God Helmet

god helmet by the infinite opi

God Helmet refers to an experimental apparatus used in neuroscience, primarily in the field of neurotheology (the study of correlations of neural phenomena with subjective experiences of spirituality). Originally called the ‘Koren helmet’ after its inventor Stanley Koren, it was conceived to study creativity and the effects of subtle stimulation of the temporal lobes. Reports by participants of a ‘sensed presence’ brought public attention to the device. The apparatus, placed on the head of an experimental subject, generates weak fluctuating (i.e. ‘complex’) magnetic fields. These fields are approximately as strong as those generated by a land line telephone handset or an ordinary hair dryer, but far weaker than that of an ordinary fridge magnet.

Michael Persinger, a Canadian neuroscientist, has published extensively about the effects on the human brain of the ‘complex’ magnetic fields generated by the God helmet and similar devices. Many subjects have reported ‘mystical experiences and altered states’ while wearing the God Helmet.

Persinger uses a modified snowmobile helmet that incorporates solenoids placed over the temporal lobes. A computer is used to control the solenoids. Most of the signals employed are derived from physiological sources, for example patterns that appear in EEG traces taken from limbic structures. Only one of the coils on each side of the helmet is active at any one time, and the active coil changes constantly, ‘rotating’ counterclockwise over each temporal lobe.

The sessions are conducted with the subject seated in a comfortable chair in an acoustic chamber. The acoustic chamber is also a Faraday cage, shielding out all EMF emissions and radiation except the Earth’s magnetic field. This shielding allows Persinger to use the apparatus to investigate the effects of geomagnetism on the human brain.

Persinger claims that this pattern of stimulation can temporarily alter some of the brain activity critical for maintenance of the normal sense of self. It is supposed that during right temporal lobe stimulation the right hemisphere becomes more active, including the more sensitive structures in the limbic system. As this happens, the left side of the brain makes fewer contributions to the subject’s state of consciousness. The resulting state of consciousness is less verbal, and in some cases, more apprehensive, even fearful.

When both lobes are stimulated, Persinger claims, the left side of the brain responds with a burst of activity, and it’s at this point that a visitor experience is most likely to appear. In a few oft-mentioned cases from Persinger’s lab, the visitor experience has been one of God, but much more often, it’s a simple sense of a presence, or a vision of an angel, a deceased being known to the subject, or a group of beings of some kind. A feeling of meaningfulness can occur as the left limbic system is abruptly activated by the change in the stimulation, so that the subject might feel it ‘means something,’ infusing the experience with a sense of importance.

Persinger’s group has also used the God Helmet to study clinical depression. One study found ‘a significant improvement of depression and reduction of phobias’ following application of the God Helmet once a week for five weeks. Another study found that the stimulation was equally effective when applied over either the frontal or temporal lobes, and that complex epileptic signs decreased significantly, but only when the magnetic fields were applied over the temporal lobes (the normal location for the God Helmet’s magnetic coils).

In December 2004 Nature reported that a group of researchers had attempted to replicate Persinger’s experiments under double-blind conditions, and were not able to reproduce the effect. Persinger argues that the Swedish group did not expose the subjects to magnetic fields for long enough to produce an effect.

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