The God Helmet
Experimental Apparatus used in Neuroscience
|The God Helmet
Experimental Apparatus used in Neuroscience
The God Helmet refers to an experimental apparatus used in neuroscience, primarily in the field of neurotheology.
Persinger uses a modified snowmobile helmet that incorporates solenoids placed over the temporal lobes. His formal name for the equipment is the "Koren Helmet" (after its inventor, Stanley Koren).
He also uses a device nicknamed "The Octopus" which uses solenoids around the whole brain, in a circle just above subject's ears.
Both of these devices produce "weak but complex" magnetic fields.
Originally called the "Koren helmet" after its inventer Stanley Koren, it was conceived to study creativity and the effects of subtle stimulation of the mesiobasal temporal lobes.
Reports by participants of a "sensed presence" brought public attention to the God Helmet through appearances in several TV documentaries showing it in use. The apparatus, placed on the head of an experimental subject, generates weak fluctuating (i.e. "complex") magnetic fields.
These fields are approximately as strong as those generated by a land line telephone handset or an ordinary hair dryer, but far weaker than that of an ordinary fridge magnet.
It is used extensively by Michael Persinger, a neuroscientist at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
Persinger has published extensively about the effects on the human brain of the "complex" magnetic fields generated by the God helmet and other similar devices.
Many subjects have reported "mystical experiences and altered states" while wearing the God Helmet.
Although demonstrated to journalists and documentarists, these effects await the publication of independent replications in formal peer-reviewed scientific journals. The only attempt at replication published in the scientific literature reported a failure to replicate Persinger's effects.
Persinger claims the replication was flawed. The Swedish group disagrees.
Persinger reports that at least 80 percent of his participants experience a presence beside them in the room, which ranges from a simple 'sensed presence' to visions of God.
About one percent experienced God, while many more had less evocative, but still significant experiences of "another consciousness or sentient being".
The God Helmet has received attention from the media and theologians because of the challenge it appears to present to traditional beliefs in God.
Although only a small number (on the order of 1%) of the experimental subjects saw God in the laboratory, their experiences can be interpreted as meaning that God is the subjective experience of an unusual kind of brain function.
In contrast, most of the subjects had the experience of 'sensing' a 'presence'.
The God Helmet
The God Helmet was not specifically designed to elicit visions of God. Like most experiments, the God Helmet procedure was designed to test specific hypotheses.
The first of these is the "vectorial hemisphericity" hypothesis, which proposes that the human sense of self has two components, one on each side of the brain, that ordinarily work together but in which the left hemisphere is usually dominant.
The two hemispheres make different contributions to a single sense of self, but under certain conditions can appear as two separate 'selves'.
The God Helmet was designed to create conditions in which contributions in tandem to the sense of self from both cerebral hemispheres is disrupted.
The second experimental hypothesis was that when communication between the left and right senses of self is disturbed, the usually-subordinate 'self' in the right hemisphere intrudes into the awareness of the left-hemispheric dominant self, causing what Persinger refers to as "interhemispheric intrusions".
The third hypothesis was that the variety of "visitor experiences" can be explained by "interhemispheric intrusions" caused by a disruption in "vectorial hemisphericity".
Persinger claims that many paranormal experiences, feelings of having lived past lives, felt presences of non-physical beings, ghosts, muses, and other "spiritual beings", are examples of interhemispheric intrusions.
The God Helmet experiments were also intended to validate the idea that religious and mystic experiences are artifacts of temporal lobe function.
God on the Brain
The correlation drawn between temporal lobe epilepsy and religious experience, as discussed by Persinger, has been questioned.
The auditory and visual hallucinations as well as emotional states experienced by Temporal Lobe epilepsy (TLE) patients during the seizure state typically induce sensations of malcontent, rather than ecstatic or pleasant sensations that are integral to spiritual experience.
As noted by neurologist John R Hughes: "Auditory and visual hallucinations are very uncommon in epilepsy. Epileptic phenomena are nearly always brief and primitive, like light flashes".
Persinger counters that even though only a small percent of TLE seizures include religious experiences, the study of these individuals nevertheless provides important evidence concerning the neural basis for religious and mystic experiences.
Persinger's findings regarding the effects of environmental geomagnetic activity have, to date, not been independently replicated. One published attempt to create a feeling of a "sensed presence" using an EM- and ultrasound-based "haunted room" instead of a God Helmet, found that reports of unusual experiences were uncorrelated with the presence or absence of "complex" environmental eletromagnetic fields similar to Persinger's.
Reports of unusual experiences were however, predicted by the personality characteristics and suggestibility of participants.