This is a second articles in the series on Retro-PK by Bryan Williams. The first article was A Brief Intro to Retro-PK.


A Lunar Modulation Effect on Retro-PK?

It has been thought that one way in which we might come to better understand (and perhaps eventually predict) the workings of psi phenomena is to search for any physical variables whose changes might be connected in some way with psi performance, and might therefore have a modulating effect on psi. One possible variable that has come to light in recent years is the Earth’s own internally-generated magnetic field, which studies suggest may decrease successful ESP performance as it increases in intensity (Persinger, 1989). A few recent studies are beginning to suggest the possibility that there may be another, lesser-known variable: certain phases of the monthly lunar cycle.

A great deal of myth and folklore has been traditionally associated with the phases of the moon throughout many human cultures since ancient times (Guiley, 1991). For example, in Celtic lore, midnight at the time of a full moon was considered “the witching hour,” and people were assumed to turn into werewolves under the full moon. Certain major holidays in the Christian and Jewish religions (Easter and Passover, respectively) are timed according to the lunar cycle. Even the term “lunatic” derives from the ages-old assumption that the light of the full moon made people crazy. In order to separate fact from fiction, several psychological studies have been done over the past few decades to see if any kind of human activity (e.g., murders, suicide attempts, crimes, trauma & mental hospital admissions, traffic accidents, stock market activity) might be tied in some way to the lunar cycle. Some of these studies found positive indications (Alonso, 1993; Geller & Shannon, 1976; Lieber & Sherin, 1972) while others found none (Coates et al., 1989; Culver et al., 1988; Rotton & Kelly, 1985), suggesting that any possible relation between the moon and human behavior was unclear and that the case was still up in the air.

The examination of the moon’s effects was first extended to psi when Northwestern University neurologist Andrija Puharich (1973) examined his subject’s performance on telepathy card tests in relation to the lunar cycle to test his hypothesis that ESP performance might be linked to gravitational forces (like those exerted by the moon on the tides of waves). Puharich found that success in telepathy tended to increase towards the time of the full moon, decreased at the quarter-moons, then increased again at new moon (pp. 281 – 289). Puharich’s study turned out to be an isolated affair, and examination of psi in relation to the moon did not arise again until two decades after, when Drs. Dean Radin and Jannine Rebman (1998), then of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, examined four years of gaming data provided to them by an executive of a major Las Vegas casino (a rare opportunity, as casinos often guard their data like the gold of Fort Knox) to explore the possibility that people might use psi ability in the casino to help them win. Radin and Rebman found that the cash out winning percentages on five kinds of casino games (roulette, blackjack, craps, keno, & slot machines) tended to be the highest in the six days surrounding the time of the full moon to a suggestive degree by statistical standards. In addition, three of those five (roulette, keno, & slots) were highest within 1 day of the full moon, and the odds of this occurring by chance alone are about 2,000 to 1. These winning percentages also appeared to be coupled to certain geophysical factors (activity of the Earth’s magnetic field, sunspot number, and radio emissions from the sun) that fluctuated in time with the lunar cycle, suggesting that any effect the full moon has on psi and human behavior is not likely to be due to the moon itself, but rather to environmental factors that keep rather closely in sync with the lunar cycle. Another interesting finding when looking at these environmental factors is that the Earth’s magnetic field activity tends to decrease towards the full moon. When one then considers the finding that most of the gaming payout winnings were highest around the full moon, this may represent an indirect suggestion of the inverse relation between ESP and the Earth’s magnetic field (i.e., the former increases as the latter decreases, as mentioned). Dr. Radin (1997) republished this psi in the casino study in his book The Conscious Universe (Ch. 11), and in it he also mentions additional studies in which lottery winnings were found to decrease with the Earth’s magnetic field in years when the Earth’s field and the lunar cycle matched each other (i.e., the field increased at full moon), again suggesting the inverse ESP-Earth field relation.

Psi performance in relation to the lunar cycle has just recently been addressed again in a study by Eckhard Etzold (2005) of the Gesellschaft fur Anomalistik in Heidelburg, Germany, when he attempted to reproduce Radin and Rebman’s (1998) finding by examining the data from the Fourmilab RetroPsychoKinesis Project [see my previous post A Brief Intro to Retro-PK] in relation to the moon’s phases. Prior to this most recent study, Etzold did such an examination twice. The first time he did it in 2000, he was able to successfully reproduce the finding, revealing a positive influence on the retro-PK data from the project on the day before and after the full moon, with odds against chance of around 1,671 to 1. Two years later, Etzold repeated the examination and again got a statistically significant result at the time of the full moon that had odds against chance of about 156 to 1. But something was drastically different in this second examination: the influence appeared to have changed its direction. Instead of being a positive influence (i.e., producing more “heads” on the Fourmilab RNG’s electronic “coin flips”), the influence was negative (it was producing more “tails” instead), an effect sometimes called “psi missing.” At first, Etzold (2004) thought this change in direction might be due to the effect of experimenter belief in PK (such that non-belief may lead to negative results, one-half of Dr. Gertrude Schmeidler’s “sheep-goat” effect), but then closely examined the retro-PK data again in relation to five geophysical variables (Earth’s magnetic field, sunspots, solar wind, angle of the moon to the ecliptic plane, and radio emissions from the sun) in this latest study. Etzold (2005) found that, in the period around the full moon, four of these variables (Earth field, sunspots, ecliptic angle, and radio emissions) were inversely related with the retro-PK performance data to statistically significant degrees. In the periods outside of the full moon (i.e., in other phases), these inverse relations were not significant, nor were they present. The difference between the values during full moon and those outside full moon were also statistically significant for these four variables.

What could this possibly mean? It may mean that retro-PK effects may be modulated by a complex interaction between energetic emissions from the sun and the barrier created by the Earth’s magnetic field that tend to occur towards the time of the full moon. To get an idea of the hypothesized interaction, let me try to outline it a little better. We all know that the sun emits several forms of radiation that travels through space in all directions, including Earth’s. One form of radiation is a gas of ionized particles, which makes up the solar wind and usually takes a few days to reach Earth. Another form is radio wave emissions, which travel at the speed of light. If we were ever directly exposed to all this radiation, it might be hazardous to our health in the long run and cancer rates would probably be much higher than they already are. However, we do have a protective shield surrounding us that keeps us safe from most of it, created naturally by our own Mother Earth from her own internally-generated magnetic field. The magnetic field acts like a layered barrier that deflects the radiation around the shape of the earth, a barrier known as the magnetosphere (Lyon, 2000). Looked at from a distance, the deflection of cosmic radiation around the Earth moves almost like the wake of a boat on the surface of water (with the Earth being the boat), but has a shape similar to that of a tear drop, bulging at the front as the radiation diverges and goes around the shape of the Earth, then narrowing behind it into a tail of gas that streaks out like a comet’s tail (because of its shape, it is known as the magnetotail). The moon, as it circles in its orbit around the Earth, passes through the magnetotail every once in a while as the angle of its orbit varies, which can include times of full moon. From his results, Etzold (2005) proposes that retro-PK effects may be modulated by interactions of the moon with the magnetosphere at times when it is full in ways that are still unclear. He suggests that perhaps the moon may emit electromagnetic waves in the ultra-low frequency (ULF) range as a result of its interactions with the magnetosphere and the passing solar wind (and perhaps further influenced by its passage through the magnetotail), and that such ULF waves may affect human behavior. Much of this hypothesis still needs to be worked out, and, more importantly, Etzold’s finding needs to be reproduced before we can consider it as a solid finding. Still, it offers an intriguing possibility as to whether there may be some physical relation to psi that might one day be helpful in predicting it. We’ll have to wait and see.

– Bryan

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References (in order of text citation):

Persinger, M. A. (1989). Psi phenomena and temporal lobe activity: The geomagnetic factor. In L. A. Henkel & R. E. Berger (Eds.) Research in Parapsychology 1988 (pp. 121 – 156). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

Guiley, R. E. (1991). Moonscapes: A Celebration of Lunar Astronomy, Magic, Legend, and Lore. New York: Prentice-Hall.

Alonso, Y. (1993). Geophysical variables and behavior: LXXII. Barometric pressure, lunar cycle, and traffic accidents. Perceptual and Motor Skills 77(2), October. pp. 371 – 376.

Geller, S. H., & Shannon, H. W. (1976). The moon, weather, and mental hospital contacts: Confirmation and explanation of the Transylvania effect. Journal of Psychiatric Nursing and Mental Health Services 14(6), January. pp. 13 – 17.

Lieber, A. L., & Sherin, C. R. (1972). Homicides and the lunar cycle: Toward a theory of lunar influence on human emotional disturbances. American Journal of Psychiatry 129(1), July. pp. 101 – 105.

Coates, W., Jehle, D., & Cottington, E. (1989). Trauma and the full moon: A waning theory. Annals of Emergency Medicine 18(7), July. pp. 763 – 765.

Culver, R., Rotton, J., & Kelly, I. W. (1988). Geophysical variables and behavior: XLIX. Moon mechanisms and myths: A critical appraisal of explanations of purported lunar effects on human behavior. Psychological Reports 62(3), June. pp. 683 – 710.

Rotton, J., & Kelly, I. W. (1985). Much ado about the full moon: A meta-analysis of lunar-lunacy research. Psychological Bulletin 97(2) March, pp. 286 – 306.

Puharich, A. (1973). Beyond Telepathy. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday.

Radin, D. I., & Rebman, J. M. (1998). Seeking psi in the casino. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 62(850), April. pp. 193 – 219.

Radin, D. I. (1997). The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena. San Francisco: HarperEdge.

Etzold, E. (2005). Solar-periodic full moon effect in the Fourmilab RetroPsychoKinesis Project experiment data: An exploratory study. Journal of Parapsychology 62(2), Fall. pp. 233 – 261.

Etzold, E. (2004). Does psi exist and can we prove it? Belief and disbelief in psychokinesis research. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 47th Annual Convention (pp. 367 – 377). Cary, NC: Parapsychological Association, Inc.

Lyon, J. G. (2000). The solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere system. Science 288(5473), June 16. pp. 1987 – 1991.