Just watched BBC2 Horizon program “God on the Brain”. First half was all about how temporal lobe epilepsy can lead to religious visions & experiences. They had the eminent (but hard to spell) neuropsychologist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran descirbing how it is notable that various religious figures had symptoms and revelations similar to those epilepsy, but diplomatically letting us draw our own conclusions.
The second half featured Michael Persinger, another neuroscientist, who mimics this excess electrical activity with electro-magnets, giving ordinary people these same ineffable feelings of spiritual visitation. They tried it on Richard Dawkins but failed to ‘haunt’ him.
Also, told the story of an electro-exorcism Persinger had performed on a young girl who suffered very vivid hauntings as she tried to sleep. With nothing more than an induction loop, a laptop computer and a few fast fourier transforms they were able to discover the strong source of EMF’s coming from her clock radio; removing it removed the ghosts.
All very interesting but only half as weird as the prurient detail they missed out. A little further research reveals the BBC to have been a little bit Reithian and puritanical in their Bowdlerisation of the story. Here’s the abstract to Prof. Persinger’s write up..
Experiences of spiritual visitation and impregnation: potential induction by frequency-modulated transients from an adjacent clock.
Persinger MA, Koren SA.
Department of Psychology, Laurentian University, Ontario, Canada.
A left-handed Roman Catholic female adolescent with a history of early brain trauma reported nightly visitations by a sentient being. During one episode she experienced vibrations of the bed, an external presence along the left side that moved into her body, inner vaginal (not clitoral) and uterine sensations, and the sense of being impregnated by a force she attributed to the Holy Spirit. After the latter experience she felt an invisible baby superimposed upon her left shoulder. Analyses of the measurements for magnetic anomalies within her bedroom indicated an electric clock about 20 cm from her head while she slept. The complex form of the 4 microT magnetic pulses generated by the clock was similar to shapes that evoke electrical seizures in epileptic rats and sensitive humans.