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No. 117: May-June 1998

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Experimental induction of the "sensed presence"

Down the millennia, a few individuals in all cultures have claimed they have been visited by spirits, gods, angels, or extraterrestrial entities. C.M. Cook and M.A. Persinger associate these visitations with the phenomenon of "sensed presence" or the awareness of an extrapersonal, incorporeal entity. Cook and Persinger assert first that the so-called "sense of self" is a construct of the brain's left hemisphere -- the side usually associated with language. Second, they hypothesize that a "sensed presence" (spirit, god, etc.) is really only a fleeting right-brain homologue of the left-brain "sense of self," something like a transient shortcircuit between brain hemispheres that probably travels along that interconnecting conduit called the "corpus callosum."

Repairing to their laboratory at the Laurentian University, Cook and Persinger asked subjects to press a button when they felt a "mystical presence." Unbeknownst to the subjects, they were occasionally exposed to weak magnetic fields. More often than chance would allow, mystical presences (button pushes) correlated with applications of magnetic fields.

(Cook, C.M., and Persinger, M.A.; "Experimental Induction of the "Sensed Presence" in Normal Subjects and an Exceptional Subject," Perceptual and Motor Skills, 85:683, 1997.)

Comments. It is difficult to decide whether sensing an unseen presence is fundamentally different from the sense of being stared at by a real person!

The implication of the above experiments is that magnetic fields can induce "mystical presences." Magnetic fields are everywhere; certainly around UFOs, probably around Stonehenge and the Oracle at Delphi. The explanatory possibilities here are endless.

From Science Frontiers #117, MAY-JUN 1998. 1998-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987