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Monday, March 27, 2006

Feeling Peaky

Glad tidings of great joy: there could be a straightforward medical explanation for at least three of the world's major religions.
Moses, Mohammed, and Jesus all experienced revelations on mountains, but they were probably just suffering a form of altitude sickness, say a group of Swiss and Israeli neurologists, casting doubt in the process on the very existence of God.
All three felt, heard or saw a presence, experienced lights and felt afraid, say the brain scientists from Lausanne, Geneva and Jerusalem. But so have contemporary mountaineers who are more interested in ice picks and thermal undies than anything mystical - suggesting the dizzy heights may have the effect of turning ordinary mortals into prophets.

"Different functions relying on brain areas such as the temporo-parietal junction and the prefrontal cortex have been suggested to be altered in altitude," they write in the marvellous journal Medical Hypotheses, which is positively boastful about giving a run to bright new ideas that haven't been through the usual discouraging process of scientific peer review.
"Moreover, acute and chronic hypoxia significantly affect the temporo-parietal junction and the prefrontal cortex and both areas have also been linked to altered own body perceptions and mystical experiences."
Especially if the prophets went yomping through the hills alone, they might be vulnerable to such mind-bending experiences and be uninhibited about expressing them.
As if to illustrate his own point, one of the doctors - Shahar Arzy - features a picture of himself astride a mountain on his university web page.
Neurologists could assist in the interpretation of sacred texts, they said - but equally a spot of bible study might help doctors understand "the machanisms of corporeal awareness and self consciousness."


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