What does Science say about Mysticism

Mysticism is the belief that a human being can directly experience Ultimate Reality or God. Although no Ultimate Reality Detector has been invented yet, science does have tools to study measurable effects of such phenomena as meditation and near death experiences.

According to Science Daily, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has shown that Buddhist meditators use different areas of their brain when confronted with unfair choices, enabling them to think more rationally and less emotionally than control group participants.

Sara Lazar of the Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, reported in another Science Daily article that physical changes in the brains of meditators take place in as little as eight weeks of practice. Changes include increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, which is important in learning and memory and in other brain structures associated with self-awareness and compassion. The control group in Lazar’s study showed none of these changes.

Dr. Kenneth Long in his book “Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences,” followed the basic scientific principle that what is real “is consistently seen among many different observations.” (Harper Collins, 2009) Analyzing over 1,000 case histories of people who had had a near death experience (NDE) Dr. Long found what he considers to be irrefutable consistencies among people of different religions, ages and cultures.

Besides the consistencies in their stories, Dr. Long points out that according to the man-as-machine paradigm, any lucid experience is impossible under general anesthetic or in the event of lack of brain activity. Furthermore, the fact that some near death experiencers can describe the surroundings and conversations in the room where they are being treated, when they have their eyes closed or even have been pronounced clinically dead, shows that the mind is not dependent on the physical brain.

According to the Association for Near Death Studies, people who have had a near death experience are profoundly and observably changed. They are unafraid of death, less materialistic, more spiritual but less religious and more intuitive. Their more universal view of love can seem threatening to family members and this less “attached” style can result in conflict or divorce, as their less materialistic attitude can result in major career changes.

Physiological changes can include light and sound sensitivity. Discordant or loud sounds are troubling to most and their taste in music may change. Sensitivity to medications can be heightened, causing subjects to react more strongly to normal dosages. With time, the subject makes the adjustments needed to enjoy their heightened sensitivity.  

While science has not devised a method for putting Ultimate Reality on a microscope slide, it does have many tools to study the effects mystical experiences produce in human beings.