I've always wondered what happens in the brain when one speaks in tongues. And lo and behold, there is an article in this morning's paper.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania took brain images of five women while they spoke in tongues and found that their frontal lobes — the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do — were relatively quiet, as were the language centers.
The images, appearing in the current issue of the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, pinpoint the most active areas of the brain. The images are the first of their kind taken during this spoken religious practice, which has roots in the Old and New Testaments and in charismatic churches established in the United States around the turn of the 19th century.
The new findings contrasted sharply with images taken of other spiritually inspired mental states like meditation, which is often a highly focused mental exercise, activating the frontal lobes.
The scans also showed a dip in the activity of a region called the left caudate. “The findings from the frontal lobes are very clear, and make sense, but the caudate is usually active when you have positive affect, pleasure, positive emotions,” said Dr. James A. Coan, a psychologist at the University of Virginia. “So it’s not so clear what that finding says” about speaking in tongues.
The caudate area is also involved in motor and emotional control, Dr. Newberg said, so it may be that practitioners, while mindful of their circumstances, nonetheless cede some control over their bodies and emotions.
Being someone who mediates and who can also swing into speaking in tongues at the drop of a hat, I can say from experience that there is a difference in feeling between the two activities. Now I know why.
What's it all add up to? You got me. But a few thoughts comes to mind.
The matter of a drop of activity in the caudate suggests to this reader that (are the scientists being polite here?) the activity is itself is lacking something, meditation being, as the scientists put it, "a highly focused mental exercise", one that activates the part of the brain that has a measurable and beneficial effect.
Fundamentalists are always talking about the Spirit taking them over. Considering the evidence here, is it any wonder that they also yammer about demons taking one over as well? It's even been suggested by fundamentalists that those who meditate open themselves up to demonic forces. Well. Guess what? It's those who are speaking in tongues that are not using all of their brains.