After an undergraduate education in neuroscience, Diane Powell received her medical degree from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, where she also completed training in medicine, neurology, and psychiatry. She obtained additional training at Queen Square and The Institute of Psychiatry, both world-renowned medical institutes in London. She has been on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, was a member of a part-time think tank on consciousness at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA, and the Director of Research for the John E. Mack Institute. She currently is a member of the Board of Directors of the Jean Houston Foundation.
Dr. Powell is the author of the book The ESP Enigma: A revolutionary scientific explanation of psychic phenomena and the nature of human consciousness.
Like most mainstream scientists who develop an interest in psychic abilities, my initial inspiration was an extraordinary experience of them. As a teenager I met a man who could psychically read to me any book that I randomly chose from a bookshelf that contained several hundred books that were not his. While standing across the room with the back of the book facing him, he said word for word what I was reading at the precise time I read it. And he demonstrated this with several books. Coming from a scientific family in which there were scientific answers for everything, I was completely mystified. Even if he had memorized all of the books on the bookshelf and could figure out what page I was on from looking at the binding, I couldn’t explain how he could read at the same pace as I.
I had another experience while on faculty at Harvard Medical School. I had been asked to see a patient who wanted to leave against medical advice. She told me that she was psychic and therefore knew that her tests were going to come back normal. After a brief time, she asked if she could tell me what she was psychically receiving about me. She told me what my husband's occupation was, that we were in the midst of deciding which of two cities to move to, that we would move to San Diego, how many brothers I had, how many children I would have and their sex, as well as several other very specific things. Everything that she said about my past and current circumstances were correct and over the next few years her predictions proved to be correct as well.
These events generated a deep curiosity in me because they did not fit the scientific model for understanding the brain and consciousness. After searching the literature, I found that there had been hundreds of well-designed, and carefully conducted experiments on psychic abilities, but they had not been accepted by mainstream science because they didn't fit into science’s paradigm. Modern science has become theory-driven rather than data driven, so data is often dismissed if it doesn’t fit the theory. Mainstream biologists and psychologists have not incorporated findings from modern physics into their understanding of consciousness, and others haven’t included the brain's role when they discuss consciousness. There hasn't been a comprehensive and persuasive model to explain consciousness and psychic abilities, so I felt compelled to share the one that I had developed. My hope is that it will open the minds of scientists to psychic phenomena, as well as explain and validate psychic experiences for people who have them.
Critics maintain that a scientific methodology that shows statistically significant evidence for ESP has not been documented. The lack of a viable theory of the mechanism behind ESP is also frequently cited as a source of skepticism. What is your response to this criticism?
Dean Radin’s book, Entangled Minds, contains detailed information about the abundant studies that have shown highly statistically significant evidence for ESP. In fact there is more evidence for ESP than there is for the use of aspirin to prevent strokes or heart attacks. The lack of a viable theory for the mechanism behind ESP has contributed to the skepticism, which is one of the main reasons I wrote The ESP Enigma.
What do you believe is the greatest evidence for ESP?
There are many compelling anecdotes within the literature on ESP and I include some of them in my book, but science will not accept anecdotal evidence, especially for something as controversial as ESP. Also, within science a single study is not considered sufficient proof because the data needs to be repeatable. So the greatest evidence is actually what is called a meta- analysis of the studies that have been done on ESP. This is a statistical approach that combines all of the studies that were conducted in a similar way in order to provide a meaningful statistic. Dean Radin did such a meta-analysis on a series of experiments. He states in Entangled Minds that the results for psychic phenomena were so significant that the odds of them being due to luck or chance were 29 quintillion to one.
If Psychokinesis were to exist it would violate some well-established laws of physics, including the inverse square law, the second law of thermodynamics and the conservation of momentum. Due to this stance, scientists tend to side with Marcello Truzzi's dictum "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof". Do you believe that there is adequate evidence to support PK?
First of all, I disagree that these laws of physics make psychokinesis impossible. For example, the inverse square law is the law that some physical quantity or strength is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between a force and an object. This applies to some forces, such as gravity, but not to all forces. It does not apply to the strong force, which is the force that keeps the nucleus of an atom together. In my book I argue that consciousness is a fifth force that operates at the micro or quantum level and not at the macro level at which these laws operate. In fact, physicists were shocked when they investigated the quantum world because it defies many of the physical laws that we are used to within Newtonian physics.
I believe that there is adequate evidence to support micro-PK, which occurs at the subatomic level, such as the effect of consciousness on radioactive decay. I did not find adequate scientific evidence for macro PK, which is the table tipping and spoon bending that most people think of as psychokinesis.
In your educated opinion, what is consciousness and why do we now believe that it is non-local?
Within physics everything is either energy, matter, or a force field. Energy and matter can be converted into each other, and force fields organize whatever is within their field. For example, a magnetic field organizes iron filings within its field. Consciousness organizes energy/matter and therefore fits the description of a field. It is considered nonlocal because it appears to have effects at vast distances without any dissipation of its effect. I believe that non-locality is a function of the ten or more dimensions proposed by string theories. In other words, because of these other dimensions, the universe is far more interconnected than we are able to perceive through normal sensory means. Consciousness is not bound to a four dimensional world, which enables it to be nonlocal.
What role does quantum physics have in all of this?
Quantum physics describes the world at the subatomic level and it is at this level that we can begin to understand consciousness and psychic abilities. Quantum physicists were the first to prove that the act of observation affects experimental outcome. It determines whether light acts as a particle or a wave.
Would you highlight some of the experimental work that is being conducted today that you believe will continue to support the evidence for the ESP hypothesis?
Unfortunately, psychic research has never received adequate funding and the situation is even worse today in this economic climate. Some of the most compelling research was supported during the Cold War by various branches of US military intelligence, which felt that it could not afford to let the Russians become more advanced in this area. Some of this research was declassified in 1995 and there is still a wealth of information that is classified. As for current research, the Institute of Noetic Sciences is one of the few places remaining where this research is being done.
There is already sufficient evidence for the ESP hypothesis. The problem is that mainstream scientists don't usually read it because it is omitted from their journals. We need an open-mindedness in mainstream science about the current evidence for ESP. Once validation by traditional scientific laboratories occurs, psychic phenomena will be taken more seriously and receive the funding necessary to explore it further because of its importance.
Any upcoming work you would like to share with us?
Since the publication of my book I have been told that people with narcolepsy experience a higher than average incidence of psychic abilities. This is very consistent with my hypothesis that the sections of the brain involved in sleep and dreaming are also involved in psychic abilities. I plan to explore this and other leads that arise as people read my book and provide feedback. As a true scientist, I will always continue to follow the path to the truth and modify my model along the way.
For further information on Dr. Diane Hennacy Powell's work, visit her website at:
Originally published to Parapsychology Information Portal and republished here with author permission