Note: This transcript has not been proofread, and therefore its accuracy is not guaranteed.
Wright: Andrew Newberg teaches at the university of Pennsylvania both in the medical school and in the dept. of Religious Studies. He is a co-author, along with the late Eugene D'Aquili, of "The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience." I interviewed Dr. Newberg at the University Of Pennsylvania Medical Centre and focused mainly on this new book, "Why God Won't Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief," also co-authored by the late Dr. Eugene D'Aquili.
Thanks for letting me come here and talk to you.
Andrew Newberg: My pleasure.
Wright: ...here at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Centre where you teach and do research.
Andrew Newberg: Correct.
Wright: And one of the kinds of research you do is to take pictures of brains while brains are engaged in various activities.
Andrew Newberg: Right.
Wright: And one activity that you've gotten particularly interested in is the religious experience.
Andrew Newberg: That's correct.
Wright: And in the course of taking pictures of brains that are having religious experiences, you've come up with a few interesting conclusions. One is that, although if you look at religious experience around the world, people seem to be doing very different things in different cultures when they are practicing religion. You contend that there is actually an underlying unity there. When you look at the biology of religious experience you see something that people everywhere have in common.
Andrew Newberg: That's correct.
Wright: You... a lot of people would look at what you do when you take these pictures of the brain and say "Here's what's actually going on when someone has a religious experience,” particularly mystical experience which you paid special attention to, and they might say you are reducing religion to mere biology and in that sense, devaluing religion and suggesting that in some sense religious experience is not true. You argue that that would be misinterpretation.
Andrew Newberg: Absolutely.
Wright: Ok. Now before you explain why, tell us why you paid special attention to the mystical experience. Tell us what is a mystical experience as kind of classically defined?
Andrew Newberg: When we look at a mystical experience as being a very profound spiritual state they’re usually associated with very powerful emotional responses whether they are ecstatic responses or very powerful quiescent kind of response or even some kind of combination of the two, they often are associated with a strong sense of becoming one with or becoming unified with God or the Universe or some absolute nature of the world. Those are probably the main defining characteristics of the most profound types of mystical experiences. But we also look at all types of spiritual experiences along a continuum where we start with base-line reality and the individual discreetness of things in reality -- tables, chairs, cars and things like that -- all the way through very mild experiences that someone may have looking at a sunset or listening to a beautiful Mozart concerto. And then finally, on up to the very powerful kinds of experiences people get after many many years of meditation or prayer and where they ultimately do become absorbed into their object of meditation or prayer.
Wright: So there's this spectrum...
Andrew Newberg: Absolutely.
Wright: There's this intense mystical experience at one end that very few of us have been privy to...
Andrew Newberg: Correct.
Wright: And you have a name for that.
Andrew Newberg: Absolute Unitary Being.
Wright: Absolute Unitary Being. That sounds like a desirable state.
Andrew Newberg: It's a very nice thing...
Wright: Do you know from first hand experience?
Andrew Newberg: Well I can't really say. One of the obviously one of the problems with any of these types of states is that when you have a complete loss of a sense of self you basically have transcended a subjective and objective components of the state so there is no self that can come back and say Yes I was there or No I wasn't there. It's a ... from sort of phenomenological perspective, it's a very difficult state obviously to describe. That's also one of the characteristics of mystical states, that they are ineffable and indescribable.
Andrew Newberg: So, to a certain extent, if anyone came and told me, “Yes, I had a mystical experience and was part of Absolute Unity Being,” I would certainly have to question whether or not that was actually the case because they are extremely difficult to understand and interpret and analyze. So most people who have had these kinds of experience one are in some senses a little reluctant to go into great detail knowing that whatever they say is going to be far short of what the actually experience was.
Wright: So, what are some feelings an ordinary person might have had that in your view moved them somewhere some distance along the spectrum toward the Absolute Unitary Being?
Andrew Newberg: Right. Well very very obvious example is when people go to a church on synagogue and participate in some type of service where they may experience a fairly strong sense maybe of awe, of God, a very strong sense of love, a sense of community with the people that they are with as well as the sense of becoming part of something greater than themselves even tho it doesn't necessarily mean that they have a complete loss of that sense of self. They do get some...
Wright: What about with team sport? When you’re...
Andrew Newberg: Absolutely.
Wright: When your basketball team is doing well and there's a sense...
Andrew Newberg: When you're "in the zone," as they say. I mean I think that there is certainly a relationship along that continuum for being at sporting events or participating in sports and any # of different types of ritualistic activities can potentially provide at least some component of that experience from a biological perspective and from an experiential perspective. I think that's why people do these things, that's why they are continually repeated throughout societies and cultures that there is a special feeling of being together with other people that are all in it together. In fact, we frequently talk about ritual as not being as being a sort of morally neutral technology, ritual in and of itself does not have to used for the positive kinds of practices that we thing of when we look at Nazi Germany.
Wright: Nazi Germany had rituals ... very much involved in the dissolution of self.
Andrew Newberg: Absolutely, they brought an entire society or state together in one common goal and even though it was extremely negative towards everyone else in the world it was extremely powerful for the people who participate. That actually is we think one of the goals of ritual, especially group ritual, which is that within the group itself you have increased cohesion, increased unity, but anyone who is not a part of that group then will be perceived as being extremely negative and you actually create animosity towards those people.
Wright: Now, when you get back to the extreme venison of this, the kind of absolute Unitary Being, you do see some difference in the kind of reports you get from say someone in an Eastern religious tradition such as Buddhism, or a Franciscan nun at the other end...
Andrew Newberg: Correct.
Wright: What are... and of course, one interesting thing about your work is you say that to some extent it's the same thing going on biologically in the brain in the extent that you can see it, but what difference do you get in terms of the reports of what it's like?
Andrew Newberg: Well I think there's a couple of ways of explaining the difference from a biological perspective at least that people may have when they have very powerful mystical experiences. Now we ... not specifically talking right now about an Absolute Unitary state where there is a total non-differentiation but when people have a complete absorption into God, or they understand the universe and the total cosmic consciousness for example those types of experiences, depending on the approach towards that experience, so depending on whether they went through prayer or ritual or meditation they might be able to create a slightly different type of experience when they actually arrive at that state. So that's one thing. It depends on, to a certain extent, how you get there. Once the experience... once the person has had that experience, how they interpret that in the cultural context in their religious context and so forth can also alter how it's perceived. An interesting example of this, I think, are people who have had near-death experience. In comparison, people who have had near death experiences in the United States and those who have had it in India, there are frequently the sensation of some type of presence. But the presence in the United States is usually interpreted as being "one with God" or "one with Jesus Christ" if the person is Christian, whereas the people who are India obviously don't have that perception they have a perception of being one with Ultimate Reality or being one with some type of spirit or God that they would practice to. So I think how it is ultimately interpreted may depend to a great extent on the cultural context and the religious context of the person. And again also, how they may have entered into that state. So our over all theories essentially say that the basic brain mechanisms are going to at least use similar parts of the brain and use them in a similar way but specifically how we get into those mechanisms and how we activate those parts of the brain will ultimately alter how that experience is felt. It would be very difficult to say where the specific understanding, the particular sense of a presence of Jesus Christ would exist in the human brain but I think we can look for the sense of a presence without necessarily a presence of something in particular. And then of course the person's memories and cultural context will ultimately come into play to help them understand it.
Wright: Now as for the biology of the experience and the things that people East and West, North and South have in common when they have an intense religious experience, give us an example... I mean I know a lot is going on in a lot of parts of the brain and there are various things that you think are involved but there is one part of the brain in particular that seems to be associate with orienting the physical self in space and that seems to play a role.
Andrew Newberg: That's part of the brain technically called the posterior superior parietal lobe we've sort of dubbed "the orientation area" and it is the orientation area that takes all of our sensory input -- visual, auditory, body sensory input -- and creates for us a sense of our self and a sense of that self's orientation within the world. Our model suggests that when people go through these kinds of experiences, particularly through a meditative or prayer type of practice, that by blocking the sensory input into this area you ultimately prevent that particular part of the brain from being able to do a good job at orienting the self and even creating the sense of self. If you block that out completely you would have a complete loss of any sort of definition or boundary of the self and we think that they may explain why people feel this absorption into some object of prayer or meditation, absorption into God, becoming one with something in the universe or becoming one with God, you have a loss of that sense of self and other or that sense of self and world by blocking the input into that area. I should stop here and go back to the point here that we're talking along a very reductionist path right now which I think is okay and I think is important but I think our ultimate conclusions are actually going to be very far from the reductionist...
Wright: Get to the inspiring part later.
Andrew Newberg: ...don't want to lose anybody right now.
Wright: Let's break it down before we build it up.
Andrew Newberg: That's fine.
Wright: One point you make, which I thought was interesting, is that you know the sense of self is something that has to be constructed in the first place... in other words, you know we take it for granted, I mean, naturally, if you’re a mind you have a sense of your self. We think that way. But your point is that a mind in a generic sense needn't necessarily have a sense of it's own self. That's something that our minds are designed to construct and a mystical experience breaks down what is in some ways an artificial construct in the first place in some sense maybe.
Andrew Newberg: Well, it is and it isn't. I think that a lot of our theories have developed by the study of anthropological records and even the study of other animal species and certainly in the mammalian, primate species we see a lot of the same basic brain structures as what human beings have but one of the ways that people test whether someone truly understands their sense of self is by showing putting them infront of a mirror and see how they react. Human beings and maybe a couple of primate species are the only animals that we know that can actually know that they are looking at themselves in the mirror and not some other animal, so it's conceivable that some of that machinery may exist or may have existed in the ancestors the evolutionary ancestors of human beings even though it may not have reached sort of the level and the degree of complexity of which we have our own self awareness and self consciousness which as far as we know exists primarily in human beings now whether or not it exists in a few other animals is under debate but you are absolutely right. To a certain extent we need that sense of self to help us navigate through the world but on the other hand when we actually are trying to become one with the world or trying to feel a part of something greater than ourselves then it makes a lot of sense that our brains would have at least a mechanism by which to deconstruct that sense of the self.
Wright: We know, for a long time we've known, that certain types of biological aberrations in a sense are associated with religious experience such as epilepsy. Dostoevsky, is an example of somebody who had intense religious experiences...
Andrew Newberg: Right.
Wright: ... and had epilepsy. But you're saying that the religious experiences really fundamentally a ...
Andrew Newberg: A normal experience.
Wright: ... normal experience of a wholesome mind that is operating as designed.
Andrew Newberg: It's operating to a certain extent in an extreme way because these are usually experienced through very many many years of meditation, hours of meditation or prayer or through a near death kind of experience. But, the basic idea is it doesn't necessarily have to be a pathological state. It doesn't have to be a disorder and it's actually a very interesting issue with regards to how we understand the neuroscience of these experiences. People certainly who have had things like temporal lobe epilepsy and schizophrenia have had religious experiences associated with them. That's well documented. A thoroughly small percentage of people actually who have had those problems will have religious experiences and I think it's always sort of a mistake for physicians or scientists to say well that's just means that all of these experiences are in fact pathology because when one looks at one the large number of people who have had these experiences, when one looks at the characteristics of the experiences, it's hard to begin to explain all of them away just by say well this person had temporal lobe epilepsy, this person had some tumor or something like that... most of the time for example when people have a seizure or seizure problems they have the same basic symptoms repeated over and over again and that's usually not the case when people have mystical experiences. They frequently will have it maybe once or twice or a couple of times in their life time and that's it. Conversely, most of the times when people have different types of psychological problems like schizophrenia and so forth these are people who are not able to function in society for the most part they actually the more they have these kinds of experiences the worse off they are at being able to function in society whereas people who have mystical experiences people who have near death experiences in large part will function better will have better interpersonal relations will often be regarded with high esteem by their society in fact. The Zen Masters and the meditation masters. those are the people that are the pinnacle of society.
Wright: Ok, now speaking of Zen Masters. Seems to me one implication of your work is that in your average person the capacity for an intense religious experience is there. The capacity to have a mystical experience is there in fact we know Zen Masters are among the people who, through intensive training, realize this potential.
Andrew Newberg: Right.
Wright: I mean, is that ....
Andrew Newberg: Absolutely.
Wright: ... if I work hard enough your feeling is that I could attain, if not Nirvana itself, something much closer...
Andrew Newberg: Well I ...
Wright: ... than I've got now.
Andrew Newberg: I think one of the things that is important for people to realize about any and we all have for example the ability to do mathematics. We all go to the store and figure out how much change we're supposed to get. But some people can do multi-variable calculus and some people are pretty much left with basic addition and subtraction. So I think to a certain extent the ability to have spiritual experience also exists along a continuum. I think some people are probably pretty facile about being able to have those kinds of experiences and may have multiple experiences throughout their life. Some people may never really get that feeling they may just not get, you know, what happens to them in ritual. This question is frequently asked to me along the lines of "How do we explain atheism?" And I think part of that answer lies in the fact that some people probably just don't feel it as much as other people. And that doesn't mean that they have a defect, it's just that as human beings we have a continuum of experiences and abilities that some people are able to better enter into. That doesn't mean that somebody who may be or who may have a not a good sort of pre-disposition to having these kinds of experiences can't go through meditation and ultimately attain something like that. It just may mean that they need to practice that much more or that much harder in order to do so.
Wright: Have you worked at it yourself? Do you meditate or have you meditated?
Andrew Newberg: Well, I actually proceeded, part of how I got interested in this whole topic was actually as a child asking a lot of questions about the world and how we can get to know things and know what reality was. As I pursued a fairly, what I thought was a kind of Judea-Christian perspective and kind of grounded Western philosophy and science, especially as I started to get a little older, I realized that that was important to a certain extent but it had it's limitations and that ultimately some of the concepts that are brought in from Eastern traditions especially meditative types of traditions were going to be necessary to truly unravel these questions. And I think...
Wright: The question being...?
Andrew Newberg: ...about reality and about "Why are we here?" The basic questions that we're all trying to answer to one extent or another. And in that regard, my approach to this has certainly been, I think, at least scientific on one hand but it has become for me personally in my own personal journeys, somewhat of a more meditative type of approach. I don't actually practice a certain specified technique of meditation and in that sense don't mean to give the sense that I'm actually following Tibetan Buddhism or one particular tradition or another.
Wright: So, I shouldn't adopt you as my leader...
Andrew Newberg: No no no defiantly not. Sorry.
Wright: I still may ask you some questions about it...
Andrew Newberg: That's ok, that's ok. But I think if you do sort of pursuit a path along these lines of trying to understand the world and trying to understand our place within it that having a sort of spiritual or meditative type of approach is also an important adjunct to scientific approach. That's ultimately where we go with a lot of our philosophies.
Wright: Do you still meditate regularly?
Andrew Newberg: I try to, yes.
Wright: And do you have varying degrees of success? Although I'm told ... I've tried to meditate and when you talk about success and whether or not I succeeded, I always get reprimanded by people who say "No! When you are meditating there's no..."
Andrew Newberg: There is no success. Right.
INT: ... you're just in a state of being.
Andrew Newberg: Right. Yes, I mean, I think I look at it as sort of this continual journey to the extent that what my own sort of thinking and meditating if you will and scientific approach has been at least I think I feel I continue down the same path in terms of trying to get to some answers. Whether or not I will "succeed" in doing that obviously remains to be seen.
Wright: But you must feel it helps on a day to day basis...
Andrew Newberg: Sure.
Wright: ... in some sense it enriches your perspective.
Andrew Newberg: Yeah I think it helps for me as with millions and millions of people throughout the world. I think that having some kind of spiritual path is allows us to be grounded, allows us to gain perspective on the world that when something bad happens to us we can understand the fact that, well you know, there really is something a little bit greater out there and we don't have to get bogged down on what our finances are or what particular problems that we may run into on a daily basis.
Wright: So, it allows you actually to detach your own perspective to some extent from your own situation.
Andrew Newberg: I think for me personally I think that's true. I think other people may get different things out of it and that's why there are many different practices. But ultimately I think why people pursuit spiritual paths and religion and ritual is to help them gain some sense of themselves within the world to gain some understanding of what that purpose is and ultimately to connect them to something that is bigger than everyone.
Wright: And just leaving philosophy aside, just in sheerly pragmatic sense, it kind of helps you get through the day. In a...
Andrew Newberg: I think so.
Wright: ...in a less than altruist fashion.
Andrew Newberg: I think so. I mean, for me personally, that is true and certainly when one looks at the actual literature, the academic literature, people have shown that people who are religious tend to have slightly better mental states and lower levels of depression and anxiety and decreased amount of drug and alcohol abuse. Things like that. So, certainly it seems to provide those basic mechanisms to help us with survival and that's one of our sort of areas of focus in our research which is that, from an evolutionary perspective, religions tend to help us with our own survival and help the brain accomplish that and that's why we ultimately get into the discussion about why God won't go away which is that the brain is set up in such a way that religion is a very powerful thing for it to have and as long as religion performs functions it's way and as long as the brain is trying to perform the functions to help us survive, the two of them are going to be very intimately linked. regardless of whether or not what the ultimate reality is... and that’s something that we can talk about.
Wright: Right. I mean that that the title of your book kind of has two dimensions. It kind of means ... “Why God Won't Go Away?" ... at one level you mean because the pension for religious experience is so firmly embedded in human nature that there are always going to be a fair number of people who are religious.
Andrew Newberg: Exactly.
Wright: But you also mean in a certain sense that God kind of shouldn't go away in the sense that religious experience is not an illusion in your view.
Andrew Newberg: Right.
Wright: Can you talk a little about that?
Andrew Newberg: Well, I think as we get into our approach to this whole science and neuroscience and religious concept our analysis ultimately leads us to a discuss about reality itself and how we as human beings perceive reality and this gets into this issue about being reductionistic. On one hand, someone can look at our brain-imaging studies and say this is very reductionistic. You’ve taken someone who has had a very deep unitary state and you’ve told them that their parietal lobe has had input blocked their frontal lopes were activated and they did a few other things with their brain. And that’s true on one level. But by the same token all of our experiences can be theoretically be reduced to the same basic brain mechanisms or similar kinds of brain mechanisms. We can take any experience that human beings have do a brain imaging study and show some difference in that particular state or experience that's different than the base-line state. What that implies to us is that regardless of what we're doing, our perceptions of reality ultimately have to be filtered if you will through the brain. It is ultimately our brain which is providing our sense of the world and our sense of reality and that short of that it's really no other way to evaluate whether or not something is truly real so our discussion about the whole notion of what is really real comes down to an understanding that it is dependent on our sense that something is real so that when we are in our everyday reality we bump into a table or we drive down the street things seem very vividly real. We can feel things, we can see things, they have the appearance of being real. When we have a dream-state, for example when we go to sleep at night, we have a dream, it may feel very real when we are in that experience but when we come out of the dream-state usually we say, "Okay that was a dream, I'm not worried about that, that wasn't really real. This is the reality that's real." What's interesting is when people have mystical experiences, near death experiences or meditative experiences, there perceived of as being more real than our everyday reality. When the people are in the experience and even when they come out of those experiences so even though a person may have been in that experience and may now be back in what we would call everyday reality they still have the perception that that reality was more real. Now, what our neuroscience says to a certain extent is it sort of levels the playing field for all experience and says: they're all equal at least on a neurobiologic level but on a phenomenological level now which is sort of the only step that you can go to show whether or not they're real, these mystical experiences are actually more real than our everyday reality or perceive them as being more real than our everyday reality and it's the everyday reality that our brain imaging equipment and all of our science and everything exists within. So it actually sort of turns everything around and shows us that even though we may feel very strongly about our science and the things that our science can show and I think it's very important to look at things from that perspective, from a scientific perspective. It gets you to a point and then from there you begin to look at the phenomenological side where you start to look at the individual experiences vis a vis themselves and realize that these very powerful experiences are in many ways more real than our everyday reality and where we often go with that is ... we call Absolute Unitary Being as being sort of this ultimate state is that it sort of sitting in a place which is neither subjective or objective as how it's described by people and in a certain sense we might be able to hypothesize therefore that which is objective and that which is subjective actually derives from it so that all of science and all of our self-awareness and self-consciousness are ultimately derivative from some fundamental sort of non-differentiated level of Being which arguably can be accessed through these very profound types of states.
Wright: Ok. Let me back up a little. Religious experiences seem very real to people even more real than reality sometimes. You'd agree that that by itself does not establish their actual reality.
Andrew Newberg: No. No.
Wright: When someone's clearly hallucinating ... David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam guy... thinks his dog is talking to him seemed pretty real at the time ...
Andrew Newberg: Right.
Wright: ... wasn't happening. So, I guess I mean one thing probably part of the point your making is I guess the fact that... I mean when something is neurologically real that by itself tells you what about it's actual reality? Nothing or...?
Andrew Newberg: What we're really saying is that when we look at the neurological side of this that a mystical experience has at least equal value to our everyday reality experience, that there are changes in the brain associated with both of them and that from the neuroscientific side you can't prove that one is more real than the other and that's what I mean when I talk about the fact that it sort of levels the playing field. When scientists confront different types of religious experiences you frequently will hear them say "Well, you know, they're hallucinations" or they are .... when scientists are confronted with these religious experiences they'll frequently say that they are illusions, that they are psychotic delusions that they are not real, that there's no way to explain them through science and so forth and what we're saying is that's not really true. We can use neuroscience to show that those experiences are at least on equal footing as our everyday sense of reality but we can't go further than that, that's where the neuroscience ends.
Wright: Now I mean one reply might be look when you talk about reality things, reality being real, when I say that that table is real, I'm not the only one saying it. In fact anyone who tries to walk toward that wall is gonna run into that table.
Andrew Newberg: Right.
Wright: They will not be able to walk to the wall.
Andrew Newberg: Right.
Wright: That is a kind of objective way of establishing the reality of something. With religious experiences and with hallucinations we're in a different realm. Now I agree, they're all on an equal footing in terms of neurological reality and in fact mystical experiences apparently to some people appear more real than reality but still you I gather you have some reason other than that to believe that the mystical apprehension the religious apprehension is more plausible than imagining a dog is talking to you or something. Right?
Andrew Newberg: Well, there's a couple of answers to that question. Let's go back to the whole issue of reality for one minute though. In some of our earlier work we looked at criterion by which we could talk about what is real from an epistemological perspective. Number one on our list was the sense that something was real, the strength of that, the vividness of that reality. Some of the other issues, one of them was the ability to cross reference with other people who you might, like we said, two people can look at the same table and say: "Ok, it's there," and that makes you feel at least a little bit better about it's truly being there. When we do look at mystical experiences there is a lot of commonality among people who've had them so there actually is a reasonable amount of cross referencing that is going on. Now obviously what the individual person has experienced at the time is difficult to cross reference but when you look at descriptions across cultures and across religions and things like that, most people do describe it as an ineffable sense, as a sense of profound unity, as a powerful emotional feeling, maybe as a feeling of a presence and an actually pretty good amount of concordance among those kinds of descriptions, certainly a lot more than you know the number of people who think their dog is talking to them.
Wright: Now, in the book, "Why God Won't Go Away," you talk about you know the kind of particular conceptions of God or the particular spiritual philosophies around the world as all being embodying something more fundamental in some sense or reflecting or being a human attempt to articulate something more fundamental. You distinguish between God and the Godhead. So, it sounds to me as if, in a state of Absolute Unitary Being or the pure mystical experience, you think people are in touch with something at a higher level or abstraction and greater depth almost than they are when they are practicing a particular religious tradition although the you see the two as connected...
Andrew Newberg: Yes. Sure.
Wright: How would you put it?
Andrew Newberg: I think that sounds about right. I mean in our attempt to try to understand some of the global issues of religion because otherwise neuroscience breaks down if you get into every individual experience we do see that religions are trying to get at something that is more fundamental and even though they may do it in many different ways that that is in some senses the ultimate goal of religion to be able to have some kind of contact with something that is more fundament or understand that which is more fundamental than our everyday reality and in doing so become part of what creates the sense of that religion and specific theological practices and rituals and so forth.
Wright: One thing that occurred to me though is, I mean, if say the Christian conception of God is kind of a mere metaphor for a God that in some sense more abstract... practicing Christians, that's not what they believe. You know what I mean? I mean they don't think that is a myth that kind of reflects something deeper and true. They believe it is absolutely true.
Andrew Newberg: Right.
Wright: And that's the reason it works for them. So, I mean is there a little bit of a tension? It seems to me hard to argue on the one hand that the particular religious traditions don't have the absolute truth that people subscribe to them and then say "Feel free to continue following them," because in truth, the following them depends on the belief in absolute truth, right?
Andrew Newberg: Right.
Wright: What would you say to that?
Andrew Newberg: Well I think it's an interesting point I mean obviously when we get into the whole issue of reality and we do get into this exclusive issue where somebody who believes in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and so forth will clearly say that's the reality everyone else is wrong. If you're going to go that route then that's one way of doing it. The problem with that of course is it does mean that you have to explain why all these other people feel differently than you. What our theories are trying to do is to find an answer to that question which is to say that in some sense you know and I guess from my own personal feeling you know of as God an infinite being then there should be infinite ways of manifesting and understanding that. So it seems to me that one would have many different ways and many different approaches to understanding God if you will or whatever is more fundamental, that fundamental line of being, that even though there may be some conflicts between how people perceive that that there are ways that -- like you said -- work for that particular individual and that that in many ways is what is important for that particular individual. Now our neuroscientific perspective can then look at that and say: "Well, but it's also important to realize why two different individuals would believe something totally different and yet still feel just as strong about it." And that's what we try to look for, which is the reasons behind all that, whereas it's difficult for us to make a specific argument at least based on neurosciences to which reality is more real.
Wright: When you think about the Godhead or the conception of God that encompasses the specific cultural conceptions of God that you find in the great religions of the world, is it -- and I mean I know this is something you have no scientific evidence on -- but in your own mind when you think about this, what kinds of properties do you ascribe to this God? I mean, infiniteness is one that you've mentioned. Is this a creator God? The kind that you get in Christianity or what?
Andrew Newberg: I think it's a little different... obviously it's a difficult thing to talk about...
Wright: Why's it taking you so long? Why all the stammering? Come on.
Andrew Newberg: When we talk about Absolute Unitary Being, when we talk a little about the notion that it exists in some senses prior to what is objective and what is subjective, when we think about the universe we usually think about it in terms of those two basic categories: there's some objective world that's out there and there's some subjective internalized sense of that world and because this Absolute Unitary Being exists prior to that, one could hypothesize to a certain extent the creational concept where objective and subjective both derive from that and in that sense it does sound to a certain extent a little bit along the lines of a God that would be creating. Although maybe not necessarily a personificated type of experience...
Wright: Okay. I guess my last question is just: do you have any more tips for how I might successfully meditate. Although you're not supposed to talk about success when you're meditating.
Andrew Newberg: Well I think as far as each individual goes. we're all left with trying to understand and trying to figure out the world on our own levels and we all have to figure out what works for us and for some people meditation is going to work and for some people yoga and for some people... and that's why they're all here because they work for some and not others and some people are going to look at Christianity and say "This is the most wonderful thing." And some people are going to look at it and say, "No. That doesn't really fit with my understanding of the world." People are going to have different kinds of experiences and spiritual experiences, in fact that's actually a problem. We were talking earlier about how the very positive experiences but sometimes if people have a near death experience or something like that it doesn't blend well with their current perception of the world or their knowledge based on their own religious experiences so it creates a conflict for people and I think ultimately each individual has to find it for themselves, has to take their own journey's and their own paths to understanding the kinds of experiences they have and how the reality as they perceive it is and what their relationship is to that reality and to God ultimately so I think it ultimately comes down to each individual and there's no ... I guess the best advice is people just have to keep trying different things until they find something that does work for them and ... but that the existing systems that are out there work obviously very well for a large number of people so it's a good place to start.
Wright: So you are not going to be my guru.
Andrew Newberg: I'm not going to be your guru.
Wright: Well thanks anyway ...
Andrew Newberg: Thank you.
Wright: Thank you for talking to me. It's been a lot of fun.