[Paleopsych] The Times: Ghosts in a machine

G. Reinhart-Waller 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?

Gerry Reinhart-Waller

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.
> Lynn
> 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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