Religious practices as a system of medical treatment (neurophysiological aspects)

© 2013 A.S. Zubairova-Valeeva


Zubairova-ValeevaKey words: religious practice, healing, cognitive religious studies, neurophysiological mechanisms, instincts, conditioned reflex, archetypes, internal inhibition, vegetative centers, process of rebirth, salvation, alchemy, second signal-system, speech, evolutionary anthropology

Abstract:

Traditionally, religious practices have been regarded as a phenomenon rather distant from medicine. The article presents an approach which suggests looking at this phenomenon from a somewhat different angle, to study it as a system of medical treatment. The research was carried out within the framework of cognitive religious studies[1]. The author relies upon methodological principles formulated in the works of I.M. Sechenov and I.P. Pavlov on physiology of higher nervous activity; as well as methodological approaches, developed within psychology of religion, such as methods of Jungian psychoanalysis and transpersonal psychology (C.G. Jung, M. Eliade, S. Grof). From the perspective of Jung’s hypothesis on nature of religious beliefs and mechanisms of manifestation of archetype images, the author comes to the conclusion that there are deep physiological reasons for this phenomenon. Archetypes have proven to be «imprints», which are formed by cortical neurodynamic ensembles in response to activation of the lower centers (mainly, the hypothalamus and the limbic system) which are responsible for instinctive behaviour formation. Those very centers are responsible for survival of our organism. At the same time, archetypes are not just active informational entities: due to their nature, they have to be «opposite» to our instincts in a certain way. Such conclusions make it possible to find preconditions for development of the higher vegetative centers in the nervous system, this process was called «rebirth» by the author. According to the author, even despite its multiple connections with the cortex, including the regulative ones, the vegetative nervous system does not provide such quality of signal processing, which could be expected in the presence of the full cortical level of its organization. There is every reason to believe that corticalization of the vegetative functions is one of the most probable and logical directions of the nearest evolution of our nervous system. The process of rebirth transfers the nervous centers, which are responsible for life support, to a higher cortical level of organization that assumes qualitative improvement of regulation of internal organs and systems. Therefore, one can predict an increase in life expectancy, because protective and regenerative abilities of this organism can surpass the most ambitious expectations. Moreover, the cortex is a material basis of our consciousness and its activity, and the man will be the master of his own organism not only in terms of voluntary (aimed) movements, but also in terms of all internal processes by the end of the mentioned-above period of vegetative centers development. Probably, we will have to deal with the new informational form of biological matter movement, which is similar to its interiorization (a certain placement «inside» the subject). This is some kind of «revolution in foundations of existence», which changes the very nature of human lives. The author believes that the process of rebirth can be caused by the development of dialectical contradictions between the cortical and subcortical structures, improved mechanisms of internal (cortical) inhibition and an evolutionary tendency towards corticalization of functions. Implementation of the process of rebirth is impossible without participation of people themselves, i.e. without long-lasting and hard work on internal transformation of the available sphere of naturally occurring desires and instincts. The presence of this instrument, which allows influencing the course of physiological processes, makes it possible to create a corresponding form of medical treatment. The author searched for signs of successful implementation of rebirth and came to religious practices. The author comes to the conclusion, that there is a branch of medicine aimed at rebirth which can be found within religious practices. It cannot be separated from the soteriological part of religion, in fact, it is its practical side. It uses a special psychotechnics: replacement of egoistic (inborn, biologically conditioned) desires and impulses by the essentially opposite and altruistic ones. The main thing is not to get rid of the natural desires (which is, in fact, impossible), but to transform the intention «for myself» into the intention «for other people» («for the Supreme Being»). This practice can be evaluated socially, however, this is not obligatory, because society just helps a person in practice to achieve desirable qualities.

The end of the process of rebirth will be succeeded by formation of the cortical representation of higher analysis and synthesis of vegetative signals, and, therefore, the new morpho-functional system. However, according to the principle of minimal provision formulated by P.K. Anokhin, the functional system begins to play an adaptive role long before all its elements finish their final structural formation. The author assumes that grounds for this new system may be already found in the cortex, and the human nature will have separate effects, expected after its appearance. She comes to the conclusion that one of the grounds can be a specifically human morphofunctional system (cortical zones of speech along with the new fields of the neocortex connected by bunches of associative fibres), which is a physiological basis for activity of the second signal system. Acquisition of the second signal system was accompanied by a somewhat partial virtualisation of the objective world of nature, its placement «inside» the subject. It is also practically assured that words can affect vegetative and organic processes, there are many deep researches that cover this topic in details. Moreover, there is an opinion that the man has to have certain informational entities which carry out speech «imprinting»: the structures of rebirth will carry out this work best of all, as they are inversed copies of our instinctive programs. At first sight, increased life expectancy may be a rather distant perspective of rebirth. However, there is some evidence that human physiology has already undergone changes in this directions, as resources of the human organism are bigger than those of monkeys, which is proven by longer life expectancy. It is also known that in a human, compared to monkeys, as it slowed down the ripening process of morphological systems and juvenile symptoms persist even in adults. Therefore, it is possible that the process of rebirth and anthropogenesis are closely connected. But if rebirth and anthropogenesis are inseparable phenomena, this process has not ended for the humanity itself yet: the man is still not «the man» to a full degree, he is constantly being in the process of endless development.

[1] Cognitive religious studies are based on methodological principles and data of sciences which study the brain and consciousness: neurophysiology, physiology of higher nervous activity, cognitive and evolutionary psychology, behavioral genetics, psychology of development, psychoanalysis, language studies, epistemology, cybernetics, etc. It connects issues of genesis of religion, language and consciousness, its aim is to explain religious rituals biologically, it studies mental processes, participating in formation of religious ideas, as well as influence of such ideas on human behaviour and consciousness, that is why it widely uses different theoretical models.

Please read the full version of the article in Russian.

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