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Communications Science

Scientists Deliver 'God' Via A Helmet 1020

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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  • Re:Acid (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:29AM (#20893917)
    The effect described sounds like the euphoric feeling you sometimes get while on acid. Minus the hallucinations.

    Some might call this the definition of religion: an addiction to a unique hormonal brew that can be induced by conditioning certain parts of your brain to think a certain way.

  • Interrogation Tool? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Xenoflargactian ( 883930 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:30AM (#20893921)
    Imagine using this as part of an interrogation of a religious extremist terrorist. The interrogators could have God on their side.
  • by J_Omega ( 709711 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:31AM (#20893931)
    Ok, so it isn't the quite the same... but it sounds similar to the "Penfield Mood Organ" from "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

    If it doesn't harm the brain, sign me up for one. As a born-again atheist (raised in a religious household,) I'd like to have some of those euphoric "divine" feelings that I've never experienced - even if I know its just electrically induced.

    (And yes, I've tried recreational chemistry.)
  • by mad.frog ( 525085 ) <steven AT crinklink DOT com> on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:32AM (#20893945)
    ...maybe the fields actually force "God" to show up in the room while it's switched on.

    (Hey, no less crazy than any other hypothesis out there)
  • Star Wars? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ZeroSerenity ( 923363 ) <gormac05 AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:33AM (#20893953) Homepage Journal
    It's like the force. I mean, make it seem like something is there that isn't. But unfortunately this is profoundly less useful as it stands, or it can be used to induce a different religion in folks.
  • On the wire. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Adambomb ( 118938 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:36AM (#20893977) Journal
    Sounds like a hop skip and a jump from Niven's wireheads [].
  • Re:Acid (Score:5, Interesting)

    by klenwell ( 960296 ) <klenwell&gmail,com> on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:44AM (#20894049) Homepage Journal
    In his book, Phantoms in the Brain, neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran mentions this device in his discussion of psychological disorders. IIRC, he compares the sensation to those symptoms that are exhibited by individuals with a messiah complex.

    He describes it as excessive emotional "kindling" (often associated with epilepsy -- the tact I believe Scorsese adopted in the Last Temptation of Christ) that leads one to invest spiritual significance in events and experiences most people would experience as ordinary or mundane.

    Now place your God Helmet on your head and reread this post -- you'll see what I mean.
  • Re:...maybe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:57AM (#20894125) Homepage Journal
    Of course not. Judging by past occurrences of when a rational explanation has explained away something previously seen as divine, there will likely be an extended period of denial and attacks, even personal, on the people investigating this. This will be followed by a schism in the religions, where the mainstream will accept it but say it's irrelevant as [religious manuscript] is symbolic and not to be taken literal, and, anyhow, it doesn't disprove anything. The fundies, on the other hand, will continue to struggle in denial for centuries until eaten by the crocodiles.

    What's dangerous is if someone manages to come up with a cure for this, or other religious afflictions. Or, even worse, a vaccine or other preventative measures. Then I predict all hell will break lose.

  • by jessiej ( 1019654 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:58AM (#20894139)
    What if a unit was developed that didn't have to be worn and could affect large groups of people... I think we'd see a mysterious increase in church attendance
  • by hackingbear ( 988354 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:00AM (#20894155)

    Although it does present an interesting question for evolutionary theory - why does this perception ability exist?
    Because it is clearly advantageous for the highly intelligent beings to have faith and believe in God (whether it exists or not). For example, people will be less likely killing each other on the fear of revenge by the God. Evolution creates God.
  • by treyTTU ( 931851 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:03AM (#20894175) Homepage
    but perhaps, and I am just saying perhaps, this is a communication region in the brain, and stimulating it analogous to stimulating the nerve of the ear, or stimulating the region of the brain interpreting signals from the eye. It would seem if you wanted a religious explanation, this could be the "communication center" for an other state of being than the one we're currently in. Like I said, this will be an unpopular opinion.
  • by Le Marteau ( 206396 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:04AM (#20894191) Journal
    To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first, and call whatever you hit the target.

    They're pretty much saying:

    "The God Consciousness is X, and these guys here have found it!"

    Well, how do you know?

    "Well, because we found it! They, like, 'feel' it. God is X! Kewl, eh? Ipso Facto, we are teh shit!"

    The word "feeling" or similar appears about 15 times in that article. Not exactly 'scientific'.

    Wake me when someone with a clue has something to say about spirituality, mmmkay?

  • Proves nothing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SurturZ ( 54334 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:11AM (#20894249) Homepage Journal
    This proves nothing. If I can make a drug that causes you to think that a dog is in the room when there isn't one, it does not prove the non-existence of dogs.
  • Re:oops (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Xenoflargactian ( 883930 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:19AM (#20894317)
    Indeed your point is correct, but I believe that you missed mine. Because of a device like this, the interrogatees may agree with their interrogators.
  • Torture Device (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:56AM (#20894563)
    Why aren't the NSA and the CIA all over this?

    Forget waterboarding and all those other physically traumatic methods of torture. They ought to be all over this stuff looking for ways to convince their secret prisoners that their god is speaking to them directly, ordering them to give up their secrets to the interrogators.
  • Penfield Mood Organ (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sentri ( 910293 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @02:45AM (#20894831) Homepage
    His example was just as valid as any other could be:

    "Another device from the novel is the "Penfield Mood Organ," named for neurologist Wilder Penfield, which induces emotions in its users. The user can dial a setting to obtain a mood. Examples include "awareness of the manifold possibilities of the future," "desire to watch television, no matter what's on it," "pleased acknowledgement of husband's superior wisdom in all matters," and "desire to dial." Many users have a daily schedule of moods. The Mood Organ also has a setting for depression states, which contradict its original purpose to cheer up its user." - []

    A device which can make you see god also sounds like the mercerism box in DADOES?

    Its not the rarest meme in sci fi but YGBM (you gotta believe me) technology is well explored in a book I picked up called Rainbow's End, Vernor Vinge was the author I think.
  • by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @02:49AM (#20894853) Homepage

    Drugs are bad, because they cause physiological (chemical) dependence
    No. Physiologically addictive drugs are bad because they cause physical dependence. Most drugs are not physiologically addictive, and of those that are, often substantial exposure is required. Also, legal drugs are among the most physically addictive (nicotine [], caffeine []) and harmful (alcohol, nicotine again) of drugs. Obviously I'm not condoning opiates, crystal meth, cocaine etc. which are very physically addictive and physically harmful. I'm just pointing out that the amount of disinformation around is staggering, and that many banned substances are banned due to puritanical administrative agendas rather than real medical or societal concerns.

    Most designer or party drugs (speed, MDMA), and so called 'smart drugs' (see 'smart shops' [] or 'head shops'), are non-addictive. They are usually banned on a pretext of anecdotal evidence or a few cases of death or illness following use, which generally could have been avoided with proper precautions and quality control. For instance, Psilocybin mushrooms (as the GGP mentions) have been shown to produce religious experiences.

    As for designer drugs, from the wiki page on effects of MDMA []:

    Comparison of the number of ecstasy pills estimated to be consumed in England and Wales per year compared to the number of deaths resulting from ecstasy use, suggests that the risk of death from taking ecstasy is around 1 death per 100,000 users per year. This is approximately the same risk of death as is associated with adverse drug reactions to estrogen-containing (combined) forms of hormonal contraception.
    You're about as likely to die from a weekend party pill as you are from your contraceptive pill.
  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @02:53AM (#20894887)

    Do you really think belief in fairy big beard or whatever makes people less likely to kill each other? Seems to me that it makes them more likely to band together with the people who believe the same bullshit as they do and kill those who don't.

    So, what you're saying is that the tribe which believes in a god of some sort, will be more united and aggressive than a tribe which doesn't, and therefore have an evolutionary advantage ? And you do realize that the tribe members are less likely to kill each other, at least as long as heathen enemies exist ?

  • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @03:26AM (#20895061) Journal
    It's not entirely a new phenomenon, and your mentioning acid reminds me of the rampant ergotism [], a.k.a. St Anthony's fire they had at times in the middle ages.

    Short version: it's produced by the toxin a parasitic fungus that grows on certain kinds of grain and grass. Eating contaminated grains produces LSD-like hallucinations, but also extreme vasoconstriction that often (but not always, if the dose is low enough) results in gangrene. Which in turn often resulted in death.

    Apparently, the problem was big enough at times that (A) they had a monk order (the Order of St. Anthony) specialized in trying to save people affected by the result, and (B) outbreaks of whole freakin' cities dancing euphorically in the streets and having mystical/religious visions and revelations.

    Kinda makes me wonder how many of the prophecies and martyrdoms that the the various religions were based on, well, were just the result of hallucinations. I mean, obviously some people lied their arse off to gain an advantage or revenge in the name of religion, but I'm willing to admit that some were genuinely honest and relating miracles and stuff they actually witnessed. Or, rather, and this is the important part: thought they witnessed, while on an ergot trip. Or while they were delirious with fever, or having a bad heat stroke (having visions and revelations in the desert sure was common), or any other kind of hallucination and delirium.

    For example, at the risk of offending the French, I wonder about Joan d'Arc. Went and fought for the good ol' Salic law that women can't inherit anything at all, and got burned at the stake... all supposedly because of a divine vision commanding her to. Could it be that the poor girl had just eaten a bit of bad rye?

    How many other saints and prophets had?

    Or given a tightly knit group that travelled and ate together (e.g., monks in the same monastery, or let's say... 1 guy and his 12 apostles?) it only takes one contaminated meal for _all_ of them to have an acid trip together.

    Or here's another thought: almost 1% of the population are schizophrenic, and at least _some_ forms of it are characterized by hallucinations. And in the ancient times and middle ages, it could only be worse, since they didn't have psychiatrists and neuroleptics: once started on the road to madness, the only way was towards worse. Stuff like hearing voices, seeing ghosts, etc. Given thousands of years and populations of millions of people, odds are good some will eventually have delusions of divine miracles and messages.

    Briefly: Is it still a miracle if it only happened in someone's drug-addled brain?
  • Re:...maybe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by someone1234 ( 830754 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:01AM (#20895231)
    You are right, the existence of such part strengthens the 'intelligent design' theory a bit. But of course weakens the 'true god' theory.
    A real god wouldn't need such design, but a super alien could use it.
  • by E++99 ( 880734 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @04:03AM (#20895241) Homepage

    You OTOH pretend there might be another explanation for the feeling of divine than random brain function, you pretend that a real god come into play. The burden of evidence to demonstrate it is on your side.

    Given that there is apparently an organ in the brain for sensing God, I would say that the burden of proof is on those who say it is for something other than sensing God.
  • Re:serious answer. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WiFiBro ( 784621 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @06:00AM (#20895949)
    "But I don't hear answers from any other quarter."
    You must be living in a special world, never heard of various other relogions offering similar ancient stories which to me are not distinguishable (since i shed of my childhood Christian indoctrination) ?

    "you don't think your existance is a good reason to at least contemplate it?"
    Um, I've looked at myself, contemplated the existence of the Hebrew God, and read a bit here and there about the background of biblical stories. When I add all up my conclusion for now is that there is abundant evidence that the bible is a collection of subjective and heavily edited material. Resulting in a strange mix of violence and orders to kill quite a few people I rather not kill, such as name-calling children, teenagers in puberty, and people spreading other beliefs.
    Looking at it from a philosophical pov i think the alternatives given by modern biology are a lot more coherent. This magnetic machine does not disprove God, something which is impossible by definition, but it is another indication that there is a God-shaped hole in the brain waiting to be filled with whatever religion available.

  • by G-forze ( 1169271 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @06:04AM (#20895979)
    What none of the posters here seem to realize - especially those that ask why evolution developed an ability like this one - is that it is really not something being turned on by the helmet, but rather off! The helmet interrupts the area of your brain that controls self awareness (and keeps track of where your body ends) so that you feel at one with the universe, one with whatever god you have been thought is the real deal. Studies of buddhist monks and catholic nuns deep in meditation or prayer have showed a concentrated effort can effectively shut down the brain activity in these areas resulting in the same type of experience.
  • by martyb ( 196687 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @10:16AM (#20898409)

    The article referenced a number of studies investigating a variety of "spiritual experiences", and the increase/decrease in activation of several locations in the brain. The emphasis on spiritual and/or religious "experiences" was an interesting approach, but the authors point out a difficulty:

    Other research problems abound. None of the techniques, for example, can precisely delineate specific brain regions. And it is virtually impossible to find a perfect so-called reference task for the nuns to perform against which to compare the religious experience they are trying to capture. After all, what human experience is just one detail different from the awe and love felt in the presence of God?

    I suggest it would be interesting to investigate something for which there IS a control, and for which there is a greater ability to find matching experiences of it: Flow []. See, especially: religion and spirituality []

    Disclaimers: IANAN (I am not a neurologist). I DO experience "flow" regularly when writing computer programs. I have had a couple "spiritual experiences" in my life, but do not subscribe to any particular religion, nor do I believe there is some "great power" that reaches down and intervenes in my life, or of anybody else.

    Background: When writing computer programs, I regularly experience periods where I lose all sense of what is around me except the task at hand. These periods _feel_ brief, but when I look at the time, invariably an hour or two has passed. If I do get interrupted while in the "flow", there's a feeling of a sudden inrush of external awareness, AND a sense of "dropping" the balls (concepts and interrelationships between them) I was juggling. It's like I can only focus on so many things at once; but, being in the flow, I free my mind of awareness of the "outside" so that I can be aware of more aspects of the program I am working on.

    Others have told me they felt this feeling when they were involved in sports -- they could ignore the crowd, all the other inputs and distractions, and become one with the play at hand. Still others have shared with me about having this feeling when they were listening to music. At the same time, they could selectively listen to individual instruments or the whole piece and the interactions between those instruments, all within the flow of the whole composition. Yet others still have told me about playing MMORPGs and how it felt when they became immersed in the game. And, yes, I've heard others use similar terms to describe how it felt for them when they had a "spiritual experience". (My own experience supports that, too.)

    Question 1: Could it be that a "spiritual experience", a sensing of God, a feeling of oneness with the universe, etc. ... could these be akin to a "flow experience" with respect to something commonly described in religious terms?

    Question 2: Are there any researchers here who would like an able and willing volunteer to investigate this? I'd volunteer in a heartbeat to be hooked up to an fMRI, or SPECT, or whatever to see what was going on when I was working on writing a program!!! Given the /. population, I suspect I'm not alone and there would be a large number who would also volunteer for such a study.

    Summary: Inquiring minds want to flow! ;^)

  • by Cairnarvon ( 901868 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @12:27PM (#20900119) Homepage
    There's a slight hole in your argument. Namely, there are no contemporaneous accounts of Jesus at all. The earliest mention is, in fact, in the gospels, which came at least a generation after he supposedly lived, and can't really be considered an objective source of information at any rate. The earliest non-christian sources generally held up as evidence came much, much later, and talk about Christians as a group, not about Jesus Christ, which doesn't prove anything.
    There's good evidence even Paul himself regarded Jesus as a fictional character.
  • by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:36PM (#20901035) Homepage Journal

    Believing in God has made me feel good at times; it's also made me feel bad at times. Is it logical to believe in God just because it makes you warm and fuzzy inside? Is it logical to disbelieve in God just because you're life is "shit"? These questions are meaningless because they are merely sentimental. God exists or does not exist however we feel about Him.

    I never understand how judeo-christian religions end up with monotheism, when the old testament has many gods.
    The lord your god names a few (Moloch, Ashera, the baal of Peor), and forbids you from worshiping them, or any other god but him, because he's a jealous god. He doesn't say "those are false gods", he says that he's the only one you're allowed to worship.

    How "I'm the only god you are allowed to worship" turns into "I'm the only god" baffles me somewhat... aside from the usefulness of the emotionally potent oversimplification , that is.
  • by BlueStraggler ( 765543 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @01:53PM (#20901307)

    5) Virgin births are rampant throughout ancient mythology, and most sun gods underwent a virgin birth on December 25 (it being the traditionally accepted date when the days visibly begin to grow in length). Many also had 3 wise men follow a star in the east to see the birth. It was practically a requirement of godhood in an age when sun gods were generally considered the most important deities. If you didn't have the trappings of a sun god, you would not have been accepted by Roman society. (This also explains why the Christian sabbath is Sunday.)

    Astrologically, the story is explained by the belt of Orion (the three wise men) pointing to Sirius (the brightest star in the sky) which was low in the eastern sky where the sun rose on the winter solstice, all of which occured under the sign of Virgo (the virgin).

    Incidentally, the sun gods as a rule traveled the world with their 12 disciples, were then killed, placed into a cave for 3 days, and then resurrected, thereby saving humanity. Astrologically, this is just esoteric symbolism for the sun traversing the 12 signs of the Zodiac, finally losing the war against the forces of darkness on the Winter Solstice, remaining in this darkest mode for 3 days where the sun spent more time "under" the earth than over it, before being reborn again, initiating a new year and new crops, which were essential to the survival of humanity.

    The most prevalent sun god during the Roman Empire was probably Mithras, who had Persian origins. The story of Mithras had all of these elements, but also borrowed them from earlier traditions. The oldest one we know of, and possibly the original, was the Egyptian god Horus []. The sun-disk on Horus' head was adopted directly into Christian iconography [], eventually evolving into the modern halo. Horus was called Iu-em-hetep, or Iusa in Egyptian, a name which evolved to Yeshua (Hebrew), then Iesu (Greek, who had to drop the trailing 'a' which would have implied the feminine), then Iesus (Latinate form of Iesu), then finally Jesus around the 1600s when the letter J came into usage.

    The current Christian version of the sun god story comes from the Council of Nicaea, which at its heart was an attempt to establish a universal Roman religion to eliminate the religious feuds that were occupying the empire at that time. As a universal religion it had to incorporate the essential elements of all the major competing sects of the day, so sun god symbolism figured heavily in the resulting unified doctrine. Constantine's miraculous "conversion" however, was more likely political expediency - an attempt to centralize and control worship from Rome. And it worked, for over 1000 years. Still doing a half-decent job today, in fact.

  • by cromar ( 1103585 ) on Monday October 08, 2007 @02:39PM (#20902073)
    Actually, the two-space rule is an artifact left over from typewriters and monospaced printers. In the world of the press, there is a space known as an "em space []", a space with the width of the "M" character in the font being used. Spaces between words are generally en spaces, i.e. the width of the font's "N" character (or half an "M").

    It is Unicode character U+2003, HTML escape &emsp;
  • by ConceptJunkie ( 24823 ) * on Monday October 08, 2007 @03:17PM (#20902555) Homepage Journal
    It doesn't answer the question at all, and I'm surprised by your logical fallacy.

    Just because stimulating the brain a certain way gives an experience comparable to the "presence of God" doesn't mean that that's the only way you can feel the presence of God. You can extract certain compounds and use them to convince someone he is smelling violets, or roses or food, but that doesn't mean every time he smells those things it's only because someone is spraying those compounds in the air. It could be because those things (violets, roses, food) are really present.

    Furthermore, as a religious person who believes in God, I've never experienced the sensation of a presence in that way. I believe God is there, but it doesn't seem He's chosen that way to reveal Himself to me.

  • Given that there is apparently an organ in the brain for sensing God, I would say that the burden of proof is on those who say it is for something other than sensing God.

    That's not a given. There's an organ in the brain that when stimulated gives people an experience they relate to religion. That almost certainly means that other religious activities are what stimulated their brain in that way before, otherwise they would not have connected the artificial stimulation with their previous experiences. What should be investigated is how those religious practices stimulate the brain in the first place.

    Frankly, a sensor for the presence of a god who is supposed to be omnipresent doesn't sound very useful.

All seems condemned in the long run to approximate a state akin to Gaussian noise. -- James Martin