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Contemplative Network (CN) is proposing groundbreaking neuroscience brain scan research comparing the memories of near-death experiences (NDE) with the memories of spiritual contemplative experiences (SCE).  These states share common attributes at the cusp of transcendence between this world and the next; some people have even experienced reliving NDE as SCE.  Some of the best scientists in the world have enthusiastically joined the research team.  The lead is Calixto Machado M.D., Ph.D., one of the world’s experts on recovering people from unconscious states with scans of NDE patients.  Fr. Gilbert Walker, formerly board member of Contemplative Outreach Ltd., has knowledge of subjects who have had SCE.  A more detailed summary of the proposed research appears below.  Please contact Dc. Robert Hesse, PhD if you have any questions.

We respectfully request your and, if applicable, your organization’s help in making donations for this unique study.  Our goal is $200,000. In accordance with the following, donations may be made to Contemplative Network, a US non-profit, tax-exempt organization.

Mail to:  Contemplative Network
P.O. Box 941464
Houston, Texas  77094


Contemplative Network, Chase Bank


Compare the neural correlates of the memories of Near-Death Experiences (NDE) and Spiritual Contemplative Experiences (SCE).


Over the centuries saints and prophets from all faith traditions have reported SCE and NDE, with both these altered states of consciousness having similar attributes. Depending upon religious beliefs both are at the cusp of the transcendence to the next life, which has never been comparatively studied in this way by neuroscience. Medicine has debated the bioethics of defining the moment of death. People have reported an occasional reliving of NDE during prayer as SCE. Neuroscientists are interested in the neural correlates of the pathological and physiological generation of consciousness. It is hoped that this research will shed some light on these important subjects.

CALIXTO MACHADO, M.D., PH.D. FAAN, a neuroscientist, is one of the world’s experts on patients recovering from various unconscious states. He is Corresponding Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, President of the International Symposia on Brain Death and Disorders of Consciousness, and President of the Cuban Society of Clinical Neurophysiology Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery.
HAROLD G. KOENIG, M.D., a psychiatrist, is one of the world’s experts on the subject he edited in the seminal book “Handbook of Religion and Health.” He is director of Duke University’s Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health. He’s published over 450 scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals, and more than 50 books in print or preparation, on spirituality and health.
ANDREW B. NEWBERG, M.D. a neuroscientist, is a prominent researcher in nuclear medical brain imaging and neurotheology, having authored many books, the latest entitled “Neurotheology”. He is the Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, an Adjunct Professor of Religious Studies and an Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
RAMIRO SALAS, PH.D., a neuroscientist, is in the field of brain imaging, neuropharmacology, and reward/disappointment brain processing. He is Associate Professor, Psychiatry Research at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM). He has numerous publications, most recently on the effects of discursive prayer on the brain and it’s lessening of the symptoms of depression.
YANIN MACHADO, M.D., a neurologist, is co-organizer of the International Symposia on Brain Death and Disorders of Consciousness. She has completed research on autism, Alzheimer’s disease, heart rate variability, and other topics.
MAURICIO CHINCHILLA, M.D., a neurologist, is a principal researcher in the field. He is on Dr. Machado’s team and has participated in many studies and co-authored many papers with him.
ROBERT J. HESSE, PH.D., a physical chemist and Catholic deacon, is in the field of the convergence of faith and science. He is President and Co-Founder of Contemplative Network and Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Spirituality & Health (ISH) and at the University of St. Thomas (UST). He has taught Centering Prayer (CP) to hundreds and lectures worldwide.


Dr. Machado has available existing electroencephalogram (EEG), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computerized tomography (CT) scans on over 100 patients who recovered from various unconscious states. From those and new patients at numerous emergency rooms, he will identify 18 subjects in Cuba who report having had NDE. Dr. Hesse will identify 18 subjects that are long-term CP practitioners from the contemplative community in Cuba who reported having had SCE. Fr. Gilbert Walker, a Catholic priest in Cuba who teaches CP, will assist him.

For the final selection of subjects the following will be performed:

  1. GREYSON SCALE – All subjects all will be given a Greyson Scale (GS) to describe their experiences, either NDE or SCE, which often share the following attributes: cognitive e.g. timelessness, affective e.g. peacefulness, paranormal e.g. out-of-body, and transcendental e.g. divinity, along with a measure of religiosity.

  2. NEUROLOGICAL EVALUATION – Full neurological evaluations including, conventional CT and MRI scans, will be given to screen that they do not presently have brain injuries.


There will be two separate groups, those who report having had NDE and those who report having had SCE. The procedure will have the following steps.

  1. RESTING STATE – Quantitative EEG (QEEG) and functional MRI (fMRI) scans will beperformed on all subjects, which will become the resting state baseline control.

  2. REMEMBERING STATE – QEEG and fMRI scans will be performed on all subjects while they are being asked to remember their experience, either NDE or SCE. Though this is a study of memories of events and not the events themselves, the resting state functional connectivity is expected to show how the brain changes because of the experience.


A research protocol with more detail including references can be made available. The Ethical and Scientific Committees in Cuba have already approved the protocol according to the Helsinki Guidelines. An Institutional Review Board (IRB) application is not required in Cuba but it will be applied for as needed by the US researchers.


This study is expected to take about 11 months, 7 months for research and 4 months for the final published report. It is hoped that preliminary results may be reported at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences meeting in September 2018 in Houston. And that the final results may be reported in December 2018 at the internationally attended VIII International Symposium on Brain Death and Disorders of Consciousness in Cuba.

Cost is estimated at $200,000 of which $180,000 will be under lump sum contract (LSC) for work in Cuba and $20,000 under reimbursable contract (REC) for work in the US. The LSC will be done legally in accordance with the regulations of the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and Cuban Assets Control Regulations (CACR). The LSC will make progress payments based on research deliverables: $18,000 (10%) as an advance payment, $5,000 per subject based on completed scans and evaluations, then $9,000 (5%) payment upon publication of the final report. A factored cost estimate with more detail can be made available. Donation(s) are solicited through the United States non-profit 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt organization Contemplative Network with IRS tax I.D. number 27-1738129.


Historical Perspective

In 1999, Andrew Newberg, M.D. studied a group of Franciscan nuns who had been practicing Centering Prayer.  It was the first brain scan of Christian contemplative practitioners.  He discovered that there were significant neurological changes that differed from normal human brain functions.  The frontal lobes, known to be the seat of moral judgment and spirituality, had increased activity;  the limbic activity decreased;  and the combination generated a peaceful and serene state of consciousness.

Since that early work, there has been considerable research on the subject, much of which has been on non-theistic Tibetan Buddhist monks, yet comparatively little on theistic Christian practitioners.  As valuable as that research has been, it misses the opportunity available from the findings of research on the power of faith, which over 90% of the U.S. population has.  Though most researchers are Christian, they have difficulties getting enough practitioners, since the focus has been mostly on a small number of Tibetan monks; whereas, there is a much broader base of theistic interfaith practitioners with over 100,000 Christian contemplatives alone.  Research incurs a high cost of transporting equipment and researchers to the practitioners, rather than capitalizing on these local practitioners.  There seems to be a greater emphasis on theoretical neuroscience, as opposed to clinical applications.  The research is fragmented worldwide, rather than having a physical focal point, as could be the case in the Houston Texas Medical Center (TMC), which is the largest in the world, exceeding the next largest by four times.

Announcement:  Study of Effects of Spirituality on the Brain

CN collaboration with ISH, BCM teams up with the Institute for Spirituality and Health

Houston – (March 26, 2013) – Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) and the Institute for Spirituality and Health (ISH) have teamed up to study the effects of spirituality on the brain.

This new collaboration, signed by Dr. Dora Angelaki, chair of neuroscience at BCM, and Dr. John Graham, president of ISH, is a Master Research Services Agreement between the two institutions that includes the use of the Center for Advanced MR Imaging, one of the worlds’ largest, at BCM. Researchers through the ISH, located in the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest medical complex, will not only use the functional magnetic resonance imaging facilities (fMRI) at BCM but also collaborate with researchers within the department of neuroscience. The first such project is currently in the planning stages for later this year.

The goal of the ISH, at 57 years the oldest such interfaith organization in the United States, is to engage in scientific research to provide evidence-based information on the role spirituality plays in health and healing, as well as educate and equip healthcare professionals so they may incorporate spirituality in treatments of patients when needed.

This collaboration was also completed with the support of BCM’s Center for Advanced MRI (CAMRI) Director of Research, Krista Runge, and ISH Vice Chairman, Dr. Robert Hesse.