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In 2009, Jeffery Jonathan (“Joshua”) Davis submitted a Masters thesis to the University of Otago which examines the cognitive neuroscience of “spirituality”. The scientific thesis is entitled, “The Brain of Melchizedek: A Cognitive Neuroscience Approach to Spirituality”. The University of Otago has recently been publishing Honours, Masters, and PhD theses online, as part of its Otago University Research Archive (“OUR Archive”). Davis’s Masters thesis, supervised by Grant Gillett, earned him a Master of Science with Credit in 2010, and is available to read online in pdf format.

But a few of its key scientific findings are worth highlighting here.

Davis explains that his broad goal is:

to understand and communicate the neuro-genetic implications of Spiritual and Behavioural Values to the attainment of Social Harmony and Peace. This is why the thesis bears the name “The Brain of Melchizedek”, in honour to the King of Righteousness, The King of Peace (as portrayed in the Torah) the bearer of a brain encoded with a map to living in harmony and peace. (p. ii)

Davis distinguishes Religious Beliefs from Spiritual Values in a manner that may be familiar from mainstream popular culture:

Religious Beliefs are associated with Behavioural Values while Holiness, Wholeness and the State of Being Peace is associated with Spiritual Values available to any human being regardless of his or her behavioural map of reality. (p. v; cf. p. 3)

Davis claims not to follow any Religious Beliefs, but to uphold what he sees as the spiritual “essence” of figures such as Jesus (“Yeshua ben Yosef”) or Melchizedek:

What is important here regardless of the reader’s belief about the existence of people like Melchizedek and Yeshua Ben Yosef is the kind of wisdom and understanding about consciousness that their words and actions carry both in joyful or adversary situations. These characters and personalities identify themselves with The Creator’s essence and attributes and are inviting their fellow human beings to embrace the possibility to tap into the spiritual nature of human existence to find peace and harmony and to develop a brain capable of a higher cognitive map attuned to God’s Consciousness and the universe at large, its environment. (p. 5)

Despite his purported rejection of specific religious traditions, Davis sees fit to warn “theists, agnostics or Buddhists who are unacquainted with a personal relationship with The Creator” of the “extremely high cost” of rejecting the existence of a Creator, even if the probability of such is shown – by material, non-spiritual, empirical methods – to be very low (pp. 5-6). This allusion to Pascal’s Wager, together with his adherence to Jesus perhaps indicate the particular colour of his allegedly “universal” Spiritual Values. Davis also issues

an invitation for the reader to find the ‘Voice of God’ within their own garden of consciousness where the seeds of the Tree of Life have been planted to allow those ones who will embrace this exploration in the manner of a Tzadik/Scientist or Prophet/Scientist to taste of the fruits of this tree. Spiritual Values like Love, Grace, Truth, Certainty to name a few might eventually lead to one of those ‘aha’ moments in which a person can discern for him or herself what kind of behaviours and lifestyles are more akin to the expression of those universal and transcendental experiences suited to his or her own Personality, Character, Identity, and cultural and social context, the expression of his or her I AM Identity in the world. (p. 9)

Although his thesis is partly grounded in a scattering of quotes from scholars, ranging from neuroscientists to quantum physicists, Davis bases his thesis centrally on “spiritual wisdom … derived from my personal relationship with the Creator (revelation and insights)” (p. v):

As you read this work you will realize that most of the words of Torah and the stories of Israel are treated as my own instead of being quoted the way any other references are quoted. This is because I am one with the body, a fundamental part in the unity of this unbroken chain of divine revelation, both physically and spiritually (p. 4).

In this regard, Davis notes that he wrote an earlier work, Paradise Landing, after receiving it as a “Divine Revelation … in the desert of Australia” (p. 1). The University of Otago has kindly also made this “Divine Revelation” available on its academic website. As Davis explains in the Introduction to his Masters thesis,

Paradise Landing contains twenty one prayers of twenty one different Spiritual Values whose source is the Source of All Life. The prayers are grouped by seven colours and the three values associated to the fifth level or colour are Energy, Mastery and Triunity, mathematically referred as 555 in the context of the revelation and also associated to colour blue as in the light spectrum of blue. (p. 1)

Davis claims to be attempting no less than a synthesis of Science and Spirituality, subjectivity and objectivity, the material and immaterial realms. Accordingly, the proper point of departure for such an endeavour, he claims, is not in any traditional academic procedure or methodology, but in a prayer to “the Triunity” of “Father-Mother-Love” – and this he sets out in full in his Introduction (p. 2). Davis ambitiously seeks to prove that “the spiritual field, the quantum field and the matter field are intrinsically and dynamically interwoven together, as are mind, body and soul, part of an underlying unity which is only dichotomized through the accidents of limited perception and linguistic limitations” (pp. 4-5).

Davis notes that the Spirit has led him, in “childlike playfulness”, to address the reader as “Dear Reader” thoughout the thesis. The same Spirit licensed him to refer to “some authors by their first name to relate to them in an intimate, personal, intersubjective way” (6). Indeed, the thesis is punctuated with almost as many “Dear Reader”s as irregular capitalisations – the latter feature which he explains in this way:

Words like Personality, Character and Identity which I am attributing to a personal gift of The Creator in a personal spiritual relationship have also been capitalized, along with all the names of the Source of all Spiritual Values like for example The Creator, the Most High God, I Am the Love, or Unity to name a few, because of the sacredness and special meaning that they uphold for my person, my immediate blood line, the family of Israel at large, both the known and the lost tribes of Israel and the majority of the people who still stand in awe and reverence to those names, essences and inner spaces in all cultures, traditions and beliefs for all times.

In four chapters, Davis pieces together a tissue of quotations from various scientists, philosophers, and theologians who defend a spiritual dimension to humankind, who “allow themselves to move beyond the materialistic view of human function” (p. 17). This has the further consquence of providing

an open door to find meaning and inspiration to explore a universe which is populated with caring, loving and constructive human beings, a paradigm which sees Goodness, Beauty, Truth and Harmony available to all creatures (and particularly scientists, philosophers and theologians) to overcome selfishness, fear, greed, and ignorance based on transitional and temporal structures for physical survival, destructive behaviour and war.

Have a read of Jeffery Jonathan (“Joshua”) Davis’s complete thesis on the University of Otago academic research website, OUR Archive.

The University of Otago received first place among all New Zealand universities in the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF) review in 2010. Academic performance is matched by its financial success: total revenue for the University of Otago in 2010 from student fees and other sources was $586,400,000, and the net surplus  (before unusual and non-recurring items) was $34,500,000. This is  up from $304,200,000 total revenue and $7,000,000 net surplus in 2000.