What is it in our brain that makes having such experiences possible? I assume other species don't have these. Sure there are instances in the natural world where you can see individuals of the species gather around the dead one. Sometime even the alpha male in the group allows the kin/relatives of the dead individual to approach it (for whatever reason).

The kind of thing I don't see in the wild-life kingdom is an individual becoming "enlightened" or the likes.

Sure our cerebrum is highly developed and all. But "what" is it in our brain that makes it capable for humans to have such experiences?

I've read articles saying we have identified such regions in the brain. Just want to know what these structures are. Did such research establish that such structures also exist in other species too?

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    $\begingroup$ This recent paper looks like a good starting point. $\endgroup$
    – Alan Boyd
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ But I'm not sure what an enlightened gorilla (for example) would look like. $\endgroup$
    – Alan Boyd
    Commented Jan 20, 2013 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ I never realized that religious/spiritual experiences already existed and were certainly proven in a scientifical framework?! $\endgroup$
    – Brethlosze
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 6:09
  • $\begingroup$ what if the world is much more magic and full of spirits for animals than for men? For example, deer and horses see monsters everywhere. Animals have the capacity to fear imaginary beings that peer from unknown hiding places. It is said that human religion derives from the animal instinct that there is some very big powerful animal that could be watching you, tracking your every move. That instinct in humans if intellectualized into the surveillance of god, and his power over your life. The human rational cognition of the afterlife perhaps has similar animal cognitive roots $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 11:12

1 Answer 1


Its not clear that this is true.

Working with animals has been a little disconcerting over the past 50-60 years. In the distant past, I think most evolutionary anthropologists and their like bought into the idea that humans were completely uniquely intelligent and spiritual. But the more we try to define human sensibilities apart from other animals, the more we find its difficult to see animals as being completely incapable of human feelings and even thoughts.

I refer you to this question which describes the shift in intelligence theories over the years: Why have humans evolved conciousness?

The above reference is just to say that every definition of intelligence that is fairly broad has been overturned by animals (thumbs, socialization, tool use, self awareness, communication and language).

If you want to say 'I know we're special, but I just can't say how' you are in lots of good company... it's become pretty hard to lay down a definition that includes all human beings and excludes animals.

Lately it seems as if the definition of spiritual experience is similarly hard to define. What is your definition? The capacity to receive and reciprocate affection or love is almost never brought up - that seems to be half of the internet. Yet, that's a common component to many ideas of spirituality. It was found a while ago that primates have some form of self-awareness to identify themselves as distinct from other individuals. True this was only demonstrating that they know themselves in a mirror, but other experiments show it probably is deeper than just that.

I think the most confounding evidence is the work with animals who have been trained from infanthood to communicate to humans through sign language or symbols. The most astounding example I know if is Koko the gorilla. She had the vocabulary of a 5 year old and the capacity to joke around, reason, and adopted pets as children including a cat called All Ball. When All Ball who was killed by a car she mourned and remembered her adopted cat for years. This page outlines all that, though there is a book that describes Koko's life.

The human staff sought to discover what Koko thought about death. So they asked, “Where do gorillas go when they die?” Koko answered, “Comfortable / hole / goodbye.” They asked, “When do gorillas die?” Koko answered, “Trouble / old.” They asked, “How do gorillas feel when they die: happy, sad, afraid?” Koko answered, “Sleep.”

So this has been taken as evidence that gorillas have a concept of their own mortality or possibly even life after death.

So what is left? Not clear to me. Any thoughts?

Some regions of the brain and control of electrical activity in the brain have been associated with spiritual experiences or acts like prayer and meditation. The temporal lobe is exciting because magnetic stimulation of that region can create the sensation that there is a presence in the room with you. there appear to be many regions which are active in different instances though, which is something you might expect.

There is no evidence yet that animals do not experience similar effects in their brains, though primates have very much the same structures as we do. Its too bad Koko has died - she might have told us.


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