Shakti: Using structure-specific, complex magnetic wave forms to facilitate experiences and growth termed ‘religious, mystic, and/or spiritual.’
M. A. Persinger, and Stan Koren of Laurentian University’s many conversations, tests, and reviews were an indispensable part of Shakti’s development. It would not have been possible Without their participation, help, consent, and agreement.
Several studies have found 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 of this kind 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.’
Software was created (Shakti For Windows Neural Stimulation Software) that will produce audio analogs to EEG signals. These are applied to the brain using modified commonly available magnetic coils.
Shakti’s basic session designs primarily rely on limbic hemispheric specializations. A given structure, on one side of the brain, will have very different functions on the other side. The amygdala, which functions to support emotions, specializes in fear on the right, and positive emotions on the left. For the hippocampus, a cognitive structure, the left is verbal, and the right is involved with non-verbal cognition, such as music, and understanding ‘beyond words’. Reports from the Shakti Project are consistent with the hippocampus also contributing to anger and irritability on the left and calm on the right.
Repeated 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 individuals to learn a positive emotive and cognitive style, in addition to facilitating altered state experiences. 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 (usually left) hemisphere (whose amygdala is associated with positive affect), subjects have reported 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 an amygdala signal 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.
One hypothesis to explain 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 previous 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 its functional integrity and appear 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, despite 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 amygdala 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 amygdala stimulation could easily attenuate it. Freedom from fear of dying is a common theme in spiritual traditions of many derivations, and its 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 implicated 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.
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 homologue 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 their experience (and with it, right amygdala 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 amygdala activity suddenly spills into the left. During the preceding dysphoria, the excess activity in the right amygdala will very probably have recruited pathways or 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 preliterate 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 vectoral 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 despite 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.
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 commissure is 34% more massive than those of straight males and 18% larger than that of heterosexual women (31). The anterior commissure is the structure that connects the amygdala on the two sides of the brain.
The study of reports from gay Shakti participants suggests that they may need specialized session designs.
A Few Technical details.
PCM wave file analogs to the complex magnetic signal brain stimulation described in the literature were derived using audio editing softwares. The complex magnetic signals are low (milligauss) intensity asymmetric, anisotropic, wave forms (9).
The signals consist of a brief audio output, followed by a period of silence. A one-minute exposure will involve approximately 9.6 (nine point six) seconds exposure to the (fluctuating) magnetic fields.
Signal intensity: 10 to 20 milligauss (Note that TMS utilizes constant magnetic fields, orders of magnitude higher)
Source file format: 16 bit PCM wave file, 16 bit, 44109hz sampling rate
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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29) Persinger, Michael A, &; Makarek, Katherine “Complex Partial Epileptic Signs as a Continuum From Normal To Epileptics: Normative and Clinical Populations.” Journal of Clinical Psychology, January 1993, Vol. 49, No.1
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31) Allen, Laura S. &; Gorski, Roger A. “Sexual Orientation and the Size of the Anterior Commissure in the Human Brain”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol.89, pp. 7199-7202, August 1992.
32) Persinger, Michael A.; Richards, Pauline M.; Koren, Stanley A. “Differential ratings of pleasantness following right and left hemispheric application of low energy magnetic fields that stimulate long-term potentiation. International Journal of Neuroscience. 1994 Dec. 79 (3-4): p.191-197
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34) Persinger, M.A., “Out of Body Experiences are More Probable in people with Elevated Temporal Lobe Signs During Periods of Enhanced Geomagnetic Activity: A nonlinear Effect.” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1995, 80, 563-569
35) Penfield, Wilder, “The Brain’s Record of Auditory and Visual Experience: A Final Summary and Discussion” Brain, Vol. 86, Part 4, Dec. 1963, 595-696
36) Freeman, Jason; Persinger, M. A. Repeated verbal interruptions during exposure to complex transcerebral magnetic fields elicit irritability: Implications for opiate effects. Perceptual &; Motor Skills. 1996 Apr. 82 (2):639-642
37) Persinger, M.A., “Death Anxiety as a Semantic Conditioned Suppression Paradigm” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 1985, 60, 827-830
38) Roberts, Richard, Et Al., “The Neuropathology of Everyday Life: The Frequency of Partial Seizure Symptoms Among Normals” Neuropsychology, 1990. V.4 (n2) 65-85
39) Miller, Robert, “Cortico-Hippocampal Interplay And The Representation of Contexts in the Human Brain”, Springer-Verag, 1991
40) Murphy, Todd “Forgetting About Enlightenment: A forensic look at the Buddha’s Transformation”. Unpublished paper, available here.
41) Kavanau, J. Lee Memory, Sleep, and Dynamic Stabilization of Neural Circuitry: Evolutionary Perspectives. Neuroscience and Biobehavior. Rev (1996) 20: 289-311.
NOTE: The Four-Coil Shakti is no longer available.