Arthur Koestler

Arthur Koestler

Hungarian born British novelist, journalist, and critic, best known for his novel "Darkness at Noon" (1940). In 1929 he was transferred to Paris, a year later to Berlin where he became science editor of Vossische Zeitung and foreign editor of B.Z. am Mittag. Since 1956 he focused on mainly questions of science and parapsychology, especially telepathy and extrasensory perception. In his will Koestler left his entire property to found a Chair of Parapsychology at the Edinburgh University.

The Country of the Blind

 - Arthur Koestler -

Part 1

          AND THUS, after several detours, we are back at our starting point. The mystic's "oceanic feeling" is certainly on a higher turn of the spiral than the new-born infant's; the infant has not yet attained personal identity, the mystic and the medium have transcended it. There are many turns to the spiral, from the slime-mould upward; but at each turn we are confronted with the same polarity, the same Janus-faced holons, one face of which says I am the centre of the world, the other, I am a part in search of the whole.

We may regard the phenomena of parapsychology as the rewards of this search - whether produced spontaneously or in the laboratory. ESP would then appear as the highest manifestation of the integrative potential of living matter - which, on the human level, is typically accompanied by a self-transcending type of emotion. Whereas throughout our excursion into biology and physics we were on solid scientific ground, this is a speculative step, and I do not pretend it to be more. But it is modern science itself, with its paradoxical vistas, which encourages one to take it.

Nor should we stop at "classical" ESP-telepathy and short-term precognition - for which some physicalistic explanations may still be found. To exclude clairvoyance, PK and serial or synchronistic coincidences would be arbitrary, and leave things as they stood before. On the other hand, by regarding the Integrative Tendency as a universal principle which includes a-causal phenomena, the picture becomes greatly simplified, even if still beyond the grasp of understanding. Instead of several mysteries, we are now faced with a single, irreducible evolutionary tendency towards building up more complex wholes out of more diversified parts. The Hippocratic doctrine of the "sympathy of all things" was an early paradigm for it; the evolution of knowledge, with its fannings out into specialised branches, and their confluence into the unified delta, is another. One might indeed substitute for the awkward terms "Seriality" and "Synchronicity" - with their misplaced emphasis on time alone-the non-committal expression "confluential events". Confluential events would be a-causal manifestations of the Integrative Tendency. The appearance of Jung's scarab would be a confluential event. So would be the psychokinetic effects on rolling dice, and other paranormal, a-causal phenomena. What lends them significance is that they give the impression of being causally connected, though they demonstrably are not - a kind of pseudo-causality. The scarab seems to be attracted to Jung's window by the patient telling her dream; the dice seem to be manipulated by the experimenter's will; the clairvoyant seems to see the cards hidden from him. The Integrative potentials of life seem to include the capacity of producing pseudo-causal effects - of bringing about a confluential event without bothering, so to speak, to employ physical agencies.

It is, however, not always easy to draw a sharp line separating causal from non-causal events. Sightless animals must feel their way by the coarse physical agencies of touch, perhaps aided by smell. Bats employ a kind of radar - which not so long ago would have struck naturalists as a very wild hypothesis. Animals equipped with eyes react to photons - to particles with zero rest mass which can also behave like waves in a non-medium and thus seem to defy causality. A species of humans without eyes - such as the citizens of Wells' Country of the Blind - would surely reject our claim of being able to perceive distant objects, without contact by touch, as occult nonsense - or else declare that such a faculty, if it really exists, is definitely beyond the realm of physical causality, and should be called extra-sensory perception.

Part 2

One of Britain's most respected neurophysiologists, Dr. W. Grey Walter, performed in recent years a remarkable series of experiments. In his 1969 Eddington Memorial Lecture he reported, laconically, that "harnessed to an electric machine, by an effort of will, one can influence external events without movement or overt action through the impalpable electric surges of one's own brain". This effort "requires a peculiar state of concentration, a paradoxical compound of detachment and excitement"(1).

Grey Walter's experimental procedure can be described, in a simplified way, as follows. The electrodes attached to the scalp over the subject's frontal cortex transmit his electrical brain-activities through an amplifier to the machine. In front of the subject there is a button: if he presses it down an "interesting scene" will appear on a TV screen. Approximately one second before he presses the button, an electric surge of about twenty micro-volts occurs in a large area of the subject's cortex; this is known as the "readiness wave". But the circuits of the apparatus can be so adjusted that the amplified "readiness wave" is in itself sufficient to trigger a switch and make the TV scene appear a fraction of a second before the subject has actually pressed the button. This is called "auto-start":

An intelligent subject soon realises that his intended action has had the expected result before he has actually moved his finger, and usually ceases to bother to press the button: the pictures appear as and when he wants them... For this effect to be sustained it is essential that the subject should really "want" the event to occur, and concentrate on evoking this particular event. When the subject's attention wanders with monotonous presentation, or he "concentrates on concentration", the brain potential fails to rise and he receives no pictures. Auto-start can be combined with auto-stop so that the subject can acquire a picture by willing its appearance on the TV screen, and then erase it as soon as he has completed his inspection of it.

From the standpoint of the subject this is a very peculiar experience, sometimes accompanied by signs of suppressed excitement; diuresis [discharge of urine] has been very marked in two of the experimenters while acting as subjects for these trials(2).

Reviewing Grey Walter's experiments, Renee Haynes, editor of the Journal of the SPR, commented:

In principle, of course, this is no more remarkable than what happens when a child wonderingly looks at its hand and decides to prove the power of its will by resolving to move a finger and moving it. In practice it is astonishing because this [Grey Walter's] mode of exerting influence over the outer world is so unfamiliar in man, however commonplace it may be to the electric eel. It is also fascinating in that it has led Dr. Grey Walter, with some embarrassment, to use "such a word as willpower"(3).

This, we remember, was also the attitude of Sir John Eccles when he regarded the action of "mental will" on "physical brain" as the basic mystery, and PK merely as an extension of it. One might describe Grey Walter's experiment as "pseudo-telekinesis" because there are wires connecting the electrodes on the subject's skull with the TV apparatus. But one might equally well describe the action of the subject's mind on his own brain as pseudo-causality. Or we might say that the subject has discovered a more elegant way of producing a "confluential event", without bothering to employ physical agencies.

Part 3

A word should be said in this context about the hypnotic rapport. Until the middle of the last century, hypnosis was treated as an occult fancy by Western science (although in other cultures it was taken for granted); today it has become so respectable and commonplace that we are apt to forget that we have no explanation for it. The evidence shows that a suitable subject can be made temporarily deaf, dumb, blind, anaesthetised, induced to experience hallucinations, or re-live scenes from his past. He can be made to forget or remember what happened during the trance at a snap of fingers. He can be given a post-hypnotic suggestion which will make him perform the following day, at 5 p.m. precisely, some silly action like untying his shoelaces - and then find some rationalisation for it.

The uses of medical hypnosis on suitable patients in dentistry, obstetrics and dermatology are well known*. Less well known, however, are the experiments by A. Mason and S. Black on the suppression of allergic skin responses by hypnosis. Patients were injected with extracts of pollen, to which they were known to be allergic, and after hypnotic treatment, ceased to show any reaction. In other patients hypnosis suppressed the allergic reaction against the tubercle bacillus. How hypnotic suggestions can alter the chemical reactivity of tissues on the microscopic level is anybody's guess. After Mason's remarkable cure by hypnosis of a boy of sixteen suffering from ichthyosis (fish-skin disease, a congenital affliction previously thought to be incurable) a reviewer in the British Medical Journal commented that this single case was enough to require "a revision of current concepts on the relation between mind and body".

* Although its clinical applications are limited by the fact that complete anaesthesis can only be induced in "deep" trance, and that apparently only five per cent of the population are "deep" trance subjects, while about thirty-five per cent can be put into a medium trance, and nearly everybody into a light trance(4).

Part 4

That revision of current concepts is long overdue. We do not know whether Eddington was right when he said that the world is made of mind-stuff, but is it certainly not made of the stuff of the nineteenth-century physicist's little billiard balls flying around at random until chance makes them aggregate into an amoeba. In his 1969 Address to the American Society for Psychical Research, which I have quoted before, Professor Henry Margenau had this to say:

An artifact occasionally invoked to explain precognition is to make time multidimensional. This allows a genuine backward passage of time, which might permit positive intervals in one time direction to become negative ("effect before cause") in another. In principle, this represents a valid scheme, and I know of no criticism that will rule it out as a scientific procedure. If it is to be acceptable, however, a completely new metric of space-time needs to be developed...

I have probed physics for suggestions it can offer towards a solution of the sort of problem you seem to encounter. The positive results, I fear, are meagre and disappointing, though perhaps worth inspection. But why, I should now like to ask, is it necessary to import into any new discipline all the approved concepts of an older science in its contemporary stage of development? Physics did not adhere slavishly to the Greek rationalistic formulations that preceded it; it was forced to create its own specific constructs...

The parapsychologist, I think ... must strike out on his own and probably reason in bolder terms than present-day physics suggest - tolerate the strident critical voices of hard-boiled, pragmatic, and satisfied scientists without too much concern, and continue his own painstaking search for an understanding of new kinds of experience, possibly in terms of concepts which now appear strange(5) [compressed].

We are surrounded by phenomena whose existence we studiously ignore; or, if they cannot be ignored, dismiss as superstitions. Until the thirteenth century man did not realise that he was surrounded by magnetic forces. Nor do we have any direct sensory awareness of them; nor of the showers of neutrinos which traverse us; nor of other unknown "influences". So we might just as well listen to Margenau's advice and create "our own specific constructs" by assuming that we live immersed in some sort of "psycho-magnetic field" which produces confluential events by means transcending the classical concepts of physics. Its purpose and design are unknown to us, but we feel it to be somehow related to that striving towards higher forms of order and unity-in-variety which we observe in the evolution of the universe at large, of life on earth, human consciousness, and lastly science and art. One ultimate mystery is easier to accept than a litter-box of unrelated puzzles. It does not explain why the scarab appeared at the window, but at least it fits confluential events and other paranormal phenomena into a unified design.

There is, however, one profoundly disturbing aspect to these phenomena. Paranormal events are rare, unpredictable and capricious. That, as we saw, is the main reason why sceptics feel justified in rejecting the results of card-guessing and PK experiments, in spite of the statistical evidence which, in any other field of research, would be sufficient to prove the hypothesis.

One reason for the erratic nature of ESP has already been mentioned: our inability to control the unconscious processes underlying it. Grey Walter's experiments were not concerned with ESP, yet he had to realise that the "readiness wave" will only attain sufficient strength if the subject is in a state described as "a paradoxical compound of detachment and excitement". Spontaneous paranormal experiences are always bound up with some self-transcending type of emotion, as in telepathic dreams or in mediumistic trance; and in the laboratory, too, emotional rapport between experimenter and subject is of decisive importance. The subject's interest in the mystery of ESP in itself evokes a self-transcending emotion; when that interest flags at the end of a long ESP sitting, there is a characteristic falling-off in the number of "hits" on the score-sheet. This "decline effect" (p.123) is regarded as an additional proof for the reality of ESP. There is also an overall decline in the performance of most subjects after a prolonged series of sittings. They get bored. Most normal skills improve with practice. In ESP the opposite is the case.

Part 5

A further argument relating to the apparent rarity of paranormal phenomena was put forward by the late Professor Broad in an article in Philosophy:

If paranormal cognition and paranormal causation are facts, then it is quite likely that they are not confined to those very rare occasions on which they either manifest themselves sporadically in a spectacular way, or to those very special conditions in which their presence can be experimentally established. They may well be continually operating in the background of our normal lives. Our understanding of, and our misunderstandings with, our fellow men; our general emotional mood on certain occasions; the ideas which suddenly arise in our minds without any obvious introspectable cause; our unaccountable immediate emotional reactions towards certain persons;... and so on; all these may be in part determined by paranormal cognition and paranormal causal influences(6).

Broad's colleague at Oxford, Professor H. H. Price, added an interesting suggestion regarding the apparent capriciousness of ESP:

It looks as if telepathically received impressions have some difficulty in crossing the threshold and manifesting themselves in consciousness. There seems to be some barrier or repressive mechanism which tends to shut them out from consciousness, a barrier which is rather difficult to pass, and they make use of all sorts of devices for overcoming it. Sometimes they make use of the muscular mechanisms of the body, and emerge in the form of automatic speech or writing. Sometimes they emerge in the form of dreams, sometimes as visual or auditory hallucinations. And often they can only emerge in a distorted and symbolic form (as other unconscious mental contents do). It is a plausible guess that many of our everyday thoughts and emotions are telepathic or partly telepathic in origin, but are not recognised to be so because they are so much distorted and mixed with other mental contents in crossing the threshold of consciousness(7).

Adrian Dobbs, commenting on this passage, raised an important point:

This is a very interesting and suggestive passage. It evokes the picture of either the mind or the brain as containing an assemblage of selective filters, designed to cut out unwanted signals on neighbouring frequencies, some of which get through in a distorted form, just as in ordinary radio reception(8).

Part 6

The "filter theory", as one might call it, actually goes back to Henri Bergson, and has been taken up by various writers on extra-sensory perception. It is in fact simply an extrapolation from what we know about ordinary sensory perception. Our main sense organs are like narrow slits which admit only a very narrow frequency range of electro-magnetic and sound waves. But even the amount that does get in through these narrow slits is too much. Life would be impossible if we were to pay attention to the millions of stimuli bombarding our senses - what William James called "the blooming, buzzing multitude of sensations". Thus the nervous system, and above all the brain, functions as a hierarchy of filtering and classifying devices which eliminate a large proportion of the sensory input as irrelevant "noise", and process the relevant information into manageable shape before it is presented to consciousness. An oft-quoted example of this filtering process is the "cocktail party phenomenon" which enables us to isolate a single voice in the general buzz.

By analogy, a similar filtering mechanism might be assumed to protect us from the blooming, buzzing multitude of images, messages, impressions and confluential happenings in the "psycho-magnetic field" surrounding us. Since this is a point of great importance in trying to understand why paranormal phenomena present themselves in such inexplicable and arbitrary guises, I shall indulge in a few more quotations relevant to it. Thus the psychiatrist James S. Hayes, writing in The Scientist Speculates:*

* Ed. I. J. Good (London, 1962).

I have long felt that the conventional questions asked about telepathy ("Does it occur, and if so, how?") are less likely to be fruitful than the question: "If telepathy occurs at all, what prevents it from occurring all the time? How does the mind (or the brain) insulate itself from the potential influx of other people's experiences?"(9)

Next, Sir Cyril Burt again:

... Man's natural conception of the universe, or rather of the restricted portion of it with which he has to cope, is that of a world of tangible objects of moderate size, moving about with moderate speeds in a visible three-dimensional container under the impact of contact forces (the push and pull of simple mechanical interactions), all in accordance with fairly simple laws. Until quite recently this has also been the conception of the universe adopted by the scientist. His criterion for reality ... was that of the Doubting Thomas: what can be seen or touched. Yet to suppose 'that on such a basis we can construct a complete and all-inclusive picture of the universe is like supposing that a street-plan of Rome will tell you what the Eternal City looks like when you get there.

"'Osses," said the coachman to Tom Brown, "'as to wear blinkers, so's they see only wot's in front of 'em: and that's the safest plan for 'umble folk like you and me." Nature seems to have worked on much the same principle. Our sense organs and our brain operate as an intricate kind of filter which limits and directs the mind's clairvoyant powers, so that under normal conditions attention is concentrated on just those objects or situations that are of biological importance for the survival of the organism and its species... As a rule, it would seem, the mind rejects ideas coming from another mind as the body rejects grafts coming from another body(10).

Burt sums up his views by reminding us that contemporary physics recognises four types of interactions ("strong", "weak", electro-magnetic and gravitational), each of which 

obeys its own laws, and so far at any rate has defeated all attempts to reduce it to any other type. This being so, there can be no antecedent improbability which forbids us postulating yet another system and yet another type of interaction, awaiting more intensive investigation - a psychic universe consisting of events or entities linked by psychic interactions, obeying laws of their own and interpenetrating the physical universe and partly overlapping, much as the various interactions already discovered and recognised overlap each other(11).

Part 7

The preceding section may have evoked in the reader a feeling of deja vu, because earlier on (p.82) I mentioned another type of "filter theory" related to Evolution. I am referring to the neo-Darwinian theory, according to which the hereditary substance in the germ cells is protected by an almost inviolable barrier against influences originating in the outside world. The "almost" refers to cosmic rays, noxious heat, and chemicals which might penetrate the barrier and cause mutations in the genes. Most of these are harmful, but from time to time there are lucky hits, and these, with the aid of natural selection, keep the wheels of evolution turning. Apart from that, any possibility of some acquired characteristic becoming hereditary is prevented by the barrier. Lamarckism, which postulated that beneficial improvements in physique or skills acquired by the parents could be transmitted to the offspring, must be discarded as an unscientific superstition.

This is the neo-Darwinian doctrine. And yet certain evolutionary phenomena, quoted over and again in the literature, seem to point stubbornly at some Lamarckian factor in evolution. A simple example is the skin on the soles of our feet, which is much thicker than elsewhere. If the thickening occurred while the baby learned to walk, there would be no problem. But the thickening is inherited, the baby is born with it. Equally puzzling are the inborn callosities on the camel's knee, and the bulbous thickenings on the ostrich's undercarriage, one fore, one aft, on which the ostrich squats. These too are, like the skin on our soles, already present in the embryo; they are undeniably inherited characteristics. Yet in conformity with the prevailing dogma, we are asked to believe that the advent of these callosities at the exact spots where the animal needed them was due to pure chance-like the scarab appearing at Jung's window.

One could almost substitute ESP for IAC (Inheritance of Acquired Characters) to see the same pattern of argument emerging, and the same quasi-theological passions accompanying it. The Lamarckians found themselves in a predicament similar to the parapsychologists': they were unable to produce a repeatable experiment. Cases of apparent IAC in the animal kingdom were rare, the phenomena were capricious; each apparently clear-cut case was open to different interpretations and as a last resort, to accusations of fraud. Moreover, though the Lamarckians were convinced that IAC did occur, they were unable to provide a physiological explanation for it - as parapsychologists are unable to provide a physical explanation for ESP.

This curious parallel seems to have escaped the attention of both Lamarckians and parapsychologists - I have not seen it mentioned in the literature. Perhaps one heresy is enough for one man. Paul Kammerer shared both; yet he, too, seems to have been unaware of the connection between them.

Let us carry the analogy one step further. In The Ghost in the Machine and The Case of the Midwife Toad I have discussed the reasons for a growing discontent with Neo-Darwinian theory among contemporary biologists who believe that the theory reflects part of the picture, but not the whole picture, and who maintain that the evolution of species is the combined result of a whole spectrum of causative factors, some known, most of them unknown. Darwinian inheritance, and a modified form of Lamarckian inheritance, might be two such factors at opposite ends of the spectrum, both with a limited field of applicability. Lamarckian IAC would be a relatively rare event - and for the same reason that ESP phenomena are rare: the operation of protective filters. These would not constitute the absolute barrier stipulated by the orthodox theory, but selective mechanisms, protecting the hereditary material against the "blooming, buzzing confusion" of biochemical incursions, which would otherwise play havoc with the continuity and stability of the species. If every experience of the ancestors left its hereditary trace on the offspring, the result would inevitably be a chaos of shapes and a bedlam of instincts. But this does not mean that we must exclude the possibility that some well-defined, purposeful adaptations - the ostrich's callosities, for instance - which were acquired by generation after generation, should eventually seep through the filter and lead to changes in the chemistry of genes which made them inheritable. It seems very unlikely that philogeny should possess no memory. Biochemistry does not exclude the above possibility*, and the almost fanatical insistence on its rejection is but one more example of the dogmatic intolerance of scientific orthodoxies.

* An eminent member of the Establishment, Professor Waddington, actually proposed some years ago a tentative model for IAC, indicating that at the present stage of biochemistry such a process is conceivable(12).

Part 8

We have to make one last excursion into physics - but this time of a very elementary kind.

On the shadow desk in front of me there is a shadow ashtray. For ordinary purposes it is quite a sensible, solid object, a whole in itself, with no quantum nonsense about it. But when I lift it, I feel its weight, which means that it is subject to a rather mysterious influence which we call the earth's gravitational field. And when I push it, it resists. This is partly due to the friction against the desk, but partly to the massive ashtray's inertia. Now inertia is defined, according to Newton's First Law of Motion, as the tendency of a body to preserve its state of rest or uniform motion in a given direction. But if I were to suspend my ashtray on a fine thread from the ceiling, and turn it into a replica of Foucault's pendulum in the Paris Invalides, the plane of its oscillations would not remain fixed in its given direction, as the principle of inertia requires, but would slowly rotate, completing a turn in twenty-four hours. We explain that this is caused by the earth's rotation, and that my ashtray pendulum did preserve its direction relative to the fixed stars, so all is well. However, since all motion is relative, we are entitled to regard the earth at rest, and the fixed stars revolving around it - as the ancients did; and if this is the case, why should my ashtray's motions be governed by the stars, instead of the earth below it? The same argument applies to the flattening of the earth's poles, and the so-called Coriolus force which deflects missiles, jet planes and trade winds from their straight inertial direction. They all seem to demonstrate that the earth's rotation is absolute, not relative.

This paradox was first pointed out by Bishop Berkeley, then by the German physicist Ernst Mach (after whom the units of supersonic speed are named). Mach's answer was that we are indeed entitled to regard the earth as at rest, and to explain the phenomena which we ascribed to its rotation as somehow caused by the fixed stars and galaxies - that is, by the mass of the universe around us. According to this theory, known as Mach's Principle, it is the universe around us which determines the direction of Foucault's pendulum, and governs the inertial forces on earth responsible for the flattening of the poles. Einstein took over Mach's Principle and postulated that the inertia of earthly bodies is merely another manifestation of gravity, not due to the stars as such, but rather to their rotation. This is the accepted theory today. How the rotation of the stars produces the inertia of my ashtray is anybody's guess.

Inertia is the most tangible, down-to-earth phenomenon in our daily existence: you are up against it whenever you shift a piece of furniture. And yet it has now been discovered that its resistance to being shifted is due to the circumstance that it is surrounded by the rotating mass of the universe. In 1927, Bertrand Russell, though subscribing to Einsteinian Relativity, nevertheless felt impelled to protest:

It is urged that for "absolute rotation" we may substitute "rotation relative to the fixed stars". This is formally correct, but the influence attributed to the fixed stars savours of astrology, and is scientifically incredible(13).

Whitehead wrote in the same vein:

It is difficult to take seriously the suggestion that these domestic phenomena on the earth are due to the influence of the fixed stars. I cannot persuade myself to believe that a little star in its twinkling turned round Foucault's pendulum in the Paris Exhibition of 1851(14).

Thus even my ashtray is a holon, after all. It is not merely a shadow ashtray on an Eddington shadow desk; but in some way, for which neither Mach nor Einstein ventured to give a causal explanation, its inertial properties are connected with the whole mass of the universe around it. One might as well call it a Mirandola ashtray, remembering the passage quoted earlier on:

Firstly there is the unity in things whereby each thing is at one with itself, consists of itself, and coheres with itself. Secondly, there is the unity whereby one creature is united with the others, and all parts of the world constitute one world(15).

Part 9

We have heard a whole chorus of Nobel Laureates in physics informing us that matter is dead, causality is dead, determinism is dead. If that is so, let us give them a decent burial, with a requiem of electronic music. It is time for us to draw the lessons from twentieth-century post-mechanistic science, and to get out of the straitjacket which nineteenth-century materialism imposed on our philosophical outlook. Paradoxically, had that outlook kept abreast with modern science itself, instead of lagging a century behind it, we would have been liberated from that strait-jacket long ago.

It has been said that science knows more and more about less and less. But that applies only to the farming-out process of specialisation. One would be equally justified in saying that we know less and less about more and more. That applies to the complementary process of the unification of matter and energy, particle and waves into one conceptual river delta, majestically moving into an ocean of abstractions - for the more precise knowledge science acquired, the more elusive became the symbols it had to use. The hunting of the quark begins to resemble the mystic's quest for the cloud of unknowing. Science turns out to be the most glorious achievement of the human mind - and its most tantalising defeat. We have become a good deal cleverer since Pico della Mirandola, but not much wiser in knowing what it all means.

But once this is recognised, we might become more receptive to phenomena around us which a one-sided emphasis on physical science has made us ignore; might feel the draught that is blowing through the chinks of the causal edifice; pay more attention to confluential events; include the paranormal phenomena in our concept of normality; and realise that we have been living in the "Country of the Blind". The consequences of such a shift of awareness are unforeseeable, and one cannot help but sympathise with the considered statement by Professor H. H. Price that "psychical research is one of the most important branches of investigation which the human mind has undertaken"(16); that it seems likely "to throw entirely new light upon the nature of human personality and its position in the universe"; and that in time "it may transform the whole intellectual outlook upon which our present civilisation is based"(17).

These are strong words coming from an Oxford Professor of Philosophy, but I do not think they overstate the case. What they imply is a plea to make parapsychology, and more generally the study of what I called "confluential events", academically respectable and attractive to students, as a career or as an optional subject. Once there are as many bright researchers engaged in this field as there are now in the study of rat-behaviour, a breakthrough may be in sight.

In science fiction it is taken for granted that telepathic communication and psychokinetic manipulation of matter will become commonplace in the not-too-distant future; and science fiction has proved to be an astonishingly reliable prophet. Another of its favourite assumptions is that intelligent beings on other planets in the universe have advanced mastery of these methods. It is equally possible, however, that in this particular field we are an under-privileged species - together with our other handicaps. The grand design of evolution towards higher forms of unity-in-variety does not exclude biological freaks, nor pathological developments. I do not think the universe is a charitable institution, but we have to live in it and make the best of it. The limitations of our biological equipment may condemn us to the role of Peeping Toms at the keyhole of eternity. But at least let us take the stuffing out of the keyhole, which blocks even our limited view.

[AUTHOR'S NOTE In the vast literature on contemporary parapsychology I have been particularly impressed by the writings of two women - Rosalind Heywood, to whom this book is dedicated, and Renee Haynes, author of The Hidden Springs and Philosopher King, and Editor of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.

In writing the present essay about a field where angels fear to tread I have been treading with great caution, mostly confining myself to the experimental results of laboratory research, and omitting all so-called "anecdotal evidence" - that is, spontaneous manifestations of parapsychological phenomena in everyday life, which do not constitute evidence in the strict sense. Re-reading these pages at the proof stage, I felt that these self-imposed limitations resulted in a certain one-sidedness, and I asked Renee Haynes to restore the balance in the form of a Postscript. I am grateful to her for having done this, adding a flavour of Yin to my austere Yang.]

Postscript By Renee Haynes

Mr. Koestler has given us a lucid exposition of modern data as to space, time, matter, causality, neurophysiology and psychical research, out of which a remarkable synthesis emerges. His concept of "Janus-faced holons" may well prove as stimulating to our generation as was Bergson's Elan Vital to the thinkers of the early part of the century.

It is both gratifying and awe-inspiring to be asked to write an epilogue to such a work, especially as it provokes continual discussion. If this epilogue turns from time to time into argument I hope to be forgiven.

I have been impressed by Mr. Koestler's description of contemporary physics, with its infinitely abstract terms, its verifiable mathematical interactions, its in visible universe of energy dancing in predictable patterns and unpredictable flings, now here, now there, now nowhere and back again, exploding all the tidy network of Newtonian thought. It is, incidentally, a fascinating example of synchronicity that both physicists and parapsychologists should use the term psi to indicate what is still unknown; a curious verbal flash that may serve to indicate common ground between two disciplines.

For me, however, as for many others, the mathematical imagery which comes naturally to the numerate is much harder to comprehend, to relate to living experience, than is that given by the immediate impact of the senses. It is easier for the likes of us to think in the idiom of "ordinary" perception, that mysterious commonplace process, than in the idiom of algebraic formulae, whatever their truth and elegance. It is in the imagery of sight, hearing, touch, smell, temperature that paranormal cognition, like memory, often emerges into the conscious mind (often, though not always. There may be no more than a sudden impression that something has happened, even no more than an unaccountable impulse to act, to run out of a house which will shortly be bombed, to undertake a tedious cross-country journey to see a child at school, who turns out to be suddenly, dangerously ill*).

* Cf. Arm Bridge, Moments of Knowing. London, 1970.

For this reason I should like to stress the value of spontaneous phenomena to psychical research. Baffling, unrepeatable, uniquely personal as such events may be, the fact that they do occur, that certain hallucinations, waking impressions, and vivid dreams can be correlated with objective happenings unknown to the person concerned, far away, long ago or not yet enacted, has repeatedly been made plain, both before and after systematic investigation began in the 1880's.

Even now, of course, such happenings are often dismissed as at best "anecdotal", or as old wives' tales, or as superstitious nonsense. In the same way, the perfectly accurate report that the inhabitants of St. Kilda only got colds when a ship came in was scouted by Dr. Johnson as contrary to all common sense, only to be accepted as a statement of fact when the germ theory of disease was established.

Many spontaneous instances of the paranormal - telepathic awareness, "crisis apparitions" perceived when the person "seen" was in danger or dying, the sudden onset of inexplicable pain at the time when it was being experienced unexpectedly by some loved individual far away - have been checked and verified by standards of evidence acceptable in a court of law. All this lends weight to the ever accumulating number of other cases which, though the narrator does not know it, fall into the same pattern, as Dr. Louisa Rhine* and others have pointed out.

* Cf. Louisa Rhine, Hidden Channels of the Mind. London, 1962, and G. W. Lambert's Foreword to Andrew MacKenzie, Ghosts and Apparitions. London, 1971.

Spontaneous extra-sensory perception pretty certainly occurs not only among humans, who have words with which to describe their experiences, but among animals, whose feelings can be gauged only by their appearance and behaviour. This is not always easy to interpret because so many of them have sensory powers that we lack. Adult rats, for instance, can "smell" X-rays*. Baby rodents of other kinds have been shown to communicate ultrasonically with their mothers, as dolphins of all ages sometimes do with one another. Thus, how easy and how mistaken - it would have been to produce a paranormal explanation of the episode observed** in "the home of the American military attache in an unidentified foreign capital". The family dog, howling and whining and "obviously in pain, appeared to be in heated combat with an enemy in the corner of the room". The floorboards were taken up and revealed "a radio device transmitting ... all the conversations in the room". When switched on it produced a sound too high-pitched for the human ear to register, but tormenting to the dog.

* Nature, 8.xii. 1962 and 6.ii 1965.
** Daily Telegraph, ii.v.1963, discussing a booklet issued by the State Department in Washington.

All the same, there are well-authenticated instances of animal behaviour which seem only to make sense in terms of the paranormal. One sort concerns a domestic dog or cat which, taken in a closed basket by car or train over long distances, escapes from its new home and returns by the most direct cross-country route to its former surroundings. Odder still is the recent report in the French press of a dog belonging to a workman who left it with his family when he was sent off to another part of the country on a temporary assignment. The dog vanished from home and later, thin and exhausted, found its master in a place where it had never been before.

There are also frequent episodes in which dogs or cats seem to be aware of what is going on at a distance. I have already described* an instance personally known to me. That this was not an isolated case would appear from an article** in the New Scientist by Mr. W. J. Tarver, a practising veterinary surgeon, then Chairman of the Veterinarians Union. He wrote that "a gifted 10%" of dogs in boarding kennels "after being settled for a week or two become wildly excited at almost the exact moment when their owners begin the return journey from their holiday". It did not matter how far away those owners had gone. (It is odd that the percentage of dogs with such a gift should be so close to the percentage of humans who answered affirmatively the question put to them in the first Census of Hallucinations*** held in England: "Have you ever, while believing yourself completely awake, had a vivid impression ... which, as far as you could discover, was not due to any external physical cause?" 17,000 replied, of whom nearly 1,700 said yes.) Love was the relevant stimulus to the exiled dogs longing for home. Fear triggered off another apparently paranormal response described by Mr. Tarver, "A bull," he said, "who had been operationally familiar with me used to bellow ... the moment I turned off the road, so that his owner never failed to meet me," even when "I came in a new car" whose sounds could not have meant anything to the creature.

* Renee Haynes, The Hidden Springs. London, 1961. 
** New Scientist, 24.x. 1968.
*** Report of the Census of Hallucinations. Proc. SPR., Vol. X, 1894.

There is another parallel to be drawn between humans and other living beings. As J. D. Carthy* has said, "animals do not react automatically to a signal, but only if their motivation is high. A satiated animal will not react to a food call." Mr. Koestler has noted from a different angle (p.128 et seq.) that this applies to humans as well as to animals, in ordinary life as under experimental conditions. Thus, in a busy street a small boy of a mechanical turn will notice makes of cars, an expert on town-planning the traffic flow, a woman anxious to cross with a tired child the collective impersonal disregard of drivers for those on foot. The same holds good of extrasensory perception. In this, too, people become vividly aware of what concerns themselves, and their personal feelings. To evoke an instant strong response in any living creature a signal, sensory or extra-sensory, has to be relevant; relevant to biological need, to emotional stress, to what Gerard Manley Hopkins called inscape.

* Nature, 26.iv. 1969.

This is of course why repeatable experiments in psychical research are so hard to achieve. The interest which leads people to take part in them is eroded by boring mechanical repetition, and the decline effect manifests itself, sooner or later in accordance with the temperaments, moods and personal relationships of those concerned Apart from the cumulative boredom they engender, moreover, experiments with cards, dice, lights and so on disregard the ambience within which the human mind works. As Professor H. H. Price* has pointed out, "Paranormal cognition is symbolic in an associative way; thus, Mr. Jones might be indicated in a dream or paranormal cognition by a lion because he lives near the Zoo, has a lion-like temperament or a relation called Leo. In card-guessing with an ordinary pack the percipient to score a direct hit must say literally 'the ten of spades'. The remark 'Ten honest men' [who call a spade a spade] would be thought totally irrelevant."

* Paper on Paranormal Cognition and Symbolism in Image and Symbol, Colston Papers, Vol. XII, London, 1960.

The first group of experiments at the Dream Laboratory of the Maimonides Medical Centre,*1 summarised on pp. 37-8, went some way towards obviating this difficulty, but their results, though suggestive, were hard to assess. This is partly because the power to visualise varies so vastly from one person to another. Some people have a photographic memory, some a selective one, some can recall the names but not the appearances of things. As well as all this everyone in the world perceives and expresses his feelings through a network of associations, images and symbols unique as his own self; some derive from his culture pattern, most from the events of his own individual life. A later series of experiments** using less specific targets - not just pictures but general subjects such as Far Eastern Religions, the Artistic Productions of Schizophrenics, The Birth of a Baby, all illustrated for the agent by sights and noises - seems to have bypassed some of the earlier problems. It looks as if this method had really been successful in the telepathic communication of the mood, the quality, of an experience.

* M. Ullman and S. Krippner, Dream Studies and Telepathy. Parapsychology Foundation, New York, 1970.
** Stanley Krippner and Others, "A Long Distance 'Sensory Bombardment', a Study of ESP in Dreams." JASPR, Vol. 65, No. 4, October 1971.

This matter of quality as contrasted with measurement in psychical research as in many other subjects seems to me to emerge with ever-increasing urgency. It cannot be ignored simply because it is so uncomfortable and so difficult to deal with. It is relevant to science, to philosophy, to the whole concept of synchronicity. Yet (because it is so much easier to accumulate and to quantify data than to reflect on their significance) quality and meaning, which matter most to men, tend to be brushed aside. That is one reason why this book is so valuable. It wrestles with meaning, integrates facts.

Yet I should like to stress the theme even more. The measurable, the calculable can serve quality, but differ from it in kind. "Le son du cor le soir au fond des bois", "The foam of perilous seas in faery lands forlorn", "a deepe and dazzling darknesse" - the phrases can be known and experienced instantaneously as meaning, but they are not susceptible of scientific analysis or of quantification. Similarly, you cannot have a ton of love (in spite of the way in which girls used to sign their letters), or a yard of hate or a gallon of numinous awe; but love and hate and awe are just as real as a ton of flour or a yard of linen or a gallon of petrol, more real indeed, because they have immediate significance, they are not simply means to ends like making bread or pillow cases or haste.

It is quality, meaning, that flashes like a shooting star through synchronicity; just as, oddly enough, at the other end of the psychophysical spectrum it flares through the phenomena of "poltergeist hauntings"*1 now believed to be the effect of profound chaotic human misery expressing itself in some psychokinetic mode not yet understood. Now grotesque, now terrifying, the noises, the showers of stones, the smashed bottles, the exploding light bulbs, the violent inexplicable interference with electrical equipment** symbolise and convey more directly than words or music or painting the inner conflict and turmoil of the person around whom they occur.

* Cf. A. R. G. Owen, Can We Explain the Poltergeist? New York 1964.
** "The Rosenheim Poltergeist Case", A Paper read by Dr. Hans Bender, the 11th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association at Freiburg, September 1968. See also JSPR., Vol. 46, No. 750, December 1970. 

Jung interprets these phenomenal - like the detonations in Freud's bookcase - as extreme instances of "transpsychic" causation. In everyday life, they are of course manifested in less dramatic ways. I decide to write a sentence and the electrical functioning of my brain, the motor functioning of my muscles carry out that decision through a traceable linked chain of physical causes, but it was my decision that set the process going. It is possible, moreover, that such decisions may have direct effects on biological processes not in physical contact with the body of the decision-maker, as suggested in a recent paper by John L. Randall on "Psi Phenomena and Biological Theory"*, which cites references to experimental work testing psychokinetic effects on enzyme activity, on paramecia, on plant growth, and on the healing of lesions in mice. He provides, incidentally, the following neat general definition: "A psi-phenomenon is said to have occurred whenever information is transferred to a physical system without the use of any known form of physical energy."

* SPR, Vol. 46, No. 749, September 1971.

We might thus distinguish between different levels: conscious decision-making; phenomena of the poltergeist type engendered in the sub-conscious strata of the psyche; and lastly synchronicity and meaningful coincidences produced by mind operating on yet another, inconceivable level.

In this connection I think I must take issue with Mr. Koestler as to the "oceanic feeling" and "the dominant concept" that "all is One and One is all" which "echoes through the writings of Christian mystics" (p.108). I am sure that this happens, and that, as he writes, it is an upward turn of the spiral from the symbiotic awareness of the child, the golden "dream time" of the primitive. But I do not think all mystics, Christian or otherwise, share this dominant concept, or the sense of oneness with the anima mundi that underlies it. They are on fire with almost intolerable gladness, but they are not swallowed up in it. There can be no perception without a perceiver; and contemplatives retain their selves enough to perceive as they rejoice. It is as if the sunset, or the mountain range or night of stars that set them gazing in wonder showed itself to be alive and gazing back at them.

There is on record a sober remark of Francis Bacon, lawyer, statesman, essayist and early scientist, who devised for the first time in England experimental methods for testing paranormal cognition. "I had rather believe all the fables of the Talmud and the Alcoran than that this Universal Frame were without a Mind"; a mind which is more than a mathematical computer and more than some vast automatic nervous system animating all that exists, as efficient and as unconscious of itself as a healthy digestion.


1. Grey Walter (1969), p.37.

2. Grey Walter (1969).

3. Haynes (1970), p.364.

4. Black (1969).

5. Margenau (1967), pp.223-4.

6. Broad (149), pp.291-309.

7. Quoted by Dobbs (1967), p.239.

8. Dobbs (1967), p.239.

9. Haynes (1962), p.161.

10. Burt (1968), pp.50, 58-9.

11. Burt (1962), p.82.

12. Waddington (1957), pp.180 seq.

13. Quoted by Sciama (1959), p.99.

14. Ibid.

15. Pico della Mirandola (1557), p.40 f.

16. Price (1949), pp.105-13.

17. Heywood (1959), p.212.


The article above was taken from Arthur Koestler's 1972 book "The Roots of Coincidence" published by Hutchinson & Co.


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