Lecture Topics


Andrew speaks on a range of topics related to his research, including:


How God Changes Your Brain

Have you ever wondered where in the brain we think about God? Whether God exists or not, God changes in our brain in many fascinating ways. This talk, based on the best selling book How God Changes Your Brain, reviews some of the most recent research on spiritual practices like meditation and prayer—a growing field called neurotheology. We will also review how the brain pictures God, feels about God, and thinks about God. We will consider both the positive and negative sides of religion—when religion makes people charitable and altruistic versus a terrorist. Finally, we will discuss how we might foster the more compassionate side of religion and the brain. This information will provide fascinating ideas to reflect on and consider for everyone’s spiritual beliefs.

Principles of Neurotheology

This lecture reviews Andrew’s book of the same title, in which he outlines the major principles that are the foundation for future neurotheological research. The principles pertain to how science and religion must interact to successfully form this new field of study. The principles also consider how science itself is performed and the capabilities and limitations of science. A variety of theological and religious ideas are engaged, such as: How might neurotheology address important moral or theological questions? Can neurotheology provide a new understanding of the human mind, the human brain, and human consciousness? How can we become better thinkers?


Why We Believe What We Believe

This presentation focuses on a broad array of beliefs from the mundane to the mystical. After all, everything that we think about our world—including our relationships, morals, and religion—is a belief. By exploring the basic components that make up our beliefs—perceptions, cognitions, emotions, social interactions—a deeper awareness of our belief processes and the limitations of those beliefs can be achieved. It is also important for us to understand how beliefs can be manipulated and how our existing beliefs affect our future beliefs. This presentation also describes the results of groundbreaking brain imaging studies that show how specific experiences, such as prayer or speaking in tongues, can result in profound and compelling beliefs.

In the end, this information is critical for becoming a better believer. By identifying potential problems with beliefs, we can all strive to hold beliefs that are constructive both to ourselves and society.


The Neuroscientific Study of Religious and Spiritual Phenomena—Or Why God Doesn’t Use Biostatistics

With the rapidly expanding field of research exploring religious and spiritual phenomena, there have been many perspectives as to the validity, importance, relevance, and need for such research. There is also the ultimate issue of how such research should be interpreted with regard to epistemological questions. The best way to evaluate this field is to determine the methodological issues that currently affect the field and explore how best to address such issues so that future investigations can be as robust as possible and make this body of research more mainstream.

This presentation focuses on the physiological and neurobiological studies that have been performed and the potential issues associated with such studies. In some sense, this research builds upon the clinical work since it is helpful to understand the ultimate expression of these phenomena as they affect a person’s life and health. However, physiological studies are crucial for understanding how the clinical results may come about. Furthermore, physiological studies examine the specific nature of spirituality and its affect on the body.

This lecture reviews four dimensions of this area of research with a critical perspective on methodology and statistical analysis. The four dimensions as they relate to the neuroscientific study of religious and spiritual phenomena are:

• Appropriate measures and definitions

• Subject selection and comparison groups

• Study design and biostatistics

• Theological and epistemological implications


Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief

By the end of the 18th century, when higher criticism and the scientific method began to captivate the human mind, the intellectual elite assumed that religion soon would vanish. However, 200 later, the concept of God and the primal stories of religion remain with us and, in many instances, appear to be gaining in strength. We humans remain in thrall to spiritual mythologies, to those symbolic commentaries that arise from the unchanging depths of our minds.

In his neurological research, Andrew considers this question: Why would the forces of natural selection, which gave the human brain its inexpressible powers of logical observation and rational analysis—all shaped toward the serious, pragmatic goal of keeping us alive—allow that very same organ to place such fundamental hope and trust in strange, unlikely myths? In answer, Andrew contends that the very neural architecture of our brains allows us no other option. We are myth-makers in our blood, compelled to explain the world in terms of gods and monsters, compelled by the mind’s deepest will to survive.

In this lecture—based upon his book of the same title—Andrew discusses his research in brain function and neuroimaging, specifically his high-tech investigation of the brains of meditating Buddhists and Franciscan nuns at prayer. Illuminating the chain of neurological events that are triggered by intensely focused spiritual contemplation, Andrew places these objectively observed phenomenon side by side with our ineradicable drive to make myths, proposing that the religious impulse is coded into the biology of our brains. While neuroscience cannot confirm nor dispute the existence of God, it can help us understand why God will not go away so easily.


The Creative Mind/The Creative Brain

In this lecture, Andrew discusses how the brain, with its neurological richness, enables us to respond to our ever-changing world with unique flexibility and ingenuity. Unimaginably intricate, it is the human brain that allows us to develop novel ideas, create art and music, explore new vistas, and expand culture and society. But the brain’s innate creativity reaches beyond matters of aesthetics or problem-solving: In the end, it appears that not only can we create particular things and ideas, but we actually create our very sense of the world. The implications of this radically basic creativity within our brains are significant, affecting our exploration of reality and our place within it.


Spirituality and Physical/Mental Health: Clinical and Research Perspectives

Andrew considers the relationship between health and spirituality or religiousness. Several topics are covered, including:

• The hypothesized associations between spiritual experiences and improved mental or physical health

• The hypothesized associations between spiritual experiences and psychological disorders

• The possible mechanisms for the effects of religion and spirituality on health

• How spirituality can directly help improve quality of life, both physically and psychologically

• How various spiritual interventions from prayer to meditation can be utilized in clinical practice


The Neuropsychology of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a complex neurocognitive and emotional process with multiple facets. Increasingly recognized as an essential aspect of psychological therapy, forgiveness can be fully understood only by considering the neurophysiology and overall brain function that may be related to the act of forgiving. In this lecture, Andrew reviews the phenomenology of forgiveness and examines possible neuropsychological mechanisms of the process. He covers the evolutionary origins of forgiveness, which suggest neuropsychological as well as social forces at play. Finally, he presents an initial model for the mechanism of forgiveness, a model that can lead to empirical testing or, at least, the possibility of future directions of research into this field of study.


The Neuropsychology of Near-Death Experiences

This lecture considers the phenomenon of the near-death experience (NDE) as it relates to the neurophysiological substrate of the human brain. Specifically, Andrew proposes a model for the generation of the NDE based upon our current understanding of brain function in terms of the activation of Jungian archetypes as "prepared" cognitive structures. These archetypes, called the archetype of Dissolution and the archetype of Transcendent Integration, can explain the various aspects, both negative and positive, of the NDE. Andrew concludes by exploring various states of reality and how these relate to altered phases of consciousness using the NDE as the point of departure.


Consciousness and the Machine

This lecture considers the problematic relationship of consciousness to physical reality—whether physical reality is interpreted as the brain, artificial intelligence, or the universe as a whole. Andrew delineates the difficulties of starting the analysis with physical reality on the one hand and with consciousness on the other. He discusses how consciousness may derive from material reality or how material reality may derive from consciousness. Concepts of "universal" or "pure" consciousness versus “local” or “ego” consciousness are explored. The issue of whether artificial intelligence can possess consciousness is examined as an extension of the relationship between consciousness and the brain or material reality.