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

by Matthew Alper

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

by Matthew Alper

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A thought-provoking study of science and religion about our human need to believe in a higher power, for spiritual seekers and atheists alike.

In The God Part of the Brain, Matthew Alper pioneers a radical theory: the human inclination toward spirituality and belief in a higher power can be attributed to a specific part of our brain. This bold hypothesis takes us on an exciting journey that merges science, philosophy, and spirituality in a unique way.

Alper engages readers with compelling arguments based on neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and anthropology, provoking profound thought on the nature of existence and our inherent need for spiritual meaning as a coping mechanism that emerged in humans to help us survive our unique and otherwise debilitating awareness of death. His narrative is accessible yet deeply profound, providing insights that stimulate both intellectual curiosity and spiritual introspection.

Key Features:

  • Groundbreaking Hypothesis: Presents a bold new theory about the neuroscientific basis of human spirituality.
  • Interdisciplinary Approach: Combines insights from neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and anthropology to explore spiritual experiences.
  • Intellectually Stimulating: Challenges readers to contemplate profound questions about existence, faith, and the human mind.
  • Accessible Narrative: Engages readers with a narrative that is both informative and accessible, regardless of their scientific background.
  • Provocative and Thoughtful: Invites deep introspection about our inherent need for spiritual meaning.

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." —

"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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402214523
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 09/01/2008
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 514,001
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

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.

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.'"

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?

Table of Contents



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


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

What People are Saying About This

Art Bell

Hauntingly Logical...Fascinating
—(Art Bell; Coast to Coast AM)

Elena Rusyn

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, Ph.D.; Gray Laboratory; Harvard Medical School)

Mark Waldman

Alper uses a Socratic method to brilliantly and flawlessly argue that our concepts of God are derived from the mechanics of the brain...enormously important...full of scientific and philosophical truths.
—(Mark Waldman; Senior Editor, Transpersonal Review; Author of Love Games)

Edward O. Wilson

—(Edward O. Wilson, Two-Time Pulitzer Prize-Winner)

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