Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Persinger's work with God helmet

Anyone - atheist or believer - wanting to learn about Persinger's work and the basic insights of neuro-theology should listen the extremely inspiring talk God and the Brain - The Persinger 'God Helmet', The Brain, and visions of God by Todd Murphy. Persinger's work (for refereces to the articles by Persinger and collaborators see the Wikipedia article about God helmet) suggests that the temporal pattern of the modulation of magnetic field strength (FM would be in question for slow variations) is important. We do not however know the "code". Also the strength of the magnetic field can be important. Note that the effects of very weak ELF em fields on vertebrate brain take place in amplitude windows.

The modulation of magnetic field would probably induce FM of cyclotron frequencies. The model for hearing suggests this kind of modulation as a manner to represents the frequencies of the sound wave. Also phase information is very important: time reversed speech sounds very different as normal speech but has the same power spectrum. Modulations would be slow in the time scales defined by the audible frequency range. .1 seconds would represent lower limit for the variation rate of modulation. Audible frequencies above 20 Hz.

1. God helmet

God helmet or Koren helmet named after its inventor is the device used by Persinger and collaborators to study the effects of magnetic field on consciousness. Transcranial magnetic stimulation is not in question: TCMS uses fields of order Tesla whereas Persinger uses magnetic fields with strength of order .01 Gauss. This is 2 per cent of the nominal value of Earth's magnetic field. There is a coil above both temporal lobes and the active coil rotates counterclockwise.

  1. At the first stage the coil above right temporal lobe rotates counterclockwise. A chirp sequence is used. Chirp means use of an oscillating magnetic field with maximum amplitude about 1 microTesla with oscillation frequency going gradually down. The interpretation is that right-brain self is activated and dominates conscious experiences. The experiences have negative emotional coloring and sometimes the subject person has even fearful experiences.

  2. At second stage both coils rotate counterclockwise. The signal is derived from amygdala and hippocampal EEG. Faraday cage is used to eliminate external electromagnetic perturbations and also sensory deprivation is necessary (subject person is blind-folded and in an acoustic chamber). Earth's magnetic field is present, which might have relevance and is indeed used in experiments related to the hypothesis that the variations in Earth's magnetic field affect consciousness.

    A burst of left brain activity is reported to take place during second stage. Also visitor experience is reported to occur during this period. This can mean meeting of God/light being, of angels, of deceased or of group of "beings", or just sense the presence of some conscious entity. A strong sense of meaning can accompany the experience. 80 per cent of subjec persons experience at least the sense of presence.

2. Persinger's experiments and cyclotron frequencies

A more quantitative description of the God helmet experiment assuming that cyclotron frequencies are essential goes as follows.

  1. The field strength used by Persinger is of the order .01 Gauss and very weak and different from Bend=.2 Gauss which is .4BE with BE=.5 Gauss the nominal value of the Earth's magnetic field. Cyclotron frequencies are by a factor of order 1/20 smaller than for Bend. This gives .75 Hz for Ca++.

    From this it is clear that the changes of cyclotron frequencies would be small in static external field in Persinger's experiments and could be treated as a small perturbation. External magnetic field could superpose with Bend=.2 Gauss and affect cyclotron states and induce transitions between them. This would induce effects on EEG visible as frequency modulations. It seems that the period for the oscillation of B must be longer than cyclotron period for this picture to make sense.

  2. One expects a fractal hierarchy of field strengths for endogenous magnetic fields and B≈ .01 Gauss could correspond to higher levels of consciousness so that cyclotron frequencies for these fields would be important. In this case the external magnetic field would not be a small perturbation. The cyclotron frequencies of DNA strand carrying charge density of 2 elementary charges per nucleotide from the phosphates depend only weakly on the length of DNA strand and are about 1 Hz in Bend. Could the cyclotron radiation from cyclotron states associated with the external magnetic field induce interaction with DNA cyclotron states in field Bend=.2 Gauss?

  3. Consider next the time scales. The stimulation of right brain lasts during the first stage last about half an hour. There are however many lacking bits of data.

    1. In what range are the values of the rotation frequency for the magnetic field? ELf frequencies are used. If EEG frequencies are in question the rotation should be slower what the lowest EEG frequency involved and below 1 turn per second.

    2. The rotated magnetic field is time dependent. Chirp sequences are used to stimulate temporal lobe. What is the duration of single chirp and the frequency range covered during chirp? A good guess is that the frequency range is that of EEG. The natural expectation is that the duration of chirp is much longer than the periods in the frequency range considered. This would mean that one scan entire frequency range and that it makes sense to say that the changes of frequency during chirp is slow as compared to the instantaneous frequency.

    3. EEG signals from left amygdala or hippocampus are used to stimulate both temporal lobes during the second stage. This means that their natural frequency scale should be in the range 1-100 Hz. These time scales would be shorter than the time scale of order 1 second assignal to Ca++. This suggests that small aplitude modulation of the cyclotron frequencies in EEG range is in question. The signals sent to the magnetic body would be determined by this modulation and at least in the second stage this modification would carry information.

3. Persinger's explanation

Persinger's own explanation for the findings relies on what might be called neurotheology.

  1. The basic claim of Persinger is that the experiences in question are produced by brain so that meeting of God would not be real. Todd Murphy emphasizesthat it is actually impossible to conclude anything about the existence or non-existence of God on basis of these experiments. He however claims that evolution would have developed for brain the ability to produce visions of God which often accompany near death experiences and make it easier to accept the unavoidablity of the biological death. The reader can decide whether these two statements are consistent or not.

  2. The general idea is that both right and left amygdala, which are the most sensitive parts of the brain because the membrane potential is nearest to the threshold for nerve pulse generation. The right hippocampus is assumed to be responsible for non-verbal, "silent" thinking and left brain hemisphere to verbal thinking. This general picture is used by Todd Murphy to understand the conscious experiences accompanying death process about which near death experiences give a information. The experiences generated by God helmet during the first stage would be akin to the fearful emotions associated with near death experiences (NDE). The experiences during the second stage bring in mind the spiritual experiences accompanying death process and having strong positive emotional coloring.

  3. Persinger and Murphy propose that left amygdala is specialized to produce positive emotions (happiness, bliss, and even experience of encountering God or almost synonymously light being). Right amygdala would be specialized to produce negative emotions (such as fear and horror) and one can assign with it also depressive mood. This is not a generally accepted theory. If one accepts it, the natural question is whether right amygdala could serve as a kind of entropic dump pit and left amygdala as as a highly negentropic structure. The empirical data does not force the poor right amygdala to be a whole-daily sufferer.

Consider now the explanation of the experiences induced by God helmet. The lecture by Todd Murphy helps considerably in attempts to understand the gist of the explanation and also helsp to see its problematic aspects.

  1. The selves of right and left brain fuse in some sense to form single self normally. The nerve bundles connecting the brain hemispheres allowing communications between them are essential for this integration. Right brain self is assumed to be sub-ordinate for left brain self. Magnetic pulses during the first period decompose self to two pieces: one could call them right and left self.

  2. During the first stage the mental images from the right brain self become dominating and fearful experiences are due to the fact that right brain amygdala, which is specialized to produce negative emotions, is hyper-active. This phase is believed to break the connection between left and right brain hemispheres. The anecdotal evidence by Todd Murphy suggests a correlation between non-verbal mood of consciousness and negative emotions. One must be however very cautious because extreme fear and horror alone might make impossible not only verbal communication but any coherent action.

  3. During the second stage both left and right brain are stimulated and expected contribute to the mental images of self when the connection between the hemispheres is intact. If I have understood correctly, the proposal is that the splitting of self to separate selves induced during the first phase is present almost permanently during the second phase and that left brain self dominates.

  4. The temporary "intrusion" of the right hemisphere self to the consciousness of left brain self would give rise to visitor experience. Intrusions would mean occasional re-establishment of the connection between hemispheres. One can question the assumption that God experience and the sensed presence represent instances of the same basic experience due to the intrusion. One could also argue that sensed presence is a signal for the breakdown of the connection and is created by the realization that there is also another self using the same biological body.

  5. The model of Todd Murphy for near death experiences would be that right amygdala can give rise to extremely frightening experiences but that the flow of the information to left amygdala transforms this experience to its emotional opposite. The right hippocampus suggested to be responsible for "silent" thinking would be responsible to the experiences of deep meaningfulness and of understanding. To my opinion this picture is too complex and involves too many ad hoc assumptions.

Somehow my personal feeling is that this model is not quite correct. For instance, I do not understand the meaning "intrusion"? This could be of course be just my misunderstanding. Also the hypothesis about the specialization of left and right amygdala looks strange. In the next posting I will describe the TGD inspired interpretation of Persinger's findings.

For background and pdf version of the text see the new chapter TGD Based View about Classical Fields in Relation to Consciousness Theory and Quantum Biology of "TGD and EEG".


At 10:20 AM, Blogger Ulla said...

There are spams circulating, so I give the link here. Sleep and coma seems to be opposites! If sleep is inhibition?


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