The Internet has revolutionized the communication space in the world and the life of the individual. But now it is also found to be altering specific regions in the brain, responsible for attention, memorisation and social interaction.
A new study published in the journal, World Psychiatry, says that the Internet can cause acute as well as sustained alterations in human cognition involving acquiring knowledge through experience and understanding.
For the first time, researchers from NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University have examined how the internet can affect the structure of the brain, its function and cognitive abilities, with the help of recent findings from psychological, psychiatric and neuro-imaging studies.
As the Internet offers a large amount of information at the fingertips, it seems to have the power to change the ways people store and value knowledge. The constant bombardment of stimuli induces divided attention, altering the functioning and structure of the brain, the study claims.
According to Dr. Joseph Firth, the findings indicate that excessive use of the Internet can really impact several functions of the brain.
“For example, the limitless stream of prompts and notifications from the Internet encourages us towards constantly holding a divided attention — which then in turn may decrease our capacity for maintaining concentration on a single task,” Dr. Firth says.
Another researcher Prof. Jerome Sarris expresses concerns that “Instagramification of society” can alter the social fabric. He advises more in-person interactions and cutting down on online multitasking and ritualistic online activity as remedial measures.
According to Advaita (non-dualism) philosophy, realising Brahman (God) within oneself is the ultimate goal of every human being. And Brahman is described in Hindu scriptures as all-pervading, all-knowing, infinitely loving, infinitely intelligent, eternal being.
Like in any religious canon, ancient Hindu scriptures have a few laid out paths to pursue this goal which are mainly followed by those entrenched in religious beliefs. However, scriptures also mention external aides to attain the blissful state of realising Brahman. The juice of Soma creeper is one such aid often mentioned in the Vedas.
Now, a new study published by the journal PLOS ONE suggests that the psychological impact of experiencing an encounter with God after injecting with a psychedelic drug is almost same as in the naturally occurring God encounter.
According to the study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University, those who had experienced an “encounter with God”, either spontaneously or induced by drugs, reported that they had had “communication with something that is conscious, benevolent, intelligent, sacred, eternal and all-knowing.” They also claimed the experience was “personally meaningful and spiritually significant” leading to positive changes in terms of life satisfaction, purpose and meaning.
However, majority of those who underwent such experience spontaneously identified the entity encountered as God, while most of those who experienced psychedelic-occasioned encounter called it Ultimate Reality.
The researchers recorded their findings based on an online survey, gathering data from 4,285 individuals. They grouped the participants into two categories – Non-drug and Psychedelic.
While significant numbers of participants in both the groups said the encounter was visual, auditory, and tactile, most of them claimed it was extrasensory. Nearly 90% of them claimed to have an emotional response in the encounter while about 75% received a message, mission, or insight and 20% acquired predictions about the future.
Both groups claimed the experience was vivid, but it was more so for Non-drug group. Similarly, both the group experienced transcendence of time and space, but it was intermediate for the Non-drug group, while mystical experience was complete for the Psychedelic group.
Most significantly, a majority from both the groups rated the encounter “to be among the top 5 most meaningful and spiritually significant experiences of their lifetime”, while 34% of Non-drug and 42% of Psychedelic indicated “the experience was the single most spiritually significant experience of their life”.
Interestingly, most of those who called themselves as atheist before the God encounter did not remain so afterwards. Also they claimed “a desirable change in contemplative, prayer, or meditation practice, a desirable change in understanding religious traditions of others, and decreased fear of death”.
In essence, experiencing an encounter with Godcan enormously lift the person’s psychological and spiritual make up, whether it is naturally occurring or chemically induced.
Lead researcher of the study Roland Griffiths sums it up in these words: “Although modern Western medicine doesn’t typically consider ‘spiritual’ or ‘religious’ experiences as one of the tools in the arsenal against sickness, our findings suggest that these encounters often lead to improvements in mental health”.