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.
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.