Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Creation of God

Michelangelo's awesome hidden message.

Wikicommons/public domain
Michelangelo's Creation of Adam
Source: Wikicommons/public domain

Pretty much everyone is familiar with the "Creation of Adam", even if they might not know that it is a section of a fresco painted by Michelangelo for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

Like the Mona Lisa, the picture is so commonly parodied and depicted on T-shirts and postcards as to have become a piece of kitsch.

However, what almost everyone has missed is the hidden message that Michelangelo inserted: a human brain dissimulated in the figure of God.

The Creation of Adam was painted around 1511. Some five hundred years later, in 1990, Frank Lynn Meshberger, a physician in Anderson, Indiana, publicly noted in the Journal of the American Medical Association that the figures and shapes that make up the figure of God also make up an anatomically accurate figure of the human brain.

Take a closer look at the picture above and you will see the Sylvian fissure that divides the frontal lobe from the parietal and temporal lobes: it is represented by a bunching up of the cape by one of the angels and by a fold in God's tunic.

The bottom-most angel that appears to support the weight of God is the brainstem, and his trailing scarf the vertebral artery.

The foot of another angel is the pituitary gland, and his bent knee the optic chiasm where the optic nerves from the eyes partially cross over.

The ingenuity and level of detail are simply staggering, and a lasting testament to Michelangelo's extraordinary—and, for the time, very unusual—knowledge of human anatomy.

Some have gone so far as to argue that the point at which the finger of God and the finger of Adam touch represents the synaptic cleft across which neurons communicate by means of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.

However, the concept of bioelectricity only dates from the 18th century, when Luigi Galvani, working with frogs, found that electrical stimulation of the sciatic nerve leads to twitching of the leg muscles. And it is not until 1921 that Otto Loewi discovered the first neurotransmitter—acetylcholine, which he called "Vagusstoff"—earning himself a Nobel Prize in the process. So Michelangelo's "synaptic cleft" is either uncanny coincidence or remarkable intuition.

In Michelangelo's picture, God has been superimposed on the phylogenetically ancient limbic system which is the emotional centre of the brain and arguably the anatomical counterpart of the human soul.

God's right arm extends through the prefrontal cortex, which is the seat of human reason and deliberation and so of the imagination and creativity that marks us out from all other animals.

Another very human emotion that is linked to creativity is melancholy. Remarkably, Michelangelo has painted a forlorn-looking angel in an area of the brain that is sometimes activated when a sad thought is experienced.

The Creation of Adam is traditionally thought of as illustrating the Biblical creation narrative from the Book of Genesis in which God breathes life into Adam, the first man.

However, the hidden brain in the picture could radically change this interpretation of the painting.

Michelangelo might simply be suggesting that our brain is a piece or extension of God. Or, more provocatively, that God is the creation and projection of the human brain.

If so, the picture should be called not The Creation of Adam but The Creation of God.

Neel Burton is author of Hypersanity: Thinking Beyond Thinking.

More from Neel Burton M.A., M.D.
More from Psychology Today