The Tectonic Strain Theory and French’s “Haunted Room” Experiment – a Blog By Dr. Michael Persinger.

My Tectonic Strain Theory is alive and well – a Blog by Dr. M.A. Persinger.

Despite claims to the contrary, there have been a number of replications, corroborations, and validations of my work with the Tectonic Strain Theory from several independent researchers.

Misleading claims that my work with Tectonic Strain Theory has not been replicated are based on the mistaken belief that its based on experiments.   Instead, the theory is based on a series of statistical analyses (replication procedures are for experiments, not statistical arguments).  To “replicate” a statistical study, one only has to obtain the data, and perform the necessary calculations.  In such a case, it would be more properly said to have been “corroborated” or “validated”, not replicated.  Critics, wanting to disparage my work in this field, have pointed to a “Haunted Room” experiment, and incorrectly implied that it was a test of my work on the relationship between geomagnetic conditions and the propensity to report paranormal and other unusual experiences.

Question: Does ChristopherGreat_Balls_of_Lightning French’s “haunted room study” have anything to do with your tectonic strain theory or the way you study the role of the earth’s magnetic field in paranormal experiences?

Answer:  No. French’s experiment has little (if any) relationship to the tectonic strain theory, which explains with the creation of luminosities (“lights in the sky”) before earthquakes.  We have found that these correlate with UFO sightings, apparitions, and other phenomena.  In brief, this theory tells us that electrical and magnetic fields produced by the bedrock while its being strained by the pressure that’s eventually discharged by an earthquake create luminous displays, like earth lights, ball lightning, and sometimes dramatic lights in the sky.  We also find that these fields can create unstable conditions in the brain, especially the deep portions of the temporal lobes.  This instability can lead to hallucinatory experiences which people interpret in terms of their cultural and learning history as well as their private beliefs, so they are interpreted and then seen as spirits, the Virgin Mary, angels, alien spacecraft or ghosts.  This idea has recently been independently proposed by another researcher, who hypothesizes that “ball lightning” may induce hallucinations (Witze, 2010).   My first publication in the field (1976) used the same concept to explain UFO reports.

French’s experiment consisted of trying to construct a “haunted room” by building a room and filling it with magnetic signals and infrasound.  The experiment did not succeed.  French is a well-known skeptic, but not experienced in the proper use of the “complex magnetic” neural stimulation we use in our lab.  We have been able to successfully perform several experiments, inducing paranormal experiences, and apparitions, using this technology, applied using the God Helmet ®.

French’s experiment used a wave pattern that could not have created the conditions for synthetic paranormal experiences because he was not able to generate the appropriate point durations we use in our lab.  The point durations (how long each bit of the signal lasts) are so important that altering them makes them ineffective. I e-mailed him and offered to share the equipment but he declined, and instead chose to develop his own apparatus, including a procedure in which “The … burst pattern was generated by constructing a table of values from (a) graph of the waveform used and then converting these numeric values…” (French, et al., 2008)

The graph French refers to here is a graph of point (X axis) and Field strength (Y axis).  However, the graph doesn’t display the durations of the points on the X axis.  We have kept that specific parameter flexible in order to allow experimentation with different point (or pixel) durations.  Incorrect point durations will yield ineffective signals.  Our many experiments with varying point durations have shown us that precision in this regard is critical.  A metaphor may be helpful here.  It is as though we hear the phrase “clean the turpentine brushes” as “queen a serpentine buses”.  The majority of the phonemes may be correct, but the information content will be absent, and the communication cannot initiate an appropriate response.

My colleague Todd Murphy, who has developed multiple systems that effectively deliver our (complex magnetic) signals points out in a brief web entry that Christopher French used the “Goldwave” audio editor to render his signals.  Professor Murphy used this same method early in 1999 for the first draft of his signals, which did not work.  His signals became effective only after he introduced his proprietary methods for developing the signals the following year.  We validated their effectiveness in a paper published in 2004.  The techniques used to render effective audio equivalents to our (God Helmet) signals were not applied in French’s Study.  Prof. Murphy informs me that his signals were drafted eighteen times overall.

French (at al.) edited his signal “into a 16-bit wav file using Goldwave (software) at a sample rate of 1000 Hz for playback via the computer’s soundcard.”  It may be relevant that Murphy’s signals do not use this sampling rate.

Subjects in our experiments are informed that they are participating in a “relaxation experiment”.  French’s subjects were “… informed in advance that they might experience unusual sensations whilst in the chamber …”.  The difference in “priming” may have predisposed his subjects towards apprehensiveness, and facilitated arousal, which we have found reduces effect sizes.

It may also be relevant that the background sound levels in the French study were significantly above the values we require to obtain the sensed presence. That’s why we employ the echoic (acoustically silent) chamber.  When we first started the research 30 years ago we employed New Age Music while the fields were presented and found the sensed presence was actually reduced. That’s why music was removed from the protocol. In addition, because the temporal lobes are discerning the applied fields (as are neuroimaging profiles indicate) sound pressure from any source is also represented within the temporal lobes, and interferes with the effect.  A significant portion of default mode temporal lobe excitation functions to monitor ambient sound.  Employing a truly silent environment recruits this activity into the neural responses to the signals.

Perhaps the most important difference between our procedures and those employed by French (at al.) is that they used a room to apply the signals, while we utilize a helmet, designed for the human head.  Our equipment allows us to apply our signals to either the left or right temporal lobes or both.  This allows us to perform our stimulation sessions with more than one hemispheric presentation.  Our “sensed presence” protocol involves stimulation of one hemisphere (the right) with one signal (derived from a “chirp” sequence) followed by another signal over both hemispheres.  This optimal design for eliciting the sensed presence has been published in the literature.

Utilizing an entire room to apply the signals means that 1) brain regions outside the temporal lobes are not excluded from the stimulation, and 2) it becomes impossible to target only one of the temporal lobes, as we commonly do in our work.  In fact, we have applied our signals in the context of a whole room, and found that whole-body exposures have minimal effects, if any, even when the signals are correctly configured.  We did not publish the study, due to its trivial character, and the non-trivial efforts required by scientific journals for publications.

There are a few online sources that mistakenly claim that our work in this area has not been replicated.  This is not the case.

Several kinds of research combine to support our geophysical research in this area.  The US Geological Survey has reported earth lights in conjunction with earthquakes.  Here is one example:

“During and immediately after the main shock, ‘earthquake lights’ of white to bluish flashes or glows lasting several seconds were reported by a number of observers. Earthquake lights are associated with major earthquakes and have been observed in Japan and California. The lights are believed to be results of earthquake-induced distortions of the atmosphere.”

Several researchers have confirmed our ideas about “earthlights”, and the idea has, in fact, become commonly-accepted (as for example in Smithsonian Magazine), though there continues to be debate on the subject.   A direct replication of some of my research appears in a study by Thériault (2014) titled “Prevalence of Earthquake Lights Associated with Rift Environments” in Seismological Research Letters.  NASA now recognizes earthquake lights as precursors for earthquakes (Bluck, 2001).

“When the rocks in the Earth’s crust crackle and buckle under the onslaught of tectonic forces, the charges that are dormant in them are set free. They give rise to a dazzling array of phenomena, long known to mankind and even part of folklore in earthquake-prone regions around the globe,” said Freund. “These phenomena range from anomalous electric and magnetic signals, to ‘earthquake lights’ that illuminate the mountain tops and strange animal behavior as well as ionospheric effects that impact how radio waves travel over long distances.”

Japanese researchers (Takaki, 1998) have also observed “Change in seismic stress releases piezo-compensating, bound charges due to changes in the piezoelectric polarization of quartz grains in granitic rocks, which produces an intense electric field at the fault zone. The excited or ionized molecules by free electrons accelerated under the electric field produce luminous phenomena in the atmosphere” The also proposed “A model of dark discharge in the atmosphere before a large earthquake was proposed to elucidate the mechanism of generation of earthquake lightning and related electroatmospheric phenomena. Change in seismic stress releases piezo-compensating, bound charges due to changes in the piezoelectric polarization of quartz grains in granitic rocks, which produces an intense electric field at the fault zone.

Researchers at Rutgers University have carried out experiments that support the concept of earthquake lights by emulating earthquake conditions in the lab (Shinbrot, 2012).  These are reported as often being mistaken for UFOs, as in my tectonic strain theory of unusual events.

John Derr, a pioneer in this field of study, was one of the first to propose that geophysical strain could explain earthlights, and other luminous phenomena (Derr, 1986).

Paul Deveraux has published several books of his independent investigations showing the association of these earth lights with paranormal phenomena, which constitutes a replication and confirmation of my work in this area.

To summarize, Christopher French’s “haunted room” experiment was not a test of the tectonic strain theory in any way.  This theory has been independently validated, both in its geophysical hypothesis (that geological strain prior to earthquakes produces earth lights) and its power to explain paranormal (apparitions and UFOs) phenomena.

The theory met with criticism from one researcher, soon after it was published, and I published a reply.

I hope this blog will help to clarify my Tectonic Strain Theory, and to underscore that I am far from alone in these concepts.

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: and
NOTE: This blog is hosted by a colleague.


References for this blog:

French CC, et al., The “Haunt” project: An attempt to build a “haunted” room by manipulating complex electromagnetic fields and infrasound, Cortex (2008), j.cortex.2007.10.011.

Persinger, M. A., Transient geophysical bases for ostensible UFO-related phenomena and associated verbal behavior? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1976, 43, 215-221.

Witze, Alexandra. “‘Ball lightning’may be hallucinatory.” Science News (2010): 12-12.

Robert Thériault, France St-Laurent, Friedemann T. Freund and John S. Derr “Prevalence of Earthquake Lights Associated with Rift Environments” Seismological Research Letters, 2014 V. 85, No. 1 Pg. 159-178

Tsang EW, Koren SA, Persinger MA.  “Electrophysiological and quantitative electroencephalographic measurements after treatment by transcerebral magnetic fields generated by compact disc through a computer sound card: the Shakti treatment.”  International Journal of Neuroscience. 2004 Aug;114(8):1013-24.

Persinger Michael A,  “The Neuropsychiatry of Paranormal Experiences” Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 13:4, Fall 2001

Bluck , John  NASA press release,

Shunji Takaki, Motoji Ikeya  “A Dark Discharge Model of Earthquake Lightning”  Japanese Journal of Applied Physics  09/1998; 37(9A):5016-5020.

Troy Shinbrot, Nam H. Kim, and N. Nirmal Thyagu  “Electrostatic precursors to granular slip events” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012 vol. 109 no. 27 10806–10810

P. Devereux, “Earthquake Lights Revelation,” Blandford, London, 1989.

Derr, John S.  “Rock mechanics: Luminous phenomena and their relationship to rock fracture” Nature 321, 470 – 471 (29 May 1986)


Corroborating studies:

Lipnicki DM. “An association between geomagnetic activity and dream bizarreness.” Medical Hypotheses. 2009 Jul;73(1):115-7.

Conesa J. “Isolated sleep paralysis, vivid dreams and geomagnetic influences: II. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 1997 Oct;85(2):579-84.

Rapoport SI, Boldypakova TD, Malinovskaia NK, Oraevski? VN, Meshcheriakova SA, Breus TK, Sosnovski? AM. “Magnetic storms as a stress factor.” Biofizika [Biophysics]. 1998 Jul-Aug;43(4):632-9.

Dimitrova S, Stoilova I, Cholakov I. “Influence of local geomagnetic storms on arterial blood pressure.” Bioelectromagnetics. 2004 Sep;25(6):408-14.

Haraldsson, Erlendur; Gissurarson, Loftur R. “Does geomagnetic activity effect extrasensory perception? Personality and individual differences, 1987, v8 (n5):745-747
Berk M, Dodd S, Henry M. “Do ambient electromagnetic fields affect behaviour? A demonstration of the relationship between geomagnetic storm activity and suicide” Bioelectromagnetics. 2005 Nov 22;27(2):151-155

Raps A, Stoupel E, Shimshoni M. “Geophysical variables and behavior: LXIX. Solar activity and admission of psychiatric patients. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 1992 Apr;74(2):449-50.


An Incomplete Bibliography of my papers on geomagnetic effects:

Persinger, Michael A. “Geophysical variables and behavior: XXX. Intense paranormal experiences during days of quiet, global geomagnetic activity” Perceptual and Motor Skills 1985 Aug v61 (n1): 320-322

Arango, Manuel A.; Persinger, Michael A. “Geophysical Variables and Human Behavior: LII Decreased Geomagnetic Activity and spontaneous Telepathic Experiences from the Sedgwick collection. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1988 Dec v67 (n3):907-909

Persinger, Michael ; Krippner, Stanley. “Dream ESP and Geomagnetic Activity” Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1989 Apr v83 (n2):101-116.

Makarec, K.; Persinger, Michael A. Geophysical variables and behavior XLIII “Negative correlation between Geophysical Variables between accuracy of card-guessing and geomagnetic activity: A Case Study” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1987 Aug, v65 (n1) 105-106

Gearhart, Livingston; Persinger, M.A. Geophysical variables and behavior XXXIII. Onsets of historical and contemporary poltergeist episodes occured with sudden increases in geomagnetic activity. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1986 Apr v62 (n2) 463-466

Persinger MA. “Out-of-body-like experiences are more probable in people with elevated complex partial epileptic-like signs during periods of enhanced geomagnetic activity: a nonlinear effect.” Perceptual and Motor Skills. 1995 Apr; v80 (2):563-9.

Schaut, George B. Persinger, Michael A. “Subjective telepathic experiences, geomagnetic activity, and the elf hypothesis: I Data Analysis” PSI Research, 1958 Mar, v4 (n1):4-20

Berger R.E.; Persinger, M.A. “Geophysical variables and behavior: LXVII. Quieter annual geomagnetic Activity and effect Size for Experiemntal psi (ESP) studies over six decades”. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1991 Dec, v73 (n3, Pt2 Spec issue):1219-1223

Persinger, Michael A.; Nolan, Michael “Geophysical variables and behavior XX. “Weekly numbers of mining accidents and the weather matrix: The importance of geomagnetic variation and barometric pressure. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1984 Dec, v59 (n3):719-722

Lewicki, Dougals R.; Schaut, George H; Persinger, Michael A. “Geophysical variables and behavior XLIV. Days of subjective precognitive experiences and the days before the actual events display correlated geomagnetic activity” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1987, aug, v65 (n1):173-174

Persinger, Michael A. “Geophysical variables and behavior: L Indications of a tectonic strain factor in the Rutlidge (UFO) observations during 1973 in southwest Missouri” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1988 Oct, v67 (n2): 571-575

Persinger, M.A.; Derr, J.S. “Geophysical variables and behavior: XXII. Relations between UFO reports within the Uinta Basin and local seismicity” Perceptual and Motor Skills 1985, Feb; 60 (1) :143-152

Persinger, M.A.; Derr, J.S. “Geophysical variables and behavior: XXXII. Evaluations of UFO reports in an area of infrequent seismicity: The Carmen, Manitoba episode.” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1985 Dec, v61 (n3, Pt1): 807-813

Derr, J.S.; Persinger, M.A. “Geophysical variables and behavior: LXXVI. Seasonal hydrological load and regional luminous phenomena (UFO reports) within river systems, the Mississippi Valley test” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1993 Dec, v77 (n3, Pt62), 1163-1170

Matteson, Dan; Persinger, M.A. “Geophysical variables and behavior: XXXV. Positive correlations between numbers of UFO reports and earthquake activity in Sweden.” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1986 Oct, v63 (n2, Pt2) 921-922

Persinger, M.A.; Derr, J.S. “Geophysical variables and behavior: LXII. Temporal coupling of UFO reports and seismic energy release within the Rio Grande rift system: discrimative validity of the tectonic strain theory.” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1990 Oct, v71 (n2): 567-57

Persinger, M.A.; Derr, J.S. “Geophysical variables and behavior: XIX Strong temporal relationships between inclusive seismic measures and UFO reports within Washington state. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1984, 59, 551-566

John S. Derr & Michal A. Persinger ‘Geophysical Variables and Behavior: LIV. Zeitoun (Egypt) Apparations of the Virgin Mary as Tectonic Strain-induced Luminosities. Perceptual and Motor Skills 1989, 68, 123-128


Richard Dawkins – Alcohol and the God Helmet don’t mix. – Dr. M.A. Persinger’s Blog

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
Full Professor
Behavioural Neuroscience, Biomolecular Sciences and Human Studies
Departments of Psychology and Biology
Laurentian University,
Sudbury, Ontario, Canada P3E 2C6
Email: and
NOTE: This blog is hosted by a colleague.


Dawkins in chair

My theories are not based on religiousness in epileptics – Dr M. A. Persinger’s blog

Question: Are “microseizures” (a concept you have used to help explain religious experiences) actually epileptic events?  (A Blog by Dr. M.A. Persinger)

Answer: No, although they do have some things in common with epileptic events (seizures) because they originate from the same source; i.e., moments of instability in the temporal lobes, most particularly in it’s deeper (limbic) regions.  Most phenomena that share a common cause are distributed along a continuum (or spectrum) of intensity with degrees of “how much” (or how strong).  For example, a few times during their lives, for brief periods, most people display the symptoms that define depression, thought disorders (such as schizophrenia) and personality disorders. However, it is only when the symptoms dominate the person’s behaviours more or less continuously, that the condition is considered abnormal.  To employ a metaphor, ordinary religious experiences rely on brief “unsettled” conditions in the temporal lobes, but not full temporal lobe epileptic seizures.

“Microseizures” is a term I borrowed from Goldensohn (1975, 1983) who described epileptic activity from the small columns within the cerebral cortices induced by surgical electrodes (that was not evident by typical scalp brain wave activity) to indicate subclinical electrical patterns that shared some features with (but were not the same as) epileptic events.  A more recent publication (Stead, et al., 2010) describes Goldensohn’s findings as follows:

“They demonstrated focal evolving microepileptiform discharges after penicillin injection on single electrodes in an array of electrodes spaced 2 mm apart with no reflection of the discharges on adjacent electrodes.”  link

In other words, electrical discharges creating EEG (electroencephalographic) patterns which are not unlike epileptic activity can appear from the brain.  These do not spread to other areas the way true epileptic seizure activity does.  Note that in the above quotation, such activity was read from one sensor, but the other, only two millimeters away, did not detect it.  This has been the primary exemplar of microseizures in my work.  To clarify further, microseizures are non-epileptic events that mimic seizural activity, taking place in exceedingly small (“pinpoint”) volumes of brain space.

My theory of the continuum of temporal lobe lability (offered as an explanation for the wide differences between religious and non-religious personality types and the propensity to report religious experiences) is not based upon the rich literature demonstrating links between religiosity and temporal lobe epileptics (and, more broadly, temporal lobe foci).  This link has been repeatedly observed and is still observed in some populations. Instead, my theory is based on laboratory measurements of normal, non-epileptic people. I think it is important to emphasize that the research began and continues to be focused upon creativity and the factors that allow human beings to adapt to complex and ever changing environments and circumstances. Sensitivity, but without actual epilepsy, at the upper end of the continuum of temporal lobe lability is associated with remarkable creativity.

Many epileptics have had religious experiences, but only a very small minority of people reporting such experiences are epileptics.  Moreover, only a very small percent of all epileptics report such experiences. We can easily understand how the relative importance of religion in human cultures has given them a disproportionate prominence in the literature surrounding the study of the neurological aspects of religion and spirituality, i.e., the field of neurotheology.

The sensed presence is a primary feature of above-average temporal lobe sensitivity.  It has been given different labels that range from the Muses of the Ancient Greeks to the “spirit guides” of contemporary New Age religion and philosophy.  My working explanation is that the sensed presence is the left hemispheric awareness of the right hemispheric equivalent of the sense of self. We have demonstrated the direction effect across the two hemispheres and lobes by neuroimaging.

Goldensohn ES. Initiation and propagation of epileptogenic foci. In: JK Penry and DD Daly, editors. Advances in neurology. New York: Raven Press; 1975.

Matt Stead (et al.)  “Microseizures and the spatiotemporal scales of human partial epilepsy”  Brain. 2010 Sep; 133(9): 2789–2797.

Goldensohn ES., “Symptomatology of nonconvulsive seizures: ictal and postictal.” Epilepsia. 1983;24 Suppl 1:S5-21.

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: and
NOTE: This blog is hosted by a colleague.

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: and 

NOTE:  This blog is hosted by a colleague.

New Edition of “Sacred Pathways: The Brain’s role in Religious and Mystic Experiences”


I’ve just finished a new  (second) edition of  Sacred Pathways: The brain’s role in Religious and Mystic Experiences“.  I remain grateful to both H.H. The Dalai Lama, and Dr. Michael A. Persinger for providing forewords to my book.  Although the reader feedback for the book is very positive, a couple have commented that they found proofreading errors, and asked that they be fixed.  I have done so.

In addition, I’ve made smaller additions throughout the text, as well as adding references for many statements.

Preparing the text for the second edition was a very fulfilling job that sent me back to the drawing board, and I learned a few new things along the way.

One important change is that recent evidence shows that only a small portion of the anterior commissure (AC) connects the two amygdala, which makes it even more likely that it would be changed during a dramatic spiritual experience.  Interestingly, most of the AC fibers connect the temporal lobes with each other.  In other primate species, they are exclusively dedicated to connecting the two amygdala to each other.

Another is that there is more emphasis on the role of the frontal lobes in such experiences, especially with respect to their connections to the brain’s reward circuits.

None of these changes call for any alteration in the book’s basic hypothesis, that religious and mystic experiences represent excitement in the “Sacred Pathways” that we evolved to support the death-process, as made explicit in Near-death experiences.

There are a few more illustrations, of brain circuits, some of the saints mentioned in the text, and of Yama, the fascinating lord of The Underworld in the mythologies of India, Thailand, China, and most of Southern Asia.  I’ve also put it into Amazon’s “Matchbook” program, so if you buy the paperback edition, you can get the kindle version for 1/3 of the regular price.  I don’t know why anyone would want to read it in both editions, but Amazon seems to think its a good idea, and they know more about kindle readers than I do.

It’s available in Paperback and Kindle E-Book.

Olaf Blanke’s Robot Ghost & “Artificial Spirit” – God Helmet findings corroborated.

Some of Dr. Michael Persinger’s “God Helmet results were corroborated when Dr. Olaf Blanke did an experiment in which he elicited the sensation of an apparition in his lab.  He did this by using a machine designed to reproduce a subjects own movements, placed behind their backs.  It worked by pressing the subjects from the back as they pressed forward with a finger-controlled joystick. His experiment, published HERE, is called:

Neurological and Robot-Controlled Induction of an Apparition

Dr M.A. Persinger has been studying this phenomenon for decades, under  the name of the “Sensed Presence”  (Dr Blanke calls it the FoP, or “Feeling of Presence”), and his research lends weight to Blanke’s recent work.

Some journalists are under the impression that Blanke (et al.) are the first to create an artificial ghostly experience.  In fact, Dr. Persinger, of Laurentian University’s Neuroscience Research group, did the same thing 14 years ago in an oft-cited case history:    link


Before Blanke’s experiment, Dr. M. A. Persinger had done many studies on laboratory-elicited sensed presences, and published a couple of articles laying out his ideas about why it happens. A search at showed 25 results for the search string persinger sensed presence -and that’s only the ones that mention it in the summary or abstract.  There are others (about 15 more) that discuss it in the body of the papers.

Persinger’s God Helmet has recently had some new and independent corroboration from researchers in Brazil (showing that its effects are not due to suggestibility. link)  Blanke’s paper confirms other aspects of Persinger’s findings, this time that the sense of a presence has its origins in the human brain, and can be explained as an alteration in the sense of self.  Persinger and Blanke agree that when people are feeling the sense of a presence (or feeling of presence) they’re actually perceiving a part of themselves.   Both Persinger and Blanke agree that the temporo-parietal region plays a role, though they may not agree on whether or not it plays the central role.  They emphasize different places in the brain, but this may only reflect their different research methods.

Persinger used neural stimulation with magnetic fields to create the sensed presence feeling, while Blanke (et al.) used a robot.  Persinger was the first to elicit this sensation using magnetic brain stimulation, while Blanke is the first to create it using a robot.  However, one of the 14 authors of the Blanke (et al.) paper seems to have made a mistake, erroneously saying “the FoP (feeling of presence – author) has never before been induced experimentally”.  Dr. M.A. Persinger has done just that (sample of this work here), but he used a different name (“sensed presence” instead of “feeling of presence”).  Blanke spoke about this in a filmed interview with the Washington Post, where he said he was to first to elicit this sensation using a robot.  Typos and copy-editing errors happen in scientific papers, just like any other kind of writing.


Here are the three brain regions Blanke and his colleagues found associated with feeling a presence, and Persinger’s papers corroborate all of them:
1) The temporoparietal cortex (in five of Blanke’s patients)
2) The frontoparietal cortex (in five of Blanke’s patients)
3) The insula (in five of Blanke’s patients).

The Temporoparietal Cortex

The temporoparietal cortex, the first area, is the location for the magnetic coils (“solenoids”). This is the area on the surface of the brain most clearly involved in the feeling of a presence in Persinger’s  “God Helmet” experiments, where one way of applying his magnetic signals elicited the sense of a presence in 80% of his subjects. Persinger’s research also implicates some areas in the limbic system, deep in the brain.

Some commentators have claimed that Persinger’s published effects are due to suggestibility, but this has been ruled out by a recent study that replicated some of Persinger’s work.

The Frontoparietal Area

Blanke wrote that his research especially associated the frontoparietal area with the feeling of a presence.

Persinger noted the frontoparietal cortex’s involvement in the Sensed Presence experience in a paper published in 2008.

The sensed presence (the feeling of another entity other than the self) … has been associated with altered perfusion within the frontoparietal regions”  link (to abstract only)

The frontoparietal regions have also been observed to participate in “speaking in tongues“, as Persinger noted in a 2009 paper.

Blanke (et al.) noted that  patients who had Feeling of Presence experiences most also “had significantly larger lesions in Brodmann’s area 7.”


It could be argued that Brodmann’s area 7 is not in the frontoparietal area, but rather in the parietal lobes, (toward the back of the brain), but naming conventions in brain science aren’t always consistent.


The insula has been known to contribute to sensed presence experiences, as one published case shows.  Persinger recorded “enhanced activity extending into the insula” when he took EEG recordings from Sean Harribance, the remote viewer, while the subject was “calling an angel”.  This feeling of an angelic presence was part of his psychic practices.  Of course, Angels and Ghosts are both taken as correlating with brain activity, and there is evidence that the insula is involved, as both Blanke’s and Persinger’s work demonstrate.

Deciding which brain regions ’cause’ a feeling or sensation is always difficult.  Here’s a metaphor:  A television is controlled by the on/off button.  At first glance, the remote control might seem to cause the images to appear.  However, the power button could also be said to be the cause, especially when you press it, right?  In fact, they’re both part of a single circuit that controls the whole television, including the images, the volume, the contrast and the brightness, and so forth.  So it may be with feeling the sense of a presence.  Persinger and Blanke’s two very different methods might provide two different points of entry to the same circuit.

I wrote to Dr. Persinger about Blanke’s experiment, and this was part of his reply (Nov. 10th, 2014):

“… the only difference between what Blanke is doing and what we have done is that he stimulates at the periphery to initiate the pathways that produce the experience while we are more likely directly stimulating the areas of the brain that receive that stimuli.”

In simpler terms, Blanke’s experiment elicited the sense of a presence from the outside in, and Persinger created it stimulating it from the inside out.


When Blanke and his colleagues had their robot touch their subject’s back at the same time they moved their fingertip-joystick, so they felt they were touching their own back.  When Blanke introduced a 500 msec delay (so the robot waited half a second before passing on the motion to the subject), the subjects began to feel that they were being touched by a ghost, or another person.  The illusion was so powerful that some subjects felt there were several people (up to four) standing behind them.  Two of the subjects felt uncomfortable enough to ask to stop the experiment.

It may seem that there’s no connection between the FoP Blanke’s group created (by poking their subjects in the back with a robot arm, directed by a time-delayed control stick) and the sense of a presence in other contexts, but Blanke included a simple test that strongly implies they are made of the same “stuff”.  While his subjects were being gently prodded by the robot and feeling it was a ghost, he asked them how many people they ‘felt’ were in the room next door.  The ones who were asked this question while they were feeling a presence also ‘felt’ there were more people in the next room.  The difference was about 20%.

Persinger has also elicited multiple presences, as you can see in this YouTube video (cued to the point where the subject describes feeling several presences):


Persinger’s God Helmet uses four magnetic coils over each side of their heads, but only one is activated at a time.  They take turns producing the magnetic field, changing (you guessed it!) every 500 msec.  The time lag that made the subjects feel they were being touched by a non-existent person (or ghost) is also the same time lag that Persinger found made the sensed presence most likely, when it was used to ‘time’ the cycle for his magnetic coils.

Persinger & Blanke had differing results, but certainly not conflicting ones.  Instead, Persinger and Blanke’s findings confirm and partly replicate each other.  The differences in their experimental techniques can account for the differences in their findings.

Persinger & Blanke both report vestibular effects from their experiments.  This refers to sensations where people feel they are moving when they’re not.  Vertigo is one example of a vestibular sensation.  Persinger has elicited vestibular effects from his God Helmet, and in one case, found that women were more likely to report them than men.  Blanke found that when subjects felt a presence, they also felt like they were drifting backwards.  Persinger found that these sensations precede the sensed presence in some circumstances.

What Causes the Feeling of a Presence?

Blanke wrote:  “… the FoP is caused by focal brain lesions.”  My opinion is different.  I certainly agree that some feelings of a presence are caused by lesions, but I’m also convinced that there is an evolutionary basis for this sensation.  It’s more likely in times of stress, especially during or just after potentially lethal situations.  In our early evolutionary history, stressful times were also times when we had a problem – and we needed a solution.  We could say the sensed presence can help us ‘think outside the box’ when we really need to – when we’re faced with a threat.   It offers us a way to achieve new insights – one that works outside our usual cognitive habits.

To understand this, we need to look at Persinger’s theory about what’s happening in moments when we sense people who aren’t there.  In Persinger’s view, we have two senses of self – one on each side of the brain.  Ordinarily, they work together seamlessly, giving us a unified feeling; a single but subtle feeling, that we exist – as one being.   Most of the time, we exist in the self on the left side of the brain, with its greater access to the language centers.  That’s why we’re such a verbal species.  Our minds keep coming up with words even when we’re alone (“mind chatter”).  Many people even talk to themselves  -out loud – if they’re alone too long.  We talk to others; its our main way of relating with them, and we often feel uncomfortable being with someone in silence.  Language is a part of our “selves”.

The “self” on the right side of the brain is subordinate most of the time.  It works in the shadow cast by the “linguistic self” on the left side, to use a metaphor.  It contributes ‘felt’ aspects of our thoughts, speech, body language and so forth.  Because is knows things without words, it knows in non-linear ways (has an “associative cognitive style”).  It takes a lot from the memory retrieval and creation pathways at work in the right side of the brain (in the hippocampus and surrounding cortex), letting us see connections between things that affect us in more ways than our talkative ways of thinking could ever cope with.

When the two senses of self aren’t communicating they way they usually do, the self on the left can perceive its counterpart directly, but not through any of our usual senses.  Only one of us can occupy our body, or identified as the “first-person singular” (the ego), so the other, the right-hemispheric self is evicted.  It’s bothering its neighbor on the left.  Its encroaching on its property, and so it has to go.  Where does it go, and how is it perceived once its gotten its notice to clear the premises?  Its felt as a being or presence outside our body’s space.  The feeling of presence.

Blanke wrote “the present data reveal the fine balance between the distributed cortical brain mechanisms in humans that generate the experience of ‘‘self’’ and ‘‘other,’’ which, if distorted, give rise to the FoP.”  I agree completely.  It may be that Blanke’s access to this circuit was through the body (sensorimotor), while Persinger’s is through the mind (affective and cognitive), as both run through the brain.

The sense that another person is there when we’re alone is a “social” hallucination, just like smelling smoke when the air is clear is an olfactory hallucination.  A smell that isn’t there implies a mis-firing in the olfactory bulbs.  Deja vu implies a mis-matching between our perception of the present moment and our sense of that past.  The sensed presence is an alteration in our sense of self-and-other, but its one of the functions of that sense, and is not – not at all –  intrinsically pathological.

That sense, that there is another person, being, entity, or spirit standing behind you is the source for ghosts, “spirit familiars”, doppelgangers, angels, “The Muse”, both Gods & demons, and a host of other seemingly non-physical beings.  All of them are variations on the same theme.  Thus, God, including the God of our prayers, is a manifestation of our sense of self from the right side of the brain – the ‘self’ that thinks outside the box created by the left-brain’s sense of self.

Prayer is a deliberate attempt to create the sensed presence (or Feeling of Presence). Its practiced in all known cultures, and has been through all known history.   We are a species that prays.  Huge numbers of people (I don’t know of any study that ever counted them) feel the presence of the god they pray to when they’re in prayer.  When people pray about their troubles and difficulties, they’re appealing to God, but they’re (only? also?) accessing the creativity that only the right hemisphere can manage (suggested reading on this subject).   To put it a bit differently, it’s the left hemisphere’s way of trying to quiten itself down, so the  right hemisphere’s normally-subordinate, intuitive way of thinking (“cognitive style”) can come through.  My book has a chapter on prayer that takes this view.

Accessing non-verbal thought isn’t the only thing that feeling an illusory presence might do for us.   It might also be a mechanism that tells us to be vigilant, even when the warnings around us are so subtle that we “just have a feeling” or a “hunch” that something is amiss.  There are lots of soldiers who’re sure they owe their lives to having known they were in danger, but without knowing how they knew.  Carl Sagan mentioned (here) that it might operate in the:

“… fear of “monsters”that almost all babies manifest around the time they become toddlers. Many predators who are circumspect when a human adult is around would happily attack a toddler. Hyenas, wolves, and large cats are only a few of the predators that stalked early humans and their immediate ancestors. When the child begins to amble off on it’s own, it helps for it to know – in it’s marrow – that there are monsters out there. With such knowledge, it’s much more likely to come running home to the grown-ups at the slightest sign of danger. Any mild predisposition in this direction will be resoundingly amplified by selection.”

Many, probably most, of the people who feel the presence of a (putative) non-physical being don’t have brain lesions or brain disorders of any kind.  While its true that epilepsy can elicit the sense of a presence, much of the phenomena that epilepsy creates appear when a seizure recruits pathways that support it naturally.  There are pathways used to remember music, and when these pathways are caught in a seizure, the person will probably hear music while its happening.

The feeling of a presence is a natural function that can be triggered through epilepsy, but that doesn’t make it an epileptic phenomena, and can’t be explained only in terms of the lesions that provoke epileptic events.  Its the foundation for spiritual sentiments that widen our cognitive strategies and refine our behaviors.  Its part of our evolutionary heritage.  However, not all people are equally prone to either the sense of a presence, or the urge to pray.  According to Persinger’s normative data (based on questionnaires that asked about the sense of a presence, among other things), about 1/3 of the population won’t feel such presences (and probably not feel drawn to prayer), 1/3 will feel them once in a while, and 1/3 will feel them often.  Epileptics and mystics are both at the extreme end of this spectrum, but for very different reasons.

We also expect to find schizophrenics at the same high end of this spectrum.  The disturbances in their brains will also include some of the pathways that support our ability to invoke presences, a skill that makes our thinking even more skilled, helping us to be less killed.  The intense prayer experiences of our early shamans contributed to the survival of our early communities, and thus, our species.

As a final note, here are references for 27 papers on the Sensed Presence that Persinger published Prior to Blanke’s (et al.) fascinating experiment.  Each is linked to it’s abstract.


Michael A. Persinger, Kevin S. Saroka Comparable proportions of classes of experiences and intracerebral consequences for surgical stimulation and external application of weak magnetic field patterns: Implications for converging effects in complex partial seizures Epilepsy & Behavior Volume 27, Issue 1, Pages 220–224, April 2013

Kevin S. Saroka, Michael A. Persinger Potential production of Hughlings Jackson’s “parasitic consciousness” by physiologically-patterned weak transcerebral magnetic fields: QEEG and source localization Epilepsy & Behavior 27 (2013) 220–224

Roll WG, Saroka KS, Mulligan BP, Hunter MD, Dotta BT, Gang N, Scott MA, St-Pierre LS, Persinger MA.  Case report: a prototypical experience of ‘poltergeist’ activity, conspicuous quantitative electroencephalographic patterns, and sLORETA profiles – suggestions for intervention.   Neurocase. 2012;18(6):527-36

Booth JN, Persinger MA. Discrete shifts within the theta band between the frontal and parietal regions of the right hemisphere and the experiences of a sensed presence. Journal of Neuropsychiatry & Clinical Neuroscience. 2009 Summer;21(3):279-83.

Meli SC, Persinger MA.  Red light facilitates the sensed presence elicited by application of weak, burst-firing magnetic fields over the temporal lobes.  International Journal of Neuroscience. 2009;119(1):68-75.

Persinger MA, Tiller SG.  Case report: A prototypical spontaneous ‘sensed presence’ of a sentient being and concomitant electroencephalographic activity in the clinical laboratory.   Neurocase. 2008;14(5):425-30.

St-Pierre LS, 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. 2006 Sep;116(9):1079-96.

Booth JN, Koren SA, Persinger MA.   Increased feelings of the sensed presence and increased geomagnetic activity at the time of the experience during exposures to transcerebral weak complex magnetic fields.   International Journal of Neuroscience. 2005 Jul;115(7):1053-79.

Persinger MA, Koren SA.   A response to Granqvist et al. “Sensed presence and mystical experiences are predicted by suggestibility, not by the application of transcranial weak magnetic fields”.    Neuroscience Letters. 2005 Jun 3;380(3):346-7; author reply 348-50. Epub 2005 Apr 21.

Persinger MA.  The sensed presence within experimental settings: implications for the male and female concept of self.   Journal of Psychology. 2003 Jan;137(1):5-16.

Persinger MA, Healey F.  Experimental facilitation of the sensed presence: possible intercalation between the hemispheres induced by complex magnetic fields.   Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders. 2002 Aug;190(8):533-41.

Tiller SG, Persinger MA.   Geophysical variables and behavior: XCVII. Increased proportions of the left-sided sense of presence induced experimentally by right hemispheric application of specific (frequency-modulated) complex magnetic fields.   Perceptual & Motor Skills. 2002 Feb;94(1):26-8.

Suess LA, Persinger MA.   Geophysical variables and behavior: XCVI. “Experiences” attributed to Christ and Mary at Marmora, Ontario, Canada may have been consequences of environmental electromagnetic stimulation: implications for religious movements.   Perceptual & Motor Skills. 2001 Oct;93(2):435-50.

Persinger MA, Koren SA, O’Connor RP.   Geophysical variables and behavior: CIV. Power-frequency magnetic field transients (5 microtesla) and reports of haunt experiences within an electronically dense house.   Perceptual & Motor Skills. 2001 Jun;92(3 Pt 1):673-4.

Persinger MA.   Subjective improvement following treatment with carbamazepine (Tegretol) for a subpopulation of patients with traumatic brain injuries.   Perceptual & Motor Skills. 2000 Feb;90(1):37-40.

Cook CM, Persinger MA.   Experimental induction of the “sensed presence” in normal subjects and an exceptional subject.
Perceptual & Motor Skills. 1997 Oct;85(2):683-93.

Persinger MA.   Sense of a presence and suicidal ideation following traumatic brain injury: indications of right-hemispheric intrusions from neuropsychological profiles.   Psychological Reports 1994 Dec;75(3 Pt 1):1059-70.

Tiller SG, Persinger MA.   Elevated incidence of a sensed presence and sexual arousal during partial sensory deprivation and sensitivity to hypnosis: implications for hemisphericity and gender differences.   Perceptual & Motor Skills. 1994 Dec;79(3 Pt 2):1527-31.

Johnson CP, Persinger MA.   The sensed presence may be facilitated by interhemispheric intercalation: relative efficacy of the Mind’s Eye, Hemi-Sync Tape, and bilateral temporal magnetic field stimulation.  Perceptual & Motor Skills. 1994 Aug;79(1 Pt 1):351-4.

Persinger MA, Bureau YR, Peredery OP, Richards PM.   The sensed presence as right hemispheric intrusions into the left hemispheric awareness of self: an illustrative case study.   Perceptual & Motor Skills. 1994 Jun;78(3 Pt 1):999-1009.

Dittburner TL, Persinger MA.   Intensity of amnesia during hypnosis is positively correlated with estimated prevalence of sexual abuse and alien abductions: implications for the false memory syndrome.   Perceptual & Motor Skills. 1993 Dec;77(3 Pt 1):895-8.

Persinger MA.   Vectorial cerebral hemisphericity as differential sources for the sensed presence, mystical experiences and religious conversions.
Perceptual & Motor Skills. 1993 Jun;76(3 Pt 1):915-30. Review.

Persinger MA.   Transcendental Meditation and general meditation are associated with enhanced complex partial epileptic-like signs: evidence for “cognitive” kindling?
Perceptual & Motor Skills. 1993 Feb;76(1):80-2.

Persinger MA.   Paranormal and religious beliefs may be mediated differentially by subcortical and cortical phenomenological processes of the temporal (limbic) lobes.   Perceptual & Motor Skills. 1993 Feb;76(1):247-51.

Persinger MA.   Enhanced incidence of “the sensed presence” in people who have learned to meditate: support for the right hemispheric intrusion hypothesis.   Perceptual & Motor Skills. 1992 Dec;75(3 Pt 2):1308-10.

Munro C, Persinger MA.   Relative right temporal-lobe theta activity correlates with Vingiano’s hemispheric quotient and the “sensed presence”.   Perceptual & Motor Skills. 1992 Dec;75(3 Pt 1):899-903.

Lavallée MR, Persinger MA.   Left ear (right temporal lobe) suppressions during dichotic listening, ego-alien intrusion experiences and spiritualistic beliefs in normal women.   Perceptual & Motor Skills. 1992 Oct;75(2):547-51.

Lectures in Hindi – हिन्दी में व्याख्यान

I now have four lectures in Hindi on YouTube – on their own channel.  Here is the link.  They are about psychic skills, reincarnation and enlightenment.

अपने खुद के चैनल पर – मैं अब यूट्यूब पर हिंदी में तीन व्याख्यान है. यहाँ की कड़ी है  वे मानसिक कौशल, पुनर्जन्म और ज्ञान के बारे में हैं.   जय हिंद!