Ganzfeld hallucinations

The cognitive science journal Cortex has just released a special issue on the neuropsychology of paranormal experiences and belief, and contains a fantastic article on hallucinations induced by the Ganzfeld procedure.

The Ganzfeld procedure exposes the participant to ‘unstructured’ sensations usually by placing half ping-pong balls over the eyes so they can only see diffuse white light and by playing white noise through headphones.

It is probably best known for its uses in parapsychology experiments, but it is also used to induce hallucinations and sensory distortions which are much more likely to occur in the absence of clearly defined sensory experiences.

The article reviews the sorts of hallucinations reported in during these experiments and discusses what electrophysiology (EEG or ‘brain wave’) studies tell us about what happens in the cortex when these perceptual distortions kick off.

Some of the descriptions of hallucinations are really quite striking:

“For quite a long time, there was nothing except a green-greyish fog. It was really boring, I thought, ‘ah, what a non-sense experiment!’ Then, for an indefinite period of time, I was ‘off’, like completely absent-minded. Then, all of sudden, I saw a hand holding a piece of chalk and writing on a black-board something like a mathematical formula. The vision was very clear, but it stayed only for few seconds and disappeared again. The image did not fill up the entire visual field, it was just like a ‘window’ into that foggy stuff.”

“an urban scenery, like an empty avenue after a rain, large areas covered with water, and the city sky-line reflected in the water surface like in a mirror.”

“a clearing in a forest [Lichtung], a place bathed in bright sun-shine, and the trunks of trees around. A feeling of a tranquile summer afternoon in a forest, so quiet, so peaceful. And then, suddenly, a young woman passed by on a bicycle, very fast, she crossed the visual field from the right to the left, with her blond long hair waving in the air. The image of the entire scene was very clear, with many details, and yes, the colours were very vivid.”

“I can see his face, still, it’s very expressive… [I could see] only the horse that comes as if out of clouds. A white horse that jumped over me.”

“A friend of mine and I, we were inside a cave. We made a fire. There was a creek flowing under our feet, and we were on a stone. She had fallen into the creek, and she had to wait to have her things dried. Then she said to me: ‘Hey, move on, we should go now’.”

“It was like running a bob sleigh on an uneven runway right down… [There] was snow or maybe water running down… I could hear music, there was music coming from the left side below.”

“In the right side of the visual field, a manikin suddenly appeared. He was all in black, had a long narrow head, fairly broad shoulders, very long arms and a relatively small trunk…. He approached me, stretching out his hands, very long, very big, like a bowl, and he stayed so for a while, and then he went back to where he came from, slowly.”

You can simulate the Ganzfeld procedure in your own home by taping two half ping-pong balls over your eyes and listing to the radio tuned to static in an evenly lighted room.

The other articles in the special issue are also fascinating, and range from a study finding greater body asymmetry is related to higher levels of unusual beliefs – likely reflecting asymmetrical brain development, to an experiment looking at the cognitive psychology of people who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens.

Needless to say, there’s many more fascinating studies and Cortex has the advantage of not only being a leading neuropsychology journal but also making its material freely available as open-access articles. Enjoy!

Link to Cortex special issue.

39 thoughts on “Ganzfeld hallucinations”

  1. It seems as though the mechanisms at play here would be very similar to those of sensory deprivation via floating tanks. Although, this approach saves me from convincing my wife that it would be fun to build a tank in the basement.

  2. Speaking of ‘death’ (as a topic) – wanted to let you know that tomorrow I’ll be posting an interview I just did with Mary Roach (Stiff, Spook, Bonk) – I saw a previous post you did about Bonk and thought you’d like to know.
    Best -d

  3. This ganzfeld procedure actually uses certain binaural beats to help in the medication or relaxation process. Binaural beats uses certain sound frequencies to produce certain actions in the brain. with the cortex procedure the binaural beats used here are static sounds. ganzfeld really is an effective process to create relaxation

    1. I’ve tried something quite similar to this before. it involved listening to a source of white noise, but not just any white noise. Certain frequencies were played at certain intervals and patterns. Specifically, three’s one frequency in one ear, one frequency in another (due to this imbalance, you MUST listen through ear buds/head phones). depending on the patterns of frequencies, the “track” of noise can produce any number of experiences (ie, anything you could find in any sort of drug, you name it. Stimulants, depressants, prescription, sedatives, sexual, religious, hallucinogenic. again, you name it). I’ve tried many different simulated “drugs” with this same neurological base of white noise. Personally, I’m quite impressed. I haven’t tried any hallucinogenics, but the sedatives are QUITE impressive, a few uppers made me feel like a million bucks, i’ve even tried a couple of opiates that completely sent me to a different world. But, as is the same for many other things, not everyone is effected differently. One of my friends had a MUCH stronger experience from what has become my favorite “drug track,” called Anesthesia. I found it to be like the best power nap I’ve ever had. I had an out of body experience, my head got squished at one point (which was actually pretty interesting), and even when I had to scratch my face or move slightly, I’ve never felt so still in my entire life. he experienced something completely different, the most notable experiences being floating in a pool of water and seeing god. If you have an open mind, TRY THIS. If you’re willing to experiment with things that may alter your mind temporarily, TRY THIS. If absolutely nothing else, you’ll feel moderately better afterword. 🙂
      -The Ninja Penguin

      1. @theNinjaPenguin, i just dont understand what exactly do you to to “TRY THIS?”. I tried the ping pong thing for like 20 minutes and nothing happened. I also havent slept for over 36 hours so i thought well that might help because i might sorta already feel ‘out of it’. but nothing, i didnt see anything, feel anything, nothing. Although once i took the ping pong ball halves off of my eyes, i would see weird random shadows every now and then out of my peripherals but im sure that was simply just because of the light adjustment and etc. Now the ping pong ball i used was a orange ball, does it matter what color the ball is?? My friend said he did the ping pong ball trip once and he tripped once he took the halves off of his eyes and took the headphones off. he said the posters on his walls were literally coming off the wall at him then going back and just weird shit, but i almost dont really believe in being able to hallucinate without actually taking a hullucinogenic drug.

    2. I just tried this literally 5 minutes ago. It was very interesting, not what anyone would think of in their normal state of minds. I will try to tell you in best detail what I experienced(: At first I thought this experiment was a hoax because for the first 5 – 10 minutes I saw nothing, but then it happened, I saw a dot in the middle of my sight, and it slowly got closer and closer, bigger and bigger. It eventually got so close, it kind of “popped” and I saw some colors that I can not describe. I had two noises playing, (Thunderstorm, and White Noise) and they reminded me of a beach, and for the next few minutes it felt like, I was on a beach where the sand was different colors, (the colors I saw at first) and I saw myself kicking it up in the air. I felt freaked out at seeing my self so I took my mask off and said “Whoa” I am here now typing this haha. Hope this helps you in any way!

  4. This always happens to me when I’m riding a bus. Closing my eyes during an late afternoon cruise and hearing only the shuttle motor. I can see very detailed moving landscape of trees, grassland, seashores, industrial complex, buildings, so detailed I can see the differences between leaves, or peebles. a very relaxing experience : )

  5. I tried listening to binaural tones ( a few times before, but they never do what they say on the tin.

    I often find if I meditate for over 40mins, I experience ‘unstructured sensations’ similar to the descriptions in the post.

  6. i just got done doing it and my friend is currently doing it i saw a few things i kept seeing a purple ghostly looking girl from the side for a second wasn’t very clear.. i was in heaven talking to god and satans hand ripped me out of the clouds into hell he burned me and i felt my body getting hot.. it i saw shadow figures grabbing me and i felt something in my body like i was being pulled off the bed. it wasn’t clear at all actually the only clear thing was that face if anyone knows how to make this happen with clear images please let me know.

    1. That’s so creepy !! Haha I’m terrified of ghosts and demons and I’m paranoid that they’ll find me and stuff all the time , so I’m scared to try this now !! cx

  7. It’s kind of cute how all of these apparent straights are marveling at the sorts of experiences that heads have every day. I particularly like how ‘theninjapenguin’ says “(ie, anything you could find in any sort of drug, you name it. Stimulants, depressants, prescription, sedatives, sexual, religious, hallucinogenic. again, you name it). I’ve tried many different simulated “drugs” with this same neurological base of white noise. Personally, I’m quite impressed. I haven’t tried any hallucinogenics, but the sedatives are QUITE impressive,….” No offense, ninjapenguin, but how exactly do you know that it produces the same experience as hallucinogenic drugs, if you’ve never taken any hallucinogenic drugs? I’m not trying to be a jerk, but that was a rather dubious claim. Speaking for myself, the whole point of hallucinogenic drugs is that there is at least an order of magnitude of difference between the ‘simulated’ experience and the real thing. That you thought the simulated experience was valuable, I appreciate, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s all that is available to our consciousness. If you truly appreciate the simulation, give the real thing a go.

    1. Jim,

      Have you tried the Ganzfeld goggles? If not, how do you know they’re *not* the same as chemical hallucinogens?

      (you know, like, back at ya)

      1. Because I have done hallucinogens and listened to the binaural for LSD and I will say they are NOT the same

      2. After trying this experiment I will confirm to you they are nothing anywhere near the feeling of true hallucinogens. Like Jim said the difference can only be represented by orders of magnitude not simply a mild difference.

  8. I just did this not even half an hour ago. I had my friends watch what was happening to me. It felt like I was doing it for 5 minutes, but I was doing it for over an hour. I did it with a red light and had a really high frequency white noise in both headphones. I kept seeing these black masses shoot across my face. They looked like big black tumors with tentacles and yellow eyes. Eventually I started breathing very heavy,and tensing up. I started hearing what sounded like factory machines starting up in the distance,and I tried to talk but it felt like my jaw was wired shut. My friends had to cut the white noise in the headphones because they said it looked like I was so scared that I started shaking violently and they thought I was going into a seizure.

  9. I don’t have ping pong balls and they may be my problem, but I used paper to cover up my eyes. Apparently it worked for my friend, but I didn’t get any big effects! I done this for about 20 minutes and only heard a few odd sounds. My friend’s experience was much more detailed than mine. Not sure if he is lying, but he could still feel his feet wet from the procedure. Why can’t I do it? Perhaps it’s because I can’t relax properly? Every now and then I would see scary images of monsters pop in my head. Hahaha, just random things and it scared me.

    Any suggestions? Would ping pong balls do the trick or is it that I can’t relax properly?

  10. I have read elsewhere that doing this method while also suspending a red light a few feet from your face can produce interesting results. Has anyone tried this method?

  11. Sounds like a hypnogogic state rather than a hallucinatory state. Light can pass through your eyelids in much the same way, during the day, and your eyes are still open behind them…

  12. I tried a three types of binural beats first was the lsd one which all i saw in the forty minutes was a few pink and orange snake like looking shapes second was also the lsd one which i got nothing from then last i tried one called dream tunnel which was great no hallucinations or anything just a very relaxed and good feeling can anyone help me with the hallucinations and is paper also as good as ping pong balls for the ganzfeld experiment???

  13. I just went thru this whole process yesterday. I’ll try to be as detailed as I can be. Like a lot of people said, I felt like I was going blind in the beginning. I didn’t see as much as other people did, but I heard some water droplets that sounded like I was in a cavern. Then that faded away and I started to hear growls, not dog-like whatsoever, which creeped me out but I tried to ignore it as much as possible to get passed it. After that faded away I heard cars passing me by one-by-one. Then as this sound continued I saw something come into my vision. It was a red car passing me by in sync with the sound. And someone was in the car waving to me and as they left my vision another car with the same person in a different outfit passed me again. My eyes started to sting with pain so I took off everything and sat up. I remembered that but I didnt remember what I did after I woke up from it. According to my brother, I walked into the living room and said. “I will be back.” And then went back to the room I was in. My vision was blurry and all around my eyes were dark, but it faded away by night. So yea, that was my experience with it. Not sure if I should do it again or not. Btw did u guys clean the ping pong balls you used before u put them on? I watered the inside of them down just to clear out any debris in the inside of the ball.

  14. First, from someone who has given a great deal of his life to experimentation with various mind altering substances and practices in order to induce altered states of consciousness: ‘simulated’ drugs are, in fact, orders of magnitude weaker than their chemical counterparts. There is no non-chemical intervention (no amount of meditation, no device) that can induce states equivalent to taking LSD, DMT, or similar chemicals.

    That said, the Ganzfeld effect “works” to induce something akin to hypnogogic hallucinations if done correctly. In my experience, ping pong balls work the best, but the object is to minimize visual input; therefore, you have to make sure they fit COMPLETELY around the eyes (that’s why the “pro” ones are curved. Likewise, binaural beats + noise (white or pink) facilitate the same sorts of meditative and hypnotic states. Again these are NOTHING like drugs, and have a character all their own. Likely, they are also quite healthy for the brain, with no side effects – unlike many psychedelic drugs.

    Note to the heads: that’s not to say that psychedelics are inherently bad; LSD, for example, has almost no physiological side effects, and other psychedelics have been shown to be neuroprotective… so don’t flame a brother.

  15. Experiment Performed: April 17th 2013

    Witnessed: (note: Recorded times are assumed)
    At first: nothing.
    5 minutes: A small fish like creature with animal paws protruding from it’s mouth
    12 minutes: Several red balls rolling in an alternating clockwise and counter clockwise pattern
    18 minutes: Three fists made of metal that appeared to be playing a game of rock, paper, scissors around a green human heart
    20 minutes: Crying sounds. No visuals
    25 minutes: Crying increases in volume. Still no visuals
    35 minutes: Source of crying found to be a goat shaped lump of feces that appears to be emitting a visible Doppler wave.
    40 minutes: A view from outside my bedroom
    45 minutes: My bedroom door is closed by an unknown force and digestive sounds are heard
    50 minutes: The door opens and reveals a decapitated teddy bear
    59 minutes: A disembodied tentacle floats within my field of vision
    60 minutes: Nothing
    62 minutes: Awoken by testing partner

    This experiment was done with white ping pong balls in a darkroom with a red light bulb.

  16. Would it be possible to do something similar to this in a pitch black room with noise cancelling headphones? like 0 light whatsoever.

  17. I’m totally intrigued. I’ve tried every real hallucinogen there is, ok that’s a lie…I never took ecstasy. The last time I took anything was in high school over 20 years ago. I saw Fred Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street walking next to me, singing “one two Freddy’s coming for you.”
    So I think this experiment would be relatively safe, lol.
    Will try and get back to you all.

  18. The links in this post are not working for me.

    If anyone else is interested in the article cited here, it is titled “Ganzfeld-induced hallucinatory experience, its
    phenomenology and cerebral electrophysiology”.

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