Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
246:  “There’s a world of ideas competing for access to human brains”:  Souls, Brains and the Divine:   Dr Michael Ferguson

246: “There’s a world of ideas competing for access to human brains”: Souls, Brains and the Divine: Dr Michael Ferguson

Dr Michael Ferguson is a research fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School.  He works at the intersections of culture and brain.   His active research includes cognitive neuroscientific investigations of intelligence, memory, depression, religiosity, depression and spiritual experience.


Michael joins Gina to discuss the relationship between religion, church, spirituality and God.   They go deeply into the question of where and how we feel the spirit, and how spirituality is ultimately an embodied experience.

TEDX Talk:  This is Your Brain on God



  1. EDiL13

    This interview reminded me of a talk I heard once (at a Unitarian Universalist church) by a hospital chaplain who said that he had a friend who was also a minister, and they would often have lunch together and talk, and one day his friend had learned of research in which it had been determined that if certain parts of the brain were stimulated (chemically, electrically, etc.) the person would have a religious experience. This had totally shattered his friend’s “faith,” and he said something to the effect of, “All this time we thought God was communicating with people, and now we find out that it’s all just brain chemistry?” But the chaplain said, “That didn’t bother me at all — so we figured out how God does it.”

    It would have been very interesting if I could have been undergoing an fMRI scan when I had my first “spiritual experience,” so I could have seen what part of my brain was “lighting up” at that time. Unfortunately, it was over 45 years ago and I don’t think that this technology was even available back then. But as a result of that experience, I lived my life based on the assumption that the Mormon church was “true” for over 30 years.

    Fascinating stuff. Loved the TED talk, too.

    — EDiL13 (Elohim’s Daughter in Law)

  2. Diane Hatch

    I am probably a Mormon that would drive Mr. Ferguson crazy. Quite orthodox. I know in individual thought and practice much of what Michael said is true about Mormons—and also true for many practitioners of any faith. Our faults become extremely exposed in Mormonism because of “community”.

    However as a casual studier of world religions and a “religious” Mormon scripture reader, I found an estimated 90 percent of Michael’s truths that he espouses and claims to not be found in the Mormon church are within the realms of Mormon philosophy/theology (not schooled enough to know the exact difference).

    For instance, and I know this is a swear word for you, I know if you asked any general authority if there were only Mormons in heaven, he would tell you no. You may argue about ordinances or whatever, but still the answer if there will only be Mormons in heaven, is no. All the rest is semantics.

    1. EDiL13

      That reminds me of a little story that was told, believe it or not, by one of my gospel doctrine teachers at the beginning of the class in an LDS church on a Sunday years ago… about a man who died and went to Heaven, and St. Peter meets him at the gate and takes him on a tour, and everywhere they go they see many groups of people, all of them happy. Finally they come to a group of people who are also happy, but surrounded by a wall. When the man asks about this, St. Peter replies, “Those are the Mormons. They think they’re the only ones here.”

      (I was glad to find out that some of us, even gospel doctrine teachers, can at least laugh at ourselves.)

  3. David

    Very insightful. doesn’t have more info on the May 19th event in Toronto.
    I’m interested in having more information regarding this event.

  4. Pingback: Why I’m leaving – Rewriting Eden

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