The Biological Perspective

In the Introduction, I discussed the evolution of organized matter from the photon through particles, atoms and molecules to living cells which begin to differentiate in structure and function forming a wide variety of tissues and organs that play a specialized function in the human body. It is reasonable to assume all these levels of organization including the whole human being play a role in shaping consciousness. Particularly important are the nervous system, comprising brain and spinal cord, and the endocrine system, comprising a number of ductless glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream. Many biological scientists today implicitly believe that these structures not only shape consciousness, but are actually the source of conscious awareness. This view is known as the biological identity theory.

The Nervous System

Neuron cells are the principle units of the nervous system. Their function is to conduct nerve impulses transmitting information. The twelve billion neurons in our bodies vary greatly in size and shape; however they all have two general parts: a cell body and fibers. The cell body contains structures that keep the neuron alive and properly functioning. The neural fibers are of two classes: dendrites stimulated by neighboring neurons or physical stimuli; and axons, which transmit impulses to other neurons or to an effector, such as a muscle or gland.

The process by which pulses transmit across the neural membrane is electrochemical. The pulses are caused by rapid and reversible changes in the permeability of the membrane to certain ions. The resulting flows of ions across the membrane give rise to electrical impulses, which can be detected and recorded with various instruments. The size of the nerve impulses and the speed with which they travel are unique to each particular neuron and do not relate to the strength of the stimuli that initiated them. Firing thresholds will vary with time from neuron to neuron depending on many factors; however once the threshold is reached, the electrochemical changes that cause the impulse proceed to completion. Therefore, information about any stimulus is carried by (1) the frequency of nerve firing and (2) by the number of particular fibers carrying impulses, and not by the strength of any single impulse. This, incidentally, is the same on-off principle by which information is coded in a digital computer. Some nerves transmit as many as 1000 impulses each second.

Multi-Polar Neuron

Bipolar Neurons

Neurons are stimulated to fire by either sensory receptors or other neurons. Nerve impulses are transmitted from one neuron to another or from a neuron to a muscle or gland across an important gap known as a synapse. The whole region including the bouton on the end of the axon on one neuron, the gap, and the post-synaptic membrane of the adjoining cell, can be called the synaptic region (the circled area in the multi-polar neuron photograph). Information is transmitted across the synaptic gap by enzymes delicately released from little spheres in the bouton called vesicles. The information is received at the postsynaptic membrane, which is generally either excited or inhibited by these chemicals depending again on many factors, such as the particular combination of enzymes transmitted across the synapse or the interaction with the electro-magnetic environment around the body.

If the post-synaptic membrane is stimulated by an inhibiting neurotransmitter its firing threshold will become higher. An excitatory neurotransmitter will lower the firing threshold of a given neuron, causing it to fire more often. The actual firing threshold of a neuron is variable and is often determined by the combined influence of hundreds of synapses.

Neuron cell body with synapses from other neurons

Thus the synaptic aspect of neural transmission is not an all or none affair, and may be thought of as the analog or continuous aspect of the human bio-computer. Some nerves actually loop back upon themselves to form reverbrating circuits which may be the neural basis for memory storage.

The nervous system itself is quite complex and may be divided into several different structures.

The peripheral nervous system comprises those neurons or parts of neurons that lie outside the bony case formed by the skull and the spine. The somatic nerves of this system mediate the sensory inputs and muscle movements that we are consciously aware of during waking hours.

The autonomic part of the peripheral system regulates many functions--such as the heart rate, blood pressure, endocrine and digestive processes of which we are not normally conscious, but which can be brought under conscious control through bio-feedback and yoga techniques. The sympathetic aspect of the autonomic system generally comes into play when we experience strong emotions, while the parasympathetic system tends to be active when we are calm and relaxed. The cell bodies of the autonomic nervous system, as well as of the sensory nerves of the somatic system, gather together in ganglia alongside the spinal column, and at other points in the body. The cell bodies of somatic motor-nerve fibers, however, are located inside the central nervous system.

The central nervous system is organized into two principle parts, the spinal cord and the brain. The spinal cord serves as a conduction path to and from the brain and also as an organ for effecting reflex action. The brain seems to play an important role in all the complex activities constituting consciousness -- thinking, perception, learning, memory, etc. The three main structures of the brain are known as the hindbrain, the midbrain, and the forebrain.

Cross-section of the human brain

Within the hindbrain lie the cerebellum, the pons, and medulla. These neural centers regulate breathing, heartbeat, motor coordination, posture, and balance. They are also involved in mediating nerve impulses from the body to the higher brain centers. 

The midbrain contains numerous nerve fiber tracts and neural centers regulating body changes in response to visual and auditory stimulation.

The forebrain has reached its greatest development in humans and other highly evolved animals, such as porpoises. It comprises the cerebrum, which is covered by the cerebral cortex, the thalamus, and a group of closely related structures forming the limbic system. These parts of the brain mediate our inner mental and emotional processes.

The sensations in your mind are mapped out on the cerebral cortex of your brain, which mediates your conscious sensory and motor functions, as well as complex perceptual processes.

Sensory-motor mapping on the human cortex

One method of researching cerebral functioning has been to electrically stimulate the exposed cortex of human subjects, under local anesthesia, who could then report on their experiences. By stimulating certain areas various types of sensations, movements and thought patterns can be evoked. Another method of research is to observe the functioning of individuals who have had portions of their brain removed or damaged. Especially in the case of young children, removing a portion of the brain does not seem to impair the functioning ofthe mind.

One important line of research has indicated the two hemispheres of the cerebral cortex function differently. The speech areas of the human cortex are almost always located on the left hemisphere, regardless of whether the person is right or left handed. Several researchers have suggested that the mind's logical and linear functions are associated with the left hemisphere; while the more kinesthetic, pre-verbal, intuitive properties of consciousness derive from the right hemisphere. The particular functions each hemisphere assumes may vary with different individuals. However, the capacity for two uniquely different modes of consciousness within each individual seems well-established. Important differences also seem to exist between the intellectual cortex and other deeper, emotional layers of the forebrain.

Those parts of the brain most attuned to the body's needs and emotional states are the limbic system and the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a bundle of nerve bodies, about the size of a peanut, located just above the roof of the mouth. It contains several centers that mediate the excitement and inhibition of the hunger, thirst, and sexual drives, as well as emotional arousal. The activity of these centers is in turn regulated by such factors as hormones in the blood and signals from other parts of the brain, including the cortex. Certain areas in the hypothalamus and limbic system, when stimulated, can be a source of enormous pleasure for the body.

In conjunction with the reticular activating system, the hypothalamus is also involved in the mediation of sleep and arousal states.

By attaching electrodes to the skin of the head, psychologists are able to measure the electrical activity of the brain as a whole. Brain waves thus measured can generally be correlated with different states of consciousness ranging trom the alert waking state, to drowsiness, hypnagogic imagery, meditation, sleep, and dreaming. Individuals can learn to control their brain waves, and also their internal states of consciousness through techniques providing them with immediate feedback on their physiological state. Researchers suggest there may be no biological functions that cannot be brought under conscious control in this fashion. Many individuals are able to develop this control through simple techniques of yoga, hypnosis, and meditation.

The Endocrine System

Location of the major endocrine glands in the body

The endocrine system, which comprises glands secreting powerful hormones into the bloodstream, is one of the most interesting areas of autonomic functioning. Our personality and character is profoundly effected by our hormone balance. The major endocrine glands are the pituitary and pineal glands in the brain, the thyroid and parathyroids in the throat, the thymus gland located near the heart, the adrenal glands, and the sexual glands. To a lesser degree, other parts of the body, including neurons, also secrete hormones into the bloodstream. The endocrine system is self-regulating in that hormone secretion from any gland is activated in part by other hormones in the bloodstream. The hypothalamus also plays an important role in stimulating certain hormone secretions from the pituitary gland.

The pituitary is often called the "master gland" because it secretes a number of hormones that stimulate or inhibit secretion in the other glands of the body. It also produces hormones that regulate the growth rate of children and awaken the sexual glands at puberty.

The pineal gland produces several substances including a hormone known as 5-hydroxytryptamine or serotonin.


Serotonin is of the same chemical series of indole alkaloids that includes psychedelic drugs such as LSD-25, psilocybin, D.M.T. and bufotenine.


The exact mechanism by which serotonin might effect consciousness or behavior is not well understood by scientists today. Research findings are paradoxical as serotonin is known to affect different parts of the body and brain in different ways, depending on the proportions and combinations of other hormones and enzymes present during the interaction. Generally speaking serotonin is recognized as a neural inhibitor in the brain. The stores of serotonin in the brain are depleted by reserpine, a tranquilizer, and augmented by iproniazid, a mood elevator. Large amounts are present in the limbic system and the hypothalamus. Smaller concentrations occur in the cortex and the cerebellum. Ablation of the nerve network in the brain called the raphe system, which contains considerable amounts of serotonin, is known to produce permanent insomnia. The ingestion of serotonin is unlikely to effect the central nervous system as it does not cross the blood-brain barrier. If it did, its main result would be to put one to sleep. Most of the serotonin in the brain is in the reticular activating system where it plays an important role in the sleep-wake cycle. When serotonin levels in the r.a.s. rise, the brain goes into deep sleep. Other studies have shown greatly increased amounts of serotonin in the brains of psychotic patients. According to biologist John Bleibtrau, "Bananas and plums abound in serotonin; so do figs, and among species of figs none is richer in serotonin than the ficus religiosa, known in India as the Bo tree, under which the Buddha reportedly sat when he became enlightened." Thus the hormone produced by the pineal gland makes possible emotions, perception, sleep and wakefulness, and orientation to conventional reality.

The thyroid gland produces a hormone known as thyroxin, which controls the metabolic rate at which the body produces energy. Whether a person is slow and sluggish or extremely active is influenced by this hormone. (Occult systems often associate this gland with the throat chakra).

The hormones produced in the thymus gland regulate the process by which the body learns to differentiate its own proteins from foreign substances which may be harmful to it. By this process antibodies are manufactured that react only against invading antigens and not to the myriad similar substances necessary to the body. One could think of the thymus gland as being closely related to the body's sense of organic identity. 

The adrenal glands, located in the back of the body above the kidneys, secrete the hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are related to states of strong emotion. The sympathetic nervous system can stimulate the adrenal glands and the action of the adrenal hormones produced generally intensifies the actions of the sympathetic system throughout the body. It helps mobilize sugar into the blood and makes more energy available to the brain and muscles. It stimulates the heart to beat faster and also constricts the peripheral blood vessels, thus raising blood pressure. 

The sex glands or gonads are the testes in men and the ovaries in women. The hormones they produce are responsible for the marked physical changes that take place during puberty -- the beginning of menstruation, growth of the breasts, voice changes and beard and body hair growth.

It is important to recognize that the complex activity of manufacturing the hormones and enzymes, which regulate both neural transmission and the endocrine system, is guided by the subtle programming coded into the genetic structure of each cell in the body. One can view these three modes of physiological functioning as communication systems. Neural transmission provides rapid communication for the whole body -- requiring fractions of a second for feedback. The endocrine system provides inter-organ, slow communication -- requiring minutes to hours for feedback. While the genetic structure can be seen as an organism-environment communication system requiring many generations for feedback.

It is recognized that manufacturing protein substances within the cells is guided by the DNA codes; however scientists have yet to find a satisfactory explanation for the development of tissues, organs, and whole organisms. 

Melanin: The Organizing Molecule

Building on the "reflexive universe" model of Arthur M. Young (to be presented at the end of Section IV), physician Frank Barr hypothesizes that neuromelanin, a complex category of light and sound absorbing molecules, is responsible for our experience of a continuum of mental states. It is the molecule, he claims, that coordinates interactions between the endocrine and nervous systems. Barr summarizes his theory:

Neuromelanin -- through 1) its photon-phonon-(exciton)-(soliton) interactions; 2) its semi- (and possibly super-) conductive capacities; 3) its cation exchange flow; 4) its continuous free radical signal; 5) its neuroglial direct current; 6) its potentially diverse covalent modifications; 7) its potential to trigger reversible enzyme cascade amplifications; etc. -- could precisely regulate the neuroendocrine system. By meticulous phase-timing, neuromelanin could coordinate the synthesis, release, uptake, destruction, modification, and/or recycling of the various neuroamines and peptides throughout the brain.

The Temporal Lobe Factor in Psychic Experience

Psychologist Michael A. Persinger of Laurentian University in Canada that, whether psi experiences are real or imagined, the temporal lobes of the brain play a significant role in mediating such experiences. Deep within the temporal lobes are the mesiobasal structures, specifically the hippocampus (often referred to as the gateway to memory) and the more anterior, amygdala (the mediator of affect and meaning). 

The temporal lobes have diverse structures and multiple functions including memory, the sense of self in space and time, the attribution of meaning and emotional significance, audition, organization of complex visual patterns, smell, and language.

Persinger suggests that psi information signals are carried on extremely low electromagnetic frequencies to which temporal lobe structures are sensitive. He describes his approach to understanding psychic functioning in the temporal lobes:

The deep structures of the temporal lobes are the most electrically unstable portions of the human brain. This instability is really a sensitivity, due to the microcircuitry of the neurons; it allows the phenomena of declarative memory and its consolidation to occur. However, there are consequences to this sensitivity. The temporal lobe structures are prone to electrically active foci...Local and paroxysmal discharges can even be produced by specific memories and biofrequency (extremely low frequency) magnetic fields that penetrate brain tissue.

The contribution of temporal lobe processes to psi phenomena have two important implications. Firstly, the phenomenological characteristics of psi experiences, especially spontaneous ones, should be dominated by the functions of the temporal lobes. Such evidence is clearly seen in the propensity for spontaneous psi experiences to involve visuoauditory modalities, dreams (modulated via the hippocampus), and intense affect (the amygdala) that attributes the experience with intense, personal meaningfulness. Secondly, the electrical lability means that many other stimuli could both compete for neural substrates that facilitate psi experiences and stimulate psi-like experinces, that is generate pseudo-psi or quasi-psi.

Persinger also notes that no other brain condition simulates spontaneous psi experiences as closely as temporal lobe epilepsy. This disorder is associated with brief paroxysmal electrical discharges within the mesiobasal regions of the temporal lobe. If the discharge remains within one lobe and does not propagate to motor regions, there are no convulsions. An observer might not realize the person is experiencing a seizure.

However, there are often experiential phenomena that are associated with such discharges which resemble the major manifestations of spontaneous psi experiences. These include deja vu, depersonalization, out-of-body types of experiences, a sense of a presence, time distortions, an internal "hearing and knowing," anxiety or panic, experiences of floating or falling, shapes in the peripheral visual field (especially the upper quadrant), and complex visual "hallucinations." Electrical stimulation studies have demonstrated that these experiences are specific to temporal lobe structures.,

People who have chronic electrical discharges within temporal lobe structures also develop a behavioral pattern which overlaps with the profile of persons interested in psychic and "new age" matters. These patterns include: a widening of affect, such that unusual events acquire special personal meaning; an interest in philosophy and mysticism; a sense of personal destiny; episodes of delusions; and a desire to either record one's experiences or to communicate one's beliefs.

Following up on his interest in geomagnetic effects upon consciousness (which will be discussed further), Persinger has assembled a body of data suggesting a marked similarity between the diurnal distribution of limbic epilepsy and psi experiences. The number of temporal lobe seizures (with observable motor activity) were plotted for each one hour interval from a population of about 100,000 events collected before anticonvulsants were introduced into medicine. Seizures were most prominent between 0200 and 0400 hours local time, with a secondary peak around 2200 hours. 

For comparison, the percentage of total cases per hour for all of the histories of spontaneous telepathy concerning death and crises to significant others from the Society for Psychical Research collections that contained the hour of the occurrence (open circles)., In addition, Persinger collected similar cases that contained this information as reported in Fate Magazine. A statistical analysis demonstrated no significant difference between the well-documented SPR collections and the less documented Fate cases -- suggesting the possibility of a similar mechanism effecting their occurrence. 

Peak displays of spontaneous experiences concerning death and crises to significant others occurred between 0200 and 0400 hrs, with a secondary peak around 2100 to 2300 hours. However, unlike the epileptic events, there was increased incidence of ostensible psi experiences around 1600 hours.

The partial similarity of the hourly distribution of the incidence of both epileptic episodes and ostensible psi experiences is an example of the commonality of the two phenomena. They appear to exist along a continuum of temporal lobe lability or sensitivity. They may both involve local microseizuring that generate experiential phenomena without overt motoric displays. However, Persinger claims that "it would be incorrect to assume that psi experiences are a form of limbic epilepsy." One must also take into account that normal microseizuring occurs every night, during the dream or REM (rapid eye movement) state. The most important difference from the perspective of psi research, of course, is the trigger that evokes the experience.

Persinger has verified the existence of a temporal lobe continuum of activity in normal individuals who show no signs of epilepsy or abnormal personality. The more frequent the number of temporal lobe signs a person reports, Persinger suggests, the more likely they are to report spontaneous psi experiences and to score well in laboratory tests of psi.

The Ecology of Consciousness

One of the most interesting new areas of science concerns electrostatic interactions between biological organisms and the environment. I have already indicated that the electro-chemical nature of neural transmission plays an important role in mediating information-transfer throughout the body. Now we will take a look at some of the more subtle extensions of our biological functioning:

Our bodies are influenced -- in ways often overlooked -- by the existence of small ions in the atmosphere. The research of scientists such as Albert P. Krueger are sometimes dismissed as insignificant in the face of gross environmental pollution, however they seem to show important implications for consciousness:

Albert P. Krueger

Air ion formation begins when enough energy acts on a gaseous molecule to eject an electron. Most of this energy comes from radioactive substances in the Earth's crust, and some from cosmic rays. The displaced electron attaches itself to an adjacent molecule, which becomes a negative ion, the original molecule then becoming a positive ion...natural gas or water molecules cluster about the ions to form small air ions of four types: H+(HzO)n, (HaO)+(HzO)n, Oz(HzO)n and OH-(HzO)n, where n is a small number.

In normal clean air over land, there are 1500 to 4000 ions/cubic centimeter. But negative ions are more mobile and the earth's surface has a negative charge, so negative ions are repelled from the earth's surface. Thus the normal ratio of negative to positive ions is 1.2 to l.

Man often encounters very low concentrations of ions, and modern city life increases the ratio of positive to negative small air ions. A 14-day study in 1971 by B. Maczynski (lnt. J. Biometeor, vol. 15, p. 11) in an office containing four people showed that the small air ion concentration dropped as the day went on, falling on average to only 34 positive ions and 20 negative ions/cm1. And a test at a light industry area of San Francisco by J. C. Beckett (J. Amer. Soc. Heating, Refrig, and Air Cond., vol 1- p 47) showed a small ion count of less than 80 ions/cm3. In both cases the number of physiologically inert large ions rose considerably-apparently small ions react with dust and pollutants to form large ions.

People travelling to work in polluted air, spending eight hours a day in offices or factories, and living their leisure hours in urban dwellings, inescapably breathe ion-depleted air for substantial portions of their lives. There is increasing evidence that this ion depletion leads to discomfort, enervation and lassitude, and loss of mental and physical efficiency. This syndrome appears to develop quite apart from the direct toxic effects of the usual atmospheric pollutants. It occurs in the absence of such pollutants, in the "clean" air of rural schools or libraries which happen to be ion-depleted due to special factors which remove ions, such as stray electrical fields. On the other hand, evidence is accumulating that substantial increases in ions can have highly beneficial effects, from relieving the pain of burns to promoting plant growth.

Experiments have shown that negative ions promote the healing rate of animals with severed peripheral nerves, skin lacerations, burns, and post-operative discomfort. They are known to greatly enhance cell proliferation, and under certain circumstances they are known to raise the critical fusion frequency threshold (the point at which a flickering light appears constant) in humans and decrease visual reaction time.

In several instances both positive and negative ions are shown to have similar effects. High doses of either type of ion have been shown to be lethal to bacteria. High densities of negative or positive ions increase, on the other hand, the maze learning ability of rats. Low concentrations of positive and negative ions are known to produce fewer alpha frequency brain waves in human beings. High concentrations of ions tend to disrupt alpha frequencies in a more variable fashion. In rats, varying outputs of ions in either polarity will produce measurable changes in urine, defecation, sleeping period, respiration rate, and attacks on the aluminum foil ground plate used to generate the ions. In general, oddly enough, the lowest ion concentrations were the most effective in evoking (or provoking) such changes.

Particularly interesting is Kreuger's demonstration of the effects small air ions have on the levels of serotonin in the blood and in the brain. He has shown that in mice positive ions raise blood levels of serotonin and negative ions depress them. In these rodents' brains, low dosages as well as high dosages of both negative and positive ions produced significant decreases in serotonin-as compared to normal atmospheric levels. This disparity can be accounted for by the fact that serotonin does not cross the blood-brain barrier. (You will recall the important role brain-serotonin plays in mediating many facets of consciousness.) Negative ions are also known to play a role in speeding up plant growth and in increasing resistance to influenza.

Research from Israel dramatically illustrates the link between atmospheric ionization, physiological levels of serotonin, and consciousness. In many parts of the world, observers have noted that certain "winds of ill repute" have a discomforting effect upon individuals -- the Santa Ana winds in Southern California, the Chinook winds in Canada, the Mistral winds of France, the Zonda winds of Argentina, Sirocco winds of Italy, and the Sharav or Chamsin winds of the Near East. Symptoms such as sleeplessness, irritability, tension, migraines, nausea and vomiting, scotoma (diminished vision), amblyopia (dimness of vision), and edemata (swelling of tissue) have been noted. These symptoms resemble the effects of hyper-production of serotonin. In weather-sensitive people, urinary serotonin output showed a steep rise two days before the onset of the Sharav winds in Israel. They remained high the following day and dropped only after the winds began. In addition to increase in positive ionization, the salient meteorological features of these winds are a rapid rise in temperature and a decrease in humidity. These factors by themselves, however, fail to account for the physiological changes noted. The negative psychological and physiological effects are attributed to the rise in the ratio of positively charged ions in the atmosphere preceeding the onset of the winds. It is interesting to note in this connection that the word doldrums has two dictionary meanings: (1) dullness; a state of listlessness and boredom, (2) a part of the ocean near the equator abounding in calms, light winds, and squalls. 

On the other hand, in locations where (-) air ion densities are relatively high, such as near water falls, the general effect of the local environment is tranquilizing and conducive to good health. It is no wonder then that scientists in the know, such as Dr. Albert Krueger in Berkeley, use air filters and negative ion generators at all times to restore the environment around them to its natural unpolluted and electrostatically balanced state.

Stepping into Krueger's laboratory in the Life Science Building at the University of California, Berkeley, and breathing deeply was like all of a sudden being out in the crisp, clean air of a mountain wilderness.

Closely related to the electrostatic and ionic phenomena of the biosphere, are electromagnetic phenomena that also play an important role in the ecology of consciousness.

The magnetic field of the earth extends around the planet like a large donut and is probably created by the flow of molten metals in the earth's core. The average intensity of this field is about 0.5 gauss and it pulses at frequencies ranging from 0.1 to 100 cycles per second. The predominant frequency range of magnetic pulsations, known as the Schumann resonance, is around 7.5 cycles per second. Several researchers have suggested that this resonance in the geomagnetic and electrostatic field has an effect upon the human nervous system-and upon consciousness itself.

The Schumann resonance is an effect due to the fact that an electromagnetic wave (traveling at the speed of light, 186,000 miles a second) goes around the earth's 25,000 mile circumference around 7.5 times a second. Perhaps it is useful to think of the 7.5 c.p.s. brain wave frequency as the boundary between alpha waves and theta waves. If that frequency predominates in your brain waves you are generally in the hypnogogic or hypnopompic state just on the border of wak`ng up or falling asleep. The theta wave is frequently observed in the EEG patterns of experienced meditators, who must pass through the Schumann resonance portal without falling asleep.

The field of the earth is about 1000 times weaker than the field from a small horseshoe magnet. The reported effects of such weak magnetic fields include altered cellular reproduction, plant growth and germination, orientation to direction, amplitude of motor activity, and enzyme activity. Of particular interest is the work of Dull and Dull, which showed a striking correlation between incidents of human illness and death during periods of sharp geomagnetic disturbances (such disturbances are often related to solar-storm activity). Another study conducted by Robert Becker and his associates at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Syracuse, New York, showed a positive correlation between days of geomagnetic intensity and the number of persons admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

Professor Michael Persinger, of the Psychophysiology Laboratory at Laurentian University, hypothesizes that the extremely low frequency (ELF) Schumann waves may serve as a carrier for psi information. He points out the near impossibility of shielding against such waves, requiring no less than "an underground bunker surrounded by several inches of steel."

Noting that ELF waves propagate more easily from midnight to 4:00 a.m., and that they are easier to transmit from west to east rather than east to west, Persinger surveyed the ESP literature for any correlations. His findings were as he predicted. Telepathy and clairvoyance do show a tendency to peak roughly between midnight and 4:00 a.m. There is also a slight tendency for the telepathic agent to be west of the percipient rather than to the east. To clinch his argument, Persinger observes that fewer psi experiences are reported during periods of geomagnetic disturbance. Such disturbances also impair the propagation of ELF waves.,

Several investigators have shown that humans are sensitive to slight variations of magnetic intensity. Once accustomed to distinguish between the presence and absence of a weak magnetic field, subjects in several experiments were asked to walk back and forth over a given area without knowing whether an artificial magnetic field had been activitated. Under these conditions, the subjects were extremely accurate in guessing whether the current was in operation., This sensitivity is offered as a partial explanation for the effectiveness of dowsers in finding water:

Water filtering through porous media produces electric currents through electrofiltration potential and concentration batteries. If the medium is sufficiently conducting, and the current of the soil is sufficiently high, then there exists at the surface of the soil a small magnetic anomaly.

The precise channels by which the human body detects magnetism are still a matter of speculation. However we know most biological processes are based on chemical interactions, which can be accounted for, in the last resort, by the interactions of atomic nuclei and electrons. In one study with dowsers, using strict experimental controls and a double blind, weak magnetic fields were shown to cause measurable changes in the electrical skin potential.

Another study was conducted in which future astronauts spent up to ten days in a special chamber free of magnetic fields. During this time, no serious psychological or physiological deviations were reported--although some of the findings have remained classified. It was found, however, that the subjective perception of general brightness was lower under the non-magnetic condition--thus implying a magnetic effect upon the visual cortex. Soviet Studies, in addition, have determined that weak magnetic fields can effect the direction-finding orientation of birds, fish, and insects.,, Research with honey bees shows that they are sensitive to fields of one gamma, i.e. several thousand times weaker than the earth's 1/2 gauss field. Homing pigeons may rival honey bees in sensitivity. Other studies have shown that germs and viruses are sensitive to the slightest departure of the earth's magnetic field from the average--this is reflected in reproduction rates and in genetic changes. For example, exposure to magnetic fields causes resistance to penicillin in certain strains.

Sister M. Justa Smith, Ph.D., a biochemist associated with the Roswell Park Memorial Institute in Buffalo, New York, has shown that strong magnetic fields affect the reactivity of certain enzymes in the human body. These enzymes can act as a catalyst to speed up the body's natural healing processes; and, in fact, Sister Smith observed that psychic healers do exert a non-magnetic effect on the enzyme similar to the magnetic field. Studies such as this have left scientists with a firm conviction that magnetic fields play an important role in the body's healing and immunological processes.

The world map shows the variations in the intensity of the earth's geomagnetic field. Movement of high and low centers varies very slowly with time-the rate of this movement is measured in feet per year. The center of lowest magnetic intensity on the planet (25 gauss) is in Brazil right over Rio de Janeiro. 

From "The Airborne Magnetometer," by Homer Jensen
Copyright (C) June 1961 by Scientific American, Inc., all rights reserved

(In terms of psychic consciousness, it is interesting to note that Spiritism has flourished in Brazil, in spite of opposition from the Catholic Church, perhaps more than in any other nation. Brazilian spiritists, synthesizing modern European, native Indian, and African culture, number over a third of Brazil's population and comprise powerful interest groups with their own elected representatives in the national legislature. There are entire towns in Brazil composed solely of spiritists.)

The areas of greatest geomagnetic intensity center near the poles where readings are found in the .60-.70 gauss range. Spacecraft at the altitudes and latitudes of the usual near-earth orbits are generally not exposed to magnetic fields lower than those in Brazil. However, spaceflights more than about one sixth the distance to the moon enter a magnetic environment near-zero in intensity. It is still uncertain precisely how these variations of magnetic field will effect the consciousness of astronauts, as scientists are just beginning to explore the interactions of electromagnetism on the mind and body.

For nearly thirty years doctors in Austria, West Germany and the Soviet Union have used a therapeutic technique known as electrosleep to cure a wide variety of psychological problems related to insomnia. A weak electric current (just enough to cause a tingling sensation) is passed through the head by attaching electrodes over the closed eyes and over the mastoid process (behind the ears). This induces an altered state of consciousness, and eventually sleep.

Over 500 articles about electrosleep have been published in the Russian literature and a number of sophisticated studies in Western Europe have produced evidence that the therapeutic process is effective. However, American clinicians have remained very skeptical about all electronic therapeutic processes, which have long been associated with medical quackery. (The unfortunate exception to this assumption is electroshock therapy where powerful current -- 70 to 130 volts -- jolts through a patient's brain causing convulsions, memory loss, temporary relief of depression and other symptoms. No one is sure how or why it works.)

In the last few years, American researchers have shown a new interest in electrosleep. A number of favorable research papers have been presented using electrosleep with humans and animals. Improvements have been shown in cases of insomnia as well as in removing neurotic and psychotic symptoms. The exact mechanisms are still unknown; but it is quite clear, as we have already pointed out, that electromagnetic brain fluctuations are involved in the basic rest and activity cycle.

The problem of bio-electromagnetic interactions is much more intrinsic than the comparatively simple question of brain activity. The enormous role light plays in our daily lives is so obvious we ordinarily overlook it. The most dramatic responses to light can be observed in plants, upon which we are dependent for oxygen and nutrition. The Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-1780) first noticed that various flowers opened at different hours and could actually be used as a clock.

Linnaeus Flower Clock:
6 a.m. Spotted Cat's Ear opens
7 a.m. Afhan Marigold opens
8 a.m. Mouse Ear Hawkweed opens
9 a.m. Prickly Sowthistle closes
10 a.m. Common Nipple Wort closes
11 a.m. Star of Bethlehem opens
12 noon Passion Flower opens
1 p.m. Childing Pink closes
2 p.m. Scarlet Pimpernel closes
3 p.m. Hawkbit closes
4 p. m. Small Bindweed closes
5 p.m. White Water Lilly closes
6 p.m. Evening Primrose opens
In nineteenth century Europe, formal gardens were sometimes planted to form a clockface, with the flowers in each bed blossoming at a different hour. On a sunny day one could tell the time to within a half hour by glancing at the garden.

We wake and sleep according to cycles of light and darkness. Furthermore, our adrenal hormones, pineal hormones (such as serotonin), and our sexual hormones all follow a twenty-four hour circadian production cycle which changes with the seasons according to the amount of available sunlight. Reflect for a moment you2�lf just how much your consciousness is effected by sunlight and artifical light in your environment in a church or temple in the forest on a bright the the flickering firelight a lamplit room...just after sunset...or in the dark. One of the things I love to do is get up early in the morning, several hours before sunrise while it is still dark. From a hilltop, I can silently watch the gentle conquest of darkness as the earth turns and the birds, insects and the hormones flowing in my own blood are all part of the music -- the planetary rotation raga. (The Hindu musicians understood this perfectly well when they composed different pieces of music to be played at different times of day.)

In Robert O. Becker's opinion, electromagnetic fields have enormous implications for understanding consciousness. He suggests that the analog-synaptic aspect of the central nervous system is regulated in part by electromagnetic interaction with the environment. His research relating geomagnetic disturbances to psychiatric admission rates has already been cited. In other studies he has indicated that geomagnetic disturbances effect the behavior of patients on a psychiatric ward, and that magnetic fields also have an effect on human reaction time.,

Challenges to the Biological Identity Model 

Ever since its eloquent expression in the philosophy of Rene Descartes, dualism has been a feature of western philosophy and cultural thought. While most physiologists implicitly subscribe to the materialistic, biological indentity model of consciousness, many of of the most promiment members of the field have opted for a cleancut dualism. Wilder Penfield, the Canadian neurosurgeon whose experiments of electrical stimulation of the brain were instrumental in developing our knowledge of cortical functioning, ended a reknowned scientific career by renouncing the biological identity principle:

In the end I conclude that there is no good evidence, in spite of new methods, such as the employment of stimulating electrodes, the study of conscious patients and the analysis of epileptic attacks, that the brain alone can carry out the work that the mind does. I conclude that it is easier to rationalize man's being on the basis of two elements than on the basis of one.
Some neurophysiologists such as Sherrington, Eccles, and Sperry have proceeded further in stating that mind can act on brain directly.

Nobel laureate Sir John Eccles
Parapsychological Association, 1976

They have not specified, however, what they mean by mind, nor by what mechanism mental organization can influence brain function. This is the basic problem of dualism. Nevertheless, support for the dualistic position has come from the logician and philosopher of science, Karl Popper, who summarizes the crux of the argument against a materialistic biological identity model:

[Materialists suggest] that consciousness is nothing but inner perception, perception of a second order, or perception (scanning) of an activity of the brain by other parts of the brain. But [they] skip and skim over the problem why this scanning should produce consciousness or awareness, in the sense in which all of us are acquainted with consciousness or awareness; for example, with the conscious, critical assessment of a solution to a problem. And he never goes into the problem of the difference between conscious awareness and physical reality.

The monist materialist can respond -- as philospher Thomas Hobbes did in refuting Descartes' dualism -- that there is no reason why matter should not be capable of thinking. This formulation is correct as far as it goes. If we conceive of matter vaguely at the start, we cannot deny it the faculty of thought. But this essentially destroys the mechanistic world view: in addition to the classical properties of extension and motion, an entirely different sort of property is now being ascribed to matter. The mechanistic claims of materialism are thereby fundamentally changed, raising severe problems for conventional physical notions. 

Some leading physicists have gone even further in their dissolution of the idea of matter. Under the influence of Ernst Mach, a physicist who believed neither in matter nor in atoms, and who proposed a theory of knowledge reminiscent of William James' radical empiricism, idealistic interpretations of quantum mechanics have been put forward. As Bertrand Russell has eloquently stated:

It has begun to seem that matter, like the Cheshire Cat, is becoming gradually diaphanous until nothing of it is left but the grin, caused presumably, by amusement at those who still think it is there.


. Since there are no pain receptors in the brain itself, only the scalp needs to be anesthetized. While there are regions of the brain that seem to elicit pain when stimulated, these "pain centers" (i.e. in the limbic region) are simply the parts of the brain activated by the pain receptors of the body.

. Richard F. Thompson, Foundations of Physiological Psychology. New York: Harper and Row, 1967.

. Joseph E. Bogen, "The Other Side of the Brain: An Appositional Mind," in Robert Ornstein (ed.), The Nature of Human Consciousness. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1973. pp. 101-125. An anthology of scientific, philosophical and literary material.

. A. T. W. Simeons, M.D., Man's Presumptuous Brain. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1961. One of the most enjoyable and knowledgeable studies of brain science. Even in an age of information-explosion, still worth reading.

. Barbara Brown, New Body, New Mind. New York: Harper and Row, 1974. The story of biofeedback research seen through the eyes of one of the pioneer investigators.

. The last two drugs are derived in the body directly from serotonin -- and bufotenine is also the active ingredient in the toads that are proverbally used in witches' brews.

. Frank X. Barron, Murray Jarvik & Sterling Bunnell, Jr., "The Hallucinogenic Drugs," Contemporary Psychology Readings From Scientific American. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1971. p. 305.

. A. P. Krueger and S. Kotaka, "The Effects of Air Ions on Brain Levels of Serotonin in Mice," International Journal of Biometeorology, 13(1), 1969, 27.

. Angela Longo, "'To Sleep; Perchance to Dream?' A Neurochemical Study of the States of Sleep." Unpublished paper, 1971.

. John N. Bliebtrau, The Parable of the Beast. New York: Macmillan Company, 1968, p. 74.

. Phillip Handler, ed., Biology and the Future of Man. New York: Oxford University Press, 1970, pp. 59-60. A survey of the life sciences sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences.

. Frank Barr, "Melanin: The Organizing Molecule," Medical Hypotheses, 11(1), 1983, 1-140.

. Frank Barr, What is Melanin? Berkeley, CA: Institute for the Study of Conscousness, 1983.

. L. R. Squire, "Mechanisms of Memory," Science, 232, 1986, 1612-1619. 

. Michael A. Persinger, The Paranormal: Part I. The Patterns. New York: MSS Information, 1974. 

. Michael A. Persinger, "Psi Phenomena and Temporal Lobe Activity: The Geomagnetic Factor," in L. A. Henkel & R. E. Berger (eds.), Research in Parapsychology 1988. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1989. pp. 124-5.

. P. Gloor, A. Olivier, L. F. Quensey, F. Andermann, & S. Horowitz, "The Role of the Limbic System in Experiential Phenomena of Temporal Lobe Epilepsy," Annals of Neurology, 12, 1982, pp. 129-144.

. P. Gloor, "Role of the Human Limbic System in Perception, Memory and Affect: Lessons from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy," in B. K. Doane & K. E. Livingston (eds.), The Limbic System. New York: Raven, 1986. pp. 159-169.

. Gloor, et al.

. As a person who has experienced seizures, I am interested in understanding the extent to which one's orientation to the field of psi research and the philosophical issues related to consciousness may be shaped by neurological propensities.

. D. M. Bear & P. Fedio, "Quantitative Analysis of Interictal Behavior in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy," Archives of Neurology, 34, 1977, 454-467.

. W. P. Spratling, Epilepsy and Its Treatment. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1904.

. Edmund Gurney, F. W. H. Myers & Frank Podmore, Phantasms of the Living. London: Trubner, 1886.

. Eleanor Sidgewick, "Phantasms of the Living," Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 33, 1922, 23-429.

. Michael Persinger & G. B. Schaut, "Geomagnetic Factors in Subjective Telepathic, Precognitive, and Post-Mortem Experiences," Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 82, 1988, 217-235.

. Persinger, "Psi Phenomana and Temporal Lobe Activity," p. 127.

. J. R. Stevens, "Sleep is for Seizures: A New Interpretation of the Role of Phasic Ocular Events in Sleep and Wakefulness," in M. B. Sterman & M. N. Shouse (eds.), Sleep and Epilepsy. New York: Academic Press, 1982, pp. 249-264.

. Michael A. Persinger & K. Makarec, "Temporal Lobe Epilepsy Signs and Correlative Behaviors Displayed by Normal Populations," Journal of General Psychology, 114, 1987, 179-195.

. Persinger, "Psi Phenomana and Temporal Lobe Activity," p. 131.

. Albert Krueger, "Are Negative Ions Good for You?" New Scientist, June 14, 1973, 668.

. Albert P. Krueger, "Preliminary Consideration of the Biological Significance of Air Ions," Scientia, September 1969.

. A. P. Krueger & S. Kotaka, "The Effects of Air Ions on Brain Levels of Serotonin in Mice," International Journal of Biometeorology, 13(1), 1969, 31-44.

. Albert P. Krueger, P. C. Andriese & S. Kotaka, "Small Air Ions: Their Effect on Blood Levels of Serotonin in Terms of Modern Physical Theory," International Journal of Biometeorology, 12(3), 225-239.

. Krueger & Kotaka, "The Effects," p. 33.

. Krueger, "Are Negative Ions Good for You?"

. N. Robinson & F. S. Dirnfield, "The lonization of the Atmosphere As a Functioning of Meterological Elements and of Various Sources of Ions," International Journal of Biometeorology, 3(2), March 1963.

. A. Danon & F. G. Sulman, "Ionizing Effect of Winds of Ill Repute and Serotonin Metabolism," Proceedings of the Fifth International Biometerological Congress, Sept. 1969.

. Albert P. Krueger, "Biological Effects of lonization of the Air," in S. W. Tromp (ed.), Progress in Biometerology. Amsterdam: Swets and Zeitlinger, 1974, p. 32.

. A. P. Krueger, personal communication to the author.

. Walter M. Elsasser, "The Earth as Dynamo," Scientific American, May 1958. This article provides a basic explanation of the earth's magnetic field.

. James B. Beal, "The Emergence of Paraphysics: Research and Applications," in E. D. Mitchell & J. White (eds.), Psychic Explorations. New York: Putmans, 1974.

. T. Dull & B. Dull, "Uber die abhangigkeit des Gesundheitszustandes von plotzlichen Eruptionen auf der Sonne und die Existenz einer 27 taigigen Periode in den Sterbefillen," Virschows Archiv, No. 293, 1934. This study is summarized in Michel Gauquelin, The Scientific Basis of Astrology. New York: Stein and Day, 1969.

. Howard Friedman, Robert O. Becker and Charles Bachman, "Geomagnetic Parameters and Psychiatric Hospital Admissions," Nature, 200, November 16, 1963, 620-628.

. Michael Persinger, "ELF Waves and ESP," New Horizons, 1(5), January 1975, 232-235.

. Michael A. Persinger, The Paranormal. Part II: Mechanisms and Models. New York: M. S. S. Information Corp., 1974.

. Selco Tromp, "Review of the Possible Physiological Causes of Dowsing," International Journal of Parapsychology, 10(4), 1968. Tromp, a Dutch researcher, has been the executive editor of the International Journal of Biometerology.

. Y. Rocard, "Actions of a Very Weak Magnetic Gradient: The Reflex of the Dowser," in Madeleine F. Barnothy (ed.), Biological Effects of Magnetic Fields. New York: Plenum Press, 1969.

. Ibid., p. 281.

. A double blind is a basic experimental technique in which neither the subject nor the experimenter know whether a particular condition is part of the control or the test group, i.e. whether the magnetic field is on or off.

. Tromp, op. cit.

. Yurij A. Kholodov, "Electromagnetic Fields and the Brain," Impact: of Science on Society, 24(4), October 1974, 291-297. Kholodov is one of the Soviet researchers in the area of biomagnetic interactions. This issue of Impact, published by UNESCO, was devoted to the international developments in the "parasciences."

. Yuri Kholodov, "The Brain and the Magnetic Field," Journal of Paraphysics, 6(4), 1972, 144-147. This article provides a more detailed description of Kholodov's experiments. Several other articles in this issue of the Journal of Paraphysics, published in England by Benson Herbert, deal with bio-magnetics.

. A. S. Presman, Electromagnetic Fields and Life, trans. by F. L. Sinclair, ed. by F. A. Brown. New York: Plenum Press, 1970. This volume is a compendium of the Soviet work in bio-magnetics. Presman is on the biophysics faculty at Moscow University.

. Victor Yagodinsky, "The Magnetic Memory of the Virus," Journal of Paraphysics, 6(4), 1972, 141. Translated from the Russian.

. M. Justa Smith, "The Influence on Enzyme Growth by the 'Laying on of Hands,'" in Dimensions of Healing. Los Altos, Ca.: Academy of Parapsychology and Medicine, 1973.

. Svetlana Vinokurava, "Life in a Magnetic Web," Journal of Paraphysics, 5(4), 1971, 135.

. Homer Jensen, "The Airborn Magnetometer," Scientific American, 202(6), June 1961, 152. 

. Pedro McGregor, The Moon and Two Mountains. London: Souvenir Press, 1966. This book offers an unusual balance of emotional involvement and sociological objectivity. The author, an educated journalist, is also the founder of a spiritist church which is attempting to synthesize the many conflicting strains of Brazilian magical tradition.

. Charles C. Conley, "Effects of Near-Zero Magnetic Fields on Biological Systems," Biological Effects of Magnetic Fields, Vol.2.

. R. R. Koegler, S. M. Hicks, L. Rogers & J. H. Barger, "A Preliminary Study in the Use of Electrosleep Therapy in Clinical Psychiatry," in Norman L. Wulfson (ed.), The Nervous System and Electric Currents. New York: Plenum Press, 1970. pp. 137-143. Not satisfied with the quality of the European work, these American researchers conducted their own study with encouraging results. 

. Gay Gaer Luce, Biological Rhythms in Human and Animal Physiology. New York: Dover, 1971, pp. 120-132. This is an unabridged version of a report originally prepared for the National Institute of Mental Health.

. John N. Ott, Health and Light. Old Greenwich, Connecticut: Devin-Adair, 1973. Using the techniques of time-lapse photography, this volume demonstrates the effects of light variations on plants and points to similar responses in animals and people.

. Robert O. Becker, "The Effect of Magnetic Fields Upon the Central Nervous System," Biological Effects of Magnetic Fields, Vol. 2, pp. 207-214.

. Howard Friedman, Robert O. Becker & Charles H. Bachman, "Psychiatric Ward Behavior and Geophysical Parameters," Nature, 205, March 13, 1965, 1050-1052.

. Howard Friedman, Robert O. Becker & Charles H. Bachman, "Effect of Magnetic Fields on Reaction Time Performance," Nature, 213, March 4, 1967, 949-950.

. Wilder Penfield, Mystery of the Mind. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975, p. 114.

. Charles Sherrington, Man On His Nature. New York: Macmillan, 1941.

. John C. Eccles, Facing Reality. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1970.

. Roger W. Sperry, "Mental Phenomena as Causal Determinants in Brain Function," in G. G. Globus, G. Maxwell & I. Savodnik (eds.), Consciousness and the Brain. New York: Plenum, 1976.

. Karl R. Popper & John C. Eccles, The Self and Its Brain. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983, p. 98.

. Bertrand Russell, "Mind and Matter," in Portraits From Memory. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1956, p. 145. 

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