By D. Scott Rogo
Modern psychologists say we use only one-tenth of our brains. The French philosopher Henri Bergson speculated that the human brain in its full force was capable of knowing all that was afoot in the universe at any given moment, but that in order to permit our cave-dwelling ancestors to get on with the woolly-mammoth hunting and other business at hand, our front-brains learned to automatically censor 90 percent of the perceptions they received lest we succumb to the stupefying Sensurround effect of information overload. The English philosopher Aldous Huxley—an enthusiastic LSD and mescaline fancier—speculated that if Bergson was correct, technological progress had evolved to the point where humans had the leisure to cultivate the neglected 90 percent, and therefore history had given us the gift of psychedelics in the twentieth century to help us climb back into inner space.
Think what you will of Bergson and Huxley, one persistent fact is claiming the attention of a number of parapsychology researchers today as they try to burrow through to the seat of psychic power. LSD and other hallucinogens just might stimulate extrasensory perception, or ESP.
Of course, psychedelic plants have been gobbled up by soothsayers in search of prophetic copy since the Greeks and Aztecs, but science has long scoffed at the claims of barbarian holy men who thought they could see the future. It was not until 1927 that Dr. William McGovern, an anthropologist/explorer of the Amazon River, witnessed and described a native ritual involving a hallucinogenic brew distilled from the Banistcriopsis caapi plant:
“Certain of the Indians fell into a particularly deep state of trance,” McGovern wrote, “in which they possessed what appeared to be telepathic powers. Two or three of the men described what was going on in malokas hundreds of miles away, many of which they had never visited, and the inhabitants of which they had never seen, but which seemed to tally exactly with what I knew of the places and people concerned. More extraordinary still, on this particular evening, the local medicine man told me that the chief of a certain tribe in faraway Pira Panama had suddenly died. I entered this statement in my diary and many weeks later, when we came to the tribe in question, I found that the witch doctor’s statements had been true in every detail.”
The first controlled experiments of psychedelically-induced ESP date back to the Twenties and Thirties, when French investigators got into the act at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. They administered mescaline to subjects and then tested them to see how well they could reproduce sketches or words drawn in another room and sent to them telepathically. Apparently the experiments succeeded to some extent, because the Pasteur Institute researchers soon dubbed mescaline “the telepathic drug.” At the same time, private investigations were being carried out by Dr. Eugene Osty, a well-known French parapsychologist, to determine the effects of yagé on ESP.
Even Soviet scientists investigated the mystery. In Mysterious Phenomena of the Human Psyche, Leonid Vasiliev of the Leningrad-based Institute for Brain Research admitted that he too had experimented in hopes of finding a relationship between mescaline and ESP. Vasiliev, who carried out his research in 1946, was probably the first contemporary parapsychologist to explore the ESP effects of psychedelic drugs.
Only one subject was used for his experiments. She was a physiologist who, according to the Soviet scientist, “gave no signs whatsoever of possessing parapsychological capabilities.” The volunteer was given mescaline and two hours later, when she began describing intense mental imagery, Vasiliev asked her to psychically describe what objects were hidden in a series of black plastic boxes. Several of these trials were extremely successful. When the target was a postage stamp imprinted with a picture of the Central Telegraph Building in Moscow, the subject reported “A stone house. How did you contrive to hide a house in there?” A mass of red coral was described by the subject as “a red stain.” A small compass was likewise described as “something that is yellow, oval, hard, orange and tinkles.” A frog elicited the response, “Something alive.”
There can be little doubt that some of these impressions related directly to the objects in the boxes. Unfortunately, since Professor Vasiliev did not test the subject before or after her mescaline experience, we really don’t know how well she would have done on the ESP test in a normal state of mind. Despite the fact that this pilot study was promising, Vasiliev never continued his drug research.
LSD was synthesized in 1943 during a time when the study of ESP was still frowned upon in academic circles. Psychologists began studying LSD because it seemed temporarily to create the symptoms of psychosis. But as investigators began studying the LSD experience, cases of spontaneous ESP started cropping up.
Probably the two most active LSD investigators in this country have been the husband and wife team of R. E. L. Masters and Dr. Jean Houston. Although not originally interested in ESP, when some of their subjects started reporting extrasensory impressions during their sessions, they became intrigued enough to study it experimentally. One incident occurred when a young housewife was given LSD during a session monitored by the two investigators. As they recorded it in The Varieties of Psychedelic Experience:
“S-19 … complained in the course of an LSD session that she could see her little girl in the kitchen of their home and that the daughter was taking advantage of her mother’s absence to go looking for a cookie jar. S further reported that the daughter was standing on a chair and rummaging through the kitchen cabinets. She ‘saw’ the child knock a glass sugar bowl from the shelf and remarked that the bowl had shattered on the floor, spilling sugar all around.
“S forgot about this episode, but when she returned home, after her session, she decided to make herself some coffee and then was unable to find the sugar bowl. She asked her husband where it was, and he told her that while she was away, their daughter had ‘made a mess’ knocking the sugar bowl from the shelf and smashing it. The child had done this ‘while looking for cookies.’”
Another LSD-induced ESP experience was brought to Masters’s and Houston’s attention by a friend. He had been monitoring an LSD session during which his subject reported seeing a ship caught in ice in northern seas. She even saw its name written on the bow—the France. Three days later, local newspapers reported that a ship, the France, had been freed from ice floes near Greenland.
Since ESP experiences do seem to happen all the time, there is no way of telling if the above incidents were specifically prompted by the LSD. Even though these two cases seem to be scientifically controlled, they do not in themselves offer very strong evidence for an LSD-ESP relationship. So Masters and Houston began to explore experimentally the relationship to see if one really did exist.
For their first project, Masters and Houston tested 27 LSD subjects with standard ESP (Zener) cards. These are the well-known cards that J. B. Rhine developed and made famous at Duke University. The deck consists of a sequence of 25 cards, each of which is printed with one of five geometric symbols: either a cross, star, circle, square or wavy lines. By calling any sequence of 25 cards, the subject might be expected to get about 5 correct by chance. Jean Houston acted as agent and, sitting across the room from the subject, concentrated on the cards one by one, attempting to psychically influence the subject’s guesses. Twenty-three of the subjects scored at a level expected by the laws of chance. However, 4 of the subjects did seem to score above average, and only one of them continued to score well when tested later after the effects of the drug had worn off.
Masters and Houston soon discovered, though, that their subjects quickly wearied of guessing cards and became bored with the experiment. So they changed strategy. For a new series of tests they prepared slips of paper with more complicated images described on them. The agent, again sitting across the room from the subject, picked up the slips one by one and tried to send the image to the LSD-intoxicated subject telepathically. Better results seemed to be obtained with this more interesting method.
Sometimes the subjects were extremely accurate when they described what they thought was being mentally transmitted to them. When a target was a Viking ship tossing in a storm, one subject reported, “Snake with arched head swimming in tossed seas.” When the target was a tropical rain forest, the same subject reported imaging “Lush vegetation, exotic flowers, startling green—seen through watery mist.”
Masters and Houston approximated that out of the 63 subjects they tested, at least 48 achieved some success on at least one or two of the imagery attempts, while 5 had more consistent success.
One of the most systematic investigations into the effects of psychedelic drugs on ESP was a lengthy project carried out by two Italian investigators, Roberto Cavanna and Emilio Servadio. The team was an ideal one. Cavanna is a prominent pharmacologist, while Servadio is one of Italy’s leading parapsychologists. For their project, the two investigators utilized LSD and psilocybin.
Subjects for the tests were first selected during initial interviewing and then were invited to return to participate in the experiments. They were asked to sit in a comfortable room where they were given mild doses of one of the hallucinogens. After the drug had taken effect, they were asked to describe pictures sealed in closed envelopes. These pictures were surrealistic, especially designed to appeal to the unworldliness of the psychedelic experience. Among the target pictures were a baby doll’s head in a glass, a hand with a tiny hand emerging from between two of its fingers, a key held in clenched teeth, a foot balancing a glass eye and so on.
These “hits” were very scattered, and it is not difficult to believe that coincidence could account for them. So Cavanna and Servadio gave up their project, but they did write a monograph, ESP Experiments with LSD 25 and Psilocybin, which was published by the Parapsychology Foundation in 1964.
Because of the tight legal regulations on even scientific LSD research, the search for a relationship between psychic ability and the hallucinogens stopped prematurely a decade ago. Now, however, parapsychologists are focusing a not-too-disinterested eye on LSD-induced psychic effects thanks to some startling discoveries recently announced by one of this country’s leading LSD authorities, Dr. Stanislav Grof. Dr. Grof’s work is bound to reopen the entire issue.
Dr. Grof has been involved in investigating several different aspects of LSD over the years. He began his research in Czechoslovakia in 1956, and from 1967 to 1973 he continued his explorations at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center. He is now associated with the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California.
Dr. Grof’s recent book, Realms of the Human Unconscious: Observations from LSD Research, is creating quite a stir among both his professional colleagues and the parapsychologist community. He claims that he has witnessed an entire hierarchy of ESP effects. For example, he has stated that his subjects sometimes begin to identify with their own ancestors and “convey specific information that was unknown to the subject, and, in some instances, not even accessible to him at the time of the session.”
Other subjects, claims Grof, identify with animals and seem to gain an unexplained and apparently extrasensory understanding and knowledge of their physiology and behavior.
One of Dr. Grof’s most spectacular cases concerns a 50-year-old psychologist named Nadja who was undergoing an LSD training session. During her experience, she relived a series of events in the life of her mother and mentally reenacted a scene where her mother was hiding under a staircase in fear, when suddenly someone put a hand over her mouth. Asking her mother about the incident, the elder woman verified the accuracy of the scene as her daughter had relived it. Was this ESP or perhaps even genetic memory? Of course, genetic memory is an issue easily as controversial as ESP.
Dr. Grof worked more intensively with another subject named Renata, who during LSD therapy began reliving scenes from seventeenth-century Czechoslovakia. She described people, scenes, historical facts and architecture of the period, although she had never studied this particular epoch of Czech history. Grof himself spent hours trying to verify the impressions and facts related to him by his patient and gradually was able to corroborate a vast number of them.
He also reports, as mentioned above, that LSD subjects often seem to create a psychic bond with animal life: “It is not uncommon,” Grof writes, “for subjects reporting evolutionary experiences to manifest a detailed knowledge of the animals with whom they have identified—of their physicial characteristics, habits and behavior patterns—that far exceeds their educations in the natural sciences. On occasion, subjects have accurately described courtship dances, complicated reproductive cycles, techniques of nest-building, patterns of aggression and defense and many zoological and ethological facts about the animals they have experienced in sessions.”
Dr. Grof admits, all in all, that the experimental research on the LSD-ESP question has been mixed. Nevertheless, in light of the results of his own work, he offers no apologies whim concluding in his book that “states conducive to various paranormal phenomena and characterized by unusually high incidence of ESP are, however, among the many alternative conditions that can be facilitated by the drug.”
The reason for Grof’s success may lay in the fact that, unlike Cavanna and Servadio. he has never tried to force ESP out into the open. Instead he has simply allowed it to manifest itself in the course of his therapeutic work. This free and undemanding setting might be necessary for ESP to become evident.
Clearly, more research is needed. Even if a relationship between ESP and LSD—or any other drug for that matter—is found, what will it tell us about the ESP process? Whatever else it may be, ESP is an unconscious process, and the main problem is coaxing it out into the open. Drugs will never be the total solution, only a temporary catalyst. It is not the drug that helps manifest the ESP, but the state of mind the drug produces. If ESP is a product of a specific state of mind, as many parapsychologists now believe, then LSD will not be a means in itself. It will be a tool, to aid researchers in understanding farther reaches of the mind.
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