To Measure the Lifted Skirts of Mystery
by Michael Rossman
This paper begins by considering possible factors in the collective regulation of psi activity. It entertains transcendental hypotheses to distill a minimal, neutral factor applying to the patterning of psi activity and psi research in ways that may be susceptible to verification; and proposes an instrument to probe the integral involvement of experimenters in the phenomena they consider. Interpreting recent meta-analytic work on historical research as a retrospective feasibility study, it proposes the development of an instrument analogous in function and scope to instruments of fundamental research in physical science, designed to generate and measure continuous titers of collective psi activity; and considers some factors in its design, application to theory, and social implementation, and the cultural correlates of such a project.
The casual reader should be forewarned that this is a dense and tedious consideration of fundamental issues and potentials in the study of “paranormal” phenomena. It presumes some familiarity with methods and results of prior study in this field, as indicated by frequent references to Dean Radin’s book The Conscious Universe -- The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena (HarperSanFrancisco, San Francisco, 1997.)
Leaning over the sink after brushing my teeth, one evening long ago, I took a deep breath, grew calm, let go, and suddenly found my self observing my body from a vantage near the ceiling. And hung there just long enough to sear the realization indelibly in mind, before flickering back into my form to stand there grasping the cold porcelain basin, shaken. Though prepared and consciously anticipated by what I had been reading and doing, the experience was so deeply unsettling that I could not soon repeat it—or rather, chose not to. For though I tried a few times, it was at best half-heartedly; I could recognize the layer of resistance within against letting go, made firmer by reaction to that brief release.
I offer this anecdote not to invite quarrel over the true nature of my experience, but to illustrate a fundamental consideration that must be taken into account in evaluating the results of efforts to verify and utilize "psychic" (psi) phenomena. Even the most talented psychics are notably undependable in demonstrating their capacities, and the most robust statistical experiments demonstrate only weak effects. The prevailing impression is that we are dealing with fluctuating and undependable powers, with high levels of static that tangle signals. But it is no less reasonable to posit that deep and subtle processes of self-sabotage are also involved, not only in such cases but throughout the whole field of attempted proofs and uses; and that the weakness and undependability of psychic effects may be found to result more from such subjective factors than from any impersonal qualities of the energies involved.
For we are all members of our culture, the diverse limbs of a single complex organism. Just as your genotype differs marginally from a chimpanzee's and not so greatly from a yeast's, all being variations on the basic recipe of the eucaryotic cell, so even the most aberrant among us—the most talented psychic most fully convinced of her powers, the meditative master most fluidly merged in the Atman—has in common with each other nearly the full set of internal representations of thought and feeling, the full repertoire of basic agreements, that define us as humans of our society and time. To be a person among persons remains the essential task even of those who understand this as just another turn of the wheel, who work largely full-time at maintaining the agreements involved, as do we all. Some are too fundamental almost to bear mention—I'm in my body, I'm me and you're you, I don't feel what you're feeling or know what you're thinking save by outward sign—were it not that their apparent violation so perturbs the ordinary consensual sense of self as to engage the deepest emotions.
In this light, there may be less difference than first appears between the frightened creature of my anecdote and the intrepid out-of-body voyagers reported by Robert Monroe and funded more recently by the CIA. It is well-established that subjects who think themselves talented do better in psychic testing on average than those who do not. But the confidence even of the most self-assured should not be taken at face value just because they excel at tests or enjoy OOB flight. In every other connection, it's clear that people generate remarkable internal structures to remain unaware of their fears and of how these affect their behavior. Within the outward consciousness and assurance even of a psychic like Ingo Swann, I surmise a being like myself, moved strongly both to open and to close, to reveal and to conceal, at levels and in ways only partially grasped—with the difference between us being not in kind but in the balance of these opposing forces and emotions -- in me so nearly equal as to permit only a persistent leakage of anomalous perceptions, in him a trifle less so, enough to open a door a crack further, unsteadily, but no more than that.
It is more accurate, I think, to understand ourselves as inhabited by such counterposed forces of venture and retreat, such unconscious conflicts of confession and denial, than to think of psychic capacities as springing from untroubled ground. In this view, the fragile demonstrations of striking effects and robust demonstrations of minor effects may be mere epiphenomena, products of the imperfect cancellation of more powerful forces. Rather as chemical energies are the scrap left from what is bound in atomic coherence, attenuated one million-fold, so the psychic energies we explore may be the faint scrap of what binds our coherence, as person and social being and spirit.
Such speculation is unnecessary to recognize that what a person demonstrates of psychic capacities, even to herself in private practice, may be more sharply limited and continually regulated by inner conflicts than she can recognize. To have witnessed myself in similar startled retreats after feeling within and seeing into others' bodies has given me an existential perspective that cannot be quantified, but applies strikingly to cases of statistical experiment that show virtually impossible early results that turn out neither to be replicable nor to be adequately explicable. In such examples, percipients interact not only with data but with experimenters—which is to say that the circumstances of attempted verification of psychic phenomena are always inherently and intensely social. Recognition is growing, that the fields of agency involved may not be confined to the percipients but may involve the experimenters integrally. In context here, we must think equally about fields of inhibition, perhaps deriving less directly from skeptical experimenters than from subjects whose unconscious drives for normalization are mobilized by social circumstances.
In this view, even the most successfully-demonstrative psychic is liable to be an active saboteur in constraining the effects displayed. The potential for species of "hidden variable" mischief deepens and delocalizes when we consider the subject/experimenter team as the productive entity; and does so yet again when we consider this team as embedded in the larger apparatus of social verification. Metaphorically, we might speak in terms of negative fields of disbelief, with effects reaffirming the inner constructs by which we make sense of self and world; and recognize their inhibitory activity not only in the immediate experiences of the conflicted subject, the conflicted experimenter, and their joint entity, but in the larger society and conversation in which experiment is parsed to human meaning. This way of putting it invites comparison with the constructive and destructive interference of overlapping fields in physical theory. The comparison seems apt because, as it increasingly appears, the effective agencies of paranormal phenomena cannot be neatly localized in persons, in space, or in time. In particular, in considering how future reactions of peer reviewers, journal readers, and a secondary mass-media audience might come to influence the results of an experiment performed with publication in mind, our present grasp of the nature of the phenomena explored invites us to recognize not only the indirect influence of unconscious anticipations within subject and experimenter, modulating their internal conflicts, but possibilities of direct influence upon both parties and the experiment's events, conceivably sufficient to determine its outcomes.
The formal uncertainties of inquiry induced by recognition of such possibilities are formidable, if not stupifying, but they must be faced. They extend to the core of scientific enterprise, for it may prove impossible to speak of experiments with psychic phenomena as being mutually independent. The very terms of the phenomena imply the possibility that separate experiments occuring at different times, even with different teams of participants and different objectives, may be connected not simply in the slow digestion of scientific and cultural understanding, but directly, as cognitive processes interacting through anomalous processes of information transfer related in nature to those they explore. Given this, an analogue of Bell's Theorem of Quantum Nonlocality may apply to psi experiments in the spacetime of human endeavor, a fundamental coupling compelling the coordination of their outcomes, from raw data to construction in the social mind.
This discussion pivots on two key ideas. One is that powerful forces of internal psychology related to our socialization as humans may constrain our experience and expression of psychic phenomena. The other is that such phenomena may be not simply the object but the subject of our explorations, linking person and person, experimenter and percipient, experiment and society directly in intimate dynamics of mutual influence that we have hardly begun to conceive. These ideas are independent of each other. The strong implications of the first are not undermined by any failure or discounting of the second, but may prove to be radically extended insofar as the second applies in the world.
Their joint perspective may be seen as marvelously democratic, in suggesting not only that psychic capacities are a near-universal birthright, with each possessed of more potential than any may realize, but also that we are all nearly equally engaged in constraining their development and expression. It seems as marvelously totalitarian, in suggesting that processes of normal and paranormal social interaction may regulate the internal inhibitory processes of individuals so strictly as to permit only trivial or narrowly-contained departures from normative experience and behavior. It may also seem marvelously befuddling, for it allows one to propose, of any person or experiment failing to demonstrate psychic effects, that the failure proceeds from the operation of such effects and the intention to fail. Such thinking as this, which lies potential at each point of inquiry into paranormal phenomena, opens to such realms of unprovable nonsense that a self-respecting intellectual can hardly entertain it seriously enough to refute it. Most are reduced to calling for Occam's Razor to excise it, and to exorcise the very subject of the psychic. But let us hold our noses and move on, without cursing the terrain for its inherent qualities.
An extreme model of humankind consistent with these ideas—or rather, a cluster of traditional models—proposes that we are beings of transcendent capacities, not entirely discrete as individuals, connected directly with each other and the ordering energies of the cosmos in ways unrecognizable by ordinary perception and the ordinary physics of matter in space-time. In its colorful expression, our lives here are a purposeful charade in which we masquerade as ordinary people, familiar in nature and capacities, so involved in role as to hold our consciousnesses unaware of this, as part of our costuming—save in their depths, beyond space-time, where we know our union and whence peek through our masks at each other, smiling through the tears.
The traditional terms of this model are so different from those of models of humanhood based in modern biological and physical science that it is tempting simply to dismiss it as irrelevant to problematics phrased in the latter's terms, as any adequate understanding of paranormal capacities must come to be. Yet in fuller perspective, these sets of terms are not simply disjunct but orthogonal, indeed are fundamental axes in the constructive space of human consciousness; and this framing invites us to inquire into their intersection, or at least their coordination. My sharp discomfort at the separation of this model, and psychic investigation generally, from evolutionary concerns is relieved somewhat by recognizing that our understandings of physics and biology are not simply incomplete but notably so in their most fundamental aspects, as well as in explaining the consciousness that employs them. In particular, fundamental researches proceeding in fields as diverse as ethnopsychopharmacology, "post-quantum" physics, and microtubular cellular biology offer promise of illuminating hidden mechanisms of consciousness in evolutionary and quantum perspective, in ways that may bear on the phenomena modestly but concretely demonstrated by contemporary parapsychological research. Such prospects of convergence are a stimulant—perhaps as much spiritual as intellectual—that may inspire us to bolder hybridization of models, and fortify us to extract sense from nonsense, meaning from their tensions.
In this quest, the "god(s) in masquerade" model of humanhood may be understood as a metaphor encasing the two memes above—the key ideas of our semi-voluntary containment of paranormal capacities, and of our relation through them. Though this rich metaphor is much more than a minimal container for these memes, it is a convenient way to package and apply them, provided one remains careful to distinguish its surplus implications from those proper to the results. The nuisance of doing so may be compensated by discovering that some implications remain, which could not be predicted from the ideas but prove necessary in their application.
This metaphorical perspective on paranormal capacities has considerable explanatory scope, extending even to conventional laboratory research in ways which may conceivably prove demonstrable in the latter's terms. For starters, it enables us to acknowledge a persistent substratum of paranormal experience infiltrated in ordinary consciousness in most people's lives, distinguishable from the imaginative interpretations and misreadings it inspires; and to construe its expression as purposeful and collective. Indeed, the construct of "our godly masquerade" (OGM) invites us to predict not simply the persistence but the universality and perhaps the continuality of such experience, whether conceived as consequent to leakage of strange energy or to the physiologies of deep consciousness and mutual acknowledgement. Likewise, it invites the prediction that the magnitudes of paranormal experience and expression will prove to be strictly governed, less importantly by laws of the sort that apply to fundamental physics than by an esoteric species of social-psychological law, mediating two requirements—that the deep workings of consciousness remain sufficiently accessible to the surface, and that they be camouflaged sufficiently to allow the mundane drama of personhood in society to proceed in its own evolving terms. In effect, such requirements of godly drama may impose upper bounds of degree and frequency on paranormal experience and expression, and lower bounds on their accessibility. Both bounds are more likely to be functions of culture than to be biologically fixed. Both are likely to function in the manner of fundamental physics, in statistical fashion and subject to tunneling phenomena; and altogether differently in being maintained by intention.
This explanatory framework embraces a wide variety—one is tempted to say all—of the puzzlements related to paranormal experience. Its terms may be construed to account for the prevalence and variety of such experiences; for their diffuse distribution and fluctuating qualities, their general modesty and the statistics of extraordinary examples; for their persistent connection to spiritual conceptions, and the dynamics of their camouflage in ordinary consciousness; for the existence of a multiplicity of means and practices to induce their varieties, and a multiplicity of interpretive fabrics; and for the paradoxical difficulties inherent in their interpretation, material verification, and practical employment. In particular—to refocus on the two memes inside the metaphor—the terms of OGM provide a kinder framing for the social-existential fright constraining our experience of psychic phenomena, allowing its dynamics to proceed simultaneously through ordinary mechanisms of psychological and cognitive repression grounded in biology and culture, and as a benign function of transcendent intention. Its terms equally provide a framing of intention—not simply transcendent but social—for our paranormal connection and coordination in this fright. This inherence of intention is our useful residue from the surplus of the memes' container.
Loosely put, then, the OGM model describes us as engaged in purposeful conspiracy, regulating our conscious experience and expression of paranormal phenomena and capacities collectively, in ways mediated by these capacities. From the narrowly-focused perspective of contemporary paranormal research, this putative conspiracy amounts to celestial disinformation and sabotage, rendering the subject utterly intractable. Given such premises, one could account for any outcome. Why bother to entertain such unverifiable fantasy? I venture to do so because interesting issues emerge when we consider how this model and its premises might account for the particular outcomes we observe.
Before proceeding, I must note again that the issue of self-censorship of psychic capacities need not depend on so elaborate a construct; and that our mutual interaction in maintaining ordinary definitions may prove to be sufficiently accomplished by ordinary means. Even so, the OGM model invites consideration as an approach to a persistent conundrum of paranormal research, which I have described elsewhere as the Tantalus Effect, the tendency for verification and utility to slip from our grasp as it closes. In my sketch, a malicious imp leads us up likely corridors before vanishing with a mocking smile. In light of OGM, he wears my face; the issues remaining are, why the tease? and whether it might be measurable.
For how may the actual observations of psi research and folk lore be explained in the OGM model? In a more secular frame, they may seem simply to document a persistent leakage of unknown energies, a pervasive, undependable, and random manifestation of low-order effects. But no such appraisal is consistent with the terms of OGM, which posit beings powerful enough to control their own display and experience of consciousness. As such, surely we can hide our strangeness from ourselves as tidily as we choose. If we do not, it's because we choose to do otherwise, not separately but as a collectivity or a collective entity. In this light, the persistent anomalies recorded in statistical research, like the messages in the churn of our dreams and the advent of certain avatars, embody an intentional lifting of the skirts of camouflage.
To wonder why, with what particular purposes, engages us with myth, especially about progress toward the godhead. But I am content to withdraw from this exercise with more modest fruit—with the irreducible association of coordinated intention, not simply with the individual paranormal phenomena we consider but with the entire pattern of their display—and to speculate how this might bear on what can be verified in scientific terms.
For starters, this implies the unitary nature of their diversity, as a forceful conclusion to recent trends of research collapsing their traditional categories (clairvoyance, telepathy, psychokinesis, etc.) It implies that paranormal activity must be understood as a whole-system phenomenon, whose expression in any domain and form is correlated actively with its expression in all others. This imperative provides a fuller context for an analogue of Bell's theorem of non-locality, posited above as applying to the coupling of paranormal experiments. Moreover, it leads us to expect our acts of observation to influence the processes observed not simply in local senses—e.g., via putative collapses of state vectors in particular observational experiments, or by private repression of what has been revealed—but in a global sense. The entire project of scientific exploration must be understood then as an observational process with the potential actively to influence our collective experience and expression of paranormal phenomena. This much follows even in ordinary terms when we consider how one talented person may teach others. But the premise has a special twist in application to inquiry in this field. We should expect our entire process of inquiry here to modify what we study, not only in quantitative ways but through changes of state and conceivably of essence.
From the perspective of fundamental physics, such a problematic is unprecedented and bizarre. We expect particular quanta and particles to react to observation by changing quantitative or state parameters; but would be amazed to find the proton/electron mass-ratio or the speed of light changing in response to the pressure of our collective observation—let alone to recognize the successively deeper orderings of material reality we discover as being as much our creation as the universe's revelation. From a biological perspective, the problematic is somewhat less alien. We are accustomed now to recognize not only how organisms' behaviors are affected by our material processes of attention, but how these processes affect even the genetic constitution of species as diverse as bacteria and the condor; and by extension how humanity's joint project of theoretical and practical inquiry has now made the genetic resource of the entire biosphere plastic to our influence. We may find in this an analogue to our project of inquiry into consciousness—but an analogue perhaps crucially incomplete. For our inquiry in biology changes the nature of lives but not of life, as expressed in the laws obeyed by its changes of form. But our inquiry in consciousness is apt to change at least the forms and nature of its own expression. How deeply it may affect the very laws of its governance cannot, in this state, be known.
Of all objects of inquiry, none is affected directly by our understanding save our understanding itself, so far as we grasp. "Of all objects of consciousness, none is affected directly by our consciousness save our consciousness itself," we might once have said, before our inquiries in physics and in psi led us to begin to recognize and measure its entanglement in the material world. Even the first of these propositions poses us in profound mystery; and the progressing collapse of the second poses us also at a profound watershed, not simply of science but of human culture. In this circumstance, it is equally humble and arrogant to ask what might be measured, equally obligatory and irresistible to try.
The assumption of coordinated intention imputes a coherent, purposive character to the patterns not only of our display and immediate experience of psi phenomena, but of their cultural interpretation. Given this, the collective cognitive states of psi researchers, scientists generally, and the ("Western") public must be understood as being as primary to this inquiry as are the phenomena considered. This is so not simply in the necessary sense that inquiry proceeds through its inquirers, but in the sense that their states may be understood as substances or processes of intention that interact actively with the (intentional) patterns of psi activity. Though these collective cognitive states are as amenable to classification and statistical measurement as psi phenomena are, their study has been quite neglected, confined to impressionistic anecdotes, and their influence even less reckoned. It seems reasonable to surmise that further study may not only describe their regularities, but reveal these to be coordinated with regularities of paranormal activity, in experiment and otherwise. This surmise implies a concrete and extensive program of research, beginning with more-systematic and less-superficial efforts to assess the attitudes and experiential capacities of psi researchers, scientists, cultural promulgators and various publics; and extending to their correlation with psi experiments and other, related observables.
In particular, the diverse researchers in this field would do well to develop together a uniform assessment instrument to apply to experimenters, and secondarily to subjects. Though the present state of research enables us to conceive only its most primitive form, in some regards doubtless misleadingly, such an instrument would be multidimensional, incorporating psychological assessments, measures of personal history and of collegial association, physiological and electroencephalographic testing, and a full battery of attempted measures of psi efficacy or susceptibility, from ganzfeld and RPK exercises to bacterial inhibition and dermal induction. Of such components, some are more readily standardizable and administrable, and might form the instrument's initial core; while others requiring more ingenuity and cooperation in these regards would stand as desirable options until the progression of critical standards compelled their inclusion. By drafting and cooperatively subscribing to the use of such an evolving instrument, psi researchers would do more than establish a new tool in their field, to produce concrete results for further study. They would establish a new state of collective consciousness, evident in the formality and coordination of its recognition of the experimenter's integrality in the experiment. Cultivation of this state through such an instrument would amount to a collective yoga, a ritualized and self-reflexive discipline. We might expect it to affect not only the processes and formal conclusions of inquiry into paranormal phenomena, but perhaps also the phenomena studied.
Assuming that baseline measures of psi activity can be quantified, as I discuss below, it is reasonable to surmise that they might change in correlation with qualitiative change in the inquiring consciousness. This surmise leads to a testable prediction: If such an assessment instrument is developed to serious use, broadly in the field, the baseline titers of paranormal activity in experiment will be found to differ significantly in the periods preceding and following this development. In practice, it is doubtful that the historical data have been measured with enough precision to confirm such a judgment; in theory, the failure of this prediction would affirm the caprice of intention as well as the null hypothesis. Given this, a finding that the titers change in response not only to individual researchers but to the collective state of inquiring mind would be so remarkably provocative, that all possible evidences should be scrutinized. The self-conscious adoption of such an instrument as I describe is only one candidate for a qualitative change in this collective state of mind. Other changes of qualitative state may be recognizable even in professionally-focused inquiry, and still more if the inquiring mind is understood more broadly. Few are likely to be as localizable in time and means as the candidate proposed here, proceeding through adoption of a common instrument. All will merit scrutiny for their possible effects on the underlying phenomena of inquiry.
As for the idea that baseline titers of activity, averaged over populations and time, can be quantified meaningfully, this standard artifact of scientific thought is complicated unusually in its application to psychic phenomena. In no other field are we led to suspect such complex, systematic differences between actual and observable titers of activity, or to anticipate that titers might change in direct response to their determination. Still, we must press on with the tools we have, aware that their mechanical character may potentiate organic contradictions.
The previous discussion of OGM offered a frame for interpreting baseline patterns of paranormal activity. It suggested that such patterns may be construable not simply as natural phenomena, but as purposive signals, in effect as communications of the collective self to itself. We should anticipate that much of the patterning of information will be lost in the extraction of crude, statistical titers. Even so, some residue of purposive character may remain, if we understand such titers to measure the lifting of the skirts of camouflage.
We are led to expect that such titers exist both by the recorded accumulation of lay experience, and by certain accumulations of research, as I'll say. We are called to interpret them as purposive by this frame of metaphor. Loosely speaking, we leak psychic activity diffusely, at rates which may be understood as deliberate. As suggested earlier, these rates may be bounded by minima and maxima reflecting a strategy of management. Perhaps the observable titers of psi activity are determined less by individual capacities and intentions than by the ambient climate of what degrees of demonstrated anomaly are permissible and required in the consensual agreement. Perhaps their upper bounds measure the generic fear pulling our notions of self and humanhood tight, the force of a purposeful maintenance; and their lower bounds measure a force of necessary inspiration against its pressures.
Such speculations, and others more mundane, must remain merely fanciful, unless it can be determined not only that such baseline titers of psi activity are observable, but that they vary across populations and over time. Though their stability could neither confirm nor rule out their maintenance by deep intention, their variation would cast much in issue, perhaps this deeply. Their variability across cultures, if distinguishable from genotypic variation, would suggest at least some degree of independence of biology. Their variability over sub-evolutionary time scales would likewise suggest dependence on culture rather than biology—and, in this sense at least, their intentionality, insofar as human culture is a process of intention. (A deeper look might connect this dependence with an active role of paranormal phenomena in forming human culture, probing its purposive drive.) I abridge a complexity in this conclusion, for their temporal variation would equally suggest dependence on variation in "natural" (i.e. non-human) conditions, as if some form of planetary weather regulated psychic activity. Correlations surely will be found between material conditions and ambient titers of psi activity. Yet Dean Radin's experiments already suggest that such titers also vary independently of such conditions, in correlation with cultural coordinations of our collective consciousness; and that their variation may prove to be regulated more directly and strongly by weathers of our consciousness than by any independent of it.
In the historical reservoir of psi research, two quantities appear as leading candidates for baseline titers. One is the success-rate for talented subjects in forced-choice trials of clairvoyance, appraised at 27% in relation to the 25% expected randomly from four-choice tests. The other is the success-rate for ganzfeld [“card-guessing“] trials combining "free response" methodology with protocols of subject preparation, consistently reported as averaging about 33% in relation to a similar random expectation of 25%. Both figures have been established by relatively massive statistical trials, conducted over significant periods of time by many independent investigators and involving a diversity of subjects. So far as I know, no other titer statistics generated by psi research are of comparable stability and pedigree.
In nominating these candidates so simply, I invite and sidestep complex arguments. The statistical meta-analyses that recognize the stability and persistence of the 27%/33% figures involve some arbitrary judgments, and open otherwise to debate. It can be argued that these figures are so vague and variable, and their generating circumstances so uncontrolled and irreplicable, that meaningful comparison with analogous figures is impossible—i.e., that they simply cannot be treated as baseline titers—but I suspect that careful analysis will instead describe the limits of their usefulness in this regard. Though the theoretical resolution of this puzzle must be left to professional statisticians, its uncertainties need not paralyze our practical stance unduly. These flawed statistics are not only the soundest we have yet, but the only ones we will have from the past; these flawed tools of meta-analysis and comparison are the best we now have to apply. The issues of the universality and stability of baseline psi titers are so fundamental as to motivate any primitive progress we may be able to make in resolving them. The question of past baselines is particularly important, in view of the prospect that these titers depend upon collective consciousness, and the possibility that our chance to record the changes induced by the changing consciousness of research will vanish even as we are recognizing it.
Assume then that these figures, already solidly distinguishable statistically from the 25%/25% expectations of chance, are solid enough to be distinguished from significantly different figures—say 29%/40%—obtained from a sufficient base of experiments on a dissimilar population or during a later time. The meta-statisticians can specify how large a base will be necessary to recognize a particular degree of difference as significant. It might seem that databases of comparable sizes to those underlying our baseline titers would be necessary to confirm even the differences given above for example; but their necessary sizes can be significantly reduced by coherent, coordinated experiment design. It seems clear that these titers will be, at best, very coarse-grained tools; and that even so, they may prove quite useful.
Certain experiments follow directly. So far as I know, the subject pools underlying these titers have been drawn predominantly from Western (largely U.S.) populations of able-bodied, young to middle-aged Caucasian adults, largely sharing literate culture (especially in relation to universities and research) and with impoverished representation of "lower" socioeconomic strata. Suppose that a body of data sufficient to support comparison were drawn from any significantly different population, in terms of culture, race/ethnicity, (dis)ability, global location, or age extremes—or from the same populations divided by sex—and that this coarse-grained tool dimly resolved a difference of the magnitude of my example. If sustained, its implications would be so fundamental as to exert a shaping force on all theory thereafter, and to sharply point directions for further research. The ticket-price of such a prize amounts to the necessary research program, which our statisticians can readily quantify, with adjustments for the difficulties of particular circumstances. The odds of winning it vary in relation to one's opinions, perhaps literally—but it seems that the best bet is to explore a population as deeply different in as many regards as possible. Tibetan monks are still an obvious target, but I'd favor Bushman babies or blind unschooled teenage girls in rural Pakistan if the program could be organized.
Another kind of experiment follows at home. Will these titers persist or change significantly, if their study in comparable populations by comparable methods continues? This continuance is by no means assured, as subject fads and changes in methodology are frequent even in less-volatile fields of research. By and large, the studies underlying these titers were undertaken in context of attempted demonstration of the very existence of a psi phenomenon (clairvoyance.) They were hardly conceived as contributing to broad baselines, let alone as elements of an instrument to measure the cultural variation of psychic weather. Arguably, this "demonstration" phase is passing on to deeper arguments about psi's nature. To accord these repetitive forced-choice and ganzfeld studies some continuing priority in the overall program of research is not simply to be stuck in an uncreative rut, but to recognize the magnitude of our investment in a tool of some utility, worth developing further. If reiterated study continues to reiterate the 27%/33% figures, it will firm their basis for fundamental comparative studies; and if it shows instead their systematic change, this will be quicker fruit of interest. As for the research from the late 1800's till yesterday, its content cannot be improved, but analysis may come to recognize more than we presently do. In effect, these prior records may be like air bubbles in the Antarctic ice, recording the influence not simply of our fumbling, early attempts at coherent methodology, but also of ambient conditions of the psychic weather, of collective mind, which may be subject to change.
In context of this paper, the recent meta-analytic studies of this century's research, which have produced the firmest palatable evidence of psi phenomena, may be understood equally as a retrospective feasibility study for a family of instruments designed specifically for the study of psi titers.
Such considerations lead me to envision the public development of a Baseline Psi Titer Project (BPTP), conceived as an instrument of fundamental research, analogous in function and scale to modern instruments of fundamental physics research and the Human Genome Project. Its purpose would be to establish statistical measures of sufficient confidence, on populations of appropriate scale and diversity, to facilitate the formulation and testing of hypotheses about the nature and human processes of psi activity. Such sophistications would follow naturally from its formulation as a program of observation, rather than of verification, designed to measure titers continuously in time and to afford coherent comparison of measurements on different populations.
A prototype BPTP might proceed with 30,000 participants enrolled in a two-year program, each committed to a short, monthly test involving a significant number of trials. For practical reasons, it seems that the chosen test instrument should be self-administrable on a mass scale through on-line means, rather than require a multitude of interpretive centers and administrative staff. Many test instruments are conceivable, from the ten-minute/250-trial instrument of the current public on-line RPKP experiment, to a one-hour/100-trial forced-choice clairvoyance instrument incorporating a simple subject preparation protocol, to a hyper-automated ganzfeld instrument involving subjects not only in more extensive preparation but as a randomized judgment apparatus for interpreting each other's free responses. From this short list and related experimental results, it appears that robustness of statistical effect may depend directly both on the degree of sophistication of the instrument, and on the degree and quality of energy that participants contribute; and may depend as importantly on these as on simpler considerations of scale.
Suppose then a program of this scale, with as robust an instrument as proves practical, involving each participant in a monthly test with 200 trials. The distribution and mean of their one thousand daily tests would provide confident baselines for study of possible variance on daily and longer scales. If coordination of daily timing were arranged, deliberately or statistically through participants' global distribution, the resulting average flow of forty tests per hour, involving together eight thousand trials, would provide adequate baselines for more-finely grained study of temporal variance and its correlations. This density of data, and its statistical stability, could be improved to any desired degree by employing participants more often and/or by enrolling more in the project.
In this simplest form, a prototype BPTP would generate a simplistic, continual titer of an observable of psi activity in a large population. The population's stability would be assured by explicit enrollment and the project's short-term nature. The stability of its psi potential would seem more difficult to assure and even to assess, as studies suggest "fatigue factors" of declines in effect-sizes consequent to subjects' involvement in repetitive experiments. Their concurrent aging, albeit modest, must also be considered as a factor. Such difficulties may be partly offset by the long separation between brief testing periods in this model, and by more sophisticated design, perhaps involving the alternation of several testing methods of comparable robustness, to maintain novelty. The residual, experiment-related instability of psi potential may also prove quite tractable to analysis, for we may expect fatigue-, age-, and learning-related changes of titer to proceed in a statistically-continuous fashion during this period, in curves of gradual change whose effects will be transparent to other species of perturbation.
Consider the results of so simple a titration, over two years. Suppose they prove simply monotonous, revealing no more than expectable random fluctuation from a stable baseline, both overall and in regional analysis. This finding would cast serious doubt on theories directly or indirectly correlating psychic activity with global natural observables varying significantly during this time (e.g., the states of the magnetosphere and ionosphere, the phases of the moon); or with such regional observables varying in time or space (e.g., time of day and season; weather, climate, and other atmospheric parameters; geomagnetic declination and strength, biomass density, aquatic proximity.) It would likewise cast doubt on theories implying correlation with certain collective variables of human culture, including brief-term concentrations of mass attention via television audience of the sort investigated by Radin; significant short-term shifts of public temper occasioned by tragedy, celebration, or electoral frenzy; some dimensions of subjective and objective economic conditions; and even the degree of public belief in psi phenomena, if such a newsworthy event as Nancy Reagan's praise of her astrologer were to occur during this period.
The independence of the baseline titer from such categories of variable "external" factors would render it more tractable to factorial analysis in terms of its subject population(s). Participant data—of sex, age, gender-preference ("optional"), race, ethnicity, sheep/goat attitude, anomalous experience, birth-order and family size, education and occupation, dietary habit and dream-propensity, spiritual orientation and meditative practice, general health and significant change during the program—could readily be registered by on-line means, to be processed correlatively with the project's testing data by computational programs and facilities of quite modest complexity and power. This apparatus would be integral to any version of a BPTP. Once developed, its correlative power would be limited only by the scale and variety of the data digested. On the scale of this prototype, with 30,000 subjects undertaking a series of 24 tests x 200 trials without detectable influence from "external" factors, the systematic variation of psi activity with any of the personal variables listed above would have to be relatively minor to escape detection. (On this scale, also, significant peaks and valleys [±50%?] of conjoint variation with two or three correlated variables of any sort would be distinguishable. Both their resolution and the number correlated could be improved by increase of scale.)
Were the baseline titer to prove as independent of these personal variables as of the "external" variables typified above, the implications would be as striking, casting doubt on a wide range of theories—in this case fewer about psi's deeper nature, than about the human factors bearing on its expression. This simple, combined "null" result from the BPTP would not rule out the possibility that any or many of the thirty "external" and personal variables noted above might prove to be correlated with psi activity in degrees finer than this instrument's capacities of resolution. But its necessary inability to disprove their relevance is scarcely to be mourned, for such a "null" result would still amount to a remarkable and powerful finding—that the concatenated influence of all such variables together was negligible—prompting the deduction that the causal contribution of their entire phenomenal complex was minor in comparison to the magnitude of the "index" psi activity observed by the BPTP. To the extent that this complex involved a wide range of physical and biophysical factors, categorical personal variables, and cultural conditions, this deduction would imply that the primary causation of psi activity should be sought beyond these domains and their determinants of space, time, matter, biology, culture, and personhood. In this fashion, we might conceivably approach a proof of the transcendental by secular means, humbly measuring the invariant thickness of the lifted skirt.
Before such conclusion, a gap lies to explore. The strategy of statistical inquiry embodied in the basic BPTP model does not depend on factors of participant selection in terms of psi ability or susceptibility; nor does it plumb the relation of personal character and intentional personal development to psi activity, save in the most preliminary and rudimentary fashion. Analogous mechanisms and programs of statistical inquiry exploiting protocols of selection and development may be regarded not simply as variations on this basic model but as hybrid forms, combining observation with directive intention. Though I forego their exploration here, it seems likely that a variety of more sophisticated and penetrating instruments of inquiry can be developed in this way. It seems likely also that their differences may render them less suitable than this strictly-observational basic model for exploring regularities of psi titer and their relation to the domains of variance considered above; and more suitable for exploring the variables neglected by the prototypical, "pure" BPTP. In this accounting, these variables are largely personal and subjective, and (in the event at least of a "null" BPTP outcome) unrelated to ordinary biological and cultural determinants, save insofar as they also include most species of coordinated attention and intention. I expect that their investigation will involve us inexorably with the transpersonal domain.
If the implications of a "null" finding are so rich, those of variation in baseline psi titers can scarcely be less so. A finding of correlation with any variable noted above—or more generally, with any variable in their categories of natural phenomena, collective consciousness, and personal determinants—will invite and constrain theory, and direct further research. A finding that baseline titers were elevated independently for women, meditators, regions of low geomagnetic strength, and periods of lunar maxima and Superbowl concentration might guide a program of research and development for a generation. But I must leave such combinatorial scenarios to the reader's imagination, to comment dryly on the nature of the instrument that may fuel their inspiration with data.
A BPTP is a simple tool of measurement enabling correlative analysis. If applied on a sufficient scale, it will generate and measure a signal of psi activity with sufficient accuracy to enable meaningful comparisons. In general, though the signal's measure will remain stable in this sense, we may expect its magnitude to vary, rather than the "null" finding of invariance. Where episodic, periodic, irregular and/or systematic variations are recognized, in the entire measure or among its population divisions, the search for correlations begins. Wise design of a BPTP will integrate as many dimensions of potentially-correlative data as possible. Fifteen personal variables, including location, are noted above; the list is hardly exhaustive. In anticipation of the signal's complex variation and possible correlates, the data-processing paradigm should also integrate inputs tracking variations in global and regional parameters of all the sorts noted above and more, both natural and cultural. Thus provisioned, a BPTP becomes a powerful mechanism for construing the meaning of variations, i.e. the sense of the signal within the signal it measures. As silence and sound together make music, so the patterns of non-correlation it reveals will be as significant as those of correlation in the meaning of the whole. For this reason, one can hardly take into account "too many" variables in the instrument's design, for each one enriches the meaningfulness of its analysis. A methodical BPTP would integrate participant birth-signs and planetary configurations, feng-shui consultants and regional population densities, psychedelic experience and neutrino flux in its analytic array without embarrassment at the mix, seeking to parse the most meaning from the measured stream of mystery.
This proposal hinges on a single, demonstrated idea: that measurable titers of paranormal activity can be consistently generated in controlled circumstances and confirmed by meta-analytic means. To date, their generation has served mainly to verify the existence of psi phenomena. As Radin observes, the phase of research is shifting from proof of existence to inquiry into psi's nature. A BPTP is a tool to generate and analyze collective streams of paranormal activity, embodying a fundamental statistical strategy complementary to and coordinate with strategies of inquiry focusing on particular subjects and events. One might balk at developing so extensive a mechanism to track an "index" activity chosen largely for its trackability, even in a time when billions are spent to build a net to catch the top quark; but the apparent unity of the nominally-distinct varieties of psi activity suggests that this focus will be as fundamental as any. Given its massive yet straightforward correlative capacities, a BPTP is in effect an intellectual sieve, an instrument capable of screening an unlimited variety of factors and theories for potential relevance, to a certain degree of resolution, with remarkable efficiency. This capability follows in part from its technique of de-personalizing (or at least de-individualizing) the production of psi activity by the use of large-scale, randomized ensembles, thus generalizing the human basis of the statistical signal.
The signs of psi are like starlight, the twinklings of cosmic energies. Once simply mystery, as we focused and built instruments we came to read the amazing narrative of being encoded in their signals. A BPTP is like a radio-telescope, concentrating a thin, universal light to process in an intellectual spectroscope. As with the radio instrument, its resolving power depends upon its scale; one wishes its baseline to span this world, until we reach another. As with the radio instrument, such scope is surprisingly practical. In the economical efficiency of their materials and arrangement, the thin-webbed radio dishes strategically networked around the globe stand as metaphor and model for what may be achieved in this domain by statistical means. As earlier with large particle accelerators and the Human Genome Project, in ways that invite further elaboration, such comparisons and concerns of design come naturally in thinking about an instrument of fundamental research in a new field.
So how much would a prototype BPTP cost? On the scale proposed above, a fully-funded project with a two-year testing phase would cost on order of $40,000,000, with three-fourths going to pay the 30,000 test participants. The cost of the instrument's core components—developing the psi test protocol, arranging the other data inputs, developing the processing protocols and software implementation, general administration, subsequent interpretation—are nearly independent of the scale of its application. This core cost might range up to $10,000,000, although determined cooperation could keep it to a fraction of this figure. Hardware/access implementation and participant-related administration would vary nearly proportionately to test population and testing frequency, and on this scale should not cost more than $3,000,000. In the sum above, I assume a participant stipend of $1000 for the project ($40/session). If autoganzfeld testing were chosen for its robust signal, paying participants (or others) to assess the tests might triple this cost to $90,000,000, unless expert software could be applied to automate this process. Expanding the participant base of a less-robust signal might be a cost-efficient way to increase a BPTP's resolution.
Though these estimates account fair pay for all involved, they are also luxurious, as I will say. Yet considered soberly, in comparison to analogous instruments of fundamental inquiry in other fields, even the highest of these price-tags seems a bargain. If research into psi were understood to be as fundamental as nuclear physics and as consequential as aspirin, support from many quarters—governmental, academic, corporate, and public—could surely be mobilized for this modest investment. Indeed, the very fact of institutional sponsorship of a project of this magnitude might well catalyze that understanding—so potentiated now in our culture's climate—and thus provide its own justification. But I must leave such questions of bootstrapping and institutional support to others, to focus on more primordial social issues.
For a BPTP is an instrument of novel kind, born of potentials peculiar to our time and hardly yet understood. The statistical techniques of titration it depends on have developed only recently, and its practical technology is altogether new. The key to its operational and economic efficacy is its use of on-line interactional test instruments and full software integration of the primary and correlative data streams and analytic functions. These techniques enable not only a radical efficiency in its core operations, but qualitative changes of function. To have organized a stream of one thousand tests a day by the protocols of parapsychological testing prevalent until quite recently would have been quite as unfeasible as managing its data-flow. To observe that a BPTP could process twenty times this flow hardly puts the qualitative leap in fair perspective. A "hybrid" BPTP could not only supply real-time feedback to participants about their performance, group and sub-group titers, all tracked variables and derived correlations, but involve them in near-real-time coordinations of participation in group testing, extending to ongoing development of the testing instrument and further applications. In this light, a BPTP designed simply to observe a mass psi titer and correlate it passively with other variables is a quite primitive example of a class of mass-participatory, interactional instruments of radical potential, enabled by the medium of the Web and as yet equally in infancy.
How might 30,000 participants be mobilized for such a project? One answer is by the brute force of money, to recruit and pay them, which may well be the most efficient way, and be well worth it. Yet even mercenary employment would not efface the deep sense of volunteerism involved in pioneer service on such a frontier. More deeply than science, this sense will inspirit those who organize such an instrument, and through them the instrument. It might well be taken as the organizing principle from the start. Researchers in this field will recognize that each component of the core apparatus sketched above could be developed on a volunteer basis with minimal funding, in sum probably for less than a million dollars. (Whether development would be slower and less-efficient this way or with full funding is quite unclear.) Hardware and access costs could likewise be reduced by volunteerism in the form of corporate donation. I propose a fully-funded BPTP because the project merits this, but it's quite possible that a bootstrap, volunteer "feasibility test" would need to be organized first to prompt proper funding.
The spirit of volunteerism is most interesting in relation to the test subjects, not simply because the project's cost will drop radically if they serve without pay. Those who enlist will feel a profound sense of service in adventure as they participate in measuring human mystery, even in so rarified a way. To exploit this sense in recruitment comes naturally, in a time when umpteen millions watch The X-Files, and I'll wager that 30,000 could be enrolled simply by relying on private responses to the informal, exponential propagation of a serious invitation through the networks of cyberspace. Were so many concentrated in any locale, their participation would inescapably become a public event; but their dispersion across the continent or globe, and tight lips of project staff, might enable a prototype BPTP of this scale to function relatively free from public attention. As noted above, there are theoretical grounds for advising this conservative course, if only to prepare confirmation that such attention subsequently would not affect the measured titers. Yet the social reasons for organizing the project in an aggressively-public manner seem compelling.
One reason is simply that research so fundamental in nature, so consequential in potential, and so directly related to people's lives should be conducted as a fully-public activity for common benefit—rather than, say, as a proprietary investigation by a well-heeled software company or as a covert military enterprise, as a project of this nature and magnitude might readily be. Having written at length elsewhere on the issues involved (*) , I note here only that an alarming irresponsibility is involved in the continuing numbness of psi researchers to the potential consequences and misuses of their work. Efforts to formulate ethical standards and agencies, beyond those governing subject-treatment in experiment, have been overdue for at least three decades. The public launching of a BPT project, as framed below, would provide so deeply appropriate an opportunity to launch the moral project, that their correlated development should be considered from the start.
For consider the dramaturgy and spirit of a public launch in the current cultural climate. NIH announces $50 million in Federal funding for a Psychic Baseline Titer Project, to be administered by a consortium of three major universities and directed by an international committee of high scientific standing, anchored by Nobel Laureate Brian Josephson! Thirty thousand paid volunteers are sought, to probe mysteries as profound as the atom's! No matter how sober and dignified the announcements, the exclamation points will be implicit—and what a ruckus will ensue! The skeptics of CSIOP will have a field day skewering telephone psychics on talk shows, but be swamped by angelic believers; New York Times editorialists will screech about the acceleration of the New Dark Age; and the Pope will curse the responsibles less violently than will their scientific peers for yielding to the Devil. Put this way, it's clear why such a scenario of public launch is still impossible. The wellsprings of vitriolic resistance to considering psi phenomena run still so deeply throughout the scientific establishment that support is precarious even for minor projects and individual researchers; and any major institutional engagement would surely be aborted by preemptive attack.
Even so, consider the prospect—for no less noise will attend this change of phase whether it come quickly or slowly, and attention should be paid to the coherence of our signal. Later or soon, suppose that enough evidence has been substantiated to trigger, in conjunction with other catalytic factors, a phase-shift of institutional recognition and attention, like a crystal growing in a supersaturated solution. Step back from the melee of scientific in-fighting, the fracas of the mass media, and recall that most of the nation and the world believe that psychic phenomena are real. What most people will gather is the simple truth: that Science has finally decided to study these mysterious matters seriously. In that moment, while marveling that it took so long, many might be reassured to learn also that scientists had begun to think about the ethics of their work in this domain.
In this circumstance, a public call for 30,000 volunteers would have deep resonance. Paranoid Saganists may shudder at the prospect of the credulous hordes responding, the followers of trance-mediums, yogic gurus, Pentacostal mystics and the like, and cry against blessing unreason. But I say let them come, welcome them to a democratic endeavor. If their participation results in a more-robust titer to measure, so much the better—but a deeper prize is at stake. For this project offers a novel and precious opportunity, an occasion for positive convergence and synergy between the poles of popular credulity and scientific skepticism, heretofore maintained in such strained opposition.
In an age when the bastions of orthodox science gird against rising tides of superstition and unreason, it may seem presumptuous to imagine genuine mediation. Yet the cultural tensions involved are brought no nearer resolution, but rather impacted, by the persistent aversion of mainstream science to considering psi phenomena seriously. By now, this stance has become not only obsolete in intellectual terms, since the amassed evidence of mysterious effects far exceeds standards applied in other fields of inquiry, but completely counter-productive in social and cultural terms. Around the reality of this closed-mindedness a public image crystallizes, which subtly undermines the credibility of scientific pronouncement in other domains—in parallel, perhaps, to the way the conclusions of biological and human science particularly are vitiated by delay of what may be learned in this domain.
Given all this, a public BPT project of this magnitude and official stature would be not simply a logical extension of inquiry in new phase, but a cultural turning-point of fundamental consequence.
This meditation began with wonder at my glimpse of a process of concealment. What's remarkable is less the polymorphous character and capacity of our fear, than the persistence nonetheless of an unsteady signal of mystery in our collective experience. Pursuing explanation, I distilled transcendental hypotheses to a common frequency of coordinated intention. In this light, as in the literal terms of careful understanding of ganzfeld experiment, the signal is a manifestation of our attention to the way intention becomes substantial in the world. We generate it coming and going, it issues from us at our beck to challenge our grasp.
This signal has recently become concretizable in scientific terms, in quite limited forms that still invite deep reading. In the narrow aperture where I envision its capture, the signal appears as a substance of intention solid enough to grasp statistically. The measuring-tool I propose is an obvious extension of recent research, justifiable in pedestrian terms. I see it as an instrument to tug consistently at a skirt of camouflage—whether to measure its lifting or the skirt itself, I hardly know.
All this amounts to jumping on the opportunity, and on wonder itself, with the dumb boots of Western science. If psi is our experience of a transcendental muttering of consciousness to itself, then how barren it seems, to collapse the rich embroideries of lore and legend to a stream of guesses about standardized images, tallied as naughts and ones. In a PBTP's post-test processing, the complex messages still encoded in such streams are obliterated, and all individual referents stripped in their merging to yield simple number-triads, describing the mean and standard variation of an arbitrary reference activity during periods of arbitrary length. You can't get much more reductionist than that.
Even so, such an instrument points us directly at the naked face of mystery, simply by looking at what we behold. The reductive powers and habits of Western science have lately been much criticized, largely for vital reasons still unanswered by their defenders. Yet an incorruptible, effective virtue inheres in this manner of vision, transcending its self-limitation and cultural aberrations. More consistently than revelation, mechanistic science has given us inklings of the cosmos that are more than projections of our internal theater. Through its lookings into the cell, the atom, and the stars, we have in-formed our cognition with novel shapes of concept and recognition, beyond the predictions of our imagination. Though one might argue otherwise, my bet is that this habit will hold even in our looking into psi; and that even so primitive and reductive an instrument as I envision may contribute to deep surprise.
Whether our science has overly delayed this looking is hard to determine, for want of an objective frame; but this likelihood may be inferred from the clear record of its resistance to the task. In this regard, as likely in many other domains, the activity of science seems rather like psychic activity in expressing the imperfect cancellation of powerful polar forces of openness and closure, not merely social. I imagine a state of unbroken symmetry, in which they are the same.
"On Some Matters of Concern in Psychic Research," pp. 167-258 in New Age Blues , E.P. Dutton, N.Y; 1979. Relevant excerpts appear as "Parascience and Social Responsibility" in Beyond Physics, S. Krippner and J. White, eds., Anchor Press, N.Y, 1977; and as "Psychic Science and Social Responsibility" in Applied Psi, Fall 1984. Return to text