Michael Persinger, a famed neuroscientist and occasional researcher into the unexplained, has passed away. His death was confirmed on social media by Laurentian University on Wednesday.
Persinger graduated from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1967 and obtained an MA in Physiological Psychology from the University of Tennessee in 1969. In 1971 he obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Manitoba, setting the course for a lifelong career in the study of the human brain.
Persinger is perhaps best known for his research involving what is called “The God Helmet,” an apparatus which stimulated the temporal lobes and allowed the replication of various unexplained phenomena. With data gleaned these studies, Persinger sought to understand how things like electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and infrasound could be related to what he termed a “sensed presence,” which is common in a variety of paranormal claims. His research was instrumental in helping establish the neurophysiology of various kinds of paranormal experiences.
According to a statement from Laurentian University, “Dr. Persinger was globally renowned for his scholarly contributions, having published hundreds of peer-reviewed academic journal articles across several different fields of study during his entire academic career.
“Much of his work focused on the commonalities that exist between the sciences and aimed to integrate fundamental concepts from various branches of science. He was a regular contributor to national and international television and radio programs, speaking on topics such as unusual experiences, climate change, religious experiences and many more.”
“The unknown is everywhere,” Persinger said in an interview in 2012. “People have often asked me why I study so many different things. In fact, science can be destroyed by having the disciplines too thin, because there’s no integration.”
Persinger’s defense of his multidisciplinary studies can be seen in the interview below:
Persinger was, in other words, a renaissance man when it came to the sciences. He was also an unconventional educator in the modern era of “safe-spaces” and “trigger warnings” on college campuses; in 2016, Persinger aroused controversy for requesting that his students sign a “Statement of Understanding” about his use of vulgar language in the classroom (Persinger had provided this form to his students for close to a decade at that time).
Among such terms were “the F-word, homophobic slurs and offensive slang for genitalia,” CBC reports. The controversy resulted in a temporary hiatus from teaching for Persinger, who defended his actions.
“One of my techniques is to expose people to all types of different words,” he said in a 2016 interview, “because they influence how you make decisions and how you think.”
Many students filed petitions in defense of Persinger’s more controversial courses, and in at least one instance, a lawsuit. Despite his antagonistic relationship with the University, Persinger was nonetheless voted the province’s best lecturer in a TVOntario contest in 2007.
In addition to his scientific pursuits, Persinger was also politically active. “Dr. Persinger served on a number of committees both at Laurentian University and beyond. He was a long-time member of Senate starting in 2007 and served as the Senate representative to Laurentian’s Board of Governors since 2012,” according to a statement from Laurentian University.
Details about his funeral and surviving family have not been released by the University.
“Dr. Persinger never hesitated to ask important questions of the various governing bodies,” the statement read, “and fought for what he believed in.”
Persinger was an innovator in the various scientific disciplines he chose to work in. Energetic, unconventional, and at times uncompromising, Persinger’s contributions to scientific explanations for unexplained phenomena in nature will remain among the greatest of the last century.
Sleeping giant wearing the “God Helmet” mural by Ella and Pitr, as seen on the rooftop of the Science North building in Sudbury, Ontario.