Eigensender Ganzfeld Psi:
An Experiment in Practical Philosophy

"My own opinion is that the intellect of modern man isn't that superior. IQ's aren't that much different. Those Indians and medieval men were just as intelligent as we are, but the context in which they thought was completely different. Within that context of thought, ghosts and spirits are quite as real as atoms, particles, photons and quants. Modern man has his ghosts and spirits too, you know."
Robert Pirsig, Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance.

Rens Wezelman, Johan L.F. Gerding, Irma Verhoeven
Parapsychology Institute Utrecht, The Netherlands


Table of Contents

Standard procedure
Additional techniques: ES+
Hypothesis and results
Some notes on the philosophy of science
Some notes on the use of magic


This study was conceived to test the effectiveness of a new complex version of the Ganzfeld experiment, the 'Eigensender' procedure, in which the traditional roles of 'sender' and 'receiver' are merged to maximise psi manifestation. This procedure was developed from notions on the philosophy of science, notions that take a critical look at a purely analytical stance and at intra paradigmatic parapsychology of which the ultimate object is to provide definite answers in terms of known causal mechanisms. An alternative approach is proposed in which the experimental situation is considered an irreducable configuration of elements. This is connected with the idea that rituals and ideas taken from traditions of magic might be used to facilitate psi effects within a controlled setting. A total of 32 sessions were conducted. Highly significant effects were obtained, with 14 hits (43.75%), z = 2.45 (p = 0.012) and a preferential ranking statistic resulting in z = 3.083 (p = 0.0012). The article is concluded with some epistemological recommendations.


Complying with the scientific rule that such paradigms are to be connected to frameworks of explanation, Honorton grounded Ganzfeld on the cognitivistic noise-reduction model he had developed to describe the empirical relation between psi and altered states of consciousness (Honorton, 1977). Opposing this rule, we would like to think of psi phenomena as 'experiental reminders' of the constructed nature of consciousness in general (in the sense that they appear to transcend restrictions that shape our thinking), and of the artificiality of theoretical explanations and experimental operationalizations in parapsychology in particular.

The annoyingly regular elusiveness and non-repeatability of psi could be regarded as meaningful indications of this relativity. Also, the current meta-analytical approach marks the success of the sort of conceptual replication that is relatively less bound to specific questions of linear causality within a 'tight' system. Furthermore, the 'assimilation' by the system of the meta-analytical technique itself apparently results in the Meta-Analysis Demolition effect (MAD, Houtkoper, 1994).

Therefore, we would like to question the value of any experiment devised to answer in terms of 'the' definite cause of psi. ES consists of a differentiation and manipulation of individual variables, yet it no longer allows for the attribution of observed effects to these variables as isolated 'sources' of psi. In other words, we do not regard psi to be a function of individual variables, rather the total of the experimental situation will be considered an 'organic' system, a texture within which, given deconstructive ingredients like Ganzfeld stimulation, anomalies may be expressed as a sort of 'compound psi' which can no longer be converted to the traditional, conditioned categories.

Although such a reformulated research question may not count as 'scientific' in the proper conventional sense, it is in line with a 'new' aesthetic for science that is prophesied e.g. by Keller (1985), Harman (1991), Kirchoff (1995), and Berman (1981). Our methodological choice is also the consequence of our critique on the limitations of the idea of competition between diverse theories in an explanatory role. As an alternative, we propose the flexible and eclectical use of multiple metaphorically based frameworks that complement each other in giving directions for coherent research (e.g. Feyerabend, 1975).

As is suggested elsewhere (Wezelman et al., 1996), in trying to develop such research it would be unwise not to look back and consider traditions that have long been paternalistically repressed in our culture. Ganzfeld research is embedded in the western frame of mind; it has evolved according to scientific rules and concepts. Nonetheless, in a way one could think of the Ganzfeld procedure as a modern presentation of some of the principles that underlie certain magical rituals. This idea will be expounded in the discussion.



Authors, colleagues and friends were the only subjects taking part. The reason for this is not that we consider ourselves to be specially 'gifted' subjects. It's simply because of the 'exotic' nature of the ES rituals that demand a strong group cohesion and interpersonal trust, a certain Ganzfeld 'competence', familiarity with each others idiosyncratic mentation (for judging and rating purposes), and the unanimous acceptance of a certain 'world view', all qualifications and attitudes that one may expect to find in a close group of likely minded members.


Participants discussed and agreed upon the background philosophy of this experiment. Among other sources of inspiration, this philosophy can be traced to magical traditions and mysticism (Zen), as well as to modern day critical philosophy (Frankfurter Schule, Heidegger, Kuhn). There is no fixed set of propositions; some of the ideas were mentioned in the introductory philosophy of science above, some are inserted in the procedure below, others will be elucidated in the discussion chapter. In general, participants made an effort to think of psi phenomena not as strange epiphenomena in an ultimately objective reality, but rather as 'signs' that contrast ostensibly fundamental dimensions of that reality, and in doing so indicate how the rusted dualism of external reality and internal consciousness is 'constructed'.

In short, the ES background philosophy acted as an intersubjective Batcheldorian 'programming' (Batcheldor, 1984) - it did so in a way that reminded us of Schopenhauer's belief (Schopenhauer, 1961) that parapsychology should be considered as 'practical metaphysics' (hence the title).

Standard procedure

The ES procedure consists of three main parts. The lay-out of the lab is depicted in figure 1.

Figure 1. Lay-out of the experimental rooms

  1. After a relaxation period (length and method at the option of subject), subject (S) first experiences a 15 minute period of normal Ganzfeld stimulation using a mixture of red and blue lights, white noise, and translucent pingpongball halves. During this stage s/he provides a continues verbal report of ongoing imagery and mentation. At this stage, some Ss deliberately tried to 'deregulate' their sense of time, thereby hoping to create a confluence of their experiences during this first 15 minute period with the experiences during stage III, in which the target picture is actually known to them (cf. the notion of Roll (1989) of precognition as 'memory', and the 'respeption' concept of Radin (1996)).
    After adjusting light and white noise levels, experimenter (E) breaks contact with S, and randomly selects a target-set from a pool of 20 four-picture sets (mainly composed of pictures taken from the National Geographic, click here for an example). Next, s/he places the control set of 4 duplicates between the double doors of the room in which the judge (J) is sequestered (door 2 is closed at this stage, although this would not be not necessary since E has not yet selected the actual target). Only after closing door 1, E randomly selects and takes out the actual target, and starts acting in the routine of 'telepathic sender'.
    This first stage is concluded after precisely 15 minutes (if though S is in the process of reporting an impression, E waits until s/he finishes his/her sentence). During this time, both E and J have direct feedback on (and J takes notes of) S's ongoing report. In concluding this first stage, E doesn't contact S verbally; instead, E just turns off the white noise, which acts as a prearranged signal for S to break the connection with E and J by taking out the microphone plug.
  2. In the intermediate second stage, E enters S's room, checks whether the microphone plug has been taken out, and attaches the target picture on the GRB, a contraption developed for the display of written material for hospital patients who are unable to use their hands. After this E leaves the room, and rewinds the taped protocol. Leaving door 1 closed, J takes the control set from behind door 2 and closes it again.
  3. During the last stage E replays the taped protocol for both S and J to hear. Being able at self chosen moments to lift the pingpongball halves, S is now in a position to serve as his/her own 'precognitive sender' (hence the nickname 'Eigensender', derived from the German 'eigen', meaning 'own'). Obviously, with 'sender' and 'receiver' being one and the same person, we may expect an absolute maximum of congruence between 'sender' and 'receiver' with regard to the state of consciousness and the internal cognitive and affective contexts in which target perception takes place. This we felt, would facilitate the confluence of experiences referred to in I. In other words: the effort made by S to identify him-/herself with the person s/he was during stage I combined with the Ganzfeld deconstruction, i.e. the 'meditative' discontinuity of the one-directional time sequence that characterises our ego-logocentred state of consciousness, might facilitate moments of target related cognition during stage I. We expected this confluence would be enhanced even further 1) by the fact that S's external surroundings are identical (S still being situated in the Ganzfeld), and 2) by allowing S to hear his/her own replayed mentation, thereby enabling S to render - 'translate' as it were - protocol elements to target elements.
    During stage III, E remains concentrated on his/her memory of the target picture. Meanwhile, J tries to rate the degree (1 - 100) to which each of the four target alternatives matches S's mentation. The session is concluded in 'the moment of truth' when J steps out of his/her room, revealing the highest rated picture to E and S.

Additional techniques: ES+

The standard ES procedure described above was used as a basic structure for all 32 sessions. However, starting from session 18, and with an initial pilot at session 5, we applied additional techniques. These were derived from intercultural magical principles. We are aware of the fact that magical thinking is presumed to be a primitive, pre-rational cognitive style that has become historically obsolete. On the other hand, parapsychology has provided empirical evidence for the direct non-mechanistic connectedness that underlies magical thinking and practice.

Following are some techniques that illustrate the ES+ condition.

Hypothesis and Results

In accordance with the non-analytic stance taken in the introduction, we aspired no further dissection of variables related to so-called 'psi-processes' or 'psi-mechanisms'. Our hypothesis simply stated that the Eigensender technique would facilitate anomalous cognition. Existential evidence for psi would appear from the total number of hits, which amounted to 14 out of 32 sessions, resulting in an effect size of 43.75% (for raw data, click here).

Table 1. Hit-rate with p = 0.25
conditionN sessionsN hits (p = 0.25)ESz (corr.)p (one-sided)
ES 16 6 37.75
ES+ 16 8 50
total 32 14 43.75 2.45 .012

Manipulating the variable ES / ES+ with hit-rate ES: 6/16 = 37.75% and hit rate ES+: 8/16 =50%, clearly did not yield a significant difference.

This traditional one-in-four hit-rate effect size is a rather crude measure; it may filter out possible indications of psi in those trials where the target was not actually selected by J, as is for instance the case when possible psi-mediated target mentation is surpassed by decoy related material (as a result of either coincidental resemblances or the type of Ganzfeld displacement effects discussed in Wezelman et al., 1994). Therefore, putting quality before quantity, we planned to do a preferential ranking analysis to corroborate the existential evidence, applying the sum-of-ranks method described by Solfvin et al. (1978). This statistic is approximately normal for all values of N greater than 20; it follows from the formula: The observed total sum-of-ranks was converted from the ratings, with a hit ranked as 4. Table 2. sums up the result of this statistic:

Table 2. Probability of observed sum-of-ranks according to Solvin et al., 1978
sessions (N )ranks (R )sum-of-ranks (M )zp
32 4 100 3.083 .0012

Apart from these planned statistics concerning the question of evidence, we did a post hoc analysis testing for J's 'confidence' in scoring, another aspect of psi that is filtered out using the one-in-four ratio method. Using the fine-grained ratings (1 - 100) that perhaps would supply an even more precise measure than rankings, this test consisted of two ANOVA's. The first looked into the variance due to factor 'hit/miss' with dependent variable: the highest of the four ratings, normalised by divisor 'sum of second, third, and fourth rating'. The second ANOVA tested for effects of the 'hit/miss' factor on the dependent variable 'highest rating minus second highest rating'. Table 3 shows the results:

Table 3. ANOVA with factor: 'hit/miss' and dependent variables: 1) 'highest of four ratings, normalised by sum of second, third, and fourth rating', and 2) 'highest rating minus second highest rating'.
factordependent variableF p
hit/miss highest of four ratings divided by sum of ratings 2 - 4 2.160 .1521
hit/miss highest rating minus second highest rating 4.709 .0381

As can be seen in table 3, the first ANOVA yielded nothing, indicating that on average the picture in case of a 'hit', i.e. the target, is not rated higher than the highest rated picture in case of a 'miss'. Surprisingly though, this 'lack of confidence' is not confirmed by the result of the second ANOVA: the average 'highest rating minus second highest rating' in case of a 'hit' is significantly higher than 'highest rating minus second highest rating' in case of a 'miss', which could be read as an incidence of J's 'confidence' in rating. Combining the results would implicate that the second highest rated picture is rated considerably lower in case of a 'hit', as appears from table 4.

Table 4. Average highest rating, average second highest rating, and average highest rating minus second highest rating' according to hit/miss.
hit/missav. highest rat. (1hr)av. second highest rat. (2hr)1hr - 2hr
hit 77.857 53.928 23.929
miss 75.722 64.611 11.111


Of course no real conclusions can be drawn from just one series of 32 sessions. However, the results suggest an improvement compared to results of the standard Ganzfeld procedure with static targets in general (with meta-analysis showing an overall effect size of around 30%), and specifically compared to our own previous findings using this standard method (a replication programme yielding little more than chance results, see e.g. Bierman et al., 1993; Bosga et al., 1994). Then again our experiment contains no real direct test of the effectiveness of the ES technique per se over this standard Ganzfeld procedure. Also, the influence of the magic extension cannot be properly compared to scoring in 'no-magic' standard ES. There was no proper random allocation of sessions to ES and ES+ conditions - then again participants could never have been blind to the hypothesis anyway, and more important, as we will argue below, beneath its surface the standard ES (and even the standard Ganzfeld) procedure could itself be considered a paradigm of magic in a broader sense, leaving only a gradual, cosmetic distinction between ES and ES+.

Against method, such detailed comparisons were never our object since, in accordance with our doubt of the analytic stance, we take psi as an indication of the limits of applicability of analytic thinking in general. Therefore, all we claim is that psi may manifest itself somewhere between the beginning and the end of an Eigensender session, yet it cannot analytically be reduced to the outcome of a function of critical moments, interactions, or mechanisms, which ostensibly constitute that session. Like a work of art, a parapsychological experiment embraces more than the total sum of its constituting elements.

As an instance of this analytical indeterminability, we have to tolerate the ambiguous outcomes concerning possible confidence of J's rating, since in a way it confirms the idea, expounded below, that psi phenomena cannot simply be reduced to isolated cognitive mechanisms within the individual. In fact ES does not allow a clear allocation of experimental roles. Roles and double-roles compile an interwoven script. If we were to report on Eigensender in an analytical way, several current frameworks would have been at our disposal. In terms of the OT's, the S at stage III could be said to non-locally connect target observations with his/her impressions during I (during which cognitive functioning is relatively 'random'), the report of which is heard through the head phones. The second, more conventional framework that has guided mainstream parapsychology for several decades, comprises of models that are inspired by principles of functionalistic and representationalistic cognitivism. Here explanations are construed around a concept like 'psi input', that activates 'detection mechanisms', the 'functioning' of which is 'facilitated' by the 'attenuation of sensory and somatic stimuli'. In a cognitivistically oriented Eigensender model, E doubles as 'sender' for S during stage I and for J during III, while S takes on the role of an additional (Eigen) 'sender' during stage III, as well as that of ('normal') 'sender' for J (J's are aware of this possible construct). Less conventional conjectures would still involve analytical localisation of psi. For example, RNG-target selection by E could be modelled as a PK or data augmentation process, or - stretching Jung's concept somewhat - as a 'synchronicity event', a proces in which the designated target will correspond maximally to S's mentation (Bosga et al., 1994), or as a combination of any of these perspectives, a combination that might then vary per experiment. This lack of analytical determination would ultimately leave us with perhaps the successful results of a future meta-analysis, but without trace of a theoretically relevant 'core process'. In short, psi may show to better advantage if we appreciate its phenomenological complexity and try not to reduce it to our favourite essentials.

Some notes on the philosophy of science

To elaborate this critique on essentalism and on the limitations of purely analytical frameworks, we would like to reflect on the role of metaphorical thinking in parapsychology. In the case of cognitivistically inspired models, the conceptual tools are characterised by a mechanistic nature. Psi is considered to be the result of information-processing behaviour of the 'cognitive apparatus'. The computational metaphor can be identified as the root of such models.

The history of proposed conceptualisations can be characterised by a degeneration process (e.g. Lakoff, 1980). Starting out on a level of analogous description as purely abstract and metaphorical (with terms often borrowed from other successful parts of science), theories in parapsychology gradually tend to be transformed to a less differentiated level of absolute essence by the positive substantivation and isolation of their components. Significant indication of this transformation is the deletion of the word 'like' from descriptions such as "telepathy is like the transference of information by an unknown channel". Such literalisation of metaphorical content appears to be the fate of the favourite metaphors of every generation of parapsychologists. When the amount of literature grows, a concept may crystallise and become part of the select class of temporarily 'compressed' categories - clairvoyance and GESP are 'out', while DAT, DMILS (formerly bio-PK), and remote viewing are 'in'. The operationalisations associated to such categories gradually achieve a routineous, almost ritual character. Literalisation is a process that may obstruct understanding in the sense that it represses and neglects expressions of psi that do not fit the ruling metaphors.

Predominant parapsychological metaphors are still based on the apparently fundamental distance between subject and object. This myth of the individual identity as a priori ontological entity surfaces in the syntax and semantics of propositions containing metaphors like 'psi-information transference', in which applicability of the term 'transference' presupposes the a priori of separateness of the subjects between which it takes place. Such a metaphor affirms the ego as 'centre of gravity', it transforms psi from a radical anomaly of ego-logocentric thinking and being into a cognitive aberration. The individual might not be the centre of psi phenomena - the outward appropriation 'this is my psi experience' might be a reversal of what psi really stands for. Rather the total experiment might be considered a trans-subjective 'organism' through which psi may be expressed as the non-mediated and shared realisation of an anomalous event.

In conclusion, a suggested recommendation for dealing with the problem of literalisation in parapsychology would include confrontation with one's own implicit epistemological assumptions, the integration of diverse perspectives by the deconstruction of, and flexible and eclectical use of metaphors, and, finally, the realisation that in the end psi might remain a transcendence of any 'objective' structure and any system of knowledge we can think up, and can therefore only be defined in a negative sense. From this it follows that 'closure' of a system of knowledge and the setting in of a decline effect may be averted by temporarily leaving a paradigm and coming back to it later, inspired by fresh ideas and new enthusiasm . Also, for such a 'new start' it might suffice to radically change one's metaphorical conceptualisation of the paradigm while working in it. Furthermore, being a successful experimenter in parapsychology might correspond not so much to, to use a Batesonian distinction, a mastery of technical elements within the experimental context, but rather to a certain 'Fingerspitzengefühl' for contexts-as-a-whole, a mostly implicit knowledge of how to (re-)create the optimal situation, an important aspect of which is interpersonal rapport.

Some notes on the use of magic

The analytical and mechanistic approach in parapsychology criticised above, stems from the scientific aesthetic of the domination of nature, a myth of superior, trans-cultural enlightenment inherited from 17th century philosophers such as Descartes and Bacon. From this linear perspective on the evolution of mind, magical thinking is presumed to be a primitive, if not infantile cognitive style; it is thought of as pre-religious and pre-rational. However, there are surprising parallels between magic and scientific rationality (e.g. Horton, 1970; Thorndike, 1905).

This is not the place to discuss Popperian claims of 'superiority' or 'universality' of our western mode of rationality. It is true however, that, like magic, science too is based on conventional myths (e.g. the idea of a fundamental epistemic distance between subject and object) and that for instance 'abstraction' and 'control' are not incontestable criteria in themselves. Also, science as the production of 'one-dimensional' knowledge has its 'tapu's' as well, neglecting anomalies while working within rigid, self-enclosed paradigms of which the apparent internal dynamic shows itself in an historical perspective to be a 'motorised' static, a repetitive rephrasing of circular knowledge.

In an early attempt to counter such critical arguments and formulate a distinction between magical rites and the non-magical technology of the civilised world, anthropologist James Frazer (Frazer, 1983) argued that the magician assumes a direct relationship between the action and a later event, whereas, in Frazer's words, in empirical fact the relationship is one of the association of ideas only. In time the empirical facts have changed - parapsychological research has provided ample evidence for psi, thereby undermining Frazer's argument. The demarcation is further eroded by scrutiny of the 'rock bottom base' of science, the 'sense data' and logical 'truths', that reveals a system of conventions and assumptions about reality. On closer examination therefore, the scientific technè itsèlf transforms into a framework of magic, a narrow styled framework of which the lack of meaning is counterbalanced by the advantage of its relatively regular operation.

In this line of reasoning, one could think of the Ganzfeld experiment - embedded as it is in a western frame of mind - as a specific and modern presentation of the same principles that underlie certain magical rituals. The Ganzfeld situation might not just provide a technical noise-reduction method for enhancing the signal-noise ratio and detection probability of individual psi information units, as the cognitivistically oriented might have it. In a broader sense, it could be understood as a multi-interpretable ceremony, a sequence of rituals (e.g. Schlitz, 1994; Wezelman et al., 1996) that is justified according to scientific rules and criteria, and that furnishes participants and experimenters with a meaningful situation in which psi is wrapped up as a statistical deviation and is experienced as the statistical and logical, unthreatening product of a well defined 'recipe'. In accord with this interpretation, Honorton saw the Ganzfeld experiment as an operationalisation of the pratyahara stage of Patanjali's eightfold raja yoga path (Honorton, 1992).

More 'exotic' still, the profile of the Ganzfeld procedure - the immersion in the homogeneous perceptual environment (the 'ganz Feld') that partly deconstructs 'receiver's' ego-logocentrical consciousness, and the emergence of target-related information - shows an obvious structural analogy to techniques of divination, e.g. crystal gazing, pyromancy, hydromancy, dream interpretation, and the use of the psychomanteum (Moody, 1994), techniques that are based on the intercultural shamanistic and alchemistic formula 'solve et coagula' (Odin, 1982).

In general, one of the most important distinctions between the fundamental assumptions of modern science and principles of magic lies in the contrast between the latter and the Baconian presumption of an abstract realm of superior and paternalistic scientific laws elevated above blind matter: principles of magic generally do not presuppose an a priori epistemic distance between the subjective domain of knowledge and an external objective reality. In the Eigensender sessions, rituals of consecration, sacrifice, and evocation and invocation were performed, the purpose of which was to bring an awareness of mimetic partaking of a systems level transcending that of normal analysis and mechanistic manipulation, a realisation of a 'synthesis' beyond the dichotomy of organic and inorganic experimental elements (participants, setting, material). This mimetic experience was attended by the insight that some form of 'grace' is a conditio sine qua non for the success of a session. Certainly these rituals gave a deeper sense to the concept of 'participants'.

Resounding in this idea of truth is the pre-Socratic 'aletheia' - revelation - the ideal of 'unveiling', a notion that, according to Heidegger (Avens, 1982), degenerated after Plato's cave metaphor into the scientific notion of truth as correctness of correspondence between 'internal representations' and an 'external reality' of 'lifeless' objects, a reality that opposes us (cf. the German 'Gegenstand' and the English verb 'to object'). All this leads to a conclusion that cannot easily be reconciled with the premises and conventions of modern science: The progress towards a better knowledge of psi might necessarily have to involve 1) a practical, experiental dimension (i.e. theorising on anomalous experience being interwoven with the experiences themselves), and 2) the acquisition of a 'view on world views', a non-reductionistic knowledge that can only incompletely be expressed in the digital format that scientific discourse prescribes and that is made explicit in the above mentioned recommendations for dealing with the problem of literalisation of metaphorical content.

ES+ was an attempt to realise this unity of theory and practice. The ES+ procedure was not meant to provide a new, clearly defined paradigm, the 'definite magic theoretical interpretation of psi', which would in a few months time be ranged among other disposed of, 'coagulated' systems of once valid knowledge on psi. There is no standard ES+ programme that one can run independent of the situation and the persons involved. Replicating ES+ would entail the specification of a set of rituals and ideas for creating an 'openness' that may result in the realisation of psi, a method that would have to be adapted according to idiosyncratic ideas, the 'world view', of the experimenters involved. In a way this might be true for every experimental path in parapsychology.

To conclude with, we'd like to argue that controlled application of ideas and rituals of magic is relevant for comprehending and evocating what we call psi. All the shortcomings, errors and illusions of magic traditions are well compensated by its one important wisdom: the fact that we are an organic part of reality. It is this wisdom that parapsychology, like quantum mechanics in its own way, should reclaim in a more mature form. Thus, our article on an 'experiment in practical philosophy' is not meant as a trendy anti-intellectual plea for a regression to a premodern 'animistic' view. Also, the proposed de-literalisation of parapsychological concepts does not bring us on the slippery slope of pure relativism, for developing optimal psi-experiments from a post-Cartesian epistemology implicates that there is something to be learned: a knowledge beyond the gap between practice and theory.


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