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Communications Science

Scientists Deliver 'God' Via A Helmet 1020

Posted by Zonk
from the don't-forget-the-devil-in-the-details dept.
prostoalex writes "Scientific American is reporting on scientific work done to map the euphoric religious feelings within the brain. As a result, it's now quite possible to experience 'proximity to God' via a special helmet: 'In a series of studies conducted over the past several decades, Persinger and his team have trained their device on the temporal lobes of hundreds of people. In doing so, the researchers induced in most of them the experience of a sensed presence — a feeling that someone (or a spirit) is in the room when no one, in fact, is — or of a profound state of cosmic bliss that reveals a universal truth. During the three-minute bursts of stimulation, the affected subjects translated this perception of the divine into their own cultural and religious language — terming it God, Buddha, a benevolent presence or the wonder of the universe.""
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Scientists Deliver 'God' Via A Helmet

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  • Acid (Score:5, Informative)

    by 56 (527333) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:25AM (#20893887)
    The effect described sounds like the euphoric feeling you sometimes get while on acid. Minus the hallucinations.
  • by aeschenkarnos (517917) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:41AM (#20894019)
    Which is here: http://www.rifters.com/real/shorts/PeterWatts_Heathens.pdf [rifters.com]

    Along with several of the rest of his stories: http://www.rifters.com/real/shorts.htm [rifters.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:06AM (#20894207)
    Neuroscientists find God in mushrooms [nzherald.co.nz]:

    ...

    For the Johns Hopkins study, 30 middle-aged volunteers who had religious or spiritual interests attended two eight-hour drug sessions, two months apart, receiving psilocybin in one session and a non-hallucinogenic stimulant - Ritalin - in the other. They were not told which drug was which.

    One-third described the experience with psilocybin as the most spiritually significant of their lifetime and two-thirds rated it among their five most meaningful experiences.

    In more than 60 per cent of cases the experience qualified as a "full mystical experience" based on established psychological scales, the researchers say. Some likened it to the importance of the birth of their first child or the death of a parent.

    The effects lasted for at least two months. Eight out of 10 of the volunteers reported moderately or greatly increased wellbeing or life satisfaction. Relatives, friends and colleagues confirmed the changes.

    The study is one of the first in the new discipline of "neurotheology" -the neurology of religious experience. The researchers, who report their findings in the online journal Psychopharmacology, say that, though unorthodox, their aim is to explore the possible benefits of drugs like psilocybin.

    Google has more on neurotheology [google.com]

  • by Samarian Hillbilly (201884) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:42AM (#20894463)
    Researchers failed to repeat the "God Helmet" experiment. It is therefore pseudo-science, even though it may agree with your prejudices. It's funny how people only see what they want to see...
  • by Sentri (910293) on Monday October 08, 2007 @02:36AM (#20894783) Homepage
    Tact

    1. The sense of touch; feeling.
    2. The stroke in beating time.
    3. Sensitive mental touch; peculiar skill or faculty; nice perception or discernment; ready power of appreciating and doing what is required by circumstances.
    ( http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/tact [wiktionary.org] )

    Tack

    1. small nail with a flat head
    2. loose seam used to temporarily fasten pieces of cloth
    3. (nautical) part of a sail (Wikipedia) specifically the lower corner on the leading edge of the sail relative to the direction of the wind.
    4. (nautical) direction, hence approach try a different tack. Specifically a course or direction that enables the vessel to head upwind. See also reach, gybe.
    5. part of the harnessing for a draft animal or riding animal, e.g. a horse pulling a wagon, or a riding horse. Includes bit, bridle and reins.
    ( http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/tack [wiktionary.org] )

    Tack No. 4

    People miss this one all the time, you adopt a tack, tact is what I lack :-)
  • by tukkayoot (528280) on Monday October 08, 2007 @02:58AM (#20894921) Homepage

    Just because you can replicate the sensory experience of something by "poking" at the brain doesn't mean that a real outside stimulus is false. For instance, I think you could probably make the brain experience the sensory perception of color by "poking" at the visual cortex. That doesn't change the fact that there are real world stimuli that evoke this experience as well. In short, showing that the brain is capable of experiencing something because of a different, artificial stimulus does not predict or rule out the primary "natural" source of that experience.

    True, it just tells us that there is probably nothing "magical" or "divine" about the experience itself. Indeed, if the experience can be triggered in a laboratory, it is reasonable to assume it happens "naturally" outside of the laboratory as well -- it doesn't necessarily follow that the such natural experiences accurately correspond to actual phenomena any more than is the case when people put on this helmet. Feeling as if you're in the presence of a god, demon, ghost or lurking shadow monster is something most of us can say we've experienced, but empirical evidence for gods, demons, ghosts and shadow monsters is decidedly lacking. The most rational explanation for such experiences is they are all "in our heads" so to speak. That doesn't mean it's the correct explanation, but it's the one I'm going with for the time being.

    Although it does present an interesting question for evolutionary theory - why does this perception ability exist?

    It is an interesting question, but it should be asked with the proper emphasis, in the proper context. Being capable of sensing the presence of empirically unverifiable entities is an ability in the same way that being fooled by an optical illusion is an ability. So instead of asking "why" we have evolved this "ability," I would ask how we have evolved this attribute.

    It could be that this attribute itself conferred some useful survival and reproductive benefit, or it could be a neutral or slightly counterproductive "side effect" of attributes that are too advantageous to have been eliminated by natural selection. Humans, like many animals, have an agency detection system of sorts ... we need to be able to detect potential predators, prey, comrades, mates, etc. This agency detection system is a bit overactive ... false positives are not unheard of, because the evolutionary cost/risk of being a little too sensitive may be lower than being a little under-sensitive. Also, humans are social animals capable of running elaborate internalized social simulations, vividly imagining the moods, motivations and behaviors of real or imagined entities, both human and non-human ... this is something else that we've evolved to do rather liberally. We've even been known to shed tears for beings that we know exist only in our imaginations or in a story book.

    Combining these two attributes (overactive agency detection + social simulation, projection and empathy) it's not hard to imagine why people might sometimes have experiences such as those described in the article and that they would take the shape of religious icons that have been conditioned from youth to treat as real, true and important. Given the self-propagating and self-reinforcing (what you might call "memetic") quality of these beliefs and their consequential social importance, it may indeed be in one's best interest (from a survival and reproductive point of view) to at least give the appearance of earnestly believing in them, which the occasionally "feeling" of an invisible "presence" would help produce. So it could be a component of a sort of evolutionary feedback loop.

    For more on religion from a sociobiological perspective, and its potential implications, I recommend Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon by Daniel Dennett and Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought by Pascal Boyer. The preceding is mostly a crude reformulation or extension of the ideas contained within those volumes.
  • by n dot l (1099033) on Monday October 08, 2007 @03:28AM (#20895067)

    Do you really think belief in fairy big beard or whatever makes people less likely to kill each other?
    Yes, at least within a group of believers. I mean, look at what happens when law and order break down in a city: random violence breaks out and does a lot of damage which will later have to be repaired. Religeon is just a tool to legitimize those that impose the laws on the rest, and the belief in the magic sky-fairy that sees everything makes people police themselves more than they otherwise would - after all, societies have always been ruled by a minority of the population, and if people didn't keep themselves in line there'd be no way to maintain order.

    In terms of early tribalism, the ones that figured it out grew into stable societies and prospered. The ones that didn't either stayed extremely small so that ordinary family bonds took care of most in-fighting, or were simply wiped out. Evolution.

    A good example of religeon's utility is what happened in a lot of Eastern European nations after the communists had thoroughly suppressed the churches: they lost the old "love your neighbor, work hard, don't step out of line, and God will reward you in the end" ethic/morality. By the time my parents (who are from a formerly communist country) entered the work force (several generations later) it had become a sport to slack off as much as possible and steal some little thing from work each day - and I'm talking about the vast majority of the population here. After all, if it isn't somehow wrong to steal from the state, and be a burden on society in general then why bother working hard?

    It doesn't sound like much but it adds up fast when you consider how many people did this, and that their economies really weren't geared to mass produce cheap, disposable items like ours are (pens are worth a hell of a lot more when they're made of metal rather than cheap plastics). If the communists had simply found a way to get (well, force) a genuine endorsement from the various churches (like all the rulers of the even more brutal and repressive fudal system that preceeded many of their regimes had) rather than fighting them and thus convincing the population that they were evil, they would have lasted a lot longer (higher levels of production, less energy expended policing the population).

    I know, I'm simplifying in order to illustrate my point - there's obviously a lot more to it than that, and what you describe isn't invalid by any means (one only has to look at the Islamic world to see it in action). I just don't think it precludes the fact that religeous beliefs do serve to enforce societal norms - whatever those may be.
  • Re:Newbligatory (Score:4, Informative)

    by Frozen Void (831218) on Monday October 08, 2007 @07:04AM (#20896405)
    Gundam is a new slashdot 'meme'
    "X is not in charge of the Gundam."
    http://yro.slashdot.org/yro/07/10/07/049239.shtml [slashdot.org]
    this is the source.
  • by Veetox (931340) on Monday October 08, 2007 @08:43AM (#20897325)
    Actually, it did exist in multiple places; they were just "compiled" into one place. (ie. Four gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, all of which were written by different people, some of which were unrelated, save for their knowledge of Jesus)
  • by lightsaber777 (920815) on Monday October 08, 2007 @08:46AM (#20897351) Journal
    Jesus was hardly a preacher of "tolerance", at least not the way you are using it. Jesus taught people to love, but that love very clearly did not mean acceptance of their lifestyle. For instance, the story of the woman caught in adultery is often used to show how "tolerant" Jesus was. But that story also includes a command to "sin no more". That the act was wrong was never in question. Jesus taught that there is right and wrong and that, if you love a person, you would want to help them out of their self-destructive lifestyles. In addition, the word tolerance indicates an acceptance of something that is otherwise hated. That you can tolerate something means that you "to endure without repugnance; put up with". There is a difference between love for a person because they are a person and acceptance of something that you despise.
  • by EllisDees (268037) on Monday October 08, 2007 @09:42AM (#20897961)
    If there were more than a tiny group of followers who ever witnessed these miracles, maybe. If people came from all over the world and made video evidence and wrote extensively about their experiences with the man, they just might. If the consensus of the whole world was that, yes, this man really is supernatural, then there is a pretty good chance that people would still believe it after 1000 years.

    I mean, the testimony of a few persecuted guys in some tiny corner of the world is hardly conclusive, especially when they make claims about things that simply weren't reported anywhere else (like the sky going dark at the time of the crucifixion).
  • by Thangodin (177516) <elentar&sympatico,ca> on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:59PM (#20900551) Homepage
    Yes, the original word used meant simply 'young woman'.

    The myth of the virgin birth leads to one of the most interesting contradictions of the bible. In the original Jewish myth, the messiah was supposed to be a descendant of David. So the Gospel stories go into a long list of the lineage of Joseph leading back to David (and yes, there are two different lineages given.) But the Greeks and Romans mythologized their heroes by making them semi-divine, the children of gods. In the Gospels, these two mythological traditions suffer a head on collision: Jesus must the the descendant of David to be the Jewish messiah, but he cannot be the descendant of David because the virgin birth makes Joseph's lineage irrelevant. The Catholics compound the problem with the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, by which even Mary is the product of divine intercession. This means that even Mary's lineage (irrelevant, in any case, to Jesus and the messianic myth, since Jewish birth lines were entirely patriarchal) could not be traced to anyone.

    This contradiction lies at the very heart of Christian mythology. These twin assertions are one of the core tenets of the faith. Jesus can either be the messiah, or a Hellenistic demi-god. He cannot be both.
  • by Thangodin (177516) <elentar&sympatico,ca> on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:35PM (#20901027) Homepage
    Actually, I went to the Atheist Alliance meeting last week in Washington. There weren't that many fat people there. :)

    The point was also made, in every speech critical of religion, that Islam is far worse than Christianity. In fact, we've been making this point for a while. You really should get out more. We all knew damn well that the dog wasn't sniffing for Christian bombs. The main criticisms of Christianity now being made by atheists are that Christianity is degenerating into a fundamentalist/political movement similar to Islam, and that the state sponsored privileges that Christians are now demanding play right into the hands of radicalizing Imams who want to recruit terrorist fanatics in the West; support for religious schools and faith-based programs, and laws against the criticism of religious beliefs.

    We'll be happy to turn our attention to Islam, as soon as Christians get out of our way.

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