Psychic Piracy [Part 3]

(image by Lazlo-photo, used under a Creative Commons sharealike license)
Gyrarr. Yarrr. Etc. Etc. Dr. David Luke returns with the third part in his exploration of psychic piracy. This week the venerable doctor examines ‘the unconscious reservoir of psychic information’. Oh yes.

Read Part 1 here
Read Part 2 here
What many people may not be aware of is that much of the recent research in parapsychology adumbrates psi as a genuine, albeit subtle and largely unconscious phenomenon capable of escaping our conscious detection, even though our nervous system seemingly picks up the psychic information and responds to it.
To illustrate, using brain mapping technology such as EEG a person in one room has their brain monitored while a person in a distant room has their brain randomly stimulated, usually through visual stimulation, such as a flash of bright lights. These visual stimulations are known to reliably cause easily observable reactions in the brain of the person directly perceiving them.
What is not generally known is that these stimulations can also be observed somewhat more subtly in the brains of a distant person sealed in another room, well out of sight of the flashes. Some successful experiments even found this effect to occur in the visual cortex, the brain region where the effect might be expected if their brains were being stimulated directly [11]. The same effect was also found using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology [12] – even localising the spot in the brain where the effect was detected – and so these findings, repeated with different technologies, cannot be easily explained away as an artefact of the brain imaging technique.
However, the effect tends to be observable only with pairs of people who have some kind of emotional bond [13], such as with friends and lovers, with some indication that twins do particularly well [14]. Complete strangers, curiously enough, tend not to exhibit this distant brain synchronisation effect, which seems to imply that those people who are emotionally bonded are also somehow cerebrally bonded too.
One surprising effect that occurred in some of these ‘distant brain correlation’ experiments is that there was also a slight time difference between the stimulation in and its reception in the brain. This time difference occurred in those being directly stimulated, in one experiment, and those being distantly stimulated, in another. The trouble is, this slight time shift occurred in reverse, such that the brains seemingly registered the stimulation just a few hundred milliseconds before it occurred.
Ordinarily this might seem to be an impossible twist to some already very strange results, but psi researchers are also beginning to amass a wealth of data to support something they call presentiment – the bodies ability to react, or rather ‘pre-act’, to immanent events before they happen, without any known physical means of predicting theses immanent events.
In the basic set-up for these experiments the participants’ physiological arousal is monitored while they are randomly shown images that are either emotionally arousing or emotionally neutral, such as a burn-damaged child or a wicker chair. Using sensors that detect minute fluctuations in skin perspiration by measuring skin conductance, called electrodermal activity (EDA), an accurate gauge of general physiological arousal can be obtained.
The EDA of a person reacts directly and almost instantly to the content of the image being seen. However, defying what is generally understood about time, a very small ‘pre-stimulus response’ (something I think would more accurately be called a ‘presponse’) is also observed a few seconds before the presentation of the arousing pictures. Having ruled out other explanations for this effect, the best interpretation of the successful results suggest that the body is subtly prescient to future events, although we may not be consciously aware of it.
Similar experiments have successfully been carried out by measuring physiological changes in heartbeat and EEG and also by using pornography, loud noises or even electric shocks as the arousing stimuli [15], though no one yet has combined all three of these stimuli – at least not as a parapsychology experiment.
The unconscious reservoir of psychic information
Other uses of EDA monitoring equipment in parapsychology have found that not only are participants’ physiologies responsive to future events but they may also be responsive to the physiological interaction or influence of other people. In a series of experiments designed to test the feasibility of direct psychic healing or intercessory prayer, a participant – the receiver – has their EDA monitored in one room and relayed to another room by computer. In the other room another participant, the ‘agent’, monitors the receiver’s EDA and attempts to influence the receiver’s level of arousal at randomly determined intervals.
As you might now expect, there is good evidence from these experiments to suggest that, in line with the agents’ wishes, some kind of interaction or possible influence is occurring between the physiology of these distant pairs [16]. This is something parapsychologists call ‘direct mental interaction between living systems’, or DMILS.
As with the distant brain correlation and presentiment experiments these changes in the receivers’ physiology appear to go consciously undetected, and collectively these experiments seemingly indicate that our physiology supersedes our cognition in the reception of psychic information, interaction or influence. One interpretation of this is that we may all be continuously psychic, albeit subtly, and yet we remain consciously unaware of the fact, even though our body apparently reacts on our behalf.
This makes sense in economic and evolutionary terms because otherwise our awareness of psychic information would have to compete with our other cognitive systems for our attention and might become conflated or lost. Alternatively, unconscious psi information would prevent our conscious awareness from becoming overloaded by a potentially infinite amount of direct psi information.
So it would be advantageous if psi worked directly through our physiological systems, enabling us to act unconsciously on this information where necessary, and perhaps stopping us from having accidents or helping us to have useful synchronicities at times. There certainly seems to be very good evidence for the fact that anyone can perform well in a laboratory psi tests and yet most people only have one or two conscious psi experiences in their lives, usually through dreams, and usually only when the information is really needed, such as the death or sudden crisis of a distant loved one. This then suggests that, most often, we are not really consciously aware of our own psychic abilities.
But if anyone can be psychic at any time you might well ask what stops us from actually being omniscient and omnipotent all the time. Why, we want to know, aren’t we gods? The answer might well be us ourselves, as both parapsychological theorists, such as Rex Stanford, and occultists, such as Austin Osman Spare, have indicated that our own unconscious desires often conflict with each other, thereby preventing pure desires and needs from manifesting [17]. As Spare [18] puts it, “The soul, proud and blighted… is a civil war of desire”.
Equally we may hold psychic awareness of something, or perhaps even of everything, in our unconscious mind yet this does not mean we can access it, because it is clear that many people remain consciously detached from their own unconscious. This is obvious to anyone who pays attention to their dreams and starts to unravel their inner conflicts.
So it may come as no surprise that a vast reservoir of psychic information can be found lurking in the body or hiding in the unconscious mind. For this reason the study of altered states has a lot to offer in the pursuit of both psi and magic, because, broadly speaking, altered states tend to make the unconscious conscious.
Dr. Dave will return next week. In the meantime, you can read more of his work on his blog.
References and Further Reading
11. Kittenis, M., Caryl, P. G., and Stevens, P. (2004). Distant psychophysiological interaction effects between related and unrelated participants. In S. Schmidt (Ed.), The Parapsychological Association 47th Annual Convention: Proceedings of Presented Papers, Vienna (67-76).
12. Richards, T. L., Kozak, L., Johnson, C., Standish, L. J. (2005). Replicable functional magnetic resonance imaging evidence of correlated brain signals between physically isolated subjects. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 11, 955-963.
13. Kittenis, M., Caryl, P. G., and Stevens, P. (2004). Distant psychophysiological interaction effects between related and unrelated participants. In S. Schmidt (Ed.), The Parapsychological Association 47th Annual Convention: Proceedings of Presented Papers, Vienna (67-76).
14. Brosnan, A. (2007, 21st March). Testing for telepathic powers: Twin brothers’ psychic moment. Northampton Chronicle and Echo.
15. E.g., see Radin, D. (2006). Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality. New York: Pocket Books.
16. Schmidt, S., Schneider, R., Utts, J., & Walach, H. (2004). Distant intentionality and the feeling of being stared at – Two meta-analyses. British Journal of Psychology, 95, 235-247.
17. Luke, D. P. (2007). The science of magic: A parapsychological model of psychic ability in the context of magical will. Journal for the Academic Study of Magic, 4, 90-119.
18. Spare, A. O. (1921), The focus of life: The mutterings of AAOS, published privately by the author (text available on-line at (p.8)


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