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  • Getting high on religion

    by Rohin
    27th March, 2006 at 3:04 am    

    “Hmm, looks like a nasty case of revelations. My advice - take a few paracetamol, have a lie down and whatever you do, don’t found any religions.”

    Israeli and Swiss neurologists have diagnosed the children of Abraham as suffering from delusions, as they claim there could be a perfectly rational medical explanation for three world religions.

    Moses, Jesus and Mohammed all experienced revelations on mountain tops, but the Jerusalem/Geneva team suggest they were probably just feeling a bit peaky and suffering from altitude sickness. The doctors state that a lack of oxygen can alter brain function in the temporo-parietal junction and prefrontal cortex. The same symptoms have been reported by modern climbers and mountaineers, including those who claim to be atheist or non-spiritual. When I say ‘symptoms’ I didn’t really mean receiving commandments or anything, more feeling afraid; seeing a presence and lights.

    The scientists claim that had they gone alone, they may have been vulnerable and in the context of the time, may not have been afraid to voice their experiences. But some counter with the fact that the revelation at Mount Sinai was not just to Moses, but to many people. My first thought was more down to Earth. Or not, as the case may be. Mount Sinai is only 2285 metres high. I cannot find the altitude of Jabal al-Nour and I would have to ask someone where Jesus received his revelation. Altitude sickness tends to affect people above 2500m, but susceptible people can suffer from symptoms above about 1500m.

    When googling one of the doctors involved, Shahar Arzy, he can be found atop a mountain on his university profile. Prophetic?

                  Post to

    Filed in: Humour,Religion,Science

    22 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs

    1. nukh — on 27th March, 2006 at 4:14 am  

      I always thought that the Mountain came to Muhammad.
      So no need to climb and suffer from altitude induced delusions.
      Hey, wait a minute….does this mean that the Muhammad was the one true prophet…and the others were just posers.

    2. leon — on 27th March, 2006 at 10:32 am  

      Well, I’ve long thought religion was a form of distraction at best, delusion at worst so this doesn’t surprise me…

    3. El Cid — on 27th March, 2006 at 1:24 pm  

      “where Jesus received his revelation”
      I thought he was just the Son of God, so I guess it was more instinctive.

    4. Don — on 27th March, 2006 at 1:27 pm  

      There was that fasting in the wilderness thing. That will mess your head up.

    5. bananabrain — on 27th March, 2006 at 1:46 pm  

      having spent a night on top of mt sinai (or at least the mountain generally agreed to be mt sinai) i can testify that although it isn’t that high, it is certainly cold up there. even sandwiched between two obliging ladies (for warmth, i must add, before anyone thinks i am blowing my own trumpet) it was a most unpleasant night.

      it is always a source of eye-rolling resignation when people like this engage in such utterly pointless speculation. it is hard enough to get religion and science to co-exist without idiotic attacks being perpetrated by either side. it’s like richard dawkins - at his convincing best when in his field of specialism, it is when he steps out of it to attempt to debunk religion or, at best, tar us all with the brush of fundamentalism, that he is at his least impressive. why can’t people resist the urge to try and abuse their credibility? all that does is make it a figleaf for overweening arrogance.



    6. Sunny — on 27th March, 2006 at 2:04 pm  

      You’re forgetting the sadhus from Himalayas who wrote the vedas! Not just that, they were very appreciative of a drug called ‘Soma’, which has an entire chapter dedicated to it. Having been to the himalayas I can testify to the fact that marijuana is bloody everywhere, though to their credit most people still don’t consume it.

      Maybe its required for a prophet / guru / sadhu to get their revelations from the mountain. After all, whose going to believe you if you got them while chhilling at home sipping on tea?

    7. Siddhartha Singh Muslim — on 27th March, 2006 at 2:20 pm  

      Its not just prophets /gurus / sadhus who have spiritual/supernatural experiences atop mountains. Your average schmoe who goes trekking in Nepal is known to have one atop some mountain enroute to the Base Camps. Its just they come home and forget them, as opposed to religion founders who then inspire their followers to produce magnificent music, art and architecture.

    8. Vladimir — on 27th March, 2006 at 2:33 pm  

      Sunny’s comments put a whole different perspective, on the idea of religion being the opium of the masses…

    9. Rohin — on 27th March, 2006 at 2:39 pm  

      Remember this is filed under humour - it’s just a silly thing I thought I’d mention. I could post up every crazy study but I try to filter them. It’s not meant as a serious comment on religion or anything, just keeping you abreast of what some think.

      I used to smoke very occasionally and the tonic hypoxia may have helped me at altitude as I’ve never really felt any effects. The highest I’ve been is base camp, 5500m. Incidentally, I had a cigarette at about 4000m as an experiment and it took something like 25 minutes to smoke!

    10. Don — on 27th March, 2006 at 3:45 pm  

      For an alternative theory;

    11. Rohin — on 27th March, 2006 at 5:24 pm  

      Glad you linked that Don. Epilepsy is one of my specialist subjects and there’s lots out there about TLE and ‘religious experiences’ or visions.

    12. Bikhair — on 27th March, 2006 at 5:34 pm  

      Pickled poopers,

      I’ll eventually think of something to say, and when I do, all your blasphemers will get it.

      Ha Ha Ha…

      In the meantime, May Allah’s peace and blessings be on all His noble Messengers and pious slaves who brought tawheed and truth to this world.

    13. Jay Singh — on 27th March, 2006 at 5:37 pm  


      May You Be Blessed WIth A Thousand Camels and Twelve Dozen Sons

    14. Vikrant — on 27th March, 2006 at 5:43 pm  

      Hah… only if Tolkien had lived half a millena ago. Methinks these “visions” Bible, Vedas, Koran are a more a figment of imagination (colourful at that) rather than visions.

    15. Don — on 27th March, 2006 at 6:00 pm  


      Do you have a position on Hamer’s ‘The God Gene’?

      I found it persuasive, but I am (genetically?) predisposed to this viewpoint and lack the technical background to judge.

    16. nydesi — on 27th March, 2006 at 7:06 pm  

      by the way, the Vedas aren’t “revelations” God doesn’t really say anything in any of them.

    17. Soultrain — on 27th March, 2006 at 8:36 pm  

      There was professor on TV (Johnathan Dimblebys show) last week who called Religion “a virus of the mind”. Which didn’t go down well an Anglican priest who appeared on this weeks show who proclaimed there was plenty of research out there that supported the theories of the resurrection of Jesus, and hence provides authenticity to the Christian religion.

      It’s the basic article of faith about belief in Moses, Jesus and Mohammed receiving revelations from God (as well as other pivotal events that have founded other religions), rather than the revelations being induced neurologically; and you can’t really separate the two.

      It could also be argued that while science can explain revelations in a specific environment, if you go down to a finer level of granularity, science cannot explain well if there’s not a God, how is life and conscience able to exist in the first.

      Or maybe it can, but that’s many civilisations ahead.

      But to dwell on that point, a professor in the Humanists movement (who believe there is no God), quit a few years ago because after much soul searching and research, he concluded that he could no longer hold the belief that there is no God – and that the circumstances that conspired in order to create life and the universe were so unlikely in all probability, it must have been some kind of divine intervention. Not belief in a God that tells us off stealing or insulting, and makes our prayers come true, but more as belief in a God, as some kind of external creator that is just moulding the universe and has no regard for lives in the grand scheme of the universe.

      I’ll try and find a link about that Humanist professor to post up here.

    18. Don — on 27th March, 2006 at 8:51 pm  


      Humanism doesn’t necessarily imply atheism. It is quite compatible with ‘some kind of external creator that is just moulding the universe and has no regard for lives in the grand scheme of the universe.’ It does deny the relevance of supernatural beings to human life. Many, perhaps most, humanists are atheists, but it is not invariable.

      And, of course, not all atyheists are humanists.

      The ‘virus of the mind’ quote is Dawkins, I must have missed the show.

    19. Sunny — on 27th March, 2006 at 9:04 pm  

      Nice one soultrain, that would be cool.

      There is another point in all this. Much of the contempt that philosophy/science hold for religion is borne out of the fact that the Abrahamic religions weren’t that philosophy focused.

      Hinduism, Buddhism etc were first and foremost rational philosophical systems that had extensive musings about the world and its meanings etc. Thus you don’t get that many Indian intellectuals disparaging religion because there’s much more rigorous debate about philosophy that is perceived as anti-religion in the west.

      I don’t know how thats relevant to Mr Rohin’s attempt at humorous debate though.

    20. Sid D H Arthur — on 27th March, 2006 at 10:58 pm  

      There is another point in all this. Much of the contempt that philosophy/science hold for religion is borne out of the fact that the Abrahamic religions weren’t that philosophy focused.

      Not true. Neoplatonism was introduced to Europe thanks to Sufism-inspired tracts. Nicely documented here.

      As for Christianity, there is more existential philosphy and metaphysics in the sermons of Meister Eckhart than in all the 20th Century Modern Philosophy dry masturbatory drivel combined.

    21. bananabrain — on 28th March, 2006 at 5:29 pm  

      and, as i said earlier, prof dawkins, whilst an extremely eminent and fine evolutionary biologist, is not above selective editing and outright misrepresentation in order to get his distorted views of religion across. i’m in the middle of “the selfish gene” at the moment and haven’t yet come across a single thing which contradicts judaism, so frankly i don’t know why he feels compelled to tar all believers with the brush of fundamentalism. it makes him look unreasonable - for the simple reason that he is being unreasonable.



    22. chris — on 29th March, 2006 at 3:49 pm  

      Neoplatonism had already started to be incorporated into Christian thinking 200 years before the birth of the Prophet by the likes of Augustine of Hippo. It was more the works of Aristotle that the Christian world forgot but where preserved in the Islamic.

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