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This is Your Brain on God

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Debate has long raged between atheists and the faithful about whether God is all in our heads, and the discovery of a so-called "God module" in the brain has only fanned the flames. While a group of neuroscientists at the University of San Diego were studying the brain patterns of epileptics, they stumbled across something they weren't expecting: that epileptics who suffer a certain kind of seizure are often intensely religious, reporting an unusual number of visions, communications with God and even paranormal experiences. Further tests revealed that there's a specific place in the temporal lobe (the aforementioned "module") which flares up when faithful subjects are asked questions about their faith, and that this spot was a common focal point for electrical discharges during epileptic seizures. Those San Diego neuroscientists quickly issued forth a theory: that "there may be dedicated neural machinery in the temporal lobes concerned with religion, which may have evolved to impose order and stability on society." So did our brains create God -- or did God create our brains?

Another fascinating neuro-religious study hit the news tongues.jpgin 2006, concerning evangelical Christians who "speak in tongues" during church services. Tongues-speakers have long claimed that their glossolalia is something greater than themselves speaking through them; that they give themselves up to the sacred during services and are in a state of benevolent possession (also known as being "baptized in the Holy Spirit," "getting the ghost," and so on). University of Pennsylvania researchers decided to see what was really going on in the evangelicals' heads, so they took brain images of five women while they spoke in tongues at church and found that, much to their surprise, the results did little to cast doubt on the womens' own descriptions of their state. While speaking in tongues, the language centers as well as the frontal lobes -- the thinking, willful part of their brain that controls most behavior -- were quiet. While these women were dancing and shouting, speaking in a gibberish that would take more concentration to invent on the spot than normal speech, their speech and behavior centers weren't doing much. Which is to say, the images supported the women's interpretation of what was happening to them; it was as if they were under the control of something else, in a state of mental possession. (Watch people speak in tongues here.)

We're hearing more all the time about religion through the lens of neuroscience, and much of what's come out has been like the two examples above -- a fascinating mixed bag. What do you think? Do these studies prove or disprove anything? Can science and religion be friends and play nice?

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science
6 Radiant Facts About Irène Joliot-Curie
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though her accomplishments are often overshadowed by those of her parents, the elder daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie was a brilliant researcher in her own right.

1. SHE WAS BORN TO, AND FOR, GREATNESS.

A black and white photo of Irene and Marie Curie in the laboratory in 1925.
Irène and Marie in the laboratory, 1925.
Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

Irène’s birth in Paris in 1897 launched what would become a world-changing scientific dynasty. A restless Marie rejoined her loving husband in the laboratory shortly after the baby’s arrival. Over the next 10 years, the Curies discovered radium and polonium, founded the science of radioactivity, welcomed a second daughter, Eve, and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. The Curies expected their daughters to excel in their education and their work. And excel they did; by 1925, Irène had a doctorate in chemistry and was working in her mother’s laboratory.

2. HER PARENTS' MARRIAGE WAS A MODEL FOR HER OWN.

Like her mother, Irène fell in love in the lab—both with her work and with another scientist. Frédéric Joliot joined the Curie team as an assistant. He and Irène quickly bonded over shared interests in sports, the arts, and human rights. The two began collaborating on research and soon married, equitably combining their names and signing their work Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

3. SHE AND HER HUSBAND WERE AN UNSTOPPABLE PAIR.

Black and white photo of Irène and Fréderic Joliot-Curie working side by side in their laboratory.
Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Their passion for exploration drove them ever onward into exciting new territory. A decade of experimentation yielded advances in several disciplines. They learned how the thyroid gland absorbs radioiodine and how the body metabolizes radioactive phosphates. They found ways to coax radioactive isotopes from ordinarily non-radioactive materials—a discovery that would eventually enable both nuclear power and atomic weaponry, and one that earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

4. THEY FOUGHT FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE.

The humanist principles that initially drew Irène and Frédéric together only deepened as they grew older. Both were proud members of the Socialist Party and the Comité de Vigilance des Intellectuels Antifascistes (Vigilance Committee of Anti-Fascist Intellectuals). They took great pains to keep atomic research out of Nazi hands, sealing and hiding their research as Germany occupied their country, Irène also served as undersecretary of state for scientific research of the Popular Front government.

5. SHE WAS NOT CONTENT WITH THE STATUS QUO.

Irène eventually scaled back her time in the lab to raise her children Hélène and Pierre. But she never slowed down, nor did she stop fighting for equality and freedom for all. Especially active in women’s rights groups, she became a member of the Comité National de l'Union des Femmes Françaises and the World Peace Council.

6. SHE WORKED HERSELF TO DEATH.

Irène’s extraordinary life was a mirror of her mother’s. Tragically, her death was, too. Years of watching radiation poisoning and cancer taking their toll on Marie never dissuaded Irène from her work. In 1956, dying of leukemia, she entered the Curie Hospital, where she followed her mother’s luminous footsteps into the great beyond.

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You Can Now Order Food Through Facebook
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After a bit of controversy over its way of aggregating news feeds and some questionable content censoring policies, it’s nice to have Facebook roll out a feature everyone can agree on: allowing you to order food without leaving the social media site.

According to a press release, Facebook says that the company decided to begin offering food delivery options after realizing that many of its users come to the social media hub to rate and discuss local eateries. Rather than hop from Facebook to the restaurant or a delivery service, you’ll be able to stay within the app and select from a menu of food choices. Just click “Order Food” from the Explore menu on a desktop interface or under the “More” option on Android or iOS devices. There, you’ll be presented with options that will accept takeout or delivery orders, as well as businesses participating with services like Delivery.com or EatStreet.

If you need to sign up and create an account with Delivery.com or Jimmy John’s, for example, you can do that without leaving Facebook. The feature is expected to be available nationally, effective immediately.

[h/t Forbes]

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