[Paleopsych] The Times: Ghosts in a machine

Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. ljohnson at solution-consulting.com
Mon Apr 25 00:55:01 UTC 2005

Actually, the ghosts are escaping from the machine. The interesting 
thing about OBEs is the apparently veridical reports - persons reporting 
things during the OBE that they shouldn't be able to know if perception 
/ awareness is an 'inside the brain' phenomenon. That is well known in 
NDE studies, including some interviews of blind persons who reported 
during the NDE they could "see." Thus Persinger who says "God is an 
artifact of the brain" probably has it backwards.

Premise Checker wrote:

> Ghosts in a machine
> http://www.timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-100-1509923-100,00.html
> 5.4.5
>     Body&Soul
>     Ghosts in a machine
>     What is it that triggers the brain to produce a religious experience?
>     Jerome Burne investigates
>     Jim lives in California and he's into an extreme sport. But he's not
>     testing his limits with gravity or exhaustion. His equipment consists
>     of a darkened room, a blindfold, heavy-duty earplugs and eight
>     magnetic coils, linked to a PC and attached to his head with a Velcro
>     headband.
>     Jim's arena is inner space. The envelope he's pushing is
>     consciousness, using a set of experiences more commonly thought of as
>     religious or spiritual. The coils and computer program, known as a
>     Shakti headset, transmit magnetic pulses that stimulate regions of 
> his
>     brain linked with altered states of consciousness. At various times
>     over the past year, Jim claims to have had out-of-body experiences,
>     felt a state of "oceanic bliss" and sensed presences near by.
>     Next weekend the inventor of the Shakti headset, Todd Murphy, will be
>     one of the speakers at the Religion, Art and the Brain festival in
>     Winchester, along with Sufi dancers, the music of John Tavener,
>     psychologists, neuroscientists and pharmacologists. The focus of 
> their
>     talks will be: "The evolution, experience and expression of the
>     religious impulse -- what triggers the brain to produce it and why?"
>     For years brain researchers shied away from exotic experiences 
> such as
>     hallucinations, near-death experiences or "intimations of the 
> divine",
>     on the grounds that there was no way to study them scientifically. 
> But
>     as consciousness has become an academically respectable topic, it has
>     become harder to ignore "altered states". If memory and imagination
>     can be linked to the activity of groups of neurons, couldn 't the
>     experience of being "at one with the universe" just be the result of
>     brain cells firing?
>     Traditionally, one of the ways to stimulate these experiences has 
> been
>     with hallucinatory or psychedelic herbs and drugs -- a route that has
>     been declared legally off-limits for individuals and researchers 
> since
>     the 1960s. But that is changing, too. Recently licences have been
>     granted in the USA to study the medical benefits of using such
>     outlawed drugs as Ecstasy and the peyote mushroom to treat
>     psychological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and
>     obsessive-compulsive disorder.
>     It may be a sign of the times that just before Christmas the US
>     Supreme Court ruled that members of the New Mexico branch of a
>     Brazilian church, Uniao Do Vegetal, should be allowed to use the
>     hallucinatory herbal concoction ayahuasca in ceremonies. Ayahuasca 
> has
>     long been used by South American shamans and is renowned for the 
> snake
>     visions it induces.
>     The poet Allen Ginsberg tried it in the 1950s in an attempt to expand
>     his consciousness. "I rushed out and began vomiting," he wrote, "all
>     covered with snakes, like a Snake Seraph, coloured serpents in an
>     aureole around my body, I felt like a snake vomiting out the
>     universe."
>     Uncovering how a complex chemical stew triggers something as specific
>     as serpentine visions would be a daunting scientific challenge, let
>     alone identifying precisely which regions of the brain were involved.
>     But for at least 100 years neurologists have been recording the
>     bizarrely detailed altered states produced by very specific activity
>     in the brains of epileptics. Recently, observations on epileptics 
> have
>     provided clues to the neural mechanism underlying out-of-body
>     experiences (OBEs).
>     "I was in bed and about to fall asleep when I had the distinct
>     impression that I was at ceiling level looking down at my body," 
> began
>     an article in the British Medical Journal last December. According to
>     the author, Olaf Blanke, a the Swiss neuroscientist, 10 per cent of
>     people experience OBEs but because epileptics, who have them as part
>     of their seizures, keep on having them, it is possible to identify 
> the
>     brain regions involved. He concluded that they are the results of "an
>     interference with the tempro-parietal junction of the brain". This is
>     the place, on both sides of the head, where two brain regions
>     controlling vision and spatial awareness meet.
>     The discovery that the uncontrolled firings of neurons in epileptics'
>     brains can trigger a range of altered states inspired Dr Michael
>     Persinger, a neuropsychologist at the Laurentian University in
>     Ontario, to see if he could replicate them in his laboratory by
>     stimulating subjects' temporal lobes with magnetic impulses. He
>     designed and built Room C002B, otherwise known as the "Heaven and
>     Hell" chamber, back in the mid-Eighties , in which over 1,000 
> subjects
>     have now been induced to experience ghostly presences.
>     Persinger's chamber -- one of whose visitors was the British
>     arch-atheist Professor Richard Dawkins (he experienced nothing) -- is
>     what might be called a "mainframe" version of the portable Shakti
>     equipment that Todd Murphy will be demonstrating at the conference.
>     What others have experienced in Room C002B depended on their cultural
>     or religious beliefs. Some saw Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Muhammad, or
>     the Sky Spirit. Others, with more than a passing faith in UFOs, tell
>     of something that sounds more like a standard alien-abduction story.
>     Page 2: Continues
>     The radical element of the Shakti headset is that it puts brain
>     stimulation back in the hands of the individual rather than being
>     something done to people in a lab. This may be the way of the future.
>     As an American chronicler in this field, John Horgan, has remarked:
>     "Trying to understand mystical experiences without having one, is 
> like
>     a eunuch trying to understand sex."
>     So far Murphy has sold about 100 headsets at about £130 each,
>     including accessories, mainly to men aged 40 to 60 who are interested
>     in "general consciousness exploration". Most of them are not looking
>     for extreme experiences like Jim. Instead, Murphy says: "They just
>     want to feel better or to deepen regular spiritual practices like
>     meditation."
>     Apparently, this particular route to religious experience isn't so
>     popular with women, who make up only about 15 per cent of his 
> clients.
>     Now that religious experiences are edging into mainstream
>     neuroscience, theories about what is going on are coming thick and
>     fast. Dr Andrew Newberg, of the University of Pennsylvania School of
>     Medicine, for instance, believes that the patterns of activity that
>     show up on the brain scans of people praying or meditating fit well
>     with the sort of experiences they report.
>     The deeper the meditation, he says, the more active are the areas
>     involved with both attention and powerful emotions. At the same time,
>     an area at the back of the brain that orients you in time and space
>     quietens down. "The result is that the boundaries of the self fall
>     away, creating an intense feeling of being at one with the universe,"
>     he says.
>     So the big question for the conference becomes: Is the whole human
>     range of spiritual and paranormal experiences no more than unusual
>     patterns of brain activity? Persinger and Murphy seem to disagree on
>     this one.
>     Persinger was quoted recently in Time magazine as saying that: 
> "God is
>     an artefact of the brain," while Murphy, interviewed for this 
> article,
>     was keen to emphasise that his aim was to "enhance spirituality, not
>     to replace it".
>     Rita Carter, a scientific advisor to the festival and author of a
>     popular book on neuroscience entitled Mapping the Mind, has described
>     an occasion when she became "at one" with the gas fire and then the
>     whole room and finally the entire universe. So was this no more than
>     unstable temporal lobes in the same way that epilepsy is thought 
> to be
>     caused by instability in the brain -- or was there more to it than
>     that?
>     "What researchers are finding is that there seem to be common brain
>     pathways underlying all transcendental experiences," she says. "It's
>     the cultural interpretations that vary. But what's really challenging
>     is that the research evidence is very strong that what we think of
>     normal everyday reality is actually a construction of the brain.
>     "However, it is quite clear that the brain is also able to 
> construct a
>     version of reality that is quite unlike the survival-orientated
>     `normal', one. Now why on earth should it have evolved to do that and
>     why is our culture so dead set against exploring it?"
>     Religion, Art and the Brain is at Theatre Royal, Winchester, March
>     10-13; 01962 840440, [3]www.artandmind.org
>     Further reading: Rational Mysticism: Dispatches from the Border
>     between Science and Spirituality, by John Horgan (Mariner Books)
> [I have read this book and can recommend it. Check Amazon, say, for 
> more about it
> .]
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