Religious belief is not an epileptic phenomena – Dr. Michael A Persinger

Is religiosity an epileptic phenomenon? (A Blog by Dr. M.A. Persinger)

Answer: The answer to the question, as stated, is “no”.  The microscopic connections between brain cells which are associated with certain patterns of behavior (These patterns are called personality in the vernacular) are altered by conditions within the temporal lobes that encourage frequent and very specific types of electrical patterns.  Only very extreme brief electrical activity that involves large volumes of the brain defines epilepsy.

Its important to differentiate three components: religious experiences, religious beliefs and religiosity (the propensity for interpreting events in terms of religious beliefs, as well as participating in religious rituals, showing reverence for religious symbols, etc.).  A religious experience will include perceptions that involve multiple areas but particularly the temporal lobes because they contain the amygdala which is involved with meaning and affect and the hippocampus, which is involved with memory.  However, like any other experiences, religious or spiritual events are encoded into verbal images. This involves or “recruits” the frontal portions of the brain.

Even when its subtle, the way a person labels the “cause” of a mystic experience, or what they attribute it to, is supplied by the person’s culture and learning history and this can have a significant effect on how they remember the experience hours to days later.  To offer a mundane example, people often hear words that upset them (for example, during arguments).  After the event has passed, they are very likely to speak of it referring to the words that made them angry or sad, and not a description of the discomfort they created.  The explanation supplants memories of the actual event.  This also happens with religious experiences.   The phenomena are recalled as instances and verifications of the themes in their religious beliefs.

The images associated with the words that we use to label a religious experience, without actively doing anything, strongly affect what we later remember as true.  A religious belief, like all beliefs, is a cognitive strategy.  Religious beliefs attempt to anticipate both events in the world, and our life experiences (including religious experiences) and organize their meaning. Religious belief is different from a religious experience.  A delusion differs from a belief to the extent that it affects the person’s explanations and perceptions of his or her own private world. Religiosity is the degree to which the experience infuses what the person perceives, thinks, and believes about the world and explains the Cosmos.  Delusions have implications about the person who has them, while religiosity includes beliefs about the entire universe, including its origins and eschatology.  Given that science also offers a cognitive strategy for anticipating events and interpreting their significance, maintaining a religious ideational framework (“belief system”) and its accompanying paradigms cannot be regarded as an epileptic phenomenon.

Dr. Michael A. Persinger
Full Professor
Behavioural Neuroscience, Biomolecular Sciences and Human Studies
Departments of Psychology and Biology
Laurentian University,

Sudbury, Ontario, Canada P3E 2C6

Email: mpersinger@laurentian.ca and drpersinger@neurocog.ca 

NOTE:  This blog is hosted by a colleague.

Shiva Neural Stimulation and “Electronic Enlightenment”

A Swiss Researcher using the Shiva Neural Stimulation System found that his subjects were having “enlightenment” experiences.  The website talks about psychic perception and spiritual growth, not enlightenment and a few people have asked why this difference.

The Shiva Neural Stimulation System is based on Persinger’s “Octopus” device, which he developed several years after his more famous “God Helmet“.  They use the same hardware, but arranged differently.

The Swiss group consisted of meditators, “energy workers”, and other people with careers in non-traditional spirituality.  The emphasis on psychic perceptions on the website (telepathy and remote viewing) reflects the fact that the most rigorous tests, done with laboratory precision (including EEG monitoring) had results that confirmed two forms of telepathic (one |two) (I prefer the phrase brain-to-brain communication) perception.  These have received more attention, especially after Dr. Persinger’s interview with skeptico.com.  The Swiss group’s results, which referred to Electronic Enlightenment, is still limited to a preliminary and somewhat informal report, and hasn’t been published in full.

One difference between the Swiss group’s work and Dr. Persinger’s is that the Swiss averaged 4 sessions per subject, while Persinger’s experiments in telepathy were done with only one session per subject.  Effects that appear after several sessions could not have appeared in Persinger’s scientific papers.

It may be that circumcerebral neural stimulation (which includes Shiva Neural Stimulation) will one day go well beyond its well-known effects and yield a way for at least some people to become “enlightened”, “illuminated’, “realized” – or something like that.  In fact, very few people even know the difference between these experiences.  They may all be the same in the end.

The Swiss group broke new ground in their efforts.  They found that the mental fatigue that can come from too much spiritual work can be addressed running the system “backwards” – using clockwise rotation around the head instead of the usual counterclockwise configuration.  Of course, this is a breakthrough because it offers a new kind of evidence, and it does so in an independent replication.  What did the Swiss (led by Dr. Rolf Bosch) discover?  First, that much more can come from this kind of stimulation than psychic perception, and that running it “backwards” can elicit a range of yet undiscovered effects.  Second, that effects appear over time that don’t come up with just one session.

One Shiva neural System user found that the light he experienced from his yoga (Kriya Yoga) was stronger when he ran his sessions clockwise than when he used its usual counterclockwise setup, which created a deep sense of space and darkness.  This is only one case, but it does make the point clearly.

I suspect that running “Shiva” “backwards” may enhance left-hemispheric spiritual practices (like those that rely on prayer and work towards joy and light) while running it “forwards” may enhance right-hemispheric spiritual practices (like those that rely on meditation and work towards tranquility and insight).  Dr. Persinger has already seen the latter effect.  For the rest, time will tell.  Thanks are due to Dr. Bosch, and the Swiss Deep Focus Institute.

Interestingly, others have found that higher field strengths (up to 92% of the total) with the standard (counterclockwise) setup have helped with eliciting dream effects.

Some users have had very good responses from the “Consciousness Signal” in the “Simple Signals” section (actually it’s a phase-modulated 40Hz signal, so it’s not a very “simple” signal).  These reports have emphasized bliss and joy, not psychic skills.

One review can be seen HERE.