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?
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
"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:
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
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
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
The Omnipotent Opiate
Some First-order Proctections Against Cult Mania
Things to Come
Appendix: TM Data Pool
Robert E. McGrath
mcgrath at cs.uiuc.edu