Faith- An internal phenomenon
The existence of a fixed destiny has always been a source of speculation and fascination . The belief in the presence of an omniscient God who controls this destiny generates an environment of hope and the possibility of rewriting this indelible script. Factors that are beyond ones control contribute substantially to destiny . Faith, religious practices and spirituality serve as shock absorbers to negotiate the uncertainty and unpredictability in the journey of life. It is vital as a source of hope and optimism in trying times. Religion becomes a conduit between man and his faith- the tangible manifestation of the intangible. Faith modulates the internal rather than the external. Faith is fulcrum on which conviction and self-confidence are hoisted. This fulcrum can take any form. The objective is to derive mechanical advantage in accomplishing a task. Faith transforms the individual and not the environment. It lights up a lamp within to dispel darkness and gloom. The faith of an individual can hardly have any effect on this vast external universe, but it certainly is potent enough to transform the universe within. The external universe is largely a function of perception. Faith, effects a change in the perception rather than a change in environment or in the circumstances. Faith that is inherited as a legacy in the form of religious beliefs is a default setting. It is more a matter of conditioning and not necessarily founded on any elective choice. Such ritualistic faith can be a source of disharmony but that would be like arguing about the routes that have a common destination.
A new branch of research called Neurotheology attempts to provide a structural and neurobiological basis to faith, religious beliefs and spirituality. The SPECT images have brought scientists closer to investigating and documenting a transcendent experience. SPECT scanning of a subject in the midst of a prayer or whilst meditating lit up the prefrontal cortex- the seat of attention, situated in the frontal lobes lit up. More surprising was the inhibition or quietening of a bundle of neurons in the parietal lobe, situated near the top and back of the brain. This region, also called "orientation association area," processes information about space and time, and the orientation of the body in space. This area helps delineate the precise physical extent of the body .
The orientation area depends on sensory data to generate this sense of a discrete body. If the pathways carrying this sensory data are blocked, the brain is forced to perceive the self without any discrete limited existence. Deep faith and conviction modify cognition and induce harmony with the environment which mitigates apprehensions and fears. An ability to remain calm and unruffled in trying circumstances is very critical to work out a solution. Success is more often a matter of perseverance rather than performance. Faith and conviction in any benevolent power helps decrease the sense of helplessness and instil a positivity and emotional reinforcement . Meditation induces a state , where the individual self merges with the universe, leading to a so- called state of dissolution of discreteness and limited existence.
This emerging modality of Neurotheology suggests that irrespective of the object of faith and belief, the neural correlates and pathways for their perception are common across cultures, and across faiths. It underlines the fact that faith is generic. It is more an end and makes all arguments on the means superfluous.
Dr. Deepak M. Ranade.( The author is a consultant Neurosurgeonemail@example.com)