Epileptic seizures have always been at the center of attraction for all who study about spiritual emotions. Epilepsy is caused by a kind of misfiring that occurs untimely in a set of neurons in ones brain. Any part of the brain can go berserk like that, but most commonly the Temporal lobes (that part of brain that is close to your ears on both sides) are the seat of such misfiring. This results in stimulation of other areas of the brain too. For example if the stimulation is on the motor areas, you experience a kind of dancing or rhythmic writhing movements of your limbs (called Jacksonian march in med lingo). If this happens around areas of sensations, you might experience peculiar (familiar or unfamiliar) tastes or smell or very often hear voices. Remember that Temporal lobes hold the areas of Speech, hearing, word comprehension and eloquence. When these conditions are worsened by other conditions like Schizophrenia or Paranoia, you start feeling as if someone is guiding or commanding you.
Now, what’s so much about epilepsy?
The limbic system gets its input signals from all sensory systems. After processing these signals, the Limbic system decides the appropriate emotional response to the experience. This outward expression is guided tightly by Hypothalamus, through the release of chemical signals called hormones. You thus decide to cry/shout at/ flee from/weep/moan or feel ecstatic as is the response from brain.
As I said earlier, you can have epileptic activity in any region of your brain. And the most striking response of people with such a misfiring in the Limbic System is “….a feeling of divine presence..”. They suddenly start to see profound cosmic significance in even trivial objects or experiences. They very often say that they “…suddenly received answers to all of their life’s queries…!” All these responses have been documented through simulation studies using electromagnetic signal stimulation of specific brain areas in labs. These kind of people who have auto-stimulation of Limbic system are also eloquent about their trivial personal experiences. They keep elaborate diary notes of day to day experiences, keep preaching about being “selected by god to reveal the truth” and quite often claim to hear “angels” speak..!!
Some near-death experiences have been evoked experimentally in people, at the Laurentian University by Michael Persinger and at the Centre for Brain at University of California by VS Ramachandran. The lack of oxygen in these areas of the brain during near death situations triggers epileptic firings in Limbic System, which in turn result a flurry of the so called “visions of the nether world”.
What is the Evolutionary significance of this kind of neural responses.? Why have we evolved such a mechanism?
Think again… trace our steps back…We said at the outset, that such activities are very often found in or around the areas of Speech, hearing, word comprehension and eloquence. A person who is naturally prone to such “tickling” of the emotion-centers of the brain, is a natural born leader. He keeps thinking that he is “the chosen one” and keeps preaching ideas that later add up to social rituals and finally culminate in a belief-sect or a religion. The history of religions stands testimony to this.
And what about the common man? He is endowed with a limbic system that makes him inclined to believe/experience spirituality and the so called “oneness with the divine”. As age progresses, the conglomeration of these “experiences” during his life time makes him more religious. This mechanism has great socio biological significance as it is a “selfish” mechanism that improves the bondage within a particular clan /religious sect / family. Nature in short favors this trait genetically, because it makes a person loyal to his community. And a loyal member always ensures better survival and protection of that community’s genome.
Celebrations, festivals and religious “get togethers” always have a spiritual flavor because of this reason. They are evolutionary mechanisms aimed at bringing together, people sharing same ideology.
A terrorist dying in the name of jihad or a Swayam Sevak fanatic bringing down a mosque in the name of “patriotism” might all be exaggerated evolutionary expressions of this loyalty to ones own group…!