“What about you? Do you find it risible when I say the name…”
Either you are laughing already, or you wonder what this is all about. Both audiences will sure be entertained by the following guest post of my regular contributor, Smut Clyde. For this is about Professor Michael Persinger, born 1945, psychologist and “natural philosopher” at Laurentian University in Canada, smart dresser and undervalued science fiction writer. Undervalued, because the scientific community seems to take his Kilgore-Trout-esque output at face value, his academic peers really seem to think that was Persinger publishes on neuroscience, cancer, particle physics and virtually any topic which springs to his mind, is actual research. Scientific journals like PLOS One publish his science fiction short stories as peer reviewed works of science, while the revered PNAS and possibly also the less revered Scientific Reports invite him as guest editor to host fan fiction of his admirers. When Professor Persinger does get in trouble, it is never for impersonating a scientist, but for things like using rude words in the classroom.
No spoilers now, just read Smut Clyde’s guest post.
Crank Magnetism, by Smut Clyde
Remember the time when sunspots and solar winds were coupled to Earth’s rotation, and thereby triggered devastating earthquakes, leading in turn to variations in people’s pulse rates? (not to forget the planetary alignments influencing solar activity in the first place). Disappointingly, this is not the causal chain that Alabdulgader et al. (2018) had in mind when they reported correlations between solar winds and the cardiac activity of 18 female staff-members of the Prince Sultan Cardiac Center (Hofuf, Saudi Arabia).
Evidently these correlations are proof of the interconnected harmony of macrocosm and microcosm, of the invisible threads linking the solar system with our supposedly-separate consciousnesses. Schumann Resonances come into the story. Despite sounding like the name of a 1980s art-school band (or of the next ‘Laundry’ novel from Charles Stross), the Schumann Resonance is a natural phenomenon of the ionosphere, but the term has become a worship-word across the Great-Weave-of-Life, Everything-is-Interconnected region of the Interweb. It makes total sense to Alt-Reality readers that the human brain (more specifically, the pineal gland) is perfectly proportioned to function as an antenna and be coupled with an ELF electromagnetic oscillation that has the Earth’s circumference as its wavelength.
I had planned a joke here about the brain region serving this purpose being the Solar Pons, but was prevented by threats of legal repercussions from the estate of August Derleth.
One blogger has examined the paper and marvelled at the Heart-Math Institute and the Global Coherence Initiative, to which three of the authors are affiliated. The HMI exists primarily to market the EmWave “stress relief” device and software (which is to say Biofeedback from the 1970s, reinvented, with better computer graphics). Neuroskeptic paid more intention to the crap statistical analysis, which is all time-series correlations, and guaranteed to generate spurious significance results. No-one has yet inquired into the recruitment of the first author’s employees as subjects (was it really so difficult to acquire genuine volunteers?)… but that is left as an exercise for the reader, for here I want to concentrate on the References section.
This is compendious, and exhaustive. The Russian post-Chizhevskij tradition of ‘heliobiology’ is well-represented, as are biorhythms, the Schumann Resonance literature, and previous reports from the Global Coherence Initiative.
74. McCraty, R., Deyhle, A. & Childre, D. The global coherence initiative: creating a coherent planetary standing wave. Global advances in health and medicine: improving healthcare outcomes worldwide 1, 64–77, https://doi.org/10.7453/gahmj.2012.1.1.013 (2012).
87. McCraty, R. & Deyhle, A. In Bioelectromagnetic and Subtle Energy Medicine, Second Edition (ed. Paul, J. Rosch) 411–425 (CRC Press 2015).
Somehow the oeuvre of Lyall Watson is omitted and there are not enough dolphins. But the work of Michael Persinger is especially influential, with five citations. Which brings us at last to the actual topic of this post.
The post’s purpose is to pay affectionate tribute to Professor Persinger (of Laurentian University), and to his contributions to the field of Partly-Baked Ideas (this also provides an excuse to link to a number of Riddled posts). His career, spanning four decades, has been untrammelled and indeed unfettered by conventional paradigms… the “marble index of a mind for ever Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone”. To lead you on with a taste of what is to come, here are his refreshingly unconventional views on global climate change, as revealed through SCIRP (Chinese-based publisher-shaped scammers noted for the low-rent fees and negotiable standards peer-review they offer).
Truth about global warming and UFOs
Apparently global warming is not driven by CO2 levels, but rather the other way around: as the geomagnetic field interacted with the solar wind (and with galactic conditions) evidently it weakened, pumping energy into the atmosphere, and ultimately causing CO2 levels to soar. Blaming fossil-fuel consumption for any of this would be counteractive. The key point here is that
Alabdulgader et al. should probably modify their calculations to include this additional chain of macrocosm / microcosm connections, for the consequent climatic changes will provide another influence on people’s pulse rates.
Persinger has not yet received the honour of an Ignobel Prize (although historians of Improbable Research have documented some of his interests). He does appear in Mary Roach’s book ‘Spook‘, in Chapter 9, “Inside the Haunt Box”. The context there is his theory that ghost sightings (and similar paranormality) are analogous to the numinosity and religious experiences of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy… but brought about by magnetic field fluctuations, perturbing the delicately-poised brain chemistry of sufficiently susceptible individuals. Which is not to say that such sightings are hallucinatory, for he leaves open the possibility that ‘ghosts’ are veridical experiences of normally-unobserved phenomena.
…it could also be that people — or at least some of them — are suddenly, as a result of the field’s effect on their brain, able to pick up, as Persinger puts it, “actual information that’s in the environment.” Persinger thinks the latter is likely. “Particularly,” he says, “in places where people experience the same thing again and again.”
In the early version of this theory, from the beginning of Persinger’s career, the causative magnetic fluctuations are geological: the Tectonic Strain Theory (orogeny recapitulates ontology). They arise from tectonic stress along fault lines, as compressed rocks generate electricity (because of quartz crystals in granite). Thus explaining UFO sightings, alien abductions, Marian visitations and the like, when they cluster in times of earthquakes and along the seismic zones where tectonic plates abut.
So it was appropriate, and inevitable, that Persinger would gravitate to a university that shares its name with the main North American craton.
Buzzing God and cancer
Later he came more aware of astronomical influences, from the ion wind from the sun sending Earth’s magnetic field all a-wobble; for the strength of that wind also correlates with manifestations of paranormality (which brings us back to our starting-point, Alabdulgader et al.). Though human-generated magnetism also comes into the picture.
All this fed into Persinger’s God Helmet [omnipotence not included], bedizened with electromagnets and solenoids to recreate those field fluctuations, designed to inspire those who wear it with feelings of Numinosity, and religiosity, and Presence. Or at least a lucky minority of wearers.
Now the Helmet collectively generates about 1 microTesla, which is nothing to write home about… the coils used to deliver brief pulses to the brain in Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation are more like 1 to 2 Tesla. Even with that intensity, even though it looks like whacking the recipient on the head with a giant clock-key, the subjective effects of TMS are subtle and easy to miss. This makes it tempting to conclude that any effects from the helmet are merely an elaborate placebo (with the clicking of the solenoids to alert the wearer of when to expect an encounter with the Angel of the West Window). However, this neglects the temporal patterning of the stimulation it delivers, which is structured and sequenced — not just single pulses — and laden with information.
Elsewhere, Persinger and his students have shown that properly-structured magnetic stimulation causes flatworms to fragment and dissolve [one can only speculate that the study was motivated by the hope of publication in the Worm-Runner’s Digest]. It may also sterilise frogs at 200 yards. If the lethal effect applies to other platyhelminths, the corollary follows that out-of-date MRI equipment could be repurposed for veterinary purposes, and used to rid farm animals of parasitical flukes.
Nor should we forget a series of studies in which magnetic flux — low-intensity, but “chosen to simulate the brain’s natural patterns” (the Thomas sequence) — showed promise as a treatment for skin cancer. Specifically, it slowed the growth of melanoma cells in vitro and in vivo. Mind you, caution is required as the wrong sort of flux modulation can also kill the patient rats. Then an additional SCIRP paper was required to explain why the curative phenomenon had disappeared.
But crucially, the strongest effect on melanoma seems to occur when recorded EEGs are played back through the medium of magnetic modulation. Not just any EEGs, but recordings of Sean Harribance, a professional psychic with a long though largely-untested career of Jedi mind-tricks.* This provides a convenient segue to what may well be Peak Persinger: the Professor’s experiments with formalin-fixed but self-aware slices of human cerebrum.
It emerges that despite the lack of functional synapses or ion channels, metabolites or even functional cell membranes after 20 years of pickling in formaldehyde, these slices can be still roused to a kind of passive residual consciousness, much as small sections of printed circuit diagrams still operate like the actual circuit when properly stimulated. The “proper stimulation” can here include immersion in a bath of neurotransmitters, which evokes theta- and gamma-wave activity, in a hemisphere-specific response; as well as the emission of ‘biophotons’, which is a whole different rabbit-hole of weirdness; meanwhile the auditory cortex still discriminates frequencies. “The brains had been stored in secure areas and handled appropriately and respectfully.” However, they should have been provided with sensory enrichment to stave off boredom.
Alternatively, once the slices have been wired for sound, one can stimulate them electrically. Right-hemisphere slices were more responsive (confounding my own expectations that consciousness would be lateralised along with language in the left hemisphere).** Life in the Persinger laboratory is never dull.
Crucially, though, the responses are enhanced — especially in the ?- and ?-wave bands — by using Harribance’s psychic-EEG recordings for the signal. Because Quantum Entanglement. If nothing else, this phenomenon could serve as an objective test for psychic faculties.
All this makes it hard to accept that a thinly-veiled version of Persinger has not yet featured as a main character in a Canadian remake of “Fringe”. Or in a Canadian novel in the “campus comedy” genre, set in a loosely-disguised version of Laurentian University. There is no end of material.
It seems hard to surpass the pickled-brain palaver. Prepare yourself, though, for what may be the Professor’s greatest achievement, his simulation of “the neural correlates of consciousness”, and replication of EEGs, in conductive Play-Do. Life in the Persinger laboratory is never dull.
The dough was layered around the exterior and interior of a (replica) skull, modelling the electrical properties of the human head, allowing it to resonate to the rhythms of the cosmos.
“Effectively all of the major correlates of consciousness, including the 40 Hz and 8 Hz coupling between the cerebral cortices and hippocampal formation, can be accommodated by the properties of water within a specific-shaped volume exposed to a magnetic field.
Spectral analyses of electrical potentials generated over the regions equivalent to the left and right temporal lobes in humans exhibited patterns characteristic of Schumann Resonance”.
Note that a less-structured configuration of dough sufficed to endow it with engrams, mimicking the process of classical conditioned reflexes. The maximum information density possible with this flour-based medium of data storage has not yet been reached.
It begins to seem that ‘memory’ is a ubiquitous property of existence, present in whatever materials and scale one examines, even in empty space, even in spring water. So it would be a mistake to focus too closely on human brains… whether preserved or still in a state of animation.
As the title suggests, the key to these studies is “interfacial water”. This does not allude to excess moisture during a kiss, but rather to a highly-structured, entangled phase, quantum-coherent to an almost crystalline extent: postulated by the “Waterbender” school of aqueous scholars (Pollack, Del Guidice) to manifest when water molecules are placed in proximity to an interface or transition. It is what 1960s phenomenon “polywater” could have become, given less skepticism and more complaisant publishers.
The main point of this conceptual playground is to rationalise the fraudulent claims of homeopaths, as “memory of water”, but I digress. Persinger hints that Interfacial Water is the true substrate of sentience and conscious thought, with neurons merely providing cell membranes… the means by which Reality chose to keep water in this non-watery phase.
“intrinsic features of proton densities within cerebral water may be a fundamental basis to consciousness that can be simulated experimentally”.
No more secrets
From there it was a short step to a startling conclusion, which may well be Peak Persinger: his proposal that the magnetosphere is a repository for all human memories and experiences — a kind of magnetic Akashic Archive, by way of Tesla Technology. No-one said that there can only be one peak.
Quite apart from the scope and grandeur of its concept, this paper is also noteworthy for its chequered publication history. It appeared as the inaugural contribution to a new journal from Libertas Academica. It was then unpublished, leaving a gap in the pagination (with the excuse from the publisher that he had not formally accepted it, and only formatted it and placed it on-line by error, and he had no avenue for a proper retraction). It was on- and off-line for a while, then the journal disappeared (taking with it the only other contribution), and finally the entire publisher crashed and burned, leaving only its Akashic Wayback records.
The concept is not quite so extreme when you remember (or the magnetosphere remembers) the parallels between the Earth’s atmosphere and the activity of the brain (the “potentially congruent scale-invariant quantitative properties”), in which lightning strikes are the counterpart of neuronal spikes. No wonder, then, that the Schumann resonances — which are powered by lightning — interact so well with human physiology. The concept has been on Persinger’s mind for a while, possibly placed there by the magnetosphere, and as far back as 1995 he wrote about “the possibility of directly accessing every human brain by electromagnetic induction of fundamental algorithms“ [copy available here]. Don’t tell the NSA.
Now fundamental physics place limits on the storage of information in the Noösphere; as lower standing-wave frequencies are occupied, higher- and higher-frequency bands are called into play, requiring higher and higher energies. I confess, it had not occurred to me to wonder whether there is also a limit to the number of conscious minds that can simultaneously share and upload their contents to the same geomagnetic field. Fortunately Persinger has considered the implications:
“The transition from 6 to 8 billion brains would be associated with shared energies within individual cerebral space whose frequencies increase across the visible electromagnetic wavelength from infrared to ultraviolet. Magnetic diffusivity indicates all brains could be influenced within about 10 minutes. Implications for induced ubiquitous genetic changes, shared modifications in protein sequences associated with memory during dream sleep, and limitations upon the proliferation of the species are discussed”.
When population reaches 8 billion, the energy bands will fill to a level where the quantum coupling becomes sufficiently energetic to affect nucleotide bonds, there will be a phase transition of sentience, and we’ll begin to collectively edit our own DNA sequences to echo our collective dreams. Then it is all a Childhood’s End scenario, which never ends well.
All this has merely scratched the surface of Persinger’s corpus. It should be clear by now that he is an out-of-the-box thinker. Moreover, if you set out to put his thoughts back into the boxes they came from, several containers would be required. This is a good thing, to my mind; science relies on the freedom of scientists to entertain daringly novel ideas, and this post does not explore some of Persinger’s less mainstream ideas simply to make jokes about them. The point is that they are, at present, speculations, and if any authors rely on them as settled fact (e.g. Alabdulgader et al.), that’s where ridicule is deserved.
There is much to be gleaned from the annals of the journal NeuroQuantology… most of it involving the quantum-coherent nature of brains, that allows for their quantum-entanglement. The gleaning is left as an exercise for the reader. Again.
There is also the issue of bio-photons. These are said to emerge as a by-product of metabolism, at such vanishing infrequency as to require a sensitive photomultiplier to detect them, in conditions of ‘hyper-darkness’. In a series of papers, Persinger has reported that our brains emit more of these when we think of white light while we sit in the pitch-black room; this emission being hemisphere-specific. In yet another study with the pickled brain slices, they were emitted without chemical or electrical stimulation to mimic metabolism and awaken the echoes of cognition; prior exposure to light was enough, like a glow-in-the-dark t-shirt. Perhaps ‘necro-photons’ would be a better term in this case. The spectral distribution of biophotons distinguishes cancers from normal tissue, because of course it does.
The warming of the Earth’s atmosphere over recent decades — whether caused by anthropogenic CO2 releases, or by magnetic dipole weakening — may or may not have entered that atmosphere’s awareness. My own global-warming theory is that it results from the atmosphere’s own consciousness, dwelling on thoughts of warmth, and thereby causing emission of biophotons in the infrared band. If so, then it can only be remedied by nudging planetary cognition in a more gelid direction. Perhaps by surrounding the planet by an orbiting network of giant speakers and blasting it with suitably chill-out music.
Anyway, Persinger may not receive the recognition he deserves in the wider culture, but his biophoton expertise is respected by his peers, who invited him to guest-edit a cross-species study in that area for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. See Leonid’s tweet, or my own inevitable blogpost. Sadly, the authors of that paper did not speculate whether the necrophotons they counted were redshifted by rapid motion of the brain-tissue samples away from the observer, or by climbing out of an intellectual gravity well. Or by failure to calibrate the distance between diffraction grating and photon-detector.
* The Harribance Configuration would be another good name for a 1980s art-school band, or for a novel in the ‘Laundry’ series.
His primary financial income, which reflects the accuracy of his information, has been from his “readings” for a large population of repeat clients… It became evident that when his comments had been judged by others, Mr. Harribance’s brain was generating a reliable and predictable pattern over the right temporofrontal region. It was so obvious and consistent to everyone, even by gross visual inspection, that we called it the Harribance configuration.
** This lingering life-after-death also manifests in preserved brains from Wistar rats, triggered by chemical changes in their formalin bath… hinting at a form of hemispheric dominance even in these otherwise non-verbal, non-chiral rodents.
An uninterrupted supply of rats is crucial for Professor Persinger’s research program.
If you are interested to support my work, you can leave here a small tip of $5. Or several of small tips, just increase the amount as you like. Your generous patronage of my journalism, however small it appears to you, will greatly help me with my legal costs.