Israeli organ donations soar after soccer star dies

By Reuters Staff
February 4, 2011
organ donation

(The Israeli flag-draped coffin of Avi Cohen is seen during a special public memorial service at a football stadium near Tel Aviv December 29, 2010/Nir Elias)

Brain boosting, thought scanning and other neuroethics issues

August 31, 2009

Several comments on this and other blogs express surprise that the Reuters blog on religion, faith and ethics should be interested in neuroscience. Several posts here — on a “God spot” in the brain, on moral instincts, on religious studies and on meditation and prayer — showed the growing relevance of brain science to the issues we cover. One angle we haven’t yet covered is the one that originally drew me towards this field, namely neuroethics. Rapid progress in neurological research has prompted a debate on the ethics of unlocking the brain’s secrets. I first wrote about this debate in early 2007, interviewing several neuroscientists on how to separate good uses of their work from bad after studies showed brain scans could read some kinds of intentions before the subjects revealed them.

How God (or more precisely, meditation) changes your brain

August 17, 2009

how-god-changes-your-brainSome book titles are too good to pass up. “How God Changes Your Brain” is neuroscientist Andrew Newberg‘s fourth book on “neurotheology,” the study of the relationship between faith and the brain. All are pitched at a popular audience, with snappy titles like “Born to Believe” or “Why God Won’t Go Away.” Anyone reading the latest one, though, might wonder if the title shouldn’t be “How God Meditation Changes Your Brain.” As he explains in an interview with Reuters here, the benefits that Buddhist monks and contemplative Catholic nuns derive from meditation and intense prayer are also available to atheists and agnostics. The key lies in the method these high performing believers use, not in the belief itself. But that would have made for a more awkward title.

Is a moral instinct the source of our noble thoughts?

August 11, 2009

judgmentUntil not too long ago, most people believed human morality was based on scripture, culture or reason. Some stressed only one of those sources, others mixed all three. None would have thought to include biology. With the progress of neuroscientific research in recent years, though, a growing number of psychologists, biologists and philosophers have begun to see the brain as the base of our moral views. Noble ideas such as compassion, altruism, empathy and trust, they say, are really evolutionary adaptations that are now fixed in our brains. Our moral rules are actually instinctive responses that we express in rational terms when we have to justify them.

Beware brain scientists bearing gifts (gee-whiz journalists too…)

August 9, 2009

boot-camp-shirt1Knowing what not to report is just as important for journalists as knowing what to write. We’re inundated with handouts about some pioneering new scientific research or insightful new book. Should we write about it? It’s refreshing to hear experts who can dazzle you with their work but warn against falling for any hype about it. This “let’s not overdo it” approach has been a recurrent theme in the Neuroscience Boot Camp I’m attending at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Cognitive science gaining ground in U.S. academic religion studies

August 7, 2009

teehanThe academic study of religion has come a long way from the days when knowledge of scripture, history and a few ancient languages were the main qualifications a scholar needed. Psychology, sociology and other social sciences have been applied to the field for over a century. Over the past 20 years, cognitive science has been edging into the field, especially with the explosion of neuroscience research. Some of the hottest research into religion is now being done with brain scanners searching for data on what happens inside believers’ heads when they pray or feel a special connection to God.

God on the brain at Penn’s Neuroscience Boot Camp

August 5, 2009

bootcampheaderNeurotheology – the study of the link between belief and the brain – is a topic I’ve hesitated to write about for several years. There are all kinds of theories out there about how progress in neuroscience is changing our understanding of religion, spirituality and mystical experience. Some say the research proves religion is a natural product of the way the brain works, others that God made the brain that way to help us believe. I knew so little about the science behind these ideas that I felt I had to learn more about the brain first before I could comment.

Court allows cut-off in Italy’s “Terry Schiavo case”

November 14, 2008

Italy’s “Terry Schiavo case” has ended with the country’s top appeals court allowing a father to disconnect the feeding tube that has kept his comatose daughter alive for 16 years. Eluana Englaro, now 37, has been in a vegetative state at a hospital in northern Italy since a 1992 car crash. The Englaro case has been compared to that of American Terri Schiavo, who spent 15 years in a vegetative state before a long and very public dispute ended in 2005 with a court decision allowing her husband to have her feeding tube disconnected.

Vatican denies it’s trying to redefine death

September 4, 2008

L’Osservatore Romano with death article (right column), 3 Sept 2008 The Vatican has caused a stir by appearing to want to redefine death and then denying any such thing. If where there’s smoke, there’s fire, we haven’t heard the end of this yet.

Is incense a mind-altering substance?

May 29, 2008

A Kashmiri Hindu woman buring inceFayaz Kablinse at Lord Shiva’s wedding anniversary in Srinagar, 6 March 2008/Ask any altar server or visit any busy Chinese temple and you can smell for yourself that incense can be overpowering. But is it a mind-altering substance? A kind of drug that puts the faithful at ease and fosters feeling of peace and togetherness? And if it is, why aren’t more people flocking to services where clouds of incense billow up out of swaying golden thuribles, rise from joss sticks lit by the faithful or fill the air at other religious rituals?