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Listening Through Science

Continuing our series on listening and the importance of listening for constructive dialogue, episode two of The PARK podcast focuses on what neuroscience and mystical practices teach us about listening. Dr. Lia Howard talks with Dr. Andrew Newberg, Director of Research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health and physician at Jefferson University Hospital, and Dr. Justin McDaniel, Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Endowed Professor of the Humanities and Undergraduate Studies Chair in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania about their research. Neurotheology is the field of scholarship that seeks to understand the relationship between religion and spirituality on one hand and our brain on the other. Dr. Andrew Newberg has been studying the impact of religious practices such as meditation and prayer on the functioning of the brain since the early 90’s. Dr. McDaniel, a former Buddhist monk and researcher of languages teaches courses at Penn that require students to take on some of the same disciplines monks practice to quiet the mind and focus their attention. In this interview, we hear about Dr. Newberg’s and Dr. McDaniel’s research and studies learn practical tips for reducing distraction and improving deep listening.

computer monitor with image of brain scan

Excerpts from edited transcript:

Dr. Lia Howard: Welcome to our guests, Dr. Andrew Newberg and Dr. Justin McDaniel, both of whom were featured in a conversation at the event, “Other Ways of Knowing– At the Intersection of Neuroscience and the Mystical,” co-sponsored by Jackie Tileston, Associate Professor in Fine Arts, Stuart Weitzman School of Design, and the SNF Paideia Program. As an opener to that event, Professor Tileston read a quote from Scholar Jeffrey Kripal. Quote, “If we come to see consciousness as being more and more fundamental to the nature of reality, if consciousness turns out to be cosmic, in other words, then suddenly the humanities are not just studying tangential fluff or illusions produced by dying brains. Suddenly, humanists are studying the ultimate nature of reality, insofar as that reality is indirectly coded in cultural forms. Science is getting weirder and weirder and more poetic, and we need the widest possible space within which to have these discussions with depth and intellectual flexibility.” End quote.

Today, we want to continue that earlier conversation and focus in on listening. As you know, at the SNF Paideia Program we believe that individual and community wellness are connected and in the importance of listening across difference. Learning about the brain and listening and how to develop spiritual and cognitive processes around listening provides an intriguing way to explore those themes. And so I’m thrilled to have you both with us today to tell us more. I’d like to start by asking Andrew, how would you define neurotheology? And how is your research delineating this emerging field?

Dr. Andrew Newberg: The simplest definition is that neurotheology is the field of study, the field of scholarship, that seeks to understand the relationship between religion and spirituality on one hand and our brain on the other hand. A couple of caveats with that– first of all, I think, to me, it’s always important for people to realize that it is meant to be a true two-way street. It is not just neuroscience looking at religion. It is not religion looking at science. But it is really the two of them looking at each other to help us better understand who we are as human beings.

For neurotheology as a field and as a term to work I like to define the neuro side and the theology side very broadly. So the neuro side is not just neuroscience, but it can be medicine. It can be neuro-imaging. It can be psychology. It can be anthropology– all the different ways that we get at the biological stuff of who we are, and including how we understand the physiology of our body as well.

And theology is a very specific field. It’s a very specific discipline in which people are looking at sacred texts, sacred ideas of a given tradition, and trying to analyze them. And we can apply perspective about what’s going on in the brain when people are engaged in that kind of analysis. But I also like to expand the theology aspect of the term to include religious experiences, spiritual beliefs and practices, mystical experiences, rituals, as well as beliefs and event theological ideas as well.

Dr. Lia Howard: Well, it’s a fascinating, fascinating concept. And did you set out to study the brain’s reaction to enlightenment? In essence, what led you on this journey? And how has your research influenced you personally?

Dr. Andrew Newberg: My interest in this area of study started when I was a kid and was asking a lot of questions about why are there different religions and how we understand the nature of reality. For me, the fundamental question was always, how do we understand what we think is real? Why do we think it’s real? And how do we know if what we think is real is actually real?

I originally thought that science would have a lot of answers. And certainly, we had a focus on the human brain and how our brain takes information from the world around us and helps us to create a sense of the world and a sense of reality. But as I went through my training, began to realize that science, as terrific as it is and as good as it is specifically looking at the material world, has certain limitations, especially when it comes to things like consciousness and spirituality.

And so I started to explore various philosophical traditions and approaches, different religious and spiritual traditions. And so all of this was swirling around in my own mind as I got through college and headed into medical school. And then I was just very fortunate to have two wonderful mentors, one who was in the imaging world.

And so we did a lot of brain scans of people with Alzheimer’s and depression and so forth. And then also met up with a psychiatrist who also by training was an anthropologist. And he had been exploring these same kind of questions about religion and spirituality and how they relate to the brain as early as the 1970s. And so we connected in the early 1990s and started to really push forward a way of looking at these things. And then, of course, with the imaging piece as well I suddenly realized, well, gee, if we’re studying the brain of people with Alzheimer’s and depression, why can’t we study the brain of someone who’s religious and spiritual or doing a practice like meditation? And that was really what created that whole approach. And for me, I feel like I have learned a great deal. But all of it is my own personal– for me, it’s my own personal– combines a spiritual and scientific journey to understanding who we are and who I am and how we interact with reality.

Dr. Lia Howard: I’m glad you’re working on it because it’s so fascinating. And I appreciate you mentioning mentorship. I think it’s a great way now to bring Justin in. Justin, I’d love to hear. Could you talk a little bit more about your research and practice? So you study Sanskrit and Indian studies. You’ve experienced monastic life. What contributed to your decision to leave the monastic life to teach and research in the Academy?

Dr. Justin McDaniel: That’s a great question. I’d like to say, like Dr. Newberg, I was inspired from a child. I don’t think I questioned reality as a child. I was mostly graffitiing buildings and getting in trouble with school. But yeah, I did. I went to Asia quite young as a volunteer. I wasn’t interested in Buddhism per se. I was doing volunteer work and I got to know a lot of Buddhists. I got to know monks and nuns and I went on to be ordained as a monk. It was very rewarding and very hard. I left the monastery for a variety of reasons, one intellectual, and another one because my mom was sick. I decided to join the Academy mainly because I had no other skills. I was a bartender for many years, and I worked in a lockdown unit of a mental institution, Mass Mental Health, which may be closed now.

The only thing I was really good at was languages. And so I had all these linguistic skills, and I love languages. And I decided that I would go study languages like Sanskrit and Pali and Thai and Lao and Burmese and things. And then that led to teaching what I teach.

Dr. Lia Howard: Well, it’s a fascinating life, and thank you for sharing those pieces with us. Do you find now, are there connections between your meditation practice and your research? Have you found ways to link together your past and your present?

Dr. Justin McDaniel: Yes, absolutely, especially in my teaching more than my research. Though I have written on meditation, and I have written on Buddhist practice and ritual. But I mostly write on Buddhist art and architecture and Buddhist manuscript culture and illuminated manuscripts and things like that.

So I teach two courses which are very experiential courses, where students do meditate. And they do take vows of silence and things like this. And they have intense reading and discussion. And so I bring into that, because I agree with Dr. Newberg in the sense that we– combining the physical.

Meditation begins primarily as a physical practice and all monastic traditions begin with the body, the intense study of your body and other people’s bodies, and the spiritual, if you want to call it that. And so I certainly don’t think you can teach in the humanities without understanding that we exist in bodies. And we exist in networks of influence, and that we eat, and we go to the bathroom, and we take substances, and we have sex, and we do all of these things. And to say that that is separate from the cerebral life or the spiritual life is, I find, kind of ridiculous.

Dr. Lia Howard: Thank you. That is a perfect segue– thinking about ourselves as embodied– to now turn to thinking about listening. And so Andrew, how does listening influence our perception of reality? I believe you said in your earlier lecture that the part of the brain that deals with auditory and visual perception is called the thalamus. What happens to this part of the brain during listening? And are there practices we can adopt that can strengthen our auditory perception or perhaps ways we can train our bodies or minds so we can physically listen better?

Dr. Andrew Newberg:There are a lot of different physiological changes that go on in the brain when we listen. And the brain is quite remarkable in terms of how we process all information that comes in from the outside. Ultimately, when we’re listening, when you’re listening to my voice, it’s compressed waives of air that are hitting your ear in a certain way, and then that affects parts of the ear that ultimately connects to the neurons that go through the thalamus, and then ultimately up into the auditory cortex and begin to process what are just sounds and tones and things like that into words that we can then understand and make some sense out of. So it’s really quite remarkable how all of that happens. And a lot of research has been looking at that. And of course, similar processes occur for the visual areas of the brain and smell and taste and so forth.

That being said, there are things that we can do to train ourselves. I wrote a book called “Words Can Change Your Brain“. And part of what we do focus a lot on is how we can use the science of language and communication and use that information to help people to communicate more effectively. And we refer to it as compassionate communication.

And when it comes to listening itself, part of what we encourage people to do is to combine meditative practices in conjunction with communication. So we get them to engage, for example, in a relatively brief mindfulness approach that allows them to pay attention to their own listening. What are they listening to? How are they reacting to it?

And then speaking very briefly, very slowly to the person, and then getting into that dialogue. And in fact, the data also shows that our brains have a way of resonating with other people when we are engaged in a good conversation. So this is one approach. But certainly, we’ve tried to learn from what we know scientifically.

For example, science has shown that we have what’s called working memory. And so we only can hold on to 30 seconds or so worth of information at any one time. When people get into a big fight with somebody, and they start lecturing to them for 20 minutes, part of what the research shows is that that’s really not effective.

People can’t remember all the different things that get said. So it’s better to be brief. It’s better to say things in 20, 30-second increments, and then wait to see what kind of response that you get. The data shows that we do better when words and phrases are slowed down. If you speak very quickly, it’s much harder for somebody to pay attention and to incorporate everything into their auditory system.

But if you slow down, then people are able to absorb what you’re saying more effectively. So we take these different scientific pieces of information and then talk about how that can be utilized in the context of communication, both in terms of how you express yourself– briefly, slowly, carefully– and then also how you listen– deeply, intently, slowly, and watching your reactions to whatever that other person is saying so that you can continue to develop a very intimate kind of interaction with them.

Dr. Lia Howard: Justin, you teach several popular courses here at Penn out of the Department of Religious Studies. In your courses, you ask students to detach a bit from their phones and the rest of their lives in order to cultivate “A Deliberate Life”– the title of one of your courses. Can you talk a bit about the subject of these courses and what you’ve noticed about your students as they slow down? And have you noticed that they listen differently?

Dr. Justin McDaniel: Absolutely, yeah. One of my courses is called “Living Deliberately,” after Thoreau, of course. And my students start with communication. Slowly, they reduce the number of words they can use a day. And then for a month, they can have no phones, no TV, no radio, and no speaking. And that includes in all their other courses. That includes at their job. For a solid month, they cannot speak. And they can never use a phone, never computer, nothing– no email, nothing. And I’ve taught this many times, and there’s much more to it than that.

What I realized in teaching this over the years is how happy the students were. Universally, every single student I’ve ever had in every course– their grades have shot up in their other courses when they take this. You’d think, oh, this would take them away from work. It doesn’t. They talk about deeper relationships they’re forming. They talk about being better listeners.

But one of my students– she said– and I think she put it beautifully. And she said that, I learned in this course the art of single-tasking. She said, ” When I eat, I eat. When I talk, I talk. When I listen, I listen. When I walk, I walk.” And student after student after student has stressed that.

And that led me into teaching another course, related course, called “Existential Despair,” where students have an eight-hour lecture. We come together at 4 PM, and we end at midnight. And we sit together, and we read a book cover to cover– a very, very– they don’t know what book they’re going to read. And then we sit together, and we listen to each other’s expressions on the shared experience. And it comes to midnight, and no one wants to leave. And it’s this wonderful study of intense listening to others and intense listening to the words of a novelist– things like Isherwood and Baldwin and Mishima and Morrison and really great, classic things that they should be reading anyway.

The thing I find most valuable about it is the unleashing of their mind when they’re told to just do a single thing. Versus doing over eight hours on an evening, they would be studying for five different subjects, doing a part-time job, texting with friends. When they’re just– do one thing, they really flourish.

Dr. Lia Howard: That’s amazing. I really appreciate hearing about how you design focus. We live in such a communication age, digital age. And you allow them to communicate and listen by these rules, which are so interesting and, as you said, end up liberating the conversation in certain ways.

Dr. Justin McDaniel: I want to add one thing. And it has been a new development. So I have a former student, really excellent student, who took these two courses. And she suggested adding art, and so that with each novel, that there was a paired piece of art. That they would just look at the piece of art afterwards. And then I paired it with also a piece of music. And that really added to the course. It really added to that different people learn and contemplate in different ways, and see if we can overlap literature, art, and music in a certain way. But I don’t say why I’m linking all of these things. They make these fascinating connections between them. And it shows me that a lot of times, it’s often much better when professors get out of the way. They present them with fascinating material, or hopefully fascinating, and then get out of the way and unleash them, and that we practice the art of listening as well.

Dr. Lia Howard: I want to switch gears just a little bit. We’ve been hearing so many wonderful things about communication and listening. And I want to have a question for both of you. And I want to start with Andrew with this one.

So I want to ask you about this thing called the “righteous brain.” So is the righteous brain in a neurologically different state than the enlightened brain? And I’ll say what I mean by that. So social psychologist Jonathan Haidt writes about what he calls the righteous mind versus the open mind. And wanting to know if you think the open mind that he is referring to might be similar to the enlightened kind of brain that you’re speaking about? In essence, are there ways in which religious views or political views can make thinking rigid? And what about the state of enlightenment affirms challenges or complexifies that view?

Dr. Andrew Newberg: This whole topic of enlightenment or awakening– there’s a lot of ways to look at that. And I think it’s fascinating to see different perspectives on that– talking about a mind or a brain that is more open, more enlightened. There are lots of different terms that get used.

And so part of the answer, I think, to your question is whether or not these various terms are ultimately reflecting some commonality of all experiences, or whether they are fundamentally different. And that in and of itself to me is an interesting neurotheological question. So for example, if you were to line up 100 people, and 10 of them said, I’m enlightened. And five of them said, I’m open-minded. And 10 of them said, I’m a monk and awakened in that regard.

Are they describing the same fundamental experience, but they’re just using their own words and their own background, their color, so to speak– the way in which they think about it? Or are they really fundamentally different types of experiences or some hybrid of the two? Really, I mean, one of the things that again, I think, becomes interesting is that part of the answer, I think, also to your question is, where do things like the different cognitive processes, emotional processes, experiential processes come into play here if you are thinking about something as part of this process?

Then is that different than feeling something about the process? If you have an experience, and you feel a sense of love or a sense of morality or a sense of awakening, what are these things exactly? And what do we mean by them? And part of what to me is also– and I don’t know if this is another way of answering your question.

But in many ways, it’s to throw it back to you and to the people who are listening. What do people think? And that’s something that we also have really tried to do more recently is to say, well, why should we look at what Buddha had to say about enlightenment? Why should we look at what Mother Teresa had to say or some great theologian or something like that?

But what do people think? Can we go to a church? Can we go to a monastery and say, tell us what you think these experiences are? Tell us what you think they’re about? And then listen. Again, goes back to your point about listening. Listen to what they have to say. See what they are actually– how they’re relating those experiences. And then use that information to then focus back on what is going on, then. What’s going on in their brain, in their body?

And, in fact, as Justin was talking about his class, I was thinking, boy, it’d be really cool to scan these students’ brains before and after the eight hours, or something like that, and see what’s going on. So again, I think a lot of it has to do– this, to me, is a lot of what neurotheology asks us to do, which is to ask the questions to try to learn about things and to get lots of different perspectives. In fact, one last point I’ll make is that where do we even go to learn about those descriptions? I mean, do we go to a group of scientists? Do we go to a group of theologians, a group of monks, a group of regular people, whatever– a group of musicians? Whatever– how does everybody look at those different ideas. And I think that there’s some really fascinating things that we can learn by doing that.

Dr. Lia Howard: I appreciate that the interplay between the different groups asking these questions– I think that’s really important. Justin, what would you think about that question?

Dr. Justin McDaniel: I agree with Dr. Newberg that it matters what type of language you use and what kind of identity you use. I remember I had this aunt, a very difficult aunt. And I’m sure we all have difficult aunts. And I’m sure she considers me a difficult nephew. Extremely politically conservative, extremely rigid Christian in her sense, and really difficult to get across certain things and discuss certain things because basically, if it wasn’t a Christian thinker or a source– or a conservative political person, that she basically wouldn’t listen. That person doesn’t have a right to speak.

So I started to say– just experiment by saying, OK, well, remember when Pope said this thing, and then say what I wanted to say afterward. She was like, oh, well– but if I said, this Buddhist monk said this, it’d be like she would just shut off, wouldn’t listen to it. And I think it does matter how we present things. In terms of what makes a rigid mind is– I would just say I really– I guard myself against binary thinking because I just don’t think that exists in nature. I don’t think it exists in the human mind. We have the ability to hold contradictory views. Constantly we all do, and simultaneously. And I see really well-meaning students that really struggle with this. They might be a painter or an artist, or maybe they’re really into coding or deeply into organic chem. They have something that they really dedicate their life to. And that they enjoy it, but they feel very self-indulgent. I should be actively volunteering in my community. I should be participating in creative production of some sort. And I think that instead of– my students often see this as a conflict. I see it as an opportunity. This is what makes you human.

And we can have multiple heroes, cultural heroes, political heroes, scientific heroes that we respect. And we can model our lives. And my father was really the model of this to me. And my father just passed away about three weeks ago.

And I remember I was about to drop out of a PhD program, and I was really struggling with it. And he goes to me, and he goes– he was 52 at the time. And he goes, Justin, he goes, I’m 52 years old, and I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. And I never want to decide because the second I have to decide means I have to be a grown-up.

And I just thought that was really a very simple but really brilliant thing. We push ourselves to try to be something, and we try to fulfill identity. And we try to routinize our lives. And I think it goes against the wonderful dynamism of the brain that Dr. Newberg sees in pictures and has studied his whole life. Why in a sense run away from it and try to form an identity when we can celebrate our fragile and fractured nature?

Dr. Andrew Newberg: I’d like to just add actually a little something, too. I mean, I really love what Justin was saying. I guess I didn’t pick up on the part about the rigidity that you originally asked. But we talk about this a lot in our work. We actually did a book called “Why We Believe What We Believe.

And we talk a lot about how people form different beliefs and how they decide to hold on to them or not and allow flexibility and development. And I completely agree that on one hand, it’s so wonderful when you can be open and have complexity and so forth. But then there is the brain that is trying to help us do some very basic things like survive in the world.

And as a general statement, our brain does not like ambiguity. It is so much easier for our brain to say, do this, don’t do that, live this way, don’t live that way. And so when people are religious or hold different political positions or something like that, I think it’s very challenging for a lot of people because it’s– you create a system of beliefs that works for you.

And so taking a nun or taking someone who’s deeply religious or somebody who’s deeply political, one way or another, part of why they are the way they are is that those beliefs and those ideas have worked for them. And it makes them feel like that’s the way I understand the world. And I’m comfortable with that.

So now they’re confronted with an alternative– somebody who says, just an example, I mean, with his aunt, If you come at her and say, well, there’s another alternative here, she’s going to look at that and say, well– she has one of two options. Either she’s wrong, or he’s wrong. And if she’s wrong, well, that’s a very anxiety-provoking state to be in for the brain, because basically that means that I don’t understand the world as well as I thought I did. And that means that my chances of survival have just gone down.

So on a very basic level, our brain likes to feel in control. It likes to feel that it understands the world, because when it doesn’t, we’re sort of out of control. But on the other hand, I think what a lot of spiritual traditions encourage us to do is to be comfortable with that and to rest with that and to be able to explore the other side and to think through ideas and to engage people who don’t believe what we believe. And whether that’s religious traditions or political traditions– I mean, I agree– when you look at the incredible divisiveness that we see, I mean, so much of it I think we need to try to reach across and learn what other people are thinking.

Because ultimately, all of our brains are in the same boat. We are all looking out on basically infinite world, gathering about 0.000 and another 57 zeros– 0.1% of the world and trying to make some sense out of it. And so it’s not a surprise that people come to different conclusions. And it’s also not a surprise that we hold on to our beliefs very strongly.

It’s an interesting balance that we have. We need to grow and adapt and develop as people. But if we go too far from a given belief system, then we start to lose that completely. And then that becomes scary for a lot of people. So it’s an interesting challenge psychologically, philosophically, socially, politically, religiously. It’s an interesting issue. And of course, there are the brain correlates, but then there’s the psychological pieces. And it really is quite fascinating and complex.

Dr. Lia Howard: Well, thank you. You both have, again, opened the question up in so many interesting ways and so much that I want to think about more with that. Thank you. I want to just ask you now– I mean, you’ve implicitly said so many things that our students can apply to their lives.

But I want to ask you directly this– the question to both of you. And Justin, we’ll start with you. Based on your research, what kinds of advice would you give to college students? Based on what you know about the brain or religious practice, what do young people most need to think about in order to be better listeners? Are there practices they could develop or things they could read or think about? What’s your direct advice to them?

Dr. Justin McDaniel: I would say, first of all, do less. It is amazing how many demands they have on them. But they get trained from a very young age in a sense to be self-curators. They are constantly curating their identity and curating their life. And more is more– if you have volunteers and more jobs and more classes and more internships and more shadowing.

And I’m amazed how many students– they’ll come in, and they have these amazingly long CVs and resumes by the end of their junior year. But they’ve never been to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and it’s a 10-minute walk. And so I would just say do a whole lot less, and do what you’re doing, the few things you’re doing, and do them well.

Dr. Lia Howard: How about you, Andrew? Do you have any advice you’d give students that would help them better listen?

Dr. Andrew Newberg: Well, I guess the thing that I usually come to, because it’s been so important in my life and career as a scientist, but also as a spiritual seeker– and I use this phrase in a lot of what I write about in terms of neurotheology, too– is to never stop asking questions– to have a passion for inquiry, as I call it. And I feel like as long as you keep asking– it’s when you stop asking that you become set in your way. You feel like you’ve got it figured out.

And even the story about not growing up, I mean, it’s like keep looking. Keep asking. And I think as long as you genuinely keep asking questions about the world to people– I mean, again, how much can we learn? Instead of just saying, oh, that person’s Catholic, or that person’s Jewish, I know what they’re like. To ask them, what does it mean to you? What is important to you?

And then always go back and reflect on whatever answers you get. And then stimulate the next level of questions. Is this something for me? Is it something that is consistent with what I think? Is it different? Why is it different? It just goes on and on.

But I think as you keep asking those questions, then you keep pushing the ability to be open, to be less rigid. I think that’s going back to your question about rigidity a while ago. When you stop asking those questions, then you become more rigid.

And I think that we see this in a lot of very strong belief systems in political or religious or moral. But as long as you keep asking the questions, I think that keeps you open and keeps you– just keeps thinking about things and keep looking for answers. And along the way, I think you learn an awful lot just by asking questions.

Dr. Lia Howard: I want to end with just a final question for both of you. I want to ask– and we’ll start, Justin, with you. How has your research influenced your own practices? And how do you listen differently because of what you’ve studied?

Dr. Justin McDaniel: People say, well you study Buddhism. And that’s true. Or you study religion. That’s true. Study languages– that’s true. We all study lots of different things. But I think what I’m most interested in my life and that has guided me through all of the different kind of stages of my studies is that I’m fascinated by how people learn about who they are.

How does a Buddhist learn to be Buddhist? How does a Catholic learn to be Catholic? How does a physician learn to be a physician? How does a nurse learn to be a nurse? How does an engineer learn to be an engineer? The process that– we give people traits all the time.

And we say, they’re this label. I mean, you introduced both of us, and we have these titles. And you have a title. We present ourselves as these finished beings to each other. And I’m always fascinated when I meet somebody, or when I read a book, or when I studied a philosopher, an artist, that I want to know the process of how they got to this title and in a sense how they re-articulate it to themselves all the time.

Because I think we tell our own biographies, our own autobiographies, to ourselves all the time, and every time we tell it to ourselves, it’s different. And whoever we’re speaking to, we say a different story to, and we couch it in a certain way. And I’m really fascinated to listen to people’s stories about how they came to this point in their life.

And then I want to hear about their futures, like where they project. And I’m interested in instability, I guess. I’m interested in process. And I’m fascinated listening to people do that. And maybe that’s why I also listen to podcasts more and more lately because you hear the processes of how people came to be who they are. And for me, that is the– the world is narratives, and I like listening to them.

Dr. Andrew Newberg: It goes back a little bit to what I was saying a moment ago about– it’s kind of remarkable. To me, it’s like it’s remarkable we even get up in the morning and can go to work. I mean, our brain has access to such a tiny amount of what is essentially an infinite universe that it’s really just remarkable that we can come up with anything at all. And so in that regard, how people come up with that is certainly fascinating to me.

But I think the other piece of that, which I guess is one of the things that I have really taken to heart as I’ve gone through this whole– my whole career to this point– is a very healthy appreciation and respect for everyone’s beliefs, everyone’s belief system, because their brain and with their genetics and their upbringing and their friends and their teachers and their everything that they’ve ever watched on television has brought them to where they are today. And they’re looking at the world in that way, whatever that way is. And when somebody comes to that and does so in a genuine way, even if it’s completely in disagreement to what I might think, I appreciate it.

I appreciate that they’ve found this exploration, that they’ve come to this particular place, and thought about the world in a particular way. So I think for me– and I guess it’s one of the things that I hope neurotheology really can do at some point is to get people to realize that maybe the person– if I’m a very staunch Democrat, and I have somebody who I’m confronted with who is a very staunch Republican, or I’m a very devout Catholic, and I’m talking to a devout Muslim, do we need to listen to what that other person has to say and respect the fact that they came to a different conclusion than ours and appreciate that conclusion as being a different brain that has gone its path through the world and come to a different set of conclusions? Because ultimately, the old analogy, I guess, which I always love and has very different degrees of variation, is flies buzzing around an elephant. And one of them says, it’s a tusk. And one of them says, it’s a trunk. And one of them says, it’s a tail. And on one hand, they’re all right. And on the other hand, they’re all wrong, because they only can see a very tiny part of what the whole is. And that’s where we are as human beings.

And we have a very finite mortal brain that is looking at an infinite universe. And we come to a conclusion that makes sense to us. And so I think it’s always important to really learn and listen and understand what everybody has come to in terms of their own ideas and beliefs and conclusions and then take that from there and continue on our own paths and help them hopefully down their path. We’re all on a path. And hopefully, we can help each other down those paths instead of really getting into more harm and interference, which doesn’t really seem to work out too well in the end.

Dr. Lia Howard: I think that is a perfect place to end. Dr. Andrew Newberg, Dr. Justin McDaniel, thank you so much for joining me this afternoon. I feel like a much more compassionate communicator just from listening to what you’ve shared this afternoon. Thank you so much. Join us May 11 for our next episode, “Listening Through Art.”

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