The New Sun

It Started by Listening to Children

Melvin Morse, M.D., has written for numerous medical journals and is the author of New York Times bestsellers Closer to the Light (the first serious study of children's near-death experience) and Transformed by the Light. His new book, Where God Lives, sheds new light on the links between science and mysticism, and reveals the area of the brain that is our biological link to the universe.

Lese Dunton: In your new book you talk about the right temporal lobe of the brain being the "God spot." Could you elaborate?

Melvin Morse: Conventional neurologists -- if you were sitting across from some neurologist from Einstein Medical Center -- he or she is going to tell you that the right temporal lobe is for memory and the integration of memory with our emotions and our personality. Wilder Penfield, the father of neuroscience, liked to call the right temporal lobe "the interpretive cortex," meaning that memories are not stored there, but our ability to interpret memories are stored there. That's the classic definition.

It's also well known that the right temporal lobe is the source of spiritual visions. Karl Pribram, who's a mainstream neuro-philosopher, has always said that "the kingdom of heaven is in our right temporal lobe."

LD: Is there a way to activate the right temporal lobe without having a near-death experience? Prayer, meditation and changing your life could do it, but human beings are impatient. Is there any device or something that you can hook up to?

MM: (Laughs) I was talking to a group of EEG technicians and they asked me that same question. It just came to into my head, I just thought, "Well, maybe that's what prayer is." However, I have to give you a qualifying comment first before I answer your question directly.

We don't know if spiritual visions -- like for people that pray and see God -- are the same as the near-death experience. We don't. There is very little research done on that issue. I'm not aware of really anyone who has looked at, let's say, 100 patients who've had near-death experiences and systematically compared those to the spiritual experiences that happen to people spontaneously.

The fascinating part about my research is the large number of people who have beautiful, spontaneous spiritual experiences. It just happens to them for no particular reason. The second very fertile time for spiritual experience -- activation of the right temporal lobe -- is in the dreamy, half-awake/half-asleep state. They called this the hypnogogic state. People describe very beautiful experiences during that period of time.

Robert Louis Stevenson taught himself how to have hypnogogic experiences. What he would do was sit at the fireplace and hook himself up to this sort of harness. As he would fall asleep, this harness would jerk him awake. He would do that over and over again. Many of his novels were written in a hypnogogic trance. He felt that he sort of directly channeled many of his novels.

There's a guy named Michael Persinger, PhD, up in Canada. He directly stimulates the right temporal lobe to induces what he calls "the God Experience." He uses an electrical device. And then there was Wilder Penfield, who took stainless steel probes and probed the right temporal lobe, and patients would see God and have a variety of spiritual experiences. And then it's clear that drugs will induce the experience. I think there have been three main drugs that have been implicated: LSD, Mescaline, and Ketamine. All three of those act on the right temporal lobe.

There's a Science of Soul Travel, developed around how to have out-of-body experiences. Many Eastern religions are aimed at inducing the out-of-body and spiritual experiences. Various meditative techniques can clearly induce this experience.

In the Air Force they do centrifuge studies in which they take these fighter pilots and whirl them around at tremendous speeds until the blood flow in their brain stops.

LD: Spatial disorientation?

MM: Well, no, they go into a coma and nearly die from the experience. They have seizures and go into profound comas. And then, sure enough, they have this spiritual experience. The guy that does this research, Jim Winnery, has been able to document that it's when blood stops flowing in temporal lobes that this experience occurs. So, all the evidence lines up that these are right temporal lobe events, but clearly you can access it in many different ways: from spontaneous events, through prayer, through joining the Air Force (!), through meditation techniques.

So there's a lot of different techniques. There's a guy named Robert Monroe, he believes that he can induce the experience through music, and that makes sense because the right side of our brain is non-verbal, musical. He believes that through certain musical frequencies he can induce the experience.

Nevertheless, having said all of that, we still don't know if that's the near-death experience or not. We just don't. My personal opinion is that it is not, and I'll tell you why.

Children, when they've had the near-death experience, which really is the dying experience -- this is the last experience we'll all have when we're alive -- they get a look in their eye. They go, "Wow!!!!" And then you'll say, "What happened?" and they'll say, "...I don't know."

Whereas, I've seen videotapes of Michael Persinger's research. He's the guy in Canada who directly stimulates the right temporal lobe. They're very matter-of-fact. "Oh, now I see myself into bright light. I think God is here with me."

LD: It's not a "wow experience."

MM: Yeah. I really think that once the research has been done, and once we start to understand this experience better -- this is now an intuitive leap of my own -- we're going to see that there's neurological machinery which allows us to have the experience, but then there's an endpoint that if you don't connect with, you don't have what you're calling the "wow experience." You just don't. When you see people who have had this experience...when it occurs to them spontaneously, for example, it seems to have this "wow" aspect, but when it's artificially induced, it really doesn't.

LD: Have you had a spiritual transformation as the result of your work?

MM: I'm not particularly religious. I have had these experiences. I have had enough spiritual experiences that I now believe in God. I'll give you an example of my own opinion. I was on a radio show and some atheist called up. He wanted to make the point, very forcefully, that there's nothing in my research that implies or proves that there's a God. My research can be explained without subscribing to a God. I couldn't argue because it's true. If you're going to define God as a male figure who is actively running the universe, there's nothing in my research or even in my personal experiences that indicates that that's true.

So, I'm going to tell you about my experience, but twist it around in such a way so that it's not religious at all. Just for the sake of argument.

I saw this young boy. He nearly drowned over here, off of I-90. The car went off the side of the road -- his Dad was driving -- and plunged into the river. Dad was killed instantly. Mother struggled and finally was able to save herself. Passersby heroically saved the little boy. He explained to me that he was in a "huge noodle." And then he says, "Well, it must have been a tunnel because I don't think noodles have rainbows in them." Then he says, "Was it real? If it was real, then you have to tell all the old people." Meaning: This is what's going to happen when we all die. We're going to have this experience.

There are at least two levels of reality. I meet with these theoretical physicists about four times a year out in Las Vegas, and these are all the top guys from Los Almos, etc. What they've explained to me is that there is the reality that we perceive right now. This is what we would call local reality. And then there's what's called non-local reality, which is timeless and spaceless. I always call it "a timeless spaceless place." That shows how foolish we are, how grounded we are in local reality because we can't even describe non-local reality. Obviously, it can't be a place, but it's timeless and spaceless. This been has been the hardest thing for me to grasp. This is the hardest concept that I've had personally.

This concept that there is a non-local reality is well-accepted by the scientific community. So, why am I telling you all this in the context of my own spiritual beliefs? I'll tell you why. You started out by asking me, what's this right temporal lobe for? I had been kind of wondering that too.

So, I was in Salt Lake City on a promotional trip and this Mormon is taking me all around. All my interviews were cancelled that day because of snowstorm, so we're just basically talking. She looks at me and says, "So, you've never prayed?"
I said, "No." I was raised Jewish and to me prayer...I don't know..I would never pray...I mean, if your child is in the hospital, suddenly you're starting to pray. I've had fearful experiences where I've said, "Oh, if there's a God..." But I'd never really prayed.
She said, "Okay, if you've never prayed and yet you believe in the right temporal lobe and you believe this right temporal lobe is the connection to God, why haven't you prayed?"
I said, "I don't know...I got other things to do."
So she says to me, "You should pray" and I said "Okay, I will. How do I pray?"
She said, "When I was a little girl I was taught that you kneel at the foot of your bed and you thank God for everything that's happened in your life that's good and then you ask God a sincere question from your heart.

I agreed to give it a try. I was at the Marriott there, and knelt at the foot of the bed. I felt so stupid. I thought about my wife and my kids and my practice. All that stuff. Then I asked God a single question,

"I want to understand the relationship between man and God. I want to know if my theories are true. Is there truly a link between man and God? Or are we just kidding ourselves? Is this some sort of self-generated right temporal lobe fireworks to give us the illusion that there is a God because for some reason we as human beings need to have a God?"

That was my question. And then I said I wanted to know the answer in 24 hours. Because I thought it's such a vague question that how would I know? It's got to be something very clear, very clean, and I want it within 24 hours. That whole process took less than ten minutes.

I flew to L.A. for a whole day of interviews and I had forgotten this whole thing. Then, in my hotel room in L.A., I was standing by the desk and suddenly that's when it happened to me. I was surrounded completely, all over my body, by this bubble of light. It was like being in kind of a warm, sticky, wonderful...I felt like I was being bathed in honey, or something so wonderful. As soon as it happened to me, I knew it was what these kids had been telling me about. It was wonderful, and it was clearly timeless. It felt like never ended. In fact, it only ended when I thought to myself, "I wonder when this is going to end?" (Laughs.) This was the first intrusion of a verbal thought. I'm a very verbal person so non-verbal things just don't happen to me much. It was after the intrusion of that first verbal thought that it was over.

Here's my point. There's no doubt in my mind that I had this experience. It was not a false experience at all. What happened to me was a direct communication with the universe. I instantly knew the answer to my question. The answer came to me in a way that I could understand. I instantly understood the branch of mathematics called chaos mathematics. It's like I had all knowledge.

LD: You knew that you knew.

MM: Absolutely. In an instant I understood that we're what they call fractals. Like a snowflake is a fractal. If you take a piece of the snowflake, it has the same pattern as the whole. And then if you take a piece of the piece, you still see the same pattern. Fractals are all around us. The human heart is a fractal. The way our human heart beats, the pattern of the heart. Our coastlines are fractals.

LD: Or a wave in the ocean.

MM: Correct. Exactly. Fractals are found in nature. The use of chaos mathematics is to understand things like jet turbulence. The first thing they studied in terms of understanding chaos mathematics was the dripping of a faucet. So even the dripping of a faucet is not random, but it's a pattern! There's a pattern embedded within it. If you look at it for an hour, 24 hours, or a year, you'll see the same pattern. So these replicating patterns are what they call fractals.

So, my understanding is that we're fractals. That we are tiny pieces of a greater pattern that people call God.

You can be an atheist and believe that. There was nothing in my experience that indicated to me that there's a conscious God that is male and is ruling the universe. I'm convinced that everyone has the experience that I've had, but that each one interprets it according to their own understanding. I think that's where all the misunderstandings happen. Like my wife sees pictures. I don't see pictures. I hear words. So if this experience comes to different people, some are going to hear words, some are going to see an Angel, some are going to see what they think is a god, etc. But we're all talking about the same thing.

So whether an atheist wants to say that "the right temporal lobe allows us to communicate with a replicating pattern of energy that the theoretical physicists call non-local reality," or whether someone a little simpler is going to say, "Wow! Jesus had me sit on his lap and told me there's a light that will tell me what I'm to do and where I'm to go" -- to me there's no difference between those two statements.

We have this biological equipment to communicate with something, some pattern of energy which incorporates all of us, in all of what we call reality. That to me is not controversial. That's a lot of the reason I wrote my book. I wanted people to understand that these are not spiritual concepts I'm talking about. I'm not talking about some sort of spiritual, new age or any age, touchy-feely stuff. I'm talking about that 25% of our brain is dedicated to allowing us to communicate with some pattern of energy that is always with us, that always will be with us, and always was with us.

Just as our left side of the brain allows me to talk to you, the right side of our brain allows us to communicate with whatever this is. Forget about whether it's God or Seretonin -- which is a neurotransmitter in the brain. This is where my Jewish training helps me because I was always taught that we can't name God. So maybe those are just different names for God, but regardless of that, you've got something in your brain, right now, which gives you access to a lot of valuable information...

LD: It's all semantics after a while...

MM: This is how I like to twist people's brains around: people always ask me, "What have you learned from 15 years of studying near-death experiences in children?" Here's what I've learned: to trust my own intuition. Well, that's a weird twist. I'm saying that as a scientific concept. How did I get there: by studying near-death experiences, and starting to realize that the biological aspects of it are right temporal lobe- based; and then by understanding what the right temporal lobe is -- that it's our communicator with non-local reality. The information that we get from this non-local reality is what most people understand as intuition.

Lifeguards and policemen are incredibly intuitive. They already know. You're talking about people whose lives are on the line. They trust their intuition. Whereas the rest of us...I can't tell you how many times people say to me, "You may think I'm crazy but..." "You might think I'm neurotic but..." It's almost like we dismiss our intuition. Or we think, "Oh, it's women's intuition." We trivialize it. When you talk to people whose lives are on the line, they trust their intuition.

LD: Women tend to say "I had an intuitive feeling" and men tend to say "I had a gut feeling." Semantics again.

MM: Yeah. Our Western society, in particular, we tend to trivialize and dismiss anything we think is non-logical. And yet if you really look for scientific examples over the last 1,000 years, invariably they occur through intuitive leaps and then logical reasoning is used to fill in the gaps.

LD: And validate it...

MM: The basis of organic chemistry came out of an intuition. A famous chemist, sitting in front of his fireplace in the hypnogogic state, suddenly had a vision. In lectures he would say, "Dream, dream and dare to believe your dreams." But then of course you have to take your dreams back to the laboratory. So logic is clearly needed but only to fill in the gaps.

I'm trying to make the scientific statement that our intuition is our connection with the Divine.

When I wrote my book, it was 800 pages long. It was huge because I wanted to show how everything all fits together nicely. It was too big. Just overwhelming. So instead of doing this 800-page book, trying to show how everything from UFOs to blah blah blah is all connected, what I just tried to do was say, "Here's a new way to think about the universe. That everything is happening all at once, all at the same time, all in the same place, and that we're all connected to that." And if you just understand that simple fact, and you understand that that's a scientific and biological fact, then I think people on their own will fill in the blanks and start to understand, for example, this idea of premonitions.

The boy who went into the "huge noodle" or rainbow tunnel -- his mom wanted to know if it was real too because she had many perceptions that her dead husband was returning to communicate with her. She thought of those as just being a crazy widow's dream.

But when you start to understand that we have a right temporal lobe that can communicate with this non-local reality, this timeless spaceless place, God, whatever you want to call it -- that all of life has an eternal pattern -- well, her husband is still alive. He is!

When I do grief counseling, I can tell parents who have lost a child, with a straight face, "Yes, you did communicate with your child who died. Yes, you can trust the information that you got from that communication. Absolutely."

Invariably, when I talk with parents and they tell me these beautiful encounters they have with their dead child, the main thing that I tell them is "Wow, your right temporal lobe is really working. Neat. Good for you. You can absolutely trust."

LD: Are you in contact with other scientific researchers around the world?

MM: This is such a small field and there's really just a handful of scientists who are seriously looking at this. There's Michael Schroeder, a psychiatrist in Germany, Goren Gripp, an anesthesiologist in Sweden, Karl Becker in Japan. It's a very, very small community. The University of Arizona does a lot of consciousness studies and research, but there's only a handful of us.

Dr. Bruce Greyson is the father of us all. He's my mentor. I think he was the first of the scientific researchers. Ken Ring is not a scientist. He's a great guy, great work, but when you're talking about someone who's really brought a scientific methodology to this field, it's Bruce Greyson. I would like to think I was his protégé. He inspired me. While I'm giving credit to others, I don't want to forget Raymond Moody. I don't consider Raymond to be a scientist, but do feel that he's brilliant.

Melvin Morse's website:
Drawings of near-death experiences by children:
Dr. Morse's interview with 7-year-old Sara about her NDE: