Observed Effects of the Unconscious Mind and the Unknown World. 2: Mechanical Effects

The most interesting phenomenon here is the ‘poltergeist’. The word is German and means ‘noisy ghost’. Such ghosts are typically active in a household setting; they may cause domestic objects such as bottles to move along a shelf, fall off it and break. Their activities are generally unseen, but sometimes a witness will see a bottle or an ornament in motion, or observe an item of cutlery being thrown. Such a thrown object may appear not to travel in the usual gravitational parabola, but to move in flight as if some force were being exerted on it during its travel. Interestingly, such a thrown object may sometimes hit a human being, but even if it seems to have been going fast, it seldom hurts the target or causes injury. As their name implies, poltergeists often make

Why Are We Conscious? A Scientist's Take on Consciousness and Extrasensory Perception David E. H. Jones

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ISBN 978-981-4774-32-1 (Hardcover), 978-1-315-16688-9 (eBook) www.panstanford.com noises (I have discussed acoustic effect in Chapter 11). It is also often possible to ‘converse’ with a poltergeist, using a code based on ‘raps’. The human makes them by hitting something; the poltergeist somehow makes ‘raps’ in response. My musings about the deceitfulness of the unconscious mind seem reinforced by the sad fact that a poltergeist often lies.

Poltergeist action is almost entirely destructive: yet it seems more of a prank than an attempt at serious demolition. Poltergeists do not seem to undertake large physical activities such as destroying skyscrapers or locomotives or industrial cranes. Indeed, their energy seems to be roughly limited by human power. Hence, perhaps, the old joke: ‘Messrs Polter, Geist and Polter will move your furniture for you.’ It interests me that many poltergeists seem ‘personal’. Unlike a conventional ghost (which seems bound by a particular locality, so that it may haunt a building), a poltergeist is active around a specific person, its ‘focus’. That human focus may even show signs of exhaustion from its antics, suggesting that he or she is the source of its physical energy. Poltergeist action may even follow that person around, if he (or more usually she) is sent away. The poltergeist may not merely concentrate on a human focus; it may even restrict its actions to special objects, such as bottles or stones.

I was once told of a poltergeist which seemed to have entered a locked room in a church, where it had thrown the hymn books and vestments around into a wild mess. It took hours to return that room to any sort of order. And yet I feel that the seeming messy pranks of poltergeists are not evidence of their malevolence, annoyance, or jokiness, but simply of their clumsiness. My notion is that a poltergeist, as a non-material entity, simply has no experience of the physical world. I once read of one which unscrewed a bottle cap to spill the contents of the bottle, and this seems to me to show about the limiting dexterity which one might expect from an unguided poltergeist. I have never read of a poltergeist which has opened a tin to spill its contents or has contrived to open a bottle with a crimped cap. Even a young human baby takes years to acquire a sound physical sense of how to move things without breaking them, use tools to advantage, or to develop the impressive manual skills of the adult craftsman. By contrast, and as an example of learned human skill, I was once greatly impressed by a craftsman who set out to define a 90° angle on an angle-meter by eye, and got it to 89.5°. (My best was 87°.) He once sharpened a half-inch drill for me on a grinding wheel, using hand and eye alone, and got one flute two thousandths of an inch ahead of the other!

My feeling is that a poltergeist does indeed use some sort of ‘psychokinetic force’, but for effective action (as opposed to just making a mess) it has to express some sort of human desire—possibly an unconscious one. Thus the schoolboy Matthew Manning, who seems to have had some remarkable psychic powers, was once challenged by his young brother and sister while the whole family was at lunch downstairs. They asked him to do something poltergeisty in their upstairs bedrooms. He was still at table when they asked him to move a bedroom wardrobe and turn over a bed upstairs, and without moving from his chair, he soon announced that he had done so. After lunch, the family went upstairs to look: and indeed he had! Furthermore, he did not seem exhausted by his achievement—which contradicts my suggestion above that a poltergeist exploits the biological energy of its focus.

This story is typical of many examples of poltergeist action, though less messy than most. I have read of many mechanical changes which poltergeists seem to have made: moving things, transporting things, and so on.

Yet I have never read of any size change. Distances seem to retain their values. If something once fits something else, it always fits. My interpretation of the effect is that in some way an entity in the unknown world can take an unconscious desire from its ‘focus’, perhaps one about specific types of object, and turn it into a physical effect in the real world.

What is the noise of the ‘noisy ghost’? I discuss that interesting question in Chapter 11, under ‘acoustic effects’. I note here that the typical noise made by a poltergeist is the ‘rap’, a short pulse of sound rather like that made by hitting a sheet of wood with a hard striker. Acoustics is, of course, an aspect of mechanical force, but in this chapter I am concerned mainly with other types of force.

Thus an eminent scientist of the 1800s, William Crookes (who was greatly interested in allegedly psychic phenomena) once devised a balance which the noted medium Daniel Dunglas Home could attempt to influence purely by thought. One measurement showed a weight of about 6 lb—over 30 million times more than the 0.1 milligram by which I have failed to move a chemical balance by mental effort. I assume that, unlike the chaotic force often released by a poltergeist, the one exerted by Home was well directed into the equipment operated by Crookes.

Some further interesting tests were carried out in 1928 by the Danish scientist Professor Christian Winther of Copenhagen on the medium Anna Rasmussen. She was able to move a sensitive balance, and could make a pendulum swing without affecting another one nearby. However, when the apparatus was held rigid by a concrete pillar constructed in the cellar beneath it, she was unable to move either pendulum. Her purported spirit control ‘Dr Lasaruz’ attributed this failure to the dampness of the cellar. (I mention ‘spirit controls’ in Chapter 14.) This makes no sense to me—I cannot imagine why a damp cellar should be physically different from a dry one. The story makes me fear that Ms Rasmussen was playing some sort of trick on Dr Winther.

An intriguing film from Russia shows a Russian woman, Nelya Mikhailova (a pseudonym to protect her from crank interest: her real name is Nina Kulagina). She is apparently able to move objects without touching them. In the laboratory she has been able to exert a force exceeding 10 grams (100 millinewtons) on a balance, and her psychokinetic powers seem to fog undeveloped film near the objects she moves. It intrigues me that distant film seemed unaffected; indeed a successful cinematographic film was made of her activities in 1968. I do not know if the fogging effect obeyed the normal ‘inverse square’ of distance, or depended on some sort of screening. I am reminded that the ‘paranormal inhibition’ which has dogged some researchers (Chapter 6) also seems limited by distance in some way.

In the film, Nina gave a demonstration in which, in front of witnesses, journalists and photographers, she seemed able to move objects such as matches and cigarettes across a table, despite the fact that they were screened from her by a perspex shroud. Objects behind the shroud which she chose not to move remained selectively stationary. Later she separated the yolk of an egg from its white without touching it. The effects cost her a lot of physical effort. Her electroencephalogram brain record showed great excitement; her heart-beat rose to about four times its normal value; she lost about two pounds in weight over the hour or so of testing.

This story raises a question to which I have no answer: where does the energy come from for such effects? The question may be a scientific mistake. I have mused that it may come from the unknown world, and the laws of thermodynamics (which state that energy is always conserved, so that if it appears it must have come from somewhere) may not apply to transfers between the unknown world and the physical one. The Toronto group (Chapter 6) found that during a time when infection had depleted the group, so that the assembly was reduced to four and some of these felt unwell, their invented ‘ghost’ Philip made raps and table movements which were relatively feeble. This supports my guess that in some way the group had made contact with an element of the unknown world that was purely inorganic and had no mental aspects. Philip’s energy seemed to come from his human creators—possibly from their brains (the brain takes about half the energy of the whole body). This guess also fits the notion that a poltergeist draws its energy from its human environment. The mighty efforts exerted by Mme Kulagina seem to imply that only a very small amount of her biological power was actually used to generate the ‘psychokinetic energy’ needed by object moving.

It sometimes happens that much depends on a mechanical event that may possibly be influenced by psychokinetic forces. A good example is the rolling of dice. Many games use rolling dice essentially as random-number generators. If dice can be influenced by ‘psychokinetic’ forces, they are more likely to roll the way the psychokinetically able player wants.

Many experiments on rolling dice were conducted in the famous laboratory (Chapter 6) established at Duke University in North Carolina and headed by Joseph Rhine. He found that as with card-guessing games (Chapter 8), a few of his ‘star guessers’ seemed to throw dice significantly better than chance. He tried various ways of casting the dice, both in the traditional way by throwing from a cup and by a range of mechanical devices, but none seemed to have a dramatic effect on the random nature of the throw. One obvious question is, what force (in newtons, say) is deployed by a good psychokineticist? The Swedish engineer Forwald looked at this in many ways. He varied the weight, size, surface nature, and number of his dice, and the sort of surface they were thrown onto. His results were by no means precise, but he seems to have found that for beechwood dice weighing two grams each, a typical psychokinetic force might be about 3 millinewtons, or 0.3 grams weight. This might not make much difference to a rolled dice.

My feeling is that honest dice are pretty good random- number generators. They may be slightly affected by hard psychokinetic wishing, but any such effect is probably largely cancelled out by the other wishers also playing the game. Even one of Rhine’s ‘star guessers’ would probably not do dramatically better against mere chance-bound players. There are, of course, bent games, in which some trickster has ‘loaded’ the dice. But only a very unwary gambler would get into a craps game as bent as the one envisaged in Damon Runyon’s story ‘Broadway Financier’, in which Big Nig expounds the art of sneaking in two loaded dice: ‘switching in a pair of tops’ in the jargon.

A related study of a possible psychokinetic force was again set up in the Duke University paranormal laboratory. It did not use dice, but steel balls. About 1200 such balls were released in a special randomizer, so as to fall into a receiving 32-channel chute. In the absence of any observer, they spread out in the chute in the normal, expected, ‘Gaussian’ distribution. Hard mental willing by an observer seemed to be able to make the balls deviate detectably from the distribution; even so, the results seemed not to give any sense of the mode of action or the strength of the psychokinetic force felt by the balls.

Large psychic forces, equivalent to many newtons and many kilograms of weight, have often been reported. Thus the alleged levitation of some holy people occurs in much old religious literature. Similarly, large ‘psychic forces’ were often apparently deployed and reported in Victorian seances. The turning of heavy tables and even their levitation were investigated by scientists of the highest repute, including Michael Faraday, Madame Curie, Lord Rayleigh, and Sir William Crookes. In 1927 Crookes himself told his colleague Sir William Bennett that ‘on that very hearth rug where you are standing’ he had seen Daniel Dunglas Home levitate himself.

Levitation has even been alleged to occur in the modern world. It is a trick supposedly demonstrated by some Eastern sages. Thus in a poem, T. S. Eliot saluted his criminal cat Macavity, whose ‘powers of levitation would make a fakir stare’. Though fictional, this poem acknowledges claims which have often been made about strange powers in the mystic East. Thus Maharishi Mahesh Yogi promoted his ideas by setting up a number of establishments around the world. Among other notions, they disseminated his claim for levitation through deep meditation, a practice he called ‘Vedic flying’. His foundation at Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire became known among locals as ‘the third London airport’. I am sceptical, and not only because no photographs were allowed. One disillusioned disciple described Vedic flying as ‘bouncing on your bum’.

I suspect that a lot of such displays were self-delusion and trickery. A Victorian seance was often set up in dim lighting or even total darkness. It was often under the control of a special ‘medium’ who sat in a ‘cabinet’ across which a curtain could be drawn, thus concealing his or her activities. The alleged psychic forces thus created might have satisfied a gullible audience. I have read of at least one account of a levitation fraud being brought about by a lifting rope. An interesting test was once conducted by Dr William Jackson Crawford, a Victorian lecturer in engineering at Belfast University. He arranged for the chair of the medium (Miss Kathleen Goligher, later Mrs S. G. Donaldson) to be mounted in a weighing scale. When she levitated a table, he noted that the weight registered by the scale increased by the weight of the table. She seems to have been holding it up in some way. Later Crawford wrote a book9 in which he commented of a seance that the ‘usual table-rappings and levitations occurred and were ascribed of course to spirit operations’. I have to be suspicious. The Toronto inventors of the fictitious ghost Philip tried to get him to levitate a table and may once have succeeded for a short time. So perhaps forces from the unknown world can sometimes be of sufficient intensity to levitate heavy objects. However, such forces are very rare. Engineers never have to bother with them. ‘Paranormal levitation’ was commonly reported in Victorian seances, but I am not convinced that it was a real effect.

Respected scientists have claimed to witness it in the past. Nonetheless, while many cases of small forces have been reported, I am suspicious of the claims made for this big one. It happens that we know a lot about genuine levitation from the experiences of the aeronautical engineers who worked on the ‘flying bedstead’ experimental aerial vehicle. This was levitated by the thrust of a downward-pointing jet engine, and ran into a lot of trouble.

Consider the problem. If you apply the right amount of upward force to (say) a table, it will float in the air. Too little force and it will not move at all; too much and it will accelerate upwards and hit the ceiling. If your force is not applied precisely through the centre of gravity of the table, it will tilt violently. If your force is not exactly vertical, its sideways component will push the table sideways till it hits a wall. To bring it down safely, the force must be reduced by a small amount so controllably that the table is not damaged by too rapid a descent. Accordingly, a successful levitation needs continuous control: either by the person being levitated or (in the case of a demonstration in a seance) by the medium in secret charge of either an unknown force or a fraudulent operation. It interests me that no report of ‘paranormal levitation’ seems to have encountered these side-effects.

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