While much of the current debate around the existence of psi exists in the field of psychology and cultural studies, the history of psychical research is actually based as much, if not more, in the physical sciences and clinical medicine. In a recent piece for Reality Sandwich researcher Paul Devereux discusses the biophysical experiments of Dr. Michael Persinger and Blake Dotta at Laurentian University, Ontario, and how the evidence from experiments like these is bringing our attention back to the physical characteristics of the phenomena:
“Parapsychology generally provides its evidence in the form of statistics, and so is all too readily subject to the charge of “lies, damned lies and statistics” – how reliable is monitoring lots of subjective responses to laboratory tests, and why isn’t psi robustly repeatable in experimental conditions? When it comes to actual, real-life psi experiences – telepathic or precognitive events, apparitions and so forth – critics tend to level accusations of misperception or dishonesty against the claimants, and point out that in any case such reports are merely anecdotal, and not acceptable as scientific evidence. Mainstream scientists demand “hard” evidence (whether or not their idea of that is applicable to the mercurial nature of psi phenomena). But now, research by the redoubtable Michael Persinger, with Blake Dotta and their team at Laurentian University, Ontario, makes it look as if the hard-nosed sceptics can at last be confronted on their own ground. To do so, the Laurentian researchers have taken a different track to standard parapsychology – and it is all to do with light.
Persinger is famous (or infamous) for his so-called “God helmet”, a helmet that holds electrodes in place on the wearer’s temples that generate programmed patterns of weak magnetic fields which massage the temporal cortex producing sensations of unseen “presences” and other strange perceptions. (In fact, Persinger had developed this procedure to explore the neurological use of magnetism in therapy in place of pharmaceutical products.) But on the heels of this device, he and his co-workers developed a further instrument, nicknamed “the octopus” on account of all the wires involved. More properly known as a circumcerebral magnetic stimulation (CMS) device, this basically is comprised of solenoids (coils) set at intervals on a headband fitted around a person’s cranium. The solenoids are controlled by a computer program that enables them to rotate precisely configured weak magnetic pulses around the head. This magnetic stimulation can affect the brain in certain ways, including partially disrupting the 40 Hz so-called “binding factor” of the brain which normally seems to help pull all our sensory inputs together into a smooth, seamless perception of the world. Put in non-technical language, this disruption allows normally curtailed or masked information from “Mind-at-Large” to reach awareness. Some of this information can seemingly possess psi properties, whatever they turn out to be.”
Devereux mentions that he has tried an earlier version of the CMS device, with provocative results, and he feels that more research in this area is important. Persinger’s work builds on similar work being carried out at institutions like the Rhine Research Center, in Durham, North Carolina. The Rhine Bio-Energy Lab has been conducting research for the past 30 years on bio-photon emission from subjects initiating altered states of consciousness. This kind of research provides a much more direct approach to experimenting with the problem of mind/matter interaction.
Another interesting area of research which returns to the roots of psychical investigation is clinical parapsychology, which Annalisa Ventola, Executive Director of the Parapsychological Association, briefly details in a recent post at Public Parapsychology. Ventola explains that clinical parapsychology is a branch of research that helps “psychotherapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and family doctors who find themselves confronted with clients who report apparently “paranormal” emotional experiences, but do not exhibit the traditional signs of psychopathology.” Despite skeptical media accounts of the phenomena, Ventola mentions that “there are a small number of professionally-staffed outpatient clinics in Europe and South America that serve people experiencing paranormal emergencies. However, resources for those suffering in North America and other parts of the world are limited.” As she points out, “whether or not a variety paranormal experiences can be seen as scientifically proven phenomena is still a matter of debate. But reports of distress resulting from paranormal experiences in otherwise psychologically healthy people are widespread.”
This kind of research is central to the work of Rhine Research Center associates Dr. Christine Simmonds-Moore, University of West Georgia, who specializes in the overlaps between parapsychology, clinical psychology and mental health, and Dr. Jim Carpenter, whose therapeutic work with experiencers informs his recent publication, First Sight: ESP and Parapsychology in Everyday Life. Unexpected, or spontaneous psi events can be traumatic, and in cases where there is no history or sign of mental illness, sound guidelines for counseling are an important function of research into these liminal areas of human potential.
To read more about these expanded approaches to researching the outer limits of human experience head over to Reality Sandwich for Paul Devereux’s take on “Taking the Psychology Out of Parapsychology,” and visit the Public Parapsychology site for Annalisa Ventola’sreview of Perspectives of Clinical Parapsychology – An Introductory Reader.