That being said, none of the articles that I ever wrote come close to the fabulous summary posted on the blog of Jon Lieff, MD. His article, Meditation and the Brain 2013, presents detailed but approachable overview of the latest scientific research into the benefits of meditation, Tai Chi and yoga.
The benefits of these practices span a wide spectrum of human activity, such as physical health, mental health, dealing with pain and creativity.
Today I’m glad to present interview with Annalisa Ventola. I first got to know her through her blog, Public Parapsychology. These days she’s the Executive Director of the Parapsychological Association. This interview was taken over email.
Annalisa, could you please tell our readers about yourself.
I'm also a composer, performer, and music teacher. I have a small, private studio of 20-30 young pianists who see me once a week for tutoring. I also perform original piano/vocal music around Columbus, Ohio and have an EP album in development (http://www.annalisaventola.com/).
Could you describe the Parapsychological Association, how does it differ from other psi research associations (SPR, for example)
The Parapsychological Association is a professional association of scientists and scholars engaged in the study of psi (or 'psychic') experiences, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, psychic healing, and precognition. The PA is similar to the structure of other kinds of professional academic associations, but unique in the types of members that it attracts and the programs that it offers.
Our professional membership is primarily made up of college and university professors, clinicians, counselors, and independent researchers who engage in psi research. The PA supports their work with publications like the Journal of Parapsychology and the Mindfield Bulletin, research grants, yearly awards and annual conventions. Additionally, the PA publishes a set of ethical standards by which our professional members abide.
What do you do at Parapsychological Association?
I am responsible for implementing the PA Board's plans and policies, managing general operations, recruiting and supervising staff and volunteers, conducting the official correspondence of the PA and communicating with PA membership and the general public.
What about your own research?
Lately my personal research efforts have taken a back seat to the PA's administrative needs, but prior to working for the PA, I was doing field research on haunting and poltergeist experiences. I assisted Devin Terhune and James Houran in a large-scale study that was funded by the Society for Scientific Exploration's Young Investigators Program (http://www.scientificexploration.org/journal/jse_21_1_terhune.pdf). It was a double-blind field study that investigated the physical characteristics of a reputedly haunted residence compared to the thoroughly "unhaunted" residence next door. Positive results from that study had me spending several years pursuing the question of how to evaluate photographic anomalies and work with expert consultants (The Parapsychological Association, Inc. 52nd Annual Convention Abstracts of Presented Papers – page 23).
More recently, I've worked with fellow parapsychologist Bryan Williams on several self-published primers created to assist paranormal enthusiasts in adopting parapsychological methods in their own field investigations. Each of our primers contains a thorough literature review on the topic under study followed by tips on how to put the knowledge from previous research into practice. So far we've covered temperature, magnetism, apparitional experiences, and poltergeist phenomena. The primers can be downloaded at http://www.annalisaventola.com/research/.
Please tell about the PA conferences. Who is the target audience? What interesting events or lectures took place at previous ones?
The annual convention of the Parapsychological Association – now in its 56th year – is where the parapsychological community comes together to present and discuss the latest research developments taking place in universities and private laboratories around the world. The target audience is generally academic, though the event is always open to the public.
At our last PA convention in Durham, North Carolina, two events come to mind as particularly interesting. One was a workshop chaired by Dr. Athena Drewes titled "Understanding and Responding to Child and Adult Psi Experiences". The workshop focused on the recognizing the differences between healthy and unhealthy paranormal experiences and how clinical parapsychologists can assist the mental health system in "de-pathologizing psi".
The other event was the annual J.B. Rhine address, which was given by Prof. Thomas Robisheaux of Duke University in Durham. Prof. Robisheaux is a historian and an engaging storyteller. In his address, he used the story of Psyche and Eros as an allegory for the major turning points in the study parapsychological phenomena. The way he weaved these threads together was quite brilliantly done.
Duke University history professsor Thomas Robisheaux, Ph.D., discusses ‘Looking for Psyche: Historical Reflections on Parapsychology, Psychical Research, and the Anomalous Experience’ at PA’s Annual Convention.
What do you look forward to in the upcoming conference in Viterbo?
Right now what I'm looking forward to most is the accommodations and the food! I've been tracking Ora Domus La Quercia on Facebook and their food pictures make me salivate. I love to eat new foods when I travel and I can't wait to sample their fare.
The PA program Committee is still at work on the program, and until they are done I won't be able to say much more about what is happening at the Viterbo convention. However, Dr. Simon Thorpe has been invited to deliver the J.B. Rhine address this year. He is the research director of the Brain and Cognitive Research Center (CerCo) at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Toulouse, France. He will be speaking on the possible implications of psi for cognitive neuroscience and thinking about the nature of mind and consciousness. This should be a very interesting talk.
What do you wish that people knew about parapsychology?
I wish that more people understood that parapsychology is an academic discipline and that in some parts of the world it is fully integrated in the university system. For example, in the United Kingdom there are 16 universities involved in teaching and/or researching parapsychology or anomalistic psychology. Anomalistic psychology is on the pre-university (A-level) psychology syllabus. And in 2010, the government-funded Higher Education Academy (HEA) organized a meeting for academics teaching parapsychology, which helped to firmly establish parapsychology and anomalistic psychology as legitimate sub-disciplines of psychology within UK academia.
Why does psi research have a hard time to be accepted in the mainstream science, in your opinion?
I would argue that psi research has already been accepted into mainstream science, even if its results remain controversial. The Parapsychological Association has been an affiliated organization of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science since 1969, which gives parapsychologists a forum to present their research findings to the larger scientific community. And as recently as 2011, the AAAS hosted a symposium titled "Quantum Retrocausation: Theory and Experiment" where several PA professional members were invited to speak.
2011 also saw the publication of Daryl Bem's "Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect" in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology – a paper that presented positive evidence for precognition in a high impact journal with a circulation of over 1300 subscribers.
Mindfield: The Bulletin of the Parapsychological Association hosts a regular column by PA Vice President Gerd Hövelmann titled "Articles Relevant to Parapsychology in the Journals of Various Fields." The latest installment of this bibliography has brought the total number of references to 715 articles since its inception in 2009.
These kinds of developments suggest to me that when it comes to mainstream science, parapsychology has already been given a seat at the table. However, science is far from an objective enterprise. Just like any system that attempts to establish truth or knowledge, scientific research is vulnerable to one's self-limiting beliefs, cultural assumptions, and organizational politics, as well as governmental and general socioeconomic concerns. Despite all that, scientists can -and should – at least aspire to objectivity, and many of my colleagues do this exceptionally well.
What do you think about the discussion that took place on TED site regarding the talks of Rupert Sheldrake?
The TED-Sheldrake controversy was heart breaking for me because prior to that I was a huge fan of TED talks. My husband and I recently purchased a smart TV with an app that brought TED talks directly to our television, and when all of that went down, I was positively addicted – watching at least 4-5 TED lectures per day. Since then, mine and TED's "bad breakup" has been a running joke with my friends.
Previous to the controversy, I had been under the impression that TED had a balanced approach to popularizing scientific and scholarly research, not just from the my initial engagement with their Sheldrake and Hancock talks, but after seeing excellent talks by people like Jeffrey Kripal and Cassandra Vieten among others. But there came a point when TED Conferences, LLC attempted to demonstrate that they were in the position to demarcate between science and pseudoscience. Their boilerplate criticisms – which had very little correspondence to the actual content of Sheldrake's talk – suggested to me that they were not up for the task. Fortunately, the incident has only shed more light on the valuable work of parapsychologists and consciousness researchers around the world. This has resulted in even wider support for the work that we do.
Where do you see parapsychology 10 years from now? 50 years?
Information technology is changing quickly and professional organizations like the PA have had to adapt to keep up. More and more, consumers of scientific research are demanding that organizations provide free and open access to their resources online. However, maintaining the quality of those resources requires a staff – editors, managers, proofers, etc.- and those resources are generally require funding. Just about every academic organization is facing this problem right now. Those who can effectively navigate the transition will be leading the organizations that flourish 10 years from now.
I'm encouraged to find students who are organizing their efforts to fill in some of the gaps as information technology expands. Recently we've seen freely available publications like Paranthropology and the Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology emerge – publications founded by PA Student Members – with PA Professional Members occasionally contributing. The youth of the field are shaping new digital technologies and making them available to more established professionals. It may sound cliché to say that the youth are our future, but I see something unusual happening here.
The digital age is also bringing together the Western/Eastern and Northern/Southern hemispheres, and as researchers from different continents continue to network with each other, new terminology and new metaphors for understanding consciousness and explaining psi phenomena will emerge. At this point, parapsychology is very much a Western science – which is rooted in Western ways of thinking and Western concepts of self. But over the years, more and more Asian and South American researchers have been joining our ranks. Just recently, the PA has welcomed its first Arabic-speaking Professional Member. And for the last two years, the PA has been guided by our first South American President.
Fifty years from now, we can look forward to parapsychology developing into a multi-cultural science – less encumbered by limitations of a single worldview and thus more aware of our own assumptions. This blending of worldviews will bolster our aspirations toward objectivity – even if the results of our studies suggest that there may be no such thing.
My sincere gratitude to Annalisa for taking the time to answer my questions. Make sure to take a look at her blog, the PA web site and its conference.
Skeptiko podcast host, Alex Tsakiris had started his public journey into the world of psi research in January 2007. I had the opportunity to interview him about 5 months after he had started.
Six years and about 200 fantastic episodes later, Alex has agreed to a follow-up interview.
Despite starting the podcast without taking a position, just 5 months later you seemed to side with proponents of psi. I've got the feeling that in the following years you've established even firmly in the proponents camp. Is this where "following the data", as you love to say, led you?
Short answer — yes. My biggest surprise was discovering how weak the skeptical arguments against psi were. You hear these skeptical talking points like, "100 years of nothing", "pseudoscience", "lack of experiential controls", and it sounds like there's a raging scientific debate. But when I drilled into it I found very, very little substance to the Skeptical position.
Revisiting our previous interview reminded me that back then you had this initiative called Open Source Science. You wanted to duplicate some psi experiments, starting with the famous "Dogs that know" experiment of Rupert Sheldrake. I know you've done some work on it, but the project seems dead now. Even the web site redirects to Skeptiko.com. What happened to this initiative? Do you plan to conduct any experiments in the future?
I guess this kinda gets back to question 1 in that when I started out I thought there was a real scientific debate. I naively thought that more data would make a difference. Over time I came to understand that for most folks it's not about the data, it's about preserving their worldview.
Also, on a practical level, I found out how hard it is to do decent research. I spent a couple years and several thousand dollars on the "Dogs that Know" experiments. I even teamed up with some researchers at the University of Florida. We definitely observed some dogs that knew when their owners were coming home, but turning that into a viable research project was much harder than I expected.
You also had an idea to do a movie. What happened to that?
The good thing about movies is that you can always say you're still working on it… yea, I'll go with that
The podcast touched on many subjects related to parapsychology, including NDE research, nature of consciousness, ESP research, mediumship, religion, and even UFOs. Today, what do you firmly believe in regarding these topics. What you don't believe is true? Where are you still truly skeptical?
That's what Skeptiko is all about… so you gotta listen to find out
In some of the older episodes you told about your personal experience with medium readings and even an OBE (am I right?). What did these personal experience teach you?
My personal experience with medium readings demonstrated the reality of anomalous communication. As to the source of that communication, the simplest expatiation is survival of consciousness. I never was able to make it out of my body — lucid dreaming is as far as I got
I wonder how all that you've learned in these 6 years affected your personal life, your beliefs about the world, your relationships with friends and family. Can you share any of this?
The shift has been quite dramatic. I've become convinced that the evidence for survival of consciousness is overwhelming. I try to live that reality every day. Of course, "try" is the operative word… not sure my wife and kids think I try hard enough
Are there any people whom you wanted to interview but couldn't?
There are some Skeptics I would love to talk to, but these guys only do science interviews with folks that agree with them. I've found fundamentalist Christians are more open to debate than Skeptics.
You loved to talk about the "paradigm shift" in science, in which the mainstream scientific community will accept the existence of psi and divert more resources into the research and understanding the implications. Do you notice any such shifts in mainstream science in the last years?
Not really. Maybe a little more openness, but that's it. I don't think a system like the one we have that is totally enmeshed in materialism can bootstrap itself out of it.
Related to the previous question, from time to time there'll come out some books or some really interesting cases that reach the mass media, like "Proof of Heaven" book by Dr. Eben Alexander, whom you interviewed twice. the book was a bestseller and the person appeared all over mass media in the US. Yet again, it doesn't seem to move the scientific community interest in this topic. Why is that? What will it take to bring this paradigm shift?
I think most people are quite comfortable with this artificial, and fundamentally bizarre, divide we've created between "science" and "religion".
While the scientific community still remains mainly skeptical, it sometimes feels that there is much more openness on these topics in the general public. Perhaps the recent controversy over the TEDx talks of Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock is a good example. It appears that the public reaction to the banning of these talks, as could be seen on TED's discussion forums on them, was not one-sided. In fact, the number of commenters in favor of these talks was impressive. What does this teach us?
That the wrongheadedness of this biological-robot silliness is self-evident to anyone willing to look with an open mind.
You seem to have succeeded to create quite a vibrant community over the Skeptiko forums. Discussions between proponents and skeptics are usually conducted in a civilized manner. And if not, moderators take care of it, bringing the discussions back on track. Personally, reading fascinating accounts of the personal experiences of different members of the community makes me wonder why some people still have doubts in the validity of psi and extended consciousness. What have you learned from the community?
I learned a lot from this wonderful community that you've been so much a part of creating… thank you by the way
In some ways I feel like a bit of a slow learner I mean, a lot of the stuff I've learned through Skeptiko has been out there, and in many cases known to me, for quite some time. So, why did it take me so long to come around? Maybe I'm more like the skeptics I rail against than I'd like to admit… married to a worldview… unwilling to give up my illusion of control.
I guess the future of Skeptiko will be driven by the misconceptions I'm willing to let go of? I guess we'll find out together.
Any closing words
Thx for doing this interview Jacob. And thx for being such an important part of Skeptiko… from the very beginning.
The course web site includes syllabus, pricing and dates.
It also contains the following description:
This 8 week online introduction to parapsychology will include seven (7) classes by Dr. Nancy Zingrone, and a guest lecture by a prominent parapsychologist. Classes will begin on Monday, April 29th and continue until Monday June 17th. Classes will be broadcast each Monday (except Memorial Day) from 6:30pm – 8pm Eastern Time, but the courses will also be recorded so that you can view them when it is most convenient for you.
In this introductory online course, Dr. Nancy Zingrone will present a series of seven (7) online classes to introduce students to the basics of parapsychology; the scientific study of paranormal experiences. This interesting course will use case studies and experiments to explore extrasensory perception (ESP), psychokinesis (mind over matter), near death and out of body experiences, apparitions (including ghosts), and modern research in parapsychology. Students taking this course will gain a deeper understanding of subjective paranormal experiences and the nature of consciousness, and learn that there are a variety of ways to explore these fascinating experiences.
Julie Beischel, PhD, of the Windbridge Institute conducts a research to examine the potential clinical benefits of personal mediumship readings, especially during bereavement. The project is called the Bereavement And Mediumship (BAM) Study.
You can see the video where she describes the study below. They are also looking for some donations to conduct the study and you can donate by visiting here. The Web site of the project is http://www.afterlifescience.com/.
Update: On April 2, the newspaper wrote a further article where they report on the leading savant researcher, Dr. Darold A. Treffert, expressing interest in the case.
The Khaleej Times newspaper site reports of an intriguing case of a 9-year-old Indian girl, diagnosed with autism and ADHD, who can telepathically read her mother’s mind. And quite well, it appears.
The article has some some background about the girl and her family but to me the more interesting parts were the tests that the newspaper reporters performed with the girl and, following the newspaper’s inquiry, the tests that were performed later by a group of specialists from the Child Guidance Clinic in Sharjah.
The specialist psychiatrist at Sunny Speciality Medical Centre in Sharjah, Dr Jeena Fiji, who headed the team, has certified witnessing “the strength of Nandana to read her mother’s thoughts, desires and intentions.”
The results of all tests showed that the girl could type on a computer or say words, numbers or whole sentences that her mother was thinking, either sitting across her in the same room or even while being in a different room in the house.
Here are some more quotations from the article. The first is from the test arranged by the newspaper:
In our test, Sandhya was first given a note. It read “044050799 – the office number of Khaleej Times.” As soon as she read it in her mind, Sandhya sat with Nandana across a table. The computer was kept in such a way that the keyboard faced the daughter and the monitor faced the mother.
When her mother asked her to start typing, Nandana started keying in the numbers without even constantly looking at her mother. As she typed 044050799, it became evident to us that the child can actually read her mind!
The second test consisted of a whole sentence:
When Nandana successfully completed the first test, we decided to try her telepathic skill. This time the note given to her mother read: “Can I have some warm water please?”
The result came out as a sentence without any space between the words and with some minor spelling mistakes in between. But, it was still as amazing as the first instance.
The tests that were done at a later time by the above experts:
Nandana had come with her mother Sandhya Unnikrishnan. A poem of Grade 2 level was written and given to Sandhya. After her mother had read the poem in her mind, Nandana was asked to type in the laptop provided to her.
Nandana could type the entire poem without any prompt. A six digit number was also written and given to Sandhya, which too, Nandana could type after reading her mother’s mind.
You can read the entire article and see the photographs of the girl in the original article on Khaleej Times: Miracle girl.
You can follow and participate in a discussion on this topic in the Skeptiko forum thread “Psychic girl“.
Below is a repost of an article that I published back in 2005. The old one is now offline for technical reasons.
Recently I’ve stumbled upon a set of easy exercises that are called ‘Hermes gymnastics’. The actual referred person is Hermes Trismegistus, who is believed to have been highest priest in Ancient Egypt. He is credited with writing a great number of books, of which only 3 seem to have survived till our days.
Anyway, there’s a set of easy daily exercises which are called on his name. They are somewhat popular in russian literature on such topics but I’ve found no reference to them in the English world. I will translate them for English, maybe for the first time in print.
I’ve been doing these exercises for several weeks now, every morning and in the evenings, after work. I find them very easy to perform and yet they make me feel much better every time I do them and they seem to raise my energy levels (which is the exercises’ original intent).
The practice of the exercises can be divided into 4 parts. Two of them are the actual exercises and the other two are complementary.
The first part. Warm up.
This should performed before the exercises in morning. It consists of warming up, better by running for 5 to 20 minutes. You can run on the spot, if you’re doing them at home. If you’re doing the exercises in the evening, this can be skipped.
The second part. Power exercises.
This is a set of three exercises which energize the body. Some common notes on power exercises set: Each exercise consists of:
Short and forceful inhalation through the nose (giving an air strike on the throat). In that time the described position is reached with maximum speed and the whole body muscles should be tightened as much as possible.
While all the muscles are tight, hold breath for 4 seconds. After a year or so of practice, this time can be increased to 6 seconds. More than that is harmful.
Exhale all the air at once through the mouth making the ‘Ha’ sound as air exits. At the same time relax all the muscles as fast as possible and return to the relaxed position.
Breath normally for 4 seconds.
Notes: The change from the relaxed state to the tense should be as fast as you can. Gradually progress with your training. The synchronization of breathing with the movements is very important for maximum benefit. Exercises should be performed with eyes closed and concentration on movement and breathing.
Now to the exercises themselves:
1. Exercise ‘Cross’
Stand straight. Feet apart. Hands hanging by the body, muscles are relaxed, free breathing.
Short, powerful breath in. At the same time, clench fists, raise tense arms and move them behind the back on the shoulders height, throw back the head and arch the body. Tighten all the muscles of your body in this position. Hold breath for 4 seconds.
Exhale fast and fully through the mouth, bend the body forward, hands relaxed down, almost reaching the floor. Shake the hands crossed for better relaxation and return to the original position. Relax fully for 4 seconds. Free breathing.
Repeat the exercise 4 times.
2. Exercise ‘Axe’
Stand feet apart shoulders width, straight knees. Bend forward, arms hanging near the floor, all muscles relaxed. Free breathing.
Instantly grip palm together, finger crossed, like holding an axe, take a fast, short breath. At the same time straighten the back, raise the hands from the right side behind the back, like swinging an axe. Arch the back as much as possible and drop the head back. Tighten muscles. Hold breath for 4 seconds.
Forceful exhale through the mouth and with a powerfull turn through the left side return to the original position. Body is bent forward, palms apart. Relax for 4 seconds.
Perform the exercise 4 times. Two as described, and the other two in the opposite direction (switch left and right).
3. Exercise ‘Disc thrower’
Stand straight. Feet shoulders apart. Arms relaxed on the sides. Breathing normal.
Short breath in, clench fists, throw the right hand forward and take the left behind, turning the body in the direction of the imagined throw, eyes turning with the motion. Hold the position of the disc thrower. Tighten all the muscles in the body. Hold breath and position for 4 seconds.
Exhale fast through the mouth and return to the original position. Relax fully for 4 seconds.
Perform 4 times: two times as described, then switch hands.
These exercises distribute energy into all muscles of the body. These are mostly the same exercises as in part 2 but they are to be performed slowly, with no tension in order to discharge previously tense muscles and charge those that didn’t participate. The breathing is deep. Perform exercises in accordance with the breathing described below.
Stand straight. Feet apart shoulder width. Stretch hands before yourself, palm pressed together.
Inhale through the nose for 4 seconds. At the same time spread the hands to the sides on shoulder level. Hold your breath for 4 seconds. Move the hands farther behind back.
Exhale through the mouth for 4 seconds and at the same time slowly return the hands into original position.
Repeat 4 times.
Stand with feet a little spread. Bend body forward, touching toes with your fingers. The knees are not bent.
Inhale for 4 seconds while straightening the body, stretching hands forward on the breast level. Hold your breath for 4 seconds. At the same time raise the hands above the head and behind the back.
Exhale through the mouth for 4 seconds and at the same time slowly return into original position.
Repeat 4 times.
Stand straight. Spread the feet about half a meter. Hands stretched to the sides on the shoulders level.
Inhale for 4 seconds and hold the breath for 4 seconds. At the same time turn the body right with the hands still stretched to the sides so, that you’ll see the wall behind you. Do not raise the feet of the floor.
Exhale through the mouth for 4 seconds and at the same time slowly return into original position.
Repeat 4 times: 2 times to the right, 2 to the left.
Lie on your back. Put both palms with finger crossed below the head.
Inhale for 4 seconds and at the sime raise the feet 90 degrees. Hold the breath for 4 seconds and at the same time perform 2 circular motions with the feet to the right.
Exhale for 4 seconds and slowly return the feet on the floor.
Repeat 4 times: two times turning the feet to the right, 2 times to the left.
Forth part. Stabilization.
This is reached by taking shower switching from cold to hot water every 2 minutes. The contrast of the water should be increasing over time. After three months reach its maximum and stay at that level. Always start with cold water and finish with hot. The first 4 months the timing is 2 minutes for hot cold and hot showers. On the fourth months – 3 minutes and then 4 minutes each.
I hope you will follow the advice and perform the exercises and I promise you will feel better during the day and in the long term.
The following talk, recently released on the TED web site is a good explanation of what meditation is. The speaker, Andy Puddicombe, explains meditation through simple examples and through… juggling. No religious colors are present either. Highly recommended.
Back in 2007 I wrote an article about Rupert Sheldrake [experiment with the talking parrot](http://www.mind-energy.net/archives/252-Parrot-demonstrating-telepathy-the-NKisi-project.html), N’kisi.
In that experiment Rupert, together with parrot’s owner, Aimee Morgana, tested the bird for a possible telepathic link between it and Aimee.
The results were published in a paper and suggested strong above-chance results for the parrot having a psychic connection to Aimee.
The news is a recently-published YouTube video from Rupert Sheldrake’s lecture where he tells about this experiment. And this video contains a footage from the experiment. It’s remarkable, touching, and funny.
I originally learned of the video from the [Skeptiko podcast forum](http://forum.mind-energy.net/skeptiko-podcast/) and you might want to read what [others in the community have to say about this video](http://forum.mind-energy.net/skeptiko-podcast/4615-rupert-sheldrake-presents-footage-psychic-parrot.html) and even join the discussion.