Hacking the brain
(An improved and updated version of this material has appeared in some of my academic papers. The version below is kept for legacy purposes.)
A reader asked me a question that I find interesting and relevant, so I wanted to write a brief article summarizing my thoughts on it. His question is this: Since my philosophical position is that the brain is a mechanism for localizing consciousness, thereby modulating conscious perception without generating it (see this article for an overview of my position), we should be able to 'hack' the brain so to turn off parts of it and induce non-local, transpersonal experiences in a repeatable manner. Therefore, the reader asks, why can't we do it, for instance, through transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)? Why can't we use strong magnetic fields to turn off parts of the brain and "leave our bodies," so to speak? As background, the short video above dramatically illustrates the effects of TMS.
As one can see in the video, TMS can impair our ability to perform the simplest tasks, depending on which area of the brain it turns off. This is consistent with the hypothesis that the brain simply modulates conscious perception: by interfering with different parts of the modulation mechanism, perception and cognition can be dramatically altered or limited, even though they are not generated by the brain. But, true to the question I got, it should also be possible to induce transpersonal, non-local experiences if the right areas of the localization/modulation mechanism are turned off.
This is precisely what happens.
The passage below is a fragment of a paper by Dr. Pim van Lommel:
[D]uring stimulation [of the brain] with higher energy [magnetic fields], inhibition of local cortical functions occurs by extinction of their electrical and magnetic fields (personal communication Dr. Olaf Blanke, neurologist, Laboratory for Presurgical Epilepsy Evaluation and Functional Brain Mapping Laboratory, Department of Neurology, University Hospital of Geneva, Switzerland). Blanke recently described a patient with induced OBE [Out of Body Experience] by inhibition of cortical activity caused by more intense external electrical stimulation of neuronal networks in the gyrus angularis in a patient with epilepsy. (My italics)The work of Dr. Michael Persinger with the 'God helmet' also illustrates how transpersonal experiences can be induced through TMS. I wrote an earlier article discussing my interpretation of Persinger's work. For a general overview of the 'God helmet' research, see the short video below.
The interesting thing is that materialists often point to these results as evidence that consciousness is generated by the brain. After all, they show that transpersonal experiences can be induced simply by a manipulation of very material brain mechanisms. Even proponents of, for instance, the transcendent reality of near-death experiences (NDE) often feel compelled to point out how true NDEs have elements that cannot be reproduced by TMS or hypoxia. Yet, NDE-like transpersonal experiences are exactly what one would expect from these TMS experiments or hypoxia episodes if the hypothesis that the brain merely modulates consciousness is indeed true. I fail to understand why people on both sides of the argument seem to take for granted that transcendent experiences are invalid if induced by brain function manipulation.
There is a clear pattern indicating that most transcendent experiences happen precisely when brain function is diminished in particular ways, as I argued before in this blog. So, for instance, if pilots undergoing G-LOC report NDE-like experiences, it's because they did have valid, transcendent, NDE-like experiences through hypoxia, which diminished their brain function and released their consciousness from the grip of the localization mechanisms operating in the brain. I believe it to be a flawed argument when materialists point at these G-LOC experiments to argue that NDEs have a purely physiological basis. I believe that the experiments show precisely the opposite, and I claim that my interpretation is a more logical and natural one: If the experience seems to transcend the brain, it's because it does.
Too many of our conclusions seem to be arrived at through mere prejudice or unconscious assumptions. A transcendent, non-local experience entails perceptions and cognition that far exceed the physical boundaries of the body. That the mechanism for inducing such experiences involves de-activation of specific brain processes does not necessarily mean that the source of the corresponding perceptions and cognition are brain processes. When I open a tap, the mechanism for inducing the flow of water is in the tap, but the tap itself is not the source of the water.