[Paleopsych] The Times: Ghosts in a machine
waluk at earthlink.net
Mon Apr 25 01:51:20 UTC 2005
In the 1960s in California I recall person after person on stage giving
homily to their very real OBEs . I even recall a class I took in which
student were asked to call up their Beta waves for deeper perception.
When I then moved to the East Coast all of this purported "nonsense" had
disappeared to be replaced by a more academic focus. Are you saying
that the brain is an artifact of god?
Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. wrote:
> 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
>> Ghosts in a machine
>> What is it that triggers the brain to produce a religious
>> 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
>> of a darkened room, a blindfold, heavy-duty earplugs and eight
>> magnetic coils, linked to a PC and attached to his head with a
>> 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
>> 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
>> on the grounds that there was no way to study them
>> scientifically. But
>> as consciousness has become an academically respectable topic, it
>> 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
>> with hallucinatory or psychedelic herbs and drugs -- a route that
>> been declared legally off-limits for individuals and researchers
>> 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
>> visions it induces.
>> The poet Allen Ginsberg tried it in the 1950s in an attempt to
>> 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
>> Uncovering how a complex chemical stew triggers something as
>> as serpentine visions would be a daunting scientific challenge, let
>> alone identifying precisely which regions of the brain were
>> 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
>> 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,"
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> As an American chronicler in this field, John Horgan, has remarked:
>> "Trying to understand mystical experiences without having one, is
>> 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
>> 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
>> Apparently, this particular route to religious experience isn't so
>> popular with women, who make up only about 15 per cent of his
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> "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
>> 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
>> 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, 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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