CamBRAIN Panel Discussion – The Believing Brain: Neuroscience of Belief

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Thank you all who joined our CamBRAIN 2018 panel discussion on the Neuroscience of Belief! We had a great audience filling the St John’s Old Divinity School lecture theatre, asking some great questions and sparking a lively dialogue between our speakers. Each of our researcher panellists had a range of expertise in the field of neuroscience and explained different aspects of our brains’ functions, and how this impacts on what we believe.

Elaine Snell, the Chief Operating Officer of the International Neuroethics society, welcomed us all to the event and chaired the session. She spoke on how themes of ethics and the beliefs of our society, whether religious, spiritual, political or otherwise can have a large impact on how we regulate and control research in neuroscience, and how it is important to have these discussions on the future of neuroscience.

Next, Revd Prof. Alasdair Coles gave a wide scoped introduction to the how theme of neuroscience and belief applied to religious convictions and god. As a neurologist his research is based on the immunology and treatment of multiple sclerosis, but he has spent some time looking into the brain’s response to religious experience, and how we are unable to pinpoint a ‘god spot’ or difference in a religious person’s brain.

This was then followed seamlessly with a presentation by Dr Joseph Tennant, a research associate working on the psychology and neurology of religious experience. Dr Tennant investigates the euphoric or transcendent auras which some patients with epilepsy experience during a seizure, and how this spirituality impacts on patients’ lives and shared some of their descriptions of these vivid experiences.

Finally, Dr Lee de-Wit, a post-doctoral researcher and author of a book exploring the psychology of voting- ‘What’s Your Bias?: The Surprising Science of Why We Vote the Way We Do’, walked us through some of the great research out there on the differences between conservative and liberal brains, and how your politics and personality can be intertwined.

Dr Harvey McMahon FRS , also originally listed as presenting at this event gave his apologies for being unable to make the panel event.

Of the many questions put forward to our panellists, one of the main emergent themes of the evening was the hope that by understanding the basis of our differences in beliefs, it could lead to a greater acceptance and tolerance amongst us, as we currently live in a time of great divisions.

Our audience had a chance to follow up and mingle with our guest speakers in a drinks reception after the panel discussion.

We would like to thank our fantastic speakers for their time and effort.
Look out for our next Neurotalks and upcoming Career’s event!

Article written by Monica Killen – Junior Treasurer

This event was supported by the British Neuroscience Association.

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