Freud’s Oceanic Feeling Associated with Brain Damage!

During meditation or prayer, have you ever had what Freud called (picking up the term from Romain Rolland) an “oceanic feeling“? In other words, have you felt your “little self” (the shrew of your ego) submerging harmoniously into the “Big Self”—the Atman—or the universe?

Well, if you have, Italian researchers have recently suggested that “dysfunctional parietal neural activity may underpin altered spiritual and religious attitudes and behaviors.”

In other words, maybe your spiritual experiences should be associated more with brain damage than with God! What a deflation. I prefer the poetry of the Bhagavad Gita—and Elton John:

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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13 Responses to Freud’s Oceanic Feeling Associated with Brain Damage!

  1. Heuristics says:

    >”dysfunctional parietal neural…”

    Without teleology how does one classify something as dysfunctional in the first place?

  2. santitafarella says:


    That’s a good question. The Italian researchers were working with data on the location of brain tumors and correlating them with how patients reported spiritual experiences (before and after surgery). So I guess dysfunctional means tumor diseased.

    Isn’t it curious that a contingent thing like a tumor can evoke spiritual experiences? It’s like the brain shutting down at death. Why doesn’t it just fritz out randomly rather than go through the commonly experienced patterns of the near death experience?


  3. Heuristics says:

    I suppose it would be strange if one thought that the brain is only an antenna, it would be strange that a damaged tv antenna could give rise to a new episode of seinfeld since normally tv shows are created independent of the damage status of the antenna of your tv. If one had a more classical (ie non puritanically protestant where the material is slightly evil) view of the mind where there is a very close bond between subjective experience and the objective world it would not be very strange. On a such a view the brain does stuff to the mind and the mind does stuff to the brain inseparably, one does not do stuff without the other.

    Perhaps I am just a bit too easily amused by trying to apply logical positivism and materialistic eliminativism to see if these standard type of talking points actually have any meaning in their own type of thought system (I should not be so lazy perhaps since value and meaning most likely are part of what gets eliminated in the end, too easy to do such arguments).

    (I have not (yet?) looked in to near death experiences so I cannot comment on them)

  4. andrewclunn says:

    When scientists call meditation a malfunction and defend down syndrome as “neural diversity” you know there’s ideology at work.

    • santitafarella says:


      In this case, I think they are just doing science. They found certain self-reports of spiritual states associated with tumor location. That’s interesting.


  5. Any kind of significant perturbation, mental or physical, can act as a catalyst for a spiritual experience. That’s because such perturbations shake us out of our habitual patterns of thought, in which we sleep-walk through life.

    However, the real problem with this bogus “research” is the claim that these “scientists” are able to objectively and quantitatively measure “self transcendence”. These guys wouldn’t know genuine self-transcendence if it bit them in the arse.

    • santitafarella says:


      Good point on perturbations. As for the arse comment, that’s funny but maybe the researchers looked into the subject precisely because they are meditators. I don’t think the findings must lead to the conclusion that one should not have a spiritual life (as your perturbation observation attests).

      And I think atheists have as rich a spiritual life as theists—they just call it “the pursuit of scientopia.” That vision can give you as much of a charge as any other form of visionary millenialism or spirituality—and perhaps disrupt your “parietal neural activity.”


  6. santitafarella says:


    If you’ve not really looked into NDEs before, start here with these two YouTube clips:


  7. sagehope says:

    Why would these scientists even suggest such a thing, if it is a “may”.
    I MAY think that some of these supposed scientists have puffed up egos. hardee har har

  8. santitafarella says:


    I don’t share your cynicism toward science. Sorry.


    • sagehope says:

      I love science myself.
      I am a scientist. ( my tone of voice is calm and collected. 🙂 )
      The fact is that scientists really don’t know what matter and energy really are. thats why they keep trying to look for the smallest supposed particle. even the idea that everything is in wave for, what is this “everything”?

      the scientists don’t know.
      I mean sure scientists know a lot of facts such as electrons travelling through the brain, and calculating the descent of a ball from the force of gravity. however they readily admit, they do not know what electrons are, they don’t know what a ball really is, they don’t know what gravity is.
      whenever scientists try to describe some phenomenon, they obviously have to describe it by using terms which they do not know the true meaning of.
      So the statement that they make, using MAY, and using THEORIES points to the fact the scientists really are not sure about anything. Of course this is true for much of the people.

  9. santitafarella says:


    Sorry if I misunderstood you. I think that qualifiers on sentences (may, perhaps, probably) show that a person is not a dogmatist: they are proportioning their beliefs to the evidence.


  10. sagehope says:

    no problem. by for now

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