Enduring Interest: Generic Substitution | Genius | Groundbreaking Paradigm Shifts | Zmail | Philosophy

Parapsychological J. of South Africa. 1981; 2 (2): 56-64.


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, SASPR.
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 function properly'.

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 ('neutral');
4. also regarded as 'neutral' were smells of tobacco and incense.

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. 3

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 components.

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 considerably.

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 family.

A case of this kind, involving a second family, is now briefly described.

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 dominance

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 autosomal dominance.

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 analysed.

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 the four.
2. A 'floating hallucinatory state' - all four described this – the feelings of floating occurred hypnagogically or hypnopompically, and were associated with visual and auditory hallucinations.
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 lobe symptoms.

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 ESP.

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. 1954.

6. Huxley, A. Heaven and Hell London : Chatto and Windus. 1956.

7. Ward, R. H. A Drug-taker's Notes. London : Gollancz. 1957.

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, 2:4, 289-310.


Copyright ©1997-2018 Pacific Neuropsychiatric Institute