Anomalous Subjectivity Articles
Parapsychological J. of South Africa. 1981, 2:2, 35-55
SOME QUESTIONS ABOUT ‘PSI-GENETICS’
To the Editor,
Professor Lewis Hurst and Dr. Vernon Neppe have very tentatively suggested in this Journal 1,2 that ostensible
paranormal experiences may have a genetic basis. They refer to A.R.G. Owen's speculation that ostensible psi
phenomena may be a phenotypic version of a single pair of genes or of multiple allelomorphs, or else of a polygenic
set. Oven has written also about a possible 'PR genome'. 3
I have objected elsewhere 4 to the hypothesis of 'psi genes' advanced by the Rumanian medical researcher Miklos.
I have also touched on the formidable difficulties in eliciting reliable and valid relations between the genotype
and phenotype when little is known about the gene-to-organism mapping. In addition, the mathematical phase spaces
for which the genetic information has to be computed are not commensurable as they require computation at two
different levels when relying on pedigree analysis. I am not questioning here the high competence of Prof. Hurst
and Dr. Neppe. They will be the first to concede that research into 'psi-genetics' has just begun. I shall use
the term psi genes as a convenient rendering of their hypothesis based on their familial studies.
I refer briefly to my intensive and protracted pedigree analysis of Mrs. J. (pseudonym) who married a close
relative of mine. In 1932, after her marriage, when she was in the early twenties, I tested her along with others
for possible extra-sensorial capacities by a randomized method (adapted deviously from R.A. Fisher) of placing on
a planchette slips of folded paper of equal sizes carrying concealed pictures of words or pictures. The method
enabled me at the same time to carry out some sophisticated handwriting analysis. The experiments yielded uniformly
null results with Mrs. J. As far as I could ascertain by closely questioning her parents and others (the family
was well known to me), there were no significant paranormal episodes in her earlier unmarried life. Yet between
1937 and 1940, with a little spill over for another three years or so, Mrs. J. developed not only an extraordinary
kind of planchette writing conveying much paranormal (seemingly telepathic, clairvoyant, precognitive) information
about near and distant events, but also a startling telekinetic and poltergeist activity. I studied Mrs. J.'s
ancestry on the maternal and paternal sides closely. There was no evidence whatever for a genetic basis for her
paranormal feats. She was a solitary psi conundrum in four generations (five, if her only son is also counted).
I found in Mrs. J an unmistakable hysterical dissociation, following inter-familial conflicts, with a bizarre
'conversion' (?) into psi symptomatology. Owen regards something like this as a general condition for poltergeist
phenomena. Whereas in the case of his subject Matthew Manning, automatic writing acted as ~a kind of 'symptom
substitution' 3,P375 (Owen's phraseology) as the 'poltergeist' manifestations ceased, with Mrs. J., the planchette
writing reached its zenith just when the poltergeist achieved its most impressive effects in bright light with three
of us watching Mrs. J. at close quarters.
I have found that Mrs. J.'s psychical life-history is in sharp contrast to the unfolding of well-established
genetic traits interacting with the environment. 7 Polydactyly and fingerprint pattern (the latter with a
polygenic base) are found in the embryo stage, though with some variations due to the relative phenotypic
penetrance and expressivity of the genes. The Lawrence-Moon-Biedl syndrome may phenotypically show some
resemblance to retinitis pigmentosa and polydactyly, but is genotypically different. 8 A change in the fetal
environment (e.g. a virus infection) can produce a phenocopy easily confused with a genotype, as in Rubella
deafness 9. C.D. Darlington 10 mentions the rare case of a 28-year old Englishman who had only half a Y-chromosome,
affecting possibly holandric inheritance. Finally, Huntington's chorea, an autosomal dominant, may make a late
appearance, say between the ages of 20 and 40. But it does not vanish mysteriously. Mrs. J.'s psi performances
narrowly confined to a few years, say between 1937 and l944, showed no analogy either to a complex trait like
musical ability the genetic base of which is disputed (polygene, pleiotropism, or moderator genes ?), some holding
that only pitch response is inherited while others argue that the whole concept of 'inheritance' is ill-defined
in such cases. 11
Be that as it may, Mrs. J. has always been a gifted player on the stringed Indian instrument known as the veena;
her only sister and at least one brother displayed musical talents the latter playing on the flute. Why are not psi
genes (if any) equally evident in Mrs. J.'s family-stock? Suppose a pair of alleles (as suggested by Owen) is involved
in psi phenomena, does the general population tend to the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, except, of course, for genetic
drift and mutation? I may add that Mrs. J.'s sister, her mother and her two grandmothers showed no tendency to hysterical
dissociation; they were well-adjusted in their marital lives, which is saying a great deal, considering how tenaion-prone
is the traditional Hindu caste-based family.
I should also like to point out that my preliminary, and I fear perfunctory, studies 12,13 of the biographies of three
modern Indian saint-mediums (that is, Hindu religious leaders with a reputed paranormal endowment) disclosed no hereditary
basis for either their paranormality or their mysticism. By way of comparison, I may refer to the two presumed ESP subjects
of Berthold Schwarz 14, Mrs. Krystal and Henry Gross, whose pedigrees revealed no hereditary basis for their paranormality.
Like Mrs. J., they were caught in inter-familial tensions. Sathya Sai Baba, Indira Devi and Rama Devi, too, perhaps had
conflicts at an ostensible religious level. With the two subjects of Schwarz, subjective and objective correlates of ECG
and EEG, hemograms, serological tests, isochromatic test for colour vision, and urine analysis, pointed to no abnormality.
My preliminary studies 12 of Indian children with remarkable 'fantasies of former lives', persisting for weeks or even years,
indicated eidetic imagery but, as far as I could ascertain, by perhaps not conclusive case history methods, no temporal lobe
syndrome with or without the aura. The TLE seizures with aura in India tend to assume other characteristic forms, e.g.
'visitations' by Hindu gods and goddesses 15. Paranormal claims are often lodged for the 'visions', but without objective
evidence, except for an occasional coincidence, e.g. a village teacher with TLE seizure 'saw' a Hindu idol buried under earth
and subsequently found a similar idol in similar circumstances. I am not impressed. There are Hindu idols at almost every
street corner of India, possibly many buried. Fathoming the roots of genuine psi abilities is the most challenging enterprise
on which the science of today can embark.
1. Neppe, V.M., and Hurst, L.A. 'Psi, Genetics, and the Temporal Lobe', PJSA. 1981, 2:2, 35-49
2. Hurst, L.A., and Neppe, V.M. 'A Familial Study of Subjective Paranormal Experience in Temporal Lobe Dysfunction Subjects'. PJSA. 1981, 2:2, 56-64.
3. Owen, A.R.G. 'Poltergeist Phenomena and Psychokinesis' in Ebon, M.(Ed) The Signet Handbook Of Parapsychology. New York: New American Library. 1978.
4. Chari, C.T.K. 'The Challenge of Psi: New Horizons of Scientific Research' In White, R.A. (Ed), Surveys in Parapsychology. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press. 1976.
5. Chari, C.T.K. 'Prolegomena to Some Theories of "Psi-Information"'. Journal Of Research in Psi Phenomena. 1976, 1, 5-23.
6. Whitehouse, H.L.K. Towards an Understanding Of the Mechanism Heredity. 3rd edition. London: Edwin Arnold. 1973.
7. Herskowitz, I.H. Principles of Genetics, 2nd edition. London: ColIier-Macmillan. 1978, p68.
8. Whittinghill, M. Human Genetics and Its Foundations. New Delhi: Oxford and India Book House Co. 1970.
9. Lenz, W. Medical Genetics. Chicago: Chicago University Press. 1963.
10. Darlington, C.D. The Little Universe of Man. London.: George Allen and Unwin 1978, p l00.
11. Shuter, R. The Psychology of Musical Ability. London: Methuen & Co. 1968.
12. Chari, C.T.K. 'Regurgitation, Mediumship and Yoga', Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. 1973, 47, 156-172.
13. Chari, C.R.K. 'A New Look at Reincarnation'. Christian Parapspchologist. 1981, 4, 121-129.
14. Schwarz, B.E. Psychic-Dynamics. New York: Pageant Press, 1965.
15. Kalyanaraman, S. The Hindu (newspaper, S. India) November 27, 1977.
Dr. C.T.R. Chari, MA, PhD.
Dept. Philosophy and Psychology,
Madras Christian College,
Madras - 59, Tamilnadu, INDIA.