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Michael Persinger

Robert McGrath mcgrath at hyperius.cs.uiuc.edu
Thu Sep 23 20:06:43 EST 1993

dmn at kepler.unh.edu (There's a seeker born every minute.) writes:

>    A few years back, I read an article in _Omni_ (yes, I know, the 
>national inquirer of science...) about Michael A. Persinger, a neuroscientist
>from Canada (Univ. of the Laurentians?). Persinger claims that he
>can induce mystical or quasi-mystical states in patients via magnetic 
>stimulation of their temporal lobes. He believes mystical experiences are
>caused by micro-seizures in the brain. A book of his detailing this theory
>is _Neuropsychological (or physiological) Bases of God Beliefs_. 

>    Have any neurologists or psychologists heard of this man? Is he a 
>reputable neurologist? A quack? Is he ever referenced by others in the
>field? Does anyone know if he's still researching this sort of thing?  
>Any recent (1992 - present) articles by or about him in the journals?

> Pax,  

>  Dana

I asked Barry Beyerstein (a CSICOP affiliated neuroscientist) about 
Persinger.  BB knew of him and his students.  Persinger is a legitimate
scientist, and produces solid students.  But BB just "didn't know" about
some of the wilder stuff.

I've read some of his stuff and I think he draws conclusions way, way, beyond
the data he has.   I'm not a neuro- specialist, but here is my summary of
what I saw.

Some of his claims are:

  1.  He has studied "micro-seizures" of the temporal lobes.  This is sort of
  like invisible epilepsy.  Or maybe its normal for some people but noone 
  noticed it before.

  2.  He found that people who seem to have a lot of the spontaneous seizures 
  in the TL reported relatively many mystic/supernatural/etc. experiences.
  They also scored high on some paper and pencil tests allegedly measuring
  proneness to mystical experience.

Seizures of the TL could produce aspects of mystic experiences, particularly 
a general feeling of well being.  P. speculates that people who have these
seizures would have experiences they would interpret as mystic.  The 
correlations seem consitent with that idea.  Should we conclude that this
is the explantion for all mystical experience?  Probably not.

The stuff about magnetic fields is even less solid.  

  1.  P. says that EM fields can induce the micro-seizures.  (I don't know 
  if that is really true.)

  2.  P. notes that geomagnetic disturbances are observed in nature.

He then concludes, without any observations, that UFO sightings, ghosts,
and so on might be caused by geomagnetically induced siezures.  There are
plenty of other explanations for many of these experiences, so I won't buy
this hypothesis without direct proof that such things happen.

You can see the characteristic iffiness of hsi stuff:  he is working
with real, legitimate data, but he is hypothesizing awfully far.

I should note that P. was the coauthor of a great book which absoluted
massacred transcendental meditation.

Here is a blurb from that book:

  Michael A. Persinger, Normand J. Carrey, and Lynn Suess,
    _TM and Cult Mania_, The Christopher Publishing Houes, North Quincy
    Mass., 1980.
   "Claims of the TM effects are neither unique nor special but are the
   consequences of procedures associated with suggestion, placebo
   reactions, simple relaxation, neurotic belief, and the mislabeling of
   vauge emotional experiences.  In this book we investigate the precise
   psychological and social procedures by which this movement manipulates
   human behavior." p.7
   Table of Contents:
   1.  Introduction
   	TM: Trick or Treatment?
   	How Will (TM) Believers Respond to This Book?
   2.  The TM Movement:  "Same Stuff, Different Bag"
   	TM-Like Movements:  Symptoms of Social Change
   	The Coue Treatment:  Turn of the Century TM
   	The Emergence of TM
   	The TM Success
   3.  Flaws in the TM Experiments:  A Critical Evaluation
   	Failure to Control for Set Effects
   	Failure to Control for Expectancy of Relief
   	Failure to Control for Placebo/Suggestible-Prone Subjects
   	TM is not a Unique STate of Consciousness
   	The Mantra Is an Aritifact
   	No Comparitors
   	Solicited Testimonials
   	The Fasces Method or "Drown 'Em With Data Approach"
   	No Direct Verification
   	The Biased Experimenter
   4.  All TM Effects Can Be Produced By Suggestibility/Placebo
   	Misconceptions About Hypnosis as a Special State
   	Personality Characteristics of Very Responsive People
   	Factors Influencing "Hypnotic" Responses
   	Comparison of TM and Hypnotic/Placebo Effects
   	Are TM Adherents Just Highly Suggestible?
   	TM Conditioning as Stages in Suggestibility
   5.  The TM Sell Job
   	Proof by Numbers
   	Proof by Affirmation
   	The Einstein Sanction
   	Proof by Television
   	Proof by Lack of Disproof
   	TM Teachers: Portrait of Pseudotherapists
   	The Maharishi:  Manipulator of Images
   6.  The TM Word Games
   	Violation of Discourse Levels
   	Simplicity as Profound Understanding
   	The Use of Vague Terms
   	Proof by Paired Questin-Answer
   	Proof by Metaphor
   7.  TM as a REligion
   	TM Trasition into Religion
   	TM as a Protoreligion:  From High School to Hinduism
   8.  The Neurotic Believer Syndrome and TM
   	The Believer's Methods of Avoiding Madness
   	New Self, No Anxiety
   	Transitional Anxiety
   	Unfortunate Consequences of Neurotic Believers in Cult
   9.  TM:  Trigger to the Psychotic Prone?
   	The Problem of Psychosis
   	TM: Philosophy and Psychosis
   	Meditation and Psycholtic Triggering
   10.  Conclusion
   	The Omnipotent Opiate
   	Some First-order Proctections Against Cult Mania
   	Things to Come
   Appendix: TM Data Pool
   Selected Bibliography

  Robert E. McGrath
  Urbana Illinois
  mcgrath at cs.uiuc.edu

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