Informational psychic phenomena
In this chapter we shall touch briefly on those psychic phenomena which involve the transfer of information rather than the movements of matter in space-time. It may be, but is not necessarily, true that information cannot be transferred except by means of photons or through similar channels.
It may on the other hand be that these informational phenomena fall into the category ‘quasi-physical’ rather than ‘physical’. Since the phenomena are sometimes displayed by metal-benders, so that there could be a connection, we cannot ignore them entirely. They may be classified as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and psychometric information, and the phenomena are sometimes termed ‘extra-sensory perception’ (ESP).
‘Telepathy’ is the transfer of information between humans or other living beings by extra-sensory means. ‘Clairvoyance’ is the reception by a human of information about physical events. This is said to be ‘precognitive’ or ‘retrocognitive’ when the moment of transfer precedes or follows the events. By psychometric information is meant information received from a physical object (e.g. ‘This knife once killed Mr X’).
Inevitably, since I am a physicist and not a parapsychologist, my approach will be less professional; indeed I have made an effort to avoid involvements with study of the possible telepathic abilities of the metal-benders simply because I have less experience in such studies than I have at observing physical phenomena. But since I found that some of the children had reported plausible telepathic experiences, I will not avoid describing a little of what has happened.
In order to establish in the laboratory the reality of the various forms of ESP, and in particular telepathy, careful protocols are necessary. The subject of parapsychology, in which scientists claim to have proved the reality of ESP in numerous experiments, is often considered to have been established by J.B. Rhine and his collaborators at Duke University in the USA during the early 1930s. There had been experimentation before this, by many investigators, who either found gifted subjects, or found themselves to be gifted. The Oxford classical scholar Gilbert Murray conducted more than five hundred experiments in his home between 1910 and 1915; he was himself required to guess ‘events’ in the minds of other people in the room, who had previously been asked to agree on an event and to think about it simultaneously. His success seems not to have been explicable in terms of ‘hyperaesthesia’ or abnormally keen hearing. In the written accounts, we are given some charming examples of events which had been chosen, e.g. ‘Mother hitting the purser with a skipping-rope’, and we are told that a 33 per cent success rate was achieved, with 28 per cent partial success and 39 per cent failure. This was a similar success rate to that obtained in the well-known Pearce-Pratt card-guessing experiments at Duke, but when these were criticized by psychologists, more elaborate protocols were established; in the subsequent Pratt-Woodruff tests the success rates were lower. Many parapsychologists have conducted telepathy and clairvoyance experiments, and the success rate seems to have been dependent on many factors, including dependence on the experimenter himself. The success also declines as the experiment progresses, so that we know that we are dealing not with a repeatable and exactly controllable phenomenon, but with an elusive human faculty. Surprising success rates have been claimed in government-sponsored experiments – 75 per cent in the fictitious transmissions to the US submarine Nautilus, and 48 per cent in allegedly real Novosibirsk tests. What is surprising is that this possibly strategically valuable information should have been released by governments; perhaps the public does not yet know which experiments are fictitious and which are real. Nevertheless there is a long tradition of ESP research in the Soviet Union, founded by Professor Vassiliev at the University of Leningrad.
A significant variant of telepathic transmission was first investigated by Abramovski:(69) that of recently forgotten facts. X tells Y a list of words, and Y then writes down as many as he can remember (a high score must be rewarded, for reasons soon to become obvious). X later concentrates sequentially on single words, attempting to transmit them mentally. Y is asked to recall. In the experiments carried out in the Psychological Institute in Warsaw, 154 out of 324 words were successfully recalled. Possibly this speciaised kind of telepathy is easier to develop than the more general phenomenon.
When Uri Geller first visited Britain and appeared on television he always included ‘mentalism’ (demonstration of ESP) in his repertoire. Particularly frequent was the blind ‘guessing’ of simple drawings. Such ‘free response’ (Free response experiments are contrasted with ‘forced choice’ of targets.) exercises are open to the following disadvantages:
l There are many well-known methods of fraud.
2 It is difficult to determine just how much information there is in each drawing.
3 It is difficult to know how much of the transmission is by geometrical pattern and how much by content. Also failure can occur because of poor drawing ability or ignorance of the subject-matter.
4 Judgment of success is not always straightforward. In particular, it is very difficult to design a control experiment in which the chance of a random guess succeeding can be accurately assessed.(70)
However, there are overriding advantages of playing telepathic drawing games, as follows:
1 They are interesting and provide good motivation.
2 They require very little equipment.
3 The short time taken for an experiment makes it easier to avoid fraud on the part of the psychic than would be the case in a more lengthy experiment.
The ‘sender’ draws something relatively simple on a writing-pad in such a way that the receiver does not see what is being drawn. The sender should not draw an object visible to the receiver, or otherwise to the forefront of the conversation, and he should not state whether it is a representation or a geometrical pattern. The ‘receiver’ attempts to imagine and copy this drawing onto his own pad without seeing the original. Comparison is then made, preferably by an independent judge.
Laboratory studies of extra-sensory perception, widely conducted in the USA, Britain and elsewhere, are obviously a good deal more careful and systematic than the above, but there are several reasons why a lower success rate is usually achieved in extended studies. My judgment is that the important thing about telepathy is its spontaneity. The mind of the telepathist at an unpredictable moment receives information, and with experience he can sense that the information has not come to him through normal channels. Not many people regard themselves as reliable telepathists (although at one time it was almost a profession), and it is not very often that the minds of telepathists receive telepathic or clairvoyant information. But when they do receive it, the information is essentially correct. If it is incorrect, the error is usually in the deduction that the brain makes from incomplete information, since a telepathic link is often fragmentary.
It follows that when a telepathist is tested, for example on guessing the symbols on a parapsychologist’s ‘Zener cards’, there must be many occasions on which no telepathic information comes to him, and he therefore simply guesses at the card. An attempt is made to allow for this by permitting him to ‘pass’ or refuse the card if he wishes. But we have no way of knowing if he always ‘passes’ when no information comes. So there is a contribution from the telepathist’s inability to distinguish telepathic information from a mere whim or fancy. And the fact that low success rates are usually achieved in such experiments indicates that the ability is small. This has led to the suggestion that there is no difference between telepathy and lucky guesses. To know the difference is the skill of the telepathist – he must know when to keep silent. The existence of the so-called ‘decline effect’ in telepathy experiments – the failure of a subject to keep up his originally good score – supports this point of view.
The ‘sending of drawings’ game has something of a built-in protection against decline effect; when one is bored or afraid of failure, one just stops. The most successful telepathy games that I have organized amongst metal-benders were played at a rate of three pictures each day after school. For a few days Richard B. was able to receive about 70 per cent of the pictures sent by my son John Andrew over a distance of ten miles. Some of the pictures are shown in Figure 23.1 In Figure 23.2 I also include some data obtained in casual sessions I have had personally with Uri Geller. Although I am aware of most of the pitfalls encountered in playing drawing games with a television performer, I am reasonably certain that these pictures are not just a load of nonsense.
When the game is played with both sender and receiver in a single room, it is more difficult to guard against cheating by the receiver than it is by the sender or by both in collusion. The sender must be seen to record his drawing under conditions such that he cannot communicate normally with the receiver (this is fairly easy to organise); he must also be unable to tamper with the drawing after it has been made.
However, the receiver’s methods of breaking down the security of the sender are more difficult to detect. I have never felt confident of my own security when sending to a professional mentalist, from whom it is difficult to conceal the movements of the pencil; therefore under these conditions I prefer to receive myself, since it is easy for me to know that I have not myself cheated, and that tampering afterwards was impossible, provided that the sender relinquished his drawing to me before I uncovered mine. Under these conditions I have myself successfully received from Uri Geller, although I am usually a poor receiver and sender.
Another form of experiment popular among investigators is known as remote viewing.(15) The receiver is kept in a room and is asked at a predetermined time to guess and record graphically and verbally the visual impressions that the sender is having of the place to which he has traveled. Photographic and other records are kept of this place, for the independent judgment of success rate. Unexpectedly high rates have been obtained not only with recognized psychics but with subjects who had not suspected their ability (including representatives of the government agency sponsoring the research). So far as I know, this type of receiving (or sending) ability has not been tested in metal-benders.
Telepathy is usually regarded as the paranormal transmission of information between two brains or minds, and is thus distinguished from clairvoyance (paranormal knowledge of physical objects) and from pre- or retrocognition (paranormal knowledge of events before or after they happen). Clearly the most advanced form of telepathy is when a two-way mental conversation takes place between two people remote from each other. One of the metal-bending children has had such an experience. I quote his father’s report:
Figure 23.1 Six drawings made by my son John Andrew and ‘sent’ telepathically over a distance of several miles to Richard B., whose attempts to reproduce them appear on the right side of each one.
Figure 23.2 Drawings (left) (A-G and 1-10) made by my wife Lynn, Dr Ted Bastin and myself, and guessed (right) by Uri Geller, with reasonable precautions against pencil-watching, surreptitious drawing, etc. item G was drawn by Geller and guessed in g by me.
In September 1975 my son told me he was receiving a message and I got the details from him by asking him questions and getting him to spell out names. I afterwards checked in an atlas and found a village in Russia with the name he had given and in the geographical situation he had described
Q: From which country? A: Russia.
Q: Boy or girl? A: Girl.
Q: Age? A: Girl.
Q: Name? A: E.P.
Q: Any brothers? A: One.
Q: Age? A: 12.
Q: Sisters? A: Two, ages 2 and 3.
Q: Father’s name? A: C.
Q: Mother’s name? A: L.
Q: Where do they live? A: S.
Q: What is it like? A: Near water. The wide part of a river where it opens up into a lake, on the outskirts of a village. There is no address could be a farm. Not very good roads cart tracks. A community of 3 families.
Q: How do your family make a living? A: Crops (could be potatoes).
Q: Is the river big or small? A: Very wide where she lives; there is a small waterfall where the river widens.
Q: Do you wear jeans? A: No.
Q: Is she better at telepathy than me? Has she sent out before? A: She has received – not sent.
Q: Has she worked with scientists? A: No but she knows people who have. She knows someone, a great person, who can talk like this. Her name is Madame Kulinga.
The word ‘Luneburg’ is also in the notes I made, but I have not noted the question to which it applied. Apart from reference to the atlas, none of the information has since been verified or tested.
Independent unofficial checking of this information is in progress. Real names have been omitted for this reason.
An informational phenomenon with strong physiological overtones is ‘automatic writing’. As a form of automatism it is to be classified with automatic speech (cf. de la Tourette’s syndrome), sleep-walking, and actions under hypnotic trance. But it is the information that comes out of the unconscious mind rather than the physiology that concerns us here. More than one metal-bender has displayed these talents. The subject’s hand moves automatically over the paper, holding pen or pencil; a handwriting and word style quite different from his usual graphic output is produced. Sometimes what is written is information unknown to the conscious mind of the subject; not just forgotten material, but material which the subject is most unlikely to have come across; sometimes it is in foreign, even remote, languages.
In the last century automatic writing was often considered to be a mild form of possession by a discarnate entity or spirit, from whom the information derived. But now the most usual interpretation is that the unconscious mind is responsible for the automatism and is providing the information, having had access to it through an ESP channel. It must be recorded that much of the credit for the provision of an alternative to the spirit hypothesis belongs to Madame H.P. Blavatsky. But it must also be borne in mind that the participation of a discarnate entity is something which cannot be proved or disproved; the unconscious mind may well be capable of producing information having its apparent origin in a spirit; or it may not.
There is also an informational phenomenon, with very strong psychokinetic involvement, known as ‘direct writing’. It is supposed that the pencil stands up and writes on its own. I have never observed such an event and, like most people, I find it difficult to accept. But I have complete records and reports of a series of such events from the family of one of the metal-benders: the writing starts by being merely blobs and scratches; then it becomes scrawled curves, then single letters, then short words appear; finally whole sentences are written. But the informational content of this particular case was unremarkable. The father encouraged the writing by leaving paper with written questions, hoping that answers would appear; although their mode of appearance was unobserved, answers did appear. And they were framed in the first person singular, as though what was answering had a personality of its own. The father interpreted this as the participation of a discarnate entity; but the metal-bending child refused to accept this, and believed that he himself was in some way responsible. Thus the unanswerable question of the origin of the words and sentences and indeed the poltergeist events by which they were accompanied directly confronts the observers.
An activity rather similar to direct writing is to induce the reception of information from unknown sources. This activity was first reported in 1880 by the journalist A.P. Sinnett.(71) In 1978 metal-benders Gill Costin and Kim Griffiths tried to teleport letters to Uri Geller, who never received them. But they received ‘apports’, including some letters, whose origin is completely unknown. The information in them appears to come from some sort of ‘knowledge store’ (or possibly the subliminal memory). The phenomenon is rather like speaking with tongues or automatic writing in remote languages. Here are some quotations from their letters:
1 ‘Die Geisterwelt ist nicht verschlossen’
The first Greek quotation is from the Iliad (2:56), with slight alterations; it means: ‘There came to me in the night a divine dream.’ The second is from Acts 2 :17, and means: ‘The older of you will have a dream during the night.’ These are of course well known and were traced for me in five minutes by Professor Giangrande. The quotation from Goethe’s Faust is also well known.
Possibly ‘Radwan’ refers to the noble Radovan,(72) son of Knight George, nephew of the Venetian premeditor of Zang, and hero of a Guslerlied (song with south Slav musical instrument): Radovan simulated death in a yoga-trance in order to escape prison.
Presumably ‘Nepesh’ is a reference to the ancient Egyptian word for the soul.
It is an interesting collection to be turned up by two teen-age girls, and many people will speculate that they researched the items themselves, possibly with help from school. But if one meets Gill and Kim, one finds this very difficult to believe.
Such communications are sometimes received by psychics, for example Margo Williams, in the form of clairaudience (voices), clairvoyance (pictures), or automatic writing. Sometimes they have been interpreted as information from men and women living as long as two centuries ago. This type of ESP is known as ‘drop-in communications’.
It would seem that telepathy is likely to be of very much significance or value only when it is reasonably reliable. Knowledge of when it is reliable is the most difficult thing to achieve, and we have argued that statistical experiments test this knowledge and not the telepathy itself.
Engineers have taken the published success rates of different subjects and calculated that if they were used in parallel – i.e. if we accept a message only when it is confirmed by sufficient subjects – then for 90 per cent reliability we must use more than ten good subjects at each end; we would then be able to transmit information at the rate of 0.04 bits/sec. This is surely the slowest telecommunication system so far designed! But it is largely, although not entirely, independent of distance. Experiments have been conducted over huge distances, and ‘firsts’ claimed for information received across the Atlantic, etc. Electromagnetic screening appears to have little effect; in the recent researches of Targ and Puthoff(15) on remote viewing, there have been successes with sending from underground sites, as well as from coast to coast across the United States.
These features, together with the more unusual precognitive and retrocognitive communications, have led to the dissatisfaction of most scientists with the electromagnetic interpretation of telepathy, which is that the brain receives the information carried by some form of modulation of electromagnetic waves. The difficulties of this theory are manifold: first, that the time-varying electric potentials at the surface of the skull (electroencephalographs, or EEG) are many orders of magnitude too weak for transmission and apparently do not carry information anyway; second, that the brain is not of suitable design to receive and unravel purely electromagnetic signals with any efficiency; third, that only extra low frequency and long wavelength radiation (ELF waves) could traverse the long distances and overcome screening, and such waves have an information-carrying ability which is far too small; fourth, telepathy by electromagnetic waves would be expected to show distance and screening effects, and these are not consistently measurable in remote viewing and similar experiments; fifth, no mechanism for precognitive or retrocognitive effects is envisaged in the electromagnetic interpretation.
There have been other physical candidates for a telepathic carrier wave, but all suffer from similar inadequacies. It really appears as though physics must provide new concepts before any physical explanation can be sought.
In this situation we are tempted to postulate simply that telepathy is a mode of behaviour of minds, having such-and-such properties, as elucidated by experiments. Minds apparently have properties which are at present outside the scope of physical science. These properties are best described as ‘trans-spatial’ and ‘trans-temporal’, in that both space and time are transcended.
The ‘trans-spatial’ characteristic would render the question of distance effects in telepathy irrelevant – as indeed it seems to be at present. It also makes the question, ‘Where is the mind?’ a meaningless one, since the word ‘where’ implies space. Certainly, minds seem to work in close conjunction with brains situated within the cranium; but their conjunction with other parts of space may also be possible.
A ‘trans-temporal’ characteristic is necessary for the interpretation of precognition and retrocognition. Possibly it is not the precognition of physical events which is the primary channel, but rather the precognitive contact with other minds which have contact with the physical events via the normal channels of brain and senses. It may further be the case that there is a vast mental store in which the entire spatio-temporal physical sequence of the universe is held; access to this store on the part of a single mind is tenuous, but could be precognitive or retrocognitive in nature. We are tempted to propose that the singularity of individual minds is itself only a concept assumed for convenience, and possibly only with partial truth. Thus we approach the ‘collective unconscious’, a concept advanced by Jung.(73)
Of all the mental psychic phenomena, precognition is probably the most significant; I have heard it described as the ‘senior phenomenon’. But in my experience it is rare amongst metal-benders. Several of the children have had clear visions which they have taken to be precognitive or retrocognitive – visions of supposedly future or past events; but it is difficult to specify details which provide convincing evidence that the visions eventually became reality.
Kim Griffiths, the metal-bender who had received the quotation from the Iliad, later told me about further ‘messages’; this time there were precognitive elements. I quote them because they are typically fragmentary.
About Radwan. I think there’s a Dr E Jensen. Something about 1934. (There was in fact a Harley Street physician of this name in the 1930s, and he did become centrally interested in spiritual healing phenomena. But I have as yet been unable to find any connection with Radwan.)
I seem to get ideas all at once about things . . . I saw a signpost to Cambridge . . . is there a meeting about these things going on there? . . . One of the people was something to do with chemistry.
(Yes. I had just been to the Society for Psychical Research meeting there, but there was minimal publicity. Several chemists were present.)
The other day I thought about somewhere very cold. I could see it like a film on a screen.
(I had recently returned from a scientific meeting in Iceland.)
Something about a greater power under the snow there. A holy water. Stream or river?
(I was indirectly concerned with an important but confidential issue about dowsing for new hot springs, on which much of the home heating of Iceland depends.)
And something to do with the Russians . . . radiation.
(A talk had been given on Russian high power radio transmissions at the conference.)
A name starting Nanda or Nana Indian I think.
(Presumably Nana Dwaku, the priest whose levitation above the fire had been filmed.(61) I had recently seen this film for the first time and become interested in it, but it had not been shown in England so far as I know.)
Tell the Professor Hasted that four computers have been told to switch off but have not. This shows how research must go on. These computers are here in G.B. The Manchester people. No. Not right. Moore.
(I did not bother to contact my friends at the new Computer Centre at Daresbury, near Manchester, but I received something of a jolt when I saw the name Moore, which could refer to Laurie Moore, the manager of the computer link in our College. I talked to Laurie, without leading him, about the possible phasing out of computers, and he told me that, of the large London University computers, four and four only were for the chop. But this was news to me, since the University computing services are large and complex.
Two days later I was talking to Professor H.. who volunteered the information that one of my research laboratories in another college of London University could be threatened when the IBM 370 (one of these four) came to be phased out. Relocation of services in its old space and elsewhere in the college would trigger off an accommodation squeeze possibly threatening my atomic collisions research.)
If this interpretation of Kim Griffiths’s ‘message’ is correct, there is no doubt that the last part is ‘trans-temporal’, if not precognitive. There seems to be no normal channel by which the confidential information could have traveled to the Bedfordshire family before it reached me. At the same time, like so many ‘psychic stories’. it depends very much on interpretation.
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