Have you ever noticed your dog staring off into space with a Buddha-like zen? Science is suggesting that animals are indeed capable of having spiritual experiences. Research shows that spiritual experiences arise from deep within primitive areas of the brain–areas that are also found in the brains of animals.

Kevin Nelson, professor of neurology and author of the book "The Spiritual Doorway in the Brain," available January 2011, has spent three decades studying the process of spiritual sensation. Detailing how the arousal system changes modes of consciousness, Nelson said, "In humans, we know that if we disrupt the (brain) region where vision, sense of motion, orientation in the Earth's gravitational field, and knowing the position of our body all come together, then out-of-body experiences can be caused literally by the flip of a switch. There is absolutely no reason to believe it is any different for a dog, cat, or primate’s brain." Nelson also relates the scientific likelihood that animals experience the same “tunnel” and “white light” experiences as humans.

Marc Bekoff, a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, also believes animals have spiritual experiences, which he defines as “experiences that are nonmaterial, intangible, introspective and comparable to what humans have.”

Both he and Jane Goodall watched chimpanzees dancing next to a waterfall with near abandon. Some of them even appeared to put themselves in trance-like states, just as humans have done in religious and cultural rituals since ancient times. This sparked Jane Goodall to ponder the emotion inspiring the acts — “feelings akin to wonder and awe.”

Bekoff wrote an article for Psychology Today speculating  that “perhaps numerous other animals engage in these rituals, but we haven’t been lucky enough to see them.” The evidence that is in existence affirms humans are not the only ones capable of spiritual experiences, and hopefully more research will follow up on this soon.


Image by Milestoned on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing