For the past 25 years, I have had the great fortune to be able to work in an emerging field sometimes referred to as “neurotheology" :
The term itself reflects a hybrid, multidisciplinary approach that does not eliminate either the scientific or the spiritual side, but seeks to find ways of integrating them in such a way that helps us more deeply understand who we are as human beings.
I typically like to define neurotheology broadly so that the “neuro” side includes fields such as neuroscience, neuroimaging, psychology, and consciousness studies. The “theology” side includes theology itself, but also religious and spiritual practices, experiences, and beliefs. Today we have the ability to combine the best that both sides have to offer to deepen our understanding of ourselves and what it means to be human.
With that in mind, neurotheology has profound implications for the study of consciousness in terms of both its potential material and non-material aspects (or local and non-local aspects). After all, many spiritual traditions embrace the notion of altered states of consciousness that might arise through various rituals and practices. These altered states of consciousness may manifest as spiritual experiences of varying types, near death experiences, and ultimately some of the most powerful mystical or enlightenment experiences known to human beings. In addition, many religious and spiritual traditions acknowledge aspects of the world that go beyond the purely material and may include spiritual healing, the notion of spirits or angels, psychic concepts,...
ANDREW RESPONDS TO PATRICK:
Could the new musical or creative gifts that can come after an NDE be brought on by damage to the left side of the brain, forcing the right side to become more dominant?? Is the soul separate from the brain?
It is possible that as changes occur in one part of the brain, previously dormant abilities are "released". It may not be as simple as a left vs right thing. For example, some elements of music are more left sided because of the mathematical and systematic aspects of music.
The right hemisphere tends to be the more creative side, but often needs the left hemisphere to fully express this creativity. However, the overall thought that as various parts of the brain are affected by a given injury, other parts can take over or become enhanced in their functioning, can certainly happen.
As to whether the soul is separate from the brain, that depends on your perspective of the soul. If you consider the soul the part of us that makes human beings unique, then the soul could be material and based on brain functions that enable us to have language, love, compassion, and creativity.
On the other hand, from a religious/spiritual perspective, the soul is something that is immaterial and connects us with God or some universal consciousness. If that is the case, the soul likely interacts with the brain, but is still separate from the brain. Of course, where the soul actually is may be difficult to determine given such a perspective. My field of work, neurotheology, encourages us to explore all of the possibilities and also take into account the possibility that...