Psychokinesis in Leningrad
. . . We can interpret the brain’s transformation of psychic into physicochemical energy as “miniature” PK over the neurons proper; the neurons, in turn, set muscles into motion . . . This transformation can be assumed to be one of the basic phenomena of life. Victor Adamenko (1979)
A colleague of mine arrived for the 1972 Moscow meetings with a copy of World magazine in his hand. It contained a book review of Arthur Koestler’s The Roots of Coincidence, written by Martin Gardner, one of parapsychology’s most vitriolic critics. In his book, Koestler had spoken highly of our work at Maimonides. However, Gardner (1972) observed:
Perhaps the most respected of recent work is that being done by Stanley Krippner and Montague Ullman in the Dream Laboratory at the Maimonides Medical Center in Manhattan (see their book, Dream Studies and Telepathy, 1970)….
How trustworthy is Krippner? To answer indirectly, let us now turn to “Parapsychology in the U.S.S.R.,” a magazine article by Krippner and his assistant. On the first page is a photograph of Ninel Kulagina, identified as a “noted Russian sensitive,” causing a “plastic sphere” to float in the air. . . .
Krippner well knows that Mrs. Kulagina is a pretty, plump, dark-eyed little charlatan who took the stage name of Ninel because it is Lenin spelled backward. She is no more a sensitive than Kreskin, and like that amiable American television humbug, she is pure show biz. [p. 68]
Gardner’s attack was one of the most absurd I had seen, and one unworthy of the intelligence he had displayed in his “Mathematical Games” columns in Scientific American. Apparently Gardner was familiar with the monograph Ullman and I had written in 1970, but had found nothing in it to criticize, so moved on to an easier target-an article in Saturday Review that Richard Davidson and I had written upon our return from the Soviet Union. By incorrectly placing the Maimonides Dream Laboratory in Manhattan rather than Brooklyn, Gardner revealed that he had not done his homework very well. [It is also possible that Gardner had been misled by his cohort James Randi, who for years told people that he had unmasked a case of fraudulent “skin vision” at Maimonides. We discovered that the incident had taken place at the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene in Manhattan, and eventually I received a letter of retraction from Randi (Krippner, 1977).]
Gardner’s reference to the photograph of Kulagina omitted the key words “seemingly” and “supposedly,” which I had inserted as a cautionary measure. And his notation that Kulagina had taken a stage name was preposterous because she had never appeared on stage. For Gardner to state that “Krippner well knows that Mrs. Kulagina is a . . . charlatan” was an outright lie. I knew no such thing; although I had never examined her myself, I had spoken to scientists from six nations who had worked with her and found no suggestion of trickery.
Gardner, in his book review, also cited a May 1968 dispatch from Moscow that claimed that Kulagina had been employing concealed magnets to fool “Soviet scientists and newsmen into thinking she possessed the ability to move objects by staring at them.” And a month later Pravda had printed another attack on Kulagina, accusing her of performing “tricks,” labeling her a “swindler,” and calling her performance “a public fraud” (Chijov, 1968).
The Pravda article asked, “How could certain editorial staff use up a fairly substantial space in its newspapers with fancy tricks, with the presentation of a kind of scientific sensation, to introduce its readers widely and favorably to material that is itself nothing but fake wonder in a sieve?”
American parapsychologist J. G. Pratt was in Moscow when the article appeared. He was attending an international parapsychology conference arranged by Edward Naumov in the House of Friendship. In his opening remarks, Naumov spoke about the article that had appeared in Pravda that morning. Pratt (1973) recalled that Naumov
… reacted vigorously to this article. It was clear, both from his manner and from what he said, that he regarded the appearance of the story as most unfortunate for our plans, but he was determined to go on with the meeting. The publication largely wrecked the formal plans for the program, because it discouraged some of the Russians from taking an active part and it put those who did so under considerable strain. [p. 71]
Furthermore, the effect of Pravda’s critical piece on Kulagina was to force the House of Friendship to withdraw permission for Naumov to show a film of Kulagina at work. The film was eventually presented at the Czechoslovakian Embassy, but a note of caution had been injected into the proceedings. In fact, the Pravda article was probably written to dampen the enthusiasm of the conference participants. Naumov told Pratt that some two hundred titles had been submitted by Soviet scientists for presentation at the 1968 meeting. Because of pressures exerted on him to keep the conference small, he only scheduled fifteen of the Soviet papers, as well as fifteen presentations by foreign visitors.
Nevertheless, the Kulagina film had an electrifying effect. Many scientists outside the USSR learned about Kulagina for the first time when the film was shown. The interest generated by that film led to intermittent efforts on the part of some Western parapsychologists to make firsthand observations of her. These efforts resulted in a slowly accumulating body of evidence that supported the largely unpublished claims made by Soviet and Czechoslovakian investigators.
The Growing Controversy
Over the next few years, several foreign parapsychologists visited Leningrad, observed Kulagina’s attempts to demonstrate PK, and discussed the phenomena with G. A. Sergeyev (the Soviet scientist from Leningrad’s A. A. Uktomskii Physiological Institute who had worked with her). These investigators included J. G. Pratt (a psychologist with the University of Virginia), Montague Ullman (a psychiatrist and my colleague at the Maimonides Medical Center), H. H. J. Keil (a psychologist with the University of Tasmania), Benson Herbert (director of the Paraphysical Laboratory in Downton, England), and Zdeněk Rejdák (the leading Czechoslovakian investigator of psi phenomena). All of these researchers have published scientific reports of their observations.
In addition, four of them authored a monograph on Kulagina published by the Society for Psychical Research. In this monograph, Keil, Herbert, Ullman, and Pratt (1976) state that “all our observations suggest that the investigations carried out by our Russian colleagues were carefully controlled, skillfully executed, and at times involved laboratory facilities of a high order of sophistication” (p. 200). It is, of course, unfortunate that this Soviet material remains largely unpublished, especially the investigations by Sergeyev, of which we only have secondhand knowledge with the exception of brief accounts he published in a 1971 English journal (Sergeyev, 1971) and a Czechoslovakian book on psi (Sergeyev, 1970).
L. L. Vasiliev (1976), holder of the Order of Lenin and the founder of modern Soviet parapsychology, initiated work with Kulagina, but after his death, investigations generally were carried out by scientists on a part-time basis. Kulagina’s husband, V. V. Kulagin (1971), in an article published in the Journal of Paraphysics, referred to these investigations as somewhat chaotic in nature because they were carried out by different scientists from various institutions with the use of different recording equipment.
Kulagina was hospitaised in 1964 following an emotional breakdown. In a discussion with Thelma Moss (1971), Kulagina indicated that she first discovered her unusual abilities during her hospitalization when she noticed she had picked out the correct threads for embroidery without looking. As investigations of the “dermal-optical effect” (or “skin vision”) were being pursued at that time, Kulagina told a physician about her success during a medical consultation. This led to Vasiliev’s taking an interest in her as a subject for his experiments in “skin vision” when she was dismissed from the hospital in 1965.
Rejdak (1968, 1970) recalled that Vasiliev discovered Kulagina’s PK abilities upon asking her to try to move a compass needle. When Kulagina was able to do this successfully, she was quite surprised, as she had never attempted this feat before. However, Kulagina and Vasiliev may have been aware of her PK abilities before the compass demonstration. Kulagina told Moss that during the “skin vision” experiments some objects on the table began to move; when she deliberately attempted these movements, the objects continued in motion.
Kulagina has been accused of fraud, but no direct evidence exists that she has ever used deception in her PK demonstrations. Her critics ignore the fact that she participated in the defense of Leningrad during World War II, often working under fire. During the time she worked with Vasiliev, Kulagina is said to have been involved in a court case, receiving a short jail sentence (Ryzl, 1969). It is not clear whether she was unable to repay some money or whether she had engaged in black-market operations. According to one account, she attempted to buy a refrigerator on the black market. Critics of Kulagina (for example, Chijov, 1968) claim that suspect dealings in one area justifies the inference of fraudulent PK. Personally, I agree with the observations of Keil, Herbert, Ullman, and Pratt (1976):
While it is not entirely clear what led to Kulagina’s difficulties with the law it must be remembered that transgressions that would be minor in the West can be more serious and therefore have graver consequences in the U.S.S.R. From the evidence available it would be unreasonable to suggest a character defect. [p. 211]
During my visits to the USSR, my assistants and I were frequently approached to see if we would like to exchange money at black-market rates-or to sell blue jeans or popular music records. We always declined, not only out of respect for the Soviet economy but also because we feared what would befall the Soviet citizens who approached us if any of them were apprehended.
A second source of critical comment has been based on the strong magnetic field detected around Kulagina’s body. It has been claimed (for example, Chijov, 1968) that Kulagina was concealing magnets. Vladimir Lvov (1968) snidely remarked in the Evening Leningrad that Kulagina “performs her dexterous tricks with the help of magnets concealed in intimate places both higher and lower than the waist.” However, Zdeněk Rejdák informed me (during a 1973 meeting in Prague) that before his investigations, he would examine Kulagina for hidden magnets by passing metallic detectors around her hands and other parts of her body. Furthermore, many of the objects moved by Kulagina were nonmetallic.
A third criticism involves the possible employment of legerdemain. In addition to the Pravda attack of 1968, there have been frequent critical remarks by Alexander Kitaigorodsky, a Soviet physicist and mathematician. For example, Kitaigorodsky (1966) once attributed all PK effects to fraud or “accidental events” and, in 1972, claimed that Kulagina “moves pitchers and water glasses across a table with simple devices that go unnoticed by enraptured journalists.” These devices purportedly include threads, hair, or wire attached to the objects to be moved and manipulated by Kulagina’s knees below the table surface. Again, Rejdák told me he had investigated this possibility and found it without basis.
Vladimir Lvov is the best-known Soviet critic of parapsychology. His 1974 book Fabricated Miracles denounces me and my work at Maimonides as well as most of my Soviet friends. Kulagina is ridiculed, and considerable attention is given to a study commission report signed by S. V. Gorvatsevich, M. G. Boguslavsky, A. I. Kartashev, L. B. Langans, and N. A. Smirnov. Lvov (1974, p. 248) claims that Kulagina, who was studied by the Commission in a Leningrad laboratory, failed to stop the pendulum of a clock or move heavy weights across a table. This is quite true, but Lvov omitted a section of the report (in Demikov, 1974) that read:
As to experiments with the movement of light objects, an aluminum tube with a diameter of 20 millimeters and a height of 46 millimeters, a glass, matches, etc., the Commission confirms that the motion took place. The aluminum tube moved 90 millimeters, and the glass about the same distance. The aluminum tube moved under a transparent cover as well as without a cover. Observations by the members of the Commission were made both at a close distance, and at a far distance with television cameras.
Another article (Kolodny, 1971) indicates that this study was sponsored by the Institute of Meteorology, which concluded that “the Committee at the present time cannot give an explanation of the observed phenomena of the transference of objects.” Measures were taken to confirm the absence of electrostatic or magnetic fields as well as air currents. Like the criticisms of Martin Gardner, those of Vladimir Lvov tend to disintegrate on close inspection.
In March 1974, Time magazine ran a cover story, “The Psychics,” which was highly critical of parapsychology and in which I counted no fewer than six major errors. For example, it stated:
Ninel Kulagina … took the stage name of Ninel because it is Lenin spelled backward. . . . Ninel has been caught cheating more than once by Establishment Soviet scientists. [p. 71]
I wrote Time, asking for the names of the “Establishment Soviet scientists” who had discredited Kulagina. I also asked for proof that she had appeared on the stage taking the name of “Ninel.” In reply, Time wrote to me, stating that:
… all the research for our cover story has been mislaid and although we have searched everywhere for it, we unfortunately have been unable to locate it…. The researcher … recalls she took the quotation from an article by [Martin Gardner] . . . [and] also talked to Gardner on the phone…. [Storfer, 1974]
This bizarre episode demonstrates how easily falsehood can be perpetuated once it appears in print. Distortions and lies have lives of their own and continue to rear their ugly heads for extended periods of time before they expire.
Movement of Resting Objects
When Kulagina first began her PK work, she tended to move objects away from her (Kulagin, 1971). Later, she was able to move objects toward her, and this type of movement became predominant (Keil et al., 1976, p. 205). Circular movements have also been observed (Keil and Fahler, 1975). The surfaces on which the resting objects were moved varied from glass and Plexiglas to wooden tabletops, sometimes covered with a tablecloth. Little difference has been reported in the way objects move in relation to these various surfaces.
Kulagina has found it relatively easy to move long objects in an upright position, such as cigar containers, tall glass objects, and cigarettes standing on end. It has been noted that cigarettes are moved with a high degree of stability; that is, they seldom fall over, except when moving toward the edge of a tabletop. In an attempt to simulate such a movement by legerdemain it was found that placing a steel pin inside a cigarette made it possible to move the cigarette with a magnet held under the tabletop. However, it was not possible to keep the cigarette in an upright position for more than fifty millimeters, a shorter distance than that observed by the investigators who worked with Kulagina.
When Kulagina moves objects, continuous sliding movements last for only a few seconds. She has moved objects over distances as long as forty centimeters, but not as one continuous movement. The complete movement cannot be attributed to an initial momentum applied during the first part of the movement, which then continues to propel the object the rest of the way; the movements are slow enough to require a force as long as a movement occurs (Keil et al., 1976, p. 205).
The size of objects moved by Kulagina has varied from a single match to a large vase. She has been able to move, along a predetermined course, one match from a group of matches thrown on the table (Rejdak, 1969). Pratt and Keil (1973) observed Kulagina’s attempt to move an object within a sealed ten-centimeter Plexiglas cube; instead, they reported that the entire cube began to move. Pratt and Keil also placed aquarium gravel on a table and asked Kulagina to move a cylinder about two inches in diameter through it. As the cylinder moved through the gravel, it pushed the tiny stones aside as if there were no PK force acting on the gravel itself.
On one occasion, Kulagina attempted to move an ink blob on a piece of paper. Initially, the ink was elongated in the direction of movement and then gradually changed into a two-centimeter-long, thin line, which separated from the original blob (Kulagin, 1971).
Sometimes Kulagina has been observed to move more than one object simultaneously. Keil and Fahler (1975) noted that sometimes one object moved until it contacted another object, and then began to push that object. Herbert (1970) reported that sometimes small objects were moved as one group, while Pratt and Keil (1973) saw two objects moving in the same direction. In addition, there are reports of two or more objects moving in different directions (Keil et al., 1976, p. 206).
Altering Moving Objects
Kulagina is reported to have achieved 10 complete 360-degree turns of a compass needle (Rejdak, 1969), stopping a pendulum and initiating its swinging again in a different plane (Kulagin, 1971), and accelerating the movement of a Ping-Pong ball suspended on a light suspension spring from the top of a Plexiglas cube (Keil and Fahler, 1975). In the latter instance, Kulagina was seen to depress the ball about 15 millimeters to the bottom surface and propel the ball toward her body. The spring became noticeably extended and when Kulagina relaxed, the ball jumped back into its original position.
Herbert (1973) prepared a hydrometer floating in a saturated saline solution in such a way that it was surrounded by an earthed metal-wire screen and monitored by a sensitive electrostatic probe. This apparatus was brought to Kulagina, who had never worked with such a device. After examining it, she sat in a chair separated from the table with the device about four feet away. While she stared in the direction of the hydrometer, it floated away from her to the opposite wall of the chamber, a distance of over six centimeters. After remaining stationary for two minutes, the hydrometer floated toward Kulagina until it reached the wall of the container nearest to her. During these movements, the electrostatic probe registered no change. Subsequent tests failed to detect any means by which the movements of the hydrometer could have been produced by ordinary means.
Kulagina has also worked with scales, reportedly moving the pans of a scale that was in balance-and then preventing further movement when 10 grams of weight were added to a pan (Kulagin, 1971). When she relaxed, the heavier pan descended at once.
When I was in Moscow in 1971, Naumov gave me a photograph of Kulagina suspending what seemed to be a Ping-Pong ball between her two hands. G. A. Sergeyev told Keil that he had observed this phenomenon (Keil et al., 1976, p. 209). However, not enough details are available of this purported feat to enable one to make a reasonable evaluation of the claim.
Altering Biological Systems
Sergeyev also is said to have supervised Kulagina’s work with frog hearts on March 10, 1970 (Keil et al., 1976, p. 209; Ullman, 1971 ). A frog’s heart sometimes beats for several hours after it is taken from the frog’s body. In this instance, the beating heart was placed in a glass jar in front of Kulagina. She concentrated on the heart, giving it commands to go faster or slower; cardiograms showed that the heart responded to her command. About twelve minutes after the experiment began, she stopped the heart entirely. The cardiograph registered a sudden increase in electrical activity just before the heart stopped, as if by an electrical shock. The heart could not be restarted by electrical impulses (Herbert 1973). Unfortunately, no firsthand report is available of this experiment that would allow an informed judgment to be made on the adequacy of the controls.
Kulagina has told some investigators that she has revived fish in an aquarium when they appeared to be dead (Keil et al., 1976, p. 209). Furthermore, Kulagina reportedly has been able to induce extreme heat by placing her hand on a person’s forearm. Herbert (1973) reported heat to the point of unbearable pain; Keil and Fahler (1975) also felt heat and pain. Both Herbert and Fahler had “burn marks” on their arms that were visible for several hours. These effects (including the “burn marks”) are similar to those produced in other situations by suggestion and hypnosis; therefore, additional tests need to be made before the matter is settled. Indeed, when Kulagina placed her hand on Fahler’s arm, a mercury thermometer was placed between them. It showed no change. Sergeyev had hypothesized there would be no change (Keil et al., 1976, p. 211), but it can also be argued that the impression of heat was due to suggestion.
Sergeyev also has claimed that Kulagina has been able to influence unexposed film that had been enclosed in double lightsealed envelopes (Keil et al., 1976, p. 211; Kulagin, 1971; Vilenskaya, 1977). In 1971, I was given copies of some of these attempts; the pictures show fuzzy white crosses-purportedly where Kulagina focused on the film-moving her eyes up, down, and sideways. I was told by Naumov that her gaze functions like a laser beam. Further, he noted that her heartbeat increased and the electrical field around the body decreased. In 1970, Pratt was unable to duplicate these results using Polaroid film, but Herbert obtained fogging effects on photographic enlargement paper in 1972 (Rogo, 1978, pp. 108-9, 113).
Naumov also gave me photographs that depicted bright white discs on black backgrounds. He told me that these had been obtained by placing a thirty-five-millimeter negative film in an opaque cover around Kulagina’s head while she attempted PK. Keil, Herbert, Ullman, and Pratt (1976, p. 212) note, “The effects obtained were clearly visible flashes and suggest discharges of a high order of magnitude.” No details are available as to how often Kulagina produced these effects or the existing conditions. However, Vilenskaya (1977) suggested it involved “electromagnetic oscillations from Kulagina’s eyes.”
Because a Soviet report claimed that an exposure track on film was observed after Kulagina’s PK, Pratt and Keil (1973) placed a roll of unexposed Polaroid film on top of a cylinder that she was about to attempt to move. Although the cylinder moved in an unexplained manner, the film was not affected. However, the original report mentioned that the film had been placed underneath the object rather than above it.
Measuring the Phenomena
According to the most reliable of the available reports, Kulagina has been able to move at least one hundred different kinds of objects (Keil et al., 1976, p. 212). Her success rate has been estimated at 90 percent and usually does not seem to depend on the nature of the materials, although plastic is said to be more difficult (Keil et al., 1976, p. 213) and gold somewhat easier than other materials (Rejdák, 1969). These differences may be due to the expectancy of the observers or of Kulagina herself, but no properly conducted comparative tests have been reported.
Herbert (1973) measured the force necessary to produce a sliding movement of a compass case apparently moved by psychokinetic means by Kulagina. He estimated that Kulagina had exerted a force of 8,340 dynes acting upon a mass of 22.3 grams in a horizontal direction. Of course, when she moved objects weighing several hundred grams, the force exerted would have been much higher.
Sometimes Kulagina began to move objects a few minutes after beginning deliberate efforts, while at other times it took several hours. Hostile observers inhibited her abilities, but if Kulagina persisted, she usually was able to succeed even in these circumstances (Keil et al., 1976, p. 214). Kulagina also found it difficult to demonstrate PK in hot weather (Herbert, 1973) or during storms (Keil et al., 1976, p. 215), nor has she been successful when objects are placed in a vacuum (Kulagin, 1971).
Kulagina’s heart rate increased during demonstrations, sometimes to 240 beats per minute. Ullman (1971) found that her pulse rate was 86 during rest, but 132 during a demonstration. Sergeyev (in Keil et al., 1976, p. 201) is said to have reported that a strong pulsing magnetic field has been measured around Kulagina’s body when she is demonstrating PK. Furthermore, the voltage potentials measured at the front and the back of her scalp showed a difference about 10 times as great as in most other people. Electrodes attached to the occipital region of the skull (above the visual areas) recorded brain waves that had an amplitude estimated to be 50 times as great as those recorded while she was relaxed (Pratt, 1977, p. 893). Other brain-wave changes have been reported, but the conditions are inadequately described.
Loss of body weight has been reported to be as high as two thousand grams after one session, although a loss of seven hundred to one thousand grams per session is more typical (Pratt, 1977, p. 894). Extreme exhaustion and an increase in blood-sugar level followed some sessions (Kulagin, 1971). All of these changes varied from one session to the next and often were minimal when Kulagina was working under optimal conditions (Keil et al., 1976, p. 215; Kulagin, 1971).
Pratt (1977) has described the setting in which Kulagina usually attempts to demonstrate her ability to foreigners:
In a typical session, Kulagina sits in a straight chair before a table. At first she appears to be relaxed, though she may become nervous if she has come outside her own environment to meet strangers in an unfamiliar location. She takes some time to prepare herself mentally and emotionally for the effort to demonstrate her ability. . . . As part of her preparation, she sometimes breathes deeply several times. Then she holds one or both hands near (approximately ten to twenty centimeters) some small object that has been placed on the table before her. Usually, the object is one chosen by an observer and may be any object that he happened to have on his person. Sometimes two or more objects are placed on the table at the same time, and under informal conditions Kulagina may touch one of them briefly in order to separate it from the others or to put it in a position that she finds more comfortable for her effort to make it move.
It is by no means the case, however, that the subject always touches an object before she moves it. In many observations on record the experimenter has placed the objects on the table and immediately covered them with an inverted Plexiglas cube, and Kulagina has moved some of the objects under the cube without touching the cover. . . .
The movement of an object may come almost immediately after Kulagina shows by her behavior that she is beginning her effort to make it move. At other times movement is delayed for some seconds or up to a minute. If movement does not occur after such an interval of time Kulagina usually admits failure and stops the trial, during which she may have been under great physical strain from the effort to succeed. [pp. 892-93]
A report on Kulagina’s inner experience during PK was contributed by two journalists, Henry Gris and William Dick (1978), following several trips to the USSR to interview Soviet parapsychological researchers:
Kulagina found that to move items successfully with the power of her mind, she must cast all other thoughts from her head. She concentrated solely on the target object-to such an extent that only its image filled her mind. Just before the target object moved, she told the researchers, she would feel a sharp pain in her spine, and her eyesight blurred. [p. 31]
The journalists also noted that Kulagina suffered another heart attack following the death of her father. In a phone conversation, Kulagina is reported to have observed, “They tell me the experiments were very important,” and vowed to continue her work.
PK in Moscow
Several films have been made of Kulagina that are helpful in allowing the viewer to understand the procedure she utiises during her PK sessions. Naumov gave me one of these films; it depicts a session with Kulagina that he personally supervised. At the beginning of the film, one sees Naumov passing his hand between Kulagina and the table in an attempt to show that there are no threads attached to the objects she is about to move. Later in the film, as she is moving the needle of a compass that rests on a small table, Naumov places one hand over the compass to keep it from falling, while the other hand grips the table and turns it upside down. The viewer sees no hidden apparatus underneath, but does see Kulagina raising her hands and extending her fingers as if to indicate that there are no magnets hidden in her palms or between her fingers (Herbert, 1970).
One of the people who saw the Kulagina films was Alla Vinogradova, the wife of Victor Adamenko. A child psychologist and teacher, Vinogradova, told me that she suspected that she could move objects without touching them as soon as she saw the film in 1969. She and her husband designed a training program based upon Adamenko’s conjecture that PK occurs naturally in the brain as one’s decisions set the neurons into action; externally observed, PK is a logical extension of this internal process. To enhance her motivation, she was hypnotized and given positive suggestions. To protect her health, she embarked on a program of physical exercise. To develop her confidence, Adamenko made her aware of her other psi abilities, such as purported precognitive dreaming. Gris and Dick (1978, p. 39) report that Vinogradova recalled a dream in which she saw herself and her family on a train, going to a funeral. Her brother was the only close relative who was not present; two days later he died unexpectedly.
Ullman (1974) also reported Vinogradova’s claims of precognitive ability. Furthermore, he described her ability to slide objects weighing up to thirty grams and to roll objects of up to one hundred grams. Ullman further noted that objects influenced by Vinogradova become charged, even when she is grounded-indicating that her ability involves more than a production of static electricity. William Tiller (1972), a physicist from Stanford University, came to the same conclusion after seeing Vinogradova at work, but stated that “electrostatic phenomena clearly play a strong role in . . . her PK force. . . .”
Canadian parapsychologist A. R. G. Owen (1975), however, took issue with the claim that Vinogradova had demonstrated PK:
Visitors who have returned recently from Russia say that some Soviet scientists are seeking to train … people to do voluntary psychokinesis, and claim some success with this venture. To give their trainees confidence the Russian workers let them practice a kind of “electrostatic pseudo-psychokinesis.” Small cylinders of glass, cardboard, or metal (a cigar tube will do) are laid on a Plexiglas table. We have seen a film brought from Russia which shows a woman putting her hand some inches away from such a tube. The tube will then roll briskly on the tabletop following her hand, but without contact…. Anyone can produce this effect…. It is entirely due to static electricity. [pp. 153-54]
PK Grows in Brooklyn
Montague Ullman arranged a private showing of the Kulagina film at Maimonides in 1971. Among those present was Milbourne Christopher, the distinguished magician. He watched Kulagina’s movements with great interest, observing that he could duplicate all of her effects by sleight of hand. Ullman and I pointed out that the film was only suggestive and in no way could be construed as evidential.
Another member of the audience was Felicia Parise, a laboratory technician at Maimonides. Following the film showing, Parise was convinced that she could produce similar effects.
Later in the week, Parise attempted to produce movement in small objects. Initially she tried to move the items by entering a relaxed, meditative state of consciousness. When that approach failed, she induced an agitated state and projected the anxiety onto the target object. That approach did not work either.
Parise had been a subject in several of our ESP dream experiments at Maimonides. In one of Parise’s experimental sessions, she had dreamed of seeing her elderly grandmother sitting on the floor in a pool of blood. Returning home the morning after the dream session, she learned that her grandmother had fallen during the night, cutting her head as she fell. This was only one of several instances in which Parise appeared to have telepathic communication with her grandmother.
During Parise’s initial PK attempts with small objects, her grandmother was again critically ill. Parise returned home after visiting her grandmother in the hospital. Parise was just about to focus her attention on a small plastic bottle when the phone rang; her grandmother had taken a turn for the worse and Parise was called back to the hospital. Parise reached for the plastic bottle to put it away-and the object suddenly moved away from her.
Over the next several months, Parise repeated this feat several times, once when she was observed by a student assistant at the Dream Laboratory. In that instance, Parise and the student were joking, and Parise instructed him to watch the plastic bottle. Immediately it moved two inches across the table. Later in 1971, Charles Honorton observed similar movements with the same bottle. He tried to move the bottle on the same Formica surface through other means. Honorton (1974) later recalled, “I tried pressing gently and firmly against the sides, top, and underside of the counter; I forcibly jarred the countertop; I moistened the counter and the bottle by spilling some of the alcohol solution. I was completely unsuccessful in getting the bottle to move.” Honorton later took a carpenter’s level to Parise’s apartment and found that the surface over which the bottle had moved was not perfectly level. The bottle had been moving slightly uphill!
Over the next few months, Parise succeeded in deflecting the needle of a small compass. Honorton developed the habit of taking Parise’s hands unexpectedly and passing them directly over the face of the compass to insure against concealed bits of metal. And on one occasion, the compass needle deflected ninety degrees after Parise had laughingly uttered the word “abracadabra.”
Parise described the process as focusing her attention on the object to be moved until “that’s the only thing there.” She would pick a spot on the object and concentrate upon it until everything else disappeared. She would work up to an emotional excitement in which her desire to make the object move was stronger than anything else. She described how she would perspire freely during a PK session, how her eyes would water, and how her nose would tremble. After a successful session, Parise would often have difficulty speaking for a few moments.
Parise later tape-recorded an account of her PK development (in Smith, 1975). This document provides unique insights into her feelings during the period of time she was moving objects:
Dr. Ullman … invited the lab crew to view a film … of Nina Kulagina, who purports to move objects at will by the power of her mind. I cannot begin to tell you how impressed I was when I saw this film. There was no doubt in my mind then or now that this woman is 100 percent legitimate. And after viewing the film, I couldn’t wait to go home and try the same thing.
When I went home that evening, I tried to move something with the power of my mind. I had no idea what Kulagina was thinking while she was moving objects. It was obvious from the film that she wasn’t in any meditative kind of situation. She was trying very hard and focusing her attention on the object and nothing else. I just had to try to get into a similar state and find the right condition that was necessary for me to move objects. I happened to have a little plastic pill vial on my coffee table and I began to concentrate on it. I had no success at all for a long time, but was so interested that I kept on trying.
All during the months that followed, my personal life became one emotional crisis after another. I was very close to my grandmother and we had a very tight relationship. She was then dying at Maimonides Hospital, and I was there every day watching her and doing what I could for her. I can’t tell you what this was doing to me. . . . I had never seen anyone die in such a slow and agonizing way and it was torturing to me. So it was a highly emotional time for me. Yet I could hardly wait each night to get home for a quiet period with my plastic bottle. That was the only time I could stop thinking about the heartache and tragedy that was coming on at the time. It became such an obsession that I took my plastic bottle to work and tried to move it during lunch hours and coffee breaks. This went on for several months.
Now, I have a plastic bottle that contains alcohol in which I put my artificial eyelashes at night when I take them off, to clean them and keep them safe until the next morning. This one night I removed my lashes as soon as I got home and laid the bottle on the kitchen table. The phone rang and it was my mother telling me that I’d better get back to the hospital because grandmother had taken a turn for the worse. I got very excited and dressed quickly to return to the hospital. When I ran into the kitchen to put the eyelash bottle away, it moved away from me. At this point I wasn’t sure it had happened. I just knew I hadn’t touched the bottle. Well, grandma died, and several weeks later I tried again to move this same bottle in the same place, and I was successful. I kept examining everything to make sure it wasn’t being influenced to move by any other means. I didn’t tell anybody because I couldn’t believe it was happening. Although I had been deliberately trying to do this, I still wasn’t sure. Eventually I became convinced this was really PK and I told Mr. Honorton what I was doing. He asked for a demonstration and the bottle moved.
Dr. Krippner suggested I try moving a compass needle, and so I did this and was successful with it. I tried several other things. . . . I avoided using metals and anything that was magnetic except the compass. I primarily stick to plastic, aluminum foil, cotton balls, corks, and a whole variety of things, but mostly plastic. For some reason, I have not been successful with wood.
Finally, I made a film, and then I continued to do PK for a year or two after that. [pp. 266-69]
Parise demonstrated before other parapsychologists such as J. G. Pratt, Graham Watkins, and Anita Watkins. Watkins and Watkins (1974) observed an interesting “lingering effect”:
About five minutes after the first indication of compass needle movement, Parise … walked to a far comer of the room. The compass needle, however, remained fifteen degrees off north, and was found to be totally unresponsive to either the knife blade or the bar magnet. We thought that perhaps the needle was jammed. To test this, the compass was moved to a position about four feet away from the point of concentration, and during the movement the needle gradually returned to north. In this position it was easily affected by the knife blade. The compass was then returned to the original spot on the chair, and again the needle moved fifteen degrees off north, and was incapable of being influenced by the metal blade. This procedure was repeated several times with the same results. The needle gradually returned to north over a period of about twenty-five minutes, and also gradually became more responsive to the knife blade. [pp. 132-33]
Watkins and Watkins (1974) also reported what occurred when a compass was placed on unexposed black-and-white film. Similar film was also placed at varying degrees around the compass. Parise’s success in turning the needle was limited as compared to other demonstrations she had given, as the needle only turned about fifteen degrees. However, it was found that the film placed under the compass was almost totally exposed and that the other films were partially exposed. The exposure diminished with increasing distance from the compass.
Parise was filmed moving corks and aluminum foil that had been placed in a large jar; the camera operator, an amateur magician, examined the surroundings, inspected Parise, and failed to find anything suggesting chicanery. Later, I personally saw her deflect a compass needle by five degrees.
Parise’s last observed session was in 1972, when Honorton saw her move a bottle more than six inches. Shortly afterward, she discontinued her PK work, stating: “It took all of my spare time. PK is something you have to do every day. It’s more than just putting it on your schedule.” Parise (1974) also admitted, “I am not the kind of person who can withstand constant criticism.” She knew only too well that if she gained a reputation for PK ability, she would be subjected to the type of vilification that had been directed against Kulagina. Parise commented:
I do not enjoy having to defend myself, nor having my integrity under fire. . . . I have tried to maintain a normal life style continuous with PK and have found it impossible to do so. . . . Now I would like to move on to something else. [Smith, 1975, p. 269]
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