Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

Several laboratory experiments have presented evidence to the effect that changes in some physiological measure correspond to a remote stimuli, suggesting ESP may manifest physiologically while the person is not aware of the process. In an article I published recently I discussed a generally forgotten nineteenth-century example of this.

Here is the reference and the abstract:

Carlos S. Alvarado (2015). Note on an Early Physiological Index of ESP: John E. Purdon’s Observations of Synchronous Pulse Rates. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 29, 109–123. (Available on request from the author: carlos@theazire.org)

Abstract

The purpose of this Note is to rescue from oblivion the nineteenth-century researches of physician John E. Purdon with measures of pulse rate synchrony between two persons. This was done using a sphygmograph, an instrument that measured pulse and provided graphic tracings on paper. According to Purdon, he found some persons reproduced the tracings of others in conditions that he considered to imply a telepathic transfer. Purdon speculated that one person produced emissions of nervous force that were propagated to others via the ether. While this research may be criticized from the point of view of modern research standards, it is presented here as an interesting and generally unknown early instrumental study of the concept of the detection of ESP via a physiological response.

Dudgeon's Sphygmograph Used by Purdon

Dudgeon’s Sphygmograph Used by Purdon

“John Edward Blakeney Purdon was a physician who was born in Dublin in 1839. He was educated and trained in medicine at Trinity College, Dublin . . . Purdon lived in India serving as a surgeon in the British Army starting in 1865 . . . In 1881, when he made his first observations of synchronous pulse rates, he was in charge of a military hospital in Guernsey, the Channel Islands. After retiring from the Army in 1883, Purdon lived in the United States.”

The observations were done in informal ways. The first one took place in a hospital between a soldier and a woman separated by a wall. “During the ten days that my observations continued, I took many scores of traces with the sphygmograph finding the likenesses between the curve of Private W . . . and the young woman next door to be often remarkable. On one occasion I found that Private W . . . Private L . . . and myself were showing the same pattern almost exactly. That night our neighbour was eliminated as a disturbing cause, for she was laid up with a very bad sick headache . . .”

First Page of Purdon's Article in the  Metaphysical Magazine, 1896

First Page of Purdon’s Article in the Metaphysical Magazine, 1896

In another instance recorded in 1881: “I was taking the tracing of a young lady who was lying down with a menstrual headache, her hand being held by an older lady, her first cousin, when I suddenly saw the pulse curve change to that of the other, which I had more than once taken that morning. There could be no mistake about the resemblance, for the tracing of the other person was very characteristic and so familiar to me that such would have been a moral impossibility under the circumstances.”

Purdon's Paper Presented at the Fourth International Congress of Psychology, Paris, 1900

Purdon’s Paper Presented at the Fourth International Congress of Psychology, Paris, 1900

Another example: “I was taking the tracing of a young lady who was lying down with a menstrual headache, her hand being held by an older lady, her first cousin, when I suddenly saw the pulse curve change to that of the other, which I had more than once taken that morning . . . I repeated the observation, taking the tracings of each woman repeatedly, and found more or less resemblance between the tracings of the elder and one side of the younger. . . . This relation had to do in my mind with the state of susceptibility to change, disturbance, or irritation of the nervous system of the younger, as depending upon the presence of the catamenia.”

Examples of Sphygmographic Tracings from Purdon's Paper Presented at the Fourth International Congress of Psychology, Paris, 1900

Examples of Sphygmographic Tracings from Purdon’s Paper Presented at the Fourth International Congress of Psychology, Paris, 1900

I concluded the paper pointing out some problems with Purdon’s research when seen from the point of view of modern standards: “The evaluation of the results depended on visual inspection of the tracings, something that does not seem to have been done blindly. Furthermore, the reports lack information about checks on the proper functioning of the sphygmograph, potential artifacts related to how the instrument was attached to the arm, the position of the arm and its movements, and environmental stimuli that could have affected the tracings of both subjects.”

However, my interest to write this paper was not to present evidence for ESP via pulse rate change, but to acknowledge the pioneering efforts of Purdon.

 

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