Thursday, November 4, 2010

God Soul Mind Brain: A Neuroscientist's Reflections on the Spirit World, by Michael S. Graziano

156 pp., Leapfrog Press, September 2010, ISBN 9781935248118

Michael Graziano is a professor of neuroscience at Princeton. He freely identifies himself as an atheist, and suggests that he may somewhere on the autism spectrum and that this may affect his view of the world and of people.

Graziano argues that a belief in God is not imaginary, a delusion, or even a "belief" in the usual sense, but rather a perception that grows directly out of the same neural circuitry that allows us to perceive consciousness not only in other people, but in ourselves. We (those of us who are religious) perceive God in the world for the same reasons we perceive consciousness and personality in other people--because evolution has created the machinery in the brain that allows social animals to predict and understand each other's behavior. This is an essential ability for animals in complex social relationships, and like other abilities, likely varies in degree between individuals. Graziano suggests that the ability is somewhat less intense than average in people with some degree of autism, and that it may be stronger than average religious visionaries, those who see ghosts, and others with a higher than average degree of engagement with the "spirit world."

The discussion of the "spirit world," however, is only a part of this book, and although it's the obvious interest, in fact I found the overall discussion of how the mind and consciousness originate in the brain, and key developments in neuroscience related to this, to be every bit as fascinating. This is a short book, and an easy read considering its subject matter. There's an ample bibliography for those interested in further reading, but you won't be tripping over footnotes while zipping through the main text.

Highly recommended if you're at all interested in the subject.

Note:: I received a free electronic galley from the publisher via NetGalley