Using two simultaneous, structure-specific, complex magnetic wave forms to facilitate experiences and growth termed 'religious, mystic, and/or spiritual.'
Shakti does not diagnose or treat medical disorders
Laurentian University's M. A. Persinger's, and S. Koren's many conversations, tests, and reviews were an indispensable part of Shakti's development. Without their participation, consent, and agreement, it would not have been possible.
Several studies have pointed to the possibility that neural stimulation using low-intensity complex magnetic signals can induce a class of experience termed religious, mystic, or spiritual ( 18, 19, 20, 5 ). Other studies have found that repeated stimulation can have positive emotional effects (1 ). For our purposes, we'll treat spirituality as a trait definable as 'the propensity to enter (reported) altered states of consciousness, including positive affective and cognitive components, as well as motivating adaptive behavior.
Hardware and an audio CD were created ("Shakti") that would apply audio analog (in PC ".wav" format) utilizes both stereo channels independantly, allowing the two sides of the brain to each receive different wave forms. These are made available, following screening, informed consent and a payment, to Internet users for self-administration to monitor its safety for 'home use' on a larger and eventually a commercial scale. In addition, a further goal is to develop procedures that will make spiritual learning equally available for all.
Shakti's session design posits that repeated, simultaneous stimulation of the left amygdala (associated with positive affect) and the right hippocampus (associated with a positive cognitive style) will, over time, raise the baseline activity of these two structures, allowing a positive emotive and cognitive style for individuals, possibly by entraining their neuroanatomical substrates with each other. This is postulated to be within the range of personality alterations described popularly as 'Spiritual Transformation'.
In earlier work, an EEG signal, derived from the amygdala, was processed so that an analog (complex) magnetic signal could be extrapolated from it (known as "burstx"). This same signal is applied over the dominant hemisphere (usually the left). The signal is specific to the amygdala, so if its applied only to the dominant hemisphere (whose amygdala is associated with positive affect), subjects report positive emotional states. When these sessions are repeated for six weeks, positive changes have been reported. (1). The direction of the effects suggests that Shakti's left-channel use of burstx may be able to enhance the affective components of human spirituality.
A magnetic analog to a signal associated with Long-Term Potentiation (40) ( known as "LTP") (which targets the hippocampus) has been reported in publication as more pleasant when applied over the right side than the left (32). Findings of reduced hippocampal mass associated with dysphoria (6) seem to suggest that increasing hippocampal activity could have positive affective and cognitive effects. There are unpublished reports of positive alterations in cognitive style ("thinking more positively"), as well as enhanced visual acuity, associated with this signal when applied over the right. That the hippocampus is most strongly linked to the prefrontal cortex (39), an area whose activity is essential for maintaining the capacity for anticipating outcomes for ongoing events, including positive ones, is noteworthy. However, the application of LTP over the right hemisphere should elicit cognitive effects rather than affective ones. Further, because the hippocampus is involved in monitoring a person's inner state ( 10 ), hippocampal involvement should, in principle, enhance participant's ability to be aware of Shakti's effects.
If Shakti were to elicit the same class of effects, in the same direction as those elicited through the DAC (digital-to-analog output device), it should prove as able to enhance spirituality as defined above.
One hypothesis to explain the how complex magnetic signals influence the brain is that the exogenous magnetic signals entrain (2) electrical firing of large matrices of neurons during the stimulation. The synaptic connections between these neurons and their connections to other neuronal groups (including those outside the limbic system, most notably the temporal and frontal lobes) are activated by this process. Recent research has shown that the proportion of alpha activity, even measurable by classical EEG, can be affected by the anistropic or asymmetric application of these fields after about 10 min of exposure (10). Thereafter, if this research obtains results similar to pervious studies, the functions of these structures should be more available than they were previously, raising the probabilities of spiritual emotional and cognitive states for the individuals receiving the sessions.
A second hypothesis to explain the effects of complex magnetic signals, is less well-explored, although it still cannot be ruled out. Dynamic Stabilization (41) is the name given to a proposed process whereby rarely-accessed memories are initiated (usually during sleep) for their normal maintenance. A vestibular mechanism might be invoked to maintain it's functional integrity and emerge to the experient as a dream of flying. Complex magnetic signals might evoke matrices of neurons more likely to be initiated for their stabilization. The notion relies heavily on that of use-dependency, as well as corroborating the perspective from which religious, mystic, and spiritual experiences emerge as normal brain functions, not dissimilar from learning and memory.
A third hypothesis is that the effects are actually unusual examples of learning and memory, based on the observation that the effects of a single session taper off in three to four days. Dr. Persinger (10) "The analogy would be similar to the time required to consolidate new experiences and their probability of occurring in dreams. There are two declining curves in traditional memory studies. The first, the Ebbinghaus curve, shows a massive loss of detail within about one day. The second, which is more relevant for narrative data and experiential emotive data, shows a decrease over about three days after which the amount of detail asymptotes." Instances where Shakti effects endure would be explained in this model because the individual learns to avoid cognitive habits, patterns and styles that prevent them.
The explanation that lasting Shakti effects are due to normal memory processes is lent credence by a recent study (11) which found that "there were no strong or consistent correlations" between the duration of meditation practice and the incidence of experiences like those occurring in complex partial epilepsy. Although meditation does make changes in cognitive and emotional habits, it does so without altering limbic lability. A parsimonious explanation is that periods in which individuals do not engage in dysphoric affect or negative cognition, such as happens with spiritual practice, teach individuals strategies for their avoidance in other contexts, e.g. 'daily life'. Suspending 'negativity' during meditation or prayer trains an individual to suspend them in other contexts. The aforementioned study precludes kindling as a mechanism for the effects of meditation, in spite of the many similarities between spiritual experiences and the phenomenology of Complex Partial epilepsy (26).
By our previous definition, session recipients should become more 'spiritual', which may mean learning to suppress states that are counter to spiritual growth. Because individual neural histories will introduce differential responses to the sessions, individual responses should be expected to vary.
Previous relevant studies
The amygdaloid wave form, which approximates burst firing, has been applied over both sides of the brain in several studies. When its applied over the right side, the usual result is dysphoria, both during and after the stimulation sessions (3, 4, 20). When this same wave form is applied over the left side, the stimulation evokes much more pleasant feelings, both during and after the sessions (18, 19). During sessions using this wave form, stimulation over the left was rated as more pleasant than over the right. In one study, the sessions were so pleasant that subjects became irritated when they were interrupted (36). In another study (1), a group of victims of traumatic brain injury experienced "a significant improvement" in affect.
The right amygdala's contribution to death anxiety (23) suggests that left amygdaloid stimulation could easily attenuate it. Freedom from fear of dying is a common theme in spiritual traditions of many derivations, and it's attainment is taken as evidence of spiritual growth. Dr. Persinger, and the rest of our research group place considerable weight on the notion (23, 37) that attenuating death anxiety is a crucial function of both human spirituality and limbic system function (25, 26, 27, 28), and that its neural substrate can be accessed using limbic stimulation (18).
A magnetic analog to a signal associated with Long-Term Potentiation (40) ( known as "LTP") (which targets the hippocampus) has been reported in publication as more pleasant when applied over the right side than the left (32). The hippocampus functions to consolidate and retrieve memories, as well as to contextualize information. On the right, it does so with non-verbal information. The right-channel; hippocampal signal will target an area inplicated in experiences that go beyond words, as well as experiencing events without the 'inner dialog' that so many spiritual traditions maintain inhibit spiritual states. This is a theme in many spiritual traditions, especially those of Asia.
Individualized technical support can be offered which utilizes the results of research in this field.
Technical support procedures include:
1) A questionnaire querying applicants for 5 TL signs and a set of TL related-experiences. The results can be examined to establish the hemispheric dominance, Temporal Lobe Lability., and history of amygdaloid and hippocampal episodes, if any. A history of grand mal or petit mal seizures should exclude individuals from use. A high incidence of complex epileptic signs (which correlate with temporal lobe lability.) should not disqualify individuals from participating, as otherwise normal individuals often display elevated temporal lobe signs (28, 29, 30, 38) All other conditions being equal, the higher an individual's degree of Temporal Lobe lability, the more pronounced their response to the sessions will be (10).
Although the frequency of complex partial epileptic signs is gathered for only five items, these items are spread over three modalities: Cognitive (Deja and Jamais vu), Affective (The Sensed Presence), and Somatic (vestibular experiences and parasthesias). Together with other TL-related experiences reported in the intake questionnaires these items allow individuals broad profiles for TL lability to be discerned.
2) Two cognitive exercises. One of them, reported in the literature (16) in a different application, has been found to induce the 'sensed presence' experience in one group (people who have had Near-Death Experiences) found to demonstrate enhanced temporal lobe lability. The 'sensed presence' experience has been associated with amygdaloid pathways. The exercise consists of imagining a presence behind one, and first to the left, and then to the right. In normal individuals, imagining a presence behind, and to the left is more pleasant than on the right. In another study (17), students asked to imagine holding an infant were found to prefer the left side as well. Those who have more to report from this exercise should demonstrate more amygdaloid signs on intake, and more hippocampal response to Shakti, if previous unpublished patterns of response to complex magnetic signals are demonstrated.
In a study (still in progress) of temporal lobe lability in a group of massage school students, only one out of 26 found imagining a presence behind and to the right to be more pleasant. In this writer's experience, two individuals found imagining a presence on the right to be more pleasant. Both individuals were women. When the second was given an amygdaloid wave form over the right side, the response was positive (a left-sided presentation was not attempted).
Common responses to imagining a presence on the left include feeling 'comforted, safe, nurtured, and protected'. One the right, the sense of a presence induced by this exercise has been described with words including 'threatening, scary, disgusting, and stern'. In one anecdote, a child (female, 8 yrs.) who was experiencing 'monsters under her bed - 'made them go away' - by imagining her (deceased) grandmother behind her, and to the left.
The second exercise is called the 'open space' guided meditation, and it relies on the observation that the hippocampus mediates spatial perception. The subject is asked to imagine that they are standing, in one case, on the 'observation deck of a Spaceship' facing away from the windows so that they have a vast space behind them, and to the right, and then to repeat it with a vast space to the left. Other scenarios have been used, all of them emphasizing space on one side only. Although fewer people have tried this exercise, and its not yet reported in the literature, a pattern has emerged. Imagining space on the right is usually more pleasant than doing so on the left. Words used to describe imagined space on the right include "interesting, engaging, fun, and fascinating". Words used to describe imagined space on the left include "boring, flat, dull, and lethargic". As with the amygdala, this cognitive hemispheric specialization was corroborated by using the opposite presentation in response to an opposite response to the 'guided meditation'.
Both the 'sensed presence and the 'open space' test are best done after sunset, when melatonin levels are rising, to get the clearest result, and the act of imagining is more likely to unfold into the 'sensed presence' experience as it would in a more spontaneous transient Temporal Lobe experience. It can be done on the subject's own, (provided they aren't 'cued' in any way before their first use of the exercise) and reporting their experiences with them is part of the intake form.
Both exercises should be done with eyes shut, and should be preceded by a brief (-1 min) period in which the subject pays attention to their breathing, a classical meditation technique. The latter's effectiveness in enhancing the experience has been established empirically, and remains unexplained. The details of these exercises are furnished to underscore the point that right handedness in itself is not an indicator of normal limbic hemispheric specialization.
The exercises are not used in the Shakti intake process to establish limbic handedness. Rather, they are used to exclude individuals who demonstrate ambidexterity with regard to these exercises, unless a very low level of TL lability is also evidenced. While a functionally reversed limbic structure leaves a person receiving a wave form on the wrong side, with possible negative consequences, the effect may easily be reversed by applying the appropriate wave form over the opposite hemisphere. Correcting such an effect with a true limbic functionally ambidextrous person would be harder. Until procedures for such individuals are established, it's best to disqualify individuals whose response to these cognitive exercises is ambiguous, unless other items on the intake form evidence a low level of TL lability. There is precedent for the concept of 'componential' handedness, where the functions of one region do not appear contralateral to their usual positions, but have their functional anatomical bases divided between the two hemispheres ( 7 ) Further, there is evidence indicative of further variants on handedness referred to as 'strong' handedness, and "subclinical pathology" left handers ( 8 ). No matter what system of classification for handedness is preferred, the evidence suggests that simple left / right handedness will not encompass all limbic hemispheric lateralization. For the present, controlled distribution of Shakti should exclude all who report ambiguous preferences for both guided visualizations, except in instances of low TL lability.
Vectorial Hemisphericity and Interhemispheric Intrusions
Vectorial hemisphericity and interhemispheric intrusions are best known as the concepts offered to explain how the brain produces experiences denoted with the words 'mystic, religious, and spiritual' (23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28) . In its simplest statement, it says that most neural processes are vectors dominated by one (usually the left) hemisphere of the brain. When a left-hemispheric process is occurring, it recruits specific pathways and/or microstructures from the right-hemispheric homolog structures, in a process known as intercalation. When language, for example, is being used on the left, specific structures on the right, in the same (homologous) areas, are also involved. This process habituates the commisural/collosal pathways connecting the two homologous structures to a greater degree than other pathways. When a given limbic structure on one side becomes excessively active, its activity will spread into the contralateral homologous (opposite-sided) area via its associated, and pre-habituated, commisural or collosal pathways, when a (postulated) threshold is passed (23). These concepts explain 'peak' experiences; manifestations of spirituality outside the range of common states of consciousness. They are much less relevant in explaining more gradual spiritual growth, attained through meditation, prayer, yoga, etc.
When this recondite process involves the amygdala, with its affective functions, the experient would first find themselves in a state of intense fear, anxiety, or hopelessness. When when their experience (and with it, right amygdaloid metabolic levels) builds past a certain point, they can experience a dramatic, sudden cessation of their dysphoria, and a state of euphoria, even to the point of an epiphany, as right amygdaloid activity suddenly spills into the left. During the preceding dysphoria, the excess activity in the right amygdala will very probably have recruited pathways/microstructures in the adjacent hippocampus. When the balance of activity shifts to the left for the amygdala, but the hippocampus on the right remains more active than the one on the left, the person will experience extreme positive affect, and shift into a positive cognitive style in a sudden, dramatic episode that they might label as a 'miraculous' 'healing' or an 'awakening', or even, if it contains the elements of a 'sensed presence' experience, 'meetings' with 'angels'. This hypothesis constitutes the basis of Persinger's model of the "God Experience" (23).
The theme of intense dysphoria preceding euphoric episodes is found in many spiritual anecdotes, near-death experiences (12), reports by survivors of childhood abuse, descriptions of experiences with psychotropic substances, religious initiations in pre-literate societies, and accounts of complex partial seizures. It has been used as the basis for a forensic analysis of the Buddha's enlightenment (40) There are almost certainly still-unnoticed contexts awaiting attention from researchers.
Conversely, experiences in which the right amygdala achieves a sufficiently high rate of activity would be perceived, in an intense 'sensed presence' experience, as 'demonic' (20, 24). Both classes of experience are known in the literature of epilepsy (35), but are not necessarily associated with complex partial seizures (25).
Interhemispheric intrusions include a much less dramatic, and more common phenomena; the more usual 'sensed presence' experience, in which the person 'feels' or 'senses' the presence of another person, or an 'energy' that 'feels alive'. On looking to see who or what is there, they find themselves alone. Here, the right hemispheric homologue to the left hemispheric pathways that support the human sense of self emerge into the person's awareness and are experienced as an ego-alien entity. In other words, the right-sided 'self' comes out where the left-sided 'self' can 'feel' it ( 13, 14, 15, 21, 22 ).
Both the concept of vectorial hemisphericity, and that of interhemispheric intrusions are emerging as valuable heuristic tools in neuroscience today, and have met with little, if any, debate or opposition in spite of several years of papers predicated on them. One of Shakti's design points hypothesizes, by implication, that repeated stimulation of the left amygdala and right hippocampus will, over time, raise the availability of these two structures, allowing individuals more opportunities to experience and learn to access the positive emotional and cognitive components of spirituality, as well as entrance to altered state experiences.
The helmet utilizes two sets of coils , placed over the temporal, parietal, and frontal lobes; three on each side of a bicycle helmet. The coils are attached to a monaural audio plug, and the two audio plugs are connected to a 'stereo splitter'. The stereo splitter (which splits the stereo output into two mono channels) are connected to a stereo cord, which is plugged into a computer sound card or CD player. A gauss meter is used to measure the output field strength.
The coils are located and wired so that when the temporal coil is north, the frontal and parietal coils are south, and vice-versa.. Only the temporo/frontal and temporo/parietal regions are exposed to the fields. The temporal lobes are included in Shakti's helmet design because that cortical region is the most heavily implicated in religious and mystic experiences ( 33, 18, 19 ). The Parietal lobes are included because they are also heavily implicated in several classes of altered state experiences, including (though not commonly) out-of-body experiences, alterations in visual perception, (including Enhanced Visual Acuity - an experience suggestive of 'seeing the divine in creation'), and euphoric parasthesias ( 7 ). The frontal lobes are included because PET studies on depression suggest a correlation between it, and a strong imbalance of temporal and frontal activity (10 ). Further, the extensive amygdaloid-temporal and hippocampal-frontal connectivity suggests that the use of burstx and LTP should symmetrically involve these regions. The alternative might be a dominance of either cognitive or affective effects. Design symmetry emerges as potentially less intrusive than asymmetry. In some instances, it may prove advantageous for individuals to combine the channels, or to eliminate one of them. However, unless reports from a participant suggests reason to change the presentation, the default configuration should be used.
After their inventories are completed and reviewed, participants receive a prototype headset, as described above.
Participants will be offered two suggestions for protocols. Either a 30 minute session, once per week for 6 weeks, or a one hour session, once every three weeks, in sensory deprivation. Other procedures may be added as they come available.
As a believer in the possibilities described here, I will not outline methods for obtaining and analyzing this data. Sound protocol dictates that these procedures be designed by a skeptic, or at least a researcher who has less interest in the outcome.
Regarding gay participants.
One of the wave forms used is specific to the amygdala, and in gay males, who could constitute a sub-population of the research group, the anterior commisure is 34% more massive than those of straight males and 18% larger than that of heterosexual women (31). The anterior commisure is the structure that connects the amygdala on the two sides of the brain.
The study of reports from gay Shakti participants may prove heuristic towards an understanding the functional limbic substrates of homosexuality.
Studies at Laurentian U. have found that sham-fields have no effect. This result has been replicated repeatedly by several researchers, and this writer obtained the result once, when he forgot to connect his digital-to-analog converter to the solenoids before commencing a session on himself! These results suggest that a low probability may be assigned to reports dominated by suggestion effects.
The anticipated alterations in cognitive and emotional style may be facilitated by spiritual coaching, as new emotional and cognitive states are experienced and learned. Online and phone discussion and are offered as a part of the process. Because the phenomenological correlates of limbic activity so often include affects and ideation the subjects label as 'spiritual', sound coaching should include encouragement to explore cognitive techniques that bear that label, such as meditation, prayer, and even romantic experience.
Drawing conclusions from user reports.
No reports are required from Shakti users. No context currently exists for reports of spiritual experiences to be required from anyone in today's western cultures, so emulating a large-scale release of this technology must not include the demand that experiences be reported. However, technical support and spiritual coaching can be made available using the phone (although this is limited to within the US and Canada, and less easily documented) and e-mail.
Assessing the risks of a neurological procedure is usually within the domain of clinical authorities, and assessing the benefits of spiritual practices (including the use of Shakti) is usually within the domain of spiritual or religious authorities. Submitting reports to experienced spiritual teachers for review may contribute to the validity of any conclusions.
In some cases, the Shakti intake form(s) gather data that may not directly relate to the primary research goal, but that may contribute to other, related, studies including that of factors that contribute to sensitivity to complex magnetic signal stimulation.
The principle objects of Shakti's release are to asses the risks versus benefits of an unconditional release, and to provide a context for the exploration of new procedures. Accurate emulation of such a release precludes 'placebo' units from being issued, and it also excludes soliciting reports. Only spontaneous reports should be analyzed in the first instance. In the second, participants may be asked for their reports. However, knowing how many will not choose to report will be an important point in the final conclusions.
Technical details concerning the wave forms:
PCM wave file analogs to the complex magnetic signal brain stimulation described in the literature were derived using audio editing softwares, including several proprietary softwares, developed for this purpose. The complex magnetic signals are low (milligauss) intensity asymmetric, anisotropic, wave forms (9), The signals are generated using a CD, and are applied using solenoids attached to a bicycle helmet.
The signals consist of a brief audio output, followed by a period of silence. A one minute exposure will involve aproximately 9.6 (nine point six) seconds exposure to the (fluctuating) magnetic fields.
Signal intensity: 50 milligauss (Note that TMS utilizes constant magnetic fields, orders of magnitude higher)
Duration of one signal: Approximately 750 milliseconds (Shakti CD V. 9), followed by four seconds of silence.
Source file format: 16 bit PCM wave file, 16 bit.
Pattern of Neural Firings simulated: Amygdaloid = Burst Firing. (burstx.DAC)
Hippocampal = Long-Term Potentiating. (LTP.DAC)
Files Authored and copyrighted by: Todd Murphy
Templates for neural firings and technical specifications provided and licensed by: Dr. Michael A. Persinger and Stan Koren.
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3) Gillis, Corri; Persinger, M. A. "Shifts in the Plutchik Emotion Profile Indices following three weekly treatments with pulsed vs continuous cerebral magnetic fields." Perceptual &; Motor Skills. 1993 Feb. 76 (1): p.
4) Richards, Pauline M.; Koren, Stan A.; Persinger, M. A. Experimental stimulation by burst-firing weak magnetic fields over the right temporal lobe may facilitate apprehension in women. Perceptual &; Motor Skills. 1992 Oct. 75 (2): p. 667-670
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