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|Born||June 26, 1945|
Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.
|Died||August 14, 2018 (aged 73)|
Sudbury, Ontario, Canada
|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.|
|Awards||LIFT (Leader in Faculty Teaching), 2007|
TVO (Ontario) Best Lecturer 2007
|Fields||Neurotheology, Neuroscience, Parapsychology, Biophysics, Geophysics, Epilepsy|
Michael A. Persinger (June 26, 1945 – August 14, 2018) was an American-Canadian professor of psychology at Laurentian University, a position he had held from 1971 until his death in 2018. His most well-known hypotheses include the temporal lobes of the human brain as the central correlate for mystical experiences, subtle changes in geomagnetic activity as mediators of parapsychological phenomena, the tectonic strain within the Earth's crust as the source of luminous phenomena attributed to unidentified aerial objects, and the importance of specific quantifications for energy (10−20 Joules), photon flux density (picoWatt per meter squared), and small shifts in magnetic field intensities (picoTesla to nanoTesla range) for integrating cellular activity as well as human thought with universal phenomena.
Persinger's experimental work on paranormal experiences has received widespread media coverage but has also been widely criticised. His major research themes have included electromagnetic field effects upon biological organisms, epilepsy, temporal lobe functions, properties of biophotons, geophysical-human interactions, physical cosmology, and the quantifiable examination of what Persinger terms "low-probability phenomena" such as time travel, parallel universes, and the universe as a simulation. He has published over 500 technical articles in scientific journals (many in predatory journals), more than a dozen chapters in various books, and seven of his own books. His book with Ghislaine Lafreniere, entitled Space-Time Transients and Unusual Events (1977), documents the search for patterns in phenomena that are not compatible with current scientific paradigms.
He argued that all phenomena including consciousness, spiritual experiences, and "paranormal events" can be explained by universal physical mechanisms and can be verified using the scientific method. He contended quantitative differences in energy, rather than qualitative distinctions, are responsible for the apparent mind-body duality. Further, he has claimed that the structure and function of the brain determine the boundaries of human perception of the universe, and that shared quantitative values connect local phenomena with fundamental properties of the cosmos.
Persinger attended Carroll College from 1963 to 1964 and graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1967. He received his M.A. in physiological psychology from the University of Tennessee in 1969 and his Ph.D. from the University of Manitoba in 1971.
Research and academic work
Persinger's work focuses on the commonalities that exist between the sciences, and aims to integrate fundamental concepts of various branches of science. He organized the Behavioral Neuroscience Program at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, integrating chemistry, biology, and psychology. Persinger has published hundreds of peer-reviewed academic journal articles.
Clinical and experimental neuropsychology
Most of Persinger's published articles involved with consciousness have focused on the persistence of experiences reported by individuals who display complex partial epilepsy within the normal population of people who are creative, subject to frequent paranormal experiences, or who have sustained a mild impact of mechanical energy to the cerebrum. One of his notable experiments, spanning about three decades, involved a helmet ("the God Helmet"), whereby weak physiologically-patterned magnetic fields were applied across the temporal lobes of hundreds of volunteers. The research received wide media coverage with high-profile visitors to Persinger's laboratory including Susan Blackmore and Richard Dawkins reporting positive and negative results respectively.
Experiences often associated with mystical reports such as out-of-body-experiences, intrusive thoughts, and the sensed presence were reported by hundreds of volunteers over decades of studying the phenomenon, which were not associated with the subjects' suggestibility. Subsequent theory and quantitative electroencephalographic measurements supported the contention that the sensed presence of a "sentient being" could be a normal brain-based prototype for god experiences or related mystical phenomena and was actually the left hemispheric awareness of the right hemispheric equivalent to the left hemispheric sense of self. Similar experiences were reported by people who had applied Todd Murphy's technology. However, other researchers either did not replicate or only partially replicated the experimental effects with variations of the helmet. In 2014, Tinoco and colleagues reported an independent replication of an experimental protocol which measured verbal behavior associated with field exposures using the helmet configuration. In an earlier study by Richards and colleagues, semantic memory was similarly affected by applications of weak magnetic fields over the temporal lobes.
Regarding Persinger's claims, the psychologist Richard Wiseman has written they have not been replicated and the "scientific jury is unconvinced". The research has also been criticized by psychologist Craig Aaen-Stockdale, writing in The Psychologist. Other researchers have criticized Persinger for insufficient double-blinding and argued that there was no physiologically plausible mechanism by which his device could affect the brain. Persinger responded that the researchers had an incorrect computer setup and that many of his previous experiments were indeed carried out double-blind. Both claims are disputed.
Geophysical and human interaction research
One of Persinger's lifelong endeavors has been to establish a mechanism underlying geophysical-behavioral correlates using experimental simulations. The Tectonic Strain Theory (TST) developed by Persinger and John S. Derr predicted that luminous phenomena and associated physical effects were produced by manifestations of tectonic strain that often precede by weeks to months seismic events within the region. Persinger argues that the labeling of these manifestations such as unidentified flying objects (UFOs) has changed over the centuries and reflects the characteristics of the culture despite a common mechanism. The support for the theory was primarily correlational. Persinger considered the temporal contiguity of reports of unidentified luminous phenomena preceding local seismicity due to injections of fluids a quasi-experimental support for the hypothesis. Alternative models, developed by Persinger and David Vares, were quantified for interaction between quantum values and specific magnitude earthquakes, global climate variations, interactions with population densities, discrete energies as mediators of disease, and processes by which human cognition could be covertly affected by Schumann Resonances and geomagnetic activity. The hypothesis was recently criticized by a prominent blogger.
Persinger has stated that he studies parapsychological phenomena because "the ultimate subject matter of science is the unknown". He believes that verifiable spontaneous and experimental types of parapsychological phenomena are physical and associated with non-local interactions between human brain activity and geophysical processes. For example, he claimed that the moderate strength correlation between geomagnetic activity at the time of a precognitive experience and what the geomagnetic activity would be two to three days before the event indicated that energetic antecedents before the event, not the event itself, was being discerned. During the 1980s, Persinger stated that both experimental and spontaneous cases of "telepathy and clairvoyance ("remote viewing") were more likely when the global geomagnetic activity was lower than the days before or afterwards. Measurement of the brain activity of "psychic" individuals such as Ingo Swann and Sean Harribance revealed unusual electrical brain patterns in the right hemisphere (parahippocampal region), increased photon emissions from the right cerebral hemisphere, and small decreases in the intensity of the geomagnetic field when the details of their experiences were most accurate.
Conduct controversy at Laurentian University
In 2016, Persinger was controversially removed as the instructor of a first-year psychology course. Laurentian's provost objected to Persinger's having asked students to sign a statement of understanding that vulgar language might be used in the class. The statement included examples such as "the F-word, homophobic slurs and offensive slang for genitalia".
One of my techniques is to expose people to all types of different words . . . silly words, complex words, emotional words, profane words. Because they influence how you make decisions and how you think.
The Laurentian University Faculty Association filed a grievance against the school for violating Persinger's academic freedom. Current and former students also protested the administration's decision. The grievance was heard on October 30, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario and on November 6, 2019, a decision was rendered by Arbitrator Kevin Burkett that Dr. Persinger was improperly removed from teaching PSYC 1105 EL in December 2015. As a result of Dr. Persinger's grievance, "In the future, Laurentian University is required to engage in a consultative process which shall include full consideration of the Collective Agreement principles including academic freedom, health and safety of the University Community, the rights, responsibilities and duties of academics and the right to a full and proper investigation".
The university agreed to award a $500 annual scholarship, named for Persinger, to students in neuroscience or psychology.
Persinger died on August 14, 2018 at the age of 73.
Books and select publications
- Persinger, Michael (1974). ELF and VLF electromagnetic field effects. New York: Plenum Press. ISBN 978-0-306-30826-0.
- Persinger, Michael (1974). The paranormal. New York: MSS Information Corp. ISBN 978-0-8422-5212-6.
- Persinger, Michael (1977). Space-time transients and unusual events. Chicago: Nelson-Hall. ISBN 978-0-88229-334-9.
- Persinger, Michael (1980). The weather matrix and human behavior. New York: Praeger. ISBN 978-0-03-057731-4.
- Persinger, Michael (1980). TM and Cult Mania. North Quincy Mass.: Christopher Pub. House. ISBN 978-0-8158-0392-8.
- Persinger, Michael (1987). Neuropsychological bases of God beliefs. Westport: Praeger. ISBN 978-0-275-92648-9.
- Persinger, Michael (1988). Climate, buildings and behaviour. Winnipeg: Institute of Winnipeg. ISBN 978-0-920213-60-5.
- Persinger, Michael; Dadsetan, Parirokh; Jahangiri, Hamideh (2020). Encyclopedia of Psychological Testing, Assessment & Treatment Volume 1 (A-L). Latvia, European Union: Scholar's Press. ISBN 978-613-8-94244-3.
- Persinger, Michael; Dadsetan, Parirokh; Jahangiri, Hamideh (2020). Encyclopedia of Psychological Testing, Assessment & Treatment Volume 2 (M-Z). Latvia, European Union: Scholar's Press. ISBN 978-613-8-93134-8.
- Nik TheSaint (2012-12-09), Michael Persinger - Psychotropic drugs and nature of reality, retrieved 2017-06-18
- Persinger, Michael A. (1987). Neuropsychological bases of God beliefs. New York: Prager Publishers. ISBN 978-0275926489.
- Persinger, Michael A. (Fall 2001). "The Neuropsychiatry of Paranormal Experiences" (PDF). Neuropsychiatric Practice and Opinion. 13 (4): 515–524. doi:10.1176/jnp.13.4.515. PMID 11748322. S2CID 14954419. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-01-30.
- Persinger, Michael A. (1983). "Religious and Mystical Experiences as Artifacts of Temporal Lobe Function: A General Hypothesis". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 57 (3_suppl): 1255–1262. doi:10.2466/pms.1983.57.3f.1255. PMID 6664802. S2CID 486935.
- Persinger, Michael A. (Summer 2010). "10-20 Joules as a Neuromolecular Quantum in Medicinal Chemistry: An Alternative Approach to Myriad Molecular Pathways?". Current Medicinal Chemistry. 17 (27): 3094–3098. doi:10.2174/092986710791959701. PMID 20629623.
- Persinger, Michael A. (2015). "Inverse relationship between photon flux densities and nanotesla magnetic fields over cell aggregates: Quantitative evidence for energetic conservation". FEBS Open Bio. 5: 413–418. doi:10.1016/j.fob.2015.04.015. PMC 4436372. PMID 26005634.
- Persinger, Michael (2007). "A theory of neurophysics ad quantum neuroscience: implications for brain function and the limits of consciousness". Int. J. Neurosci. 117 (2): 117–157. doi:10.1080/00207450500535784. PMID 17365106. S2CID 27517078.
- Dotta, Blake (2011). "Photon emissions from human brain and cell culture exposed to distally rotating magnetic fields shared by separate light-stimulated brains and cells". Brain Research. 1388: 77–88. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2011.03.001. PMID 21396353. S2CID 12565159.
- Smith, Julia Llewellyn (2014-06-20). "What God does to your brain".
- "What god does to your brain: Controversial science of neurotheology aims to find out why people have faith". 2014-06-26.
- Hitt, Jack (November 1999). "This is your brain on god". Wired.
- BBC Article
- Wiseman, Richard. (2011). "The Haunted Brain". Csicop.org. Retrieved 2014-10-11.
- Craig Aaen-Stockdale (2012). "Neuroscience for the Soul". The Psychologist. 25 (7): 520–523.
- 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. S2CID 24800593. Lay summary – BioEd Online (December 9, 2004).
- 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, S2CID 54348640CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- Roxanne Khamsi (2004-12-09). "Electrical brainstorms busted as source of ghosts". Nature. doi:10.1038/news041206-10.
- Persinger, Michael A. (1977). Space-time transients and unusual events. Chicago: Nelson-Hall. p. 231. ISBN 978-0-88229-334-9.
- "Persinger CV". neurocogconsultants.app.box.com. Retrieved 2017-06-17.
- Persinger, Michael A. (1999). "On the nature of space-time in the observation of physical events in science" (PDF). Perceptual and Motor Skills. 88 (3_suppl): 1210–1216. doi:10.2466/pms.1999.88.3c.1210. PMID 10485103. S2CID 23391338.
- Persinger, M. A. (1999). "On the nature of space-time in the observation of physical events in science". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 88 (3_suppl): 1210–1216. doi:10.2466/pms.1999.88.3c.1210. PMID 10485103. S2CID 23391338.
- Persinger, Michael (1987). "Temporal lobe epileptic signs and correlative behaviors displayed by normal populations". The Journal of General Psychology. 114 (2): 179–195. doi:10.1080/00221309.1987.9711068. PMID 3585298.
- Baker-Price, Laura (2003). "Intermittent burst-firing weak (1 microtesla) magnetic fields reduce psychometric depression in patients who sustained closed head injuries: a replication and electroencephalographic validation". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 96 (3): 965–974. doi:10.2466/pms.2003.96.3.965. PMID 12831278. S2CID 30810729.
- Corradini, Paula (2014). "Spectral power, source localization and microstates to quantify chronic deficits from "mild" closed head injury: Correlation with classic neuropsychological tests". Brain Injury: 1–11.
- St.- Pierre, Linda S. (2009). "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): 1079–1096. doi:10.1080/00207450600808800. PMID 16861170. S2CID 21117361.
- Tinoco, Carlos A. (2014). "Magnetic Stimulation of the Temporal Cortex: A Partial "God Helmet" Replication Study". Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research. 5: 234–257.
- Persinger, Michael (2003). "The sensed presence within experimental settings: implications for the male and female concept of self". The Journal of Psychology. 137 (1): 5–16. doi:10.1080/00223980309600595. PMID 12661700. S2CID 44618872.
- Booth, Nicholas (2009). "Discrete Shifts Within the Theta Band Between the Frontal and Parietal Regions of the Right Hemisphere and the Experiences of a Sensed Presence". Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. 21 (3): 279–283. doi:10.1176/jnp.2009.21.3.279. PMID 19776307.
- Persinger, Michael A. (2002). "Experimental Facilitation of the Sensed Presence: Possible Intercalation Between the Hemispheres Induced by Complex Magnetic Fields". The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 190 (8): 533–541. doi:10.1097/00005053-200208000-00006. PMID 12193838. S2CID 28221240.
- Tsang, E.W. (2009). "Electrophysiological and Quantitative Electroencephalographic Measurements After Treatment by Transcerebral Magnetic Fields Generated by Compact Disc Through a Computer Sound Card: The Shakti Treatment". International Journal of Neuroscience. 114 (8): 1013–1024. doi:10.1080/00207450490461323. PMID 15527205. S2CID 25096212.
- Andersen, M. (2014). "Mystical Experience in the Lab". Method & Theory in the Study of Religion. 26 (3): 217–245. doi:10.1163/15700682-12341323.
- Granqvist, P. (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. S2CID 24800593.
- Larsson, M. (2005). "Reply to MA Persinger and SA 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. S2CID 54348640.
- Richards, Pauline M. (1993). "Modification of activation and evaluation properties of narratives by weak complex magnetic field patterns that simulate limbic burst firing". International Journal of Neuroscience. 71 (1–4): 71–85. doi:10.3109/00207459309000594. PMID 8407157.
- Richards, Pauline (July 2009). "Modification of Semantic Memory in Normal Subjects by Application Across the Temporal Lobes of a Weak (1 Microt) Magnetic Field Structure that Promotes Long-Term Potentiation in Hippocampal Slices". Electro- and Magnetobiology. 15 (2): 141–148. doi:10.3109/15368379609009830.
- 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.
- 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. S2CID 21117361. Lay summary – Persinger's Onlline Commentary.
- Mulligan, Bryce (2012). "Experimental simulation of the effects of sudden increases in geomagnetic activity upon quantitative measures of human brain activity: Validation of correlational studies". Neuroscience Letters. 516 (1): 54–56. doi:10.1016/j.neulet.2012.03.054. PMID 22484013. S2CID 21411641.
- Persinger, Michael (2014). "Infrasound, human health, and adaptation: an integrative overview of recondite hazards in a complex environment". Natural Hazards. 70: 501–525. doi:10.1007/s11069-013-0827-3.
- Michon, A.L. (1997). "Experimental simulation of the effects of increased geomagnetic activity upon nocturnal seizures in epileptic rats". Neuroscience Letters. 224 (1): 53–56. doi:10.1016/S0304-3940(97)13446-2. PMID 9132690. S2CID 769415.
- Persinger, Michael (June 1995). "Vestibular experiences of humans during brief periods of partial sensory deprivation are enhanced when daily geomagnetic activity exceeds 15-20 nT". Neuroscience Letters. 194 (1–2): 69–72. doi:10.1016/0304-3940(95)11729-g. PMID 7478216. S2CID 22416490.
- Persinger, Michael (1999). "Wars and increased solar-geomagnetic activity: Aggression or change in intraspecies dominance?". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 88 (3 Pt 2): 1351–1355. doi:10.2466/pms.1999.88.3c.1351. PMID 10485122. S2CID 23787565.
- Persinger, Michael (2001). "Geophysical variables and behavior: CIV. Power-frequency magnetic field transients (5 MicroTesla) and reports of haunt experiences within an electronically dense house". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 92 (3): 673–674. doi:10.2466/pms.2001.92.3.673. PMID 11453191. S2CID 8112539.
- Suess, L.A.H. (2001). "Geophysical variables and behavior: XCVI. "Experiences" attributed to christ and mary at marmora, ontario, canada may have been consequences of environmental electromagnetic stimulation: Implications for religious movements". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 93 (2): 435–450. doi:10.2466/pms.2001.93.2.435. PMID 11769900. S2CID 40199991.
- Persinger, Michael A. (1990). "Geophysical Variables and Behavior: LXII. Temporal Coupling of UFO Reports and Seismic Energy Release within the Rio Grande Rift System: Discriminative Validity of the Tectonic Strain Theory". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 71 (2): 567–572. doi:10.2466/pms.19184.108.40.2067. S2CID 145552191.
- Persinger, Michael (1984). "Prediction of historical and contemporary luminosity (UFO) reports by seismic variables within Western Europe". Experientia. 40 (7): 676–681. doi:10.1007/BF01949720. S2CID 35229558.
- Persinger, Michael (1984). "Geophysical variables and human behavior: XVIII. Expected perceptual characteristic and local distributions of close UFO reports". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 58 (3): 951–959. doi:10.2466/pms.19220.127.116.111. S2CID 143453998.
- Derr, J.S. (1986). "Luminous phenomena and earthquakes in southern Washington". Experientia. 42 (9): 991–999. doi:10.1007/BF01940703. S2CID 39104204.
- Persinger, Michael (1990). "The tectonic strain theory as an explanation for UFO phenomena: A non-technical review of the research, 1970-1990". Journal of UFO Studies. 2: 105–137.
- Persinger, Michael (1990). "Geophysical variables and behavior: LXII. Temporal coupling of UFO reports and seismic energy release within the rio grande rift system: Discriminative validity of the tectonic strain theory". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 71 (6): 567–572. doi:10.2466/PMS.71.6.567-572.
- Persinger, Michael (1993). "Geophysical variables and behavior: LXXIV. Man-made fluid injections into the crust and reports of luminous phenomena (UFO reports) - is the strain field an aseismically propagating hydrological pulse?". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 77 (3_suppl): 1059–1065. doi:10.2466/pms.1993.77.3f.1059. S2CID 144625362.
- Vares, David (2015). "Correlations between US county annual cancer incidence and population density". American Journal of Cancer Research. 5 (11): 3467–3474. PMC 4697692. PMID 26807326.
- Neuroskeptic. "Magnetism: From Neuroscience to Climate Change?".
- Persinger, Michael A. (1988). "Increased geomagnetic activity and the occurrence of bereavement hallucinations: Evidence for melatonin-mediated microseizuring in the temporal lobe?". Neuroscience Letters. 88 (3): 271–274. doi:10.1016/0304-3940(88)90222-4. PMID 3386872. S2CID 897987.
- Persinger, Michael A. (1985). "Geophysical Variables and Behavior: XXX. Intense Paranormal Experiences Occur during Days of Quiet, Global, Geomagnetic Activity". Perceptual and Motor Skills. 61: 320–322. doi:10.2466/pms.1918.104.22.1680. S2CID 144343681.
- Persinger, Michael A. (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): 927–949. doi:10.2466/pms.2002.94.3.927. PMID 12081299. S2CID 14168257.
- Persinger, Michael A. (2012). "Protracted parahippocampal activity associated with Sean Harribance". International Journal of Yoga. 5 (2): 140–145. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.98238. PMC 3410194. PMID 22869999.
- "Laurentian University professor removed for asking students to agree to profane language".- CBC News, January 4, 2016
- "Students rally in defence of controversial Laurentian University professor". 2016-01-06.
- "Laurentian University's Michael Persinger, human brain researcher, dies". CBC. August 15, 2018. Retrieved August 16, 2018.