Official government interest in psychic phenomena (both in the United States and the former Soviet Union) remains a controversial topic which most historians prefer to sweep under the rug and leave it to ‘conspiracy theorists.’ Yet the history of the Cold War cannot be fully comprehended if we don’t take into account how seriously were these mental potentialities taken by Intelligence agencies on both sides of the Iron Curtain: whatever could give them an edge over their enemies –no matter how improbable it may have sounded at first glance– was taken into consideration and covertly explored.
And oftentimes the more ridiculous the idea sounded the better: The Manhattan project –initiated at the behest of Albert Einstein, who feared Germany might get ahead of the Allies in the development of their own atomic bomb– employed more than 130,000 people from different countries and cost nearly US$ 2 billion (more than $30 billion in today’s money); not long after the Soviets devoted considerable resources into trying to catch up with the Americans, and other superpowers followed in their steps, so that by the 1960’s there were only five nations (the US, the USSR, England, France and China) capable of developing nuclear weapons at a great cost to their GDP. In comparison, exploring the hidden potential of the human mind is relatively cheap and requires modest material needs in terms of lab and equipment; so oftentimes the most convenient deterrent against enemies who might get ahead of you with an important breakthrough –if they just knew where to look– was the giggle factor surrounding this ‘forbidden’ knowledge.
But what happens when those breakthroughs are not achieved by one of the world’s superpowers, but elsewhere? How far would secret Intelligence agencies go in order to appropriate such information, or at least prevent it from falling in the wrong hands?
These are the questions posed by a fascinating new documentary: “El secreto del Dr. Grinberg” (The Secret of Doctor Grinberg), directed by Catalan filmmaker Ida Cuéllar, which is currently getting a lot of praise in the international film festival circuit and will hopefully become widely available to the public through a distributor or digital streaming platforms.
[Mild Spoilers Ahead]
Dr. Jacobo Grinberg-Zylberbaum (1946-?) was a Mexican neurophysiologist and psychologist who was referred to as “the Einstein of Consciousness” by journalists and colleagues. In the footsteps of the counterculture emanating from the United States in the 1960s, he began to push the boundaries of scientific methodology by exploring the mysteries of the mind. By interviewing family members, close friends and associates, Cuéllar’s film does a great job in showing how Grinberg’s genial eccentricities were (not surprisingly) manifested from an early childhood; and how certain key experiences throughout his life –the tragic death of his mother when he was only thirteen, a meeting with a British spiritualist while living in a Kibbutz in Israel, his experimentation with LSD while getting his PhD in New York in the 70s, etc– would set him on a path of going against the grain of academic establishment.
Among the controversial experiments Grinberg conducted during his short albeit prolific career, he taught young children dermo-perception –i.e. the ability to ‘read’ texts using only their fingertips. He also conducted a study of the alleged paranormal abilities of Mexican shamans, including “Pachita”: a curandera who –according to many credible witnesses, including Grinberg himself– was able to perform ‘psychic surgeries’ with no anesthetics* and under incredible unsanitary conditions; using nothing but a rusty knife with a blunt edge to open up her patients, and even ‘materializing’ healthy organs to replace the ones she extracted.
According to the documentary, Grinberg was introduced to this remarkable woman through the intercession of the president’s sister. Let us not forget that during the administration of President José López Portillo, Uri Geller –the (in)famous Isreali-born psychic (although skeptics would prefer the term ‘mentalist’) became very close to Mexico’s First Lady, Doña Cármen Romano; so the possibility that “Pachita” was a common guest at the presidential residency of Los Pinos sounds quite plausible.
“I am a scientist, I have a laboratory” Grinberg said during a televised debate show in Spain, in 1989. “I study brain activity and neurophysiology. And they invited me to meet this woman (“Pachita”) and witness her procedures. And what I witnessed there, in principle, contradicted every concept and every knowledge I had about reality [emphasis mine]. And what I witnessed taught me […] that I cannot say what is the limit of human capacity. From that experience on I dare not say “the human being cannot do this” or “the brain has this limit in its potentiality.” But it would seem instead as if we are all inside a vast continuum, and we do not know what its true limits are.”
Like Terence and Dennis McKenna after returning from their initiatic trip at La Chorrera, Grinberg was faced with the hard-edged limits of scientific canons. And what he set out to do was, if not to completely repudiate orthodox science (as Terence did) at least to try and go beyond those limits, while still sticking to the scientific methodology as best he could. He became a bridge between the world of shamanic traditions and the experimental world of brain research, and he attempted to bring coherence to the ‘miraculous’ abilities of the curanderos with what he called the Syntergic Theory.
Trying to encapsulate Grinberg’s theory of Syntergy (his coined mix between ‘synthesis’ and ‘energy’) into a few paragraphs might be an impossible task. As best as I can explain it, he posited that the true structure of the Universe is a holographic matrix of information preceding space and time which he called ‘Lattice’, because he was inspired by the molecular structure found in crystals. From the interaction between the Lattice and the ‘neural field’ generated by the brain is that all perceptual objects arise. Grinberg proposed that the bigger the coherence in the brain activity of talented individuals like “Pachita” and psychic mediums, the stronger their neural field and the way it could get in synchrony with the Lattice, allowing them to reshape the laws of physics as we currently understand them –like Neo bending the rules of the Matrix in the Wachowski’s films.
To Grinberg, everything in the Cosmos was Consciousness and altering one’s perceptions allowed you to explore and interact with different planes of reality. If this sounds a lot like what counterculture founder Carlos Castañeda used to write, that is not a coincidence. In fact, according to “The Secret of Dr. Grinberg,” both men knew each other and became quite close until they had a falling out.
Grinberg also applied the principle of quantum mechanics to his experiments. If subatomic particles can get entangled, as posited by Einstein/Rosen/Podolsky (and later experimentally confirmed by French physicist Alain Aspect in 1982) then why not brains? After all, the atoms conforming the brains of every human being all had the same origin with the Big Bang. Grinberg managed to show in his lab that inducing a luminous stimulus into a test subject would trigger a similar neurophysiological reaction into the brain of a different subject, without any physical interaction between the two individuals; all that was required to ‘sync’ the two persons’ minds was to get them to meditate together.
By the end of 1994, Grinberg was in the process of conducting several ambitious projects: he wanted to find out if there was any connection between the minds of human beings and that of dolphins** –perhaps following in the footsteps of John Lilly. He was also planning a transcontinental experiment in which he would attempt to produce ‘transferred potentiality’ between the brains of an individual in Mexico, and another one located in India. Dr. Amit Goswami –who once made an appearance in Joe Rogan’s podcast– was involved with the project and makes a brief cameo in the film.
And then… Grinberg disappeared.
Cuéllar’s film develops a captivating deconstruction of the different theories attempting to solve this 26-year-old riddle. Was he murdered by his wife –who has also disappeared– in a passional crime? Was he perhaps kidnapped because of his PSI research? “The Secret of Dr. Grinberg” clearly sides with the latter possibility, by providing the testimony of Chief Superintendent Clemente Padilla, who was the police detective in charge of the case, until he began to uncover information pointing out to an obscure ‘double life’ Grinberg and his wife had, which none of the people close to him were privy to.
Could it be possible the US government was interested in Grinberg? The fact that there are a couple of his papers   who were recently released by the CIA as part of their declassified information pertaining to the Stargate ‘psychic spy’ program leaves no doubt about it. Was he actually involved in one of their PSI projects? That is the million-dollar question…
As any product of mass media consumption, the documentary is not without mistakes. There is a part in the film in which a supposed ‘important conference’ Grinberg attended is mentioned, and given a great deal of importance in the narrative because it occurred just a month before his disappearance (November 1994) and he talked about his experiments in telepathy. The photos showed in the scene immediately struck my attention because I instantly recognized prominent figures within the UFO field, such as Jacques Vallee, John Keel and J.J. Benítez.
After some digging, I managed to discover those photos were taken at the “Congress on the New Frontiers of Science” at San José, Costa Rica, on October 12-18 of 1985***, where indeed the aforementioned UFOlogical researchers were present; along with Andrea Puharich, John Lilly, and several others. Whether there was another similar conference celebrated in Costa Rica in 1994, I have not been able to confirm it.
The film portrays Grinberg as a Promethean-like figure, who paid the ultimate price for his quest to bridge the gap between modern science and those other realms visited by mystics and sorcerers. Old recordings of his and extracts from his books suggest he perhaps perceived himself in the optics of the ‘Starseed’ mythos –a member of an advanced alien civilization exiled on Earth to fulfill a sentence throughout numerous reincarnations– and a few personal anecdotes shared by those close to him might cause some viewers to conclude the man was just a crank.
My personal opinion is that, despite his numerous human imperfections and foibles, Grinberg was a remarkable man ahead of his time. His ideas heavily resonate with things conjectured by other researchers I admire –like in Dean Radin’s Real Magic, when he proposes that human consciousness has a sort of ‘gravity field’ capable of affecting external reality. And of course, the parallels with The Matrix are unmistakable.
But even if you don’t give a damn about Grinberg’s ‘far out’ ideas, the documentary is so well made it will hook you as a police thriller unravelling a cold case more than a quarter of a century old. And Grailer readers will of course find the parapsychology stuff –complete with some nice cameos, like that of British author Patrick Harpur– completely fascinating.
As for me, this documentary left me completely obsessed with Grinberg and his work. But it also left me with anger, that I had never heard about him until fairly recently when Greg Bishop asked me about it during his visit to Mexico last year. He’s rarely mentioned in Mexican media**** and his books are hard to find in libraries.
It is almost as if he suffered two disappearances: a personal one in 1994, but also a disappearance of his memory. The first one may or may not have been part of an international plot orchestrated by Intelligence agencies; but the second one, which is in my mind far more outrageous, seems to have been the result of that same ‘sweeping under the rug’ I started this review with, when we are confronted with something uncomfortable we barely understand.
“The Secret of Doctor Grinberg” may not have much impact in helping uncover the truth of his personal disappearance, but I hope it will at least manage to resurface his work from oblivion and encourage others to continue his work where he left it.
This is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a long time, and I urge you to give it a watch whenever you get the chance.
(*): From what I have managed to find out –and unlike what is usually assumed with regards to psychic surgeries performed by other mediums– “Pachita’s” patients did feel considerable pain during the procedures. Nevertheless, they were able to walk out of the operating room under their own feet right after them, without any scars or incision marks of any kind.
(**): Grinberg’s interest in dolphins is not mentioned by the film
(***): Jacques Vallee mentions this conference in his public journal Forbidden Science, vol 3. He does not mention Grinberg, though.