Peak experiences on mountain peaks

Are high altitudes conducive to revelations and other spiritual experiences, and if so, why? That’s the topic of a recent article in Medical Hypotheses by Swiss and Israeli neuroscientists.

According to the authors, mountaineers have described the experience of feeling or hearing presences, autoscopic phenomenon (seeing an image of yourself externally), hallucinations, and other manifestations, especially when alone on the mountain.

Why? The authors note that “brain areas such as the temporo-parietal junction and the prefrontal cortex have been suggested to be altered in altitude. Moreover, acute and chronic hypoxia significantly affect the temporo-parietal junction and the prefrontal cortex and both areas have also been linked to altered own body perceptions and mystical experiences”.

It may not just be the thin air up there; it could also be the climb. The authors point to research that “stressful events, physically and emotionally, while climbing mountains, cause release
of endorphins, which are known to lower the threshold for temporal lobe epilepsy, which, in turn, may evoke revelation-like experiences”.

There is no new research here, just ideas. But these ideas lead to some fairly straightforward experimental designs—researching the results of meditating in a hyperbaric chamber immediately comes to mind.

One Response to “Peak experiences on mountain peaks”

  1. Numenware, a blog about neurotheology » Blog Archive » Thanks for your comments Says:

    […] on one of my favorite posts, God and the brain in your gut, although it got some trackbacks. Nor on Peak experiences on mountain peaks, although it got picked up by Mind Hacks, nor on the article about dried squid entrails. My post […]

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