by David Pescovitz

Talk about a headache, when Peter Halvorson was a 27-year-old young man seeking enlightenment he drilled a hole in his skull.

The year was 1973 and after much research, Halvorson had asked his doctor to perform the procedure for him. The answer, unshockingly, was an unequivocal "no." So Halvorson went for a second opinion. And a third. And a fourth, etc., all to no avail. Finally, he administered a local anesthetic and powered up his electric drill. His goal? An ancient practice called trepanation that, he was promised, would yield a permanent "high" similar to the sensation of lengthy yoga headstands.

How did Halvorson make out? Well, he lived. The rest, of course, is in the (third) eye of the beholder.

"I've had the energy to pull myself up by my boot straps," says Halvorson, a jeweler and tree grower in Pennsylvania who maintains the International Trepanation Advocacy Group <www.trepan.com> Web site. "I've had the ability to concentrate and stay in focus with the added benefit of feeling good all the while. Most outstanding is an improved ability to listen."

For those of you experiencing trepidation about trepanation, keep in mind that the practice has a long medical history--albeit to relieve swelling due to serious injury, not blow your mind. The Smith College online Museum of Ancient Inventions features a pre-power drill Trepanation tool, circa 200 BCE, while the Archaeological Institute of America reports on the finding in Russia of a trepaned cranium circa 7300-6220 BC and the excavation of a 7,000-year-old skull with two trepanation holes at a burial site in France.

"Why the Ensisheim individual was operated on is unknown, but in African communities that practice trepanation today, including the Kissii of western Kenya, there are two traditional motives: therapeutic (to relieve pressure due to skull fractures) and magical-spiritual (to cure headaches, epilepsy, intracranial tumors, and mental illness)....The long-term healing evident from the bone indicates the operations were successful," one article reads.

But it is Halvorson's site that best contextualizes trepanation and details ITAG's medical argument as to why a hole in your head is not a bad thing to work toward. According to the pages within, the modern trepanation movement (if Halvorson and a handful of other self-trepanned people around the world constitute a "movement") began in 1962 when Hugo Bart Huges, a medical student and psychonaut in Amsterdam, published the book Homo Sapiens Correctus: The Mechanism of Brainbloodvolume. Indeed, it was Huges who suggested Halvorson find a doctor to trepan him 25 years ago.

According to Huges, the pulse pressure in the cranial cavity of a baby is very strong--you can actually see the soft spot on a baby's head, the fontanel, pulse with the heartbeat. But by adulthood the skull hardens, causing pulsation to decrease. Trepanation, he claims, increases the volume of blood in the brain's capillaries.

"I feel like I did when I was 14," the still-living Huges says in a translation of a rare interview on Joern's Philosophical Unity of Multi-medial Impressions Page.

The I-Tag site goes into great detail about Huges' brainbloodvolume theories and also provides a forum for individuals to post their opinions about trepanation and participate in live chats on the subject. "Trepan Man" (Halvorson) participates once a week. After all, Huges has said, "the Web is "the new messiah." But while trepan.com is ripe with evangelical information about holey heads--it evens sells cool t-shirts--Halvorson doesn't ignore his critics either. And, of course, there's no shortage of scientists who are quick to proclaim that you need a hole in your head like you need, well, a hole in your head.

"This is nonsense," says Ayub Ommaya, a professor of neurosurgery at George Washington University and the former chief of neurosurgery at the National Institutes of Health quoted in a Washington Post article reprinted on the I-Tag site. The risks of blood clots, brain injuries from drilling too deep, and infections outweigh the unproven benefits, he says.

Brain function decreases with age, adds Louis Sokoloff, the chief of the Laboratory of Cerebral Metabolism at the National Institute of Mental Health, in the Post article. And even if it were possible, an increased blood flow--which many scientists think is more related to brain function than blood volume--would not reverse the process, he says.

Still, Halvorson--whose healed-over 3/8 inch trepanation hole is still noticeable as a small dent in the skin of his noggin--is convinced that trepanation is a trip worth taking. He doesn't advise the do-it-yourself method. (A look at the gruesome images on the site of one woman's self-trepanation experience should be enough of a deterrent for most.) But Halvorson does hope that by spreading the good word through the Net and other media, interest will increase and clinical trepanation may someday even be available as an out-patient procedure at hospitals everywhere.

"To fully understand this physiology of consciousness expansion and to have not allowed myself to use it to my own advantage would be like having a gold mine in my back yard and allowing myself to be thrown off my own property for not paying the taxes," he says.


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