Saturday, August 27, 2005

MOUNTAINS GET YOU HIGH: Does anoxia explain the high-altitude revelations received by Moses, Jesus and his disciples, and Muhammad? Authors Shahar Arzy, Moshe Idel (the prominent Kabbalah scholar), and Olaf Blanke raise the possibility in an article in Ha'aretz entitled "Magical mystery tours." Excerpt:
The common elements in all three "mountain" divine revelations and the appearance of the same elements in the experiences of climbers suggest that a prolonged stay on a mountain can affect various brain functions in a manner that allows them to have such experiences. One possible explanation is that the feeling of a presence, autoscopy, hearing a presence and emotional manifestations follow deficits in body-processing. The fact that we have a body and that we sense that we are living within a body is not a trivial fact. Our brain processes multisensorial inputs that the body senses, and locates our "self" accordingly. An important role is played by a special brain region, the temporoparietal junction, which integrates the data from the various regions concerned with self-processing. This data include basic perceptions: We situate ourselves in accordance with what we see, hear and feel, but there are also more complex processes at work. We permanently mentally represent ourselves, our movements, our surroundings and what is happening there. A prolonged stay at high altitudes and the shortage of oxygen can impair multisensory integration in the temporoparietal junction.

When we externally stimulate this region of the brain with an electrode or measure a spontaneous (epileptic) activity there, similar sensations of another's presence, autoscopy, hovering and fear have been experienced. In addition, a prolonged stay at high altitudes, especially while in solitude, causes a loss of neural inhibitions: Just as this organ consists of complex systems that stimulate certain processes, it also has others of similar importance that inhibit or prevent certain processes from occurring, to help us create a good picture of the reality we are experiencing, instead of an exaggerated or "disturbed" one.

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