This chapter is very different from all the others in this book. While I can provide support for all the many hypotheses and concepts, even the most controversial ones, I describe in the other chapters with scientifically proven facts and experimental findings, in this chapter the foundations for my hypotheses are fairly shaky. Leaps across the abysses of the unknown and unproven are inevitable in any branch of science. Here, however, the leaps needed to link together the few solid islands of knowledge to form an elegant conceptual system blend to make a prolonged free flight. And scientists are scared of free flight. They think it’s the business of poets, not them, and they turn away from problems where all the basic propositions are so unreliable. But if we don’t do it, then who will, and if not now, then when?… So, join me in setting out onto a path that may carry us away from science and into the realm of poetry and non-science fiction.
Let me begin, though, with an account of two studies, which I happened to read almost at the same time in American periodicals at the end of the 1970’s.
The first experiment consisted of the following. Using a special device called a tachistoscope, the investigator presented to the subject’s right field of vision (that is, to the left hemisphere) completely senseless information (a selection of randomly jumbled syllables or bits of geometric shapes, in other words, stuff that could not be subjected to analysis or any kind of systematic organisation). At the same time the subject was given a pencil in his left hand (controlled by the right hemisphere), and asked to draw anything that came into his head, or nothing at all, depending on how he felt. Meanwhile, in a remote sound-proofed room, another investigator was to transmit thoughts to the subject. Concentrating hard, he drew a number of simple shapes on paper in a particular order. According to the article’s authors, as this was happening the subject also began to draw on his own sheet of paper and produced shapes which matched those suggested from a distance. The match, they said, was good enough to be statistically credible.
We know that one of the biggest problems with parapsychology is the lack of credible results that can be reproduced. Extraordinary phenomena flare up, in a single, blinding flame, and immediately fade away without trace. It leaves you guessing every time. Was it genuinely a flame, or just the authors’ hallucinations, a product of their wishful thinking? But this time we had information about an experiment that could be repeated, and with solid results. All the same, I would probably have given the article little attention and waited cautiously for further confirmation, had I not almost immediately read another article on the same topic, though the experiment was carried out in the setting of an entirely different methodology.
On this occasion the authors were well known to me. I knew of Professor Montague Ullman from the literature as a top specialist on questions of sleep and dreams. I also knew Professor Stanley Krippner both from his writings and personally, since we had met at several conferences. He was a recognised specialist in the field of hypnosis, with a serious interest in dreams also. These two authors published first an article and then a book with a description of the following experiment.
The experiment took place in a laboratory for the study of sleep, and all the subject’s physiological indicators were registered during a night’s sleep (EEG, eye movement, muscle tone, pulse, etc.). When these indicators showed that REM sleep had begun, one of the researchers, like in the first experiment, would go into a separate room and concentrate on the transmission of certain particular (relatively simple) thoughts, making an immediate note of them. After this, the subject would be woken and asked to re-tell his dream. According to the authors, the dreams regularly included information which had been transmitted to them remotely.
Two circumstances attracted my attention to this study. Firstly, its results coincided with a lot of reports (not scientific, but from everyday life) about the prognostic function of dreams and their role in foretelling events. Some of these reports were very convincing and had no rational explanation.
One well-known film director told me that at the time his wife was killed in an terrible accident, he dreamt he saw a woman walking towards him. She approached him and then walked on, and as she did so, he saw to his horror that she had no eyes, the eye sockets were empty. “I woke my father (a witness!) and told him that I had seen death in a dream. We looked at our watches, and then, with some difficulty, I went back to sleep.” The time of her death and the time of his dream were identical.
One of my patients told me that her reactive depression began after a horrifying incident. One night her husband woke her and told her that he had just had a nightmare. He dreamt he was knifed by a maniac in the yard of their apartment block. She calmed him down, but in the morning, when he went to put out the rubbish, a mentally ill man attacked him and stabbed him to death.
I once had a dream myself in which I saw my daughter, who was on a skiing holiday abroad at the time, with a deep cut on her forehead. It turned out that at that exact time she had crashed into a tree and injured her forehead in that precise spot.
One of my friends had a number of dreams in which acquaintances met with various misfortunes, and these dreams came true.
I had once given a newspaper interview in which I remarked, with the usual caveats, that it was impossible to deny all the cases of prophetic dreams. I received dozens of letters from readers describing similar instances, and some of them featured witnesses, too, who had had the dream described to them before it came true. And so the parapsychological role of dreams, experimentally proven, caught my attention.
The second reason for my interest was the unexpected coincidence in one very important feature of this study with the first one I described. In the first experiment, the parapsychological capacities of the subject were revealed after his left hemisphere had been functionally blocked, as it were, by overloading it with meaningless information. Liberated from conscious and critical control, the right hemisphere unexpectedly acquired the capacity to detect remote suggestions. But doesn’t something similar happens in dreams? In dreaming, the right hemisphere begins to dominate, while the critical-analytical role of the left diminishes almost to nothing. There was, in fact, a profound connection between the two studies. They gave independent support to each other at a distance, so to speak, even though the authors of one experiment did not refer to the other and, most likely, knew nothing of its existence.
Such a coincidence should give pause for thought, at the very least.
How can we use our contemporary knowledge and theoretical concepts about the functions of the brain’s hemispheres to explain, even if speculatively, these and some other findings without resorting to supernatural forces and while remaining within the domain of the natural sciences?
First we need to answer a more general philosophical question: is the future defined by the present and the past? Do causal links exist, and do they work? The question is a complex one and the answer is not simple. According to quantum physics, the future is not determined and causality is transformed into randomness. We should not forget, though, that Einstein and a number of other physicists never reconciled themselves to this idea.
Looking at the problem from the perspective of philosophy and psychology rather than physics, it might be supposed that strict causal relationships in the real world, capable of analysis, really do not exist. The future is the result of the interaction of such an infinite multitude of connections between objects and phenomena interwoven with such complexity that to forecast a definite end result is not possible. Yet analysis that leads to a single, monosemantic result is a function only of the left hemisphere of the brain. And only for the left hemisphere does orientation in the infinite abundance of connections appear an impossible task, leading to the inevitable conclusion that there are no guiding principles and that randomness rules.
The complex web of real interrelationships which define the future does not fit into the strict coordinates of logical thinking. It eludes them and creates an impression of non-determinism. But right-hemisphere thinking in images simply does not use this framework of coordinates and the interwoven mass of connections does not appear to it to be over-complex or internally contradictory. And so the right hemisphere is able to grasp these connections in all their volume with such mind-boggling totality that, as a result, foretelling the future is possible. Weak and strong connections are brought into balance, and this means that even very weak influences, characteristic of the mental activity of people far away from us, can be picked up by the right hemisphere. The right hemisphere is open to all influences: from phenomena of the biosphere and the cosmos to what the Russian thinker and scientist Vladimir Vernadsky called the noosphere, in other words that secondary world of culture which is created by man’s mental activity. For the right hemisphere chance does not exist, because this concept is a derivation of the concept of regularity, established with the help of left-hemisphere analysis. Bohr’s theory of complementarity is no less applicable to the brain’s workings than to quantum physics: the left and right hemispheres complement each other and the function of one cannot be understood in the paradigms of the other. For a full realisation of its potential, the right hemisphere must be liberated from left-hemisphere control.
The ideas about the functions of the right hemisphere set out in earlier chapters can, in my opinion, help remove what appear to be absolute limitations ‘forbidding’ parapsychological phenomena. One such limitation is physical. It is supposed that for a subject to catch weak signals coming from a very distant location requires such a powerful ‘receiver’, in terms of energy, that the brain simply cannot take on such a role. Perhaps new data showing the right hemisphere is capable of perceiving and creating a polysemantic context without additional psychophysical ‘expenditures’ (i.e., working in a regime of a kind of entropy) can help eliminate this ‘energy’ limitation. After all, if the right hemisphere is especially sensitive to polysemantic context and does not require additional activation, then it can receive even very weak signals.
Another well-known limitation is philosophical. Precognition, clairvoyance, should not be possible, since if it were possible, it would be possible to influence the future, to change it, and then we fall immediately into a closed circle of contradictions; a changed, corrected future is no longer what was predicted, hence, the prediction itself is false. However, the principle of complementarity in the work of the brain allows us to sidestep this limitation neatly: clairvoyance happens at the level of thinking in images (for example, in dreams), when conscious, directed action on reality is impossible. The brain doing the precognition is one that is complementary to the brain that acts. When Cassandra spoke of the impending destruction of Troy, nothing came directly out of this vision about what should be done to avoid it. We know nothing about the way the information which the right hemisphere processes is coded and how the processing takes place. We can only presume that it happens through series of images and not on the level of verbal-logical structures. This is why images get through better when transmitting thought.
In conclusion, I want to repeat that in this field there are no facts that are established beyond dispute. The purpose of this chapter was, however, to show that no limitations of principle exist why parapsychology should not be brought into the mainstream of ‘normal’ science. Of course, the road from the absence of restrictions to an actual solution to the problem is very long, but at least we can set out on it.