Possible Geomagnetic Field Effects in Psi Phenomena
Parapsychology is the scientific study of anomalous interactions. These interactions may be between organisms and their environment or between organisms and other organisms. They are anomalous because they seem to disregard mainstream science’s notions of time, space, and energy. Parapsychology is sometimes called “psychical research,” or “psi research.” The word “psi” refers to the anomalous interactions studied by parapsychologists. Examples of these interactions are reports of telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis, life after death, and past-life experiences.
Each of these reports can be studied in several ways. Parapsychologists use questionnaires, interviews, and field observations. In each of these cases, there is a possibility that conventional scientific explanations can account for the report. Some of these explanations are subtle sensory or motor activity, misinterpretation, poor memory for an event, and deliberate fraud. If an investigation systematically eliminates conventional scientific explanations, that research is performed under “psi task conditions.”
Phenomena obtained under psi task conditions can be regarded as anomalous because they appear to transcend the constraints of time, space, or energy. Over the past century, considerable research has been conducted in an attempt to understand psi phenomena and to determine whether they are worthy of continued attention and investigation. The understanding of the conditions under which psi phenomena occur would accelerate acceptance of these phenomena as legitimate areas of investigation by mainstream science.
Complex Systems and Field Effects
For ten years, I conducted research on the problem of anomalous dreams at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City. With Montague Ullman, Charles Honorton, and other colleagues, I published dozens of articles on this research in scientific journals. Our team used volunteer dreamers who spent one or more nights in a sleep laboratory. They were awakened whenever their brain waves and eye movements indicated that they were dreaming. In some experiments they attempted to dream about a picture postcard that would be randomly selected the next day. In other experiments, they tried to dream about a picture that had been chosen randomly once they went to bed and that was being focused upon by an experimenter in a distant room. In other experiments, they tried to dream about a picture that had been chosen randomly but kept in a sealed envelope during the night. In this way, we studied precognition, telepathy, and clairvoyance in dreams under “psi task” conditions.
One night a reproduction of a painting from India was selected as the target picture for the experiment. It is named “Man with Arrows and Companions,” and portrays three men sitting out of doors near a rope coiled around a stake. The dreamer for that night had many dream reports that appeared to match the target picture. One dream report stated, “There were three men. The looked very tough. A setting that’s rural.” In another dream report, the dreamer spoke of “a group of men with cowboy suits and cowboy hats. Rope imagery appears in a very prominent way.”
A team of judges attempted to match dreams and target pictures without knowing the actual order. In the case of this experimental session, all three judges correctly matched the target picture and the dream reports (Ullman, Krippner, & Vaughan, 1989). Research participants also did their own matching before the correct picture was identified. Most of our research studies produced statistically significant results (Ullman, Krippner, & Vaughan, 1989).
I had met Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1968) as a graduate student at Northwestern University and had maintained my interest in his theory of general systems. A system may be described as any pattern of elements in mutual interaction. The boundaries of a system depend on the activity under consideration. It was apparent to me that psi is a complex system with very wide boundaries. I speculated on the conditions which would increase the appearance of psi in our experiments.
The appearance of psi in dreams suggested that there were psychological conditions that favor its appearance. These conditions included altered states of consciousness, the relationship between the dreamer and the researcher, and the nature of the target picture used for the experiment. Various aspects of a research participant’s personality also seem to be important, and have been intensively studied over the years (e.g., Palmer, 1994). I suspected the existence of environmental conditions as well. I was especially interested in physical fields that could influence psi phenomena. The term “field” suggests a region of influence, presumed to exist in physical reality, that cannot be observed directly but which is inferred through its effects.
In 1970, our research team gathered data on three of these possibilities. They were the lunar cycle, sunspot activity, and changes in the geomagnetic field (Krippner, 1975, p. 127). Our research team found a relationship between all three of these factors and psi in dreams. The only one that reached statistical significance was our matching of phases of the moon. We found that psi seemed to operate better on nights of the full moon (Krippner, Becker, Cavallo, & Washburn, 1972).
A few years later I met Michael Persinger, a Canadian neuroscientist. He was conducting research with geomagnetic fields and psi that was far more sophisticated than my earlier efforts. I invited him to write an article about his work and published it in a journal I was editing (Persinger, 1975). Persinger told me that the geomagnetic field has several components. The main component is created by the Earth itself, as if a huge bar magnet were running through the core of the Earth. Regular daffy and monthly variations occurs. These variations are due to several factors. Weather affects the daily or diurnal variations. Lunar changes affect the monthly variations. Major variations occur due to sunspot activity, as well. Changes in the geomagnetic field can be sudden and unpredictable. The best known example of charged particles from the sun interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field is the aurora borealis, often called the “Northern Lights” (Tart, 1988).
Persinger conducted an analysis of spontaneous cases of telepathy and clairvoyance. He found that these noted experiences were more likely to occur when the global geomagnetic activity was significantly quieter than the days before or the days after the experience. A day of low amplitude with slow, predictable variations is referred to as a quiet magnetic day. These were the days that were associated with reports of telepathy and clairvoyance (Persinger, 1985). About the same time, Marcia Adams (1986) studied the relationship between quiet magnetic days with success in remote viewing experiments, finding a positive connection.
A day of sudden and large amplitude changes is referred to as a magnetically stormy day. Persinger reported a tendency for reports of poltergeist and haunting experiences to occur on these days (Persinger, 1989). Psychokinesis, anomalous effects on distant objects or activity, has been studied in the laboratory under “psi task” conditions. An analysis of some of these experiments have indicated a tendency for them to occur most frequently on magnetically stormy days (Braud & Dennis, 1989).
Possible Geomagnetic Associations with Telepathy and Clairvoyance
Our work at Maimonides Medical Center provided experimental support for the occurence of psi in dreams. I told Persinger of my speculation that environmental factors were associated with this phenomenon. As a result of our discussion, Persinger suggested two hypotheses:
1. Nights on which psi was strong would also be nights that displayed the quietest geomagnetic activity compared to the days before and after.
2. Nights on which psi was weak or absent would not demonstrate this effect.
Persinger and I tested these hypotheses in two ways. First, we examined the initial night that each of sixty-two research participants in telepathic and clairvoyance dream experiments spent at our laboratory. For our analysis, we used the results of the matchings made by the research participants themselves. We classified the matches as “High Hits,” “Low Hits,” “High Misses,” and “Low Misses.” Geomagnetic measures for the northern hemisphere were determined for each night in the study. There were too few “Misses” to yield data adequate for analysis. However, a significant difference was observed between “High Hits” and “Low Hits.” “High Hits” were more likely to occur on quiet magnetic days when there were few electrical storms and sunspots (Persinger & Krippner, 1989).
Second, we tested these hypotheses with the matches made by a single research participant named William Erwin. Dr. Erwin was a psychoanalyst who had spent twenty separate, nonconsecutive nights at our laboratory. We assumed that using matches from a single subject would increase the detection of a geomagnetic effect. It would eliminate individual differences, and these were the largest source of variance in these studies.
The typical procedure followed by Dr. Erwin was for him to arrive at the laboratory in time to interact with the “transmitter.” The transmitter was the person who would spend much of the night looking at the picture target. This picture was randomly selected after Dr. Erwin had gone to bed. The transmitter was isolated from Dr. Erwin. He spent the night in a distant room. After electrodes were attached to Dr. Erwin’s head, Dr. Erwin parted company with the transmitter and entered a soundproof room.
Two experimenters took turns watching Dr. Erwin’s brain waves and eye movements on an EEG machine. Near the end of each period of rapid eye movement sleep, Dr. Erwin was awakened. He was asked to describe the dream content that he remembered. His remarks were tape recorded. So was a morning interview in which he gave associations to his dream report. Neither Dr. Erwin or the experimenters knew the identity of the target picture.
The tape recorded remarks were typed and sent to three judges. Erwin also matched his own dreams to the target pictures when the experiment ended. Ten of the nights were “High Hits” while the remaining ten fell outside of this range. One of the “High Hits” was obtained when the target picture was “School of the Dance” by the French painter Degas. The painting portrays several girls in white ballet costumes in a dance studio. Dr. Erwin had one dream about “being in a class. The instructor was young. She was attractive.” A later dream report noted, “There was one little girl who was trying to dance with me” (Ullman, Krippner, & Vaughan, 1989).
During the time period when Dr. Erwin was asleep, there was a significant positive correlation between geomagnetic activity and his scores. The strongest correlations between the score and the geomagnetic activity occurred during the time when most of the dream reports were collected, that is, during the latter part of the night (Krippner & Persinger, 1996).
Possible Geomagnetic Associations with Precognition
Telepathy and clairvoyance are examples of psi that involve minimal time displacement between the event and the experience. However, precognition is an example of psi that involves significant time displacement between the experience and the event. Some research studies in precognition show little or no geomagnetic effect.
Alan Vaughan was one of the “sensitives” who obtained many “High Hits” in our dream studies. Dr. Vaughan has been recording his dreams since 1968 when he participated in a study focusing on precognition. He noted those that contained what he considered a detailed, literal correspondence to a future event. Most of these dreams contained three or more exact details about the future event.
Vaughan sent the physicist James Spottiswoode the dates of sixty-one of his own dreams that he thought were precognitive. Spottiswoode compared the geomagnetic activity of the nights of these dreams with that of ten days before and ten days after. There was significantly less geomagnetic activity on the nights of the precognitive dreams than ten days before and ten days after.
As in several earlier geomagnetic studies of self-reported precognitive dreams, such as those sent in by magazine readers and published with the date of the dream, Vaughan’s dreams were not collected under “psi task” conditions. As a result, they are only suggestive of an association with geomagnetic activity. However, the association is strong enough to justify further research under better conditions.
One of these dreams took place when Vaughan was living in Germany. He described the dream to me in a letter which I received on June fourth, 1968. The dream contained many frightening episodes involving the murder of Robert Kennedy. At that time, Kennedy was trying to obtain a nomination for the presidency of the United States. On June sixth, Mr. Kennedy was assassinated (Ullman, Krippner, & Vaughan, 1989, p. 145).
Possible Geomagnetic Associations with Psychokinesis
Over the years, reports of psychokinesis have been associated with sunspots and electrical storms, as measured by magnetometers. Therefore, my associates and I held several sessions with a “sensitive” named Amyr Amiden. These sessions were held at the City of Peace Foundation in Brasilia. We obtained a magnetometer from the University of Brasilia and placed it in an outdoor structure. One of my associates used it to recorded local geomagnetic activity every two minutes.
The settings for our research varied, but most of them were in an office where we sat in comfortable chairs around a table. Amiden drove to the Foundation, was met in the lobby by one or more team members, and escorted to the office. In other words, there was no occasion during which he entered the room before the session. Several sessions were held in the Meditation House of the Foundation. I investigated this site each morning to be sure it contained no unusual objects which could later be labeled “materializations.” When the Foundation restaurant was the setting, Amiden entered and left with other group members. From the time that he arrived at the Foundation to the time that he departed, Amiden always was in the presence of one or more member of the group.
When one or more team members felt that an unusual event had occurred, field notes were taken by me and an associate. Periodically, three members of our team rated each of these events on a five-point scale. A score of one meant that there was no apparent anomaly. A score of five meant that there was an extraordinary apparent anomaly. The average score was used in statistical analysis.
For example, one of my associates noticed four black marks on a bedroom door. This event was given an average rating of 1.0 because someone else recalled that a poster had been taped on this door a week earlier.
A different example occurred while our group was seated in the office. Suddenly, a religious medallion seemed to drop to the floor from the ceiling. This event received an average rating of 5.0. So did the appearance of another medallion a few minutes later.
Over eight days, a total of twenty sessions was held with Mr. Amiden. Ninety-one events were judged to have been anomalous to some degree. Each geomagnetic reading was paired with the event nearest to it in time. Unfortunately, geomagnetic readings, were taken on only three days because the magnetometer was not available for the other sessions. Nevertheless, the geomagnetic readings preceded by apparently anomalous events produced statistically significant results. The geomagnetic readings followed by apparently anomalous events did not produce statistically significant results. When the geomagnetic readings were matched with apparently anomalous events nearest to it in time, whether before or after, the results were statistically significant.
The Geomagnetic Indices Bulletin for March, 1994 lists the fifteenth of March and the tenth of March as the first and second “most magnetically disturbed” days of the month. These are two of the three days when we observed the most apparently anomalous events when Mr. Amiden was present. The same bulletin lists the twentieth of March as one of the “most magnetically quiet” of the month. This-was the only day during our sessions when no events were judged to have been anomalous.
My associates and I observed the appearance of many objects under unusual conditions. Sometimes they would appear at a great distance from Mr. Amiden, even in a different room than the room where he was located. Nevertheless, these phenomena were not observed under “psi task” conditions. In future research of this nature, it would be necessary to include a skilled magician on the research team. It would also be helpful to take constant physiological measurements of the “sensitive” as well as constant geomagnetic measurements of the environment.
Nevertheless, we are grateful for Mr. Amiden’s cooperation. We believe that this study resulted in a procedure that could be used to study other “sensitives” under “psi task” conditions.
My perspective on psi phenomena is that they may not be understandable using standard linear, reductionistic research methods. Psi research may require more holistic approaches that lend themselves to describing psi as a complex system. Once this has been done, it may be possible to describe psi in terms of specific mechanisms. In other words, psi may reflect the operations of an interactive, nonlinear, dynamic system. If so, chaos and complexity theories as well as systems methodologies are needed to study psi phenomena.
It is likely that geomagnetic activity is only one of several factors in a complex system that favors the occurrence of psi phenomena. Some other factors might include humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed, and ozone level. Many or all of these factors might play a role in what Ervin Laszlo (1993) calls the “psi field.” Perhaps this field can be enhanced or disrupted by environmental conditions. Furthermore, the field may operate differently for psychokinesis than it does for other psi phenomena. Two Brazilian investigators, Hernani Andrade (1967) and Carlos Tinoco (1982) also have written about field effects and parapsychology. In both instances, their models could be used to develop experimental programs.
It would be premature to state that the importance of the geomagnetic field has been conclusively demonstrated. There are dozens of research studies on this topic in the literature, and most of them show an association between geomagnetic activity and psi. However, the research methodology varies from study to study. There are two types of geomagnetic measures; the first is used in some studies while the second is used in other studies. Some studies use correlations to measure the geomagnetic effect but others use comparisons between two groups.
In the meantime, an analysis of nearly three thousand experimental sessions has been reported by James Spottiswoode and Edwin May (1997, Spottiswoode, 1997). Dr. Spottiswoode and Dr. May found statistically significant correlations between tri-hourly geomagnetic activity and accuracy on telepathy and clairvoyance tests. They referred to these tests as measures of “anomalous cognition.” Dr. Spottiswoode and Dr. May reported that the significant results were most evident when “anomalous cognition” was clearly present, as determined by tests conducted under psi task conditions. In other words, if there was no evidence of “anomalous cognition,” there were no significant correlations between the intensity of the geomagnetic activity and the magnitude of psi. In addition, they found that their statistical results were stronger if they took the local sidereal time into account.
Could the geomagnetic effect help explain the mechanisms behind psi phenomena? Perhaps geomagnetic fields can carry psi information and influence it in some unusual manner. Perhaps geomagnetic activity can produce subtle changes in the brain that enable it to obtain information or exert influence in unusual manners. Perhaps geomagnetic activity helps consciousness produce an effect on matter through quantum processes.
In conclusion, the possible contributions of the geomagnetic field to psi phenomena makes it imperative that researchers carefully record the date and hour of their experiments. Without this information, it is impossible to make the greatest possible use of experimental data. In a field where financial resources are meager, it is essential to utilize as completely as possible those data that are obtained under “psi task” conditions. I suspect that psi is a complex system. If so, the psychological, sociological, physiological, and environmental aspects of this system are all deserving of investigation.
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*Paper prepared for presentation at an international parapsychology conference held in Recife, Brazil, November 1997.
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