Twenty years ago, if you talked to scientists about this experience, they would have told you it was pathology, at worst, or nonsense at best. But it turns out it’s just standard biology. It’s the way we are wired.
You’re describing a biological process, something that’s going on within our bodies and brains. Are you implying that that’s all it is? Or is there something more there?
Well, I don’t claim to have any answers about that. We are talking here at the gross physical level of reality, maybe a little at the neurochemical, at the cellular level. None of this actually means that there is a God or there isn’t a God.
But what’s your take on the God question? What do you believe?
Is there some level of consciousness in the universe? I would be inclined to say yes. But I don’t know what that means. Nor do I know, by the way, if just because there is some level of consciousness in the universe, does that mean that that consciousness is a God? I think what is really wrong here is our definitions. If you ask me, Do I believe in the “old man in the sky” theory on any level? No. I think that’s ridiculous. I think that’s holding onto a system of belief that was very helpful 4,000 years ago for political reasons, for moral reasons, for a lot of reasons. It needed to be changed, and I think all of it is an evolution and a continuum.
Steven Kotler believes it’s possible that God = Brain – that the concept of God – and religion – is an alchemy of experience with brain chemistry.
Tom Blake believed that God = Nature, but that still works, because the human brain is one of the greatest miracles of nature.
“Only a surfer knows the feeling” is another slogan you might have seen on t-shirts and magazine ads. We all know the effect surfing has on the brain. Humans going into the ocean are not entirely in the safest environment, so the brain is activated by danger and threat. The exertion of paddling and duck diving produces endorphins, a chemical with a euphoric feeling as powerful as heroin. And then there are the juices of speed and thrills and the exhilaration of tapping into a natural energy and letting it take you along.
Jay Moriarity knew all about these chemicals: “A good dose of fear is soothing for the human psyche. When the brain detects danger, the human body sends out norepinephrine to every part of the body. Once this danger has passed, the body sends out dopamine to the brain, a pleasurable chemical, as a way to congratulate the brain for surviving. These chemicals are what make people want to surf big waves.”
The feelings of euphoria, ecstasy and one-ness with nature are addictive, and these are feelings that other people – who may or may not surf – get through the practice of religion: worship, singing, community, thinking about the origins of the universe and the laws by which we should live a good life.
So is God and religion just a construct of the human brain? Or is the human brain a construct of God – a tool for us to ponder the mysteries of the universe, and find our way to Him.
Something to think about the next time you are surfing, in between sets, bobbing on the waters, under the blessed church of the Open Sky.