A blog on biology, psychology, cognition, learning, memory, aging, and everything in between. Explaining recent discoveries in neuroscience, translated to language we can all understand!
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Seers. Mediums. Clairvoyants. Psychics. Telepathy. Prophesies. Paranormality. Hypnosis.
I love it all—the hope that deceased loved ones are indeed still with us, in a way, bearing comforting messages. The mystery of things we can't prove or disprove. The excitement and freakishness when a psychic's prediction comes true, no matter how vague. Ghosts.
But perhaps what I love most is how it all makes GREAT television. A typical John Edward (pictured) conversation with a studio audience usually goes a little something like this:
Edward: Okay, I'm getting a feeling over here, in this section. (waves hands broadly) I see the letter J. (pause) And I see a car. Does this mean anything to anyone?
(man tentatively stands up) It might be me?
Edward: Yes, I'm getting a strong feeling...Jessica?
Man: My niece Jessica died in a car accident last year. (audience's sharp intake of breath)
Edward: She wants you to know she's okay. There's something about your wife and a locket?
(man tears up and sits back down, too overwhelmed to answer)
It's compelling and irresistible. Granted, I'm already a sucker for this stuff (a significant portion of my college memories from sophomore year involve a Ouija board), but I'm also a sucker for neuroscience. Is there any scientific evidence behind mediums and psychics, or are they just another type of illusionist?
In 1882, a British organization called the Society for Psychical Research was founded. Its goal is to "promote and support" research into paranormal claims in a "scientific and unbiased way." Famous members included evolution theorist Alfred Russel Wallace, psychiatrist Carl Jung, poet W.B. Yeats, and even Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle. Since 1884, the society's journal has published scientific research surrounding research of events that "appear to be inexplicable." Many branches of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) have formed around the world.
At the 1962 meeting of the South African SPR, G.K. Nelson presented perhaps the most extensive study to date regarding the validity of mediums (those who communicate between the dead and other living humans).
Twelve participants were examined—two men and ten women. The participants were comprised of eleven mediums and one "automatic writer" (one who writes via spiritual input without conscious awareness of what they're writing). The participants were subjected to photic stimulation (a fancy phrase for "flashing lights") while being examined by electroencephalography (EEG).
Essentially, EEG records electrical activity in the brain. Electrodes are pasted onto the scalp, which are connected to an amplifier. During an action potential, ions (most notably sodium and potassium) rush into and out of the neural cell (neuron), causing voltage fluctuations—these changes are what the EEG picks up.
Eleven of the 12 subjects showed signs of "temporal lobe instability"—that is, electrical activity in the temporal lobe was different between the two halves of the brain. In four of the subjects, EEG spikes were described as "the kind usually associated with epilepsy," although none of the volunteers had a history of seizures. Nelson concluded that, if anything, mediums "operate" by some sort of temporal lobe dysfunction not seen in regular individuals.
This particular study, however, did not have a control sample of regular non-mediums with which to compare. The flashing light stimuli also raises a red flag—is it really so surprising to see epileptic-like electrical activity?
A study published by Lynn and Rhue in 1986 found that particular personality types are more likely to exhibit "psychic" tendencies. Individuals were grouped by their openness to hypnotic and psychic abilities based on their scores on standard imagination and suggestibility scales. Those considered "excellent hypnotics" had strong roots in fantasy and imagination, described so real as to be hallucinatory. These individuals also claim vivid sensory experiences, strong memories of their early life, and other telepathic and precognitive experiences.
In essence, very little scientific research surrounds the validity of people who claim connection and understanding of the paranormal. Is there inadequate funding for this type of research? Lack of interest? Too freaky?
Perhaps we'll never know what's going on in the brains of people speaking to the dead, predicting world disasters, or seeing ghosts. But one thing's for sure: if our decreased loved ones are truly watching over us like John Edward and Sylvia Brown claim, then I've got some 'splaining to do—for my moments alone are not always my proudest.
Images courtesy AU News, Holy Taco, Wikipedia, and Mind Trip.
Lynn, S., & Rhue, J. (1986). The fantasy-prone person: Hypnosis, imagination, and creativity.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51 (2), 404-408 DOI: 10.1037//0022-35188.8.131.524
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I found you article very interesting, I have never used a medium before but after doing some research in to what they can I am very tempted to give them a go and see what they can do for me. If it helps me with grieving for the loss of my partner then it is worth trying.