with MARILYN SCHLITZ
JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. Our topic today is biological psychokinesis, or the ability of the human mind to directly influence living biological tissue without the mediation of any known muscular or other mechanical means -- sometimes associated, of course, with psychic healing. My guest today is Marilyn Schlitz, an anthropologist and parapsychology researcher at the Mind Science Foundation in San Antonio, Texas. Welcome, Marilyn.
MARILYN SCHLITZ: Thank you.
MISHLOVE: You've been very active in psychokinesis research on biological tissues. You've published and written dozens of papers in this area. I think it might be useful to describe to our viewers how research of this type is conducted, because I know it's very controversial, and I think it's important to impress upon people the care with which you actually do these studies.
SCHLITZ: Well, I think that the biological psychokinesis work has taken a number of different directions in terms of methodology. Our own work at Mind Science Foundation was initiated by Dr. William Broad at Mind Science; he's a psychologist, an experimental psychologist. We have worked with a number of different biological systems. We've worked with animals, we've worked with human blood cells. The most abundant topic that we've worked with is the idea of one person influencing another person's physiology without any kind of sensory interaction whatsoever.
MISHLOVE: You mean like their galvanic skin response, or their heartbeat?
SCHLITZ: Exactly. We're taking various parameters of autonomic nervous system activity -- i.e., that part of the nervous system that doesn't require conscious control -- and then asking a person -- basically, we bring a person into the laboratory, we sit them down in a comfortable chair, and we monitor some parameter of autonomic activity. Galvanic skin response is the most common form of measurement that we've employed, and what we do basically is we put electrodes on the palms of a person's hand, and this then sends an electrical impulse to a chart recorder and a computer in another room.
MISHLOVE: It's the same kind of response that would be measured in a lie detector test.
MISHLOVE: It's a measure of a person's nervous activity, or sometimes the sweat gland activity in the skin.
SCHLITZ: That's exactly right. Essentially what we're doing, then, is asking another person -- maybe a healer, maybe just an average person -- to come in and influence the distant person's autonomic activity. So essentially what we're doing is taking a half-hour period and dividing it up into small sampling epochs, and what we ask the person to do, the healer, is to at random times throughout the session either calm or activate the distant person's autonomic activity.
MISHLOVE: How distant is the distant person?
SCHLITZ: Well, we've not manipulated distance to any great degree. Typically we're about -- oh, forty yards.
MISHLOVE: In separate rooms.
SCHLITZ: In separate rooms, separated by several rooms actually, so that there is no possibility of a sensory interaction between them. Oftentimes the subject, the volunteer who's having their autonomic activity monitored, is in a soundproof room, so that there's no possibility of any kind of sensory information.
MISHLOVE: The critics would obviously look for this immediately. They'd say, well, there's some kind of cueing going on -- that the person knows how to relax themselves, or knows how to tense themselves, and they know when the other person is trying to do it, and that's how an artifact would occur.
SCHLITZ: And that's a very, very good criticism, if it were relevant to this particular area of research. In this case the design that we're using totally precludes any possibility of autonomic self-control as being an explanation for the kind of results we're getting. What we're doing is, as I said, we're dividing up the sampling period, and there are periods where the healer is trying to influence the autonomic activity, and there are other periods where he's doing nothing but just relaxing in what we call control conditions. So that for any one experimental period, what we're able to do is compare the amount of autonomic nervous system activity during influenced periods with those periods when there's no attempt to influence the system.
MISHLOVE: In other words, you're asking the healer to arouse the autonomic nervous system.
SCHLITZ: In some cases. But for the majority of experiments that we've done, we've asked the healer to calm the distant activity.
MISHLOVE: Which would be more of a healing response.
SCHLITZ: Exactly. We did one experiment where we looked at a group of needy people, people who had an exceptionally active autonomic nervous system, and we compared these people with a group of people whose autonomic activity rested in the normal range. Our idea was that if this biological psychokinesis paradigm is relevant to healing, then perhaps those people who had the greatest need to be healed would be more readily influenced. In fact that is what we found. There was a significant difference statistically between the two groups, with that group who had the greatest need being more readily influenced than the other group.
MISHLOVE: So what your research is suggesting, then, is at least when we talk about spiritual healing or psychic healing or the healing touch, things of this sort, or some people being a natural healer, that at least a part of what they are doing as a healer would conform to what parapsychologists call psychokinesis, or mind over matter.
SCHLITZ: Well, that's basically the hypothesis that we're exploring. I believe that there are a variety of different mechanisms by which healing takes place, and this is true both in medical healing as well as in the context of a variety of nonmedical healing practices. For example, I think that there are ethnopharmacological bases to healing. In other words, there are certain magical elixirs that people can prepare and give to a person; they may not know that these ingredients have any known pharmacological basis, but in fact they do have beneficial effects.
MISHLOVE: Snake oil.
SCHLITZ: Would be an example. There are a whole host of them in the pharmacopoeia. In fact the Pharmacopoeia of the United States of America is filled with ingredients that were based on Native American remedies, and that were then adopted, incorporated, into the more pharmacological enterprise. So you've got drugs, and you've got physical manipulation as one possible mechanism. Then you've got a whole host of sort of psychosomatic mechanisms.
MISHLOVE: Power of suggestion.
SCHLITZ: One area of research that's gaining popularity today is -- a fifty-cent word if you want it -- psychoneuroimmunology. Basically the idea here is that emotional states, psychological states, can influence a body's immune system, our natural ability to fight disease. We have known for quite a while that negative emotions -- stress, for example -- have a detrimental effect on the immune system, reduce our body's ability to fight illness. What's more controversial at this point is whether or not positive emotions -- laughter, guided imagery, for example -- can have a beneficial effect on the body's immune system. There are a number of studies going on in different laboratories in the United States right now looking at the impact of positive emotions. At Mind Science, for example, we're looking at the impact of guided imagery on women's ability to fight breast cancer. We have three groups. We have women with malignant tumors who are undergoing conventional cancer therapy -- radiation, chemotherapy. We have a group of women who have tumors but which are benign, that have no pathological significance. And then we have a third group who have no known physical malady at all. What we're doing is we're looking at a whole host of different immune-competence measurements, to see if in fact guided imagery -- for example, a person imagining that their white blood cells are knights on horses coming out and killing the cancer cells, whatever kind of imagery works best for the individual -- we're trying to see whether in fact this does have a beneficial impact on the immune system. It's a very difficult, complicated area of research, and I think it will be some time before we have any definite conclusions. Then finally I would say that psi -- ESP and psychokinesis -- may have a role to play in the healing process. I think that, for example, you can think about extrasensory perception, a more information type of paradigm --
MISHLOVE: Sort of the passive side of psychokinesis.
SCHLITZ: Yes, in a sense you can think about it that way. There are ways in which a healer, for example, may diagnose a person without any kind of modern technology, but in fact come up with very accurate diagnostic conclusions about the person's problem. So that may be a form of clairvoyance. They may be somehow reading a person's body for signs that aren't available at the sensory level. Another area in which psi might enter the healing process is through prescriptive means -- in other words -- and this might fit with the ethnopharmacology work -- a healer somehow ascertains the person's problem, and then without any kind of medical knowledge, somehow decides what the person needs to do to solve this problem.
MISHLOVE: In your own work, in your research and the research that you're aware of more or less directly, what are the strongest kinds of effects that you've encountered, in which psi abilities seem to affect the healing process?
SCHLITZ: Well, I think for the most part the work we're doing in the laboratory isn't healing per se, but rather can be thought of as a model for healing. And I think that our own biological psychokinesis work -- this work with the electrodermal activity, the galvanic skin response -- has been highly successful.
MISHLOVE: In other words, there are very strong effects.
SCHLITZ: Well, we're not getting so much a strong effect within a given experimental trial, but what we are finding is that across the fourteen formal laboratory experiments that we've done to date, that we have a highly significant, statistically significant --
MISHLOVE: Consistency of the effect, then.
SCHLITZ: Right. In other words, the difference between those periods when the healer's trying to influence the autonomic activity and those periods when they're not, are very different.
MISHLOVE: I suppose that kind of research, though, suggests that if the intentions of the person transmitting the psychokinesis were not beneficial as a healer's would be, they could be used for harmful purposes -- to interfere, to induce stress rather than to relieve stress.
SCHLITZ: Well, there are several things one could say about that. You know, feeding the popular paranoia, we might note that many people visiting the Soviet Union have observed that in fact their main interest in doing the biological psychokinesis research, which they are doing some work in, is in fact for sort of negative purposes. The same could be said for our own work. One of the things that we've attempted to do to get around that criticism is to look at some possibility of screening ourselves from this kind of effect, and blocking the effect as it were. And so what we asked people to do in one experiment was to come in and visualize a protective screen around themselves. They could use whatever kind of psychological technique they wanted to, but there was no physical screen around them. We then compared those people with a second group who were asked to be open and responsive to the effect. In fact while the result wasn't totally unambiguous, the trend was that that group that was attempting to block had less influence than that group that was being open and responsive.
MISHLOVE: Well, that's very interesting -- psychic shielding.
SCHLITZ: I think it's important, because if people are having psychic experiences, one important thing is to know that we can control it, rather than that it simply controls us.
MISHLOVE: Fascinating, fascinating. How about in the area of psychic diagnosis? Have there been good research studies?
SCHLITZ: There have not been a lot of research studies. I'm much more familiar with the experimental work that's been done, and in the area of diagnostics there's been very, very little work, really.
MISHLOVE: I recall a book written by Shafica Karagulla, who is a psychiatrist in Los Angeles, in which she describes some case studies with some subjects she worked with who went to a hospital and diagnosed patients in a clinic there and saw auras, and began describing tumors and things in great detail, which were later verified by physicians. But this was a clinical study rather than an experimental study, so I suppose the methods weren't quite as rigorous.
SCHLITZ: Well, one of the difficulties -- I certainly wouldn't criticize that sort of clinical approach in any way -- one of the difficulties in working in a real-life setting, as though being in a laboratory isn't real life; it clearly is, but being in a natural setting, you can't control the variables in the same way you can within the laboratory. And so trying to understand exactly what's happening is very difficult.
MISHLOVE: One of the terms that's used in your laboratory which I found quite extraordinary was allo-biofeedback, in which, as I understand it, the person transmitting the psychokinesis is receiving biofeedback, but not from their own body, from the body of the person whom they're trying to influence.
SCHLITZ: Exactly. The person whose autonomic activity we're monitoring is set to a chart recorder, so that the healer, or the influencer, is getting feedback about how well they're doing, based on the autonomic response registered on the chart recorder. So that yes, that's exactly right. In a sense, rather than influencing your own activity, you are -- many of the healers employ a strategy where what they're doing is bringing about the desired effect in themselves, and then hoping that sympathetically it will transfer to the distant person.
MISHLOVE: You've written, Marilyn, about the phenomenology that takes place in people who do healing work. I think it's useful to talk about what are the best states of mind, the best internal strategies, that seem to facilitate it. If I wanted to become a healer myself, what kind of advice would you give me?
SCHLITZ: Well, I think that the first thing I'd say is that to make generalizations is always very dangerous. I think that there are a variety of different techniques and different idiosyncratic methods for different people. In our own laboratory we've seen that there are probably three primary strategies that people employ for bringing about this bio-PK kind of effect. And again, I'm separating that from healing per se, because it really is a different kind of framework. One is, as I just mentioned, trying to influence yourself with the idea that this effect would transfer to the distant person. Another idea is to actually physically manipulate the distant person, without any kind of sensory interaction, so that what you're doing is instead of influencing yourself, you are mentally trying to influence the distant person.
MISHLOVE: I might imagine in my mind that I was giving them a massage, or something of that sort.
SCHLITZ: Right, exactly, and inducing in them the desired response. And then the third strategy is to actually influence the machinery, so that for those people who use that kind of strategy --
MISHLOVE: Don't worry about the person; let's just affect the strip chart recorder.
SCHLITZ: And that's one of the things that happen, and that's really why I'm separating the bio-PK from healing per se, although I think it's very important, in terms of its potential implications for the healing process.
MISHLOVE: This kind of work in bio-PK suggests to me that we may be doing this to each other all the time. If I have an angry thought about another person, or if I sometimes feel someone else having an angry thought towards me, that may be an example of bio-PK -- or a loving thought.
SCHLITZ: You know, one of the things we need to be careful of is that we don't be drowned ourselves in paranoia, because certainly we hear many instances of people who are concerned that someone is influencing their own physiology. In cases like that, my clearest message to those people is drawn from the blocking studies -- that yes, in fact it is possible to shield yourself from these kind of effects. One of the other things we know from the parapsychological literature is what's called the sheep-goat effect. In other words, sheep are those people who believe that psychic phenomena are real; goats are those people who are very resistant to that. And what we see is that those people in the bio-PK design, for example, what is very possible is that if you believe somebody can influence you, then you're much more likely to be influenced. So when somebody is complaining that they feel that somebody's influencing their physiology in a real-life setting, in circumstances that they're not happy about, I simply tell them, don't give that person the power over you; maintain your own self, essentially.
MISHLOVE: And the people who are the transmitters, or the influencers, or the healers, in these studies -- are they drawn across a wide spectrum of the population? Or are you looking for talented healers to begin with?
SCHLITZ: Well, we have worked with both. We have worked with selected subjects such as Matthew Manning, for example.
MISHLOVE: The British psychic, very famous.
SCHLITZ: That's right -- and healer, who did very well in the laboratory. We have worked with a variety of what we call unselected subjects -- people who are simply interested in working in the psychic healing area. The majority of the experiments we've done have been with ourselves, the experimenters, as the influencers. One could argue that in a sense we're special subjects, and certainly we are the most motivated people to see an experiment work out, because it's our experiment.
MISHLOVE: Now, I know in general that your laboratory has a history of a lot of successful results, and you're confident that you're getting good data. And yet I know you've been quoted in Omni magazine as describing psychic research as being equivalent to trying to capture butterflies in a dark room. It might be useful to talk a little bit about the nature of psi, its elusive nature, or what it's like working with this phenomenon.
SCHLITZ: Well, it's very challenging, is what it is. I mean, you find that we have in the laboratory produced a fairly reliable effect, but whenever we approach an experiment, one can psych oneself up and give oneself the highest expectation for success, but we're still never totally sure we're going to be able to capture it within the laboratory setting. So that working in parapsychology, working in this area of biological psychokinesis or any area of ESP research, can be a very frustrating endeavor. On the other hand it's incredibly challenging, and I think that that's the thing that motivates many researchers to keep going -- is to understand this elusive property.
MISHLOVE: How do you think that the scientific community at large is responding to your research?
SCHLITZ: Well, I think that there's a lot of resistance, and I think there's a lot of skepticism. I think many people don't bother to read the formal laboratory reports, and instead simply approach the issue with a preconceived expectation that the stuff simply can't work that way -- you know, there must be something wrong with our methodology; somehow something happened that allowed a sensory interaction between these two systems. We have really knocked ourselves out to make sure that that isn't the explanation. Certainly one of the things that happens -- I know many physicians who employ the aid of psychics, both for diagnostic purposes and actually for physical manipulation. And one of the things that they are very clear to do is make sure that that doesn't get around to a lot of people, because there is a social control over health care, and the dominant medical establishment controls the way that the human body is manipulated and conceptualized. And I think that the psychic healing work is a direct threat to that sort of domination of the human body.
MISHLOVE: Let me get back once more to the issue of scientific acceptance. I know from my experience, and I think you would agree, that the harshest -- or not the harshest, the most rigorous critics of parapsychology research, are other parapsychologists. I wonder how the parapsychology community -- and there are perhaps a dozen other laboratories doing research of this type -- how have these people responded to your studies?
SCHLITZ: Our work has been very well accepted. I mean, we have presented papers at a variety of different technical conferences, and I believe that we have published enough careful laboratory reports that people can critique our methodology. It's no longer a matter of simply taking our word for it; they can go through the laboratory reports, they can critique our data if they want, it's available for people. One thing that we would really like to see is other laboratories replicate our results, because we have, as I mentioned, done fourteen formal experiments looking at this GSR activity. But we really need other independent laboratories to take it up. There have been several sort of conceptual replications of the work, but nothing directly replicating it, and it's very important in science to have replication.
MISHLOVE: I can see, Marilyn, that being in this field confronts you probably with the most penetrating, stimulating challenge that anybody in science might want to take on. How has it affected you as a person in your own growth, to be working in the healing area? Has it affected you more than just scientifically?
SCHLITZ: Well, I think that my reason for wanting to do this kind of work, the healing work, within the larger framework of parapsychology, is that it is the most clearly applicable area of parapsychology, so that it certainly gives one more motivation to do the research, and it makes it a little easier to handle the frustrations when you know that there's a real potential payoff at the end. In terms of my own personal development, I think that the challenges that are faced by our attempts to capture this elusive butterfly in the laboratory reflect a challenge to face any kind of unknown, and I think that one can only hope that they do it with a good degree of rigor and care.
MISHLOVE: Have you used yourself as a subject in the healing work?
SCHLITZ: Yes, we have done a lot of work with ourselves as the influencers, and actually have a real high rate of success for ourselves. We as the experimenters overall have a higher performance rate than the unselected person just coming in off the street, but that makes sense. We're much more familiar with the methodology and comfortable with the surroundings.
MISHLOVE: And I guess, then, your goal as researchers is at least to some extent to develop both an objective and a subjective understanding of psi phenomena.
SCHLITZ: Absolutely. I think that one of the most important things is to map the consciousness of our participants in all areas of the human potential, and certainly in healing one of the things we see is that an individual's conceptualization of illness may or may not correspond to the healer's conceptualization, and that one of the things we need to do is be able to map those two things onto each other, because certainly in the realm of the psychosomatic it's very important that there be good communication between healer and healee.
MISHLOVE: Well, you seem to be expressing, Marilyn, in your research and in your own life, more and more of a sensitivity to these subtle issues that do affect the healing -- not only from a psi perspective, but in terms of, as you have pointed out, the psychosomatic aspects of it, the physical aspects, and the immunological aspects of healing.
SCHLITZ: Well, one of the things science does is it forces you to compartmentalize, so that when you think about mechanisms of healing you're looking at the different subtle elements and how we can separate those out, but --
MISHLOVE: Marilyn, we're out of time. I'm going to have to cut you off. Thank you so much for being with me.
SCHLITZ: You're welcome. Thank you.