A research team in California, U.S., tried to give a more common sense explanation to the prophets’ visions of angels described in the Old Testament.
A team from the Research Centre for Out-of-Body Experiences argues that these metaphysical visions might indeed have taken place but could have been a product of lucid dreaming rather than an indication of contact with the divine.
Could this be true? Let’s take a look at the experiment the scientists conducted to test their hypothesis.
What are lucid dreams and could they explain the visions of angels?
Lucid dreams occur when a person is aware that he or she is sleeping and thus, can interfere with the plot of the dream. The most telltale example of such a dream would be when you see yourself falling into the void and suddenly take control of your dream and turn falling into flying.
The research team asked 30 volunteers to try to build a dream on the representation of a scene from the Old Testament where the prophet Elijah accepts the help of an angel.
Twenty-four of the thirty volunteers managed to experience normal lucid dreaming or sleeping in a semi-dormant state.
During the dream, the volunteers needed to ‘separate’ their consciousness and leave their body in a lucid dreaming state in order to find forms of angels in their bedroom. Then, they had to eat something, just like the angel helped the prophet Elijah and gave him food and water.
When the volunteers were asked to repeat the experiment, only 15 managed to do it again.
The results of the study showed that everyone can ‘witness’ an angel’s presence – i.e. have visions of angels during lucid dreaming. It just requires the right trigger. One example of such a trigger would be receiving strong “religious vibrations” before falling asleep.
Joan of Arc, Voices of Angels, and Epilepsy
The research by US scientists is not the only study that attempts to explain religious experiences from a scientific point of view.
Researchers at the University of Foggia, Italy, claim that Joan of Arc could have had epilepsy, which could explain her visions of saints and the voices she heard. According to Dr. Guiseppe d’Orsi, she could have suffered from the so-called idiopathic partial epilepsy with auditory features (IPEAF), a disorder known to affect the region of the brain that is related to hearing.
The scientists studied the historical documents from Joan of Arc’s Trial of Condemnation when she was sentenced to be burned as a witch and a heretic. It was reported that she heard voices of saints after she heard the sound of bells. This sound could be a trigger for an epileptic seizure, claim scientists. She also talked about hearing voices in the middle of the night. The scientists believe that she could have had seizures in sleep, which is a common symptom of this type of epilepsy.
The frequency of auditory hallucinations also fits the general description of this disorder – Joan of Arc said she heard voices two or three times a week, says Dr. d’Orsi. At the same time, having occasional visual hallucinations is among the symptoms of this type of epilepsy too. Joan of Arc is known for having visions of saints along with hearing their voices.
So could the religious experiences like having the visions of angels or hearing the voices of saints be explained by physiological factors? It’s quite possible. As scientists study the human brain and expand their knowledge of mental and neurological diseases, more and more phenomena start to make sense – even if they were considered to belong to the realm of the metaphysical till recently.
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