Michael Persinger

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Michael A. Persinger
Michael Persinger.jpg
Born (1945-06-26) June 26, 1945 (age 71)
Jacksonville, Florida
Residence Sudbury, Ontario
Citizenship American and Canadian
Nationality American and Canadian
Fields Neurotheology, Neuroscience, Parapsychology
Institutions Laurentian University
Alma mater University of Wisconsin
University of Tennessee
University of Manitoba
Known for Director of Laurentian University's Consciousness Research Laboratory. Notable for his work in the field of neurotheology.
Notable awards

LIFT (Leader in Faculty Teaching), 2007
TVO (Ontario) Best Lecturer 2007
Laurentian University Research Excellence Award 1989

Sudbury Regional Brain Injury Association Lifetime Membership Award 2001

Michael A. Persinger (born June 26, 1945) is a cognitive neuroscience researcher and university professor with hundreds of peer-reviewed publications. He has worked at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, since 1971. He is primarily notable for his experimental work in the field of neurotheology, work which has been increasingly criticized in recent years.[1][2][3][4][5] In 2016, Persinger was controversially removed as the instructor of a first year psychology course. The provost at Laurentian said they objected to his asking students to sign a statement of understanding that vulgar language might be used in the class. The Laurentian University Faculty Association filed a grievance against the school for violating Persinger's academic freedom.[6] Current and former students also protested the decision.[7]

Early life[edit]

Michael Persinger was born in Jacksonville, Florida and grew up primarily in Virginia, Maryland and Wisconsin. He attended Carroll College from 1963 to 1964, and graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1967. He then obtained an M.A. in physiological psychology from the University of Tennessee and a Ph.D. from the University of Manitoba in 1971.[8]

Research and academic work[edit]

Much of his work focuses on the commonalities that exist between the sciences, and aims to integrate fundamental concepts of various branches of science.[9] He organized the Behavioral Neuroscience Program at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, integrating chemistry, biology and psychology.[citation needed]

Research in parapsychology[edit]

Persinger has published reports of rudimentary 'telepathic' communication between pairs of subjects in the laboratory.[10][11] He has also published increases in remote viewing accuracy of remote viewer Ingo Swann, as measured by a group of ratings of congruence (between Swann's drawings and the locale being 'viewed') by 40 experimentally blind participants[12] during stimulation with complex magnetic fields using a circumcerebral (around the head) eight-channel system.

Research in neurotheology[edit]

Main article: God helmet

During the 1980s Dr. Persinger stimulated human test subjects' temporal lobes with an artificially-created weak magnetic field, to see if a religious state can be induced (see God helmet or Religious experience). Persinger claimed that properly tuned magnetic fields can produce the sensation of "an ethereal presence in the room". This research has received wide coverage in mainstream media, with high-profile visitors to Persinger's lab Susan Blackmore and Richard Dawkins reporting positive[13] and negative[14] results respectively. The evidence base Persinger's theory draws on has been criticised for being too dependent on religiosity studies of temporal lobe epileptics.[5]

The first published attempt to replicate these effects failed to do so and concluded that subjects' reports correlated with their personality characteristics and suggestibility. They also criticised Persinger for insufficient double-blinding and argued that there was no physiologically plausible mechanism by which his device could affect the brain.[1][15] Persinger responded that the researchers had an incorrect computer setup[16] and that many of his previous experiments were indeed carried out double-blind.[17] Both claims are disputed.[2]

Other researchers succeeded in replicating[18] the effects of one of Persinger's early studies.[19] They reported that their experiment had ruled out suggestibility as an explanation for Persinger's effects, and that analysis of their subjects’ verbal reports revealed significant differences between those of subjects and controls, and also less robust effects for suggestion and expectation.

Commercial versions of Persinger's devices are sold by his research associate Todd Murphy. One experiment with one of them found no changes in emotional responses to photographs whether the device was on or off, although the researchers concluded that "additional investigations ... are warranted.".[4][20] Regarding Persinger's claims, the psychologist Richard Wiseman has written they have not been replicated and the "scientific jury is unconvinced".[21]

Geomagnetic theories[edit]

Persinger has also come to public attention due to his 1975 Tectonic Strain Theory (TST) of how geophysical variables may correlate with sightings of unidentified flying objects (UFOs) or Marian apparitions. Persinger argued that strain within the Earth's crust near seismic faults produces intense electromagnetic (EM) fields, creating bodies of light that some interpret as glowing UFOs or The Virgin Mary. Alternatively, he argued that the EM fields generate hallucinations in the temporal lobe, based on images from popular culture, of alien craft, beings, communications, or creatures.

Persinger's claims regarding the effects of environmental geomagnetic activity on paranormal experiences have not been independently replicated and, like his findings regarding the God helmet, may simply be explained by the suggestibility of participants.[3]

Persinger has recently proposed that changes in the Earth’s magnetic dipole moment are driving increases in carbon dioxide levels and global warming. This view has been criticized for a potential mathematical error in modeling the causal mechanism identified.[22]

Books and publications[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Granqvist, P; Fredrikson, M; Unge, P; Hagenfeldt, A; Valind, S; Larhammar, D; Larsson, M (2005). "Sensed presence and mystical experiences are predicted by suggestibility, not by the application of transcranial weak complex magnetic fields". Neuroscience Letters. 379 (1): 1–6. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2004.10.057. PMID 15849873. Lay summaryBioEd Online (December 9, 2004). 
  2. ^ a b Larsson, M., Larhammarb, D., Fredrikson, M., and Granqvist, P. (2005), "Reply to M.A. Persinger and S. A. Koren's response to Granqvist et al. "Sensed presence and mystical experiences are predicted by suggestibility, not by the application of transcranial weak magnetic fields"", Neuroscience Letters, 380 (3): 348–350, doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2005.03.059 
  3. ^ a b French, CC., Haque, U., Bunton-Stasyshyn, R., Davis, R. (2009), "The "Haunt" project: An attempt to build a "haunted" room by manipulating complex electromagnetic fields and infrasound", Cortex, 45 (5): 619–629, doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2007.10.011, PMID 18635163 
  4. ^ a b Gendle, MH & McGrath, MG (2012). "Can the 8-coil shakti alter subjective emotional experience? A randomized, placebo-controlled study.". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 114 (1): 217–235. doi:10.2466/02.24.pms.114.1.217-235. 
  5. ^ a b Craig Aaen-Stockdale (2012). "Neuroscience for the Soul". The Psychologist. 25 (7): 520–523. Persinger’s theory is based on the literature on religiosity in temporal lobe epileptics ... a literature that I argue above is both flawed and outdated. 
  6. ^ von Stackelberg, Marina (2016-01-05). "Laurentian University professor removed for asking students to agree to profane language". CBC News. Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  7. ^ "Student protest". 
  8. ^ Dr. Michael A. Persinger at Laurentian University
  9. ^ Persinger, M. A. (1999). "On the nature of space-time in the observation of physical events in science". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 88: 1210–1216. doi:10.2466/pms.1999.88.3c.1210. 
  10. ^ Persinger, MA; Et, AL (2010). "Correlated cerebral events between physically and sensory isolated pairs of subjects exposed to yoked circumcerebral magnetic fields.". Neuroscience Letters. 486 (3): 231–234. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2010.09.060. PMID 20887774. Lay summaryReport from BigNews.biz. 
  11. ^ Persinger MA; Koren SA; Tsang EW. (2003). "Enhanced power within a specific band of theta activity in one person while another receives circumcerebral pulsed magnetic fields: a mechanism for cognitive influence at a distance?". Percept Mot Skills. 97 (3 Pt 1): 977–94. doi:10.2466/pms.2003.97.3.877. PMID 14738355. 
  12. ^ Persinger, MA; Roll, WG; Tiller, SG; Koren, SA; Cook ., CM (2002). "Remote viewing with the artist Ingo Swann: neuropsychological profile, electroencephalographic correlates, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and possible mechanisms.". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 94 (3 Pt1): 927–949. doi:10.2466/pms.94.2.927-949. PMID 12081299. 
  13. ^ Electrical brainstorms busted as source of ghosts, BioEd Online, 2004-12-09
  14. ^ BBC Article
  15. ^ Craig Aaen-Stockdale (2012). "Neuroscience for the Soul". The Psychologist. 25 (7): 520–523. the magnetic fields generated by the God helmet are far too weak to penetrate the cranium and influence neurons within. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) uses field strengths of around 1.5 tesla in order to induce currents strong enough to depolarise neurons through the skull and cause them to fire. Persinger’s apparatus, on the other hand has a strength ... 5000 times weaker than a typical fridge magnet. Granqvist argues that there is simply no way that this apparatus is having any meaningful effect on the brain, and I’m inclined to agree. 
  16. ^ Link to full text
  17. ^ St-Pierre, LS; Persinger, MA (2006). "Experimental facilitation of the sensed presence is predicted by the specific patterns of the applied magnetic fields, not by suggestibility: re-analyses of 19 experiments.". International Journal of Neuroscience. 116 (9): 1079–96. doi:10.1080/00207450600808800. PMID 16861170. Lay summaryPersinger's Onlline Commentary. 
  18. ^ Tinoca,, Carlos A;; Ortiz,, João PL; (2014). "Magnetic Stimulation of the Temporal Cortex: A Partial "God Helmet" Replication Study". Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research. 5 (3): 234–257. Lay summary. 
  19. ^ Richards, P M; Persinger, M A; Koren, S A (1993). "Modification of activation and evaluation properties of narratives by weak complex magnetic field patterns that simulate limbic burst firing.". The International journal of neuroscience. 71 (1-4): 71–85. doi:10.3109/00207459309000594. Lay summary" subjects exposed to a computer-generated wave form, designed to simulate neuronal burst firing, generated narratives dominated by more pleasantness and less activation than a reference group.". 
  20. ^ Craig Aaen-Stockdale (2012). "Neuroscience for the Soul". The Psychologist. 25 (7): 520–523. Murphy claims his devices are able to modulate emotional states in addition to enhancing meditation and generating altered states. In flat contradiction of this claim, Gendle & McGrath (2012) found no significant difference in emotional state whether the device was on or off. 
  21. ^ Wiseman, Richard. (2011). "The Haunted Brain". Csicop.org. Retrieved 2014-10-11.
  22. ^ Neuroskeptic. "Magnetism: From Neuroscience to Climate Change?". 

External links[edit]