Saturday, November 18, 2006

Glossolalia and Programming the Brain

University of Pennsylvania psychiatrist Andrew Newberg has published a study showing that "speaking in tongues" (also called glossolalia) is associated with changes in brain activity. From the ScienceNOW article:
Glossolalia produced a significantly different pattern of brain activity than singing, the team reports in the November issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging. Perhaps the most important difference was a decrease in frontal lobe function, Newberg says. "The part of the brain that normally makes them feel in control has been essentially shut down." Another notable change was increased activity in the parietal region--the part of the brain that "takes sensory information and tries to create a sense of self and how you relate to the rest of the world," Newberg says. The findings make sense, says Newberg, because speaking in tongues involves relinquishing control while gaining a "very intense experience of how the self relates to God." Interestingly, he notes, the glossolalia responses were the opposite of those seen in subjects in a meditative state. When people meditate on a particular sacred object, Newberg has found that their frontal lobe activity increases, while their parietal activity goes down. This conforms with the notion that in meditation one has a controlled focus while losing a sense of self.
In the novel Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson proposes that glossolalia is essentially the programming language of the brain.
"We've got two kinds of language in our heads. The kind we're using now is acquired. It patterns our brains as we're learning it. But there's also a tongue that's based in the deep structures of the brain, that everyone shares. These structures consist of basic neural circuits that have to exist in order to allow our brains to acquire higher languages."
"Linguistic infrastructure," Uncle Enzo says.
"Yeah. I guess 'deep structure' and 'infrastructure' mean the same thing. Anyway, we can access those parts of the brain under the right conditions. Glossolalia -- speaking in tongues -- is the output side of it, where the deep linguistic structures hook into our tongues and speak, bypassing all the higher, acquired languages. Everyone's known that for some time."
"You're saying there's an input side, too?" Ng says.
"Exactly,. It works in reverse. Under the right conditions, your ears -- or eyes -- can tie into the deep structures, bypassing the higher language functions. Which is to say, someone who knows the right words can speak words, or show you visual symbols, that go past all your defenses and sink right into your brainstem. Like a cracker who breaks into a computer system, bypasses all the security precautions, and plugs himself into the core, enabling him to exert absolute control over the machine."
"In that situation, the people who own the computer are helpless," Ng says.
"Right. Because the access the machine at a higher level, which has now been overridden. In the same sense, once a neurolinguistic hacker plugs into the deep structures of our brain, we can't get him out -- because we can't even control our own brain at such a basic level."
In ancient Babylon civilization the language was used for verbal "programs", or me, to allow people to perform basic tasks - making bread, planting grain, etc. In Snow Crash the bad guys have rediscovered this language, and are using it for their own purposes. Their tongue-speaking victims have very much "relinquished control".

Related Links: Brain Imaging and Religion
• Newberg also answers questions about what his research might mean about religion and God
Mind Hacks reports on an earlier study that also found changes in temporal lobe function during glossolalia.
PZ Myers was unimpressed by the study, and is highly critical of the way it has been reported in the popular press.

Related Links: Snow Crash
Snow Crash at Aleph Null
Snow Crash annotations from the Quicksilver Metaweb
Commenary on Stephenson's Snow Crash ( from members of English 65, The Cyborg Self (Spring 2005), and English 111, Cyberspace, VR, and Critical Theory (Spring 1998), Brown University.
• Snow CrashSnow Crash

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