Tuesday, February 13, 2007


The Helm of Awe in the title is an obscure reference to Siegfried of the Niebulung Ring cycle (most of you are probably aware of Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen) - the Norse word is a reference to a rune that warriors drew on their foreheads prior to battle as a talismanic protection.

I was reading Bidstrup's article, Experiencing God - the Neurology of the Spiritual Experience when I came across this interesting tidbit:

"Dr. Michael Persinger, working at Laurentian University, in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, has pioneered a method for inducing the religious, spiritual experience of the shaman. Without drugs, herbs, hypnosis or invasive surgery, he can quite literally flip a switch and induce the experience of "god."

"Using an ordinary striped yellow motorcycle helmet purchased at a sporting goods store, which he has modified with electromagnetic coils, he can place the helmet on your head, connect the wires to a device he has constructed that generates the proper signals, and when the magnetic fields produced by the coils penetrate the skull and into the temporal lobes of the brain, the result is the stimulation of those lobes and a religious experience results.

"In common with the Hindu view that a confrontation with God is a confrontation with the self, the nine-hundred plus people who have undertaken the experience produced by Dr. Persinger's helmet have had some very profound experiences. Four out of five say that they've had experiences so profound they would be life-changing had they not understood the mechanistic underpinnings of what they had experienced.

"How does Dr. Persinger's helmet work? It works by inducing very small electrical signals with tiny magnetically induced mechanical vibrations in the brain cells of the temporal lobes and other selected areas of the brain, located in the skull just above and forward of the ears. These lobes are the portions of the brain that produce the "Forty Hertz Component" of the brainwaves detected in electroencephalograms. These mysterious "forty hertz components" are present whenever you are awake or when you are in REM sleep. They are absent during deep, dreamless sleep. What the "forty hertz component" does is not well understood, but we know that it is always present during the experience of "self." We cannot have a "me" experience without the forty hertz component being present."

Intrigued, I went exploring (luckily, I've installed an 'answers.com' applet, that allows me to outline a word online, right-click, and answers.com looks it up. Neat, no?).

Here is Persinger's page, here is work done by an associate of his, and here is a page on 'microwave hearing'.

Anyways, there is now a GOD HELMET. In 2003, they experimented on Richard Dawkins, no less, who experienced zilch, zip, de nada. Of course, Persinger qualifies it thusly: "Dr Persinger has explained away the failure of this Transcranial Magnetic Stimulator. Before donning the helmet, Prof Dawkins had scored low on a psychological scale measuring proneness to temporal lobe sensitivity."

On the answers.com link, it says: "Persinger reports that at least 80 per cent of his participants experience a presence beside them in the room, which they variously say feels like God or someone they knew who had died."

However, Swedish scientists testing this in 2004 were unable to verify it via double-blind tests.

Interestingly enough, you CAN actually purchase a 'God-helmet' of sorts, the Shakti Neural stimulator. Here is an article about someone who experimented with it - but it's a prelim setup, no follow up, what did said experimenter discover afterwards? No data either way. Did he perhaps slip into an altered state, and having achieved 'nirvana', never came back? Or is it like some Lovecraftian story, he encountered nether-beings from beyond Euclidean space, who wanted their alien anonymity to be kept, and so abruptly ended his voyages? (I'm engaging in a little hyperbolic fantasy here, never fear.)

This of course, is directly related to Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, of which the answers.com entry says: "UFO Researcher Albert Budden and cognitive neuroscience researcher Michael Persinger assert that increases in local electromagnetism, triggering the temporal lobe can stimulate TLE and trigger hallucinations of apparent paranormal phenomena, for example ghosts and UFO's. [....] Quite possibly, as neurotheologians have speculated, then, individuals with temporal lobe epilepsy, who have a natural aptitude for "religious" states of consciousness (such as euphoria or samadhi) have functioned in human history as religious figures or as shamans. Persinger's theories, however, remain controversial."

So, oh wow, it's all in your head. What a shock indeed.

Stumble Upon Toolbar


beepbeepitsme said...

RE: "when the magnetic fields produced by the coils penetrate the skull and into the temporal lobes of the brain, the result is the stimulation of those lobes and a religious experience results."

I suspect that this only results in a the patient interpreting what has happened to them as a "religious experience", if they are cognizant of what to expect of a "religious experience."

In other words, one is perhaps only testing the effects of culture.

If the test was performed on a person who had no concept of relgiion or god, how would the patient interpret the experience?

I doubt that they would equate it with a religious experience. Perhaps they would interpret the sensation in some other way.

beepbeepitsme said...

BTW, I have maxx on my blog trying to provide evidence for a god, (but I suspect he hopes specifically his god) using the kalam cosmological argument. Do religious people seriously think we haven't heard these theistic arguments before?

Krystalline Apostate said...

BBIM - I'd imagine that the results would vary depending on whether the testee was more of a right- or left-brainer.
Do religious people seriously think we haven't heard these theistic arguments before?
A great many of them do, I think.
Along w/TAG, throwing bible verses at us, quoting C.S Lewis, quoting Augustine...
& the beat goes on.

Mesoforte said...

That makes me think of the machine in 'auditing' used by Scientologists. Almost make me want to take one and figure out precisely what its measuring.

Krystalline Apostate said...

MF - Yeah, good luck getting your hands on a Thetan 'auditor'.

"Most auditing sessions employ a device called the Hubbard Electropsychometer or E-Meter. This device measures changes in the electrical resistance of the preclear by passing approximately 0.5 volts through a pair of tin-plated tubes much like empty soup cans, attached to the meter by wires and held by the preclear during auditing. These low-potential changes in electrical resistance, are believed by Scientologists to be a reliable and a precise indication of changes of mental tension in the preclear."

Easy enough to construct, apparently.
Useless w/o an 'operator's manual', I'd guess.
Still, a Shakti helmet sounds interesting. I dunno if they've taken the experimentation any further or not.

say no to christ said...

Wow, my head hurts now. lol

I wonder if the amout of magnets in our brain have anything to do with the effects. Some people have more magnets than others and animals even more so. A lot of animal abilities are seen by many as almost supernatural and really it is all about the magnets in their brain and the magnet energies in the atmoshere.

Very interesting!