God on the Brain; The God Helmet and How We Experience the Divine


By: Lisa Trank  |  Aug. 23, 2019

For most people, the search for God leads to a mosque, an ashram, a synagogue, or a church. For others, they head to a mountain top or a quiet, calm place seeking stillness and contemplation. But is it possible to experience God in the form of a helmet, like one would wear biking or skiing? Can divine experience be artificially triggered in our brains? Inventor Stanley Koren and neuroscientist Michael Persinger, as well as those who have been inspired by their work would answer, yes, it is possible. 

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Stanley Koren was a neuroscientist who developed what is known as the God Helmet based on the specifications created by Persinger. The helmet is an experimental object designed to study religious experiences and creativity, all through a subtle temporal lobe stimulation that impacts the part of the brain usually associated with how we understand God — the amygdala and hippocampus. The God, or Koren Helmet, merges science and religion into a research field that is dedicated to investigating what role the brain plays in religious, mystical, and creative experiences.

The God Helmet; How Does It Work?

The Koren Helmet utilizes a network of low intensity magnetic signals, or a field-to-field interaction onto the brain, mildly disrupting the brain which cause the left and the right side to communicate, specifically about a sensed, or religious presence. The experience of using the helmet highlights the brain’s central role to what is recognized as a deep spiritual embodiment, normally associated with activities such as prayer, fasting, or meditation. Sessions are held in the quiet of an acoustic chamber, or totally silent room with electromagnetic insulation. 

For Persinger, the brain is considered to be the key to understand religion, including the physiological causes, as well as, ways to replicate or train the brain to deepen the divine experience. According to Persinger, who tested the God Helmet on more than 600 subjects, up to 80 percent state that the mild disruption that the God Helmet provides created a “sensed presence,” a feeling subjects, both those who identified as believers and non-believers, described as religious, or spiritual. 

The Growing Field of Brain Helmet Stimulation: Science and Spirituality Merge

The God Helmet is part of a rich field of growing research in the field of brain stimulation that includes and extends beyond the medical field, including the TMS helmet, and more recently, the Neuroelectric Wireless Helmet. The neuroelectric wireless brain helmet measures and stimulates neurons with the goal being to diagnose and treat certain illnesses including epilepsy, severe depression, post-stroke rehabilitation, as well as PTSD in veterans, fostering brain neuroplasticity.

Unlike the God helmet, or the neuroelectric wireless brain helmet, transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, utilizes electronic currents in a noninvasive manner and are emitted from a magnetic coil that is attached to the scalp. Approved by the FDA, the TMS helmet applies varying levels of electronic charges which enter the brain waves themselves, with therapeutic results with neurological disorders and in mental health, most beneficially with those who suffer from severe depression. Yale University is among a number of medical teaching institutions that take the TMS helmet’s capacity to heal severe depression seriously, along with Johns Hopkins University.  

the God Helmet or Koren Helmet

The God Helmet courtesy wired.com

Beyond the brain helmets or apparati that are medically-focused, there are a number of other helmet therapies including the Experience Helmet. Created by Aiste Noreikaite, a London designer, the helmet transmits someone’s brain activity through a NeuroSky EEG, which then gets translated back into a programming language that plays meditative electronic sounds created by that person’s brain, resulting in a calm and contemplative state. 

Also created by Dr. Persinger, the Shiva Neural Stimulation system, or its replacement, the 8 Coil Shakti “Octopus,” represents a new generation designed to induce and awaken psychic perceptions, develop spiritual awareness, and is designed to heal anxiety, fear, depression, and anger.

Instead of a solid helmet, these systems are open-sided and circle the brain with a rapid magnetic signal at approximately nine times per second. The magnetic stimulation interacts with the cortical segment of the brain in the right hemisphere, the non-verbal thinking part of the brain. Users of this technology claim higher levels of spiritual awareness, psychic insights, or other more intuitive powers.

Sacred Neurology or Suggestibility? 

As with anything having to do with religion, the God helmet has plenty of skeptics, including biologist and the famously intractable materialist/atheist Richard Dawkins, who volunteered to test the machine in 2003. “I’ve always been curious to know what it would be like to have a mystical experience,” Dawkins said prior to the experiment. However, despite Dawkins’ curiosity, he experienced only slight dizziness and a tingling sensation in his leg.

Though if he really wanted to induce a mystical experience maybe he should have taken psychedelics — something Graham Hancock once pressed him on, to which he responded with receptivity before he referenced his failed experiment with the God Helmet: you can listen to their interaction here.

Despite this well-publicized outcome, Persigner was not discouraged, stating that some people are simply more genetically disposed to the “sensed feeling” associated with God. Other criticisms of the God Helmet and accompanying research have included the suggestibility of the subjects, who were aware in advance how the God helmet worked, casting doubt on the authenticity of the research. 

The God Helmet: Proof of a ‘God’ Gene?

The God Helmet is part of a body of scientific research dedicated to exploring the existence of a “God” gene, or a genetic component that shows a biologically driven religious tendency toward frequent prayer and a strong felt presence of the divine. Persinger was himself inspired by research conducted in the 1950s by Wilder Penfield, who studied people with epilepsy. During surgery, Penfield electronically stimulated various parts of the brain and recorded the patients’ sensation which included hearing voices and seeing visions. 

While not without critics, the God Helmet is responsible for a new understanding of the complexity that is our brain function, one that goes far beyond what we’ve previously imagined, as well as adding to the body of scientific research devoted to how the sacred exists in our biology. Could the sensed presence of God be developed, regardless of one’s religious beliefs, upbringing, or genetics, by simply slipping on a hard-cased helmet? The implications are many, but one of the most obvious ones is that the God Helmet could forever change our understanding and relationship to what we have thought of as a higher power.

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