The Neuroscience of Religious/Spiritual/Mystical Experiences
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Reports of religious/spiritual/mystical experiences (RSMEs) are found throughout history and across different cultures and religions. The experience is commonly described as a content-free consciousness, or a feeling of oneness with the universe, and has been proven to positively influence ones mental and physical health. Yet what happens in the brain that causes these experiences is still largely a mystery. This literary review discusses all neuroimaging studies currently existing on RSMEs with the aim of discovering a neural correlate and explanation for the subjective experiences. The existing research suggests activation in the prefrontal cortex, decreased activation in the posterior parietal cortex, and a possible relation between the two. These changed activations could be the result of the sensory deprivation used to achieve RSME or could be the cause of certain aspects of the experience. Much is still unclear as many of the studies have significant methodological issues. It is thus not possible to establish a neural correlate yet. Further research can however learn from these experimental studies in this new field to achieve methodological sound setups, which will advance the field further.