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psi-conducive state

A psi-conducive state is a state of consciousness that is believed to open the door to psi experiences. According to Daryl J. Bem and Charles Honorton, there is substantial evidence that the meditative state, the dream state, the hypnotic state, the sensory deprivation state, and certain drug-induced states are conducive to psi (1994).

These psi-conducive states, they believe, have in common “reduced sensory input.” Dean Radin (1997) agrees and thinks that in such states the mind is alert and receptive to psi. Bem and Honorton write that “psi-mediated information is conceptualized as a weak signal that is normally masked by internal somatic and external sensory ‘noise.’ By reducing ordinary sensory input, these diverse psi-conducive states are presumed to raise the signal-to-noise ratio, thereby enhancing a person’s ability to detect the psi-mediated information.” In other words, ordinarily sense data block out psi data and by blocking out sense data we let in psi data. This an interesting claim coming only a few paragraphs after the authors claim that the term 'psi'  does not connote "anything about ... underlying mechanisms."

Parapsychologist Susan Blackmore claims that the psi-conducive claim has never been proven (2003, p. 298). Indeed, since we have no idea how psi works, the best that can be said is that there have been some telepathy experiments where senders or receivers have been in a state of reduced sensory input, such as the Maimonides dream telepathy experiments, which have shown some apparent success. However, that success has been met with some serious criticism (Hansel 1989; Hyman 1989; Marks 2000). It is possible that sensory deprived states are not psi-conducive states, but are high suggestibility or hallucination states. We know that sensory deprivation stimulates auditory and visual hallucinations. We know that hypnosis works especially well with suggestible and fantasy-prone imaginations. Perceptions under alleged psi-conducive conditions are better explained as being generated by the imagination or by the brain itself rather than by some external, psi-based, stimulus.

On the contrary, say Bem and Honorton, who write:

Historically, psi has often been associated with meditation, hypnosis, dreaming, and other naturally occurring or deliberately induced altered states of consciousness. For example, the view that psi phenomena can occur during meditation is expressed in most classical texts on meditative techniques; the belief that hypnosis is a psi-conducive state dates all the way back to the days of early mesmerism (Dingwall, 1968); and cross-cultural surveys indicate that most reported "real-life" psi experiences are mediated through dreams (Green, 1960; Prasad & Stevenson, 1968; L. E. Rhine, 1962; Sannwald, 1959). There are now reports of experimental evidence consistent with these anecdotal observations. For example, several laboratory investigators have reported that meditation facilitates psi performance (Honorton, 1977). A meta-analysis of 25 experiments on hypnosis and psi conducted between 1945 and 1981 in 10 different laboratories suggests that hypnotic induction may also facilitate psi performance (Schechter, 1984). And dream-mediated psi was reported in a series of experiments conducted at Maimonides Medical Center in New York and published between 1966 and 1972 (Child, 1985; Ullman, Krippner, &h; Vaughan, 1973). (Bem and Charles Honorton: 1994)

In the Maimonides dream studies, two subjects—a "receiver" and a "sender"—spent the night in a sleep laboratory. The receiver's brainwaves and eye movements were monitored as he or she slept in an isolated room. When the receiver entered a period of REM sleep, the experimenter pressed a buzzer that signaled the sender--under the supervision of a second experimenter--to begin a sending period. The sender would then concentrate on a randomly chosen picture (the "target") with the goal of influencing the content of the receiver's dream.

Toward the end of the REM period, the receiver was awakened and asked to describe any dream just experienced. This procedure was repeated throughout the night with the same target. A transcription of the receiver's dream reports was given to outside judges who blindly rated the similarity of the night's dreams to several pictures, including the target.

This is not the place to try to refute all these claims, so I will limit myself to a comment on the Maimonides dream telepathy experiments. These experiments were done in such a way that ambiguous data could easily be retrofitted to support the telepathy hypothesis. For example, in one experiment the target was Max Beckman’s Descent from the Cross.Max Beckman: The Descent from the Cross (1917) The experimenters and Dean Radin considered the telepathy a success because the receiver dreamt twice about Winston Churchill. Radin writes: “Note the symbolic relevance of ‘church-hill’ in the reported dream” (Radin 1997: 70). “The overall hit rate is seen to be 63 percent...The 95 percent confidence interval clearly excludes the chance expected hit rate of 50 percent” (Radin 1997: 71). This hit rate seems more indicative of the retrofitting talents of the experimenters than of the psychic abilities of the test subjects.

ganzfeld and psi-conducive states

The ganzfeld experiments were designed with the psi-conducive state in mind. While the ganzfeld experiments themselves do not allow for the kind of loose interpretation as to what counts as a "hit" that went on in the dream telepathy experiments, some ganzfeld researchers are quite impressed by similar ambiguities.

For example, here is a transcript of a verbal description made by a receiver in an autoganzfeld experiment. It was taken from (a now defunct page from) Dr. Rick Berger's website on the ganzfeld. Berger developed the autoganzfeld

I see the Lincoln Memorial...
And Abraham Lincoln sitting there... It's
the 4th of July... All kinds of fireworks...
Now I'm at Valley Forge... There are
fireworks... And I think of bombs
bursting in the air... And Francis Scott
Key... And Charleston...

There are quite a few images that would "match" this description, since the description itself contains at least eight distinct images (the Lincoln memorial, Lincoln, 4th of July, fireworks, Valley Forge, bombs, Francis Scott Key, Charleston) to which one could easily add a couple more, such as the American flag, the star spangled banner, and, oh yes, George Washington, which was the image selected as most closely resembling the verbal description. Berger thinks that these impressions may have been generated by the picture of George Washington that the sender was concentrating on. However, there might be a dozen other reasons why the receiver envisaged what he did.

See also  ganzfeld, psi assumption, and psi-focus assumption.

further reading

Alcock, James E., Jean Burns and Anthony Freeman.  Editors. Psi Wars: Getting to Grips with the Paranormal by   (Imprint Academic, 2003).

Bem, Daryl J. and Charles Honorton. (1994). "Does Psi Exist?" Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 115, No. 1, 4-18.

Beyerstein, Barry. "Altered States of Consciousness," in  The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal, edited by Gordon Stein (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1996).

Blackmore, Susan. (2003). Consciousness: An Introduction (Oxford University Press.

Frazier, Kendrick. editor, Science Confronts the Paranormal (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1986). 

Gardner, Martin. Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1957).

Gardner, Martin. How Not To Test a Psychic : Ten Years of Remarkable Experiments With Renowned Clairvoyant Pavel Stepanek (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1989).

Hansel, C.E.M. The Search for Psychic Power : ESP and Parapsychology Revisited (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1989).

Hines, Terence. Pseudoscience and the Paranormal 2nd ed. (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 2003).

Hyman, Ray. The Elusive Quarry : a Scientific Appraisal of Psychical Research (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1989).

Hyman, Ray. "Evaluation of Program on Anomalous Mental Phenomena," Journal of Scientific Exploration, Volume 10 Number 1.

Marks, David. The Psychology of the Psychic (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2000).

Radin, Dean. (1997). The Conscious Universe - The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena. HarperCollins.

Randi, James. Flim-Flam! (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books,1982). 

Last updated 23-Dec-2013

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