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The Sydney Morning Herald

God Helmet gives wearers a transcendental experience

Author: Deborah Smith SCIENCE EDITOR
Date: 15/05/2010
Words: 659
Source: SMH
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Page: 11
WHEN Lone Frank first donned the God Helmet - a controversial, big yellow crash helmet that magnetically stimulates the brain - she felt nothing.

The Danish neurobiologist and author comforted herself that she was in good company. Richard Dawkins, the renowned atheist, had also been unmoved by the experiment.

"Maybe you have to be a little religious to be able to imagine something," she thought.

But on the second magnetic pulse she began to sense that someone else was in the room.

An eerie and threatening Gollum-like creature seemed to be crawling around out of sight, "like he might reach up and touch me at any moment", and fear gripped her.

Others who have tried the God Helmet at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Canada, have had more transcending experiences.

Catholics tend to see visions of the Virgin Mary, Muslims have met the prophet Muhammad and Native Americans have sensed spirits, according to Dr Frank, author of the book, Mindfield.

The helmet is just one of a range of neuroscience techniques being used increasingly to explore religious experience.

Brain scans of meditating Tibetan Buddhist monks and praying Catholic Franciscan nuns have been carried out, and people with epilepsy who get divine revelations have been studied, she said.

Her conclusion? "The existence of God does not become more evident with time. To the contrary, the data is overwhelmingly indicating that the sacred is found between the ears."

Dr Frank, a journalist at the Danish newspaper Weekendavisen, who will be a speaker at the Sydney Writers' Festival, makes the case in her book that the world is "on the threshold of a neuroscience revolution".

Understanding patterns of activity in our 100 billion brain cells is set not only to transform our understanding of faith, but also economic decision-making, morality, addiction, love, violence, law enforcement, marketing and happiness.

To gather evidence, she visited many of the leading researchers around the world developing brain scans to detect if people are lying, to work out why consumers prefer one brand of cola to another and to fathom what it means to trust a stranger.

Her impressions of the scientists feature in the book. "The way they are informs their science," she told the Herald from Denmark. And, where possible, she tried to convince the researchers to test out her own brain.

Some conclusions she finds sad. "Research is indicating that what we call trust apparently reflects nothing more than the expectation of being rewarded." Happiness, too, could have a lot to do with which side of your brain is more active. She foresees important debates. "Should it be legal to invade our brains and reveal our thoughts and feelings to employers, insurance agents or presiding magistrates?"

Some pushy parents might even want to force their children into brain scanners to get insights into their true potential.

Her appraisal of the future is overridingly a positive one, driven in part by her own "epiphany" when treated for depression in her mid-thirties. "With a professional life that was a catastrophe and private life that was a fiasco", she found herself sinking into hopelessness.

The fact that a drug returned her to normality confirmed that feelings and moods were "just chemistry", and a person's sense of self could change without the outside world changing.

The neuroscience revolution will liberating, she said, by revealing how primitive emotions that often direct our decisions need not necessarily be obeyed.

"Life is not so much about finding yourself, but choosing yourself." she said.

FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

Songs for Stories: Indigenous Literacy Project Benefit Concert, May 15: Music, words and indigenous dance featuring Josh Pyke, Katie Noonan, David Malouf.

Forgiveness, May 22: Stephanie Dowrick and Premier Kristina Keneally talk about public and private attitudes to forgiveness.

An Evening with John Ralston Saul, May 20:

The Canadian essayist discusses his classic work, The Collapse of Globalism.

Closing Address: Peter Carey, May 23: The multi-winning award winning author delivers the closing address.

For information:

9252 7729 or www.swf.org.au

Arts  Page 15

FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

_ Songs for Stories: Indigenous Literacy Project Benefit Concert, May 15: Music,words and indigenous dance featuring Josh Pyke, Katie Noonan, David Malouf.

_ Forgiveness, May 22: Stephanie Dowrick and Premier Kristina Keneally talk about public and private attitudes to forgiveness.

_ An Evening with John Ralston Saul, May 20: The Canadian essayist discusses his classicwork, The Collapse of Globalism.

_ ClosingAddress: Peter Carey, May 23: The multiwinning award winning author delivers the closing address.

For information: 9252 7729 or www.swf.org.au

 
 

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