Thursday, December 27, 2007
Friday, December 14, 2007
Additionally, the PA has announced a reduction in the annual Student Affiliate membership fee from $50.00 per year to $25.00 (USD) per year. They have also created a discussion forum dedicated to students at their members-only site. This one-of-a-kind discussion area provides a place for PA student affiliates to network and discuss psi-related issues and questions. To become a student affiliate of the PA and participate in the student discussion forums, you must have an interest in the scientific and scholarly advancement of parapsychology and be attending an accredited college or university.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
Recently there has been a notable increase in the number of research articles relating to the study of out-of-body experiences (OBEs) that have been published in the mainstream literature. Most of these articles have focused on the search for the areas of the brain that may be associated with one common feature of the OBE – seeing one’s own body from a distance. The latest contribution to this search comes from a team of neurosurgeons led by Dr. Dirk De Ridder from the University Hospital of Antwerp, Belgium, and their findings are reported in a case study that was just published in the November 1 issue of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (De Ridder et al., 2007). Their report appears to build upon earlier brain studies related to the artificial induction of features often associated with OBEs.
The history of such studies dates back to the early 1940s, when Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield was able to induce OBE-like sensations in a female epileptic patient by electrically stimulating the right side of her brain in the area around the superior temporal gyrus, a fold along the upper surface of the temporal lobe across the way from the parietal lobe (Penfield & Erickson, 1941). The patient had the feeling of floating away and stated, “I have a queer sensation as if I am not here…As though I were half here and half not here.” Penfield’s work was rediscovered in late 2002 when Dr. Olaf Blanke and his associates at the University Hospital of Geneva, Switzerland, were able to induce similar floating sensations in a female patient being treated for complex partial epilepsy. Electrodes had been implanted into the right side of the patient’s brain around the angular gyrus, an area located at the boundary between the temporal and parietal lobes, to measure her seizures. When she was given mild electrical stimulation in this area via the electrodes, the patient reported instant feelings of “lightness” and “floating” close to the ceiling, and stated, “I see myself lying in bed, from above, but I only see my legs and lower trunk” (Blanke et al., 2002). Blanke and his associates were able to further explore OBEs, as well as the similar experience of autoscopy , in this patient and four other neurologic patients in a later study, finding that the patients’ experiences may be associated with damage or impairment in the area surrounding the temporal-parietal lobe junction (Blanke et al., 2004). The area around the temporal-parietal junction appears to be involved in the culling together and processing of sensory information relating to the perception and spatial orientation of one’s own body , and Blanke and his associates theorize that OBE-like perceptual illusions may arise from functional disruption as a result of the brain damage or impairment in this area (Blanke et al., 2004, 2005; Blanke & Mohr, 2005).
The latest case study by De Ridder et al. (2007) conceptually reproduces the work of Blanke and his associates. The study involves a 63-year-old male patient being treated for tinnitus  by way of electrodes implanted in the area over the temporal-parietal junction. When the right side of his brain was electrically stimulated through the electrodes, the patient experienced a sensation that gave him the impression that his self had separated from his body, moving to a location just behind and to the left of his body. He did not, however, report taking the perspective of his separated “out-of-body” self (i.e., he was still seeing his surroundings from within his own body), nor did he report seeing an image of his own body. On average, the patient’s sensation of leaving the body lasted about 17 seconds, and no changes in his state of consciousness occurred during them. Brain scans using positron-emission tomography (PET) revealed widespread activity in the area around the temporal-parietal junction, near the angular gyrus.
Although the study by De Ridder et al. does provide useful supplementary data on the function of the temporal-parietal junction, I personally think that labeling the patient’s induced sensation as an OBE is something of a misnomer. As noted, the patient did not perceive his surroundings from outside his body, nor did he report seeing his own body, suggesting that his sensations did not take on the classic structure of an OBE. The patient’s separated self was always stationary, and could not be moved voluntarily, whereas people often report being able to move about freely in their out-of-body form in natural OBEs.
Similar arguments can be made about the induced OBE-like sensation in Blanke et al.’s epileptic patients. A close look at their experiences reveals illusory features (e.g., perceiving distortions of the body and shadowy figures) that are not commonly found in natural OBEs and are more suggestive of hallucinations. Thus, the features of naturally occurring OBEs in healthy people and the OBE-like experiences in these epileptic patients can be considered different, and may not be easily comparable. Some attempt has recently been made to artificially induce similar OBE-like perceptions of the body in healthy people, although this has been through the use of virtual reality (Ehrsson, 2007; Lenggenhager et al., 2007), which again does not allow for direct comparisons. Perhaps most central of all, the findings of Blanke et al. and De Ridder et al. still cannot adequately account for ESP-related OBEs in which individuals describe people and events at a distance that are later verified as accurate (Alvarado, 2000, pp. 199 – 200; Tart, 1998), nor can they account for the successful results of studies where some aspect of the OBE was “detected” using physical and animal detectors (Morris et al., 1978; Osis & McCormick, 1980). In the case of Blanke et al., the EEG findings of Tart (1998) and others (Alvarado, 2000, pp. 189 – 190) have yet to be incorporated into their theoretical considerations as to their possible role . In short, while these recent mainstream studies go a way in advancing our knowledge about brain areas involved in body perception, they still have miles to go in adequately explaining complex OBEs.
- Bryan Williams
 Autoscopy is a neurological phenomenon in which an individual reports seeing an illusory duplicate image of their own body in physical space. It has also been traditionally known as the doppelgänger, or “double,” experience. It is distinguished from the OBE in that the individual still perceives their surroundings from a perspective within their own body (whereas the individual perceives things from a perspective somewhere outside their body in the OBE).
 This would be consistent with the area’s proximity to the somatosensory cortex, located in the parietal lobe, which processes incoming sensory information from the body’s sensory organs.
 Tinnitus is a chronic hearing condition in which noises such as buzzing or ringing are frequently heard in the ear, which in this patient’s case may be caused by an abnormality in the auditory nerve and/or its brain connections.
 These EEG studies, conducted with relaxed or sleeping individuals, have found that OBEs tend to be associated with brain wave patterns in the alpha wave range with no rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, suggesting that they occur during a relaxed, sensory-reduced state; and that they are not dream-related.
Alvarado, C. S. (2000). Out-of-body experiences. In E. Cardeña, S. J. Lynn, & S. Krippner (Eds.) Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence (pp. 183 – 218). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, Inc.
Blanke, O., Landis, T., Spinelli, L., & Seeck, M. (2004). Out-of-body experience and autoscopy of neurological origin. Brain 127(2), March. pp. 243 – 258.
Blanke, O., & Mohr, C. (2005). Out-of-body experience, heautoscopy, and autoscopic hallucination of neurological origin: Implications for neurocognitive mechanisms of corporeal awareness and self consciousness. Brain Research Reviews 50(1), December 1. pp. 184 – 199.
Blanke, O., Mohr, C., Michel, C. M., Pascual-Leone, A., Brugger, P., Seeck, M., Landis, T., & Thut, G. (2005). Linking out-of-body experience and self processing to mental own-body imagery at the temporoparietal junction. Journal of Neuroscience 25(3), January 19. pp. 550 – 557.
Blanke, O., Ortigue, S., Landis, T., & Seeck, M. (2002). Stimulating illusory own-body perceptions. Nature 419(6904), September 19. pp. 269 – 270.
De Ridder, D., Van Laere, K., Dupont, P., Menovsky, T., & Van de Heyning, P. (2007). Visualizing out-of-body experience in the brain. New England Journal of Medicine 357(18), November 1. pp. 1829 – 1833.
Ehrsson, H. H. (2007). The experimental induction of out-of-body experiences. Science 317(5841), August 24. p. 1048.
Lenggenhager, B., Tadi, T., Metzinger, T., & Blanke, O. (2007). Video ergo sum: Manipulating bodily self-consciousness. Science 317(5841), August 24. pp. 1096 – 1099.
Morris, R. L., Harary, S. B., Janis, J., Hartwell, J., & Roll, W. G. (1978). Studies of communication during out-of-body experiences. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 72(1), January. pp. 1 – 21.
Osis, K., & McCormick, D. (1980). Kinetic effects at the ostensible location of an out-of-body projection during perceptual testing. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 74(3), July. pp. 319 – 329.
Penfield, W., & Erickson, T. C. (1941). Epilepsy and Cerebral Localization. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
Tart, C. T. (1998). Six studies of out-of-body experiences. Journal of Near-Death Studies 17(2), Winter. pp. 73 – 99.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Dr. Wooffitt used recorded sessions from double-blind ganzfeld experiments conducted in the mid 1990's at the Koeslter Parapsychology Unit (University of Edinburgh) as the material for his analysis. Shortly after the study appeared in print, the BPS Research Digest released a summary at their blog, suggesting that Dr. Wooffitt had uncovered a flaw in the ganzfeld. This summary spread through the internet like wildfire. Soon the blogs Mind Hacks and Science and Consciousness Review were also reporting on the study, suggesting that Dr. Wooffitt had provided an analysis that had explained away the positive results of those ganzfeld experiments. Anybody who does a close reading of the paper (or even the abstract) can see that this is not the case.
Because Dr. Wooffitt's research had been severely misrepresented by these and other sites, I contacted him and invited to discuss his research and its goals here at Public Parapsychology. The following was his response:
The goal of the research is to identify the tacit communicative skills which participants - experimenters and subjects - use in the ganzfeld. The research is agnostic as to the existence of psi; but it may identify features of experimenter-subject interaction which could be of direct benefit for parapsychologists. So, this kind of linguistic analysis can add to our knowledge of the experimenter effect, in that it can provide technical analysis of the way the relationship between subject and experimenter develops over the course of a ganzfeld trial. It can identify different interactional styles in experimenters, which may in turn influence the way the experiment progresses. It may be possible, eventually, to see if particular interactional practices correlate with successful or unsuccessful ganzfeld trials.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
George P. Hansen was professionally employed in parapsychology laboratories for eight years—three at the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina, and five at Psychophysical Research Laboratories in Princeton, New Jersey. His experiments included remote viewing, card guessing, ganzfeld, electronic random number generators, séance phenomena, and ghosts. He has been active in a number of psychic, UFO, and New Age organizations, and he helped found a skeptics group.
His papers in scientific journals cover mathematical statistics, fraud and deception, the skeptics movement, conjurors in parapsychology, and exposés of hoaxes. He is a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.George has also published a book called The Trickster and the Paranormal, and he has recently entered the world of blogging, sharing his insights at The Paranormal Trickster Blog.
Some of you may remember Marcel's interview with me back in July (my first interview ever!). Now he's giving the public an opportunity to interview a true authority in the field of parapsychology, so call in with whichever question might be on your mind.
Again, the number is 1-877-372-5367. In case you flub your question, you can hit the pound sign and start over. All submissions should be received by Saturday night.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Magnetic Fields and Haunting Phenomena: A Basic Primer for Paranormal Enthusiasts
Whenever we suddenly encounter something that frightens or startles us, our body has a tendency to "jump" in response. Over the past decade, a considerable amount of evidence has been gathered to suggest that, on a very subtle and unconscious level, our body’s autonomic nervous system may also "jump" in response to frightening or startling stimuli. However, it does so even before our body encounters such stimuli. This evidence comes from various experiments designed to explore the possible physiological signatures of a precognition-related experience that has come to be known as presentiment or pre-stimulus response.
The first presentiment studies were conducted by Dr. Dean Radin (1997, 2004) of the
A growing number of recent studies are suggesting that other parts of the body may also show a presentiment response, including the heart (McCraty et al., 2004a) and the brain (Bierman & Scholte, 2002; Bierman & van Ditzhuijzen, 2006; Hinterberger et al., 2006; McCraty et al., 2004b). The results of a study by Radin and Eva Lobach (2007) of the
In Radin and Lobach’s study, slow brain wave activity was recorded from the occipital region (associated with vision) at the back of their subjects’ brains via electroencephalograph (EEG) while the subjects were visually stimulated at random times. The stimulation came in the form of a light that was quickly flashed toward the subject's eyes through a pair of opaque glasses fitted with light-emitting diodes (LEDs). To start each individual test trial, the subject clicked a computer mouse that they held in their hands. After 4 seconds (which constituted the presentiment period) had passed, the computer sampled an electronic random number generator to determine whether it should activate the LEDs in the subject’s glasses and produce a flash, or whether it should keep them dark until the end of the trial (indicated by a computer tone), then the process was repeated for the next trial. The probability of the subject seeing the LEDs flash or not was exactly 50/50 for each trial. The EEG results indicated that during the presentiment period, female subjects had shown a slightly higher level of brain wave activity on the trials where the LEDs were flashed than on the trials where the LEDs did not flash to a statistically significant degree (odds of about 142 to 1 against chance alone). This higher level of brain activity during the flash trials suggests a kind of anticipation or “readying” response to the impending light flash, akin to presentiment. Interestingly, male subjects had shown the opposite effect, in that their level of brain wave activity was slightly lower on flash trials than on no flash trials. This latter finding was not statistically significant, however. Radin and Lobach also found that the peak level of brain wave activity for the female subjects occurred approximately one second before the light flash.
Radin and Lobach’s findings are consistent with other brain studies related to presentiment and precognition. Bierman and Scholte (2002) had monitored their subjects’ brain activity using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) while the subjects randomly viewed affective and neutral pictures. They found that higher levels of brain activity were present in the occipital region just before the subjects viewed affective pictures than when they viewed neutral pictures, a finding consistent with studies on visual processing of affective and neutral pictures (e.g., Lang et al., 1998). McDonough et al. (2002) conducted a series of studies in which they disguised a precognition test in a gambling task. Four playing cards were shown on a computer screen to the subject, and the subject selected one of them. A moment later, the computer randomly chose one of the cards to be the precognition target. EEG monitoring of the subjects during this task revealed higher brain wave activity in subjects when they selected the target card than when they didn’t select it. At least three other EEG studies relating to presentiment have observed similar effects (Bierman & van Ditzhuijzen, 2006; Hinterberger et al., 2006; McCraty et al., 2004b).
A lot of questions still remain about presentiment and precognition as a whole, but these studies strongly hint that there may be a brain correlate of such phenomena, and this is one thing that may eventually help establish their existence, apart from the statistical evidence for them.
- Bryan Williams
Bierman, D. J., & Radin,
Bierman, D. J., & Radin,
Bierman, D. J., & Scholte, H. S. (2002). Anomalous anticipatory brain activation preceding exposure of emotional and neutral pictures. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 45th Annual Convention (pp. 25 – 36).
Bierman, D. J., & van Ditzhuijzen, J. (2006). Anomalous slow cortical components in a slot-machine task. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 49th Annual Convention (pp. 5 – 19).
Hinterberger, T., Studer, P., Jäger, M., Haverty-Stacke, C., & Walach, H. (2006). The slide-show presentiment effect discovered in brain electrical activity. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 49th Annual Convention (pp. 57 – 70).
Lang, P. J., Bradley, M. M., Fitzsimmons, J. R., Cuthbert, B. N., Scott, J. D., Moulder, B., & Nangia, V. (1998). Emotional arousal and activation of the visual cortex: An fMRI analysis. Psychophysiology 35(2), March. pp. 199 – 210.
May, E. C., Paulinyi, T., & Vassy, Z. (2005). Anomalous anticipatory skin conductance response to acoustic stimuli: Experimental results and speculation about a mechanism. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 11(4), August. pp. 695 – 702.
McCraty, R., Atkinson, M., & Bradley, R. T. (2004a). Electrophysiological evidence of intuition: Part 1. The surprising role of the heart. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 10(1), February. pp. 133 – 143.
McCraty, R., Atkinson, M., & Bradley, R. T. (2004b). Electrophysiological evidence of intuition: Part 2. A system-wide process? Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 10(2), April. pp. 325 – 336.
McDonough, B. E., Don, N. S., & Warren, C. A. (2002). Differential event-related potentials to targets and decoys in a guessing task. Journal of Scientific Exploration 16(2), Summer. pp. 187 – 206.
Radin, D., & Lobach, E. (2007). Toward understanding the placebo effect: Investigating a possible retrocausal factor. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 13(7), September. pp. 733 – 739.
Spottiswoode, S. J. P., & May, E. C. (2003). Skin conductance prestimulus response: Analyses, artifacts, and a pilot study. Journal of Scientific Exploration 17(4), Winter. pp. 617 – 641.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Have you ever picked up the phone and knew it was your sister?
Or you dreamed something and it really happened like that afterwards?
In a recent survey, 45% of those who responded said that they had personal experience of telepathic communication. However, research over the last 70 years has provided enough evidence to convince some scientists that phenomena such as telepathy and clairvoyance do exist and may be occurring some of the time throughout the general population.
Within their study about the measurement of EEG correlations in distantly located participants, researchers in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Northampton are looking for emotionally strongly-connected pairs of subjects (e.g. best friends, couples, twins, mother & daugher, father & grandfather) 18 years and older to participate.
This study will be conducted by Ursula Mochty, Dr. Thilo Hinterberger and Professor Harald Walach at the University of Northampton/UK in cooperation with Devi Erath and Dr. Stefan Schmidt at University clinic Freiburg/Germany.
This experiment will use EEG and skin conductance recordings to test for possible evidence of unconscious telepathy between a visually stimulated and non-stimulated person. The EEG recordings will take place in the laboratory in
If interested please contact:
Tel: 0044 – 1604 – 89 - 2377 oder 2486
Friday, November 02, 2007
-Mike Wilson, Psi Society
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
-Mike Wilson, Psi Society
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Sunday, October 28, 2007
IONS is a non-profit membership organization that conducts and sponsers leading-edge research into the potentials and powers of consciousness. The center hosts workshops, retreats, and educational activities and contains several offices, meeting spaces, and dormitories as well as the Consciousness Research Laboratory. Dean ("there is no Dr. Radin, just 'Dean'"), the author of The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena, Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality, and numerous scientific and scholarly articles, met us just outside of the main office for a short tour. After visiting their newest building, where Dean will shortly be relocating to his new office, we got to check out the laboratory (my favorite part of the tour) where much of this leading-edge research takes place.
The Consciousness Research Labortary has three major sections. Stepping inside, the first thing one sees is a central station where experimenters coordinate psi experiments. Behind the station is a storage area and small library containing volumes of major parapsychology journals among other things. Off to the side of this central area is an electromagnetically-shielded testing chamber used for participants in studies exploring presentiment in the brain, remote staring detection, and other psi phenomena. Outside of the laboratory and around the corner is another room, which is used for senders in experiments requiring both a 'sender' and 'receiver' of information by extra-sensory means.
There is a stark contrast between the sender and receiver areas of the lab. The receiver is seated in a comfortable chair. Curtains are hung around the walls of the electromagnetically-shielded chamber to soften the feel of the laboratory area. A small tree in the corner of testing chamber and some soft lighting help to make the receiver feel relaxed and comfortable. By contrast, the sender's area has more of a stiff, outhouse feel. Minimally furnished, and lacking any decor, the harsher environment helps to keep those participants alert and awake.
After touring most of the areas of the IONS campus, we retreated to the cafeteria where Dean, myself, and my companions chatted about our various projects as well as some current events and related issues in our respective fields. Dean's wife Susie brought us all sandwiches and snacks for lunch and joined us in the conversation. It was nice seeing her again after meeting her at the 50th Annual PA Convention in Halifax, Nova Scotia. After saying goodbye to our wonderful hosts, Marcel drove Kevin and I back to Berkeley where we attempted to discover the punchline to a joke that begins "a medium, a parapsychologist, and a consciousness studies student walk into a bar...."
The Institute of Noetic Sciences has a variety of membership opportunities for individuals who would like to support the institute and its activities. Members receive the publication Shift magazine, discounts on selected events, and the opportunity to participate in local community groups. I received a complimentary copy of their latest issue of Shift, which was an enjoyable and informative read. This issue contained articles on meditation and ecological issues, as well as an interview with cosmologist Brian Swimme and an article by Dean on the mysterious role of intention. The issue also contains news from the IONS research department, briefly discussing all of their research projects in progress, and closes with a few well-written book and multi-media reviews. It is a great resource for researchers and the general public alike, and I plan to subscribe soon.
A slideshow of all of the photos from my tour of IONS, and larger-sized versions of the pictures above are available here. I recommend clicking on the center of the first picture for captions.
Stay tuned for a line-up of posts coauthored with Bryan Williams on parapsychological techniques in haunting research, the second half of my reviews of sessions from the 50th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association, and review of Stephen Braude's The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations. I'm back at home and back in action.