A report of an epileptic man not particularly religious, but identifying as a Jew, claiming he saw an image of God is the talk of the town (in the world of neuroscience, anyway). Researchers have documented this incident in a paper published in the journal Epilepsy and Behaviour.
The man in question was being treated for epilepsy when the ‘experience’ happened. He relates having seen and interacted with a being that he interpreted to be God. What is behind this claim of his?
The patient has been suffering from right temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) for the greater part of his life. This condition is characterised by seizures originating from the temporal lobe, as indicates its name, and is associated with emotions deemed to be strange: some patients recall old memories during the seizures, and yet others find themselves hallucinating.
For the purpose of the treatment, the man had to stop taking anticonvulsant medication that are otherwise meant to inhibit rapid and excessive activation of neurones during seizures such that the latter do not propagate to other brain regions.
When an EEG (electroencephalogram) scanner was connected to him, he froze, according to the description of the doctors who were present when the incident happened. They found him staring at the ceiling for few minutes before he started saying that he felt God was coming near to him. He then began reciting prayers. Later, he claimed that ‘God’ had commanded him to redeem the people of Israel.
After this ‘experience’, the patient had gone about the hospital telling others that God had sent him to them.
Now, how can we explain this phenomenon? According to researchers from Hadassah Hebrew University, the brain scans show a peak in activity in the opposite side of the brain (from where the seizures originate) coinciding with the timing of the incident. In their paper, the researchers write that the patient went through “grandiose religious delusion of revelation and missionary zeal in the context of postictal psychosis (PIP)”.
PIP is a severe condition following a seizure characterised by visual or auditory hallucinations, paranoia, and can even be associated with aggression in some patients.
Otherwise, the behaviour of the man remains a mystery. The researchers have not been able to fully decipher the cause.