God on the Brain: Part Three

 

I feel detached from my body. I am floating up . . . there is a kind of vibration moving through my sternum . . . there are odd lights or faces along my left side. My body is becoming very hot . . . tingling sensations in my chest and stomach . . . now both arms. There is something feeling my ovaries. I can feel my left foot jerk. I feel there is someone in the room behind me.[1]

This was the report of one test subject in the lab of neuroscientist Michael Persinger, who has made the claim that ‘genuine religious experiences’ can be artificially induced with a device called the ‘Koren Helmet,’ more popularly known as the ‘God Helmet.’[2] The epithet was bestowed by journalists after discovering that some claimed to have had visions of God under the Helmet’s influence and the name stuck.[3] Persinger’s God Helmet—the earliest models looking something like a motorcycle helmet with wires without and electrodes within—is said to induce a ‘visitor experience,’ variously interpreted as closeness with God or in the presence of angels, saints, ancestors, aliens, ghosts, and other supernatural agents. (One subject claimed the testing chamber should be exorcised because the Devil was in there, while others have claimed the presence of demons.)[4] Persinger repeatedly identifies this induced state as the ‘God experience.’[5]

Shiva Neural Stimulation System, a commercialized version of the God Helmet [credit: http://www.shaktitechnology.com, reproduced with the temporary permission of Todd Murphy, which does not suggest in any way that he endorses my views]

Shiva Neural Stimulation System, a commercialized version of the God Helmet [credit: http://www.shaktitechnology.com, reproduced with the temporary permission of Todd Murphy, which does not suggest in any way that he endorses my views]

The Original Koren Helmet, created by Persinger and Stanley Koren [credit: http://www.shaktitechnology.com, reproduced with the temporary permission of Todd Murphy, which does not suggest in any way that he endorses my views]

The Original Koren Helmet, created by Persinger and Stanley Koren [credit: http://www.shaktitechnology.com, reproduced with the temporary permission of Todd Murphy]

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‘Religion-and-Science’: Complicating the Pairing


Based on my previous post, it may appear that I am supporting the pairing of religion and science. However, this is not so, as my intent is to be neutral. As such, I provide this post as a balance. Here, it is my aim to historicize and contextualize the pairing, integrating, unifying, etc. of religion-and-science[1] and demonstrate that the grouping is also problematic for theorizing the religion-science relationship.

The pairing cannot be said to have appeared until after the emergence of the academic field[2] of religion-and-science—which assumes that there is some connection between religion and science, otherwise there would be no specialized field to speak of—and thus I will turn to historicizing this professional enterprise.

It was once debated whether religion-and-science could be regarded as a specialized field of its own;[3] today, however, this is undeniable. There are thousands of references, including monographs and articles, dozens of conferences, an increasing number of peer-reviewed journals,[4] both domestic and international societies for the study of religion-and-science,[5] and, more recently, there has been a growing presence of religion-science dialogue on the Internet.[6]

When did this field arise? Putting periodization problems to the side,[7] we can instead trace a red thread, gaining momentum, and nuclei of development. Many of the issues discussed in what we today consider the field of religion-and-science have been analyzed since antiquity and on into the Middle Ages,[8] but during this time period these ideas were not considered in a specifically religion-and-science context.

What might be called the ‘beginnings’ of the field did not arise until the end of the nineteenth century, with the work of John William Draper, History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (1874).[9] According to Draper:

Livre_Draper

Draper in Translation [credit: Wikimedia Commons]

“The history of Science […] is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compression arising from traditionary [sic] faith and human interests on the other.”[10]

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