Revisiting a Dream ESP Experiment with “The Grateful Dead”
I’m presenting today another article by Bryan. This time it’s about ESP during dreams and describes an interesting experiment being done in this field with the help of the “Greatful dead” band.
Revisiting a Dream ESP Experiment with “The Grateful Dead”
The band “The Grateful Dead” has become well-known throughout the decades for its classic rock sound and concerts at Winterland, with its status and recognition becoming even more elevated with the passing of band member Jerry Garcia. Probably less known about The Grateful Dead is that the band had once participated in a dream ESP experiment in the early 1970s.
If we look at the ESP experiences of people in everyday life, we might notice that a great deal of ESP information seems to come in the form of dreams, sometimes manifesting as detailed, realistic representation of distant events that appear as part of our dream images (Irwin, 1994, p. 19; Targ, Schlitz, & Irwin, 2000, pp. 223 – 224). In particular, precognitive dreams (dreams of the future) seem to be most common (Rhine, 1954). Early on, this prominence of ESP in dreams led parapsychologists to try and study ESP in the laboratory by having people try and dream about a distant event while being monitored in a sleep lab. The most extensive and well known series of dream ESP experiments to date was carried out by Montague Ullman, Stanley Krippner, and Charles Honorton at the Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, NY, from the mid-1960s to early 1970s (Ullman, Krippner, & Vaughan, 1973).
The basic procedure for these experiments, most of which had tested for telepathy (mind-to-mind communication), was as follows: As one person (the receiver) slept in one room, another person (the sender) in a separate room concentrated on a visual target (like an art print), and attempted to mentally “send” details about it to the receiver in the hopes that doing so would influence the images that the receiver would see in his or her dream. The receiver was awakened soon after and asked to describe the dream they were having. The description of the dream provided by the receiver was then compared to the target (along with three or four decoys) to see if they matched to a notable degree. If the receiver’s description seemed to match the target the closest (as opposed to the decoys), then the experiment was considered a success (a “hit”). Years after the Maimonides dream ESP experiments, psychologist Irvin Child (1985) of Yale University statistically analyzed the experimental series database, finding that on the whole the entire series of experiments was successful to a degree far beyond that expected by mere chance alone (odds of* more than 500,000 to 1 against chance!*).
The dream ESP experiment with The Grateful Dead was among those contained in the database that Child looked at. The purpose of that particular experiment was to look at how the dream ESP experience of the receiver was affected if the number of senders was multiplied by about 2,000. In other words, would dream ESP improve if more than one sender was used; in this case, nearly 2,000 senders? The band members of The Grateful Dead, having visited the Maimonides sleep lab and learned about the dream ESP research going on there, agreed to try a dream ESP experiment with their audience during a series of six concerts they were giving in early 1971 (Krippner, Honorton, & Ullman, 1973).
The concerts were being held at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY, about 45 miles away from the Maimonides Hospital. The experiment was focused on dream telepathy, with the senders being the audience of “Deadheads” and the receiver being English psychic subject Malcolm Bessent, who had scored well in previous ESP experiments, particularly in those testing for precognition. Each night in the sleep lab at Maimonides, Bessent would go to bed early so that he would be asleep by 11:30 PM, when the experiment would begin. At that same time, the audience in attendance at The Grateful Dead concert would be shown a series of six slides that were being projected onto a large screen above the stage. The first five slides shown to the audience read:
- You are about to participate in an ESP experiment.
- In a few seconds you will see a picture.
- Try using your ESP to “send” this picture to Malcolm Bessent.
- He will try to dream about the picture. Try to “send” it to him.
- Malcolm Bessent is now at the Maimonides Dream Laboratory in Brooklyn.
The audience would then be shown the sixth slide, containing a randomly selected art print or a photograph, for 15 minutes while The Grateful Dead continued to perform on stage. Observers at the concert noticed that the majority of the people in the audience were already in an altered state of consciousness by the time of the experiment, having been brought about by the rock music, by the contact between people in the crowd, and, of course, by people “tripping” on LSD and other psychedelic drugs during the concert.
Unbeknownst to the audience, there was also a second receiver involved in the experiment in addition to Bessent. This second receiver was Felicia Parise, a medical technician at Maimonides who also had been successful in previous dream ESP experiments. She spent the night in her apartment and was called every 90 minutes during the experiment and asked about any dreams she was having. Since the focus of the audience was on Bessent, the researchers thought it would be interesting to see whether a “control” receiver whose name the audience did not know could pick up on ESP information being “sent” by 2,000 senders, or whether the information would be limited only to Bessent, a finding that might tell us something about the interpersonal nature of ESP.
Here’s an illustrative example of one of the six dream ESP concert sessions with The Dead, held on the night of February 19, 1971. The sixth slide that was shown to the audience that night was M. K. Scralian’s painting The Seven Spinal Chakras, which shows a man practicing yogic meditation while sitting in the lotus position. The seven Hindu “charkas” of the body are vividly colored on his body, and a bright yellow circle of energy surrounds his head. Back at Maimonides, Bessent had the following dream:
I was very interested in…using natural energy…I was talking to this guy who said he’d invented a way of using solar energy and he showed me this box…to catch the light from the sun which was all we needed to generate and store the energy…I was discussing with this other guy a number of other areas of communication and we were exchanging ideas on the whole thing…He was suspended in mid-air or something…I was thinking about rocket ships…I’m remembering a dream I had…about an energy box and…a spinal column (Ullman et al., 1973, p. 172).
There seems to be some degree of correspondence between Bessent’s dream and the painting, particularly in the way of “energy.” On a scale from 1 to 100 in terms of similarity (1 being not similar at all, 100 being very similar), Bessent’s dream was given a similarity rating of 83. In contrast, control receiver Parise had the following dream:
I had a big, fat, yellowish, green parakeet with a head like an owl. Something happened to the cage and it broke…I also had another dream with a yellow canary…The cage was hanging very high outside of the garage door…I said, `I wonder how that parakeet lives? I never feed it. God must raise his temperature so he doesn’t freeze’ (Ullman et al., 1973, p. 172).
There is less apparent correspondence in Parise’s dream, suggesting on the surface that she missed the target. On the similarity scale, her dream was only given a similarity rating of 28. However, a few nights later on February 21, she had this dream:
It was something bright, like a crystal with many facets of colors…There is some sort of light or sun or a bright light. It’s maybe a man, short like a Buddha…like something Aztec, a Mexican totem pole (Ullman et al., 1973, p. 172).
There seems to be more of a suggestive correspondence here with the painting (when rated for similarity after the fact, Parise’s dream from this night was given a similarity rating of 96), suggesting that she may have dreamed about a past event (a form of ESP called retrocognition).
In all, Bessent was able to successfully dream about the picture the concert audience was sending a total of 4 times (out of 6 concert nights), a result that is greater than chance alone by statistical standards. On the other hand, Parise was only to successfully dream about the picture once out of six times. This suggests that the ESP information was mostly limited to Bessent in real-time, and that some kind of focusing by the senders toward the receiver may play a role in the manifestation of telepathy. However, when looking closely at Parise’s data, there is some indication that her ESP was displaced in time. As the example above shows, it seems that Parise was able to dream about the concert picture a few nights after it was shown, and in some cases, she apparently was able to dream about it before it was shown (in other words, she was dreaming about a picture that would be shown The Dead concert a few nights into the future, suggesting precognition). In general, it seems that this dream experiment with The Grateful Dead was successful for the most part, giving us a hint about how using multiple senders may influence the telepathic experience of the receiver.
Child, I. L. (1985). Psychology and anomalous observations: The question of ESP in dreams. American Psychologist 40(11), November. pp. 1219 – 1230.
Irwin, H. J. (1994). The phenomenology of parapsychological experiences. In S. Krippner (Ed.) Advances in Parapsychological Research 7 (pp. 10 – 76). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.
Krippner, S., Honorton, C., & Ullman, M. (1973). An experiment in dream telepathy with “The Grateful Dead.” Journal of the American Society of Psychosomatic Dentistry and Medicine 20(1), pp. 9 – 17.
Rhine, L. E. (1954). Frequency of types of experience in spontaneous precognition. Journal of Parapsychology 18(2), June. pp. 93 – 123.
Targ, E., Schlitz, M., & Irwin, H. J. (2000). Psi-related experiences. In E. Cardena, S. J. Lynn, & S. Krippner (Eds.) Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence (pp. 219 – 252). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, Inc.
Ullman, M., Krippner, S., & Vaughan, A. (1973). Dream Telepathy: Experiments in Nocturnal ESP. New York: Macmillian Publishing.