You might remember reading, a few years ago, about some controversial claims made by Dr. Michael Persinger, who was researching how repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) – putting really strong magnets over specific areas of people’s brains – could create different sensory experiences. Including, he said, the experience of being in the same room with God (or the Higher Power of your choice). Well, Scientific American is announcing that the God helmet is back:
Although release of frontal lobe control may be involved in the mystical experience, Beauregard believes such profound states also call on a wide range of other brain functions. To determine exactly what might underlie such phenomena, the Quebecois neuroscientist and his colleagues used fMRI to study the brains of 15 nuns during three different mental states. Two of the conditions—resting with closed eyes and recollecting an intense social experience—were control states against which they compared the third: reminiscence or revival of a vivid experience with God.
As each nun switched between these states on a technician’s cue, the MRI machine recorded cross sections of her brain every three seconds, capturing the whole brain roughly every two minutes. Once the neural activity was computed and recorded, the experimenters compared the activation patterns in the two control states with those in the religious state to elucidate the brain areas that became more energized during the mystical experience. (Although Beauregard had hoped the nuns would experience a mystical union while in the scanner, the best they could do, it turned out, was to conjure up an emotionally powerful memory of union with God. “God can’t be summoned at will,” explained Sister Diane, the prioress of the Carmelite convent in Montreal.)
The researchers found six regions that were invigorated only during the nuns’ recall of communion with God.
They’re mapping out brain regions responsible for feelings of oneness with everything. This way to cosmic bliss.