Archive for May, 2017


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

Dr. Sonali Bhatt Marwaha has been working in parapsychology for several years in India. Her academic degrees include an M.A. in Clinical Psychology, an M.Phil. and a PhD in Psychology. She is the recipient of the J. B. Rhine Biennial Research Award from Andhra University.

Sonali Marwaha

Sonali Bhatt Marwaha

Sonali, who I know only via correspondence, works frequently with Dr. Ed May and is a research associate at his Laboratories for Fundamental Research. With May, she is co-editor, of Extrasensory Perception: Support, Skepticism, and Science (2 vols.). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publications, 2015, and Anomalous Cognition: Remote Viewing Research and Theory. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014.

May Extrasensory

May Anomalous Cognition 2

Later in 2017, her important work (with May) presenting reports of the Star Gate Program will appear: The Star Gate Archives: Reports of the US Govt. Sponsored Psi Program. (1972-1995). Volume 1: Remote Viewing (1972-1984), Volume 2: Remote Viewing (1985-1995), Volume 3: Psychokinesis, Volume 4: Government Memorandums and Reports. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. 2017 (for information to obtain these books click here and here).

Interview

How did you get interested in parapsychology?

Reincarnation, post-mortem-survival, astrology, palmistry, sages and seers, are part of the Indian cultural milieu that I have been born and brought up in. For the most part, these are cultural givens and part of conversational language. As an avid reader from my younger days, my reading repertoire has been varied, from fiction to philosophy. I hold a Masters in clinical psychology, with neuropsychology as my thesis option for the MPhil degree (a two year pre-PhD research program) from the S.N.D.T. Women’s University, Mumbai. I enrolled for a PhD in psychology at the Department of Psychology and Parapsychology, Andhra University, and was introduced to parapsychology as an academic discipline. While my thesis addressed belief systems and concept of self and emotions, parapsychology was still not within my sphere of interest.

After my PhD, I began working with Prof. K. Ramakrishna Rao (former Executive Director, Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, Durham; founder of Dept. of Psychology and Parapsychology, Andhra University) at his newly established Institute for Human Science and Service (now closed), here in my hometown Visakhapatnam. Knowing that Prof. Rao held a dualist position, I made it clear to him when we first met that I held a physicalist position. He welcomed me on board his team. Over the eight years that I worked with him, I was introduced to the field of research parapsychology both from the Western and Eastern perspective. Theoretically, the Eastern perspective was at the center-stage, as that is the direction of Prof. Rao’s work. However, this did not appeal to me as it did not address the many unformulated questions in my mind.

In 2006, Prof. Rao organized a three week workshop on parapsychology, for which he invited Drs. Edwin C. May, Roger Nelson, Mario Varvoglis, Suitbert Ertel, and Jerry Solfvin, and a few weeks later, on behalf of Prof. Rao, then President of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, I hosted Dean Radin. This was my formal introduction to the field of research parapsychology. Meeting these stalwarts from the field provided me with a wide angle view on the research and the theoretical viewpoints in the field.

At this workshop, I had the opportunity to learn from Ed May about the Star Gate program and his later work at the Laboratories for Fundamental Research. Introducing himself as a skeptic, he was willing to pay attention to my question “How does psi work?” Later, he sent me the AIR Report on the Star Gate program, which I read in full. Over the years, he sent me more research psi literature, and over time I became more intrigued with the field, especially since there was a proper scientific structure in the investigation of the phenomena. From the literature—particularly the Star Gate literature—I learnt that there was evidence, there were doubts, and there were theoretical perspectives. The question “How Does Psi Work?” became the paramount question in my mind, and has charted my journey into this field.

What are your main interests in the field and how have you contributed to its development?

One of the biggest gaps in the psi literature is the 20 year Start Gate data. Thus, Ed May and I embarked on the project of bringing to the research community the entire Star Gate Archives. The four volume Star Gate archives collection published by McFarland include: Volume 1: Remote Viewing, 1972-1984 (2017); Volume 2: Remote Viewing, 1985-1995 (2017); Volume 3: Psychokinesis (2017); and Volume 4: Government Memorandums and Reports (release date to be determined).

I was on a steep learning curve in the course of going through the Star Gate material. I found informational psi (precognition/remote viewing) very fascinating. Aside from the question how does it occur, it leads to several more questions such as free will vs determinism, actual vs probable futures, nature of time, nature of information, why isn’t every one “psychic”, how does information get from there/then to here/now?

I have placed upfront in my mind Joe McMoneagle’s submarine remote viewing (McMoneagle, 2015) as a prime example that has to be accommodated by any theory of psi. Over substantial discussions Ed May and I realized that we were asking/addressing questions and putting road blocks to ideas from the domains of our expertise—physics and psychology respectively. This led us to examining the process of psi from the perspective of each domain: the physics domain, which is the information-centric perspective, without concern for how psi is perceived and experienced; and the neuroscience domain, which is the person-centric perspective addressing how the putative psi-signal is perceived by the sensory mechanism, processed, and manifested. This led to the development of the testable Multiphasic Model of Precognition (Marwaha & May, 2015a,b,c) Presented below is the abstract of the MMPC.

We define precognition as an atypical perceptual ability that allows the acquisition of non-inferential information arising from a future point in spacetime. The Multiphasic Model of Precognition (MMPC) identifies two distinct phases: The first is the physics domain, which addresses the question of retrocausation and how it is possible for information to traverse from one spacetime point to another. We suggest that the solution might be found within entropic considerations. The second is the neuroscience domain, which addresses the acquisition and interpretation of retrocausal signals. We propose that this occurs across three stages: (a) perception of signals from an information carrier, based on psychophysical variability in a putative signal transducer; (b) cortical processing of the signals, mediated by a cortical hyper-associative mechanism; and (c) cognition, mediated by normal cognitive processes, leading to a response based on retrocausal information. The model is comprehensive, brain-based, and provides a new direction for research requiring multidisciplinary expertise.

In the process of developing this model, we were able to explore several fundamental aspects of the problem at hand. In the decision augmentation theory, May, Utts, and Spottiswoode (1995) had established that micro-PK was informational psi rather than causal psi. Like other psychologists, such as Richard Broughton, we arrived at the conclusion that precognition is the only form of psi. This led to the paper: Precognition: The Only Form of Psi? (Marwaha & May, 2016). The abstract of this paper reads:

Based on empirical evidence we discuss the nature of precognition, and address the questions whether retrocausation/precognition violates causality, whether precognition implies determinism, the questions of actual or probable futures, from where does the information arise, and other observed properties of precognition. This is followed by a discussion on the primacy of precognition by examining the various categories of psi. In our analysis, precognition is most likely the only form of psi, subsuming within it clairvoyance, telepathy, micro-PK, and the survival hypothesis. In this paper, we examine the various arguments for this assertion, the primary one being that it is impossible to close the precognition door.

This paper was followed by A Refutation of the Dualist Perspective in Psi Research (Marwaha & May, 2015d), which argues against the dualist and QM based perspectives of psi. While the validity and reliability of first person experience as a basis for understanding any experience is amply discussed in the cognitive sciences literature, in this paper the refutation of the dualist view is primarily from the point of (1) the definition of non-material, providing a possible definition of non-material, and (2) the absence of the role of consciousness in quantum mechanics. We conclude that these criteria are sufficient to reject a dualist perspective in the analysis of psi data, until the validity of all possible physicalist views have been exhausted.

Our physicalist signal-based model is premised on psi being normal and atypical, the dualist/panpsychist models are premised on psi being supernormal and universal.

Thus, my work focuses on theoretical aspects of the problem. This work is complemented by Ed May, one of the best experimenters in the field, and a physicist to boot, supplementing my inexpertise in this domain.

Why do you think parapsychology is important?

Since, in my view, informational psi/precognition is the only form of psi, it is important because it addresses the fundamental nature of time, causality, and information. The varieties of psi experiences are different manifestations of this fundamental form of psi.

In your view, what are the main problems in parapsychology today as a scientific field?

There are several problems that plague psi research:

  • The term “parapsychology” is an impediment as it conjures up ideas of the supernatural. This leads to the several misperceptions and misconceptions of the problem under study for the lay persons and those uninitiated into the basic problem that psi research addresses. Additionally, it restricts the field to psychology, when the questions raised by psi phenomena need to be addressed by physics, information theories, cognitive psychology, and the cognitive neurosciences.
  • The emphasis on a dualist perspective, and the role of quantum mechanics (in essence, a physicalist theory) to explain psi, i.e., an undefined “consciousness” as an information carrier via QM correlation and entanglement is a problem. Although psi data is provided as evidence for dualism, it fails to provide testable hypotheses to support the view, or a definition for the key term consciousness. This perspective has led to an opposition against the physicalist sciences, without first ruling out a physicalist basis for psi.
  • The lack of a clear statement on the fundamental issues related to psi experiences, is a matter of concern, as all types of experiences/events are clubbed under “parapsychology.”
  • Points 1-3 above, lead to the hesitancy of a new crop of scientists adopting psi as an area deserving scrutiny. This is cause for concern, as much of the advances in psi research need expertise from disciplines such as physics, neuroscience, and cognitive science.

These issues affect the funding available for psi research.

Can you mention some of your current projects?

Currently we are in the process of wrapping up the four-volume Star Gate Archives. In the pipe line are some theoretical papers on the nature of psi and related issues, and putting to test some of the stated hypotheses of the multiphasic model of precognition.

References

McMoneagle, J.W. (2015) Evidence for precognition from applied remote viewing, in E.C. May, & S.B. Marwaha (eds.) Extrasensory Perception: Support, Skepticism, and Science, Volume I — History, Controversy, & Research (pp. 285-316). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publications.

May, E. C., Utts, J. M., & Spottiswoode, S. J. P. (2014/1995). Decision augmentation theory: Toward a model for anomalous mental phenomena. In E.C. May, & S.B. Marwaha, (Eds.). Anomalous cognition: Remote viewing research and theory (pp. 222-243). Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Publications

Anthologies and Books

May, E.C. & Marwaha, S.B. (Eds.) (2017). The Star Gate Archives: Reports of the US Govt. Sponsored Psi Program. (1972-1995). Volume 1: Remote Viewing (1972-1984), Volume 2: Remote Viewing (1985-1995), Volume 3: Psychokinesis, Volume 4: Government Memorandums and Reports. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

May, E.C., & Marwaha, S. B. (Eds.). (2015). Extrasensory Perception: Support, Skepticism, and Science, Volume I — History, Controversy, and Research. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publications.

May, E.C., & Marwaha, S.B. (Eds.). (2015). Extrasensory Perception: Support, Skepticism, and Science, Volume II — Theories of Psi. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publications.

May, E.C., & Marwaha, S.B. (Eds.) (2014). Anomalous Cognition: Remote Viewing Research and Theory. Foreword by Richard Broughton. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Marwaha, S.B. (2006). Colors of Truth: Religion, Self, and Emotions. Foreword by Prof. Girishwar Misra. New Delhi: Concept Publishing Co.

Rao, K.R. and Marwaha, S.B. (Eds.) (2005). Towards a Spiritual Psychology: Essays in Indian Psychology. New Delhi: SAMVAD India Foundation.

Articles

Marwaha, S.B. (2017). Response to: Brief Comments on »Siddhis and Psi Research: An Interdisciplinary Analysis«. Confluence.

Marwaha, S.B. (2016). Siddhis and psi research: An interdisciplinary analysis. Confluence, 4(1), 33-58.

Marwaha, S.B., & May, E.C. (2016). Precognition: The only form of ESP? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 23(3–4), 76–100.

Marwaha, S.B., & May, E.C. (2015). Rethinking extrasensory perception: Towards a multiphasic model of precognition. SAGE Open, January-March 2015, 1–17. DOI: 10.1177/2158244015576056.

Marwaha, S.B., & May, E.C. (2015). Multiphasic model of precognition. pp. 145-170. In E. C. May and S. B. Marwaha (Eds.). Extrasensory Perception: Support, Skepticism, and Science, Volume II — Theories of Psi. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publications.

Marwaha, S.B., & May, E.C. (2015). The multiphasic model of precognition: The rationale. Journal of Parapsychology, 79(1), 5–19.

Marwaha, S.B., & May, E.C. (2015). A refutation of the dualist perspective in psi research. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 22(5-6), 70-95.

Marwaha, S.B. & May, E.C. (2015). Fundamentals for psi theorists. In E. C. May and S. B. Marwaha (Eds.). Extrasensory Perception: Support, Skepticism, and Science, Volume II — Theories of Psi (pp. 1-17). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publications.

May, E.C. & Marwaha, S.B. (2015). The fundamentals of psi. In E. C. May, & S. B. Marwaha (Eds.). Extrasensory Perception: Support, Skepticism, and Science, Volume I — History, Controversy, & Research (pp. 1-31). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publications.

May, E.C. & Marwaha, S.B. (2015). Next Step—Process-oriented research: Guidelines for experimenters. In E. C. May and S. B. Marwaha (Eds.). Extrasensory Perception: Support, Skepticism, and Science, Volume II — Theories of Psi (pp. 329-354). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publications.

Marwaha, S.B. (2013). Roots of Indian materialism in Tantra and pre-classical Sāṃkhya. Asian Philosophy, 23(2), 180-198, April 2013, DOI:10.1080/09552367.2013.777582

Marwaha, S.B. (2013). K. Ramakrishna Rao’s Trident (Triśūla) Model (T-M) of Body-Mind-Consciousness. In K. R. Rajani, & K. R. Rao (2013). Mind and consciousness: Some contemporary perspectives. New Delhi: Akansha Pub. House.

May, E.C., Marwaha, S.B., & Chaganti, V. (2011). Anomalous cognition: Two protocols for data collection and analyses. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 75, 191-210.

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

William Henry Harrison was an English journalist and a publisher of works on Spiritualism. He was the editor of The Spiritualist (an influential publication later called The Spiritualist Newspaper) and the author of several works. This included his anthology Psychic Facts (1880) in which he collected accounts of psychic phenomena, particularly mediumship, from various writers.

In the book commented here, Spirits Before Our Eyes, Harrison presented an examination of apparitions, mainly apparitions of the dying. His purpose, he wrote, was “to classify some of the authenticated apparitions of our own and past times, to examine the conditions under which the spirits of human beings are seen, to show that the spirit of man can sometimes temporarily leave the earthly body, and to seek to draw only those conclusions which well-proved facts warrant. Thus may laws and principles be deduced, to guide future explorers of the realm between the known and the unknown, in relation to spirit existence.” (p. 14)

Harrison Spirits before our Eyes

Harrison believed that, unlike mediumship, which critics tried to attribute to non-spiritual processes, apparitions could be explained “only by the presence of the spirit, the whole spirit, and nothing but the spirit” (p. 21). He started discussing what he referred to as deathbed apparitions. Not to be confused with what we refer to today as deathbed visions, or those visions experienced by a dying person, Harrison defined deathbed apparitions as the “occasional appearance of the spirit of a person in one place, at about the time that his body is dying in another place,” cases he believed were “so common as to indicate some connection beyond that of accidental coincidence between the two occurrences” (p. 24).

Such deathbed apparitions, the author believed, were caused by the spirit leaving the body. In his view the dying body provided the spirit “enough materiality to make itself visible” (p. 62). This speculation was similar to those presented by others at the time to account for materialization phenomena observed with mediums, something that was part of a rich history of ideas of vital forces to explain psychic phenomena.

Related to this idea, Harrison stated that some apparitions produced physical effects, being “objectively and palpably temporarily materialised” (p. 55). He further wrote about materialization to illustrate the point: “Spiritualists who have seen much of materialisation seances know that spirits have a remarkable power of duplicating, not only the forms of their mediums, but their clothes. . . . Still there is no creation of new matter. The law of the conservation of energy is not broken. Recent experiments . . . have shown by means of self-recording weighing apparatus that, while the duplicate form of the medium and his clothes is being materialised in one place, the weight of his normal body and clothes is diminishing in another, and vice versa. There is a play of forces between the two, underlying the vulgarly known phenomena of molecular physics. . . .” (pp. 60–61).

But Harrison also entertained some cases being explained differently. He believed some apparitions were perceived through normal vision and others were seen psychically, in response to the thoughts of spirits. As he wrote, “when apparitions are psychically recognised, what the spirit thinks the medium sees, and . . . the unearthly visitor becomes visible in consequence of his mesmeric influence over the spectator” (p. 83).

The thoughts of distant living persons were also believed by Harrison to be a cause for some apparitions of the living, an idea that had been discussed by others before. Harrison also argued that some cases of veridical dreams in which the dreamer visited a distant location were not necessarily the projection of the spirit. They “might be instances of natural clairvoyance, or of a dreamer seeing that which a spirit or mortal in rapport with him thought” (p. 146).

Like other writers before him Harrison cited a variety of cases to illustrate the existence of the spirit and its powers manifesting during life. He discussed apparition cases in which the appearer was not dying, cases in which the content of dreams was affected, and cases of mediumistic communications from living persons. As stated in the first chapter of the book, Harrison’s intent was an attempt to validate the movement of spiritualism by showing how the human spirit could act at a distance producing mental and physical effects, an idea that was in direct contradiction to the materialistic assumptions of the times.

Furthermore, Harrison made the observation that both apparitions of the living and of the dead were similar. He wrote that “there is no break of continuity in the phenomena of apparitions in consequence of the death of the body. So impossible is it to find any indication in the phenomena, of a natural dividing line coinciding with the death moment, that in this volume several cases of after-death apparitions are included, differing in no way from the apparitions of living persons whose mortal bodies are in a sleeping or quiescent state” (p. vii).

This appeared first as a book review in the Journal of Scientific Exploration in 2011.