brain chemistry and mystical experiences

John M. Price ez001932 at othello.ucdavis.edu
Sat Oct 9 16:12:27 EST 1993


Todd I. Stark (stark at dwovax.enet.dec.com) wrote:

: In article <199310030206.AA01624 at kepler.unh.edu>, dmn at kepler.unh.edu (There's a seeker born every minute.) writes...
: >    What methods are used to determine which chemicals are being
: >secreted by one's brain at any given moment (say time T)? 
: >If we aren't yet capable of doing this, how long do you suspect it
: >will be before we _can_ do this?

: Some thoughts on this ...

: Glands secrete specific substances, which then influence remote cells
: in the body.  The mechanisms used by the brain are similar but a
: different variation of this mechanism, much more elaborately
: developed.

: The brain is composed of a very large number of individual cells,
: neurons and glia, which communicate by means of a bewildering variety of
: both electrical and chemical means.  The brain does not secrete a particular
: chemical at a particular time all over like a gland, though it may have
: specific regions or pathways which have an identified functional aspect
: involving the use of specific chemicals to communicate between cells,
: or modulate the response of individual cells.  This is 'difficult' to
: observe in real time in a living subject.  It is mostly inferred from
: post-mortem, behavioral, animal, pharmacological, and other sorts of
: data.  The closest thing I know of that we have to this kind of
: information is a scan of which regions of the brain are taking up 
: particular tracer-tagged versions of natural brain chemicals at a 
: given time.  

There are chemical evoked potentials, if you will, but they are invasive,
and best left to animal work.  First, the old push-pull canula should work
some.  Especially if you are looking at the response.  The 'pull' tube
will contain fluids that are released by the surrounding tissue.  If you
use artificial CSF, then anything else is coming from the brain area in
which the canula is placed.

A second method is strictly absorptive.  Here a bit of the HPLC column is
used within a canlua, extracting the materials by capillary action.  If
you know the rate, you might be able to get some time data as well.


: Most human brain cells are too small and too inaccessible in any
: kind of humane or ethical experiment to measure their chemical
: activity directly in vivo.  This is also true to some extent for
: most animals.

Well, if you include the hippocampal slice technique as in vivo, its done
pretty often.  There are also some cell lines I've sen referenced, but
seldom.  There are interpretation problems there.

: >    I had an interesting, albeit morbid, idea the other day...
: >Some folks (specifically who I don't recall) have speculated that
: >death-bed/near-death mystical experiences might be caused by the release 
: >of particular chemicals by the brain. 

Look through the old issues of _Medical Hypotheses_, or some in
_Transpersonal Psychology_ on the topic of NDEs.  I seem to recall that it
is the same receptor complex fit by Phencyclidine.

: Nearly everything that the brain does is related to or at least influenced
: by particular chemicals and their influence on ion balances across cell 
: membranes, and the resulting changes in electrical and chemical activity
: patterns.  Isolating the particular changes associated with the simplest
: activities in some of the simplest organisms has only fairly recently been
: done.  

: You'll probably find that reaching into elaborate speculations about
: psychological states, even the mundane, much less the mystical, is probably 
: anaethma to most cellular and biochemical brain scientists at this time, 
: though there may be a few exceptions.  Karl Pribram, Michael Persinger, and 
: others have occasionally written about such things as 'clinical
: mysticism,' where supposedly mystical experiences were produced by
: stimulation or seizure activity in specific regions.  I'm not aware
: of a particular single-neurotransmitter pathway or particular 
: neuromodulator implicated in this, but I'd think it's entirely possible ...

I seriously doubt that any ONE neurotransmitter is involved in any one
behavior, especially in a system as complex as the human brain.  Although
Kandel did isolate some learning pathways, and a single chemical involved
(I think), this was in Aplysia Californica, a creature not noted for manic
mystical states.  {But then, maybe its ALWAYS in a mystical state!}

jmp.





: 						kind regards,

: 						todd
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: | Todd I. Stark				  stark at dwovax.enet.dec.com           |
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: | Philadelphia, Pa. USA                                                       |
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