sir, just at presentat least I knew who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.'"
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 spiritwould 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 spiritfixed, 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 moleculesraw mattercould 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 selfmy allegedly immortal soulwas 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 consciousnesswhat I previously believed might constitute a soulI 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 thoughtshuman consciousnesswere 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 mepure 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 neurophysiologicalthat is, scientificperspective.
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?
Table of ContentsPrologue
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
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
About the Author