The “God Helmet” is an experimental device predominantly used in the field of Neurotheology for the purpose of synthesizing paranormal experiences by manipulating the brain by using electromagnetic stimulation. It is placed on the head of an experimental subject and stimulates the brain with fluctuating magnetic fields.
A cognitive neuroscience researcher at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada named Michael Persinger has gained attention for his work with the “God Helmet.” Persinger reports that at least eighty percent of his participants experience a presence beside them in the room, which ranges from a simple ‘sensed presence’ to God. About one percent experienced God, while others reported experiences of ‘another being’. The device uses magnetic fields. This is not to be confused with EMF emissions. The distinction is important because alterations in consciousness have been noted during changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. The Earth is not a source of EMF emissions, but is a source of magnetic fields. Persinger’s device is also not to be confused with TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation), a clinical technique that employs pulsed ‘trained’ magnetic fields, instead of the ‘complex magnetic fields.’
Persinger reports that some people may be more genetically predisposed to sensing God or another higher power, and they may not need a God Helmet to do so. (Hitt,2008). According to Persinger, naturally occurring electromagnetic fields can also cause religious experiences, particularly in those with this predisposition to sensing God. It is possible that our brains will always seek out some sort of transcendental hope or otherworldly protection, even if it’s not called God. (Henig, 2007). And some evolutionary biologists argue that there are important individual and collective benefits to a mind hardwired for religion. (The Economist, 2008) It is possible that a component of Darwinism is responsible. Religion may be a way for people to work together, to have an interest in an entire group’s survival or survival of a collective group.
Persinger reports that some people create weak, complex magnetic fields by themselves while others are sensitive to natural and manufactured magnetic fields around us. Researchers say they do not know what neurological mechanism could be generating the experiences that are reported by subjects using the God Helmet. However, using personality tests, they did find that people with an orientation toward unorthodox spirituality were more likely to feel a supernatural presence.
Current studies suggest that the sense of self, which maintains the boundary between you and the outside world, is created in the left temporal lobe. When you lose that boundary, you feel integrated with the whole universe. That would be one kind of religious experience. Stimulating the right temporal lobe evokes a right-hemispheric equivalent sense of self, which the brain interprets as another entity. The “sensed presence” is the right hemisphere’s sense of self. We are only aware of this when the signals in the right lobe rise above normal levels. According to Persinger, there are reports of such experiences in every culture.
The temporal lobes have been associated with producing mystical experiences and visions. The God Helmet stimulates these temporal lobes. This stimulation has been shown to induce a “sensed presence”, under blinded conditions. Persinger has published the papers so you can try to replicate it for yourself and find out whether it works.
Persinger did not build the device to find God. He set out to locate the creative state necessary for scientific discovery. (Hercz, 2002) Persinger believes in the importance of interdisciplinary research because the nature of consciousness, the brain basis to God, is not going to be solved by any single discipline because it is human experience. Human experience is not a single discipline. Persinger states that, “the existence of God is basically irrelevant.” He goes on to state that, “The way God is defined- infinite, forever – is an empty hypothesis. You can’t test it one way or another.” (Hercz, 2002)
Persinger is not seeking social consensus or mainstream approval for his research on the God Helmet. His independent research implies that we are influenced by the magnetic fields around us and that those fields are thickening. The GodHelmet research appears to demonstrate that humans can perceive a weak magnetic field directly with our brains. If Persinger’s “indie” scientific research proves to be correct, paradigms will shift. If not, it’s still “indie” science and what’s not to love about that?
Written by: Cindie Harper
- Henig, Robin Marantz. “Darwin’s God.” New York Times. March 4, 2007. (Sept. 8, 2008)http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/04/magazine/04evolution.t.html?_r=1&scp=6&sq=brain,%20religion&st=cse&oref=slogin
- Hercz, Robert. “The God Helmet. “ Saturday Night Magazine. National Post Supplement. October 2002
- Hitt, Jack. “This Is Your Brain on God.” Wired. November 1999. (Sept. 8, 2008)http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/7.11/persinger_pr.html
- Horgan, John. “How to wire your brain for religious ecstasy.” Slate. April 26, 2007. (Sept. 8, 2008)http://www.slate.com/id/2165004
- Horgan, John. “The God Experiments. Discover Magazine. Nov. 20, 2006. (Sept. 8, 2008)http://discovermagazine.com/2006/dec/god-experiments/
- Murphy, Todd. “The God Helmet.” 2012
- Peters, Karl E. “Neurotheology and Evolutionary Theology: Reflections on ‘The Mystical Mind’.” Zygon. September 2001.
- St-Pierre LS and Persinger MA. “Experimental facilitation of the sensed presence is predicted by the specific patterns of the applied magnetic fields, not by suggestibility: re-analyses of 19 experiments.” International Journal of Neuroscience. September 2006
- “Where angels no longer fear to tread.” The Economist. March 22, 2008. (Sept. 9, 2008)http://www.economist.com/daily/news/displaystory.cfm?STORY_ID=10903480