JOURNAL of the Society for Psychical Research
VOLUME 48 No. 764 June 1975
by COLIN BROOKES-SMITH
THIS is an account of the results obtained at nineteen sittings held at an S.P.R. member’s house near Daventry between January and August 1973. They were a continuation of the PK experiments previously reported (1) in which data-tape recording methods were employed for measuring mechanical forces and other variables associated with table levitation phenomena. The electrical effects reported here were unexpected but developed from chance observation of signals unaccountably appearing on the pen-chart transcriptions of data-tape records. The principal sittings and experimental results are briefly reported and there are also brief descriptions of special tables with interchangeable tops and of the electrodes or ‘grids’ and electrical detecting amplifiers.
Many investigators in the past have observed paranormal electrical conductance (2). The phenomenon was evidently regarded as a mediumistic accomplishment. Eusapia Palladino, for example, could discharge an electroscope by extending her fingers towards it. Other psychic subjects could apparently close electrical circuits containing a battery source of a few volts and even obtained currents up to o.6 ampere. Such effects were almost invariably explained as due to ‘psychic fluids’ or ‘ectoplasmic’ materializations. The paranormal agencies involved were given names such as ‘N-rays’ (Blondlot), or ‘Y-rays’ -(Yourievitch), or ‘Rigid-rays’ (Ochorowics) also W. J. Crawford’s ‘rods’ (3). Progress in such researches seems to have come to a halt in the 1930’s with the virtual extinction of ‘physical’ mediums, but now that at least weak displays of PK can be induced by sitter-groups without any recognized medium, it seems possible that progress could be made by further experiments.
The first five sittings held in January 1973 did not involve any electrical effects and only need brief mention. A lightly built 24 inch diameter circular table was used which was fitted with an accelerometer whose signal output was data-tape recorded to obtain evidence of non-contact rocking and tilting. To save weight, the invalidation system depended on making the top and underside surfaces of the table slightly conducting by a dilute zinc chloride solution very sparingly applied. The purpose of the experiments was to learn more about the transition from unconscious muscular action to a non-contact telekinetic activity. The sitters placed their hands on the table which rocked easily since the legs were intentionally of unequal length and balance weights removed any unequal bias. The sitters counted the rocking movements aloud but removed their hands completely at the tenth count and went on counting up to twenty. A 6-volt ‘reward’ lamp on the table supplied with current from the accelerometer amplifier system flashed momentarily at each rock and the sitters aimed at keeping these ‘reward’ flashes going after they had removed their hands from the table. A great many count-down trials of this kind were made during the five sittings but in no case did the chart records show undoubted cases of non-contact rocking and hence a transition from the normal to paranormal rocking. A return was therefore made to PK experiments using the larger diameter tables previously used in the 1971 and 1972 sessions.
The first indication of ostensible electrical conductance was an outcome of the so-called Delayed Invalidation Signal system (4). This was originally a scheme not necessarily to detect cheating but for tape-recording the occurrence and duration of ‘aid’ deliberately applied by a secretly chosen sitter so as to trigger genuine paranormal activity in accordance with K. J. Batcheldor’s ‘artefact’ theory of PK induction. The sitter who drew the Joker from a pack of cards could gently ‘aid’ the table levitation by putting a finger or thumb under the table edge whenever he thought fit. This was not intended to lift the table completely but merely enough to produce a small movement which the other sitters could feel or which would brighten the ‘reward’ lamp and therefore create the illusion that a genuine levitation was about to take place. Any crudely and obviously applied ‘aid’ would not pass unnoticed even in the dark and would of course destroy the illusion.
At the 65th sitting (counting the whole Daventry series) the writer happened to be chosen the Joker for the first time. The Vertical Slide Dynamometer table was in use, its underside edge being lined with the 1 inch wide Veroboard strips or ‘grids’ of copper conductors previously described (5) The associated amplifier was a bridge circuit employing an audio-frequency carrier current. When the bridge had been initially adjusted to null output balance, any finger contact on the Veroboard strips produced a signal which was tape-recorded simultaneously with any force registered by the dynamometer. The writer applied ‘aid’ sparingly and on only four or five occasions out of the total of forty trials. When the tape had been transcribed to chart form there were a number of up-force signatures of about 2 lb or less, some with and some without invalidations, but it was obvious that there were many more invalidation signals than could be accounted for by the few times that ‘aid’ had been intentionally applied. For the last two trials of that meeting the sitters had been asked to take their hands off completely but to hold their hands a few inches above the table surface without touching it. The transcribed record showed two up-forces with a maximum of 2 lb but there were no simultaneous invalidations which suggests that the up-forces were telekinetically applied without making contact with the Veroboard strips.
At Sitting No. 66, a new 40 inch octagonal table mounted on a frictionless spring-supported dynamometer fitted with a ‘reward’ lamp was used. Before the sitting started, a request was made that whoever the Joker might be should identify his ‘aid’ by lightly touching the Veroboard grids three times immediately before applying ‘aid’. Such occasions could then be identified on the chart records. The usual routine procedure was to give a countdown start to each trial immediately followed by en ‘Up’ command, so that each trial could then be identified from the sound track trace on the chart. The first thirteen trials produced no corresponding up-forces despite the Joker’s aid on two occasions, but the fourteenth trial produced an eight-second up-force of about 2 lb immediately following the Joker’s aid. Thereafter, the results were meagre from the 15th to the 28th trials, but the last four were more successful. The suggestion had first been made that sitters should imagine and expect the whole table to levitate off the floor (somewhat unlikely since its weight was over 40 lb).
Nevertheless, the strong intention and expectancy produced not only four up-force signatures one of which lasted 16 seconds and had a peak value of about 5 lb, but also four corresponding ostensible invalidation signals. Two of the latter lasted 12 and 15 seconds respectively while the other two lasted only two or three seconds. The up-forces and the associated invalidations did not last corresponding lengths of time in each instance. Subsequently, the sitter who had acted as Joker emphatically denied having applied ‘aid’ on those occasions. The outcome of this particular sitting was to strengthen the view that the invalidation signal system was in fact operating as an electrical conductance detector.
At Sitting No. 68 and because of the continued uncertainty as to the origin of the unexpected invalidation signals, the Joker was again asked to give a triple-signal identification whenever he applied ‘aid’. No force dynamometer was used at this sitting so as to avoid complications. The transcribed pen-charts showed a number of invalidation signatures identified by the Joker’s triple signals but there were also seven other apparent invalidations which had no triple-signal identifications. Some of these lasted up to ten seconds and were not scattered indiscriminately over the whole period of the sittings but immediately followed and presumably were related to the up-command at each trial. Furthermore, the unexpected signatures on the pen-charts seemed different in character from any obtained by deliberately touching the Veroboard strips during non-sitting tests. It increasingly seemed unreasonable to regard the unidentified invalidation signals as anything other than genuine paranormal electrical conductance.
At Sitting No. 69, there was no instrumental force recording but there were six sitters. Tilts and small levitations were practised to habituate the novice sitters. During Sitting No. 70 the 40 inch octagonal table was used again and the results were of considerable interest. No force dynamometer was in use and no Joker was chosen. The first half of the sittings was simply a ‘warm-up’ practice of high levitations (with hand contact) without my instrumental recording at all, but during the second half a new electrical conductance detector was put into operation. This detector consisted of a d.c. bridge calibrated in megohms with a modulator-amplifier whose audio output was data-taped as usual. As so often happens, the initial trials gave only small table movements but subsequently eighteen showed conductance signals, some of brief duration, others lasting eight seconds or more. The ohmic resistance of these apparent paranormal completions of the Veroboard circuit were estimated to be about 5 megohms which is considerably higher than any normal dry finger contact. Trials Nos. 16, 17 and 18 were not responded to at all probably because of the spokesman’s rather slow and hesitant suggestions for the levitations. This evidently slowed down the sitting’s tempo and produced some impatience amongst the sitters until the spokesman was asked to speed things up. This episode undoubtedly had a temporary adverse effect on the induction which persisted into the first part of Trial 19 at which, after a short delay, a conductance signal was again recorded. The final seven trials all had prompt responses and conductance signals. This was a convincing example of ‘instant’ adverse effects due to unfavourable psychological conditions during an induction of PK and of the quick recovery when a remedy had been applied. It supported the belief that the electrical conductance was genuinely paranormal.
For Sitting No. 71, a plain 36 inch table was first used to practise tilts and levitations without any instrumental recording. The table top was then changed for a similar one that had under-edge grids fitted. The ‘fishing rod’ levitation height gauge was also set up (6). The detector bridge controls could be set so that conductance signals would only be recorded if the paranormal ohmic resistance fell below five specific values. The sitting was therefore divided into five parts. There were sixteen trials at the 1-megohm setting, nine at the 100-kilohm setting, four at 25, three at 10 and finally three at 1 kilohm. Only the 1 megohm setting produced any conductance signals. The sitter-group were evidently in good form after practising for half an hour during the first part of the sitting. After only 1 1/2 minutes from the start of the second half and at the 4th trial, a small levitation occurred though no associated conductance was recorded. A minute later at the 6th trial, a brief levitation and conductance were recorded. From the 7th trial onwards, the chart record shows that each levitation was preceded by electrical conductance, the time interval varying between 1 1/2 to 2 seconds. The conductance signals in the 6th and 7th trials were delayed about 3 seconds after each ‘up’ command but thereafter they were virtually simultaneous. The 16th trial was a sustained levitation at a height of about 4 feet and the conductance signal lasted about 15 seconds.
The procedure at Sitting No. 72 was similar except that the bridge was set at 1 megohm throughout. Despite 80 trials and a lively table that seemed to tilt and pirouette effortlessly, there were no all-four-feet-clear levitations and no unambiguous conductance signatures on the chart. A novice sitter had attended the meeting and this probably inhibited phenomena past the tilt stage.
In the second half of Sitting No. 74 a return was made to the 40 inch octagonal table with its spring-dynamometer mounting and under-edge grid system. Despite 67 trials there were neither up-force nor conductance signatures on the charts, perhaps because there had been too much chopping and changing of apparatus so that the psychological conditions were too disturbed for PK induction.
A new table with a 36 inch octagonal top was made for Sitting No 75. It had wire-on-Formica grids extending 2 1/2 inches inwards all round its underside edge and a centrally located ‘reward’ lamp. The grids were covered with 3 inch wide strips of knitted nylon fabric secured by drawing pins, the intention being to prevent any possible inadvertent finger contact (7). An improved conductance detector-amplifier was also used (8) which had carefully calibrated equivalent resistance ranges up to 100 megohms in five alternative steps and a potential of 22 volts d.c. applied to the grids. Only four out of 95 trials gave any indication of ostensible paranormal conductance. No force dynamometer or height-gauge had been used so the conductance signals were not corroborated by any other recorded variable. Perhaps the knitted nylon covers over the grids were psychologically inhibitory.
Sitting No. 76 was much more successful. Both the 36 inch and 40 inch tables referred to above were used and the detector-amplifier was modified so that either 2 or 22 volts d.c. could be applied to the grids, the intention being to discover whether there was any indication of a ‘recoil’ from the higher voltage by the supposed ‘ectoplasmic’ contact as might have been expected. In all, there were 89 trials of which the first 27 were excluded from any assessment as they were devoid of any response and presumably merely represented a rather long initial ‘warm up’ phase. Of the remaining 62 trials, 38 (i.e. 61 %) were responded to by conductance signals. Of these 31 were with the 2-volt condition and 7 with the 22-volt condition though the two sets of trials were not equal in number and cannot therefore be strictly compared. A comparison can however be made between the 36 inch table with its 2 1/2 inch outer zone of grids and the 40 inch table with its much wider array of grids. There were 27 trials under the 2-volt conditons in each case. The 36 inch table scored 74% responses while the 40 inch only scored 41%. This was contrary to what might have been expected in view of the 40 inch table’s much larger grid system which one might suppose would be more easily contacted by any ‘ectoplasmic’ agency.
The last four sittings of the whole series in which conductance experiments were performed with the 36 inch and 40 inch tables were negative. Quite possibly this was because of personnel changes in the sitter-group, changes of spokesman, less dramatic and often repetitious experiments and other factors which added up to rather unfavourable psychological conditions. But the two final sittings of the whole Daventry series are worth mentioning. On a number of occasions in 1971 and 1972, a very heavy solidly made oak dining table had been used for tilt experiments and it was quite remarkable how easily it could be made to tilt and slide about on the carpeted floor. The large sturdy legs concealed small castors but these were far from frictionless. The measured horizontal force needed to make the table slide was between 60 and 65 lb. It took a very considerable effort to move it normally yet with four sitters resting their hands on its top surface, it could be commanded to move towards each sitter in turn. It did not glide gracefully about but moved rather jerkily backwards and forwards and even made circular excursions when told to do so. The measured weight of the table was just short of 150 lb and the force needed to tilt one side up was measured with a spring balance and was approximately 70 lb. It was more than any one person could do to lift one side up by hand while in a sitting posture yet, after a little practice and persuasion, paranormal tilts in all directions could be obtained on command.
As this heavy table presented an unusual opportunity for making electrical conductance measurements, wire-on-Formica grids were fixed to one underside edge of the table for one sitting, and a 9 inch by 5 inch array of Veroboard grids was fixed centrally on the underside for the other sitting. No conductance signals were recorded but there was one interesting observation. All the previous experiments with this heavy table had been commanded by the group’s usual spokesman whose forceful, loud and emphatic commands undoubtedly contributed much to the success of experiments. On the last occasion another sitter acted as spokesman and his quiet commands proved just as effective.
GRIDS AND DETECTOR-AMPLIFIERS
The term ‘grid’ simply means an arrangement of copper conductors covering an area usually on the underside of a table where ‘ectoplasmic’ phenomena might be expected during PK displays. The grids used in these experiments took various forms depending on requirements. They were originally Veroboard strips placed end to end with soldered connections so that alternate strips formed the two poles or electrodes. Any finger contact that bridged any adjacent pair in the whole array produced a signal from the associated amplifier and this signal was then tape recorded simultaneously with any force or other data signal. By this means the occurrence and duration of any secretly applied ‘aid’ could easily be noted when studying the transcribed data-tape However, when it seemed increasingly certain that electrical conductance effects were being recorded as well as Joker’s aid, grids of larger size and lower cost became essential so as to cover a larger area on the underside of the table. Consequently, strips of Formica usually about 2 1/2 inch wide and 16 inches long were cut from sheets of the material. Their edges were then slotted with shallow saw cuts at 3/8 inch intervals and two enamelled copper wires were separately wound into alternate slots. The two separate windings were therefore insulated from each other and the enamel insulation was rubbed off the top side of each wire with emery cloth till the bare copper was exposed. The slightest touch with a finger or any partial conductor of electricity that bridged the bare wires at any point produced strong signals from the associated amplifier Although the construction of such wire-on-Formica grids is slow and laborious, it is nevertheless a simple and inexpensive method of covering large areas which can amount to several hundred square inches. Many such grids can be arranged in a mosaic and secured to the table by small woodscrews. Soldered connections are then made to provide series or parallel continuity while keeping the pairs of wires insulated from each other.
However, the efficacy of such wire grids has yet to be establish beyond doubt. It may be that the 3/8 inch gaps between the wires introduces an unnecessarily long path in the circuit with consequently high ohmic resistance. Much less than 1/4 inch spacing is impracticable. An alternative would be to use the 0.1 inch strip Veroboard which has gaps of only about 0.025″. Sheets of that material 17 inches by 3 3/4 inches can be obtained and while they are more expensive than the wire-grid type, they might be more effective as low-resistance detectors in any PK experiment where a surface effect is likely to be involved.
The two types of grid described above are only intended for use on flat surfaces where an ‘ectoplasmic’ agency might apply pressure. A ‘see-through’ type consisting of a similar Formica sheet with large holes drilled or punched through might be used as a monitoring detector in open locations where ‘ectoplasmic’ movement or ‘growth’ might be expected to occur. An even simpler form of grid can be made by twisting two enamelled copper wires together, No. 26 SWG size and five turns per inch being suitable. The two twisted wires remain highly insulated from each other yet firmly held together. The enamel on the outer surface of each turn of wire is rubbed off with emery cloth as before. The slightest finger or semi-conductor contact that bridges adjacent turns immediately operates the detector-amplifier. Quite large areas and irregular contours could therefore be covered with a zig-zag network of such twisted pairs of wires which could be fixed in position by insulated pegs, small rubber grommets, or merely held by Sellotape.
The experiments reported here were essentially exploratory and were all that could be fitted into an improvised programme unavoidably limited in scope and duration. That paranormal electrical conductance effects can at times occur during PK force displays seems a reasonable inference from the recorded data (9). But it is not yet clear why such conductance does not always occur or is not detectable in every tilt and levitation and what significance is to be attached to the sudden and brief conductance signatures on the charts or to the long-sustained effects frequently recorded. The best types of grid to be used under different circumstances, their exact location for optimum results and the most suitable type of detector-amplifier that gives consistent data-tape records have yet to be determined. Despite these uncertainties, a reliable electrical method of detecting the presence of the presumed ‘ectoplasmic’ agency which so often seems to be the invisible operative factor in any PK display, would indeed be a boon to investigators in this field, just as the invention of the galvanometer and electrometer were essential steps in early researches into the nature of electricity. The development of such an electrical detector is clearly of importance in this branch of parapsychology and this paper is primarily written to stimulate interest and encourage other workers who have better facilities and knowledge of modern electro-technology to explore the many possibilities (10).
The problems facing experimenters are admittedly formidable. Not the least is the difficulty of forming a coherent sitter-group of suitable persons willing to devote a good deal of their spare time to such work. The psycho-physical aspects also present unusual practical and conceptual difficulties not encountered in other research fields. However inappropriate and unpopular the word ‘ectoplasm’ may be, it still seems necessary in default of anything better to think, talk and write in those terms, provided always that ‘ectoplasmic’ matter is regarded not as a mysterious ‘psychic’ substance but as an unusual and temporary ‘biological’ aggregation of atoms and molecules probably drawn largely from atmospheric gases and water-vapour, then rapidly built up through successive stages of increasing density by the synchronized volitional impulses of the sitter-group. At present, this conceptual picture of the induction process is little more than a working hypothesis though the literature contains many pointers in that direction. If suitable instrumentation and experiments can be devised, then in all probability, not just the reality but the chemical composition and physical characteristics of ‘ectoplasm’ ought in time to be established. Almost certainly, it is elusive because it is protean and changes its state and adapts its form to whatever paranormal task is necessitated in order to augment or replace inadequacies of the normal senses and muscles. We are not searching for a single stable substance that can be captured and analysed but for an ever-changing anti-entropic psycho-physical manifestation that fleetingly acquires density and structured form and immediately disintegrates when its purposive task is accomplished or abandoned.
I must again extend my warmest thanks to the original members of the Daventry sitter-group who attended the meetings reported in this paper and who made the experiments possible. For the original four members, this was the third year running in which over a period of months they repeatedly gave up an evening a week and devoted their spare time to PK researches whose exact nature and purpose may not always have been very clear to them. The novice sitter who came and joined the group when we were a man short did so at a very opportune moment and I should like to express my thanks to him and to one other sitter who attended on two or three occasions for the help they gave with the recording apparatus. Three members of the group have now left the district and these particular sittings have consequently terminated. However, other groups are being formed elsewhere to carry out further data-tape recorded PK experiments and the results will no doubt be reported in due course.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
- J.S.P.R. June 1973, Vol. 47, No. 756. ‘Data-tape recorded Experimental PK Phenomena.’
- Rene Sudre’s Treatise on Parapsychology (George Allen & Unwin Ltd) contains a chapter on ‘Psychic Fluid’ which summarizes much of the historical matter.
- W. J. Crawford, The Reality of Psychic Phenomena (Watkins, 1919).
- J.S.P.R. June 1973, P. 75.
- J.S.P.R. June 1973, p. 82, Fig. 3.
- J.S.P.R. June 1973, P. 75
Extensive experiments under non-sitting conditions were made from time to time in order to devise some method of preventing inadvertent finger contact with the grids without interfering with any possible ‘ectoplasmic’ contact effect. The Veroboard strips had always been set back 1/4 inch from the table edge so that anything other than deliberate contact or Joker’s aid would be unlikely to produce conductance signals. If the strips or grids had been put too far back, then sitters might inadvertently or even intentionally have applied upward force without actuating the invalidation system. In Sitting No. 76 the grids were protected by a 3/4 inch width of Sellotape all round the edge of the table and this had a sufficiently high insulation resistance to prevent contact, but it would have defeated the objects of the experiment if it had extended further inwards. Grids covered with fabric containing cotton mixed with rayon fibre easily conducted current across both Veroboard and wire-grids if a finger was pressed hard enough and long enough on it. Most sitters seemed to have comparatively dry fingers and hands and did not produce conductance through knitted nylon fabric, but unexpectedly, one sitter’s hands were always moist enough to do so. Breathing on a cold Veroboard with or without knitted nylon condensed enough moisture to produce conductance for 10 or 20 seconds until the moisture evaporated, but this effect was easily prevented by warming the Veroboard with a metal backing plate fitted with a small electric heater element. These details are given to warn any experimenter against condensation effects. Any kind of grid brought in from the cold, perhaps after a car journey in winter, is likely to produce spurious conductance signals and it must be given time to warm up or be artificially heated above the dew point. These observations suggest the possibility that electrical conductance effects are sometimes produced by paranormal condensation of water-vapour in the atmosphere.
(8) The simplified circuit diagram of the most recent form of detector-amplifier is shown in Fig. 1 attached. The three transistors are all 2N 2926 silicon NPN types though any equivalent type would do as well. Q1 and Q2 are connected in the super-alpha mode and provide high d.c. amplification. An audio-frequency carrier signal of about 1 kHz frequency from an oscillator (not shown) is applied to Q3 base. Q2 and Q3 have a common collector lead. Q1 base potential is critically adjusted so that it is just conducting. Q2 also conducts and suppresses the carrier output from Q3. Any conductance across the grids drives Q1 base negative so that Q2 also ceases to conduct and permits the carrier output from Q3. A calibration circuit connects a succession of high-resistances of known value in parallel with the grids (this is simplified in the diagram to one resistor and a switch). A radio-frequency choke and capacitor filter eliminates radio interference. To make the detector more sensitive, a battery or equivalent d.c. supply of about 20 volts is connected with its positive terminal to earth in the ‘earthy’ lead to the grids. The resistor R2 affects both range and sensitivity and can be anything from 10 to 100 kilohms depending on requirements. The SET ZERO control is critical and necessitates a helical potentiometer. The signal output is connected to two emitter-follower stages in parallel to provide speaker and voltmeter monitoring and also an output to the tape-recorder. If used in any situation subject to severe a.c. mains interference particularly from overhead fluorescent lights, adequate screening will be required because of the high-impedance input, or alternatively balanced input amplifiers could be employed.
(9) The criticism that all the ostensible electrical conductance signals could have been the result of intentional or inadvertent contact between the sitters’ fingers and the grids during levitations of the table is largely disposed of by the experiments in Sitting No. 71 reported above. When the detector-amplifier controls were set so that conductance could only be recorded if the ohmic resistance across the grids fell below one megohm, the resulting signals could perhaps have been due to finger contact. But when the bridge controls were set at 100 kilohm, no conductance signals were recorded on the charts. This was carefully checked by a re-transcription of the tape at maximum amplifier sensitivity and without any doubt, the amplifier system did not record any contact between the grids and anything normal or paranormal when the controls were at the 100-kilohm setting. Independent tests show that when different people press even one finger on a Veroboard grid, the ohmic resistance produced varies greatly and often quickly from…
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