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Magic Tumors

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Can a tumor ever be a source of good? Neurologist Dr. Orrin Devinsky thinks so. He recalls the true story of a man, his tumor, and a euphoric reaction to safety pins. Next, Mark Salzman reads from his novel Lying Awake. When a nun develops a brain tumor, she finds the spiritual communion with God she's been seeking. But what will happen when she’s forced to choose between physical health and religious enlightenment? It turns out Dr. Devinsky sees many real patients like this fictional nun, patients who miss their deadly tumors once they're gone.

Comments [7]

Arthur Grant

The patient described by Dr. Devinsky was reported in 1954 in The Lancet (September 25 issue, pages 626 - 630) and unfortunately the description was inaccurate. Looking at the safety pin never caused the patient to have an orgasm. As a young boy it caused a pleasurable "thought satisfaction" and beginning at about age 10 the thought satisfaction was followed by behaviors typical of a temporal lobe seizure. More relevant to the RadioLab story, the patient did not have a brain tumor. His left temporal lobe was surgically removed and his epilepsy was cured, but the tissue contained no tumor.

Mar. 10 2015 11:26 AM

You really need to do a better job of trying to keep BS out of your programs. The openness to the idea that the Nuns tumor allowed god to communicate with her was accepting BS. Stop it! Seriously!

Mar. 08 2015 10:45 PM

Connecting these conditions with god sound very ridiculous. Just because due statically randomness a person get these types of tumors and experience these feelings it is regarded to a higher power is just theological thinking. So if take LSD and have a life changing hallucinations they are consider acts thru god. I though this radio stations is suppose to deliver answers with scientific understanding. What are the producers thinking. Very disappointed

Nov. 06 2014 03:01 PM
James Palmer

The feeling of "experiencing God" will almost definitely have a physical correlation, but that does not preclude the existence of God. Would God not create humans with a part of the brain to which he could speak? It would certainly stand to reason that disease states can change the way the "God lobe" works (i.e. over- or understimulating it).

Oct. 05 2012 11:54 AM
Tricia from Northern Illinois

In July of 2008, I had a tumor the size of a plum in my brain and found out because of a major seizure. I will say, the tumor helped me get clean and sober as I now have 38 months clean & sober, but the tumor did not help me find the "spiritual communion with God." You can't always believe what you read. What helped me find and receive my spiritual communion with God is my personal decision, willingness, and courage; that is when I truly received. Being a Stage 3 brain cancer survivor now and going through all that brain tumor stuff and cancer treatments and still going through seizures, please believe me, no one would like to go through the tumor stuff. Appreciate life as you've got it now and if you want the communion with God, you do not need to go through the tumor stuff to receive the communion with God. Make your decisions and push forward to receive.

Sep. 23 2011 12:44 PM
Niki Ghini McKenzie from Poppi, Italy

What the show fails to address is the possibility that all kinds of vision, rapture, and similar emotions that are generally linked to the "experiencing of God" have been caused by natural neurological abnormalities. Is it a too delicate matter to be touched by the show maybe?
Some cultures use various substances to alter their perception in order to reach an exalted state akin to religious ecstasy, a state similar to those of saints and visionaries.
Some have the "luck" to have brain tumors doing that for them but I can't help but think that maybe all testimonials of the presence of God were caused by physical abnormality.

Jun. 07 2010 01:58 PM
Cermo from Lafayette, IN

Man, sign me up for a temporal lobe tumor!

Seriously, this part did sound just a little too awesome. Slight chance of seizures, but I'll have a mind-blowing orgasm every time I hear a b-flat or smell onions cooking.

Are there some alarming statistics you could temper that with? Like for every 1 tumor patient who gets God's cell number, 19 just become incontinent and get migranes every time they look to the left?

May. 18 2010 11:34 PM

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