Psychology Of Religion: The God Helmet

Religious belief and experience fascinate me. Much of how we experience God is based on where we live and how we are brought up, but there are many common threads across the world of spirituality. I am also deeply interested in psychology and neuroscience, and in particular, the intersection in the new field of neuro-theology.

We know so little about the brain and consciousness, let alone what exists beyond the physical. All of this leads to my interest in the God Helmet, whose technology I modified to become the headsets in Prophecy. The crude device from Persinger’s experiment is shown right but nevertheless, stimulation of the temporal lobe using a low magnetic field has resulted in some people experiencing religious visions.

As  the character of Dr Maria Van Garre explains in my novel Prophecy, both sides of the religious debate claim a victory from the results. Atheists claim God is just a neuro-chemical response, and believers claim God put that area of the brain there so we can experience Him. I leave your own interpretation up to you.

You can read an article on Wired: This is your brain on God

This slightly sensational video [6:58 mins] is quite crude but you can get the basic sense of the experiment. I used some of the experiences in Prophecy.

If you want to explore this further, you might like these books (affiliate links to Amazon):

Fingerprints of God: What science is learning about the brain and spiritual experience – Barbara Hegarty (2009)

The God Gene: How faith is hardwired into our genes – Dean Hamer (2005)

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  1. says

    Couldn’t it just be that there is a part of our brain that was created specifically for interacting with the spiritual? And the ‘god helmet’ just manipulated that part to create a hallucination?

    This also doesn’t explain divine intervention or serendipitous events which occur outside of the mind but instead occur in the real world around us.

    While this could explain the ‘How’ of God’s work science can never explain the ‘Why’.

    • Joanna says

      Jessica, this is absolutely one explanation for it – and people obviously enter into this state without the Helmet. I believe we all have spiritual capacity so that part of the brain is definitely innate, but it’s fascinating that we could stimulate it from the outside.

  2. Bill says

    I wonder how this device might operate for a person of faith who is missing the right temporal aspect of their brain, that portion being the part most closely associated with the phenomenon it purports to encourage. I’m of course referring to myself as I haven’t had that part of my brain for 25 years because of epilepsy surgery and yet I seem to have had no interruption in my walk of faith.

    • Joanna says

      Wow! That really is interesting Bill. From other neuroscience papers I have read, the brain is kind of elastic and uses multiple parts to do multiple things. So it’s not like one part only is connected to faith. You clearly don’t need it :)

  3. Bill says

    Another thought occurred. As someone with experience with epilepsy, some of the states described sound remarkably similar to the sensation that immediately precedes a seizure, the foreshadowing known as an aura. I never associated these with enhanced spirituality but as a quick warning from my brain to set down whatever power tool I was using because shortly there would be a discharge of bioelectricity seeking a ground, if you will, and I and those around me would be safer if I wasn’t holding a circular saw when it let go. Maybe the God Helmet gives a person a similar sensation, making it a low-grade version of electro-shock therapy. 1940s technology is new again. Yippee!

    • Joanna says

      yes, I think the Helmet is crude in many ways similar to the old torture methods of “therapy”, although apparently it doesn’t hurt to be inside it. I’m fascinated by your own experiences though – it sounds like you deal with it very well. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.