Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Reality and Imagination: A Psi-Conducive Confusion?

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Reality and Imagination: A Psi-Conducive Confusion?

Article excerpt

What makes a psi-conducive state? The suggestion is made here that psi occurs when there is a confusion between reality and imagination. Most of our experiences are clearly either real or imagined, and we can usually tell the difference between real perceptions, or memories and unreal fantasies or imagery. We may have great confidence in our decisions, but how do we tell? One theory of reality testing uses "cognitive effort" as a criterion (e.g., Johnson & Raye, 1981). The more effort it takes to conjure up an image, the more likely it is to come from imagination; the easier it is, the more likely it is to be a real memory or external event. Recent evidence suggests that people use vividness of a memory as an indicator of its accuracy (Garry, Loftus, & Brown, 1994). Obviously there is much room for error and we sometimes confuse reality with imagination.

Suggestions that psi lurks in this borderline between reality and imagination are abundant. They come from spontaneous cases, from occult traditions, and from laboratory psi.

Spontaneous Cases

In a dream we are usually convinced that events are real only to discover, on waking, that they are not. Louisa Rhine noted that psi is especially common in "realistic dreams," and these entail even more confusion. In their classic collection, Phantasms of the Living, Gurney, Myers and Podmore (1886) take dreams as a major category of cases. However, they conclude that "borderland cases," including hypnagogic images, were a better type to investigate because they were rarer than dreams. Hypnagogic images (images that occur just before one falls asleep) often arise spontaneously and feel very realistic.

Dreams were the largest category (nearly 60%) among the thousands of cases collected by Louisa Rhine (1965) and the same proportion occurs in the Sannwald collection (Schouten, 1981). Rhine's other categories of psi experience occurred during waking imagery, or were intuitions or hunches of various kinds. These main types of psychic experience can all be seen as in some way straddling the borderline between reality and imagination, or as occurring in a state in which reality and imagination are confused.

Of particular interest are lucid dreams, in which the person is aware during the dream that it is a dream. Lucid dreams have a strange quality of feeling intensely real, even though the dreamer is aware (by definition) that this is not external reality. Lucid dreams were originally studied within psychical research (Van Eeden, 1913) and many accounts of ostensibly psychic lucid dreams have been collected (e.g., Fox, 1962; Green, 1968) though recent research on lucid dreaming (Gackenbach & LaBerge, 1986) has not included studies of psi.

Between sleep and waking are various borderline states, all of which entail some confusion of reality and imagination. Most well known are the hypnagogic states (Mavromatis, 1987). Then there are false awakenings, in which a person dreams of waking up and is temporarily convinced the scene is real (Van Eeden, 1913; Gackenbach & LaBerge, 1986). If figures or voices are perceived in this state, they can easily be taken to be actual presences in a real environment. There is also sleep paralysis, in which one apparently wakes up but cannot move.

Sleep paralysis is surprisingly common, with surveys showing that between 20% and 40% of the population experience it from time to time (Fukuda, 1993; Spanos, McNulty, DuBreuil, & Pires, 1995). They may report fear, strange vibrations and humming sounds, feelings of flying, and hallucinations and visions, but the most common feature is the sense of an unseen presence. It is not clear whether the whole scene is dreamed, as in a metachoric experience (Green & McCreery, 1975), or whether the hallucinations are superimposed on a real perceived environment. In any case, it is clear that a confusion between reality and imagination is occurring and that the "presence" feels real. …

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