Reply to “Neuroscience for the Soul”.

Shiva_God_HelmetPersinger 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.

Persinger’s God Helmet results are not due to suggestion, and they do use placebo controls and double-blind conditions.

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.

In spite of claims to the contrary, there has been a replication of a God Helmet experiment, (easy reading description) as well as replication of other work by M.A. Persinger.

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.

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Ten Blogs by Dr. Michael A. Persinger

Blogs by Dr. Michael A. Persinger.

The God Helmet’s Weak Fields are Sufficient to Influence Brain Activity.

We do not allow suggestion or Suggestibility to Influence our Lab Results.

Our results can’t be attributed to suggestion.

God Helmet (and many other of our) results have been replicated.

God Helmet Experiments use Blind Protocols and Placebo Controls.

Replications of our work on Geomagnetism and Paranormal Phenomena.

The Tectonic Strain Theory and French’s “Haunted Room” Experiment.

Richard Dawkins – Alcohol and the God Helmet don’t mix.

My theories are not based on religiousness in epileptics.

Religious belief is not an epileptic phenomenon.

Shortlink to this page:

http://wp.me/p2FgAb-bo

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?

Dawkins_Wine_cooler

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: mpersinger@laurentian.ca and drpersinger@neurocog.ca
NOTE: This blog is hosted by a colleague.

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Dawkins in chair