Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Magnetic Fields and Haunting Phenomena: A Basic Primer for Paranormal Enthusiasts (Part 2)

In the first installment of this blog series, we discussed geomagnetic field activity and how it may relate to haunting phenomena. In this installment, we discuss electromagnetic fields their relation to haunting experiences.


Electromagnetic fields are AC fields that are most often produced artificially by electrical power currents such as those found in our homes. In some instances, they may also be produced naturally by geophysical sources, such electricity produced through seismic pressure on conductive rock along fault zones (Persinger, 1985, 1987), and very low frequency atmospherics, which are electromagnetic pulses produced from electrical discharges after a lightning strike that average around 0.6 milliGauss (Schienle et al., 1998).

The issue of possible health effects in humans due to electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure has received a great deal of attention over the past several decades (Hafemeister, 1996; Portier & Wolfe, 1998; Zipse, 1993), and this may still be a relevant issue today with the high volume of computers, electronics, and appliances that have been introduced into the home and workplace. Prolonged exposure to the magnetic fields given off by these devices may provide a reason as to why haunt-related experiences are sometimes reported in new and fairly recent buildings, as opposed to the stereotypical old, abandoned, and eerie-looking building that play host to urban legends. For example, Persinger, Koren, and O’Connor (2001; Persinger & Koren, 2001, pp. 184 – 187) investigated reports of haunt phenomena (including apparitions, sensing a presence and an unseen touch, nightmares, breathing & whispering sounds, and light flashes) in the small home of a young adult couple. The house itself contained a large amount of electronics and appliances, and was described as being “overwired” and not properly grounded.

Concern has also been raised over the effects that electromagnetic field exposure may have on brain functioning and resulting mental health (Paneth, 1993; O’Connor, 1993), and at least some experimental studies have seemingly demonstrated an effect. For example, two studies have observed possible changes in brain wave activity on an electroencephalogram (EEG) following brief (2 sec.) exposure to EMFs as strong as 780 milliGauss and higher (Bell et al., 1992; von Klitzing, 1991), similar to the levels we may find at haunt sites. Persinger, Richards, and Koren (1997) found brain wave changes when lower strength magnetic fields (10 milliGauss) were applied over longer periods of time (several minutes), with these changes even continuing for a short time after the magnetic field has been removed. A review of experimental studies also suggests that changes in brain chemistry and hormone levels may sometimes occur in response to EMF exposure (Reiter, 1993). A considerable amount of evidence suggests that EMF exposure can also affect sleep (Sher, 2000), which might contribute to haunt experiences that occur during sleeping hours. Gangi and Johansson (2000) have even proposed a model which suggests that EMF exposure may cause certain skin cells to release inflammatory substances that may cause itching and other skin sensations. If their model is correct, it may perhaps be a way to account for some of the strange skin and touching sensations that people sometimes experience at haunt sites.

The suggestion that electromagnetic field exposure might be tied in some way to apparition or ghost experiences comes from both laboratory studies and field investigations. In the laboratory, Persinger, Tiller, and Koren (2000) were able to study the experiences of a man who had reported haunt phenomena in his home a few years before. When they applied a 10 milliGauss EMF, which had a complex wave pattern, to his brain, the man reported experiencing brief “rushes of fear” and various odd sensations, followed by him seeing a visual image that seemed to resemble the apparition he saw in his home. Changes in the man’s brain wave activity were also observed by EEG in conjunction with his experience. See also Persinger (2001) and Persinger and Koren (2001, pp. 190 – 192) for other discussions of this and a related study.

The electromagnetic fields in most buildings tend to average between 0.2 and 2 milliGauss. However, various field investigations have found EMFs notably above this average at haunt sites (e.g., Persinger et al., 2001; Roll et al., 1996; Roll & Persinger, 2001, pp. 154 – 163; Wiseman et al., 2002). This is not always the case, however; there are at least two field investigations that did not find strong EMFs at the haunt sites when measuring for them (Maher, 2000; Maher & Hansen, 1997).

To measure electromagnetic fields, one of the least expensive yet effective devices that a paranormal enthusiast may commonly use is a second type of meter made by Alphalab, the TriField Broadband Meter [1]. This meter is calibrated to measure EMFs such as those generated by power lines, and gives readings in units of milliGauss. When taking readings with this meter, it is important to note any possible sources around the meter (e.g., electronics and appliances, power generators, running cars, & electrical wiring) that may naturally cause the meter’s needle to move higher or even spike, and which may lead to a false reading.

In the next installment, we will offer some tips on taking magnetic field measurements during haunting investigations.

-Bryan Williams, University of New Mexico
-Annalisa Ventola, Public Parapsychology

-Mike Wilson, Psi Society


[1] The TriField Broadband Meter is distinguished from the Tri-Field Natural EM Meter (see Note #1 in the previous blog installment) by its tan-colored label surrounding the dial switch, and lack of small knob.


Bell, G. B., Marino, A. A., & Chesson, A. L. (1992). Alterations in brain electrical activity caused by magnetic fields: Detecting the detection process. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 83, 389 – 397.

Gangi, S., & Johansson, O. (2000). A theoretical model based upon mast cells and histamine to explain the recently proclaimed sensitivity to electric and/or magnetic fields in humans. Medical Hypotheses, 54, 663 – 671.

Maher, M. C. (2000). Quantitative investigation of the General Wayne Inn. Journal of Parapsychology, 64, 365 – 390.

Maher, M. C., & Hansen, G. P. (1997). Quantitative investigation of a legally disputed “haunted house.” Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 40th Annual Convention (pp. 184 – 201). Durham, NC: Parapsychological Association, Inc.

O’Connor, M. E. (1993). Psychological studies in nonionizing electromagnetic energy research. Journal of General Psychology, 120, 33 – 47.

Paneth, N. (1993). Neurobehavioral effects of power-frequency electromagnetic fields. Environmental Health Perspectives Supplements, 101, 101 – 106.

Persinger, M. A. (1985). Geophysical variables and behavior: XXII. The tectonogenic strain continuum of unusual events. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 60, 59 – 65.

Persinger, M. A. (1987). Geopsychology and geopsychopathology: Mental processes and disorders associated with geochemical and geophysical factors. Experientia, 43, 92 – 103.

Persinger, M. A. (2001). The neuropsychiatry of paranormal experiences. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and the Clinical Neurosciences, 13, 515 – 524.

Persinger, M. A., & Koren, S. A. (2001). Predicting the characteristics of haunt phenomena from geomagnetic factors and brain sensitivity: Evidence from field and experimental studies. In J. Houran & R. Lange (Eds.) Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (pp. 179 – 194). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Persinger, M. A., Koren, S. A., & O’Connor, R. P. (2001). Geophysical variables and behavior: CIV. Power frequency magnetic field transients (5 microTesla) and reports of haunt experiences within an electronically dense house. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 92, 673 – 674.

Persinger, M. A., Richards, P. M., & Koren, S. A. (1997). Differential entrainment of electroencephalographic activity by weak complex electromagnetic fields. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 84, 527 – 536.

Persinger, M. A., Tiller, S. G., & Koren, S. A. (2000). Experimental simulation of a haunt experience and elicitation of paroxysmal electroencephalographic activity by transcerebral complex magnetic fields: Induction of a synthetic “ghost”? Perceptual and Motor Skills, 90, 659 – 674.

Portier, C. J., & Wolfe, M. S. (Eds.) (1998). Assessment of Health Effects from Exposure to Power-Line Frequency Electric and Magnetic Fields: NIEHS Working Group Report. Research Triangle Park, NC: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences/National Institutes of Health.

Reiter, R. J. (1993). A review of neuroendocrine and neurochemical changes associated with static and extremely low frequency electromagnetic field exposure. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science, 28, 57 – 75.

Roll, W. G., Maher, M. C., & Brown, B. (1996). An investigation of reported haunting occurrences in a Japanese restaurant in Georgia. In E. W. Cook (Ed.) Research in Parapsychology 1992 (pp. 62 – 67). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

Roll, W. G., & Persinger, M. A. (2001). Investigations of poltergeists and haunts: A review and interpretation. In J. Houran & R. Lange (Eds.) Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (pp. 123 – 163). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Schienle, A., Stark, R., & Vaitl, D. (1998). Biological effects of very low frequency (VLF) atmospherics in humans: A review. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 12, 455 – 468.

Sher, L. (2000). The effects of natural and man-made electromagnetic fields on mood and behavior: The role of sleep disturbances. Medical Hypotheses, 54, 630 – 633.

von Klitzing, L. (1991). A new encephalomagnetic effect in human brain generated by static magnetic fields. Brain Research, 540, 295 – 296.

Wiseman, R., Watt, C., Greening, E., Stevens, P., & O’Keeffe, C. (2002). An investigation into the alleged haunting of Hampton Court Palace: Psychological variables and magnetic fields. Journal of Parapsychology, 66, 387 – 408.

Zipse, D. W. (1993). Health effects of extremely low-frequency (50- and 60-Hz) electric and magnetic fields. IEEE Transactions on Industry Applications, 29, 447 – 458.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Magnetic Fields and Haunting Phenomena: A Basic Primer for Paranormal Enthusiasts (Part 1)

Reports of haunting phenomena are often characterized by two types of ostensibly anomalous phenomena that may repeatedly occur over long periods of time in a given location. There are subjective phenomena that tend to be experienced by our senses, such as seeing apparitions or ghosts, sensing an unseen presence (sometimes accompanied by feelings of apprehension or fear), and hearing various kinds of sounds that may either be suggestive of physical disruptions (e.g., crashes and banging noises) or be suggestive of a presence (e.g., voices, footsteps, doors opening and shutting). Then there are phenomena that may have some degree of physical objectivity, such as floating lights (“orbs”), temperature variations (“cold spots,” which can be measured with a thermometer), electrical disturbances, and the occasional instance of apparent object movement.

One of the goals of haunting research has been to determine whether or not such phenomena may have a rational explanation in terms of the known principles and laws of physics. Parapsychologists often take measurements of the surrounding physical environment at reportedly haunted areas to see if, and how, they may differ from control areas that have had no reports of hauntings. One of the rather consistent findings to emerge from taking such measurements is the indication that haunting occurrences may be associated with magnetic field activity. Additionally, many amateur paranormal enthusiasts take measurements using magnetometers in their attempted efforts to search for spirits in reputedly haunted houses (Coghlan, 1998 – 1999). Here, we wish to provide a basic primer – a sort of “crash course,” if you will – on what parapsychologists have learned about magnetic fields and hauntings, so that their findings may help guide the efforts of paranormal enthusiasts in conducting their investigations. Over the next few days, we will give a basic overview of magnetic fields and how they might relate to hauntings based on the current parapsychological literature, and provide some useful tips on what to look out for during field investigations and how to properly interpret findings. This will help make sure that any measurements taken by paranormal enthusiasts are a bit more reliable, better collected, and more soundly interpreted.

There are two main types of magnetic fields that paranormal enthusiasts should be aware of: geomagnetic fields and electromagnetic fields.


Geomagnetic fields are DC fields that are produced naturally by the Earth. Although the precise mechanisms are not yet fully understood, it is thought that the Earth’s magnetic field is largely produced through the fluid motion of the Earth’s molten iron core (Buffett, 2000). The circular motion of the core may give rise to electrical currents, which in turn generate a magnetic field [1]. Although the geomagnetic field (GMF) of the Earth averages around 500 milliGauss [2], there are a number of things that can produce notable changes in the strength of the GMF in certain areas of the planet. These can include seismic activity along fault zones (Persinger, 1985), electrical activity during thunderstorms, and large amounts of magnetic or electrically conductive minerals present in the surrounding geology of a given area. In addition, increases in cosmic radiation from space, as a result of sunspots, solar flares, and similar stellar phenomena, may sometimes greatly change the GMF strength as this radiation interacts with the boundary of the GMF in the upper atmosphere (Lyon, 2000), one of the things that can lead to geomagnetic storms.

There has been considerable evidence gathered to suggest that certain forms of human behavior (e.g., sleep disturbances, mood shifts, and increases in anxiety) may coincide with changes in the activity of the geomagnetic field (see Persinger, 1987, for a review of this evidence), suggesting that the GMF may interact in some way with the workings of the brain. Some studies also suggest that people who happen to have particularly sensitive temporal lobes, a condition sometimes brought about through temporal lobe epilepsy or brain injuries, may be more susceptible to changes in GMF activity (e.g., Fuller et al., 1995; Persinger, 2001; Persinger & Koren, 2001, pp. 183 – 184).

These findings were extended to apparitional experiences when neuroscientist Michael Persinger and his colleagues at Laurentian University in Canada reported findings that suggested that the geomagnetic activity tended to be stronger on days in which people reported seeing apparitions of people that had recently died (Persinger, 1988; Persinger & Schaut, 1988). When extended to haunting cases, strong geomagnetic fields (around 200 milliGauss or more above the average for the Earth’s GMF) have been found at reputed haunt sites (Roll & Persinger, 2001, pp. 154 – 163), which often seems to be related to either the structure of buildings in, or the geology of, the area around the site as noted above (for example, some structures contained materials that could potentially harbor magnetic fields, such as stone or mesh wiring; or were built near fault zones).

In attempting to measure geomagnetic fields, one of the simplest yet least expensive devices that a paranormal enthusiast can use is the TriField Natural EM Meter, manufactured by Alphalab, Inc. [3]. Rather than measuring the strength of the GMF in the local area, the Natural EM Meter measures the changes in the local GMF that may result from one or more of the natural phenomena discussed above. This meter gives readings of these changes in units of microTesla, and a useful conversion factor to note for our purposes is that 1 microTesla = 10 milliGauss (Hafemeister, 1996, p. 975). We should note here that since the Natural EM Meter is measuring magnetic changes, it is very sensitive to even the slightest movement of one’s hand, and thus the needle can move about erratically and potentially produce a false reading if one is holding it and walking about during an investigation. One way to reduce this is to place the meter on a stationary surface (such as a table) and let the needle to fall to zero before taking any readings.

In the next installment, we will discuss electromagnetic fields.
- Bryan Williams, University of New Mexico

- Annalisa Ventola, Public Parapsychology

- Mike Wilson, Psi Society


[1] To get a bit technical, this would follow from Ampere’s law (with Maxwell’s correction), one of Maxwell’s laws that relates electricity to magnetism; see, e.g., Griffiths (1999, p. 323).

[2] Magnetic fields are usually measured in one of three main scaled units: Gauss, Tesla, and Gamma. Since many commercial magnetometers often used by paranormal enthusiasts, such as the Broadband Tri-Field Meter made by Alphalab, Inc. (see also Note #3), tend to give magnetic field readings in terms of milliGauss (i.e., one-one thousandth of a Gauss), we will use this unit as our reference point throughout this primer.

[3] The Tri-Field Natural EM Meter is similar in appearance to the Tri-Field Broadband Meter (also made by Alphalab), which paranormal enthusiasts also commonly use in investigations, but is recognized by its blue-colored label surrounding the dial switch, and by the small knob on the side of the meter. Both types of meters can be purchased from Alphalab.



Buffett, B. A. (2000). Earth’s core and the geodynamo. Science, 288, 2007 – 2012.

Coghlan, A. (1998 – 1999). Midnight watch. New Scientist, 160, 42 – 45.

Fuller, M., Dobson, J., Wieser, H. G., & Moser, S. (1995). On the sensitivity of the human brain to magnetic fields: Evocation of epileptiform activity. Brain Research Bulletin, 36, 155 – 159.

Griffiths, D. J. (1999). Introduction to Electrodynamics (3rd Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Hafemeister, D. (1996). Resource letter BELFEF-1: Biological effects of low-frequency electromagnetic fields. American Journal of Physics, 64, 974 – 981.

Lyon, J. G. (2000). The solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere system. Science, 288, 1987 – 1991.

Persinger, M. A. (1985). Geophysical variables and behavior: XXII. The tectonogenic strain continuum of unusual events. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 60, 59 – 65.

Persinger, M. A. (1987). Geopsychology and geopsychopathology: Mental processes and disorders associated with geochemical and geophysical factors. Experientia, 43, 92 – 103.

Persinger, M. A. (1988). Increased geomagnetic activity and the occurrence of bereavement hallucinations: Evidence for melatonin-mediated microseizuring in the temporal lobe? Neuroscience Letters, 88, 271 – 274.

Persinger, M. A. (2001). The neuropsychiatry of paranormal experiences. Journal of Neuropsychiatry and the Clinical Neurosciences, 13, 515 – 524.

Persinger, M. A., & Koren, S. A. (2001). Predicting the characteristics of haunt phenomena from geomagnetic factors and brain sensitivity: Evidence from field and experimental studies. In J. Houran & R. Lange (Eds.) Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (pp. 179 – 194). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Persinger, M. A., & Schaut, G. B. (1988). Geomagnetic factors in subjective telepathic, precognitive, and postmortem experiences. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 82, 217 – 235.

Roll, W. G., & Persinger, M. A. (2001). Investigations of poltergeists and haunts: A review and interpretation. In J. Houran & R. Lange (Eds.) Hauntings and Poltergeists: Multidisciplinary Perspectives (pp. 123 – 163). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Tour of the Institute of Noetic Sciences

IONS EntranceI hope that Public Parapsychology readers will forgive me for neglecting this blog for almost two weeks. I spent much of that time in the San Francisco Bay Area, where in addition much relaxing and sight-seeing, I was treated to a personal tour of the Institute of Noetic Sciences(IONS), hosted by the organization's senior scientist, Dr. Dean Radin. I invited medium Marcel Cairo of AfterLifeFM and consciousness studies student Kevin Kovelant of Streams of Consciousness to tag along. The three of us met in Berkeley, then traveled over the Richmond bridge and north a short stretch of the Pacific Highway 101 to the entrance of the institute's 200 acre campus and retreat center.

IONS main campusIONS 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.

CRL Command CentralThe 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.

CRL Receiver's Room The Sending RoomThere 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.

Dean and Susie RadinAfter 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.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

APRU Invited Speaker Series

The Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London has announced their complete program for the Invited Speaker Series 2007/2008. All talks are free and open to the public. Previous lectures are now available online.


16 Oct
Dr. Brian Hughes
School of Psychology, National University of Ireland, Galway
Making Sense of Miracle Cures: How Psychology Makes Alternative Medicine ‘Work’

23 Oct Professor Richard Wiseman
Psychology Department, University of Hertfordshire
Parapsychology: Predicting the Future

13 Nov Dr. Michael Heap
Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, and Chairman of the Association for Skeptical Enquiry (ASKE)
The Need to be Authentic and its Influence on Behaviour, Attitudes and Beliefs

27 Nov Dr. Peter Fenwick
Honorary Senior Lecturer, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College
Deathbed visions, coincidences, and intriguing tales of grandfather’s

4 Dec Gordon Smith
Psychic and Writer
The View from the Other Side


22 Jan Dr. Mark Blagrove
Department of Psychology, University of Swansea
Personality and Lucid Dreaming

29 Jan Dr. Christine Mohr
Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol
Magical Beliefs and the Two Cerebral Hemispheres

19 Feb Dr. Matthew Smith
Department of Psychology, Liverpool Hope University
Chance, Luck and Destiny: A Psychological Perspective

11 Mar Dr. Ciarán O’Keeffe
Research Associate, Université de Paris 8, Laboratoire de Psychologie Sociale
The Truth About Mediums

18 Mar Dr. Dorothy Rowe
Clinical Psychologist and Writer
Why is that Important to You?

Seminars are held on Tuesdays at 4:10pm in Room 308, Richard Hoggart Building, Goldsmiths, University of London, New Cross, London SE14 6NW. For further information, visit

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Call for Participants: The Foundations of 'Superstitious' Beliefs

Dr. Jeff Rudski, an associate professor of psychology at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania is looking for participants to answer a short online survey for his research looking at the foundations of 'superstitious' beliefs. He has forwarded me the following request.


I'm looking for participants for a research project examining the basis for various beliefs often called "superstitious". Many scientists look at these beliefs and dismiss them claiming that there is no reliable scientific evidence to support the claims. While that may or may not be true, the beliefs still persist. Thus, the beliefs are real, and a better understanding of their foundations will help inform us on how beliefs work in general.

One theory of cognition states that we actually have 2 different modes of thought: rational and intuitive. For instance. I don't believe in ghosts. I haven't been persuaded by the evidence. However, I'm terrified of ghost stories and horror movies. This emotional reaction suggests to me that the belief in ghosts resonates within me, although not according to my 'rational' thought processes.

To examine this 'split belief' (rational versus intuitive), several students and I have constructed a survey (that takes most participants approximately 20 minutes to fill out) that asks for the basis of beliefs in various paranormal phenomena. Afterwards, was ask questions to assess your rational-intuititve orientation, as well as several questions addressing your beliefs on tensions between science- and faith-based ways of knowing. I also provide information on how you can be kept apprised of the results.

The survey can be found at

The research has been approved by Muhlenberg College's Institutional Review Board. Thank you for your consideration. Your participation will be quite valuable.

Jeff Rudski, Ph.D
Associate Professor of Psychology
Muhlenberg College
Allentown PA

Monday, October 08, 2007

Guest Blog: Chocolate Intentions

Chocolate Intentions: A Tasty PK-Related Study

Many of us have a sweet tooth, and our particular passion might be for chocolate. Chocolate is known to have mild, short-lived effects on our mood, and this is not only due to its creamy texture, rich aroma, and sweet taste. Certain alkaloid stimulants, such as theobromine (which dilates the arteries) and caffeine, are found in chocolate, which can get the body going (Smit & Blackburn, 2005; Smit et al., 2004). Aside from chemical stimulants, could it be possible to slightly enhance chocolate’s effect on mood by exposing it to human mental intention? Dr. Dean Radin and Gail Hayssen of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California, along with James Walsh of Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate, explored this possibility in a study just published in the interdisciplinary science and medical journal Explore (Radin, Hayssen, & Walsh, 2007).

The idea that human mental intention may subtly affect the structure or effects of certain objects (such as food) may seem a bit odd at first, but if looked at in a religious context, the idea may actually be quite familiar to us. Catholic and Christian ceremonies regularly involve the ingestion of bread and wine that has been blessed, and certain religious sites (such as Lourdes and the Sanctuario de Chimayo in New Mexico) are believed by some to hold natural resources imbued with healing powers (Cohen, 2003). In addition, a number of experimental studies seem to offer evidence in support of the idea that mental intention can subtly interact with physical systems. Studies of ostensible psychokinesis (PK, or “mind over matter”) using electronic random number generators (RNGs) suggest that individuals directing their mental intention at an RNG can subtly influence its output of random numbers such that it becomes significantly less random than we would expect by chance alone (Bösch et al., 2006; Jahn et al., 1997; Radin & Nelson, 2003). Related studies of PK influence on biological systems, such as skin electrical activity and animal locomotion, have also found significant changes in such systems seemingly in “response” to the individual’s focused mental intention (Braud & Schlitz, 1991; Schmidt et al., 2004). In a recent study, Radin et al. (2006) had approximately 2,000 people attending the International Water for Life Conference in Japan direct their collective mental intention towards a bottle of commercial water. Ice crystals formed from droplet samples of this “treated” water were later judged by 100 people for aesthetic value against crystals formed from drop samples of regular, “untreated” water, and these people found the crystals from the “treated” water more visually appealing than those from the “untreated” water to a statistically significant degree (odds of around 1,000 to 1 against chance). Similar studies by Stanford materials physicist William Tiller and his associates found that bottled water placed alongside magnetic field-producing devices which had been mentally “imprinted” with positive intention by a group of deep meditators tended to have a lower level of pH (a measure of acidity) than regular, “unimprinted” water (Dibble & Tiller, 1999; Tiller et al., 2000). So far, these findings have been limited to Tiller and his associates, while others (e.g., Mason & Patterson, 2003) have been unable to reproduce them, possibly due to differences in the methods used.

The same basic idea illustrated by these studies lies at the heart of the chocolate study by Radin et al. (2007). Sixty participants were recruited for the study and asked to rate their general mood by questionnaire over the course of one week. Three days out of that week, the participants were asked to eat one half-ounce piece of dark chocolate in the morning and in the afternoon. Prior to the start of the study, the pieces of chocolate that the participants were eating had been randomly separated into those that would receive mental intention, and those that would not for control comparisons. The intention pieces were each exposed to one of three kinds of mental intention: the first was a 20-minute focus by a pair of deep meditators, the second was a device that had been “imprinted” by a group of deep meditators during a 30-minute session (a basic attempt to reproduce the work of Tiller and colleagues), and the third was an hour-long chant and drumming ritual performed by a Mongolian shaman. The results indicated that on the third day, participants who ate the intention pieces of chocolate had rated their mood as significantly improved as compared to the ratings of the participants who ate the control pieces. They also indicated that participants who did not regularly eat much chocolate showed a much stronger improvement in their mood, with odds of about 1,000 to 1 against chance. An analysis done after-the-fact revealed that changes in fatigue level and vigor had contributed to this mood change.

The statistically significant results of this study argue against pure chance being a factor in the mood changes of the participants. One might also argue that since chocolate has stimulatory properties, then what the participants who ate the intention pieces may have been experiencing was a placebo effect of expectation, similar to that seen in ill patients who respond positively to suggestive medical treatment (Brown, 1998). If that was so, then would we expect participants who ate the control pieces to also show significantly improved mood, which they did not. The design of the study was such that participants (nor the experimenters) did not know whether they were eating intention chocolate or control chocolate, thereby controlling for the expectation variable. Thus, it would initially seem that participants who ate the intention chocolate might have been responding to the mentally instilled “imprints” of PK-related intention by the meditation groups and the shaman. As always, the study’s results need to be reproduced by others in order to be a bit more certain that such an effect may be involved, but for the moment, this study suggests that PK-related mental intention effects may be extended to food, perhaps having a subtle effect on our mood that may be as delightful as a Hershey’s Kiss!

- Bryan Williams


References (in order of text citation):

Smit, H. J., & Blackburn, R. J. (2005). Reinforcing effects of caffeine and theobromine as found in chocolate. Psychopharmacology 181(1), August. pp. 101 – 106.

Smit, H. J., Gaffan, E. A., & Rogers, P. J. (2004). Methylxanthines are the psychopharmacologically active constituents of chocolate. Psychopharmacology 176(3 – 4), November. pp. 412 – 419.

Radin, D., Hayssen, G., & Walsh, J. (2007). Effects of intentionally enhanced chocolate on mood. Explore: The Journal of Science & Healing 3(5), September – October. pp. 485 – 492.

Cohen, K. (2003). Where healing dwells: The importance of sacred space. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 9(4), July – August. pp. 68 – 72.

Bosch, H., Steinkamp, F., & Boller, E. (2006). Examining psychokinesis: The interaction of human intention with random number generators – A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin 132(4), July. pp. 497 – 523.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

50th Annual PA Convention: Stevenson Memorial Panel

Nancy ZingroneFollowing the earlier sessions on mediumship, the afternoon of day two of the 50th Annual Convention of the Paraspychological Association closed with a memorial panel on Ian Stevenson's work in parapsychology. Nancy L. Zingrone of the Parapsychology Foundation began with a short presentation titled Ian Stevenson on the Importance of Spontaneous Cases. In addition to his famous work on children claiming to remember previous lives, Stevenson also researched accounts of ESP experiences, apparitions, and near-death experiences. Contrary to many parapsyhologists' emphasis on experimental research, Stevenson emphasized and defended the importance of spontaneous case research throughout his career. He also discussed the strengths and weaknesses of human testimony and cautioned against citing its weaknesses as a blanket statement to dispose of cases, reminding us that we need to approach the issue of human testimony empirically. Stevenson believed that parapsychology was destined to be an incomplete science if it continued the emphasis on experimental data.

Erlendur HaraldssonErlendur Haraldsson, a professor of psychology at the University of Iceland, continued the discussion with a presentation titled Ian Stevenson's Reincarnation Research. Stevenson will primarily be remembered for his pioneering field investigations in this area. His first publication on the topic was published in 1960, the result of winning an essay contest in honor of William James. In that paper, Stevenson analyzed 44 cases and discussed nine hypotheses that might explain them. After that, he started active field research into cases of children who claimed to remember past lives. He visited a great number of countries to pursue such research, including India, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Alaska, and Lebanon. Stevenson gradually developed a team of interpreters and coworkers in various countries, and got some of his staff at the then Division of Parapsychology at the University of Virginia involved in this work. Stevenson's output of writings was enormous, including nine books and numerous papers.

Carlos S. AlvaradoCarlos S. Alvarado of the Parapsychology Foundation looked at Ian Stevenson's Contributions to Research with Spontaneous ESP Experiences. Stevenson's first paper about parapsychology was titled "The Uncomfortable Facts about Extrasensory Perception," which was first published in Harper's Magazine in 1959. After that, he contributed more articles on ESP, including "A Review and Analysis of Paranormal Experiences Connected with the Sinking of the Titanic" in 1960, and a paper on the "Precognition of Disasters" in 1970. Stevenson also studied the spontaneous experiences of Indian school children using questionnaire responses and wrote a book called Telepathic Impressions in 1970. In his last publication on the subject of ESP, he presented a study of a single case of apparent recurrent veridical dreams. From the beginning of his career, to his death, Stevenson believed that careful investigation of cases could provide evidence for the existence of ESP. Furthermore, his approach provided a balance to the emphasis on experimental research in modern parapsychology.

John A. Palmer of the Rhine Research Center closed the memorial panel with a presentation titled Ian Stevenson on Mental Mediumship. Stevenson's contributions to this area of research centered about "drop-in" communicators and the combination lock test. Drop-in communicators are intruders who come to mediumistic sittings uninvited, and Stevenson considered them more evidential of the survival of consciousness than standard communicators. He authored or co-authored full reports of five drop-in cases in a similar style as his reincarnation cases. In the combination lock test, persons 55+ years and in good mental/physical health would generate a word or phrase that was meaningful to them but not easily guessed by their surviving relatives. Using a special code, the word or phrase would be translated into a six-number lock combination. Aspirants would set the lock before death and attempt to communicate the word or phrase to a mediums after death. At least 10 locks were registered with Stevenson, and he set two locks for himself. However, to date no one has been able to open any of the locks. Will Stevenson succeed where his predecessors have so far failed?

Request: Info on Geraldine Cummins

I received a request recently from Wendy Cousins, a lecturer at the University of Ulster, who is carrying out some research into the paranormal experiences of writers and artists of the Irish literary revival. As well as spiritually-inclined authors such as W.B. Yeats, George "AE" Russell, James H. Cousins, and Sommerville and Ross, she is also researching the mediums who formed part of their active and creative social circle. In particular, she is interested in Geraldine Cummins, a medium who died in 1969. Although it is a long shot, Ms. Cousins would like to make contact with anyone who may have a personal memory of Geraldine or any notable information about her life. Firsthand accounts would be incredibly valuable, but even secondhand accounts passed down from friends or family would be very much appreciated.

Please contact Wendy Cousins if you have any information that may further her research.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Guest Blog: Can NDE's Reveal Something About Consciousness?

Taking a short intermission from my review series of the 50th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association (PA), I would like to introduce a new guest blogger, Bryan Williams, to Public Parapsychology readers. The following is his commentary about a recent article on near death experiences that appeared in the journal Medical Hypotheses.

Can Near-Death Experiences Reveal Something About Consciousness?

One of the most interesting features that a person may report in a near-death experience (NDE) is the apparent ability to remain aware of their surroundings throughout the duration of their experience, when they are presumed to be unconscious, comatose, or even clinically dead. After being resuscitated, some people give accounts of seeing their body from above in an apparent out-of-body experience (OBE), witnessing certain events going on around their body that are later verified as accurate by medical personnel who had been present at the time of the resuscitation attempt (Cook et al., 1998; Kelly et al., 1999 – 2000; Lawrence, 1995). In a few cases, some have even described venturing beyond the room where their body is located in their out-of-body form, witnessing people and events in other rooms that may also be verified by others who were present (Cook et al., 1998, Cases 8, 9, & 11; Owens, 1995). This feature of NDE seems to suggest conscious awareness continuing beyond the brain, which some may argue is suggestive of some form of survival. If that is the case, then could NDEs with this feature perhaps shed light on the nature of human conscious experience?

In a recent issue of the journal Medical Hypotheses, Sam Parnia (2007) of the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York raises this very question, examining it in the light of four recently published prospective studies, each independently conducted, on the occurrence of NDEs in patients who suffered a cardiac arrest (Greyson, 2003; Parnia et al., 2001; Schwaninger et al., 2002; van Lommel et al., 2001). These studies found that NDEs occurred in less than a quarter (between 10 and 23%) of the patients interviewed by the researchers, that NDEs were more common in younger patients (under 60 years of age) than in older patients, and that there were very few (if any) significant differences between cardiac patients who had an NDE and cardiac patients who did not in terms of medical condition, social demographics, and resuscitation procedures received, suggesting that none of these things influenced whether they had an NDE or not.

Parnia (2007) argues that NDE cases which suggest continued awareness and/or OBE aspects constitute an important problem for science and medicine, and that they should be studied further in order to explore their possible implications for consciousness. He proposes that NDEs with these aspects could be amendable to quasi-experimental study. He suggests that certain experimental trials could be set-up in some hospitals where cardiac patients’ brain waves are continuously monitored by portable EEG. If a patient goes into cardiac arrest, the EEG will allow for inferred monitoring of the patient’s brain activity should they later report an NDE following resuscitation. To test the OBE aspect of the NDE, he suggests that hidden targets might be placed in the resuscitation room, in positions and at heights that only a person looking down from the ceiling might see them (e.g., placing a random picture flat on a shelf hanging up along the ceiling). Parnia is apparently not the first to propose such trials; Holden (1988) had proposed similar research trials nearly two decades ago, and Owens (1995, p. 160) and Cook et al. (1998, p. 403) had advocated the value of such research trials.

The only potential problem with attempting such trials is convincing a hospital or university’s institutional review board that such work would be ethical and productive, something that would be difficult given that the life of the cardiac patient could potentially be compromised. It is also difficult to tell at the moment how invasive the methods and equipment for such trials would be; i.e., it is hard to tell whether or not the trial would interfere with the patient’s life and/or resuscitation procedures (a solution for this might perhaps be found in a carefully planned study design). Rate of success in testing the OBE aspects of NDE is also somewhat up in the air when one considers the mixed results from OBE perception tests with relaxed and dreaming subjects. In a review of his classic OBE studies, Charles Tart (1998) notes the successful trial he had had with his subject Miss Z., in which she was apparently able to see a five-digit number written on a piece of paper lying on a shelf high up near the ceiling, above the bed she was sleeping on. Miss Z. had reported frequent OBEs in which she saw her body from a position near the ceiling, and this trial had been a test of her perception from that position (aside from OBE, we also have to consider ESP on her part). However, Tart had less success with famed OBE subject Robert Monroe, who, despite having very vivid OBEs, was never able to correctly recall the number. In tests conducted at the Psychical Research Foundation in North Carolina (Morris et al., 1978; Roll & Harary, 1976), OBE subject Keith Harary often report vivid OBE in which he felt that he had traveled to other rooms, but his attempts to perceive target objects and letters in those other rooms were often found to be erroneous.

Lastly, it might be somewhat difficult to generalize any findings that may result from such trials given that the number of NDEs in cardiac arrests is so relatively small. In other words, whatever the results may possibly tell us about the conscious experience of the patients having such NDEs, it may be difficult to generalize the results to the conscious experience of all people given the small numbers of patients. This should not take away from the potential benefits of conducting such trials, however, and it is still an open question as to whether or not such innovative research will actually be carried out.


Bryan Williams is a Native American student at the University of New Mexico, where his undergraduate studies have focused on physiological psychology and physics. He is a student affiliate of the Parapsychological Association, a student member of the Society for Scientific Exploration, and a co-moderator of the Psi Society, a Yahoo electronic discussion group for the general public that is devoted to parapsychology. He has been an active contributor to the Global Consciousness Project since 2001, and was the recipient of the Charles T. and Judith A. Tart Student Incentive Award for Parapsychological Research from the Parapsychology Foundation in 2003. As of August 2007, he is the author of seven articles (two co-authored with William G. Roll) that have appeared in the Proceedings of the Parapsychological Association Convention. His native ancestry lies with the Laguna Pueblo in western New Mexico, and the tribe’s long-held beliefs in survival and the concept of spirits is one of the things that spurred his interest in parapsychology.



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