The year was 1968, and UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute was the new home for a controversial type of research “parapsychology”. In the 70’s, UCLA lab researched parapsychology. Though they were unfunded by the university, the group conducted experiments in clairvoyance and telepathy.
Dr. Thelma Moss, a late psychology professor, headed the lab, which conducted scientific experiments in clairvoyance, telepathy and haunted houses until 1978. After meeting Kendall Johnson, she totally changed her interest and orientation toward parapsychological research, since she erroneously assumed, as did (almost) everyone else, that Kirlian photography indeed showed the human aura.
What is Kirlian photography?
Kirlian photography refers to a form of contact print photography, theoretically associated with high-voltage. It is named after Semyon Kirlian, who in 1939 accidentally discovered that if an object on a photographic plate is subjected to a strong electric field, an image is created on the plate.
In controversial metaphysical contexts, Kirlian photography, Kirlian energy, and so on, are sometimes referred to as just ‘Kirlian’. Kirlian made controversial claims that his method showed proof of supernatural auras, said to resemble a rough outline of the object like a colorful halo.
Kirlian proposed and promoted the idea that the resulting images of living objects were a physical proof of the life force or aura which allegedly surrounds all living beings. This claim was said to be supported by experiments by the Kirlians that involved cutting part of a leaf off – the Kirlian images of such leaves, it was said, still showed the leaves as whole, as though the cutting had never happened.
Scope of Parapsychology
The scope of parapsychology expanded during these years. Psychiatrist Ian Stevenson conducted much of his research into reincarnation during the 1970s, and the second edition of his Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation was published in 1974. The influx of spiritual teachers from Asia, and their claims of abilities produced by meditation, led to research on altered states of consciousness. American Society for Psychical Research Director of Research, Karlis Osis, conducted experiments in out of body experiences.
Robert Lyle Morris was an American psychologist, parapsychologist and professor at the University of Edinburgh, where he was the first holder of the Koestler Chair of Parapsychology at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit. His academic interests include parapsychology in general, the psychological aspects of the conduct of science, anomalous experiences, deception, belief formation and maintenance, cross-cultural aspects of psi experience and research, sport psychology, and volition and human performance. In the past he has also been active in human factors and animal behavior research.
Looking at the psi hypothesis, several different kinds of ESP and PK studies have been conducted, but I will focus on a single example: ESP studies using the ‘ganzfeld technique’. The ganzfeld is a mild sensory isolation procedure that is thought to be conducive to ESP. It is is based on a noise-reduction model of ESP that hypothesises that ESP functions like a weak signal that is ordinarily drowned out by surrounding well-understood signals, such as somatic, visual, and auditory information. By reducing external and internal sources of distraction, parapsychologists reasoned that any ESP ‘signal’ would be more easily noticed. Two individuals are usually involved in this procedure: the sender will attempt to mentally communicate a randomly chosen ‘target’ to the receiver. The sender and receiver are placed in separate acoustically shielded rooms. The receiver wears translucent eye-shields and is bathed in red light. The receiver also reclines in a comfortable chair and wears headphones that play ‘white noise’. The aim is for the receiver to become mentally and physically relaxed, and for their eyes, ears, and bodies to receive unchanging and unpatterned stimulation (ganzfeld literally means ‘whole field’ and originates from gestalt psychology). Under such stimulation, thoughts and images become more salient to the receiver.
A computer is used to randomly choose a target (such as a one-minute video-clip) from a large selection of possible targets, and plays that clip repeatedly to the sender. At the same time, the receiver reports out loud any thoughts or images that come to mind (the ‘mentation’), and these verbal reports are recorded. Of course, neither the experimenter nor the receiver has any idea of what target the sender is viewing. At the end of the sending period, the sender remains in their room while the computer plays four video clips to the receiver – the target plus three decoys. The receiver’s task is to compare each clip to their mentation, and to select which of the clips most closely matches the mentation.
Criticism for Ganzfeld experiment-
- Isolation— Richard Wiseman and others argue that not all of the studies used soundproof rooms, so it is possible that when videos were playing, the experimenter could have heard it, and later given involuntary cues to the receiver during the selection process. It could even have been possible that the receiver themselves could hear the video.
- Randomization— When subjects are asked to choose from a variety of selections, there is an inherent bias to choose the first selection they are shown. If the order in which they are shown the selections is randomized each time, this bias will be averaged out. The randomization procedures used in the experiment have been criticized for not randomizing satisfactorily.
- The psi assumption— The assumption that any statistical deviation from chance is evidence for telepathy is highly controversial. Strictly speaking, a deviation from chance is only evidence that either this was a rare, statistically unlikely occurrence that happened by chance, or something was causing a deviation from chance.