Oh! Our Electromagnetic Minds


“God isn’t dead,” says a neuroscientist from Canada’s Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, named Michael Persinger. “He’s an energy field, and your brain is an electromagnetic map to your soul.”

To further define this provocative statement, Persinger conducted a series of experiments that caused “cerebral fritzing” in the hemispheres of the brain to generate images. Persinger found that when the right hemisphere of the brain was stimulated in the cerebral region, an area of the brain presumed to control notions of self, a sense of a presence occurred. The frizting then called upon the left hemisphere, the seat of language, to make sense of the presence. What was that presence that the right hemisphere generated?  Was it God?  In some instances, the left side of the brain told the subject that it was. In other instances, the subject believed they were seeing aliens, some claimed to have seen deceased loved ones, and others stated that they saw a presence, but they couldn’t tell what it was. It all depended upon the person.

The BrainIn a separate story, of the same theme, a young female believed she was being visited by the lord of darkness: Satan. Every night, at about the same time, this young girl would wake with recurring night terrors, and when her parents came running into the room, she claimed to have seen Satan at the foot of her bed. Her family was worried that their daughter may have been possessed. They called in exorcists and various spiritualists, to rid their frantic young daughter of her horror. After these attempts proved unsuccessful, the family called in doctors to see if these images were occurring as a result of her diet, some psychological malady, or some sort of sleep deprivation. Others believed the visions may have been a natural byproduct of narcolepsy, sleep paralysis, migraines, anxiety disorders, or some form of obstructive sleep apnea. In other words, they thought that her young, active mind was always playing tricks on her, even though they all believed that these visions were very real to her. When no medications, or psychological assistance, proved successful, the family decided to permit an experimental, investigatory group to walk through and see if their very specific ideas about the girl’s problem could help her. The investigatory group walked around the room with an electromagnetic sensor that pinged on an alarm clock that was resting by the head of her bed. They found that her alarm clock’s cord had become frayed, and it was emitting Electromagnetic rays near the girl’s head. The group replaced the clock, and the young girl no longer had the visions.

Want to build the scariest haunted house ever made?  Cocoon it inside electrical wires, throbbing with pulses of electromagnetic fields. This will stimulate the cerebral regions of your horrified guests to a point where they may cause them to believe they are sensing a presence. You won’t need to hire sixteen-year-olds to don Frankenstein’s monster masks, and you won’t need to spend hundreds on setting. You can just wire up a rusty, old tool shed and spend a few bucks to insulate the wiring, to prevent injury, and voila!  You will have the scariest haunted house man has ever created.

Want to open up a fortune telling booth, or bolster your claim that you are some form of spiritualist that can conjure up the dead for your customers. A little wiring, a conductive floor plan, a little setting here, and some costume designing there to provide aura, and you should be able to convince anyone and everyone that you have a gift.

The thrust of Persinger’s thesis is that it is your brain that creates these images. Images that can titillate, fascinate, and horrify any audience, and when these portions of your brain are stimulated with electromagnetic field-emitting solenoids, in a designated manner, they can be induced to create images that seem surreal to the human mind.

To create this atmosphere in a lab, Persinger used what he calls the “God Helmet”. It has also been called the “Koren Helmet” named after its creator Stanley Koren. Persinger places his subjects in a sensory deprivation tank that has white lab coat technicians on the opposite side of a 500lb. steel wall with a number of dials and switches to provide subtle stimulation through the solenoids inside this helmet.

The God helmet was not designed for the sole purpose of providing a subject with a feeling of God’s presence, but various tests ended up yielding such results.

“Those with a predisposition for God, often believed that they saw God after donning the helmet,” says Persinger. The tests that yielded these results were the ones that generated the controversy and the headlines for Persinger and crew.

In other, related speeches, Michael Persinger spoke about the effects various controlled substances (marijuana, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and LSD) can have on the various receptors in the brain, and he suggested that these drugs would not have any effect on you if you didn’t already have the proper receptors in your brain for these drugs to stimulate. In the proper setting, electrical stimulation can achieve the same results, he stated.

“So, I can get stoned using electromagnetic stimulation?” Persinger says he is often asked when he speaks to college students. “You can,” Persinger responds. “Electrical stimulation can trigger specific parts of the brain in the exact same manner a chemical can trigger specific parts of the brain. But,” he warns, “Excessive electrical stimulation of certain parts of the brain can provide some of the same deleterious effects that chemical triggering can, or any excessive, exterior triggering for that matter.”

Speaking of drugs, Persinger believes that electromagnetic testing could do away with the need for pharmaceuticals over time. What are most drugs and pharmaceuticals but chemical triggers that let the brain know that it needs to assist the body’s healing process more. To help mask the pain of a sore wrist, until the body can find a way to heal it, the brain sends out prostaglandins. When the brain doesn’t provide enough prostaglandins, or it doesn’t provide them soon enough to our satisfaction, we take Aspirin. Michael Persinger thinks this same procedure can be accomplished in an electromagnetic manner, so that we don’t have to take aspirin, chemotherapy for cancer, or antibiotics in general. “We could make EM wavelength patterns work the way drugs do. Just as you take an antibiotic and it has a predictable result, you might be exposed to precise EM patterns that would signal the brain to carry out comparable effects.” As with controlled substances, if our brain did not have the proper receptors for these pharmaceuticals to trigger, their effect on our body would be negligible.

“Whether through Electromagnetic or chemical enhancement, we’re all looking for ways to assist what the brain does to help heal the body,” Persinger explains. “Among more sensitive individuals, tests show that their skin will turn red if they are led to believe that a piping hot nickel has been placed on their hand. That’s a powerful psychosomatic effect of the brain on the body. Suppose we could make it more precise?”

In his published paper “The Tectonic Strain Theory as an Explanation for UFO Phenomena,” Persinger maintains that around the time of an earthquake, changes in the EM field can spark mysterious lights in the sky. A labile observer, in Persinger’s view, could mistake such a luminous display for an alien visitation.

Persinger maintains that environmental disturbances –ranging from solar flares and meteor showers to oil drilling– can be documented to correlate with visionary claims, including mass religious conversions, ghost lights, and haunted houses. He says that if a region experiences enough mild earthquakes, or other causes of change in the electromagnetic fields, this may explain why one specific spot becomes known as sacred ground.

“One classic example was the apparition of Mary over the Coptic Church in Zeitoun, Egypt, in the 1960s,” he continues. “This phenomenon lasted off and on for several years. It was seen by thousands of people, and the appearance seemed to precede the disturbances that occurred during the building of the Aswan High Dam. I have multiple examples of reservoirs being built or lakes being filled, and reports of luminous displays and UFO flaps. But Zeitoun was impressive.”

“Might it surprise anyone to learn, in view of Persinger’s theories, that when Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni before founding Mormonism, and when Charles Taze Russell started the Jehovah’s Witnesses, powerful Leonid meteor showers were occurring?”

“One might think Christians would be upset that this professor in Sudbury is trying to do with physics what Nietzsche did with metaphysics –kill off God. One might also think that devout ufologists would denounce him for putting neuroscience on the side of the skeptics.” {1} But Persinger claims that the purpose of his experiment is not to suggest that God doesn’t exist, or to disprove alien visitations. He claims that his argument concerns the notion that certain EM fields may be tinkering with our consciousness. He claims that most of those individuals that founded various religions may have experienced some sort of EM intrusion in their enlightening experiences. Other than the Smith and Taze Russell experiences mentioned above, there is the Saul of Damascus transformation that occurred following a bright flash of light. Persinger’s theory suggests that that experience may have occurred to Saul, later Paul, as a result of a minor seizure or a strike of lightning. Moses seeing the burning bush, may have been as a result of Moses being close enough to lightning striking that bush that receptors in his brain may have heard the voice of God coming from that bush. Persinger doesn’t appear to want to damage these stories in lieu of what these men went on to accomplish following the initial experiences, but he does believe that there was an electromagnetic element to these stories that has never been explored before. The element is what Persinger calls electromagnetic spirituality. These ideas, and others, have given rise to a field called Neurotheology. Though neurotheologists do not have specific concerns related to the validity of their subject’s belief, they do seek to determine what’s happening in the brain during a religious experience without apology.

Persinger claims he can create a religious experience for anyone by disrupting the brain with regular electric pulses. This will cause the left temporal lobe to explain the activity in the right side of the brain as a sensed presence. The sensed presence could be anything from God to demons, and when not told what the experiment involved, about 80 percent of God Helmet wearers reported sensing something nearby, a presence of some sort.

No matter how one reads the findings of Michael Persinger’s experiments –or the qualifiers he uses to settle the religious mind– the reader can’t help but feel they are conducted with the goal of undermining God, faith, and religion in general. Perhaps it’s our insecure inclinations regarding faith, or the fact that so much of science these days seems obsessed with diminishing God to a point that even the most devout begin to ask serious questions about their belief systems, but it cannot be denied that the role of God in our society is under attack, and the faithful cannot help but be defensive whenever a new scientist poses a new theory of this sort. To the latter, a word of caution may be necessary, for as science continues to progress, your outlier status, as one who refuses to meld the two, could increase.

As Norman Mailer once said: “If God didn’t want us to question His existence, why did He give us a progressive intellect?” Why didn’t He give us the less complex, and thus less curious, brain of the chimpanzee, and be done with it?  If God were insulted to the point of damning us in the afterlife every time we questioned Him, why did He give us a degree of brainpower that exists somewhere between His and the chimpanzee’s?  We could speculate, and debate, the reasons for this, and we would all end up in the same spot where we began. We could also spend all day speculating whether there is a grain of truth to Persinger’s theories on the electromagnetic capabilities of the brain, and the results of his experiments, but it’s hard to imagine that God would be insulted, or even aggrieved to the point of damning those involved in exploring the mind for answers, and thus using the gift of the mind He gave them, to its fullest extent.