Words Can Change Your Brain

Newberg book

Dr. Relly Nadler: This week we are talking with Dr. Andrew Newberg who has a fascinating book called, Words Can Change Your Brain. That will be the focus of our talk today about our communication and what we can do to be better at it and what we can learn about communication looking at some of the brain neuroscience.

Andrew Newberg is an MD and is currently the Director of Research and the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Philadelphia. He is also a professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and Radiology at Thomas Jefferson University and an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania in the Department of Psychology.

He has published over 200 peer reviewed articles and chapters on brain function, brain imaging, the study of religious and mystical experiences. He is the author of a new book that is called How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain: The New Science of Transformation. Another book is How God Changes Your Brain: Why God Won’t Go Away.

He is also the author of several academic books and has produced a 24-lecture video program entitled The Spiritual Brain.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I’m so blessed in this lifetime to work with some very special individuals who are thought leaders in their industry and who are some of the most unbelievably giving, compassionate human beings, not only in science but in their industry of serving others through medicine.

One of those individuals is Dr. Daniel Monty who is a recipient of many, many awards and many gifts and he is an endowed chair at the University that is shared with Dr. Newberg, Jefferson University in the Hospital in Philadelphia, so that’s an amazing organization. I was gratified to not only meet with Dr. Monty and his colleague Dr. Anthony Bazzon, but in our research on emotional intelligence and our work collaboratively, Dr. Monty introduced me to Dr. Andrew Newberg.

As a result of that relationship with Dr. Monty, I am honored and privileged to have Dr. Newberg lead us in a book, and edited volume and I’m sure he’ll talk about it during the program, about the brain and studies related to happiness, resilience, and well-being in general.

We are so excited to have him today on the show. I am so mesmerized by Dr. Newberg’s involvement in the study of mystical and religious experiences. The reason is, as you know Relly, I recently went to the canonization of Mother Teresa in Rome with our wonderful chaplain, Monsignor Michael Mannion, who worked with Mother Teresa for almost 28 years. It was an amazing, life-changing experience.

I hope today we are going to have a wonderful life changing experience through Words Can Change Your Brain. Welcome to the show, Dr. Newberg, it’s a pleasure to have you.

Dr. Andrew Newberg: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be on your show.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Dr. Newberg, we have some questions for you and I just want to say as we move into it, you have also presented at some of the scientific, religious meetings across the world. You’ve been with Dr. Oz, Good Morning America, Nightline, 20/20, CNN, ABC World News Tonight. So we are really very excited and privileged to have you.

One of the questions that we ask folks to start off with, is who have been some of your key influences or leaders that have helped make you who you are today?

Dr. Andrew Newberg: Well, I think as you go through your education, there are always those couple of people who become your mentors. I suppose that the two people that were the most influential in my life on a very personal note; one of them was a Dr. Abass Alavi who is a world-renowned imaging person and he is somebody who I started working with about 25 years ago who really taught me what I needed to know about imaging and how we can look at the body and the brain in particular. He was incredibly influential in just who I became in my career and so forth.

Another person who had a tremendous influence and really allowed me to go in the direction of trying to explore the relationship between the brain and our religious and spiritual selves, was a psychiatrist by the name of Eugene d’Aquily who we co-authored a number of articles and books together. He was just a tremendous person who had a great breadth of knowledge. He was a psychiatrist and had a doctorate in anthropology, spoke about five different languages, knew pretty much everything you wanted to know about the world.

I think those two people, in particular, just had a tremendous influence on me. As Cathy mentioned in the introduction, I supposed the other person more recently, has been Dr. Daniel Monty who is our director of our center here in integrative medicine. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work with him over the last 8-10 years and a couple of times doing research projects, now ultimately over the last 6-7 years actually coming here to Thomas Jefferson to be able to work with him and to be able to share our ideas and explore new domains and new areas of research. It has been extraordinarily exciting to us to work together and to continue to develop this whole area; this whole field of trying to understand the relationship between our body, our brain, our mind, our health, and ultimately our spirituality and trying to figure out ways of helping people to put all those different parts of ourselves together in the most helpful way in a way that ultimately benefits everyone.

So I suppose that those would be the people at least closest to me who have had a tremendous impact on my own life

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: As you think about your experiences as a medical professional, can you tell us how you came to marry this study of the brain and the hard science and that which we call mystical, religious or spiritual? It’s called neurotheology? Am I saying that correctly?

Dr. Andrew Newberg: Yes, that’s the name that has been applied to the field now. Neurotheology is that field that links together what we can know about the human brain and what we can know about our religious and spiritual selves.

I would supposed that a lot of this actually arose long before I got into to medicine as a career, going back to when I was a child. I always had a lot of questions. I was always asking about why there were different religions. How do we know which one might be right or wrong, or how do they compare to each other? I was curious about why we have different political beliefs, of course very appropriate for what is coming tomorrow, different moral beliefs and how we can all be looking at essentially the same world and coming away with very different kinds of conclusions.

As I thought about that as a basic question, I realized that certainly it had a lot to do with the human brain, how our brain helps us to see the world around us and give us ideas about the world. It helps us to construct out perspective on what the world is.

So I certainly pursued a lot of science in that regard in trying to understand the human brain, the human mind and psyche, and how that helps us to create our sense of reality. But I also realized that there was this other piece to it, the less tangible piece, our mind, our consciousness, our spirit, that didn’t seem to be easily evaluated at least by science and I continued to explore these questions on a very personal level as well.

In college I was taking courses in philosophy and psychology and comparative religion and so forth. All of this really did finally come to a whole head when I was in medical school, in a particular year where I was doing what they referred to as a year out where I was trying to explore some basic ideas about what I wanted my career to be. I ultimately came to work with those two gentlemen that I mentioned a few moments ago.

One person who really gave me the background in imaging to look at the brain in a variety of different neurological and psychiatric disorders and the other individual Eugene d’Aquily who was always exploring the same kinds of questions about the nature of our spiritual and religious selves and how we come to understand reality.

It was within that whole working together with these individuals we came to realize the idea that perhaps if I can scan somebody’s brain when they have Alzheimer’s or if they have depression, I can also scan their brain when they are meditating or praying or feeling something religious or spiritual. That’s what really put the whole picture together.

Listen to the complete interview above!


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