Parapsychological J. of South Africa. 1981, 2:2, 35-55


Vernon M. Neppe MB, BCh, DPM, FFPsych(SA), MMed (Psych), BA, Ph D (Med)*
Lewis A. Hurst BA, BSc, MB, ChB, Ph D, M D, F R C Psych**
* Senior Lecturer/Senior Psychiatrist Dept of Psychiatry, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. President, SASPR.
** Professor Emeritus, Dept of Psychiatry and Honorary Research
Professorial Fellow, Dept of Genetics, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.
Former President, SASPR.

Key words : Psi
Temporal lobe

The exact heritability of the faculty of subjective paranormal experience is unknown. The theoretical role of anomalous temporal lobe functioning in producing the epiphenomenon of subjective paranormal experience is delineated. This kind of anatomical substrate is hypothesized as having certain specific hereditary predispositions. Further, the genetics of epilepsy, particularly of the temporal lobe, may give a clue to genetic faculties in subjective paranormal experients, although the grounds for such a relationship are tenuous.
The inheritance of a psi faculty is not yet established. Studies appear to be very limited: Nash and Buzby found that monozygotic (i. e. identical) twins had significantly greater similarity in their ESP scoring levels than dizygotic twins. 1 This work was replicated by Charlesworth. 2 A classic study is the comparable evocation of alpha rhythm (apparently by ESP) in monozygotic twins by Duane and Behrendt. 3 An early description was that of Fluornoy who described a family with four generations of 'psychics'. 4
Zorab cites numerous cases of 'psychics' who had strong family histories of ostensible paranormal experiences. 5 The concept of 'psi running in families' does not, of course, necessarily imply genetic predisposition as learnt environmental patterns may possibly explain such phenomena.
Finally Owen suggests the possibility of either single gene or polygenic inheritance of a psi faculty. 6 He stresses that the former may well imply an essentially biochemical difference. To replicate this state experimentally a random psychopharmacological search may be necessary. In contrast, if psi were polygenic a 'delicate balance of many factors' may allow experimental treatments in combination. He warns against avoiding false correlations without causal relationships, stressing the importance of balanced or factorial designs. 6
If one were dealing with a genetically determined psi faculty, an anatomico-physiological substrate for such a faculty would seem logical. Furthermore, because genetic studies frequently involve studies of several generations, such a study would, at present, require retrospective analyses. For preceding generations to prove retrospectively their genuine psi faculties would frequently be impossible. Because of this, the use of Neppe's term, subjective paranormal experience (SPE)7, is convenient. Such a term does not assess the objective veridicality of claimed psi events. It is, however, limited to experiences perceived by the subject as being of paranormal quality. A hierarchy of defined criteria can be used to differentiate out the quality of each SPE along a continuum of subjective veridicality, the most advanced form in this regard being conformity to 'low-score subjective paranormal experience. '8
Neppe embraced the concept of subjective paranormal experience in his controlled research on the temporal lobe. He utilized two extreme groups, one of whom, the Subjective Paranormal Experients, had had at least sixteen 'low-score' SPEs of at least four different kinds (eg waking ESP, veridical dreams, trance-mediumship, psychokinesis). In contrast, the Subjective Paranormal Non-Experient had had no SPEs, even of 'high-score kind'. 9 After excluding temporal lobe symptoms occurring with SPEs and despite the small numbers used, he found that his Subjective Paranormal Experients had significantly more 'possible temporal lobe symptoms' (average 3. 3) than a control group (who had no 'possible temporal lobe symptoms' at all). These subjects were also studied electroencephalographically but trends only were noted, possibly because of the small sample size. 10 ° Neppe's research follows on the pioneering uncontrolled electroencephalographic (EEG) study of Nelson who found that, with one exception, the EEGs of eleven mediums and one automatic writer had temporal lobe abnormalities. 11
Three factors should be considered prior to interpreting these results. Firstly, extreme groups were used - trance mediums by Nelson, 11 and subjects with large numbers of SPEs by Neppe. 1O This does not imply that people with occasional SPEs have unusual temporal lobe functioning. Secondly, Owen warns against equating correlations with causality. 6 In these instances, an association with the temporal lobe and SPE may reflect epiphenomena with two entirely different origins. Finally, SPEs can neither be equated with genuine veridical psi experience originating outside the brain nor with non-veridical distortions of temporal lobe origin. Consequently, the connection of SPEs with the temporal lobe does not imply endogenous or exogenous origins of such SPEs.
Following on the work of Neppe8'9 and Nelson 11 quoted above it would be logical to analyse results of genetic studies on the temporal lobe. These appear to be void. However, much has been written about the genetics of epilepsy, and as temporal lobe epilepsy is the major way in which the temporal lobe manifests dysfunction an understanding of the genetics of epilepsy may be motivated at a general level.
Anomalous temporal lobe firing in Subjective Paranormal Experients does not imply the presence of disintegrative features such as temporal lobe epilepsy. In fact, this condition occurred in only one of Neppe's experients. In view of the rarity of temporal lobe epilepsy, however, (- 0. 2% of the general population) this result suggests that the genetics of epilepsy would be a specific motivation to be considered in any uncontrolled case descriptions of families with SPEs.
Kallman and Sander reviewed convulsive phenomena throughout the animal kingdom, their graded character in Man, and their universal elicitability by stimuli such as electro-convulsive therapy. l2 The clinical studies of Conrad showing dizygotic and monozygotic twin concordance rates of 4, 3 and 86, 0 percentl3 and of Lennox and Gibbs where the corresponding figures based on EEG criteria were 25, 0 and 100, 0 percent, l4 were compatible with the hypothesis of a single autosomal dominant genetic mechanism fully penetrant at the EEG level. Alstrom, however, found figures in first degree relatives of his sample derived from the Serefimer Clinic in Norway, not significantly different from figures in the general population (parents 1, 3 percent, siblings 1, 5 percent and children 3, 0 percent). l5 However, in 1 percent of his sample he found pedigrees suggesting single autosomal genetic mechanisms, mainly dominant. Hurst, Reef and Sachs considered that the large families in Soweto might provide clinical material to elucidate the conflict of the findings of Conrad and Lennox and the Gibbses on the one hand, with their single autosomal genetic hypothesis, and Alstrom on the other, who found no evidence of a genetic mechanism in the vast majority of his cases, and the possibility of a single-gene mechanism in a very small minority. l6 The severity of the cases necessitating confinement in a mental hospital does not explain the difference, as both the Lennox group and Alstrom worked with general hospital cases, l5 and Conrad with mental hospital cases. l4 In Hurst's study conducted at the Meadowlands Clinic, Soweto, 13 of the 46 families (i. e. 28, 3 percent) showed pedigrees compatible with single-gene mechanisms, 9 dominant, 1 irregular dominant and 3 non specified. l6 These findings were in line with the view of protagonists of the single dominant hypothesis, rather than those of Alstrom. Metrakos made a magnificent synthesis of previous findings and his own comprising 211 probands and 112 controls, in which, after excluding symptomatic epilepsies and retaining only the centrencephalic, he proposed a single autosomal dominant genetic mechanism, with the special feature of high penetrance within the age range 65 to 145 with rapid tailing off of the incidence curve below and above this range. l7 Further details will be found in Hurst. l8
The authors believe that an index group of Subjective Paranormal Experients and a demographically similar control group of Non-Experients should be utilized. Previous research by Neppe has illustrated the difficulties of categorizing descriptions of so-called paranormal experiences by other members of family into the framework of subjective paranormal experience. l9 Thus personal interviews are as far as possible necessities. The criteria for SPE could be those laid down by Neppe. 8'9
An important kind of exclusion would be phenomena that are interpreted as subjectively paranormal but in fact are possibly psychotic. Subjects with histories of SPEs plus major psychiatric illness would best be excluded from this research. Moreover, the delineation of what West calls the 'sane hallucination' (i. e. the perceptual impression of the paragnost psychic, his hallucinatory SPE) from 'insane hallucinations' should be borne in mind. 20 West emphasized the stereotyped, vague, repetitive and usual auditory nature of the pathological hallucination. Neppe stressed that the temporal lobe symptoms of subjective paranormal experients were invariably of perceptual hallucinatory kind but regarded as possibly the prime differentiator, the non-existence or the only rare occurrence of impressions pertaining to self. 8 Self-reference as ideas of influence, or overvalued concepts or special symbolic interpretations pertaining to self are hallmarks of major psychopathology.
Because the study suggested would involve analyses of temporal lobe symptoms as a prime method of establishing an anatomico-genetic correlate, it is necessary to outline 'possible temporal lobe symptoms' all of which should be perceived in the context of the 'company they keep' and of non-leading questions. Neppe lists the following based on a comprehensive literature survey. 21
1. complex visual hallucinations 1inked to other qualities of perceptions such as voices, emotions or time
Any form of :
2. auditory perceptual abnormality
3. olfactory hallucinations (? antero-medial hippocampus)
4. gustatory hallucinations (probable deep-lying Sylvian)
5. rotation or dysequilibrium feelings linked to other perceptual
qualities (posterior insula)
6. unexplained 'sinking', 'rising' or 'gripping' epigastric sensations
(posterior insula)
7. epileptic amnesia
8. lapses
9. conscious confusion
10. play-backs
11. illusions of distance, size (micropsia, macropsia), loudness, tempo,
strangeness, unreality, fear, sorrow
12. epileptic automatisms
13. masticatory-salivatory episodes
14. speech automatisms
15. hallucinations of indescribable modality
16. 'fear which comes of itself' linked to other disorders (hallucinatory
or unusual autonomic)
17. uncontrolled, unprecipitated, undirected, aggressive episodes
18. superior quadrantic homonymous hemianopia
19. receptive (Wernicke's) aphasia.
Neppe has devised a special Temporal Lobe Questionnaire to serve as for research of this kind21 (Appendix A). Questionnaires pertaining to Subjective Paranormal Experience can be found elsewhere. 8 (A Brief Paranormal Questionnaire was published in an earlier issue of this journall9).
The value of an anatomical approach to the genetics of psi based on the high correlation of SPEs to temporal lobe symptoms is undetermined. It certainly appears a worthwhile area to pursue.
1. Nash, C. B. and Buzby, D. E. 'Extrasensory Perception of Identical and Fraternal Twins. ' J. Hered. 1965, 56, 53-54.
2. Charlesworth, E. A. 'Psi and the Imaginary Dream. ' Research in Parapsychology 1974. 1975, 85-89.
3. Duane, T. and Behrendt, T. 'Extrasensory Electroencephalographic Induction between Identical Twins. ' Science. 1965, l5O, 367.
4. Fluornoy, T. 'Frorn India to the Planet Mars : A Study of a Case of Somnabulism with Glossolalia. ' New York : University Books. 1966.
5. Zorab, G. 'Modern Genetics and Psi Phenomena. ' Parapsychology Review. 1975, 4 : 5, 1-3.
6. Owen, A. R. G. 'Methodological Approaches in Psi Research : An Overview. ' In Cavanna, R. (ed) Psi Favourable States of Consciousness. New York : Parapsychology Foundation 1970, pp 27-35.
7. Neppe, V. M. 'Subjective Paranormal Experience. ' Psi. 1980, 2 : 3, 2-3.
8. Neppe, V. M. 'An Investigation of the Relationship between Subjective Paranormal Experience and Temporal Lobe Symptomatology. ' M Med (Psych) dissertation, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. 1979.
9. Neppe, V. M. 'Subjective Paranormal Experience and Temporal Lobe Symptomatology. ' PJSA. 1980, 1 : 2, 78-98.
10. Nelson, G. K. and Neppe, V. M. 'The Neurophysiological Wave Correlates of a Controlled Sample of Subjective Paranormal Experients - A Preliminary Report. ' PJSA. 1980, 1 : 2, 99-101.
11. Nelson, G. K. 'Preliminary Study of the Electroencephalograms of Mediums. ' Parapsychologica IV. 1970, 9, 30-45.
12. Kallman, F. J. and Sander, G. The Genetics of Epilepsy. New York : Grune and Stratton. 1947.
13. Conrad, C. in Guett, A. (ed) Handbuch der Erbkrankheiten. Leipzig : Thieme. 1940.
14. Lennox, W. G. , Gibbs, E. L. and Gibbs, F. A. 'The Brain-Wave Pattern : An Hereditary Trait. ' J. of Heredity. 1954, 36, 233-243.
15. Alstrom, C. H. 'A Study of Epilepsy in its Clinical, Social and Genetic Aspects. ' Acta Psychiat. et Neurol. Scandinav. 1950, suppl. 63.
16. Hurst, L. A. , Reef, H. and Sachs, S. B. 'Neuropsychiatric Disorders in the Bantu. I. Convulsive Disorders. ' SA Med. J. 1961, 35, 750-754.
17. Metrakos, J. D. 'The Centrencephalic EEG in Epilepsy. ' Proceedings of the Second International Conference of Human Genetics. Rome. 1961, 1792-1795.
18. Hurst, L. A. 'Genetics of Epilepsy. ' SA Med. J. 1974, 48, 603.
19. Neppe, V. M. 'A Study of the Incidence of Subjective Paranormal Experience. ' P. J. S. A. 1981, 2 : 1, 15-37.
20. West, D. J. Psychical Research Today. Middlesex : Penguin. 1962.
21. Neppe, V. M. 'A Study of Deja Vu Experience. ' Ph D (Med) thesis,
University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. 1991, vol. 4, p 571.
(Instructions in brackets are for the interviewer. If the subject
answers positively all the information in brackets must be obtained. )
Please answer Yes or No to the following questions.
The answer 'yes' refers to something having occurred at any time in
your life. Indicate if you are uncertain. If 'yes' is answered, then
consider how many times this has occurred, and please describe in more
(Frequency: 0ccasional = +, Frequent = ++, Immobilizing or requiring
treatment, or occurring daily
or more frequently = +++).
1. What medicine are you on? (Please list indicating duration and the
name of the Doctor who prescribed it).
2. Have you ever had an E. E. G. ? (Please give details when, why, where
and what the result was).
3. Have you ever had any fits? (Please give details when, for how long, when the last was, the form it takes, who diagnosed it, the medication taken for it, and any known cause, plus the doctor involved, any headaches or confusion or fatigue or weakness afterwards. Describe any feelings or aura or sensations before the fit)
4. Have you ever lost consciousness (been unconscious) or been knocked out? (Please give details including dates, duration, cause, memories before and after the accident or happening, the doctor involved, duration of hospitalization).
5. Have you ever had meningitis, encephalitis or infection of the brain? (Please give details including dates, duration, cause, hospitalization duration, doctor involved, and any results thereof);
6. Were you a normal: a) pregnancy? b) birth? c) baby?
If not, in each case, please indicate what was wrong.
7. Have you ever been in hospital for physical or mental causes? (Please list duration, dates, doctors, diagnosis, results).
8-. a) Have you ever been treated or seen by a psychologist,
psychiatrist or neurologist?
If so;
1. Were you ever hospitalized?
2. With what medication were you treated, for how long and how many times?
3. Were you treated without medication, or by psychotherapy? For how long and for how many sessions?
4. What diagnosis or diagnoses were made? (Please list all treatments, the duration, dates, doctor, diagnosis, results and medication used).
b) 1. Have you ever had difficulty coping with life, with your job, with your family, or with other people in general? (Please describe).
2. Were you ever unemployed? If so, for how long?
9 a) Have you ever had any other illness you have not listed above?
(Please list)
b) Have you ever had any operations you have not listed above?
(Please list)
10 a) Have you ever had any blackouts? b) Have you ever found yourself in a place and not known how you
got there?
c) Have you ever done something and not known afterwards that
you had done it?
d) Have you ever found that you have a memory blank (amnesia) or
are unable to remember a certain period of time just after this
has occurred?
e) Have people ever told you that you were behaving strangely and you were unaware of it?
f) Have you ever been diagnosed as having epilepsy?
(If so, please deta4. 1 date, occurrence, any alcohol or drugs, duration, causes, memories before and after (and durations doctor involved, any hospitalization, headaches/fatigue/confusion/ weakness afterwards. Describe any feelings or aura or sensations before the happening. Please include any diagnoses made, and any treatment given. )
11. a) Do you ever lose control of yourself?
b) Do you ever get into an extremely bad temper?
c) Do you ever become extremely angry?
d) Are you ever told that you become violent or very aggressive
and you have no recollection of this?
If "yes" to any of 11a through d, please answer below:
1. Is there a reason for your behavior or anger?
2. Does this reason deserve so much anger or such a reaction?
3. Is the reason always a culmination (or end-point) of things (possibly little) which are frustrating?
4. Can you completely control your anger?
5. Do you sometimes find you had no control over what you did, even for a short while?
6. Do you sometimes not understand your angry behavior?
7. Are you always aware of what you are doing during these spells?
8. Have you ever hurt yourself during these spells?
9. Do you sometimes hurt others during these spells?
10. Do you hit out at anyone or anything or is your anger directed towards the people or objects with whom/which you are angry ?
11. Do you sometimes find that you cannot remember part or the whole of what happened during these periods?
12. Do these angry spells occur when you take alcohol or other agents? If so, what?
13. Do these angry spells occur when you have not taken alcohol or other agents?
14. At what age did this begin? -
15. In your opinion, what caused these angry spells?
16. Do you sometimes become violent during these spells?
17. How do you feel afterwards?
18. Do you feel !better', relieved or guilty
afterwards? Indicate how you feel.
19. Do you afterwards have a headache or feel fatigue, sleepy
confused or weak?
20. Do you ever have any feelings, aura or sensations preceding
this anger?
21. How frequently does this occur?
12. Do you get very tired even when you have had enough sleep?
If so,
1. To what do you attribute this?
2. Does your medication help to lift the tiredness or does it make it worse?
3. Is there any specific time of the day it occurs?
4. How much sleep do you get?
5. Do you feel depressed?
6. Do you feel bored at times when you get tired?
7. How frequently does this occur?
13. 1. Please describe how you sleep? (Total sleep time; initial, terminal, paroxysmal insomnia; dreams)
2. Please describe your appetite? (quantity, desire)
3. Please describe your weight and any recent changes?
All these refer to the past 3 months (extend backwards if necessary).
14. 1. Do you have difficulty concentrating?
2. Do you have difficulty reading books because of your thinking ?
3. Are your difficulties continuous? Do they relate to a specific time of the day? Are you anxious at any stage, do you just feel at times confused?
1S. a) Do your moods fluctuate within minutes for no reason?
b) Do your feelings change during the day without reason? OR
c) Do you find that at times you are happy and then for no reason
sad, or sad and then happy?
If yes, to l5a, l5b or l5c
1. How frequently does this happen?
2. Does this occur at any particular time of the day?
3. Does the change take a few minutes, hours, days or weeks?
16. Do you have frequent or severe or continuous headaches? (Please describe fully including onset age, duration, frequency, changes, position, character, precipitators, relief, associated factors, response to medication, associated nausea, visual or vestibular features).
17. Do you have a strange feeling in you stomach or upper abdomen? (Please describe: churning, swelling, discomfort, any relation to meals, any other associated sensations or symptoms; any specific periodicity; frequency).
18. a) Do you have visions of any kind?
(Please describe: differentiate from thought or delusion).
b) Do you see dots, spots, or lights in front of your eyes? (Please describe: associated headache or not; both eyes; frequency; other symptoms)
c) Have you seen shapes distorted, or things too big or too small, or things moving when they should be stationary. (Describe, as above).
19. Do you ever smell something when there is nothing to smell? (Describe ) Have you ever come across the sme'1 of any of the following when there is nothing to smell? Steak, burning, rotten eggs, sweetness, perfume, cake, indescribable. (Please describe: associated frequency and features).
20. Do you ever encounter tastes in your mouth which you cannot explain? (Describe: e. g. metallic).
21. Do you ever have very odd sensations in any part of your body? (Describe: associations, periodicity, frequency, toxicity).
22. Do you ever feel something which is not there crawling on you? (Describe: as above). t. ,
23. Do others ever tell you of odd behavior which you are unaware of?
(Describe: e. g. buttoning - unbuttoning, chewing movements ask specifically).
24. Do you ever hear any of the following, when there is no-one there or nothing to cause it?
(Describe including specifically the following qualities: buzz, sizz, music, whistling, unformed sound, single word, jumble, full messages including discussing, instructing, and arguing voices, names; differentiate pseudo-hallucinations from true hallucinations; frequency and periodicity).
25. Do you ever have episodes of sudden, unexplained dizziness? (Describe: quality (rotational, syncopal), frequency, periodicity).
26. Do you ever have exactly the same repetitive dream? (Describe: include nightmares).
27. 1. Do you sometimes experience a warm/cold feeling in a certain specific part of the body ? OR 2. around you, which is not experienced by others with you?
28. Do you sometimes feel you are not yourself, or are just watching yourself, or are not part of yourself? (Describe).
29. Do you ever find familiar surroundings strange or foreign or different or not recognize them? (Describe).
30. Do you have periods when you find that you feel confused (i. e. you don't know where you are, or why you are there, or what time or date it is?) (Explain)
31. Have you found that at times for no apparent reason you feel you are reliving something in the past, even though this is not awakened by the present environment? (As if the past flows like a cinema screen before you?) (Explain).
32. Do you ever find that even though you hear what is being said, you cannot make sense of it? (You cannot understand it even though it involves a simple vocabulary in your home language. ) (Please explain with examples, indicating frequency, circumstances and associated symptomatology. )
33. Are you ever told that you at times appear to lose contact (consciousness) and just stare for seconds or a minute or two? [ Please describe: kind of stare e. g. fixed, clear, studied, alive stare compared with a blank one; duration e. g. 30-60 seconds not 15 seconds; age of onset; frequency, circumstances associated symptomatology) (waking from this)(not day-dream) (clouded consciousness after the episode)]
34. Do you ever have episodes whereby a memory or vision of a past experience becomes so vivid, it is as if it is occurring over again? (Please distinguish from the feeling that something in the present has happened before or is being recognized i. e. deja vu).
35. Do you have unexplained, unprecipitated and uncontrollable attacks of intense fear for no apparent reason? (Please describe: include associated symptoms, frequency, autonomic concomitants, duration (Panic attacks) (sweat, palpitations, pallor, pupils)).
36. Do you ever find that you are slurring your speech?
37. Do you have episodes whereby a particular thought 'forces' its way into your consciousness i. e. even though you resist a particular thought it intrudes into your mind (i. e. compulsive thought). (Please explain).
38. Would you say that you have periods which are out of character to your normal personality and involve behavior that is not approved of, or episodes of moodiness, irritability and anger, for which you have no explanation? (Please describe with examples, duration, frequency, associated symptomatology).
39. Have you ever had the strong feeling or impression that you had been in some place or in the same situation before, even though you had never actually been there before, or really were experiencing the event for the first time in real life? (Please indicate frequency and vividness).
40. Have you ever had the strong feeling or impression that you had never been in a place or situation that you knew you had been in many times before and in fact, knew well? (P1ease explain).
41 Do you ever discover that your word order in your home language is wrong or you are misplacing figures (digits)?
42. Do you easily become irritable over 'nothing'?
43. Do you find there are any specific things which trigger any
one of the symptoms discussed? (e. g. television, lights flashing, sudden or special sound,
smell). (Describe).
44. Which of the following symptoms above which you have said do occur,
have been improved by your medication?
(Please list response).
45. Which of the above symptoms occur very frequently or solely
after you have had a small amount of alcohol? (less than two tots).
(Please list responses).
46. Which symptoms began only after your head injury (or other
trauma mentioned above e. g. encephalitis)?
47. Did you have fits associated with fever Or other illness as a young child?
48 a Were you a hyperactive child? Did you have learning problems?
b. Have you ever wet your bed? (Elicit whether this was enuretic or epileptic
Ask about blood on the pillow or strange sounds or shaking. )
49. What role has drug abuse played in the development of your symptoms? C(List drug used (specifically dagga, LSD, amphetamines, barbiturates, alcohol), duration of use, symptoms associated with taking or withdrawal, changes after drug usage
50. Do you keep a diary of the events in your life?


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