The religious experience

My latest read is a double biography of the fathers of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. (It’s titled, rather creatively, “Freud & Jung.”) Currently, I’m in the Freud section. Freud was known to be an atheist and rather dismissive of religion (hence my warm feelings for him.) Freud even wrote an entire book dismissing religion called “The Future of an Illusion.” When he sent a copy to religious friend, the friend reproached him for not understanding the true source of contentment found in religion. Freud reported…

This, he [the religious friend] says, consists in a particular feeling, which he himself is never without, which he finds confirmed by many others, in which he may suppose is present in millions of people. It is a feeling which he would like to call a sensation of ‘eternity’, a feeling of something limitless, unbounded — as it were, ‘oceanic’.

Of course, keen eyed readers of this blog have seen this feeling described before. In one blog post I described the book “My Stroke of Insight” in which…

…the author describes feelings of spiritual transcendence after suffering a serious left brain stroke. She describes feeling liquid, connected to the universe, and at some points incapable of delineating where her physical self ends and the rest of her environment begins.

The specificity of terms is interesting here. Freud’s friend described feeling “oceanic”, while this book’s author describes feeling “liquid.”

I also once mentioned a Los Angeles Times article on the use of LSD to treat various ailments. The article reported…

Delany said her “trip” awakened a deep and reassuring sense of “knowing.” She came to see the universe and everything in it as interconnected. As the music in her headphones reached a crescendo, she held her breath and realized it would OK — no, really easy — not to breathe anymore. She sensed there was nothing more she needed to know and therefore nothing she needed to fear about dying.

Can this sensation be explained in neurological terms? Again, quoting my post on “My Stroke of Insight”…

Today, I find myself scanning through an old New Yorker article, “God on the Brain.” (September 17, 2001.) The piece discusses the brain scans of Tibetan Buddhists and Franciscan nuns taken “before and at the peak of their transcendent feelings.” It notes…

Beforehand, the scan’s computer portrays the brain’s activity as a palette of fierce reds in rich yellows. During meditation or prayer, however, a marked color change was noted in a small region of the left side of the cerebrum called the parietal superior parietal lobe, which is just behind the crown of the skull. The flaming reds have turned into deep azure, signaling a substantial decline in activity.

3 Responses to “The religious experience”


  1. John Saleeby

    Hey, I was listening to a Crosby, Stills, Freud, And Jung CD just this morning! Ha ha ha!

    At’sa some joke, eh, Boss?

  2. Wil

    You know, he was never a permenent member of the group.

  3. John Saleeby

    I like him better with Crazy House.