Parapsychological J. of South Africa. 1981; 2 (2): 56-64.
A FAMILIAL STUDY OF SUBJECTIVE PARANORMAL EXPERIENCE
IN TEMPORAL LOBE
Lewis A Hurst BA, BSc, MB, ChB, Ph D, M D, F R C Psych*
Vernon M Neppe MB, BCh, DPM, FFPsych(SA), M Med (Psych), BA, Ph D (Med)**
Professor Emeritus, Dept of Psychiatry and Honorary
Research Professorial Fellow, Dept of Genetics, University
of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Former President, SASPR.
** Senior Lecturer/Senior Psychiatrist Dept of Psychiatry,
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg President,
Subjective paranormal experients
Temporal lobe dysfunction
Two families with several members having both subjective
paranormal experiences (SPEs) and evidence of temporal lobe
dysfunction are described. The genetic mechanism of autosomal
dominance adequately fits the inheritance of these features.
The limitations of the conventional approach to investigating
such cases are emphasized.
This paper does not use the methods of examination suggested
in the previous article1 as this study preceded these suggestions.
Instead, it discusses two families, the first involving
information from one member, often corroborated by others,
the second investigating several people. It is intended
to illustrate via concrete examples the possible relationship
between SPE, the temporal lobe and family predisposition.
Cases are deliberately brief and non-comprehensive so as
to concentrate on the key issues.
Data in the Family J, involving Mrs. J
The case of Mrs. J is presented here because she herself
had had numerous SPEs and several experiences of temporal
lobe kind with a confirmatory electroencephalographic temporal
lobe focus and she gives an invalidated history of SPEs.
Mrs. J was a particularly good observer of her own experiences.
she is scientifically trained (with a Bachelor of Science
degree in 6iology and Philosophy) and she kept a daily record
of her experiences. Both her son and her husband were, moreover,
able to corroborate her descriptions in many cases.
Mrs. J described recurring instances, since her schooldays,
of a 'sensation of being enclosed by a shroud which comes
down and surrounds me, excluding my ability to read and
Mrs. J has had numerous unexplained perceptual experiences,
many interpreted by her as subjectively paranormal. She
has encountered many kinds of olfactory hallucinations:
1. pleasant, flowery fragrances;
2. smells of burning : wood, ether and musk interpreted
by her as unpleasant;
3. the most prominent smell of all was that of paraffin
: this was interpreted as neither pleasant nor unpleasant
4. also regarded as 'neutral' were smells of tobacco and
All these smells have occurred transiently and
intermittently. The neutral and unpleasant smells have not
been associated with any strong cognitive or subjective
paranormal experiences. In contrast, the beautiful fragrance'
she has encountered on several occasions was associated
with a 'sense of mystical union'. These olfactory hallucinations
are particularly interesting because of their similarities
to those described by Neppe in Subjective Paranormal Experients.
Critically assessing the exact circumstances under which
these olfactory experiences occurred, there were potentially
physica1 sources of tobacco petrol, candles, wood and lavender-scented
mementoes. The smell of paraffin was more difficult to explain
because of the smell being described as ubiquitously present
in several different places.
Mrs. J has also encountered unexplained voices heard from
outside and from inside her head (i. e. auditory hallucinations
and pseudhallucinations). These voices were interpreted
by her as paranormal, and they never had self-reference
She encountered, inter alia, a humming noise like a tuning
fork' which was also heard by her son, a 'click sound like
a moving bed,' and the 'sound of a baby crying' also
heard by her son. - After a detailed history, none of these
auditory phenomena appeared to require paranormal explanations.
Visual perceptual phenomena have involved dimming of vision,
seeing a flickering light on curtains, perceiving 'a ball
of fire about the size of a ping pong ball moving to the
next property' and experiencing a sense of 'mystical union,
ecstasy and the coming of a spirit' with a 'golden sunset'.
The presence of these visual phenomena would conventionally
be most easily interpreted as elementary or complex partial
phenomena of occipital or temporal lobe origins. The separate
occurrences of the mystical sunset experience with the mystical
per fumy fragrance suggests that a manic condition should
be excluded: there was no other evidence of this as an explanation.
Mrs. J has also had three purportedly paranormal dreams
and five veridical ostensibly precognitive experiences,
with floating sensations of feeling out of her body although
maintaining consciousness within, her body. She has had
several episodes of apparent recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis
in her home.
It is important to note that despite the numerous SPEs which
Mrs. J describes she does not conform to the stringent requirements
for admission to a group of Subjective Paranormal Experients
stipulated by Neppe.
The brief general descriptions of the subject's perceived
paranormal experiences illustrate the difficulties of distinguishing
what may be interpreted as ostensibly paranormal from possible
temporal lobe symptomatology. It supports the usage of clinical
and electroencephalographic temporal lobe interpretations
as a possible method of approaching SPEs.
The EEG of Mrs. J disclosed a left temporal anomaly in the
form of selective slowing of the alpha rhythm in this region,
suggesting a diagnosis of left temporal lobe dysfunction.
Fourier analysis did not disclose any interhemispheric asynchrony.
Mrs. J stated that her family, on her father's side, was
'very strongly psychic.' She considered her father himself
to have been mediumistic, describing one such experience:
"He kept passing a friend when changing shifts at work,
and on commenting that the friend was very quiet, his companions
said: 'Didn't you know he has been dead for a week?"'
One paternal aunt was a professional fortune teller. There
were also other mediums on that side of the family. This
history, on one side of the family only, fits in with a
dominant genetic mechanism.
No other blood members of the family were available for
personal interviewing pertaining to their SPEs. The interpretation
of the family history of claimed paranormal faculties via
a single member allows the opportunity for misinterpretation
of even their subjective experiences. Consequently, such
interpretation is inadequate.
In this respect, differentiation of SPEs from possible temporal
lobe symptoms and from easier physical explanations of so-called
paranormal experiences can be even less adequately performed.
Moreover, the non-availability of family EEG records in
this kind of case, nor of a history of possible temporal
lobe symptoms, diminishes the objectivity of interpretation
Thus, the case of Mrs. J is here presented to illustrate
the difficulties of involving only one blood member of a
family in interpretations of the familial relationship between
psi and the temporal lobe. The case motivates the converse
approach, namely, analyzing primarily the temporal lobe
features and only secondarily the subjective paranormal
experiences first-hand in not one but several members of
A case of this kind, involving a second family, is now briefly
The Second Family B
In the second family, the index case, Mrs. I, presented
to one of the authors (LAH) for genetic counseling because
of her husband's history of schizophrenia.
The mother, M aged 48, the index case, I aged 24, a male
sibling, B aged 26, a female sibling, S aged 22, were all
examined and showed clinical evidence of temporal lobe dysfunction
with subjective paranormal experiences and EEG evidence
of temporal lobe dysfunction. A formal temporal lobe clinical
examination via the TLQ was not performed.
Two brothers, B2 (aged 29) and B3 (aged 28) were not examined
for geographical reasons. B2 has denied to I any SPEs, while
B3 has described somnambulistic and floating experiences.
Bumping his big toe withdraws B3 from such feelings, which
is of interest as brother B can influence his symptoms by
rapid movement of the big toe.
The 6 year old daughter of B1, 'N', was given an EEG examination
at the request of her father because he was concerned about
possible lapses of memory, which were not borne out by clinical
assessment. Results were equivocal.
Some clinical information of the sibship of mother M was
available. The mother and brother U1 (aged 51) experienced
recurrent visual hallucinations and another, U2 (aged 32)
had floating experiences, but her sisters A1 (aged 40) and
A2 (aged 32) reported nothing.
The husband of Mrs. M, F, reports no subjective paranormal
experiences and the facts of the grandparental generation
in this regard are unknown.
The pedigree is reflected in Figure I (because of its nature
this is not publishable on the internet).
The genetic findings are consistent with single autosomal
In the parental generation the father's family is unaffected,
but three out of five siblings are, including the mother,
M. In the filial generation four out of five are affected
(counting B3 who had not been examined clinically or by
EEG). These ratios, in the parental and filial generation
exceed the 1:1 ratio for single dominance but are acceptable
in view of the small size (five per group). Whether daughter
N (aged 6) is affected or not is compatible with single
Thus, the clinical and EEG features of temporal lobe dysfunction
in this family have been transmitted in a manner compatible
with single autosomal dominance.
The subjective paranormal experiences of this family with
multiple features of temporal lobe dysfunction were also
The SPEs of the children, 82, B1, 1 and S, could be categorized
into three types:
1. Out-of-body experiences - these occurred in three of
2. A 'floating hallucinatory state' - all four described
this – the feelings of floating occurred hypnagogically
or hypnopompically, and were associated with visual and
3. Claims of being psychically
gifted - this was made by two of the four. Neither conformed,
however, to stringent criteria for SPEs. 3
General Discussion regarding the Ultimate Basis of Experience
in Both Families
The autosomal dominant mechanism of SPE and temporal lobe
dysfunction implied in these two families, suggests that
the postulated theoretical relationship between genetics,
psi and the temporal lobe1 may have practical applications.
It also delineates the difficulties in the neuropsychiatric-parapsychological
context of taking conventional family histories from other
members of family, and the problem of differentiating SPEs from possible temporal
The authors would like to link Gordon Nelson's tentative
hypothesis that temporal lobe dysfunction is a prerequisite
for mediumship, 4 with the contrasting views of Aldous Huxley
in his "Doors of Perception" 5 and "Heaven
and Hell" 6 and of Ward in his "A Drug Taker's
Notes." 7 Nelson's hypothesis may be taken in one of
two senses. To the skeptic, the implication is that the
psychical experiences of mediums are nothing but expressions
of brain pathology and are consequently mere psychopathological
symptoms. If, however, Aldous Huxley's theory that under
mescaline or LSD the 'bread and butter', 'down to earth',
adaptive function of the brain is extended to an awareness
of a wider reality (through a localized area in the case
of temporal lobe dysfunction or the whole brain under mescaline)
then the experiences that filter through may be labeled
Ward's skeptical, materialist point of view in the sphere
of mescaline and LSD relates to his finding that, with repeated
exposure, the experiences of the subjects become increasingly
trivial. Our own LSD investigation was inconclusive8' 4
and so it must be left to the reader to decide whether the
experiences of these two families, based on temporal lobe
dysfunction, are to be regarded as mere symptoms or as the
opening up of a richer, wider world.
The help given by the subjects is gratefully acknowledged.
1. Neppe, V. M. and Hurst, L. A. Psi, Genetics and the Temporal
Lobe. PJSA. 1981, 2: 2, 35-55.
2. Neppe, V. M. Parapsychology : A Conceptual Overview.
PJSA. 198Q, 1:1, 1-15.
3. Neppe, V. M. Subjective Paranormal Experience and Temporal
Lobe Symptomatology. PJSA. 1980, 1 :2, 78-98.
4. Nelson, G. K. 'Preliminary Studies of Electroencephalograms
of Mediums. ' Parapsychologica. 1970, 9-IV, 30-36.
5. Huxley, A. Coors of Perception. London : Chatto and Windus.
6. Huxley, A. Heaven and Hell London : Chatto and Windus.
7. Ward, R. H. A Drug-taker's Notes. London : Gollancz.
8. Hurst, L. A., Reuning, H., van Wyk, A. J., Booysen, P.
J. and Nelson, G. K. 'Experiences with D-lysergic Acid Diethylamide
(LSD). ' SAJ of Laboratory and clinical Medicine. 1956,