Saturday June 17, 2006
One of the biggest disappointments of my so-called adult life is the sad realisation that I can neither fly nor move objects with the power of my mind. This definitely sucks. But for all their broken promises, as the prison ships become more and more crowded, when I am prime minister of the One World Government, the psychics will be left well alone.
They’re just too much fun. Up in Scotland, the Evening Mail has been teasing “Angela’s Live Psychic Line”: the adverts say their psychics are the “real thing” and “truly gifted” at only 75p a minute. Apparently Angela was recruiting, so one cheeky scamp at the Evening Mail thought she’d apply for a job: this is the great British sport of “moron baiting”, and it’s a game we can all play.
After a gruelling 10-minute phone interview the reporter had a new job. Psychic Angela asked her for a test reading; the reporter told her she was “at a crossroads but on the brink of success”, and was hired immediately, despite being neither “truly gifted” nor, more importantly, “the real thing”. “Her crystal ball must have been on the blink when she signed up our reporter to dupe gullible punters,” said the Evening Mail.
But of course, there is a natural human drive to seek out the transcendent. A “neurotheology” researcher called Dr Michael Persinger has developed something called the “God Helmet” lined with magnets to help you in your quest: it sounds like typical bad science fodder, but it’s much more interesting than that.
Persinger is a proper scientist. The temporal lobes have long been implicated in religious experiences: epileptic seizures in that part of the brain, for example, can produce mystical experiences and visions. Persinger’s helmet stimulates these temporal lobes with weak electromagnetic fields through the skull, and in various published papers this stimulation has been shown to induce a “sensed presence”, under blinded conditions.
There is controversy around these findings: some people have tried to replicate them, although not using exactly the same methods, and got different results. But however improbable or theologically offensive you might find his evidence, because it is published and written up in full, you can try to replicate it for yourself and find out whether it works. In fact, you really can try this at home: the kit needed to make a God Helmet is fabulously rudimentary.
You can order a commercial product online for just $220 (Â£119): it is basically eight magnetic coils that fit over the relevant parts of your skull; the signal is generated by your computer’s soundcard, and then played through these magnetic elements, instead of through the magnetic coils of your speakers.
More excitingly, you can go to the open source development forum Sourceforge and check out “Open-rTMS“, where designs for the necessary hardware and software are being developed collaboratively and openly, and by the same people who brought you “OpenEEG“, a surprisingly effective EEG system that you can also make at home.
In many respects, Sourceforge is exactly what the enlightenment should always have been about: fearless gentlemen self-experimenters, collaborating openly and freely, in search of kicks. It’s only a fleeting peculiarity of local cultural factors that has resulted in science being so drearily identified with “industry”. They stole our revolution. We’re stealing it back. I want my God helmet and I want it now.
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