Brain and Body

Case Study: Scientists Captured the Brain Activity at the Exact Moment a Man “Saw” God

May 19, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

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They were lucky enough to be monitoring his brain when the vision struck him.

In a remarkable case report, which appears in the journal Epilepsy & Behavior, Israeli researchers serendipitously captured the brain activity of a man at the exact moment he “saw” God.

According to Discover’s Neuroskeptic, the researchers report that the man was 46 years old and Jewish, but had never been particularly religious. He was checked into a hospital in order to undergo tests to treat his right temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE), which is a chronic neurological condition characterized by strange emotions and hallucinations. He had suffered from the condition for about forty years, and he had stopped taking his anticonvulsant medication as part of the testing procedure.

In a description of the incident, the authors say that the man abruptly “froze” and stared at the ceiling for several minutes. Then, he started chanting prayers quietly, looked for his Kippa (a brimless cap that symbolizes the Jewish religion), put it on his head, and chanted the prayers more excessively.

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“Then, abruptly, he yelled “And you are Adonai (name of the Hebrew God) the Lord!”, stating later that god had revealed to him, ordering him to bring redemption to the people of Israel,” the researchers said.

The man then stood up and detached the electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes that had been testing for abnormalities in the electrical activity of his brain. He walked around the department telling people that God had sent him, attempting to convince them to follow him. The researchers say that when he was further questioned, “he said that he does not have a concrete plan, but he is sure that God is going to instruct him what he and his followers should do on their way to redemption.”

Luckily, the researchers were able to examine what was actually going on inside the man’s brain throughout the episode since the EEG was recording until he ripped the electrodes off.

They report that there was a spike in activity in the low-gamma range (a type of brainwave) localized to the left prefrontal cortex, which is opposite to where his epileptic seizures originate.

The case study authors diagnose that the man had “grandiose religious delusion of revelation and missionary zeal in the context of postictal psychosis (PIP).” Postictal psychosis is a severe complication that follows seizures, and it’s almost exclusively an adult disorder that emerges in the setting of chronic epilepsy, according to a paper published in Epilepsy Currents.

However, the researchers say that why this man experienced this religious episode without any history of PIP remains a mystery, but at least they were given a clear look into the brain mechanisms underlying such an event.

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