Todd Murphy

Religion, Spirituality &
Michael LaTorra
New Mexico State University, USA
What is Trans-Spirit?
• Trans-Spirit is a transhumanist
approach to religion & spirituality
•Trans-Spirit is not a new religion
or spiritual practice but a new
approach to these subjects
• Trans-Spirit engages in free
enquiry and a scientific approach
• Trans-Spirit rejects authoritarian,
self-aggrandizing and self-serving
spiritual claims and claimants
Trans-Spirit & Science
• Retrospective studies of individuals
who have reported significant religious
& spiritual experiences
• Prospective studies of induced
religious & spiritual experiences
Trans-Spirit & Science
Need for a:
• General Theory of Religion
• Special Theory of Spirituality
Trans-Spirit & Science
Best current candidate for a General
Theory of Religion:
Pascal Boyer’s “Religion Explained”
Pascal Boyer
“We can explain human
sensitivity to particular
kinds of supernatural
concepts as a by-product of
the way human minds
operate in ordinary,
non-religious contexts.” 1
Prof. Boyer
Washington University
Departments of
Psychology and
Pascal Boyer
“Game theory is for aliens.” – Boyer 2
• Although people have a constant
experience of social life, they do not
understand it (or at least, not very well)
• Our social interaction systems evolved
for life in small bands
• The invisible hand of cultural selection
leads people to select and transmit
religious ideas that seem most plausible
in given circumstances
Pascal Boyer
Do not say…
But say…
Religious thoughts are
typically activated
when people deal with
concrete situations
(this crop, that disease,
this dead body, etc.)
Pascal Boyer
Do not say…
But say…
Religion is
about a
It is about a variety of
agents: ghouls, ghosts,
spirits, ancestors, gods,
etc. in direct
interaction with people
Pascal Boyer
Do not say…
But say…
Religion allays
It generates as much
anxiety as it allays:
vengeful ghosts, nasty
spirits and aggressive
gods are as common
as protective deities
Pascal Boyer
Do not say…
But say…
Religion was
created at time t
in human
There is no reason to
think that the various
kinds of thoughts we
call “religious” all
appeared in human
cultures at the same
Pascal Boyer
Do not say…
But say…
Religion is
Most religious
explanations of natural
phenomena actually
explain little but
produce salient
Pascal Boyer
Do not say…
But say…
Religion is
In places where
religion is not
invoked to explain
them, such
phenomena are not
seen as intrinsically
mystical or
Pascal Boyer
Do not say…
But say…
Religion is
about mortality
and the
salvation of the
The notion of salvation
is particular to a few
doctrines (Christianity
and doctrinal religions
of Asia and the Middle
East) and unheard of in
most other traditions
Pascal Boyer
Do not say…
But say…
Religion creates
social cohesion
Religious commitment
can (under some
conditions) be used as
a signal of coalitional
affiliation, but
coalitions create social
fission (secession) as
often as group
Pascal Boyer
Do not say…
But say…
claims are
that is why
people believe
There are many
irrefutable statements
that no one believes;
what makes some of
them plausible to
some people is what
we need to explain
Pascal Boyer
Do not say…
But say…
Religion is
(therefore not
worthy of
Commitment to
imagined agents does
not really relax or
suspend ordinary
mechanisms of belief
formation; indeed it
can provide
important evidence
for their functioning
(and so should be
studied attentively)
From Religion…
…to Spirituality
Trans-Spirit & Science
Some current ideas for a Special
Theory of Spirituality from:
• Michael Persinger
• Todd Murphy
Michael Persinger
“As a human being, I am concerned
about the illusionary explanations
for human consciousness and the
future of human existence. … I
began the systematic application of
complex electromagnetic fields to
discern the patterns that will induce
experiences (sensed presence) that
are attributed to the myriad of egoalien intrusions which range from
gods to aliens. 4
Prof. Persinger,
Laurentian University
Department of
Michael Persinger
“The research is not to demean
anyone's religious/mystical
experience but instead to determine
which portions of the brain or its
electromagnetic patterns generate
the experience. Two thousand years
of philosophy have taught us that
attempting to prove or disprove
realities may never have discrete
verbal (linguistic) solutions because
of the limitation of this
measurement. 4
Michael Persinger
“The research has been encouraged
by the historical fact that most wars
and group degradations are coupled
implicitly to god beliefs and to the
presumption that those who do not
believe the same as the experient
are somehow less human and
hence expendable. 4
Michael Persinger
“Although these
propensities may
have had adaptive
significance, their
utility for the
species' future may
be questionable.” 4
Todd Murphy
• Behavioral Neuroscientist,
research associate of Persinger
• Primary Interests: “The use of
complex magnetic fields applied
through the brain to induce spiritual
experiences and develop the
individual's potential.” 5
Todd Murphy, PhD candidate
Laurentian University Department
of Behavioural Neuroscience
Todd Murphy
“My main interest is in
understanding how the brain
contributes to mystic,
religious, and spiritual
experiences. I want to use this
understanding to find ways to
induce them for those who
need them. And to understand
the transformations that
follow when people have them
unexpectedly.” 6
Todd Murphy
“Unlike many of my
colleagues, I am not closed
to psychic phenomena, tales
of miracles, visitations by
angels, and other
experiences. I accept that
these are real experiences,
even though I may not be
able to accept many of the
traditional explanations for
them.” 6
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
“Doing spiritual practice (or having
a spiritual awakening), has an
impact on the brain, the mind, and
personality. These changes are
pretty easy to predict, and very
similar processes have been found
in people with a certain type of
epilepsy, which Hippocrates called
‘The sacred disease.’” 7
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
“The personalities of people who
are involved with spiritual practices
like prayer, meditation and
ceremony are shaped by the alteredstate experiences their spirituality
creates.” 7
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
“The part of the brain that
manages our states of
consciousness, the temporal
lobes, is a little busier in
these people than most,
producing personality traits
that appear over and over
among spiritually oriented
people.” 7
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
Temporal lobes are involved with:
• language
• music
• long-term memory
• interpret smells
• emotional reactions
• perceiving spatial
• interpret patterns in space/time
• maintain sense of self, including
self-worth & independence 7
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
• Temporal lobe epilepsy
(TLE), or 'complex partial
seizures' cause altered states
of consciousness
• TLE begins in the amygdala
and spreads into other areas
• Repeated TLE’s lower the
threshold for more TLE’s to
occur 7
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
• This self-reinforcing TLE process can
result in a person having the experience
associated with that brain part almost all
the time (e.g., a person whose seizures
include an hallucinated smell might find
that he has a sharper-than-usual sense of
smell at all other times). 7
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
• Results of an ongoing study show that
people who do spiritual practice of any
kind have more of the subtler signs of
TLE than people who don't.
• Their personalities also show many of
the traits that TL epileptics show. 7
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
• They may talk at length and
they won't want to change the
subject until they are through
with it
• They may write almost
compulsively at times, a trait
called hypergraphia
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
• TL epileptics become more emotionally
sensitive, commonly with extra irritability
• Spiritual aspirants (e.g. monks & nuns;
meditators) withdraw from the world,
avoiding socially intense situations to defend
themselves from verbal assaults, and avoid
those who aren't like-minded
• One study of TL epileptics found they were
more likely than others to undergo multiple
religious conversions 7
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
• Humans seem to have 2 senses of self:
left hemispheric & right hemispheric
• Pathways of self-sense on each side
include the 2 amygdalae
• When amygdalae fall out of phase, 'self'
on the left can become aware of activities
on the right
• Right-sided self-sense is experienced as
outer (ego-alien) 'presence' 7
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
• Loss of mastery by the left ‘self’ tends to
reduce the person’s self-esteem in normal states
of consciousness
• The person can suffer a ‘dark night of the soul’
doubting self-worth 7
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
• Typical compensation strategy for this
doubt is to become ‘holier than thou’ and
- have a ‘spiritual’ answer and explanation for
every event
- give a ‘spiritual’ interpretation to the
failings of others
- dismiss comments they don’t want to hear 7
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
• Spiritual leaders (gurus, priests, ministers)
have power, prestige and high self-esteem
• TL epileptics with low self-esteem make
perfect disciples
• Perfect disciples always see the guru as
being higher 7
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
• Guru devotion allows low-self esteem
to be acted out in a constructive way
• Being subordinate is rewarded in
communities gathered around a
spiritual master
• Outside their community, they can
discount what others say (“They don't
know the truth.”)
• Such a believer need not pay any heed to
slights or challenging remarks from others 7
Todd Murphy
The Spiritual Personality
• Cults, religions, and spiritual
traditions embrace those in a state of
sadness or despair by claiming to have
The Answer.
• What these groups offer actually
works: It’s an effective, millennia-old
coping strategy that has stood the test
of time far longer than any kind of
psychotherapy 7
The Dark Side
• Religion may comfort by distorting one’s view
of reality
• Spiritual ecstasy is often followed by a profound
let-down in mood and energy
• Religious & spiritual dogmas (official
interpretations) stop free enquiry & investigation
of alternative explanations
• Development of deep meditative states tends to
inhibit the ability to sustain logical & scientific
• Ignore the person’s
interpretations of his/her
spiritual experiences
• Focus on the circumstances
in which spiritual experiences
• Look for information about
patterns & frequencies of light,
sound, motion in each case
• Investigate possible influences
from geomagnetic fields
• Consider possible effects of
diets, diseases & drugs
• Note reports of side-effects on
balance, perception, moodswings
• Look for admissions of
negative after-effects
Consider self-reports of feelings
that occur during some spiritual
• extreme self-confidence
(arrogance of authority)
• absolute certainty
(unquestioned intuition)
• sensation of floating
• disconnection from external
reality (“It’s all a dream”)
• sense of mission (“It’s vital to
spread the word”)
• sensation of internal
energy flows (“current”)
• apparent capacity to
“induce” similar
experiences in others who
are receptive to it
“The religion
of the future
transcend a
personal God
and avoid
dogma and
theology. …
“Covering both
natural and
spiritual, it
should be
based on a
religious sense
arising from
the experience
of all things
natural and
spiritual as a
“Buddhism answers
this description…
If ever there is
any religion
that would cope
with modern
scientific needs it
would be
- Albert Einstein
Dalai Lama at MIT for conference:
"Investigating the Mind: Exchanges Between Buddhism and
the Biobehavioral Sciences on How the Mind Works."
"I'm seeking scientific backing
or findings in order to help
everybody have a happy mind,"
- Dalai Lama.
“…few studies have focused on
those singular instances when
ordinary levels of meditation
suddenly drop off into the state
of genuine deep internal
absorption. These absorptions are
rare. They need to be carefully
studied, at the very moment they
occur, using modern techniques.”
• Trans-Spirit as a transhumanist approach to
religion & spirituality
• Encourage free enquiry and a scientific approach:
• Examine past reports of spiritual experiences in
light of modern neuroscience
• Conduct controlled experiments to learn how and
why spiritual experiences occur