God Helmet

Dr. Persinger's work is primarily published in peer-reviewed academic journals devoted to neuroscience and cognitive studies. Persinger does not reject the validity of spiritual and psychic experiences. His many papers and experiments offer specific mechanisms for how the brain can create them subjectively. Proof that God is in the brain means that the power of prayer lies in the human mind. Meditation works by making changes in the brain. The kingdom of heaven lies within the complexities of the brain, the most complex object known to science. This field of inquiry has been called neurotheology by several authors and journalists, though it's members usually have other names for themselves.

Dr. Persinger uses concepts like "vectorial hemisphericity", "interhemispheric intrusions", "linguistic sense of self", "neural intercalation", and several others that are difficult to understand without serious study. These pages should make it easier to understand Dr. Persinger's most important concept, that spiritual and religious experience, as well as spiritual personalities can be understood by looking at the brains function. Many of the ideas explored in these pages are not those of Dr. Persinger, but those of the author. In any event, The articles on these pages provide an easy to read introduction to neurotheology; Thinking about spirituality and spiritual experiences in terms of brain activity.

SHAKTI Neuromagnetic Signal Generator
Shakti uses magnetic fields to create altered states. These carry signals derived from the human brain. These allow it to 'target' specific brain structures known to be involved with spirituality and to induce altered states of consciousness.

Shakti signals are magnetic fields that rise and fall in patterns the brain responds to. These fields are no stronger than the ones from a phone receiver or hair dryer.

Shakti does not diagnose, treat, or prevent medical disorders. No statements about Shakti For Windows have been evaluated by the FDA

8 Coil Shakti - 285.00

"How does Dr. Persinger artificially induce religious experiences in his patients?"

Dr. Persinger has designed a helmet that produces a very weak rotating magnetic field of between ten nanotesla and one microtesla over the temporal lobes of the brain. This is placed on the subject's head and they are placed in a quiet chamber while blindfolded. So that there is no risk of 'suggestion', the only information that the subjects are given is that they are going in for a relaxation experiment. Neither the subject nor the experimenter carrying out the test has any idea of the true purpose of the experiment. In addition to this, the experiment is also run with the field switched both off and on. This procedure Dr. Persinger claims will induce an experience in over 80% of test subjects."
July 11 1999

This Is Your Brain on God


Jack Hitt

Michael Persinger has a vision - the Almighty isn't dead, he's an energy field. And your mind is an electromagnetic map to your soul.

Over a scratchy speaker, a researcher announces, "Jack, one of your electrodes is loose, we're coming in." The 500-pound steel door of the experimental chamber opens with a heavy whoosh; two technicians wearing white lab coats march in. They remove the Ping-Pong-ball halves taped over my eyes and carefully lift a yellow motorcycle helmet that's been retrofitted with electromagnetic field-emitting solenoids on the sides, aimed directly at my temples. Above the left hemisphere of my 42-year-old male brain, they locate the dangling electrode, needed to measure and track my brain waves. The researchers slather more conducting cream into the graying wisps of my red hair and press the securing tape hard into my scalp.

After restoring everything to its proper working position, the techies exit, and I'm left sitting inside the utterly silent, utterly black vault. A few commands are typed into a computer outside the chamber, and selected electromagnetic fields begin gently thrumming my brain's temporal lobes. The fields are no more intense than what you'd get as by-product from an ordinary blow-dryer, but what's coming is anything but ordinary. My lobes are about to be bathed with precise wavelength patterns that are supposed to affect my mind in a stunning way, artificially inducing the sensation that I am seeing God.

I'm taking part in a vanguard experiment on the physical sources of spiritual consciousness, the current work-in-progress of Michael Persinger, a neuropsychologist at Canada's Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. His theory is that the sensation described as "having a religious experience" is merely a side effect of our bicameral brain's feverish activities. Simplified considerably, the idea goes like so: When the right hemisphere of the brain, the seat of emotion, is stimulated in the cerebral region presumed to control notions of self, and then the left hemisphere, the seat of language, is called upon to make sense of this nonexistent entity, the mind generates a "sensed presence."

Persinger has tickled the temporal lobes of more than 900 people before me and has concluded, among other things, that different subjects label this ghostly perception with the names that their cultures have trained them to use - Elijah, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Mohammed, the Sky Spirit. Some subjects have emerged with Freudian interpretations - describing the presence as one's grandfather, for instance - while others, agnostics with more than a passing faith in UFOs, tell something that sounds more like a standard alien-abduction story.

It may seem sacrilegious and presumptuous to reduce God to a few ornery synapses, but modern neuroscience isn't shy about defining our most sacred notions - love, joy, altruism, pity - as nothing more than static from our impressively large cerebrums. Persinger goes one step further. His work practically constitutes a Grand Unified Theory of the Otherworldly: He believes cerebral fritzing is responsible for almost anything one might describe as paranormal - aliens, heavenly apparitions, past-life sensations, near-death experiences, awareness of the soul, you name it.

To those of us who prefer a little mystery in our lives, it all sounds like a letdown. And as I settle in for my mind trip, I'm starting to get apprehensive. I'm a lapsed Episcopalian clinging to only a hazy sense of the divine, but I don't especially like the idea that whatever vestigial faith I have in the Almighty's existence might get clinically lobotomized by Persinger's demo. Do I really want God to be rendered as explicable and predictable as an endorphin rush after a 3-mile run?

The journey from my home in Connecticut to the mining district north of Lake Huron is, by modern standards, arduous. Given what's in store, it's also strangely fitting. When you think of people seeking divine visions, you imagine them trekking to some mountainous cloister. The pilgrimage to Persinger's lab is the clinical counterpart.

The trip involves flying in increasingly smaller puddle-jumpers with increasingly fewer propellers until you land in the ore-rich Ontario town of Sudbury, a place that's been battered by commerce, geography, and climate. Jags of red rock and black iron erupt from the landscape, often bolting right out of the pavement. The weather-beaten concrete exteriors of the city's buildings speak of long, harsh winters.

A short car ride through stony suburbs ends at a forlorn cluster of a dozen buildings: Laurentian University. Near Parking Lot 4, I am met by Charles Cook, a grad student of Persinger's. He leads me into the science building's basement, then to the windowless confines of Room C002B, Persinger's lair.

Waiting there is Linda St-Pierre, another graduate student, who prompts me to sit down, then launches into a series of psychological questions. I answer a range of true-or-false statements from an old version of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, a test designed to ferret out any nuttiness that might disqualify me from serving as a study subject. When read individually, the questions seem harmless, but as a group they sound hopelessly antiquated, as if the folks who devised the exam hadn't checked the warehouse for anachronisms in five decades:

I like to read mechanics magazines.
Someone is trying to poison me.
I have successful bowel movements.
I know who is trying to get me.
As a child, I enjoyed playing drop-the-handkerchief.

I'm escorted into the chamber, an old sound-experiment booth. The tiny room doesn't appear to have been redecorated since it was built in the early '70s. The frayed spaghettis of a brown-and-white shag carpet, along with huge, wall-mounted speakers covered in glittery black nylon, surround a spent brown recliner upholstered in the prickly polymers of that time. The chair, frankly, is repellent. Hundreds of subjects have settled into its itchy embrace, and its brown contours are spotted with dollops of electrode-conducting cream, dried like toothpaste, giving the seat the look of a favored seagulls' haunt.

In the name of science, I sit down.

Persinger's research forays are at the very frontier of the roiling field of neuroscience, the biochemical approach to the study of the brain. Much of what we hear about the discipline is anatomical stuff, involving the mapping of the brain's many folds and networks, performed by reading PET scans, observing blood flows, or deducing connections from stroke and accident victims who've suffered serious brain damage. But cognitive neuroscience is also a grab bag of more theoretical pursuits that can range from general consciousness studies to finding the neural basis for all kinds of sensations.

As the work piles up, many things that we hold to be unique aspects of the "self" are reduced to mere tics of cranial function. Take laughter. According to Vilayanur Ramachandran, professor of neuroscience at UC San Diego, laughter is just the brain's way of signaling that a fearful circumstance is not really so worrisome. At a conference earlier this year, he posited that the classic banana-peel pratfall is funny only when the victim gets up, and that we laugh to alert "other members of [our] kin that, 'Look, there has been a false alarm here; don't waste your resources rushing to help.'" He calls laughter "nature's OK signal."

Of course, this type of deromanticizing has been going on for a while - Persinger's brain manipulations have crude antecedents in the 1950s, the roaring decade for behaviorism. Back then, Yale physiologist Jose Delgado earned national renown by implanting electrodes into the brains of live animals and attaching them to a "stimoceiver" under the skull. In a technique called ESB - electronic stimulation of the brain - Delgado sent radio signals through the electrodes to control the animal. In one demonstration in the early 1960s, he used his electronic gizmo to halt a charging bull.

Delgado's relatively coarse stunts were a long way from Persinger's quest for the God spot, but Persinger is not the first to theorize that the Creator exists only in the complex landscape of the human noggin. In his controversial 1976 book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes, a Princeton psychologist, argued that the brain activity of ancient people - those living roughly 3,500 years ago, prior to early evidence of consciousness such as logic, reason, and ethics - would have resembled that of modern schizophrenics. Jaynes maintained that, like schizophrenics, the ancients heard voices, summoned up visions, and lacked the sense of metaphor and individual identity that characterizes a more advanced mind. He said that some of these ancestral synaptic leftovers are buried deep in the modern brain, which would explain many of our present-day sensations of God or spirituality.

Among practicing neuroscientists, there is no overarching consensus on whether such notions are correct. Persinger is certainly out on a frontier where theory meets the boldest sort of speculation, but there's nothing inherently bizarre about his methods or the questions he's asking. William Calvin, a professor of behavioral sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, says that Persinger's line of inquiry is no more mysterious than another pursuit that intrigues neuroscientists: trying to understand the sensations of déjà vu or its opposite, jamais vu - the feeling, during a familiar routine, that we're doing it for the first time. Maybe these feelings, like God, are just more fritzing in the electricity arcing about our brains.

Persinger arrives soon after St-Pierre has judged me sane enough to enter Room C002B.

"I see that Mr. Cook has been as punctual as usual," he says, extending a hand in greeting. Persinger, 54, blends a crisp, scientific demeanor with a mischievous smile, but overall he's a very serious man. His erect posture is enhanced by a dark, pin-striped, three-piece suit with a gold chain swag at the bottom of the vest. His sentences are clipped and stripped of any vernacular - so painstakingly scientific that they can be coy. For example, he tells me that he is actually an American who "moved to Canada in July of 1969, because I had a rather major ethical disagreement with my government." It takes me a follow-up or two before I realize he had dodged the draft.

As the researchers fit my helmet, I ask: Has anyone ever freaked out in the chair? Persinger smiles slightly and describes when a subject suffered an "adverse experience" and succumbed to an "interpretation that the room was hexed." When I ask if, say, the subject ripped all this equipment from his flesh and ran screaming from the dungeon, Persinger curtly replies: "Yes, his heart rate did go up and he did want to leave and of course he could because that is part of the protocol."

One more time: Has anyone freaked out in the chair? "His EKG was showing that he moved very, very quickly and dramatically," Persinger offers, "and that he was struggling to take off the electrodes."

Technically speaking, what's about to happen is simple. Using his fixed wavelength patterns of electromagnetic fields, Persinger aims to inspire a feeling of a sensed presence - he claims he can also zap you with euphoria, anxiety, fear, even sexual stirring. Each of these electromagnetic patterns is represented by columns of numbers - thousands of them, ranging from 0 to 255 - that denote the increments of output for the computer generating the EM bursts.

Some of the bursts - which Persinger more precisely calls "a series of complex repetitive patterns whose frequency is modified variably over time" - have generated their intended effects with great regularity, the way aspirin causes pain relief. Persinger has started naming them and is creating a sort of EM pharmacological dictionary. The pattern that stimulates a sensed presence is called the Thomas Pulse, named for Persinger's colleague Alex Thomas, who developed it. There's another one called Burst X, which reproduces what Persinger describes as a sensation of "relaxation and pleasantness."

A new one, the Linda Genetic Pulse, is named for my psychometrist, Linda St-Pierre. Persinger says St-Pierre is conducting a massive study on rats to determine the ways in which lengthy exposures to particular electromagnetic pulses can "affect gene expression."

After spending a little time with Persinger, you get accustomed to the fact that his most polite phrases demand pursuit. Affect gene expression? It sounds so simple, but what he's really talking about is stringing together a number of different electromagnetic fields to prompt a complicated chemical reaction on the genetic level - for example, directing the body's natural self-healing instincts.

"We want to enhance what the brain does to help heal the body," Persinger explains. "Among more sensitive individuals, tests show that their skin will turn red if they believe a hot nickel has been placed on their hand. That's a powerful psychosomatic effect of the brain on the body. Suppose we could make it more precise?"

Persinger envisions a series of EM patterns that work the way drugs do. Just as you take an antibiotic and it has a predictable result, you might be exposed to precise EM patterns that would signal the brain to carry out comparable effects.

Another possible application: Hollywood. Persinger has talked to Douglas Trumbull, the special-effects wizard responsible for the look of everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Brainstorm. They discussed the technological possibility of marrying Persinger's helmet with virtual reality. "If you've done virtual reality," Persinger says, "then you know that once you put on the helmet, you always know you are inside the helmet. The idea is to create a form of entertainment that is more real." But he adds, sounding like so many people who've gotten a call from the coast, "we haven't cut a deal yet."

I am being withdrawn from my body and set adrift in an infinite existential emptiness.

Soon enough, it's time for the good professor to wish me well and lob this last caveat: "If, for whatever reason, you become frightened or want to end the experiment, just speak into your lapel microphone."

When the door closes and I feel nothing but the weight of the helmet on my head and the Ping-Pong balls on my eyes, I start giving serious thought to what it might be like to "see" God, artificially produced or not. Nietzsche's last sane moment occurred when he saw a carter beating a horse. He beat the carter, hugged the horse while sobbing uncontrollably, and was then carried away. I can imagine that. I see myself having a powerful vision of Jesus, and coming out of the booth wet with tears of humility, wailing for mercy from my personal savior.

Instead, after I adjust to the darkness and the cosmic susurrus of absolute silence, I drift almost at once into a warm bath of oblivion. Something is definitely happening. During the 35-minute experiment, I feel a distinct sense of being withdrawn from the envelope of my body and set adrift in an infinite existential emptiness, a deep sensation of waking slumber. The machines outside the chamber report an uninterrupted alertness on my part. (If the researchers see the easily recognized EEG pattern of sleep, they wake you over the speakers.) Occasionally, I surface to an alpha state where I sort of know where I am, but not quite. This feeling is cool - like being reinserted into my body. Then there's a separation again, of body and soul, and - almost by my will - I happily allow myself to drift back to the surprisingly bearable lightness of oblivion.

In this floating state, several ancient childhood memories are jarred loose. Suddenly, I am sitting with Scott Allen on the rug in his Colonial Street house in Charleston, South Carolina, circa 1965, singing along to "Moon River" and clearly hearing, for the first time since then, Scott's infectiously frenzied laughter. I reexperience the time I spent the night with Doug Appleby and the discomfort I felt at being in a house that was so punctiliously clean. (Doug's dad was a doctor.) I also remember seeing Joanna Jacobs' small and perfect breasts, unholstered beneath the linen gauze of her hippie blouse, circa 1971.

Joanna was my girlfriend when I was 14. When I was sent off to boarding school, she and I recorded cassette tapes to one another. As a teenager, Joanna was a spiritual woman and talked a lot about transcendental meditation. Off at boarding school, I signed up and got my mantra from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, right around the time Joanna dropped me to move on to a tougher crowd.

If I had to pin down when I felt this dreamy state before - of being in the presence of something divine - it would be back then, in the euphoric, romantic hope that animated my adolescent efforts at meditation. That soothing feeling of near-sleep has always been associ-ated with what I imagined should have happened between Joanna Jacobs and me. Like the boy in James Joyce's The Dead, Joanna was a perfect memory - all the potential of womanly love distilled into the calming mantra-guided drone of fecund rest.

I'm not sure what it says about me that the neural sensation designed to prompt visions of God set loose my ancient feelings about girls. But then, I'm not the first person to conflate God with late-night thoughts of getting laid - read more about it in Saint Augustine, Saint John of the Cross, or Deepak Chopra.

So: Something took place. Still, when the helmet comes off and they shove a questionnaire in my hand, I feel like a failure. One question: Did the red bulb on the wall grow larger or smaller? There was a red bulb on the wall? I hadn't noticed. Many other questions suggest that there were other experiences I should have had, but to be honest, I didn't.

In fact, as transcendental experiences go, on a scale of 1 to 10, Persinger's helmet falls somewhere around, oh, 4. Even though I did have a fairly convincing out-of-body experience, I'm disappointed relative to the great expectations and anxieties I had going in.

It may be that all the preliminary talk about visions just set my rational left hemisphere into highly skeptical overdrive. Setting me up like that - you will experience the presence of God - might have been a mistake. When I bring this up later with Persinger, he tells me that the machine's effects differ among people, depending on their "lability" - Persinger jargon meaning sensitivity or vulnerability.

"Also, you were in a comfortable laboratory," he points out. "You knew nothing could happen to you. What if the same intense experience occurred at 3 in the morning in a bedroom all by yourself? Or you suddenly stalled on an abandoned road at night when you saw a peculiar light and then had that experience? What label would you have placed on it then?"

Point taken. I'd probably be calling Art Bell once a week, alerting the world to the alien invasion.

But then, Persinger continued, being labile is itself a fluctuating condition. There are interior factors that can exacerbate it - stress, fear, injury - and exterior sources that might provoke odd but brief disturbances in the usually stable electromagnetic fields around us. Persinger theorizes, for example, that just prior to earthquakes there are deformations in the natural EM field caused by the intense pressure change in the tectonic plates below. He has published a paper called "The Tectonic Strain Theory as an Explanation for UFO Phenomena," in which he maintains that around the time of an earthquake, changes in the EM field could spark mysterious lights in the sky. A labile observer, in Persinger's view, could easily mistake the luminous display for an alien visit.

As we sit in his office, Persinger argues that other environmental disturbances - ranging from solar flares and meteor showers to oil drilling - probably correlate with visionary claims, including mass religious conversions, ghost lights, and haunted houses. He says that if a region routinely experiences mild earthquakes or other causes of change in the electromagnetic fields, this may explain why the spot becomes known as sacred ground. That would include the Hopi tribe's hallowed lands, Delphi, Mount Fuji, the Black Hills, Lourdes, and the peaks of the Andes, not to mention most of California.

From time to time, a sensed presence can also occur among crowds, Persinger says, thereby giving the divine vision the true legitimacy of a common experience, and making it practically undeniable.

"One classic example was the apparition of Mary over the Coptic Church in Zeitoun, Egypt, in the 1960s," he continues. "This phenomenon lasted off and on for several years. It was seen by thousands of people, and the appearance seemed to precede the disturbances that occurred during the building of the Aswan High Dam. I have multiple examples of reservoirs being built or lakes being filled, and reports of luminous displays and UFO flaps. But Zeitoun was impressive."

Persinger says there were balls of light that moved around the cross atop the church. "They were influenced by the cross, of course. It looked like a circle with a triangle on the bottom. If you had an imagination, it looked like a person. Upside down, by the way, it was the classical UFO pattern. It's curious that this happened during a marked increase in hostilities between Egyptians and Israelis, and both interpreted the phenomenon as proof that they would be successful. It's just so classical of human beings. Take an anomalous event, and one group will interpret it one way, and another group another."

Might it surprise anyone to learn, in view of Persinger's theories, that when Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni before founding Mormonism, and when Charles Taze Russell started the Jehovah's Witnesses, powerful Leonid meteor showers were occurring?

Taken together, Persinger's ideas and published studies go awfully far - he's claiming to identify the primum mobile underlying all the supernatural stories we've developed over the last few thousand years. You might think Christians would be upset that this professor in Sudbury is trying to do with physics what Nietzsche did with metaphysics - kill off God. Or you might think that devout ufologists would denounce him for putting neuroscience on the side of the skeptics.

"Actually, it's more a mind-set that gets disturbed than a particular belief," offers Persinger. "Some Christians say, 'Well, God invented the brain, so of course this is how it would happen.' UFO types say, 'This is good. Now we can tell the fake UFO sightings from the real ones.'"

Oh, I have no doubt. I mean, who among all the churchgoers and alien fiends will let some distant egghead with a souped-up motorcycle helmet spoil their fun? It goes without saying that the human capacity to rationalize around Persinger's theory is far greater than all the replicated studies science could produce. The real tradition Persinger falls into is that of trying to explain away mystical experience. Jaynes thought visitations from God were mere aural detritus from the Stone Age. And just recently, another study suggested that sleep paralysis might account for visions of God and alien abduction.

Who knows? Perhaps mystical visions are in fact nothing more than a bit of squelchy feedback in the temporal lobes. But that's such a preposterously small part of what most people think of when they think of God, it seems insanely grandiose to suggest that anyone has explained away "God." It's almost ironic. Every so often during one of America's little creation-science tempests, some humorless rationalist like Stephen Jay Gould steps forward to say that theology is an inadequate foundation for the study of science. Noted. And vice versa.

But Persinger's ideas are harder to shake off than that. When I return to America, I am greeted by the news that massive intersections of power lines do not, in fact, cause cancer. For years scientists had advanced the power line-cancer connection, based on the results of Robert Liburdy's benchmark 1992 study. But a tip to the federal Office of Research Integrity initiated an investigation of Liburdy's work; it found that his data had been falsified.

Persinger's experiments and resulting theories suggest some new ideas about our waning 20th century, which began with Thomas Edison convincing the world to cocoon itself inside electrically wired shelters, throbbing with pulses of electromagnetic fields. Granted, those fields are quite weak, arguably too tiny to affect our physical bodies in ways Liburdy had suggested. But what about Persinger's notion that such fields may be tinkering with our consciousness?

Is it a coincidence that this century - known as the age of anxiety, a time rife with various hysterias, the era that gave birth to existentialism - is also when we stepped inside an electromagnetic bubble and decided to live there? We have never quite comprehended that we walk about in a sea of mild electromagnetism just as we do air. It is part of our atmosphere, part of the containing bath our consciousness swims in. Now we are altering it, heightening it, condensing it. The bubble is being increasingly shored up with newer, more complicated fields: computers, pagers, cell phones. Every day, entrepreneurs invent more novel ways to seduce us into staying inside this web. The Internet is well named.

Naturally, many people would presume that such a change must be a malignant force when directed at the delicate gossamer of consciousness. Yet evolution is a tricky business. Accidental changes often turn out to be lifesaving preparations for some other condition that could never have been predicted.

A few might see a world of possibility in Persinger's theories. His booth has helped us discover and confirm our true predicament. "Seeing God" is really just a soothing euphemism for the fleeting awareness of ourselves alone in the universe: a look in that existential mirror. The "sensed presence" - now easily generated by a machine pumping our brains with electromagnetic spirituality - is nothing but our exquisite and singular self, at one with the true solitude of our condition, deeply anxious. We're itching to get out of here, to escape this tired old environment with its frayed carpets, blasted furniture, and shabby old God. Time to move on and discover true divinity all over again.

God on the Brain - programme summary

Rudi Affolter and Gwen Tighe have both experienced strong religious visions. He is an atheist; she a Christian. He thought he had died; she thought she had given birth to Jesus. Both have temporal lobe epilepsy.

Like other forms of epilepsy, the condition causes fitting but it is also associated with religious hallucinations. Research into why people like Rudi and Gwen saw what they did has opened up a whole field of brain science: neurotheology.

The connection between the temporal lobes of the brain and religious feeling has led one Canadian scientist to try stimulating them. (They are near your ears.) 80% of Dr Michael Persinger's experimental subjects report that an artificial magnetic field focused on those brain areas gives them a feeling of 'not being alone'. Some of them describe it as a religious sensation.

His work raises the prospect that we are programmed to believe in god, that faith is a mental ability humans have developed or been given. And temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) could help unlock the mystery.

Religious leaders

History is full of charismatic religious figures. Could any of them have been epileptics? The visions seen by Bible characters like Moses or Saint Paul are consistent with Rudi's and Gwen's, but there is no way to diagnose TLE in people who lived so long ago.

There are, though, more recent examples, like one of the founders of the Seventh Day Adventist Movement, Ellen White. Born in 1827, she suffered a brain injury aged 9 that totally changed her personality. She also began to have powerful religious visions.

Representatives of the Movement doubt that Ellen White suffered from TLE, saying her injury and visions are inconsistent with the condition, but neurologist Gregory Holmes believes this explains her condition.

Better than sex

The first clinical evidence to link the temporal lobes with religious sensations came from monitoring how TLE patients responded to sets of words. In an experiment where people were shown either neutral words (table), erotic words (sex) or religious words (god), the control group was most excited by the sexually loaded words. This was picked up as a sweat response on the skin. People with temporal lobe epilepsy did not share this apparent sense of priorities. For them, religious words generated the greatest reaction. Sexual words were less exciting than neutral ones.

Make believe

If the abnormal brain activity of TLE patients alters their response to religious concepts, could altering brain patterns artificially do the same for people with no such medical condition? This is the question that Michael Persinger set out to explore, using a wired-up helmet designed to concentrate magnetic fields on the temporal lobes of the wearer.

His subjects were not told the precise purpose of the test; just that the experiment looked into relaxation. 80% of participants reported feeling something when the magnetic fields were applied. Persinger calls one of the common sensations a 'sensed presence', as if someone else is in the room with you, when there is none.

Horizon introduced Dr Persinger to one of Britain's most renowned atheists, Prof Richard Dawkins. He agreed to try his techniques on Dawkins to see if he could give him a moment of religious feeling. During a session that lasted 40 minutes, Dawkins found that the magnetic fields around his temporal lobes affected his breathing and his limbs. He did not find god.

Persinger was not disheartened by Dawkins' immunity to the helmet's magnetic powers. He believes that the sensitivity of our temporal lobes to magnetism varies from person to person. People with TLE may be especially sensitive to magnetic fields; Prof Dawkins is well below average, it seems. It's a concept that clerics like Bishop Stephen Sykes give some credence as well: could there be such a thing as a talent for religion?

Brain imaging

Sykes does, though, see a great difference between a 'sensed presence' and a genuine religious experience. Scientists like Andrew Newberg want to see just what does happen during moments of faith. He worked with Buddhist, Michael Baime, to study the brain during meditation. By injecting radioactive tracers into Michael's bloodstream as he reached the height of a meditative trance, Newberg could use a brain scanner to image the brain at a religious climax.

The bloodflow patterns showed that the temporal lobes were certainly involved but also that the brain's parietal lobes appeared almost completely to shut down. The parietal lobes give us our sense of time and place. Without them, we may lose our sense of self. Adherants to many of the world's faiths regard a sense of personal insignificance and oneness with a deity as something to strive for. Newberg's work suggests a neurological basis for what religion tries to generate.

Religious evolution

If brain function offers insight into how we experience religion, does it say anything about why we do? There is evidence that people with religious faith have longer, healthier lives. This hints at a survival benefit for religious people. Could we have evolved religious belief?

Prof Dawkins (who subscribes to evolution to explain human development) thinks there could be an evolutionary advantage, not to believing in god, but to having a brain with the capacity to believe in god. That such faith exists is a by-product of enhanced intelligence. Prof Ramachandran denies that finding out how the brain reacts to religion negates the value of belief. He feels that brain circuitry like that Persinger and Newberg have identified, could amount to an antenna to make us receptive to god. Bishop Sykes meanwhile, thinks religion has nothing to fear from this neuroscience. Science is about seeking to explain the world around us. For him at least, it can co-exist with faith.

"How does Dr. Persinger artificially induce religious experiences in his patients?"

Dr. Persinger has designed a helmet that produces a very weak rotating magnetic field of between ten nanotesla and one microtesla over the temporal lobes of the brain. This is placed on the subject's head and they are placed in a quiet chamber while blindfolded. So that there is no risk of 'suggestion', the only information that the subjects are given is that they are going in for a relaxation experiment. Neither the subject nor the experimenter carrying out the test has any idea of the true purpose of the experiment. In addition to this, the experiment is also run with the field switched both off and on. This procedure Dr. Persinger claims will induce an experience in over 80% of test subjects."

God Helmet
The term God Helmet refers to an experimental apparatus in neurotheology. The apparatus, placed on the head of an experimental subject, stimulates the brain with fluctuating magnetic fields. Some subjects reported experiences using the same words used to describe spiritual experiences.[1] The leading researcher in this area is Michael Persinger. Persinger uses a modified snowmobile helmet (the "Koren Helmet") that contains solenoids placed over the temporal lobes, or a device nicknamed the Octopus that uses solenoids, both of which output "weak but complex" magnetic fields. The Octopus uses solenoids around the whole brain, in a circle just above subject's ears, eyes and the bony ridge at the back of the skull, a region that includes the temporal lobes. Persinger reports that at least 80 percent of his participants (working with the Koren Helmet) experience a presence beside them in the room, which ranges from a simple 'sensed presence' to God. About one percent experienced God, while many more had less evocative, but still significant experiences of 'another being'.

The apparatus uses magnetic fields, and not EMF emissions, as is sometimes thought. Much of the controversy surrounding the 'God Helmet' is due to this misunderstanding. Further confusion has appeared from the misperception that Persinger's apparatus is an example of TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation), a clinical technique that employs magnetic fields much stronger than the Koren Helmet, and that uses pulsed 'trained' magnetic fields, instead of the 'complex magnetic fields' used in Persinger's research.

There is controversy as to the source of the effects Persinger measured. In December 2004 Nature reported that a group of Swedish researchers, attempting to replicate the experiment under double-blind conditions, were not able to verify the effect.[2] Susan Blackmore, experimental psychologist and experienced researcher of 'paranormal' experiences, was reluctant to give up on the theory just yet. She said "When I went to Persinger's lab and underwent his procedures I had the most extraordinary experiences I've ever had… I'll be surprised if it turns out to be a placebo effect." [3] Persinger, however, takes issue with the Swedish attempts to replicate his work. "They didn't replicate it, not even close," he says.[cite this quote] He argues that the Swedish group did not expose the subjects to magnetic fields for long enough to produce an effect. He also stresses that many of his studies were indeed double blinded.[4]

Although the equipment and instructions were supplied by Persinger to the Swedish team, later changes in the software, made necessary by faster computers, which the Swedish team didn't have, may have confounded the Swedes' results. Both Persinger and the Swedish team have published polemical commentaries.

A report of an experiment on Richard Dawkins in 2003 said:

The experiment is based on the recent finding that some patients with temporal lobe epilepsy, a neurological disorder caused by chaotic electrical discharges in the temporal lobes of the brain, seem to experience devout hallucinations that bear a striking resemblance to the mystical experiences of holy figures such as St Paul and Moses. Such associations have been noted by researchers for over a century, including Dr. Wilder Penfield's work, published in the 1950s.[5]

Dawkins was reported not to have experienced a religious feeling. The report said:

Dr. Persinger explained his lack of effects. Before donning the helmet, Prof Dawkins had scored low on a psychological scale measuring temporal lobe sensitivity.[5]

There are others involved in the same lines of research seen in Dr. Persinger's work. Research by Mario Beauregard at University of Montreal has shown religious and spiritual experiences to include several brain regions, including the neurological regions Persinger studies.[6] However, Dr. Beauregard's work, unlike that of Dr. Persinger, does not include inducing religious experiences, and is confined to neural imaging Carmelite nuns while in prayer. 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. However, 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.[7][8]


1. Persinger MA (2001). "The neuropsychiatry of paranormal experiences". The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 13 (4): 515–24. doi:10.1176/appi.neuropsych.13.4.515. PMID 11748322.
2. Khamsi, Roxanne (December 9, 2004). "Electrical brainstorms busted as source of ghosts". Nature. doi:10.1038/news041206-10.
3. "BioEd Online: Electrical brainstorms busted as source of ghosts".
4. "response to Granqvist".
5. Persuad, Raj (March 20, 2003). "Holy visions elude scientists". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved January 1, 2010.
7. Persinger MA (December 1983). "Religious and mystical experiences as artifacts of temporal lobe function: a general hypothesis". Perceptual and Motor Skills 57 (3 Pt 2): 1255–62. PMID 6664802.
8. Persinger MA (February 1993). "Paranormal and religious beliefs may be mediated differentially by subcortical and cortical phenomenological processes of the temporal (limbic) lobes". Perceptual and Motor Skills 76 (1): 247–51. PMID 8451133.

Michael Persinger

Michael A. Persinger (born June 26, 1945), is a cognitive neuroscience researcher and university professor. He has worked at Laurentian University, Canada since 1971.

Early life

Michael Persinger was born in Jacksonville, Florida and grew up primarily in Virginia, Maryland and Wisconsin. He attended Carroll College from 1963 to 1964, and graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1967. He then obtained an M.A. in physiological psychology from the University of Tennessee and a Ph.D. from the University of Manitoba in 1971.

Research and academic work

Much of his work focuses on the commonalities that exist between the sciences, and aims to integrate fundamental concepts of various branches of science[citation needed]. He organized the Behavioral Neuroscience Program at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, which became one of the first to integrate chemistry, biology and psychology[citation needed].

During the 1980s he stimulated people's temporal lobes artificially with a weak magnetic field to see if he could induce a religious state (see God helmet). He claimed that the field could produce the sensation of "an ethereal presence in the room".

Susan Blackmore, a former academic psychologist and parapsychology researcher: "When I went to Persinger's lab and underwent his procedures I had the most extraordinary experiences I've ever had." "I'll be surprised if it turns out to be a placebo effect." [1]

Michael Persinger has also contributed to research into the Miracle of the sun at Fatima and other Marian apparitions. He theorized that the stimulation of the cerebral-temporal lobe may have been the actual cause of the Marian apparition phenomenon. He believes the religious content of the experiences many have been a result of their obsession with religious themes and their lack of education. He has contributed to 2 papers about The Miracle of the Sun. [2]

Tectonic Strain Theory

Persinger has also come to public attention due to his 1975 Tectonic Strain Theory (TST) of how geophysical variables may correlate with sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Persinger argued that strain within the Earth's crust near seismic faults produces intense electromagnetic (EM) fields, creating bodies of light that some interpret as glowing UFOs. Alternatively, he argued that the EM fields generate hallucinations in the temporal lobe, based on images from popular culture, of alien craft, beings, communications, or creatures.

Canadian researcher Chris Rutkowski of the University of Manitoba has become a prominent harsh critic of Persinger's Tectonic Strain Theory. For one thing, Rutowski argues, in order to try to accommodate UFO sightings in regions far removed from faults, Persinger has claimed that UFO-like lights or hallucinations can manifest hundreds of miles away from an area of seismic activity. Not only does this place an absurdly great distance between the actual area of tectonic stress and the surmised significant EM field, it also makes the theory unscientific by destroying any possible predictive power. Nearly every place on the planet lies within a few hundred miles of a seismically active area. Rutkowski pointed out severe flaws in Persinger's statistical methodology, since he confused possible correlation (however weak) with causality. For example, one could more easily explain occasional clusters of UFO sightings along earthquake fault-lines by the fact that populations often occur there in higher densities and by the fact that transportation routes often follow major fault lines, such as the San Andreas fault in California.

As with criticisms of Persinger's claims that minute laboratory magnetic fields can invoke hallucinations, Rutowski also points out that Persinger's inferred seismic EM fields would have much less influence than what people commonly experience near electrical appliances like television sets or hair driers. This again raises the question as to why people don't experience UFOs or aliens far more often than they do, or why these hypothetical hallucinations from electrical devices wouldn't drown out any possible contribution from much weaker geophysical fields. Once again, Persinger notes that the magnitude of the EM fields may have less significance than the particular temporal patterns. Furthermore, commentators such as British researcher Albert Budden, has proposed that man-made electromagnetic emissions can (in certain circumstances) generate close encounter experiences and has cited possible examples of this effect in his work Electric UFOs (Blandford, 1998).

In the UK, Paul Devereux advocates a variant geophysical theory similar to TST, the Earthlights theory. However, unlike Persinger, Devereaux generally restricts such effects to the immediate vicinity of a fault line. Devereux's approach also differs from Persinger's in holding triboluminescence rather than piezoelectricity as the "more likely candidate" for the production of naturally occurring UFOs. Devereux doesn't advocate, as in Persinger's TST, that the phenomenon might create hallucinations of UFO encounters in people, instead proposing an even more radical hypothesis: that earthlights may possess intelligence and even have the ability to read witness' thoughts. [3]

UFO researchers critical of the sesmic stress theory admit that, while, observations of diffuse lights during (and sometimes before and after) very severe earthquakes may give some weak support to some parts of TST and Earthlights theory (see Earthquake lights), they question the ability of fault lines to generate luminous effects and hallucinatory experiences under much less severe conditions(as cited above). Nonetheless, even TST critics such as Rutowski think such theories may hold some promise for explaining a small percentage of UFO phenomena, although they doubt that they can ever offer a comprehensive explanation for the vast majority of unexplained UFO cases. Other UFO researchers (mainly in the U.K) believe this very limited interpretation of the TST is brought into question by the clustering of UFO reports within areas prone to faulting - such as the Pennine region of northern Britain. While acknowledging the drawback's of Persinger's theory, they feel that amended versions of it may account for a significant proportion of "True UFO" reports.[4]


1. Electrical brainstorms busted as source of ghosts, BioEd Online, 2004-12-09

2. Joaquim Fernandes, Fernando Fernandes and Raul Berenguel, Fatima Revisited 2008 p.1-8,79-86

3.  Unidentified Atmospheric Phenomena - Seeing the light, Fortean Times

4.  Paul Devereux "Earthlights Revelation" 1989: pp 59-115
[ Excerpt ]

Neurotheology - With God In Mind


Victoria Powell
University of Westminster, London

....Dr. Persinger, professor of neurosciences as Laurentic University, Canada, claims that people can experience a sense of timelessness, paranormal visions and even come ‘face to face’ with God by wearing his unique ‘God Machine’ (Ford 2002). The ‘God Machine’, a specially designed helmet, gently stimulates and causes a temporary influx of neuronal firing in the limbic system, much like as occurs during natural temporal lobe epilepsy. During Persinger’s experiment, subject’s sensory input is restricted, eyes are covered and ears are blocked, as means of detracting from the influence of environmental stimuli. When the helmet is in pace, electrodes pulsate currents to the brain, causing a ‘magnetic field pattern’ in the right hemisphere (Martin 2002). This can enable ‘micro-seizures’ to be generated. Manipulation of the limbic system has caused subjects to report feelings of ‘forced motion’, physical distortion and hyper emotionality (Ford 2002). Stimulation direst to the temporal lobe has been noted to inspire a sense of spiritual well-being, paranormal experience and feelings of hyper-religiousity. 80% of subjects recorded experiencing a feeling that they were ‘not alone’ and sensed a ‘spiritual presence’ when their temporal lobe was stimulate (BBC 2003).

Persinger’s work leads to the question of why such reactions occur when these specific areas of the brain are stimulate? Persinger argues that over stimulation and unsyncopated reaction in one area of the temporal cortex can cause a misinterpretation of ‘the self’. During moments of neuronal imbalance in the left hemisphere of the temporal cortex (an area concerned with the sense of self), the brain interprets the presence of the right hemisphere as a personified ’other entity’, or God (Ford 2002).

In conjunction with the physical reaction in the temporal cortex, the closely interlinked limbic system, specifically the amygdala (seat of higher emotion) and hippocampus (seat of stored memory/experience) becomes hyper-stimulated. This can generate feelings of arousal and induce hallucinogenic visions. Vast concentrations of opiate receptors located in the amygdala coupled with the release of large quantities of enkephalins during hyper stimulation can give rise to feelings of euphoria and rapture (Joseph 1996).

Are certain people predisposed to their experiences through temporal lobe epilepsy by what Bishop Sykes(2003) called a ’talent for religion’? During an interview given to BBC’s ’Horizons’ programme (2003), temporal lobe epilepsy sufferer Gwen Tighe, a devout Christian, ,made claim that during a seizure she had become convinced that she had given birth Christ. Tighe claims to have experienced intense visual hallucinations and physical reactions as though in late stages of labour. On recovery from seizure Tighe commented of feelings of prolonged sense of euphoria and intense spiritual enlightenment.

It is possible that predisposition plays a vital role in the individual’s experience during temporal lobe seizure. Rudi Affolter, believer in the esoteric and agnostic, claimed to encounter alien beings and suffer near death experience when suffering epileptic fits. At no time did Affolter make mention of divine experience. Adffolter’s belief in the paranormal appeared to produce ‘paranormal’ experience during seizure (BBC 2003). Considering this case in contrast of that of Tighe, it is possible to conclude that sufferer’s seizure experiences follow expectations based upon their personal beliefs. A Christian, for example, is more likely to ‘encounter’ God at such an event than an agnostic.

Undertaking Persinger’s experiment, Professor R.Dawkins, scientist and renowned atheist, claimed only to experience mild limb pain and slight respiratory difficulties. Dawkins certainly did not ‘meet God’, nor encounter any unusual or enlightening experience. Persinger was not disheartened by Dawkins’ response. Theorising that different individuals have varying levels of sensitivity to the magnetic field the helmet generates. Persinger suggested that Dawkins’ naturally holds a high level of resilience to the magnetism, while an epilepsy sufferer holds high sensitivity. This could account for the anomalous result (BBC 2003).

Sensitivity to Persinger’s generated magnetic field may be a result of persistent maladjustment within the temporal cortex. Evidence suggests temporal lobe epileptics maintain slightly elevated levels of activity in the left cortex during periods of functional continuity (Ford 2002). This may account for the depth and explicitly of experience generated both naturally and artificially.

Bental2] (date unknown) considered the reason why some temporal lobe epileptics and experienced meditators claim to hear the ‘voice of God’. Bental suggests this phenomena is due to a simple misattribute of the ‘inner voice’, during periods of sensory isolation. The brocca area of the brain, responsible for speech and language recognition, remains active during meditation and seizure. Restriction of sensory information causes the brocca to misjudge the internal voice as one generated by external stimuli. This misinterpretation can lead the individual to confuse their internal monologue with the voice of an external entity. Occurrence during meditation or ‘religiously experiential’ seizure could lead the individual to believe they are hearing the voice of God, especially in situations of solitude. Ramachandran also noted that temporal lobe epileptics tend to have “a heightened response to religious language, specifically religious terms and icons.”

Not all limbic hyper-activation is the result of temporal lobe epilepsy. Scientist have discovered that hyper-activation can be induced by means of taking certain narcotics. Lilly (1972) experienced “the presence of spiritual, godlike beings” after combining sensory and social isolation with the taking of LSD. Hallucinogenic narcotics alter the natural biochemical processes and affect certain neurotransmitter sites. Increased levels of dopamine are released into the body and serotonin blocked in the amygdala generates feelings of euphoria (Chapman 3 date unknown 1) . This holds relevance to religious histories. It is well documented that Shamanistic tradition and American India ritual incorporated drugs such as mescaline, peyote and psilocybe by means of achieving heightened spiritual sensation (Schultes, Hofmann & Ratsch).

Intense sensory stimulation, such as dancing or chanting, also arouse the limbic system and assist in heightening ‘religious experience’. The deactivation of certain neuronal activity from reaching other areas of the brain by the hippocampus and extensive limbic stimulation can produce hallucinations. Newberg et al (2001, p42) describe such occurrence as “Hyperarousal with Quiescent Breakthrough” . Intense active stimulation can induce an “ecstatic rush of orgasmic-like energy”, assisting in the tagging of special significance to such action.

The concept of perception must also be regarded. Neuronal activity cannot always discriminate between real events and those one perceives to be real. Newberg suggest that although spiritual experience can be traced though neuronal activity, it does not necessarily mean that these experiences are due to “neurological illusion” alone (Ford 2002). There is little difference between how the brain processes the experiential, either real or supposed. The difference lies within how the individual perceives experience. It could be said that the only distinction between experiencing God and seeing a tree is that a tree is a tangible physical object we can all agree exists.

Does God exist? Newberg et al (2001 p37) believe yes, but only as a concept or ‘reality’ in the mind of the believer. Persinger expressed similar view, a position generated by the results of extensive work. Todd (1999) states, “there is no God separate from the believer.“ Dawkins considers the human brain to hold an “evolutionary advantage” with its capacity to believe in God. It is a product of advanced intelligence that concepts such as faith exist (BBC 2003).

Neurotheology is not without its opponents. Evangelical Christian groups demonstrated outside Persinger’s office, considering both the helmet and Persinger to be “demonic” (Peet 1998). Intellectually, theologian Haught has argued that “[neuroscientists] have isolated one small aspect of religious experience and are identifying that with the whole of religion” (Martin 2002). Religion is far more than ‘experiencing God’, Haught states; religion is about commitment, suffering, myth, unity and community. The problem with neurotheology is that it does not encompass the totality of what ‘religious experience’ really consists of. It is a unifying principlewhich brings people together, sharing the same beliefs and encountering similar experiences. These are aspects which science cannot replicate in a lab.

Believers counter-argue neuroscientific position on the existence of God. Naturally a deity who advocated discourse would design the human brain to allow interaction Ramachandran considers that brain circuitry, as Persinger has identified, could be tantamount to an antenna which assists the believer to communicate with God (BBC 2003).

It is the job of science to make sense of the world around us, for some that includes religion. Since there is no real way one can truly determine the existence of God, both believers and nerotheologians must rely on faith to ‘stand fast’ on their position. Neurotheologians such as Persinger and Newberg do not condemn religious belief; they simply offer an explanation as to why some encounter religious experience. In fact, Newberg (2001) considers the beneficial effects of participation in religious activity, observing that participation in prayer enhances the immune system, lowers heart rate and restricts the release of stress hormones into the bloodstream (p131). Significantly, belief in God can offer reassurance and unconditional love in times of crisis. Science cannot. Maybe it is time to follow our hearts (and our heads) and come to our own conclusions.

Perhaps Nietzsche was correct in stating, “God is dead”. With the field of neurotheology expanding rapidly, it is possible that science will kill off the deity once and for all.


Beaumont. J. G, Kenealy. P. M, Rogers. (1999) “Blackwells Dictionary of Neuro-psychology”,
Blackwells Publishers, Oxford.

BBC (2003) - Author unknown. “God on the Brain - Programme summary.”

BBC (2003) - Author unknown. “Neurotheology - The God Shaped Hole in the Head.”

Chapman. D, (date unknown), “Brain Mechanisms and Anomalous Experience”

Dawkins. R, cited inBBC (2003) - Author unknown. “God on the Brain - Programme summary.”

Ford. C, (2002) “Neurotheology: Which Came First, God or the Brain?”,

Joseph. R (1997) cited in Bradley. F, (1997) “On Neurological Origin of Mystical Experience, the Limbic System et al”,

Lilly. J. C(1972) cited in Chapman. D, (date unknown), “Brain Mechanisms and Anomalous Experience”

Martin. M (2002) “Spirituality and the Brain: Does Research Show New Evidence for Faith, or a Challenge to Religion?”,

Murphy. T. C (date unknown), “How the Brain Creates the Experience of God: An Essay to Read Explanation of a Controversial Hypothesis, The God Effect.”,

Newberg. A, D’Aquili. E & Rause. V, (2001), “Brain Science and the Biology of Belief: Why God Won’t Go Away”,
Ballantine Books, New York

“Peet” (1998), “A Brain structure Dedicated to Religious Experience”,

Persinger M.A (2003) cited in BBC (2003) - Author unknown. “God on the Brain - Programme summary.”,

Persinger. M. A (1997) cited in Ford. C, (2002) “Neurotheology: Which Came First, God or the Brain?”.

Persinger. M. A (1997) cited in Martin. M (2002) “Spirituality and the Brain: Does Research Show New Evidence for Faith, or a Challenge to Religion?”,

Persinger. M. A (1997) cited in Newberg. A, D’Aquili. E & Rause. V, (2001), “Brain Science and the Biology of Belief: Why God Won’t Go Away”,
Ballantine Books, New York

Persinger. M. A (1997) cited in “Peet” (1998), “A Brain structure Dedicated to Religious Experience”

Schultes. R. E, Hofmann. A & Ratsch. C (2002), “Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing and Hallucinogenic Powers”,
Healing Arts Press, Vermont.

Sykes, S. cited in BBC (2003) - Author unknown. “God on the Brain - Programme summary.”
Video Lectures in Neurotheology - Six lectures on Neurotheology based partly on Persinger's work, including explanations for the God Helmet (The Koren Helmet)
Spirituality and the brain - A website by a member of Persinger's research group, Todd Murphy: popular articles on several themes in Persinger's work.
MADS project research project field testing Persinger's work on magnetic fields and the paranormal.

M.A. Persinger
B.A. (Wisconsin), M.A. (Tennessee), Ph.D. (Manitoba)


Neuromorphology and general histology; Experimental analyses of behaviour; Psychoimmunology; Environmental toxicology and pharmacology; Magnetic field effects; Temporal lobe functions; Mast cell functions; Behavioral-geophysical-meteorological interactions; Neuropsychology; Parapsychology

Phone: (705) 675-1151, ext. 4826, 4824


Dr. Persinger's God Helmet
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February, 2003

The God Helmet Proves He's Not Worth Fighting For


Quinn Morrison

A brilliant neuroscientist in Canada has invented a helmet that delivers the divine bliss of religious epiphany using not God, but magnets that stimulate the frontal lobe of your brain. No kidding, test subjects have reported everything from LSD-like color plays all the way up to incredibly real visitations from deceased relatives. The most common occurrence, though, is the “sensed presence,” like someone or something is standing near you. Something unexplainable but, you know, there; something like a guy in a robe with a beard who’s powerful but nice.

Dr. Michael Persinger is the father of the God Helmet. “Our major thrust has been to understand creativity,” Persinger says from his office in the neuroscience department of Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. “Many of the great thinkers—be they religious or scientific—often had these inspirations and didn’t know how or why they’d obtained them.” By sending magnetic patterns that mimic certain brain states through his helmet and into your head, Persinger hopes to uncover the processes that historically have been attributed to divine intervention or ghostly inspiration.

“Religious people try the helmet and get all the same results as an atheist: sensed presence, detachment from their body, cosmic significance, and both groups always chalk it up to God, or a dead person,” explains Dr. Persinger, “The point is that these things that you think are God are really coming from inside.”

Holy shit, I’m God. How about that? Still, some people can’t get it through their heads. “We’ve had many people come in, knowing they’re in a laboratory wearing a helmet that is magnetically stimulating their brain, but they still believe they’re being visited by the supernatural.”

Dr. Persinger is not mad at God or anything, but he does have one very practical and compelling reason to prove that the old man is just not there. “The God experience in the history of the human being is a trivial phenomenon. Right now, when people have an experience and they attribute it to God, depending upon their culture, they may often use it as an excuse to kill others.” So what happens if zealots can be shown that God is really an electrical impulse in their brain? “That will mean two things,” Persinger explains. “One, don’t take everything you think of as God as valid. And two, we can begin to explore ourselves. The most fundamental and profound spirituality for anybody would be finding out how their own brain is organized.”

When someone really understands themselves, they won’t want to put their lives at risk over some bullshit about whose despot has a bigger dick. This means that if we can get a God helmet in every home and office around the world, we will all be strutting around, fully self-actualized, hugging each other like Richard Harris and Peter O’Toole, totally forgetting about holy war and religious snobbery. We’ll be the best planet ever because we’ll all be God. Let’s do it!


Apparatus for generating electromagnetic waveforms


An apparatus for generating electromagnetic waveforms to stimulate a subject includes a computing device generating digital waveform data. A digital-to-analog converter receives the digital waveform data from the computing device and generates a corresponding analog waveform signal. A channel selector having output channels is operable to apply the analog waveform signal to the output channels when the output channels are actuated. A sequencer independent of the computing device selects and actuates the output channels of the channel selector. An electromagnetic field generator is coupled to each output channel of the channel selector. The electromagnetic field generator coupled to each actuated output channel converts the analog waveform signal into an electromagnetic waveform thereby to expose a subject wearing the electromagnetic field generators to the electromagnetic waveform.

Apparatus for generating electromagnetic waveforms

Also published as: CA2214296

An apparatus for generating electromagnetic waveforms to stimulate a subject includes an electromagnetic waveform signal generator to generate analog signals representing desired electromagnetic waveforms. A selector responsive to channel select input applies the analog signals to selected output channels of the selector. Electromagnetic devices are coupled to the output channels of the selector to convert analog signals into electromagnetic waveforms. The electromagnetic devices coupled to the selected output channels are driven by the analog signals to expose a subject wearing the electromagnetic devices to the desired electromagnetic waveforms.