Michael W. Petrides wrote a commentary that appeared in The Catholic Transcript, September 10, 1993 issue. Dr. Petrides has done extensive study in brain laterality and visual perception research at the Institute of Living, and has doctoral training in clinical psychology at St. Louis University. At the time this article appeared he was the director for the Psychiatric Outpatient Clinic’s mental health services for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut.
It is extremely noteworthy that the reported apparitions in Medjugorje are the first apparitions in history to be thoroughly investigated by science. Professor Henri Joyeux headed a team from the University of Montpellier, France. Dr. Frigerio and colleagues from Italy did further investigation. The regularity of the apparitions has made for consistent and extremely reliable findings.
Five alleged visionaries tested were found to simultaneously look at precisely the same spot, even though no reference point was visible, within one-fifth of a second of each other when the Blessed Virgin Mary allegedly appears. Such synchronization can only be explained by some external “object” holding their gaze—but one which those around them could not see.
During the same one-fifth of a second, there are simultaneous kneeling and the cessation of eye movements. There is no eye movement during the entire apparition, from 3 to 45 minutes. There is also the simultaneous raising of their heads and gazing upwards while remaining fixated on a spot moving upwards when the apparitions is finishing.
Two of the alleged visionaries do not blink at all during the apparition. They eyeball normally dries when there is no regular blinking (15-20 times a minute) to moisten the cornea, but lacrimal secretion does not seem necessary during the apparition. The other alleged visionaries blink about half the normal rate. None of them blinks in response to touching the eye during the apparition (cornea sensitivity to varying pressures is completely absent), although they blink normally at other times.
There is no reaction to pain during the apparition. When touched with an algometer, which causes a cetaneous lesion or skin burn, there was complete absence of sensitivity. The alleged visionaries react normally to pain at other times.
The interesting results of a hearing test before and during an apparition showed normal hearing, but during the apparition, an input of ninety decibels (equivalent to a loud explosion) showed NO reaction. Auditory evoked potential measurement (electrical activity of the ear) indicated normal ear activity with no transmission to the inner ear during the apparition. It is a measurable inhibition of hearing that is involuntary and inexplicable physiologically.
Electroencephalographic (EEG) tests confirm that the alleged visionaries’ brain functioning is normal and healthy. EEG tests rule out the possibility of epilepsy or psychotic hallucinations. They alleged visionaries are not asleep or dreaming either. Hysterical neurotic reaction or pathological ecstasy is also ruled out by the EEG testing.
What EEG testing showed was that before the apparition, the brain waves are predominantly beta rhythm interspersed by alpha rhythm (normal conscious attentiveness). At the start of the apparition, the beta rhythm remains for a short time and then is replaced by an almost uninterrupted alpha rhythm. Alpha rhythm is most often observed during relaxation, in a state or expectation, or engaged in mediation. It also usually requires practice to achieve such a diffuse response. Because most of the brain is devoted to visual processing, it is noteworthy that the alpha rhythm over the entire cranium was exhibited while the alleged visionaries had their eyes wide open throughout the apparition. Closed eyes would be expected with alpha rhythm because visual stimulation usually produces interference with alpha rhythm.
To test visual stimulation further, a 1000 watt light bulb was placed in front of the eyes of the alleged visionaries during the apparition. Not only is a 1000 watt light bulb usually painful to the eye but also it would normally cause increased blinking and influence alpha rhythm. There was no blinking movement of the eyelids to the 1000 watt stimulus. There was an interesting papillary response. The pupil contracted as one would expect in bright light but there was no change in alpha rhythm to the 1000 watt light. This is scientifically inexplicable and never seen before. FOR THE PUPIL TO RESPOND, THE BRAIN MUST REGISTER THE LIGHT BUT NO BRAIN WAVE CHANGE TOOK PLACE. Additionally, such intense stimulation normally causes a significant cortical response, but none occurred during the apparition period.
During the apparition period, another scientifically inexplicable event takes place. The alleged visionaries voices stop during the time that they are having the vision. Even though all the muscles involved in speech continue (all mouth, jaw and throat muscles), the larynx (voice box) shuts off. This is physically impossible. The laryngeal function cannot be physically isolated from the rest of the muscles of speech. The larynx ceases to emit sound during the apparition—except for one exception. In unison, during the apparition the alleged visionaries will be heard simultaneously praying, “Who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…” When asked, they report Mary is leading them in the Lord’s Prayer.
In summary, the unique aspects of the results of the scientific investigations point to the conclusion that nothing in the physical realm is allowed to interfere with the apparition experience. Scientific experts have defined the phenomena “as a state of active, intense prayer, partially disconnected from the external world, a state of contemplation with a separate person whom they alone can see, hear, and touch.”
The current attitude of the church after fourteen years of scrutiny is a kind of provisional approval. Both the Pope and the former Bishops are treating and nurturing Medjugorje as a legitimate place of pilgrimage. Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II strongly believes in the fruits of Medjugorje. In response to thanks for what he did to free Poland from communism he has said, “NO, NOT ME, BUT BY THE WORKS OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN ACCORDING TO HER AFFIRMATIONS AT FATIMA AND MEDJUGORJE.” He also said, “MEDJUGORJE IS THE FULFILLMENT AND CONTINUATION OF FATIMA.” American Church leaders would do well to offer the same kind of provisional approval and pastoral assistance to those experiencing conversion through Medjugorje.