SYMPATHY OF SOULS
Yachtsman Chay Blyth once found himself in trouble in the Atlantic. He had overturned and was trapped for hours before rescue. At that very moment, his wife Maureen suddenly felt nauseous and knew he was in trouble. Parapsychologist Stanley Krippner remembers a similar feeling of knowing. As a boy he once wanted an encyclopedia. Uncle Max would buy it, he thought. But then another thought entered his head. Uncle Max was dead. Seconds later the phone rang. Uncle Max had, indeed, died.
The above are supposed cases of telepathy a word coined by researcher Frederic Myers from the Greek ‘tele,’ or distant, and ‘pathe,’ meaning feeling. Often seen as part of extrasensory perception, or ESP, this term was first used by explorer Sir Richard Burton in 1870. Indeed, ESP is a better term for such knowledge, which is said to come in two forms – telepathy or clairvoyance. The former is said to be mind to mind contact, whilst the latter suggests the mind can go walkies about the world, visualizing things not recordable by the senses. Many researchers have noted the line between these two information talents is so thin that they could simply be subtle manifestations of a single ability to perceive information.
There are many recorded instances of the ability. Zoologist Sir Alister Hardy had an interest in ESP after meeting a Mrs Wedgwood during World War One. She spoke of someone looking at engineering plans with red and blue squares. Hardy had been studying such plans that afternoon. On another occasion she saw a large pink square. Hardy had earlier been painting white cards pink.
There are many variations on the ESP trail. On 7 December 1918 British Lt David McConnel flew out from Scampton after telling his friend, Lt James Larkin that he’d be home for tea. He never returned, dying in a plane crash. But at that exact moment, Larkin saw him in his doorway. They had a short conversation before McConnel left.
Cases like this are often called crisis apparitions, involving hallucination born from extrasensory knowledge or feeling. At times they have saved lives. Typical is Dr S Weir Mitchell from 19th century Philadelphia. One evening he dozed off to be awoken by a girl at the door saying her mother was ill. He followed her through a blizzard to find her mother with pneumonia. He later found out the girl had been dead some time.
In December 1952 Norfolk midwife Gladys Wright couldn’t get patient Joyce Goodwin out of her mind. Eventually she drove to her house to find her in premature labour. In 1955 Wisconsin housewife Joyce Hurth suddenly felt chilled, believing her daughter had just been in an accident. She rang the cinema she was going to only to discover she had just been knocked down.
One of the most impressive cases of ESP involved explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins and researcher Harold Sherman over 68 nights during an Arctic expedition. As arranged, in the Arctic, Sir Hubert would spend some time each evening thinking about the day. Back in New York, Sherman tried to put down Sir Hubert’s thoughts, his impressions then given to researcher Gardner Murphy to be kept until notes could be compared. How well did this test do?
On one night Sherman thought of ping-pong balls. Sir Hubert had played ping-pong that night. On another night he thought the team had had some rare wine. Sir Hubert confirmed later it was blueberry. On another occasion Sherman thought Sir Hubert had been on an early flight to Saskatchewan but was forced to land because of bad weather at Regina. Here, he attended a party in an evening suit. Unlikely? Sir Robert’s notes later confirmed every detail to be correct. The evening suit had been leant to him.
Psychotherapist Robin Royston from Sussex collected some amazing cases in the 1990s. Consider the man who had a dream where two black leopards chased him, one jumping on his back. Men in white coats then chased them away. A month later, his wife noticed a black mole on his back which turned out to be cancer.
In 1974, US parapsychologist Rex Stanford realized another variation of ESP with his concept of Psi-Mediated Instrumental Response. Here, knowledge turns into action without the person realizing ESP may have been involved. Typical was the case of the woman who always liked to dress properly. One day she had an impulse to buy an elegant hat. The next day her daughter told her she was getting married. On another occasion she had an urge to buy a black skirt. Shortly after, her mother died.
Sceptics would argue that many of these incidences of ESP could be coincidence. For instance, the idea of chance events in a species could apply equally here to my previous words on premonition. Coincidences happen to us all. Further, in the case of the woman and her clothes, she could have had an idea that things were about to happen. As to the man with the mole, did he feel subliminal discomfort?
All these factors could apply. Similarly, body language and unrealized cold reading could apply in other cases, such as Mrs Wedgwood. But when we look away from anecdotal evidence to studies carried out in the laboratory, the coincidence hypothesis takes a knock, suggesting that something could indeed be going on here.
Scientific study of ESP began in earnest at the turn of the 20th century. Sir Oliver Lodge was an early experimenter, eventually producing two girls who seemed to be able to read each other’s minds. However, their success declined rapidly when they were not holding hands.
By the 1930s, American writer Upton Sinclair began tests with his wife in which he would sketch little drawings and try to transmit them to her. In one test he drew a volcano whilst his wife produced a beetle. Was this a miss? Both images were of a long, thin squiggle with an inverted ‘V’ at the bottom.
It was about this time that plant botanist J B Rhine got involved in providing a new methodology for research. Throughout the 1930s he worked at Duke University with Zener cards – a twenty five card pack with five sets of images. Whilst one person would turn over a card, another person would attempt to identify what it was. Over a series of many runs the degree of success could be expressed statistically. If this statistic was above chance, then it was indicative of ESP being involved.
By the 1960s it became obvious that testing could better occur if the subject was removed from normal information input, aping trances and other altered states as attributed to mediums.
Parapsychologists Stanley Krippner and Montague Ullman achieved this at their Dream Laboratory at the Maimonides Medical Centre, New York. Subjects would go there to sleep. Meanwhile, an experimenter would stare at a picture in another room. When the sleeper approached REM sleep he would be woken up and asked to describe his thoughts. The following morning he would be shown a series of pictures. Some subjects were repeatedly successful above chance in picking the right picture.
By the 1970s American researcher Charles Honorton advanced the process of testing by developing the Ganzfeld, still used in tests around the world today. Here a subject is relaxed and placed in a state of sensory deprivation – usually white noise played through headphones and half ping pong balls taped over eyes. In this state he is required to concentrate on another subject in another room, who, as in the Dream Laboratory, is looking at a number of target pictures, selecting one for particular attention. The relaxed subject then talks about the images that come into his head, which are then compared to the target picture. Again, there have been many successes against chance.
A variation on the technique of testing was carried out by physicists Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff at the Stanford Research Institute, California. Devising what they called ‘remote viewing,’ one team member would select an unopened envelope from a number of choices and then travel to the location specified. Back at the institute, a subject would attempt to identify the location. One subject – ex-policeman Pat Price – had some remarkable successes. When the target was the Hoover Tower, Price spoke of a tower-like structure. When visiting a marina, Price said he was looking at a little boat jetty or dock.
Despite the claims of sceptics, there are some remarkable cases of above chance results here. But in the world of the paranormal, they end up being quite useless – for the simple fact is, science will never accept the data unless there is a credible theory to back it up; something which does not exist in the field of ESP. But some spectacular theories have been suggested.
The problem with ESP is that it seems to conflict totally with how science sees the world as working. Early SPR member Dame Edith Lyttleton realized this when she said: ‘Telepathy does not merely bridge space, it annihilates it – space becomes an irrelevance.’
Various physical theories have been proposed for ESP over the years. Two central ideas are that information is carried on either radio-like waves or chemical messengers such as pheromones, which can best be explained as airborne hormones. However, it is unlikely that either of these ideas will ever bear fruit.
Other researchers refer to psychologist Carl Jung and his theory of a ‘collective unconscious’. To Jung, underlying the personal unconscious we have a connection of minds, through which collective images and impulses can rise into the personal conscious. This vehicle has often been used as a possible mechanism for ESP. But unfortunately, whilst it is attractive as a concept, and certainly has importance for human psychology, it holds no scientific credibility in itself.
British psychologist Sue Blackmore carried out ESP tests in Bristol in 1993 on a number of twins. In guessing tests they had a success rate well above chance. However, she answered the problem not with ESP but genetics. Sharing the same genes, she put it down to thought concordance – the twins had almost exact thought processes.
This idea is attractive, but is it viable? Consider the case of Alice Lambe, an identical twin from Illinois. One day in July 1948 some force hurled her from her chair, hurting the left side of her body. At that exact moment, her twin sister, Dianne hurt her left side in a rail accident.
In a 1997 TV programme, the Paranormal World of Paul McKenna, one twin appeared in the studio whilst another was in a different room wired up to an ECG. A loud explosion shocked the studio twin. At the same moment the second twin experienced an inexplicable increase in heart rate.
Genetics may well allow some form of ‘connection’ to pass more easily between identical twins, but the above episodes show that it is more than this. Genetics cannot explain such simultaneous action. But if we are to accept the existence of something called ESP, we must try to highlight how such a force could operate.
The physicist David Bohm theorized that the universe was holographic in nature, in that information is composed of a field that can be accessed by any part of the universe. To Bohm, this happened because the universe bent in on itself to such an extent that – at an information level – the particle and the universe were one and the same. Such an idea is presented because of the accepted ability of a subatomic particle to simultaneously affect another regardless of the distance between them.
This known annihilation of space is not applied to ESP by science for they argue that quantum effects cannot infiltrate into normal existence. But nowadays this argument is becoming unconvincing, mainly due to the discovery of microtubules.
A cell, including brain cells, have been shown to have an inner skeleton made up of the protein, tubulin. These microtubules are so small that it has been theorized that they could react at a subatomic level, thus allowing quantum properties into brain processes. It has even been theorized that microtubules could be tiny on/off switches, forming a kind of computer to process subatomic effects.
Scientists are aware of such mechanisms but still discount them because to them the individual mind is seen as the result of electrochemical action in the brain and thus unable to be affected directly by impulses from outside the brain. This thinking dates back to the early 1940s when psychologist Donald Hebb suggested the neural-connectionist hypothesis, arguing that the phenomenon of mind resulted from the interconnection of brain cells called neurones, which linked together to form neural circuits. These circuits could only be modified by sensory experience, and this was the genesis of memory.
In this hypothesis, the mind is not an energy that exists within a person – such as a soul – but a bi-product of chemical exchanges within a physical brain. Such a concept not only denies the possibility of telepathy, but also any other form of paranormal phenomena.
With this idea set in stone, scientists such as Francis Crick – co-discoverer of DNA – began looking for what he called ‘awareness neurones’ so as to produce a total chemical theory of mind. In particular is the observation that neurones oscillate in unison when a subject is thinking. Thought, in this view, is seen as emerging from the combined actions of millions of single cells.
In the above theory of consciousness, it is complexity that creates thought. If this theory can explain all the observed functions of mind, there is no need for any more esoteric explanation. However, things are not that simple.
In the US, anaesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff – a major contributor to microtubule research – became fascinated with the abilities of single-celled micro-organisms and devised experiments to see if they possess any form of cognitive ability. He found that a lifeform as simple as the single-celled paramecium can learn to negotiate a maze.
As far as we can understand, such ability requires a memory. But if memory is a matter of communication between cells, as Crick argues, how can a single-celled organism learn and remember? The only credible answer is that memory is not only in the brain – a thing a single-celled organism lacks – but in the information-storing abilities of the subatomic world, possibly filtered through to a cellular level through microtubules. Carl Jung may not have been far wrong with his collective unconscious after all.
Such theories and discoveries suggest that a real scientific theory for ESP may not be far off. But if such a possibility were ever to be proved, why do we not experience ESP more often? The Ganzfeld technique, coupled with the fact that other paranormal phenomena is more likely to occur near sleep or in trance, suggests that paranormality works best when the mind is cut off from external stimuli provided by the senses. As such, it could be our attention on the physical world that screens out the paranormal. We must begin to ask whether our senses are our only information source, or whether they are jailers, locking the wonders of paranormality out of our minds. However, despite the attractiveness of such ideas as the above, we maybe need to look at many cases of ESP in a totally new way.
A hypothesis. I am me. Or am I? I am me, but my behaviour is decided by so much more. I exist in culture. I read books, I watch films, I observe art, I listen to music, and they produce thoughts in my head and they inspire me.
They make me think, they provide emotional stimuli; they provide facts and ideas and change me. They are proof that I am more than myself. I am me, but I am also part of a community of knowledge and inspiration.
I am me. Or am I? I am me, but my behaviour is decided by so much more. I exist in society. I go about my business, but with every movement I make I observe things. I hear things. I smell things. I feel things. And these provide impulses that affect me.
They make me think, they provide emotional stimuli. And I experience people, and someone does something and I relate to it, and I change because of it. I am me, but I am also part of a community, of humanity and interaction.
They provide knowledge. And this knowledge becomes part of me and changes me. Every time I interact, I can never be the same again. Humanity – the environment – has touched me and changed me. Facts have built upon facts and I am more. I am more than just me, more than just my individuality. I am reborn every second of every day. For I have experienced life. But maybe I have done much more.
Why have I experienced this? Because I have placed my attention upon the world that is not me but becomes me. But what is this attention? It is my will to notice things; my ability to turn consciousness into a thin beam of attention and prize knowledge from the world about me. But that world goes on also beyond my attention, beyond what I consciously notice. What happens to this information?
It does not just not exist. It enters me, too. But it enters without my conscious attention. But it enters me nonetheless and it is in my mind, in my unconscious mind, entering with the same speed, the same efficiency and it revolves around my mind looking for a place.
Neurons buzz within my brain, unnoticed. But my unconscious noticed. It heard that conversation between two people passing, and it does this hundreds, maybe thousands of times a day, and the continual build-up of information swirls and the neurons burn.
On an average day, in an average city, I have paid unconscious witness to thousands of people close by but unnoticed, and the next day thousands more and the next, thousands more, until millions of conversations and actions exist in the maze of my mind – unnoticed.
And suddenly something happens. It may be so unimportant to my conscious mind, but the unconscious goes ‘Aha!’ as it remembers that unheard but noted conversation two months ago, and a thought enters consciousness and I know!
I have had a thought that I shouldn’t know. I know something of someone’s intention and it coincides with a thought in that unknown person’s head providing action that marries to my thought and I’m telepathic! Facts have built upon facts and extrasensory is not needed! It was there all along, and had emerged. But so much more.
Facts build upon facts, and scenarios are intuited upon scenarios, and a thought enters consciousness and I predict! But it was there all along, buried in the inattentive unconscious, until something happens to make it emerge. And I am paranormal. And I am paranormal because we become One.