Thursday, August 12, 2010

Are You A Transliminal Personality?

If you're interested in finding out how you rate, take the transliminality survey below and find out. Take the three short tests below and see how you rank.

Thalbourne Transliminality Index (1998)

Answer true or false on the 30 questions below. More true answers indicate a higher transliminality rating.

1 Horoscopes are right too often for it to be a coincidence

2 At times I perform certain little rituals to ward off negative influences

3 I have experienced an altered state of consciousness in which I felt that I became cosmically enlightened

4 At the present time, I am very good at make-believe and imagining

5 I have felt that I had received special wisdom, to be communicated to the rest of humanity

6 I have sometimes behaved in a much more impulsive or uninhibited way than is usual for me

7 I am fascinated by new ideas, whether or not they have practical value

8 I have sometimes sensed an evil presence around me, although I could not see it

9 My thoughts have sometimes come so quickly that I couldn’t write them all down fast enough

10 If I could not pretend or make-believe anymore, I wouldn’t be me – I wouldn’t be the same person

11 Sometimes I experience things as if they were doubly real

12 It is sometimes possible for me to be completely immersed in nature or in art and to feel as if my whole state of consciousness has somehow been temporarily altered

13 Often I have a day when indoor lights seem so bright that they bother my eyes

14 I am convinced that I have had at least one experience of telepathy between myself and another person

15 I am convinced that I am psychic

16 I have experienced an altered state of awareness which I believe utterly transformed (in a positive manner) the way I looked at myself

17 I am convinced that I have had a premonition about the future that came true and which (I believe) was not just a coincidence

18 I think I really know what some people mean when they talk about mystical experiences

19 I have gone through times when smells seemed stronger and more overwhelming than usual

20 I can clearly feel again in my imagination such things as: the feeling of a gentle breeze, warm sand under bare feet, the softness of fur, cool grass, the warmth of the sun and the smell of freshly cut grass

21 A person should try to understand their dreams and be guided by or take warnings from them

22 While listening to my favourite music, in addition to feeling calm, relaxed, happy etc, I often have a feeling of oneness with the music, or of being in another place or time, or vividly remembering the past

23 At times, I somehow feel the presence of someone who is not physically there

24 I am convinced that it is possible to gain information about the thoughts, feelings or circumstances of another person, in a way that does not depend on rational prediction or normal sensory channels

25 For several days at a time I have had such a heightened awareness of sights and sounds that I cannot shut them out

26 I sometimes have a feeling of gaining or losing energy when certain people look at me or touch me

27 Now that I am grown up, I still in some ways believe in such things as elves, witches, leprechauns, fairies, etc.

28 Sometimes people think I’m a bit weird because my ideas are so novel

29 When listening to organ music or other powerful music, I sometimes feel as if I’m being lifted up into the air


By Robin Strom-Mackey

You’ve heard them described as the “artistic type.” They’re highly creative and have truly unique and unusual ideas. They’re the ones who believe in the possibility of the supernatural, or may report having had an mystical experience of their own. Perhaps they dabble in eastern philosophies, or non-mainstream religions. This is the type of person who would cut off his ear in a fit of depression - Van Gogh. Or perhaps the type of creative genius that would take his own life at the very height of his career -Curt Colbaine. Creative, odd, moody and into all sorts of weird philosophies; these are people who are said to have a transliminal personality.

1994 Study Results

University of Adelaide Parapsychologist Professor, Michael Thalbourne, (with Peter S. Delin) designed a study that would measure personality traits of those who believed in the paranormal. They wanted to know what type of person believed in the possibility of the paranormal, (The researchers defined paranormal to those who believed in ESP, Psycho kinesis, or life after death.) and in particular what set believers apart from non-believers. What the researchers found startled even them. Their findings indicated that those who believed in the paranormal shared an unequivocal similarity of personality traits. So strong was the similarity that Thalbourne gave the personality type a name, dubbing it transliminality.

Definition of Transliminality

The term transliminality literally means to “go beyond the threshold.” Thalbourne, in an interview with Robyn Williams of ABC Science, defined transliminality as:

“a hyper-sensitivity to psychological material coming from the unconscious and a hyper-sensitivity to stimulation from the external environment. So consciousness is like the meat in the sandwich; one part of the sandwich being the external environment, the other being what we tend to call the unconscious or subliminal region (Williams, 2007).”

In other words, subjects that scored significantly higher on a transliminal scale were people who appear to be able to tap into their subconscious, subliminal, or “supraliminal” minds. This ability to bring the unconscious to the conscious (meaning awareness) they describe as being able to cross more easily the thresholds between the levels of consciousness. Thalbourne also suggested that a person with a transliminal personality can also tap into information outside himself/herself, perhaps the collective unconscious, to borrow from Jung. An experiment at Goldsmith College London, found that high transliminals were able to perceive flashed subliminal messages far more frequently, while those who were low on a transliminal scale were completely unaware of them. High transliminals did not score significantly higher on ESP scores, however, than their low transliminal counterparts.


Thalbourne’s 1994 study, and several subsequent follow-up studies proved that people who scored as high transliminals, or very high transliminals, also shared a interesting number of other traits. Subjects that score high on a transliminal scale were usually extremely creative people. Artist, the researchers suggested, used just the ability to bring forth snatches of the unconscious into the conscious while creating their art. Thalbourne points out that this correlation between creativity and the belief in the paranormal had already been demonstrated in three studies. He cites Moon (1975) who noted that visual arts students showed a significantly higher belief in ESP than did their fellow students in other disciplines. Therefore finding this strong correlation was not surprising.

Belief in the Supernatural/Magical Ideation/Mystical Experiences

What might be more surprising was the direct relationship between those who believed in the supernatural and magical ideation. The authors defined magical ideation as, “the tendency to believe in scientifically unorthodox and often bizarre forms of interaction between thought and the physical world,” a tendency they point out as an possible indicator to the “schizotypal personality (schizophrenia type illusions)“ (Thalbourne & Delin, 1994).”

They also found that these people were often believers in the mystical and reported a higher number of mystical experiences - defined as the feeling of oneness with the universe, “a profound sense of peace and the apparent illumination about the meaning of existence (Thalbourne, 1991).


People who scored high on the transliminal scale also tended to classify themselves as very religious. Oddly though, highly transliminal subjects did not tend to correspond with traditional orthodox beliefs, but often sought out and identified with other religions, markedly Asian religions and philosophies (Thalbourne & Delin, 1999). Interestingly they also found that atheists scored lowest on a transliminal scale followed by agnostics. Those who were brought up or practiced Christianity constituted the middle ground of the transliminal scale.

Dream Interpretation

Those high on the scale also tended to be more aware of their dreams. It wasn’t determined whether they had a higher degree of dream recall than normal, but they did report they tended to spend more time interpreting their dreams for meaning. Also those who believed in the paranormal suffered from a higher number of nightmares.

Manic Depression / Schizophrenia

Sadly, it seems highly transliminal people tended to be less well adjusted than their low transliminal counterparts. Individuals that scored very high on the transliminal scale tend to fall prey to mental disorders far more often than the “hard-headed” low transliminals. For one thing, researchers found a correlation between depression and transliminal personalities. Even more unsettling was the relation between highly transliminal personalities and the predilection of schizophrenia. The researchers noted that further down the transliminal scale a person tended to rate, the less likely they appeared to fall prey to emotional disorders. Although the “happy transliminal” does exist as well.


In his interview with Williams, Thalbourne indicates that while transliminals have the gift of creativity, they carry the burden of a likelihood of depression and mental disorders. Possibly Thalbourne would agree, being a transliminal personality is both a blessing and a curse. Undoubtedly a highly transliminal personality, he apparently suffered from bi-polar disorder (manic depression) as an adult, eventually taking his own life. Dr. Michael Thalbourne passed away May 24, 2010. He was 55 years old.

Thalbourne, M.A., Delin, P.S. A Common Thread Underlying Belief in the Paranormal, Creative Personality, Mystical Experience and Psychopathology. Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 58, March 1994.

Thaibourne, M.A., Delin, P.S. (1999) Transliminality: Its Relation to Dream Life, Religiosity, and Mystical Experience. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. 9-1 (pp.45-61)

Thalbourne, M.A. Interview with Robyn Williams.; Radio National. June 4, 2006. Retrieved August 12, 2010.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Famous People & the Supernatural Part VI: Crookes, Barrett

William Crookes & William Fletcher Barrett
by Robin Strom Mackey

William Crookes’ was an inventor of scientific equipment and a chemist. His scientific pursuits included the discovery of the element thallium and the invention the Crooke’s tube, a glass vacuum tube with two electrodes at either end, with which he was able produce and study the fluorescent rays of light energy not otherwise visible to the human eye. A decade later, physicist J.J. Thomson would name those streams of charged particles electrons. Crookes’ interest in the supernatural was centered around the work of the famous medium D.D. Home. According to an 1874 paper, by Crookes, he studied Home not as a performer, but because he felt that there was an actual “occult force” that Home was able to harness, that could be studied and measured. For his paper on Home, he was publicly chastised by John Tyndall the newly elected president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. Despite this, Crookes persisted in his research, searching for a physical theory to explain what he had observed, until eventually he grew weary of the criticism of his peers and abandoned his research for the safer regions of mainstream science.

William Fletcher Barrett was the first physicist to become interested in the spiritual realm. Barrett had worked under John Tyndall, the outspoken opponent of Crookes, for four years before taking a professorship himself, at the Dublin Royal College of Science. Barrett was professedly uninterested in the spiritual realm. However, while on holiday Barrett and his friends dabbled in the newly emerging field of hypnotism, occasionally conducting experiments among the local villagers. Barrett noticed that when one of the young village girls was hypnotized she had an uncanny ability to read other people’s thoughts. Intrigued in his further observations, Barrett returned to his university, conducted a few more experiments and eventually published a paper of his findings, blandly entitled, “On Some Phenomena Associated with Abnormal conditions of Mind. In the paper, Barrett tentatively postulated that in an unconscious state, a mind may be capable of tapping into the thoughts and feelings of another person. He suggested that this occurred in a “’community of sensation (Blum, 2006).’” He further urged that further investigation might indeed be warranted. He submitted his paper for presentation to the 1876 meeting of the British Association of Science, who after initial rejection, eventually accepted the paper and allowed him to present.

Barrett also did a study on divining rods. While he could not define what made the rods work, he admitted that there appeared to be something to the use of the tools.


Blum, D. (2006). Ghost Hunters; William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. Penguin Books, New York, NY.

William F. Barrett

William James
by Robin M. Strom-Mackey

William James, brother to the novelist Henry James, was a vastly popular, Harvard professor and author. James actually started out teaching in the area of Physiology, but found he was much more fascinated by  the newly emerging science of psychology. He made his fame by authoring the first college textbooks (a two-volume set) on the newly emerging science, The Principles of Psychology published in 1890. The textbooks which had taken James a decade to write, won him international acclaim and redefined the newly emerging field of psychology. James’ theories in Psychology are relevant to this day, and included the idea of conscious thought as a continuous river of thought, better known as the stream of consciousness. He is also credited with founding the first, U.S. psychological demonstration laboratory, although he quickly abandoned the laboratory setting as being too narrow, returning to, "the broader realms of free observation, reflection, and speculation which philosophy allowed ("
Later in his career James changed directions again. Following a mental and physical breakdown in 1899, he spent a year recovering, and when he returned to the lecture circuit he returned with a fresh view to the psychology of religion. He published, in 1902, the book The Varieties of Religious Experience, which centered on the similarities of individual, human, spiritual experiences across religions and centuries.
(Picture: William James attending a seance) James brought the Society of Psychical Research to the United States, helping establish the American branch in 1885. He and wife Alice became more avid in their pursuit of the spiritual and supernatural, however, after the loss of their six-month-old son. James' main concern became proving or disproving the existence of life after death. In this capacity James attended seances with the talented Leonora Piper, a strong medium the society concluded was authentic and every bit as salient as claimed. James, looking for evidence of an after life, was never completely satisfied with the results of these sittings. While Piper’s conjured spirits were uncanny in ferreting information from the sitters, often the spirits lacked knowledge of their own lives. James felt he could not conclude satisfactorily that spirits existed, but could be comfortable claiming the existence of extrasensory perception. James became president of the Society for Psychical Research from 1842-1910.

Blum, D. (2006). Ghost Hunters; William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. Penguin Books, New York, NY.

Wolf, A., Census in the Family: Cameo Biography William James retrieved August 11,2010.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Famous People & the Supernatural Part IV: Myers

Frank Myers
by Robin Strom Mackey

Frederic Myers was a professor of Classics at Cambridge University in England. An essayist and poet, he is known for such works as the poem St. Paul and Essays, Classical and Modern and Science and a Future Life. Myers' true passion appears to have been in quest of the meaning of it all.
Oddly, Myers didn’t turn to the classics in philosophy or literature for his answers, nor search it out in mainstream religion. Instead he sought out answers through the meticulous examination of human paranormal experiences. As a scholar, Myers was described as a man of “enormous energy” and “great intellectual ability.”
He is probably best remembered as being the founding father of the Society of Psychical Research and for publication of his life’s search which culminated in the book, Human Personality and It’s Survival of Bodily Death which became a classic book on the subject. Pooling all of his studies into one final book of essays didn’t satisfy Myers’ quest however. After studying the paranormal for most of his adult years he was no closer to admitting his evidence complete or irrefutable.
After countless hours studying mediums and their performances he was in little doubt of the medium’s abilities but was in severe doubt of just what that ability entailed. He had attended séances that seemed to insinuate that the dead were speaking through the medium. The medium would adopt a voice that sounded like a dead person, and that voice would list an impressive array of facts about that person’s life. At times, however, he’d found that the supposed departed was very much still alive. Sometimes it seemed that the mediums were gathering their information from the minds of the people in the room. Still worse, he conducted case studies, sending in subjects who were instructed to concentrate on fictitious persons. The medium seemed to read the mind of the subject and report through the voice that false identity.
Sadly, Myers concluded that it wasn’t a simple to determine from whence the information was coming. In fact the mediums could not determine the source of information, whether from a spirit or the minds of the subjects in the room. After a lifetime's worth of study he wasn't to know the answer to his most troubling question, not at least until he passed over himself.

Blum, D. (2006). Ghost Hunters; William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. Penguin Books, New York, NY.

Currie, I., Edited by Sherpherd, P. Excerpts about the life of Frederic Myers; You Cannot Die: The incredible Findings of a Century of Research on Death Retrieved August 5, 2010.

Rogo, S.D. Psychical Research and the Survival Controversy (Part 3) Apparitions and the Case for Survival.
Retrieved August 5, 2010.

Famous People & the Supernatural Part III: Gurney

Edmund Gurney
By Robin M. Strom-Mackey

Edmund Gurney, the tall, mercurial, handsome, gentleman-scholar was one of the first three founders of the SPR, along with Henry Sidgwick and Frank Myers. Gurney was educated at Black Heath and Trinity Colleges where he obtained a fellowship. He then studied medicine at Cambridge, devoting himself to physics, chemistry and physiology, though apparently had no intention of ever practicing medicine. He professed an interest in the paranormal, “looking for an unexplored region of human faculty transcending the normal limitations of sensible knowledge (Anonymous Essay, 2010).” He intended to approach psychical research through observation and experimentation, with a special interest in the fields of hypnotism and telepathy.
He is probably best remembered for being one of the three authors of the two-volume set of books, Phantasms of the Living. Based on years of data collection the books detailed the phenomenon of crisis apparitions; apparitions of the newly dead that often present themselves to the living directly following their demise. This work is undoubtedly the most intensive study ever conducted of the phenomena, and it should be noted that Gurney did the bulk of the field work, collecting, analyzing and interviewing the witnesses.
Excerpt from: Phantasms of the Living, Gurney, E, Myers, F.W.H, Podmore, F. (1886)
"I sat one evening reading, when on looking up from my book, I distinctly saw a school-friend of mine, to whom I was very much attached, standing near the door I was about to exclaim at the strangeness of her visit when, to my horror, there were no signs of anyone in the room but my mother. I related what I had seen to her, knowing she could not have seen, as she was sitting with her back towards the door, nor did she hear anything unusual, and was greatly amused at my scare, suggesting I had read too much or been dreaming.

A day or so after this strange event, I had news to say my friend was no more. The strange part was that I did not even know she was ill, much less in danger so could not have felt anxious at the time on her account, but may have been thinking of her; that I cannot testify. Her illness was short, and death much unexpected. Her mother told me she spoke of me not long before she died ... She died the same evening and about the same time that I saw her vision, which was the end of October, 1874."

Shortly after the publication of Phantasms of the Living, Gurney himself passed on; dying of a narcotic medicine drug overdose in June 1888. Having suffered through most of his adult life with episodes of deep depression, many of Gurney's friends suspected the brilliant, troubled young man had taken his own life.

Anonymous (2010). Edmund Gurney.
Retrieved August 5, 2010.

Blum, D. (2006). Ghost Hunters; William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. Penguin Books, New York, NY.

Famous People & the Supernatural Part II: Balfour & Sidgwick

The Spiritualist Movement and the Establishment of the Society for Psychical Research
 by Robin M. Strom-Mackey

On the topic of the scientific method: [The] "Danger only arises when the scheme becomes a system of dogma which is master instead of slave." Nora Balfour Sidgwick

During the Spiritualist Movement which began at the end of the 1800’s a society was formed by some of the greatest minds of its generation. The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) attracted the attention of scientists, politicians, writers, authors and the clergy. Among its esteemed members were the father of Psychology, William James, author of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, future prime minister of England, Arthur Balfour, and naturalist and co-author of the Theory of Natural Selection, Alfred Russell Wallace; to name a few. In this short series we'll chronicle the work of these great men and women and briefly explain how they contributed to the field of paranormal research, then and for future generations, and how they often did this at the risk of their own reputations.
Arthur Balfour a wealthy English aristocrat would eventually become Prime Minister of England in 1902, replacing his Uncle. At his Carleton Gardens house Balfour dedicated a small room to his ongoing investigations with mediums. In this room he kept a spirit cabinet; a cabinet where mediums might sit as they conjured their evidence, behind a fabric drape. Several of the members of the Society for Psychical Research studied the supposed conjuring of mediums whom Balfour invited to the sittings. Balfour would become a member of the Society for Psychical Research, and eventually it's president (from 1892-1894) Balfour’s sister, Elanor Milfred (Nora) Balfour, married Henry Sidgwick one of the Society’s Founding members.
Nora Balfour Sidgwick is probably best known for her championing the cause for female higher education. She and her husband, Henry Sidgwick, helped to institute local examinations for women and eventually lectures at Cambridge. With the help of Anne Clough, Henry Sidgwick opened, a residential hall for female residents, which later developed into Newnham College, Cambridge. Clough became Newnham College's first principal, and Nora Sidgwick took the position of vice-principal. After Clough's death in 1892, Nora Balfour Sidgwick became the principal of the college, she and her husband residing there until Henry's death in 1900. Nora Sidgwick was one of the first three women to serve on the Bryce Commission on Secondary Education and the Royal Commission.

Nora Sidgwick possessed an incredible mind, especially as a scientific statistician. As a young woman she had worked with the English physicist Lord William Rayleigh, on mathematical computations to "imrove the accuracy of experimental meausurement of electrical resistance (Anonymous article, 2010)." Rayleigh would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1904, for discovering the element argon.
It was a boon for the SPR, therefore, to have her intellect attuned to psychical research. Indeed in her work with the SPR, she was involved in several of its more noteworthy studies, continuing her work even after the death of her husband. While she understood the incredible strides being made in science, she did feel the derision of the scientific community toward the work of the SPR, which she staunchly defended. The scientific method, she conceded was an excellent framework, but not even all things scientific could be replicated upon command. She wrote, "'Danger only arises when the scheme becomes a system of dogma which is master instead of slave (Blum, 2006).'" She pointed out shooting stars, for example, could no be replicated, yet no one doubted their existance. The SPR's work in telepathy strongly suggested that telepathy was as real, and often as unreliable to recreate, as a shooting star. For her dedication to the Society she became President of the SPR in 1908, and was named President of Honour in 1932.

Henry Sidgwick was a Professor of the Classics at Trinity College Cambridge for 10 years, before switching to moral philosophy. He eventually achieved the Knightbridge Professorship of Philosophy, which is the position of senior most philosophy proffessor at the University (a position established in 1683) His most famous work was the Methods of Ethics which was hailed as a major work in the field of moral philosophy.

In 1882 Sidgwick along with his friends Frederic Myers and Edmund Gurney would found the British Society for Psychical Research. Interestingly, Sidgwick was first compelled to study the supernatural by his cousin and later brother-in-law, Edward White Benson. (Benson would go on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury. )
Benson had helped found a Ghost Society at Cambridge, and asked Sidgwick to visit some mediums in his area and report to him. Early on Sidgwick showed a good ability to detect mechanical devices and other machinations with which fraudulent mediums tended their trades. Still, he admitted, that he was intrigued by the possibility of something beyond fraud, and that very occasionally he saw a glimmer of something real and yet unexplainable. Sidgwick became the SPR's first president.
Blum, D. (2006) Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. Penguin Books; New York, NY.
 Anonymous. (2010) Arthur Balfour Retrieved August 6, 2010.

Anonymous (2010) Eleanor Mildred Retrieved August 6, 2010.
Anonymous. Henry Sidgwick Retrieved August 6, 2010.

Famous People & the Supernatural Part I: Edison, Tesla

Famous Inventors and the Pursuit of the Supernatural
By Robin Strom-Mackey

Where are you here for – here on Earth, I mean? Well, there you are. We do not understand. We cannot understand. We are too finite to understand. The really big things we cannot grasp as yet.” Thomas Edison
Standing up in front of a psychology class recently, the instructor asked me to tell everyone a little bit about myself. These situations can often be sticky. Do you reveal that you an odd but avid interest in paranormal research, or keep that part of your life hidden like a bad secret? I decided that day I would be bold and reveal those interests that make up such a large part of my life. Predictably, my admission was met with open stares and a few poorly concealed snorts of derision. To many, an interest in the paranormal is akin to admitting you’re a voodoo practitioner. We live in a scientific world, so the skeptics say, and there’s no place in the world for superstition and the occult.
Few people seem to understand that many of the world’s foremost intellectuals (yes, many of whom were scientists) have shared this interest and devoted their time, attention, and often valuable resources to the pursuit of paranormal research. Why? Because these questions are fundamental to human existence, to all human existence. Are we alone in the universe? Do we live on after death? Are certain gifted people capable of reading thoughts and emotions of others, predicting future events with accuracy and possibly speaking with the other side? In this series you’ll find the names and contributions of several famous people who expressed just such interests, many of whom sadly suffered for their interests far worse than a snort or two of derision.

The famous American inventor, Thomas Edison, undoubtedly needs no introduction. The inventor who gave us the light bulb and the phonograph, was the holder of over 1000 patents in America and 1200 or so patents in Europe. At one point during his working career it is said he received a new patent every two weeks. A professed agnostic, Edison was only ever asked to express his thoughts on the after-life once. He is quoted in a newspaper article as saying, “Human Beings [are] only an aggregate of cells and the brain only a wonderful machine.” This damning pronouncement was followed later in the same interview with seeming self-doubt about his earlier statements. At one point he asked the reporter, “Now I am going to ask you a question. Where are you here for – here on Earth, I mean?” When the reporter responded he had no good answer to the question, Edison replied, “Well, there you are. We do not understand. We cannot understand. We are too finite to understand. The really big things we cannot grasp as yet (Blum, 2006).” It seems that his first assertion was protective in nature. The scientific revolution was a bipolar period in history; the masses had religion, the scientific community the religion of science. For a professional in the scientific community he would have been expected to be agnostic if not atheist. The second statement reveals a man struggling with the selfsame questions of humanity, and was probably closer to how he was actually thinking at the time.

Near the end of his life the inventor announced in several magazine articles and one notable article that appeared in the New York Times, that he was working on an invention called the Spirit Phone. It was directly after World War I and interest in spiritualism was, not surprisingly, markedly increasing. Edison reported that the Spirit Phone would, “measure what he described as the life units that scatter through the universe after death (Barksdale).” Unfortunately Edison passed away in 1931, before unveiling the Spirit Phone. And in his workshop the invention was not found.
In a true ironic twist of fate, Edison was reported to make appearances at seances, after his death! At a séance in 1941 he reportedly explained that three of his former assistants held the plans for the Spirit Phone in their possession. Supposedly the plans were found, and a machine built that didn’t work. Edison then reportedly made a second séance appearance, during which he suggested some changes to the machine. The inventor Gilbert J. Wright was present at the séance. Wright reportedly took on the project himself, working unsuccessfully on the invention until his own death in 1959. As far as we know, a working Spirit Phone remained simply a dream of the two inventors.
Nikola Tesla was the Serbian born, American emigrant who became perhaps the most famous electrical and mechanical engineer of all times. After graduating from the University of Prague, he worked for the Yugoslavian government for a year setting up the country’s first telephone system. In 1883, Tesla moved to Paris where he worked for Thomas Edison’s subsidiary, after which he moved to New York where he could work directly with Edison. Tesla worked for Edison only a short time before but the two men came to realize their approaches were quite different, and went their separate ways. Tesla’s contributions to the area of electrical power utilization cannot be understated.
Tesla was a multi-faceted genius who is primarily remembered for his work in electricity. Tesla realized that Alternating Current (AC) power held the key to cheap, efficient electrical power for the masses. Unlike Direct Current (DC) power, which lost too much strength over distance, AC power was sustainable. However, to make the distribution of AC power possible a machine was needed that could effectively manufacture the current. In 1888 he revealed just such a machine, the 1/5 horsepower two-phase motor which effectively generated electromagnetic energy, ushering in a new era of easily accessible and affordable electrical energy. As one author suggests, Tesla, “literally made possible the tremendous productivity of American industry in the twentieth century (Peterson, 2005).”
Tesla is also known for his work in the areas of radio and television waves, designing a wireless communications system. In 1899, two years before Marconi, Tesla demonstrated successful radio transmission and reception. And he also,”built all of the basic circuits required for the transmission and reception of wireless communications—what we now call radio and broadcast television,” knowing that someday sounds and visible images would be transmittable as well (Peterson, 2005).
What isn’t widely known is that Tesla dedicated a large part of his life to communicating with the universe. Experimenting with Extremely Low Frequency waves at his Colorado Springs laboratory while studying high-voltage radio transmissions he began to receive what he believed were messages from outer space. In an article entitled Talking with the Planets which appeared in Collier’s Weekly (March 1901) Tesla elaborated on his findings:
"I can never forget the first sensations I experienced when it dawned upon me that I had observed something possibly of incalculable consequences to mankind. I felt as though I were present at the birth of a new knowledge or the revelation of a great truth. My first observations positively terrified me as there was present in them something mysterious, not to say supernatural…but at that time the idea of these disturbances being intelligently controlled signals did not yet present itself to me.“

"The changes I noted were taking place periodically and with such a clear suggestion of number and order that they were not traceable to any cause known to me. I was familiar, of course, with such electrical disturbances as are produced by the sun, Aurora Borealis, and earth currents, and I was as sure as I could be of any fact that these variations were due to none of these causes.“

"The nature of my experiments precluded the possibility of the changes being produced by atmospheric disturbances, as has been rashly asserted by some. It was sometime afterward when the thought flashed upon my mind that the disturbances I had observed might be due to an intelligent control.

"Although I could not at the time decipher their meaning, it was impossible for me to think of them as having been entirely accidental. The feeling is constantly growing on me that I had been the first to hear the greeting of one planet to another. A purpose was behind these electrical signals (Swartz, 2001).”

According to the article, The Lost Journals of Nikola Tesla, by Tim Swartz, Tesla would devote the next 40 years of his life to perfecting a device that he believed could receive these intelligent transmissions from outer space. For his work Tesla became ostracized by the scientific community. Tesla became, “the epitome of a mad scientist (Swartz, 2001)."

Barksdale, M. 10 Inventions by Thomas Edison (That You've Never Heard Of).

Blum, D. (2006) Ghost Hunters; William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life Ager Death.
Penguin Books, New York, NY.
Peterson, G.L. (1996-2005) Nikola Tesla; A Man of Comprehensive Solutions.

Rogo, S.D. Psychical Research and the Survival Controversy (Part 3) Apparations and the Case for Survival. Retrieved August 5, 2010.

Swartz, T. (2001) The Lost Journals of Nikola Tesla. (Full Text Published by Global Communications.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Essential Science of Ghost Hunting: Two Sleep Anomalies Investigators Should Understand

By Robin M. Strom-Mackey
“What I came across were two completely normal occurrences of sleep that could explain a great number of the strange reports, and at the very least calm the nerves of quite a few clients along the way.“
She knew that the dark man was in the house. She could hear the front door opening and the quiet footsteps on the stairs. Any moment now the intruder would be in her room. She needed to get up, she needed to get the bat from under the bed or the phone off the dresser. She needed to hide. She could hear those footsteps getting closer and closer. Her heart was racing, her hands shaking, and then she saw the dark form in the doorway….

The next moment she was awake and still sure the intruder was there. The dream had felt so real. However, in a panic she found that she could not move, not one inch. What was wrong with her? Was there something or someone holding her down?

As fearful as this scenario was for me, I realized later that the experience I had was actually a very normal function of dreaming. I’ve come across numerous reports from people claiming they had experienced paranormal phenomenon during the night while they were asleep, and have actually experienced some strange phenomenon I myself couldn‘t account for, until doing some research into the science of sleep. What I came across were two completely normal occurrences of sleep that could explain a great number of the strange reports, and at the very least might calm the nerves a few clients along the way.
Hypnagogic Hallucinations

You’re settling in for the night, just drifting off to sleep and then suddenly you hear your name called. Realizing you’re all alone you wake up frenzied. You swear you just had a visitor from beyond call your name. However, it’s more likely you experienced a hypnagogic hallucination. These strange little “dream” sequences occur in the first stage of sleep (NREM 1). In other words, a sleeper is likely to experience them within the first 20 minutes of settling in for the night, which can cause the illusion that they are that much more real.

Indeed in the first stage of NREM sleep (non-rapid eye movement sleep) a subject isn’t even technically asleep. At this point they also are not technically dreaming, according to sleep researchers. Dreaming is a function of REM sleep (rapid eye movement sleep). Sleepers don’t actually enter the REM state until 70-120 minutes after falling asleep. Whether technically asleep and dreaming or not, however, sleepers can experience these odd little dream states called hypnagogic hallucinations. These are in effect, “odd, but vividly realistic sensations,” or strange little hallucinations that can feel quite real to the sleeper (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2010). For example, a sleeper might hear someone call their name, or have a sensation of falling, floating or flying, according to the authors. These can feel shockingly real, and can even cause the sleeper to jerk awake. While strange, these hallucinations are quite normal to the sleep cycle.
Sleep Paralysis

Another quite normal experience is sleep paralysis. This usually occurs later in the sleep cycle, normally during a REM period of sleep. As stated earlier REM (rapid eye movement sleep) is when a sleeper is technically dreaming. During this period the brain waves of sleepers accelerate to that of a waking person. The eyes of the sleeper move back and froth rapidly behind closed lids. Blood pressure and heart rate can fluctuate rapidly. Muscles often twitch uncontrollably. We are in effect locked effectively in the dream state actively participating in our own little fantasies. It is during REM while our minds are so actively engaged that our bodies go into a state of sleep paralysis. In other words, our bodies become immobile to the demands of our brains. There is undoubtedly a very sound physiological reason behind this phenomenon. If our bodies reacted to our brains while soundly asleep and dreaming we might end up flailing or falling, or otherwise hurting ourselves or others. Our brains therefore impose this paralysis on our bodies to protect us from ourselves. If, however, the sleeper is startled awake, as in the first scenario, she will awake to find herself quite unable to move. They will most likely remain paralyzed for a half a minute or more, before normal movement again becomes possible. It should be noted, too, that some subjects can experience sleep paralysis when first awakening in the morning. Again, this is a perfectly normal function of sleep, that can however, cause distress to the unaware.
Hockenbury, D.H., Hockenbury, S.E. (2010) Psychology; 5th Edition. Worth Publishers: New York, NY.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Part III: The Current Debate - The Electro Chemical Impulses of the Body

See Part I: The Current Debate: AC/DC Current under May 2010 heading
See Part II: The Current Debate: How Electricity Works at the Atomic Level under July 2010 heading

Part III The Current Debate: The Electro-Chemical Impulses of the Body
By Robin M. Strom-Mackey
"Thus the body utilizes DC power, electro-magnetic energy that moves in a straight line and not in waves – like AC power. "
Electricity in our bodies is different from the household current you use when you run your television or charge your cell phone. Electrical impulses in the body are a much more complicated electro-chemical reaction which utilizes ions versus electrons in order to send its signals.
Neural Impulses in our body run along our millions of nerve cells directing everything from digestion to muscle movement. The gray matter in your skull (and the white matter, for that matter) is clusters of nerve cells which send electro-chemical impulses from one part of the brain to another. Other nerve cells run down our spinal column and nerve cells run all the way out to our feet and hands, (the nerve cell that runs to your big toe is literally around 4 feet long) creating a two-way communication system from all parts of our body to our brain and back. As you do your Algebra homework, or try to figure out this article you’re using your nerve cells, also called neurons, which are processing information and sending out directions constantly.
Unlike the electrical current that is running through your computer, which utilizes electrons to do its dirty work, the body uses ions to send its signals from neuron to neuron. Ions, as you recall are the entire atom of an element that has either gained or lost an electron. Because of this loss or gain of an electron, or two, the entire atom is either positively or negatively charged. In the case of our bodies these ions are what creates the electrical-chemical impulses that keep our brain functioning and our bodies moving. These ions move about in and out of nerve cells, also called a neuron. As these ions move in and out of the cell they change the electrical charge of the cell. If you recall from your time as a youngster playing with magnets, the positive end of the magnet will attract the negative end of another. But try to put two positives together, or two negatives, and they repulse or push away from one another. This concept is essential to the way electricity functions both in your body and out. Essentially the body uses the positive ions (mainly sodium and potassium ions) to generate its electric charge. When at rest, the neuron body is slightly negative due to the large amounts of potassium (K-) ions in the cell – which are negatively charged. The space outside the neuron cell body is surrounded by sodium ions (Na+)  and the space is positively charged. When the nerve cell is stimulated enough, channels open along the outer walls of the cell. The sodium ions, which are positive, rush into the cell because they’re attracted to the negative charge of the potassium ions (K-).
A nerve impulse depends on an electro-chemical reaction to occur to actually start a nerve impulse. If a stimulus is strong enough at the receiving end of a neuron, called a dendrite, a neuron will send a neural impulse called an action potential. When the stimulus reaches the threshold, (i.e. when it’s a strong enough stimulus to warrant action) channels, in effect doorways, along the neuron cell body open up and sodium ions begin to flood into the cell body. During an action potential the cell body becomes positively charged and the area outside the cell body becomes negatively charged. The action potential moves along the neuron cell body to the end. Once the impulse has passed, the neuron resets itself, essentially pushing the sodium ions back out and pulling potassium ions back into the cell until it reaches its initial resting state. Once a neuron fires it cannot fire again until it has reset itself –which is known as the refractory period. An action potential runs in a straight line and in only one direction – it does not double back on itself. Once started it does not stop until it reaches the end of the neuron at the axon terminal. Thus the body utilizes DC power, electro-magnetic energy that moves in a straight line and not in waves – like AC power.
A neuron - The branches off the green neuran body are the dendrites, the receiving end of the neuron. A stimulus detected here generates an action potential which moves through the cell body and down the long axon (shown in red) out the axon terminals at the bottom.
Now neuron cells don’t actually connect to one another. At the end of the neuron – the axon terminal - the action potential stops because it’s hit the end of the road. Between the axon of one neuron and the dendrite of the next neuron cell is a small empty fluid filled area that must be breached in order for the action potential to continue on its merry way to the next neuron cell. This fluid filled cleft is called a synapse or synaptic cleft. As the action potential hits the end of the axon, small pouches which hold chemicals, referred to as neurotransmitters, are motivated to spill their chemicals out of the neuron cell body and into the synaptic cleft. As these chemical atoms spill out they drift through the cleft over to the dendrite of the next neuron, where they attach to docking stations – called receptor sites - on the dendrite, causing this neuron to begin the action potential in the new neuron.
Neurotransmitters, by the way are very much like keys and receptor sites on the dendrite of the next neuron like a locked door. You need the correct key (chemical) to open the door. Remember the last time you forgot which key was to which lock, so you had to try all the different keys. Some may seem to fit as they slip them into the lock, but try to turn the knob and it just won’t work. Neurotransmitters work exactly the same way. Just the right chemical key and the dendrite is excited, sodium ions begin to flood in and an action potential is generated in the next neuron. Try the wrong key (neurotransmitter) and the neuron doesn’t fire. As complicated a process as this appears to be, a neuron can do all this in a fraction of a second.
You may be asking at this point why our neurons don’t use electricity versus this complicated electro-chemical process. The answer is that we do actually have some neurons that fire with electrical impulses – and yes it sends impulses faster. But 99% of our neurons use the action potential impulse, and movement of ions in and out of the neuron cell bodies to move impulses along.
Hockenbury,D.H., Hockenbury, S.E., (2010) Psychology 5th Edition. Worth Publishers: NY, New York.
Malone, L.J, Dolter, T.O. (2010). Basic Concepts of Chemistry; Eighth Edition. Wiley and Sons, Inc.: Hoboken, NJ
Marieb, E.N., Hoehn, K. (2009) Human Anatomy and Physiology; Eighth Edition. Pearson Education, Inc.: San Francisco, CA.

Physics: Electric Current Through Various Media Downloaded July 2, 2010 from Wikipedia at

2010 heading

Part II: The Current Debate

See Part I: The Current Debate under the May 2010 heading
See Part III: The Current Debate -The Electro Chemical Impulses of the Body under the July 2010 heading

Part II: The Current Debate
How Electricity Works at the Atomic LevelBy Robin Strom-Mackey

I started this project with a couple of different, seemingly simple goals in mind. To figure out how electricity works so that I could figure out what EMF detector to buy; so that I could more effectively hunt ghosts! Oh sure, it sounds simple. Little did I know that my simple premise would take me on a monumental quest through the pursuit of so many disciplines in order, only now, to start being able to connect the dots. The obvious place to start this search was in Ghost Hunting manuals, but while they offered a recommendation or two about models, not one of my fellow, yellow-bellied authors provided any real explanation as to how they worked, or why one model might be preferable over another. Since then I’ve perused chemistry textbooks to figure out how the atom works; Anatomy and Physiology texts to find out how electrical impulses worked in the body; Psychology texts, where I learned for the first time about how closely related all electro-magnetic energy really was; technology sites where I studied how household current works and why it’s different from DC current, which is the current in your cell phone battery or flashlight.

In this second article in my series I’ll explain the composition of the atom, how the atom works to create electricity, and how electricity actually works in the human body. In other words, this article is likely not only to excite your inner geek, but to have her braying Handel’s Messiah. So strap on the thinking caps, ghost hunters, because we’re goin in!

Ah, the Atom
I know, at this point you’re wondering, "if I’m not a chemist or biologist, why would I possibly care about the makeup of the atom?" (Or maybe you’re wondering, what in the bloody, blue blazes an atom even is?) The reason I discuss the atom at all, is because it all  starts from here. I will be brief and make this as painless as possible. So here goes. A working definition of an atom is that an atom is the smallest unit of an element that displays the properties of that element. So, for example, an atom of aluminum would be the smallest unit of aluminum you could have that would still display the properties of aluminum.
All matter is composed of atoms, and until recently, they were believed to be the smallest particles of matter. (Quantum physicists now believe the atom can be broken down further, but that’s a discussion for a different day.) Atoms are so tiny that you really can’t see them even with the strongest microscope. The atom itself is comprised of three particles, protons, neutrons and electrons. Protons are fairly large, (by atomic standards – which is to say that they’re really tiny) and fairly heavy and all protons have a positive charge. Neutrons are also rather heavy and all neutrons have a neutral charge – or no charge at all. Now the protons and the neutrons are fond of one another, and they reside in close proximity at the center of the atom which is called the nucleus.

Think of a baseball in the center of a football field. That baseball is the nucleus of the atom, residing in the center of the atom with all that space around it. And that space is inhabited by another type of particle, the electron. Electrons are small, light weight particles with a negative charge. They literally whir around the rest of the football field, pinging and poinging all over. Remember how magnets work, the positive end of the magnet is attracted to the negative end of another. Atoms work like magnets. The positive protons at the nucleus are what attract and hold the negative electrons which otherwise would just dance off into space.

Atoms prefer having a balanced charge. In order to be balanced the protons and the electrons are equal in number. For example, hydrogen, the lightest element, has one proton and therefore one electron; the positive proton being balanced by the negative electron. But, if everything were this simple and balanced we wouldn’t have electro-magnetic energy at all, nor would life be possible. So what happens to disturb the balance?
Well, it comes down to those pesky electrons. The electrons dancing around in the football field of our atom reside in what are called electron shells. The shells hold a certain number of atoms only, and according to how many electrons are in the electron shell (or cloud) determines how balanced an element truly is. Think of an apartment building with floors as an example of shells. The first floor (shell) has only one apartment and can house only two residents (electrons). Thus the first electron shell, the one closest to the nucleus, can hold up to 2 electrons. The second shell (or second floor of our atomic apartment building) can hold up to, and no more than 8 electrons.

Atoms are balanced when they have the maximum number of electrons in their electron shells, 2 in their innermost shell, 8 in their second shell or third shell. Therefore, hydrogen is extremely unbalanced because it only has one electron in its electron shell, instead of two. But helium, which has 2 protons and therefore 2 electrons, is extremely stable. In fact helium with its outer shell of 2 electrons won’t react with any other type of element – period. It’s one stable dude.

This carbon atom has 2 electrons in its innermost shell (first floor), but only 4 in its outer shell (second floor), thus it isn't stable (i.e. the super is looking to rent those other four apartments).

So what happens to atoms of elements that aren’t quite  stable? Well, those electrons whirring about their football field in an unbalanced number can do a couple of different things. If the electrons of an unbalanced element, such as hydrogen, meets up with another element that is unbalanced such as oxygen with its outer rings of 2 and 6, (remember oxygen really wants 8 electrons in its second shell, so it’s looking for two more electrons) they might agree to share an electron between them.

Now oxygen would have 7 electrons in its outer ring, so it’s still not happy - until it finds yet another hydrogen atom with whom to share an electron. Voila, we have a water molecule, where the oxygen atom is balanced with 8 in its second shell and the two hydrogen atoms are happy and balanced as well with 2 electrons a piece in their first shells. This is what is referred to as a covalent bond. Covalent bonds are very strong bonds, because the elements involved are all completely balanced. Water is an extremely balanced compound, those hydrogen and oxygen atoms just love to hang around together in the form of H2O. - which is short hand for saying 1 oxygen and 2 hydrogen atoms.
But sometimes this balancing act doesn’t go as well as that. Sometimes an atom with a positive charge will seduce an electron completely away from its nucleus. An ion, by the way, is an atom that has lost or gained an electron or electrons. It can go both ways. An atom can lose an electron or two in which case the atom takes on a positive charge – because now the protons outnumber the electrons.

Atoms can also acquire more electrons, so that the electrons outnumber the protons, in which case an atom would take on a negative charge. Atoms that are positively or negatively charged tend to be attracted to one another. They will hang in close proximity forming an ionic bond. But just like the dating couple that just can’t quite make it work, ionic bonds are loose bonds that can be dissolved pretty easily under the right circumstances.
Electrons are flighty creatures and can be induced to flit from one atom to another, to another to another. This is what we refer to as electricity. Electricity is defined as “the flow of electrons through a conductor (Malone & Dolter, 2010).” Metals make terrific conductors, in other words it’s not too difficult to get the electrons to move along from atom to atom via a metal element. Think of the wires in your house, encased by the outer plastic layer (plastic does not conduct electricity) is a metal wire.
As George Gamow put in his science-popularizing book, One, Two, Three...Infinity (1947), "The metallic substances differ from all other materials by the fact that the outer shells of their atoms are bound rather loosely, and often let one of their electrons go free. Thus the interior of a metal is filled up with a large number of unattached electrons that travel aimlessly around like a crowd of displaced persons. When a metal wire is subjected to electric force applied on its opposite ends, these free electrons rush in the direction of the force, thus forming what we call an electric current (Wikipedia, 2010)."
So when these wandering, feckless electrons are given a push they move from one metal atom to another, to another…down the wire. At the end of their journey into whatever device the wire runs, these tiny electrons expend their energy by lighting a light bulb or running the dryer. In order for electricity to work there needs to be a non-interrupted track (circuit) through which the electrons flow and they need a push to get going. If you for instance break the flow, say you flip off the light switch, the circuit is interrupted.

Electrons will stop flowing when an interruption occurs. In the case of a battery, the push comes from electrons moving away from the negative pole of the battery toward the positive pole of the battery. When all the electrons have been pushed through, the battery is dead. In the case of the electricity in your house, the push comes through by way of the electric generator – which was discussed in Article I. Your household electricity is running along the circuit to the ground wire, which is its positive pole. Remember our negative electrons are always seeking out more positive company with whom to hang.

Now a word to the wise. I've grossly condensed and simplified my atomic explanation of how electrons flow to create electricity because most of us are ghost hunters, not electrical engineers (although I ghost hunted for awhile with an electrical engineer (who would in all honestly probably break out in hives at my simplistic explanations). But there it is in an atomic shell, electricity is nothing but feckless electrons movin on down the road.

Hockenbury,D.H., Hockenbury, S.E., (2010) Psychology 5th Edition. Worth Publishers: NY, New York.
Malone, L.J, Dolter, T.O. (2010). Basic Concepts of Chemistry; Eighth Edition. Wiley and Sons, Inc.: Hoboken, NJ
Marieb, E.N., Hoehn, K. (2009) Human Anatomy and Physiology; Eighth Edition. Pearson Education, Inc.: San Francisco, CA.
Physics: Electric Current Through Various Media Downloaded July 2, 2010 from Wikipedia at