IEET > Rights > HealthLongevity > CognitiveLiberty > Vision > Contributors > Dirk Bruere > Enablement > Psychology > Neuroscience > Brain–computer-interface
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation - Creating Mystical States in the Temporal Lobe
Dirk Bruere   Jul 2, 2015   neopax.com  


TMS involves using a computer controlled array of electromagnetic coils placed on or close to the scalp and then activated in such a manner that magnetic “waves” stimulate neural activity in selected areas of the brain. There are essentially two types of TMS technology largely defined by the power levels used. A lot of contemporary research (circa 2005CE) uses extremely high power levels, in many cases involving peak powers flowing in the coils in the megawatt region, to directly “kick” the brain in selected locations.

Typically discharge currents are in the thousands of amps delivered in less than a millisecond by kilovolt capacitors for a total energy in the hundreds of joules. For example, such power levels are being looked at as a more benign replacement of the old and damaging Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT). Even though it may be more benign, it is certainly not totally safe as experimental subjects can suffer seizures or other side effects. Having said that, it is still a very safe technology given the number of adverse effects compared to the number of trials. The adverse effects have mostly been associated with repetitive high power pulses at the same kind of frequencies that cause fits in some people if delivered by a strobe light. A result not totally unexpected.


The other, earlier, type of TMS was investigated by Michael A. Persinger, Professor of Neuroscience at the Department of Psychology of Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada starting in the 1980s. He again used computer-controlled electromagnetic fields created in coils placed next to the head, but at far lower power levels. So much lower, in fact, that most people did not at first believe that there should be any effect whatsoever. This was because the field strength used was only a fraction of the naturally occurring geomagnetic fields to which we are all continuously subjected. He used field strengths of around five micro-Tesla (5μT), about ten percent of the Earth’s field that is normally around 50μT-60μT. The key difference though was in the modulation. Under normal conditions the Earth’s field is fairly stable (although there are exceptions), but Persinger’s fields varied quite rapidly.

He has hypothesized that the sequences of pulses he used actually communicate in a crude fashion with the brain by mimicking naturally occurring neural patterns, altering its information flow and the way the individual perceives themselves and their environment. The temporal structures of the waveforms were derived from observed neuroelectrical profiles such as burst firing or long-term potentiating sequences1 that can be considered the prototypical basis of a major domain of brain activity.


Of particular interest is what happens when the temporal lobe is stimulated. This is apparently responsible for much of the feeling associated with mystical states. In fact, it has long been known that temporal lobe epilepsy results in visions, hallucinations, feelings of strange presences both angelic and demonic and trance states. Transcranial stimulation can to a limited extent also trigger such effects, with reports that around 80% of people experience a sense of invisible presence and around 1% experience intense phenomena detailed below. Persinger has hypothesized a link between EM anomalies and phenomena such as hauntings and UFO sightings (Tectonic Strain Theory – where micro-earthquakes cause local electrical and magnetic fields to fluctuate and hence induce both ionization of air and also hallucinations). Subsequently he has done a great deal of laboratory based experimental work in this area that is of direct interest and relevance to the TechnoMage community.


So, what does being exposed to such fields actually feel like? One famous account is that of psychologist Susan Blackmore when she was at Persinger’s laboratory. In her own words:

“It felt for all the world as though two hands had grabbed my shoulders and yanked me upright… I felt as though I had been stretched halfway up to the ceiling. Then came the emotions, Totally out of the blue, but intensely and vividly, I suddenly felt angry. Later… I was terrified.”

He noted that there were many points of similarity between seizures experienced by some individuals who suffered from epilepsy, and the types of mental and spiritual experiences of many religious mystics. He wondered if visions, a sense of the immediate presence of God, and other mystical experiences could be artificially created in the laboratory by magnetically inducing changes in the temporal lobes of a person’s brain. He notes that:

“The deep structures of the temporal lobe are electrically unstable and sensitive to all sorts of things, including the biochemistry of stress, psychological distress, insufficient oxygen, and fasting. That could explain why, when mystics go through self-induced stressful rituals and yogis go to high mountaintops and fast, they report transcendental events.”

Regions deep within the temporal lobes, such as the amygdala and hippocampus, are strongly associated with the regulation of emotions and are highly unstable electrically. For example, many gestures reflect the amygdala’s turmoil. In an anxious meeting we may unconsciously flex our arms, lean away, or angle away from people who upset us. Lip, neck, and shoulder muscles may tense as the amygdala activates brain-stem circuits designed to produce protective facial expressions and postures. The amygdala also prompts releases of adrenaline and other hormones into the blood stream, thus stepping-up an avoider response and disrupting the control of rational thought. The hippocampus, on the other hand, plays a role in memory, spatial awareness and navigation. Similarly, higher field strengths and different pulse modulation may affect other areas of the brain.


Persinger developed the hypothesis2 that people who have experienced above average numbers of complex partial epileptic-like experiences might experience a “proximal presence” during an experiment in which weak modulated magnetic fields were applied either to their right hemisphere, or to both hemispheres. Under controlled conditions, his lab has induced perceptions of mystical and paranormal events, including visitations by gods, demons, and abductions by alien creatures, or so it seemed to the subjects. Experience of these strange beings and mystical encounters are typical of mini-seizures, or micro-seizures, in the temporal area called Temporal Lobe Transients, (TLTs). Some individuals are more susceptible because their temporal lobes are more electrically unstable.

The theory is that when the right hemisphere of the brain is stimulated in the cerebral regions presumed to control notions of self, the left hemisphere, seat of language, is called upon to make sense of this non-existent entity and consequently interprets it as a sensed presence. Support for this interpretation of what might be occurring “in the field” (no pun intended) was provided by the work of Dr Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire, UK. He and his colleagues carried out tests on two places believed to be haunted, Hampton Court Palace (Surrey, England) and the South Bridge Vaults (Edinburgh, Scotland). They asked volunteers to make a note of places in the building where they had encountered any unusual experiences.


Almost seven hundred volunteers took part in the studies, reporting any strange or eerie feelings they had while walking through the Vaults or the Palace. Results revealed significantly more reports of unusual experiences in areas that had a reputation for being haunted. This effect was not related to the participant’s prior knowledge about the reputation of these areas. However, the location of participants experiences correlated significantly with various environmental factors, including, for example, the variance of local magnetic fields and lighting levels. Paul Stevens, one of the researchers involved in the study, suggests that different people may respond differently to the same cues and that the mechanisms by which environmental factors can affect humans are not completely understood. Additionally that faint, unconscious change in a person’s physiology in response to subtle signals can alter their emotional interpretations of the environment. Another explanation could be that the magnetic fields caused by the intersection of two or more Ley lines in the haunted place would affect our senses and feeling in such a way. This assumes, of course, that Ley lines really do mark abnormalities in the Earth’s magnetic field.


It is at this point that skeptics will stop, having supposedly wrapped up and disposed of the whole set of phenomena with a plausible medical explanation. Except, of course, for one or two minor details. The first problem is the question of why we have the capacity to experience such mystical states. The notion that such phenomena can be dismissed as a pathological condition of a malfunctioning brain does leave a few loose ends. First, stimulating other areas of the brain, such as that associated with smell, will create phantom smells. If one were to use the argument of the sceptics we could similarly dismiss the whole notion of smell. Or, in fact, pretty much every mental state from emotions to those that process the senses, to intellect. Second, if the condition were indeed pathological it would likely have been weeded out during the evolutionary process, unless the genetics have beneficial effects either direct or indirect. Of course, one can say the same of (say) schizophrenia, which while apparently a malfunction is nevertheless seemingly correlated with creativity. The standard interpretation is that the shaped fields interacting with areas of the brain create the illusion of a spiritual presence. However two alternative views exist albeit minority ones which are rather less scientific.


The first is that the stimulation can result in an opening into different realities that is no illusion at all. That what we have is a device that can open a portal in the mind to other realms. After all, the electrical instability and sensitivity of parts of the temporal lobe is exactly what we might expect of an organ that has evolved to detect extremely weak signals amplified biologically from the quantum level. Despite this a more plausible middle way, in keeping with the major thrust of this work, is that unusual Agents are being stimulated and brought to conscious attention due to the electrosmog sensitizing parts of the brain. Whether either interpretation is amenable to experimental verification remains to be seen, although if genuine Psi phenomena were to be confirmed beyond doubt it would be a big boost for the “sensitive organ” theory. What may well be true, however, is that people who are psychically gifted might perform better under exposure to such fields given that it appears to sensitize occult faculties – hence the interest of the mage.


Another problem is that of the poltergeist and physical manifestations in consensus reality. Here all the skeptic can offer is outright dismissal. What we can do now is extend Persinger’s theories to incorporate the above physical elements. Hopefully it can illustrate what is happening, predict likely effects and offer a possible experimental opportunity to further our knowledge in this field.


The list of manifestations reported in hauntings is fairly well defined. They start at vague feelings of unease or the sense of a presence, move on to auditory phenomena, occasionally smells are reported, then temperature variations which occasionally end in the intense physical effects associated with poltergeist activity. Most rare is the classic apparition, especially if it involves multiple witnesses. Temporal lobe activity stimulated by EM fields could quite easily account for the more subjective manifestations involving most of the above, but not ones involving demonstrable physical effects. Even so, there may not be a hard distinction between the two types when EM fields are involved.


The premise is simple – namely environmental EM fields can stimulate the brain in particularly sensitive individuals to create the effects described, but additionally the brain can take relatively minor effects and amplify them in the manner of a séance, especially when a group of people are involved. The EMI acts as a trigger, and is not necessarily an ongoing causative factor. The idea that the EM energy itself can directly cause poltergeist effects does not stand up to scrutiny. The energies involved are quite tiny compared to that which is required to move anything substantial, and in addition non conductive, non magnetic and fairly massive materials have been reported as moving.

So a typical haunting might begin as follows. An EM hotspot is created in a particular area or part of a dwelling. It may be a combination of weather, geography, local radio frequency transmissions, certain electrical apparatus being used, and so on. Someone who is particular sensitive enters the area and experiences the feelings associated with the temporal lobe being or other areas of the brain being stimulated, particularly that of there being a “strange presence”. This then gets “talked up” into a ghost when this is discussed with other people, particularly family members, and especially any children or other suggestible people. This effect is well known and is referred to as contagious psychogenic illness – that is, the technical term for what is usually referred to as mass hysteria.

However, in some cases the process does not stop there. What then develops, with or without the hotspots providing ongoing stimulation, is a séance-like effect where each (family) member adds to the realism of the initially vague and subjective phenomenon. This then triggers further effects, this time more objective, in the form of sounds and other psychokinetic effects that can be perceived by more than one person. The amplification effect appears to be particularly powerful if there are adolescents involved. It has long been hypothesized that this is because the hormonal changes and inner psychological tensions involved facilitate (involuntary) access to mental states necessary for the manifestations of psychic phenomena. The idea that the correct EM fields alone could induce just such propitious tensions in non-adolescents is not beyond the realms of possibility. There is in fact some evidence3 for this theory, or at least the notion of EM hotspots that would serve as triggers.

To quote from the cited report:

“Magnetic field measurements for power frequencies were measured continuously over two 24-hr. periods for a small house in which two adults who exhibited above normal occurrences of complex partial epileptic-like experiences had reported “waves of fear”, tactile sensations, nightmares, apparitions, and a sensed presence. The experiences occurred within an area in which irregular amplitude modulations between 1 micro T and 5 micro T (50 mG) from 60-Hz sources, with durations of a few seconds to several tens of seconds, were measured. This case suggests that transient, complex temporal patterns of power-frequency magnetic fields generated by less than optimal grounding in dwellings and telluric currents may be sufficient to evoke experiences in the brains of sensitive individuals. Cultural labels, applied by the experiments, then affect the explanations and expectancies for these experiences.”

Given the above, there are a number of predictions we can make. The first is again simple, namely, the more EMI electrosmog in the environment, the more “supernatural” activity will be reported. On the largest scale this means that over the past century hauntings will have increased as the use of the EM spectrum has expanded and the number of electrical gadgets in the home has increased. The first increase would come with mains wiring and radio, then televisions, vacuum cleaners and washing machines, then latterly computers and mobile phones with their support infrastructure. Unfortunately this simple prediction is complicated by one fact, that only certain modulations and frequencies of EM field are likely to have the kind of effects we are looking for. As for what they are, not enough work has been done as of the present time to enumerate more than a fraction of them. Only the lowest frequencies and simplest modulations as used in the transcranial experiments have been publicly investigated. Ongoing investigations into the effects of the use of mobile phones, which are typically held against the head for extended periods, have produced mixed results which are naturally contested by those with vested interests in a very lucrative market.


Typically when certain types of machinery, especially those containing inductive elements such as motors or transformers are switched on and off they can take or create large current and voltage spikes on the power supply lines. This in turn can propagate back along those mains power lines to the local electricity substation. In areas of heavy industry this can be a severe problem unless machinery complies with statutory directives limiting such noise. The effects can range from interference with sensitive electronic devices connected on the same local grid, for example televisions and computers, to tripping circuit breakers and causing blackouts.

Even some apparently innocuous domestic equipment causes such interference, most notably old style lamp dimmers that chopped the mains rather than switched at the zero crossing point, which is why strict limits were placed on the amount of power they were allowed to control. Equipment designed to (say) European Union directives on EMI and immunity specify that domestic devices should be able to withstand transients that peak at several thousand volts. Such enormous peak voltages are not uncommon on domestic power lines. However, such spikes seldom come in the kind of precise pulse trains that are known to trigger psychogenic effects of the type described. Nevertheless, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that occasionally such unlikely events will occur by chance.


Alternatively it might be worth trying to correlate hauntings with both natural features and unnatural ones such as transmitters, power lines and areas where heavy industrial machinery is active. Whether anyone has done this, or whether sufficient data beyond the anecdotal even exists, is unknown.

 

Dirk Bruere attended Nottingham University and later what is now Westminster University, and has a BSc in Physics. He is currently a founder member and head of the Phi Division at Zero State (ZS).



COMMENTS No comments

YOUR COMMENT Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Stoicism in the Post-Singularity Future

Previous entry: B. J. Murphy - New IEET Affiliate Scholar