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.