Hearing other people’s thoughts

The strangest thing about brains is that they’re copycats, which often mirror each other when one person is sending something to another.

During a long partnership with the late psychologist William Braud, Marilyn Schlitz, one time president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), conducted rigorous research into what became known in the psychic community as ‘DMILS’ – direct mental interaction with living systems – the ability of human thought to influence the living world around it.

These usually follow the basic study design of a perennial favorite among consciousness researchers: the sense of being stared at. In those studies, two people are isolated from each other in separate rooms and a video camera is trained on the receiver, who is also hooked up to skin conductance equipment, not unlike a polygraph machine – the type used in lie detection studies to detect an increase in ‘fight-or-flight’, unconscious autonomic nervous system activity.

At random intervals, the ‘sender’ is instructed to stare at the subject on the monitor, while the ‘receiver’ is told to relax and try to think of anything other than the prospect of being stared at. A later comparison analysis determines whether the receiver’s autonomic system registered a reaction during those moments he or she was being stared at to determine whether the mere attention of the sender was unconsciously picked up by the most automatic systems of the receiver’s body.

The major DMILS studies conducted since 1963 demonstrate that, under many types of circumstances, the electrical signaling in the brains of people gets synchronized. The frequencies, amplitudes and phases of the brain waves start operating in tandem.

Although the studies followed slightly different designs, all of them asked the same question: can the stimulation of one person be felt in the higher central nervous system of another? Or, as ION’s chief scientist Dean Radin likes to think of it, after a sender gets pinched, does the receiver also feel the ‘ouch’?

Two people wired up with a variety of physiological monitoring equipment, such as EEG machines, were isolated from each other in different rooms. One would be stimulated with something – a picture, a light or a mild electric shock. The researchers would then examine the two EEGs to determine if the receiver’s brain waves mirrored those of the sender when he or she was being stimulated.

The earliest DMILS research had been designed by psychologist and consciousness researcher Charles Tart, who carried out a series of brutal studies to determine whether people could empathetically feel another person’s pain.

He administered shocks to himself, while a volunteer, isolated in a different room and hooked up to an array of medical gadgetry, was being monitored to see if his sympathetic nervous system somehow picked up Tart’s reactions. Whenever Tart jolted himself, the receiver registered an unconscious empathetic response in decreased blood volume and increased heart rate – as though he were also getting the shocks.

Harald Walach, a German scientist at the University of Freiburg, tried an approach that was guaranteed to magnify the sender’s effects, in order to maximize the response in the receiver.

The sender was shown an alternating black-and-white checkerboard, called a ‘pattern reversal’, which is known to trigger predictable, high-amplitude electrical brain waves in viewers. At the same instant, the EEG of the distant, shielded receiver recorded identical brain-wave patterns.

Neurophysiologist Jacobo Grinberg-Zylberbaum, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, had used this same protocol a decade before Walach but with a different twist: with light flashes rather than patterns as the stimulus. In this study, the particular patterns of firing in the brain of the sender, evoked by the light, turned out to be mirrored in the brain of the receiver, who was sitting in an electrically shielded room more than 14 metres away.

Grinberg-Zylberbaum also discovered that an important condition determined success: the synchrony only occurred among pairs of participants who had met and established a connection by spending 20 minutes with each other in meditative silence.

In earlier work, Grinberg-Zylberbaum had discovered that brain-wave synchrony occurred not only between two people, but between both hemispheres of the brains of both participants, with one important distinction: the participant with the most cohesive quantum wave patterns sometimes set the tempo and tended to influence the other.

The most ordered brain pattern often prevailed.

Besides resonance, the DMILS studies offered evidence of another phenomenon during intention: the receiver anticipates the information by registering the ‘ouch’ a few moments before the pinch occurred in the sender.

In 1997, in his former laboratory at the University of Nevada, Radin discovered that humans may receive a physical foreboding of an event. He set up a computer that would randomly select photos designed to calm, to arouse, or to upset a participant.

His volunteers were wired to physiological monitors that recorded changes in skin conduction, heart rate and blood pressure, and they sat in front of a computer that would randomly display colour photos of tranquil scenes (landscapes), or scenes designed to shock (autopsies) or to arouse (erotic materials).

Radin discovered that his subjects were registering physiological responses before they saw the photo. As if trying to brace themselves, their responses were highest before they saw an image that was erotic or disturbing.

This offered the first laboratory proof that our bodies unconsciously anticipate and act out our own future emotional states and that the nervous system does not merely cushion itself against a future blow, but also works out the emotional meaning of it.

We hear the thoughts of others – and even our own future.