Through the Wormhole s03e10 Episode Script

Did We Invent God?

Freeman: From the dawn of history, humans have believed in divine forces that created our world.
And today most of us still pray to a higher power.
But is God really out there? Scientists are now searching for the divine in the most unlikely places in virtual reality labs in the minds of chimpanzees and in the old clothes of a serial killer.
The path to God is taking an unexpected turn.
Did we invent God? Space, time, life itself.
The secrets of the cosmos lie through the wormhole.
The quest for scientific knowledge has taken us on a breathtaking journey of discovery.
We've unraveled the physics that govern the heavens and the tiny atoms that form our bodies.
But science has not yet found proof that God created all this.
Now there's a new place to look for an answer.
Because recent research suggests the truth may not be out there, but in here, inside all of us.
Did God invent humanity, or did we invent God? When I was 12 years old, I lost someone very close, someone who was far too young.
I just could not make sense of it.
I was told he was with God in Heaven.
But I just could not understand why, if God was out there, he would take him from me.
And so that day, I began to wonder if God, Angels, and Heaven were all just make-believe.
Psychologist Jesse Bering is trying to understand how and when children come to believe in God.
It's a career path that, from the beginning, has gotten him into trouble.
Bering: I was at a friend's house, and his mother, as a German immigrant, had a collection of eggs that were decoratively painted.
Nobody was home.
We were just kind of goofing around, and I just caught a glimpse of this egg out of the corner of my eye.
I picked it up.
I was fascinated by it.
As I picked it up, I accidentally cracked the egg.
And then I just pretended like nothing happened.
A couple of days later, she discovered the cracked egg.
And she was basically interrogating all the local children to find out who actually committed this heinous act of breaking her precious egg.
When I was asked if I did it, I said, "absolutely not.
"I don't know what you're talking about.
I swear to God that I didn't do it.
" And then the matter was just dropped.
Nobody ever talked about it again.
"If he's willing to sort of invoke God in his defense, then he must be telling the truth.
" Freeman: Like most children who escape punishment for their crimes, Jesse could not escape the haunting that followed.
I started having nightmares, all the misfortunes that were happening to me.
You know, a splinter getting in my hand I attributed to God sort of giving me a sign he was punishing me because I had lied about this.
The interesting thing, I suppose, is that I -- you know, I didn't come from a very religious background.
Freeman: When Jesse grew up to become a scientist, he set out to understand why he had sensed the retribution of God in his youth.
And so he built a psychological experiment to probe just what is going on inside the developing minds of children.
To them, Jesse's experiment appears to be a simple game.
Well, almost simple.
So, what were the rules? Who remembers the three rules? Don't pass that line.
Boy: Keep your hands behind your back.
Keep one hand behind your back.
You got to throw with the hand that you don't usually use, right? What was the third rule? Throw it like that.
Yeah, you got to throw it with your back turned to the board.
You can't -- you can't face it.
Freeman: It's an all but impossible game to win, but Jesse's not keeping score.
All he cares about, as he watches from the side room, is whether the children cheat.
Bering: He thinks he's alone.
He thinks he's alone in the room.
We want to see if he actually follows the rules.
Oh, there he goes.
He actually steps over the line, so he's broken one of the rules.
Sort of flirting dangerously with breaking some more rules.
Oh, there we go, a very egregious violation -- placing it right in the middle.
Not atypical.
I think most kids, if they think that they're not being watched, they're gonna revert to this type of behavior.
Freeman: With children age 6 to 7, a little cheating is par for the course.
But now Jesse brings in a new group of kids.
Here they are.
He and his assistant prep them for the same game.
You can't go over that line.
Only this time, Jesse adds a supernatural twist.
Bering: The children wearing the blue shirts, they're going to hear about somebody sitting in this chair.
It might look like an empty chair to us, but, in fact, we tell these kids there's an invisible woman sitting in this chair.
Now, that sounds a little scary, but we make her very friendly.
We say this is Princess Alice, and Princess Alice is a magic princess.
She's got this special ability to make herself invisible.
Well, maybe she's just -- you can't feel her, but that doesn't mean that she's not there.
She's just invisible.
All I can feel is just here.
That's all you can feel? Freeman: Most of this group of children act like they don't believe in Princess Alice.
But when they're left alone, their behavior tells a different story.
Bering: She's already thrown all four of the balls.
I don't think that she actually got any of them to stick on the dart board, and she's not interested in cheating.
I think she's being pretty true to the law here.
Oh, here she goes.
She's -- this is what we see sometimes with children.
They actually run their hand over the chair, as though they're sort of testing or trying to feel Princess Alice.
And she actually said earlier that she didn't believe in Princess Alice.
That just shows you the power of belief, really.
Freeman: Jesse has performed this experiment with hundreds of children.
Hardly any of the kids who are told about Princess Alice cheat.
They intuitively feel she's really there, watching them.
Bering: What we're really seeing here is an untarnished view of human nature.
I mean, these are really young kids.
These are 6- and 7-year-olds.
You know, they've been told all sorts of things, but they haven't been told about Princess Alice.
Freeman: Jesse believes that regardless of their upbringing, children's minds are hardwired to believe in a hidden world of spirits, a place where princess Alice or God might exist.
But why do such beliefs take hold? Bruce Hood is one of Britain's leading psychologists.
His work recently won him an invitation to give the Royal Institution's Christmas lecture series, one of the country's highest scientific honors.
Bruce is researching the psychological foundation of all religious beliefs.
It's a work that started one day when he was watching his sleeping daughter.
He was not contemplating the miracle of life, but rather her blanky.
Hood: It's a grubby little cloth, and I'm sure parents will recognize this thing.
Now, what starts off as a little bit of self soothing, soon these objects take on very strange qualities, almost as if they're alive.
Children even talk to them.
They think they've got feelings.
They make them almost humanlike, which is extraordinary when you think about it 'cause it's just a piece of cloth.
Freeman: Bruce wanted to find out why children believe these objects are so special.
So, he performed an experiment with young kids and a magic machine.
Bruce told the children it would make a perfect copy of their toys, thanks, in fact, to the help of a hidden researcher.
He then told them they were allowed to keep only one toy and must throw away the other.
Nearly every child chose the original and tossed the copy.
Hood: They needed the original one back.
And I think it's because they're thinking in an essentialist way.
This is an idea that we view the world with this additional dimension.
Freeman: Essentialism is the belief that certain objects have a hidden essence, one that cannot be transferred to a copy even if it looks absolutely identical.
It is a conviction young children hold strongly.
But do we outgrow this sense of a hidden essence? Bruce found an answer by turning his lectures into an experiment, one that he's trying out today on the staff of the Royal Institution.
I was in New York last year, and I bought Einstein -- one of Einstein's fountain pens.
So this is an original Einstein pen.
I'm very proud of this, if you like to have a look.
In fact, you're welcome to hold it and pass it along.
Now, I happen to have another thing here.
This is a cardigan.
It belonged to Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer who murdered 17 people and brutally cut them up, ate them, and did some very despicable things.
Now, would you like to pass that along and hold it? The cardigan itself? Yeah.
Would you put it on? I won't put it on, no.
No? Freeman: Most of us are revolted by the thought of wearing the sweater of a serial killer, no matter how many times it may have been cleaned.
Well, I have to let you into a secret.
It's not Jeffrey Dahmer's sweater at all.
But just the thought of it belonging to the serial killer, for most people, it's repulsive and repugnant.
And, sad to say, this isn't Einstein's pen.
It's just a regular fountain pen.
Freeman: Bruce believes this sense that sacred and evil essences can contaminate the material world is the most primal form of human spirituality, a foundation upon which every religion is built.
Hood: I think religions capitalize on this assumption that there is hidden structure.
What religions do is they provide a framework, a narrative which allows people to try and put these forces together in a meaningful way.
Freeman: Psychologists like Bruce argue that this innate spiritual intuition might be an artifact of our intelligent minds trying to make sense of a chaotic world.
But this innate belief in a hidden spiritual dimension is often reinforced by experience, because one in 10 of us will visit this mysterious realm in an out-of-body experience.
When we leave our bodies, do we meet God? Is there a reality beyond the world we see? A place where God and spirits live? Some people believe they have glimpsed this hidden world in an out-of-body experience.
Are these phenomena proof of the existence of God? Neurologist Olaf Blanke is trying to discover what really happens during an out-of-body experience.
Blanke: What is very typical for this out-of-body phenomenon is that it is felt.
It's highly spiritual.
You know, think about it.
You feel separated.
Your mind is physically -- or you experience as separated from your body.
So, how could this be? This doesn't fit.
Freeman: Most people who have had an out-of-body experience report being spirited away to a hidden realm.
But Olaf suspects these voyages to the beyond take place purely inside our heads.
Because while diagnosing one of his epileptic patients for treatment, he sent a mild current to electrodes implanted in her brain and inadvertently triggered an out-of-body experience.
Blanke: She had the impression that she herself would be under the ceiling of the stimulation room and to be looking down, seeing herself, her body, as well as the people sitting around her.
Freeman: Olaf had sent a mild stimulating current to his patient's temporoparietal junction, or TPJ.
This automatized body representation, when we stimulate it in this region in this one patient, could not fuse where you see your body and where you feel your body.
And this kind of discoherent representation may lead to an out-of-body experience.
Freeman: The TPJ is the brain's navigator, rather like the captain of a submarine who can't actually see where his vessel is heading but has to rely on indirect measurements of his position, like water-pressure readings and sonar pings.
[ Sonar pinging ] If the data coming into the TPJ is interfered with, the navigation system can become disoriented.
The TPJ could tell you you are upside down or somewhere you really aren't.
[ Crash! ] [ Blink! Blink! Blink! ] If his hypothesis was correct, Olaf realized that out-of-body experiences might also be induced in any brain, epileptic or not, by tampering with people's senses.
And to achieve this effect in a healthy subject without implanting electrodes, Olaf built a cutting-edge virtual-reality laboratory.
Virtual reality gives us the possibility in the research lab to disassociate touch from sight of our participant's body.
So, for this experiment, you will stand with your feet in front of there.
Then I will put this on your head, and you will follow instructions on the screen.
Freeman: The subject sees a live feed from a camera placed behind her back.
She feels a gentle stroke on her back, but sees the stroking as if her body is actually two feet in front of her mind.
Blanke: So the brain is exposed to a spatial conflict, and being exposed to this spatial conflict for a long time, people start identifying with the avatar rather than with their physical body.
Freeman: When asked to move back from where they are standing and then return to the same spot, the subjects always end up not in their original position, but two feet forward -- precisely where their virtual avatar appeared to be.
The feeling is -- it's very strange at the beginning, but it's actually very pleasant.
It's more like my mind -- like my body is more the one I'm seeing, which is actually my body, but it's more like I'm there where I see myself to be.
Freeman: When Olaf performed this experiment with the subject wearing an E.
sensor, he discovered that the brain's temporoparietal junction was highly active.
The TPJ was struggling to create a cohesive reality out of the conflicting sensory input, and the net result was the sensation that she might be outside her body.
Olaf believes that when we have an out-of-body experience, we never leave our bodies, and the entities we sense are nothing more than phantoms of the brain.
But believers sense God in their lives every day, not just in these rare and intense moments.
Many of us see the hand of God constantly shaping the world around us, and this psychologist believes she knows why.
Why did she die so young? Why did the hurricane destroy our town? Why did he win the lottery? To many believers, it's all part of God's plan.
But psychologists are now asking another question.
Why do we always ask why? Could the urge to find reason in our lives have driven us to invent God? Jennifer Whitson is a psychologist at the University of Texas Austin.
She studies how human beings interpret meaning from signs and events in the world around them.
Her interest in the subject began when she was a girl and became obsessed with a deck of Tarot cards.
Whitson: When I was in high school, I got really excited about Tarot cards.
I had my own deck, and I was, you know, drawing all the cards all the time.
They did make me feel like I was connected to a greater pattern in the universe in some way, that the cards were giving me deeper insight than I could manage on my own.
Freeman: The uncanny ability of Tarot cards or a fortune teller to see events in our lives is something many of us have experienced.
And by the time Jennifer earned her PhD, she scientifically understood why.
Our brains connect things.
They just do it naturally.
So, when you draw the cards, your brain will still just jump right in and start saying, "Oh, I am having trouble with that.
"Oh, that is a challenge.
Oh, maybe I am overlooking this.
" It's like magic.
Your brain will just start to make a story for you.
So, even though I don't believe that they're doing anything, even though I see them as just sort of a random collection of various symbols and meanings it's still really fun to watch my brain knit things together for me.
Freeman: Nearly every religion teaches that the events taking place in the world really are connected.
They're all part of a divine scheme, whether it be called karma, the will of God, or Qadar Allah.
When catastrophes strike, many believers see these tragedies as the work of a higher power brought about for reasons that we may not fully understand, whereas others see these same events as nothing more than random chance.
Jennifer devised a psychological study to try to understand why people might develop such different mind-sets.
Whitson: They came into the study, and we said, "Hey, you're going to see a series of paired symbols "on the computer screen.
"The computer has generated these symbols using a concept.
It's your job to figure out what that concept is.
" We didn't give them any feedback about whether they were right or wrong, so they had complete control over that task.
Freeman: This task is, however, a calculated trick to get the participants feeling in a secure frame of mind before the real test -- searching for patterns in images of white noise.
Whitson: Then we simply show you an image of static, a still photograph of just noise, and we say, very simply, "Do you see anything here -- yes or no? If so, what?" Freeman: Each participant who looked at the white noise saw it as completely random and meaningless.
Now Jennifer repeats the same experiment with a new group, but for their warm-up, Jennifer has preprogrammed the computer to utterly frustrate them.
Whitson: The feedback that you receive is random.
And so, you are randomly being told that you're correct or incorrect no matter what it is you do.
Freeman: This second set of subjects all believe they have utterly flunked the initial test, and when they begin looking at the white-noise images, they do so feeling they are not in control of their surroundings.
And Jennifer documented how it changed their perception of the random images of noise.
Whitson: Looking at them purely objectively, the answer should be no every time -- no, no, no.
But what we see is that when people lack control, they're significantly more likely to say, "Yes, I see something in this image.
There's something there.
" Freeman: Jennifer's work shows that lack of control encourages our brain to seek patterns in what otherwise would be randomness.
All of these false patterns, all of these illusory patterns are connected.
All of them are influenced by lacking control.
So, when people lack control, they're more likely to see trends in the stock market that don't exist.
They're more likely to see conspiracies in the world around them that don't exist, because it's our instinctive sense to try and react to the situation which we lacked control by making sense of it, understanding it, even if it's a false understanding.
Freeman: This effect could explain why religion is so successful among the poor and disenfranchised.
Whenever people feel like their lives are out of control, God helps them make sense of things.
There is a lot of randomness in our lives.
There is a lot of chaos.
There are many, many, many things we do not control.
And so we have to pick out of that chaos things that are meaningful to us to make a sensible story out of our lives.
Psychologists believe that our intelligent minds constantly strive to make sense of the world.
For every action, there must be a cause.
But there are other intelligent creatures on the planet.
Do they believe in God? In every civilization on earth, people perform religious rituals.
Buddhists chant.
Hindus draw shapes in chalk.
Christians baptize.
Scientists now believe our spiritual behavior stems from our advanced intelligence.
If this is the case, do other intelligent creatures experience God? Danny Povinelli of the University of Louisiana is a world-renowned expert in comparative psychology.
He's a meticulous scientist who intimately studies the mind of chimpanzees.
Povinelli: I first became interested in chimps when I was 14.
And I had read all of the work about how they could use sign language and do all of these fabulous things with tools.
And so I thought they were pretty much hairy human children that couldn't quite speak, and the scientific story was that meant they were self-aware.
You know, for a young, introspective teenager, that meant there might be another organism out there on earth that was asking the same existential questions I was about what it meant to be alive.
That's good stuff.
No, this one's mine.
This is mine.
You got one.
Freeman: And for Danny, the most important existential question a thinking creature could ask was, is there a God out there? So, when he grew up to become a scientist, he developed a series of tests to explore the difference between the way chimps and humans think about the world.
We're gonna give Billy a little test here -- a really short object and a long object.
We're gonna see if Billy knows which one to use.
Go ahead, Billy.
Go ahead.
Go ahead.
But you can see he knows to use the long one here to get the treat that he wants.
Good job.
Good job.
Freeman: Billy the chimp immediately knows that only the longer stick will reach the Gummy Bears.
The short and long sticks are obviously different to him.
But for chimps, not all tools are as easy to tell apart as they are for us.
Okay, now, we're gonna try something a little bit different.
In this experiment, the goal is to crush a nut with one of two blocks.
The blocks look identical, but, in reality, have different weights.
You know which one's a good one to crack the nut? How do you know? Because the pillow's going down more than that one.
Well, why does that mean that that's the good one? Because this one's more heavier.
Well, let's see if you're right.
[ Laughs ] Good job.
I love these things.
I'm gonna eat one.
Good job.
Good work.
Give me five.
Now Billy takes a crack at the same problem.
We're gonna see if Billy can immediately figure out which one to use.
Go ahead, Billy.
Good job, Billy.
That's the hard way, Billy.
That's the hard way.
Try it the easy way.
Crack it.
Crack it, Billy.
There you go.
There you go.
Good job, Billy.
Good job.
Freeman: The ability to understand that objects can have hidden properties like weight appears to be beyond chimps.
But how about understanding that other living beings have something hidden under their skulls? Can chimps sense the minds of others? Povinelli: Theory of mind is our ability to empathize with other people and imagine what it might be like to be in that other person's perspective from a certain point of view.
We know that a chimp like Billy can approach someone, make a gesture, look up into their eyes and ask for cookies if he wants them or a Gummy Bear, but does Billy realize that someone can actually see him, there's an inner visual experience? Freeman: Danny came up with another experiment to test whether chimpanzees possess a theory of mind.
Watch this.
He shows Billy two pairs of sunglasses.
The blue ones are normal.
He can see out of them just fine.
But the yellow ones are blacked out on the inside.
When Billy puts them on, he's completely in the dark.
Now we're going to let Billy observe someone else wearing these sunglasses, and we're gonna see if he knows that only the person wearing the blue ones can actually see him.
Go ask for it.
Freeman: Even though chimps can easily distinguish the colors of the sunglasses, and they know the yellow ones are blacked out, Danny found that chimps approach food givers at random.
Chimps do not appear to know or care that other creatures are conscious beings.
But human beings already have a theory of mind at a very young age.
Povinelli: Go ask one for a Gummy Bear.
But you can't say a word and you got to stay at this side of the rope, okay? You ready? Uh-huh.
Oh, good job.
Good job.
Why did you ask her for one? Because she can see.
How do you know that he can't see you? Because there's paint on it.
How do you know she can see you? Because there's no paint.
Good job.
High five.
Nice job, Kelly.
By somewhere between 3 to 5 years of age, young children consolidate a human way of thinking about the world, that there are features of the world that they can directly grab ahold of with their hands, feel, smell, hear, taste, see.
And then there's a more abstract world, also, that bridges together these things -- things like force, mental states.
And unlike that, no matter what age a chimp is, even full adult chimps never seem to make that leap.
Freeman: We share our planet with chimpanzees and about 9 million other species.
But Danny believes that only Homo Sapiens is capable of believing in God because being able to perceive a divine consciousness requires a theory of mind, which we alone possess.
Povinelli: Chimps don't have rituals of any kind.
There are no cultural traditions that are passed on that are at the level of worship or praying.
They share with us a lot of abilities that we have, but the human mind has something different.
The core of religious experience involves not only sensing this divine mind, but also communicating with it.
Does God really answer our prayers? Or is it all just in our heads? The book of James says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, ask of God, and it shall be given.
" Hindus pray to Lord Shiva to protect them from harm.
Nearly all religions believe we can petition the divine for help or guidance, but how do we hear God's answers? Jesse Bering's psychological research has shown that children instinctively believe in supernatural entities from a very young age.
Now he's trying to figure out when they begin to believe those entities can communicate with them or send them signs.
We create a laboratory situation where unexpected things happen in the environment, and we find out the age at which they begin to see events happening that are unexpected as basically being signs.
Freeman: Jesse and his assistants secretly place a ball in one of two boxes and ask the children to guess which one.
However, he also lets them know they have a supernatural helper, his loyal sidekick, Princess Alice.
Bering: Princess Alice can make herself invisible.
That's her superpower.
She's gonna tell you when you pick the wrong box.
I don't know how she's gonna tell you, but somehow she'll tell you when you pick the wrong box.
Let's say that a kid puts their hand on top of the box and all of a sudden, they see this light flickering in the corner of the room.
The expectation would be that they would simply move their hand to the opposite box as though they understand that she is giving them a message or communicating with them.
Okay, now we're gonna see a 4-year-old and see how she responds to Princess Alice talking to her.
She looks at the light, but not terribly interested in it, doesn't seem to be motivated to move her hand to the opposite box.
Freeman: Jesse argues that belief in the divine requires a theory of mind, the ability to comprehend that other beings are thinking.
But two-way communication with a hidden entity requires something more.
Children must be able to understand that Princess Alice also has a theory of mind, that she, too, is aware that they have a mind -- a mind hard at work choosing a box.
Bering: And as simple as this might seem to us, this is actually a fairly sophisticated cognitive achievement.
He has to understand that Princess Alice is communicating with him.
Younger children can't do this.
It's only about age 7 or so -- 7, 8, 9 -- that we begin to see a clear indication that children are really beginning to understand Princess Alice as thinking about what they're thinking, understanding, in this case, that they don't know where the ball's actually hidden.
Freeman: Younger children may attribute the strange flickering light to Princess Alice, but they cannot comprehend that she's doing it to send them a message.
And while younger kids might pray to God, Jesse's work shows that only older children with more developed intelligence actually perceive answers to prayers in the world around them.
Princess Alice is basically being sort of a God by proxy.
She's making these happen like the light flashing on and off just like God would, in principle, create a thunderstorm to give one a message or create a parking lot opening up at just the right time.
Freeman: Jesse believes we develop the mental ability to read these messages whether we believe in God or not.
Jesse experienced this phenomenon firsthand when his mother, Alice, the inspiration behind Princess Alice, was dying.
Bering: She wasn't convinced absolutely that there was something after death, but she told me that if there was, she would come back somehow and give me a message and communicate with me.
Freeman: After she passed, Jesse was overwhelmed with grief, and as a scientist, he was shocked at what his mind did next.
When she died, the following evening, the wind chimes outside of her window where she had passed away started to move and make sound [ Wind chimes tinkling ] which was odd because there wasn't a lot of wind, and my mind immediately sort of leapt to the conclusion that this was my mother telling me that she was okay.
She was giving me a message not to worry about her, everything was fine.
[ Wind chimes tinkling ] It's completely unconscious.
It's not something deliberate that I was trying to do.
It just happened.
Belief is basically sort of the default setting for the human cognitive system.
It's seducing us with these very powerful intuitions that things happen for a reason.
Freeman: Jesse's work shows we all naturally develop the ability to receive messages from God.
Believers feel these messages are real.
Atheists argue they are just in our imagination.
And this neuroscientist is peering into our minds, trying to discover who is right.
What is real? We define reality by what we can see, hear, touch, smell, or taste.
Inside the brain, these senses exist as electrical signals.
For us, the entire sum of all reality is contained in this bundle of electrical wiring.
So, when our brains sense God does that make God real? Andy Newberg is the founding father of Neurotheology, a new branch of neuroscience that studies the effects of spirituality on the human brain.
It's a scientific quest he has pursued as long as he can remember.
Ever since I was a kid, I was very interested in trying to understand reality.
I was disturbed by the fact that everyone was looking at the same reality, and yet there were people with different religions and different political beliefs.
Freeman: Andy found a way to peer inside the brains of believers while they were in the midst of a religious ritual.
It's the highest of high-tech brain-imaging devices -- the SPECT scanner.
I'm gonna come in, and I'm gonna just inject you through the I.
with the gold, and I'm gonna try very hard not to disturb you or distract you or make any noise, and you're just gonna continue to do your prayer session until it's done.
This woman is a Presbyterian minister.
She's prayed to God daily for over 34 years.
Right now, she's deep in prayer.
At the height of her connection with God, Andy injects her with a harmless radioactive dye.
Over the course of the next few minutes as she continues to pray, the dye migrates to the parts of her brain where the blood flow is the strongest.
Newberg: The brain works in a very nice way that the more active a particular part is, the more blood flow it gets, and the less active it is, the less blood flow it gets.
Freeman: These are the images of her brain before and during her prayer.
The redder the shade, the more active the neural area is.
Newberg: This is the resting scan.
This is the prayer scan showing increased activity in the frontal lobes and in the language area of the brain.
Freeman: Andy has scanned hundreds of brains in the midst of their prayer rituals, from Muslim imams to Tibetan monks to meditating atheists.
Newberg: So, for example, when a person feels deeply focused on their prayer, we see increased activity in the focusing area of the brain.
Freeman: This area of the brain, the frontal lobe, is intensely active when we hold conversations.
It allows us to speak and to listen.
Andy believes that in Judeo-Christian prayer, the frontal lobe activates just as it would in normal conversation.
To the brain, talking to God is indistinguishable from talking to a person.
When we study Buddhist meditation, where they're visualizing something, we might expect to see a change or an increase of activity in the visual areas of the brain.
Freeman: In Buddhist practice, the divine is an abstract presence not a person who is directly spoken to, but rather an essence that can be visualized during deep meditation.
And when Andy looks at the brains of people who do not believe in God, he finds that simple, quiet meditation produces none of the brain activity of believers.
Newberg: This was a scan of an atheist -- we actually had them meditating or contemplating God -- showing that the frontal lobes don't activate as opposed to the person praying who does.
Freeman: To an atheist, God is unimaginable.
But to the believer, experiences of God are more than thoughts.
They are lived sensations and just as real as the physical world that we all sense.
So, it helps us to understand that at least when they're describing this to us, that they are really having this kind of an experience.
What I like to say is that the experience is at least neurologically real.
Freeman: Andy's brain studies show that all religions create neurological experiences that are just as real as if God physically existed in the world outside our brains.
And if God only exists inside our brains, that does not mean God is not real.
Our brains are where reality crystallizes for us.
Newberg: There's certainly this notion that there is something bigger than all of us here, and whether it's the whole universe or whether there is something beyond all of that, I'm still working on that.
And if I ever figure it out, I'll certainly let everyone know.
[ Chuckles ] Did we invent God or did God invent us? Our expeditions into the depths of the human mind are revealing that both ideas may be correct, because God is inseparable from the way we see the world.
The search for divine truth may now turn us away from the Heavens and towards the self, where God is woven into every fiber of our being, and our belief could be the very thing that makes us human.