Galvanizing Ghosts

A young man awakens to find an apparition in his bed. A teenage girl feels a presence in her uterus and senses the outline of a baby over her left shoulder. Are these people seeing spirits?

Michael Persinger, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada, suspects not. Persinger has demonstrated that a sensitive temporal lobe-the area that is responsible for regulation of emotions and motivated behaviors-together with naturally occurring magnetic fields, can trigger a ghostly encounter. Indeed, the couple in question had sensitive lobes and an electronically stocked house, with magnetic activity that peaked nightly just when their apparition materialized. The girl who thought she was pregnant had suffered a brain injury as a child. In addition, her bed was surrounded by a pulsed magnetic field, the result of a clock just a few inches from her pillow.

"Individuals prone to paranormal experiences are sensitive to weak electromagnetic fields and to man-made electrical fields, which are becoming more prominent in the communication age," explains Persinger, who has studied the link between magnetic fields and paranormal experience for 15 years.

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Initial experiments exposed the right hemisphere of subjects' brains to magnetic fields, prompting subjects to posit a presence interacting with their thoughts and moving in space as they focused on it. So paranormal experiences during or just following stimulation of the right hemisphere may be no more than the right half of the brain becoming aware of the left.

Persinger could evoke the presence in many individuals, but it was most common in subjects with temporal-lobe sensitivity. "People with sensitive lobes have experiences resembling those of epileptics," says Persinger. "Also, they're creative and sensitive to the electromagnetic environment."

The most recent case studies were published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry. In our increasingly electronically charged world, it would seem that midnight apparitions are really just clock radios rather than ghosts.

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