The God Helmet Experiments: The Science That Found God in the Human Brain. A New Kind of Science Book.
Based on research papers by Dr. Michael A. Persinger.
Todd Murphy, editor and author.
The God Helmet is a technology known for it’s ability to create religious and mystic experiences in the lab, so we can understand the brain’s role in spiritual experiences.
The God Helmet has received a great deal of attention over the years, but much of it has been based on inaccurate media reports. Very few people read the actual research papers, or understand what it’s inventor, Dr. Michael A. Persinger, actually said. Neither critics nor supporters seem to have read his actual research papers, partly because they’re very difficult reading.
This book consists of some of his his research papers, re-written on a sentence-by sentence basis, making them much easier to read, so people can see his work for themselves.
The first part has some of his more important review articles, giving an overview of his theories and concepts.
The second part recounts some of his experiments, including his methods, as some critics have falsely alleged that Dr. Persinger didn’t use placebo controls or blind conditions, or that his results were due to suggestion. None of these are true.
The third part contains answers to his critics, who don’t seem tounderstand his methods or theories. As this book will show you, their accusations of improper research are completely unfounded.
The God Helmet is famous for creating visions of God in some research subjects, but it’s also been used to create out-of-body experiences, paranormal episodes and to treat depression. Some of the research publications that cover these striking results are included in this collection of rewritten, simplified journal publications.
It’s still a book of science, so put your “thinking caps” on as you read it.
There is a large gap between real science writing (formal journal articles, with their often cumbersome writing style) and ‘pop’ science books and news reports (often inaccurate and over-simplified). This book closes that gap, and we hope to see more books like this in other fields.
There is too much sensationalism in science reporting, with so many news articles distorting the actual research in order to get clicks, shares, and “likes” on social media. This book breaks away from that kind of science reporting. I hope you will find it a refreshing change from the kind of science writing we see today.
Dr. Persinger published over 500 academic, medical, and scientific papers, and this book only scratches the surface, with it’s 30 publications (some of them are informal web articles), and we hope to publish further volumes summarizing them.
This is a must-read for anyone interested in the meeting of science and religion, but who want to see the actual science, and not secondhand comments about it.
Solving the “Hard Problem”: Consciousness as an Intrinsic Property of Magnetic Fields.
Our brains contain magnetic crystals; 5 million of them per gram. Todd Murphy proposes that the magnetic field they create in our brains, with their many positive and negative poles, form the physical basis of consciousness; the physics of our mysterious awareness.
The two poles of a simple magnetic field offer the basis for feedback between the perceiver and the perceived, an essential feature of consciousness.
Each electrical signal running between brain cells reverberates throughout the brain’s very complicated internal magnetic fields, allowing us to be aware of them. Every input to the brain creates electrical activity in the brain, and these are imposed, however briefly, on the brain’s internal magnetic field. Neuroscientist Todd Murphy suggests that our subjective experiences interface with the world around us when the neural electrical activity it creates integrates with the brain’s internal magnetic field. Moreover, patterns of activity in the brain’s magnetic field can influence electrical firing in brain cells, completing their reciprocal relationship.
Rather than invoking a complex theory or resting on intricate mathematics, Murphy proposes that the 19th century formulas, called Maxwell’s Equations, which describe the relationship between electrical currents (including axons in the brain) and magnetic fields, are enough to describe the physical basis of consciousnesses.
The brain’s magnetite crystals, arranged in chains called magnetosomes, are found in many species, including simple bacteria that use them for up/down orientation. Murphy even suggests that our nervous systems may have first evolved to conform with the physics of magnetic fields, evolving brain tissue to facilitate their information processing and exchange.
Noting that science can only examine consciousness in biological organisms, Murphy alludes to the fact that magnetic fields are propagated at a significant fraction of the speed of light (a bit less than that in a ‘wet’ medium). This means that a single magnetic signal can resonate throughout the brain in vanishingly small periods of time. This makes it the fastest mode of communication available in the brain, very important for organisms needing to respond to threats or opportunities. Consciousness, Murphy asserts, is an evolutionary adaptation that contributes to the survival of conscious species, and organisms that take more time to respond to their own perceptions are more likely to be eaten by predators, or to lose food sources, than those that respond to them more quickly .
Murphy’s theory addresses the dualism debate (whether or not consciousness is a material process) by pointing out that magnetic fields are neither matter nor energy (in the language of physics, they’re forces), so whether consciousness is material or not depends on the definition for ‘matter’ in this case. If ‘matter’ includes fundamental forces, then consciousness is material. If it only applies to matter itself (as we commonly experience it), then consciousness is not material.
Murphy’s paper (link below) points out that no magnetic field can ever be ‘blocked’ or ‘shielded’, so all consciousness is both local (depending on a nervous system), and “non-local,” because the magnetic signals (reflecting electrical signals) can be ‘broadcast’ to other brains. The fields may be very faint by the time they reach another nearby brain, but Murphy suggests that the information content is more important than the field strength. A weak magnetic field with meaningful signals will be received more readily than ‘garbage data’ borne on a strong magnetic field.
Todd Murphy, associated with the Laurentian University Behavioral Neurosciences Program for decades, also suggests a few possible experiments that would support his theory, but proving it decisively will not be easy. The very definition for the word consciousness presents a problem, because all definitions refer to it’s synonyms (like ‘awareness,’ or ‘subjective’), making them “tautological”. In addition, consciousness is an inherently subjective experience; we can’t share our subjective experiences with others, or directly know what they perceive. (Is ‘red’ the same for you as it is for me, or are we only agreeing that the word ‘red’ is right for, say, an apple?)
Assuming it gains attention and stands the test of time, Murphy’s theory will have solved the “hard problem” of consciousness without reference to any metaphysical, philosophical or religious concepts, instead relying only on neuroscience and basic physics.
A) Magnetic fields are ‘conscious’ by virtue of their many input/output avenues, which allow them to function as feedback mechanisms.
B) The brain’s magnetic fields ‘pick up,’ or resonate with, information from the brain’s electrical activity, making us conscious of our own thoughts, feeling, and perceptions.
C) The magnetic fields also impose their patterns of information on the brain’s electrical system, influencing neuronal electrical activity.
The “hard problem” has been called the most difficult challenge facing science today, but as with many riddles, it looks easy once it’s been solved.
A Dutch experiment using a fake God Helmet was published last year (D. Maij, et al.). It claimed to have elicited a large number of extraordinary experiences using suggestion and a placebo helmet. On closer examination, it turns out that the percentages of “sensed presences” and out of body experiences they reported from their “fake” God Helmet were very close to what Dr. Michael Persinger reported from his placebo control subjects.
Dr. Persinger found that about 10% of his control subjects reported feeling a presence, in contrast to the 80% who felt it under actual stimulation conditions. The “fake” God Helmet experiment found that 5.6% of their subjects (placebo subjects, all) felt a presence. Persinger saw more “sensed presences” in his placebo control group because he used an acoustically silent chamber, which has a noticeable, but small, effect on it’s own. He published this in one of his many essays.
The Dutch researchers didn’t apply any actual stimulation, so they didn’t see the high rates (80%) of sensed presence sensations that Persinger saw in his experiments, which also used placebo controls and blind protocols (sample).
The Dutchresearchers found that 8.6% of their subjects reported “floating” sensations or out of body experiences (different, but similar experiences) without any stimulation. In contrast, Persinger’s subjects in one study found 28 to 37% (depending on their neural profiles and other factors) reporting them. If the results were due to placebo effect or suggestion, the numbers should have been approximately the same.
The Dutch study was carried out during a music festival, a high-energy, loud, and celebratory environment. The subjects went from that environment into partial sensory deprivation, and the strong contrast between the mood in the crowd, and the mood that appears with sensory deprivation could have contributed to the results from the “fake” helmet.
The God Helmet isn’t a placebo device, and it doesn’t work through suggestion or suggestibility. It’s a real neural stimulation technology. The best way to see the effects a brain technology has is to use EEG or another brain imaging method to observe it’s effects directly, which was not done in the Dutch experiment.
Maij’s results with his ‘fake‘ or ‘pretend‘ helmet were similar to Persinger’s control groups, but not even close to Persinger’s results with his actual subjects.
In addition, Maij used “white noise” a known mild hallucinatory stimulus, so although his helmet was a “dummy”, his procedure wasn’t a full placebo.
Todd Murphy Laurentian University Neuroscience Research Group
Deja Vu & Other Spiritual Gifts will help you find the spiritual practices that work for you. It also explains how to begin working towards spiritual skills, like healing by laying on hands, psychic perception, communicating with animals, and out of body experiences. It will tell you what the 3rd eye is, and how to ‘open’ it. All these things are a lot less profound and a lot easier to learn than they seem. When the veil of superstition is lifted from these cognitive skills, they become much simpler and more attainable. They may seem more profound when they’re embedded in metaphysical teachings, but the metaphysics actually makes them harder to practice.
The spiritual path in this book is based on neuroscience, not any religious traditions. It uses the shamanic and tribal religions of our first homo sapiens ancestors as a point of reference a few times, because that’s first spiritual path our species adapted to.
If you sense presences when you’re alone, you probably have an aptitude for prayer.
If you often have music running through your head, you will probably have a knack for chanting practices, like the rosary or Hindu Japa.
If you feel your body moving when you’re actually keeping still, you may be able to learn to have out-of-body experiences.
Very few people have all these sensations, but most people have at least one of them. In Déjà vu & other Spiritual Gifts, you’ll find ways of working with them that can make your spiritual life more fulfilling.
Deja Vu & Other Spiritual Gifts will tell you how to begin learning healing by laying on hands, the only kind of healing available for the first generations of humans. It also offers some wisdom from a spiritual healer, who passed it on to the author.
This is an example of applied neurotheology. It puts scientific discoveries about the brain’s role in religious and mystic experiences into practice.
There are about 25 articles on neurotheology on a recently-reorganized page on my website. Most authors on this subject take monotheism (God and belief in God) as the main subject for neurotheology. I think that the mystic traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism are just as important, and there are several articles that cover some of it’s concepts, including enlightenment and reincarnation.
My perspective is based on neuroscience, but the theory of evolution is just as important for me. It’s not enough to see that the brain participates in spiritual experiences. Any explanations that fail to see the adaptive value of spirituality in our evolutionary history fall short of explaining why humans are so often deeply involved with religion, and why some of us aren’t. People who aren’t interested in spirituality are also important part of the story. The brain can take us through mystic experiences, but neurotheology needs to explain why we (or some of us) have them, and that brings us back to the origins of our species.
The religions we see today aren’t the ones neurotheology really needs to explain. The religions of our earliest ancestors may be the best place to look to understand how and why humans are so drawn to religion and spiritual practices, like prayer, chanting, meditation and above all, shamanism.
Among other things, it says that two brain parts are the source for spiritual experiences. These are the hippocampus on the right, and the amygdala on the left. The hippocampus supports trances, meditation, introspection, equanimity and detachment. The left amygdala underpins devotion, intimations of God, angels and spirits, as well as religious joy, rapture, and bliss. We could say that the first is the way of meditation, and the second is the way of prayer.
Differences in personality and ways of thinking (“cognitive style”) that appear when people have their spirituality ‘focused’ in these two very different brain structures create diversity among people. It also means that no single “spiritual path” could (or ever can) work for everyone.
This gave our earliest ancestors many different ways of thinking. People with many different perspectives participated in our ancient tribal councils. In a tribal council, the aggressive and the peaceful both have voices worth hearing. This gave the tribe more options when they were confronted with threats and opportunities.
There were (and still are) big differences in the religious lives of people. On top of this, there are big differences in how ‘spiritual’ we are. Some of us are so involved with religion that anything they say is an expression of their religious beliefs. Others don’t care at all. Our populations include both atheists and the devout, as part of the same (evolutionary) strategy for keeping ourselves alive. Atheists are often ‘linear thinkers’, and religious people are more ‘holistic’. Each type is prone to different mistakes, and when our species was young, they could compensate for each other.
The variety in the kinds of spirituality, and the differences in how interested we are in it, may be the sources for the diversity among humans. And diversity is part of our ‘survival strategy’. Ten people, ancient or modern, will find ten different things to say about a single situation, and this gave our ancient tribes lots of options for responding to it. The tribe would make it’s choice over time, after people had had a chance to talk it over, especially in tribal councils. The saying “many hands make light work” applied to thinking as well as working.
Spirituality may be supported by our brains, but only because our evolution demanded it.
The variety in how much and what kind of religion may be one of the things that makes us human.
Homo Sapiens: The animal that both prays, and rejects prayer.
“Dr. Michael Persinger, known as the developer of the God Helmet, an experimental apparatus that let a few people see God in his laboratory, has published a laboratory report in which a subject had an out-of-body experience immediately after magnetic brain stimulation that lasted only five minutes.” Link (opens in a new window)
Persinger has published a reply to a critical article in a British “pop” psychology magazine (The Psychologist) entitled “Neuroscience for the Soul”. This article perpetuates a few mistaken notions about the God Helmet, as well as some of Persinger’s theories.
For example, Persinger does not believe that spiritual and religious experiences are seizural events in the temporal lobes, and he also rejects the idea that religious belief is an epileptic phenomena.
Richard Dawkins, the flagship author and semi-official spokesman for the skeptical movement, had been drinking before his God Helmet Session, and that’s why he felt so few effects.
The low-intensity magnetic fields used with the God Helmet are strong enough to create striking effects, and this link will take you to a page where you can see that lots of other researchers have seen measurable effects using low-powered magnetic fields on the brain.
Skeptics insist that Persinger’s work with paranormal phenomena (correlating it with geomagnetic measures) has not been replicated.However, it simply isn’t true.
The “Haunted Room” experiment (intended to try to create a synthetic haunted environment) was not a test of any of Persinger’s concepts, in spite of claims to the contrary. The “haunted room” experiment used whole-body stimulation (to try to create an artificial “haunted Room”), while Persinger’s experiments stimulated only the head, and sometimes just one side of it. You can’t stimulate only the right side of the head using an entire room as the stimulator.
Most of the criticisms of Persinger’s theories and ideas resolve into “straw man” arguments. These are arguments that give the impression of criticizing a person’s argument, while actually challenging a position that they never advanced. It creates the illusion of having falsified an opponent’s proposition by covertly replacing it with a different proposition (i.e. “stand up a straw man”) and then to dispute the false argument (“knock down a straw man”) instead of the original proposition. Other straw man arguments are based on substituting a critic’s interpretation of a belief for the belief itself.
There are many other points discussed in Persinger’s published reply, making it worth reading for anyone interested in neurotheology and the many debates that have appeared over the years. You can read it here.