Dawkins had been drinking before his God Helmet Session, and that can interfere with its effects – a Blog by Dr. Michael Persinger.
Question: Richard Dawkins is seen drinking wine or wine mixed with soda water (a “Wine Cooler”) before his session with the God Helmet in the BBC video showing his visit to your lab. Had he been drinking before the session? Will alcohol interfere with the God Helmet effects?
Answer: Yes, he had been drinking. The scent was easily noticed. In addition, he was obliged to sit in hot lights within the chamber for almost an hour as the BBC director managed several television studio details before the experiment began. This forced us to deviate from our typical protocol where the person walks into the dimly lit chamber and we begin the experiment within a few minutes. We have found that intoxication, particularly ethanol, interferes with the experimental induction of the sensed presence. That is why we always employed an EEG monitoring at the time of the exposure. If the brain state is not optimal, similar to the calm or relaxation that facilitates meditation or prayer, the fields do not optimally interact.
In addition, Dawkins had a low score for temporal lobe sensitivity, as mentioned on several web pages (example). Ordinarily, there are ways we can compensate, but these conditions made it difficult. Getting a subject to relax can take time before the session begins, and on that occasion, we were already pressed for time. Interested readers can see “The neurotourist: Postcards from the Edge of Brain Science“, where author Lone Frank, who visited our lab, tells how her EEG showed she wasn’t in the right frame of mind, and we waited until our EEG showed she was ready. BBC procedures and Dawkins’ perfectly reasonable impatience made this impossible. I have not mentioned these aspects of Dawkins experience in our lab as a courtesy to those involved, but the large and growing number of web pages discussing this case has made it clear that withholding these details now serves to distort the truth.
Two other prominent skeptics, Dr. Susan Blackmore and Michael Shermer, had phenomena-rich God Helmet sessions in our lab. Michael Shermer (editor of Skeptic Magazine) said that he had “…not only a sensed presence experience but an out-of-body experience as well”, Dr Susan Blackmore said: “When I went to Persinger’s lab and underwent his procedures I had the most extraordinary experiences I’ve ever had,” she says. “I’ll be surprised if it turns out to be a placebo effect.” These are relevant in view of the mistaken online claim that the God Helmet doesn’t work on skeptics.
Nevertheless, in spite of these limitations, Richard Dawkins did have some effects, but they were somatic, and not cognitive or affective, as we usually see. He reported a mild dizziness and twitching in his legs and a “twitchy” feeling in his breathing.
I hope that this brief blog will lend clarity to this well-known case history.
Dr. Michael A. Persinger
Behavioural Neuroscience, Biomolecular Sciences and Human Studies
Departments of Psychology and Biology
Sudbury, Ontario, Canada P3E 2C6
Email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTE: This blog is hosted by a colleague.