I have a soul ache

6/3/2022 3:38:45 PM

I have a soul ache!

“I have a soul ache. I have taken all types of the well-known painkillers to relieve it but I failed”. I told my grandma.

“Contemplate about God and his endless love and goodness while taking a cup of tea, this might be your painkiller”. My grandma said. 

All of us have at least experienced soul ache once, what is it? How can we reach it or discover it? 

Our ancestors tried to reach the soul through the brain. Even though the early discovery of skulls showed that ancient brain studies occurred, the trials were very timid. They were composed of penetrating the skull and studying changes. In this, a very beginner replica of an experimental setup, trephinations were made, keeping the crania intact (1). 

Neuropsychology, the science responsible for exploring the souls through the window of the brain, was first defined in 1913 by Sir William Osler.

Many different approaches started accumulating. The American approach deals with psychometric properties and behavior management, whereas the Russian perspective highlights case studies and theoretical testing. Until Karl Lashley took a step further, experimenting on the brains of rats and recording behavioral changes within maze runs (2). Within this era, one might ask, why was Neuropsychology so slow in developing?

Neurologists long refused the brain-behavior connection until it became inevitable (3), and psychologists focused on other aspects of the mind, similar to attention, memory, and mood. Yes, inevitable. Today, we can clearly measure serotonin and other neurotransmitters' difference and capacity using MRI and PET brain scanning. Our ancestors, who did not see magnetic brain waves translated into a brain scan, still believed in a "hidden" pseudoscientific concept that resulted from puncturing the brain. What was it, and why? And had all of the previous buildup of knowledge been based on only myths and superstitious stories?

Huges was an enthusiast and a great supporter of trephination. He saw that the process increased blood flow and brought up a childlike state in the brain with higher consciousness. You might think this is very underdeveloped thinking, but this was actually in the 1960s (4). Regardless of what Huges saw and how medically safe it is (it is not), what is the connection between being aware or mentally healthy and the physical brain? What does a conscious brain look like? Is there a physical demonstration of mental health from one side and spirituality from another?

One thing that is rare to catch in neuropsychology and psychology is the depiction of health. You can find hundreds of articles discussing mental disorder neurotransmitters, but you can scarcely to non-existing find an article discussing healthy brain chemicals and hence mental health. So, the question of "healthy neurotransmitters" cannot be answered as much as mental disorder brain chemistry questions can be answered (5). Individual and personal differences also play a role in the different presentations of brain chemistry (6), but again this is only previewed from a pathological perspective.

The "Aware" brain or spiritual brain has a different dissection. Lately, the international community has been showing more interest in spirituality as yoga, meditation, and vegan diets have started to trend more and offer benefits. Chemically speaking, are they existent?

Temporal brain areas are associated with religious visions ecstatic experiences (7), and many other multi-sensory circuits are related to self-disciplinary behavior and personal experiences of religion. What comes as a surprise is a study published in 2021 claiming to have found an actual neural circuit responsible for religiosity and spirituality. These findings suggest that spirituality and religiosity map to a standard brain circuit centered on the periaqueductal gray, a brainstem region previously implicated in fear conditioning, pain modulation, and altruistic behavior (8).

Currently, more research is being directed to find the neurobiological correlates between spiritual practices and the neurochemistry of the brain as more and more evidence emerges on the presence of real correlations between both. Yet, the neuroscientific study cannot answer all (9).

We currently know that there is a correlation that is relative to each studied subject and another. The role of spirituality as a resource for finding meaning and hope in suffering has also been identified as a critical component in psychological recovery. Most of the studies used PET as an investigation tool and found that meditative practices increased activation of Frontal, Paracentral, Inferior Parietal, Lateral temporal, and other lobes (10).

All in all, even though our ancestors did not have the right brain technology to test, they still believed in something and found solid ground to stand on when we think of it…

Written by: Sara A. Makka
The UJA of Lebanon and a member of NEGOA interest group

Poster design by: Alireza Bagheri


1.    Faria MA. Violence, mental illness, and the brain – A brief history of psychosurgery: Part 1 – From trephination to lobotomy. Surgical Neurology International [Internet]. 2013 Apr 5;4(1):49. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.4103/2152-7806.110146

2.    Gluck MA, Mercado E, Myers CE. Learning and memory: from the brain to behavior. :10.

3.    History of Neuropsychology | BRAIN [Internet]. [cited 2022 Apr 29]. Available from: https://brainaacn.org/history-of-neuropsychology/

4.    Doran J. I Drilled a Hole in My Own Skull to Stay High Forever. 2016.

5.    Brown RP, Mann JJ. A clinical perspective on the role of neurotransmitters in mental disorders. Hospital and Community Psychiatry [Internet]. 1985;36(2):141–50. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1176/PS.36.2.141

6.    O'Connor LE, Berry JW, Lewis T, Rangan RK, Poursohrab N. Personality, Psychopathology, and the Neurotransmitter Attributes Questionnaire (NAQ): https://doi.org/101177/2158244013492540 [Internet]. 2013 Jun 19;3(2):1–13. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/2158244013492540

7.    van Elk M, Aleman A. Brain mechanisms in religion and spirituality: An integrative predictive processing framework. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews [Internet]. 2017 Feb 1;73:359–78. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/J.NEUBIOREV.2016.12.031

8.    Ferguson MA, Schaper FLWVJ, Cohen A, Siddiqi S, Merrill SM, Nielsen JA, et al. A Neural Circuit for Spirituality and Religiosity Derived From Patients With Brain Lesions. Biological Psychiatry [Internet]. 2022 Feb 15;91(4):380–8. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/J.BIOPSYCH.2021.06.016

9.    Newberg AB. The neuroscientific study of spiritual practices. Frontiers in Psychology [Internet]. 2014;5(MAR). Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/FPSYG.2014.00215

10. Mohandas E. Neurobiology of Spirituality. Men's Sana Monographs [Internet]. 2008 Jan 1;6(1):63. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.4103/0973-1229.33001

Last news

    Read more ...

    Last milstones

      Read more ...

      Last events

        Read more ...

        Last quick reads

          Read more ...

          Last other news

            Read more ...