Rosalind Heywood

Member of Council, Society for Psychical Research. Was interested in documenting different attitudes towards ESP research. Koestler dedicated his book "The Roots of Coincidence" to Heywood, 'catalyst-in-chief'. Her books included "ESP: A Personal Memoir", "The Sixth Sense" (London, 1959), "Beyond the Reach of Sense" (E. P. Dutton, 1974) and "The Infinite Hive" (Pan, 1966). In the latter book she documented her own psychic experiences.

The Impact of Psi

 - Rosalind Heywood -

         HOW DOES the world of science today react to the challenge of psi and what new vistas does its discovery open up? These two questions are interlinked in a somewhat vicious circle. On the one hand established views are not overthrown simply because some new facts are discovered, but only when these are organized into a better system than its predecessor. On the other, it is not easy to propound new systems based on facts whose natural habitat seems to be through the looking glass.

Nevertheless there are signs of change in the general attitude to psi since the days of Henry Sidgwick and Frederic Myers. Some Universities and learned bodies are gradually ceasing to look upon it as an unmentionable heresy. The Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London, of Duke in America and Munich in Germany have all given doctorates for theses upon it. The Aristotelian Society of Great Britain has held three symposia to discuss it - the last in 1954 - and, as a result of Professor Hardy's courageous insistence in 1949 to the British Association that telepathy was a fact, in 1950 the Society of Experimental Biologists met to consider the evidence for it. Hardy himself was chairman and C. D. Broad, S. G. Soal and J. B. S. Haldane were among the speakers. In the same year both the Royal Society of Medicine and the Royal Institution chose ESP as a subject for discussion, and in May 1955 the Ciba Foundation - an independent educational and scientific organization - arranged an international symposium in London. In America the academic world has been less enterprising, though J. B. Rhine's work at Duke University and McConnell's at Pittsburg have respectively been supported by two great and conservative bodies, the Rockefeller and Mellon Trusts.

A few psychologists, too, are beginning to accept the fact of ESP. In his latest book Dr H. J. Eysenck says:

'Unless there is a gigantic conspiracy involving some thirty University departments all over the world, and several hundred highly respectable scientists in various fields, many of them originally hostile to the claim of the psychical researchers, the only conclusion the unbiased observer can come to must be that there does exist a small number of people who obtain knowledge existing either in other people's minds, or in the outer world, by means as yet unknown to science.'[1]

[1] H. J. Eysenck, Sense and Nonsense in Psychology, p. 131 (Pelican Books, 1957).

All this implies an advance towards respectability which even if slow was unthinkable twenty-five years ago, and it is a tribute, not only to the tiny band of heretics who continued to seek their quarry undeterred by enormous difficulties, but also to the open-mindedness of some in academic high places. The most difficult mental act of all is to escape from prevailing doctrine. But, from the point of view of the heretic, progress towards recognition has seemed discouragingly slow and he has been driven to console himself with Whitehead's saying that all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are first produced.

If psi is a fact, its recognition will force renewed scrutiny of the axioms on which scientific work is based and particularly of that most knotty of all problems, the ultimate relation of mind to matter. Professor H. H. Price has put the situation in a nutshell.

'Telepathy', he says, 'is something which ought not to happen if the Materialistic theory were true. But it does happen. So there must be something seriously wrong with the Materialistic theory, however numerous and imposing the normal facts which support it may be.'[2]

[2] H. H. Price, Psychical Research and Human Personality. Article in the Hibbert Journal, January 1949.

Most scientists prefer to avert their eyes from such a dilemma. Aldous Huxley recalls a solution to another not unlike it which was put forward a hundred year's ago by the distinguished naturalist, Philip Gosse.

'The geologists could prove that life had existed upon the earth for millions of years and that every existing plant and animal species had undergone far-reaching changes in the course of its evolution. But to Gosse, as to millions of other intelligent people, Genesis was literally true and the instantaneous creation of the world in 4004 BC was an unassailable fact. The evidence of geology had to be ignored or explained away. Gosse chose the latter course. The earth, he still maintained, had been created in a single instant, but it had been created in its present form, with all the appearance of having slowly evolved. In other words, "God hid the fossils in the rocks in order to tempt geologists into infidelity." Today, it would seem, God is hiding Mind in the ESP cards to tempt psychologists into infidelity towards another brand of fundamentalism - the faith in Universal Matter.'[3]

[3] Article in Life, Vol. XXXVI, No. 2, p. 96 (1954).

The psi dilemma is reflected in the fair but almost embarrassed comments made recently by two well-known scientists, Dr Grey Walter and Sir George Thomson, FRS. They are both considering the nature of the physical brain. Many people, says Grey Walter, assume that the impressive power of brain over body extends to another category altogether, the influence of mind over matter. But we must confess that as yet no study of brain activity has thrown any light on ESP or PK. It is useless to explain these phenomena by suggesting, as some do, that information could be transmitted from brain to brain by means of electrical activity, for the electrical disturbances created by the brain are too small; also if the largest rhythms of the brain were considered as radio signals they would fall below noise level a few millimetres from the head. And psychical researchers claim further that signals can be received before they are sent.

'If', he concludes, 'we accept these observations [of ESP and PK] for what they are said to be, we cannot fit them into the physical laws of the universe as we define them today. We may reject the claims of transcendental communication on the grounds of experimental error, or statistical fallacy, or we may withhold judgement, or we may accept them gladly as evidence of spiritual life; but it does not seem easy to explain them in terms of biological mechanism.'[4]

[4] W. Grey Walter, The Living Brain, p. 176 (Duckworth, 1953).

In a discussion by Sir George Thomson of the brain as an electrical instrument this attitude of almost apologetic friendliness is again apparent. He tacitly assumes, he says, a one-one correlation between brain and mind, although he points out that the evidence for this is very partial and rather indirect, certainly far less strong than the evidence for determination in the world of physics before 1900. But in his view the only facts, if they are facts, which do not fit in with it at all well are those of extra-sensory perception. He thinks the evidence for these facts is quite good, 'good enough to produce acceptance if what is claimed were not such a fundamental upsetting of systems of thought adopted by most moderns and especially by scientists'. He adds, moreover, that 'the importance of the subject is enormous and much too little work is being done on it. If true it will produce a revolution in thought'. He does not think that ESP would necessarily disprove that brain and mind have a one - one connection, but it 'would follow that thought is free to influence brains directly, not only but including the thinker's; it would show mind as a force acting more directly than we now suppose, and one might be inclined to regard the brain as merely the shell that holds the oyster, limiting it in some respects but not in all...'[5]

[5] Sir George Thomson, FRS, The Forseeable Future, pp. 157-9 (Cambridge University Press, 1955).

This generous attitude no doubt owes something to the advances made in physics in the last fifty years as well as to the impressive evidence for ESP. We are nowadays living in a mental world far removed from Kelvin's with its solid little atoms and all-pervading aether. Two mysteries, the quantum theory and Heisenberg's principle of indeterminacy, have undermined the orthodoxy. In the place of solid atoms we now have a group of elusive entities, electrons, protons, neutrons and the like which cannot be observed directly and whose behaviour can only be assessed by statistics. The new picture of basic matter as indeterminate is of great importance for psychical research. Sir George Thomson points out that the working parts of the physical brain are known to be exceedingly small and that they may be within the range at which the principle of indeterminacy can be effective. And the relation between an undetermined brain and a mind, he says, 'may well be other than would be possible if the behaviour of the brain were determined in the same way as the motions of the planets are'.[6]

[6] Op. cit. p. 160.

It may be, then, that recent developments in physics are reducing the widespread hostility towards phenomena which cannot be explained in terms of the one-one correlation of mind and matter. But that hostility is still very strong. Some scientists, for instance, concede the fact that psi, but reject any explanation for it until they can find one which will harmonize with the apparently outdated mechanistic description of the universe. Their attitude still seems to be conditioned by the view of matter current half a century ago. Others openly deny the facts on prejudice alone. 'Why', asks Dr D. O. Hebb, Professor of Psychology at McGill University, 'do we not accept ESP as a psychological fact? Rhine has offered enough evidence to have convinced us on almost any other issue, where one could make some guess as to the mechanics of the process... We are still trying to find a way out of the magic wood of animism, where psychology began historically, and we cannot give up the talisman of a knowledge of material processes. Personally I do not accept ESP for a moment, because it does not make sense. My external criteria, both of physics and physiology, say that ESP is not a fact, despite the behavioral evidence that has been reported. I cannot see what other basis my colleagues have for rejecting it... Rhine may still turn out to be right, improbable as I think that is, and my own rejection of his view is - in the literal sense - prejudice.'

In 1952 an American Professor of Biology, Dr Lucien Warner, surveyed the attitude of American psychologists to psychical research.[7] Most of those who replied at all considered it a legitimate scientific undertaking, but some ftankly dismissed it m the grounds that psychical researchers themselves must be round the bend. Here are a few samples.

[7] Journal of Parapsychology, December 1952, p. 284 et seq. (Duke University Press).

'What are the quirks of personality that lead an otherwise sensible psychologist to continue to waste his time on so unrewarding a field of inquiry?'

'One is forced to the conclusion that there is something about this problem that leads the people who are attracted to it to come to false positive conclusions.'

'I feel that most of the investigations are designed to "prove" something the antithesis of science. It is so improbable that the principal relevant topic for research is explanation of the present extent of interest in the question.'

'It is a legitimate scientific undertaking in the sense that one can study anything. No, in the sense that the study is likely to be barren and futile.'

'It will become a part of academic psychology if and when we have an adequate theory to explain the phenomena.'

Dr George H. Price, a research associate in the Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota, has recently put the sceptic's attitude in no uncertain terms. 'Not 1000 experiments with 10 million trials and by 100 separate investigators giving total odds against chance of 101000 to 1,'[8] he said, could make him accept ESP. He must have 'one fraud-proof experiment, conducted before a committee of twelve prominent men, who were all strongly hostile towards parapsychology and had an adamantine faith that ESP was impossible!" Parapsychologists must prove their case to the most 'hostile, pig-headed and sceptical of critics'.[9] The solution Dr George Price thinks more probable - and he admits that there are no other alternatives - is that all concerned in all ESP experiments must have cheated.

[8] George H. Price. Article in Science, August 1955.
[9] Ibid.

In 1953 a vigorous stand against the quantitative evidence for ESP was made by Mr G. Spencer Brown.[10] He did not criticize the integrity or technique of the experimenters, but in an article which appeared in Nature he suggested that the distributions in certain well-known tables of supposedly random numbers do not always behave in practice exactly as they should according to accepted mathematical theory. In other words, statistics itself is not always a totally reliable instrument. So technical a claim can only be discussed by experts for experts, but as it is believed by some that Mr Spencer Brown's statements have invalidated all quantitative experiments it is worth giving some reasons why this is not so. To take Dr Soal's. Large numbers of the scores obtained by his percipients have been cross-checked with targets at which they were not aimed. He himself cross-checked a set of nearly four thousand guesses by Shackleton with non-target cards. In both cases the results, which had been highly significant on the right targets, tallied with chance. A statistician, Mr Greenwood, made the enormous effort of matching half a million guesses from successful experiments against non-target cards, and the results were again at chance level.

[10] Spencer Brown has since published a book on these lines, entitled Probability and Scientific Inference (Longmans, 1957).

Further reasons why Soal's experiments are unaffected are that changes in the experimental conditions made meaningful changes in the rate of success. Shackleton did well with only three agents out of twelve. When the rate of calling was doubled, he made a significant number of hits, not on one but on two cards ahead. Again, both he and Mrs Stewart made high scores under telepathic conditions only, and, in similar experiments to Soal's, Dr Schmeidler and others have found that different temperaments scored differently. And finally, G. N. M. Tyrrell's percipient (who also scored better with him as agent than with others), as well as Rhine's Hubert Pearce and Soal's Shackleton and Mrs Stewart, went on producing high scores for very long periods.

Although it is still true to say that the majority among contemporary thinkers cannot bring themselves to accept the existence of psi, there seems little doubt that the majority is decreasing. And some of the best minds of the day go farther than mere acceptance. They are seeking to integrate psi into the pattern of nature. This task is beset with difficulties. 'However broadly we use the words,' Sir Mortimer Wheeler has said in a recent book, 'man is in some sense the casket of a soul as well as five shillings' worth of chemicals. And the soul or sensibility or mind - whatever we like to call it - is beyond the reach of finite intelligence since the mind obviously cannot encompass itself.'[11] Psi phenomena have a way of leading back to the scientific heresy of a soul in the casket and to guess at their nature seems like an attempt to encompass the mind itself. Moreover, if a would-be interpreter clings too closely to the rudimentary fact of ESP as disclosed by the latest experiments and ignores even PK, he may get nowhere. If, on the contrary, he spreads his net wider to include phenomena for which the evidence can be questioned, his hypotheses may be based on sand. But in every form of research hypothesis is a vital tool. It suggests questions to ask. It indicates new forms of experiment. It can help investigators to see significance in tiny clues which might otherwise escape them. And even mistaken hypotheses have led to new discoveries.

[11] Mortimer Wheeler, Archaeology from the Earth, p. 225 (Pelican Books, 1954).

The few adventurous thinkers who in spite of the difficulties have sought to probe into the nature of psi always insist that hypotheses formulated at the outset of inquiry into such elusive phenomena are certain to be inadequate and are likely to be mistaken. But they are very stimulating and for this reason a few of those which have recently been put forward are summarized in an appendix to this record.


"The Sixth Sense" by Rosalind Heywood (1959, Chatto and Windus Ltd).


More articles by Rosalind Heywood

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