Search for the New

However bizarre from the standpoint of “common sense” the transformation of imponderable ether into ponderable matter and vice versa may appear … this is but another corroboration of dialectical materialism.

V. I. Lenin

(1968, pp. 261-62)

An Invitation from the Academy

On June 23, 1971, I checked into Moscow’s Intourist Hotel. Shortly after reaching my room, the telephone rang. It was Larissa Vilenskaya, a Soviet engineer and parapsychologist, welcoming me and my assistant to the USSR. She surprised us by announcing, “We have arranged for Dr. Krippner to give an address at the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences on Monday. This will be the first lecture on parapsychology ever delivered at the Academy. We have invited over two hundred psychologists, psychiatrists, physicists, engineers, space scientists, and cosmonauts in training.”

I explained to Vilenskaya that our flight to Leningrad was scheduled for early Monday morning. She insisted that we change it; after acknowledging my pleasure concerning the invitation, I went to the hotel lobby and told the Intourist travel official that I would like a later flight. She was pessimistic, explaining, “Once flight plans are made they are rarely changed. On the few occasions when a change is permitted, one must pay a fine.” I agreed to pay the fine, handed her the tickets, and agreed to make another inquiry the following day.

At dinner that evening, I told Richard Davidson, my assistant (a student from New York University), how surprised I was to receive the Academy’s invitation. Before leaving New York City, I had studied how Soviet psychology was organized. The institution’s full name was the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the USSR and of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. It was concerned with problems of educational theory, history, and methodology, as well as with educational psychology and developmental physiology. Several months earlier, three of my friends from Esalen Institute had visited Moscow and had met V. N. Pushkin, a psychologist working at the Academy, who had a special interest in parapsychology.

The Academy of Pedagogical Sciences contained several institutes, the best known being the Institute of General and Educational Psychology, the Institute of Defectology (devoted to the study of handicapped children), and the Institute of Developmental Physiology and Physical Education. I told Davidson that the Academy was among the most prestigious institutions in the Soviet Union, the Academy’s members being referred to as “academicians,” a title held in even greater esteem than “professor.”

The following morning, we returned to the Intourist desk to make inquiries regarding our requested change of flight plans. The official located our revised tickets and returned them to us with a smile, commenting, “No fine.” A few minutes later we were in Red Square and had met Edward Naumov, director of the Department for Technical Parapsychology, and Larissa Vilenskaya, his assistant. Naumov told me that my scheduled address at the Academy would be of great assistance in legitimizing Soviet parapsychology, a goal he had been working toward for many years.

Naumov described for us the terminology he had proposed to make parapsychological (or “psi”) phenomena palatable to Soviet scientists. He used the term “biological information” instead of extrasensory perception or ESP – the knowledge obtained without the apparent use of the recognized senses. Telepathy, the extrasensory perception of another person’s thoughts, was referred to as “biological communication”; clairvoyance, ESP of distant objects or events, was termed “biological location.” A special type of “biological location” was the “biophysical effect,” better known as dowsing and reportedly used in both the USA and the USSR to locate underground oil, metal, or water.

“Proscopy” – ESP of future events – was known to us as precognition, while “biological energy” referred to psychokinesis or PK, an organism’s influence on the environment without apparent utilization of the body musculature. Altogether, these were termed “psychoenergetic phenomena” – interactions between organisms and their environment (including other organisms) that cannot be explained by traditional scientific models of the universe.

I had been engaged in the study of psi (which comprises both ESP and PK) for several years, publishing my first paper on the subject in 1961. In 1964, I became director of the Dream Laboratory at Brooklyn’s Maimonides Medical Center, where our primary research project was the study of telepathic effects in dreams. It was this work that had attracted the attention of the Soviets, had stimulated the correspondence that led to my visit to Moscow, and was to be the topic of my talk at the Academy. {These experiments are summarized in Dream Telepathy (Ullman, Krippner, and Vaughan, 1974).}

My personal interest in Soviet parapsychology had been a longstanding one. In 1966, I had been asked to write a book review of Mysterious Phenomena of the Human Psyche by L. L. Vasiliev. In my review, I noted:

A distinguished Soviet physiologist, Vasiliev has speciaised in the biophysiology of the nervous system. . . . There may be some connection between Vasiliev’s parapsychological interests and the fact that he seems to have held no academic positions in the Soviet Union from 1938 (the year of the greatest Stalinist purge) to 1943. His recent book, however, should advance the cause of parapsychology in the U.S.S.R. because it places psychical research squarely within the framework of Marxian doctrine. [p. 290]

It seemed to me that Naumov’s proposed terms were also designed to work within the structure of dialectical materialism. If ESP is “biological information” and PK “biological energy,” there is no reason why the material aspects of these unusual phenomena could not be measured and applied. Indeed, one possible application noted by Naumov was “bioenergetic healing,” and we had a lengthy discussion about the work of various “healers” we had known.

Naumov and Vilenskaya asked us about the funding situation for American parapsychology. We told them that only a few laboratories were fairly well assured of constant funding, those of the American Society for Psychical Research, the University of Virginia, and the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man – an institution organized when J. B. Rhine, the great pioneer of experimental parapsychology, reached retirement age at Duke University. As for the Maimonides Dream Laboratory, we confessed that we never knew from year to year whether we would have the money to continue. Naumov was incredulous. “Don’t your people realise the importance of parapsychology in what it has to teach us about human possibilities?” he asked. He then added, “This is extremely important work that you are doing for it opens the door to creativity and human potential. Your country is a nation of businessmen. Aren’t they aware that it is good business to support humanitarian efforts?”

We concluded our tour of Red Square and returned to our room, spending several hours writing the first draft of the address scheduled for the Academy. Later that evening, we walked down the streets of Moscow, noting how much cleaner they were than the streets of any American metropolis we had ever visited. Suddenly, a middle-aged woman approached Davidson and berated him in Russian for what was, for her, his outrageous appearance – faded blue jeans held to his body by a colorful fabric belt, a blue work shirt with a missing button, and long, dark, curly hair that reached to his shoulders. But this was the only person who accosted us – it appeared that the streets of Moscow were much safer at night than the streets of New York City.

Seven Steps in the Sports Cinema

Over the next few days, we had several meetings with Victor Adamenko, a biophysicist who had been a boyhood friend of Semyon Kirlian, the inventor who – with his wife, Valentina – had developed the type of high-voltage photography that bears his name. Adamenko had also been involved in devising PK training programs. It was said that he had trained his wife to move objects at a distance.

We held lengthy conversations with G. S. Vassilchenko, a pioneer in the use of acupuncture for sexual dysfunction; Vladimir Raikov, a psychoneurologist who was using hypnosis to enhance creativity; Nikolaus Minayev, an engineer who claimed to be using counselors gifted with psi ability in his job-placement activities in the Ministry of the Coal and Mining Industry; and Yuri Nikolayev, a psychiatrist who had originated a treatment program for schizophrenics based on a three- or four-week fast. We met other interesting scientists and researchers at a reception arranged for us by Naumov at the Sports Cinema, a Moscow movie theater. Presented at the reception was a special showing of Seven Steps Beyond the Horizon, a Soviet documentary that had run for over two years in Moscow theaters (Skurlatov, 1969). The film dealt with seven unusual “human possibilities”: Raikov’s use of hypnosis to develop people’s creative skills, a person with the ability to drive a car blindfolded, a guitarist who could improvise songs immediately after being given a topic, a chessmaster who could play a dozen games simultaneously with a dozen opponents, a young man with the ability to perform rapid mental calculations, a demonstration of dowsing – the “biophysical effect” – and an exhibition of “skin vision” – the “dermo-optical effect.”

The segment on “skin vision” began by depicting blindfolded subjects identifying the color of cards that they were touching. I told Davidson that the blindfolds were inadequate. Over the years, I had seen many “clairvoyants” name colors, letters, and words simply by looking down their nose through the tiny opening that invariably appears when a blindfolded person squints, wrinkles the brow, and wiggles the nose. I also noted that one of the most celebrated practitioners of the “dermo-optical effect” had been accused of cheating and later worked with a circus. An adequate blindfold would need to extend to the waist to prevent conscious or unconscious visual clues. {A carefully controlled series of experiments with “skin vision” was described by Yvonne Duplessis at the Third International Congress on Psychotronic Research, Tokyo, 1977.}

One scene in the film showed a blind girl correctly identifying colors, a feat that I suspected was due to the detection of subtle temperature differences between black cards, which absorb heat, and white cards, which reflect heat. A final sequence demonstrated the accurate identification of colors and letters that were enclosed in metal containers – an impressive feat, but one that would need to be supplemented by a written scientific report describing the experimental conditions before anyone could make a judgment on its validity.

This same reservation would have to be made in regard to the other wondrous “steps beyond the horizon” in the film. Nevertheless, several of them were indeed provocative. In one segment, a young man was offered lists of numbers that he would immediately add correctly without the aid of pencil and paper. He could also take the seventeenth root of a number that had seventy or eighty digits. In addition, a woman read him a poem of some dozen lines; when she finished, he would tell her how many letters were in the poem-and presumably was correct. {Unusual feats of memory have been studied by several Soviet psychologists including A. R. Luria (1976), whose book Mind of a Mnemonist provided a remarkable description of the mental procedures used by an individual exhibiting “supermemory.”}

The film segment that showed a blindfolded man driving an automobile appeared to me to be an exercise in “muscle reading.” I was told that the driver was Bronislav Drozhzhin, a stage entertainer. It is true that he correctly followed a curved pattern of circles and twists in an open field and that he drove through a city in busy traffic. However, there was always someone in the car with him, usually in direct physical contact. Even though he may not have intended to give clues, the passenger’s change in body tension could have been picked up by Drozhzhin and interpreted as a desire to change direction. Further, there was no assurance that the blindfold was eliminating all visual clues. Nevertheless, the demonstration was remarkable even though it did not seem to involve ESP.

Touring in a Zil

Not all of our time was spent in professional activity. Davidson and I attended the Bolshoi opera’s production of Sadko. We were impressed by the wide range of Soviet society represented in the audience – students, workers, professionals, etc. And one day Naumov suggested that we take an all-day excursion to Peter Tchaikovsky’s home in Klin. When we expressed our enthusiasm, Naumov suggested that we rent a car large enough for five people plus a driver. Upon arriving at the rental office, we were told that we were very fortunate: the only car large enough for our purposes was a Zil limousine, the automobile formerly reserved for use by governmental officials. It had just been made available for rental by tourists.

As we drove through the streets of Moscow, it was apparent not everyone realised that we had rented the car. Police officers and soldiers snapped to attention and saluted. As the limousine drove by, they stared incredulously at shaggy-haired Richard Davidson sitting in the Zil’s back seat.

Upon returning to Moscow, Naumov directed our driver to stop at the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences. There was a great flurry of excitement as our Zil stopped before the main entrance; I suspected that the professors were under the impression that an official visitor had arrived. We were received with great cordiality by Dr. Pushkin and his colleagues.

I was taken to the hall where my speech was scheduled for Monday. I observed a large picture of V. I. Lenin on one wall and I. P. Pavlov, the distinguished Russian psychologist and Nobel laureate, on the other. On reflection, I suspected that Naumov had invited a few extra “translators” along on the trip to make sure we would have to order a Zil, thus giving the impression that my visit may have been semi-official in nature.

At the end of the day, Naumov, Vilenskaya, Davidson, and I discussed what steps could be taken to strengthen international cooperation in parapsychology. Naumov proposed an international conference, the first to be held in Moscow since 1966. At the end of the evening, we had drawn up a list of possible participants. I agreed to invite the Americans on the list, while Naumov assumed responsibility for contacting the others.

Later that evening, Vladimir Raikov appeared and took us to a party that had been arranged in our honor. Several artists were present as well as some students who had been subjects in his hypnosis experiments. I presented Raikov with a copy of Psychedelic Art, a book by Robert Masters and Jean Houston, which contained a chapter by me describing artists I had interviewed who had been influenced by LSD experience or other altered states of consciousness.

I recalled a recent article in a United Nations publication by a Soviet medical official (Babaian, 1971). He wrote:

Drug addiction is not a serious social and health problem in the USSR…. There are isolated cases of the use of narcotic substances obtained from some wild varieties of hemp. During the last decade, there was not a single case of heroin addiction in the USSR. There is practically no cocaine addiction. In the Soviet Union, not a single case has come to light of addiction to LSD, amphetamines, and other psychotropic substances. This is mainly due to the favorable social conditions which have been established in our country. [p. 2]

A Bouquet of Peonies

On Sunday evening, Davidson and I attended the Bolshoi Ballet and saw Maya Plisetskaya dance the role of Carmen. Following the performance, there was thunderous applause and the dancers were presented with bouquets of peonies.

We awakened early the next morning and observed the ever-present cadre of women with brooms sweeping the streets, preparing their city for the coming day. Adamenko and his wife, Alla Vinogradova, met us at our hotel and took us to the Academy. On the way, they discussed their practice sessions; Vinogradova was learning how to move objects without touching them.

Upon our arrival at the Academy, we were greeted by Pushkin. Also present were Yuri Kamensky and Karl Nikolaev, the Soviet Union’s celebrated telepathy team. Kamensky, a biophysicist, had served as a telepathic “transmitter” in a number of experiments, while Nikolaev, an actor, had served as the “receiver.” Nikolaev apologized for not seeing me earlier in my stay but explained that he had been touring the country in a new political play based on the assassination of Martin Luther King. I suggested that a copy be sent to New York City to see if a producer would be interested in presenting it to an American public. Nikolaev appeared embarrassed; he observed that the play was somewhat anti-American. I rejoined, “That should guarantee its success. Most political plays in the USA are anti-American.”

I had brought with me several copies of Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain by Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder. This book, published in 1970, was an account of parapsychological activity in the USSR and Eastern Europe, based on interviews with Naumov and other investigators. Naumov did not take the unflattering title very seriously, noting that, although there was an “Iron Curtain” in former years, there was now an active information exchange. I commented that if Soviet journalists were to write about psi research in the USA, they could retaliate by naming the book Psychic Discoveries in Imperialist America.

Davidson and I barely had time to cover the blackboard with statistics and diagrams before it was time for me to deliver my lecture. I had written out every word of it so that the interpreter could translate each sentence into Russian as I went along.

I began my talk by mentioning Dr. Joseph Wortis, my colleague at Maimonides Medical Center who had been vilified by American reactionaries in the 1950s because of his visits to the USSR and his interest in Soviet psychiatry and psychology. I then spoke of my long personal relationship with Dr. Gardner Murphy, one of the first American parapsychologists to visit the Soviet Union – a trip he made in 1960 following a summer at the University of Hawaii, where I had served as his teaching assistant. I then noted that one needed to go back to the writings of I. P. Pavlov to appreciate our work at Maimonides. I said, “Learning theorists have maintained that there are two forms of conditioning – ‘classical’ and ‘operant.’ In classical conditioning, as demonstrated by the eminent psychologist Pavlov in his laboratories, a conditioned stimulus is presented along with an innate unconditioned stimulus that normally elicits a certain innate unconditioned response. After a time, the conditioned stimulus elicits the same response as the unconditioned stimulus.”

I was referring here to Pavlov’s work with dogs. As the dogs were presented with food and began to salivate, Pavlov would ring a bell. Eventually, the dogs would salivate upon hearing the bell, even when no food was present. I continued, “In operant or instrumental conditioning, a reinforcement is given whenever the desired conditioned response is elicited by a conditioned stimulus. In classical conditioning, the stimulus and response must have a direct or innate relationship to begin with. In operant learning, the reinforcement strengthens any immediately preceding response. Therefore, a given response can be reinforced by a variety of rewards, and a given reward can reinforce a variety of responses. Operant learning can take place either for responses mediated by the cerebrospinal nervous system or by the autonomic ‘vegetative’ nervous system.”

I then described biofeedback of autonomic system responses as an example of operant conditioning. In our experiments at Maimonides, I observed, biofeedback involved individuals placed in a closed feedback loop where information concerning one of their bodily processes was continually made known. When people are given this information about a bodily process, they often can learn to control that function (Krippner and Davidson, 1972).

I described how we had given special attention to the training of control over the “alpha rhythm,” which occurs when people are in a state of relaxed alert wakefulness with little visual imagery or cognitive activity. In experiments conducted by Davidson and supervised by Charles Honorton at our laboratory, a circuit was activated by one alpha wave that triggered a pleasant-sounding tone in the subject’s room. During these biofeedback sessions, subjects were asked to guess the markings on hidden decks of ESP cards. The subjects knew that the markings could be stars, squares, crosses, circles, or wavy lines, but they had no idea of the order in which the markings would occur.

During the study, subjects attempted to block alpha waves as well as to produce alpha waves. The highest number of correct ESP guesses was made during the shift from alpha production to alpha blocking or vice versa. This finding confirmed a prediction Gardner Murphy had made in an important article that appeared in a 1966 issue of the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. Murphy hypothesized that ESP activation would be more often associated with a shift from one state of consciousness to another than with a steady state.

I then described one of our dream telepathy experiments; two subjects attempted to dream about images being transmitted by two thousand people attending a rock concert about forty-five miles from Maimonides. The concerts featured the Grateful Dead , a band with a keen interest in both ESP and altered states of consciousness.

I held up several Grateful Dead albums as I described the rock group (and left them with my hosts when my presentation was completed). I spoke of the “target pictures” and how they were projected on a movie screen at 11:30 P.M. during each of the six concerts. The audience was given the name of one of the subjects – but not of the other. It was the former subject whose dreams showed a statistically significant relationship with the target pictures. On February 19, 1971, a slide of a painting by Scralian, “The Seven Spiral Chakras,” was randomly selected as the target picture and was projected on the movie screen at 11:30 P.M. The painting shows a man deep in meditation; all of his “chakras,” or energy centers, are vividly illuminated. The subject dreamed:

I was very interested in . . . using natural energy…. I was talking to this guy who said he’d invented a way of using solar energy and he showed me this box … to catch the light from the sun which was all we needed to generate and store the energy …. I was discussing with this other guy a number of other areas …. He was suspended in midair . . . . I was thinking about rocket ships … an energy box and … a spinal column. [Ullman, Krippner, and Vaughan, 1974, p. 175]

Knowing that there were space scientists and future cosmonauts in the audience, I summarized an ESP experiment carried out during the Apollo 14 moon flight by Edgar Mitchell, the sixth American astronaut to walk on the moon. Knowing that A. S. Presman and other specialists on the body’s electromagnetic fields were present, I concluded with the statement that perhaps the most important advances in this area will be made by those neurophysiologists and biophysicists who are studying the electromagnetic fields of living organisms and those scientists who are attempting to interpret electromagnetic and quantum phenomena. Therefore, it is necessary for those of us who perform experiments in this area to maintain contacts, exchange information, and work together for the benefit of all peoples everywhere.

There was a volley of warm applause. My lecture had lasted for two hours. Not one of the approximately three hundred people in the audience had left – and the program was still not over. Raikov came to the stage and held up the copy of Psychedelic Art I had given him. He said it was important to point out that I was known not only for my efforts in parapsychology, but also for my explorations in hypnosis and other areas of “human possibilities” – a term that was frequently used to denote research into altered states of consciousness, creativity, and a wide variety of human potentials.

A journalist by the name of Viktor Popovkin then took the floor. He praised my lecture, saying that it put the lie to those individuals who claimed that parapsychology was unscientific. As he began to attack one of the critics by name, Naumov stopped him by waving his hands and exclaiming, “Nyet, nyet, nyet. We have gathered today in the spirit of cooperation and should not allow negative thoughts to interrupt the display of good will.”

Without a break, the audience sat through a documentary film on psi research from West Germany and a Soviet film portraying Alla Vinogradova’s attempts at psychokinesis. Victor Adamenko then gave a lecture on skin electricity, acupuncture, and PK.

As the program ended, a woman came to the stage with a large bouquet of peonies; as she gave them to me, she noted how I had come to the USSR in the spirit of friendship. Naumov, usually reserved and dignified, gave me a bear hug and declared the day “a victory for parapsychology.” Pushkin called my address “a historic event which marks the end of an era in which parapsychology was isolated from the mainstream of science.”

Larissa Vilenskaya accompanied us to the airport, where we caught our flight to Leningrad. We spent two days sightseeing and were paid a visit by Nina Kulagina’s husband. He informed us that his wife was at a rest home, recovering from a heart attack. Well known for her attempts to move objects at a distance through PK, Kulagina had been observed by several of my colleagues on their forays to the USSR.

On our return to Moscow from Leningrad we were met at the airport by Vilenskaya, who told us that my address at the Academy had received unanimously positive reactions. She also presented me with a gift – a copy of The Man with a Shattered World, by A. R. Luria. Dr. Luria was the Soviet Union’s most prominent psychologist and a pioneer in the rehabilitation of individuals who had suffered brain injuries as a result of strokes, accidents, or war injuries. His book was the story of one such patient and how he was rehabilitated. The gift became a cherished souvenir of an exciting and productive trip, and a reminder of the work I had to do for the 1972 conference.

Cultivation of the Hidden

Upon my return to the United States, I researched the development of Soviet psychology, discovering that a physiology laboratory had been established in the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1864. In 1925, this laboratory, then directed by I. P. Pavlov, was transformed into the Institute of Physiology of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In 1943, the first psychologist was admitted to the Academy of Sciences and, in 1945, a Sector of Psychology was established within the framework of the Academy’s Institute of Philosophy. In 1952, there was a heated debate between J. F. Dorofeev and A. J. Shinkarenko over the meaning of the term “consciousness” in the texts of Marx and Lenin. After Stalin’s death, less emphasis was placed on the Marxist interpretation of psychology, and more articles began to appear reflecting a diversity of interests (Brozek, 1970; Brozek and Macacci, 1974; Wortis, 1962). By 1968, psychology was finally recognized as an independent scientific discipline in which higher degrees could be granted.

The problems of education and child development were assigned to the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences, where I had given my lecture on parapsychology. At the end of 1971, an Institute of Psychology was organized within the USSR Academy of Sciences – a major event because one of its stated functions was to intensify research on the neurological basis of mental processes. B. F. Lomov was named director of the Institute; I had met him at the 1971 International Congress of Applied Psychology in Liege, Belgium, and knew of his reputation as an expert in the field of engineering psychology.

Another Soviet psychologist who had attained prominence was A. N. Leontiev. I was intrigued by his papers on the “new consciousness” of the Soviet citizen that was being formulated by an improvement in living conditions. Leontiev had won the Lenin Prize and was regarded as the leading ideologist of Soviet psychology.

Leontiev, Lomov, and Luria were the three most prominent psychologists in the USSR when I began to write letters of invitation for Naumov’s proposed 1972 meeting. I addressed a special letter to Luria, telling him of my interest in his work on rehabilitation and asking him if I could make contact with him or his associates during my forthcoming trip to Moscow. Similar letters were addressed to other Soviet psychologists by Carmi Harari, an officer of the Association for Humanistic Psychology; several members of the Association had decided to attend Naumov’s meeting on their way to the Twentieth International Congress of Psychology in Tokyo. I decided to travel with this group to both meetings and the arrangements were put in the hands of an American travel agent.

In the meantime, several of my assistants at Maimonides had built Kirlian photography devices and began to take intriguing pictures. James Hickman, Ronny Mastrion, and Daniel Rubin constructed three different types of devices and were sharing their results with Thelma Moss and William Tiller, the two most prominent West Coast investigators of the Kirlian effect. We all decided that the time was ripe for a public, meeting regarding these developments, and on May 25, 1972, we convened the first Western Hemisphere Conference on Kirlian Photography, Acupuncture, and the Human Aura. Moss, Tiller, Hickman, Mastrion, Rubin, and others presented their work. A paper from Victor Adamenko was translated and read. I chaired the conference and opened it by reading a congratulatory letter from Semyon Kirlian:

On the opening of the first conference on the Kirlian effect, I personally greet you, all the conferees, and everyone in attendance…. From the conference, I hope there will develop significant creative solutions for the blessing of mankind and the affairs of the world. In conclusion, I ask you to please keep in mind the contributions of Valentina Khrisanova Kirlian, who devoted all of her conscious energies to the search for the new and the cultivation of the hidden.

Daniel Rubin and I edited the papers from the conference, naming our book The Kirlian Aura and dedicating it to Valentina Kirlian, who had died in 1971.

In the meantime, the letters written by Harari and me to the Soviet psychologists went unanswered. When our group left for Moscow in July 1972, we had no idea if there would even be a meeting. The itinerary prepared for us by the travel agency included Iran, India, Nepal, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Japan, where we would all participate in the Twentieth International Psychology Congress. My paper on the Maimonides experiments had been accepted, as was Adamenko’s paper on Vinogradova’s ability to move distant objects. It would be the first time that presentations on psi research had been scheduled for an International Congress of Psychology. Richard Davidson, now a graduate student at Harvard University, preceded us; with him was Robert Harris, my stepson, who planned to take photographs of the Moscow conference.

When our group arrived in Moscow, Naumov appeared worried. He remarked that he had received neither approval nor disapproval for the meeting, so he and Vilenskaya had decided to proceed as if it would actually take place. Naumov also revealed that a group of government officials and psychologists had examined the book, Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, labeling it “anti-Soviet.” There was only one dissenting opinion, according to Naumov; V. P. Zinchenko, a prominent psychologist, did not think it was worthwhile to make an issue out of the volume.

Naumov stated that he had been interviewed concerning his role in the preparation of the book. Naumov claimed that some of the information he gave the two journalists had been passed on in confidence because he was unsure as to its accuracy. One example concerned an unfounded rumor that the U.S. Navy had sponsored telepathy tests from an atomic submarine, the Nautilus, to psychic sensitives on land. Ostrander and Schroeder (1970) quote Naumov as saying:

“If your Navy didn’t do the Nautilus experiment, then Soviet scientists were the first in the world to test ESP from a submarine! . . . We didn’t use human subjects. We used a mother rabbit and her newborn litter. . . .

“Scientists placed the baby rabbits aboard the submarine. They kept the mother rabbit in a laboratory on shore where they implanted electrodes deep in her brain. When the sub was deep below the surface of the ocean, assistants killed the young rabbits one by one.

“. . . at each synchronized instant of death, her brain reacted.” [p. 32]

Not only was the story about the Nautilus highly suspect, but also the rabbit’s reactions were gross distortions of an experiment which had been conducted on land in Novosibirsk. {This account of the submarine experiment was given to James Hickman by the Soviet investigator V. P. Kaznacheev during Hickman’s visit to Novosibirsk in 1979.} Some of the mother rabbit’s reactions did synchronize with the stressing (not killing) of the infants, but they hardly produced the dramatic results reported in the book.

Naumov asked me not to discuss his troubles with the other participants, as he did not want to cast a shadow on their visit to Moscow. Besides, there was some good news: We had all been invited to visit the Gannushkin Institute for Schizophrenics by Yuri Nikolayev. We made the trip the following day, heard about the patients’ fasting regimen, and had an opportunity to interview several individuals who were recovering from schizophrenia following several years of torment.

An “Unofficial Gathering”

On July 18 we assembled at the May Day Club for “The International Meeting on the Problem of Bioenergetics and Related Areas.” It was described as an “unofficial gathering,” so as not to violate any regulations.

The schedule was packed. Naumov traced the history of Soviet parapsychology, going back to V. M. Bekhterev, who is remembered for his attempts to make objective studies of individuals by recording their gestures, facial expressions, and vocalizations, which he then related to the stimuli that preceded them. Bekhterev took a mechanistic view of personality, positing that mental and physiological phenomena represent a single neural process. In his book General Principles of Human Reflexology, Bekhterev suggested that the complex behavior of humans consisted of the compounding of these associated motor reflexes, and that thought processes depended on the inner activities of the musculature of speech. Bekhterev also conducted several ESP tests with dogs, reportedly obtaining favorable results.

During the 1920s, Bekhterev’s theory of reflexology was as influential in the USSR as was the work of Pavlov. After Bekhterev’s death in 1927, however, the influence of his work declined. The Second All-Union Conference of Marxist-Leninist Research Institutes concluded that reflexology was a revisionist trend that deviated from the Marxist-Leninist position. However, Bekhterev had come back into favor in recent years and his parapsychological interests were well known. In addition, he had encouraged the parapsychological work of L. L. Vasiliev (1965) and B. B. Kazhinsky (1962). Kazhinsky’s interest in psi was stimulated by an incident occurring one night in 1919 when he claimed to have been awakened by the sound of a spoon stirring up against a glass. There was no accounting for it until he learned that a close friend had died that night of typhoid just as his mother had stirred up his medicine with a spoon.

Films were then presented that appeared to show Nina Kulagina and Alla Vinogradova moving small objects across a table without touching them. Adamenko discussed his work with Vinogradova, and also presented a stunning color film of the Kirlian effect in which moment-by-moment changes in the flare patterns surrounding a leaf could be observed.

The next speaker was Victor Inyushin, a biophysicist from Kazakh State University in Alma-Ata. He discussed his concept of “biological plasma” or “bioplasma,” a “fifth state of matter,” along with solids, liquids, gases, and plasmas. Inyushin presented data from acupuncture, bioluminescence, and Kirlian photography to support his claim that “bioplasmic emission” from living objects could explain many psi phenomena.

Several Americans spoke on the topic of unconventional healing, an area of great interest to the Soviet participants. At the end of the day, the managers of the May Day Club informed us that we could not hold any more meetings in their auditorium; the police had arrived to investigate the proceedings, and the managers were hesitant to take further risks. As a result, we decided to hold the next day’s meetings in a hotel suite.

We then assembled at the Sports Cinema for an evening of films, most of which I had seen in 1971. There were two additions – one presenting time-lapse photography of such plants as the Venus flytrap, and the other a film portraying the use of dowsing for land mines by Czech soldiers in a mock battlefield and by American soldiers in Vietnam. The military men in the film were shown holding dowsing rods at arm’s length; the rods would sometimes turn downward sharply, and a close examination of the ground area would often result in the location of a land mine.

On Wednesday morning, we gathered at the Ukraine Hotel. There were some sixty participants from ten countries, and the room was packed. Our Intourist guide was with us, and complained that we had ignored the sightseeing agenda that had been arranged for us. I surmised that our travel agent had neglected to tell Intourist that we had our own agenda for Moscow, an Oversight that was to have unfortunate consequences.

Papers were presented on a variety of topics. G. S. Vassilchenko described his use of acupuncture with people suffering from sexual dysfunction. He also noted that laser beams were more effective than needles in stimulating the appropriate acupuncture points. O. W. Markley of the Stanford Research institute described clairvoyance experiments with Ingo Swann (1975), an artist and psychic sensitive who speciaised in “remote viewing” – reportedly identifying distant geographical sites that were randomly selected just as the experiments began. Parapsychologists from Austria, Switzerland, and West Germany presented conflicting reports on their visits to the Philippines where they saw psychic healers appear to extract material from the bodies of sick people. Some of the observers dismissed the effect as sleight of hand, while others thought that parapsychological phenomena were at work, in at least some cases.

James Hickman, one of my assistants, presented a film he had produced at New Mexico State University. It consisted of several hundred colorful Kirlian photographs accompanied by a sound track of such songs as “Casey Jones” by the Grateful Dead, and “Back in the U.S.S.R.” by the Beatles. The final frame of Hickman’s film portrayed a dove – and the word “peace” in both Russian and English. The film was enthusiastically received; one of the Soviet participants called it “the best combination of art, science, music, and politics I have ever seen on film.”

A Soviet psychiatrist, Ilmar Soomere, reported on several hundred cases of spontaneous ESP phenomena he had collected over an eight-year period. Soomere noted that more instances of ESP took place in dreams than in the waking state. When the dream was precognitive and concerned someone’s death, the dreamer was more likely to awaken immediately than if it concerned another type of event, in which case the dream was often recalled in the morning. Soomere also found an association between spontaneous cases of ESP and the lunar cycle, with significantly fewer instances of clairvoyance, telepathy, and precognition occurring on nights of the full moon. Soomere also noted sex differences: About 60 percent of his cases were reported by men, and approximately 40 percent by women. The peak ages for both sexes were between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five.

Carmi Harari led the group in an “encounter session” – apparently the first of its kind held in the USSR. Following the exercises in awareness, spontaneity, and expression of personal feelings, one Soviet psychiatrist told Harari, “I learned more about myself today than in all my years of psychiatric training.” The ever-present Intourist guide was the only person who did not participate in the “encounter session”; observers saw her open her purse and turn on a small tape recorder.

Before the session ended, Hickman, Adamenko, and I left for a meeting with Licensintorg, the Soviet patent bureau, where we discussed the possibility of obtaining the Soviet data on Kirlian photography. The data, which covered a thirty-year span, could be ours, they informed us, for a few thousand dollars. (Upon arriving back in the United States, I found no business or agency willing to invest that amount of money for the purpose.)

I rejoined the group at the Ukraine Hotel that evening for a party hosted by the Association for Humanistic Psychology. Some eighty people arrived, drank toasts, sang Russian folk songs, and enjoyed each other’s company.

The Moving Tubes

July 21 was our last full day in Moscow. I had been invited to the offices of Technology for Youth, a popular science magazine with a circulation of five million. Just as I was about to leave, I was told that the Intourist officials wanted to see me. I sent another psychologist to take my place and proceeded to the magazine office.

Hickman showed the staff of Technology for Youth his film and gave them several Kirlian photographs. One of the Soviet technicians inspected Hickman’s color photograph of a leaf and called it “the best example of Kirlian photography I have seen outside the Soviet Union.” The leaf was featured in a subsequent issue of the magazine; we could not bring ourselves to tell them that the Kirlian photograph depicted a marijuana leaf – with a corona that turned out to be a patriotic red, white, and blue.

Adamenko then showed the editorial staff his film of Alla Vinogradova, after which he introduced her to the group. Vinogradova sat on a chair near a Plexiglas table. Adamenko placed a Havana cigar tube on the surface of the table. Vinogradova rubbed her hands briskly, then put her right hand to the side of the tube. It began to move across the table without any physical contact with Vinogradova’s hand. When it reached the table’s far side, she shifted her hand to that side and the tube moved back.

Adamenko then removed the cigar tube and substituted a heavier tube made from aluminum. She picked it up and rubbed it for a few seconds – suggesting to me that she was simply producing an electrostatic charge that would cause her hand to repel the tube. As expected, the object moved across the table.

The next object placed before Vinogradova was a Ping-Pong ball. In this instance, Vinogradova moved her hand in a circular motion a few inches above the object; the ball obediently followed her hand. Next, Adamenko placed a Marlboro cigarette on the table. Vinogradova could not move it, even after rubbing it lightly. She asked for another one, and an onlooker opened his pack of Philip Morris cigarettes. It moved easily and she commented that it was more “tightly packed” than the Marlboro.

Vinogradova moved a film cylinder, which rolled fairly well across the table, despite its uneven surface. She then placed it on its end and “pushed” it about an inch. Adamenko commented that it requires about ten times as much effort to “push” an object without touching it as it does to “roll” it.

Adamenko placed a lightweight steel tube on the table. After Vinogradova had propelled it back and forth, Adamenko placed a small light bulb on the tube. The bulb lit for an instant, again suggesting that an electrostatic effect was involved, rather than PK.

Two tubes were then placed on the table. Vinogradova placed her hand above both of them. Adamenko pointed to one of the tubes and, with only a slight hand movement, Vinogradova was able to move the specified tube while the other one remained still. This control of the apparent electrostatic effect was quite impressive. Furthermore, Vinogradova was able to terminate movement in one tube and initiate it in another tube whenever someone requested a shift.

Vinogradova announced that it might be possible for someone else to move the tube. I leaped from my chair, sat down at the table, and – using the identical hand motions I had observed during the demonstration – rolled the tube across the table without touching it. After about thirty seconds, the tube slowed down and then stopped. Vinogradova rubbed her hands and initiated movement in the tube again. Two other observers then took turns rolling it without touching it.

I told Adamenko that if one rubs a smooth table surface with a cloth, static electricity is generated. If a cylinder is placed on the table, the object will be repelled by a person’s hand. {Upon returning to the United States, Hickman and I rubbed the top of a Plexiglas table with a cotton cloth. A tube was then placed on the table; the tube was easily moved when one’s hands passed near it.} Adamenko replied that it is true that objects will move on a surface that has been electrostatically charged by means of friction. But for heavy objects to be moved, or for objects to be moved selectively, a special distribution of the surface electrical field has to be created. This effect, Adamenko continued, may involve PK. In any event, selective movement indicates that a subject is ready to attempt PK, moving objects in ways that cannot be explained by electrostatic effects. For example, a small flame placed on the table could prevent the accumulation of an electrostatic effect. So could proper grounding of the subject, or the use of objects and table surfaces that are resistant to an electrostatic buildup.

Adamenko also told me that he could not attend the Tokyo conference, where he was to read the paper describing his work with Vinogradova. He gave me a copy of his paper as well as the film so that I could make the presentation for him. The paper was titled, “Objects Moved at a Distance by Means of a Controlled Bioelectric Field.” Nowhere in the manuscript was there any claim that the effects were due to PK.

The Tokyo Congress

An Intourist representative roused us at 4:00 A.M. the next morning, an hour or so earlier than our schedule had indicated. On the way to the airport, the psychologist who had visited Intourist on my behalf told me that they had indicated their “extreme displeasure” with the conduct of our group.

And why not? Intourist had arranged a series of sightseeing excursions for us and were offended when we announced that we had made our own plans for the week. Our travel agency had not informed Intourist of our conference – a meeting that involved renting a Soviet clubhouse, bringing eighty people to a hotel suite, discussing a number of exotic topics with Soviet citizens – even exposing them to an “encounter session.” A few years later, Melov Sturva (1978), a Soviet journalist, observed “encounter sessions” at Esalen Institute in California, describing them as “99 percent brazen charlatanism and 1 percent pseudoscience.”

Upon our arrival at the airport, several armed guards, police officers, and Intourist officials escorted us to a special area. All of our suitcases were opened. Personal letters were confiscated. All of my notes were taken, as well as reprints given to me by Adamenko, Inyushin, and Naumov. As they inspected my suitcase, I handed them Adamenko’s film, saying it was documentary material for the Tokyo Congress. Perhaps they thought I had brought it from the United States, because they handed it back and dug into my suitcase in a search for less obvious items.

Harari and I were taken into private rooms and given special attention. My coat, belt, and shoes were removed. I was frisked as if I were suspected of carrying a weapon. As Harari and I finally boarded the plane I mused, “Last year I left Moscow with a bouquet of peonies and a hero’s farewell. Today I leave bereft of my scientific notes, having been treated like a felon. It helps one to retain one’s modesty knowing that you can be applauded today and disgraced tomorrow.”

Upon registering for the International Congress of Psychology in Tokyo, the secretaries were amazed that I had been asked to read a Soviet paper. It was the first time in memory that an American scientist had read a paper from the USSR at an international conference. Nevertheless, Adamenko’s contribution was well received by the participants, as was my own presentation on ten years of ESP research at the Maimonides Dream Laboratory.

Our next stop was Honolulu and the annual convention of the American Psychological Association. Gardner Murphy received the APA gold-medal award for his contributions to psychology; his work in parapsychology was included in the citation. At lunch we reminisced about our summer together at the University of Hawaii thirteen years earlier – and how my last task as his assistant had been to buy him an English-Russian dictionary before he left for the USSR.

Fiction or Reality?

When Harari and I arrived back in New York City, we sent cordial letters to Intourist thanking them for their help during our visit to Moscow and apologizing for our travel agency’s ineptitude in neglecting to inform them of our scheduled meetings. The letters were never answered; about that time, there was a shakeup in Intourist that resulted in an almost total change of administrative officials.

However, I did receive a letter from the Institute for Soviet-American Relations. It was dated April 1972, but did not reach me until August. It said that the facilities of the House of Friendship were booked during July. Enclosed was a letter from A. R. Luria also dated April 1972, unaccountably handwritten in English.

Luria noted that he had received letters from Harari and myself concerning the organization of a series of informal meetings on parapsychology in Moscow. Luria stated that “the Psychological Society of the USSR cannot support this project” because “parapsychology is not a branch of scientific psychology.” Luria mentioned Naumov, stating that he was “unknown” to the Psychological Society and in no case was a psychologist.

If we had received these letters earlier, we never would have jeopardized Naumov’s safety by pushing ahead with the meetings. Indeed, we began to wonder if we had been used as ploys by Naumov’s enemies and became critically concerned about his safety.

We heard very little from Naumov during the following year. And then, in 1973, my Soviet colleagues sent me a photocopy of the first article on parapsychology to be published in Questions of Philosophy, the official publication of the prestigious USSR Academy of Sciences. The article was signed by V. P. Zinchenko, A. N. Leontiev, B. F. Lomov, and A. R. Luria; it was titled “Parapsychology: Fiction or Reality?”

The article was astonishing. After pointing out the poor work done by certain investigators and the fraud that exists among many “psychic sensitives,” the authors concluded almost casually:

Obviously, some so-called parapsychological phenomena actually do happen…. Certainly the time has come to bring order into the scientific research and study of the phenomena described in parapsychology. Much of the research in the field of parapsychology is being done by physicists and engineers. Therefore, it would be expedient to assess, at the Institute for Biophysics in the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences … the direction … of the “biophysical effect” [dowsing]. The electromagnetic fields generated by living organisms could be likewise assessed as a possible means of “biological communication” [telepathy]. . . . If attention is paid to these phenomena from the point of biophysics and information theory, these efforts will help to demystify them.

The psychological institutes of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Sciences and of the U.S.S.R. Academy of Pedagogical Sciences . . . should also give consideration to the possibility of mounting programs for strictly scientific research into these phenomena. Evidently it would be advisable to organize a laboratory within one of the psychological institutions which would study persons who really do possess unusual abilities. [pp. 135-36]

Three of the four people who signed this report were the leading psychologists in the Soviet Union. With this article, the USSR became the first country in the world whose psychological “establishment” endorsed the study of ESP and PK. As some of us told the American Psychological Association’s newsletter, the APA Monitor, when they asked for our comments:

Imagine B. F. Skinner, Harry Harlow, and Albert Bandura [the APA president] publishing an official APA policy statement on parapsychology in Science, urging the nation’s best research centers to study ESP. The equivalent has just taken place in the Soviet Union. [Asher, 1974, p. 1]

The APA Monitor gave front-page space to this event, one of the most important developments to date in parapsychological research.

There were other points of interest in the Soviet article. It was noted that the first parapsychological paper to be accepted for delivery at an International Congress of Parapsychology occurred in 1972 when “a report by the American parapsychologist, S. Krippner, was presented.” A claim was also made that “the American federal government spends between one-half and one million dollars a year on parapsychological research.” One researcher friend of mine exclaimed, “If that’s true, no parapsychologist that I know has ever seen it!”

There were also oblique references to Naumov that indicated to me that his fate was sealed. Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain was denounced as a “low-level work” used to advertise “anti-Sovietism.” It also noted:

There also exists a category of rather clever persons who often have no serious background of any kind. These are the very people who assume the role of propagandists and impresarios for those who actually possess unusual abilities. . . . Some of these “experts” declare themselves to be leaders of groups . . . which have never existed in our country. The “Institute of Technical Parapsychology” is an example of such an organization. It is necessary to put an end to the activity of poorly qualified but militant parapsychological “experts” who take upon themselves the role of . . . propagandists and who issue numerous reports and give lectures on parapsychology for audiences which even include scientists. These lectures offer an unscrupulous mishmash of fantasy and fact. [p. 132]

Shortly after the publication of this article, I received word of Naumov’s arrest. I was also given three agencies in Moscow to which letters of protest were to be directed. Many of us wrote the letters. But parapsychologists, needless to say, have very little political clout as a scientific group. On March 29, 1974, the New York Daily News announced:

A Soviet specialist in telepathy and clairvoyance has been sentenced to two years at hard labor for refusing to break his contacts with his Western colleagues, dissident sources claimed today. The informants said . . . Edward K. Naumov was convicted following a fifteen-day trial in a Moscow court.

The sources said Naumov was charged with misusing funds of a club that invited him to lecture on parapsychology. . . . According to the informants, the charge was fabricated after Naumov ignored secret-police demands that he stop meeting with foreign specialists visiting Moscow.

The story was published in American newspapers under the heading, “Hard Labor for Mentalist,” revealing the misunderstanding among many journalists of psychical research. A “mentalist,” of course, is a stage performer – a role that Naumov never assumed.

My interpretation of Naumov’s demise was that the Soviet scientific “establishment” had finally decided to give parapsychology the stamp of approval, albeit a cautious one. Apparently, parapsychology was not to be considered an independent discipline; its phenomena would be assigned to different scientific institutes for investigation. We all suspected that his “Department of Technical Parapsychology” (not “Institute,” as claimed by the four psychologists) had conducted little scientific research. However, he was just about the only person we could contact if we wanted information on psychoenergetics in the USSR.

Also, Naumov may have been considered too friendly to foreigners by the secret police. Unlike the Soviet dissidents, Naumov never criticized the Soviet system or veered from Marxist doctrine. However, in July 1974, at the very time Nixon was again meeting with Brezhnev in Moscow, I received an account of Naumov’s trial from Lev Regelson, a Soviet physicist living in Moscow. (Later that same year, this letter was published in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.) Regarding the charge that Naumov had misused the funds a club paid him for his lectures, the physicist wrote:

One cannot take seriously the procurator’s claim that Naumov’s receiving payment for a lecture … constitutes complicity in “financial gain.” . . .

What is Naumov really guilty of?

Here is what he had dared to do: for many years he has maintained free, personal, human contacts with many foreign scholars, contacts which were not sanctioned from above; he carried on an extensive correspondence with them and made use of the material he received for disseminating information on parapsychology in the U.S.S.R.

On his personal initiative he organized international meetings and scientific symposia, became a member of international societies, presented himself as the representative of Soviet parapsychology at a time when this science was not officially recognized in the U.S.S.R. He created an undesirable precedent, made of himself a “dangerous” example, by taking seriously all this talk about peaceful coexistence and international scientific cooperation. In his wake other Soviet parapsychologists began to do similar things…. Although all these actions could not be brought to trial according to law, at the same time they could not be permitted to go unpunished. And so they were. Naumov has been sent to prison, the other parapsychologists so far only relieved of their jobs. [pp. 522-23]

The letter ended by noting that Naumov had been beaten and that, after sentencing, he was subjected to a “senseless and cruel three-hour interrogation” despite the fact that he was ill with pneumonia.

Naumov, through his efforts, had brought the emerging Soviet interest in psychoenergetics to the attention of the world. He had also played a role in forcing the ruling scientists to take a position on the subject, a position that was more positive than that taken by official scientific bodies in any other major country.

In June 1975, I received word that Naumov had been released from prison and told that he must abandon independent parapsychological research; any future work could be done only in official laboratories. However, he had been vindicated, in a sense, because a higher court had declared him completely innocent of the fraud charges. Naumov’s early release must have been welcome, but he must also have felt disappointment at having the gates of autonomous ESP and PK experimentation closed to him. Possibly in the future, Naumov’s efforts will be appreciated. In the meantime, perhaps, official research in Soviet parapsychology will proceed with the funding and recognition it deserves. The article in Questions of Philosophy is a visionary document. It remains to be seen if that vision will be incarnated.


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Zinchenko, V. P.; Leontiev, A. N.; Lomov, B. F.; and Luria, A. R. [Parapsychology: Fiction or reality? Questions of Philosophy,] 1973, 27, 128-36. Translation available in S. Krippner (ed.), Psychoenergetic Systems. New York: Gordon & Breach, 1979.


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