The “God Helmet”

In the University of Sudbury, Canada, there is a device that reportedly synthesizes paranormal experiences by manipulating the brain by using electromagnetic stimulation at specific and complex frequencies and patterns.  Test subjects report with relative consistency that their experiences using the “God Helmet” are so profoundly spiritual that they feel absolutely real.  But does this make illegitimate the experiences of those who simply had the experiences outside of Dr. Michael Persinger’s lab?

It’s a deeply important and prevalent question.  Is the paranormal an internal or an external force?  And would the discovery of an internal source for consistent paranormal activity cause said activity to lose its paranormal “edge” and immediately cause it to become mundane?  To examine the subject, let’s take a look at the concept of near death experiences.  Throughout time, near death experiences have manifest to people of all religious backgrounds, ages, and lifestyles with some regularity.  Often these experiences are seen as sharing several themes in which the subject appears to see concepts and objects beyond their understanding along with strong emotions that either trigger inescapable fear and dispair or equally dramatic peace and understanding with the universe around them.  It is the intensity of these emotions that often give them cause to change their entire lives (generally in a way they would consider to be better) and give hope to not only them, but those with whom they communicate.  And there has been an incredibly thorough study of what exactly causes this going on since the 1970’s.  And Dr. Michael Persinger thinks he has the answer.  Unfortunately, it is not one many want to hear.

An out of body experience is one where a person who is near death perceives themselves leaving their body and stepping outside of it into a room where they quickly find themselves drawn to a tunnel with a light at the end of it.  As they travel down this tunnel, they are often met with spiritual imagery that is significant to them.  Usually it’s positive and hopeful, but occasionally it is negative and terrifying.  As they go through the experience they often are told at the end that they must return to Earth for reasons beyond the understanding of the patient having the experience, and they awaken shortly thereafter.  Is this a Jungian concept of death and transformation manifest into a dream state brought on by incredible trauma and stress?  Or is the brain perceiving an external world which is triggered by this stress and trauma?

Dr. Persinger’s study has shown that those wearing the “god helmet,” a motorcycle with electrodes attached to it that bombard areas of the brain with specific magnetic frequency, can manifest any number of hallucinations ranging from speaking with dead relatives to seeing ghosts to actually feeling death and the experiences that follow.

But to say the god helmet can consistently explain the paranormal as a hallucination would be comparable to claiming that a television proves that the people on it were fictional.  Is it not possible for the experiences to parallel real experiences without necessarily proving or disproving the existence of these concepts outside of the self?