The Organ of Spirituality

Joseph Rodes Buchanan (1814-1899) was born in Frankfurt, Kentucky.  His father, Joseph Buchanan, was a mechanical inventor, physician, newspaper editor, and author.  The younger Joseph learned printing in his father’s newspaper office, and then studied medicine at Kentucky’s Transylvania University.  After graduating he became an investigator of, and public lecturer on, the brain.  He dissected or measured thousands of heads, and “he discovered and demonstrated the psychic and physiological functions of the brain by direct experiment,” in part by external electrical or magnetic stimulation of the various regions of the head.  Mapping out what he inferred from his experiments was part of “the greatest discovery in the annals of physiology,” according to a biographical sketch published by Julia Schlesinger in Workers in the Vineyard, “the discovery that the function of every portion of the human brain could be ascertained, accurately located, and described—thus revealing all the psychic powers of man, their relation to each other, and their relation to the body and their wonderful interaction of the psychic and physiological faculties—thus solving the great mystery of the age, which before the investigations of Dr. Buchanan, no one had ever attempted to explore.”

From 1846-56, Buchanan was a professor of medicine at the Cincinnati Eclectic Medical Institute and authored The Eclectic Practice of Medicine and Surgery and other works, including the eight-volume Buchanan’s Journal of Man.  Buchanan was also the “discoverer” of what he called “Psychometry.”  He believed that humans leave psychic energy on objects they touch as a kind of residue, and that a sensitive psychic could read the collected energies on an object as an imagined narrative history of its use.  This was used by psychics to produce descriptions of ancient civilizations through touching recovered artifacts.  It was also used by psychic “healers” to diagnose the illnesses of people who had sent them a lock of their hair and a dollar in an envelope.

Buchanan was a leading physiological experimenter, but his mapping of the human mental faculties onto the brain, or his discovery (as he explained in the following article) that a person could be induced to see spirits through an electrical stimulus to a certain portion of the brain, did not exclude for him the possibility that spirits were in fact real.  On the contrary, his own investigations eventually convinced him of the truth of spiritualism, and he became a mainstay on the spiritualist lecture circuit.

Joseph Rodes Buchanan.  “Spirituality—Recent Occurrences,” Buchanan’s Journal of Man (New York), February 1850: 489-492.
In the year 1841, I found that by exciting the marvelous organs, lying near the temporal ridge, the subject might be made sufficiently marvelous and imaginative not only to believe in ghosts, but to see them. Making this experiment upon an intellectual young lady at a social party, she became quite agitated as she beheld her deceased mother. In ’42 an exact survey of this region demonstrated that there was a special organ of SPIRITUALITY at the junction of Ideality, Marvelousness and Imagination, by means of which we obtained rather definite ideas of spiritual beings, and also an organ of more extravagant functions, properly styled the organ of SPECTRAL ILLUSION, lying a little higher in the imaginative region, near the affections.
organ of spirituality diagramUnder the excitement of Spirituality the mind is elevated to a more spiritual state. Its attention turns away from gross matter, and it acquires an extraordinary power of recognizing mind, until at length even disembodied mind is distinctly perceived. Thus the subject will enter communication with the dead and with various spiritual beings, of whom he will speak, and with whom he appears to hold an interesting intercourse. Sometimes he will report that he is too gross and incapable of this exalted communion—that spiritual beings are beyond his reach, and will not commune with him. Mr. ______, a man of fine talent, but of little religious faith, was astonished and overwhelmed when he first underwent this experiment, and perceived as holding an independent existence, what he had before regarded as mere creatures of his own mind. He at length communed with his deceased father, but reported that his father now withdrew from him with a stern countenance, as if he was unfit for such association. Mrs. ______, a firm disbeliever of christianity and of all spiritualism, was overwhelmed with wonder and delight when I excited her Spirituality, and soon entered into familiar communication with various spiritual beings. In some cases her spiritual vision was sufficient to enable her to describe correctly the appearance of deceased persons whom she had never seen or heard described. Many others, under these experiments, have reported communications held with the deceased, and sometimes messages of advice, etc., have been sent to their surviving friends. Some of my friends have prosecuted these spiritual investigations to a great length, believing that they might thus place the world in a more intimate relation to spiritual life, and exert a holy influence upon men. In my own limited experiments, however, I [490] have not seen those copious and satisfactory results of which others speak. The communications have generally been of a vague character, and such as might easily have originated in the imagination or reason of the subject, aided by their impressibility to the mental influences of the living.

The full “Neurological diagram exhibiting the localities of the cerebral organs as taught in the lectures of Dr. J. R. Buchanan”(the complete head from which the section above is taken) 200 KB

I do not wish to discredit or check such investigations, which I have been compelled to postpone to a late period as regards myself, but I would mention the dangers of delusion. Spirituality is so closely connected with Imagination in the brain, that there is an extremely strong probability that its revelations will be either partly or entirely the product of imagination. The close proximity of the organ of Spectral Illusion, the indications of which we know to be false creations, renders it still more probable that the spectres arrayed before the mind, are but its own irregular shadows—fanciful embodiments of some principle or influence at work upon it. Hence there is a strong probability that those who investigate these matters, may be lost in a wilderness of romantic spiritual fictions.

The existence of the organ of Spirituality is illustrated by the belief in all ages, of the existence of spiritual beings, and of their communion with the living. Thousands have entertained the sincere belief, arising from their own consciousness, that they held communion with the spirits of departed friends and relatives. Occasionally this communion has led to practical benefit, by means of advice and warnings received from spiritual sources when awake or when dreaming, which would indicate either that a kind, spiritual being had communicated the intelligence, or that it was attained by an unusual exertion of the intuitive foreseeing faculty.

A lady of great intelligence, moral worth and practical energy, told me confidentially that she had for a great portion of her life been subject to spiritual visions which she dared not mention to any one, lest her sanity should be doubted. These celestial visitants came to her in the daytime when her mind was perfectly calm, clear and free from excitement, the communion was pleasant and elevating. They appeared to be angelic beings of an exalted nature, with whom she was conscious that she would in a future life become more intimate. Their visits occurred more frequently when her moral faculties were in their highest condition, and became very rare when she became too much engrossed in worldly affairs to the neglect of her duties. Dr. H., an intelligent practitioner of medicine in one of our Atlantic cities, believes himself to be in daily intercourse, of the most intimate character, with the spirit of a departed friend. There are many who entertain the persuasion that they commune with the departed, who are unwilling to speak of a matter which they regard as sacred, and which they would not desecrate by exposure to idle comment.

The belief in guardian spirits, which is expressed by poets and orators, with a half real, half metaphorical meaning, and which is to some a matter of religious sentiment, is sanctioned by the results [491] of many experiments upon subjects in whom the spiritual faculties have been excited. They have often spoken of guardian spirits, who preside over particular persons, and sometimes specified certain influences exerted by them for their benefit. The guardian spirit is most generally a deceased friend, and his influence is exerted through the minds upon which the spiritual influence operates.

A high excitement of Spirituality is not necessary to the spiritual vision. The sleep-waking state is generally quite spiritual and by a slight elevation becomes sufficient for spiritual communion. There is no impossibility in maintaining the organ habitually in sufficient activity for spiritual communion. On the contrary, if the organ be large and the circumstances of the individual’s life favorable to its action, we may expect a spontaneous activity. Neurology renders it perfectly credible that an individual of active mind, may, during the greater part of his life, be in that state which is called spiritual communion of spiritual vision, but it does not sanction the idea that this mental power is limited to one, or to a very small number of persons. Whatever belongs to one individual, belongs to all of the race in varying degrees.

In all impressible persons the faculty of Spirituality may be excited. Even those who are decided materialists, may be convinced without argument, of spiritual existence, by thus making them perceive it. In experimenting upon letters, the spiritual power is often displayed. (See Psychometry.) If the writer of the letter is dead, the subject, or investigator, will sometimes trace his character and career through life, recognize his death, and subsequent spiritual existence. In other cases, death will be his first perception, and he will forthwith describe him as a spiritual being.

The organ of Spirituality co-operates with the intuitive faculties, but is not a strictly intellectual organ itself. To arrive at truth in the investigation of spiritual subjects, we must rely upon the intuitive organs—they perceive the truth. Spirituality gives an ethereal and fanciful temperament, which may render the perceptions more vivid but may also give a definite embodiment to that which is only an abstraction, and mingle imaginative pictures with actual perceptions.

It requires no little care and patient investigation to arrive at a correct conclusion in reference to the vast mass of phenomena which have, during the past and present centuries, passed current as truly spiritual appearances. It may be safely assumed in advance, that so great an amount of evidence, of dispassionate statements, of popular belief, and of earnest excitement, could not have existed without an adequate cause, and therefore that there must be realities and laws which it is the duty of scientific men to ascertain. On the other hand, it may be assumed with equal certainty that all the real phenomena are intermingled with delusions and falsehoods, for there has been no greater source of delusion and imposture in all the history of man, than his relations to the spiritual world, in [492] reference to which the world is filled with the grossest falsehoods, by means of which the mass of mankind have been made the dupes and victims of the cunning despots, priests, jugglers and necromancers who profit by the fictions and superstitions which they uphold. From Nicholas of Russia to his sable majesty of Loango, in Africa, from the pow-wow-ing medicine-man of North America, to the high priest of Juggernaut, from Mahomet to Joseph Smith, one vast scene of imposture upon the many for the benefit of the few, assails our vision.

In view of these facts, we need not wonder that a determined spirit of skepticism now possesses the world, and prevails especially among the more influential and educated classes. If all that the most sanguine spiritualists claim were true, and the evidence easily accessible for all, it would be a groundless hope to suppose that such evidence as might be decisive upon any other scientific question would be satisfactory upon this. Such questions are predetermined in the popular mind, against the spiritualist, and the whole subject is buried beneath the conviction that all the facts upon which he relies as evidence, are the result of base imposture, credulity, ignorance, imagination or insanity. Evidence must be piled upon evidence, and one investigation after another must result in the overthrow of the most determined skepticism before any impression can be made upon the more intelligent portion of the community.

We should bear in mind that philosophy sanctions neither skepticism nor credulity; it requires simply a careful collection of evidence, extensive in proportion to the importance of the phenomena, and a patient suspension of our decision, until the accumulated facts present a harmonious consistency and indicate to the inductive reasoner the new laws of nature which they embody.

Note that Buchanan located the “organ of spirituality” on what would be recognized today as part of the temporal lobes of the brain.  The electromagnetic induction of spiritual experiences, including the vision of deceased spirits, through temporal lobe stimulation, has lately been re-discovered, and made the subject of scientific research, as described in various journals and magazines.

Dr. Michael Persinger’s experiments, as described in Jack Hitt, “This Is Your Brain on God,” Wired, Nov 1999


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