Have we at last found the secret of mind over matter?
Friday, May 8,1998
Have we at last found the secret of mind over matter?
As scientists discover the extraordinary effects of will power.
By Colin Wilson
Two leading scientists have reached a conclusion that could alter the way we all live. They claim to have proved the reality of ‘mind over matter’ in the laboratory.
For many years, I have been fascinated by the way our minds seem to be able to influence things that happen to us. Some days, you feel happy and lucky and everything seems to go right. Other days, you feel tense and depressed and the day becomes ‘one damn thing after another’.
Is it possible that we are sub-consciously manipulating the physical world in some way when we are feeling relaxed and optimistic? Professor Robert Jahn and psychologist Brenda Dunne seem to have proved that this is the case.
In effect, their experiments have shown that our minds can influence the fall of dice, make our numbers come up in a lottery, or persuade the horse we have backed to win the 3.30.
Jahn was the Dean of the Engineering School at Princeton University in the US. when a female student asked him if he would help with a project on psychokinesis – the scientific name for mind over matter.
Jahn was shocked. ‘We can’t do that kind of thing at Princeton,’ he scolded. But she persisted until he gave way.
She went on to build a machine called a Random Events Generator; a kind of automatic coin-flipper, which worked on the random decay of radioactive isotopes. She wanted to find out whether human beings could make it produce more heads than tails through concentration.
Her results were so remarkable that Jahn himself soon began repeating her experiments. He built a machine, called Murphy, in which 9,000 billiard balls cascaded down from above and then bounced randomly into one of 19 bins. When left to chance, most of the balls went into a bin in the middle while the others distributed themselves among 18 other bins.
Jahn brought in a passer-by and asked him to stare at the machine and try to make more balls go to the right. He was stunned by the result – the centre bin was no longer full, more balls had gone to the right.
Forty years earlier, a gambler had gone to J. B. Rhine, a professor of parapsychology at Duke University, North Carolina, and claimed that he could influence the fall of dice by will power. They sat on the floor, the gambler concentrated hard – and threw a double six.
Rhine conducted hundreds of tests which showed that the fall of dice can be influenced by the human mind. That should have convinced everyone, but his fellow academics began to pull apart his statistics, and suggest that they merely reflected Rhine’s wishful thinking. Within a couple of years, Rhine was forgotten.
But Jahn cannot be brushed aside so easily. He was a professor of engineering, an expert in rocket propulsion and he was using the latest computer methods.
He also showed that animals are capable of mind over matter. He set up a machine which dispensed peanuts at irregular intervals in a forest populated with skunks, raccoons and foxes. The animals who sat staring at it were somehow able to influence it to disgorge more peanuts than usual.
Subjecting humans to the same test, he found that they didn’t do as well. Humans tend to doubt themselves whereas, the animals simply used some kind of instinct and the result was more peanuts.
But what could be the mechanism by which the mind influences matter? One of the greatest modern physicists, David Bohm, thought he knew the answer He was studying plasmas – super-heated gases, like those on the surface of the sun – when he realised they behaved like living creatures.
They surrounded impurities with a sheath, just as the corpuscles in our bodies do with viruses. He got the impression that the electrons in the plasma were alive. And if electrons are alive, then it may be possible that our minds can influence them in the same way.
Now Bob Jahn and his colleague Brenda Dunne have taken another step in solving this mystery. I met them in America in 1995 and the meeting confirmed what I had long suspected: that human beings possess powers that few of us suspect.
One of their experiments left me breathless. Brenda had come across two women who claimed to be able to communicate telepathically.
To test this, one woman sat in a studio and the either went into downtown Chicago, then opened a randomly-chosen envelope that would send her to one of a dozen possible locations. This one sent her to a chapel, and she noted down her impressions.
Back In the studio, her friend recorded her own impressions and gave an incredibly accurate description of the chapel. But the thing is that the woman in the studio recorded her impressions half an hour before her friend reached the chapel. She was describing what her friend would see in the future.
Could the two women have foretold the result of a horse race before it started? Or predicted the numbers that would win the National Lottery?
No one was more shocked by this than a German-born scientist named Helmut Schmidt who works in Seattle. He used radioactive decay to make a set of light bulbs flash on and off, and asked his subjects to try to influence the way a circle of bulbs would light up.
Like the people tested by Jahn, they showed that they could influence the lights with their minds.
Then Schmidt decided to play a trick on them. He rigged the device so that the bulbs would light up in a certain order. But when he tried it, he was astonished to find that his test subjects were still able to influence the bulbs. Their minds didn’t know it was impossible, and simply went ahead and did it.
Perhaps the strangest case of all is the story of Philip, the invented ghost. In the mid-Seventies, a group of researchers in Toronto were studying poltergeists, those mischievous ‘spirits’ that make objects fly around a room. They wanted to test the theory that poltergeists are really an unconscious form of mind over matter. They decided to invent a ghost, then try to conjure him into existence.
They made up the life story of a character called Philip, who committed suicide in the 1660s after his gipsy mistress was burned for witchcraft. Then the group sat around a table in a dark room, and tried to make Philip appear.
Nothing happened for weeks. One day, tired and discouraged, they took a break and started to sing songs. Suddenly a loud rap on the table made them all jump. They asked the ‘spirit’ to spell out its name in a code of raps, and it told them it was called Philip. And, little by little, the invisible rapper told them the whole story they had invented.
What the group had demonstrated was that it was their collective subconscious that had created the ghost. What this also showed was that ‘Philip’ only made an appearance when the researchers relaxed and stopped trying.
This is why I am convinced that a state of tension and foreboding makes things go wrong, while a state of relaxation and cheerfulness makes them go right.
I suspect that what Jahn and Dunne have discovered is only the tip of the iceberg. By proving the power of mind over matter in the laboratory, they open up vast possibilities for the human race. And since optimism is contagious, I like to think there is no good reason why the whole human race should not learn to develop a winning streak.
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