michiel van elk | neuroenchantment – superplacebo?

“In the next 15 minutes, I will show you how you can achieve to experience the fifth dimension”, such a promising opening statement of tonight’s last speaker Michel van Elk!

Despite his academic and personal achievements, Michel van Elk has suffered from a depression. When he decided to visit a psychologist, he got introduced to the concept of neuroenchantement.


Van Elk stresses that neuroenchantment might well be a superplacebo: “Many people are fascinated by the idea of what medicine can do for us. They use brain stimulation or neurofeedback to feel or perform better. People are mesmerized by the promises of science these days. Especially because of the high expectations people have of neuroscience, it might even serve as a superplacebo. In one study, we told people that they could experience enhanced or impaired brain performance during the experiment. We found out that people blamed their brain for impaired performance, instead of taking responsibility themselves.”


“I also found that especially people with a very vivid imagination seem to profit from the promises of neuroenchantement. Many people report having supernatural experiences: they heard voices, saw themselves from an out-of-body perspective.” Van Elk continuous his talk by discussing one of his later studies. Participants who were told that a so-called ‘God helmet’, that stimulated their neurofunctioning, was turned on reported having experienced more supernatural experiences than those participants who thought the God helmet was turned off. But there was a catch: the helmet was turned off in both situations. Neuroenchantment as a placebo.


 “What are we left to do? Is there any hope? I believe that spiritual experiences improve our well-being. Having meaningful spiritual experiences has a positive expects of how we feel. We should all look for our meaningful spiritual experiences. Through self-transcendent experiences, we will find meaning and hope and ultimately become better human beings.”