|The Koren Helmet uses a snowmobile
helmet to hold it's magnetic coils in place.
Helmet is a popular name given to a laboratory apparatus
more correctly called the "Koren Helmet", after Stanley Koren of Laurentian University's Neuroscience Department,
who built it according to specifications provided by Dr. M.A. Persinger, it's director.
Used as a research tool to investigate the brain's role in religious and mystic experiences, the Koren Helmet has
been given the name God Helmet. A few Journalists gave it this name when they learned that some people had visions
of God while participating in Koren Helmet experiments. The name has stuck.
The Koren Helmet
applies complex (having an irregular shape) magnetic signals to the head of the person who is wearing it. The fields
don't work by inducing current in the brain. They have patterns that bear information, and magnetic fields that
appear from the electrical activity in the brain pick up the information.
|It's a field-to-field interaction, and not current
induction. The fields pass into the brain,
unaffected by the scalp or skull, because there is no such thing as a magnetic insulator. Nothing can block a magnetic
field 1 2. Some psychologists, not understanding this, have mistakenly claimed
that the fields used in the God Helmet aren't strong enough to reach the brain. Magnetic fields pass "through
all head structures with no attenuation and can stimulate the brain without discomfort" reference. Further
Helmet is connected to a PC computer through a 'black
box' that cycles the signals through four coils on each side of the head, above over the place where the temporal
lobes of the brain meet the parietal lobes. This is the area of the brain many researchers feel is the source of
spiritual and religious experiences link.
This illustration shows how the signal shifts from one coil to the next. This is a side view. There is also another
set of coils working on the other side. The two coils at the top are no longer used.
The sessions are done in an Acoustic Chamber - a completely silent room. A large part of the temporal lobes ongoing
activity is dedicated to monitoring ambient sound. The temporal lobes are the source of religious and mystic experiences,
so that silence helps a great deal in creating them in the lab. The same chamber also has a layer of electromagnetic
insulation, so that the ambient energy emitted from lab equipment, cell phone towers, and computer monitors is
screened out. Because magnetic fields can still pass through this
|screen (a Faraday
Cage), the God Helmet research has included some
interesting discoveries about the earth's magnetic field.
|Stanley Koren shows us the most recent
version of the God Helmet, which no longer has a helmet shell. The unused coils have been removed.
||I asked Dr. Persinger how many people had seen God using
the Koren Helmet, and this is what he said in reply:
"The problem is producing an environment in which people will report what they experience without anticipating
ridicule on the one hand and not encouraging this type of report (demand characteristics) on the other.
Thus far, about 20 or so people have reported feeling the presence of Christ or even seeing him in the chamber
(The acoustic chamber where the experimental sessions took place). Most of these people used Christ and God interchangeably.
Most of these individuals were older (30 years or more) and religious (Roman Catholic). One male, age about 35
years old (alleged atheist but early childhood RC (Roman Catholic) training), saw a clear apparition (shoulders
and head) of Christ staring him in the face. He was quite "shaken" by the experience. I did not complete
a follow-up re: his change in behavior. Of course these are all reports. What we did find with one world-class
psychic who experiences Christ as a component of his abilities was we could experimentally increase or decrease
his numbers of his reported experiences by applying the LTP pattern (derived from the hippocampus) over the right
hemisphere (without his awareness).
| The field on-response delay was about 10 to 20 sec. The
optimal pattern, at least for this person, looked very right hippocampal. By far most presences are attributed
to dead relatives, the Great Forces, a spirit, or something equivalent.
The attribution towards along a devil to angel continuum appears strongly related to the affect (pleasant-terror)
associated with the experience. I suspect most people would call the "vague, all-around-me" sensations
"God" but they are reluctant to employ the label in a laboratory. The implicit is obvious. If the equipment
and the experiment produced the presence that was God, then the extrapersonal, unreachable and independent characteristics
of the god definition might be challenged."
That's the important thing about the God Helmet. Even if only a few people saw God because of it, it creates a
host of new questions - questions theology has never had to face before.
||The experiences of those who have come face-to-face with God
might just be an example of a very rare brain activity. If they actually met the true God, then why did they do
so in this experimental setting, but not at other times? Can one control God by controlling someone's brain?
The implications for theology are obvious. Perhaps God exists, but has been waiting until humanity developed enough
to find him in the brain before he would appear under any circumstances humans could control. Perhaps God exists
only in our brains. Perhaps he exists, and chose to bless 1% of Dr. Persinger's research subjects with visions
of him, because these people were beloved to him.
Perhaps he exists, but he appears to those with the right neural history in moments when the right pattern of brain
activity is present, and not according to what he sees in their hearts.
|There is much more to the God Helmet than just the Koren Helmet
alone. There is also a computer program called complex, authored by Stanley Koren, which allows the computer to
create the signals. These signals are derived from EEG traces that appear in certain parts of the brain. Just as
the brain responds to chemicals with specific shapes, it also responds to magnetic signals with certain shapes.
Because these signals are complex, irregular things, it takes a special computer program to produce them.
A third component is the acoustic - completely silent - chamber where the sessions take place. The last component
is the 'black box' which converts output from the computer into input for the Koren Helmet. This box (not shown)
is a specialized DAC (digital-to-analog converter). It's the core of the technology. The rest of the components
of the God Helmet are quite common.
|Another part of the experiment is that the subjects are told
they're going to participate in a relaxation experiment. This makes them expect to relax, but without telling them
what's going to happen. The God Helmet doesn't work as well when the subjects are tense.
|The DAC produces the signals that are fed to the magnetic coils
(called "solenoids" in the scientific papers). FIrst, one signal is fed to the right side of the brain,
and then another signal is fed to both sides. When the signals are changed halfway through the experimental session,
the corresponding shift in brain activity can create a religious experience.
The God Helmet is a misleading name. It gives the impression that it can produce the experience of God on demand.
In fact, only one percent of the subjects had the experience. In contrast to the one percent who saw God, 80% of
the subjects felt a presence of some kind, but did not call it God. Of course, there were probably some subjects
who experienced an appearance of God, but were shy about saying they had seen God in a laboratory. That kind of
thing is not only intensely personal, but can also get you ridiculed.
If you saw god, would you tell your story, just as it happened, if you thought you weren't going to be taken seriously?
A lot of people assume that, just because someone wears a lab coat, they won't believe such a vision can happen,
or that they'll think it's a sign of mental illness. Nothing could be further from the truth in this laboratory,
but how would these subjects know that? They had been told they would be participating in an experiment to study
relaxation response, and the experimenters were very careful not to encourage such glamorous reports.
The Koren Helmet has also produced visions of
demonic beings, out-of-body experiences, visions of other realities, and a range of other paranormal experiences.
It could have been named after any of them, but journalists prefer more sensational names, and you can't get more
sensational than God.
One question that comes up often about the Koren Helmet is whether it's possible to obtain one. The Koren Helmet
is found only in the laboratory where it was made, and is not available to the public. However, a PC version of
the God Helmet,
Shiva Neural Stimulation System, does exist.
The Koren Helmet has more coils than are actually used in experiments. The two on the top are no longer in use,
and the one in the center - between the four over each temporal lobe - is also no longer used. They are still on
the helmet, but they no longer output anything.
|A picture of the sign on the door to the
laboratory. The names are in alphabetical order by first name.
A Few Lab Reports:
of dialog (from audiotape) from subjects participating in these experiments. Source
A Middle-aged professional journalist. Chirp signal applied over the right side.
"I see shadows along my left side . . . there is someone touching my left side . . . there is a flash of light
. . . a tunnel experience. I feel as if I am shrinking and expanding. There is a tingling inside of my thigh .
. . sexual excitement. There's a cold rush (subject shivered; EEG showed paroxysmal activity). I see a visual...
it's an apparition."
A 21-year-old female with history of diabetes. Amygdala signal applied over both sides
"I felt a presence behind me and then along the left side. When I tried to focus on its position, the presence
moved. Every time I tried to sense where it was, it moved around. When it moved to the right side, I experienced
a deep sense of security like I had not experienced before. I started to cry when I felt
it slowly fade away" (the field parameters had been changed).
A 30-year-old woman. Chirp signal applied over the right side
"I feel detached from my body. I am floating up . . . there is a kind of vibration moving through my sternum
. . . there are odd lights or faces along my left side. My body is becoming very hot. . . . tingling sensations
in my chest and stomach . . . now both arms. There is something feeling my ovaries. I can
feel my left foot jerk. I feel there is someone in the room behind me."
A 25-year-old man, childhood history of three "mild" head injuries. Chirp signal applied over both sides
"I feel as if there was a bright white light in front of me. I saw a black spot that became a kind of funnel
. . . no tunnel that I felt drawn into. I felt moving, like spinning forward through it. I began to feel the presence
of people, but I could not see them; they were along my sides. They were colorless, grey-looking. I know I was
in the chamber but it was very real. I suddenly felt intense fear and felt ice cold."
Common Themes in God Helmet Reports.
The most frequent themes and events reported or displayed by subjects who were asked to press one of two hand buttons
when they felt a presence while being exposed to successive sequences of different magnetic field patterns over
the right hemisphere or periods of no field. These themes occurred when the fields were present.
1. A dark, ominous force looming right above the person (as if it was going to descend).
2. A feeling of suffocation or pressure on the chest.
3. The sensation of "blacker than black" during brief periods within a minute of the onset of a specific
4. Re-experiencing previous altered states, such as haunts, kundalini, and psychotropic drug experiences. (These
individuals had not experienced the unusual events again until they were exposed to the fields.)
5. About 20% of the participants who clicked one or two buttons indicating they were experiencing a sensed presence
had no memory of the experience about 15 to 20 min later.
6. Religious figures, images of "priests," and, human skeletons, occurred as "flickering" but
Persinger MA. "Experimental facilitation of the sensed presence is predicted by the specific patterns of the
applied magnetic fields, not by suggestibility: re-analyses of 19 experiments." International
Journal of Neuroscience. 2006 Sep;116(9):1079-96. Link