More Bizarre Psychological Torture Testing:
Torture is being used to help scientists understand how the brain works Volunteers are to undergo torture to see if faith eases pain.
Oxford University scientists will carry out experiments on hundreds of people in a bid to understand how the brain works during states of consciousness. One aspect of the two-year study will involve followers of both religious and secular beliefs being burnt to see if they can handle more pain than others.
Some volunteers will be shown religious symbols such as crucifixes and images of the Virgin Mary during the torture.
Researchers believe the study may improve understanding of faith, how robust it is and how easily it can be dislodged.
The team from the newly-formed Centre for
Science of the Mind also want to include people with survival techniques in the
torture experiments, which may help the special forces easily identify people
with high pain thresholds.
How scientists plan to torture volunteers
Gel - A gel containing chilli can be applied to the back of the hand to simulate a burning sensation
Heat-pad - A pad which can reach up to 60C will be put against the skin
Volunteers will have a gel containing chilli powder or heat-pad applied to the back of their hand to simulate pain.
A team of neurologists, pharmacologists and anatomists will then analyse how people react by using brain scans.
Another part of the research involves tests using anaesthetic, to see what effect it has on the brain and why some people need higher doses to make them unconscious.
Baroness Greenfield, director of the centre, said 20 years ago scientists had shied away from studying the brain in such away but that was now changing.
"We want to find out what the brain is doing, how it is working when we are having feelings and most importantly of all when we are conscious.
Christians feel pain just like everyone
else, but many would say that their belief in a God who cares and the promises
of the Bible are a huge comfort in difficult times
Church of England spokesman
"I am not promising we are going to solve the problem, I don't think we are.
"But I think we are going to get more of an insight."
Centre deputy director Toby Collins added: "The reason we are using pain is that it is easily standardised but varies greatly between individuals.
"The pain matrix is not fully understood yet."
Dr Alison Gray, a spokeswoman for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "The experience of pain depends on biological factors such as the amount of tissue damage and release of natural pain killers - endorphins - in the brain.
"We know anecdotally that religious believers can tolerate great pain when there is a specific purpose, and I would speculate that this would operate via endorphin release.
"Religious practices such as prayer and meditation release endorphins and would in theory increase the pain threshold.
"It will be interesting to see what these trials show, it may be that the specific purpose of bearing the pain is missing, if so I would expect the tests would be inconclusive."
But the Church of England said it was possible religion could be of help.
A spokesman said: "Pain is a fact of life, whatever your beliefs. Christians feel pain just like everyone else, but many would say that their belief in a God who cares and the promises of the Bible are a huge comfort in difficult times."
Torture Experiment: Believers go on rack to prove God relieves pain
Times Online | January 12, 2005
By Ruth Gledhill
PEOPLE are to be tortured in laboratories at Oxford University in a United States-funded experiment to determine whether belief in God is effective in relieving pain.
Top neurologists, pharmacologists, anatomists, ethicists and theologians are to examine the scientific basis of religious belief and whether it is anything more than a placebo.
Headed by Baroness Greenfield, the leading neurologist, the new Centre for the Science of the Mind is to use imaging systems to find out how religious, spiritual and other belief systems, such as an illogical belief in the innate superiority of men, influence consciousness.
A central aspect of the two-year study, which has $2 million (£1.06 million) funding from the John Templeton Foundation, the US philanthropic body, will involve dozens of people being subjected to painful experiments in laboratory conditions.
While enduring the agony, they will be exposed to religious symbols such as images of the Virgin Mary or a crucifix. Their neurological responses will be measured to determine the efficacy of their faith in helping them to cope.
The aim is to develop new and practical approaches “for promoting wellbeing and ultimately maximising individual human potential”.
The pain experiments will be conducted under the direction of Toby Collins, who has a background in marine biology and the nerve systems of invertebrates. He said that many people in pain turned to faith for relief. Some looked to religious or secular healing systems.
He said that the experiments would involve non-invasive simulation of burns and will be conducted according to strict ethical rules. As they suffer, the human guinea pigs will be asked to access a belief system, whether religious or otherwise.
Dr Collins said: “We will simulate a burn sensation to see how people, through distraction or by accessing different strategies, can modulate and reduce the levels of pain.”
John Stein, a neuroscientist from Oxford’s physiology department, said: “Pain has been central to a lot of problems that religious and other thinkers have concentrated on.”
Professor Stein said that people differed widely in the extent to which they felt pain. “What we want to do is correlate that with their underlying beliefs.”
The study is considered of vital importance in the present world climate, given the role of religious fundamentalism in international terrorism. A better understanding of the physiology of belief, the conditions that entrench it in the mind and its usefulness in mitigating pain could be crucial to developing counter-terrorist strategies for the future.
Scientists have long been baffled at the persistence of these beliefs in the face of seemingly irrefutable logic. Professor Lewis Wolpert, the biologist, has speculated in the past that a belief in how the world was created and what happens after death may have conferred an evolutionary advantage.
The new centre will investigate how people form belief and how the mind works in relations to belief. Scientists will examine what causes people to change their beliefs, and how this affects the mind. Lady Greenfield, Professor of Synaptic Pharmacology at Oxford and director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain in Mayfair, Central London, said: “To the best of my knowledge, this centre will be the first of its kind in the UK, if not in Europe. It brings together equal numbers of academics from the humanities and the sciences, approaching the same problem.”
Two thousand years ago, crucifixion was a favoured form of torture and execution. Christians were also sewn up in the skins of wild beasts and dogs let loose on them
The rack was used by the Inquisition which began in 1232 when Emperor Frederick II issued an edict against heretics
The Spanish Inquisition of the 15th century was aimed originally at Marranos, baptised Jews suspected of having returned to their old faith.