Home > Uncategorized > Transcendence?


A Buddhist acquaintance of mine asked me where I would experience a sense of transcendence and oneness now that I’ve moved away from religious belief.  My initial response was:  what could provide a greater sense of oneness with the world than looking at all of life through Darwinian lenses?  To appreciate the reality that all life forms on earth have evolved incrementally over millions of years from a common beginning is a far more wonderful and jaw-dropping insight than anything the Bible has to offer.

Plus, transcendence is rather over-rated anyway.  Most believers do not spend very much of their lives at all in a state of transcendent bliss.   Those religious “highs”  tend to be very fleeting and probably don’t have much to do with religion anyway.

Brain scans of Buddhist monks in deep meditation and Catholic nuns in intense prayer indicate unusually low activity in the posterior superior parietal lobe.  (See “The Believing Brain”, by Michael Shermer, p. 154)

This finding alone would indicate that states of religious bliss and transcendence have little or nothing to do with the actual tenets of religious faith.  Buddhist monks and Catholic nuns hold radically different, and sometimes contradictory, beliefs about the nature of the world and God.  So their theology or philosophy could not possibly be the cause of any state of religious transcendence.   The simple act of meditation without reference to religious belief can have the same effect.

Scientists have also been able to cause patients to experience out-of-body sensations by electrically stimulating certain regions of the brain.

It really is “all in our head!”



Categories: Uncategorized
  1. November 9, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Transcendence could be whatever one makes it to be.

    I would argue that ALL “highs” are fleeting. If transcendence is a “high”, then it could be a drug of choice that takes away pain for a little while, thrill seeking – bungie jumping off a bridge, yoga, sex…

    Take a brain scan of anyone who’s doing something that makes them feel good.

  2. Mulegirl TX
    December 22, 2011 at 6:49 am

    I love this point about the awe of the world that natural (and sexual) selection has created! I remember the first days after my “awakening” to truth. I could spend HOURS watching a butterfly, being awestruck at how it and the flower it fed on co-evolved, and how that came to be. I never in my life had felt such joy! Actually, I can still, many years later, spend hours pondering that!

    And more importantly, after becoming atheist and beginning my intense studies of the impact of evolution on the behavior of all beings, I no longer had those nagging questions of “why would god allow such and such bad behavior,” “what am I *supposed* to do?” (accompanied by too much angst and hand-wringing), etc.

    Suddenly, viewed through this lens, the world and people in it actually DID make sense!! OMG! By facing reality, I now live a much, much happier life. So much brain power gets freed when you no longer spend all your time trying to cling desperately to “beliefs” in the face of questions that can be answered so easily if you only will face the possibility that the answer may not be what you would prefer.

    But, then, I’m extremely lucky to have been born to parents who not only had a scientific sense, but also believed powerfully in teaching each child how to think critically and clearly.

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