The Brain Chemistry of the Buddha

In 'The God Gene,' geneticist Dean Hamer says human spirituality may have an innate genetic component to it.

Continued from page 3

But in one part of your book, you talk about studies with identical twins and that also seems to bear out your ideas that there is some genetic basis, it's not just practice.

Yes, the twin studies are really the original basis for saying self-transcendence is at least partially genetic. And what was interesting about it is not only is it partially genetic, but the part that is not genetic is not from social learning, it's not that people get this from their parents or even from their schools or their ministers or churches or anything else. It's just sort of genes and plus just the random stuff that happens in people's lives. The same type of twin studies have actually been used to look at more classic, formal religious beliefs like, do you believe the Bible is true? Do you think that abortion is a sin? And how often do you go to church? As you might expect, those type of beliefs and attitudes have really no genetic basis.

Meaning they're very conditioned by the environment.

Right.

You're careful to say in the book that you don't want to speculate on whether God exists, this is purely about how the human brain functions when it's having spiritual experiences. Why?

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There's a natural tendency for believers to see this type of data as evidence that there is a higher power who made people in such a way that they would believe. But there's also a natural tendency for disbelievers to say, "This proves that it's all just in your mind."

I really can't overemphasize that this kind of data can't really support either of those views. It's purely about how the mind perceives things and works. Whether or not those beliefs are true, whether they come purely from within or whether they come from without, we just absolutely can't say. I don't think people should use this type of information in that way.

What what do you hope people take away from the book?

One is that this idea of being "spiritual without being religious" gets clichéd a lot, but it's true. They really are different aspects of human personality.

Spirituality is a great thing. It gives people a connection to others and to the world around them; it's a wonderful talent of human beings that can enrich our life.

But when it comes to religion, to me the important thing is that it's not anything innate about humans. A lot of religious ideas aren't here because they're good for us-and probably they're not here because that's what God believed.

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Interview by Laura Sheahen
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