......I Do Not Exist.
(Or: Demystifying mysticism)
Stimulating my brain as a spiritual path.
Todd Murphy NOTE: This is a personal account. There are no references, bibliography or any of that.
My experiences with the temporal lobes of the brain started when I was seven years old. While living in a Catholic orphanage, I came down with temporal lobe epilepsy. Finding myself living in that place, which otherwise was a very good home for children, created a lot of stress, and I think , triggered the disorder.
I was not an orphan, though. The circumstances of my parents' divorce had placed my brothers and I there. We still had a family, and we visited them whenever we could.
One Sunday evening, sitting in my grandmother's dining room, eating vanilla ice cream, I suddenly left my body. I floated just below the ceiling and looked down on my brothers and my father all having their ice-cream. I was completely terrified. I now know that I was feeling fear because the "fear center" in my brain was involved in the process. During the seizure, my thoughts filled the gap. I was very sure that something was wrong with being out of my body. Actually, I was afraid that I would get punished somehow. My upbringing was Catholic; fairly traditional, and nowhere in the Catholic dogma I had learned was there any talk of out-of-body experiences. I felt very sure that out-of- body experiences were not allowed, and if you got caught having one, you'd get in trouble.
So there I was, floating beneath the ceiling, terrified, and wanting nothing more than to get back into my body. I don't know how I did it, but somehow I "willed" myself back into my body. But the seizure was more forceful than I was, and I couldn't stay there. As I remember this experience, which was the most powerful out of body experience I had, I spent some time being in my body and out of it at the same time. Since then, I've read about other experiences like this. But at the time, I thought I was the only one.
I didn't have a lot of out-of- body experiences, but there was another experience that I did have often, and I remember being sure that they happened every single night. I told an adult that I didn't sleep at night, but they refused to believe me.
What would happen was that I wake up in the middle of the night with a feeling that everything was very dense and heavy. I was amazed and frightened at my own strength at being able, say, to move my arm. I laid absolutely still, afraid to use my own body. With my eyes open, I experienced macropsia. Macropsia is a visual illusion that everything around you is very large and very far away. When my eyes were closed, I seemed to be looking into an infinite space. At the center of the space, and unimaginable distance away, there was a point of light. And absolutely brilliant, incredibly powerful light. Its presence before me seemed to have a tremendously emphatic quality; as if it were shouting something at me. I had a strong sense that it was trying to say something very specific. And, whatever it was, I did not want to hear it. I actually has a strong feeling wanted to kill me. Now I know that it was quite a valid perception. That infinite space, and the light that I was seeing, both happen in the near-death-experiences. My intimation that it had something to do with dying was actually quite accurate.
I experienced other strange things during my seizures, but nothing else with quite so much impact. I felt strange electric buzzes and tingles running through my body and a very-difficult-to-describe sense that the inside of my body was white. The word refers to a color, but this was not a visual experience. I "felt" white on the inside. As though it were a sound I was 'seeing'.
The workers at the orphanage knew that something was wrong with me. I began to manifest the syndrome, very much like schizophrenia, that a lot of temporal lobe epileptics have. I was in a state of anxiety almost all the time. I developed an unfortunate liking for smelling bad, and I became very interested in religion. I was all of 7 years old at the time.
I went to Mass is often as I could, I attended benediction, donated to lots of my pocket money to charities, and began to want to be a priest. I was sure that I was not really good enough for the job, though. I felt sure God must have been angry with me, or else he would not given me all those experiences. Still, I enjoyed the Catholic ceremonies, and I felt good attending them as long as I didn't have to wear a tie.
Eventually, I left the orphanage, and went to live with my father and stepmother. Slowly, the seizures tapered off. And so did the strange behaviors I enacted between them. I continued to have a brief seizure-like events for a long time afterwards. During my seizures, the point of light had an emphatic quality. As my epilepsy tapered off, almost anything that had an emphatic quality could send chills and tingles running through my body. I became psychic for awhile, too. If an object was missing, I could mentally divide the House in half, and I would " know " which side of the house to was on. And I could divide that space in half, and know which side it was on. I could repeat the process until only a very small area remained. Then, I would walk over and pick up the object I was looking for.
All of these things stopped when puberty began. Later I learned that this is the typical pattern; that most pediatric temporal lobe epilepsy stops with the onset of puberty.
I think what happens is that sexual arousal is an altered state of consciousness. Many of the neural structures involved in temporal lobe epilepsy find themselves with new jobs to do when puberty begins. these structures will have worked harder in the brains of children with temporal lobe epilepsy, so when they take on the new duties of managing sexuality and romantic love in adolescence, their thresholds are much lower than they would be for others. In adulthood, these individuals often demonstrate hyper sexuality, an intense vulnerability to romantic feelings and sensitivity to its disappointments, as well as a predisposition toward spiritual traditions that emphasize love. I have several sets of data, awaiting collation, the to test whether this hypothesis is valid or not.
While I'm on the subject, I think the same idea can be used to explain hyposexuality. There, pathways and microstructures involved in normal sexuality are involved with seizural activity. Or, alternately, lower thresholds in the wake of seizural activity keep these pathways better connected to portions of the neural matrix outside those that support sexual functioning. and what might be a sexual trigger for normal individual could actually inspire anxiety in another.
My temporal lobes stayed pretty quiet for about the next 15 years. When I was 28, I visited the Rajneesh ashram, in Oregon. on my first visit, I had a very powerful mystic experience while talking to a man who, at the time, was considered to be the next in line to the master himself.
Later, this same man was to become one of my most important subjects, even though he never filled out even one or questionnaires, underwent a formal interview, or even understood the point of the research he was participating in.
Nothing in particular happened while I was talking to this man, named Paul Lowe, but a few minutes after I spoke to him, I had my first experience of enhanced visual acuity. As well as my first taste of pure left amygdaloid activity. In other words, bliss.
Enhanced visual acuity is a very pleasant experience. While you're having it, it's as though your eyes have been polished from the inside. Textures appear incredibly rich, the edges of objects sharpen. Three-dimensional effects, like the way the branches of trees seem to move against each other as you walk by them, become very compelling. You notice the contours in people's faces. Bright light isn't very nice for people with enhanced visual acuity, and its more intense in shaded light.
Enhanced visual acuity has to do with the the visual portion of the brain's vestibular system. This is the system that accommodates for your eyes ' movement when you're walking. Without it, you'd see the world shaking with each step you took. Enhanced visual acuity turns on the the accommodating mechanism even when you aren't walking.
People with enhanced visual acuity are usually very positive people. people at the other end of this spectrum, with suppressed visual acuity, often shows signs of depression. In fact, they have a higher-than-normal-suicide rate.
The first time I've experienced Enhanced Visual Acuity, I could only say: "Yes! This is it! This is a spiritual awakening, just like the ones I've read about!" Later, "Spiritual awakening" turned out to be only one of several ways to describe the experience.
I found a meditation technique that worked for me, and I practiced it for several months. After each session, by experienced enhanced visual acuity for a couple of hours afterwards. I also experimented with several different Yoga techniques during this time, so that I was actually doing five hours of spiritual practice a day. One night, as I was falling asleep, I felt strange sensation in my chest that lasted for just one second. When I awoke the next morning I was in a state of enhanced visual acuity, and feeling a tremendous, even blissful, sense of well-being. It lasted for quite a long time. Over a year.
While all of this was happening, I was going through another process. When I was in college, I had studied the history and philosophy of science. I really like its overriding philosophical message, that every experience, or set of phenomena, could be seen in different ways. In ancient Greek, and a modern astronomer, looking at the sky viewed the same things, but saw something completely different. Each view is valid in its time and place. The process where one of view of the world is replaced by another followed certain rules. The truths of today are and the discarded myths of tomorrow. We hold these myths in respect, but we no longer use them in any practical way.
Before I ever learned any spiritual teachings, I knew that they were only one way of explaining to the phenomenon people call spirituality.
Seeing a glow around a person is an experience. Having an "open a third eye" is an interpretation of that experience. Having your body respond to your intentions fluidly is an experience. Saying that your Chi is 'centered' in your 'Tan Tie'n' is an interpretation. I'm not saying that is anything wrong with these interpretations. I'm only saying that they are interpretations.
And everything I knew about science told me that other interpretations were possible. You see, years earlier I had done studies that no other spiritual practitioner had done, at least that I was aware of. I studied the history and philosophy of science. I was taken by Thomas S. Kuhn's model of what truth is, and how science tries to get as close to it as it can. I also read Karl Popper, who made it clear that 'truths' are nothing more than what stands up to attempts at falsification. Against this background, I was now being offered spiritual truths. I knew they weren't too far from the truth, because they had helped me to do some real spiritual work on myself.
The spiritual teaching that I had the most trouble with was one that I really believed in. Reincarnation.
But when I wanted to know how it worked, I could only find silence or some very poor theories for an answer. I thought that the Buddhist answer was the most intelligent. The Buddha said that what happened after death could not be described in words. At the level of the most sophisticated Buddhist psychology, the answer was "don't ask".
Then one day, day, I found a question, and this question changed the way I thought about spirituality forever. Once I had the question, I knew that no spiritual teacher, sacred tradition, or religion would ever be able to answer my questions about spirituality.
The question was: if reincarnation is true, and Charles Darwin was right, then is reincarnation an evolutionary adaptation that contributed to the survival of our species at some point in our evolutionary history?
If I wanted to offer a new way of seeing reincarnation, then this would be the starting point. I tried to figure out how reincarnation might have appeared. And eventually I arrived at an answer.
I wrote up the answer, and was recommended for an audience with his holiness, Samdech Mahaghoshananda, the patriarch of Cambodia. He responded to the paper by saying that it had no conflicts or disagreements with the Buddhist teachings as he understood them. later, he sent an envoy to visit His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, with the sole mission of presenting this paper.
The Dalai Lama reviewed the paper, and was a very pleased with it. He did have one criticism, however, and this prevented him from putting his name on it or from writing a forward to the article. Eventually, after I studied Dr. Persinger's work, I worked on this paper again and the point that the Dalai Lama objected to evaporated in the process. Now, the paper is awaiting publications by the (peer-reviewed) Journal for near-death studies. It should appear next year under the title : " The Structure and Function of Near-Death Experiences: an Algorithmic Reincarnation Hypothesis".
When a theory is accepted for publication by a peer-reviewed scientific journal, it enters the domain of science. Although many scientists might disagree with that theory, once a group of peers has decided that it's a valid theory, its critics must offer their debate in the scientific journals. Their private opinions no longer matter. By this reckoning, reincarnation is now science.
Receiving the approval of the Dalai Lama was a great inspiration to me. But in order to follow-up on the idea I presented him, I had to learn everything I could about human death and dying, not as it's spoken of in spiritual traditions, but rather what the scientific and medical evidence had to say.
And so I started studying near-death experiences. Along the way, I encountered the work of Dr. Michael Persinger. I also read accounts of near-death experiences that included many of the episodes that I experienced as a child, while having temporal lobe epileptic seizures.
I went to a local medical library, and began collecting Dr. Persinger's journal articles. After I had read several of them, I began to call Dr. Persinger. I wanted to make a point of talking to him, as much as I could, in the language of science. My earlier studies had prepared me, but for the first year, every phone conversation was like an oral examination for a Ph.D. candidate. Eventually, Dr. Persinger's vocabulary and theories became second nature to me. Without classroom responsibilities or formal examinations, these conversations were the only way I had to see how well I was learning neuroscience, and I wanted to do well.
Many of Dr. Persinger's articles related to phenomena called "the sensed presence". In this experience, a person feels that there's some or something behind them. Or, they might feel that they are "not alone" or that they're " being watched ". In my work, I learned that some people can experience it simply by imagining it. I also found that imagining the presence on the left is usually more pleasant than it is on the right. This is a reflection of the ways of the brain usually parcels out different emotions to different sides of the brain. And a couple of occasions, I have used "the sensed presence guided meditation" to uncover cases of emotional "left-handedness." This meditation may one day find use in clinical settings as an inexpensive replacement for dichotic listening tests.
After about two years of study, Dr. Persinger decided that I was competent to begin work with his equipment, and my studies in neuroscience began a new phase.
I began applying complex magnetic signals to my own brain, and later, those of others.
For the first year, the lab at Laurentian and I both had a problem. We were both using 386 computers, while the equipment had been designed for the 286 series of computers. This meant that we were running our waveforms too fast.
Nevertheless, we both had some interesting results. We both got vestibular effects, some quite intense visual effects (including a couple of brief visions of aliens on my part), and some valid 'psychic' experiences.
Later, after Stan Koren at Laurentian found the problem with our computers, and designed a software to fix things, I no longer got these same results. Now, the effects are much more consistent, but these early results are very intriguing. I experienced visual phenomena I haven't seen since (some brilliantly glowing lines, both in patterns, and individually stretched across my visual field, like some kind of ethereal, inner, equator. I'd like to duplicate these results with a proper research group (I only worked with five people using an uncalibrated 386). One day, with funding, I will.
While all this was going on, I managed to gather some very interesting quantitative data. I'm not much good at math, even though I'm able to work with some complicated logic at times. So, I haven't been able to publish many papers. Nevertheless, Dr Persinger has been over some of the data, and expects that the ideal student will eventually appear who will take things to the next stage.
I went to Bangkok and administered our standard questionnaires to a 1) group of university students, 2) a group of Buddhist lay people practicing 'Dharmakaya' meditation, which relies on visualization, 2) a group of student monks practicing Vipassana meditation, which relies on paying attention to perceptions in the present moment. and 4) a group of free-lance prostitutes operating out of a public coffeehouse. The questionnaire was adapted for the prostitutes by adding an item to discover how many of them had experienced abuse when they were growing up. I hope to find out if abuse in childhood has an impact on hypersexuality in adulthood. One day, with funding, I hope to apply the same questionnaires to similar groups of Western people.
Some months later, I moved to Southern Lake County, California. I accepted an invitation to go on sabbatical there because it had three things that interested me. One was a School of Shiatsu and massage, the second was a "new age" community, and the third was 5 earthquakes or tremors of 1.5 on the Richter scale or more per day.
The area I was living in lay on the southern edge of the Callayomi fault, one of the most active fault lines in the world. Lake County is also one of the poorest counties in California. I collected a number of interesting anecdotes, including tales of:
A place where 'everyone' (or so I was told) experienced deja vu.
A place where 'the whole street' was crazy, and where one resident claimed that her horse ranch was visited by evil 'gnomes' with 'spiky bodies' every night.
UFO sightings that 'clustered' around a strip of land that ran parallel to the fault line.
One theme I heard from a lot of people in the area was that they didn't want to participate in the research, with its long questionnaires, without being paid. So, my lack of funding once again got in the way, and one day, I hope to return there and gather more extensive data.
The most intriguing single observation was that I asked nearly everyone I met how often they experienced deja vu, jamais vu, sensed presence experiences, vestibular experiences, and parasthesias. Nearly everyone said they experienced them a lot; several times a week.
I wasn't able to get data regarding the incidence of epilepsy in Lake county, but I was able to gather some interesting statistics. It has the highest mortality rate from cancer and AIDS of any small county in the State. It has the highest incidence of meth amphetamine in the state, and it has one of the highest domestic violence rates in the state, too.
The Tectonic strain theory predicts that such an area will demonstrate a high incidence of Epilepsy, especially Temporal Lobe epilepsy. I wasn't able to get the data, but I intend to try again
All in all, its a very interesting place, and as a field worker, I found that it well justifies the effort and money that will be needed for a complete look at it. It will require research groups, geological measuring devices, a lab equipped with complex magnetic signal technology, and money for advertising and with which to compensate volunteers.
I didn't get very far looking at the epidemology of temporal lobe experiences, but I didn't originally go there to study it. I was just taking advantage of an opportunity that presented itself. It was a good experience, and both Dr. Persinger and I got a lot of useful information, even though nothing worthy of publication has come out of it yet.
I suggested to Dr. Persinger that when the right student appears, he could suggest a statistical analysis, based on examination of public records, as a project. No doubt, with time, someone will appear who wants to study temporal lobe phenomena from an epidemiological standpoint, and I hope to cooperate with them in producing a picture of this geologically active area that will be of help in other such places, globally. The growing fascination with aliens and related themes, together with the possibility that such areas may contribute to the mortality rates in some diseases, makes the effort well worth continuing.
Another possibility that emerges is that this area could be used to test the validity of the Chinese "Feng Shui" tradition, where mountains on one side of a dwelling are said to aid the well-being of the people who live there. The weight of mountains might possibly affect the distribution of tectonic strain, creating a characteristic set of TL signs and experiences in the people who live there. The Callayomi fault lies on one side of the Sonoma Mountains, and Its possible, that living on one side of these mountains might be more pleasant, in several ways, including physical well-being, than the other. Together with some data relating to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), large portions of the Feng Shui tradition might actually be validated. Other portions might emerge as specific to the geological regions where Feng Shui originated. With over a billion people in the world believing in Feng Shui, it should be examined in terms of the Tectonic strain theory. Southern Lake County may well provide a natural laboratory for doing this.
It was the massage school in this area that provided me with the chance to really develop as a researcher at this time.
They accepted a proposal I wrote to look at the types of altered-state experiences that occur with massage and other types of bodywork.
To gather the data, I interviewed about 30 massage school students about their lifetime histories of altered-state experiences, spiritual episodes and spiritual beliefs. They also received our standard questionnaires, and did the 'sensed presence guided meditation.'
A few subjects showed really exceptional responses to the meditation, and had some very engaging stories to tell, but in spite of this, all of them seemed to show the patterns that Dr. Persinger's work (and of course, that of his students) would predict.
Those who has a lot of stories to tell showed the highest scores on our questionnaires, and also showed the most phenomenal responses to the guided meditation.
The purpose of the study is to find out if bodyworkers had any specific pattern of temporal lobe sings, and their results showed a preponderance of somatic TL signs (vestibular and parasthetic) and 'sensed presence' experiences.
I also started looking at "Watsu", a modern type of bodywork that's done in in water. People who've received Watsu have reported visionary experiences, changes in their sense of 'self', and remissions in terminal illness. The school of Shiatsu and Massage at Harbin Hot Springs is the leader in Watsu training at present, and still has Harold Dull, and Elaine Marie, the developers of Watsu, on their staff. The study is suspended at present because The present Watsu facilities have no office where I can work, and the school is currently building a campus, solely devoted to Watsu, where there will be a proper workspace for me. The school's willingness to do this study is a real example of 'vocation' in a new-age group. Vocation includes practice, teaching, and research, and very few alternative institutes embrace all three. I have no doubt that their school will develop into one of the more responsible and productive alternative healing institutes in existence.
Harbin Hot Springs, a spiritual community in the area, also provided me with a place where I could meet people privately, and invite them to experience the DAC technology. A number of them did, and their experiences, together with my own, are what made me really see just what this technology could do.
First of all, let me say that I will try things on myself that I would never try on a subject.
I've used untried waveforms on myself, placed them over parts of my head that Dr. Persinger's group haven't used yet, and combined DAC sessions with meditations and activities that nobody in neuroscience seems to know anything about. Some of these worked out, and some of them didn't.
DAC technology has a built-in safety valve, so I don't worry about it too much. If I don't repeat a given procedure, its-after effects taper off. It takes 6 weekly applications of a given DAC session to have permanent after-effects. If A session design doesn't work for a person, we just stop it, wait a bit, and then proceed with a new one.
One might wonder if people are willing to put up with this. The answer is yes. Each person who experienced a negative after-effect was glad to have done so. Without exception, they all found that they understood themselves more clearly, and gained valuable personal insights through the process. We should remember that this was a spiritual community, and that all of them had, at one time or other, placed the exploration of their consciousness at the center of their spirituality. They all held in common that spiritual learning was more important than having pleasant experiences.
But before I go into what my subjects/clients experienced, I should say something about my own experiences. You see, most of my session designs were based on my own experiences, and then modified at Dr. Persinger's suggestion.
When Stan Koren found that faster computers were distorting the waveforms, he quickly authored a calibration program, and I was provided with a copy. He walked me through the setup and calibration process, and soon, I finally had a real DAC, just like the one I had seen on TV so long ago.
There was a set of equations that said that I should be able to handle an hour's exposure, every other day.
I set out to try all the waveforms and presentations (Presentation refers to the specific placement of the solenoids) with the calibrated COMPLEX (the name of the software that generates the waveforms) that I had tried with the uncalibrated one.
I had wanted to see what would happen if I 'went for broke', but I knew I would be taking a chance, and I had held back. Up to then, I had been either living with housemates or a family. At that time, I was living alone, and I was not so afraid of the consequences.
I decided to exceed the limits. I did 40 minutes of exposure per day for 8 days. What happened for me next was to turn limbic architecture from a textbook illustration into a road map for high-speed driving through my own consciousness. In very bad weather.
I worked with two waveforms. One was designed to match burst-firing from the amygdala, an emotional control area, and the other integrated typical neural firing patterns.
The waveform derived from the hippocampus didn't exist yet, and that meant that the primary after-effects I experienced were emotional. VERY emotional.
The sessions themselves were a little unpleasant. I had a brief vision of a horror-movie style dragon, rushing in to swallow me, and evaporating at the last second (whew!). I was using the solenoids over my temporal lobes, so I didn't get too many visual effects. Mostly, I experienced bursts of emotion. Joy, elation, anxiety, stark fear, love, and moments of poignant compassion that weren't directed anywhere or towards anyone in particular. I had some very intense experiences while falling asleep, too.
Right at the end of these sessions, I experienced a romantic disappointment. I loved her, but she didn't love me. So sad.
I spoke to her on the phone at this time, and she told me that she had a new boyfriend. I was crushed. I suddenly entered a depression; the worst one I had ever experienced. It was much stronger than its cause could account for. While falling asleep, I hallucinated her face against the ceiling, and, in despair, watched it disappear, leaving for a moment, only her smile, Cheshire Cat-like, floating above me.
It was because of the sessions, not the woman. It lasted for about 10 days. I thought of killing myself. I could only imagine failure as a scientist, and I found that if I didn't stay focused on doing something, I was pulled back into it. I also experienced incredible bursts of anxiety.
And it didn't get better, either. On the tenth day, I pulled myself together enough to realize that my childhood seizures, having been terrifying experiences, had probably given my right amygdala low thresholds, and that my own epileptic locus (the place where my seizures started) was probably being hit the hardest. I knew, because the right amygdala is involved in both anxiety and depression, that my locus was on the right.
I turned on the DAC, plugged in the solenoids, verified my signal, and put them on, both of them, over my left ear.
What happened next was to change my life, change me, and help me re-affirm my commitment to understand human consciousness. I literally became a new person in a matter of three minutes.
Within seconds, I was filled with an amazing joy, bliss, even ecstasy. There was nothing manic about it, though. I've had moments of mania in my life, and they always had a sense of being a burden, as though I were so elated that nothing I could do could express it.
In this experience, I felt that there was no need to do anything to act it out. It was smooth where mania was rough. It was fluid where mania was cumbersome.
I was HUNGRY, too. I went to the grocery store, where I met a friend and her kids on her way out. I was filled with a cheery sort of hail-fellow-well met feeling. The kind you see on Christmas cards portraying winter in Victorian England, where jolly rosy-cheeked gentlemen wish each other well. "....let nothing you dismay".
Everything seemed wonderful. The woman could be let go of, though I never felt really good around her again. The depression lifted, but I still had episodes of anxiety. These, too, had changed. The day before, I was anxious. that day, anxiety was happening to me. I wasn't as involved. I saw, in an immediate insight, how thoughts and emotions interacted with one another. I saw how emotions began with a trigger, which brought the body into it in a flash. I could observe, directly how emotions were actually parasthesias that invited certain kinds of thoughts to appear, and that allowing the thoughts created a cycle in which thoughts and emotions fed on each other.
The Buddha was right. Being aware of these processes can stop them cold. And in that moment, one can choose to feel good. Compassion is as available as anger when someone does something nasty. Just disconnect from the thoughts, and be aware.
I had been doing insight meditation (Also called Vipassana, Ch'an or Zen) for 14 years at that point, though not with real diligence. All of a sudden, I had the powers of insight and introspection that I thought might be there at the end of my life. There it was, fully-formed.
That's not all I had. I noticed that my hands were tingling a lot, and I had heard that these sensations were used in spiritual healing. Years earlier I had lived with a healer, called Karmu in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He had told me how to use these sensations as a part of his healing work. I mentioned it to a friend, who had a muscle cramp in one leg that had been bothering him for several months. I put my hands on his leg, and imagined that there were holes in the palms of my hands, and that I was breathing through these holes. In no time, I was overcome with a wave of emotion, and my hands began to tingle more intensely than they had before. I also felt heat coming out of my hands. Soon, I felt that I had done 'it', whatever 'it' was. My friend stood up to announce that the cramp was gone. It never came back, either. I have continued to use this skill once in a while, but I don't think that being a healer is my true calling in life. I am what I want to be: a brain scientist exploring consciousness, and healing is only one of the things my consciousness is capable of learning.
I went on using this session, with both solenoids over the left ears, for some time. Eventually, I abandoned it. It created too many anxiety attacks. Just to show the power of an interhemispheric intrusion, I'll tell you a story. One day, I was in the middle of an anxiety attack, trying to stay focused on the sensation of anxiety, instead of going into fearful thoughts, I decided, consciously, to simply relax. At the time, I was looking at a television program where a pretty overweight woman was talking about something. As I relaxed, the sensations became more intense for a moment, and then sort of 'cracked'. All of a sudden I was looking at this woman and thinking "how gorgeous!". This woman, who I never would have looked at before this way, was SEXY!!!! The fear was completely gone, and replaced with .......well, you know.
To this day, I can admire and be attracted to many more 'types' of women than before. It seems to permanent. The point is that an episode of fear can induce its opposite In this case, pleasant desire. It can happen when an emotion is denied the usual cognitive outlets, so that the only place for it to go is into the same structure on the other side of the brain. The amygdala is associated with both recognition, and sexuality. I had simply experienced a lowering of the thresholds associated with recognizing potential sexual partners, so that now, I have broader tastes. I had put a strain on my amygdala, and it was released in an instant. A bit like an earthquake, leaving the landscape permanently changed..
I had told some people about this experience, and they wanted to try it. I didn't have the heart to take them through the preceding phase where their right side was given more stimulation than the left.
Without going into it in detail, I found 5 people who were willing to receive 6 sessions of 20 minute stimulations with both solenoids over their left ears. All of them felt that they had been a bit depressed and that their self-esteem was on the low side.
Their responses were very different from mine, and I attribute it to the sessions I had had before. I had had a sudden recruitment of my left amygdala, we were attempting to gradually kindle these same structures.
Their responses showed an improvement in their moods for the first week. One of them talked about feeling 'lighter'. The second week was very different. All of them without exception reported extreme irritability. One of them actually had to lock himself into his room for a couple of days until he calmed down.
Another nearly lost her job by yelling at a co-worker. A third was "just plain cranky" as he put it. Another finally called the police on her ex-husband, who had been having temper tantrums while visiting his kids. She wondered aloud "Why didn't I do that a long time ago?", thinking about how she no longer had to worry about her ex-husband.
As the sessions proceeded, this tapered off. By the time the fifth week came, all of them were much more relaxed. I thought the sessions would help these people to achieve a more relaxed state. It did, but only after each one got angry at something. Two of them, a couple with HIV, decided they were worth more than the small cabin, threw out their friends who used their home as a place to gather and get drunk while watching martial arts movies. One night, in the second week of his sessions, he turned off the television, turned to his friends and said (as his girlfriend put it): "In case ya'll forgot, me 'n my girlfriend might 'jes be dying from AIDS, you assholes. When the fuck are you going to find another place to party?"
He said that he picked up a stick and he was ready to use it on them right then if they didn't get out that instant. His girlfriend restrained him, so he didn't get any farther than words. His friends stopped coming around to party, and soon they moved to another house. One that was twice as big for about the same rent. They were a bit surprised at themselves. They had been living like that for a long time. The man said that he didn't feel that his desire to live in peace and quiet was something new. Rather, he felt that he had always had it, and now he could feel it more clearly, and he had the motivation to do something about it.
He actually thanked me for "using that thing to get me so pissed off. I shoulda' done all that years ago. Them people were bringing me down."
The woman who exploded at her job, an experienced meditator, was a bit more articulate. What she said was the her self-esteem had gone up, and her patience for situations that put her down, like being asked for favors all the time, a situation she felt she had been encouraging by being too 'nice'. Abruptly, she stopped, and lashed out at those who had been taking advantage of her. Principally, her boss. She found that people started showing her more respect than before, and that not unexpectedly, she had to let go of some of her friendships.
I was a bit perplexed by these results. These people were thanking me for doing something I felt bad about: leading them into anger.
I took out my collection of abstracts of studies related to the amygdala, and looked at them again. This time, something stood out that hadn't before. The amygdala mediates the recognition of facial expressions, including those of anger. These few subjects, each in their own way, had said that they felt that the sessions had let them see and respond to things that they had already been feeling, but were unable to act out.
One of the most obvious things about anger is that the boss can show it with fewer social consequences than can the employee. The master can show all they want. The slave can't show it at all.
I realized that the two amygdala were specialized for different types of emotion. I knew that relating to social inferiors is less stressful than relating to social superiors. So, I decided that the simplest way to explain these results was to suppose that the left amygdala is more likely to dominate during interactions with social inferiors, and the right with social superiors. The slave is supposed to be afraid of the master. Then there's the result, obtained by Dr. Persinger, that right hemisphericity correlates with low self-esteem.
By enhancing the activity of their left amygdala, I had raised their perception of their own social rank, and their self-esteem. I'm beginning to suspect that 'self-esteem', might be nothing more than what we think others think of us.
Some Client Histories.
Most of my clients were residents of Harbin Hot Springs, a spiritual retreat center and community. I either invited them, or they heard about what I was doing, and asked to experience the sessions.
T. was a 73 year old man with a lifetime history of depression. He was one of the people who had received a series of sessions with both solenoids over the left ear. When he was an adolescent, he had had some visions of God, and he wanted me to help him to re-capture the experience. Dr. Persinger has a theory about how the brain participates in these experiences, and I thought this might be a good chance to test it. He made it clear, over many conversations, that he was willing to do whatever it took to attain it. After his third session, I asked him to do the 'sensed presence guided meditation' for the second time. (The first was before his first session, to establish that his amygdalae showed the normal specializations).
Within a minute, he had tears rolling down his cheeks. Although I hated to do it, I called him back within the usual time (3 minutes), and he said that he had felt God's presence just as he had when he was 14 years old.
I suggested he take on the 'sensed presence guided meditation as a part of his regular spiritual practice. He did, but to both of our disappointments, he did not experience God's presence again so directly. He had an intense episode of depression in this period, and decided to go check into a hospital. He was put on Paxil, and went home. Feeling nervous, I went to visit him, and found that he wanted to go on with his sessions. I asked him to wait three weeks, to allow temporary effects to taper off, (and to give me time to design a session for him). I didn't want to refuse out of concern for him, because he was very highly motivated to explore his consciousness. He also told me how his latest depression had given him new insights about himself, and that somehow, he would've missed out on them if it weren't for his sessions with me. I knew that if his hippocampus had become entrained with his amygdala during his sessions, he would experience an enhancement in his ability to introspect; to look within. Because the amygdala is important in the sense of meaningfulness, I knew that he would find almost anything he realized while in the hospital would mean a lot to him. While I was still looking at this, Dr. Persinger provided me with the hippocampal waveform. I offered it to him, after telling him that it was quite new and more experimental than his previous sessions. We talked about the hippocampus and its functions, and he became more interested. So, we left his amygdala alone.
We started doing hippocampal sessions. He enjoyed them immensely, right from the start. After his third session, I asked him to try the sensed presence meditation again. This time, things were different. He found himself looking at a diamond in his mind's eye. It was, he said, brilliant, and fiery. It could make light in any color he thought of, and he could imagine it pointing in any direction he liked.
We even tried a little experiment. I lay down on his sofa, and went into meditation. He imagined his inner diamond pointing different colored lights at me, and then I told him which colors,he had used, and in what order.
We made about 6 trials like this, using up to 4 colors. I got them right every time.
T.'s 'diamond remained with him, even though his goal, that of meeting God face-to-face, still eluded us. In the end, we never got it. When it came time for me to leave the area, I asked him how he felt about his sessions overall. He said that the diamond was the greatest inward blessing he'd ever received. He played with it constantly. I haven't kept up on him, but I did ask him about it some months later. He said it was still there, and still a source of bliss.
B. was actually referred to me by T. She came to me saying that T. told her I could do things with the brain that nobody else could. While that wasn't entirely true, I am able to find new things on my own from time to time. She told me that her problem was that she had been in an accident and sustained one of those injuries where a person's head is suddenly twisted to one side, and the brain is violently rotated. Afterwards, she had both short-term and long-term memory deficits. She also said that she had a lifetime history of depression.
After going through the usual speeches; that all of this is experimental, and that I had more experience with spiritual work than traumatic brain injuries, and that above all, I am a researcher, and not a clinician.
She said, in her smooth Texas drawl, "I come from a long line of psychics, and I'm just as interested in my spirituality as I am in my memory". After what T. had told her, she wasn't going to let me talk her out of it. And besides, I didn't want to.
I designed a session for her that combined a design by Dr. Persinger with the hippocampal waveform. And she responded to it. She felt that her recall was improved.
One of the reasons I consider this to be an important case is that she responded to the sensed presence guided meditation oppositely to most people. She felt the presence on the left to be unpleasant, and the one on the right to be protective. I used the opposite presentation for the amygdaloid portion of the session, and that worked out fine.
I had successfully used the sensed presence meditation to establish a non-typical amygdaloid specialization, and confirmed it using the DAC.
I had also found that hippocampal stimulation may be of real use for people who have sustained traumatic head injuries. The hippocampus is an elongated structure, running more or less front to back. Its more likely to move and sustain damage, than other, more compact, structures. Increasing its activity might speed the process of recovery, or create the possibility in cases that don't respond to more conventional therapies.
Investigating new treatments for these injuries needs to be done in a proper clinical environment, and although the theory is sound, and I do have a valid case history, funding for such a study is absent at present. When opportunity presents itself, I'll follow up on this. Or perhaps, as always, the right student might appear.
Paul Lowe never actually participated in my work directly. He is a group leader, who had regular events, called gatherings, at Harbin Hot Springs. Paul taught 'being in the present moment' as the main theme in his work. He used a number of approaches to bring his message across, including, he said, working "on a level that very , very few people could understand." This level, whatever it was, had something to do with what he called "The source." He said he was able to evoke the experience at will. In it, he said, he experienced a vibrant, almost shimmering infinite blackness. When he was in this state, he would see images, and over the years, he had learned that these images were meaningful for the person he was talking to just before he entered 'the source'.
I knew that inner imagery and the experience of inner space were both derived from the right hippocampus. He also claimed that what he said to people was less important than the 'energy' he was 'making available' to the people who attended his groups.
I reasoned that this 'energy' was, in fact, a state of consciousness, and that its availability referred to the possibility of other people's states of consciousness entraining onto his.
Paul claimed to be so in the present that his past no longer had anything to do with the present for him. Hmmmm, I thought. He also told of his childhood, and how he had spent years feeling that everything was 'just strange'.
Together, these two statements suggested to me that he was living in a kind of ongoing Jamais Vu. Jamais vu is something like the opposite of deja vu. While its happening, the present is utterly disconnected from the past. What's happening now isn't referred to, or compared with, the past. The places in the brain that render long-term memories are temporarily cut off from the places that maintain our experiences in the present.
He also talked about how music and singing had been an absolutely enthralling experience at times for him as a child. He loved being in his church's choir, where he was the voice the other singers were told to follow. He said that while he was singing at times, 'everything just turned into light.' If you know the limbic system, you know that processing music involves the right hippocampus and that "The light" is most likely to appear in association with activity in the amygdala, the structure next to the hippocampus.
I asked Paul if he would allow me to distribute our questionnaires in his group, and he agreed. The forms were passed out before the group began, and collected the first day.
Eventually, I looked at the data, and I was a bit stunned at what I found. When I compared how often Deja vu and Jamais Vu happen to the people who do his groups with how often they happen to two groups of temporal lobe epileptics (for whom these two experiences are diagnostic signs), I found that Paul's group experienced jamais vu six time more often than the TL epileptics, compared to how often they had deja vu. Some of the people who did the questionnaires in Paul's group were attending their first such group. and when I looked at their numbers, I found that their 'relative incidence' was much closer to normal.
So how to explain this? I looked at the possibility that the practice of remembering to be in the present (one way of putting paul's main message into words) could create such a neural profile, but the extremely slow rates at which these things are 'kindled', cognitively seems to rule this out.
Although its implications may be hard to accept, I found that the simplest explanation was that Paul was doing exactly what he said, except that in neural language, it comes out like this: His frequent entry into 'the source' during his work creates a non-random, recurring set of magnetic signals around him, and that these signals entrain the electrical and magnetic activity in the brains of those around him, trying to bring them closer and closer, over time, to the state of consciousness which Paul spends most of his time. At least, if he's telling the truth about it.
Paul's subjective state seems to be dominated by his right hippocampus, and the data from his group suggests that they make real progress in moving closer to his state, over time. Some incidents that have occurred during his groups seems to bear this out, and seem to rule out previous histories of jamais vu as the explanation. It could be that these people were predisposed to accept a spiritual message that said "Be Present", but the case of L.H. seems to rule this out. He had a lasting change in his right hippocampal functioning in just 5 days, and neither the mental exercise of being in the gathering nor a 'predisposition' to jamais vu will explain it.
L's own story of his history of altered-state experiences starts in his teen-aged years when he used to listen to rock 'n roll music, and find himself having visions. He also used to have strong visual experiences while falling asleep. He said he used to try to keep himself in the twilight state to prolong these visions, and felt they were the high point in his life in many ways.
While he was living and working At Harbin Hot Springs, he attended one of Paul's gatherings, and although he found them to be a bit insipid ('all these people sitting around and talking about their childhood 'stuff'), he stayed in the group, partly because he had a series of intense dreams while it was going on. He had an intuition that his dreams had something to do with his participation in the gathering. One of his dreams included seeing Paul and his partner placed on an arm of a spiral galaxy, floating in space (note that spatial perception is a right hippocampal function). He felt that this was the most important dream he'd had at the time.
Towards the end of the group, he began to feel unwell, and it got steadily worse. He felt lethargic and uncomfortable in his body. It reached the point where he barely had the energy to get up and go to the group. He managed all the same. He arrived in the group room, and immediately lay down. He sank deeper into his lethargy until something happened. He had the shortest out-of-body experience I've ever heard of. He was sure it couldn't have lasted more than a second or two.
When it was over, he found that his low-energy state had lifted. He felt wonderful. As he tells the story, Paul looked him and said; "Sometimes everything can change. All at once."
He found that everything looked beautiful to him after that. His eyes took in the world with incredible, sharp, detail. He also found that his visual field was covered with little dots. Everywhere. All the time.
He said he felt good all the time, but he said he was depressed, too. He couldn't really explain just what he meant by this, but he was sure it was so. He felt happy and depressed at the same time.
He was interested in the sessions, like most of my subjects/clients, as a means to consciousness exploration. Besides, he said, the dots were beginning to get boring.
After so many altered-state experiences, I suspected that his depression might be a variant of the low self esteem that comes up for 'right hemispheric' people.
I gave him a series of sessions using the amygdaloid waveform, combined with the hippocampal waveform. The amygdaloid waveform alone didn't change the dots, but after a couple of sessions with the hippocampal waveform, he began to have moments when the dots seemed to become fainter, and a week after that, he had moments when they stopped altogether. He also told me that he was having visual experiences while falling asleep once again, too.
We stopped the sessions when I moved from Lake county. We had changed the 'dots' a bit, but we hadn't stopped them. L. enjoyed the sessions, but he wasn't too bothered when it was time to stop. You see, he felt good all the time, so not too much bothered him.
The story didn't stop there. Some time later, I needed to test a new generation of the technology we use to create the waveforms. This time they were run off of a computer soundcard, instead of the DAC built by Stan Koren. I didn't want to give my amygdala any stimulation, so I selected a series of six hippocampal sessions, applied over the right side.
During the third week, I began to see dots everywhere. These continued until I took the soundcard-based signal generator to the next step, and utilized the soundcard's stereo capability to generate two signals simultaneously, one for the left side of the brain, and one for the right.
Of course, I used the amygdaloid waveform over the left, and the hippocampal waveform over the right.
The dots stopped.
The 'dots' are a rare phenomena. Dr. Persinger had never heard of them, and neither had I. Probably they relate to Enhanced Visual Acuity, which appeared for him at the same time. That implicates the right hippocampus.
That's not enough, by itself, to point to the right hippocampus, but one other detail seems to make it seem much more certain. When L.'s 'dots' started, his twilight state experiences stopped. And his visions while listening to music did, too.
And that means the right hippocampus was involved; no question about it. The explanation could be that entrainment between the magnetic signals from the group leader and L. during Paul's gathering had its rare and unusual effect because L. already had portions of the pathways involved primed for the experience.
I spoke with L. recently, and he said that he was taking a course in psychic development, and doing very poorly. He was supposed to learn some visualization exercises, and found that he couldn't visualize anything.
He also mentioned that the 'dots' were fading a bit, and that he was becoming more depressed again. Whatever is behind the dots may have something to do with the subtler aspects of depression, and that, together with the rarity of the phenomena, makes this a special case. And of course, L. enjoys the neurological approach to his spiritual process, so I hope to continue working with him. Subjects like L. are every researcher's dream. To him, being a subject is fun.
When I told Bhagwan Das that I'd keep his identity secret, he just laughed at me. He said "But I want to be famous! Use my name wherever you want. In fact, use it all you can."
Nobody I know looks quite like Bhagwan Das. He's over six feet tall, heavily built and he has a booming voice. He has the matted locks of a Hindu Sadhu, and keeps any number of images of hindu deities in his hair, which he wears piled on his head in a tall topknot.. I had talked to him about his spiritual experiences earlier, and he had told me that he entered the state that I called The Void, and that Paul called The source, whenever he was in prayer. He called it "The Womb of Kali."
Bhagwan Das has published his spiritual autobiography under the title : "Its here now. Are you?" He had been a disciple of Neem Karoli Baba, an Indian saint credited with the power to do miracles. Ram Das's book, "Miracle of love" is devoted to stories about him.
For once in my laboratory experience, I had a chance to apply evidence drawn from a scripture right into a session design. The scripture was "The Vissudhimagga, or the path of purification." Its the Buddhist text that describes how to do miracles. Like the Western traditions on the same subject, it says that a person's visualization skills must be developed to a very high level.
But unlike other texts on the subject, the Vissudhimagga gave very precise instructions about how to do it. It said that there was a state of consciousness one had to attain first, called 'the realm of infinite space'. It also said that the space was a dark one. Of course, I recognized this description. It might well refer to the Void, or The Source.
Bhagwan Das knew the Vissudhimagga: he had studied it during his stay in India. When I read the parts that discussed this to him, he was very interested. If his Guru really had done miracles, then Bhagwan Das had been exposed, just like the people who attended Paul's groups, to a non-random signal created by a mind with an exceptional neurological profile, while in an unusual state of consciousness. If miracles, or even just believing that they have occurred, is a matter of visualization, then it falls within the sphere of the right hippocampus.
Bhagwan Das received three hippocampal sessions, and during his series, he lead several Hindu events called 'satsangs'. He had been working with a visualization exercises where he would imagine his Guru touching people, giving them blessings.
After his second session, Bhagwan Das told me that when he was singing devotional songs during the satsangs, (when he would usually enter the void state), he imagined his guru, using the sensed presence guided meditation, and imagined him moving around the room, touching people. When Bhagwan Das' imagined guru touched people, he told me later, they began having 'kriyias': dramatic, powerful 'peak' experiences. These, he told me, included visions, bliss attacks, and spontaneous body postures, like those taught in Yoga.
In Hindu vocabulary, Bhagwan acquired the ability to give "shaktipat": the direct transmission of 'shakti' from Guru to disciple. By the traditional rules of disciplic succession, Bhagwan Das had become a "Satguru" in his own right. He did not need to use words any longer to do his spiritual work with others.
He even claimed that he manifested a flower out of thin air, after his third session, just like another famous Indian Saint, Satya Sai Baba. But whereas the people who went to his Satsang could go up to him afterward, and tell him what they experienced, the flower could not.
I wish I could believe, as a scientist, in that flower. If it really happened, I may have stumbled onto the neurological basis of miracles. Water into Wine. Feeding the multitudes from a small basket.
For now, the most I can say is that right Hippocampal activity plays an important role in the production of reports of miracles. And that's a start.
I need to go back in time a bit here, to the point when I first started doing hippocampal sessions on myself.
At first, I wanted to be cautious. My previous experience with the amygdaloid waveform made me cautious about applying any waveform over both sides of my head. I was afraid I'd activate my 'locus', and that was fairly sure to be unpleasant. So, I put both solenoids over my left ear, and ran the waveform.
I found that I began to have visions almost immediately. They were relays of scenes I had either seen in movies, or that my imagination had created while reading books.
Unfortunately for those moments, the visions were horrific. Samurai were cutting their stomachs open. Aztecs were waiting in line to have their hearts cut out. Jews were walking calmly into gas chambers. Hindu widows were climbing on their husband's funeral pyres. These were all images of suicide either by necessity or by proxy. Something like suicidal ideation, but not quite.
I did this twice, with the same effect. each session lasted about an hour, with the images beginning about halfway through.
The next day, I reviewed my abstracts about the hippocampus, and found one by Dr. Persinger that I hadn't noticed before that said that this waveform was more pleasant when applied over the right. I had gotten it from a different database that most of his others, and hadn't filed it properly.
I learned a valuable lesson, then. When dealing with neuromagnetic waveforms, always read the label.
The next night, I put both solenoids over the right and ran the hippocampal waveform. I was concerned that I was approaching the threshold where I would wake up my locus, so I figured I wouldn't let it go on if I didn't feel anything, or if I felt anything unpleasant. But I needn't have been concerned.
I found I was suddenly energized. For the next several nights, I was up until 4:00 am, aggressively learning everything I could about my new computer (running Windows95). I will tell my computer story later on, but I simply couldn't sit still right then. I needed something to occupy my suddenly energized and dynamic mind. I was in a very good mood, too. I found I had a lot to say to anyone I met, and I felt compelled to exercise. Several times per day.
I repeated the session over the next few weeks, trying to hold on to that state (it was a lot of fun.) Soon, however, my locus was activated, and I began to experience anxiety attacks, so I stopped.
I waited three weeks, and tried it again, this time using the amygdaloid waveform over the left, and the hippocampal waveform over the right. Like before, I had some sessions followed by pleasant weeks, and then I began to get more and more anxious moments until I decided to stop.
I have a miniature neural highway connecting my right hippocampus with my right amygdala, burned into the limbic landscape by childhood seizures. And when it got a lot of traffic, I feel anxious.
If I stimulated my left amygdala, it spilled over into my right amygdala because it was kindled during my seizures, leaving me with lower-than-normal thresholds there. If I stimulated my right hippocampus, the locus itself would bleed the activity into my amygdala on the right.
So, I asked myself, how could I keep the right amygdala out of the picture?
The answer came back: entrainment. If I could find a way to get the left amygdala and the right hippocampus to work together, I might be able to avoid bringing up fear and irritability, These, I knew were unique to me and other TL epilepsy patients. But finding a way around them would increase the safety and pleasantness for everyone who received them.
In order to maximize the chances for real entrainment to happen, I knew I'd have to abandon using two waveforms, one after the other. I'd have to apply both at once.
The DAC built by Stan Koren could only put out one signal at a time, and I wanted two. Dr. Persinger had told me about an unsuccessful attempt to get the DAC output to run from a cassette tape, and another using Mp3 format.
Mp3 was developed for it compression capabilities. Long songs could fit in small computer files. If that one failed, the solution might lie in the more massive formats, the ones that were developed before the music industry became interested in computer-based players.
I ended up working with personal computer media wave files, the standard Windows format. They had all the technical parameters, and most soundcards were up to the intensity of the signal. The only question was how to get the file player on the soundcard to match the output from the DAC.
I was to go through 6 drafts of these files before I had one that had the same effects on me, subjectively. I had to learn about the hardware limitations of commercial soundcards, and explore strategies for overcoming them, and the effort paid off. I did 6 sessions, once per week, using the hippocampal waveform. I wrote about this series earlier in this article. This is when I saw client L.'s 'dots', among other things.
When I was satisfied that I had it, I developed an HTML software called "Shakti". It included three files, a player, and some sound utilities. I sent it in to the lab, and it seems to be passing the tests.
As complex magnetic signals are explored more we should reasonably expect to find more and more clinical applications for them. Shakti generates these waveforms from a soundcard, and there are literally millions of them already in use in hospitals and clinics around the world. In many cases, they were provided with pre-assembled computers. In cases where there are no sound cards, new ones can be installed very inexpensively. In developing countries, second hand soundcards can be purchased very cheaply, and Sound Blaster sound cards can still be purchased, wholesale for just a few dollars each. While the 16-bit card needs adjustment to get proper response in the low-frequency range, and some just won't perform below 30hz at all, most soundcards are be able to make waveforms that create the effects we're looking for. Some tests with really bad hardware are in order.
Dr. Persinger continues to do experimental trails with affective disorders, and his discoveries can be applied in countries where other approaches are too expensive.
The 'sensed presence' and the ego-alien 'other'.
One of the ideas I want to develop is that the sensed presence is only one example of a much larger group of phenomena in which we project our non-verbal self. I think children do it when they pretend their toys are alive.
Perhaps lovers do it when they idealize their beloveds, making them into more than they really are. Devotees do it with God, and disciples to it with their masters. I am beginning to wonder if we ever really see other people. Perhaps, instead, we usually see ourselves as we are when we are with them, and project that onto them.
To look more deeply into this, I'd like to investigate the phenomena where children project presences onto their toys, so that a crayon becomes "Mr. Crayon." Adults who work with small children and are able to enter this state should experience the 'sensed Presence' more often than other adults. Also, adults who are prone to romanticism and/or 'love at first sight' should also feel the 'sensed presence' more often than others.
We shall see. I believe that romanticism and devotional spirituality are made of the same 'stuff', and this line of inquiry might lead to their integration, at least, in the eyes of neuroscience.
Dr. Persinger developed the concept of interhemispheric intrusions to explain how some kinds of mystical experiences occur. These happen when activity in the right limbic system, primarily the amygdala, crosses a certain, crucial, threshold. When this happens, the activity spills over into the left amygdala, initiating a very emotionally charged positive experience.
I could see that the left side of the limbic system was positive where the amygdala was concerned, but for as the hippocampus, it was the opposite.
I'd like to see how many aspects of limbic function can be explained by the notion that the amygdala and hippocampus on each side of the brain serve to attenuate one another. When a given positive emotion becomes too intense, it will initiate negative, especially anxious ideation. Such limbic architecture would, when functioning properly, reduce the chances of mania. negative emotions could be similarly reduced in normal life as the right hippocampus responds to elevated right amygdaloid activity.
I'd like to do some more studies in the neurology of language. Even though its one of the best-understood functions in the brain, the exact mechanism whereby the brain presents words to consciousness is still unknown. I'd like to look into the possibility that language is an hallucinatory and synesthetic phenomena. Words might be auditory hallucinations which are synesthetically matched to different perceptions from various sensory and cognitive modalities. The important language centers include many structures in the temporal lobes, areas that are known to support hallucinatory phenomena.
This idea is really engaging to me because if it works out, it will point to the existence of an almost invisible level of limbic function. One where the structure of grammar and syntax are created. These never appear except to express vocabulary. If all the various phenomena based in the limbic system were also subject to such subtle structuring, we would find ourselves looking at an almost figmentary level of brain functioning. One where the phenomena seen in temporal lobe experiences is only the outward face of an inner, still unseen structure. The limbic contribution to grammar and syntax might also lend order to many other temporal lobe phenomenologies.
This looks like a big project to me. In doing it, I might enter a library and never come out again. So, for now, I'm just letting it simmer
I have a thought, which I've started to develop, that consciousness functions to mediate states of consciousness, and that states of consciousness are the way evolution has found to adjust our senses, thoughts, emotions, body tension, heartbeat, breathing, etc. all at once, as a group.
If I'm on the right track here, then we experience the world and our own subjectivities because in order to adjust all these things at once, a single interface is necessary. And we experience this interface as the phenomena of subjective awareness. And that leads us to my next hypothesis-awaiting-development.
The human sense of self.
The human sense of self is an amazing thing. Its there when we are awake, and its there when we're asleep and dreaming. Its absent while we're in dreamless sleep. There is a characteristic EEG signal that appears in both waking a dreaming. Its called the 40hz component, and its disrupted whenever either the amygdala or the hippocampus isn't working properly. One of the things these two structures do is produce hallucinations. To simplify limbic design, it might have made the sense of self, not to be confused with consciousness itself, out of the same things it uses to produce memories, dreams, and hallucinations. All of these things rely on inner imagery. The self, on the other hand might be an inner hallucination extrapolated from cognitive and emotional phenomena, just like more normal hallucinations are extrapolated out of sensory information.
The Buddha looks right to me once again. There is no self. Its an hallucination. An ongoing, inner hallucination in a sensory modality that only has one percept.
I think that's enough theory for now. This is supposed to be an article for non-specialists, so I'm going to stop at this point.
Thanks for reading this. I enjoyed writing it.
Romantic Love and the Brain
"The Sensed Presence"
God in the Brain
Spiritual Aptitude Test
Sex_and States of Consciousness
The Spiritual Personality
A Diet For Epileptics?
The Big Bang
Meditations from Brain Science
The Terrorist Brain
Hippocrates on Epilepsy