Mechanics And The Collective Unconscious
Two: The PSI Story
word 'psi', pronounced 'sigh', is conventionally used as a convenient
shorthand for describing paranormal phenomena, which can be roughly classified
or direct communication between human or animal minds independently
of the known sense organs and regardless of distance or the presence
of material obstacles;
or the perception of events or physical objects other than through the
or the knowledge of future events or mental states; and
or the action of mind on matter without the interposition of physical
means such as nerves or muscles.
first three of these are often described as extrasensory perception (ESP),
while the last is often abbreviated as PK.
a sweeping generalization, one can say that belief in psi phenomena, whether
or not they actually existed, was a normal part of life in early human
communities, and can still be observed today among primitive tribes in
Africa and elsewhere, particularly in the person of the 'shaman' or equivalent.
to be sweeping, it is roughly true, at least in the West, that as the
partnership between the Christian religion and the Newtonian scientific
consensus described in the last chapter took hold between say 1500 and
1900, the study of paranormal phenomena was increasingly denied scientific
respectability. The alchemists, who can fairly be described as the progenitors
of modern scientific method, would not have made such a hard-and-fast
distinction, but by the seventeenth century at latest alchemy was giving
way to modern science, and witch-burning had become popular. Witches were
often condemned as a result of carrying on what we would now call paranormal
activity. It's ironic that the persecution of witches amounts to an acceptance
that paranormal phenomena were real; but the feeling that to study or
practice the paranormal is somehow irregular or even wrong has persisted
into modern times.
was not until the nineteenth century that some sort of quasi-scientific
study of psi began, on a very haphazard and occasional basis, and in terms
of academia it was too late: through most of the 20th century, it was
academically suicidal for a researcher to specialize in the paranormal.
While it is thus easy to understand that an excluded discipline finds
it ever harder to clamber onto the academic band-waggon, it is more difficult
to explain the violent and deep-seated antipathy of some conventional
scientists to studies of the paranormal. Given that survey after survey
has found belief in the existence of the paranormal among a majority of
scientists, as indeed among the general population, one has to conclude
that the 'sceptics', as they are conventionally described, are in some
way psychologically challenged by psi, and thus resort to what one can
only call highly unscientific methods in order to discredit psi research
and researchers. They are only a minority, but they have had an impact
out of proportion to their numbers. It's worth noting that many, although
by no means all of the sceptics are highly religious.
this kind of resistance, it has taken a long time, and the painstaking
accumulation of a mountain of convincing, scientific evidence, for study
of the paranormal to gain some sort of fairly grudging acceptance on the
fringes of conventional science, something that one can say happened in
the final quarter of the 20th Century. In the long march from pseudo-science
to quasi-respectability, it is impossible not to mention the work of J
B Rhine (1895 - 1980), who created the still-existing Rhine Foundation
in the 1930s.
existence of the UK's Society for Psychical Research and the equivalent
US-based American Society for Psychical Research, both founded in the
19th century, and both of which continue their activities, testify to
the high level of interest in the para-normal among professional psychological
researchers. Many of the most illustrious of them have been and continue
to be members of these societies.
that much of the funding for scientific research comes from commercial
entities, one of the problems that besets psi research is the apparent
lack of usefulness for paranormal phenomena in the world of business and
industry. The US military however did pursue aspects of ESP through research
programs in the 20th century; and many police forces around the world
routinely use psychically gifted individuals in the pursuit of criminals
and missing persons. Most of the military programs are classified, as
you might suppose, so we don't know much about them. Of course, if precognition
exists, it would have obvious uses in finance and investment; and people
using it in that way might also be inclined not to talk about it! It's
easy to believe that successful investors may be using their own psychic
skills as part of their trading equipment, so to speak, and perhaps without
even knowing that they are doing it.
one of the problems that psi researchers face is the lack of a demonstrated
mechanism for psi effects. The research that has taken place has therefore
largely been directed to studying the phenomena of psi, without much in
the way of attempts to create a mathematical or physical basis for whatever
forces or effects are involved in the paranormal.
prominent researchers who have studied paranormal phenomena and its causative
mechanisms, we may mention:
James, who throughout his life applied scientific discipline as rigorously
as anyone could wish, and who witnessed and studied psychic phenomena
over a period of 25 years. He concluded, shortly before he died, that,
while he was personally convinced of the reality of the paranormal, he
could not point to conclusive evidence for or against its existence. He
imagined the existence of a psychic 'sea' pervading our universe:
of my experience, such as it is (and it is limited enough) one fixed
conclusion dogmatically emerges, and that is this, that we with our
lives are like islands in the sea, or like trees in the forest. The
maple and the pine may whisper to each other with their leaves, and
Conanicut and Newport hear each other's fog-horns. But the trees also
commingle their roots in the darkness underground, and the islands also
hang together through the ocean's bottom. Just so there is a continuum
of cosmic consciousness, against which our individuality builds but
accidental fences, and into which our several minds plunge as into a
mother-sea or reservoir. Our "normal" consciousness is circumscribed
for adaptation to our external earthly environment, but the fence is
weak in spots, and fitful influences from beyond leak in, showing the
otherwise unverifiable common connection. Not only psychic research,
but metaphysical philosophy, and speculative biology are led in their
own ways to look with favor on some such "panpsychic" view
of the universe as this.
will return to such 'field' theories in later parts of this book. As to
the paranormal, James regarded observed phenomena as haphazard incursions
into everyday reality from the psychic sea.
G Stanford, b 1938, PhD in psychology from the University of Texas
at Austin, Professor of Psychology St Johns University, Jamaica, NY, was
President of the Parapsychological Association (PA) in 1973 and 2007,
and has written more than 100 books and peer-reviewed articles. He has
particularly studied the causative mechanisms that underly psi phenomena,
developing a theory that needs, often unconscious and non-intentional,
are a major driving factor. He believes that the operation of psi is indeed
normally unconscious. The theory is termed the psi-mediated instrumental
response (PMIR), seen as being essentially goal-oriented.
A. Persinger (born June 26, 1945) is Director of the Consciousness Research
Laboratory at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. With more than
200 peer-reviewed papers, his specializations are Neurotheology, Neuroscience
and Parapsychology. He has published reports of rudimentary 'telepathic'
communication between pairs of subjects in the laboratory. In a 2002 study,
Persinger et al established a correlation between
bursts of unusual 7 Hz spikes in neural activity in the occipital lobes
of the cortex and periods of successful 'remote viewing' of pictures of
local scenes by an adept in such viewing. The researchers considered that
such neural activity was likely to be have sub-cortical origins. Working
with remote viewer Ingo Swann, he measured increases in viewing accuracy
in experiments involving 40 experimentally blind participants during stimulation
with complex magnetic fields using a circumcerebral (around the head)
eight-channel system. The abstract of a report on the Swann experiments
(see reference) says: "A neuropsychological assessment and Magnetic
Resonance Imaging indicated a different structural and functional organization
within the parieto-occipital region of the subject's right hemisphere
from organizations typically noted."
Some of Persinger's work has been heavily criticized, but, as noted above,
this is often the fate of anyone brave enough to study parapsychology.
Cleveland Backster (1924 - 2013) was primarily a polygraph expert,
but became interested in psi and conducted a well-known series of experiments
in which the polygraph showed that plants reacted to a mental intention
to harm them, and to damage done to living animals (specifically, brine
shrimps) in their vicinity. Backster proposed the existence of a 'field'
which interconnects all life forms, and allows a form of biocommunication
which he termed 'primary perception' and some commentators have likened
to esp. Backster's experiments have been replicated on a number of occasions,
but there has been some methodological criticism of the work.
G. Jahn, Ph.D. (born April 1, 1930) studied psychic and parapsychological
phenomena for many years. With Brenda Dunne, he established the Princeton
Engineering Anomalies Research Lab (PEAR) in 1979; PEAR reported statistically
significant causal relationships between intention in subjects' minds
and the behaviour of electronic random event generators, i.e. that the
results generated are non-random. These effects are termed low-level PK
(psychokinesis). Jahn is given fuller coverage in the next chapter. PEAR
was closed in 2007.
Banks Rhine (1895 – 1980), mentioned above, was originally a botanist,
and founded scientific research in parapsychology as a branch of psychology
at Duke University. The Rhine Research Center continues his work alongside
the University, led after his death by his wife Louisa Rhine. Rhine wrote
extensively; of particular interest is Extra-Sensory Perception
After Sixty Years (1940), a meta-analysis of the existing literature.
Predictably, the work of the Rhine continues to be attacked by non-believers.
pattern of publication of experiments that have significant results, only
to have them rebutted by failed attempts to replicate, continues. In 2011,
the respected Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published an
account by Daryl J Bem of nine experiments which appeared
to show evidence of precognition. A fierce controversy ensued, and the
Journal finally published a rebuttal in 2012 which
reported seven experiments testing for precognition that 'found no evidence
supporting its existence.'
longest-running and most thorough series of experiments aimed variously
at proving or disproving the existence of psi effects must be those labelled
'ganzfeld'. Such experiments involve attempts by a 'sender' to transmit
randomly selected data to a 'receiver' who is in a state of mild sensory
deprivation. As usual, many such studies, often dealing with meta-data,
obtain significant results, only to have them denied by opposing sceptical
studies. Bem conducted one such positive study.
as discussed above, if it exists, may or may not constitute direct brain-to-brain
communication. That could be what is happening; but it is also possible
that telepathy takes place via a 'collective unconscious' which is external
to individual human brains. Either way, the mechanism is obscure. As of
2016, there continues to be a lack of peer-reviewed publication on the
subject of PSI, which may be due to the absence of actual research, but
may equally well be due to the reluctance of researchers and their reviewers
to put their heads above the parapet. There is however a plethora of reports
of brain-to-brain communication between humans and/or other mammals. This
is not telepathy, of course, which as described in this section is involuntary,
unconscious, and usually highly specific to a pair of individuals; however,
the work being done does scratch at the surface of interpersonal communication
outwith conventional sensory channels.
group of mostly Spanish researchers (see Grau) has
described the conscious transmission of information between human brains
through the intact scalp and without intervention of motor or peripheral
sensory systems. In fact, what was being recorded and then transmitted
was a string of '0's and '1's, needing conversion on arrival into the
words from which they had been derived, and the actual conversion process
was fairly ungainly. This may be altogether a blind alley: whatever format
nature uses in actual telepathy, it is fairly sure not to be digital.
The authors make grand claims for the future of their technique, but a
more useful route may have been mapped out by Nicolelis
et al, who used implanted cortical electronic arrays to connect two
rats, who appeared able to utilize the signals coming from each other's
brains, a signal consisting of actual neuronal events. Not allowed in
people, of course, but presumably it is only a matter of time before it
is possible to record, or even just transmit actual brain states between
people in a non-invasive way. But none of that will amount to telepathy.
telepathy, whatever that is, continues to be reported from time to time,
even if not in scientific journals. Diane Powell,
a classically trained neurophysiologist, has written over a period of
twenty years on the cases of apparently telepathic youngsters, although
she seems not to have gained access to mainstream periodicals (surprise!
surprise!). She herself regrets that the circumstances of her subjects
most often prevented fully controlled experimental conditions. Still,
her evidence is convincing enough, amounting to a supposition that the
two young 'savants' that she particularly studied had telepathic access
to the minds of their mothers.
have met privately with many people," says Powell, "who have
said they would never publicly state that they believe in telepathy but
tell me that they have actually experienced it or witnessed it themselves.
of them say the reason they don't come forward and say anything is that
they are actually afraid that they would be ridiculed or possibly even
lose their job. It's
very risky to one's credibility to take on a subject like this - but I
knew that when I got into it."
is one to make of scientists' perpetual failure to reach consensus on
the basic question of the very existence of paranormal phenomena, after
100 or more years of trying? Is there any other discipline in which so
many of its participants spend so much time trying to discredit their
colleagues? Are there any meta-studies that compare rebuttal rates across
are no easy answers to such questions; in the end it is a matter of personal
choice, and this author chooses to line up with William James, based at
least partly on personal experience.
with quantum mechanics, there are theories a-plenty about how, say, telepathy
may operate, and some of them are described later in this book; but they
are speculative and lack experimental foundations. From this perspective,
the study of psi, even more than the study of quantum mechanics, is at
what one could call the 'phlogiston' stage of development.
is no coincidence that psi and quantum mechanics have been mentioned in
the same breath: given that they both involve 'spooky action at a distance'
it is very tempting to hypothesize that the same mechanism may be involved
in both, and some people have done so. Many writers have also proposed
a role for quantum effects in the operation of the brain; if quantum effects
do exist in the brain, it is tempting to want to associate them with theories
about 'psi' (extra-sensory perception or psychokinesis), since both seem
to operate regardless of distance, and instantaneously. The interaction
of quantum mechanics and consciousness will be the subject of the next
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