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If psi phenomena exist, they likely have major implications for our understanding of the role of mind in the physical universe, of the nature of the interaction between the mental and physical realms (if these in fact are separate realms), and of the very nature of time and space.
This chapter is devoted to an examination of the various theories that have been proposed to explain psi phenomena. Some attempts have been made to explain psi phenomena in terms of the classical Newtonian physics that implicitly underlie the metaphysical mindset of the majority of the “orthodox” scientific community (with the exception of the physicists themselves, of course). In general, these attempts have not met with success. Other attempted theories involve extensions of our current views of space and time and quantum mechanics. A third genre of theories proposes the existence of a collective unconscious or collective mind. We will consider each of these theoretical genres in turn.
No one theory has gained general acceptance within the parapsychological community. As K. Ramakrishna Rao, a past President of the Parapsychological Association, has pointed out, the lack of any agreed-upon theory of psi is one reason for the general skepticism of the scientific establishment regarding the existence of parapsychological phenomena (Rao, 1977). Indeed, some skeptics, such as Antony Flew (1989), have explicitly cited the lack of such a theory as their reason for rejecting the evidence for psi. The lack of a viable theory has hindered the acceptance of hypotheses in other areas of science as well. For instance, Alfred Wegener’s ideas regarding continental drift were rejected for decades by the scientific community of geologists, despite an impressive array of geophysical evidence supporting them. It was not until the theory of plate tectonics had been developed and the vast amount of physical evidence for sea-floor spreading had accumulated that Wegener’s theory was finally accepted by the majority of geologists (see Morris, 1983, for a more detailed discussion of this controversy).
Thus, a powerful theory may be what is needed if the science of parapsychology is to gain general acceptance by the scientific community. Of course, the very elusiveness of psi phenomena makes it very difficult to test and refine such a theory. So long as psi effects manifest themselves so capriciously in experimental situations, it will be hard to construct a well-verified theory of psi.
Characteristics of a Good Scientific Theory.
One of the commonly accepted criteria for classifying a theory as scientific (or in some circles as meaningful at all) is that the theory should make specific predictions about the outcomes of experiments or other types of scientific observations. In other words, the theory must be capable of being proven wrong should the predictions prove erroneous. This is the criterion of “falsifiability” propounded by the philosopher Karl Popper (1959). Theories that do not yield any predictions regarding possible scientific observations are held to be unfalsifiable and are generally rejected as being unscientific. A large number of “crackpot” theories have been proposed to explain psi phenomena. These theories have invoked new fields or particles, such as “psi fields,” “psi-info waves,” “psychical fields,” “omnipotent consciousness fields,” ”i-ther” (an intelligent form of the ether once though to be the medium for carrying electromagnetic waves) and “bioplasma” (to name but a few proposed constructs), in order to explain ESP or PK. The authors of these theories have typically offered no reliable means of detecting or measuring their hypothetical fields, particles or energies, nor do they specify the properties of these entities in a sufficiently exact way that testable predictions can be derived from their theories. Thus, these theories do not qualify as scientific (or even as meaningful) under Popper’s falsifiability criterion, and they will therefore not be further considered in this chapter.
Before dismissing all such theories entirely, however, it should be noted that not all scientists and philosophers of science insist on strict adherence to the falsifiability criterion. For instance, physicist David Bohm and F. David Peat have argued that insistence on immediate falsifiability may stifle creative thought and innovation and discourage the creative playing with ideas that may eventually give rise to falsifiable theories (Bohm & Peat, 1987). In this context, they cite Democritus’ postulation of the existence of atoms, which stood as an untestable idea for millennia before giving rise to modern theories of the atom.
Two theories that make exactly the same predictions are said to be “operationally equivalent” and are often considered to be merely different verbal or mathematical formulations of the same theory. (Of course, it may be a bit chauvinistic on our part to regard two theories as identical simply because they make the same predictions regarding our possible experiences. Just because we with our limited senses and powers of investigation can’t distinguish between two theories does not necessarily mean that some privileged observer may not be able to distinguish between them. For instance, the hypothesis that reincarnation occurs but that one carries no trace of one’s previous personality or memory of one’s previous lives may be operationally equivalent for us to the hypothesis that no soul exists and that consciousness is totally extinguished at death, but to some intelligent alien capable of perceiving disembodied souls, the two hypotheses may be not at all equivalent.)
In instances in which two theories appear to be operationally equivalent, the theory that is more conservative in terms of postulating new entities and processes is usually held to be preferred over any less conservative rival. This injunction “not to multiply entities beyond necessity” is commonly known as Ockham’s Razor (after the fourteenth century philosopher William of Ockham). Thus, if a medium becomes apparently possessed by the spirit of someone’s dead uncle and proceeds to relate accurately details of that uncle’s life, it is more conservative to assume that the medium used his or her powers of telepathy (or even better yet from the conservative point of view, fraud) to obtain this information than to postulate the existence of disembodied spirits. This “super-ESP” hypothesis is preferred to the discarnate spirit hypothesis by most parapsychologists on the basis of Ockham’s Razor (which is ironically the same principle invoked by the skeptics to support their preference of the fraud/error/delusion hypothesis over the ESP hypothesis).
In some instances, hypotheses that at first glance appear to be unfalsifiable, and hence metaphysical rather than scientific in nature, can be rendered falsifiable through the use of an “operational definition.” Consider the question of “consciousness” in animal and computers. Are, for instance, dogs to be regarded as conscious? Amoebae? How about computers? Or thermostats? The famous neurophysiologist W. Grey Walter constructed mechanical “tortoises,” which ambulated about his house randomly until they ran low on power, at which point they would proceed to the nearest electrical socket to recharge themselves. Were Walter’s tortoises conscious? Did they feel a passion for communion with electrical sockets or a sense of anxiety and depression when their power became low? As discussed in Chapter 1, in order to resolve one of these questions, the mathematician Alan Turing (1950, 1964) proposed to define a computer as conscious if it could successfully imitate a human being to the extent that a person communicating through a teletype terminal could not discriminate between the computer’s remarks and those of the human being. Turing’s “imitation game” provided a means whereby the apparently metaphysical hypothesis of consciousness in computers could be given an operational definition and become subject to scientific test.
Alternate forms of rationality. A small minority of parapsychologists have on occasion called for a reexamination of the appropriateness of the traditional methods of science for the investigation of psi phenomena. In some cases, they have called for the abandonment of such methods in favor of alternate forms of rationality. Harman (1993), for instance, questions the ontological assumption of the separation of the observer from what is observed that he sees as underlying the modern scientific method. He calls for the adoption of “other ways of knowing,” such as intuition and mysticism, that are based on the assumption of an underlying “oneness” between the knower and the known. Tart (1972) observed that different states of consciousness (such as dreaming, marijuana intoxication, and religious ecstasy) are characterized by different forms of information processing and cognition, and he called for the development of “state specific sciences,” each to be based on the form of rationality characteristic of a particular state of consciousness. In making such suggestions, both Tart and Harman reflect a recent trend among historians, sociologists and philosophers of science to question whether there is one demonstrably correct form of rationality (see Dolby, 1979; Feyerbend, 1981; Collins & Pinch,1982; and Woolgar, 1988, for examples of this trend).
The takeover of large parts of the academic establishment by “social constructionists” and “epistemological relativists” who deny that there is any preferred mode of knowing and who treat all theories of the world, including modern science and its pseudoscientific brethren such as flat Earth theory and fundamentalist Creationism, as “socially constructed realities” and as on an equal footing has been described in much detail by Paul Gross and Norman Leavitt in their book Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrel with Science (Gross & Leavitt, 1994). This movement, however, took a huge blow in the chin and was largely discredited when Allan Sokal, a professor of physics at New York University, deliberately wrote a paper entitled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" that consisted of entirely meaningless gobbledygook and submitted it for publication to the “academic” journal Social Text, a publishing vehicle for social constructionists. Amazingly (although not to Sokal’s personal astonishment), it was accepted and published as Sokal (1996). Along with many other nonsensical assertions in the article, Sokal contended that the psychoanalytic speculations of the radical French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan have been confirmed by recent work in quantum field theory. The publication of Sokal’s article was a blow from which the radical social constructivist movement has yet to recover.
Traditional scientific methods have enjoyed a history of success in the prediction and control of nature. They have led to a convergence of thought that is unprecedented (with the possible exception of the occasional “pseudoconsensus” achieved through the ruthless exercise of religious or other authority). Mystical insight and religious inspiration have rarely led to consensus about the nature or number of gods or the purpose of the universe. Neither have the variant thought processes of the intoxicated or the schizophrenic led to a consistent alternative picture of realty. Of course, it may be argued that consistency is the hobgoblin of the unimaginative and that reality may not correspond to the consensus of the majority of scientists. It is also true that certain central issues have proven themselves relatively impervious to scientific investigation. Science has, for instance, no good explanation of why certain types of brain activity should be associated with or give rise to conscious experience. Neither is it able to offer an explanation of why the universe should have been created with its particular set of properties (it can only elucidate what those properties are). Thus, alternate forms of rationality may have their place and may even be necessary to address questions that are (at least at present) not answerable by science. However, if parapsychologists were to depart from traditional scientific methodology and adopt some form of alternative rationality, it is not clear that they would any longer be practicing science in any conventional sense of the term. It is clear that such action would result in the rejection of parapsychology as an unscientific enterprise by scientific establishment. This rejection would be legitimate under any standard use of the word “scientific.”
Having laid the “metatheoretic” background, we will now examine some of the theories that have been proposed to account for ESP and PK. Theories that are primarily directed to the problem of the relationship of the mind to the physical brain—and to the possible survival of the mind (or some portions thereof) of the death of the physical body—will be addressed later in the book.
Several theorists have invoked “warps” in spacetime or even extra dimensions of spacetime in order to explain psi. It is for instance difficult to explain apparent cases of telepathy between two people who are separated by thousands of miles on the basis of the exchange of any known physical signal over such distances. If it could be assumed that the people are really in much closer proximity than they seem to be due to the presence of a warp in spacetime or to a spacetime “wormhole” directly connecting them, then such long-range psi may not seem quite so problematic. Similarly, highly curved spacetimes may offer a means a getting a signal from a future event into the present, which might help to explain precognition.
“Spacewarp” Theories. Schmeidler (1972) proposed that the universe may contain an extra dimension in addition to the familiar four dimensions of space and time that might permit the “topological folding” of spacetime to occur. As a result of such folding, two regions that appear to be widely separated in space and time might actually be very close to one another in the higher-dimensional spacetime, much as two points on a towel that are normally far apart may be adjacent once the towel is folded.
The noted physicist John Wheeler (1962), a vehement skeptic regarding psi phenomena, has proposed that at a microscopic level, quantum effects may act to produce a spacetime structure containing “wormholes” or “bridges.” (The handle on a coffee cup might be thought of as a wormhole or bridge in the surface of the cup.) Wheeler proposed that such wormholes might connect pairs of oppositely charged particles such as electrons and positrons, and his proposed spacetime structure is sometimes referred to as the “quantum foam.” As Parker (1991) points out, however, Wheeler’s quantum foam theory is not accepted by most contemporary physicists. Several other scientists have speculated that such wormholes may exist on a macroscopic scale and that in some cases rotating black holes may generate wormhole tunnels to other regions of our own spacetime or even to a different universe that exists outside of the spacetime regions to which we have access.
Wormhole theories of psi have been proposed by Schmeidler’s one-time mentor, the noted psychologist Gardner Murphy (1964) as well as by Toben and Wolf (1982), although these theories are not spelled out in much mathematical detail. Morris (1990) points out that any attempt to travel through a wormhole or to send a signal through one will result in frustration, as the traveler or signal will emerge from the wormhole within the event horizon of another black hole, from which no escape is possible. Morris does note that there may exist a type of wormhole, called a Schwarzschild wormhole with the property that, if one were to travel through a Schwarzschild wormhole, one might be able to avoid emerging inside a black hole. It is, however, extremely doubtful that Schwarzschild wormholes exist. Another loophole may be provided by J. L. Friedman’s observations that naked singularities may exist (Friedman, 1991). A naked singularity is essentially a black hole that does not have an event horizon, so that escape would be possible from it (that is, it is an oxymoronic nonblack black hole).
In 1949, the famous mathematician Kurt Gödel (1949a, 1949b) demonstrated that Einstein’s theory of general relativity allows the existence of universes containing closed time lines. The notion of a closed time line is perhaps best explained by a spatial analogy. If a person were to begin walking due east and continue until she has circumnavigated the globe (obviously some water skiing would come into play), she would eventually return to her starting position, but from a westerly direction. Similarly, in a closed time line, if one were to travel far enough into the future, one would eventually return to the present moment (via the past).
One could readily imagine the perplexing experience of a transsexual traveler traversing a closed time line in a large spacecraft. He meets a woman who seems strangely familiar, who reminds him of his mother, but is obviously much younger. Being of an Oedipal nature and well-vaccinated to boot, he engages in a one-night stand, during which (unbeknownst to him) he impregnates her. Two years later he watches three consecutive transsexuals being brutally pummeled by their ex-lovers on a sleazy holovision show hosted by someone called Jerry Springer, IV, who is evidently also the mayor of Cincinnati. He realizes at that point that he has been living a lie and that he is a woman trapped in a man’s body. He has the newest, most advanced form of transsexual operation, which renders him a fertile woman. Taking advantage of a rebate offer, he has them throw in a rejuvenation procedure at the same time. A few years later, “he,” now she, meets a man at a bar who eerily reminds her of her younger self. Being narcissistic as well as well-vaccinated, she engages in a one-night stand, during which (unbeknownst to him) he impregnates her. Months later, she gives birth to a little boy. The birth is traumatic and she develops a white streak in her hair as a result. As she sits in the recovery room, she catches a glance at herself in the mirror. She recognizes her new look and realizes that she is her own mother. She has just given birth to herself.
If time were to be closed for the universe as a whole, everything would recur over and over again, the ultimate form of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1969) “eternal return.” The universe might collapse to a black hole and bounce back in a repeat of the Big Bang. We would all live the same lives over and over again on each iteration of the process. The Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece in fact believed in such a doctrine of eternal cyclic recurrence, which they termed palingenesia.
Several theorists have suggested ways in which anomalous spacetime regions might allow a physical particle to traverse a closed time line and arrive at its own “past.” The physicist Frank Tipler (1974) has proposed that a time machine could be constructed by rotating an extremely long cylindrical mass at an extraordinarily high speed, but observes that such a time machine would unfortunately collapse along its axis due to its own gravitational self-attraction before it could be put into service. Herbert (1988) has observed that a very rapidly rotating Kerr black hole would contain a naked ring singularity that would make travel from the Kerr hole to any location in spacetime (including one’s own past) possible. Morris and Thorne (1988) and Morris, Thorne and Yurtsever (1988) have suggested that a time machine might be produced by taking one of the two mouths of a wormhole, moving it rapidly back and forth and then returning it to the vicinity of the second mouth of the wormhole. After this process, travel through the wormhole would enable one to reach the past. More recently, J. Richard Gott of Princeton University has proposed that closed time loops may be created when two cosmic strings hurtle past each other at a high velocity. A rocket ship looping around both strings could arrive at its own past. Of course, the very existence of cosmic strings remains speculation at this point. Also, Gerard t’Hooft of the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Utrecht has pointed out that, if there were enough mass in the universe to construct a time machine along Gott’s lines, the universe would necessarily have to be closed (that is, would eventually collapse back upon itself due to its gravitational self-attraction). He further points out that any closed universe would necessarily collapse to a size smaller than any closed time path under Gott’s model, making the existence of a Gott time machine impossible. Furthermore, physicist Stephen Hawking has argued that any closed time line would destroy itself by generating a feedback loop leading to the build-up of an infinite amount of energy, destroying any time machine that might be created. Gott proposed a variant version of his theory involving a rapidly shrinking “loop” type of cosmic string, but the equations have proven difficult to solve for this case. See Lemonich (1991), Peterson (1994) and Travis (1992) for a discussion of the controversies surrounding Gott time machines.
If closed time lines exist, it might be possible to account for precognition in terms of a signal being emitted from the precognized event and arriving at the past by traveling along a portion of a closed time line.
“Spacewarp” theories of psi face several difficulties. The first is the possibility of logical paradoxes. If I could read the winning lottery numbers in today’s paper and send them in a message to my past self via a closed time loop, I could potentially make a huge killing. But this would entail the existence of two present moments, one in which I did not know the score and remained poor and one in which I was sent the lottery numbers and became rich. One way around this paradox would be to deny the existence of the moments in which I did not win the lottery, perhaps postulating that the message would somehow obliterate those moments so that it would be that they never existed. Another possibility would be to assert that the arrival of the message from my future, created two new “branches” in time, in one of which I don’t know tomorrow’s winning numbers and in one of which I do. Branching time models are discussed in more detail latter in this chapter. It is not clear that all closed-time loops must create logical paradoxes. For instance, in the above story in which the man became his whole family tree, no paradox necessarily occurred.
The huge curvatures of spacetime that would be required to explain psi phenomena occurring over the typically cosmically small space-time separations involved in spontaneous and experimentally-produced psi effects would undoubtedly involve the presence of very large gravitational fields under any standard interpretation of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. For the “spacewarp” explanation to be useful, it would probably be necessary to assume, say, that the participants in a case of telepathy were in closer proximity to a rotating black hole than they were to each other. In such a case, the gravitational tidal forces of the black hole would in all likelihood reduce a person to a molecular gas long before it conferred any paranormal powers upon him.
Similarly, the closed time lines generated in rotating universes under Gödel’s model are gigantic in size (Halpern, 1992). Also, it is doubtful that a precognitive message could remain intact throughout the universe’s collapse in the “Big Crunch” and reemergence in a “Big Bang” or even via passage through a black hole. However, in a well-publicized incident in 2004, famed black hole theorists Steven Hawking and Kip Thorne lost a bet to the Thorne’s Caltech colleague John Preskill, conceding that information is indeed preserved within a black hole (Rogers, 2004). Thus, at least one barrier to information transmission through a black hole has been removed.
Another problem is that no “spacewarp” theory of psi has been formalized and developed in such a way as to give rise to anything approaching exact predictions regarding observed psi phenomena (or indeed to any prediction not readily derived from far more accessible variables, such as psychological factors). Nor has any method been proposed to measure the psi-inducing spacewarp. Thus, at the present time, there is no true spacewarp theory of psi. There are only suggestions by various authors that it might be possible to construct such a theory using such concepts as wormholes, closed time lines and extra dimensions of spacetime. Until such a formalized, testable theory is constructed, the concept that psi phenomena may involve “spacewarps” remains only an intriguing speculation.
Multidimensional Spacetime Models. Several parapsychologists have proposed spacetime models with additional dimensions beyond the usual four in order to explain psi phenomena. The postulation of additional dimensions is one way to avoid the large gravitational fields required to produce wormholes and large curvatures of spacetime in standard interpretations of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Schmeidler’s postulation of an extra dimension of spacetime in order to permit “topological folding” to occur is essentially a theory of this type. The postulation of extra dimensions of spacetime may no longer be the radical move it once was, as physicists nowadays think nothing of toying with as many as 11 spacetime dimensions in “supersymmetric” theories of gravity. However, most of these dimensions are thought to be curved so severely that they become microscopic circles that are not noticeable at a macroscopic level; thus such dimensions do not provide a means of conveying a psi signal over macroscopic distances.
Hart (1956, 1965) proposed that the material universe is a cross-section of a five dimensional manifold. Smythies (1994, 2000, 2003) postulates the existence of three spatial dimensions and three additional spatial dimension to account for each conscious observer’s phenomenal space (space of mental imagery), resulting in 3n + 3 spatial dimensions altogether, where n is the number of conscious observers. However, as Chari (1977) noted long ago, in both Hart’s and Smythies’ models the “extra” dimensions have not been sufficiently formalized (i.e., no noncircular method of measuring them has been proposed) to enable scientific predictions to be drawn from them, so these theories must be regarded as untestable (and hence not scientific) in their present state of development.
Two versions of what is essentially the same multidimensional theory of spacetime have been proposed apparently independently by the team of Russell Targ, Hal Puthoff and Ed May (1979), and by physicist Elizabeth Rauscher (Rauscher 1979, 1983a, 1983b; Ramon & Rauscher, 1980). Targ, Puthoff and May state that they developed their model in collaboration with Gerald Feinberg. (Feinberg is a physicist well known for his postulation of tachyons, particles that move at a speed faster than light, as will be discussed in more detail below.) Both theories posit eight dimensions of space and time, although Rauscher proposed an alternative model employing six dimensions. In their latest collaborations, Rauscher and Targ (2001, 2002) propose an eight-dimensional model. Essentially what they propose is that events that seem to be widely separated in space and time may in fact be quite close together in the higher dimensional space.
Some background may be in order here. If two spacetime locations (events) are separated by distances of dx1, dx2, and dx3 in the three spatial dimensions, the spatial distance separating the events is √ (dx12 + dx22 + dx32). If c is the speed of time and dt is the length of a time interval, then the distance that can be covered by a photon (particle of light) in dt is c * dt. In Einstein’s theory of relativity, the spatial separation and time interval between two events are dependent on the observer’s state of motion. However, one quantity that is independent of the observer’s state of motion is the spacetime metric, given by the equation:
ds2 = dx12 + dx22 + dx32 - c2 dt2 (5.1)
The spacetime metric is thus equal to the square of the spatial distance between two events minus the square of distance that can be traveled by a photon in the time interval between the two events. If the spacetime interval is negative, then the spatial distance between the two events is less than the distance that can be traveled by a photon in the time interval separating the two events. In this case, the events are said to be “timelike separated” and it is possible to send a causal signal (e.g., physical particle) from the early to the later events (all known causal signals travel at the speed of light or slower in conventional theories of physics). If the spacetime metric is positive, then the spatial distance separating the events is greater than the distance that can be traveled by a causal signal whose speed is less than or equal to the speed of light. In this case, two events are said to be “spacelike separated.” No conventional causal signal can travel from one event to the other if the events are spacelike separated. It is thus impossible for one of the events to be the “cause” of the other.
What Targ, Rauscher and their coauthors (TRMPR) propose is that ordinary four-dimensional Minkowski spacetime may simply be the real part (in the mathematical sense of real numbers) of an eight-dimensional complex Minkowski spacetime (in the sense of having complex numbers as coordinates rather than real numbers). In this model, each spatial coordinate xk would be replaced by a complex coordinate xk + xk’i, where i is the “imaginary” square root of -1. Similarly the time coordinate t would be replaced by the complex coordinate t + t’i. Equation (5.1) would be replaced by the following equation:
ds2 = dx12 + dx’12 + dx22 + dx’22 + dx32 + dx’32 - c2 (dt2 + dt’2) (5.2)
TRMPR explain long-distance ESP on the basis that, by a suitable adjustment of the imaginary coordinates, the spacetime metric ds2 can be made to be negative between any two events and thus the events become timelike separated in the spacetime with complex coordinates. (Recall that in the ordinary theory of relativity, casual signals cannot be exchanged between spacelike separated events, although they can be exchanged between events with timelike separation.) Because they are timelike separated in this higher dimensional space, the two events would have zero spatial separation in some reference frame, although they would be separated by a longer “time” interval (when measured as the square root of dt2 + dt’2) than they were in ordinary spacetime.
There is thus a price to pay for reducing the spatial separation to zero. Similarly, in terms of precognition, through a suitable adjustment of the imaginary coordinates, the spacetime metric ds2 can be made to be positive so that the two events are spacelike separated in the higher dimensional space. Thus, due to the relativity of simultaneity in Einstein’s special theory of relativity, the events will be simultaneous for some observer, so that there is no time interval separating them for such an observer. It should be noted that despite TRMPR’s assertion that the spatial distance between two events can be reduced to zero for some observer in the higher dimensional system, this is accomplished at the price of increasing the time separation. Similarly, reducing the time interval to zero between two events comes at the price of increasing the spatial separation between them. The spatial and temporal intervals between two events that are separated in normal four-dimensional spacetime cannot both be reduced to zero in eight-dimensional spacetime. Thus, two events that are separated in normal four-dimensional spacetime cannot be “brought together” in TRMPR’s eight-dimensional spacetime. In fact, in a mathematical sense, the spacetime separation between two events can only be increased in TRMPR’s model.
This problem could be avoided by, say, the introduction of a fourth spatial dimension x4 and one extra time dimension t2 (in addition to the “usual” time dimension t1) whose coordinates are pure imaginary numbers. The spatial and temporal separation would then be purely imaginary numbers of the form dx4 i and dt2 i, where i is equal to √(-1). The equation for the spacetime interval would then become:
ds2 = dx12 + dx22 + dx32 - dx42 - c2 (dt12 - dt22) (5.3)
Now by adjusting the values of dx4 and dt2, the spatial and temporal distances between any two events could be adjusted to zero at the same time and thus the events could be “brought together” in the higher dimensional spacetime.
As TRMPR propose no means of measuring an object’s coordinates on their new dimensions, they are free to adjust these coordinates as they please to make things come out right. As the theory seems to be capable of explaining anything, it should be regarded as unfalsifiable and not worthy of consideration as a serious scientific theory. (The same remarks apply to Equation 5.3, which I have just presented, as I have not suggested any means of measuring the separations between two events on the fourth spatial and second time dimensions.) Walker (1981) has also noted that, assuming the inverse square law for gravitation is to be extended to the eight-dimensional space proposed by TRMPR, then the effects of these extra dimensions on planetary trajectories should have been long ago observed.
One writer who has expressed a virtually mystical enthusiasm for the possibility that the mysteries of the mind and psi might be explained in terms of higher dimensional space is the mathematician and sometimes science fiction writer Rudy Rucker. In his book The Fourth Dimension (Rucker, 1984), he reviews the history of the use of higher-dimensional models to explain psi phenomena and mystical experiences. He notes that the seventeenth century philosopher Henry More postulated that spirits are four-dimensional beings. He also cites J. C. F. Zöllner’s experiments with the medium Henry Slade, who was supposedly able to tie a knot in a closed loop of string by transporting it to a higher dimensional realm (Zöllner, 1901). Zöllner further proposed that a miraculous object such as interlocking rings composed of different types of wood would provide evidence of the existence of a higher dimensional reality. It will be recalled that John Beloff has also contended that such a “permanent paranormal object” might provide convincing evidence of the reality of psi phenomena, if not of higher dimensional realms (Beloff, 1984).
Rucker himself takes an almost mystical view of higher dimensional geometries. He seconds Ouspensky’s suggestion that dreams may afford a glimpse into our four-dimensional nature (see Ouspensky, 1912/1970, 1931/1971). Rucker suggests that seemingly separate individual persons may simply be parts of a higher unity, much as five seemingly independent circles on a two-dimensional plane may be the cross-sections of the fingers of a single three-dimensional hand.
Models of Time. There are quite a few spontaneous cases on record that seem to indicate that one can foresee an unpleasant event in the future and then perform some action to avoid that event. Thus, it seems that one might be able to change the future. This raises interesting philosophical and scientific questions about the nature of time. Louisa Rhine (1955) published a collection of such cases, and we will consider two of her cases here to give the reader a better sense of nature of such experiences. The first case is taken from her book Hidden Channels of the Mind:
In Washington State a young woman was so upset by a terrifying dream one night that she had to wake her husband and tell him about it. She had dreamed that a large ornamental chandelier which hung over their baby’s bed in the next room had fallen into the crib and crushed their baby to death. In the dream she could see herself and her husband standing amid the wreckage. The clock on the baby’s dresser said 4:35. In the distance she could hear the rain on the windowpane and the wind blowing outside.
But her husband just laughed at her. He said it was a silly dream, to forget it and go back to sleep; and in a matter of moments he did just that himself. But she could not sleep.
Finally, still frightened, she got out of bed and went to the baby’s room, got her and brought her back. On the way she stopped to look out the window, and saw a full moon, the weather calm and unlike the dream. Then, though feeling a little foolish, she got back into bed with the baby.
About two hours later they were wakened by a resounding crash. She jumped up, followed by her husband, and ran to the nursery. There, where the baby would have been lying, was the chandelier in the crib. They looked at each other and then at the clock. It stood at 4:35. Still a little skeptical they listened—to the sound of the rain on the windowpane and wind howling outside. (Rhine, 1961, pp. 198-199).
In another case in Rhine’s collection, a streetcar operator braked as he approached a one-way exit in order to avoid an accident that he had dreamed about that morning. At that moment, a truck containing the very same people who had been injured in the dream shot out into the street, having gone the wrong way through the one-way exit.
In both of these cases, it would seem that two different futures were involved. In the first (precognized) future, a negative event took place. In the second future, the one that actually occurred, the negative event was avoided.
Multidimensional time models. In order to account for such cases of precognition followed by intervention to prevent the precognized event from occurring, J. W. Dunne (1938) proposed the existence of additional dimensions of time. Dunne invoked a second time dimension (Time 2) to “clock” a person’s progress on the first, ordinary dimension of time (Time 1). Thus, in Dunne’s theory a person is conceived of as “moving” along the Time 1 dimension and occupying later and later moments on that dimension as Time 2 elapses.
Suppose for instance that a man named Harry has a vivid dream of being killed when the giant Snoopy balloon collapses during the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Suppose, that on the basis of this dream, he cancels his annual visit to his cherished parade and goes to Fire Island instead. As his wife roasts up the turkey, he turns on the T.V. only to witness the horrible destruction as the beloved Snoopy character descends on the assembled multitude. We could conceptualize this situation under Dunne’s theory as follows. The future, as it existed at the moment (in Time 2) before Harry went to bed contained the event of Harry’s demise in the great Snoopy massacre, but the future after Harry made the decision to go to Fire Island (at a later moment in Time 2) did not contain his imminent death. Harry precognized the future as it existed before he took his evasive action.
There are several problems with Dunne’s theory. One major problem is that, in order to clock an observer’s progress on the second time dimension, Dunne felt compelled to invoke a third time dimension. To clock his progress in Time 3, Dunne invented Time 4. In fact, continuing in this manner, Dunne was forced to postulate the existence of an infinite number of time dimensions. This is what is known as the problem of an “infinite regress,” which is usually as a sign that something is severely wrong with a theory. This infinite regress seemed to bother just about everyone but Dunne, who was happy to talk about “the observer at infinity.” This regress is probably a result of Dunne’s failure to employ the notion of a “timeless array” of events in spacetime rather than his dynamic model involving the “motion” of an observer along a time axis.
Some later theorists, such as C. D. Broad (1953, 1978) and D. F. Lawden (1982), tried to save Dunne’s theory by constructing models that involved “only” two time dimensions. All these models, however, share one basic and fundamental flaw. What is to prevent someone in the past from precognizing something that we are doing now and performing an act that would pop us all out of existence? Or perhaps we have all just been popped into existence by such an act. If the latter is the case, we remember having lived for years, but these memories are illusory (at least in respect to our history in the second time dimension). We have really only existed for a few seconds (of Time 2) and may be popped out of existence in a few more moments if someone in the past has a visionary experience. It would be at least somewhat discomforting to think that our existence could be so ephemeral. One way out of this quandary might be to attempt to construct a model in which only observers at some specified coordinates in Time 1 and Time 2 would be allowed to alter the future. This would be equivalent to defining a unique moment in time as “the present” and only allowing observers in the present to alter the future. Unfortunately, as we shall see later, Einstein’s theory of relativity implies that there is no unique set of events called the present that is the same for all observers. Rather, the set of events that one experiences as being simultaneous with oneself varies depending on one’s state of motion. Unless the problems arising from this “relativity of simultaneity” could be overcome, it would seem impossible to rescue Dunne’s theory by appealing to a unique present.
The philosopher C. W. K. Mundle (1964) points out that when Dunne speaks of precognizing “probable futures,” he is essentially abandoning his own model, which assumes that a single future exists at any given moment (of Time 2). Thus, Dunne may himself have been striving for a model something like the branching time models to be described below.
Branching time models. In branching time models, it is assumed that at the “present” moment many possible futures exist. For instance, in the case of the baby and the chandelier, in one possible future (the one that was precognized) the baby was killed by the falling chandelier, whereas in a second possible future (the one that actually occurred) the baby escaped injury.
In the classical, Newtonian view of the universe that prevailed until early in this century, it would be unthinkable that two different alternative futures could both be possible. Under the Newtonian worldview, the universe was seen as governed by laws that preordained the state of the future. This deterministic outlook of classical physics led the famous mathematician and cosmologist Pierre Simon Laplace to propose that a Divine Calculator who knew the position and velocity of every particle in the universe could deduce the entire history and future of the universe down to the last detail.
The development of the modern theory of quantum mechanics has overthrown this deterministic outlook. Under modern theories of physics, given the present state of the universe, many different futures are possible. An atom of radioactive material may or may not decay during a given time period. It is impossible in principle to predict whether it will or not. Under quantum theory, different futures may have different probabilities assigned to them. For instance, it may be more likely that the above-mentioned radioactive decay will occur during the next half-hour than that it will not.
In the well-known paradox of Schrödinger’s cat, it is assumed that a cat is confined in a closed chamber that contains a cyanide capsule that will be broken if a Geiger counter registers a radioactive decay. After a period of time, the box is opened. Two states of the world (cat alive and cat dead) are possible, and both are compatible with the laws of physics. (Some physicists would claim, prior to human observation, the cat is half-dead and half-alive.) As we shall see later, the observational theories in parapsychology propose that the cat, if it may be regarded as a “psi source,” may exercise its “free will” and choose (i.e., force to occur) that state of the universe that it finds most appealing (presumably the “cat alive” state in the case on a nonsuicidal cat). Thus, in the case of the falling chandelier, both the “baby dead” and “baby alive” futures may be compatible with the laws of physics. Which future occurs may depend on indeterminate quantum events in the mother’s brain; if her brain enters a favorable quantum state (through precognition?), she will act to avert the disaster.
While most scientists hold that only one of the possible alternative quantum futures is actually realized, the physicist Hugh Everett (1957) has proposed that all the possible futures are actualized, albeit in alternate universes. Everett’s theory has become known as the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics.
The branching time model is easily capable of accommodating cases of precognition followed by intervention. One could assume, say, that in our “chandelier” case the mother foresaw the most probable future, that her baby would be killed, but was able to act in such a way as to ensure the occurrence of a less probable future.
Sondow (1984) has attempted to use a “branching time” model to explain the phenomenon of precognitive attrition (the decline in the accuracy of precognition or in the frequency of successful precognitions as the time interval between the precognitive experience and the confirming or target event increases). Sondow provides some evidence for the phenomenon in the form of a decline in the number of her own spontaneous precognitive dreams (as recorded in a dream diary) as the interval separating the dream from the confirming event increases. (The extent to which Sondow’s evidence and the evidence provided by other investigators supports the hypothesis of precognitive attrition will be discussed later in this chapter.) Sondow attributes the decline in frequency (but not accuracy) of her precognitive dreams to the fact that, due to the continual branching of time lines, a greater number of alternative futures compete with the actually realized future when the time interval concerned is long than when it is short. Sondow predicts no fall-off in precognitive accuracy with time if a single decision is used to generate a target in a precognition experiment (as the single decision will result in a single branching in time). One might expect, however, that the probability that the probability of a target being generated would be highly correlated with (or by definition equivalent to) the number of time branches on which it occurs. (Due to the fact that countless other quantum decisions are being made, the target will appear on many time branches rather than just one.) Thus, one might expect the number of “true” precognition hits to be correlated simply with the probability of the target (rather than with the number of decision used to generate it) on the branching time model.
Targ and Harary (1984) report a brief and informal attempt to test the branching time model experimentally. In a precognitive remote viewing experiment, one of six objects was randomly selected to have a 50% probability of being the target, with the remaining targets having a 10% chance of being the target. The authors theorized that, when the 0.5 probability object was not eventually chosen as the target, it should, because of its high salience (due to its presence as target on the most probable time line), interfere with the perception of the actual target (Targ and Harary hypothesized that the most probable future will be the one most often precognized). Because the perception of the low probability target was still accurate, even though a higher probability alternative future existed, Targ and Harary concluded that “nonactualized futures apparently do not greatly affect a viewer’s precognitive descriptions of impending events” (Targ & Harary, 1984, p.115). However, the high probability target was selected on the basis of a die shaken but not observed prior to the remote viewing trial. Under some interpretations of quantum mechanics (including the observational theories to be discussed later in this chapter), the state of the die is indeterminate prior to the act of observation. Thus, it could be argued that all the targets were equally probable at the time of the remote viewing trial and therefore that no test of the alternative future hypothesis was provided by the experiment. Also, it could be argued that this 12-trial experiment was too brief and too informal to provide such a test in any event, and that some test of the difference in “true psi hitting rates” between the high and low probability conditions needs to be provided. Just to observe that precognition can operate in the face of a more probable alternative future is insufficient (Targ and Harary report no statistical test to demonstrate that precognition was operating in their experiment in any event).
Other branching time models have been proposed by Dobbs (1965) and Hasted (1981). Dobbs proposes that possible futures (or “propensities”) may contact an observer’s brain through the emission of “psitrons” (particles of imaginary mass that travel backward in time), producing a precognitive experience. Hasted proposes that paranormal metal-bending effects are brought about through “surfaces of action” that represent boundaries between alternative universes (although the standard interpretation of Everett’s “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics is that alternative universe are separated in a higher-dimensional mathematical space called Hilbert space, rather than being adjacent in ordinary spacetime). Because both Dobbs’ psitron model and Hasted’s “force surface” theory involve the propagation of signals or fields through spacetime, they will discussed later in this chapter, along with other proposed explanations of psi in terms of physical or quasiphysical signals.
Stokes (1983) used Everett’s many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics to challenge the evidence for pure clairvoyance (direct extrasensory perception of a physical object, without involvement of telepathy). A traditional clairvoyance experiment in which a subject successfully guesses a deck of ESP cards place faced down on a table is subject to a counterexplanation in terms of precognitive telepathy, in that the subject may be contacting the future mental state of the person who eventually inspects the targets rather than apprehending the cards directly. It is often thought that successful experiments in which a subject guesses a hidden set of targets (perhaps existing only in a computer’s memory) and in which no one ever inspects the target sequence (the computer only prints out the final score for instance) constitutes good evidence for pure clairvoyance. But, under a branching time model, a person might be able through precognitive telepathy to inspect the scores in several alternative futures and emit the guess sequence that occurred in a future with a high score (as information about the guess sequence would exist in the subject’s future memory in that alternative future).
The linear time model. It is also possible to account for such cases with a model postulating only one time dimension and one future, should one prefer such a pedestrian and colorless approach. One could for instance simply state that the mother accurately foresaw that the chandelier was going to fall. Her premonition of her baby’s death was simply an error, as that death never occurred. The mother’s unconscious mind was merely dramatizing to her the consequences of not moving the baby out from under the chandelier.
One parapsychological theorist to recently propose a linear time model is Jon Taylor (1995, 1998, 2000). Taylor subscribes to a “block universe” model in which there is only one future, corresponding to the events that actually happen. (Such a block universe model is also inherent in the spacetime manifold of Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity, as will be discussed in more detail below). Thus, in Taylor’s view, it is impossible to “change the future” through an act of intervention, insofar as the future contains events that will happen, not those that might happen. He proposes that extrasensory contacts only take place between living brains in similar emotional states, which create a “resonance” between the two brains. He asserts that people can only precognize events that they do not intend to influence, as any attempt to change or alter the future would destroy the resonance that formed the basis of the interaction between the brains of the person’s present and future selves.
Taylor (1995) asserts that this view of precognition is compatible with “free will,” as the person only precognizes those events that he or she does not chose to prevent through an act of intervention. Taylor hypothesizes that the absence of precognitive feedback, or resonance, between the present self and future events that the subject does intend to influence or prevent provides the basis for nonspecific intuitive experiences that “something is wrong.” This lack of resonance is subconsciously noticed as a sense of foreboding and thus enables the subject to make decisions based on intuitive feelings. Taylor postulates that psi phenomena are due to the creation of quantum fields in human brains that are emanated both in space and time. Psi-mediated information transfer occurs when similar thoughts in one’s present and future selves give rise to a resonance between the quantum field of the present and future brains. Intuitive psi experiences occur when there is a lack of resonance between the present and future selves (thus implying that some sort of expectancy, such as that one will live through tomorrow’s subway ride, will not be fulfilled). Taylor predicts that there is no such thing as clairvoyance, in view of the dissimilarity of the quantum fields associated with brains and those associated with objects, and that telepathy and precognition should only be able to occur over limited space-time separations. Here Taylor may be underestimating the nonlocal nature of quantum fields, as discussed in Chapter 2 and elsewhere in this book. Also, the existing evidence for information transfer followed by intervention to prevent the precognized event, such as the dream of the falling chandelier discussed above, would seem to constitute strong evidence against Taylor’s theory that intervention can only occur with intuitive experiences.
The Skeptical Model. Under this view, there is no such thing as ESP. The mother probably subliminally perceived some dust falling from the unstable chandelier support as she was about to go to bed and then dreamed about the probable consequences.
“Time Flow” and the Psychological Experience of “Becoming.” The preceding discussion leads us directly into another unsolved fundamental mystery of the universe that ranks right up there with the problem of the relation between conscious experience and material events in terms of its apparent intractability to human analysis. We seem to find ourselves located at a particular instance in time called the present (or for those philosophers who prefer a thin “slab” of time, the specious present). The “present” and our consciousnesses seem to be traveling along the time dimension in the direction of the future at a seeming “speed” (to borrow a discredited concept from J. W. Dunne’s multidimensional time model) of one second per second. Another, perhaps relativistic, way to put it is that time seems to be “flowing” from the future through the present moment and into the past. Once an event has receded into the past, it is lost to us forever. To borrow a phrase from Omar Kayyam, “the moving finger writes; and, having writ, moves on: nor all your piety nor wit, shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all your tears wash out a word of it.” We may, if we are lucky, visit the future by being carried there by the “stream of time” but barring the stress of a freefall skydive into a rotating black hole, we cannot revisit the past
Yet modern theories of physics, at least those that incorporate variants of Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity, have no place for a set of events that are uniquely distinguished as the present moment or for the phenomenon of time flow. In fact, relativity theory does away even with the concept of the “present” as we intuitively understand it; there is no unique set of events (or cross-section of spacetime) that be unambiguously identified as belong to the present or the “now.”
One of the lesser known paradoxical results of Einstein’s special theory of relativity is that observers in motion relative to one another will disagree on which sets of events (locations in spacetime) should be taken as being simultaneous with one another (i.e. assigned the same time coordinate). A result of this “relativity of simultaneity” is that two observers in motion relative to each other will disagree on what sets of events (i.e., cross-section of spacetime) should be taken to be the “present.” It is even possible that two observers will differ as to what they perceive the temporal order of events to be. In one reference frame, an event X may precede an event Y, whereas in a second reference frame Y is seen to precede X. In the absence of signals traveling faster than light, such a reversal of time coordinates will be achieved only between events that are “spacelike” connected (i.e., no signal moving at light speed or slower can travel between the two events). Thus, if events A and B are “timelike separated” and one observer sees A as being the cause of B, a second observer will also perceive that B is later than A and that the causal chain extends from A forward in time to B. This prohibition against “backward causation” (i.e., an effect preceding its cause in some reference frame) only holds so long as no causal signal may travel faster than light and thus (as we shall see shortly) backward in time in some reference frame.
To illustrate, the relativity of simultaneity, consider Einstein’s famous train example. Suppose an observer O is at rest with respect to the Earth (let’s give the pre-Copernican motionless flat Earth theory its due, just for the sake of this example). Further suppose that O is standing at a railroad track and is being passed by the train. At the moment she is adjacent to the exact center of the train, lightning strikes both ends of the train. As the speed of light is a constant (and is the same in all reference frames) the light flashes from the two lightning bolts will reach her eyes (or recording equipment) at the same instant. She will therefore judge them to be simultaneous, as they have both traveled the same distance (half the length of the train) at the same speed (the speed of light is a consequence of the laws of physics and is the same in all reference frames).
Consider however the situation of a second observer O’, who is sitting on top of the train and at the middle of the train. As the speed of light is finite and as he is moving in the direction of the lightning bolt at the front of the train, the light from that bolt will have to travel a shorter distance to reach him (from the perspective of the observer on the ground), and therefore the light from that bolt will have to travel a shorter distance to reach him than the light from the bolt at the rear of the train. But, in his reference frame, both bolts have traveled the same distance, namely half the length of the train. As the speed of light is a constant in his reference frame, he deduces that the bolt at the front of the train must have happened earlier than the bolt at the rear of the train. Thus, observers O and O’ differ in their judgments regarding the temporal order of the two lightning bolts.
An even more cognitively disturbing example of the relativity of simultaneity involves the case of a woman, possible on a very high dose of steroids and quite likely to win the decathlon in the next Olympics, who is running at nearly the speed of light while carrying a very long javelin toward a barn with a front and back doors. From the point of view of the farmer standing beside the barn, the pole has shrunk in length due to the Lorentz-Fitzgerald length contraction. (Another strange consequence of Einstein’s theory of relativity is that stationary observers perceive that the length of objects in motion shrink along the direction of the motion.) Thus, even though the javelin was longer than the barn just before the woman began her run, because the javelin has shrunk in length (from the farmer’s perspective) due to the woman’s high speed, the farmer is able to open the front door and allow the woman to enter the barn and to close the door behind her. Thus for a brief time the woman and javelin are contained in the closed off barn. A very short time after the front door closes, the farmer’s daughter opens the rear door of the barn and is startled to see a very quick woman carrying a javelin come flying out of the barn.
Consider, however, the situation from the standpoint of the Olympian hopeful. As she is running, in her reference frame the barn is in motion relative to her; thus, its length has shrunk so that it is now much shorter than her javelin. Not being one to shy away from a collision and possibly owning a spare javelin or two, she continues her rush at the barn and to her amazement is able to pass through it without mishap. Due to the relativity of simultaneity, she sees her javelin sticking out of both doors of the incredibly shrunken barn at the same time. In her reference frame, due to the relativity of simultaneity, she sees the farmer’s daughter open the rear door before the farmer closes the front door, so that both doors are open at the same time.
Because observers in motion with respect to one another will in general disagree about which set of events (spacetime locations) constitute the “present moment,” it is impossible to speak about the absolute existence of a three-dimensional space at a single moment in time (a notion that formed one of the fundamental underpinnings of classical, Newtonian physics). Different observers will select different “slices” of events as being simultaneous with one another, depending on their state of motion. Thus, rather than proposing a model involving the existence of a three-dimensional space at a particular time, relativity theorists work with a four-dimensional continuum involving three spatial dimensions and one time dimension. However, observers in motion relative to one another will not in general agree on the assignments of the spatial and temporal coordinates of events. If an observer is in motion relative to me, she may see events in my future as having occurred in her past or events in my past as occurring in her future. Thus in some sense, in relative theory, the future “already exists” and the past “still exists” (in the sense that both the future and the past may be in the present for some observer in motion relative to me but whom I regard as being part of my “now”).
Lawrence LeShan (1969) noted the compatibility of this view of physical reality with such psi phenomena as precognition and “retroactive” psychokinesis (the mental influence of events that have already occurred). This view is, however, somewhat at odds with the worldview of quantum mechanics, in which the future is not determined and many alterative futures are possible. Some writers, such as Randall (1998) have argued against theories of the “block universe” type, in which the future is viewed as in some way already existing and thus predetermined, in favor of a model based on quantum indeterminism. In Randall’s view, models of the latter type are more compatible with philosophies based on “freedom of will.” (However, one can argue that the “will” may be free to act, but that its actions will be guided by desires and values that are themselves determined. Thus, the concept of “free will” and a block universe model of reality need not be fundamentally incompatible.)
What modern physics cannot explain, any more than it can at present explain the existence of conscious experience, is the psychological experience of “time flow” and “becoming.” In fact, the experience of “time flow” may be as fundamental a mystery as the existence of conscious experience itself. Indeed, as “time flow” is a subjective experience, it quite likely dependent in some unfathomable manner on consciousness. The two mysteries may thus be somehow intertwined.
Our experience of time is dynamic and anisotropic. We are apparently somehow being propelled forward in time. Alternatively, we experience time flowing past us. Yet the concept of “time flow” has no place in theories of physics. As we have just seen, in Einstein’s theory of relativity, all past, present and future events are viewed as a timeless array of points in four-dimensional Minkowski spacetime. And, as pointed out above, no single cross-section of spacetime can be uniquely defined as the present for all observers.
Neither can theories of physics, for the most part, distinguish the directions of the future from that of the past. Most physical processes are (theoretically at least) reversible. An electron and a positron (the antimatter counterpart of the electron) may collide and annihilate one another, producing two photons. However, it is also possible for two photons to collide, producing an electron-positron pair, and this process appears to be the same as the first process, but reversed in time.
A ball being thrown upward in the air loses velocity due to gravity. A film of this process, if reversed, would show a falling ball picking up velocity due to gravitational attraction, a process that may occur in the forward direction of time. The film of a more complicated process, such as a swimmer diving into a pool of water, would appear to represent an impossible sequence of events when run backward (i.e., the swimmer being mysteriously propelled out of the water, instantly drying and landing on the diving board). Actually, even the reversed film of the dive does not represent an impossible sequence of events, only a very improbable one (it requires a collections of water molecules all to suddenly converge on the swimmer’s body in just the right manner that, through the collective force, the swimmer is propelled vertically out of the water, among other improbable coincidences).
Similarly, if the door between a hot and a cold room is opened, heat will tend to flow from the warmer room into the cooler room, so that the rooms will become more equal in temperature as time goes on. The reverse process, wherein one of two equally warms rooms suddenly grows hotter and the other suddenly grows colder (in the absence of any external energy sources) is not impossible, but only very improbable (as it would require most of the faster-moving gas molecules to go randomly into one of the rooms and most of the slower moving gas particles to go into the other, a very unlikely event). Isolated physical systems will thus tend to evolve from more highly ordered states to more disordered states. In physics, this is known as the “law” of entropy increase.
While some physical processes, such as the growth of a flower from a seed appear to involve the creation rather than the destruction of order, it should be remembered that terrestrial life forms are not isolated physical systems, but obtain their energy from external sources (e.g., the sun and decomposing organic matter) and thus the law of entropy increase does not apply to them.
Some philosophers, such as Adolf Grünbaum (1964) have argued that time is inherently anisotropic (behaves differently in the past and future directions) and that the future direction of time may be identified as the direction in which the entropy (disorder) of most “branch systems” (isolated physical systems) increases. Many other philosophers have been skeptical of this proposal, seeing entropy increase as an artifact of the highly improbable initial state of the universe.
Closely related to the entropy increase criterion for the direction of “time’s arrow” is the observation that, in general, wavefronts diverge from their source rather than converge upon them. For instance, a sphere of light may expand from a point light source or a series of concentric ripples may spread out from the point of impact of our irreversible diver into the swimming pool. Although the differential equations governing the production of such wave allow solutions corresponding to waves converging to a point (i.e., a sink rather than a source), such contracting waves are never seen to occur, perhaps again because of their improbability. Later in this chapter, we shall see that several parapsychologists have postulated that such converging waves moving backward in time (usually referred to as “advanced waves”) may provide a means of explaining such phenomena as precognition.
The expansion of the universe is also sometimes taken as a criterion for defining the direction of the future. Given two states of the universe S1 and S2, S1 is taken to be a later state than S2 if and only if the universe is in a more expanded state in S1 than in S2. However, the expansion of the universe may be an “accidental” consequence of the initial conditions at the time of the Big Bang. Also, if the universe should proved to be “closed” and to eventually contract back into a “Big Crunch,” then the expansion criterion will prove to be an unreliable arrow in the later phases of the universe’s history. (As the time of this writing, existing measurements suggest that betters on the Big Crunch should take long odds and that the universe will most likely keep expanding into a “heat death.” However, given the fact that physicists’ ideas regarding the nature and quantity of dark matter and dark energy in the universe have been changing rapidly in the past five years, this outcome may not be as certain as it now appears to be.)
A fourth possible “arrow of time” is provided by the decay modes of a physical particle named the neutral K meson (K0). The K0 particle has a decay mode that is curiously irreversible. The decay modes of most particles are time reversible. For instance, a neutron may decay into a proton, an electron and a neutrino. The reverse process, in which a proton, an electron and a neutrino of the right energy converge together to form a neutron, while extremely unlikely, is permitted to occur. The K0 meson undergoes a decay mode into three particles, which is also time reversible. However, it is also subject to a very rare two-particle decay mode, and this process is not time reversible. Thus, it may be possible to use the decay of the K0 meson as a means of defining the future direction of time, although it might produce a sense of uneasiness to use such an anomalous and rare event as the two-particle decay of the K0 meson to define such a fundamental concept as the direction of time.
Another criterion to differentiate the future from the past is the quantum mechanical criterion proposed by Denbigh (1981). As discussed earlier, in the theory of quantum mechanics, microscopic events (and, through the amplification of their effects, macroscopic events) are not determined prior to an act of measurement or observation. Thus, the position of a photon is not defined until an attempt to measure it (such as capturing it on a piece of film).
Similarly, in a quantum mechanical random event generator of the type used in modern parapsychological experiments, the random number or other display feature to be generated (which is often based on the time of a radioactive decay) is not determined by the laws of physics and is free to take on any (permissible) value prior to the act of observation. Thus, the random number to be generated or the position at which the photon will impact the film are indeterminate prior to the act of measurement, and determined thereafter. The process by which these events are determined is often referred to as “the collapse of the state vector.” Thus, quantum events, and by implication all events, might be partitioned into two categories - those that have been determined (the observed past) and those that have yet to be observed (which, depending on which interpretation of quantum mechanics one prefers, may include events in the yet-to-be-observed “past,” the present and the future). This would allow specification of the future and the past relative to any point in time. However, it does not provide a noncircular definition of the (absolute) present, insofar as what is “now” and “what is yet to be determined” may depend on the observer’s location along the time line. However, quantum mechanics may provide a physical basis for the sense of “time flow” and “becoming.” Perhaps the process of becoming is inherently related to or perhaps identical with the collapse of the state vector. If so, conscious minds may a fundamental role in the generation of “time flow.” The existence of conscious experience and the subjective experience of time flow, two fundamental mysteries that modern theories of physics have yet to explain, may be intimately related if not identical. (In this context, it should be noted that the experience of “time flow” and its incompatibility with the essentially deterministic Minkowski spacetime of Einstein’s theory of relativity, may be related to physicists’ current difficulties in relating quantum theory to Einstein’s theory in general and constructing a quantum theory of gravity in particular.)
According to the “observational theories” in parapsychology, such as those proposed by Schmidt (1975a, 1975b, 1984) and Walker (1975, 1984), as well as some mainstream interpretations of quantum mechanics, quantum events are not determined prior to their observation by a conscious observer. Thus, a series of random numbers generated by a quantum process is in an indeterminate state prior to inspection. (This interpretation differs from that of many physicists, who would consider the numbers to be determined at the point where they are irreversibly registered on a macrophysical apparatus such as a punch tape or a computer memory store.) According to the observational theorists in parapsychology, a sequence of random numbers may be generated, stored in computer memory, and then later displayed to a subject, who may at this later time influence which numbers have been produced through retroactive psychokinesis. Thus, the generation of these numbers, which would have occurred in the past according to most orthodox accounts of time, would fall into the present (at the time of the PK experiment), if one uses the quantum collapse criterion to distinguish the past from the future.
Under the observational theories’ interpretation, the quantum mechanical criterion for distinguishing the events that fall into the “future” from those that fall into the “past” might lead to a model of time similar to that implicit in some Native American languages (such as Wintu and Hopi) studied by Lee (1938) and Whorf (1956). These Indian languages assign tenses to verbs according to whether the events to be described are “manifested” (the outcome is known to the speaker) or “unmanifested” (the outcome is unknown or, in observational theory terms, the event is unobserved, at least from the speaker’s standpoint), rather than according to whether the events are in the past, present or future in the Western (or from Wintu’s and Hopi’s point of view, Eastern) sense of those terms. Thus, the unmanifested tense might be used to describe the outcome of a battle fought three days ago, if the outcome is unknown because the raiding party has not yet returned to the village. The observational theory, in its Wintu and Hopi versions, might provide a somewhat solipsistic criterion for demarcating the future from the past, but this division in not likely to result in a clean “slice” of events, as the future would have to include many events that are regarded as belonging to the past based on other criteria. Nonetheless, the criterion does have the attractive feature of potentially uniting the subjective experience of time flow or “becoming” with the more “objective” (or should one say “subjective?”) notion of the collapse of the quantum mechanical state vector through observation.
The subjective experience of time forms the basis for some theories of precognition. For instance, Edge (1982) proposes that one’s sense of time becomes “baffled” in sensory deprivation experiments, allowing precognition to occur. Similarly, Saltmarsh (1934, 1938) suggested that the psychological present is not an instant of time, but encompasses the very recent past as well as the immediate future. He suggests that this “spread” of the subjective present may involve longer time intervals in unconscious regions of the mind, thus allowing precognition to occur.
LeShan (1969, 1976) suggests that, in mystical states involving the experience of unity with all things, one may see the past, present and future as one (“all things are now”), much the same as in the Minkowski spacetime of special relativity. LeShan asserts that this perception of timelessness, in which all things are perceived as one, would be an especially psi-conducive state, and the self-other boundary as well as spacetime separations would no longer exist, at least psychologically.
As we have seen, the psychological experience of time cannot be explained by orthodox theories of physics. As best such theories can point a trembling finger in the direction of the future (through the decay of the K0 particle and the widespread existence of waves that diverge from, rather than converge to, point sources).
Thus, the psychological experience of time may be one of the fundamental bedrocks of existence, yet is inexplicable on the basis of current theories of physics. Some writers have suggested that a profound alteration in the experience of time flow or of spacetime itself may temporarily allow such events as precognition and psychokinesis to occur. The subjective experiences of the “now” and of “time flow” may point to the mind as a fundamental component of the universe. The observational theories, with their suggestion that the mind governs the collapse of the quantum mechanical state vector, even hint that the mind may be a primary agent in causing the future (the indeterminate) to become the past (the determinate). Thus, implicit in the observational theories is the image of the mind as a cosmic “time tractor” plowing indeterminate probability waves into actualized events.
Perhaps the absolute present may be defined simply (albeit circularly) as that instant in time at which a conscious observer subjectively feels himself or herself to be.
Several attempts have been made to explain psi phenomena in terms of the exchange of some type of physical signal. Some theories assume that ordinary physical particles carry the psi message. Such particles are typically conceived of as “traveling forward in time.” To explain cases of precognition, some theorists have resorted to more exotic particles that travel backward in time. We will consider each in turn.
Theories Employing Signals “Traveling Forward in Time”
Particle Theories. Several theorists have proposed that the transfer of information in cases of ESP is accomplished through the exchange of some signal already known to contemporary physicists, such as electromagnetic radiation and neutrinos.
Electromagnetic Radiation. One of the earliest proponents of an “electromagnetic” theory of psi was Joseph Glanvill, a contemporary of Newton, who proposed that telepathic exchanges were caused by the vibrations of the “ether” (see Jaki, 1969). More modern proponents of electromagnetic theories of psi include Kazhinsky (1962), Becker (1990, 1992), MacLellan (1997), and Vasilescu and Vasilescu (1996, 2001). Taylor (1975) proposed an electromagnetic explanation of paranormal metal-bending, although he later retracted it (Taylor, 1980).
Vasilescu and Vasilescu (1996) propose that there exists a “ubiquitous telepathic wave” consisting of electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength of approximately 46.2 meters. They found ESP effects to be facilitated when they amplified radiation of this wavelength 220 times. However, an effect was found even when a Faraday cage barrier, which should screen out electromagnetic radiation, was interposed between the sender and percipient. Some problems with their experiments include the fact that the investigators, who were not blind as to the experimental condition or their hypothesis, served as subjects. Also, the next trial was signaled by the sender calling our or stamping his foot, which allows for the possibility of sensory cues regarding the target.
Severe difficulties confront any attempt to explain psi phenomena on the basis of electromagnetic waves. These difficulties include the apparent ability of psi signals to penetrate barriers normally impervious to electromagnetic radiation, the apparent failure of psi phenomena to obey the usual the usual inverse-square law governing the falloff in electromagnetic effects with distance, the feeble strength of the electromagnetic signals emanating from the brain compared to the power that would be required to send a telepathic signal or perform a psychokinetic feat over any reasonable distance, and the lack of any plausible neurological mechanism whereby such a signal could be encoded, generated, received, and decoded. Each of these difficulties will be discussed in turn.
Barrier Experiments. Successful telepathy experiments have been reported in which the subjects were electromagnetically shielded from one another by Faraday cages and other types of barriers, ruling out the exchange of most electromagnetic signals (e.g., Vasiliev, 1976; Targ & Puthoff,1977; Ullman & Krippner, 1969). Some theorists, including Michael Persinger (1979) and I. M. Kogan (1968), have proposed that psi signals are carried by extremely low frequency electromagnetic radiation, also known as ELF waves. ELF waves would be able to penetrate some of the electromagnetic barriers used in these experiments. ELF wave theories are discussed in a separate section below.
Distance Independence. If ESP and PK effects are due to electromagnetic waves transmitted between the subject and the target person or object, it would be expected that psi success would decrease with increasing distance between the subject and target (as the intensity of electromagnetic information emitted from a point source is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the point). The small electrical power of the brain (discussed in the next section) combined with the inverse square law for electromagnetic radiation, would seem to imply that psi effects could not occur over large distances if they are due to electromagnetic radiation. However, successful remote viewing experiments have been conducted with the percipient (viewer) in Detroit and the agent (sender) in Italy (Schlitz and Gruber, 1980, 1981), and a successful dream telepathy experiment with the agent in Edinburgh and the percipient (dreamer) in London (Markwick & Beloff, 1983). A series of successful PK experiments, with distances ranging from 10 miles to 1,100 miles separating the PK agent from the target apparatus has been reported by Tedder and his associates (Tedder & Monty, 1981; Tedder & Braud, 1981; Tedder and Bloor, 1982). Nelson, Dunne, Dobyns and Jahn (1996) and Jahn And Dunne (2005) report that the size of the PK and remote viewing effects obtained by the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) team were independent of the spacetime separations between the subjects and the target. Many more examples could be cited.
The apparent lack of dependence of psi effects on spatial and temporal separations is evidence not only against electromagnetic theories of psi, but against all theories of psi based on known or currently postulated physical signals. Indeed, the lack of dependence of psi on spacetime separation was one of the factors that led J. B. Rhine, the founder of experimental parapsychology, to proclaim that psi phenomena indicate that the mind has a nonphysical component. Thus, psi phenomena have long been regarded as evidence against physicalist theories of mind. As a physicalistic metaphysics underlies current “orthodox” scientific theories, this may explain why the debate over the existence of psi has been so heated and why the evidence for psi phenomena is so strongly rejected by the scientific establishment. In this regard, one might recall the comments of Anthony Freeman, the Editor of the Journal of Consciousness Studies, who recently noted that “orthodox science is orthodox religion’s true heir” (Freeman, 2005, p. 6).
In a review of literature conducted four decades ago, Osis (1965) did find a slight decline in the strength of ESP effects with distance, although this effect was much weaker than would be expected under the inverse-square law governing electromagnetic radiation and most other types of physical signals. However, the experiments analyzed by Osis were run under dissimilar circumstances and the subjects were not in general blind as to distance; thus, any distance effect might be attributable to psychological expectancies.
The existence of long-range psi effects and the failure of psi effects to obey an inverse-square law pose grave difficulties for any electromagnetic theory of psi (assuming all psi effects will be subsumed under one theory or mechanism). So too does the phenomenon of precognition. If the ultimate explanation of precognition involves signals traveling backward in time (as discussed below), then the normal forward-traveling (‘’retarded”) electromagnetic waves will not suffice (although theories involving “advanced” electromagnetic waves, which travel backward in time, have been constructed).
Power Problems. The electromagnetic theory of psi was originally inspired by Hans Berger’s detection of electrical currents emanating from the brain through the use of the electroencephalograph (which was invented by Berger), as well as by the invention of the radio. However, Berger (1940) thought that changes in the electrical potential of the brain were too small to account for telepathy over reasonable distances and so was led to postulate some sort of hitherto undetected “psychical energies” as the carrier of telepathic message.
In fact, several parapsychologists (e.g., Dobbs, 1967; Millar, 1975; Vasiliev, 1976: Bigu, 1979) have performed calculations of the power of the electromagnetic radiated by the human brain. These estimates have varied widely, from a millionth (Millar) to a quintillionth (Dobbs) of a watt. However, even electromagnetic radiation at the high end of this range would appear to be far too weak to account for reported ESP or PK effects.
Encoding and Decoding Problems. Proponents of electromagnetic theories of psi have proposed no plausible mechanisms whereby such signals could be encoded, generated, transmitted, received, and/or decoded. Large areas of physical musculature and cerebral cortex are devoted to the production of sound waves to carry messages in speech. So too, the detection of sound and light waves requires the existence of elaborate external receptors (the eyes and ears) and the involvement of large areas of the cerebral cortex. As Vasiliev (1976) points out, the fibers and fluids surrounding the brain possess greater electromagnetic conductivity than do the nerve tissues themselves. It is implausible that the brain would have evolved in such a manner if it is to serve as a direct and sensitive detector of electromagnetic radiation. In any event, the analysis of information and pattern detection that would be required in order to receive and decode an electromagnetically-encoded telepathic message would presumably require an organ at least approximating in complexity that of the human eye or ear. The generation of electromagnetic telepathic signals, besides surpassing the brain’s electrical power capacity, as noted above, would also undoubtedly require the existence of a specialized organ (whose location inside the brain would be most unstrategic).
ELF Wave Theories. Thus, insurmountable difficulties seem to confront any attempt to explain psi phenomena on the basis of electromagnetic radiation at typical wavelengths. Some (but not all) or these objections can be overcome if it assumed that the radiation involved is of extremely long wavelength (or equivalently, extremely low frequency). Some theorists, most notably Kogan (1968) and Persinger (1979), have hypothesized that psi signals are carried by such extremely low frequency radiation (ELF waves). Such radiation has a frequency of less than 3 kHz (3000 cycles per second). Persinger notes that many periodic biological processes occur with frequencies in the ELF range, such as the heart rhythm (less than 4 Hz, or four cycles per second), brain waves (less than 30 Hz), and muscular rhythms (1 Hz to 1 kHz). He also observes that geological and meteorological processes produce standing waves in the earth-ionosphere cavity with a frequency of 7-8 Hz, which Persinger notes corresponds to the alpha rhythm of the brain, which has been found to be a psi-conducive state (see Honorton, 1977, for instance). Persinger proposes that “biogenic-environmental interactions” could occur through a “resonance-like” mechanism, in cases in which the frequencies of the geological/meteorological waves and biological cycles are similar.
Persinger essentially proposes two theories of telepathy. In the first, the agent (i.e., sender of the psi message) would impose an ELF wave on a geophysical system, which would carry the psi message to the recipient. In the second theory, the brains of the agent and percipient would resonate with an existing physical wave, producing a similar state in both (such as a depressed mood in the percipient and an act of suicide by the agent). Persinger’s second theory is thus a theory to explain “pseudopsi” events rather than the “real” psi that might occur in an experiment with randomly determined targets. Stevens (2005) discusses evidence that geomagnetic fields may directly influence the REGs used in psi experiments, which may be responsible for observed correlations between psi success and geomagnetic activity.
Targ, Puthoff and May (1979) note that one of the attractive features of the ELF wave hypothesis is the slower than inverse-square-law attenuation expected on the basis of earth-ionosphere guide mode trapping as well as source-percipient distances lying within the induction field range as opposed to the radiation filed range. Not all physicists take such an optimistic view of the ability of ELF waves to carry telepathic messages over long distances. Walker (1981), for instance, cites successful intercontinental remote viewing experiments as evidence against the ELF wave hypothesis.
ELF waves are also attractive because of their ability to penetrate electromagnetic shields, such as the Faraday cages used in several successful psi experiments. Some barriers should prove impervious even to ELF waves, however. For instance, Targ and Harary (1984) report a successful remote viewing experiment in which the percipient was located in an immersed submarine, which they feel constitutes evidence against the ELF wave hypothesis. Unfortunately, they do not describe this experiment in full, and their conclusion appears to be based on only two successful trials (with a “hit” probability of 1/6).
Puthoff and Targ (1979) point out that the information channel capacity of ELF waves is very low (they estimate it to be between .005 and .1 bits per second). As a way out of this difficulty, Persinger (1979) suggests that a subject may be exposed to the signal for a long time before the total message is received, as which point it emerges into the percipient’s consciousness fully formed. He also suggests that a percipient may learn subtle codings through experience, facilitating ESP communication between family members and friends. As he acknowledges, the amount of time required for an agent to encode a message (around 100 minutes for 60 bits of information) may be a telling blow against the ELF wave theory. Persinger concludes that the information transmission rate is too slow for the “real psi” version of the ELF wave theory to be viable (due to short-term memory demands on the percipient), although the “pseudopsi” version may still be tenable. (Interestingly enough, however, he notes that the ELF wave information rate compares favorably with the information transmission rate in many psi experiments.)
In addition to the above objections, the problems of accounting for the encoding and decoding of any intricate psi message and accounting for precognition confront the ELF wave theory as surely as they do the general electromagnetic theory.
Electrostatic Fields. According to Lucas and Maresca (1976), the Russian parapsychologists Victor Adamenko and Edward Naumov proposed that certain PK phenomena, such as the attraction and repulsion of small objects by the Russian psychic Nina Kulagina, were caused by electrostatic fields (such as the field that holds a balloon to one’s sweater after the two objects have been rubbed against each other, transferring electrons, which causes the balloon and sweater to have opposite (attracting) charges. Kulagina’s effects would then be attributable to the normal attraction and repulsion between objects bearing opposite and like electrical charges, respectively. Indeed, in many of the films of Kulagina’s phenomena, the effects (including for instance her propelling a small cylinder across a table, much as one would push a peanut with one’s nose in a peanut race, but with a slight gap between the finger and the cylinder) do appear that they could be due to such electrostatic attraction and repulsion. However, Admenko and Naumov also claim that there is an unknown factor that allows such phenomena to occur that cannot be explained on the basis of electrostatic effects alone.
The Neutrino Theory. Hammond (1952) and Ruderfer (1968, 1974, 1980) have proposed neutrinos as the possible carrier of psi information. Neutrinos have the desirable feature of traveling at near-light speed (neutrinos are now thought to possess mass, which would prohibit them from actually attaining light speed). They also have the attractive feature that they can sail right through most barriers such as Faraday cages due to their weak interaction with matter. Solar neutrinos in fact can and do sail right through the Earth. However, this virtue is at one and the same time the chief drawback to any neutrino theory of psi. The vast majority of neutrinos would also happily sail right through one’s brain without interacting with it in any way. Thus, a person would be unable to receive any psi message sent by neutrinos. Walker (1981) points out that the strength of neutrinos’ interaction with matter is twenty orders of magnitude less than (i.e., ten septillionths as much as) that of electromagnetic radiation. Because of this weak interaction with matter, in order for an agent to transmit enough neutrinos to ensure that her message was received, her brain would probably have to use up enough energy to power several small cities for months. Bigu (1979) notes that the human body emits only 8,000 neutrinos per second, which would be far too weak to carry a psi message because of the overwhelming majority of neutrinos will pass right through the human brain without interacting with it in any way.
Chari (1974) observes that neutrinos could not account for precognition, although elsewhere (Chari, 1977) he notes that Ruderfer has employed tachyons (particles that travel faster than light) for this purpose.
Also, just as electromagnetic signals, neutrino signals would weaken with distance, as the expanding spherical shells of neutrino radiation emitted would spread out in space and become diluted. As discussed in connection with the electromagnetic theories of psi, the existing evidence would seem to indicate that psi signals do not weaken appreciably over distance, if at all.
Furthermore, the problem of explaining the process whereby the psi message is encoded and decoded would seem to be as least as great for the neutrino theory of psi as it is for the electromagnetic theory of psi. Beloff (1980) has questioned whether any theory of psi based on physical signals can overcome the encoding and decoding problem, given that the same mental state may be given entirely different neurological encodings in two different brains; hence, he concludes that psi must be nonphysical. However, Beloff’s postulated different neural encodings of the same ideas and emotions in different brains does not prevent humans from communicating these mental contents via language. It may not be inconceivable that a “neutrino language” could be acquired at a subconscious (or perhaps more aptly, deeply unconscious) level.
Force Field Theories. Several parapsychologists have constructed explanations of psychokinesis in terms of various types of force fields. These types of theories are typically invoked for explain psychokinesis rather than extrasensory perception.
Forwald’s Gravitation Theory. The Swedish engineer Haakon Forwald (1969) explained psychokinetic placement effects on dice (i.e., influencing the direction of the die’s movement rather than which side of the die comes up) on the basis of gravitational forces. Forwald asserted that gravity has no limited velocity of propagation and thus apparently adhered to the old action-at-a-distance concept of gravitation that so troubled Isaac Newton. While physicists have yet to construct a satisfactory theory incorporating both quantum mechanics and gravitation, the consensus at present is that gravitational effects are mediated by (yet to be observed) particles called gravitons and even more hypothetical particles called gravitinos and that the speed of these particles (and hence gravitational influence) is limited by the speed of light. It would in any event be difficult to distinguish superluminal from subliminal signals speeds in a typical dice PK experiment.
Forward proposed an empirically-based mathematical law relating the strength of placement PK effects on the thickness of the metal coating on the dice used in his experiments as well as the number of nucleons (protons and neutrons) in the nuclei of the atoms comprising the coating material, which he takes as evidence of his gravitationally-based model. Forwald’s theory has not given rise to a sustained research program, and is largely forgotten by today’s parapsychological theorists and experimentalists.
Hasted’s Surface of Action Theory. The physicist John Hasted proposed a “surface of action” theory to explain the phenomena observed in his own experiments on paranormal metal-bending of the kind popularized by the psychic Uri Geller (Hasted, 1977a, 1977b, 1981, Hasted & Robinson, 1979, 1980). Hasted based his theory on signals detected in strain gauges placed in metal specimens. He found that synchronous signals most often occurred when the strain gauges were situated on a line extending radially outward from the subject; however, he presents no statistical analyses to rule out the possibility that these patterns of synchronous signals could have arisen by chance. Also, Stokes (1982b) has criticized Hasted’s research as lacking significant safeguards against fraud.
Based on signals obtained from a sensor attached to a subject’s forearm, Hasted (1981) concluded that the surface of action is slowly propagated outward from the subject and often consists of a vertical plane containing the axis defined by the subject’s arm. He estimated the speed of movement of the surface of action to be between 1 cm/sec and 100 cm/sec. He hypothesized that the surface of action may be curved upon occasion and that obtained twists and spirals in metal specimens are due to the rotation of the surface of action about an axis in its own plane.
Hasted explains the permanent softening of metal specimens by the subject’s acting as a Maxwellian demon (a mythical being capable of sorting high energy from low energy particles and thus producing a violation of the second “law” of thermodynamics, which states that the entropy or “disorder” of an isolated physical system will increase over time). Hasted hypothesizes that paranormally produced strains in metal specimens are caused by vacancies produced by the teleportation of matter (which he asserted was due to quantum-mechanical tunneling). Most radically, he hypothesizes that paranormal metal bending is accomplished by the transportation of observers into a parallel universe in which the metal is bent and that the surface of action constitutes the boundary between the two universes. This is a very unusual interpretation of Hugh Everett’s “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which quantum decisions split the universe into two or more parallel universes, so that each possible outcome of the quantum mechanical process is represented in at least one of the alternate universes. However, in Everett’s “many worlds” theory, the alternate universes are thought to diverge in a higher-dimensional abstract space called Hilbert space and thus cannot be adjacent in normal three-dimensional space as is assumed in Hasted’s account. Hasted’s account is also in conflict with the observational theories in parapsychology (to be discussed in more detail later in this chapter). These theories assert that the observer of the outcome of a quantum mechanical process may elect to enter one of the more desirable alternative futures, not that an observer may be transported from the present universe into an already existing alternative universe. Elsewhere, Hasted (1979) asserts that teleportation may be explained by assuming that an object may make the transition to an alternative universe at different time than its container, but this is also at variance with Everett’s theory.
The “Moving Beam” Theory. Based on an analysis of the location, direction, and magnitude of movements of objects relative to a presumed poltergeist agent, Roll, Burdick and Joines (1973) suggest that the movements could have been due to three rotating beams of force emanating from different portions of the agent’s body. Their “moving beam” theory is a type of force-field theory, although they do not hazard a guess as to the type of force involved or as to how the field is generated. As arbitrary models can rather easily be constructed to “retrodict” observed patterns of movement, their model needs to be confirmed with new poltergeist agents. The freedom to adjust the number, size and orientation of the moving beams leads one to suspect that the theory may be untestable (i.e., capable of retrodiction but not prediction) if such freedom is not somehow relinquished.
Quasi-signal Theories. Many theorists have proposed that some new and hitherto undetected particle or field is the carrier of psi information or is responsible for psychokinetic effects. The list of such “quasi-signals” in a long one. The proposed carriers have included psi fields (Wasserman), psychical waves (Berger), psychical fields (Lawden), biogravity (Dubrov), bioplasma (Inyushin and Sergeyev), orgone energy (Reich), and “levity” (a force opposed to gravitation presumed to underlie levitation). Unfortunately, the proponents of such theories have generally not provided any reliable means of detecting of measuring their hypothetical particles, fields, energies or forces. They also do not specify the properties of their theoretical entities in a sufficiently exact way that testable predictions might result from their theories. Thus, not only do they provide no evidence that these previously unknown particles, fields, energies or forces exist, but their theories are unfalsifiable (or, in some cases, highly falsified).
When the proposed medium represents an extension of accepted scientific constructs, very often the extension is inappropriate. For instance, with respect to Inyushin and Sergeyev’s proposed bioplasma, Wortz et. al. (1979) point out that a classical plasma cannot exist at temperature and pressure conditions consistent with the maintenance of life. In general, such quasi-signal theories are of no help in explaining psi in that they are often untestable and merely replace one mysterious phenomena (psi) whose existence is debatable with another, even more mysterious phenomenon (the quasi-signal), whose existence is even more debatable.
Resonance Theories. Some theorists have proposed that psi effects constitute some sort of “resonance” phenomena similar to that which occurs when one tuning fork is struck and transmits sound waves to a second tuning fork of similar construction, which then starts to vibrate also. (Note that the resonance in this case is mediated by a signal, in this case the sound wave. Many resonance theories can be construed simply as theories involve signals and/or interacting fields. What sets resonance theories apart as a special case of signal/field theories is that resonance theorists propose that the psi exchange is facilitated by similarities between the “sending” and “receiving” systems.) Some theorists have proposed that similar minds (i.e., minds containing shared experiences, thoughts, etc.) may resonate with one another, resulting in the transmission of thoughts, perceptions and emotions from one mind to the other.
For instance, Marshall (1960) has asserted that there exists an “eidopoic influence” in highly organized material that is capable of rendering faint signals detectable at remote locations by the resonating system, regardless of the spatiotemporal separation involved. Marshall contends that, through this “eidopoic influence,” similar structures of sufficient complexity, such as human brains, may resonate with one another, thus resulting in a telepathic exchange of information from one mind to another. Similarly, Hans Berger (1940) postulated that selective telepathic sensitivity to the thoughts of particular people (e.g., close friends and relatives) is due to a form of resonance mediated by “psychical waves.”
In this context, it should be noted that Soal and Bateman (1954) attempted to facilitate telepathy in a card-guessing experiment by providing the percipient (receiver) with a detailed picture of the agent (sender) and the agent’s room. Such material should increase the similarity of (at least the current) contents of the percipent’s and agent’s mind. However, this experiment failed to yield any significant evidence of psi. Rao (1977) contends that pure clairvoyance experiments provide evidence against Berger’s and Marshall’s resonance theories, as it is hard to see such dissimilar structures as an ESP card and a human brain could resonate with one another. However, one may counter Rao’s argument with the observation that the evidence for pure clairvoyance (direct extrasensory perception of an object) can usually, if not always, be explained away in terms of precognitive telepathy.
As previously noted, Jon Taylor (1995, 1998, 2000) has also proposed a theory in which psi effects are caused by a resonance between two brains in similar states and denies the existence of pure clairvoyance, attributing the evidence for clairvoyance to trans-temporal telepathy.
As will be discussed in more detail below, Adrian Dobbs (1965) proposed a theory in which precognition is mediated by “psitrons,” hypothetical particles that travel backward in time. He compared precognitive telepathy to “the resonance or exchange process holding between two hydrogen atoms united by a covalent bond” (p. 311). Locke (1980) has even been led to construct a resonance theory of psychic healing. The basic problem with these resonance theories is that they explain one mysterious similarity between two complex systems (psi) in terms of another (resonance). Unless the signal underlying the resonance (analogous to the sound wave in the case of the tuning fork) and/or the specific types of mental similarities that give rise to resonance can be given a sufficiently exact characterization to yield testable predictions about psi, these theories are unfalsifiable and merely substitute a prejudicial term (“resonance”) for a more noncommittal term (“psi”). At best, they yield the prediction that psi effects will occur more frequently if there is greater similarity between the minds of the percipient and the agent, a prediction that is yielded by several other theories (such as Whatley Carington’s association theory, which is discussed later in this chapter).
Sheldrake’s Morphic Resonance Theory. One relatively recent resonance theory for which specific empirical support is claimed is biochemist Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of “morphic resonance” (Sheldrake, 1981, 1983a 1983b, 1988a, 1988b, 1990). This theory began as an account of the morphological development of the embryo. In Sheldrake’s view, physio-chemical processes are inadequate to account for the development of the embryo. He postulates instead that each embryo is associated with a “morphogenetic field” and that similar morphogenetic fields influence each other across space and time through the process of morphic resonance. Thus, each embryo is able to “tune in” to the morophogenetic fields of similar, previous embryos, which then govern its development.
Sheldrake proposes, for instance, that a bear embryo will be guided in its development through “resonating” with the “morphic fields” of all the bears that have preceded it into the world. Each creature tends to resonate with similar creatures that have existed in the past. Susan Blackmore (1985b) has pointed out that Sheldrake’s theory is circular insofar as Sheldrake explains the similarity of two creatures in terms of resonance and the resonance between two creatures on the basis of their similarity. Similarly, it is difficult to see how morphic resonance could account for the process of evolution and the emergence of novel forms of life, as morphic resonance would confine creatures to repeating previous patterns of biological development.
Sheldrake extends his theory of morphic resonance to account for the phenomenon of memory as well. After discussing the lack of evidence for physical memory engrams (traces), he postulates that memory may be explained on the basis of morphic resonance with one’s own past brain states. He hypothesizes that we could survive death with our memories intact, as memories are not stored in the physical brain but are, in his view, the result of morphic resonance.
Sheldrake also proposes explanations of telepathy, reincarnation cases and C. G. Jung’s evidence for a “collective unconscious” in terms of morphic resonance. He postulates that morphogenetic fields (“motor fields”) may act on a nervous system without violating the limits of fluctuation allowed by the theory of quantum mechanics. (He similarly proposes that the influence on embryological development remains within the bounds set by quantum theory.)
There is virtually no evidence for the “morphic fields” that Sheldrake hypothesizes govern the phenomenon of morphic resonance, and only a smattering of evidence for the morphic resonance effect itself.
The initial evidence presented in support of his theory by Sheldrake (1981, 1983b) was scant and consisted primarily of an alleged facilitation of subsequent crystal formation and learning in rats once similar crystals had been formed or rats trained to do a certain task elsewhere in the world.
Much of the remaining evidence derives from a handful of studies that are methodologically flawed in one respect or another. In one typical study, for example, it was found that a real Japanese nursery rhyme was easier for English-speaking subjects to learn than a newly composed nursery rhyme. Sheldrake (1983a) interpreted this as being due to morphic resonance with the minds of all the Japanese people who had previously learned the nursery rhyme. However, as Susan Blackmore (1985a) pointed out, the rhyme may have been popular in the first place because it was particularly “catchy” and easy to learn. Sheldrake himself acknowledged Blackmore’s point in this regard (Sheldrake, 1983a). A similar methodological defect occurs in most of the other studies that have been conducted on morphic resonance (see Stokes, 1995, for a more thorough discussion of the methodological flaws in the research purporting to support Sheldrake’s theory).
Biologists have been quick to condemn Sheldrake’s theory as being baseless and have pointed out that orthodox biological and physical processes can account for most of the biological effects Sheldrake ascribes to morphic resonance. Not much of a case can be made for nonphysical influences on biological evolution on the basis of the extremely shaky evidence for Sheldrake’s morphic resonance effect. Blackmore (1985b) points out that Sheldrake does not give an account of how morphogenetic fields arise or what their properties are. She also points out that Sheldrake does not specify how the similarity between two morphogenetic fields is to be measured. Certainly, if Sheldrake’s theory is to be testable, he needs to provide some means of measuring parameters relating to morphogenetic fields in order to generate novel predictions; otherwise, his theory adds no explanatory power over and above that of already existing, more orthodox accounts of embryological development in terms of genetic activity, enzymes and molecular gradients. Also, it would seem that excessive reliance on morphic resonance would hinder the process of species differentiation and adaptation to new environmental niches.
In a recent issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies devoted to his work, Sheldrake (2005) seems to alter his theory, at least as it would it apply to his experience on the remote detection of staring. Specifically, he hypothesizes that perceptions and sensations do not take place in the brain or mind but actually out in the material world were they are subjectively experienced. Thus, when you perceive a red box, the “redness” percept is not in your brain but actually at the physical location of the box. Sheldrake compares this theory to the extramission theory of vision propounded by the Pythagorean school of philosophers in Ancient Greece. Under this view, vision was caused by the emission of a signal from the eye to the perceived object, rather than to the passive reception of light by the eye, as thought by adherents to the intromission theory of vision, which would encompass the vast majority of modern neuropsychologists. Thus, rather than explaining his experiments on the remote detection of staring in terms of “morphic resonance,” Sheldrake instead proposes an explanation in terms of exteriorization of perception space, so that perceptions are actually located externally to the body, just as they subjectively appear to be. The staree then responds to this alteration in physical space, thus developing “a sense of being stared at.” Again Sheldrake offers no suggestion as to how such externalized perceptions could be measured. Also, at least his own experimental evidence for the remote detection of staring is highly flawed. There are also other accounts of how the effect, if indeed paranormal and not an artifact of sensory cues, is caused, including telepathy as well as the psychokinetic influence of the “staree’s” brain on the part of the “starer.” Thus, Sheldrake’s hypothesis of externalized perception should be trimmed from the body of scientific theory by Ockham’s Razor (the injunction not to multiply entities beyond necessity in scientific theorizing), as least so long as Sheldrake provides no means of measuring his externalized perceptions at their supposed location in physical space.
Signals that Travel “Backward in Time”
Retrocausal Signals. Some theorists have proposed that phenomena such as precognition and retroactive psychokinesis, in which the future appears to influence events in the present (or, as in the case of retroactive PK, events in the present appear to influence events in the past), may be explained on the basis of physical signals that travel backward in time.
Philosophical Objections to Backward Causation. Certain philosophers have maintained that backward causation, in which an effect precedes its cause in time is impossible by virtue of the very meaning of the word “cause.” Mundle (1964), for instance asserts that it is an analytic truth that a cause cannot succeed its effect in time, arguing that statement “E1 is a cause of E2” entails that event E1 is earlier than event E2 by virtue of the very definition of the word “cause.” The philosopher C. D. Broad (1967) refutes this objection, noting this the difficulty could be avoided simply by coining a new, temporally neutral word to replace “cause.” It should be noted, however, that Broad also rejected the notion of backward causation, contending that it was self-evident that a cause could not succeed its effect.
Despite Broad’s own reluctance to accept the possibility of backward causation, his suggestion points the way to a scientific resolution of the problem. In may be possible scientifically to discover a set of events C that constitute a sufficient (or necessary) condition for the occurrence of some other event E. Even though C might contain events later than E, it might be natural under (some subset of) these circumstances to consider C as the cause of E. Possibly our “forward-looking” habits of though have resulted in our overlooking many such backward causal relationships. At any rate, the causal relationship has proved to be especially refractory to philosophical analysis over the years, so it may be advantageous to adopt the more logically precise and well-defined notions of sufficient and necessary conditions in place of the more problematic notion of causation.
Incidentally, not all cultures find retrocasual relationships problematic. Needham (1981) points out that in the view of the ancient Chinese, causation could operate backwards as well as forwards in time, citing an example an explanation of lord’s failure to obtain the hegemony of feudal states on the basis of the fact that human victims were sacrificed to him after his death. Also, the Hopi and Wintu views of time, as discussed earlier in this chapter, would seem to be compatible with backward causation. One might easily imagine a chief performing a ritual to influence the course of a battle in the past if the outcome were as yet unknown to him (in which case the events would fall into the unmanifested category based on these Native American languages).
The Evidence for Retrocausal Causal Phenomena. The two primary parapsychological phenomena that are suggestive of “backward causation” are precognition and retroactive psychokinesis. Explanations of precognition in terms of “forward causation” (such as dreaming about an event and then causing it to occur via psychokinesis) were discussed in the previous chapter.
One issue not addressed in the discussion on separating types of psi in Chapter 4 is the evidence for retroactive psychokinesis, in which subjects attempt to influence random events that occurred in the past according to conventional notions of time.
Helmut Schmidt, the designer of the quantum-mechanically used random event generators that are widely used in parapsychological work today, postulated that a psi source (typically a conscious observer) may influence the outcome of a quantum-mechanically based process (such as the output of a Schmidt-type REG) and that this influence is independent of the spatiotemporal separation between the subject and the target events (Schmidt 1975a, 1975b, 1984). Even if the target events are generated and recorded on a punch tape prior to the subject’s attempt to influence them, the subject is postulated to be able to influence the earlier behavior of the REG at the time the target events are presented to the subject (e.g., as flashing lights on a Schmidt four-button machine). The possibility of such retroactive PK has led Schmidt to call PK (and psi in general) “noncausal” or “acasual.” Schmidt (1979) is of the view that, if an effect precedes its ostensible cause, the relationship between the two events cannot be causal, apparently accepting the semantic arguments that a cause must precede its effect by definition.
Braude (1979), Beloff (1980) and Nash (1983) have objected to the notion of retroactive PK (as least as formulated by the “observational theorists” such as Schmidt) on the basis of circular causation. Braude asserts that the PK effort is only assumed to be effective after the subject has been given the feedback (as the influence of the quantum process is brought about by the act of observation). A similar contention is made by Zohar (1982). Thus, in Braude’s view, the presentation of the correct target is required in order to cause the PK effect, which then causes the correct target to be generated, thereby creating a causal loop. Braude objects to casual loops as he denies that an event can be the cause of itself; however, Gödel’s demonstration of the existence of closed time solutions to Einstein’s equations suggests that causal loops may be possible in a consistent universe, as illustrated in the previous story regarding the space traveler who was his own father/mother, son/daughter grandfather/grandmother, grandson/granddaughter (…, i.e., his whole family tree).
Contra Braude’s interpretation, the observational theories (such as Schmidt’s theory) require only that feedback as to the outcome of the target process be given to the subject as some point in time in order for the psychokinetic effect to occur. One could therefore conceptualize the process as follows. The subject, aware of the reinforcement contingency that if the REG’s output is a “1” he will get a shock and if it is a “0” he will get a jolt in the pleasure center of his brain, forces the REG to output a “0” at a point in time earlier than the actual feedback. One could visualize this as a linear causal chain beginning with awareness of the reinforcement contingency, followed by the influence of the REG, and then ending with the jolt to the pleasure center, thus avoiding any casual loop.
Statistically significant evidence for retroactive PK has been reported by many investigators, including Schmidt (1976, 1981), Terry and Schmidt (1978), Gruber (1980), and Schmidt, Morris and Rudolf (1986). However, while the objections based on casual loops can be answered to a large extent, most or all of the actual experimental evidence for retroactive PK can be explained away in terms of “forward causation.” In this regard, retroactive PK may enjoy an even murkier status than precognition. For instance, an experimenter who wants to run a retroactive PK experiment, in which the subject will attempt to influence a previously recorded target sequence to obtain more “0s” than “1s” may simply exert a direct psychokinetic influence on the REG at the time the targets are generated. In some cases, as in precognition experiments, such counterexplanations in term of forward casual chains can become quite convoluted and thus implausible.
Advanced Waves. We will now turn to a consideration of explanations of such phenomena as precognition and retroactive PK in terms of signals that travel “backward in time.”
One such signal is what is known as “advanced waves.” The differential equation that governs the motion of electromagnetic and sound waves is time-symmetric and admits of two solutions. The first corresponds to the normal “retarded” wave, which propagates outward from a source and travels forward in time. The second is a mirror image of the first and consists of an “advanced” wave, which travels backward in time. Such a wave might be experienced by an observer “traveling forward in time” as a contracting shell of light that converges on a light bulb at the instant it is turned on.
Advanced electromagnetic (and sound) waves suffer from all the same inadequacies of normal “retarded” electromagnetic waves when it comes to explaining psi. The brain simply does not possess enough power to send a signal via advanced waves over any substantial distance in space and time. Another disadvantage of advanced waves is that, although they are theoretically possible, they have never been observed to exist.
Walker (1981) has pointed out that advanced electromagnetic waves must satisfy the same laws of propagation as retarded waves, including the inverse square law (that states that strength of signal will vary inversely with the square of the distance from the source). Walker notes that an advanced electromagnetic wave would have to circumnavigate the earth in order to transmit a precognitive signal a mere 0.13 seconds into the past. Bigu (1979) points out that it would take an acoustical wave 16 hours to traverse the semiperimeter of the Earth, which is still a much shorter time interval than that claimed in many cases of precognition. He also notes that higher sound frequencies undergo rapid attenuation. Bigu concludes that advanced waves are not likely to play a role in precognition unless “anomalous” regions of space (wormholes perhaps?) induce substantial time delays.
Gerald Feinberg (1975), a physicist who developed the theory of tachyons (particles that travel faster than light), has pointed out that, if advanced waves occurred frequently, double images should appear in many astronomical observations (although the prominent physicists John Archibald Wheeler and Richard Feynman have argued that such advanced waves will always be cancelled out by their reflections in a matter-dense universe). Also, all the objections to the real-time electromagnetic theory of psi based on difficulties in accounting for the encoding, generation and decoding of signals would seem to apply to the advanced wave theory of psi (as well as to the other theories that attempt to explain psi on the basis of retrocausal signals to be discussed below).
It is apparent that considerable difficulties confront any attempt to explain precognition on the basis of “external” advanced waves. Feinberg (1975) proposed a rather novel advanced wave theory, based on the notion that the advanced wave is confined within the brain of the person having the precognitive experience. In Feinberg’s model, when one experiences or learns about an event, “an oscillatory variation of some internal patterns in the brain occurs” (p. 59). This oscillatory variation may have both retarded and advanced components. Feinberg suggests that the retarded component may correspond to short-term memory, whereas the advanced component corresponds to precognition. Thus, Feinberg suggests, precognition may correspond to a “memory” of a future state of the brain. In this regard, Feinberg’s theory is similar to Jon Taylor’s theory that precognition is due to resonance between the quantum fields of the subject’s present and future brain states (Taylor, 1995, 1998, 2000) as discussed earlier in this chapter.
Feinberg asserts that, if the retarded oscillatory pattern corresponds to short-term memory, then the advanced-wave based precognitive ability should have only a short temporal range similar to that of short-term memory. Also, there should be a decay in precognitive ability as the time interval between the experience and the confirming event increases. Feinberg hypothesizes that long-term precognition might be made possible through “chaining” if one person tells another of his precognitive experience, the second precognizes that feedback and tells a third person of the “meta-precognition” and so on. This would not seem to be a typical occurrence in most actual instances of apparent precognition.
Feinberg could possibly have accounted for long-term precognition in terms of the rehearsal strategies that are often effective in keeping items in short-term memory (such as repeating a telephone number over and over again). Feinberg predicts no correlation between precognition and spatial distance, as he hypothesizes that subjects only precognize events within their own brain (e.g., a precognition of a plane crash may not be direct, but rather a precognition of one’s brain state as one reads an account of the crash in the newspaper the next afternoon). Feinberg predicts a positive correlation between precognitive ability and short-term memory and predicts that techniques used to bolster short-term memory will also be helpful in precognition. He proposes that there is no precognitive equivalent of long-term memory, as this is likely to involve structural changes in the brain rather than a continuing oscillatory pattern.
Feinberg’s theory, and the other theories of precognition based on retrocasual signals to be discussed below predicts that precognitive attrition (in which precognitive experiences are more frequent and more detailed over shorter time intervals) should occur. The evidence for precognition attrition is discussed later in this chapter. Feinberg’s theory also predicts that a subject must have future sensory awareness of an event in order to precognize it. However, several studies have reported evidence of precognition without feedback. For instance, in an experiment specifically designed to test this hypothesis, Bierman (1977) found evidence of precognition without feedback, although he conceded that his results could be due to experimenter psi (thus saving Feinberg’s theory, as experimenters typically do receive feedback).
An advanced wave theory of retroactive PK has been proposed by de Beauregard (1979). De Beauregard hypothesizes that observers may collapse quantum mechanical wave functions (i.e. select a particular outcome of a quantum mechanical process) retroactively through the emission of such advanced waves. It is, however, somewhat difficult to see how an advanced wave can collapse a state vector, when retarded electromagnetic waves are not usually regarded as having this capability. Like Walker (2000), De Beauregard suggests that there may be rudimentary psyches or “monads” determining all quantum events. De Beauregard also climbs out on the precarious intelligent design limb of the scientific tree by postulating that “finalistic advanced waves,” are responsible for biological phylogenesis and ontogenesis, thus proposing that the development of biological species and individual organisms is guided by some sort of vitalistic end state in the future (i.e., perhaps engineered by “monads” located “downstream” in the river of time from us).
Antimatter. Another possible retrocausal signal is antimatter. Antimatter, despite its provocative name, is not an esoteric form of matter out of science fiction but is an ordinary form of matter that is observed daily in particle accelerators around the world. Every particle of matter has its corresponding antiparticle. The antiparticle of the electron is called the positron; it has the same mass as the electron but carries a positive electrical charge, whereas the electron is negatively charged. When an electron meets a positron, they annihilate one another. Their mass is converted to pure energy in the form of photons. If a substantial quantity of matter were to meet up with a corresponding amount of antimatter, a powerful explosion would occur. (This is the source of power for the propulsion drive of the spaceship Enterprise in the popular Star Trek series).
The Nobel winning physicist and legendary character Richard Feynman noted that antimatter could be regarded mathematically as ordinary matter traveling backward in time. Thus, a positron could be conceived of as an electron traveling into the past. Consider a case in which a high-energy photon creates a positron-electron pair at spacetime location A. Assume the positron then meets up with a second electron and annihilates with it at spacetime location B, producing a second photon. (Please note that due to the law of conservation of momentum, such a process is forbidden in empty space, but may occur in the presence of matter, as pointed out by Leggett, 1987b). Under Feynman’s interpretation, this process could be regarded as the trajectory of one electron. The electron would be regarded as traveling forward in time to event B, reversing its direction through the emission of a photon, traveling backward in time to event A, where it reverses its direction once more through the emission of a photon traveling backward in time (photons are their own antiparticles) and returns to its normal forward trajectory in time. This would be analogous to the more usual case in which an electron zigzags back and forth in space, emitting and absorbing photons to change direction. In fact, as Feynman related in his Nobel prize acceptance speech, the physicist John Wheeler once suggested to him that the reason why all electrons have the same mass is that they are all the same particle, zigzagging backward and forward in time (Wheeler was only joking).
What would antimatter-based time travel look like to us if we were to encounter an instance of it while walking down the street? We might notice a big burst of light in front of the drug store. Out of the explosion, two seemingly identical men would emerge, one walking forward and one walking backward. If we were to examine the one walking backward under a microscope, we would see that he was getting seconds younger with each step and that his beard was retreating into his skin. Suddenly, we see a third copy of the man across the street. The man walking backward crosses the street, miraculously avoiding all the oncoming traffic even though his head is turned away from it. He then seems to back into the third copy of the man that is walking on the other side of the street. There is a giant explosion, after which both men have disappeared. (Actually, most towns would have been destroyed in this process, but we will assume that this one was particularly well constructed.) What really happened? This man has the ability to reverse his direction in time by emitting photons and changing himself into antimatter. As he was walking down the street, he thought he heard someone in front of the drug store across the street make disparaging remarks about his toupee. Just to make sure, he reversed direction in time and walked over to hear what was really said. After crossing the street, he again reversed his direction in time in order to eavesdrop more effectively. (It is much easier to interpret sound waves when one is going forward in time.)
At least one parapsychologist has attempted an explanation of precognition and retroactive PK in terms of such Feynman-like zigzagging of particles back and forth through time. De Beauregard (2002) uses such time-reversed motion to argue against the postulation of extra dimensions of spacetime by such theorists as Rauscher and Targ to account for psi, as discussed earlier in this chapter.
In trying to account for precognition on the basis of antimatter signals, one runs into all the usual problems of signals weakening with distance (and time) and the difficulties of trying to account for how the brain could generate and decode such a signal, especially in view of the scarcity of antimatter in our region of the universe. With antimatter, there is the additional problem that any message sent by antimatter particles would quickly degrade as the antimatter would rapidly annihilate with matter, which constitutes the predominant form of material particles, at least in our region of the universe.
The final problem is that antimatter need not be regarded as matter traveling backward in time. This interpretation is really based on a cheap mathematical trick on Feynman’s part. It is perfectly legitimate to regard a positron as a positively charged particle traveling forward in time rather than a negatively charged particle traveling backward in time.
Tachyons. Some parapsychologists, including Martin Ruderfer (1974) and Adrian Dobbs (1965, 1967), have proposed that tachyons carry the psi signal in cases of precognition. Tachyons are particles that travel faster than light and therefore have the ability to go backward in time, as will be explained below. Dobbs’ theory is in fact quite elaborate and essentially involves the emission of tachyons from one of the alternative futures in a branching time model.
The existence of tachyons has been postulated by such physicists as E.C.G. Sudershan and Gerald Feinberg. (Feinberg, it will be remembered, has proposed his own version of an “advanced wave” theory of precognition.) Tachyons always go faster than the speed of light. Paradoxically, the less energy a tachyon has, the slower it goes. However, you would have to apply an infinite amount of energy to slow a tachyon down to the speed of light. Tachyons’ ability to travel backward in time depends on the relativity of simultaneity. As explained in more detail earlier in this chapter, In Einstein’s theory of relativity, two events that are perceived as simultaneous by one observer may not be perceived as simultaneous by another observer.
Here is how communication into the past via tachyons might be achieved. Suppose that a man has been sent to jail because he has been caught in an embezzling scheme. Over the course of few months, he is able to construct a crude tachyon transmission device out of soap flakes, pipe cleaners and discarded razor blades. He uses the device to send a signal to his friend Jimmy “the Weasel” Peterson, as the Weasel hurtles through space away from the authorities in his souped-up getaway ship. The transmission instructs the Weasel to send a message to the prisoner’s girlfriend, Susan Wayward, telling her to remove a crucial piece of evidence from his apartment and to plant it in the apartment of his despised rival at the accounting firm where he used to work. Due to the relativity of simultaneity, because the Weasel is moving rapidly away from the prisoner, portions of the prisoner’s past lie in the Weasel’s future. Thus, the Weasel is able to use a tachyon signal to get the message to Susan a full month before our protagonist is caught and convicted of embezzlement. Consequently, he was never sent to jail in the first place and is now a free man.
This of course brings up the subject of changing the past. It seems logically contradictory that the prisoner could both have been sent to jail and not sent to jail. These sorts of causal paradoxes are one of the reasons why many philosophers and scientists regard time travel as being inherently impossible. It would, however, be possible to avoid the paradoxes by adopting a branching time model. Once Susan has received the Weasel’s signal, a new time branch has been created, one in which the embezzler will not be sent to prison. This does not help the prisoner, however, as the version of the embezzler that should be most important to the prisoner is still sitting in jail on the first time branch. All he has succeeded in doing is freeing many of his twins in Everett’s parallel universes. (Although his message in fact created these alternate universes, no mean feat in itself!)
The ability of tachyons to travel backward in time appears to be based on the assumption that judgments regarding simultaneity will continue to be based on light signals. Because light is the fastest known signal, it is used to define simultaneity in the special theory of relativity. If an observer takes a snapshot of an event, the event photographed is defined to occur at a time halfway between the time of the emission of light by the camera’s flashbulb and the time of the reception of the light back at the camera’s lens (as the light travels equal distances in both directions and is assumed to travel at a constant speed). Yet if tachyons exist, light would no longer enjoy its privileged status as the fastest available signal, and simultaneity might have to be defined in terms of tachyon signals instead. In fact, if infinitely fast signals were available, the relativity of simultaneity might disappear altogether. Of course, such a redefinition of simultaneity might have unforeseen repercussions on the laws of physics (affecting the assumption of the constancy of the speed of light in all reference frames, for instance). Nevertheless, if an absolute simultaneity could be established using tachyonic signals, tachyons might be deprived of their retrocausal properties, as has been pointed out independently by physicists John Bell (1986) and Basil Hiley (1986) and by the writer (Stokes, 1985).
Another major drawback to the tachyon theory of psi is that tachyons have never been observed to exist; they remain purely theoretical constructs. In the 1970s, physicists Roger Clay and Philip Crouch (1974) claimed to have detected evidence for tachyons in the form of anomalous particle events that preceded the main showers of particles caused by cosmic rays; however, later experimenters were unable to repeat this observation.
Tachyon theories suffer from all the usual difficulties confronting signal theories of psi, including the fact that tachyon signals would be assumed to rapidly weaken over distance (and time). There is also the problem of accounting for how the brain could encode, generate and receive a tachyon-based psi message. This problem is even worse in the case of tachyons than it is for the other signal theories, as there is no good theory of how tachyons could interact with the tardyons of which human observers are composed (tardyons are particles that travel slower than the speed of light). In fact, physicist Nick Herbert (1988) has outlined several mathematical obstacles confronting any attempt to construct a theory of tachyon-tardyon interaction.
Precognitive Attrition. In all the retrocausal signal theories we have discussed, the signals involved would be expected to spread out and weaken as they travel backward in time. Thus, one would expect a “precognitive attrition” effect to occur, whereby precognition would be more effective over short time intervals than over long time intervals.
Many case investigators claim to have detected a decline in the number of precognition cases with increasing time intervals between the precognitive experience and the confirming event. In his analysis of Louisa Rhine’s collection, Sybo Schouten (1982) found 33 percent of the precognitive experiences to involve intervals of less than 24 hours, 67 percent to involve intervals shorter than two weeks, and 95 percent to involve intervals less than one year. Schouten found no significant relation between the form of the experience and time interval, although he notes that virtually all cases involving intervals greater than one year were dreams.
Schouten (1991), in a review of the history of parapsychology in the Netherlands, notes that both J. M. J. Kooy and J. C. M. Kruisanga kept diaries of precognitive dreams and that Kruisanga’s data showed a pronounced decline effect with time, although the exact nature of this decline effect is not made clear in Schouten’s paper.
Other investigators (e.g., Green, 1960; Orme, 1974) have also found evidence for a precognitive attrition effect in analyzing collections of reported spontaneous experiences. Orme based his conclusion on an analysis of several published collections of spontaneous cases. He found a nearly linear relationship between the logarithm of case frequency and the logarithm of the associated time interval. He compares precognition to memory, citing Ebbinghaus’ finding of a logarithmic relationship between memory retention and time.
De Pablos (1998) reported finding a precognitive attrition effect in 23 of his own ostensibly precognition dreams as selected from a dream diary containing 223 dreams. Specifically, he found the time interval between the dream and the confirming event to be less than 24 hours in 61% of the cases, to fall between one day and two weeks in 22% of the cases, with the remaining 17% of the cases involving a time interval between two weeks and 2.5 months.
In a later publication involving a study of 124 of his own dreams, de Pablos (2004) reported a “log-log” (i.e., power law) relationship between the frequency of occurrence of precognitive dreams and the time interval between the dream and the confirming event.
De Pablos proposes a model in which precognition is viewed as akin to the process of memory, but operating in a time-reversed fashion, similar to the theory proposed by Feinberg as discussed above, but involving long-term rather than short-term memory. The storage of memory traces normally involves the encoding of the to-be-remembered event, followed by consolidation of the memory trace or engram, followed eventually by the retrieval of the memory. De Pablos proposes that, in precognition, the retrieval of the “memory” of the future event comes first, followed by time-reversed “consolidation” and then by the encoding of the event at the future time at which it occurs. De Pablos notes that the effect of precognitive attrition is compatible both with a signal transmission model of precognition and with the “precognitive forgetting model” he proposes. He notes that the signal transmission model suggests that precognitive experiences should occur in roughly the same temporal order as the confirming events, whereas his precognitive forgetting model is more compatible with a “topographic” ordering of events, presumably by meaning and emotional significance. As memory consolidation takes time (sometimes on the order of years for full consolidation), de Pablos predicts that short-term precognition should be less consolidated than long-term precognition, and that therefore precognitive experiences involving longer time intervals would be expected to be more detailed than those involving shorter time intervals. De Pablos asserts that under the theories explaining psi in terms of retrocausal signals one would expect that there would be a loss of information over longer time intervals. His ratings of his own dreams indicated that there was more information in ostensibly precognitive dreams involving longer time intervals, whereas those involving short time intervals were more apt to be analogical or symbolic rather containing a lot of correct realistic detail.
Based on his “future memory” theory of precognitive dreaming, de Pablos predicts that acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter shown to enhance memory, would also facilitate precognitive dreaming. He also suggests testing acetylcholine inhibitors to determine if they suppress precognitive dreaming.
It should be noted that frequently reported findings that the strength of psi effects is independent of space-time separation, such as those of Jahn and Dunne (2005) provide some evidence against the precognitive attrition hypothesis, although these experimental findings typically do not involve precognitive dreams, but are more often focused on spatial separations in ESP experiments and spacetime separations in PK experiments.
These findings of a precognitive attrition effect in spontaneous case collections might be explained on the basis of selective reporting of cases. Cases involving relatively short time intervals may seem more impressive if the confirming event occurred one day after the dream than if it occurred fifteen years later. Also, only striking correspondences may be noticed between an event and a dream that occurred a long time ago, whereas trivial correspondences might be noticed between an event and a dream that one had last night. Also, if a long time interval is involved, it may take more details to make the experience seem sufficiently “non-coincidental” to report. This might explain de Pablo’s finding that number of details in his precognitive dreams increased with the length of the time interval between the dream and the confirming event. Also, people may forget precognitive dreams over long time intervals and be unable to recall them at the time of the confirming event. For all these reasons, one might expect a decline in the number of reported cases as the time interval between the experience and the confirming event increases, even in the absence of any real precognitive attrition effect.
Nancy Sondow (1984, 1988) reports a decline in the number of her own precognitive dreams with increasing time interval. Her analysis is based on a diary of her own dreams, which contained 943 entries. She argues against the hypothesis that the decline effect is due to increased forgetting of dreams over longer time intervals, noting that when she “overlearned” the dreams through repetitive study there was no reduction in the slope of the decline. There remains, however, the possibility that the decline effect could be an artifact of dismissing a dream from consideration after encountering an apparently confirming event, thus preventing the matching of the dreams with later events. For instance, precognition of one’s grandmother’s funeral one week from now might be interpreted as precognition of her death two days hence, reducing the “real” interval of one week to an apparent interval of two days.
Restricting their analysis to “coincidence” cases (in which the experience and the confirming event were separated by less than 24 hours in time), Rinaldi and Piccinini (1982) found 5.2 percent of the cases to fall within the interval of 12-24 hours before the event, 10.8 percent within 6-12 hours before the event, 16.3 percent within 1-6 hours before the event, 62.7 percent to occur within an hour of the event, 1.9 percent to fall within 1-6 hours after the event, 1.9 percent within 6-12 hours after the event, and 1.2 percent to fall within 12-24 hours after the event. This may constitute evidence for precognitive attrition that is not so easily explainable by the above counterhypothesis of forgetting and dismissal after premature matching. Rinaldi and Piccinini attribute the clustering of cases within an hour of the event to a possible “improvement” of testimony. However, as will be seen below, Charles Tart (1983) found higher scoring rates in ESP experiments employing real-time rather than precognitive targets, which would be consonant with Rinaldi and Piccinini’s findings. Rinaldi and Piccinini (1982) also report an analysis of forgetting artifacts in spontaneous case collections. They note that the number of cases reported declines as the amount of time that has elapsed since the experience increases. They found 168 cases per year for intervals of less than 6 months between the experience and interview, 47 cases per year for intervals from 6 months to 2 years, 33 cases per year for intervals from 2 to 5 years, and 27 cases per year for intervals from 6 to 10 years. Dream and intuition cases appeared to be forgotten at a faster rate than were the possibly more striking hallucination and physical effect cases. Cases involving death were not forgotten so quickly as cases not involving death. This forgetting factor may possibly bias the composition of spontaneous case collections to some degree. In any event, if already confirmed cases can be forgotten over time, it stands to reason that as-yet-unconfirmed dreams and hunches might well be forgotten if a long time interval separates them from the confirming event.
Turning to experimental evidence, Charles Tart (1983) found no evidence of a correlation between time interval and rate of psi information transmission in an analysis of published precognition experiments employing forced-choice ESP targets. He does note that the rate of information transmission was higher in “real-time” ESP experiments than in precognition experiments (his analysis being restricted to experiments obtaining significant evidence of psi). Tart suggests that real-time ESP and precognition may represent different abilities, although he concedes that the difference in scoring rates could be due to psychological barriers to the acceptance of precognition that would undermine the subject’s performance. He does not address the issue of whether methodological flaws in some real-time experiments (such as the existence of sensory cues allowing the subject to identify the targets) may be responsible for the high hit rates in some of the real-time ESP experiments.
On the other hand, in a later meta-analysis of forced choice precognition experiments published during the years 1935–1987, Honorton and Ferrari (1989) found significant evidence of a decline in the size of the obtained psi effect with increasing time intervals. This decline seemed to be due to studies with average citizens as subjects; studies using subjects preselected for their psi abilities actually showed a positive relationship between effect size and time interval. Honorton and Ferrari suggest that these effects may be due to differences in motivational factors between the two types of subjects. The experimental evidence for precognitive attrition is thus somewhat equivocal.
A second means of testing the hypothesis of precognitive attrition is to determine whether the overall accuracy and number of details in the precognitive experience declines over time. Schriever (1987) found no difference in the time intervals involved in highly accurate and less accurate dreams in her analysis of the dream diary of an actress. Sondow (1988) found no significant decrement in the accuracy or number of details in her own precognitive dreams over increasing time intervals. She suggests a possible psychological explanation for her evidence for precognitive attrition (discussed above), namely that people may largely restrict their precognitive monitoring to the near future. Haight (1979) likewise found no relationships between temporal interval and completeness of information, conviction, or importance of the confirming event in her study of experiences reported by high school students. In this context, it should be remembered that, in a study of his own dreams and reported in a “dream diary,” de Pablos (2004) found that more information was contained in precognitive dreams involving long time intervals than in dreams involving short time intervals, which he took to support his theory that precognition corresponds to “memories of the future” that become more consolidated as they propagate “backward in time.”
Even if the number of details in precognition cases were to decline as the time interval increased, such a decline could be explained on the basis of forgetting. For instance, Schouten (1981) found that the number of details reported in experiences in the Sannwald case collection fell off as the amount of time that had elapsed before reporting the case increased. The length of the report also declined. Schouten attributes these effects to forgetting. These effects are also evidence against the critics’ charge that such cases will be improved or embellished over time; the evidence suggests instead that the cases deteriorate as details are forgotten.
In summary, the evidence for precognitive attrition is equivocal. It is possible to argue that many reported declines in frequency of cases over increasing time intervals may be due to forgetting as well as the premature matching of experiences to events. The experimental evidence, as reviewed by Tart (1983) and Honorton and Ferrari (1989), is also equivocal. There is no compelling evidence for a weakening of psi signals, in the form of a decrease in the number or accuracy of the details in an experience, over increasing time intervals. (Of course, to the extent that people will be more reluctant to report less detailed cases, it might be possible that a reduction in the number of details would be reflected indirectly in a decline in the number of cases reported over increasing time intervals rather than directly in the composition of the reported cases themselves.)
In any event, as the evidence for precognitive attrition is so equivocal, it is impossible to come to a firm decision about the viability of theories ascribing precognition to retrocausal signals on the basis of precognitive attrition.
The Observational Theories
The “signal” theories of psi that have been just discussed are all based on the assumption that some relatively localized particle or wave carries the psi message. As we have seen, these theories all have rather severe drawbacks. However, as discussed in Chapter 2, experiments in the quantum mechanical realm indicate that the universe does not consist exclusively of discrete, mutually isolated and localized particles and objects. In fact, the theory of quantum mechanics paints a picture of the universe that is not at all hostile to psi phenomena. Indeed the principle of nonlocality in quantum mechanics would almost lead one to anticipate the existence of psi. If not even two protons separated by light years can be conceptualized as separate objects, perhaps it is also incorrect to consider persons as encapsulated, spatially isolated entities. Seeming separate persons may in fact merely be different facets of a higher nonlocal entity. The mysterious connections between apparently isolated elementary particles in field of quantum mechanics make the prospect of psi interactions between people much more palatable.
As noted in Chapter 2, science has generally proceeded by the analysis and dissection of complex systems into their component parts, the ultimate parts being of course elementary particles such as electrons and quarks. In the orthodox scientific view, higher-order and holistic mental phenomena, such thoughts and beliefs, will ultimately be explained in terms of the activity of “lower order” entities such as neurons and synapses, whose activity is in turn explained by still lower entities such as molecules and quarks. At least this is the view according to the “orthodox,” Newtonian view of the world that is still (consciously or unconsciously) clung to by most mainstream scientists, despite the fact that quantum mechanical evidence indicates that such a view is outmoded and incorrect in fundamental ways. This type of explanation is known as “upward causation.” The philosophy upon which it is based is called “reductionism,” as it assumes that the properties of complex systems, such as people, can be reduced to the properties of their components (such as atoms). Several parapsychologists have called for an abandonment of the exclusive reliance on upward causation in science, basing their arguments in part on quantum nonlocality. In his Presidential Address to the Parapsychological Association, Dean Radin (1989) proposed quite strongly that instances of “downward causation” also occur and are neglected by orthodox science. Such downward causation might consist of an influence of the mind on the behavior of molecules, for instance.
Stephen Braude (1986) has also criticized the “small-is-beautiful” bias of reductionistic science, and William Roll (1987) even recommends extending the traditional biological hierarchy beyond atoms, cells, organs and organisms to encompass a superorganismic level of description.
In a Presidential Address to the Parapsychological Association, K. Ramakrishna Rao (1978) noted the similarity the principle of nonlocality in quantum mechanics, in which all events are, at least potentially, interconnected and the Vedantic doctrine of the identity between atman (or a person’s individual consciousness) and Brahman (the Supreme Self or World Mind). Rao suggests that the practice of yoga may facilitate the occurrence of psi phenomena, as it enables the self to sink back into a primordial condition of unity with the rest of reality.
Several parapsychological theorists (e.g., Roll, 1982b; Villars, 1983; Nash 1983, 1984a; Giroldini,1986; and Shan, 2002), have explicitly proposed that psi phenomena may due to nonlocal quantum connections between the elementary particles in someone’s brain and particles in another person or object. Shan, for instance, hypothesizes that telepathy may be mediated by quantum entanglement between brains and suggest that psi might be facilitating by inputting entangled photons into the subjects’ eyes.
This hypothesis that psi effects are due to quantum entanglement at the particle level runs into difficulties on several fronts. First, it is difficult to believe that pairs of particles could be maintained in a coherent quantum state while residing in separate physical objects, including brains, for any reasonable amount of time. Second, this hypothesis assumes an ability of a person or brain to track the past history of particles that is far more miraculous than the psi powers it is invoked to explain. Third, no psi message can be sent through such nonlocal connections under standard interpretations of quantum mechanics, as the behavior of both particles in a pair is apparently random at each site (although they are correlated with each other). The only way a psi message could be sent or a PK influence exerted would be for the mind to force the quantum process to occur in a preferred manner (such as by sending a message in Morse code by making protons spin up or down with respect to a selected spatial axis). This would implicitly equate the mind with the so-called “hidden variables” that determine the outcome of quantum processes. As these variables must necessarily be nonlocal, why not simply assume that the mind exerts its influence on the object directly rather than through particles in the brain that happen to be correlated with particles in the target? The latter view seems to be mired in a view of the mind as a localized entity, despite its explicit appeal to quantum nonlocality.
Several theorists, including Helmut Schmidt (1975a, 1975b, 1984), Harris Walker (1975, 1984, 2000, 2003) and Richard Mattuck (1977, 1982, 1984), have in fact taken the position that the mind should be equated with the hidden variables of quantum mechanics and that the mind should be seen as capable of directly influencing the outcome of quantum events. Their theories are collectively known as the “observational theories.” This term derives from the fact that, as discussed in Chapter 2, attributes of quantum particles, such as the position of an electron, only take on definite values when an act of observation is made to determine what those values are.
If being observed by a conscious mind somehow causes the electron’s position to assume a definite value, the observational theorists reason, perhaps the conscious mind can also somehow determine what particular position the electron will adopt. As discussed in the previous chapter, parapsychologists have amassed a large body of evidence suggesting that the mind may be able to influence the outcomes of quantum processes in the form of significant PK influences on quantum mechanically based random event generators. So the observational theories are not without experimental support. Specific mathematical versions of the observational theory have been proposed by Schmidt, Mattuck and Walker; however, these models have not given rise to any sustained research programs. Thus, the mathematical models proposed by these writers have not been confirmed by a large (or even medium-sized) body of evidence directed specifically at testing the specific predictions of these models . Any reader interested in the technicalities of these models may find a discussion of them in some of my previous publications (e.g., Stokes, 1987, 1991) as well as in the primary sources cited above.
The Divergence Problem. One problem faced by the observational theories is that due to the assumed spacetime independence of psi, later observers may be in a position to influence the outcome of a quantum process that has “already” been observed by earlier observers. For instance, if a PK experiment in which a subject attempts to influence the output of a quantum mechanically-based REG is published in a scientific journal, then the readers of the journal are secondary observers of the output of the REG (if only in summary form). The number of later observers is potentially large and may include persons reading accounts of the research in newspaper or viewers of television shows on paranormal research. Such persons may thus be in a position to influence the research via retroactive PK. Schmidt (1974a) was in fact the first to point out this problem, noting that the effects of a large number of later observers would be sufficient to cancel out or overwhelm the psi effects of the designated primary observers in the experiment. In fact, Schmidt (1978) noted that the original formulation of his model predicts that, given a large number of secondary observers, the hit rate will be 50%, no matter what the chance probability of a hit is. Houtkooper (1977) derived from Schmidt’s model that, under a different set of assumptios than those used by Schmidt, the hit rate for a large number of observers should be 0 or 1, meaning that the experiment should yield either all hits or all misses. As these rates are not observed in actual PK experiments with quantum mechanically based REGs, either Schmidt’s theory, or else Schmidt and Houtkooper’s assumptions, must be false. As the predictions derived by Schmidt and Houtkooper are a result in part of the assumption of the spacetime independence of psi, one way out of this difficulty would be to abandon the assumption of spacetime independence.
Schmidt (1974a) proposed one means of circumventing the divergence problem, which was to assume that the psi process continues for a finite amount of time and then is somehow “’turned off’ so that PK influences by later observers vanish” (Schmidt, 1974a, p. 215). Millar (1978) proposed the simple remedy of assuming that only the first observer of a quantum process has any effect. Hartwell (1977) proposed a mathematical modification of Schmidt’s model in which the influence of later observers was decreased. Schmidt also proposed an emended version of his model in which the probability that a quantum process remains uncollapsed exponentially decays with time, with the decay rate a function of the observers’ “alertness.”
Stanford’s Conformance Behavior Theory
Stanford (1978) has proposed a theoretical model that is closely related to the observational theories. He calls his theory the “conformance behavior” model of psi. Stanford challenges the “psychobiological” or “cybernetic” model of psi, which assumes that psi abilities are similar to other sensory-motor functions. For instance, Stanford maintains that under the cybernetic model, PK is understood as analogous to other motor skills in that it assumes that the application of the PK force is guided by ESP feedback about the current velocity and position of the target object (such as a rolling die). Stanford cites evidence that psi success is independent of task complexity as evidence against the “cybernetic model.” For instance, one would not expect as much success in a blind PK task (in which the subject must first learn the identity of the target through ESP and then psychokinetically influence the die to correspond to the target) as one would expect in a straightforward PK test in which the target is known to the subject. However, the experimental data so not show a marked decline in results when the blind PK paradigm is implemented. Studies have also shown no decrease in PK success when the PK target is a complex, multi-process REG as opposed to a simple single-process REG. As evidence of the complexity-independence of ESP, Stanford cites an experiment by Foster (1940) showing no deterioration in performance when a subject had to integrate information from two extrasensorially perceived cards from that when the information was contained on a single card. It should be noted that the task-complexity independence of psi is also predicted by other observational theorists, such as Schmidt, who postulates that the size of the psi effect is dependent only on the probabilities of the final output of the REG and the strength of the subject as a psi source.
Stanford interprets all psi events as the conformance behavior of random event generators (including human brains as well as the quantum-mechanical REGs used in psi experiments) to the needs of a “disposed system” (which is typically the subject or experimenter in a psi experiment or one of the people involved in a spontaneous psi incident). In order for conformance behavior to occur, the REG must produce events that are “unequally attractive” to the disposed system. Furthermore, “labile” or “noisy” systems (characterized by a great deal of random fluctuation) should produce more conformance behavior than more deterministic systems.
Several authors have provided critiques of the conformance behavior theory. Rao (1977) has criticized the theory as being much like the observational theories, but without their predictive value. Indeed, Stanford’s theory does not lead to the precise quantitative predictions characteristic of other observational theories such as those of Schmidt, Walker, and Mattuck (although, as ready noted, the predictions of these latter theories remain to be verified).
Beloff (1979a) has noted that it is not clear what constitutes a “disposed system” in Stanford’s theory. Indeed, Stanford explicitly raises the question of whether conformance behavior might be found in cases involving nonorganic disposed systems, leading one to wonder whether computers and coiled springs might have psi abilities under Stanford’s theory. Beloff goes on to argue for the psychobiological paradigm, noting that there is no evidence for psi in the absence of living systems.
LeShan’s Alternate Realities
Leshan’s concept of “alternate realities” (LeShan, 1969, 1976, 1984; LeShan & Margenau, 1982) provides a transition point between the observational theories and nonlocal theories employing the notion of a collective mind. In LeShan’s view (which he developed in concert with his friend, the noted physicist Henry Margenau), there may be many equally valid ways of construing or looking at reality. Different models of reality may be needed to interpret different domains of experience. Furthermore, the concepts of one model may not be reducible to (i.e., explained in terms of) the concepts of another; rather the concepts of one model often “transcend” those of another.
Although two such models (which LeShan calls individual realties, or IRs) may appear to contradict one another, LeShan states that the principle of complementarity may be invoked to justify the employment of these seemingly contradictory world views within their own domains of explanation, much as Neils Bohr originally invoked the principle of complementarity to justify the alternate use of the seemingly contradictory wave and particle models of light (as light seems to behave as wave in some experimental contexts and as a particle in others). Thus, each model is equally valid within its own domain.
LeShan has proposed a variety of possible individual realities, but his original distinction between the “clairvoyant” or mystical IR and the “sensory” IR (LeShan, 1969) remains the most germane to the explanation of psi phenomena. LeShan states that each IR is characterized by its “basic limiting principles,” a term he adopted from the writings of the philosopher C. D. Broad (1962). (Broad’s own “basic limiting principles” were essentially restatements of the impossibility of psi phenomena. Broad asserted that these principles underlie the worldview of most modern scientists.)
In the sensory IR, which corresponds to the ordinary, waking state of consciousness, the world is seen as comprised of separate and discrete objects, information can be gained only through sensory input, time is divided into past present and future, and flows irreversibly “from the future, into the now, and into the past” and “free will” exists insofar as decisions made in the present can alter the future.
In the clairvoyant, or mystical reality, which is supposedly a way of looking at the world attained in mystical states, objects are not seen as separate or discrete from one another (“all things are one”), information about an object may be acquired directly due to the identity of self and object (hence allowing psi), time is without divisions into past, present and future (“all things are now”) and free will does not exist (as “all that will be is,” and thus the future, already existing, cannot be changed).
LeShan sees the clairvoyant IR as a psi-conducive state, and he equates it with the view of reality contained in modern theories of physics. While it is true that the special theory of relativity abolishes an absolute distinction between past, present and future), and both relativity theory and quantum mechanics stress the dependence of observed phenomena on the state of the observer (“self and object are one”), it is equally true that the indeterminism inherent in quantum mechanics is often taken as support for the doctrine of free will. Thus, while some concepts such as the principle of nonlocality in quantum mechanics and the relativity of simultaneity would seem to be compatible with LeShan’s clairvoyant IR, quantum indeterminacy would not. (In fact, as discussed previously, quantum indeterminacy might comprise a “backdoor” by which the concept of an absolute “now” might sneak back into physical theory.) Also, the relativity of simultaneity cannot be invoked to explain precognition. For instance while those events in my future “light cone” (the set of events I can influence via causal signals traveling at or below the speed of light) may be in the present for an observer moving rapidly relative to me, the limiting velocity of the speed of light prohibits any causal signal from reaching me from my future light cone. Furthermore, the events in my future light cone will be defined as being in my future no matter what reference frame is invoked. Thus, an absolute future remains for any observer despite the relativity of simultaneity.
It is also not clear that LeShan’s theory is capable of generating any exact empirical predictions other than (possibly) the space-time independence of psi and the psi-conducive nature of mystical states (which is already predicted by psychological theories).
In a revision of his theory, LeShan (1984) drew a distinction between the “realm of sensory experience” and the “realm of consciousness” (although he maintains the distinction between the sensory IR and the clairvoyant IR as well). In the realm of consciousness or mental experience, space has no meaning and it is equally meaningless to talk about separate objects; thus, telepathy is permissible in this realm. He asserts that psychological phenomena are unquantifiable; however, this contention seems dubious in view of modern research in the areas of experimental and mathematical psychology. Such research includes Shepard’s (1978) demonstration of the analogy between the rotation of mental objects and the rotation of physical objects through reaction time studies and Sternberg’s (1969) discovery of nonterminating memory searches, also through reaction time studies.
LeShan states that no possibility of prediction exists in the realm of consciousness as the same situation cannot be repeated twice; hence, there can be no law of causation, whether “absolute” or “statistical.” Thus, free will exists (unlike in the case of LeShan’s “clairvoyant IR”). Somewhat inconsistently, LeShan considers that the (mental) past can be shown (through retrodictive psychoanalytic techniques, etc.) to have been determined, but still contends that the future is not (although when it becomes the past, it can be retrodictively shown to have been determined all along!). LeShan (1984) explicitly notes the analogy between altered states of consciousness and his IRs and asserts that altered states of consciousness typically accompany the adoption of alternate models of reality, suggesting a connection between LeShan’s ideas and Tart’s concept of state-specific sciences as discussed above (Tart, 1972).
It should be noted that many other authors have drawn connections between the emerging world view of modern physics with mystical and transpersonal states of consciousness, including Capra (1975) and Zukav (1979) among many others. More recently, the PEAR team of Jahn and Dunne have proposed models of consciousness and psi phenomena couched in terms of the same technical concepts used in quantum physics (Jahn & Dunne, 1987, 2001, 2004; Jahn, 2002). However, the quantum formalisms offered by Jahn and Dunne appear to be merely analogies, and it is doubtful that testable predictions can be deduced from these models.
The Collective Mind
If individual persons cannot be thought of as separate and autonomous from one another, perhaps it would make sense to abandon the assumption that their minds are entirely separate from one another and to raise the possibility that individual psyches may be aspects of a group mind or collective unconscious. In fact, several parapsychological thinkers have postulated the existence of a collective mind in order to explain telepathy and other forms of psi phenomena. Some of these theorists, such as G. N. M. Tyrrell (1953) and C. G. Jung (1973), have postulated that individual minds may share common regions at a deep level of the unconscious. Steinkamp (2002) has noted that the existence of psi phenomena imply that our “selves” are not entirely separate from one another and that precognition suggests that one’s own present and future selves may not be separate. William Roll (1988, 1989) has suggested that the Iroquois’ concept of the “long body” (a kind of collective mind encompassing one’s family and other intimate acquaintances) might usefully be employed in attempting to understand psi phenomena. We will consider several of these theories in turn, beginning with that of Jung.
Jung’s Theory of Synchronicity and the Collective Unconscious. Carl G. Jung was one of Freud’s most prominent disciples in the early psychoanalytic movement; indeed, he was regarded as Freud’s “crown prince” until he broke with Freud to found his own school of Analytical Psychology. To account for similarities in the hallucinations and delusions of his psychotic patients (as well as the presence of apparent references to classical mythology in the delusional productions of apparently uneducated schizophrenic patients), Jung was led to postulate the existence of a “collective unconscious.” Jung proposed that this collective unconscious existed at a deeper level of the psyche than the “personal unconscious” discovered by Freud. He also invoked the collective unconscious to explain the many similarities among the mythological and religious traditions of apparently unrelated peoples. Not only was the collective unconscious conceived to be basis for the common primordial images (archetypes) that appear in various mythological traditions, it was also conceived of as containing “racial” or “inherited” memories of the entire history of humankind. (Freud had also propounded the doctrine of inherited memory in his own theorizing.)
Some of Jung’s followers have invoked the work of such ethologists as Konrad Lorenz and Niko Tinbergen on “innate releasing mechanisms” (indicating that, for instance, a bird of a given species has an apparently genetically-based tendency to sit only on eggs of a certain type) as evidence for the existence of inherited memory images or at least of primordial or archetypal imagery. While the inheritance of this sort of tendency to respond to a particular “sign stimulus” is not in dispute, the doctrine of the inheritance of specific memories has fallen into general scientific disrepute along with the rest of the Lamarckian doctrine of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. (Lamarck thought, for instance, that giraffes’ necks might have become longer through generations of being stretched in order to reach leaves on tall trees, whereas the modern neo–Darwinian theory holds that giraffes that inherited random mutations that made their necks longer were able to outcompete their rivals for food.)
Jung also proposed the existence of an “acausal connecting principle,” which he called the principle of “synchronicity.” This principle acts to produce “meaningful coincidences.” An example of a synchronistic occurrence is provided by the case of one of my friends in graduate school, who, not being prepared for the preliminary examination for his doctoral degree, postponed the examination after much soul-searching. That night, he went to eat in a Chinese restaurant. When he opened his fortune cookie, it said, “It is best to put off until tomorrow that which you may botch today.”
Jung viewed the collective unconscious as being capable of extending its influence to the external physical world. In fact, he regarded all reality as being “psychoid” in nature (meaning that even seemingly inanimate objects have a psychic component). For instance, in one oft-discussed incident, Jung was in the middle of having an argument with Freud when loud raps were heard, seemingly coming from a nearby bookshelf. Jung attributed this coincidence to the “exteriorization” of an archetype (a doctrine that he also invoked to explain sightings of ghosts).
Several parapsychologists have objected to Jung’s use of the term “acausal” to describe synchronistic occurrences. First of all, many of Jung’s examples of synchronistic effects could be explained on the basis of ESP or PK. For instance, Jung might have unconsciously used his own psychokinetic powers to produce the raps in the bookcase (he described feeling intense symptoms of anger in his abdomen just preceding the incident). Also, it seems that Jung implicitly assumed that synchronistic events are in some sense caused by factors in the collective unconscious. As Beloff (1978) has noted, Jung seems to confuse causation with mechanical causation. What Jung probably wanted to deny was the existence of ordinary physical causes for synchronistic effects. Beloff (1974) has also argued that it is difficult to explain the movement of large objects in poltergeist cases as being due to a “meaningful coincidence” as the events are virtually impossible in the first place. However, it should be noted that Jung himself and the German parapsychologist Hans Bender (1980) have invoked Jung’s notion of reality as psychoid and his concept of the collective unconscious to account for certain types of poltergeist and other macroscopic PK effects.
It would, however, seem as though these explanations are causal rather than acasual in nature. Although no direct causal chain may link, say, the anger in a poltergeist agent and the inexplicable movement of a filing cabinet in Jung and Bender’s interpretation, both events seem to be postulated to be caused by psychic events happening somewhere in the collective unconscious (hence the theory really is in fact a casual theory, despite Jung’s protestations). Palmer (2004) notes that Jung’s theory in fact is a casual theory, with the archetypes of the collective unconscious acting as causal agents. As both Beloff and Palmer point out, the confusion over the causation issue is linked to Jung’s equation of causation with mechanical “billiard ball” causation. To the extent that Jung abandons causation altogether, he is throwing out the baby with the bathwater and rendering his theory unfalsifiable, as it may be difficult to derive empirical predictions unless it is assumed that one set of circumstances will give rise to (cause?) another set of circumstance.
It was, incidentally, Jung’s abandonment of the principle of mechanical causation that made his theory so attractive to Arthur Koestler, who saw similarities between Jung's principle of synchronicity and the mysterious interconnections between apparently mutually isolated physical events involved in quantum nonlocality, as well as Mach’s principle and the Pauli exclusion principle in physics (Koestler, 1978). As Palmer (2004) notes, in Koestler’s view the principle of synchronicity encompassed “meaningful coincidences” between two physical events, whereas Palmer interprets Jung as restricting the principle to pairs of events in which at least one of the events is psychically “inner” or subjective.
Tyrrell’s Theory of Subliminal Selves. The parapsychologist G. N. M. Tyrrell (1953) proposed a theory of the collective unconscious that bears a certain resemblance to Jung’s theory.
According to Tyrrell, the human personality consists of a hierarchy of selves. Essentially, Tyrrell believed that people share regions of their minds at a deep unconscious level. He asserted that, at the unconscious level, the “midlevel centers [of the personality] possess in some degree both the qualities of selfhood and of otherness from self” (p. 119, italics in original). It is in these regions that our dreams and hallucinations are constructed, which is why witnesses are consistent in their descriptions of collectively perceived apparitions. Also, as this deep region of the unconscious has no organization in space or time according to Tyrrell, it enables telepathic exchanges to take place.
James’ “Cosmic Consciousness.” William James, one of the pioneers of both American psychology and American psychical research, postulated the existence of a “cosmic consciousness” into which individual minds merge during mystical experiences. James (1909/1960) saw the everyday, normal state of consciousness as being a circumscribed form of awareness designed for adaptation to the “external earthly environment.” James’ vision of a cosmic consciousness corresponds closely to Rao’s depiction of an implicate order bearing a resemblance to the World Mind or Brahman of Hinduism.
Myers’ Metetherial World. F. W. H. Myers (1903), one of the discoverers of the unconscious mind and a leader in the early psychical research movement, also postulated the existence of a deep region of the unconscious or “subliminal self” capable of accounting for paranormal events (although he was somewhat vague as to the mechanism underlying psi). He also proposed the existence of a “metetherial world,” which he conceived to be a world of images lying beyond the normal world of ether (the substance once thought to be the medium in which light waves propagated, but which is now generally regarded as nonexistent by physicists). On the basis of the fact that apparitions are frequently seen by more than one observer, Myers was led to conjecture that apparitions are not mere hallucinations but have a real existence in the metetherial world. He called such apparitions “metetherial presences” and conjectured that they represented modifications in regions of physical space, thus implying some sort of coextension between normal physical space and the metetherial world. Myers compared the metetherial world to a dream world, noting that phantoms often appear to behave in a dreamlike manner. Thus, Myers’ metetherial world might be considered to be a form of collective unconscious.
Myers’ view that apparitions occupied regions of physical space and were external to the minds of the percipients of the apparition was opposed by his contemporary Edmund Gurney (e.g., Gurney, Myers & Podmore, 1886a, 1886b), who believed that collectively perceived apparitions could be accounted for on the basis of the telepathic spreading of a hallucination from one percipient to the others. Writing nearly a century later, Osis (1981) proposed that different theories may be required to explain different types of hallucinations (such as collectively vs. individually perceived apparitions).
Price’s Dream World. The philosopher H. H. Price (1939, 1940, 1948, 1953, 1959, 1961) also argued for the existence of a collective unconscious, noting that the possible existence of continuous telepathic rapport between minds makes it foolish to argue for a total separation of minds. Like the philosopher Henri Bergson (1914), he assumed that a repressive mechanism acts to prevent biologically irrelevant telepathic information from entering consciousness while the person is awake. He suggested that this suppressive mechanism may be relaxed in the dream state and in the states of dissociation associated with mediumship, making these states particularly conducive to the occurrence of psi phenomena.
Price proposed that one survives death in a dreamlike afterlife, whose characteristics are determined in part by a person’s wishes and beliefs (and in part by telepathic impulses from other minds). Price assumed, like Myers, that the images persisting in the psychic “ether” may acquire a life of their own and may be responsible for experiences of hauntings and apparitions. In particular, Price argued that cases in which persons undergoing out-of-body experiences have been perceived at the locations to which they have projected (that is, “reciprocal hallucinations”) provide evidence that apparitions serve as “vehicles of consciousness.” Noyes (1998) has also proposed that an afterlife realm such as Price’s world of images could be in some sense coextensive with, and have effects in, the physical world, producing phenomena such as apparitions and materializations.
In an extension of Price’s theory, Michael Grosso (1979) suggests that the ego may become fragmented in the afterlife and that, when one’s wishes and desires are played out, one may eventually achieve the sort of transpersonal state experienced by mystics. Grosso attributes the repetitive, rudimentary forms of behavior frequently exhibited by ghostly apparitions to such fragmentation of the personality.
More recently, Patterson (1995) also proposed a form of afterlife equivalent to a collective dream. Patterson notes that such a world would be an intersubjective, but not purely objective, realm. Of course our current dreams depend on the activity of a neural substrate (our brains), and it is not clear that dreams of an discarnate soul lacking such a substrate could be qualitatively similar to the dreams of a human with an intact brain.
Carington’s Association Theory. The noted psychical researcher Whately Carington (1949) proposed a variety of “neutral monism” in which the universe is considered to consist exclusively of “cognita,” atomistic mental events related by the laws of association. If an agent (i.e. sender in a telepathy experiment) happens to be thinking of cognitum A at the same time that he is exposed to cognitum B (the target), an associative link will be established between A and B. Thus, when a percipient thinks of A, this will tend to call up the association B, and he will become aware of the agent’s experience. The more cognita or K-ideas (connecting ideas) that are shared between the agent and percipient, the higher the likelihood of the telepathic transfer of information between the two will be, which explains the frequency of telepathy between closely related persons (who presumably share many cognita and associations).
At least one attempt to test Carington’s theory by providing the percipient with a detailed picture of the agent and the agent’s room (in an attempt to increase the number of K-ideas linking the two) failed to produce any evidence of psi (Soal & Bateman, 1954). However, the notion of using K-ideas to bolster psi is not dead by any means. Although they do not mention K-ideas or Carington by name, Murray, Simmonds and Fox (2005) have presented a new research design in which both sender and receiver will be immersed in similar virtual realities in an attempt to facilitate telepathy.
Carington’s theory has the distinctively negative feature of abandoning the assumption of the existence of the physical world without replacing the powerful predictive value of physical theories with any comparable predictive value of its own. A further difficulty with Carington’s theory is its assumption of a single value for the associative strength between two cognita A and B. Surely, the strength of the association between A and B will vary from mind to mind, as a large amount of empirical evidence will attest.
Murphy’s Theory of the Interpersonal Field. The well-known American psychologist (and parapsychologist) Gardner Murphy proposed a theory of the collective mind type, in which every psychological event is hypothesized to leave a trace in the “interpersonal field” or “paranormal matrix” (Murphy, 1945). Murphy further contended that the normal concepts of space and time do not apply to the paranormal matrix, thus allowing psi.
Rao (1966) has challenged Murphy’s explanation of psi phenomena in terms of the paranormal matrix, observing that the evidence for pure clairvoyance is difficult to account for on the basis of this theory, unless one postulates the existence of a psychic aspect to all objects. Rao also asks if the interpersonal field contains traces of all psychological events, past, present and future. If not, the paranormal matrix theory may be unable to account for precognition. If so, Rao asks, is it not a contradiction to talk about events “leaving a trace?”
Murphy (1973) proposed that the mind might survive death in a fragmentary state in a type of collective consciousness. However, Murphy noted that the idea that the individual mind will survive death in an intact condition presupposes that the individual mind is a rigid, encapsulated entity. Instead, Murphy argued, the individual mind, being merely an aspect of a larger field of consciousness, may take on new qualities and form new structural relationships, no longer clinging to its narrow, biologically-oriented form of organization. He quotes Nietzsche’s remark that the ego is a “grammatical illusion,” and notes that the Buddhists deny the existence of a personal soul. William Roll (1982a, 1984) has cited instances involving the apparent fusion of memories from different people in mediumistic communications and in past-life memories reported by children as giving further support to Murphy’s contention that personalities may undergo fragmentation, fusion and reorganization after death.
Murphy’s views of the collective mind and possible afterlives are similar to those proposed by Price, Grosso and Carington. To further wed his theory to Carington’s theory, Murphy suggests that the localization of apparitions in haunting cases may be due to K-ideas provided by the physical location.
Hardy’s “SeCo Theory.” Hardy (1998) proposed a theory that is similar to that of Carrington and Murphy, in which the mind is seen as composed of interacting and somewhat autonomous “semantic constellations” (or “SeCos” in her terminology).
Palmer’s “Psiad” Theory. Palmer (1995) proposed that patterns of brain activity can give rise to integrate packet of psychic content called “psiads.” Once formed, the psiads can exert psychokinetic effects on the brains that gave birth to them. The psiads may drift free of the “mother brain” and exert psychokinetic effects on other host brains with activity or mental content similar to that occurring in the “mother brain” at the time of the psiad’s development. Meanwhile, the original mother brain is giving birth to new psiads. This provides a mechanism to explain telepathy. Palmer asserts that telepathy should be most common between individuals who are genetically related. However, a great many spontaneous cases on record involve telepathy between spouses. Perhaps, a lifetime of common experiences provide an additional basis for psiads to “glom onto” a new host brain. Palmer attributes collectively perceived apparitions and similar experience to psiads simultaneously interacting with multiple percipients’ brains. He also explains mediumship and cases in which children report memories related to previous lives (as discussed more fully in Chapter 6) to interactions with psiads. Gauld (1996) has noted that psiads would not provide a mechanism for personal survival, but only for the survival of a fragment of one’s experiences that would bear a tenuous relationship with the original self or person. Gauld further notes that it is different to see how an experimental test could distinguish between Palmer’s theory and, say, the association theories proposed by Carington and Murphy.
Roll’s Theory of “Psi Fields” and the “Long Body.” Another version of the collective mind theory has been proposed by William Roll (1961, 1964, 1966, 1979, 1981, 1982a, 1982b, 1983). Roll contends that physical objects contain “psi fields,” or localized memory traces of events happening in their vicinity. This quasi-physical memory trace may then interact with the memory system or psi field of an observer, such as in the form of ESP known as psychometry or object reading, in which a psychic uses physical contact with an object to facilitate extrasensory contact with a person or place associated with the object.
Roll has suggested that normal memory may consist of nothing more than psychometry of the brain. He further postulates that the system of psi fields constitutes a type of collective mind he calls a “psi structure.” He suggests that individual minds are not entirely separate entities but a merely parts of this psi structure. Even mind and matter may not constitute separate domains in Roll’s theory. He asserts that people remain psi-contiguous with people and places with whom they have interacted in the past, and he compares such “psi-contiguity to quantum entanglement. He predicts little or no success in an ESP task unless the subject has been in close physical proximity to the target, due to a lack of psi contiguity in such a case. Roll asserts that a person may “survive” in the form of the traces he or she leaves in the psi fields of objects.
He explains place-related effects, such as hauntings in which a ghost is seen performing some repetitive act in a particular location in a house, as being due to the activation of the psi fields associated with a particular location or object. He notes that apparitions, like memory traces, dissipate over time, thus the form of survival of death Roll is postulating is a time-limited one.
Roll incidentally, denies the existence of backward causation. In the case of an ostensibly precognitive dream, Roll suggests that either an event in the “psi structure” is responsible for causing both the dream and the confirming event or that the dreamer leaves a “charge” in the psi structure, which later causes the confirming event. Thus, under Roll’s theory, psi fields are capable of influencing or causing physical events and thus may account for PK as well as ESP.
In recent years, Roll (1988, 1989, 2005) has reformulated his theory in terms of the Iroquois’ concept of the “long body.” The long body encompasses one’s tribe, its physical environment and other material objects associated with the self or tribe. As Williams (2005) points out, the idea of the long body bears a similarity to the beliefs of many the southwestern United States tribes as well, including the Hopi, Navajo, Laguna and Zuni. Williams also notes that the concept of the long body was first introduced to parapsychology by Aanstoos (1986) before it was adopted and extended by Roll. Under the concept of the long body, close friends and relatives as well as tribal objects and lands are considered part of the self. Thus, the concept of the long body supports the existence of psi phenomena.
Summary of Collective Mind Theories. Obviously, if telepathy exists, human minds can no longer be thought of as entirely separate objects and one person’s mind may be thought of as part of the unconscious mind of another person. Thus, the existence of some sort of collective mind is trivially true if psi exists. The similarities among the various versions of the collective mind theory are obvious, and it would be difficult in most instances to find ways of testing between them. The extent to which psi is to be attributed to a collective unconscious or to interactions between separate minds may to a large extent be a matter of emphasis, although some empirical evidence, such as collectively perceived apparitions, would seem to favor the collective mind theory over the separate minds theory. As argued both at the outset of this book and in later chapters, it is doubtful that the self, conceived as a center of pure consciousness could be identified with the memory systems, associational links and Jungian archetypes postulated to inhabit the collective mind.
The “Shin” Theory
The parapsychologists Robert Thouless and B. P. Wiesner proposed an “internal psi” model of mind-brain interaction (Thouless & Wiesner, 1948). In referring to the mind, they use the Hebrew letter “Shin” (ש) in order to avoid the metaphysical baggage involved in the use of the word “soul.” They propose that the mind becomes aware of brain states by “clairvoyantly” monitoring neural activity. They propose that volitional activity is accomplished through the
Obvioiusly, in Thouless and Wiesner’s theory, there must be some force restricting the vast majority of the Shin’s interactions to the brain, corresponding in some sense to the philosopher Henri Bergson’s (1914) suggestion that the brain acts as a filter, admitting primarily need-relevant information to the mind. After all, it would not be evolutionarily advantageous to be a clairvoyant spectator of a basketball game in progress as one drives one’s car at 80 miles an hour on the freeway past the stadium. Such considerations led the psychoanalyst Jan Ehrenwald (1977, 1978) to suggest that the reason for the weakness of most psi effects in the laboratory is that they must make use of “flaws” in the Bergsonian filter, whereas psi phenomena in real life tend to be need-relevant and adaptive.
Ehrenwald hypothesized that the psi-filter resides in the reticular activating system (RAS) of the brain stem, presumably because this area acts as a filter for many sensory processes, although he conceded that areas of the midbrain, limbic system, and the frontal and temporal lobes may be involved in the filtering process. Of course, much filtering of normal afferent sensory impulses occurs before these impulses even reach the central portion of the brain, suggesting that filtering may occur on whatever afferent pathway underlies ESP (which may not even be a physical pathway based on our current understanding of what is “physical”). Ehrenwald provided little in the way of hard evidence that the psi-filter is located in the RAS, so this hypothesis is really a conjecture on his part.
Ehrenwald compared percipients’ sketches in successful telepathy experiments involving the attempted transmission of line drawings to the drawings of brain-damaged patients, and he suggest that like brain-damaged patients (as least those with primarily left hemisphere involvement), the telepathic subject may be relying on the right hemisphere of the brain. However, this hypothesis would seem to be contradicted by the often-reported phenomenon of dissociation (the breaking up of the target picture into its components) in the early telepathic drawing experiments, such as those reported by Warcollier (1948/1963). Such dissociation would seem to more akin to that produced by damage to the spatially- and holistically-oriented right hemisphere than by damage to the more verbally-oriented and “linear” left hemisphere.
Ehrenwald suggested that one should expect higher psi scoring among brain-damaged patients (due to disruption of the psi filter) than among normal subjects. In support of this contention, he cites successful psi experiments with retarded patients and patients suffering from concussions. He also hypothesized that some schizophrenic patients may be suffering from “psi pollution” due to damage to the filter. However, Rogo (1975) reported finding no higher psi-scoring among psychotics that among normal subjects in a review of the experimental literature.
There is a smattering of parapsychological evidence that has some relevance to Thouless and Wiesner’s theory. Honorton and Tremmel (1979), for instance, conducted a study in which they found that success in a PK task was positively correlated with the subject’s ability to control his own brain waves. They interpret their finding as providing support for Thouless and Wiesner’s internal psi model of mind-brain interaction. On the other hand, if it is assumed that the Shin has a limited attentional capacity, one might anticipate that subjects would be successful in a PK task precisely when their attention was not devoted to controlling their brain waves, and that therefore a negative correlation would be expected. Just such a prediction was in fact made by Rogo (1980), citing Roll’s finding of a high incidence of epilepsy among presumed poltergeist agents (Roll, 1978a) in support of the view that successful PK is accompanied by the disruption of normal brain processes. It should also be noted that a study by Varvoglis and McCarthy (1982) failed to replicate Honorton and Tremmel’s results. Indeed, Varvoglis and McCarthy found that significant PK effects occurred only during trials in which the subjects performed poorly on the brain-wave control task.
Other evidence that the mind might be capable of influencing brain activity is provided by Baumann, Stewart and Roll’s (1986) finding that humans could psychokinetically influence the firing rate of the pacemaker neuron of the marine snail Aplysia and Rein’s (1986) finding that activity of monoamine oxidase, an enzyme regulating neurotransmitter concentrations, could be influenced through psychokinesis. Neither of these studies was methodologically perfect, however.
Evidence from telepathy experiments that percipients perceive specific neurological events in the brains of the senders would give support to Thouless and Wiesner’s theory of telepathy. As discussed briefly above, Rene Warcollier (1948/1963) reported evidence of what he called “dissociation” in his experiments on the telepathic reception of drawings. This dissociation consisted of the percipient’s drawing fragments of the target (such as isolated corners of a line drawing), suggesting that the percipient may have been responding to individual eye fixations on the part of the sender or even to “feature analyzers” in the sender’s brain.
John Beloff (1980) has expressed doubt that someone could read the idiosyncratic “neurological code” employed by someone else’s brain. Beloff’s objection would suggest that telepathic interaction must take place at a higher, mental level, rather than involving the direct reading of another person’s brain state. Incidentally, Beloff himself has proposed a model of mind-brain interaction very similar to that of Thouless and Wiesner, except that Beloff further conjectures that the mind or Shin might survive the death of the brain with some of its memories intact (Beloff, 1990).
Some further support for Thouless and Wiesner’s theory, in particular for the concept of kappa-telepathy, is provided by the rather voluminous literature reporting successful attempts to influence the behavior of living organisms using psi (which is sometimes interpreted as evidence of psychokinesis and sometimes as evidence of telepathy).
Implications of split-brain research. The results of research with split-brain patients pose severe difficulties for a naive interpretation of any theory in which a single immaterial mind is assumed to interact in a global manner with large areas of the brain, as in Thouless and Wiesner’s Shin theory. As discussed in Chapter 1, in some cases of intractable epilepsy, a drastic surgical procedure involving the severing of the neural connections between the two cerebral hemispheres may be performed in order to stop electrical seizures of the brain from spreading from one hemisphere to the other. This procedure involves cutting the fibers of the corpus callosum, a bundle of nerves directly connecting the two hemispheres of the brain. This operation is called a commisurotomy or callosectomy. The act of severing the corpus callosum seems to result in a person with two separate spheres of consciousness, one residing in the right hemisphere and one residing in the left hemisphere. If one were to have such a patient visually fixate a point on a movie screen and then flash a picture of a hammer in his left visual field and a picture of a pencil in his right visual field, the two hemispheres would have different ideas about what was shown on the screen. If you asked the patient what he saw, he would usually say “a pencil,” because the brain structures involved in the production of language generally reside in the left cerebral hemisphere and information from the right visual field is funneled into the left hemisphere. On the other hand, if you asked the patient to pick up the object that he saw on the screen with his left hand (which strangely enough is controlled by his right hemisphere), he would pick up the hammer. (His right hand may very well be reaching out and trying to guide the left hand to the pencil, however.) Similarly, if you blindfolded him and gave him a chesspiece to hold in his left hand, he would not be able to describe verbally what object he had been holding (as the sensory information from the left hand is fed to the right hemisphere and linguistic ability is located in the left). He would, however, be able to identify the chesspiece by using his left hand to pick it out from an array of objects on a table.
These findings pose grave difficulties for a naive theory of mind-brain interaction of the Thouless and Wiesner type. Under Thouless and Wiesner’s theory, the patient’s Shin should be able to overcome the above communication gap. Through clairvoyant perception of the sensory information in the right hemisphere and psychokinetic influence of the language centers in the left hemisphere, a split-brain patient should be able to give a verbal description of an object held in the left hand. That such an effect is not observed would seem to constitute devastating evidence against Thouless and Wiesner’s theory. Two means of saving the theory are apparent, however. First, it could be assumed that the mind’s influence on the brain is restricted to the facilitation and inhibition of the transmission of information across synapses. (Synapses are microscopic gaps between neurons. When a neuron fires, it releases chemicals called neurotransmitters that travel across the synapse. When the neurotransmitters reach the postsynaptic neuron, they may bind to receptors on its surface. These neurotransmitters may either increase or decrease the probability that the postsynaptic neuron will fire.) Under this version of Thouless and Wiesner’s theory, the mind would be unable to integrate the activity of the brain in the absence of the corpus callosum and might be assumed to experience two alternating or parallel, but independent, streams of consciousness.
Further discussion of the notion of multiple selves in split-brain patients will be postponed until Chapter 7, in which we consider the notion of the “self” and its relation to brain activity.
Psi and Evolution
In recent years, an increasing amount of attention has been paid to the possible role of psi in the evolution of biological organisms. Levin (1996, 2000) notes that one argument against the reality of psi is that such abilities would have been vastly improved over the course of evolution and should by now be stronger than they appear to be. They should also be in widespread use among organisms. Levin, however, observes that psi is likely a feature of the mind rather than the brain. Thus, it is only indirectly affected by the genes and therefore may be uncoupled from improvement via biophysical evolution. He suggests that the lack of improvement of psi abilities over the course of biological evolution speaks against mechanistic explanations of psi phenomena.
Taylor (2003) responds to Levin’s assertion that because psi abilities are weak, they may not be subject to normal evolutionary processes. He notes that the following assumptions must be met in order for there to be an evolutionary explanation of psi:
Psi has a genetic basis.
Psi ability is variable among the population.
Possession of a certain amount of psychic ability confers biological fitness on an individual.
Taylor notes that the evolution of well-controlled psi may involve huge changes in the makeup of an organism rather than a gradual change as one might expect on the basis of evolution, and he compares the evolution of psi abilities to the evolution of a wheeled organism. He suggests that psi abilities may operate unconsciously due to the competing information-processing demands of monitoring one’s physical environment and that psi-scanning may be intermittent because of such demands. He proposes that psi abilities may provide warnings of impending disasters as well as providing a means of monitoring the behavior and welfare of close biological relatives. He notes that psi ability in laboratory situations is correlated with the psychological trait of vigilance (ability to see a threat in a degraded sensory image), citing the work of Watt and her co-workers in this regard (Watt & Gissurarson, 1995; Watt & Morris, 1995). He also cites Radin’s research on precognitive “presentiment” responses to emotional targets (e.g., Radin 1997b, 2003). As to the question of why people do not use psi more often to avoid disasters, Taylor replies that people often do not avoid disasters even when provided with compelling sensory information.
Beloff (2002) notes that if researchers can detect psi abilities in “lower” species, this may offer clues as to when, in the course of evolution, consciousness first appeared. This of course implicitly links psi abilities to consciousness. The evolution of consciousness in supposedly insensate matter is of course one of the deepest (and as yet unanswered) questions facing not only neuroscience, but perhaps physics itself.
Finally, McClenon (2004) hypothesizes that the ability to enter dissociative states on the part of some members of tribal organizations may have been passed on due to the psi-mediated success of such persons when acting as shamans. McClenon notes that shamanism, in which the practitioner enters into a trance-like state to contact spirit helpers, is universal among hunter-gatherer societies. He notes that cave art suggests that shamanism has been practiced for over 30,000 years and has provided the basis for all later religions. He hypothesizes that the capacity to enter dissociative/hypnotic states could not increase indefinitely because such traits have negative consequences (for instance, fantasy-prone individuals often suffer from psychosomatic illness as well as other forms of dissociative disorder). To some extent, McClenon’s remarks echo Henri Bergson’s observation about the need for a psychic filter to screen out competing psi information and keep the organism’s focus on stimuli that are directly pertinent to the organism’s biological survival.
One of the major developments in the past half-century has been the growing realization that psi phenomena need not be in conflict with established laws of science. The past two decades have seen the experimental confirmation of the principle of nonlocality in quantum mechanics and the growing realization of the importance of that principle for a theory of psi phenomena. At present, theorizing in parapsychology is held back by the lack of a reliable data base and repeatable psi effects upon which a powerful theory of psi might be constructed and refined. Thus, many of the theories in this chapter represent mere presentations of “theoretical environments,” within which more specific theories yielding more powerful experimental predictions might be constructed.
This chapter has been concerned primarily with theories aimed at explaining how psi information might be transmitted and with the implications of psi phenomena for our understanding of the nature of mind, matter, space and time.
Now we turn inwards to the examination of the nature of the conscious self and its possible survival of the death of the physical body. Chapter 6 concludes our study of parapsychology by examining the evidence that the personality or a portion thereof may survive death. The evidence for such survival will include ghosts and apparitions, dreams, out-of-body and near-death experience, the evidence from mediumship and the evidence for reincarnation. As noted in Chapter 0, survival of the mind with major portions of the human personality intact is improbable in view of the fact that human emotions, memories and beliefs appear to be intimately dependent on brain processes in light of modern neuropsychological research. In Chapter 7, we will revisit the nature of the self and examine the possibility that the true self, in the form of a center of pure consciousness, may survive death and may in fact be only temporarily associated with any given physical body.
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