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Your Brain on God.
December 2, 2001 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Your Brain on God. "After restoring everything to its proper working position, the techies exit, and I'm left sitting inside the utterly silent, utterly black vault. A few commands are typed into a computer outside the chamber, and selected electromagnetic fields begin gently thrumming my brain's temporal lobes. The fields are no more intense than what you'd get as by-product from an ordinary blow-dryer, but what's coming is anything but ordinary. My lobes are about to be bathed with precise wavelength patterns that are supposed to affect my mind in a stunning way, artificially inducing the sensation that I am seeing God. "
posted by atom128 (23 comments total)

 
I realize this is an old article, but I searched the archives and couldnt find it. I thought it was pretty interesting. If it is a double post.. well. uhh.. sorry.
posted by atom128 at 3:39 PM on December 2, 2001


His theory is that the sensation described as "having a religious experience" is merely a side effect of our bicameral brain's feverish activities.

As we sit in his office, Persinger argues that other environmental disturbances - ranging from solar flares and meteor showers to oil drilling - probably correlate with visionary claims, including mass religious conversions, ghost lights, and haunted houses.


I really don't accept the assumption that because something can be reproduced in a way necessarily means it happens the way the reproduction works.

This is a 1999 article, but Persinger is something of the poster boy for materialist cosmology. Considering most any experience can be simulated through Persinger's experiments I wonder what else "electromagnetic fields" make us feel. Perhaps more sacred terrority like the love of your wife wouldn't go over so hot as explaining away religious phenomenon. I think if you accept Persinger's hypothesis you have to accept that a human is very out of touch with reality and that random magnetics might cause a hallucination at anytime or an emotion like love or hate without warning.

His brand of determinism is quite selective because it only seems to apply to the hobgoblins of today's cosmological arguments, like the transcendental experience and analamous phenomonen yet ignores that the very same processes should be causing all sorts of general weirdness which doesn't seem to be happening.
posted by skallas at 3:48 PM on December 2, 2001


Hrm

Well, I think what he's doing is 'short-circuiting' the brain, that is, those things might happen as part of something else in the brain, but you can isolate them. I mean, sexual desire can be turned on by his machine, or it can be turned on by seeing a hot chick (or whatever). The fact that we can be controlled somewhat by EM signals doesn't mean that we are always controlled by EM signals.
posted by delmoi at 4:03 PM on December 2, 2001


Seeing a hot chick depends on sight, humanity's primary means of processing EM signals, so that example is still a response to EM signals.
posted by NortonDC at 6:11 PM on December 2, 2001


I think if you accept Persinger's hypothesis you have to accept that a human is very out of touch with reality and that random magnetics might cause a hallucination at anytime or an emotion like love or hate without warning.

That seems a pretty apt description of life as a human being.
posted by rushmc at 6:48 PM on December 2, 2001


A mortal should think mortal thoughts, not immortal thoughts.

Epicharmus of Syracuse
posted by y2karl at 7:57 PM on December 2, 2001


Ah, so that's what happened all those times I saw god! Cool.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:46 PM on December 2, 2001


I think if you accept Persinger's hypothesis you have to accept that a human is very out of touch with reality and that random magnetics might cause a hallucination at anytime or an emotion like love or hate without warning.

As alluded to in the article, this is "The Age of Anxiety". In this so called "age", fewer and fewer people believe these claims of personal and collective spiritual enlightenment,as they are the hallucinations of quacks too wrapped up in religion, the wrong religion, the right religion but the wrong idea, the metaphysical etc. Even staunch Christians reject the hysterical visions of the Virgin Mary and tears of blood on an effigy of the Christ as mere "seeing things". Their god is much more rational than that. And of course, it must be, as it must also piss next to science which every day relegates once astonishing magic to explainable natural phenomenon.

The "anxiety" maybe, maybe comes from the lack of modern man's outlet to spirituality. And the hallucinations come perhaps, from the sheer will to see what they should be seeing. To add into the mix these electromagnetic fields as perhaps helping to explain this quandary kind of tends to postulate why there's so much "anxiety" in the modern, civilized world. Perhaps it's the rational mind's disavowment of anything culty that feeds into the desire to NOT see any hallucination where electromagnetic fields succor this uncanny "ability". And conversely, it is the desire to see what is fabled to be seen that permits hallucination, "soul growth" and religion building.

I don't stand by any of this, but find any query into the physical nature of belief in the unseen to be fas-fas-fascinating.

Julian Jaynes' The Origin of Consciousness and the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind remains one of my all time favorites.
posted by crasspastor at 11:43 PM on December 2, 2001


no, I am not going to comment on any of this.
posted by bunnyfire at 1:22 AM on December 3, 2001


I wouldn't care even if you did, with a topic like this, bunnyfire. You care for one thing, prosyletizing. It's hard to bring those of us to christ who have completely turned to the next page. You're still on what they were reading and taking for the gospel truth centuries ago.

No offense to you personally, but you're just a troll looking to spread the Word on Metafilter, as those are the usual topic of threads you post to.
posted by crasspastor at 1:47 AM on December 3, 2001


actually I try to post to logs I feel like I can add to. It would be silly for me to post to something if I cannot honestly add much to the conversation.

I bring everything I am to any of the places I post to. I am a Christian and I am not ashamed of that fact. Many of the people here are atheists and are not ashamed of that fact. Big whoop.

I have posted to threads about Ectasy because i used to do drugs and had familiarity with the topic(i am not surprised with the study on this thread because I know how easily emotions and perceptions can be altered by drugs legal or otherwise.)

I like metafilter because I am an intelligent person whose interests do range far and wide.Just like everyone else here.

As far as turning to Christ, if you know who he is and what he did, it is your choice. If people have never heard of Him and what He did so we could go to heaven, they can email me and I can pass it on if they like.
If I see my faith talked about in an inaccurate way, I am going to speak up. There are way too many voices out there that have completely screwed up what Christianity is-I am not going to sit idly by and ignore it.

Now that we have totally thrown this thread offtopic, Matt has the right to kick both our butts.
posted by bunnyfire at 3:32 AM on December 3, 2001


Hey, crasspastor, ease off the bunny a little, please. MeFi doesn't have too many out-and-out Christian voices, so I think it's as well not to drive off the few we have. We have plenty of agnostics and atheists. Diversity is your friend, ask any biologist. (FWIW: I'm a biologist, and a pantheistic agnostic: I doubt the existence of many gods.)

We now return you to your regular thread programming...
posted by sennoma at 4:54 AM on December 3, 2001


I saw a programme, the other day where supernatural experiences were also explained in terms of magnetic fields. They sent some people down to what is supposedly the most haunted rooms in the world, in the vaults of Edinburgh castle. A few people said they felt 'someone else was there' in the room with them, and some saw shadows. Of course it turns out those rooms hand the strongest magnetic fields. Hardly scientific but it makes me feel better. I don't believe in ghosts but I'm terrified of seeing one.
posted by Summer at 5:38 AM on December 3, 2001


This is silly. It neither adds or subtracts anything to the question of whether people have had visions from God (or some other supernatural entity).

We've known for a long time that you can stimulate the brain and make people artificially experience various sensations. Just because you can zap a person's brain with electricity and make them think they're hearing a Mozart symphony doesn't mean that every time anyone hears a Mozart symphony that they're really just having their brain zapped. No one would use that as evidence that there was really no such thing as Mozart symphonies.

If God (or other supernatural entities) communicate with human beings, then of course he/they must do so by interacting with our physical selves in some way. If someone were to genuinely hear God's voice it would be because God caused soundwaves to move through the air and strike his ear, or stimulated his brain so as to hear words.

The real question, the one experiments like this can never address, is whether God (or some other supernatural being) is behind any of these events or not.
posted by straight at 7:26 AM on December 3, 2001


You're totally right, straight, but if, like me, you're a total atheist and don't believe that people can be seeing God for a number of reasons, then it is interesting as an attempt to explain why people see divine apparitions, or aliens, or ghosts or other things that I'm pretty sure don't exist. And I don't think you could make someone hear a Mozart symphony with this method. Maybe with hypnotism, but only if they'd hear it before.
posted by Summer at 8:33 AM on December 3, 2001


A Brain on God.
posted by y2karl at 12:19 PM on December 3, 2001


Anybody think that some of the general anxiety could be caused or amplified by the increase of ambient electromagnetic radiation? We're all soaking in it . . .

A religious discussion that only refers to christians and atheists is like a racial discussion that only includes blacks and whites. Given a particular moment, I could be a social atheist, pre-catholic xian, rogue subgenius, part-time taoist, or a combination thereof.

Atheism is a religion too, especially the more programmatic reductionistic versions — saying that because you can make a recording of something like a brain event in terms of electromagnetics or blood flow, that you have therefore captured or fully understood and explained the event, is routine "scientific" overreaching, reminiscent of strong-A.I. claims forty years ago.

I'm not denying that EM fields could cause, let's say, brain events that when encountered in nature could be interpreted as supernatural or UFO-related. (There's a case for subsonics in closed areas having similar effects.) What I am saying is that the merely-EM-field explanation is parallel to, not a substitute for, the perceivers' human response to the given event. Sometimes you have to look not at the finger but where it's pointing.
posted by retrofut at 1:24 PM on December 3, 2001


Julian Jaynes, a Princeton psychologist, argued that the brain activity of ancient people - those living roughly 3,500 years ago, prior to early evidence of consciousness such as logic, reason, and ethics - would have resembled that of modern schizophrenics.

Surprised nobody picked up on that one. Clearly this psychologist is from the "Ancient Civilizations Were Stupid Primates" Department.

Let's see... unified Egyptian kingdom, 3100 BC. We're talking irrigation, engineering, ethics, criminal and civil law, military tactics, fricking brain sugery, and who could forget plywood?

And the Code of Hammurabi is from around 1770 BC.
posted by Foosnark at 1:56 PM on December 3, 2001


rogue subgenius?

As opposed to the post-1981 watered down, tame mass market kind?
posted by y2karl at 2:59 PM on December 3, 2001


The one time I met Stang, he said that he thought most of the REAL subgenii never hooked up with the church. (I also know of two cases where the "Bob" meme was independently developed.)

Still, the original Book of the SG has one of the best critiques of US society as consumerism run amok.
posted by retrofut at 6:38 PM on December 3, 2001


Atheism is a religion too...

I know this has been discussed before, but for the record:

It's not.

That's like saying that not believing in pink unicorns is actually believing in pink unicorns.

Some people say: "Ahah! But atheists believe gods don't exist! That's a belief, right? Therefore it's a religion."

No, it's not.

Not all atheists have a positive belief in the non-existence of gods. Most of us don't really have an opinion on the matter.

Furthermore, in the case of those who actively believe there are no gods, believing in something != being religous. If I say "I believe tomorrow will be a nice day", that doesn't mean I started the tomorrowniceday religion. It just means I think something without sufficient corroborating evidence.

My favorite analogy to "do gods exist?" is the question "is the number of ducks a prime?"

It's possible.

It's improbable.

It has no discernible effect on anything.

It's irrelevant.
posted by signal at 10:13 PM on December 3, 2001


You're totally right, straight, but if, like me, you're a total atheist and don't believe that people can be seeing God for a number of reasons, then it is interesting as an attempt to explain why people see divine apparitions, or aliens, or ghosts or other things that I'm pretty sure don't exist.

Ah. I guess I never saw the need for something like this, since it's seems obvious that all kinds of situations (mental illness, drugs, fasting) can create altered mind states that one might misinterpret as a supernatural experience. But, like you, my belief in God is based on all sorts of other reasons, so that doesn't bother me.

And I don't think you could make someone hear a Mozart symphony with this method. Maybe with hypnotism, but only if they'd hear it before.

I was referring to experiments where they apply a small electrical charge to various places in a brain exposed by surgery. You can get the person to have various vividly real-seeming experiences. The examples I remember were seeing butterflies and hearing some kind of music. But you're right, it was surely calling up a memory of music.
posted by straight at 8:57 AM on December 4, 2001


Wilder Penfield--now there's a name--one of the funniest things in Do Androids Dream of Eelctric Sheep? is where Deckard and his wife fight over the Penfield Mood Organ:

"Dial 888," Rick said as the set warmed, "The desire to watch TV, no matter what's on it."

...There, at her console, he dialed 594: pleased acknowledgment of husband's superior wisdom in all matters.

posted by y2karl at 11:22 AM on December 4, 2001


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