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How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist

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God is great–for your mental, physical, and spiritual health. That’s the finding of this startling, authoritative, and controversial book by the bestselling authors of Born to Believe.

Based on new evidence culled from their brain-scan studies on memory patients and meditators, their Web-based survey of people’s religious and spiritual experiences, and their analyses of adult drawings of God, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, therapist Mark Robert Waldman, and their research team have concluded that active and positive spiritual belief changes the human brain for the better. What’s more, actual faith isn’t always atheists who meditate on positive imagery can obtain similar neurological benefits. Written in an accessible style–with illustrations highlighting how spiritual experiences affect the mind– How God Changes Your Brain offers the following breakthrough

• Not only do prayer and spiritual practice reduce stress and anxiety, but just twelve minutes of meditation per day may slow down the aging process.
• Contemplating a loving God rather than a punitive God reduces anxiety, depression, and stress and increases feelings of security, compassion, and love.
• Fundamentalism, in and of itself, is benign and can be personally beneficial, but the anger and prejudice generated by extreme beliefs can permanently damage your brain.
• Intense prayer and meditation permanently change numerous structures and functions in the brain–altering your values and the way you perceive reality.

How God Changes Your Brain is both a revelatory work of modern science and a practical guide for readers to enhance their physical and emotional health and to avoid mental decline. Newberg and Waldman explain the eight best ways to “exercise” your brain and guide readers through specific routines derived from a wide variety of Eastern and Western spiritual practices that improve personal awareness and empathy. They explain why yawning heightens consciousness and relaxation, and they teach “Compassionate Communication,” a new mediation technique that builds intimacy with family and friends in less than fifteen minutes of practice.

Unique in its conclusions and innovative in its methods, How God Changes Your Brain is a first-of-a-kind book about faith that is as credible as it is inspiring.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2009

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About the author

Andrew B. Newberg

31 books138 followers
Dr. Andrew Newberg is Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College. He is also Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Board-certified in Internal Medicine and Nuclear Medicine. He is considered a pioneer in the neuroscientific study of religious and spiritual experiences, a field frequently referred to as – neurotheology. His work attempts to better understand the nature of religious and spiritual practices and experiences. This has been compiled into his latest book, Principles of Neurotheology, which reviews the important principles and foundations of neurotheology. Believing that it is important to keep science rigorous and religion religious, he has engaged the topic like few others. He has been fascinated by the implications of this research for the study of the mind, brain, consciousness, morality, theology, and philosophy. He has also been particularly interested in the relationship between the brain, religion, and health. His research has included brain scans of people in prayer, meditation, rituals, and various trance states. He has also performed surveys of people's spiritual experiences and attitudes. Finally, he has evaluated the relationship between religious and spiritual phenomena and health. This includes a recent study on the effect of meditation on memory.

In his career, he has also actively pursued neuroimaging research projects on the study of aging and dementia, Parkinson's disease, depression, and other neurological and psychiatric disorders. He has also researched the neurophysiological correlates of acupuncture, meditation, and alternative therapies, and how brain function is associated with mystical and religious experiences. Dr. Newberg helped develop stress-management programs for the University of Pennsylvania Health Systems and received a Science and Religion Course Award from the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences for his program entitled "The Biology of Spirituality" in the Department of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania. He is currently teaching a course in the Department of Religious Studies entitled, “Science and the Sacred: An Introduction to Neurotheology.”

Dr. Newberg has published over 150 research articles, essays and book chapters, and is the co-author of the best selling books, Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief (Ballantine, 2001) and How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist (Ballantine, 2009). He has also published, Principles of Neurotheology (Ashgate, 2011) Why We Believe What We Believe (Ballantine, 2006), and The Mystical Mind (Fortress Press, 1999). He has presented his research throughout the world in both scientific and public forums. He appeared on Nightline, 20/20, Good Morning America, ABC's World News Tonight, National Public Radio, London Talk Radio and over fifteen nationally syndicated radio programs. His work has been featured in Time, Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and many other newspapers and magazines. An overview of his work can be viewed at on this site.

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Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
March 28, 2022
Don’t Think of the Colour Blue… No Really, Don’t

OK, here’s the breakthrough experimental framework: the word ‘God,’ which has an indefinite meaning is hypothesised as having an integrative effect on the three different realities that, according to the researchers, all human beings have. Using advanced brain scanning technology they are able to say definitively that “If you contemplate God long enough, something surprising happens in the brain. Neural functioning begins to change.” They haven’t yet proven experimentally that these changes get the three realities to converge but someone somewhere is giving them lots of money to do so.

Unfortunately, the three realities that we all supposedly operate within (or generate, who knows?) are as indefinite as the word ‘God.’ The first is what is usually referred to as ‘objective reality,’ which is constituted by things without the words that tend to distort and unreliably represent things. These things and events occurring among them are certainly ‘there’ but not as the words we use to describe them. So this reality is therefore mute and awaits interaction with us to speak… through us of course.

The second reality is subconscious and therefore also entirely wordless as well as mysterious - a sort of dark matter of the mind. We have to presume it’s there in order to make sense of other things - like the first reality which is also opaque (the phrase ‘blind leading the blind’ comes to mind). Essentially the subconscious consists of the neural algorithms that have proven useful for survival. Some of these are genetically programmed, others are learned as we develop. Since these neural algorithms are dependent upon experience in an historical set of circumstances, they may not always function to maintain life and limb in the future. In any case we only know of them by inference not observation.

The final reality is that of ‘consciousness.’ Of course this term is as indefinite as that of ‘God’ and ‘subconscious’ (some folk consider the two terms to be equivalent; this possibility has not been considered by the researchers however). In any case consciousness consists of lots of words, some of which we use to describe (or to map as the researchers prefer to say) the world we think we live in. Consciousness is a world that exists entirely within language.

It is only in language that we can express our conscious beliefs, feelings, thoughts, concepts, and explanations about the other two realities, and all those things exist only in language. Because it puts words out willy-nilly, consciousness gets pretty cocky and thinks it rules the roost. This is the essence of delusion. As is typical, the researchers don’t want to apply their theory to themselves. So they get themselves in a tremendous muddle. It is only necessary to apply their own words to themselves to understand why.

According to the authors, consciousness (which is necessarily the location of their theory, according to their theory) “represents a reality that is the farthest removed from the world that actually exists outside of the brain.” And, they go on “we have yet to discover if, and to what degree, these two inner realities [of the subconscious and the conscious] communicate with each other.” But they do know that there is only the most tenuous connection between where the two internal maps are located, the brain, and what happens in the world:
“… the human brain seems to have difficulty separating fantasies from facts. It sees things that are not there, and it sometimes doesn't see things that are there. In fact, the brain doesn't even try to create a fully detailed map of the external world. Instead, it selects a handful of cues, then fills in the rest with conjecture, fantasy, and belief.”

I have no problem with this psychological framework per se. If somewhat culture-specific and epistemologically as well as ontologically puerile, it is nevertheless standard Freudian stuff which these guys have imported to interpret their brain scans. Not that they can see the conscious or subconscious parts of the brain. All the can see are the scan results.

The experimental design is simple and has nothing to do with what actually happens in Reality #3 aside from researchers talking to subjects and interpreting brain scans. Signals in the form of words, phrases, and instructions are passed from the researchers to the subjects of the study. Changes in neural activity are then recorded. These are then correlated with verbal reports from the subjects to the researchers about their ‘state of mind.’ The conclusions reached by the researchers are that when the word ‘God’ or other rather imprecisely described ‘godly thoughts’ are involved in a researcher/subject interaction, specific neural pathways are created which are correlated with subjective reports of well-being.

It should be obvious that this is systematic research not into the psychology of religion but of applied linguistics. The researchers have no idea what interaction between the conscious and unconscious brain might be (or if indeed such a distinction has any foundation except in consciousness itself). Nor do they know anything about the consequent behaviour of the God-oriented subjects versus the rest of the population. Are there fewer criminals? More beneficent millionaires. Lower divorce rates? Fewer (or more) suicides? Etc. Apparently no one has sought to inquire.

And, more to the point, no one knows whether words other than ‘God’ can be contemplated with equivalent reported changes in goals, attitudes, or feelings of well being. The claim is that “the moment God is introduced to the human brain, the neurological concept will not go away.” And what about the colour ‘blue’ or the relationship ‘mother?’ Or for that matter E = mc2? Neither the researchers nor the subjects know what the other means by ‘God,’ that is, how God is connected to other words and what unconscious algorithms might be involved in determining that meaning.

I have no doubt that reflective thinking, whatever form that might take from Zen meditation (technically non-thinking) to a quiet moment in the park (where thinking is allowed to go rampant). It might even make you a better person. But these guys have a thing about Compassionate Communication which actually has nothing to do with God or their Freudian theory of reality. Their thesis is that civility and respect given to people often provokes them to respond in a similar manner. And even further, when that response happens, it tends to generate feelings of well-being!

I want to know where these guys get their funding. As an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania where they do their research, I think I already have a leg up. I have an idea for which I want first round venture-finance, see? It’s a thing, the components of which are all equidistant from any arbitrary point by any arbitrary distance. I’ve already demonstrated its usefulness in moving heavy loads from point A to pint B. I’m keeping it general for the moment because I don’t want the practical consequences to leak. I have a prototype in my garage. Serious investors are welcome to inspect upon appointment.

Postscript: I think it would be useful to reference another rather less stupid book on neurological research in order to demonstrate the point that at any point in time most scientific results are just junk: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Skylar Burris.
Author 20 books231 followers
March 13, 2015
Titillating title, but a boring exercise in the conclusion of the mostly obvious, with a cup of unsubstantiated moralizing thrown in for good measure.

In How God Changes Your Brain, two researchers (a neuroscientist and a therapist) discuss how the brain reacts to religious ritual, most particularly meditation. They conclude that intense, long-term contemplation of “God” actually permanently changes the brain, specifically altering those parts that control mood, sensory perception, and notions of self, making believers more receptive to “subtle realms of experience.” But theology matters. Bad theology (such as belief in a vindictive God who authorizes believers to harm others) can permanently damage your brain. However, the authors conclude that, on the whole, religious belief is personally and socially beneficial. They give a disappointed tisk-tisk to the new atheist writers, such as Hitchens and Dawkins, who suggest that religion itself is harmful. It is, rather, they say, authoritarianism that is harmful, and authoritarianism is as likely to exist among the nonreligious as among the religious.

There is a specific neurological circuit in the brain that is strengthened by contemplative practices, and this circuit generates compassion and peacefulness. Meditation, argue the authors, also enhances cognition, communication, creativity, memory, physical health, and emotional health. The atheist can take this all as evidence that God is a self-induced delusion; the theist can take it as evidence that religion actually works and that God actually changes people who seek Him.

Yet it isn’t faith in God that changes the brain so much as the practice itself. The research indicates that positive benefits can be achieved from meditation even absent a belief in God. One could meditate 30 minutes a day every day using sounds that have no personal meaning to him, and still reap lower blood pressure and an enhanced mood.

Neither author is himself religious. One is “open” to the possibility of the existence of “God,” and the other “prefers to look at the universe through a purely naturalistic and evidence-based perspective.” Yet both conclude that spiritual practices and beliefs are, on average, good for the brain and good for society. But the authors’ preferred “God” is an impersonal one, and they clearly see the replacement of traditional religion with a vague spirituality to be a positive boon. How God Changes the Brain isn’t a book dedicated to the proposition that a miraculous God alters the brains of those who seek Him. It’s a book primarily dedicated to moralizing about religious “acceptance,” promoting the superiority of Eastern forms of religion over Western forms of religion, and encouraging the use of meditation – in almost any form, on almost anything – as a tool of psychological and physical health. For me, the moralizing overtook the research and soon grew tiresome.

The authors’ lack of religious perspective makes them somewhat incapable of understanding their most religious subjects. I was often annoyed by their tendency to draw conclusions while overlooking things that might be obvious to a religious person. Take their statement that it is “disheartening” that “nearly 30 percent of those queried had trouble accepting others who held different religious beliefs.” Well, that would be disheartening if you defined “accept” as either “tolerate” or “respect.” But that’s clearly not what they mean by accept. They do not draw this conclusion from questions such as “Would you be friends with someone of a different religion?” but “Would you MARRY someone of a different religion?” They do not draw the conclusion from questions such as, “Are people with other religions than yours valuable and worthy of respect?” but “Are other religions CORRECT?”

They shake their heads in sadness to learn that 29 percent of people would not marry someone of a different religion. But what is so sad about a person wanting to share the most important part of her life with a spouse with whom she will raise and train children? What is so sad about wanting to share your routine religious practices with the person you will live with day in and day out for a lifetime? As for believing that other religions are CORRECT…in most cases, that’s not even logical. My religion says that Jesus is the Son of God. The Jewish religion says he is not. How can a Jewish person possibly say my religion is “correct” and mean it? But just because a Jewish person does not believe my religion is “correct” does not mean he does not “accept” me. After reaching this part, I lost much confidence in the research and judgment of the authors. What’s really interesting is that 69% of people did answer that they agree that other religions are “correct even if they differ from my own.” That could inspire an interesting study on the decline of modern critical thinking, or on modern group think, or on modern fear of appearing intolerant. Even though I believe there is only one God, the Hindus are correct to believe there are hundreds of gods. Even though I believe the earth is millions of years old, the fundamentalist Christians are correct to believe it is only 7,000 years old. Fascinating.

The research itself seems largely subjective and not very well controlled, especially considering that a large chunk of it consisted of open-ended web surveys. The authors end up drawing a number of philosophical, theological, sociological, and scientific conclusions that, as far as I can tell, largely reflect their own personal speculations. I feel as though, without any expertise, I could have drawn up a survey and handed it out to 2,500 people and written half this book myself. They did, however, also study brain scans while people contemplated God, which was the more interesting and more scientific component of the book. Yet all of this combined ended up constituting another study of the obvious. If you concentrate on positive thoughts on a regular basis, you are more likely to have positive thoughts. If you practice calmness, you are more likely to be calm. If you apply intense concentration to contemplate God – or anything you might happen to call God – or even a random-to-you string of sounds, for that matter - parts of your brain will light up. "If a belief in God provides you with a sense of comfort and security, then God will enhance your life." Did that really require years of research to figure out? If you like the taste of chocolate ice cream, then you will enjoy eating a chocolate ice cream cone. There is something lacking here...somewhere...depth?
Profile Image for Ali.
75 reviews6 followers
May 21, 2018
این کتاب هم از کتاب‌های مورد علاقه منه، تاثیر خدا را روی مغز بررسی کرده.
به طور خوبی قسمت‌های مختلف مغز رو به همراه نقششون توضیح میده(خیلی سخت نمیگیره و سعی میکنه کلی توضیح بده) و بعد بررسی میکنه که اگر به نوع‌های مختلف خدا اعتقاد داشته باشیم(مثل خدای مهربان و یا خدای عذاب‌گر) چه تاثیر ی روی قسمت‌های مختلف مغزتون میزاره.
Profile Image for David .
1,240 reviews155 followers
February 11, 2020
The first part of this book was rather fascinating, as the authors discussed what affect religion has on the brain. In general, things like prayer and meditation and involvement in a religious community are helpful for bodily health. The big caveat I saw is that how we view God does matter. If you believe God is an authoritarian tyrant who is going to punish you every time you slip up, then this form of religion is not good for you. The question of whether there is an infinite being we call God in actual existence is beside the point for what this book is about. Heck, I'm sure a fundamentalist Christian wouldn't care if a God of extreme wrath is bad for you. Some believers may welcome this!

It was also intriguing how they talked about how different views of God may have evolved. The story they told, especially when they got to the last few millennia, seemed a bit sloppy. They kind of played the "once humans were dumb and believed in God of wrath but now we are more evolved" card. It seems they should stick to the science or at least brush up on their history. That said, the science of where different ideas of God reside in the brain and how this has changed was interesting.

Likewise, their discussion of how children develop views of God and how this changes over the years was also intriguing. They spoke of asking children to draw a picture of God and how children usually draw faces and people. When adults are asked the same, adults often draw suns or shapes or more abstract images. One thing they noted was that children who were raised in faith communities often develop such abstract understandings while non-religious children are more likely, in later years, to still draw faces (or to refuse to draw anything). My take-away from this is that this is why some religious education is important. Not to promote any religion, for sure, but so people understand what religions actually believe. Christians do not believe that God is merely a bigger version of ourselves, despite what some skeptics (and perhaps some Christians) may believe. If you are going to be critical of something, understand it.

The last few chapters were on spiritual practices that are beneficial for your brain and health. I mostly skimmed these, noting they may be worth coming back to at some point. Some of the practices are common, if you are in a faith community. Others might not be. The best was when they mentioned YAWNING as a spiritual practice and its health benefits!

Finally, and this was not touched on in the book, but there is a lot to think about how spiritual and physical relate. I could see an atheist arguing that since there is neurological evidence of what goes on during prayer, that it is just a physical thing. In meditation, they may argue, all that is happening is some relaxation in the brain which we can study and see. This seems to me, and admittedly, I believe in the supernatural, as reductionist. It seems to offer a false dichotomy that says there are spiritual things (or there are not) and there are natural ones and the two do not touch. Yet, I think most believers who know what they are talking about would have no problem with spiritual things making some sort of mark in the natural world.

There may be synapses in my brain that fire when I see my spouse, but love is deeper than a biological impulse. There may be synapses that fire when someone has a religious experience, but this does not mean it is ONLY a natural phenomena.

I suppose the real challenge for people of faith in light of books like this is that it demonstrates that these natural health benefits occur regardless of the truth of the religions. A Muslim, Buddhist, Christian and atheist can all meditate in similar ways and get similar benefits. So does it matter which one you are a part of?

I'll end with that :)

Profile Image for Lee Harmon.
Author 5 books107 followers
January 19, 2011
I see this as two books in one: first, a basic look at the malleability of our brain and how it can be trained--specifically, how spiritual practices rebuild neural paths within our brain--and second, a practical guide to basic meditation.

I give the first half five stars. I didn't read all of the second half. Guess that means I should drop my rating one star. It's not that I'm not interested in meditation, because I'm thoroughly convinced of its spiritual and mental value; it's that, like 95% of the rest of you, I ignore what's good for me in favor of what I enjoy. And I enjoy learning about the brain.

This isn't an evangelical book. It won't direct you to Christianity or Eastern religions or any other belief system. Nor is it ragging on the evils of religion, as the title might make you think. It's a very positive-minded book about the value of prayer, meditation, and belief. "God" does change your brain, because repeated mental exercise and directed thinking rebuilds neural paths for a healthier, happier life. If--as is my observation--Christians in general live happier, healthier lives than non-believers, there is a solid, scientific reason for that. The Christian brain is wired for spiritual well-being.

I emphasize Christians only because Christianity is my heritage. This book is written for skeptics and believers alike, and definitely worth reading.
62 reviews1 follower
May 15, 2016
A better title might have been "how meditation, prayer, and spiritual practice change your brain", but this is a fantastic compilation of decades of research done into the neurological and psychological science of spiritual practice.

From cloistered nuns to Tibetan monks, to average meditators and construction workers who've only been meditating two weeks, the demonstrable changes in neurophysiology and mental and physical health derived from spiritual practice are undeniable.

There is a section on "8 things you can do to exercise your brain", and one called "neural varieties of spiritual experience". One of the most interesting parts is the work they've done on how different cultures and beliefs (including agnostics and atheists) visualise God.

Definitely worth the read, no matter what your spiritual inclination.
Profile Image for Cynthia.
273 reviews9 followers
December 4, 2019
This book took me quite a while to read because I was actually also reading most of the footnotes-- and there were a lot of them! It was that kind of book, where you are almost as interested in all the studies and other reference sources as you are with the book.

Andrew Newberg is a medical doctor who has believed in God since childhood and had-- he claims-- the good fortune to have a father he describes a "true agnostic" and a lawyer. As an adolescent his father would "lovingly" argue the opposite side of whatever position on God Andrew held at the time. He attributes this willingness of his father to his continued yearning for God, and the drive into the studies that he and his book-partner, Mark Robert Waldman, engaged in that shows that God is, indeed, an important part of our lives.

This book might be a turn-off for anyone who is unwilling to see God as other than the God described in Scriptures. If you are willing to look at the scientific aspects of God, you will enjoy reading this book as much as I have. I got it from the library but have ordered it so my husband and I can read it together.
Profile Image for bup.
634 reviews64 followers
October 23, 2018
What I liked about this was the authors had plenty of chances to go into "woo" science territory BUT DIDN'T. They remain agnostic on any questions about the reality of God, but stick to their basic theme - actively meditating on God, morality, and the moral social contract that makes humans human is good for the brain in an empirically measurable way.

Subjects who meditate can, in lab settings, focus on tasks better, demonstrate better memory, and have a different neural pattern that (the authors posit) handles stress better.

Really interesting. I wonder if it's good for recovering stroke patients.
179 reviews1 follower
April 7, 2018
From the academia perspective this book is rather good. Through research (that is available) Dr. Andrew Newborn advices that God, meditation, prayer are good for health. Religion or engaging in some type of "spiritual" practice can help one become more compassionate, better focused, as well as healthier (blood pressure, reduced stress).

This is rather interesting especially since Dr. Newberg neither is a Christian nor does he claim one can truly know God. In fact, he is of the belief that mankind has evolved from reptiles. With all the research from the studies, it is quite coincidental that our brains are designed for such practices as believing ing God, prayer, and mediation yet proclaim that the idea of God is a man made concept to help society .

Dr. Andrew Newberg has stated that all theories of origin & purpose of life (atheism, agnostic, Christianity, or other forms of religion) cannot be definitively proven nor defended; they all are founded on faith. Man should live the best life possible by following what he deems to be right.

Would it be safe to say, that from the research gathered from these tests that the arrow of proof would be more in agreement that God does exist?! That our brains were created for such a relationship to know God and fellowship with Him. Would it not be harmful to suvbjectigate purpose or significance to each's individual personal view of morality or happiness. If there is no foundation of right and wrong, then each society or culture can change the "code of conduct or morality" depending upon what they deem is true or according to their agenda. Without God there would be no moral absolutes; one can simply act upon what he deems is best for his/her life despite what others or society may say.
Profile Image for Sally.
1,477 reviews51 followers
June 22, 2009
Despite its title, this book is largely about promoting compassion, acceptance of others, awareness, and health through various types of meditation, relaxation, and other exercises. The effectiveness of these practices, often taken from religious traditions, does not depend on any religious content or context. They are presented in a form acceptable to anyone, whether atheist or members of any religion. The first part examines concepts of God from an evolutionary and developmental viewpoint. While the authors defend religion as a personal and social good, neither is himself religious: one sees the universe purely scientifically, the other is spiritual but not religious. I would take issue with their positive evaluation of religion itself, since much if not all of the benefits cited can be had using the same types of techniques, attitudes, or social practices stripped of any religious references or connections.
Profile Image for Ypatios Varelas.
Author 2 books40 followers
August 17, 2016
Ένα βιβλίο με πολλά υποσχόμενο και ενδιαφέροντα τίτλο, γραμμένο από δύο ειδικούς επιστήμονες, σίγουρα δημιουργεί μεγάλες προσδοκίες στον υποψήφιο αναγνώστη. Όμως... πέρα από αρκετά καλά στοιχεία που όντως περιέχει, υπάρχουν και πολλά προβληματικά και σε αυτά θα εστιάσω την κριτική μου για να διευκολύνω τους υποψήφιους αναγνώστες, ιδίως εκείνους που δεν κατέχουν τις ειδικές γνώσεις που απαιτούνται για την κριτική αντιμετώπιση του βιβλίου με ακρίβεια.

- Πρώτα, ο τίτλος του βιβλίου είναι ανακριβής και παραπλανητικός. Το βιβλίο δεν αφορά στον "Θεό" αλλά στην πίστη γενικότερα, και μάλιστα κυρίως τις χριστιανικές εκφάνσεις της σε διάφορες παραλλαγές. Επίσης, δεν αφορά μόνο στις επιδράσεις της πίστης στον εγκέφαλό μας, αλλά ένα μεγάλο μέρος είναι αφιερωμένο σε ασκήσεις πρακτικές βελτίωσης της εγκεφαλικής λειτουργίας εντελώς άσχετες με την πίστη.

- Η εστίαση του βιβλίου (ερευνητικά) σχεδόν αποκλειστικά σε χριστιανικές παραλλαγές της πίστης στο Θεό, παρόλο που ο χριστιανισμός είναι μειοψηφία σε ποσοστό του παγκόσμιου πληθυσμού, αφαιρεί μέρος από την εγκυρότητα των γενικότερων συμπερασμάτων των συγγραφέων ως προς την πίστη γενικότερα. Επίσης, τα συμπεράσματά του φαίνονται να είναι πολωμένα από μία νεοεποχήτικη άποψη της θρησκευτικότητας.

- Υπάρχουν πολλά αυθαίρετα συμπεράσματα και λανθασμένες υπεραπλουστεύσεις όπως π.χ. η "συναισθηματική τραμπάλα" του κογχομετωπιαίου φλοιού και οι σχετικές γενικευμένες δηλώσεις του τύπου "όταν η αγάπη αυξάνεται, ο φόβος υποχωρεί" κ.ά. που ΔΕΝ υποστηρίζονται επιστημονικά αλλά ακόμα και εμπειρικά.

- Γϊνεται υπερβολική προβολή των θετικών αποτελεσμάτων των διαλογιστικών πρακτικών χωρίς επαρκή αντιστοίχηση σε αποτελέσματα σοβαρών "τυφλών" μελετών και υποβαθμισμένη αναφορά στους πιθανούς κινδύνους και τα αρνητικά αποτελέσματα αυτών των πρακτικών (που δεν είναι καθόλου αμελητέα σε κάποιες περιπτώσεις), τα οποία είναι πιθανά ιδίως όταν η εκμάθηση και η εξάσκηση των πρακτικών γίνει χωρίς σωστή κ��θοδήγηση και επίβλεψη.

- Διαβάζουμε μία λανθασμένη υπεραπλούστευση ότι "όλοι μας έχουμε δύο εγκεφάλους-έναν εγωιστικό και καχύποπτο και έναν άλλο απροκατάλυπτο και ευγενικό" (σελ. 156) και την αυθαίρετη αντιστοίχιση του πρώτου στο μεταιχμιακό σύστημα του εγκεφάλου και του δεύτερου στους μετωπιαίους λοβούς και τον κογχομετωπιαίο φλοιό (σελ. 157).

- Η αναφορά ότι ο κυνισμός και η εχθρική αντιμετώπιηση των αντίθετων απόψεων αφοορούν προσωπικότητα "απαισιόδοξη και νευρολογικά τόσο επικίνδυνη, που μπορεί να ακόμα και να συντομεύσει τη ζωή σου" (σελ. 169) είναι μία επιστημονικά αστήρικτη κινδυνολογία!

- Το κεφάλαιο 8 ξεφεύγει εντελώς από τον τίτλο του βιβλίου, παρόλο που περιέχει χρήσιμες συμβουλές και πρακτικές. Όμως η ενότητα περί πίστης σε αυτό είναι προχειρογραμμένη και επίσης η υπερβολική προβολή της θετικής σκέψης και της αισιοδοξίας ως βασικού (!) παράγοντα ενίσχυσης της υγεία και της μακροζωΐας είναι υποκειμενική και οδηγεί σε λάθος δρόμους, ιδίως αν λάβουμε υπόψη τα νεότερα ερευνητικά δεδομένα από μακροχρόνιες μαζικές έρευνες που δείχνουν ότι ΔΕΝ υπάρχει σχέση αιτίου-αποτελέσματος ανάμεσα στην "θετική σκέψη"/αισιοδοξία και τη μακροζωΐα ή αντίστοιχη σχέση ανάμεσα στην "αρνητική σκέψη"/απαισιοδοξία και τη συντόμευση της διάρκειας ζωής.

- Γενικότερα, η επιμονή των συγγραφέων σε συμβουλές καταστολής των αρνητικών σκέψεων και της δραστηριότητας της αμυγδαλής και μάλιστα με ακόμη πιο έντονη προσπάθεια για τα αγχώδη άτομα μπορεί να αποβεί επιζήμια ειδικά για τα άτομα αυτά, καθώς η καταστολή συχνά οδηγεί αποδειγμένα σε εμφάνιση ή επιδείνωση ψυχοσωματικών αλλά και νοητικών προβλημάτων, κάτι που οι συγγραφείς παραλείπουν εντελώς να αναφέρουν οπουδήποτε στο βιβλίο! Προβάλλεται μάλιστα ως απαραίτητη πρακτική η συγχώρεση, η "αποστολή αγάπης" προς ακύρωση του θυμού και του πόνου που νιώθουμε και άλλες πρακτικές που ουσιαστικά στηρίζονται σε ΚΑΤΑΣΤΟΛΗ, ακόμα και βίαιη, των αρνητικών συναισθημάτων μας.

- Υπάρχουν και άλλες λανθασμένες ή εντελώς δόκιμες ΑΠΟΛΥΤΕΣ δηλώσεις στο βιβλίο αυτό που προτείνονται ως συμβουλές, π.χ. ότι "όσο περισσότερο ενεργοποιείτε τους μετωπιαίους λοβούς και τον κογχομετωπιαίο φλοιό, όσο περισσότερο ελαττώνεται η δραστηριότητα στις μεταιχμιακές περιοχές που προκαλούν θυμό και πόνο" (σελ. 236) που ισχύσει σε πολλές περιπτώσεις, αλλά συχνά ΔΕΝ λειτουργεί έτσι το σύστημα

- Υπάρχει μία άκριτη, ρηχή και απλοϊκή θα έλεγα (για το είδος του βιβλίου και την επιστημονική ειδικότητα των συγγραφέων) γενικευμένη αποδοχή μίας "τάσης" των ανθρώπων να στρέφονται σε "ανθρωπιστικά ιδανικά" (σελ. 254-255) μετά από άσκηση του διαλογισμού, χωρίς να αναρωτιούναι οι συγγραφείς ποια είναι τα πραγματικά κίνητρα πίσω του καθενός πίσω από αυτό. Βεβαίως, αυτό από μόνο του μπορεί να χρειάζεται ένα ολόκληρο βιβλίο για να αναπτυχθεί, όμως θα περίμενα περισσότερο επιστημονική αποστασιοποίηση των συγγραφέων από αυτό, αντί για υιοθέτηση και προβολή, κατά την προσωπική μου άποψη.

- Υπάρχουν και πολλά καλά στοιχεία σε αυτό το βιβλίο, πέρα από τα προβληματικά (όπως αυτά που προανέφερα αλλά και άλλα δευτερεύοντα) για αυτό και του δίνω τρία αστέρια στα πέντε (τα δύο και μισό θα ήταν πιο ακριβής βαθμολογία), όμως χρειάζεται να ασκήσει κάποιος ιδιαίτερη προσοχή για να τα απομονώσει από πολλές αυθαίρετες ή και αποδεδειγμένα λανθασμένες απόψεις των συγγραφέων. Αυτό μπορείτε να το κάνετε πιο εύκολα αν έχετε διαβάσει και άλλα βιβλία σχετικά με την πίστη, το διαλογισμό αλλά και τη νευροπιστήμη, κάτι όμως που φοβάμαι ότι δεν θα ισχύει για τους περισσότερους ανγνώστες αυτού του βιβλίου...
6 reviews1 follower
September 7, 2009
Newberg and Waldman, neuroscientist and therapist at the Univesity of Pennsylvania, present fascinating evidence and survey results documenting the beneficial effects of spiritual practice, be it prayer, meditation, or even "compassionate communication," on the brain's chemistry, on one's thinking and values, and on mental health.

In his past research, Newberg has concentrated on performing CAT-scans of meditating Buddhist monks and praying nuns to observe the neurological effect of these activities. The study subjects were intensive practitioners of spiritual disciplines for at least ten years. In How God Changes...Newberg repeatedly highlights the surprisingly rapid and noticeable effects of meditation and prayer activity over a short time and even decoupled from a specifically religious context. For example, in Chapter Two, ordinary people concerned about their cognitive functioning improve their memories dramaticaly after an 8 week mantra (Kirta Kriya) repeated 12 minutes a day. The practice seems to have effects on the Anterior Cingulate Cortex, the Basal Ganglia, the Prefrontal Cortex, and the Thalamus, the altered activity of which is actually recorded by Newberg's investigations. The psychological benefits of spiritual practice, meanwhile, include enhancement of neural functioning, better focus, suppression of negative emotions such as anger and fear, and an increase in compassionate feeling for others.

In Chapter 5, Newberg and Waldman also discuss children's and adults perceptions of God. One interesting finding is the abstract nature of many of the believer's drawings compared to those of non-believers, who tended in adolescence to maintain anthropomorphic notions of God and proceed to criticize the notion. Such was not so much the case, however, for adult non-believers.

Other conclusions in the book: the thalamus might play a role in long-term spiritual practitioner's minds, giving them a sense that spiritual presences are "real;" activation of the anterior cingulate by practice alters one's view of God from an authoritarian force to a benevolent one; spiritual experiences alter one's sense of reality and increase interest in contributing to others' well-being and so forth.

Later chapters devote themselves to practical advice on improving mental health and brain function using Newberg's findings. One surprise: several minutes of serious yawning is one of the best things you can do to improve mood and alertness! There is also a chapter devoted to what Newberg and Waldman call "compassionate communication" in which short periods of freely associated thoughs are shared between communicators who develop a stronger, more understanding bond than is usually achieved in human communication.

Throughout their analysis, the authors seem to come back again to the point that what matters in terms of getting neurological and social benefit from spiritual activity is the experience and practice itself regardless of the cultural or religious content of what is contemplated or believed while one is doing it.

As a reader interested in pluralism, in appreciating the diverse forms of spirituality, and in finding ways that the spiritual instinct can be reconciled to scientific reasoning and knowledge, I found How God Changes Your Brain to present one of the most refreshingly original approaches to these issues that I have ever read. I recommend to everyone with almost a missionary zeal.
Profile Image for Nick.
678 reviews29 followers
January 10, 2011
This book is chock-full of interesting findings about our brain's chemistry and "wiring", interesting survey results, and in two final chapters, a basket of techniques for improving one's mood, dealing with anger, increasing empathy, and other good goals. The title is provocative, and so is the content.
Profile Image for Jen.
30 reviews
December 22, 2012
The title's a bit of a misnomer that might dissuade some people from reading this good book about the effects of meditation, secular or religious-based, on health.
Profile Image for Abolfazl.
91 reviews39 followers
July 3, 2018
اول چند خمیازه بکشید بعد شروع به خواندن بکنید، خمیازه نکشیدید با لبخند😊😊😊.
قسمت نظری کتاب بسیار خوب و دارای نظم منطقی است، قسمت دوم که مربوط به راهکارهای برای ورز دادن مغز است گرچه راهکارها ساده یا تکراری می رسند ولی به نظرم می تونه کاربردی و مفید باشند.
جالب ترین راهکار هم خمیازه کشیدن است که باعث آرامش و تمدید اعصاب می شود و طبق گفته کتاب خمیازه مغز را از خواب می رهاند و کمک می کند که روی مفاهیم و مطالب مهم تمرکز کنيم. مواد نوروشیمایی زیادی در ايجاد خمیازه نقش دارند که باعث احساس لذت، دوستی، صمیمیت و.. می شوند. به طور مصنوعی خمیازه بکشید.
خمیازه کشیدن مثل تنفس عمیقه حتی بهتر از آن، پس بیایید خمیازه بکشیم. 😂
218 reviews3 followers
June 26, 2021
This is a fascinating book about how our brains can be changed for the better when we contemplate God. The research is impressive and the exercises are so helpful. I am very glad that I worked through this book.
Profile Image for Patricia.
1,028 reviews24 followers
June 9, 2022
Loved it. Would like to see it updated.
Profile Image for Sam Woodward.
37 reviews5 followers
August 30, 2013
The title of this book may give some people the wrong idea. 'How God Changes Your Brain' discusses Newberg & Waldman's latest neuroscientific research into how the brain is affected by various spiritual practises - particularly meditation, prayer & contemplation of God or a positive secular image. The tone is objective & the authors are not interested in pushing either a religious or anti-religious agenda.

Whether or not God actually exists is not discussed. For the authors, whether someones' beliefs are factually correct is secondary to whether or not they are actually good for their physical & mental health. Which for the most part, they are - apparently different methods of meditation & prayer have different, yet universally positive, effects on our neurological functioning & physical & emotional health. According to the authors, "even minimal religious participation is correlated with enhancing longevity & personal health". Conversely, there is a chapter on the damaging effect of beliefs in a punitive, wrathful God (increased stress & paranoia) but the main message is a positive one.

A sizeable seciton of this book outlines practical exercises for enhancing various mental processes, which have been scientifically proven to work. These mainly consist of different forms of meditation but bizarrely include yawning - which is apparently so good for improving alertness & creating feelings of empathy that the authors recommend 10-20 forced yawns before meditaiton or prayer.

This an inspiring book on a number of levels. For instance, I personally don't believe in the literal existence of God & while this book has not changed my opinion, the authors' respect for people with different beliefs has rubbed off on me. In fact, they emphasise that spiritual/religious beliefs will always differ widely because how our brains physically experience 'God' or trascendent states differs considerably from person to person. It has further encouraged me in my meditation practise by prooving that it has tangible, measurable benefits. Plus it has provided some fascinating, clearly-explained insights into how the brain actually works. Whatever your viewpoint, everyone has strong feelings on this subject, making this book essential reading.

I also recommend Newberg & Waldman's Born to Believe: God, Science, and the Origin of Ordinary and Extraordinary Beliefs which covers their earlier research in this fascinating field.
Profile Image for Jitse.
199 reviews29 followers
February 26, 2017
This one's hard to judge. It's an easy read on an interesting topic with some decent insights into the effects of spirituality on the brain and the development of spirituality in people's lives. In the last few chapters it offers a few practical tools for meditation, good communication and healthy living and there are a few genuinely good lifehacks here (smiling, yawning, exercising). The same goes for the meditation exercises and as such, this book is a good resource.

However, as every popular academic work, it's also biased and a vehicle for their own opinion. It shows the take of these guys on the field and is sometimes overly simplistic in its description of the science. Their description of the anterior cingulate as the holy grail of human control and consciousness I found moderately unpersuasive. Due to its location and connectivity the region is connected to most other regions in the brain and therefore involved in most tasks by necessity. So you kinda are training your ACC when you're meditating but that doesn't feel extremely meaningful to me.

The take-home message of the book is this: moderate religious practise (specifically meditation), an open-minded search for meaning, compassionate living and faith in a benevolent/mystic deity and/or future have health benefits and 'positively' wire your brain.

But that's a shot for open goal, a no-brainer if you will excuse the pun. To me anyway. If you don't agree with their PoV, I doubt this summary will persuade you. Studying their endnotes and forming your own opinion might be better.
Having that in one place is a great resource to have.
Profile Image for James Jacob.
72 reviews1 follower
December 1, 2010
There were some fascinating results of studies revealed in this book about what happens in our brains as we participate in certain religious or spiritual activities - praying, meditating, and even glossolalia. The authors addressed this from their scientific perspectives and appeared not to grasp or take seriously one spiritual beliefs. I am a Christian, but I believe that a non-believer or one of another world religion might also recognize this. Certain facets or tenets that one of any particular religious tradition might hold true seemed not to be considered, held important, or understood by the authors. I was never quite sure how much of the research was original to these particular authors as I have read similar findings in other recent sources.

Something that I found interesting is one section where they broke down 4 ways of seeing God: The Authoritative God, the Critical God, the Distant God, and the Benevolent God. Based upon these views, one's politics, beliefs, religion, etc can be predicted with great accuracy. My view of a Benevolent God accurately predicted who I voted for in 2008 while many of my evangelical friends' views of an Authoritative God accurately (sigh) predicted their votes.

I am interested in what might be the authoritative book on how God changes our brains, but was not convinced this was the book as much as it was one of several.
Profile Image for Robert.
83 reviews1 follower
August 19, 2012
The neurological discoveries exposed in the book are perfectly consistent with what mainstream theologians have taught over the centuries. Does that make this book redundant? Not at all, but is scientific confirmation of ancient wisdom and comes in big support for it. This is something much needed in our current culture that gives credence to science over any other form of knowledge.
A lot can be said about this book, but if I got something from it is this: anger in all is forms is the enemy of your brain and its delicate neuronal balance. With this caveat Andrew shows that focusing your thoughts in God, prayer and meditation changes your brain, your health and your life for the better. He presents several meditation techniques and principles that can be used to bring calm and serenity.
A little technical at times, is a good motivator to gain a little better understanding about brain anatomy and how neurons work.
Dr. Newberg caters to all religions in this book and even no religion at all. So to me this leads him into some theological errors, but we have to remember that he is a scientist not a philosopher or theologian and his advice is very helpful nonetheless.
Profile Image for Raghda Soliman.
10 reviews
November 27, 2018
Mind Opening and Life Changing

Even though this book is not a Christian book, it still opened my mind on spiritual matters that can be carried out to evolve my life to the better. Andrew and Mark help us learn all the researches done on spiritual practices as meditation and the results that come out of such practices. They show us the benefits of carrying out such practices like meditation, compassionate communication... etc.
I found the book so insightful. It helped me learn a lot on how I can change my brain and therefore my character and attitudes by simply meditating. This triggered me to read more on Christian meditation and actually start practising it. I am enjoying it, feeling calmer every time I finish a session and praying that with perseverance and the Holy Spirit, I will actually change to the New Creation God intended me to be.
I am so thankful that I read such a book and recommend it to every person living in Earth to read and practise the different meditations mentioned as your beliefs states.
I also loved the metaphor given on our relationship with God as dogs' relationship with us.
Thank you Andrew.
Profile Image for Joel Wentz.
1,002 reviews60 followers
October 9, 2016
This work is extremely well-researched (footnotes galore!) but written quite accessibly. More than anything else, I deeply appreciated the "openness" with which the authors approached their work, remaining curiously agnostic on the question of God's existence, but also passionately in defense of faith and belief. This is quite a refreshing opinion in our current age!

Personally, I found the first half of the book significantly more interesting, which is where the writers dive into their research and findings. The second half, while quite helpful, reads more like a how-to guide for meditative and prayer practices. This part of the book is extremely helpful reference material, and I will keep it on my shelf precisely for that, but it also doesn't make for thrilling reading, cover to cover.

That being said, I highly valued this book, and I would recommend it especially to skeptics, or to religious people (like me) who struggle with doubts and questions. For my part, I was quite inspired to pray regularly when putting this book down, which is no small feat!
Profile Image for Darin Stewart.
97 reviews8 followers
March 3, 2017
Regardless of ones individual approach to spirituality, ranging from rabid fundamentalism to disinterested atheism, the structure, wiring and operation of your brain will reflect that world view in tangible and measurable ways. "How God Changes Your Brain" is not an attempt to convert the reader to any particular belief system, but rather and explanation of the impact spiritual practice has at a neurological level. They also explain how these physiological ramifications can manifest positively or negatively in our outward lives. For example, the authors present compelling research that 12 minutes of daily multi-modal meditation (breathing, mantra, mudra, motion) can improve cognitive function, in this case memory, as much as 10% after as little as eight weeks. This practice and others presented and explained, are completely independent of theological consideration. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants insight into how biology impacts belief and how to harness spiritual practice for tangible benefit. No dogma required.
Profile Image for Miles Darcey.
15 reviews
November 29, 2015
This book should be retitled "How religious meditation and prayer affects the brain". This book shows off the authors' findings on how spiritual practices, like prayer and meditation, can permanently affect a person's brain positively and negatively. There is a lot of information and studies referenced in this book, though all of them are based on how prayer-like practices affect the brain. This book is great for understanding the neurological changes of these practices and how to get the benefits of prayer and meditation. If you are looking for a more spiritual book, this is not it. This book is mostly about a bunch of studies and statistics and what they could mean to us. The information in this book is great for understanding the neurological connection to spiritual practices. If that is what you are interested in that then this book is the book for you.
Profile Image for Cristina Smith.
Author 13 books181 followers
July 8, 2017
If you own and operate a brain, this book is for you.

"...every human brain, from early childhood on, contemplates the possibity that spiritual realms exist. " Take a moment and let that sink in.

This book offers many such opportunities for consideration, philosophically, psychologically, spiritually and scientifically. A wonderful blend of not too dense facts and research and practical ways to help enhance and maximize whole brain functioning, it gives us a different way to think about thinking about God, the Divine, Source, All that Is, The Force, By Whatever Name You Choose.

The best part about it all? Thinking about the spiritual realm of life is great for our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. And...doing spiritual practices whether or not they are connected with religion or belief systems substantially benefits our brains.
36 reviews4 followers
June 4, 2018
(Update) The book gets even better after a second reading :)

I really enjoyed this book. I'm sure people with different views on faith and science may perceive it very differently based on their existing opinions. But I thought Newberg and Waldman do a great job presenting findings and explaining them in a way that even I was able to (mostly) understand. I think so much of how we experience life and even faith comes back to how our brain works, because of that I think it is very important to have a better awareness of what really drives us.

This book doesn't just stop at explaining how things work, the authors actually presents a practical approach for how to improve our behavior, and how to experience more of the benefits that our brain is capable of as it relates to faith and meditation. I wish anyone even remotely interested in these topics would read this.
Profile Image for Ron.
40 reviews2 followers
March 29, 2012
This is an excellent consideration of the neurological effects of spiritual practices, not limited to any individual faith (ie. the book cites Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu practices and more). This is _not_ a theological or inspirational book, but rather the presentation and analysis of various studies and projects led by the authors. The closing chapters give excellent steps for integrating mindfulness to personal meditation and for encouraging and enabling compassionate communication with others. This text has given me a lot to chew over, and I will keep it bookmarked and handy to integrate some of the identified practices into a discipline of meditation. Definitely well worth the read.
Profile Image for Karen Christino.
Author 11 books79 followers
April 26, 2016
The title is a little misleading, since the thrust of this book is about how spirituality, meditation and activating the compassion and empathy centers of the brain are good for you. The authors have digested an amazing array of studies to arrive at their conclusions, and include guided exercises at the end. Easy to read but packs a lot of information.

The amygdala, or reptilian brain, is responsible for our fight or flight response, which can make us unhappy, stressed and angry. Meditation counters this. And if you can’t get into meditation, yawning is nearly as good! (Yes, lots of studies to support that as well.) I was also interested to learn about perceptions of God in history and current trends in religious participation.
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