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The 'God Helmet' can give you near-death and out-of-body experiences

Steven Kotler explains that a new device and its imitators can trigger "mystical" experiences in the brain.

Steven Kotler: So when I was 18 years old, I went skydiving for the very first time and this was in Ohio. And it was a really — this was before they had tandem jumping and somebody on your back guiding you down and I had to jump with a static line like a rope attached to the airplane floor. And the whole thing was shoddy. The airplane was held together with like duct tape and change. It was really hysterical. The minute I kind of let go of the plane and jumped out of the plane I flew out of my body. Like my consciousness was like 25 feet away and I as staring back at my body. And what was actually even stranger about the whole thing is as I was doing it, I had started to tip back — my back was at an awkward angle and I realized when the chute was going to catch I was going to get whiplash unless I totally relaxed all my muscles so my extra corporal self looked at this and said, "Okay, you’ve got to relax otherwise you’re going to end up in the hospital." And I did. And then the chute caught and I popped back into my body. So what the hell is going on there right? Out-of-body experiences are mystical experiences. Now there are also fairly common mystical experiences. If you put out-of-body and near-death experiences together and they’re sort of — we’ve now discovered they're sort of — out-of-body experiences tend to lead into near-death experiences. But if you sort of lump them as a category according to Gallup, 10 to 20 percent of all Americans have had this experience.

So it’s very common, right, one out of five of us have had this experience yet it’s very, very mystical. What’s interesting is over the past 25 years, really kind of starting I think in the early '90s as brain-imaging technology kind of came up to speed for the first time, we started to really poke at what are these experiences. We now know what causes out-of-body experiences. We have some very good ideas about what causes near-death experiences. In fact if you go through the spiritual cannon whether you’re talking about cosmic unity, that feeling of oneness with everything or glossolalia, speaking in tongues, trance states, meditative states, flow states, psychedelic experiences, right. All these things — all these altered states of consciousness that we’ve called spiritual depending on our cultures over years are now known as the product of kind of standard biology. And that’s where we are today. And that’s really interesting. But let’s consider Michael Persinger’s work, right. He’s a neuroscientist at Laurentian University. He invented something called the so-called God helmet. Now the God helmet directs a weak electromagnetic pulse, basically it creates a weak electromagnetic field around the right temporal lobe. Now the right temporal lobe is actually one of the things that causes out-of-body experiences. If you stimulate it, if it becomes hyperactive it can dislocate the self. So over 1,000 people have worn Michael Persinger’s God helmet, right. Eighty percent of them report feeling a sensed presence in the room, the feeling that there’s something or someone, a God, demon, an angel, a ghost in the room with them. Other people have reported out-of-body experiences.

A couple of people have reported nothing at all. But as a general rule most people experience something. So that’s technology that’s here today and already exists. There are versions of that technology that are available to consumers. You can get online and you can — I think it’s called the Shakti something. You can buy a version of the God helmet, right. Where it gets really strange is Persinger is trying to incorporate the God helmet into virtual reality technologies possibly inside of a game. So think about this for a second. Eighty million Americans right now call themselves spiritual, but not religious, which means they’re searching for a direct experience of the numinous, right. They want some kind of mystical experience in their own lives. They want to see it for themselves. They think there’s something out there. They’re searching. They believe it in. Well pretty soon that experience is going to be available by a video game. And once again, that changes everything, right. These are the most sacred rare experiences in the history of the world. And if you think about it, right, if you think about what the God helmet produces, which is a feeling of a ghost or a god in the room, all of our religions basically began with somebody bumping into a god, right. That’s where religion comes from as a general rule. There are other things that happen, but as a general rule, that’s where religion comes from. Well pretty soon that very experience, right, the very foundational experience that’s birthed all or most of the world’s religion is going to be available to anybody at scale. Maybe in your phone. Maybe in a video game you play on your computer. It’s a crazy, crazy, crazy idea and will forever change the nature of religion on this planet.

Steven Kotler explains that a new device and its imitators can trigger "mystical" experiences in the brain. It's called the "God Helmet" and engineers are already working on integrating its technology into virtual reality goggles, to incorporate these transcendent experiences into virtual gameplay.


Although little is understood about the functional purpose of this kind of brain activity, it's significantly more common than most of us realize.

A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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How often do vaccine trials hit paydirt?

Vaccines find more success in development than any other kind of drug, but have been relatively neglected in recent decades.

Pedro Vilela/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Vaccines are more likely to get through clinical trials than any other type of drug — but have been given relatively little pharmaceutical industry support during the last two decades, according to a new study by MIT scholars.

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