'Hearing voices' has become a phrase synonymous with mental illness. But auditory hallucinations are a lot more common than many realise - in fact, as many as 1 in 8 people will 'hear voices' at some point in their life.
And what's more, if we consider how the hearing of voices has contributed to some of the core elements of a number of religions, we might be quite startled to find that it has had a rather large influence on the world we live in. And yet very little research has been done on the topic until now.
To help gain a better understanding of this strange phenomenon, a research team from Durham and Stanford Universities designed an open-ended online questionnaire in which they asked people to describe, in their own words, what they experienced. It was completed by 153 people with a range of diagnoses, including 26 who had never had a psychiatric diagnosis.
Their findings have just been released in a new paper published by The Lancet, titled "Experiences of hearing voices: analysis of a novel phenomenological survey". For TL;DR sufferers, they also have summarised their results on the Hearing the Voice website:
Public perception is that hearing voices is always a symptom of severe mental illness such as schizophrenia and psychosis, and that the voices people experience are loud, commanding and dangerous. Our study confirmed previous research that challenges these assumptions, finding that people hear many different kinds of voices (some with strong characterful qualities); and that despite associations with negative emotions such as fear, anxiety and depression, many people also hear positive and supportive voices.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the study’s findings call in to question the presumption that voice-hearing is always and exclusively an auditory experience. While many of the participants said that the voices they heard were similar to hearing somebody speaking in the same room, 10% of participants reported purely ‘thought-like’ voices with no acoustic properties, and a further 40% reported ‘mixed’ voices that had both thought-like and auditory characteristics. These findings challenge the view that hearing voices is necessarily a perceptual or auditory phenomenon, and may also have implications for future neuroscientic studies of what it is happening in the brain when people ‘hear’ voices.
Our study also found that changes in emotion and bodily sensations often accompany voice-hearing experiences. 66% of participants reported alterations in the way their body felt while hearing voices, such as feeling hot or tingling sensations in their hands and feet. Nearly 20% of participants experienced ‘multi-sensory’ voices, suggesting that their voices were ‘perceived’ simultaneously through more than one sensory modality. Interestingly, it was voices with effects on the body that were more likely to be abusive and violent; and in some cases, were linked to previous experiences of trauma, such as bullying, neglect, and physical and sexual abuse.
Link: Hearing the Voice
Paper (full-text): "Experiences of hearing voices: analysis of a novel phenomenological survey"
What is the meaning of life? For some it's 42, for others it can be found in religion or science. For a few of us, the meaning of life is simply the wonder of not knowing. However, instead of looking outwards for the answer, perhaps we can find what we're looking for within -- and find meaning in our dreams. Anthropologist Margaret Mead described a unique perspective on the meaning of life that came to her in a dream (Amazon):
Last night I had the strangest dream. I was in a laboratory with Dr. Boas and he was talking to me and a group of other people about religion, insisting that life must have a meaning, that man couldn’t live without that. Then he made a mass of jelly-like stuff of the most beautiful blue I had ever seen — and he seemed to be asking us all what to do with it. I remember thinking it was very beautiful but wondering helplessly what it was for. People came and went making absurd suggestions. Somehow Dr. Boas tried to carry them out — but always the people went away angry, or disappointed — and finally after we’d been up all night they had all disappeared and there were just the two of us. He looked at me and said, appealingly “Touch it.” I took some of the astonishingly blue beauty in my hand, and felt with a great thrill that it was living matter. I said “Why it’s life — and that’s enough” — and he looked so pleased that I had found the answer — and said yes “It’s life and that is wonder enough.”
Read more at Brain Pickings.
Anthropologist Fabian Graham recently asked an interesting question on the Paranthropology Facebook group: Is it possible to draw lines between religious, paranormal and psychological/physiological experiences - and if so, where?
"For example", says Fabian, "trance possession may be religious in one context but paranormal or psychological/physiological in another, the key difference being socially sanctioned norms". As an illustration, he pointed out the Hindu festival of Thaipusam, during which devotees undertake a 5km long pilgrimage carrying various types of kavadi (burdens), ranging from a pot of milk to mortification of the flesh through piercing (not to mention walking on barefoot the entire distance on burning-hot tarmac):
Taking Thaipusam in Penang last week as a case in point, if the folk in the photos are possessed by the God of War Murugan and hence feel no pain, most might argue that this is a religious phenomena. However, for this to occur, a deity would have to acquire spiritual energy and manifest this from deity realms into the realms of human reality - which, quite frankly, sounds as much a religious as a paranormal phenomena. If on the other hand the folk in the photos are not possessed by Murugan and feel no pain, in layman's terms, they would have to un-link their consciousness from the pain receptors in their nervous system - also an event existing outside the so-called 'normal' realms of experience. So religious, paranormal or psychological/physiological experiences/ phenomena?
For those interested in learning more about Fabian Graham's work, note that he contributed an article to the mediumship anthology released by Daily Grail Publishing last year, Talking With the Spirits (Amazon US and UK), titled "Vessels for the Gods: Tang-ki Spirit Mediumship in Singapore and Taiwan". Not to mention that the amazing image on the book's cover is one of his photos as well!
Images in the post by Fabian Graham.
Over at his blog, Carlos Alvarado has a summary of a recent survey, by Dr Harvey Irwin, of 114 people involved in parapsychology - an attempt to understand the views of contemporary psi researchers.
From the abstract:
Some issues, such as the reality of psi and the importance of specialist training in parapsychology, attracted substantial consensus, but a disparity of views was evident on other issues (e.g., the unity of ESP and PK); somewhat surprisingly, developments in anomalistic psychology and mainstream concerns over probabilistic evaluation of hypotheses appear to be of limited interest to parapsychologists.
Some of the quick take-aways were:
- When asked for their estimate of the reality of psi, using a scale ranging from 0 to 100%, the mean answer was 78.91.
- When asked about the possibility that their interests were motivated by spiritual concerns, replies were spread fairly evenly: “strongly” 21%, “moderately” 29%, “slightly” 24%, and “not at all” 26%.”
- When asked about belief in life after death: “strongly disagree” 3%, “disagree” 10%, “somewhat disagree” 1%, “neither agree nor disagree” 36%, “somewhat agree” 16%, “agree” 18%, and “strongly agree” 17%.
- How many agreed with (ie. responded 'somewhat agree', 'agree', and 'strongly agree') the following diverse questions: "Ganzfeld now less effective": 18%; "survival research essential": 45%; "significance testing unsatisfactory": 48%.
Three survey items related to the use of constructs from the philosophy of science to discount some findings of parapsychological research . . . Although there was some variation in responses, approximately half of the sample deemed commentators’ use of the concepts of the need for replication and the principle of parsimony to be purely rhetorical devices in the criticism of parapsychological research. On the other hand, over 40% of respondents evidently saw more than rhetoric in the critics’ demand for replicability. Views were rather more cohesive on the third issue: only 13% of the sample believed parapsychologists were using the concept of psi-missing primarily to explain away inconvenient experimental findings.
An open-ended question about current problems of parapsychology elicited mention of low financial support, resistance from institutions to research, the views of critics, and other issues.
Erotic Encounters in the Borderlands of Consciousness
In October 2012, the pop star Kesha claimed she once had sex with a spirit. Her report was conveniently announced along with the promotion of her new song, Supernatural, which happened to coincide with the weeks before Halloween and was quickly dismissed as a headline-attracting media trick. But there may be something to her claim, as her account is very much in line with the experience of millions of contemporary dreamers. Kesha’s amorous ghost is probably a subset of the incubus encounter, a nocturnal meeting with an otherworldly creature that sits on your chest or otherwise gets all up in your business while you lay in bed. The entity can take the shape of known mythological figures, ghosts, demons, or weird human-animal hybrids. Often, the encounter is fearful, and is described as supernatural assault. Part of the assault has to do with the fact that sometimes feelings of paralysis (and victimhood) are felt when sleep paralysis mingles with the vision. But for others it’s pleasurable, resulting in orgasm and bliss. We live in a time that tries to ignore the visionary moments of life, yet the experiences keep happening anyway.
The realistic encounter with nonhuman—or supernatural—entities has been recorded as early as Babylonian times. Some sexual imp traditions include the Sumerian sex demon Lilith and the ancient Greek god Pan. More often than not, these encounters were interpreted as demonic possession. But not always. For example, the Greek dream interpreter Artemidorus wrote that a sexual Pan encounter “foretells a great profit,” especially if he “does not weigh a person down,” referring to the more common paralysis sensations.1
In modern populations, a significant minority has erotically-charged hypnagogic experiences despite the lack of cultural prompting. Those who feel safe enough to “go with the flow” and not fight the ecstasy are sometimes rewarded with bliss. Physiologically, this shouldn’t be too surprising, as REM sleep is a sexually-active brain state. It’s quite common for both men and women to have multiple periods of genital engorgement during the night—usually these are not remembered, but clearly visible when men wake up tenting the sheet.
By way of example, one young woman wrote to me, “When I was younger I used to get paralyzed in my sleep and I use to think that the devil was coming in me. It made me scared. Now I’m 28 and started feeling like I was having the best sex. . . . I had no clue this happened to other people.” She went on to describe how she has had visitations since she was a child, and they were not always welcome. “Now that I am older and it’s been happening for so long…I always climax…I really want him there with me.2
Other nocturnal encounters mix pleasure and horror in a bizarre way. A reader of my blog Dream Studies Portal who goes by Nox Influx sent me the following narrative that mixes hypnogogia with sleep paralysis:
I was [sleeping and] lying on my stomach, on top of this beautiful woman, having sex, she was saying things, and the sex got more intense, at the point near orgasm I awoke to sleep paralysis, and I hallucinated me on top of a white skinned, blue-lipped dead body. It stayed a few seconds while I couldn’t move and then vanished when movement returned. It sounds negative, but I found it to be exciting in an odd way.3
So how does the positive incubus encounter take place, even when the dreamer does not have a previous understanding that these things are even possible? Taboo is a big part of visionary consciousness, but cultural influence is not the only influence. In my opinion, the cross-cultural nature of sexual incubi points toward a neurobiological constant, an ancestral legacy.4 David Hufford suggests that not only are extraordinary events normal, but “better knowledge of each [event] strengthens that belief rather than weakening it (e.g., learning that others have had virtually the same experience; information regarding possible physiological triggers is irrelevant to the assessment of the reality of the experience).”5 It’s simply a natural part of being human, but of course like all visionary experiences they can reflect our health and dis-ease as well as our relationship to the unknowable.
Case Study: Lucy Liu's Visitation
Kesha is not the first celebrity to announce supernatural hanky-panky. In 1999, actress Lucy Liu admitted in an interview with US Weekly that she had had sex with a heavenly figure. She was lying down on the couch for a nap, and felt an unknown presence on top of her. What followed was a pleasurable spell of lovemaking. “It was sheer bliss. I felt ... Read More »
Dr Dean Radin has been perhaps the leading spokesperson and experimentalist in the field of parapsychology over the past two decades. His work has covered many areas, from telepathy to presentiment, but his most recent work has been concerned with possible interactions between human intention and quantum effects. In the fascinating (at times very funny) 'Science and Non-Duality' talk embedded below, he outlines some of the amazing results of this research (you can download a link to a recent scientific paper on the topic by Dean and his colleagues via this post on his blog).
Anecdotal reports of “experiential entanglements” – spontaneous mind-to-mind and mind-to-matter interactions – can be found throughout history, in all cultures, and at all educational levels. For over a century, such experiences have stimulated controlled scientific experiments to explore whether the anecdotes were best explainable as coincidence, confabulation, or genuine anomalies. Based on analysis of thousands of experiments published in peer-reviewed journals, the cumulative evidence is now clear: mind-to-mind and some forms of mind-matter interactions have been demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt.
For the most part, this evidence is ignored or denied within the academic mainstream, probably because it implies that certain long-held assumptions about the nature of brain, mind and matter – assumptions that are inculcated in universities and repeated as fact in textbooks – are in some cases wrong and in others in need of radical revision. I will review the evidence for these entanglements, the resistance to the evidence, and the implications for a more mature science of the future.
You can read more about Dean's research and thoughts on these topics in his book Entangled Minds.
Evidence for Psi is a new anthology edited by Damien Broderick and Ben Goertzel, with essays contributed by researchers in the field, including Rupert Sheldrake, Jessica Utts, Stephan Schwartz, Roger Nelson, Ed May, Suitbert Ertel and more:
Psi is the term used by researchers for a variety of demonstrable but elusive psychic phenomena. This collection of essays provides a detailed survey of the evidence for psi at the level of scientific examination.
Key features of apparent psi phenomena are reviewed, including precognition and remote perception (knowledge of future or distant events that cannot be inferred from present information), presentiment (physiological responses to stimuli that have not yet occurred), the effects of human emotions on globally dispersed machines, the possible impact of local sidereal time on psi performance, and the familiar feeling of knowing who is calling on the phone.
Special attention is given to those phenomena that make it difficult for scientists to get a clear understanding of psi. The body of psi research, while complex and frustrating, is shown to contain sufficiently compelling positive evidence to convince the rational open-minded observer that psi is real, and that one or more physical processes probably underlie observed psi phenomena.
You can find a full list of the essays included at KurzweilAI.net (where you'll also find the usual comments beneath the fold mentioning James Randi's challenge, and so on...).
Link: Evidence for Psi on Amazon.com
Diane Hennacy Powell, M.D., is a practicing psychiatrist and a neuroscientist trained at the Johns Hopkins school of medicine, who also taught neuropsychiatry at Harvard; unlike most of her colleagues had a long-time interest in the mystery of human consciousness and was skeptical of the materialist model of how the brain is the sole generator of mind.
Some years ago Dr. Powell had an insightful Eureka moment: If something as telepathy (i.e. direct mind-to-mind communication) could actually exist, who could be the best candidates in which to find evidence for it? Her work in 1987 with Sir Michael Rutter considered to be the father of child psychology and leading expert in autism, led her to conclude that some of the abilities in non-verbal autistic savants were so mysterious and confounding, they could very well be interpreted as psychic phenomena. What if, Diane posited, these savants are able to solve staggering mathematical problems, not because their brains are highly tuned for pattern recognition and an increased memory, but because they actually manage to extract the answers from the 'ether' itself, as it were? Also, non-verbal savants would be the most motivated to develop such talents, due their condition of not being able to communicate with the outside world through 'ordinary' means.
With that in mind --no pun intended-- Dr. Powell started to conduct some tests with Haley, a 9-year-old autistic girl who seemed to display the capacity to read the minds of her family and therapists; the reason why her parents suspected their daughter was reading their mind was because even though she was able to find the 6-figure results to cube root equations, she was unable to make simple additions and subtractions. As Greg mentioned back in August, Diane had to prepare the tests in order to accommodate the special needs of the child --which prevented the complete isolation between 'sender' and 'receiver'-- but even without these less-than-ideal circumstances, Dr. Powell's initial results --which she presented at the 57th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association-- were nothing short of amazing: Not only was the girl able to be above 95% accurate on 10 equations she solved on a 10-minute period, but as Dr. Powell explained to Alex Tsakiris on her latest interview on Skeptiko, sometimes the therapist made mistakes in giving Haley the mathematical question to solve, and she would nevertheless give the right answer to the problem typed in the therapist's notes --i.e. it was as if Haley was picking the answer's from the therapist's mind, instead of solving them in her own head.
In order to keep elaborating her scientific model on how telepathy could arise as a method to extract information from our surroundings beyond the extent of our main physical senses, Dr. Powell needs to keep studying more autistic savants like Haley; children like Nandana, a Indian autistic girl who also seems to be able to read the minds of her parents. With the kind of evidence already gathered, you'd think Dr. Powell would have no problem in securing grants to continue funding her research, yet unfortunately you'd be wrong; Parapsychology is still considered a pseudoscience in the ivory towers of Academia, which has forced Diane to finance her research out of her own pocket.
Which is why she's seeking to crowdfund the next step in her telepathy project --and this is where YOU come in, dear Grailer:
Would Dr. Powell's Telepathy project be able to secure the 1st Nobel prize to the field of Parapsychology, as suggested by our good friend Grant Cameron? Although after spending enough time immersed in these topics, it's easy to become cynic and conclude the non-local nature of Consciousness will never be accepted, my conviction is that if we keep chipping away at the foundation of the Materialistic model, sooner or latter it will all come crashing down and a new scientific paradigm will arise; and people like Dr. Diane Hennacy Powell will be acknowledged for their substantial contributions in trying to adopt a more encompassing scientific model, in which phenomena like precognition and even telepathy will be understood and explained, the same way our ancestors managed to understand electricity and magnetism.
So please contribute to Dr. Powell's campaign, and help spread her project through your favorite social media. Frank Zappa said the Revolution will not be televised... but he didn't say anything about crowdfunding, now did he?
- New Research Suggests Autistic Savants May Have Enhanced Telepathic Abilities
- Evidence of Telepathy in a Nonverbal Autistic Child
- 57th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association
- Skeptiko Episode 257: Dr. Diane Powell Finds Telepathy Among Autistic Savant Children
- Miracle Girl: Nandana has access to mother’s memory
- A Nobel Prize for Woo Woo?
The horizontal lines in this image are all straight, and parallel.
Go home reality, you're drunk.
The amazing abilities of autistic savants – prodigious feats of memory and calculation, as well as musical and artistic talents, despite the presence of mental disabilities (see the bottom of this post for examples) - remains one of the most fascinating topics in brain science. But these abilities may only be the tip of the iceberg, with new research suggesting that autistic savants may also have an enhanced capacity for extrasensory perception.
In 2013 neuropsychiatrist Dr. Diane Hennacy Powell was sent three homemade videos of a severely autistic nine-year-old girl which claimed to show her demonstrating a telepathic ability. Intrigued, Powell organised to conduct research sessions with two separate therapists who had reported telepathic experiences with the girl.
Though the ideal scientific set-up would be to keep the 'sender' and 'receiver' isolated from each other, this case had the complication of the sensitive nature of the girl's condition. As such, Powell kept the therapist in the same room, noting that "even subtle changes to the environment are very distracting and disturbing for a child with severe autism". Instead, a divider was put between the therapists and the child. Then randomized numbers, sentences, fake words, and visual images were presented to the therapists. The girl was then asked to “read the therapist’s mind.”
The therapists were asked to write their own verbal descriptions of the images for comparison to the girl’s answers. Random numbers were generated for mathematical equations.
The girl was asked to give all the numbers involved in the equations and duplicate the answers generated by the author with a calculator…The child typed her answers after choosing them from a stencil. To assess for any possible visual and/or auditory cueing, five high definition point-of-view (POV) cameras and three microphones were strategically placed in the experimental space to capture coverage of the entire room, the therapist and child, and their separate workspaces.
Powell presented her preliminary findings at the 57th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association, held last weekend. The results were jaw-dropping, with 'hits' such as 100% accuracy on two random numbers, one eight digits and the other nine; 60 to 100% accuracy on three of the five-letter nonsense words; 100% accuracy on six out of twelve equations with 15 to 19 digits each; and between 81 to 100% accuracy on sentences of between 18 and 35 letters. The video surveillance showed no evidence of cueing or fraud.
Powell's conclusion: "The data is highly suggestive of an alternative, latent and/or default communication mechanism that can be accessed by people born with severely impaired language abilities.
This new research comes on the back of news reports last year of a nine-year-old autistic girl in Sharjah who appears to have the ability to read her mother's mind. Though the idea that autistic savants might have paranormal abilities goes back further than that. Pioneering researcher into Savant Syndrome, Darold Treffert, included a section on the possibility of extrasensory perception in savants in his 1989 book Extraordinary People: Understanding Savant Syndrome:
Dr. Bernard Rimland describes several instances of extrasensory perception in his autistic savants. In his sample of approximately 5400 autistic children, 561 cases, or approximately 10 percent, were reported to have special abilities. Four of the 561 cases were based on reports from parents who claimed that their child had consistently exhibited signs of extrasensory perception. In one case, the parent reported that "teachers have also noticed that George probably has ESP. He seems to be very psychic. We would decide to pick up George from school suddenly, if we were in the area (he usually rode the bus). He would tell the teacher we were coming, and he would come to open the door when we arrived. So he has many special abilities, but cannot write his name or write a sentence".
Two other reports made by parents describe children with, in one case, "an extraordinary ability to hear conversations out of range of hearing, and to pick up thoughts not spoken" and, in another case, "verified ESP…first observed around age 4". The child in the latter case "accurately related an accidental occurrence known only to her father. His watch crystal fell out in the bathroom and was immediately replaced. Michelle accurately related the entire incident back to her father a short time thereafter. Several dozens of similar 'clairvoyant' instances have occurred since this first incident. Statistical probability of coincidental knowledge nil."
The parents of Ellen, a blind musical savant…report three instances of unusual perception on her part. One perhaps could be explained by heightened auditory discrimination: in that instance the driver of the special bus that picks her up each day to take her to her classes gave the usual very brief horn beep when picking her up one morning. Instantly Ellen said, "New bus". On checking, it was determined that indeed a different – and new – bus was waiting. The difference in the sounds of the horns was imperceptible to her parents. The other instances are more difficult to explain. One week before Christmas she announced what would be in her gift packages, although she really had no way of knowing and had not been given any clues as to what those gifts might be. Another instance had to do with a telephone call. Ellen's sister, for a variety of reasons, always calls her parents' home during the day and, only under special circumstances, does she call in the evening. At supper time one evening Ellen told her parents that her sister would be calling. Her mother assured her, for the above reasons, that there would be no such call. Shortly thereafter the telephone rang and Ellen answered it, knowing it would be her sister, who it was. The sister has been called out of town unexpectedly and wanted her parents to know that. Ellen somehow knew that the call was coming.
…Some have explained the savant in terms of reincarnation. Barbara Boudreaux recalls that one day some friends who believe that to be the case asked Ellen to listen to a Mozart piece she had never heard before. Near the end they stopped the piece and asked Ellen to play it for them. She obligingly did and, according to the friends at least, continued to play the piece beyond the point at which they had stopped – "as if" she had heard the whole number – and played it just as Mozart had written it.
Are these abilities, and the new research by Dr. Diane Hennacy Powell, explainable without recourse to paranormal abilities? Savants certainly have magical-like abilities that could easily lead to unnecessary leaps of logic – the 'new bus' example given above is a case in point where an enhanced ability could be being mistaken for something paranormal. Would it be so far-fetched to think that the girl in this new research is picking up cues that seem impossible to us? Also, given her severe disability, is there any sort of interaction needed with others to give her answers?
Alternatively, many have suggested that the brain disabilities and injuries suffered by both autistic savants and acquired savants are the likely cause of their savant abilities; shutting down one section of the mind seem to open pathways to these latent abilities which seem almost superhuman to the rest of us (some researchers, such as Dr. Allan Snyder, think we may be able to unlock these abilities via magnetic stimulation). Could this unlocking of ability also allow access to hidden functions of the brain related to extra-sensory perception? Only time, and further research, will offer a definitive answer.
For more on the incredible abilities of autistic and acquired savants, see the links at the bottom of this article.