The transfer of thoughts, images and sensations between minds without conventional verbal, written or physical means of communication. Although not scientifically proven, the phenomenon has been described, and often accepted as normal, in many cultures and societies throughout history. It was the first psychic phenomenon to be studied by members of the newly created Society for Psychic Research, established in London in 1884. More recent research indicates that telepathy often occurs spontaneously during crises, when an individual at a distance is in danger. Information may be transferred as fragmentary images, dreams, visions or words that suddenly pop into the mind. It is more common among women than men, perhaps because telepathy is closely tied to the emotions. No satisfactory theory has yet been advanced to explain the phenomenon.
The term 'extrasensory perception' (ESP) was invented by J.B. Rhine, the pioneer of scientific paranormal research, and was used by him as a book title in 1934. He meant it to refer to such faculties as clairvoyance and telepathy; but he also recognized that it was closely-indeed, inseparably-connected to psychokinesis (PK), the ability to move physical objects with the mind.
Since the formation of the SPR (Society of Psychical Research) in 1882, scientists had been trying to devise foolproof tests for telepathy, precognition, and so on. Sometimes, as in Osty's test for precognition, the method seemed foolproof; yet there was always the remote chance of collusion between the individuals involved to 'cook' the results.
In 1927 Rhine managed to persuade Duke University to set up a Parapsychology Department, where ESP would be investigated by strictly scientific methods. He extended a method already used at Groningen University, of having the 'sender' and 'receiver' sitting in different rooms, under observation. He also developed a set of five 'Zener' cards with simple symbols on them-star, circle, cross, square and wavy line-to simplify the sending and receiving. His results were exciting: some subjects showed an ability to score well above chance under strictly controlled conditions.
But Rhine's.most fruitful period began in 1934 when a young gambler walked into his office and announced that he, like all good gamblers, believed he could control the fall of the die. Tests conducted over eight years produced hundreds of pages of statistics, and*these showed a curious result. On a 'first run', a gambler might often show an extremely high score, far above chance. On a second run, the score fell suddenly; on a third run, it fell even more steeply. In other words, the gambler could best influence the dice when he was fresh and interested.
This is quite characteristic of paranormal powers: they seem to operate best when the conscious ego is relaxed. The harder the subject 'tries', the less successful he is likely to be-for example, in the case of Peter Fairley (see precognition in associated books). Felicia Parise, who has demonstrated, remarkable powers of psychokinesis, tells how she started trying to develop her powers after seeing a film of the USSR PK expert, Nina Kulagina. At first she obtained no result; than one day she received a telephone call saying that her grandmother was dying-a severe emotional shock. As she reached out for a small plastic bottle, it moved away. The trauma had released her PK powers.
Why? Presumably because she had already developed the powers by her intense efforts of concentration; but they remained 'in check' since the effort had also increased the powers of the critical ego, the left brain. The shock upset the balance, and the powers could suddenly find expression.
It is important that paranormal powers often seem to be associated with traumas. Uri Geller has stated that his own metal-bending powers developed after he had received a severe electric shock from his mother's sewing machine; Matthew Manning has mentioned that his mother received a severe electric shock when she was carrying him. (In both cases, the paranormal powers seem to be some form of *poltergeist effect-that is to say, PK on a larger scale than usual.
One of the most significant experiments in the hist'ory of ESP (or 'psi') research was conducted by Dr Gertrude Schmeidler in 1942 the famous 'sheep and goats' experiment. Schmeidler asked a group of her studens to submit to tests using Zener cards. Before the experiment she asked which of them believed in 'psi' and which thought it nonsense. She classified the 'believers' as 'sheep' and the sceptics as 'goats'. The results showed that the 'sheep' had scored significantly above average. Equally exciting was that the 'goats' had scored below. This was impossible on a chance basis, and meant that they had somehow suppressed their natural 'psi' powers to support their own intellectual convictions; that is to say, the left brain simply countered the right brain's attempts at ESP, but in so doing left its fingerprints all over the experiment.
This result could well explain why so many scientists have totally failed to obtain results in various tests for psi abilities. Professorjohn Taylor is a case in point. When Geller first. demonstrated his spoon-bending abilities on UK television in November 1973, Taylor was one of two 'experts' asked to scrutinize the tests (Lyall Watson was the other). Many children who watched tried spoonbending and found it worked. Their parents contacted the BBC, who put them on to Taylar. Taylor conducted a thorough investigation into Geller and the spoon-bending children, and announced his conclusions in Superminds. He had no doubt of the genuineness of the phenomena. His scientific colleagues greeted his conclusions with derision. And his experimental results-for example, with *Kirlian photography-became steadily mort disappointing. Eventually, in Science and the Supernatural, he announced that he had concluded that ,psi' was non-existent, that whenever psi effects were examined closely they simply melted away. Yet there was no suggestion that he felt Geller and the children were frauds. In fact, he made no attempt to explain how he could have been so convinced earlier. And the book is full of accounts of many exceptionally convincing cases, recounted without any attempt at detailed criticism, producing a strangely ambiguous effect, as if he wants to say that the evidence for 'psi' is powerful, but that he personally has had no success in pinning it down. A comparison of Superminds with the later book suggests that we may here be dealing with a more complex version of the 'Schmeidler effect'.
Yet works like the massive Handbook of Parapsychologv (ed. Wolman) make it clear that, whatever the opinion of individual scientists, ESP has now been established beyond all reasonable doubt.
TUNING IN TO TELEPATHY
It is said we afl once had telepathic abilities which have been largely lost. The experiments described here have been designed to test for this hidden talent.
Imagine sitting in a comfortable chair in a darkened room, wearing headphones through which you can hear the roar of a waterfall cascading down a Welsh mountain. Your eyes are covered with halved pingpong balls on which a red light shines, and all you can see, as you relax, is a diffize red glow.
This extraordinary situation is part of an experiment designed to test for telepathy. As someone who has agreed to take part in the test, you are first welcomed by the experimenter, and then asked to fill in a 'mood report' describing your attitude to the experiment and your general emotional state. The experimenter then seats you in a comfortable chair, puts headphones over your ears, and adjusts the level of waterfall noise until it is comfortable. He or she next plays another sound at such a level that you can just hear it through the waterfall noise, and then drops the noise level by five decibels so that you cannot hear it at all. The experimenter now places pal ar electrodes o your left hand so that any physiological response you may experience can be monitored. Then, halved pingpong balls are placed over your eyes, and a red light is adjusted so that it is 18 inches (45 centimetres) from your face.
The gentle waterfall sound and ping-pong eye covers should block out all external conditions and "visual distractions, relaxing you into what is known as 'the Ganzfeld state'. (Ganzfeld - from the German for unifoorm field' - refers to the unchanging or uniform level of stimulation caused by blocking external sensation.)
Finally, the waterfall sound is switched ofF and you are next played a tape containing the suggestion that you will now become aware of subconscious information. The waterfall sound is then switched on once again. Deprived of outside sensory stimulation, you rum mentally inwards, becoming aware of thoughts, images and memories that are the expression of your subconscious mind. At the same time, another person - the sender - begins to pass information to you by playing a tape through your headphones, so quietly that it is impossible for you to hear it against the waterfall noise. This is known as subliminal ,Stimulation: the stimulus is physically real, but is too quiet to be perceived consciously. Instead, it is picked up at the subconscious level. The target tape, in this experiment, carries five thematically related words, and is chosen at random from four such tapes by the sender after the beginning of the experiment. Thus no one knows, for the duration of the experiment, what the tape contains.
While in this state, you are asked to voice whatever comes into your mind. What you say is recorded and, after the experiment is over, you are asked to order the sets of target words according to which of them you feel corresponds most accurately with the impressions gained while in the Ganzfeld state.
WORD ASSOCIATION :
You now complete another mood assessment form and undergo a word association test for each of the flaur target tapes, in which you are presented with the four sets of five words, including the set heard subliminally, and asked to think of the individual target words, saying whatever first comes into your head. The tape of your impressions is then submitted to three independent judges, who analyse it and estimate its correspondence with the four target tapes.
In the Ganzfeld state, it is also possible to perceive information that is not being transmitted mechanically through the headphones, but communicated telepathically by the sender. In a separate experimental session, the sender therefore selects a tape and plays it, not through your headphones, but through his - at an audible level. He then tries to visualise the image that the words on the tape create, and proceeds by trying to project them mentally to you.
In the experiment, the two means of transmission are telepathic and subliminal auditory - are varied randomly. The subject therefore does not know how the information is being sent in any one session. Results show that those who are able to receive information that is transmitted subliminally are also sensitive to telepathically transmitted information; while those who find it difficult to pick up information one way generally find it equally difficult lo do so in the other way. One objective of the experiments is to pinpoint the kind of psychological state - and the type of people - that make such information-transfer possible.
An analysis of one set of results showed that, out of a total of eight subjects, three consistently succeeded in identifying the target tape, placing it first or second. These three people show an awareness of the information, whether transmitted telepathically or mechanically, that is highly significant.
Transmission of information seems to require a two-stage process. The first stage involves the reception of the information in the subconscious, while the second involves forcing the subconscious knowledge into the conscious mind. Here, it seems that those who have some awareness of the way in which their subconscious minds work have an advantage: it is they who are able to translate the often quite complex and tortuous imagery of their subconscious minds into rational terms.
In order to illustrate the complexities of translation and interpretation, we need to consider an actual example of a Ganzfeld session. Here, the target tape carried the five words 'sultan, Aladdin, harem, feasting, and dancing'. While in the Ganzfeld state, the subject made the following remarks: 'Seeing something, don't know what it is . . . crib or something - cradle, I mean; definitely a cradle in a sitting room - Middle Ages sitting room - somebody rocking this cradle dressed in Middle Ages clothes tapestry in the back ... mineral - either coal or some sort of stone, mineral . . . changing to pool or something ... flashes of light ... beansprouts ... kitchen - copper utensils.'
A SUCCESSFUL TRANSMISSION :
The subject, in her own analysis of her impressions, understood the cradle images as being related to the harem; the flashes of light and mineral seemed related to Aladdin and his magic lamp; and the kitchen related to the feasting. Throughout the session, she felt preoccupied with food, and the cradle image occurred again later on. While there is no direct mention of an Arabian nights scene, the subject was able to tie in the thematic content of her image with the target so as to produce what is considered to he a
'hit'. Two of the three independent judges, incidentally, agreed with her analysis.
It is, of course, easy enough to see these connections when the person identifies the target. But what if a person 'misses' the target? Such 'misses' are generally not considered to be worthy of attention. But can we really say that telepathic or subliminal perception is operative only on those occasions when a person manages positively to identify the target?
Correct perception of the target, as we have seen, is a two-stage process; and one thing that has become apparent again and again during the experiments is that most 'misses' occur not because the information is not getting through to the subconscious, but as a result of incorrect evaluation of impressions gained while in the Ganzfeld state. Images that relate to the target are generally present, but the subject is unable to relate them to the words on the target tape.
On some occasions, there appears to be what might be called a low signal-to-noise ratio: the targetrelated imagery is present, but there is so much extraneous information - 'noise' - from the subconscious that it is extremely hard to identify subliminal or,telepathic input. This 'noise' is perhaps one of the mind's principal methods of defending itself against unwanted input. The phenomenon is well-known in psychology, where it is termed 'Perceptual defence'. Obvious examples are simply not hearing what you do not want to hear - an ability that makes it possible for you to hold a conversation in a roomful of noisy people, or not to hear a publican calling 'time'. A further clear example was provided by one subject who, in her Ganzfeld session, spent 10 minutes talking about how she had given up drinking. The target words were 'tavern, keg, barrel, tankard, goblet'; but she ranked this tape last, simply because, she said, it was 'too much of a coincidence'.
SIGNIFICANT SCORING :
Most defences, however, are more subtle than this. Take a person who, according to his OYM estimations, scores only very slightly above chance in both telepathic and subliminal sessions. Yet his session transcripts were scored significantly above chance by all three independent judges. In other words. a logical, analytical assessment of his thoughts by independent observers gave statistically significant evidence of target-related imagery. During the sessions, he was 'aware' of the target inasmuch as he thought about things that were related to the target. Yet, on four occasions, he was unable, in the analysis that followed the Ganzfeld session, to identify the target, mainly because he chose not to use an analytical judging procedure, instead picking the target that he 'felt' was the right one. Such personal assessment proved inaccurate.
An even clearer example of the defensive process is provided by a subject whose attitude was one of disbelief in ESP He did not think that the images he saw while in the Ganzfeld state could bear any relationship at all to the target; yet, again and again, it did. The relationship was not patently dear, as in the case of the three 'hitters' - but it was very definitely there. Although he was himself unable to pick out the target, independent judges, with some understanding of the symbolic distortions and transformations that occur in the subconscious mind, were generally able to do so.
In another typical session, the target words were ,smugglers, contraband, adventure, horses, moonlight'. In this session, the subject talked several times about ice, icebergs, the Titanic, Alaskan permafrost and so on. After the Ganzfeld session, his word association with the target word 'adventure' was 'cold'; his word'association with 'smugglers' was ,gallows'; and, during the session, he experienced images of boys in prison, Roman soldiers, Steerpike (a character from Mervyn Peake's Gothic novel Gormenghast), with a knife in his hand, cannonballs and, most significant of all, Albert Pierrepoint, England's last state executioner.
Although there is no direct connection between these images and the target words, the word associations do provide a very revealing link. And it is important to remember that in free association work such as this, where a person is attempting to gain access to material from the subconscious, the mind works in distorted and essentially symbolic ways. So, we should not expect to get a direct representation of the target in the Ganzfeld images; rather, it is connections that we must look for.
DIFFERING SIGNALS :
Only around 10 per cent of subjects talk 1 directly about the target theme, while transcripts frequently have many rich symbolic and associational connections that are easily recognised by a team of independent judges - even if they are vehemently
denied by the subjects, possibly to reduce any distress at the idea of being able to perceive a target using methods not believed in.
indeed, in the case of a person whose attitude to ESP is negative, distortions and symbolism become even more complex; but the fact that it is more difficult to unravel does not necessarily mean that the subliminal or telepathic information has not been received at a subconscious level. It means merely that the 'noise' level is higher and the 'signal' more distorted. With the 'hitters', the signal is dear and the extraneous noise, very low. Such people are familiar with their own mental processes, and can usually follow the indirect ways in which target words might influence their subconscious.
By examining the differences between those subjects who consistently hit the target and those who consistently miss, we can see that two factors emerge - factors that may account for these differences. The -most important is that of attitude. Thus, someone ,who does not believe in his or her own capacity to become aware of subliminal and telepathic information and who claims to have had no personal experience of this sort of awareness, is very likely to miss the target. On the other hand, a person who has up in an atmosphere in which such things are - generally accepted may be able to learn to hit the target much more readily