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Would you wear the “God Helmet”?

Some of you may already know about this experiment, but if not, watch.  You will either be amazed, grateful, upset, or if you’re prone to cynicism—suspicious. But chances are you will feel something. It documents the efforts of a neuroscientist to magnetically stimulate a specific area of the human brain in order to induce a mystical experience. At first I thought it was crazy. But the more I think about it, the less crazy it becomes.

I read the Carlos Castaneda books when I was in college. Don Juan’s wisdom floored me, but so did the age-old shamanic concept of accessing the divine through hallucinogenic plants, or for that matter, hallucinogenic anything. After all, I thought, why not just get drunk and meet God at a bar? (I was in college, remember!) Shortly after, I came to realize that the ancients have been using different means of accessing the divine since the beginning of time. They danced, chanted, drummed, meditated, breathed and prayed rhythmically and repetitiously, and for that matter—fasted in and out of the desert for forty days and forty nights. Why? To induce altered states of consciousness that allowed them to drop their concrete reality in favor of their divine reality. We called them saints, mystics and shamans. We thought they were particularly talented or called by God, but really—what sense does that make? Are we not all called to God? The way I look at it, back then some people were willing to put in the effort and some were not.

Enter 21st century. A curious neuroscientist attaches magnets to a helmet in a specific pattern and solicits volunteers for a so-called “relaxation” experiment. Relaxation indeed. By stimulating a particular region in the right hemisphere, his volunteers each had a powerful and unexpected mystical experience that induced both shock and awe. The helmet remained on their heads for about 30 minutes, so it was not instantaneous. In fact, it is about the same time (per session) spent by experienced practitioners of contemplative prayer, meditation, and other ritualistic practice.

The neuroscientist and I part ways at the end. He concludes that since these divine feelings and experiences can be achieved by stimulating the brain with magnets, they are not really divine. They are human. He says therefore this “God Center” of the brain was most likely developed over time as a means of coping with the overwhelming anxiety early humans felt about their mortality. In other words, it’s home-grown. I think he could not be more wrong.

When you think about it, would a Creator create a creature “in his image and likeness” without a means of communicating with that creature? If our spiritual teachers have repeated one thing over the millennia it has been, “God is within you.” I believe God is. It only makes sense that in creating us, God also created a “message center” through which we could converse. This message center is no doubt located in the right hemisphere of the brain as revealed by recent experiments using MRIs and other scanning equipment on volunteers in deep prayer. That area of the brain is not God. It is our means of conversing with God, or experiencing God. It is developed more in some, less in others. If that region of the brain can be stimulated to reach Oneness through prayer, meditation, hallucinogenic plants, drumming, chanting, dancing, or rituals of any kind…then why can it not also be reached through applied science?

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