The awesome Professor VS Ramachandran

My wife came across some fantastic videos during the course of her studies in linguistics. The videos feature the brilliant neurologist V. S. Ramachandran and his study of temporal lobe epilepsy and the curious effects a split brain has on a person.

Watching these videos leads me to believe that “The Almighty Creator of the Universe” has a terribly screwed up sense of humour. In fact, I think what happens to the poor bastards referred to in the videos must be more than adequate proof that there is indeed a God since no mere human being could be fucked up enough to conceive of the situation they have been put in. It is absolute genius, on a divine scale.

Curious yet? Let me explain:

In the first two videos titled “Ramachandran, The Temporal Lobes and God” there is a young gentleman called John who developed severe epilepsy at age 17. His epileptic fits cause him to have intense religious experiences (temporal lobe seizures often cause feelings of ‘oneness’ with the cosmos or feelings of being ‘visited by god’). They are so violent that he goes unconscious during the seizures and he has them up to 8 times a day. After the seizures the epilepsy sufferers often become preoccupied with religious matters.

John had never been religious before but since he started having seizures he’s become intensely religious and preoccupied with religion. Looking at him he looks a lot like somebody who is about to start a religion; the seizures cause him to believe what he believes with profound conviction.

This puts poor John in a supremely shitty situation. He either continues to suffer with the epilepsy and gets to go to heaven or he can choose to get treated (with surgery and/or drugs), which will cause him to lose his ‘religious beliefs’ and burn in hell. (What’s even more amusing is if he prays to Jesus to cure him, and he is cured and the cure causes him not to believe in Jesus. But that’s another post.)

The massive irony is in this situation, that his religious beliefs are caused by these seizures.

In the last video, Professor Ramachandran talks about a person who has had their brain split. By split, I mean he has had the two lobes of his brain surgically separated. This kind surgery is a last resort treatment for grand mal epilepsy.

Professor Ramachandran did an experiment with this chap, which involved him asking each ‘side’ of the guy’s brain if it believed in God. The result of the experiment was that one half of the subject answered that it believed in God and the other half answered that it did not. One half of his brain was an atheist and the other half believed in god… what kind of fuckery is this and how fucked up is the sense of humour of deity who conceived of this peculiar kind of torture?

To attempt to understand how the brain makes the distinction between logic and woo, one must first understand that the two hemispheres of our brains are able to act entirely independently of one another. In normal circumstances, the brain is connected by a bridge of sorts called the Corpus Callosum which facilitates inter-hemispheric communication. In what’s known as the ‘epilepsy operation’ (or, jokingly, the ‘personality transplant’), the Corpus Callosum is cut out, which causes a range of strange and permanent symptoms.

From Wikipedia:

A patient with a split brain, when shown an image in his or her left visual field (the left half of what both eyes take in, see optic tract), will be unable to vocally name what he or she has seen. This is because the speech-control center is in the left side of the brain in most people, and the image from the left visual field is sent only to the right side of the brain (those with the speech control center in the right side will experience similar symptoms when an image is presented in the right visual field).

Since communication between the two sides of the brain is inhibited, the patient cannot name what the right side of the brain is seeing. The person can, however, pick up and show recognition of an object (one within the left overall visual field) with their left hand, since that hand is controlled by the right side of the brain.

From Wikipedia:

Scientists have also studied people born without a corpus callosum to determine specialization of brain hemispheres.

Linear reasoning functions of language such as grammar and word production are often lateralized to the left hemisphere of the brain. In contrast, holistic reasoning functions of language such as intonation and emphasis are often lateralized to the right hemisphere of the brain. Other integrative functions such as intuitive or heuristic arithmetic, binaural sound localization, emotions, etc. seem to be more bilaterally controlled.

Dr Jill Bolte Taylor explains (terribly eloquently) in this video that after her massive stroke, as a neurosurgeon and as a human being suffering a severe brain trauma, she was suddenly acutely aware of two distinct thought processes. This realisation came in waves as she flitted from not recognising her own limbs, to an absolute euphoria and, as she called it, “lala land”.

If she (or another brain injury victim) were to spontaneously develop or lose religion… what would Jesus do? The Bible seems pretty straight forward in its proclamation: believe in Jesus, accept him as your lord and saviour and to heaven you will go.

Your fragile, easily damaged brain entirely determines what you ‘believe’. God requires a certain ‘belief’ for you to be ‘saved’. The irony is that nowhere in his instruction manual does God ever mention anything about brain injuries, exceptions or leniency (quite to the contrary actually) and his followers, securely in lala-land, enforce idiocy upon themselves.

That minor head trauma as a child could turn out to be a sentence for eternal torture, this is the holy sense of humour.

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything –Frederick Nietzsche

Ramachandran, the Temporal Lobes and God

Split brain with one half atheist and one half theist