The Unbearable Fear of Psi:
On Scientific Suppression in the 21st Century
Lund University, Lund, Sweden
Submitted August 19, 2015; Accepted September 5, 2015; Published December 15, 2015
Gracias a Stephen Braude and Sophie Reijman for their help in improving this paper.
Abstract—This paper describes various examples of blatant attempts to
suppress and censor parapsychology research and those who are doing it.
The examples include raising false accusations, barring access to journals,
suppressing papers and data, and ostracizing and persecuting scientists in-
terested in the topic. The intensity of fear and vituperation caused by para-
psychology research is disproportionate even to the possibility that the psi
hypothesis could be completely wrong, so I speculate on the psychological
reasons that may give rise to it. There are very few circumstances in which
censorship might be appropriate, and the actions by parapsychology cen-
sors put them at odds not only with the history of science but with the his-
tory of modern liberal societies. Appendix 1 is an Editorial censored by the
then-editors of the Journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
. . . the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in
interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection . . .
to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient
warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for
him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do
so would be wise, or even right.
—John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1869/2010:10)
One can only pray, even if in a secular prayer, that as the great scientist
and philosopher Giordano Bruno had his tongue and palate pierced by an
iron gag before being burned alive in 1600 by the inquisitors for daring
to speak his mind, he could sense the “every human love” in the midst of
the “pedantic boring cry” of his executioners, as W. H. Auden would wish
us all in his 1937 poem Lullaby. In some countries (and the extraordinary
rendition program instigated by the USA and in which 54 other countries
colluded to extrajudicially abduct and sometimes torture detainees suggest
how few, cf. Fisher 2013), blissfully, the instruments of torture have rusted
and are now only curiosities in morbid museum collections. But the itch
Journal of Scienti c Exploration, Vol. 29, No. 4, pp. 601–620, 2015 0892-3310/15
602 Etzel Cardeña
to silence those whose opinions we disagree with, applied centuries ago
against scientists of the stature of Bruno, Galileo, and others, has spread,
ironically, to scientists themselves, and there are few cases as blatant as
those involving the topic of parapsychology. In this paper I will discuss how
most cases of scientific censorship ultimately betray a profound distrust of
the scientific process, cover briefly a few noticeable cases going into detail
about one, and append an Editorial censored by two editors of Frontiers in
Human Neuroscience (see Appendix 1).
To Censor or Not to Censor?
I will not cover in this paper the various ways in which showing an interest
in parapsychology is hazardous to one’s professional health, including the
almost nonexistent funding opportunities, the hurdles in getting an academic
job or, having obtained it, in advancing, or the constant swaying to avoid
the constant, and most often uninformed and groundless, barrage of critical
darts. There are already general discussions on the intellectual suppression
of identified groups and alternative positions by those with power and a
vested interest (e.g., Martin, Baker, Manwell, & Pugh 1986), including the
specific case of parapsychology (e.g., Hess 1992, McClenon 1984). My
aim here is much more modest, to cite some recent examples of attempts
to suppress parapsychology and to discuss how these attempts betray the
honor of the entity they outwardly seem to want to guard: science. But let
me start with the necessary question of whether censoring or suppressing
scientific discourse is ever justifiable.
The answer for me is an unequivocal “yes,” but it comes with a very
strong caveat. There are only two circumstances under which I would
endorse censorship. The first one is when scientific knowledge of, say,
how to weaponize a virus (cf. Saey 2012) or easily build a weapon of mass
destruction could (and most certainly would) be used by those wanting to
destroy others. I do not trust governments either with this power, but would
not want to multiply the problem by making the capacity to inflict enormous
damage as accessible as an Internet connection. In this case, the risks would
greatly outweigh the benefits of open knowledge. This argument is just
a reiteration of the quotation at the beginning of the paper by that great
champion of liberty John Stuart Mill.
The other circumstance I can think of would be when a communication
incites others to violence and provides specific information that would
likely culminate in someone being injured or worse, as was done in Rwanda
in 1994 with radio calls to massacre the Tutsi minority and moderate Hutu.
This is not a type of communication that we likely would run across in a
scientific publication, but there are exceptions such as the rhetoric by Nazi
Fear of Psi and Scientific Suppression 603
eugenicists and doctors to “cleanse” the German body of the “vermin” of
Jews, the mentally disabled, and other groups they detested (Lifton 1986).
How does parapsychology fare with respect to these two proposed
criteria? With respect to the first, leaving aside fictional movies and books
of extraordinary and even deadly psychokinetic powers such as Scanners
by David Cronenberg or, more gently, Matilda by Roald Dahl, there is no
evidence that the knowledge we have about psi phenomena would allow
anyone to develop nefarious or even deadly powers (but see Braude 2008,
who considers that possibility as a trigger for the fear of psi). Psi phenomena
were investigated secretly by the US and the USSR governments for
bellicose ends (May, Rubel, & Auerbach 2014), but they evidently could not
be harnessed in this way (otherwise, I am quite sure, we would have already
had some evidence such as political or military leaders of an antagonist
country suddenly having their heads explode or their hearts stop without
any apparent reason). There is research evidence for a small direct effect of
intention on living beings (Schmidt 2015), which of course could travel on
the wings of nasty intentions (see Dossey 1997), but nothing to make any
non-paranoiac lose sleep.
A quaint version of the idea that publishing parapsychology might bring
about terrible events is exemplified by the bombastic opinion of cognitive
scientist Douglas Hofstadter, who wrote that a peer-reviewed set of studies
finding support for precognition (Bem 2011) would have implications that
“would necessarily send all of science as we know it crashing to the ground
. . . [and] spell the end of science as we know it” (http://www.nytimes.
a-cutoff-for-craziness). He also remarked that psi phenomena would go
against the “laws of physics” despite not being a physicist, and called
parapsychology researchers “crackpots” (the itch to insult may be even
more peremptory than that to censor). In contrast, actual physicists including
University of London cosmologist Bernard Carr and Lawrence Livermore
Lab physicist Henry Stapp have developed models that accommodate psi
phenomena within physics, with neither of them claiming that if their
proposals are right science will “go crashing in flames” (cf. Kelly, Crabtree,
& Marshall 2015). In their support of research on parapsychology, they
have followed physicists of the stature of Bohm, Bohr, Einstein, Planck,
and Pauli, who either proposed physics models of psi phenomena or were at
the very least open to its scientific inquiry.
Not as apocalyptic in their rhetoric, but reminiscent of the deadly
extraterrestrial parasite in the film Alien, Torbjörn Lundh of the Swedish
Chalmers Institute organized a symposium with the title of “Pseudoscience:
An innocent game or a serious parasite” (http://www.chalmers.se/insidan/
604 Etzel Cardeña
SV/om-chalmers/moten/fakultetsradet/fakultetesradets) in which Magnus
Fontes “debated” a study on telepathy we conducted in Lund (Marcusson-
Clavertz & Cardeña 2011) without even informing, much less actually
debating, the authors of the paper.
Hofstadter also called to censor outright any study ﬁ nding support for
psi because “you believe deeply in science and this deep belief implies that
the article [ﬁ nding evidence for psi] is necessarily, certainly, undoubtedly
wrong.” Along similar lines, David Helﬂ and, an astrophysicist who also
commented on the Bem paper, wrote that publishing research on psi
“should be seen for what it is: an assault on science and rationality,” and
that “A peer-reviewed article must contain sufﬁ cient information for
another scientist to replicate the experiments. The ESP study fails this test”
science-goes-psychic/esp-and-the-assault-on-rationality). Helﬂ and himself
seems not to have any precognitive abilities since a meta-analysis of 90
replications of that study has been conducted (Bem, Tressoldi, Rabeyron,
& Duggan 2014). Although not all the replications have been successful,
as a whole they have supported the original study. Unfortunately but
unsurprisingly (see below), some journal editors have summarily declined
to publish it, although it is currently under review.
Let me discuss now some of the implications of the attitude by Helﬂ and
and Hofstadter, shared by a number of opponents of parapsychology. First,
they seem to assume that science implies a particular metaphysical belief,
rather than a method to reduce personal biases, account for likely alternative
explanations, and systematically test hypotheses. It might shock them to
know that one of the main founders of the scientiﬁ c method, Francis Bacon,
took precognition as a given (1620/1960), and that many Nobel prize-winners
and other eminent scientists have held a very different metaphysical view
than the current en vogue materialist reductionism. And for all of the added
knowledge science has brought, throughout history various philosophers
have questioned whether we can have an ultimate and deﬁ nitive knowledge
of nature. For instance, one of the most inﬂ uential philosophers of
science, Karl Popper, proposed that science cannot assert something with
ultimate authority but advance a model and evaluate whether it can (at
that point) be refuted by the evidence proffered (Popper 1963). Helfand
and Hofstadter claim a certainty about the nature and interpretation of the
“laws of physics” that physicists themselves argue about. From cosmology
to quantum mechanics (Gleiser 2014), not to mention the question of how
consciousness relates to a putative external reality (Kelly, Crabtree, &
Marshall 2015), there are intrinsic limitations to how much we can know
given our epistemological limits and the nature of nature. Probably the most
Fear of Psi and Scientific Suppression 605
we can say is that models of reality are just descriptions of regularities based
on speciﬁ c ways of measurement (d’Espagnat 2006).
For the sake of argument, let me at this point grant momentarily to the
censors of psi their assumption that they are completely and eternally right,
and that all people claiming and ﬁ nding support for psi phenomena are
“crackpots,” crazies who lack rationality, even though more than 25 of them
have received Nobel prizes, in addition to other equally eminent supporters in
philosophy and other disciplines both in the past and in the present (Cardeña
2014a). What would be then the danger of not censoring research on psi?
If the critics are right, sooner or later parapsychologists will be shown to
have been deluded, idiotic, or part of a nefarious conspiracy whose ultimate
goal would seem to be to damage their own professional careers. Would
analyzing their results, or even conducting research to ultimately show their
misguided ways dry the funding of Hofstadter, Helfand, and company? No,
the vast majority of funding agencies will not even consider psi research
in their remit (Hess 1992). Would publishing psi research drive Professors
Helfand and Hofstadter out of their cushy academic positions? Again, no,
no one in the ﬁ eld even remotely believes that they will be taken by the psi
mob to be guillotined. Rather the opposite, since the anti-parapsychology
“skeptics” (not actually skeptics who question other and their opinions, but
who follow their beliefs dogmatically, see Cardeña 2011) have been very
active and have, for instance, gained the upper hand at editing wikipedia
entries and restricting access to TED.com (Technology, Entertainment,
Design) to fully conform to their beliefs (see below). Or would a belief in
the validity of psi drive crowds of graduate students into academic suicide?
Not so either, since the majority of students who have gotten their advanced
degrees from, say, the Koestler Parapsychology Unit, have continued to
further academic work, despite the additional hurdles they might have
had to endure (Carr 2008). Furthermore, at least one of them became a
well-known critic of parapsychology (Richard Wiseman), showing that
an education with a concentration on parapsychology allows alternative
perspectives. And as I momentarily conceded, since psi phenomena will
be shown to be completely false, neither science “as we know it” nor the
universe will come crashing down.
So here we come to a crucial point. The problem with the parapsychology
censors is not that they believe too much in science, but that they do not
believe in it enough. As another commentator to the Bem study, Stanley W.
Timble, pointed out, that the way science should work is through critical
but “open inquiry . . . [and] Disapproval of an idea does not disprove
when-science-goes-psychic/how-open-inquiry-works). Bill McKelvey
606 Etzel Cardeña
also mentioned one of the virtues of science, “A self correcting process”
science-goes-psychic/how-open-inquiry-works), although one in which
valid ideas may be excoriated before being accepted as a new discovery.
As for the second circumstance I mentioned in which I would justify
censorship, I have not found a single parapsychology article inciting others
to engage in violence, although of course dogmatism and nastiness are
probably as prevalent among parapsychology researchers as among other
groups (cf. Cardeña 2011). If anything, it is parapsychology researchers
who have suffered censorship and unjustiﬁ ed persecution. For instance, the
editor of the AAAS journal Science in 1975, Philip Abelson, and the AAAS
executive ofﬁ cer, William Carey, gave Theodore Rockwell the runaround
during a few years when the latter inquired about publishing psi research
in the journal (McClennon 1984). Getting more personal, physicist John
Wheeler falsely stated in a 1979 AAAS meeting that parapsychology
researcher J. B. Rhine had committed fraud as a postdoctoral assistant,
although he was later forced by the latter to publish a fairly veiled retraction
(see Cardeña 2014b).
Some Recent Examples of Censorship
The itch to suppress parapsychology work was very present at the end of the
20th Century and remains unabated in the 21st Century. Here are some brief
examples followed by a longer discussion of one case.
1) A National Research Council (NRC) report on parapsychology
(Druckman & Swets 1988) published a damning conclusion about it,
ignoring or suppressing favorable reviews commissioned by the Council,
including those by Harvard professor Robert Rosenthal and University of
California professor Jessica Utts (Palmer, Honorton, & Utts 1989). The
NRC report had an important negative effect on funding for psi research.
2) In 1993, after Lawrence Livermore lab physicist Henry Stapp
had a paper accepted in which he discussed a successful parapsychology
experiment he had carried out, he was asked by the Acting Editor of
Physical Review to delete all data from his paper. Benjamin Bederson, Sr.,
Editor-in-Chief of the Journal, also chastised Dr. Stapp for even having sent
his paper (Kaiser 2011).
3) Brian Josephson, Nobel prize-winner in physics, had his invitation
by physicists Antony Valentini and Michael Towler to a conference on the
work of David Bohm rescinded for a while when they found out about his
positive attitude toward parapsychology (Reisz 2010). Ironically, Bohm
himself had discussed how his model of reality could be integrated with psi
phenomena (Bohm 1986).
Fear of Psi and Scientific Suppression 607
4) A paper describing empirical support for precognition by eminent
psychologist Daryl Bem (2011), published by a top-notch journal after the
usual peer-review process, was immediately attacked on the Opinion page
of The New York Times by some contributors. They asked psi publications
to be suppressed, as I described above (http://www.nytimes.com/
5) This is an example of individuals who, lacking themselves the power
to censor, nonetheless seek to pressure those who have that authority. The
Lund University employee magazine LUM published an article in 2012
on one of my peer-reviewed research studies in which we obtained three
moderate-to-strong signiﬁ cant correlations between our measure of psi
phenomena and 3 other variables (Marcusson-Clavertz & Cardeña 2011).
Almost immediately a group of 9 Lund University faculty, most of them
in the hard sciences (Bertil Halle, Germund Hesslow, Gunnar Karlström,
Sven Lidin, Georg Lindgren, Christer Löfstedt, Dan-Eric Nilsson, Olov
Sterner, and Bengt E. Y. Svensson) but none of them, to the best of my
knowledge, having ever published a peer-reviewed paper (either for or
against) on parapsychology research, wrote a letter to the media. In it, they
stated that “paranormal phenomena are a chimera,” misrepresented the
goals of our study, contrasted rationality, reasoning, and integrity with our
research, and made a not-so-veiled threat in their mention that a researcher
in Lund who had made a mistake had to leave his/her post (http://www.
svd.se/pseudovetenskap-sprids-okritiskt). Mattias Collin, another Lund
faculty member who has not done any work in psi either as far as I can
tell, later added his voice, showing that he had absolutely no idea either
of the experimental controls of the original article’s research or the topic
area by criticizing, among other things, our recruitment of participants
who believe in psi phenomena (http://www.sydsvenskan.se/lund/forskare-
rasar-mot-kollega/). Fortunately, the Editor of LUM (Maria Lindh; http://
www.sydsvenskan.se/lund/forskare-rasar-mot-kollega/), then Chair of the
Department of Psychology (Per Johnsson; http://www.sydsvenskan.
kultur--nojen/ett-decennium-i-vetenskapens-gransland/), the College Dean
(Ann-Katrin Bäcklund; http://sverigesradio.se/sida/artikel.aspx?programid=
1637&artikel=5330277), and then-President (Per Eriksson; http://www.svd.
se/vi-studerar-tomtar-och-troll-ocksa) did not take the bait, and all publicly
supported our work and our right to publicize it.
6) In 2013, an anonymous (one should always suspect mischief when
someone hides behind a curtain) TED science board deleted a talk by psi-
proponent Rupert Sheldrake given at the TEDx Whitechapel, and relegated
it to a much less frequented TED blog (http://www.tricycle.com/blog/ban-
rupert-sheldrakes-ted-talk). One of the apparent proponents of the ban, Jerry
608 Etzel Cardeña
Coyne, also tried to have Sheldrake disinvited to an address he was scheduled
to give and wrote favorably about a “Guerrila [sic] Skeptics on Wikipedia
(GSoW)” group who “police” wikipedia to delete any positive mention
of psi and “pseudoscience” (http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115533/
rupert-sheldrake-fools-bbc-deepak-chopra). By the way, the webpage for
GSoW only provides 3 full names for their 13 contributors, none of whom
seem to have advanced degrees or peer-reviewed publications according to
the information on their webpages.
A Case Study
First Act. This is a case I followed closely both as an editor and an author
affected by censorship. It all started with an invitation by Frontiers in
Human Neuroscience (FHN) to propose a special topic for the Journal.
Enrico Facco, Christian Agrillo, and I proposed the subject of Non-ordinary
Mental Expressions (NOME), which we deﬁ ned as
experiences and procedures that seek to change short- or long-term psy-
chological processes. . . . We aim to reappraise the importance of NOME and
its implications for the mind–brain–world relationship. . . . The editors will
solicit original research contributions as well as theoretical papers, such as
reviews, mini-reviews, and theoretical discussions,
and mentioned that we would invite not only neuroscientists, psychologists,
and psychiatrists, but also philosophers, anthropologists, and other
mental-expressions). Thus, the topic FHN accepted included different
types of papers from diverse disciplines discoursing on NOME and their
implications for mind–brain relations.
As special topic editors, we had been, without a problem, accepting
or rejecting proposals, sending submissions to reviewers, accepting some
papers and rejecting others, and were at the stage of processing other
submissions after authors had sent their abstracts months earlier. Then John
J. Foxe became one of the FHN Chief Editors and the problems started. We
suddenly heard from him, from the other Chief-Editor, Hauke R. Heekeren,
and from FHN’s ofﬁ ce, about four different papers:
1) The “Editorial Ofﬁ ce” of FHN wrote that a paper that had been
reviewed and accepted by two reviewers and a Topic Editor “does not
comply to [sic] general ethical standards . . . this manuscript cannot be
accepted for publication.” They mentioned that a manuscript with the same
name had been submitted and rejected before the NOME call for papers. We
replied, to no avail, that the paper that had been rejected before our call had
Fear of Psi and Scientific Suppression 609
a different authorship and content than the one that had been accepted by
the two reviewers and the topic editor.
Three other papers were rejected by the Chief Editors even before the
review process had been completed:
2) A paper on out-of-body experiences was rejected by the Chief Editors
because “the ﬁ ndings and interpretations forwarded in this manuscript are
ﬂ awed and they cannot be relied upon as the basis for future work. The
authors have not adequately discussed biologically plausible mechanisms
for the effects they report. The interpretation of the effects violates simple
principles of parsimony and indeed, the basic laws of physics as they are
currently understood.” It bears mentioning that neither of the Editors’ ﬁ nal
degree is in physics and that they did not provide any explanation as to why
the paper’s proposed ﬁ ndings and interpretations were ﬂ awed.
3) A paper on near-death-experiences (NDE) and cardiac arrest was
rejected by Dr. Foxe because
The quality of the article is substandard and below the generally accepted
standards of the community . . . . Your paper is not within the scope of our
journal which is a venue for work reporting data regarding neural function,
which this is clearly not.
The accepted call for NOME stipulated that theoretical discussions on
mind–brain relations were within its purview, and it would be difﬁ cult to
come up with a topic that more clearly challenges a reductionist–materialist
account of mind–brain interactions than the complex mental experiences of
NDE, apparently occurring during the physiologically impaired condition
of cardiac arrest.
4) Finally, a hermeneutical analysis of mysticism was rejected by Dr.
Foxe who wrote that “I am taking over the editorial process on this paper
at this juncture because it is clear to me, as it should have been to you, that
this paper has no place in a journal such as ours.” Prima-faciae, however,
the topic of the paper was within the remit of the call for papers accepted
Lucia Brandi, manager of FHN, also wrote to us that Frontiers had
“encountered a number of anomalies related to some of the manuscripts. . . .
Some of the manuscripts were found to have received very light reviews,”
but did not specify what the anomalies were or which papers had been given
light reviews. This is particularly ironic considering that the Chief Editors
edited a paper by D. Samuel Schwarzkopf (one as reviewer, one as editor)
and accepted within a week of submission (see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.
gov/pmc/articles/PMC4034337/), that criticized a paper in support of psi
ﬁ ndings published under the NOME call. In contrast, we did not come even
610 Etzel Cardeña
close to accepting any paper within a week of submission. A couple of short
opinion papers were accepted about a month after their submission, and
data-driven papers took months before being accepted.
Enrico Facco and I wrote complaining that the fact that Frontiers had
suspended publication of one paper and review of three others violated its
own arbitration guidelines, which stipulated that
Should a dispute arise that threatens to reject an article, the author may
trigger arbitration. In the rst place, the associate editor will arbitrate and
involve all review editors in a discussion aimed at resolving the dispute. If a
resolution cannot be agreed upon, the specialty chief editor is alerted and
can opt to bring in additional review and associate editors for consultation
. . .
The arbitration process was not initiated by FHN despite our request
nor did they provide any speciﬁ cs as to how papers had “anomalies” or had
received “very light reviews.” We also commented that the Chief Editors
had had access to the abstracts of the censored papers for months and should
have intervened, if at all, before having the authors waste their time working
on a paper they would later reject.
FHN Editorial Director Costanza Zucca, who left the journal shortly
afterward, replied to us after a number of prompts, the ﬁ nal one involving
a lawyer, that
I truly regret that you found the tone of the communication by our editorial
sta o ensive or inappropriate, and I apologise for any o ence, which I as-
sure you was unintended; the intention of our sta was to remain respectful
and professional in communicating with you . . . we will certainly review
these procedures to avoid any further misunderstandings in the future.
Nonetheless, an arbitration process was never carried out, the originally
accepted paper was censored, and the review process of the other three was
Second Act. Despite the censorship just mentioned, we were able to
publish 13 papers (which had received more than 140,000 views on August
13, 2015), and I requested that Frontiers produce an e-book, as advertised
in their special topics information. Dr. Zucca’s successor, Fred Fenter, gave
the green light, and I was told that I should write an Editorial presenting the
collection of articles.
After I submitted the Editorial (published in the second part of this
paper as Appendix 1), Dr. Heekeren asked us to add some references to a
statement and to make two other changes. I added the references, but the
second change requested showed that he had not even looked at the sets of
Fear of Psi and Scientific Suppression 611
papers since he mistook the initial paper (“A call for an informed . . . ”) with
the general call for papers for the NOME topic. He also asked for a revision
of our sentence on a paper about psi research:
The paper produced various responses and counter-responses, some of
them illuminating, others, like claiming that “extraordinary claims require
extraordinary evidence,” being unhelpful clichés (see Franklin, Baumgart,
and Schooler 2014, for some valuable suggestions). What I would deem ac-
ceptable is to change it to “Notably, the paper produced various responses
and counter-responses” and then give references to these di erent reac-
tions, in the spirit of Frontiers’ call for openness and transparency. [empha-
We deleted the sentence, but that was not enough. He demanded that
the paper by Dr. Schwartzkopf that he and his Chief Editor had edited or
reviewed within one week be referenced:
It will be important to qualify this statement by indicating that there is deep
skepticism about this work. Please cite the commentary by Schwartzkopf in
doing so http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00332/
We made the change and referred to the main points made in the paper
by Schwartzkopf, along with the response by the authors of the criticized
paper, which they had posted on arxiv.org. We did not take any side on
that debate but asked the reader to become informed on the issues for him/
herself. Dr. Heekeren, however, did not want anything to be added other
than the criticism he and his Chief Editor had helped publish and wanted
the replies to the Schwarzkopf paper out, writing that “Your revision would
turn at least the ﬁ nal part of your piece into a commentary/opinion paper,
which is not acceptable for an editorial according to our policy.”
At this impasse I contacted Dr. Fenter since it was obvious that Dr.
Heekeren would only accept a gerrymandered Editorial that toed his
ideological line. Dr. Fenter (with whom we had no problem) wrote back
that “The Editors-in-Chief of the Journal have expressed their clear
opposition to the publication of the Editorial in any of its edited versions”
and he proceeded to publish the e-book without the Editorial. I think that
the actions and words of Drs. Foxe and Heekeren speak more clearly than
any additional comment I could make about them, but this time around
the censors will not have a complete victory since the JSE has generously
agreed to publish the original Editorial (with minute wordsmithing in a few
phrases) at the end of this article (see Appendix 1).
612 Etzel Cardeña
Whence comes the intolerance and vituperation that some authors and
editors pour on parapsychology? As Tart (e.g., 1982) has remarked, its level
of emotionality hints that this is not merely a matter of lack of knowledge
of the ﬁ eld or intellectual disagreement about the evidence. After all, we all
read about ﬁ ndings and theories that we likely know nothing or very little
about yet intuitively disagree with, but we do not then singly or with our
similarly thinking pals write letters to newspapers denouncing the authors
and/or try to have them kicked out from their universities, associations,
conferences, or whatever. Most likely, we shrug our shoulders and read about
something else. This is not what happens with the psi-censors, though. They
seek to exile the dissenters from journals or institutions, catastrophizing
that unless they do so science or rationality will perish. One part of the
explanation, I think, is the replicated ﬁ nding in parapsychology that people
who tend to believe in psi phenomena actually perform signiﬁ cantly better
in controlled psi experiments than their counterparts who do not believe
in psi (i.e. the “sheep–goat” effect, see Cardeña, Palmer, & Marcusson-
Clavertz 2015). Thus, belief in psi is, to an extent, a self-fulﬁ lling prophecy:
Those who believe in it are more likely to have valid corroborations than
those who do not. The egocentricity of knowledge, which has been likened
to a totalitarian system in which one’s perspective is easily seen as the only
valid, “rational,” or “reasonable” explanation (Greenwald 1980) may then
make the censors assume that their view is the only reasonable one. The
scientiﬁ c method and process, not to mention the history of science, at its
best should ameliorate this entrenched bias.
This might explain why some critics may be more likely to assert that
psi phenomena are “hogwash,” but it does not explain their vehemence. For
that, I think, additional factors must be considered. I think that a contributing
factor is that research on parapsychology is seen as so emotionally (and
factually) threatening because it suggests that “things are not as they seem,”
or at least as the censors believe they are. Even while fully committed to
their (limited) view of science, the censors must realize every day that they
cannot control, predict, or even come close to fully understanding their lives
or even topics of research, no matter how hard they may hold to their scientist
toehold. As a mechanism of defense to avoid contemplating that void of
understanding, they are then likely to try to “defend” their (uncertain) view
of reality against any outside contender. If I am correct, the justiﬁ cation
for their censorship is thus not that different from that used by inquisitors
to defend a faith whose evidence was also challenged by other opinions or
Fear of Psi and Scientific Suppression 613
As mentioned earlier, Trimble and McKelvey are not afraid of psi
research because they trust that science, if pursued openly, will in the end
self-correct. The censors, on the other hand, ultimately lack conﬁ dence in
the scientiﬁ c process and assume that they should dictate what can and
cannot be researched by others. More generally, they distrust freedom of
expression. John Stuart Mill wrote that the truest (or best, by other criteria)
ideas come from the free competition of ideas in public discourse. This
value has been fundamental not only to the development of science but of
liberal societies, and has been endorsed by a plethora of thinkers including
Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson, Anton Chekhov, Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper,
Paul Feyerabend, Vaclav Havel, and many others. It is thus ironical that
some scientists would rather follow the model of the censors of yore than
that of the builders of the freedoms they enjoy in their everyday lives. Have
they already forgotten that not so long ago they were on the other side of the
gags for not accepting a particular metaphysical account?
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Introduction to Non-Ordinary Mental Expressions
BY ETZEL CARDEÑA AND ENRICO FACCO
[Unpublished Editorial written as an Introduction to the ebook, Non-Ordinary Mental Expressions
edited by Etzel Cardeña and Enrico Facco published by Frontiers in Human Neuroscience at http://
The term non-ordinary mental expressions (NOME) encompasses unusual
or anomalous experiences, and their related neuropsychological processes
and induction procedures. Of course what is considered unusual has varied
across time and cultures. Our use of non-ordinary does not assume pathology
and includes sophisticated and positive mental activities including some
forms of creativity, intuition, and spirituality. Foundational ﬁ gures in
Fear of Psi and Scientific Suppression 615
psychology of the stature of William James, Pierre Janet, and Sigmund
Freud exempliﬁ ed how researching NOME was essential to understanding
the mind. For instance, James discussed alterations of consciousness as
potentially having practical uses and providing alternative epistemological
pathways into our understanding of mind and its relation to reality, and
he did not consider these phenomena as necessarily odd or pathological
(James 1902/1958). That NOME do not necessarily reﬂ ect psychosocial
or neurological dysfunctional processes has been borne out by research
showing that spontaneous and induced NOME can have long-term positive
effects (e.g., Cardeña, Lynn, & Krippner 2014, MacLean, Johnson, &
Grifﬁ ths 2011).
James and like-minded contemporaneous authors would have been
dismayed that phenomena so consequential to religion, philosophical
thought, social movements, arts, and individual lives (Cardeña &
Winkelman 2011) were mostly ignored by academic psychology during
much of the 20th Century. Nonetheless, the study of NOME seems to have
a current resurgence, partly underpinned by studies of correlated brain
dynamics. Something to bear in mind is that although neuroscience studies
of NOME may illuminate Aristotelian material and formal causes, they often
confuse them with efﬁ cient (the proximate source of the experience, e.g.,
a potentially independent or partly independent set of relations in reality)
and ﬁ nal (does the experience serve a purpose, evolutionary or otherwise?)
causes. Furthermore, some scientists have proscribed by deﬁ nition areas of
NOME research because they grate against their metaphysical positions,
without due consideration of the relevant empirical research. Among many
examples of this attitude are physicist John Wheeler’s attempt to eject the
Parapsychological Association from the AAAS while falsely claiming that
parapsychologist J. B. Rhine had committed scientiﬁ c fraud (Cardeña 2014)
and cognitive scientist Douglas Hofstadter’s plea that the Editors of the
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology should have just ignored a
study supporting the psi hypothesis to “prevent the end of science as we
know it” (Hofstadter 2011, see also Cardeña 2011). Therefore, we initiate
this e-book with an article co-signed by 100 academics calling for an open,
informed study of all aspects of consciousness, including the psi hypothesis
(see below), followed by a set of articles centered on procedures that may
A reliable ﬁ nding in hypnosis research is that among individuals
responsive to hypnotic suggestions the latter will inﬂ uence brain activity
and the experience reported by participants in accord with the speciﬁ c
verbalizations provided (Oakley and Halligan 2013). That is, however, a
different question from whether a mere hypnotic induction (which typically
616 Etzel Cardeña
involves instructions to disregard extraneous concerns and enter a state
of hypnosis) produces an experiential and neurological distinct state of
consciousness (Cardeña, Jönsson, Terhune, & Marcusson-Clavertz 2013).
In their article, Jamieson and Burgess describe EEG indicators of a putative
hypnotic state independent of speciﬁ c suggestions. Their results show
that among high but not low hypnotizables a hypnotic induction produced
an increase in the theta imaginary component of coherence (iCOH), and
a greater decrease in beta1 iCOH. The authors conclude that hypnosis
produces a qualitative change in the organization of brain control systems
in high hypnotizables. These results should be replicated taking also into
consideration group differences within those very responsive to hypnosis
(Terhune, Cardeña, & Lindgren 2011).
In a study that employed hypnosis to increase the amount of details
recalled, Palmieri et al. conclude that memories of near-death experiences
(NDE) are similar to those of demonstrably real events in terms of detail,
self-referentiality, and emotional information, but dissimilar to those of
imagined events such as dreams. Their EEG analyses also revealed that
NDE memories were associated with theta and delta bands. The authors
conclude that, at a phenomenological level, NDE memories are different
from imagined ones and are stored as episodic memories of events
experienced in a NOME.
In another study, Charland-Verville et al. compared the characteristics
of “NDE-like” experiences not related to a life-threatening event with those
associated with pathological coma (anoxic, traumatic, or other), or “real
NDE.” Overall, the two types of experiences did not differ in NDE features’
intensity or content, with a sense of peacefulness being an almost universal
aspect (only 1% of participants mentioned a dysphoric experience).
To further elucidate one of the features of NDE, out-of-body experiences
(OBE), Greyson et al. evaluated the phenomenology of 100 seizure disorder
patients, 55% of whom could describe their seizure-related experiences
(including dysphoric emotional states, episodes of déjà vu, confusion,
ﬂ ashing lights, hearing music, smells, paresthesias, and headaches). Seven
individuals also recalled sporadic OBE along with time distortion, but
without other characteristics of NDE such as a sense of revelation, joy,
or enhanced cognition. In the last paper on this phenomenon, Bókkon,
Mallick, and Tuszynski propose that the experience of a bright light in
NDE is caused by an overproduction of free radicals and excited molecules,
which may generate transient enhancement of luminiscent biophotons in
retinotopic and other areas of the brain. They conclude that these stimuli are
then interpreted as originating in the physical world.
Moving to meditation, Thomas, Jamieson, and Cohen conducted an
Fear of Psi and Scientific Suppression 617
EEG study on intermediate and advanced Satyananda Yoga practitioners.
Intermediate meditators showed greater source activity in low frequencies
during the non-meditation (mental calculation), and meditation (body-
steadiness and mantra) conditions. Advanced meditators showed greater
activity in high frequencies in all conditions, particularly during meditation.
The authors conclude that inhibition of a right lateralized network
comprising visual, somatosensory, and body–world self-representations
reﬂ ect sensory withdrawal and ego-diminishment. In contrast, conscious
states speciﬁ c to advanced practitioners require both disengagement from
self–world representational systems and the development of widespread
Xu et al. employed fMRI to compare nondirective and concentrative
ACEM meditation to a rest condition in a group of experienced practitioners.
The ﬁ rst modality involves a relaxed focus of attention allowing the non-
judgmental occurrence of mental events, without the expectation that
mind wandering will decrease. The second type of meditation is geared to
decreasing mind wandering. Results suggest that nondirective meditation
involves more extensive activation of brain areas associated with episodic
memories and emotional processing (parahippocampal gyrus and amygdala),
than concentrative meditation or regular rest.
In the last paper on factors that may induce NOME, Roseman et al.
describe the effects on cortical functional connectivity of the psychedelic drug
psilocybin and the stimulant/psychedelic hybrid, MDMA. Both substances
produced marked subjective effects (e.g., a sense of motion, geometric
images, alterations in the sense of time and space), more pronounced in
psilocybin. Between-network connectivity was generally increased under
psilocybin, implying that networks became less differentiated from each
other in the psychedelic state, whereas decreased connectivity occurred
between visual and sensorimotor cortical networks.
In their paper, Hinterberg, Zlabinger, and Blaser explore how different
mental perspectives or positions (toward the mental self or intrapersonal,
toward the mental outer world or extrapersonal, or in empathic connection
with someone else’s intrapersonal space) and attentional foci (self vs. object)
correlate with brainwave activity. They propose that alpha2 and beta2 bands
are good indicators of different perspectival viewpoints, whereas delta
power differentiates attentional focus on the self from that on objects.
The ﬁ nal section of the book is devoted to evaluating the psi hypothesis,
namely that individuals may be affected by stimuli spatially or temporally
distant, without the apparent mediation of the sensory systems or logical
reasoning. Mossbridge, Tressoldi, and Utts discuss a 2012 meta-analysis that
supported the hypothesis that human physiology can discriminate between
618 Etzel Cardeña
randomly delivered stimuli occurring 1–10 s in the future, a phenomenon
known in the literature as presentiment. This article stirred a number of
comments and a paper by Schwarzkopf (2014), who had 6 criticisms of
the meta-analysis, namely that: 1) some of the studies included were of
questionable quality, 2) it should have included studies not conducted
by psi researchers, 3) there was an imbalance between the more frequent
calm versus the less frequent emotional trials, 4) the results might have
been caused by analytical artifacts such as not correcting for baseline, 5)
there was an unproven assumption that physiological effects scale linearly
with expectation, and 6) the results are not plausible because they would
reverse the arrow of time. Mossbridge, Tressoldi, Utts, Ives, Radin, and
Jonas (2015) responded to these points in the following ways, that: 1) the
original meta-analysis (2012) had already reported that not including the
articles questioned by Schwarzkopf did not make a difference to the results
reported, 2) the original 2012 paper had also reported that the data sent
from non-psi labs conﬁ rmed the meta-analytic result, 3) if anything, the
imbalance between calm and emotional stimuli would have gone against the
meta-analysis, 4) some studies had indeed corrected for baseline through
normalization, and for those that had used other baselining methods such
design features as randomization and sampling with replacement make
it difﬁ cult to see how such methods could have affected the results, 5) a
simulation conducted by the authors showed that expectation bias could not
explain away the results of the meta-analysis, and 6) that a presentiment
effect is consistent with time-symmetric processes, which are well-known
and accepted in quantum mechanics (see Millar 2015). Many of these points
and counter-points are complex and the reader is advised to read the original
Testing the psi hypothesis of retrocausal effects, Rabeyron presents a
study in which researchers probed whether reaction time could be affected
by a picture after (not preceded, as is conventionally tested) the target
word. This study followed an earlier one in which strong signiﬁ cant effects
had been obtained in post hoc analyses (Rabeyron & Watt 2010). In the
current paper there were overall nonsigniﬁ cant results. A post-hoc analysis
with the 10 participants who had a retro-priming effect showed that they
tended to report previous putative precognitive experiences. The author
discusses potential explanations as to why replication supporting the psi
hypothesis has been inconsistent. The book ends with the opinion paper
by Acunzo, Evrard, and Rabeyron reviewing neuroimaging research on the
psi hypothesis. They mention that 5 out of 6 studies were consistent with
Fear of Psi and Scientific Suppression 619
the hypothesis but also note methodological shortcomings that should be
solved in future research.
After a long hiatus, research on NOME has barely restarted and has a
long way to go. Comparisons and integrations across different experiences,
induction procedures, and analytical techniques are badly needed. We
consider this investigation essential but would not dare to predict where it
may lead us. As a leading theoretical physicist has stated: “The very nature
of scientiﬁ c inquiry always ongoing and always under revision necessarily
implies the notion of a changing understanding of reality” (Gleiser
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