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Montague Ullman, M.D.

The Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, Volume 3, Third Edition, Chapter 56, Section 15, pp. 3235-3245, 1980. Editors: A. Freedman and H. Kaplan.



The subject matter of parapsychology is the study of interactions between organisms and their environment that are not mediated by known sensorimotor functions. The term "parapsychology" itself was brought into general usage by J. B. Rhine (1934) to replace the older designation of psychic research. There is some dissatisfaction with the term "parapsychology" because of the implication of something over and beyond the range of the normal and because of the implied emphasis on psychology. It has now become customary to refer to these extrasensory and motor functions generally as psi phenomena (Thouless and Wiesner, 1946)."Psi" is here used as a less committed equivalent to the popular usage of "psychic." The interactions of concern to the parapsychologist are divided into input-output types. The input form is generally called extrasensory perception (ESP), and it involves the acquisition of information concerning external states, objects, or events under conditions that prohibit the involvement of receptor organs. Psychokinesis (PK) is the output form, consisting of influences exerted by a person on some aspect of his external environment without the use of known motor (output) functions.

Experimental evidence exists for several modalities of ESP, based on characteristics of the target information. Telepathy is ESP of subjective states or cognitive contents in another person. ESP of objective conditions or events is called clairvoyance. In addition to contemporaneous ESP of subjective and objective events, evidence has been produced for noninferential prediction of future states or events, which is termed "precognition."

Embedded in the use of the term "psi" is the hypothesis of an underlying common basis for the various psi modalities. Supporting evidence for this hypothesis consists of laboratory comparisons in which, for example, telepathic and clairvoyant responses were found to co-vary with experimental conditions, such as stimulant and depressant drug treatments (Rhine, 1934). Additional comparative studies are needed, but the notion of a common underlying function seems justified as a working hypothesis.


Throughout recorded history, in every culture and period, there have been reports of anomalous information transfer between persons separated by distance or otherwise occurring under conditions transcending the normal sensory and rational capacities of humans. Apparent paranormal phenomena have played important roles in the development and practice of various esoteric and religious systems and are usually viewed within this context as supernatural. Largely for this reason, psi phenomena were not subjected to scientific investigation until the latter part of the 19th century.

The intellectual history of the West is such that one is not surprised that such investigations were so late in being undertaken or that they were greeted by the scientific establishment with expressions of incredulity and hostility, akin to the commission of a religious sin. The eminent 19th century sensory physiologist von Helmholtz (Barrett, 1904) announced:

Neither the testimony of all the Fellows of the Royal Society, nor even the evidence of my own senses would lead me to believe in the transmission of thought from one person to another independently of the recognized channels of sensation.

These sentiments have been echoed in the modern era by Hebb (1951), who wrote:

Why do we not accept ESP as a psychological fact? Rhine has offered enough evidence to have convinced us on almost any other issue, where one could make some guess as to the mechanisms of the process .... We are still trying to find a way out of the magic wood of animism, where psychology began historically, and we cannot give up the talisman of a knowledge of material processes. Personally, I do not accept ESP for a moment, because it does not make sense. My external criteria, both of physics and physiology, say that ESP is not a fact, despite the behavioral evidence that has been reported. I cannot see what other basis my colleagues have for rejecting it... my own rejection ...is - in the literal sense - prejudice.

In addition to the problems that psi phenomena presented to classical Newtonian concepts in physics, parapsychological occurrences, by definition, challenge one of the most intrinsic assumptions underlying empirical science - namely, the belief in the sensory basis of all knowledge. This assumption still remains a stumbling block in the way of general scientific acceptance.

The first major effort to assess psi claims scientifically was undertaken by the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)(1882),founded in London in 1882 for the purpose of making an organized and systematic attempt to investigate that large group of debatable phenomena designated by such terms as mesmeric, psychic, and spiritualistic.

The SPR leadership included many distinguished scholars, the most active of whom were Henry and Eleanor Sidgwick, William Barrett, Frederic W. H. Myers, and Edmund Gurney: Similar organizations quickly emerged in other countries, including the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR), founded in Boston in 1885, largely through the efforts of William James.

These turn-of-the-century investigators focused many of their initial efforts on the arduous task of authenticating individual cases of spontaneous experiences suggestive of psi communication. A great deal of provocative material was reported (Gurney et al., 1886), but the limitations inherent in the case study approach prevented definitive conclusions from being reached. Spontaneous cases cannot be adequately assessed with respect to such contaminating factors as chance coincidence, unconscious inference, sensory leakage, retroactive falsification, and outright fabrication.

Early experimental approaches stressed the reproduction of drawings at a distance, presumably by telepathy. Often striking correspondences were obtained, but no attempt was made to quantify the results (Guthrie, 1885). The application of probability theory to the assessment of deviations from theoretically expected chance outcomes was introduced to psychic research in 1884 by the French Nobel Laureate Charles Richet (1884, 1889) in experiments involving card guessing. The popularity of card guessing as an experimental approach to psi inputs was greatly influenced by the early and highly successful work of J. B. Rhine and his associates at Duke University. Rhine devised a standard set of procedures around a simplified card deck containing randomized orders of five different forms: star, square, wavy lines, cross, and circle. These ESP cards were prepared in packs of 25, and each run through the pack was associated with a constant binomial probability of one in five because the subjects were not given any feedback until the end of each run. If the experimental conditions were such as to eliminate illicit sensory communication, recording errors, rational inference, and so on, statistically significant departures from chance were interpreted as ESP.

In this early work telepathy was tested by having a subject in one room guess the order of cards as they were observed in another room by an agent or sender. Clairvoyance tests involved having the subject guess the order of the cards as they lay face down, without being observed. Precognition, tests, introduced somewhat later (Rhine, 1938), involved having subjects make anticipatory guesses as to the future order of the cards before the cards were shuffled or otherwise randomized.

Rhine introduced the term "extrasensory perception" in the first major publication of the Duke University work (Rhine, 1934). He reported a total of 85,724 ESP card trials, carried out with a variety of subjects and a wide range of test conditions. The results as a whole were astronomically significant, although informal exploratory trials were unfortunately pooled with those carried out under formal, controlled conditions. The best-controlled work at the time was the Pearce-Pratt distance series of clairvoyance tests, in which the subject located in one building attempted to guess the order of cards handled in another building by the experimenter. A total of 1,850 test trials was completed, with a deviation from chance associated with a probability of approximately 22 billion to 1 (10-22).

Between 1934 and 1940, a flurry of critical articles appeared, mainly in the psychological literature, that challenged the evaluative methods and experimental conditions used in the card-guessing ESP studies. All the major counterhypotheses that have been raised against ESP were aired during this period. Critical attention initially focused on the mathematics of evaluation used to assess statistical significance (Kellogg, 1936). These criticisms were later withdrawn (Kellogg, 1940) after a number of mathematicians - including the president of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, Burton H. Camp - approved the evaluative techniques. Methodological criticisms centered on the hypothesis of unintentional sensory leakage. The sensory cue hypothesis. received temporary support from the discovery (Kennedy,l938) that commercially, manufactured ESP test cards could, under certain circumstances, be read from the back. However, the implications then widely circulated that significant experimental series had used these defective cards and that the backs of the cards that were accessible to the subjects were incorrect. By 1940 a total of 34 experimental series, comprising nearly a million card-guessing trials, had been collected at Duke and other centers under conditions that safely excluded sensory leakage and provided statistically highly significant results (Pratt et al., 1940). Some of these investigations, such as the Pearce-Pratt series, used distance as a sensory barrier between subject and test cards. Other studies involved the concealment of target cards and the use of opaque screens or envelopes.

It was widely believed that most independent replications of the Rhine work were nonconfirmatory, but this was not the case. Of the 31 published studies conducted in other laboratories during the 1934 to 1939 period, 21 (68 per cent) reported statistically significant results (Pratt et a1.,1940) supporting the ESP hypothesis.

From the very inception of the SPR in 1882, Sidgwick clearly recognized the resistance of the scientific community to the objective investigation of apparent psi phenomena. In his first presidential address (Sidgwick, 1882), he said:

We have done all that we can when the critic has nothing left to allege except that the investigator is in the trick. But when he has nothing else to allege, he will allege that.

By 1940 the active methodological controversy over ESP research methodology had subsided considerably but not completely (Diaconis, 1978). For the most part, recent critical attacks (Price, 1955; Hansel, 1966) have accepted the statistical and methodological adequacy of the better-controlled ESP studies but have focused on the possibility of dismissing even these studies by assuming the incompetence or dishonesty of the principal investigators. Although providing no evidence to support allegations of investigator fraud, these critics reason on a priori grounds that any explanation, regardless of how unlikely it seems to be, is mole likely than ESP. Such extreme charges are not uncommon in the history of science. The extent to which normal science protects its favored doctrines and theories from anomalous data has been well documented (Kuhn, 1962). However, Price retracted his allegations in an apology to Rhine and Soal (Price,1972).

Surveys of American psychologists indicate increasing acceptance of ESP research, especially among young members of the profession (Warner and Clark, 1938; Warner, 1952, 1955). A survey by New Scientist in London (Evans, l972) reported that more than 70 percent of the respondents regarded ESP as either "an established fact" or a "likely possibility." This outcome was apparently unexpected and reflects increased serious attention to the field, due in part to the admission of the Parapsychological Association as an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in December 1969 (Dean, 1970). The Parapsychological Association is an international society of professional research workers engaged in parapsychological research. The New Scientist survey also indicated that relatively few respondents believed current research directions to be productive, but to many, "current research directions" were most probably proof-oriented, card-testing approaches popularized in the 1930's. The technical parapsychological literature has not been widely read, and process-oriented psi research has not received nearly enough attention, either within the field or more generally. As Shapiro (1968) complained, there has been little or no attempt to build a conceptual framework for psi phenomena through systematic process-oriented studies because of the excessive preoccupation of parapsychological investigators and their critics with security aspects of the experiments.


A survey of post-1940 parapsychological research contains more than 1,200 bibliographical entries, most of which are to experimental work (Rao, 1966). Space prohibits more than a brief sketch of a few of the more important findings and developments.


The experimental investigation of psychokinesis began at Duke University in the mid-1930's with dice throwing tests in which subjects attempted to influence mentally the fall of specific die faces or combinations. Such tests provided a simple basis for statistical measurement, similar to the card-guessing tests for ESP. The evidence for PK in these studies consisted of two effects: statistically highly significant deviations from chance expectancy (Rhine, 1946) and significant and highly consistent declines in scoring (Rhine and Humphrey,, 1944). Independent replications of these wishing-with-dice experiments (Dale, 1946; McConnell et al., 1955) have confirmed the decline effect tendency for subjects to deteriorate in their dice-willing success over a period of effort. Important reviews of this work include those of Girden (1962), Murphy (1962), and L. E. Rhine (1970).

An important methodological advance in the testing for PK was made with the introduction of a random-event generator in which the element of randomness is linked to the quantum jumps found in radioactive decay (Schmidt,1970). After testing for randomness in the decay process of strontium 90, Schmidt designed an instrument in which the rate of decay can be registered. This rate is particularly difficult to influence by known external forces and is, therefore, suitable for detecting a PK effect. Subjects were able to produce significant PK effects with the random generator under conditions in which they had immediate feedback as to the correctness of their efforts, as well as in a precognitive experiment in which they were attempting to influence a future display (Schmidt, 1975). A total of 54 experiments have been reported using the random generator; the results of 35 of these experiments were significant.

Extrasensory perception

A number of methodological changes characterize the present era of psi research. Automated testing equipment capable of generating and displaying random target sequences and registering hits and misses is replacing card guessing in forced-choice psi tasks. Highly significant results have been obtained with such devices by a number of investigators (Schmidt, 1969; Haraldsson, 1970; Honorton, 1971), satisfying the long-standing demands of parapsychological critics for automated test methods (Hansel, 1966). At the same time, there has developed an increasing sensitivity to the disparity between spontaneous psi occurrences and forced choice methods of capturing them experimentally (White, 1964). This sensitivity has led to a resurgence of interest in free=response methods, illustrated by ESP dream studies. Another approach gaining some currency involves the use of autonomic responses as measures of ESP (Dean, 1964), thus bypassing conscious mediation. Also bearing promise is the application of learning theory to ESP research (Tart, 1976).

Stanford (1974) evolved a model of psi based on operating unconsciously in an instrumental way to meet the needs of the organism. He referred to this model as the psi-mediated instrumental response (PMIR). This model proposes that the organism nonintentionally uses psi to scan its environment for need-relevant objects or events or for information crucially related to such events.

The success of studies involving nonintentional ESP-PK tasks has encouraged further testing of this model.

Recent experiments conducted at the Stanford Research Institute with special subjects report success in what is referred to as "remote viewing." A subject, given a randomly selected set of geographical coordinates, correctly describes the physical setting as viewed by someone at the site (Puthoff and Targ, 1976). Success in tests of precognition indicated that subjects were able to perform tasks of remote viewing in advance of the random designation of the coordinates (Targ and Puthoff, 1977).

Attitudinal and personality factors

The subject's attitudes toward ESP, the ESP task he is required to perform, and the experimenter with whom he works during the task have been found to interact significantly with actual success in psi tasks. Schmeidler and McConnell (1958) divided groups of subjects into sheep (believers) and goats (disbelievers) and found the ESP test scores of the sheep to be significantly higher than the scores of the goats. This effect has been widely replicated by Schmeidler and by others (Palmer, 1971). Similar attitudinal factors have been found in classroom studies of teacher-pupil relations. Pupils who liked and were liked by their teachers (who administered the tests) obtained significantly higher ESP scores than did pupils who disliked and were disliked by their teachers (Anderson and White, 1956).

The search for personality correlates of psi has generated a sizable literature. The most consistent finding thus far is a positive relationship between ESP scores and various measures of extraversion (Eysenck, 1967; Kanthamani and Rao, 1972). Questionnaire measures of anxiety and neuroticism correlated negatively with ESP guessing success in one study (Kanthamani and Rao, 1973) but not in another (Nielsen and Freeman, 1965), whereas creativity and frequency of dream recall were positively related with ESP (Honorton, 1967, 1972). General intelligence has not been found to be correlated strongly or reliably with ESP success. Palmer (1977) reviewed the extensive literature on attitudes and personality traits in ESP research. The attitude of the experimenter toward the subject has been shown to significantly influence ESP scores (Honorton et al., 1975). Subjects who were approached in a positive and supportive manner yielded higher scores than did those exposed to negative handling. The expectancies of the experimenters also exert an influence on ESP scoring levels (Parker, 1975; Taddonio, 1976). Several review articles dealing with experimenter effects have been published (Kennedy and Taddonio, 1976; White, 1976,1977).

Altered states of consciousness

The most frequently reported mediator of spontaneous ESP effects is dreaming (L. E. Rhine, 1962). A series of experimental studies using electrophysiological sleep-monitoring techniques to detect dream episodes was reported in which a sensorially isolated agent attempted to transmit salient aspects of randomly chosen target pictures to a sleeping subject during periods of dreaming (Ullman and Krippner, 1970). In these studies, target pictures were rated against verbatim dream reports on a blind basis for correspondences. Two of the dream studies were designed to test precognition in dreams. The percipient's task was to dream about a target sequence that was not yet in existence and that would be randomly chosen and exposed to him on the morning after the dreams had been collected (Krippner et al., 1971, 1972). Significant ESP target incorporation was reported in 9 of 12 published studies (Ullman and Krippner, 1970; Ullman eta1.,1973). A number of studies by independent investigators have attempted to replicate these findings. Studies by Globus et al. (1968), Belvedere and Foulkes (1971), and Foulkes et al. (1972) yielded nonsignificant results. Hall (1967) in a pilot study and Van de Castle (1971)in a spontaneous dream recall experiment reported significant results.

There has been a long historical association between ESP and hypnosis (Dingwall,1967). Experimental studies comparing ESP success in hypnotic and in nonhypnotic conditions indicate that hypnosis affects ESP performance (Honorton and Krippner, 1969), but the specific facilitative factors have not yet been identified. Braud and Braud (1973) obtained significant ESP results in a series of experiments using a technique for deep muscle relaxation.

This linkage of psi to states of relaxation and the withdrawal of interest from the outside world has been referred to as the "psi-conducive syndrome" (Brand and Brand, 1975). One of the most successful of these approaches has resulted from the induction of a state of partial sensory deprivation through the use of the ganzfeld technique (Honorton and Harper, 1974). The subject relaxes in a soundproof room with halved ping-pong balls covering his eyes and preventing any patterned visions. In addition, a uniform auditory input is brought about through the use of white noise. Eight of 16 experimental studies of psi retrieval during ganzfeld states of induced relaxation have yielded over-all significant results (Honorton, 1977). Braud and Braud (1975) attributed the favorable results to the greater role of the nondominant hemisphere during the psi-conducive state.

Psi effects in infrahuman subjects

The existence of psi capacities in humans has stimulated inquiry into their distribution among infrahuman species. Experimental studies of psi functioning in lower animals have involved a wide variety of methods and species (Morris,1970,1977). The most convincing findings thus far have emerged from an experimental design originally reported by Duval and Montredon (1968) in France. In these studies small rodents (mice or gerbils) were placed in a special cage and presented with an extrasensory shock-avoidance task. On each trial a random number generator passed an electric current through one of two floor grids in the cage. The animal could avoid being shocked by precognitively anticipating which side would receive the current. Photocell sensors tracked trial-to-trial movements, permitting automatic recording of binary hits and misses. Trials were selected in which the animal's behavior was not rigidly stimulus-bound or stereotyped, because it was hypothesized that such random-behavior trials would be more amenable to psi influence.

Theories of psi

Physical theories attempting to explain psi in terms of electromagnetic theory have not met with any notable success. Vasiliev (1963), using specially shielded cabinets, was still able to induce telepathic effects at a distance. Interest in the possible relevance of quantum theory was explored by Dobbs (1967) and by Chari (1977). The most promising contribution along these lines has been that of Walker (1972 a, b, 1975). On the basis of the observer in quantum theory, he has proposed that consciousness - more specifically, the will - functions as a hidden variable capable of bringing about the desired ESP or PK state from the range of possible states around any given event.

Nonphysical theories have generally assumed either the existence of a nonphysical medium, resulting in contact among organisms at a subliminal level, or have postulated a mind-like entity capable of functioning independently of the nervous system and able to react across barriers of space and time (Rao, 1977). Eccles (1977) suggested that mind is a separate entity that acts on the brain through PK.

LeShan (1974) wrote of different realities and postulated that psi effects fall into place once a shift occurs from involvement in the sensory reality of everyday life to the experience of a clairvoyant reality. The latter mode of apprehending reality dissolves the subject-object dichotomy, resulting in the merger of all events into the same unitary pattern. It is this merging that is experienced as the unmediated effects referred to as psi.

Parapsychology and Psychiatry


The last 2 decades of the 19th century were characterized by a lively interest in the unconscious determinants of personality and their pathological vicissitudes. The impetus arose out of the interest in hypnosis stimulated in England by the work of Braid (1843) and on the continent by the studies of Libbeault(1866) and Bernheim (1900). With the founding of the British and American societies for psychic research, it was to be expected that one of the major themes to be explored was the possible relationship between this expanding awareness of unconscious mechanisms and the elusive, mysterious data that formed the subject matter of psychic research. The early publications of these societies dealt largely with such matters as hypnosis, the nature of suggestion, the range and power of subliminal consciousness, states of possession, and cases of multiple personality. Particular interest was expressed in the possible bearing these conditions may have on the existence of supernormal abilities or discarnate agencies or both.

Among the early investigators whose names were linked to the British and the American societies were the classical scholar F. W. H. Myers, the psychologist William James, and the medical psychologist T. W. Mitchell. Each in his own way was intrigued by the possibility that the serious study of psychic phenomena may shed light on the unconscious dimension of human personality and on the evolution of psychopathological processes.

Myers (1903) elaborated the concept of the subliminal self based on studies of sleep, dreaming, insanity, hysteria, genius, hypnotism, the occurrence of sensory and motor automatisms during trance states, and the evidence then available for telepathy (a term coined by Myers) and clairvoyance. Myers regarded the subliminal self as an unconscious but organized agency, active at all times but capable of erupting into consciousness only when special conditions prevail - hypnosis, dreaming, or trance. He believed that the various manifestations of psychic phenomena supported the view that the subliminal self can establish independent relations with other minds (telepathy) and independent relations with objects in space (clairvoyance). He went further and argued that certain phenomena, such as phantasms of the living and of the dead and traveling clairvoyance (more commonly referred to as out-of-body experience), favor the notion of the subliminal self as an agency that can survive bodily death.

James (1956), an admirer of Myers's work, preferred a somewhat different view of this unconscious component. Although agreeing in general with the case made for an unconscious component that can exert effects independent of and beyond the known limits of the physical organism, he preferred what he termed the "transmission" theory to Myers's concept of individual subliminal selves capable of surviving bodily death. According to this transmission view, individual consciousness flows from and then back to a universal stream.

Mitchell was a key figure in the early linkage of psychiatry to psychic research. In his studies of dissociated states, hysteria, and multiple personality (Mitchell, 1920, 1922a), he maintained an open mind concerning the role these states may play in the emergence of supernormal - that is, telepathic - abilities. Mitchell was also one of the early supporters of the psychoanalytic movement, and his writings provide the first bridge linking the world of psychical research to the world of psychoanalysis (Mitchell, 1910, 1922b, 1939).


Early contributions

At the same time that psychoanalysts were attempting to formulate a scientific view of personality development and psychopathology, a shift of another kind was occurring among the ranks of psychic researchers. The richly speculative work of early investigators linking dissociated states and hysteria to the paranormal properties of what was variously referred to as the subconscious (Sidis, 1912), the subliminal (Myers, 1903), and the co-conscious (Prince, 1914) came to an end, to be replaced by the experimental school of parapsychology ushered in by J. B. Rhine and his associates. What had been a unified stream of interest in the interplay of conscious, unconscious, and pathological processes in the production of psi phenomena diverged into what for the next several decades remained as two separate and isolated fields of inquiry. The early analysts - with a few notable exceptions, such as Freud and Jung - were too preoccupied with the task of establishing a scientific beachhead for psychoanalysis to run the risk of any overt linkage of their new science to the world of the occult. Parapsychologists, in turn, became preoccupied with quantification and statistical methods.

Freud expressed an interest in telepathy from the point of view of the understanding that psychoanalytic theory can shed on the circumstances under which these events occur. In his writings on the subject, Freud (1922, 1925, 1934, 1953) offered a number of theoretical speculations concerning the dynamics of telepathic exchanges. He suggested that, when such exchanges occur, the information reaches the unconscious of the receiver and is then subject to the same laws of transformation as other unconscious content making its way into consciousness. His examination of instances of "fortune telling" called to his attention led him to conclude also that the source of the message is often a painful experience that had been repressed.

Freud was a good deal more open about offering serious consideration to the subject matter of telepathy than were many of his followers. Jones (1957) traced the development of Freud's interest in the subject and revealed his own efforts to temper Freud's public statements on the matter. A countervailing pull came from Ferenczi, but in the end Jones's caveats proved the stronger, and Freud's most explicit public views (Freud, 1953) did not appear until after his death.

In contrast to Freud, Jung developed an early interest in the occult, and this interest permeated his thought and outlook throughout his life. His autobiographical account (Jung, 1963) details the events leading to his belief in the reality of psi phenomena, and a work written in collaboration with the physicist Pauli (Jung and Pauli, 1955) presents the theoretical system he evolved to account for these phenomena. Abandoning any hope of reconciling psi phenomena with the principle of causality, Jung looked elsewhere for an explanatory system. In opposition to the principle of causality, he offered the principle of synchronicity to describe events occurring in the parapsychological domain. This principle simply asserts that, in addition to the causal order linking external events to subjective impression, there can, at times, occur another linkage based on meaning alone. Jung considered paranormal events to be acausal meaningful coincidences. He linked the occurrence of these events to the realization or constellation of an archetypal upsurge precipitated by the context in which the coincidental events occurred. In other words, when paranormal events occur, the dynamics underlying their occurrence can be understood in relation to the specific archetype emerging at that moment.

As might be expected, Freud's writings on the subject of telepathy continued to exert a polarizing influence among the early psychoanalysts. On the skeptical side, in addition to Jones, were Zulliger (1934), Hitschmann (1924), Schilder (1934), and Saul (1938). In support of the telepathy hypothesis, in addition to Jung and Ferenczi, were Stekel (1920), Hollós (1926), Deutsch (1926), Roheim (1932), Burlingham (1935), and Servadio (1935). This latter group of analysts did develop many of the ideas touched on by Freud and added ideas of their own concerning the dynamics at play in the therapeutic situation when telepathy occurred. Hollós (1926) emphasized the libidinal and affective aspects of the telepathic message, the connection of the message with a wish in the process of being repressed, and the role of countertransferential factors in accounting for the vulnerability of the analyst as the source of the message. Hann-Kende (1953) and Servadio (1935) both stressed the role of positive transference as favoring the occurrence of a telepathic event. Specifically, telepathy seems to occur at times when the therapist, because of his own preoccupation, turns away from the patient. This withdrawal of attention from the patient triggers a telepathic event, which by virtue of its impact succeeds in reestablishing the focus on the patient. Roheim (1932) linked telepathy to the same unconscious voyeuristic needs initially related to the primal scene. Burlingham (1935) speculated on the possible role telepathy plays in the early mother-child situation.

Among those skeptical of the telepathy hypothesis, Hitschmann (1924), Zulliger (1934), and Schilder (1934) preferred an explanation based on an extended view of coincidence acting in combination with unconscious dynamisms related to omnipotence of thought. Saul (1938) thought that such effects can be accounted for on the basis of a heightened sensitivity of normal powers occurring under conditions of stress.

Contemporary interest

Contemporary interest in the subject was largely stimulated through the writings of Ehrenwald (1948, 1955), Eisenbud (1946, 1947), and Servadio (1955, 1956). Ehrenwald (1948, 1974, 1977) reexamined the psychopathology of schizophrenia in the light of the telepathy hypothesis and suggested that some of the symptoms of the disease can be understood as a failure on the part of the patient to ward off heteropsychic or telepathically perceived information arising from the unconscious or preconscious of others. The misinterpretation of such content as autopsychically derived (arising from one's own unconscious or preconscious) reinforces paranoid and grandiose ideation. Ehrenwald (1955) developed the view that any handicap or defect, which he referred to as a minus function, prepares the way for telepathic functioning. He also called attention to the resemblance between the fragmentation and displacement effects that characterize the efforts of percipients trying to reproduce target material and the kind of disorganization noted in the drawings of brain-damaged patients (Ehrenwald,1948, 1956). He evolved a neurobiological model of psi based on four major premises (Ehrenwald 1972).

Extension hypothesis

This hypothesis implies that psi effects are compensatory extensions of normal sensory and motor abilities. Operating outside the normal limit of sensory and motor apparatuses ESP and PK, although different in effect from normal sensory and motor abilities, are no more mysterious in principle. This view allows for the possibility, for example, that normal motor function may ultimately be understood as a PK effect on the brain (Ehrenwald, 1978).

Hypothesis of a symbiotic gradient

Ehrenwald (1955) suggested that psi abilities play a significant role in the early mother-child symbiotic relationship. As development proceeds, these abilities decline but are not totally lost. When they reemerge, they do so first in relation to the extended family and then in relation to society at large. The symbiotic gradient (Ehrenwald, 1968) refers to the gradual decline in the child's psi ability to influence or be influenced by the world external to his own body as he learns to adapt to the demands of an expanding social milieu.

Identity of psi effects

Ehrenwald regarded PK and ESP as different aspects of the same psi syndrome and considered any distinction as an artificial one. They are all incompatible with what he referred to as outworn current time-and-space-bound Euclidean and Newtonian notions of personality structure. A new model was needed, one analogous to relativistic. physics, to account for exchanges between organism and environment based on psi operations. These effects experienced as spatial, temporal, and causal anomalies are interconnected and interchangeable. Precognition, for example, may be the result of a combination of telepathic sensing of an impending event and psychokinetic intervention to help bring about the event.

Existential shift

Ehrenwald (1971) defined this premise as a shift in set from ordinary, time-space-oriented, Euclidean level of adaption to a qualitatively different or non-Euclidean mode of existence not limited by time, space, and causality. He argued that such a shift facilitates the emergence of psi. Shifts of this kind may come about through hypnosis, psychedelic drugs, meditation, and dreaming. They all, said Ehrenwald (1972), involve an abrupt, global reshuffling and reorganization of a person's physiological and psychological adaptations.

The existential shift marks the movement from the closed self-contained model of personality linked to causality and limited by space and time to the non-Euclidean open model capable of influencing and being influenced by the environment through the reemergence of a psi potential (Ehrenwald, 1978).

Ehrenwald coined a number of felicitous terms designating one or another aspect of telepathy as it manifests itself clinically. The terms "minus function," "existential shift," and "symbiotic gradient" have already been mentioned. Drawing on analogies from the world of chemistry and physics, Ehrenwald (1955) used the term "tracer effect" to denote manifest correspondences between an element in a dream of a percipient and an actual occurrence, and he used the term "psi induction" (Ehrenwald, 1957) to refer to the spread of telepathic effects from therapist to patient. Ehrenwald (1957) spoke of "doctrinal compliance" in describing the striking degree of congruence one finds between the kinds of symbols appearing in the dreams of patients and the particular theoretical orientation of the therapist, and he suggested that psi induction plays a role in bringing this congruence about. Ehrenwald (1955) used the term "scatter effect" to denote the fact that telepathic content tends to be fragmented, approximate, and scattered with regard to both space and time.

Servadio (1956) emphasized the relationship between transference and thought transference, stressing the unconscious, emotionally colored bridging functions of each. Telepathy takes place when, in the course of an impelling transference, the element of frustration occurs, blocking communication and forcing the patient into a more regressive state, one that favors the reinstatement of an archaic mode of communication (Servadio, 1966). Servadio (1955) also stressed countertransferential factors and noted that telepathy occurs when there is a dovetailing of the analysts' emotional patterns with those of the patients - that is, an unconscious dynamical configuration á deux (including elements of transference, as well as identification and counteridentification, both normal and paranormal).

This theme of the unconscious interplay between patient and therapist was developed by all psychoanalytic writers on the subject. They were touched on by Freud, noted by Deutsch and Hollós, and then received more explicit recognition in the works of Ehrenwald (1955), Servadio (1955), Ullman (1959), Meerloo (1964), and Eisenbud (1970).

Eisenbud (1970) emphasized both the frequency and the range of psi events in the psychoanalytic setting. Agreeing with earlier writers concerning the relationship between telepathy and repression, he was more open than others in the degree of self-revelation in which he indulged in his writings as he traced out the dynamic interconnections between the patient's telepathic comment or dream and the relevant events in his own life. He was sensitive not only to telepathic exchanges between his patients and himself but also among his patients as they unconsciously acted out elements of earlier family conflicts. Eisenbud made active and explicit use of the telepathy hypothesis as a therapeutic instrument and stressed its importance in extending and validating psychoanalytic theory.

Differing from those who regarded telepathy as the sporadic thrust into consciousness of an archaic communication system, Eisenbud (1966-1967, 1972) regarded psi effects as ubiquitous ever-active components of daily life. Psi effects not only are at the root and source of primitive preoccupation with magic and omnipotence of thought but continue to play a hidden but meaningful role in the affairs of humans and, even more broadly, modulate in strange and inexplicable ways the subtle and complex exchanges necessary to maintain an ecological balance.

Meerloo (1964) was the foremost exponent of the theory of telepathy as an archaic mode of communication, the eruption of which can trigger mass reactions and panic, as well as psi exhanges on a smaller scale. Fodor (1949) and Peerbolte (1964, 1965) both regarded psi as an archaic mode originating at the prenatal level of development. Ehrenwald's (1954) model emphasized the early mother-child relationship as the nexus for future psi abilities, abilities that are later greatly dampened as the infant learns to adapt to the world about him. Related to this issue is a recent theoretical contribution of Tolaas and Ullman (1979). They suggested that, during the period of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep in the mammalian newborn, there is a need for a bidirectional form of vigilance. The organism is attentive to internal processes, including the possibility of a primitive form of imagery, and at the same time is selectively attuned to approaching predators. Once an organism locates a threat, that threat is incorporated into the ongoing REM state and possibly into imagery and is then telepathically communicated to the significant adult. Although ESP is not limited to the REM state, it is linked to it phylogenetically as the older and more prevalent phase of sleep in infancy. Tolaas and Ullman regarded psi as the original means of maintaining communicative ties under circumstances in which the young are helpless for considerable periods after birth. Schwarz(1971) documented a great many instances of telepathy involving his wife, himself, and their children over a period of many years.

Fodor (1942) spoke of telepathy á trois and cited telepathic exchanges between pairs of patients. Coleman (1958) called attention to the paranormal triangle, in which the patient reveals a telepathic awareness of the intrusion of a third force in the person of the supervising analyst.

The minus function referred to by Ehrenwald (1955) may take the form of an altered state of consciousness on the part of one or both participants to telepathy. Schwarz (1971) described the frequency with which minor lapses of attention (mental diplopia), momentary reverie, and transient distraction accompany the telepathic event. Ullman (1970) emphasized the facilitating influence of dreaming. Shainberg (1976) cited stressful events in the life of the therapist as triggering a telepathic perception by the patient.

When Ehrenwald (1955) wrote of telepathic scatter, he referred to hits displaced in time, as well as across distances. Actually, precognition in dreams is far more frequent in anecdotal reports than is the telepathic dream (L. E. Rhine, 1961). A number of accounts have appeared describing the occurrence of precognitive dreams in the course of therapy, accounts that the authors regarded as genuinely precognitive, rather than being explainable in terms of latent dynamics or telepathy or a combination of both (Fodor, 1955; Servadio, 1955; Meerloo, 1964; Nelson, 1964; and Eisenbud, 1969). Nelson (1964) noted two kinds of functional relationships linked to precognition. In one, the information obtained serves an ego-enhancing or preening function. In the other, the information serves a revelatory function by transforming content locked in a closed intrapsychic circuit into an open interpsychic one, the precognized event helping the person move beyond the confines of the self.

A number of authors have described psychosomatic effects that appear to have been triggered in part by paranormal means (Eisenbud, 1946; Ehrenwald, 1948b; Schwarz, 1967; Stevenson, 1970). Schwarz (1967) referred to this as a telesomatic effect. Stevenson (1970) suggested that obscure physical symptoms and psychosomatic syndromes may, on the basis of well-validated anecdotal evidence, come about as physical analogues of a telepathic message.

In a review of parapsychology and psychopathology, Alberti (1972) reexamined the long-held belief in the close relationship of psi to dissociated states. He concluded that the connection of the two is less common than it is thought to be and that, when they do occur together, the relationship is more of a contingent one than a causal one. When they are found together, it is because the existence of dissociative states facilitates the emergence at a behavioral level of whatever it is that is responsible for the guessing performance indicative of ESP. Rogo (1974a) raised a number of issues concerning the relationship of psi to the psychotic process. He noted that not only do psi factors emerge initially in the early stages of illness but genuine psi ability is often seen to emerge after recovery.

Another point of convergence between psi and psychopathology lies in the still largely unexplored area of the interpersonal milieu in which poltergeist phenomena are alleged to occur. Owen (1964), Roll (1972), and Rogo (1974b) followed Fodor's (1959) lead in interpreting the phenomena as paranormal externalization of repressed aggression.

There have been a number of criticisms made of the clinical evidence offered in support of telepathy. Ellis (1947) offered counterexplanations that were believed to be equally valid and that did not go beyond a reasonable combination of coincidence and unconscious psychodynamic mechanisms. He and others (Brenner,1957; Löfgren, 1968) accused the protagonists of telepathy of underplaying the role of coincidence and of engaging in a search for correspondences that served their own unconscious and unresolved attachments to the supernatural. The critics underscored the fact that the clinical evidence, standing alone, was not compelling from a scientific standpoint. What they failed to take into account, however, is that clinical studies should be viewed against the background of the experimental data on hand. Seen in this light, the studies do assume significance in their own right and add the dimension of interpersonal dynamics to the findings emerging from the laboratory. Clinical contributions provided an intimate and detailed rendering of the psychological setting of psi events. What emerged from the clinical studies were clearer ideas concerning criteria for identifying telepathic dreams, characterological predispositions, and the dynamics at play. There lies their unique contribution, despite the obvious lack of either quantification or control.


The criteria useful in identifying a dream occurring in the clinical context as presumptively telepathic are as follows:

1.   When correspondences between dream elements and objective events occur, these correspondences should be both unusual and of a noninferential character. The dream element should be one not ordinarily occurring in dreams or in the dream of the particular patient. The objective event to which it refers should be one that could not have been inferred by the patient from his knowledge of the therapist or known on the basis of nonverbal cueing.

2.   A close temporal relationship should exist between the occurrence of the patient's dream and the events in the life of the therapist that are mirrored in the dream.

3.   The linkage or correspondence to be established must exist not only at the manifest level but also at the level of psychological meaning.

The above represent the minimal criteria for invoking the telepathy hypothesis.

Character traits of telepathic dreamers

Ehrenwald (1948b), Ullman (1949), and Coleman (1958) called attention to some of the personality features that characterize those patients who report the most striking and frequent telepathic incidents. Patients tend to be withdrawn and schizoid in make-up, so that telepathy, when it does occur, seems to break through a compulsively maintained isolation. Ullman (1949) encountered the telepathic dream most frequently in the inhibited, obsessively organized patient who tends to use language in the service of his own distancing mechanisms. The greater regularity and the more systematic way in which these patients report telepathic dreams suggests that for them psi abilities are much more actively and integrally related to their basic interpersonal strategies of defense and contact than is the case for those patients who report an occasional sporadically occurring telepathic dream. It seems to be an extension of the heightened sensitivity that is frequently associated with a sense of isolation and alienation. These patients, for example, are remarkably sensitive to hostile trends in others. When their own hostile trends are mobilized, they are generally focused on the vulnerabilities and weaknesses of the analyst as the figure assuming most significance in their lives at the moment. Eisenbud (1970) differed with this formulation, believing that psi abilities cut across all characterological types.

Under experimental conditions, healthy and outgoing people are likely to do better than more constricted and narcissistic people. The healthier the person, the greater his ability may be to deploy his psi abilities under circumstances in which the limitations are objective and imposed from without, as compared with the situation the patient finds himself in where the limitations are characterologically imposed.


From the point of view of the patient, telepathic rapport seems to occur in response to what he experiences as a temporary loss of contact with the therapist. This lapse is often precipitated by the momentary preoccupation of the therapist with his own, unsettled feelings either about the patient or about more personal matters. In either event the patient appears to be sensitive to the loss, and his response in the form of a comment or dream incorporating telepathic content pertaining to the therapist dramatically refocuses attention on the patient. It serves the dual purpose of establishing the patient's awareness of the therapist's dereliction and of challenging the therapist to acknowledge the part his own difficulties are playing in the analysis. The telepathic maneuver enables him to do all this while remaining in a position to disclaim any responsibility for doing so.

The therapist thus plays a crucial role in the occurrence of a psi event in the clinical context. Intercurrent anxieties on his part often trigger such events. There seem to be other more general factors at play, having to do with the attitude of the therapist toward the possible occurrence of psi events. In a way that seems analogous to the sheep-goat experiments - in which the sheep or believers in ESP scored higher on card tests than did the goats or nonbelievers (Schmeidler and McConnell, 1958) - those therapists who are interested in and oriented to the occurrence of the telepathic dream seem to encounter such dreams more often than do more skeptical colleagues. The possibility exists that the problem in connection with the skeptics is not one of the frequency of the occurrence of the psi event but, rather, the failure to recognize it as such.

The following examples are chosen to illustrate the way in which striking correspondences at a manifest level between dream element and objective reality can alert the therapist to the possibility of telepathic content.

The patient, a 40-year-old clothing salesman, reported the following dream (Ullman, 1959):

I'm in a hotel room. I was there with a man I represent. I was wrapping up a few of the samples that had been on exhibit and was preparing to leave. Someone gave me, or hook, a chromium soap dish. I held it in my hand and offered it to him. He took it. I was surprised. I asked him, "Are you a collector, too?" Then I sort of smirked and said knowingly, "Well, you're building a house." He blushed....

The patient was puzzled about the chromium soap dish and had no associations to it. The therapist, however, did. A year and a half earlier, about 6 months before treatment began, the therapist had moved into a new house, which had been built as part of a cooperative venture by a group of young architects. During the building, an extra chromium soap dish had been shipped to his house by mistake. He thought of returning it, but, in a spirit of belligerent dishonesty in reaction to the mounting costs of the house, he never bothered to. One week before the patient's dream, several of the architects came over to inspect some damage that had resulted from the house's settling unevenly. One of them spied the soap dish lying unused in the cellar and embarrassed the therapist by calling attention to it.

The combination of the appearance in a dream of the unusual element of an unattached chromium soap dish and the role this item played in the current life of the therapist suggested the possibility of a telepathic linkage. This assumption gained further support from the analysis of the dream.

In another example, a dream containing an unusual dream element corresponded to a real event in the life of the therapist. In this instance, dream and real-life event occurred the same night (Ullman, 1970).

A 42-year-old female patient reported the following dream:

I was at home with John. There was a bottle on the table containing part alcohol and part cream. It was sort of a white, foamy, stuff ....John wanted to drink it. I said, "No, you can drink it later." I looked at the label. It read, "Appealing Nausea." I meant to drink it when we went to bed, although we seemed to be in bed at the time.

She then reported another dream fragment from that same night:

I had a small leopard. It was very dangerous .... I wrapped him up and put him in a large bowl. Mother told me to take him out or he would die.


On the evening of the night the patient had these dreams, the therapist and his wife attended a lecture at the New York Academy of Medicine on the subject of animal neuroses. The speaker presented a movie showing how cats can be made to develop an addiction to alcohol. In one scene an alcoholic cat was offered the choice of a dish of milk and a dish of half -milk, half-alcohol; the cat showed a preference for the alcohol-milk mixture.

Tracer elements such as the half-alcohol half-cream mixture and the small leopard suggest the possibility of telepathy. To establish the likelihood that the dreamer has resorted to the telepathic maneuver, one has to invoke the criterion of psychological meaning based on an elaboration of the underlying dynamics. As in the first example, the analysis did support the telepathy hypothesis to the extent that the scene in the movie witnessed by the therapist did provide visual metaphors that appropriately expressed dynamics that were surfacing at that time in therapy. These dynamics included the patient's feelings about the omnipotence of the therapist in relation to her, suggested by her identification with the animal being manipulated by the experimenter, her own despair about change - suggested by her identification with a leopard, an animal that cannot change its spots - and her ambivalence about relinquishing control and revealing the more sensual side of her character - suggested by her intent to drink an alcohol mixture aptly labeled "Appealing Nausea" at bedtime, while also warning against it.

Dreaming and telepathy


Clinical experience supports the anecdotal evidence that implicates the dreaming state as favoring the appearance of telepathic content. Aspects of dreams and dreaming suggest possible reasons for this connection. The spontaneous occurrence of telepathy in crisis situations suggests that in some way the mobilization of vital needs is implicated. Motivational systems close to the core of the person do come into operation in the dream. Dreaming as a state of heightened activation suggests that a vigilance function is operative, oriented (in the human being at any rate) more to the detection of threats to the symbolic system linking the person to his social milieu than to the detection of threats involving his state of bodily intactness (Ullman, 1958). In the dreaming state, one has the possible advantages of an altered state of consciousness, combined with a state of high arousal and one in which basic motivational systems are activated. While a person is dreaming, his conscious experience is organized along lines of emotional contiguity, rather than spatial and temporal contiguity. To accommodate the reality of telepathic phenomena, one has to postulate that the affective scanning that takes place as dreaming occurs can, when the occasion calls for it, bridge a spatial gap and incorporate information arriving independently of any known communication channel or energy system. At these moments the dreamer seems able to incorporate transpersonal, as well as personal, content into his dream. There is mounting evidence from the laboratory (Ullman, 1966; Ullman and Krippner, 1970) that telepathic dreams can be experimentally induced, thus adding to the support coming from anecdotal and clinical sources.


Psi events are intrinsically elusive. When they do occur, they often, although by no means always, involve urgent matters, frequently matters of life and death. Operating outside the current understanding of energy systems and causal relations, they pose a broad challenge to the existing paradigms of modern science. Specifically, there are immediate implications for psychiatry, both practically and theoretically.

From a practical point of view, the work of Eisenbud and others established the fact that there are clear-cut technical advantages to be gained when the therapist makes explicit use of the telepathy hypothesis. The clarification of the dynamics underlying the patient's instrumental use of the telepathy maneuver may expose more sharply than under any other circumstances the way in which a particular transference-countertransference difficulty may be blocking therapeutic progress. It certainly provides an opportunity to recognize and deal with countertransferential problems promptly and honestly.

At a theoretical level, the study of psi events may have a bearing on the understanding of altered states of consciousness, particularly those states, like dreaming, in which attention is withdrawn from the outside world. The evidence now suggests that such states favor and facilitate psi and mediate transpersonal information gathering. Dreaming, as prototypical of such states, has to be viewed as a state of openness not only to intrapsychic affective residues arising during sleep but to heteropsychic or transpersonal sources as well. Transpersonal information gathering is apt to occur when significant relations are threatened, impaired, or destroyed. The existence of a relationship between dreams and psi events presents an opportunity to learn more about both.

The work of Ehrenwald in particular marks a beginning in the application of the psi hypothesis to an understanding of specific psychopathological states. Dreaming is a functionally normal, easily reversible altered state of consciousness. Psychoses represent pathologically chronic and less easily reversible altered states of consciousness. The evidence thus far suggests that symptomatically psychotic patients make elaborate claims to psi ability or to being victimized by the psi abilities of others. Yet, on objective testing, they do no better than average. However, patients who function close to a psychotic level without disengaging from the real world often reveal profound psi ability in the clinical context. This finding suggests that these abilities may surface as an emergency communicative system in the interest of maintaining ties to the external world but that they are lost as interest in maintaining those ties is lost. In borderline patients, the paranormal grasp of events is consonant with the effort to monitor reality and to maintain a detached stance.

Suggested Cross References

Sleep is discussed in Section 2.3. Hypnosis is discussed in Section 3 0.4. Classical psychoanalysis and Freud are discussed in Chapter 8, and Carl Jung is discussed in Section 10.3.


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