Neuroscience of divine love

Is divine love related to human love, and if so how? Can studying human love perhaps provide useful clues about the neuroscience of divine love?

After all, Sister Diane, one of the Carmelite nuns whose “unio mystica” state was neuroimaged by Mario Beauregard, as reported here ,

compares her love for God to the way two people love each other. When they fall in love, they feel a physical rush. They blush. They feel tingly. That, she says, is the kind of love young nuns feel for God when they experience unio mystica. But over time, the love deepens and matures.

But what do we know about the neural basis of human love? In a new fMRI study of teenagers in love, reviewed in the New York Times, scientists found:

[Love] is closer in its neural profile to drives like hunger, thirst or drug craving, the researchers assert, than to emotional states like excitement or affection. As a relationship deepens, the brain scans suggest, the neural activity associated with romantic love alters slightly, and in some cases primes areas deep in the primitive brain that are involved in long-term attachment.

Brain scans of 17 love-struck college kids revealed activity in the caudate nucleus, a basal ganglion thought to be the primary site of initiation of movement (and implicated in Parkinson’s Disease), and the ventral tegmental area in the brain stem, an area of the mammalian brain that takes care of most basic unconscious functions, like eating, drinking, and eye movements, operating by producing and shooting dopamine, the so-called “reward ” chemical, throughout the forebrain.

Perhaps, then, divine love is also mediated by these subcortical areas. Have they been implicated in any neuroimaging studies of religious experience? If not, is that possibly related to the fact that divine love is a particularly Christian phenomenon, and therefore something we might not see in meditating Buddhist monks? The answers could form the basis for what I call “comparative neurotheology”, the study of how religions differ in terms of their neurological framework.

One Response to “Neuroscience of divine love”

  1. Angel Says:

    Love is a very complicated and it is necessary for both men and women to understand each other.
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