What does it mean to be human?
People have turned to both religion and science when debating questions about our inner lives, selves, or souls.
What makes us tick? For centuries, people have used the metaphor of machines to understand the universe and themselves. Renaissance technologies like the ticking gears inside this 1550s mechanical monk helped inspire the Enlightenment-era concept of a divinely created “clockwork universe” that governed the stars, planets, and all aspects of life. Today scientists study the complex workings of the brain to understand the mechanisms that govern practices and beliefs.
Neuroscientists have studied the physical effects of religious practice in the brain. One team at the University of Wisconsin studied Buddhist monks and nuns as they meditated in order to measure and map their brain activity. Researchers found that brain regions associated with subjective feelings, emotions, and even consciousness experienced a surge of activity during meditation. And they found that long-term meditation alters structures and functions deep within the brain.