Getting to Know
The Secret Intimacy of ESP
This essay appeared orginally as,
"Intimacy and Psi: An Initial Exploration." Journal of the
American Society for Psychical Research, October, 1994, Vol. 88, pp.
A basic tenet within the
psychology of intimacy is that we desire an optimal amount of it. Too little
intimacy and we feel lonely and isolated and fear death through abandonment and
loss of life support. Too much intimacy and we feel invaded and engulfed and
fear death through annihilation of our identity.14, 31, 52 We strive
to regulate intimacy to keep it within an optimal range. When faced with
intimacy that's too close for comfort, for example, we try to create distance or
erect barriers to protect ourselves.52 This basic observation within
the study of intimacy may also apply when we are face-to-face with psi. In fact,
the psychology of intimacy may provide an important perspective on psi,
especially concerning the theory and data of telepathy.
Although the public believes in
ESP, according to surveys,17 perhaps it nevertheless needs to have
some way of keeping it at a distance. Judging from media portrayals, it would
appear that it is easier to accept ESP if it is bizarre or limited to
extraordinary circumstances than it is to accept it as a natural, everyday
"The media is doing a
great deal of harm. They emphasize an aspect of psychic phenomenon that
corresponds with images that people are comfortable with. These types of images
enable people to put a distance between themselves and the psi phenomenon. It
seems scary, but also safe and fun. It's like finding diamonds or oil or some
other precious entity. But psi is viewed as some entity, a thing outside of
Why would we need to keep psi safely at
a distance? Many of our social institutions require the assumption that it is
possible to maintain control over information and keep secrets. Losing that
assumption would require a total rethinking of our approach to daily
interactions. Does the specter of ESP mean our lives are not private? Against
our will, or without our knowledge, can others can gain telepathic access to our
private thoughts and know our secrets? Although advocates of ESP do not usually
mention this fact, it is there, nevertheless, as an undercurrent of concern. The
anticipated loss of boundaries to ESP would be a concern at all levels of
Consider, for example, the
research of Charles Tart.59, 60 He interviewed college students and
proposed that scientists had developed an ESP pill. When a person took the pill,
he explained, he or she would be able to read the minds and feel the feelings of
anyone within 100 yards. Dr. Tart was polling students to determine how many
thought they would be interested in trying this pill. No one was willing,
however, to volunteer. In interviews with the students Tart learn that they were
The students expressed a fear of being
confused by everyone's thoughts and feelings. They expressed a fear of not being
able to distinguish their own thoughts from those of other people. There was
fear of knowing things that they couldn't handle, such as perceiving other
people's unspoken criticisms of them. Others mentioned feeling uncomfortable
with the prospects of knowing the intimate details of people's private lives.
They didn't know if they could refrain from condemning people for their
weaknesses and they were sure they didn't want to be vulnerable to having other
people knowing similar secrets of their own. ESP seemed to be a threat to what
we protectively hide in shame. Judging from these students' responses, there
does seem to be some element of fear concerning psi that parallels ambivalent
feelings concerning intimacy.
Psychics experience this
shyness from other people all the time. In an interview for Venture Inward
magazine, for example, a group of psychics discussed the reactions they receive
from others in social situations.50 One psychic mentioned that he had
to learn how to assure people that he averted his eyes and didn't look at their
thoughts unless specifically invited to do so. They also report that for their
own peace of mind they have to learn how to turn off their psychic sensitivity.
Tart61 interviewed people training to become professional psychics and found
that they had similar experiences and fears of rejection from others.
ESP stimulates the fears we have about
unwanted intimacy. Fundamentally, intimacy is a matter of boundaries. It's not
just discussing vulnerable feelings, sharing secrets, or touching one another's
body. Intimacy involves allowing someone to cross over a boundary. It's a
boundary we've created as part of the developmental process of forming an
identity as an individual self. Allowing someone into the inner regions allows
that person to participate in our ongoing process of identity evolution. Inside
that boundary we can experience wounds to our self-esteem. We use boundaries,
therefore, to maintain privacy and to protect ourselves. The degree to which we
suspend our boundaries and invite the other person inside them is the degree of
intimacy we experience with that person. Is the suspension of personal
boundaries, however, always under our control?
As Ehrenwald10 and
others have theorized, telepathy seems to originate in the early fusion of
mother and child, prior to the infant's creation of a personal boundary of
self-identity. ESP among adults suggests that these boundaries between us are
illusory, or perhaps they are not as firm as we would like to assume, or as easy
to control. Although we can regulate intimacy and protect our boundaries by our
control of eye contact, maintaining silence or avoiding certain situations, ESP
seems less under our control and threatens our ability to maintain our
How can we fight the threat of
uncontrollable intimacy that ESP suggests? Some people just outright deny ESP.
It's one way of dealing with the problem. It's an example of the maxim, if you
don't talk about it, it doesn't exist. Making a topic taboo is one way to
magically make it disappear. It's about the only boundary we can create against
the intimacy of ESP.
It can be frightening to lose the safety
and security of one's boundaries. We assume that our actions stem from our own
thoughts and feelings. It is frightening to consider the possibility that they
may also be prompted by the subliminal, telepathic influence of other people's
feelings. It is comforting to believe that the craziness that prompts a sniper
to gun down children exists only within the boundaries of the madman's head. It
would be disturbing to consider the possibility that the sniper is acting out
the hatred and hostility that is "in the air" among us all. It's also
disturbing to consider the possibility that the rest of us might be
unconsciously infected by the sniper's anger. We like to think that we can set
up barriers and keep a safe distance from other people's feelings. If acceptance
of the reality of ESP casts doubts upon the reality of boundaries, we find
ourselves in an extremely uncomfortable predicament.
Our fears that ESP might create unwanted
intimacy are not unfounded. Our imagination touches on realistic aspects of
psychic functioning. Let's briefly explore some of these actual connections
between ESP and intimacy.
ESP Thrives In Intimate Relationships
If you ask people about
coincidences suggestive of ESP, you'll find that most of the
stories they tell you involve people with whom they have some intimate
relationship--family, lovers and close friends. Tales of ESP-type coincidences
are much more likely to arise among intimates than among strangers or
acquaintances.43, 54 It may be that among intimates it is more likely
that these coincidences will be detected, for strangers would be unlikely to
have the opportunity to discover matters they have in common. On the other hand,
intimates have been found to do better as partners in experiments of telepathy
than do strangers.21 Is there a connection here?
Our language is full of metaphors for
the bonds of intimacy. These terms describe connections created through love,
closeness and togetherness that may have as much a psychic component as anything
tangible. Blood ties and the bonds of friendship are intuitively real. They may
be invisible to the senses, but we can feel them.
We speak of being "attached"
when referring to our emotional "connection" with people important to
us. We speak of severing emotional "ties." We also recognize the
importance of the period of "bonding" between parents and their
newborn children. Mothers invariably feel that their children are a part of
them. Is there a psychic umbilical cord?
It's not just that
parents are sensitive to their children's needs. It also seems that when there
is a bond of intimacy between people, anything that threatens that bond may
stimulate an ESP type of coincidence. A frequent threat to the bond between
people are crises that threaten a loved one's life. Ian Stevenson indicates that
somewhere between 50% to over 80% of cases of spontaneous ESP involve some kind
of serious crisis.54
Another threat to the bonds of intimacy
is separation. It can happen through death or through estrangement. Couples or
family members become separated through upset, argument, and strife and death.
The feelings about these relationships go on, but there is no obvious form of
The introduction of separation into a
relationship can come from something other than death itself. Sometimes people
outgrow one another, or other circumstances come between them. Whatever the
source, separation can leave one member of that relationship bereaved. I'm
familiar with several cases of estranged lovers having dreams that gave the
impression that their relationship continued at a psi level.
Can we hide from our relationships
simply by putting distance between us? Only a child can cover its eyes and
assume that it has become invisible to its parents. Adam and Eve may assume they
can hide from God by hiding in the bushes, but it's only an illusion created by
their own separating consciousness. Out of sight may seem like out of mind, but
estrangement spells separation only to the conscious mind, while the
relationship may remain active within the unconscious mind. ESP thwarts breaking
off an unfinished relationship or keeping ourselves separate from one another.
Our own thoughts and feelings
affect others, as we in turn are affected by their thoughts and feelings. At an
unconscious level, we may be aware of when someone is thinking about us, or feel
the effect of their thoughts, as shown by several types of research studies.
Douglas Dean,6 for example, found plethysmographic evidence that a
subject's physiology responds when another person is focusing on a name of a
loved one. William Braud2 found that an agent's focusing on a
subject's physiology can affect, by visualization, whether that subject will
become more relaxed or more aroused. The study of "mental suggestion"
performed by Vasiliev in Russia62 demonstrated that subject can be
made to fall asleep through telepathy.
If you doubt the distant effects of
thoughts, however, talk to someone who has children. Most any parent will
testify that their children seem to be masters at picking up or reacting to the
parent's thoughts and feelings.
Just how closely children are
tuned into their parents has been amply documented by Berthold Schwarz. In his
book, Parent-Child Telepathy47 this psychiatrist presented the
diary he and his wife kept of the coincidences that occurred between themselves
and their own children. His portrayal of the Schwarz family's life is an
important case study in the intimate side of ESP. His examples parallel the
types of stories collected by Louisa Rhine, except they concern more ordinary,
It was not uncommon, for example, for
the Schwarz children to suddenly make a comment aloud that seemed as if in
direct response to something one of the parents was silently thinking. Imagine
what it must have been like at the Schwarz house when the children's questions
probed thoughts the parents were trying to keep to themselves. Most parents can
appreciate such stories of embarrassing remarks made by children. Out of the
mouths of babes comes such startling coincidental statements that make you
cringe--are there no secrets? The way children can read minds suggests there may
be another, much more common, motivator of ESP in the family than
ESP Breaches Secrets to Restore
A family is bound by intimacy,
but secrets, whatever their nature, create boundaries between the individual
family members. ESP serves to bridge these boundaries.
Sometimes these secrets can be fun or
exciting. A good example are planned surprises, such as presents. Children have
an uncanny ability to guess their Christmas presents.
The reverse of peeking into secret
delights is children's capacity to be alert to threats to the well-being of
their parents. Parents often try to shield their children from their problems or
worries, but the secrecy almost seems like a magnet to attract the child's
Sometimes secrets consist of momentary
feelings, such as anger, that the person doesn't feel comfortable about
expressing. At a subconscious level, however, children and other family members
may perceive the existence of such secret feelings as a threat to togetherness.
That threat may motivate the use of ESP to breach the secret and restore
Secrets may actually be the most
prevalent stimulant to ESP. Although crises, such as deaths and accidents may be
the largest known source of ESP, secrets may actually be an even more common,
although unknown, unrecognized or unacknowledged provocation. What tipped me off
to secrets and ESP is a story told me by a friend:
Don met his old flame Peggy at a
business convention, and one thing led to another. Their reunion was quite
delicious and Don was disappointed when he awoke from this dream. He had little
time to savor the memory, however, because his wife woke up and muttered,
"Don, honey, do we know anyone named Peggy?" The wife always knows,
even when it's just a dream.
In relationships, secrets can be a form
of lying. Keeping certain facts hidden can be a form of deception. It also is a
barrier to intimacy. As a relationship is forming, and curiosity is high, such
secrets may be especially vulnerable to detection.
I decided to go out on a search for
examples, to see how hard it might be to find them. For my first attempt, I
approached someone who I thought would have a number of ESP type coincidences to
share. I asked her, "Have you ever had an experience where your children or
spouse made an off the wall comment, or perhaps told you a bit of a dream, and
you realized that they, without knowing it themselves, had tapped into a secret
of yours that they seemed to be picking up on something that you wished they
hadn't?" The woman looked at me, paused, then a stern look came upon her
face. She said, "Yes, that happened to me once, with one of my
daughters." As she blushed, she said, "But it is too personal to tell
Although this person gave me no story,
her embarrassed reaction provided indirect encouragement for my idea. It
suggested to me that there may be a large pool of personal experiences related
to the exposure of secrets through ESP, experiences which may be suppressed,
however, due to embarrassment. I placed a notice in Venture Inward
magazine asking people to come forward with their stories, even anonymously,
about ESP uncovering family secrets.
I quickly received over twenty letters
in reply, not enough for quantitative analysis, but sufficient to provide a
suggestive profile. Most letters concerned marital infidelities. The second most
frequent category were adults having dreams about secrets their parents kept
from them as children--I guess children never really grow beyond the ability to
discover their parent's secrets. There were a couple concerning realizing
someone was pregnant, or health concerns and a few miscellaneous topics,
including two involving undetected murders! These few letters suggest that there
are many such stories. The topic of secrets or deception exposed through
ostensible ESP is probably worth a study in itself. Getting people to divulge
such secrets, however, is no small trick. Often some embarrassment or shame is
Extramarital contacts, for example, seem
to be a sensitive source of telepathic coincidences. One woman wrote me about
how she uncovered her husband's affair through dreams. She had a dream where he
told her that he loved another woman. She woke up crying from the dream and her
husband comforted her, assuring there was no basis to the dream. Later, however,
he confessed. When he did so, he said to her the exact words she had heard him
say in her dream.
Another woman wrote that one day a good
friend phoned her, quite upset, and relayed this story: After eight years of
marriage, she fell in love with her husband's brother. She kept these feelings
to herself for a long time, but one day, the brother came over to the house and
they had an intimate encounter. Within five minutes of their liaison, the phone
rang. It was the woman's husband. He cried out over the phone, "Did you
just make love to somebody?" The wife was overwhelmed with disbelief. All
she could do was reply, "What?" The husband said, "I know this
sounds crazy, but I just had this incredibly strong feeling that you were with
another man." The phone call left the wife stunned and she picked up the
phone and recounted the incident to her friend, confessing the whole story.
If ESP serves to maintain
subconscious, intimate contact among family members when the people involved
might not otherwise choose to openly discuss certain matters, then it is likely
that there is a large pool of ESP cases that never come to light. Some
parapsychologists have speculated that one reason it has been so hard to
establish credibility for ESP is the factor of fear--ESP represents a threat to
secrecy and becomes a potential for invasion of privacy.59 It would
be ironic for parapsychology if one of the main motivators of everyday ESP
events also serves as a powerful motivator to suppress the evidence.41
(Note: An expanded version
of the above section may be seen at www.creativespirit.net/noboundaries/secrets.htm
It is a reprint of the article that appeared originally in Venture Inward
Coincidence: The Denial of Intimacy?
recognizes that the personal bonds of intimacy favors
the occurrence of spontaneous ESP,3,21 but has rarely attempted to
probe more deeply into the subject. Perhaps there is a concern that the
sentimentality involved may cloud scientific thinking. The experience of the
coincidence suggestive of ESP is felt only by the person involved. The feeling
involved makes the experience seem significant, but it involves an irrational
factor that is hard for others to evaluate.
Many people who have encountered the
types of coincidences we've explored here experience them to be expressing the
direct connection they feel with their intimates. Sometimes their bodies react
to the coincidences in dramatic ways, as if encountering a shock wave. One's
hair stands up on end. There's a jolting feeling in the stomach. These people
know in their hearts that these experiences are not "just"
On the other hand, some of those people
involved in intimate coincidences sometimes want to overlook the psychic
bonding, because the emotional closeness causes enough consternation. They would
prefer to dismiss these events as "just coincidence."
What does it mean to say that
something is just a coincidence? The concept of coincidence is a philosophically
complex subject.5, 18, 24, 25, 36 A person skeptical about the
reality of psi is not necessarily on firm ground when claiming that a
coincidence means that there is nothing meaningful present. Saying something is
a coincidence is certainly a way of saying there is no relationship, no intimate
connection between two events. It can be a way of denying the closeness that
would otherwise be uncomfortable, as when people say about their lover that
they're "just friends" to minimize the intimate nature of the
relationship. If the evidence for ESP can sometimes be too close for comfort,
then perhaps using the concept of coincidence is an irrational trick of an
apparently rational mind whose purpose is to erect a protective barrier against
The Intimate Side of the Evidence for
W e know the laboratory
evidence for ESP. It's more than coincidence, with a basis in statistics, but
what we don't often consider is that the laboratory evidence also has a more
intimate side to it.
In her book, ESP in Life and
Lab, Louisa Rhine conjectures that ESP functions unconsciously.42
The receiver doesn't know how s(he) does it, or where the impressions come from.
It's hard to detect the presence of ESP because it comes from within one's own
self, dressed up as one of the mind's normal activities--a thought, a feeling,
an image or memory. It's an inner event that rarely announces its presence by
any distinguishing quality. That means it can operate invisibly. It can be there
right inside your head but you won't recognize it because it blends in so
perfectly with the background of your mind. It's like an invisible intruder, a
visiting ghost disguised as a regular member of the family.
In remote viewing experiments,
for example, percipients have great difficulty telling whether or not they are
"just imagining" things, or whether they are picking up impressions
from the agent.58 An internally generated mental image doesn't seem
that much different from an image that is telepathically generated. In Ganzfeld
experiments, percipients often process personal memories without realizing that
it is the agent's target picture that is stimulating them to recall those
memories.19 They can't tell the difference between personal
reminiscences and telepathic exchanges.
Not only are our own thoughts, feelings
and daydreams not immune from intrusive telepathic influences, but also we can't
tell when such an effect is occurring. It means that whether you wish it or not,
whether you know it or not, there is always the possibility that at any given
moment, you may not be alone in your own thoughts. If psychic images can't be
distinguished from images from the imagination or memory, then you really can't
tell when you are experiencing ESP. You can be subject to ESP effects without
knowing it. What makes telepathy such an intimate experience is that it covertly
enlists the cooperation of your own subjective responses to be the carrier of
the effect, rendering the external as internal, thus making it impossible for
you to find any gate to shut out the influence. What portal do you close to
separate yourself from telepathic influence? Telepathy erodes the sense of
distance and separation.
There's another way that the
laboratory ESP fools people. In one Ganzfeld experiment, for example, the
receiver became quite upset. "Someone is pointing a gun!" she said.
The remark was out of context with the rest of the material. A moment later, the
phone in the laboratory rang. It was the building security guard calling to ask
that they lock the laboratory doors, because a mental patient with a gun was
loose in the halls!20 The receiver's ESP had gone beyond the
boundaries of the experiment to tune into another event, obviously one of more
interest. Not only didn't the woman recognize that she was being psychic, she
certainly didn't appreciate the fact that her telepathic receptors had focussed
beyond the target material and onto something else. This tendency of ESP in
research experiments to slip out of bounds has important implications for
Laboratory ESP experiments can be
somewhat boring. Who cares what picture that other person is looking at?
Wouldn't it be more interesting to know how that person was feeling about being
in the experiment in the first place, or how the experimenter feels about doing
this kind of research? If I were in an ESP experiment, I certainly would have
more curiosity about these more personal aspects than the formal targets that
If our curiosity won't sit still and be
content to think only about the ESP cards, if our curiosity can wander around
the experimental situation itself, shouldn't our ESP be able to wander also?
Who's to say that ESP will remain completely focused on the task at hand?
Experimenters usually assume that ESP will remain tame and thus they are
prepared to observe only the accuracy of our guesses with regard to the formal
targets. This narrow focus misses something.
In his report of remote viewing
Jahn says that he has several cases on file where the receiver tuned into other
experiences of the agent, not related to the official target scene.23
In one example, the receiver had the impression of playing on the floor with
puppies. The agent had gone to examine a moon rocket at a space museum. The
rocket was the official target. Afterwards, the agent went to visit friends who
had a new litter of puppies. He played with them and was so delighted, he
purchased one. The agent's impressions were scored as wrong, yet the agent
realized that the perceiver's mind had tuned into one of his private, off-duty
moments. In another case, the agent was headed toward a gambling casino in Las
Vegas. On a pit stop along the way, he played on a collapsible bicycle. He would
try to ride it, the bike would collapse and he would fall to the ground. It was
a fun time of clumsy goofing off. The receiver got impressions of this moment of
leisure, not the official moment of viewing within the casino.
It happens quite often. Although the
receiver is attempting to obtain impressions about the picture the sender is
looking at, or the scene the sender is visiting, the receiver's ESP extends
beyond those boundaries. The receiver may sense something about the sender's
private life or may even pick up on something about one of the experimenters. In
most published reports of these ESP experiments, such events are rarely
reported. Probably only a fraction of them are ever detected, because the
experimenter's focus is upon the statistical decision making with regard to the
official target. The researchers may not recognize the unofficial target that is
creating the receiver's impression. Also because these kinds of events cloud the
issue, they are often discretely ignored. I learned of the story of the armed
intruder by interviewing Honorton; it wasn't included as part of the published
Perhaps the most impressive
examples of ESP going out of bounds comes from studies of dream telepathy. In an
article about the Maimonides research written for Psychic Magazine, Alan
Vaughan described an amusing case of ESP going out of bounds.63 Sol
Feldstein was monitoring the equipment that night while the receiver slept and
the agent was locked up with the art picture. The male dreamer subject dreamed
about ancient busts and statues of women with their breasts exposed. None of
these dream images seemed similar to the target art print. Hearing the poor
results of the night's work, Mr. Feldstein mentioned that he believed that he
understood what happened. That night he had picked up Life magazine and
studied an illustrated article about topless bathing suits. Clearly, the dreamer
found the pictures Mr. Feldstein was looking at more interesting than the target
picture. From then on, the laboratory had to impose the rule forbidding the
staff from reading during the dream experiments. As we'll see, that rule was
insufficient to keep the dream telepathy from going out of bounds.
Robert Van de Castle, a
Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Virginia Medical School
participated as a dreaming subject in the Maimonides studies. He proved to be
quite telepathic. In fact, in their book, Dream Telepathy, Ullman and
Krippner crown Van de Castle as "Prince of the Percipients".64
In their discussion of Van de Castle's attempts to dream telepathically, they
present one instance where his dream tuned in on one of the experimenter's
private life. In that example, Van de Castle dreamed that he saw Stanley
Krippner's expense account statements laying open in the lab. He felt guilty
about seeing something he wasn't supposed to. He saw the notation, "This
was not enough money. Twenty-five dollars more needed to be raised." In the
dream, Van de Castle also realized that this problem had been somehow taken care
of, that there was no longer a need to raise that extra money. In going over
that dream the next day, it seemed to have little to do with the target picture.
Stanley recognized the dream, however, as a direct reference to an actual
situation. He had made a business trip for which the reimbursement he received
was twenty five dollars short of his actual expenses. When he brought this to
the attention of his host, that person made up the difference personally, which
was somewhat unusual.
Van de Castle revealed in a personal
interview that there were other cases like this one in the Maimonides'
experiments. He recalled another case of dreaming telepathically about one of
the laboratory personnel. On one evening, he had a dream about the Northwest
Mounted Police, a "regular Nelson Eddy musical," he said. The next
day, he wasn't able to make any connection from this dream and the target
pictures presented to him. As he discussed this dream with the staff, the night
monitor looked embarrassed and confided that he had fallen asleep that night in
the lab, and while asleep, dreamed of the Northwest Mounted Police. It's
interesting not just that Van de Castle would pick up on this person's dream,
but that its revelation would involve something of an embarrassment. The monitor
made a small risk to job security in revealing the incident, yet made a
contribution to the history of ESP.
Such telepathic dreams, ranging beyond
the confines of the experimental target, can yield potentially embarrassing
information. In his interview, Van de Castle revealed to me another example from
the Maimonides experiments. It was a case where discretion would not allow the
authors to include the incident in their reports or their book, to protect the
individual involved. In this case, Van de Castle dreamed about a recent
unfortunate incident in the personal life of the agent. The dream contained
several relevant details concerning this incident. Because both Van de Castle's
dreams and this person's name appears in the Dream Telepathy book, in
fairness to this person, I can't disclose the nature of the secret Van de
Castle's dreams exposed.
I would note, however, that here is an
instance where were it not for my acquaintance with the subject, a telepathic
event in an experiment would go unrecorded in order to protect someone's
privacy. It is a relevant concern. ESP does violate privacy, and presents the
participants in an experiment a quandary of whether or not to reveal the
intimacies that ESP exposes. Ironically, it seems that it is the desire for
intimacy that propels the ESP, while it is our fear of intimacy that keeps the
ESP effect hidden. In both life and lab, ESP can make us too close for comfort,
and the only way we can erect a barrier to this invasion is to deny or suppress
the data of ESP.
ESP may excite our imagination, but it
also raises concerns about loss of privacy, vanishing boundaries and
uncontrollable intimacy. The facts, both from spontaneous cases and from
laboratory research, show that these concerns aren't simply the product of our
imagination. Issues of intimacy can truly impede both the public acceptance of
ESP and the slowness of scientific advance in the parapsychology laboratory.
Perhaps we would do well to take the
intimacy factor into consideration. If we can grapple with people's mixed
feelings about intimacy, their both wanting to be close to others and their fear
of closeness, perhaps we can make more progress into the exploration of ESP. A
good place to start is by looking at the experience of two people becoming in
Resonating: When You and I are One
W hen you think about the terms
that describe the process of the linking up of minds--empathy, sympathy,
telepathy, rapport, resonating, commun ion, union--there is one quality that
they have in common with one another: two things become unified in their yoked
response: Two act as one.
If I feel like you feel when I empathize
with you, if I feel your pain, enter your world, then it is as if I take on your
characteristics. I become you.
Therapists have at times described this
kind of event, using resonance as a term to explain this deep level of empathy
that has psychic overtones.
Virginia A. Larson, for
example, presents a survey of therapists' accounts of such experiences and tells
of her own.27,28 She also notes that one thing that is appealing
about the resonance idea is the phenomenon of "sympathetic vibration."
That as she enters into empathy with another person, there is an enhancement of
effect, and through sympathetic vibration, she begins to feel even more strongly
how the other person feels, something that might explain the quantum leap to a
She describes an instance when a new
client came for her appointment. Larson had been practicing some relaxation
exercises to prepare for this session and was quite serene when this woman
arrived. Upon meeting her, Larson immediately began to experience some strange
sensations in her body. While the interview proceeded, she watched these
sensations, and observed them begin to localize in the abdomen. Finally, she
described her sensations to the client. The woman immediately recognized what
Larson was talking about--she had cervical cancer and was undergoing
From that moment on, at the recognition
of the sympathetic sensation in the therapist, Larson and this woman enjoyed a
deep bond and had a fruitful therapy experience. She said that the experience of
resonance, as it began, made her think that she knew this person from the past.
The sense of rapport was greater than she could explain.
From meeting to merging, the
development of this telepathic rapport seems to progress in stages. In her
research, interviewing several therapists who reported telepathic resonance,
Larson concluded that the process begins with a humility, a willingness to be
receptive towards another individual. The next stage is sympathy, or focusing
our emotional response upon the emotions of the other person. As we begin to
identify with the other person and experience their feelings and attitudes as if
they were our own, the empathy stage occurs. Empathy leads to rapport, the
development of being synchronized with the other person. The rapport sets up the
possibility for resonance, in which the other person's experiences are so
enhanced within you that you are able to jump past the sensory channel and move
into the direct, mind-to-mind level of telepathy, what some have called
"transpersonal" communication.45 Therapists have often
described this type of telepathic effect, when it occurs in the face to face
encounter, as unconscious communication.12, 30, 33
This progression of closeness, as good
as it might feel at times, may also sometimes be threatening. Listening itself
can be risky. When we listen to music, for example, it has the capability of
holding sway over us. We begin to tap our feet, to feel along with the rhythm.
It's almost involuntary. Listening can be a form of surrender as it invites us
to fuse with the object of our attention. Listening with rapt attention,
experiencing empathy for another person's point of view can be threatening to
the listener's own standpoint. Hiding behind the activity of listening,
therefore, there lurks the possibility of merger, and thus concerns about being
influenced, submission, surrender, obedience or compliance--the same concern
about loss of control and confused identity that exists with telepathy.
The use of hypnosis in creating
telepathic experiences is relevant to this concern. In the 1800s hypnotists used
the word "rapport" to describe the empathic relationship that came to
exist between the hypnotic subject and the hypnotist. This rapport developed to
such an extent that even silent suggestion were effective. The hypnotist only
had to think the suggestion and the subject would follow it. In experiments
described as "the community of sensations," the hypnotist would
explore a sensory experience in a separate location and the subject would also
experience it. If the hypnotist put a substance in his mouth, for example, the
subject would taste it. Empathy became telepathy. There was a telepathic
transference of thoughts, feelings and sensations from hypnotist to subject, a
sympathetic bond created by the subject's empathy for the hypnotist's voice.9
In fact, it was these studies which led to the coining of the term,
"telepathy" and its experimental investigation outside hypnosis.
Hypnotic suggestion raises the same
concern for surrender and loss of control as does listening and, by extension,
telepathy. Total listening can be hypnotic. Hypnotic inductions often include,
in fact, instructions to simply listen, and not think about, the hypnotist's
suggestions. To respond to a hypnotist's remarks as propositions to evaluate
strips them of their suggestive power. Ceasing those rational activities and
just listening, what the hypnotist is saying becomes very suggestive.
Psychologists who have observed
our habits of listening note that we are generally poor listeners.44
Rather than automatically trying to empathize with what a person is saying, we
are more likely to think about what they are saying, evaluate it, get ready to
make a response. One reason for this defensive posture comes from recent
research within the cognitive psychology of understanding sentences. It seems
that in the process of understanding a statement, the listener temporarily
believes that statement: "People believe in the ideas they comprehend, as
quickly and automatically as they believe in objects they see."61
Because of this fact, our response to people talking to us, therefore, is often
geared toward preventing their words from becoming too suggestive.
There is something basically threatening
to our identity about listening. When we are little children, the sound of our
parents' voice is a very compelling reality. As we listen to our parents,
suggestible to their almost hypnotic remarks, we know no other reality. As we
begin to develop some individual identity, however, we begin to evaluate what
they say, to make our own decision about the validity of their remarks. When
they say "Listen!" it seems that what they really mean is
"Obey!" or "Agree!" Such an experience of forced compliance
gives us a bad taste for the experience of listening, as if listening to our
parents means we'll have to surrender our developing sense of personal reality.
As adults we continue to suspect that if we don't hold on to our own viewpoint,
or a critical posture, while we're listening, we're liable to become gullible to
what the person is saying. We fear that we can be taken over as we listen.
Empathizing, for example, with someone who is telling us something that we don't
want to hear is very difficult. We erect defenses as we listen to such an
offensive presentation, mentally repeating our objections to protect us from
having our own position destroyed.
The psychology of intimacy
recognizes that the ability to listen requires the existence of a stable sense
of self.52 A person with a stable identity can enter imaginatively
into an alternative perspective, using an "as if" or role-playing
ability, without becoming lost. A person with an unstable self identity,
however, feels that to listen carefully, completely, and empathically is the
same as agreeing--permanently--threatening the loss of self identity by becoming
engulfed in the other person's perspective.
If empathy threatens surrendering to
another viewpoint, then telepathy threatens a loss of the self's boundaries, a
breech in the self's assertion of its own independent, autonomous reality.
Whatever philosophical or scientific implications psi may have for the
intellectual community, it is the loss of autonomy that makes telepathy such an
emotional issue at the personal level.
It is my opinion that although
many people may aspire to develop psychic ability, most don't really want it
unless it will be a power they can consciously control. To be able to use
psychic ability to extend the power of self-definition, to use it for personal
advantage, feels more attractive and safe than to find it blurring our
boundaries and making us involuntarily connected with others. The irony,
however, is that perhaps telepathy appears not in the context of affirming the
autonomy of the independent self but more in the context of the
self-in-relationship. Parapsychologists29 and practicing psychics,
such as Edgar Cayce,39 for example, have maintained that people who
are in a cooperative relationship, rather that competing, are more likely to
have psychic experiences between them.
Listening is a form of cooperation. It
is the act of suspending one's own perspective for a moment and giving one's ear
and attention to the viewpoint of another. What if we were to study telepathy,
therefore, as an extension of listening and as an invitation to intimacy?
Creating a context to encourage cooperation, asking people to listen to one
another very closely for mutual gain, might provide a situation where they could
become telepathic. Such a situation might provide us with an experimental
context for dealing simultaneously with the issues of both intimacy and psi. Let
me describe now exactly such a situation.
Getting to Know You: An Intimate
W e have spoken much about the
fear of too much, or unwanted, intimacy. What about the flip side, the desire to
be close? What is the basis of our motivation for intimacy? This topic is vast,
having been explored by poets, philosophers as well as most recently by
In Plato's Symposium, for
example, Socrates recalls Aristophanes who said that one time long ago, we had
four hands and four feet. We were round. But we were arrogant and the gods got
upset with us. Zeus punished human beings.
"They shall continue to exist but I
will cut them in two and then they will be diminished in strength and increased
in numbers... Each of us when separated is but the indenture of a man having one
side only like a flat fish, and he is always looking for his other half...and
when one of them finds his other half...the pair are lost in an amazement of
love and friendship and intimacy.... The intense yearning which each of them has
toward the other does not appear to be in the desire of intercourse but of
something else which the soul desires and cannot tell, and of which she only has
a dark and doubtful presentiment...."
"There's not a man among them when he heard this who would deny or who
would not acknowledge that this meeting and melding in one another's arms, thus
becoming one instead of the two, was the very expression of his ancient needs.
And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were whole, and
the desire and pursuit of that whole is called Love."15
Today psychologists recognize
that the impetus for intimacy has its origins, as does telepathy, in the
mother-child bond.52, 65 The mother's gaze is like a mirror
reflecting to the baby the information that will form his or her self-identity.
As we develop, interpersonal relationships have a great impact upon our self
concept. Intimacy is the sharing of spontaneous internal processes with another
person such that the other person becomes involved, at least for that moment, in
the process of our self-exploration and ongoing identity creation. It is more
than simply the communication of personal information, or the empathic sharing
of emotional responses, but a mutual mirroring processes in which either party
has the ability to shape, to reinforce or to hurt the other party's experience
of their self's essence. The reward is a sense of connection and fulfillment,
much as alluded to in Socrates' account quoted above.
The process of establishing intimacy
needn't restrict itself to romantic or therapeutic encounters. Intimacy can also
occur in fleeting moments of mundane interaction, as when someone catches your
eye as you are preening in front of a mirror. Since telepathy has roots similar
to that of our capacity for intimacy, it may play a role in our everyday
experiences of close encounters. Parapsychological research might well take
advantage of the intimacy motif in telepathic interaction.
When we first meet someone, for example,
we quickly form many impressions. It's as if we immediately put out feelers to
sense whether the other person vibrates to frequencies of our liking or
familiarity. Part of the process of getting to know someone may have a psychic
component. We have fantasies about a person, imagining their homes, their lives,
or seeing them in various activities. Generally we do not share these fantasies
with the person so we never have reason to suspect that much of what we
experience about a person may be coming from unconscious impressions.
I've translated this spontaneous
happening into an exercise for a small group activity. I present it at workshops
as an exercise in intuitive communication. I call it the "Getting to Know
You" game. It's a getting acquainted ritual, a structured group process,
that provides for repeated opportunities to encounter the experience of
unconscious communication, whether we wish to call this phenomenon resonance,
telepathy or transpersonal empathy. It allows people to experience it
intentionally and explore its meaning. This exercise may be the basis of a
fruitful approach to studying people's handling of telepathic communication.
Here is the method I use:
When people meet in small groups it's
very common for them to introduce themselves, to say their name, where they're
from, what job they do, and so on. In the Getting to Know You game,
people introduce themselves in a very different sort of way. We dispense with
the usual sharing of information and instead simply listen intently to the sound
of one another's voices. The human situation is quite real and familiar: people
are intently curious about the strangers gathered around them and wondering how
they might relate to these people. The Getting to Know You game
encourages people to use their natural intuitive ability to get acquainted while
demonstrating many points about telepathic functioning.
Picture a small group of people, say six
to eight, sitting around a circle. Each person in this group is going to take a
turn introducing him or herself to the others. While the target person, or agent
in traditional lingo, makes a vowel sound out loud in a prolonged, chanting
fashion, everyone else imitates the sound: The agent tones a ten-second
"Aaaaaahhhhhh..." and the rest of the group intones
"Aaaaaahhhhhh..." at the same time. That's the tuning up phase. It's
like the lead violin in the orchestra and all the other instruments are tuning
to it. It's a way of having the group focus their attention on the sound of the
target's voice in a room where there may be several competing voices and other
noises. By imitating that voice sound, the group members are putting themselves
into sympathetic vibration, both literally and figuratively, with the target.
Now that the group is tuned to the
target person, that person provides a "voice sample" for the group to
absorb. The sample consists of reciting aloud a standardized script. In early
workshops the script asked the target person to recite the alphabet ("A, B,
C, ..."), followed by the nursery rhyme, "Mary had a little lamb, it's
fleece was white as snow, and everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to
go." In later workshops I changed the script to having the target person
simply count backwards from forty nine (counting backwards from 99 gives more
time, which some groups desire). In any case, it is important that each target
person uses the same script. Because the voice sample always contains the same
verbal content, group members don't have to pay attention to what the
transmitter is saying. What's unique to listen to is the tone of the
transmitter's voice. While the target performs the recitation, therefore, the
rest of the group simply listens to the sound of the voice.
In explaining how to listen, I
encourage people to assume that their bodies are very sensitive receivers, such
that the vibration of the transmitter's voice will create effects within the
listener. I suggest that people allow themselves to be passive instruments of
vibration, allowing the target's voice to massage them, to rub against them like
a violin bow rubs the violin string, creating various resonant effects. To
suggest further the frame of mind that is most receptive to receiving
impressions from a voice sample, I quote an item from the absorption
questionnaire,35, 56 an assessment device that correlates with
psychic performance: "Sometimes a voice is so fascinating I can go on
listening to it forever." I ask participants to imagine what it might be
like to listen to a voice in that way, not thinking about or analyzing the voice
quality, but simply allowing oneself to drift along to the sound of the voice.
I reassure the group members that each
person's experience will be different. Some people will see pictures, I explain,
but not everyone will process the voice sample in terms of visual imagery. Some
people simply have physical sensations. Others have feelings and impressions, or
even urges. Some people see words flash before their mind's eye, while others
find themselves thinking of things or being reminded of past experiences. I
encourage people to simply accept the possibility that whatever they experience
may very be related to something about the transmitter. The game helps people to
learn to recognize the modalities by which they get intuitive impressions. In
the course of receiving impressions from a number of transmitters they can start
getting a feeling for the modality in which their intuitive impressions appear.
After the transmitter has completed the
recitation, the people in the group describe what they experienced. I had
instructed them to make a special effort to report their raw experience without
interpreting it, judging it, or analyzing it first, but to simply describe what
they experienced: "Well, while I listened to your voice I thought about the
time I had to give a speech to the local Rotarian Club and how worried I was
about choking up, and I had a mental image of my wife telling me not to be
nervous, and I wondered if my mind was wandering too far from the task and was
afraid I wasn't going to get anything correct impressions."
After everyone has shared their
experience, the group reviews them to look for patterns. Were there any repeated
themes? Did the people's impressions seem to be focusing in on a particular
subject matter? If so, perhaps the group can make an inference about the person,
or perhaps what the person had in mind while providing the voice sample.
Earlier in the instructions I had
suggested that the target person might consider whether or not to focus on
something specific while providing the voice sample. The target might want to
think of something positive about their personal life that they'd like the
others to know, perhaps a scene from home that reflects something interesting
about themselves that makes them feel good. It's a way of saying, "This is
something about who I am and what my life is like that's very important to
me." Focusing on such a scene would put the person in an open frame of
mind. It could also be a way to try to direct, or limit, what the listeners
might tune into about the target person. I suggested that whether or not the
target person intentionally focused on a specific mental scene, it might prove
worthwhile to notice what thoughts transpire during the recitation, to serve as
a frame of reference when considering the listeners' impressions.
The target person takes notes on the
listeners' impressions. When everyone has presented their impressions or
experiences, the target person goes over them one by one, responding to them. I
encourage the participants not to let the game deteriorate into a test of
"mind reading," but to use it as a getting acquainted tool. Listener's
might associate to their own impressions to find out what they have in common
with the target person. The metaphor of resonance, an image of two entities
vibrating together on a common frequency, implies that a listener's impressions
might pertain to areas where he or she has something in common with the target
person. Thus I encourage them to explore the meaning of their impressions and
not to leave it at simply whether or not the impression is a "hit" (to
use a term from experimental parapsychology) with the target person.
Experiencing Psychic Intimacy
I have presented this exercise
at several workshops, primarily for the Association for Research and
Enlightenment, at its Virginia Beach headquarters and at several regional
gatherings, and also at a conference on Psi and Intimacy at the Department of
Psychology, West Georgia College, to counselors of the Hampton Roads Licensed
Professional Counselors Association, to therapists at the Boston Jung Institute,
and to members of Unity churches in various cities in the United States. A
typical workshop is attended by one hundred to two hundred participants, forming
anywhere from ten to 30 small groups of six to eight members. As of this writing
I've presented the game at over 40 different workshops, to a total of more than
4000 participants. Although in small classes and seminars I've been able to
personally participate in the group interaction to gain a closer look at what
happens, at the majority of occasions my observations are primarily based upon
the groups' self-reports, with written follow-up from a few, self-selected
At the end of the exercise, during a
discussion phase, I ask for a show of hands in response to this question:
"Based on the what you observed happening among members in your group,
would you say that the listener's experiences are accurately tuning into
significant aspects of the target person's life?" There is a resounding
response to this question, with almost all hands flying up. People are
enthusiastic and amazed at what they were able to pick up and what their
colleagues picked up about them. When I ask the next question, "Looking at
the most accurate impressions, would you say that you witnessed any telepathy
going on?" few hands go up, perhaps only about 10% of the audience. When
asked why, the usual reaction is that telepathy is something that happens at a
distance, not in a face to face encounter. If I use the word
"psychic," meaning a direct mind-to-mind connection, then the majority
(anywhere from 60 to 75%) of the people want to affirm that they've witnessed
something "psychic." Whether or not psi is actually a factor in this
game will be addressed later in the discussion.
As another context for presenting this
exercise, I've developed a set of written instructions of the process and sent
them to informal study groups who have tried it for themselves and sent me brief
reports of the results. Their response was essentially the same as the audiences
I directed in a first-hand fashion.
Based on this extensive experience, I
present below some basic observations about the results provided by the game. In
presenting this observations, I am suggesting that these same results should
materialize were the reader attempt this game as a replication of an
1) If a target person focussed on a
particular scene, sometimes a group of listeners will have a collection of
impressions that bear directly on that scene.
In one case, in a group in which I was
participating, during the voice impression I got the sense of motion, of
something going back and forth between two people, and a sense of expanse, like
at the beach, and a feeling of wavy, like an undulating curving, like the waves
at the beach, going back and forth, a ball going back and forth. And I see
people throwing a ball back and forth at the beach, overlooking a fence, like a
picket fence. Other people saw the ocean and children, a couple mentioned
children, something with children. One person mentioned a drive, seeing the
target person and her husband next to each other in the car, a long drive. The
target person said the scene she was imagining was their beach house and her
husband playing ball with the kids on the beach. It is a five hour drive there.
The beach is strewn with sand-retention fences which look like picket fences.
In another case I observed, group
members noted that their impressions had a lot in common, but they
misinterpreted their impressions. One person described an image of the
transmitter, a young woman, lying on her back spinning around. Two group members
had images of the transmitter dancing and spinning, and both also saw flashes of
bright yellow. Another person imagined himself spinning around in a circle and
waving above his head some yellow ribbons, making them spin around in a circle
like some kind of a child's toy. From these impressions, the group was convinced
that the transmitter must have been contemplating some kind of dance performance
with a yellow theme. The woman transmitter was contemplating an experience she
had upon leaving her hometown to come to the east coast. As a good bye ceremony,
she went for a swim in her favorite river. What she remembered was lying on her
back and floating around in circles, sinking down under the water and seeing the
sun shining through the water, creating a sensation of yellow light spinning and
twirling above her. Incidently, someone else saw a Raggedy Ann doll. The woman
said when she was a child she had a Raggedy Ann doll, and when she was leaving
home, she realized she no longer had any of her dolls, and bought a Teddy bear
to take on the trip east.
Here is another case, reported by a
group member at a workshop: One group person said she had the impression of
white, a "very crisp white." Another person thought about scenes of
planes flying overhead. Someone else imagined a stage, as if witnessing some
kind of performance. Another person reported seeing a scene involving education
or a dedication. The group guessed that perhaps the woman was imagining
something having to do with a graduation ceremony. In fact, she was reliving her
recent experience at her son's induction day ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy.
There were thousands of young people in white, with a fly over by jets as part
of the graduation ceremony.
2) Percipients can't distinguish
subjective experiences from objective, intuitive impressions
Sometimes I'll ask, for example, if
anyone finds that they never seem to get any impression. A number of people
report that they just get a "blank" when they try to tune into the
voice. I find these people instructive to interview. For example, one woman said
"I didn't get anything again, only just the word "commitment'." I
tease her a little bit, saying "Just the word commitment? You're assuming
that your impression should be visual, aren't you? How do you know but maybe the
word commitment has some meaning." Later when we heard from the target
person, we learn she was recalling an important incident in her life where she
had been nursing her sister back to health and as she had agonized over the
process of doing so, she had found that her sense of commitment to her sister in
the process of helping her was something that was very important to her. She was
very surprised when this woman had as an impression the word,
"commitment." She said her body responded to that word as if the word
touched the essence of her experience. The woman who thought she had received
nothing had in fact received a very important message.
It's not possible to determine
how many other times people reject their impressions as "nothing" and
never learn just how relevant their "nothing" really was because they
do not share what they experienced. As Louisa Rhine pointed out,42 psi
experiences don't have any specific characteristics to announce their presence
distinct from the ongoing flow of subjective experiences.
Sometimes there are surprising
examples of ostensibly purely subjective responses or normal trains of thought
within the listener containing very relevant information for the target person.
I was once present in a group where a listener apologized for not paying
attention during the voice recitation. He said that on his way to the seminar
that morning he walked through the park and saw a wedding taking place. During
the voice sample, he found himself thinking about that wedding and reminiscing
about when he gave his own daughter away in marriage. Again he apologized for
his lapse of attention. At that point, the target person broke the protocol of
silence and announced, "My daughter got married yesterday and giving her
away at the wedding was exactly what I was thinking about when I recited the
verse!" Needless to say, we were impressed by that coincidence! This kind
of shaping of thought is quite similar to that observed in Ganzfeld experiments
where a personal memory carries the psi impression.19
3) The percipient's raw experience is
usually more accurate than their interpretation of their experience.
I once witnessed the following exchange
between a listener and the target person: The listener said to the target
person, "You are a person who is striving to stay in control!" The
target person replied, "I don't know if I like that characterization."
I asked the listener, "What did you actually experience?" The listener
answered, "While listening to his voice, I felt my shoulders and neck
tightening up." I asked her if she had ever experienced that before. She
indicated she had, during periods when she was anxious and was trying to stay in
control of her feelings or a situation. She supposed that was why she had
guessed the target person was a "controlling person." The target
person was now excited and broke in to the conversation, exclaiming, "I'm
always having trouble with stiff shoulders and have a sore neck right now. Are
you saying these problems come from an attempt to always be in control?"
The target person had changed his tone when his attention had been directed away
from being judged to the subject of sore shoulders. The listener had experienced
the resonant listening described earlier by Larson but didn't have the skill to
use it effectively. Nevertheless, there was a definite tuning in to the target
person that the target person found meaningful.
Making the confusion between
the report of the raw experience with describing some attribute of the target
person is an example of what early introspectionists called "the stimulus
error".53 I've experienced the same difficulty reported by those
early researchers, namely, that it is hard for people to report their direct,
raw experience without giving it some interpretation.
The intervention of rational processes
may interfere with the psi mechanism, depending upon whether or not it occurs
during the reception stage or only during the reporting of one's experience.
I've witnessed within myself what many listeners have noted themselves, namely
that they can only report a portion of their experience, because they don't know
how to put words on it. As they hear other listeners report their experience,
they find themselves nodding in agreement because another person's report will
match some aspect of their own subjective experience which they were unable to
verbalize. The non-verbal aspects of much of the subjective impression may be a
source of the under-detection of psi hitting. I've found some other sources of
under-detection beyond the stimulus error.
4) Both percipients and agents
sometimes suppress information relevant to a finding for ESP when unwanted
intimacy would result from the disclosure
Many percipients who say they get
"nothing" actually are getting impressions that they'd rather not
share. I've had percipients come up to me and say that they simply had to tune
out a person, because they simply could not tolerate the hostility, for example,
in the person's voice. Others have confided that they sensed tragedy or trauma
in the person's life, and didn't think it wise to mention it. Sometimes these
percipients just can't get these ideas out of their minds. They become
"infected" with the other person's emotional state or obsessed with
aspects of what they assume to be the other person's life.
People feel a need to defend
themselves from what they experience as psychic contagion when empathy with
another person triggers uncomfortable feelings within themselves. This
phenomenon is quite similar to that therapists describe as "projective
identification." This term refers to the effect a patient has upon the
therapist, whereby feelings that are unconscious in the patient are transferred
to the therapist. The therapist easily mistakes these feelings as
countertransferential, of a personal subjective origin, whereas in fact they
originate with the patient.46, 57 Patients diagnosed as
"borderline" most often create this effect.7, 13
Another source of suppression of the
reporting of experiences among percipients is embarrassment. When I survey
participants to see if any had impressions they didn't share because of
embarrassment, many people confess to having held back material. One man joked
that he felt an attraction for one of the female group members and it was clear
from other people's reactions that he expressed feelings that many could
recognize. Sexual attraction is an area of intimacy that excites a great deal of
At one conference, a woman reported that
she had an impression during the voice sample that was so grotesque that she was
ashamed to report it for fear of being judged "sick" by the group. She
said that since the group had specifically discussed the ideal of sharing
everything, she reluctantly decided to go ahead and tell of her impression. It
was of being in a corn field and reaching down and picking up an ear of corn
that had a strange appearance to it. It had warts and strangely colored growths
all over it. She felt that perhaps the image reflected some kind of distorted
phallic feelings on her part and didn't want to share it. When she did reveal
the image, however, the target person, a young male turned quite pale. He
explained that he lived across the road from a corn field and the week before he
had walked among the rows. There he came upon an ear of corn that had colored
growths all over it. He was bothered by what he saw, not understanding that it
was not that uncommon example of a particular type of blight. The woman and he
were both flabbergasted that she would pick up on this particular experience.
The woman said that she was still quite shaken by the event and, to quote her
exactly, "...to think that I almost didn't say anything because of feeling
The target person too may suppress
information that would otherwise validate a listener's impressions because to do
so would be anxiety provoking, or there is information that can't be revealed.
At one conference, I received an anonymous note from a woman confiding that
someone in her group hit a nerve that made her clam up. She wrote that although
no one picked up on the exact scene that she was imagining, one woman said the
word "infidelity" came to her. Hearing this word shocked the
transmitter, she wrote me, as she had just returned from a trip with a man other
than her husband. She believed that the one group member had tuned into her
secret affair. If so, then here was an example of the need to suppress the
exposure of a secret causing evidence of a possible psi effect to be itself
suppressed. It is exciting to imagine just how often this effect may occur, but
frustrating to suspect that the evidence will never come to light. Even in the
innocent "Getting to Know You" game, there can be potentially
dramatic moments of unexpected and unwanted intimacy.
5) Percipients have accurate
impressions that go beyond the boundaries of the agent's specific focus and
sometimes touch on personal facts of intense emotional significance.
Many people noted that when they were
the target person, they would consider and then reject certain scenes as
potential images upon which to focus. The listeners, they reported, didn't
provide impressions relevant to their chosen image, but rather to one that they
had decided not to use.
In one interesting case the group
members' impressions seemed to coincide with the theme of travel. I was in that
group and I first received an impression of a small boat rocking in the sea, and
the sense of a sail. But then the scene shifted and I was waiting at a train
station where I see a train locomotive arrive. From small boat to train station
made me think of travel. Another person saw the vertical tail fin of an
airplane. A third imagined walking on a moving sidewalk in an airport. One
person saw the color pink while another had the impression of the transmitter
carrying a pink parasol while walking about a foreign country among some strange
shaped building. The last person saw the transmitter working in the kitchen,
tidying up a small little girl, and with the feeling "If I could just stop
time now, this is a perfect moment." The transmitter, a woman, said she was
thinking about her trip to Egypt, which was a very special experience for her.
She carried a pink sun umbrella around while there because it was so hot. She
noted that prior to deciding to focus on that experience, however, she thought
about her first boat ride, where she caught a sail fish, and thought it was
interesting that one person seemed to pick up on that scene, even though she had
rejected it. The person who saw the upright tail fin wondered if she was seeing
the sailfish. The transmitter then confided that the impression that made the
greatest impact on her had nothing to do with her trip to Egypt. She said that
the mention of the young girl in the kitchen hit her in the heart and made her
want to cry, because of a painful aspect of her life right now, involving her
grown daughter who had moved back to live with her following a divorce. The man
who had that impression mentioned that he was himself back home living with his
parents after years away and was going through an intense period of getting
On another occasion when I was a
listener I experienced an impression of a white woven blanket, like a cotton
blanket, or perhaps something like a quilt, and the sense of white creamy milk
being poured out, then a rocking, like in a nursery for a young child, then saw
knives, which shook me, then a woman observing or supervising men work on a
house, putting shingles on the roof and painting the exterior walls. Then I saw
a scalpel approach a pregnant belly and draw slowly across it, cutting it softly
and smoothly like butter. Someone else saw mother and child, and another saw a
child. Another saw youngster's lips with red all around them. Someone saw a
glass of bourbon. A soft carpet covering an expanse of floor. A sense of
fluidity and giving in to the flow. The target person had been focusing on that
morning's intimate moment with her young daughter, who climbed into bed with her
and they lay there cuddling. On the bed is a white woven blanket and a quilt.
Then their happiness was interrupted as mother found herself upset over her
daughter's continued use of a pacifier. It has caused a red rash around her lips
and mouth. One woman had a headache during the exercise and said she was having
a similar separation issue with her daughter and with her mother too. I
suggested that the image of a Caesarian delivery is one of premature separation
of mother and child. The person who had the image of a glass of bourbon said it
reminded him of a pacifier, using drink to pacify oneself. Here an underlying
emotional conflict experienced by the target person seemed to come across to
some of the group members in symbolic terms related to the group members own
6) Group vary in how intimate they
become and the degree of intimacy achieved seems correlated with reports of
Some groups are quite shy, or the
composition of the group is such that there doesn't seem to be much interest
among the people in getting close. Or there may be too much attraction to
tolerate. Whatever the source of this fear of intimacy, I've noticed one dynamic
a group uses to deal with the problem. They progress through the game quite
rapidly. They share impressions in a brief and perfunctory manner. Lacking
curiosity about their interconnections, there is little follow through
discussion, beyond a routine assessment of "hits" and
"misses." They invariably report that there was very little that might
suggest ESP and also don't report anything suggestive that they got well
acquainted. It seems that the game itself makes them feel too close for comfort.
By way of contrast, other groups embrace
their opportunity to become acquainted and experience profoundly moving
connections that cement their bond. In this instance, when asked about the
occurrence of any apparent telepathic effects they describe many. It is notable,
however, that in contrast to the low intimacy groups, whose reports focus on the
external details of how their impressions didn't match the target person, the
high intimacy group doesn't stress so much the great number of apparently
telepathic connections they observed so much as they report the content of their
connections and what they are learning from one another about those issues of
mutual concern. It is as if the psi mechanism has become "transparent"
and no longer the focus compared to the meaningful emotional exchange it
Can We Discuss Telepathy Face to Face?
The informal observations made in
conjunction with the "Getting to Know You" game are in keeping
with the theme of our exploration of intimacy and psi. All of the relationships,
in fact, between the psychology of intimacy and the functioning of telepathy
proposed during the first part of this paper were apparent in the participants'
responses to the game. Before discussing these further, it may be prudent first
to discuss the issue of whether or not psi was present in the game.
The participants themselves were
reluctant to accept that the connections they experienced were due to telepathy.
The reason was that they were sitting face to face and the connotation of
telepathy is the passing of information over a distance with no sensory contact.
The traditional parapsychological approach to telepathy is to physically isolate
the participants, for the telepathic hypothesis is usually regarded as
communication with no sensory involvement. The purpose is to be able to isolate
the presence of telepathy from the presence of other factors potentially
contributing to the possibility of communication. Using this traditional
standard, the game is not capable of demonstrating telepathy.
The majority of participants did
believe, however, that they had witnessed a "psychic" interchange,
meaning a direct, mind-to-mind connection. The impressions people had about the
voice agent went beyond mere speculation about the personality characteristics
of the speaker. They included many examples of the person's home environment,
conditions at work, and other things that went beyond mere impressions. In
response to these surprising coincidences they reported having tell-tale bodily
sensations, such as the hair standing up on the back of the neck,
"gut" wrenching recognitions, blushing, and other physiological
indicators of experiencing being seen, or recognized in a surprising and
meaningful way. These experiences were often described as "uncanny."
Psychoanalytic studies of the
uncanny22 have proposed that it is the confluence of the conscious,
sensory world with that of the unconscious and fantasy realms that gives rise to
such reactions of being in the presence of the uncanny. Psychotherapists often
use the term "unconscious communication" as a pseudonym for telepathic
or psychic interaction,8, 11 implying that the channel of psi
interaction is through the unconscious mind and that it can occur in face to
face encounters where it is intermixed with normal sensory channels of
Examples of uncanny
coincidences between the listeners' impressions and the target person's private
life that many participants experienced resemble instances published in the
psychotherapeutic literature as examples of unconscious communication.28,
34, 48, 49 Countless laboratory studies have proven the possibility of
telepathy,3 so it wouldn't seem inappropriate to assume that there
was a telepathic component in the "Getting to Know You" game.
If we may be permitted to grant that a
psi component may be present in this game, although unproven at this
moment, we can briefly review how the presence of apparent psi relates to the
intimacy factors discussed earlier in the paper.
First, the game is an exercise
in intimate listening. In listening to someone speak about a topic, the listener
can process the verbal meanings in the communication, but in the case of our
game, there is very little objective content to attend to. It requires the
listener to suspend thinking about the voice sample and simply to become
absorbed in resonating with the feeling of the voice. To suspend the rational
processes of reflection in favor of allowing one to be susceptible to the
influence of the suggestive power of the agent's voice is to become vulnerable
to the fear of engulfment that is one basis for the fear of intimacy.52
Yet that same mind set seems important for the receiving of subjective
impressions that have the quality of apparent psi. Some participants have
difficulty engaging in this level of intimacy, either generally or with
Second, in order for a participant to be
successful in this game, he or she must avoid the "stimulus error."
The apparent psi connections occur in the subjective experiences of the listener
and not in the listener's interpretation of these experiences. The reporting of
raw experience is more intimate, however, more threatening, than making an
attribution about the target person. To report one's raw experience is more
revealing of self and one is more open and vulnerable. It is a more intimate
disclosure than to state a judgment about the target person. Yet in most
instances of free response ESP testing, such as the Ganzfeld, for example, the
flow of raw, subjective experience is clearly where the psi information is to be
found, because the subject would rarely be able to identify properties of the
stimulus from the introspective material. Thus, if revealing raw experience is
more intimate than making attributions about the target stimulus person, then we
see here that intimacy would become a mediator of the psi response.
Third, we saw instances of
apparent psi playing havoc with boundary issues during the game. Agents who
focussed on specific personal scenes could not prevent listeners from gaining
access to other areas of the agent's life. Agents could not, therefore, maintain
boundaries around the information that would be shared. A related boundary is
between conscious thoughts and unconscious ones. Many examples of apparent psi
seemed to involve the retrieval of thoughts that had be momentarily conscious
within the agent but had then been suppressed. That agents often reported that
people seemed to pick up on scenes they had decided not to focus on
resembles reports from psychoanalytic studies of thought transference suggesting
that ideation in the process of being repressed is often the best candidate for
a psi effect.48
Another example of boundary violations
concerns secrets. One case of a secret being potentially exposed was
confidentially reported suggesting the present of other examples which were not
reported. As a final boundary issue, it was hard to maintain a distinction
between what was strictly internal and subjective and what was external and
objective. That one's seemingly personal, subjective experience might be
invisibly shaped by someone else's thoughts or feelings, as if there were a
direct but subliminal mind-to-mind influence, was disturbing to some people.
Participants spoke of an identity confusion, similar to the students in Tart's
survey who worried that if they were to become telepathic, they wouldn't be able
to discern their own thoughts from those of people around them. Participants
express this concern sometimes by asking how they could "protect"
themselves from picking up unwanted thoughts or feelings.
Fourth, when listener's impressions
touched on surprising areas of the agent's personal life, there was often a
sense of connection being made between listener and agent. This overlap is a
direct result of the fact that psi operates within the listener's subjective
impressions, responses which necessarily have a projective component. If the
subjective component does have a recognized objective aspect, that is, if the
target person can recognize him or herself in that impression, then there will
be an overlap between the personal meaning for the listener and meaning for the
target person. The apparent psi functioned, therefore, to establish and enhance
intimacy, allowing the participants to discuss matters of mutual intense
This same interpersonal effect
was also observed in the group dream telepathy experiment I devised with Van de
Castle. In this experiment, called the "Dream Helper Ceremony," a
group of people attempt to have telepathic dreams of guidance for a stranger
suffering from an unspecified personal problem.38, 40 In that
situation, the participants' dreams revealed both psi components applicable to
the target person as well as information relevant to the dreamer. Both
experimental situations function as "psychic readings," and both have
that interesting attribute of showing how readers' "projections" are
both revealing of their own personal situations as well as significant for the
Finally, let's consider the intimacy
factor operating within the methodological considerations of the experiment. We
are not accustomed to think of the face to face exchanges such as in this game
as relevant to telepathy, because the people aren't physically separated. So
much of ESP research is geared toward proving the supposedly impossible
contention that thoughts can be communicated at a distance that the research
situation is usually sterilized to remove any contact or relationship between
the two parties. One just wouldn't consider telepathy when the two people can
see or hear one another, because we would assume that the communication could be
mediated by the sounds and sights.
Is this restriction strictly a matter of
the logical requirements for deducing the psi factor? Could it be, perhaps, that
the reality of telepathy is too frightening to acknowledge when two people are
face to face? Perhaps it's more comfortable to think about mind-to-mind
communication when there is a great distance separating the people. Perhaps when
we define telepathy as communication in the absence of sensory contact we do so
not just on logical grounds, but partly to keep telepathy at a comfortable
distance. Perhaps it becomes too threatening an arena for exploration,
suggesting interpersonal merger, of one person flowing into one another, of
ultimate intimacy, should we trade in our distancing metaphor,
"tele-pathy" (feeling at a distance) for something like
"transpersonal empathy," where we might expect to witness direct
communication through the unconscious mind.
"It is possible that psi
abilities generally function along with our normal abilities such as perception
and memory and that only on rare occasions do they manifest in a manner that
reveals their separate identity and distinctiveness. Our own fear of the
paranormal and the need to insulate ourselves to protect our individualities and
privacy and provide for stability and order in our interactions may indeed serve
as constant inhibitors and censors of conscious psi experience. Thus, psi may
play a more pervasive and decisive role in our lives that we are aware of and
yet go completely unrecognized. Therefore, a more fruitful approach to studying
psi may be found in understanding its interactions with normal abilities than in
attempting to investigate it in isolation".37
Intimacy and telepathy may be natural
partners. In situations of intimacy, people will describe feeling
"close" to the other person. This closeness is more than a physical
closeness, but is a psychological closeness. The parties actually feel the
presence of one another within themselves. To observe this phenomenon of psychic
closeness, the participants must introspect rather than observe outward events.
The psi factor of telepathy similarly operates from within the parties involved.
It doesn't arise at the sensory portals but arises from within. The internal
experience of the psi factor, reflected in the startling coincidence of
subjective and objective, creates the feeling of a bond between the two parties.
This psychic bond may extend to situations where the parties are physically
separated and the intimacy previously established now serves as a channel for
more clear-cut telepathic phenomena. Although the physical separation makes the
telepathy aspect more distinctive, the process of the intimacy connection
between the two parties remains the same internal reality of "feeling
Because it lacks any such physical
separation, the Getting to Know You game lacks the experimental controls
necessary to allow answering the usual parapsychological question concerning the
existence of psi independent of all sensory channels. One way to achieve
greater control in the experiment, for example, would be to limit listener
contact with the target to strictly the auditory channel. The experimenter might
present the listener with an audio-tape of the agent's voice to prevent the
presence of visual cues. To make the target material less vague, the agent would
write down in advance exactly the personal scene to be focused upon during the
recording of the voice sample. Independent judges could be asked to attempt to
match transcripts. Training in the game could be used as a precursor to a remote
viewing experiment, to test whether the experimental intimacy and apparent psi
would carry over into a situation of physical separation. The reader might think
of many other refinements that would increase the rigor of the experiment. On
the other hand, as the focus changes from encouraging people to become
acquainted as intimately as possible (although through experimentally
constricted means) to challenging people to demonstrate a technical feat, the
intention of the experiment drastically changes.
Because intention is so
important to the outcome of the experiment, I often give the players an
important reminder: The name of the game is "Getting to Know You,"
not "Mind Reading." In a psychic reading given for Gardner Murphy,
Edgar Cayce advised him to devise telepathy experiments where the focus was not
on scoring hits but upon helping the people form helpful connections between
them.39 Cayce's advice was in the forefront of my mind as I tried to
shape the participants' intention. By being focused on getting acquainted, and
by using the game to discover what they have in common, they actually encounter
more profound transpersonal empathy, or psi, than if they trivialize the game
into a test of mind reading. In fact, reducing the exercise to merely a test of
telepathy is one way the participants can reduce the potential for intimacy in
the game. The same goes for parapsychology. In its automatic assumption that it
would be an improvement to nail down the psi factor with greater experimental
control, the traditional parapsychological orientation would minimize the
intimacy in the situation.
Since it's difficult for a researcher to
legislate intimacy, we may be touching on a human factor that makes it difficult
to gain rigorous scientific control over the significant events in
parapsychological experiments. Whether it concerns intimacy or telepathy, if the
experiment demands, "Be intimate!" or if the evaluation focuses itself
narrowly, "Was this really telepathy?" the closeness experienced
between the participants begins to evaporate. Telepathy and intimacy share the
paradoxical quality that when you focus on them, they disappear.
Perhaps another approach may be
necessary. Moving the locus of our research, away from trying to prove that
extra-sensory communication can occur, to trying to find ways of helping people
who are motivated to exchange information to communicate effectively under a
context of restricted channels of communication might provide results of some
To keep the experiment focused
upon an intention to facilitate interpersonal understanding, while at the same
time having a more quantitative measure of that understanding, perhaps it might
be helpful to borrow from the research on empathy. One approach to studying
empathy that was popular in the 1960s was to measure the accuracy with which one
person could predict how another person would fill out a personality inventory,
such as the Myers-Briggs Jungian Typology questionnaire.51 If I can
understand you well enough to be able to fill out a questionnaire the way that
you would then I am demonstrating a degree of empathy for you. This type of task
somewhat resembles the task required of the psychic reader who is asked to
specify another person's traits and predispositions. Participants in an activity
such as the "Getting to Know You" game might attempt to follow up an
experience in intuitive listening by predicting how the voice donor would answer
a personality inventory. As another alternative, explorations in the detection
of deception might be another avenue of investigation in which specific,
quantitative findings would be of most value. In either case, it would be
important to follow the motivational configurations that characterizes the quest
for intimacy. The advantage of the Getting to Know You game is that it
plays upon the participants' natural curiosity about one another. It takes
advantage of the ability of the unconscious to sniff out exciting and meaningful
areas of personal overlap between the participants.
The original purpose of the "Getting
to Know You" game is educational training, to help participants develop
their intuitive listening skills and enhance their awareness of the issues
involved in transpersonal empathy. Although designed as a training exercise with
no built-in quantitative aspects, its methodology and the observations that
result from it nevertheless do have significance for parapsychology. In her
essay on an "experience-centered" approach to research, Rhea White
contrasted experimental and non-experimental studies and suggested
parapsychologists refrain from future experiments because of their seeming
futility.66 Perhaps the "Getting to Know You" game
can offer some new life to the experimental approach.
Although not an experiment in the
traditional sense of the word, as there were no controlled manipulations, nor
was there any attempt to make quantified observations, the game does has a
structure in the same way an experiment is a structured situation. They both
present standardized situations that focus the participants' attention and shape
how the participants behave. In this manner they both enable us to make
repeatable observations of the participants' responses. Unlike most experiments,
however, the game offers many of the advantages of the non-experimental
The game offers the possibility
for non-trivial psi. Stevenson55 noted, for example, that the
significance of the psi reported in the experimental literature has been
declining. Only trivial psi, observable with the aid of statistics, manages to
find its way into our experiments. The same is not true for the experimental
game reported here. The difficulties in isolating the psi factor
notwithstanding, the game results in repeated instances of apparent psi that the
participants find very meaningful and personally significant. They have the
human interest quality of the spontaneous cases that originally sparked interest
in parapsychology. They also has some of the quality of the therapy observation,
where the psi event is immediate, meaningful and freshly available for further
exploration and evaluation. We can interview both target person and listener for
greater in-depth understanding of the communication transaction. The desire of
the participants for greater self-understanding and better relations with others
becomes a potential asset in this work and the subjects can become our
collaborators in our research efforts.4
As a training activity, the game has
sufficient value to participants that they are willing to fund its presentation.
In an era of declining resources for parapsychological research, it seems
significant that there are nevertheless great numbers of individuals who are
interested in learning how to use and apply a phenomenon which most of them
believe they have experienced and which experimental parapsychology has proven
exists. Can parapsychology take these people onto the next stage of exploring
psi or will we abdicate?
I'm reminded of the admonition
of the psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut26 who pointed out that empathy, a
tool of interpersonal understanding, was a better medium than detached, analytic
interpretation for psychoanalysis to gain information about the human being.
This shift in approach to knowledge led to a total revision of psychoanalytic
theory.1 In the workshop context of the "Getting to Know
You" game, I've noted the epistemological gap between the participants
and an outside observer. The participants are satisfied to rely upon their
empathic sense to tell them if they are making connections with each other. The
outsider requires more external, objective indicators and thinks immediately in
terms of putting distance between the communicants to test whether or not they
are really making the connection. If we parapsychologists can allow ourselves to
study psi in a face to face manner, however, with appreciation for the desire of
many people in the population who wish to experience a more intimate approach to
psi, we may be able to rejuvenate our discipline and make a significant
contribution simultaneously. I predict that parapsychologists, like the humans
they study, must one day confront their feelings about intimacy if they are to
be granted access to the secrets of psi. For coming face to face with the
intimacy of telepathy the ultimate reward will be that through the special
channels of experience that psi provides we will have the transpersonal
realization needed to free us from Zeus' punishment.
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