Thursday, October 29, 2009

Taking a scientific approach to spooky

Sally Rhine Feather, of the Rhine Research Center, and lecturer Christine Simmonds-Moore pose Tuesday at the Forest at Duke, during “Scientific Excursions & Diversions,” a class presented by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
By Monica Chen
DURHAM — A boy with a lost dog leads his mother to it through his visions. A woman who wants to commit suicide gets a timely call from a friend hundreds of miles away. A gambler who, when “in the zone,” can somehow make the dice turn up any way he wants.

With just a few days to go before Halloween, some 120 senior citizens were treated to a presentation from the Rhine Research Center on extrasensory perception, psychokinesis and other topics in parapsychology, the scientific study of psychic abilities or of Psi, the psyche.

In between explanations of scientific methods used in documenting and testing paranormal phenomena, the experts on hand offered the audience information from the newest research.

For instance, there have been found precognitive physiological responses to emotional stimuli. In Great Britain, where lecturer Christine Simmonds-Moore is from, there have been studies of dreams where a “sender” would watch a clip and a “receiver” in a chamber that induces a dream-like state would describe the images in their minds.

There have also been studies of the body’s physiological response to emotional stimuli, indicating that some people have a sort of precognitive anticipation of trauma.

“Whatever the Psi mechanism,” said Sally Rhine Feather, executive director of the Rhine Center, “it’s probably built in as a warning.”

Feather is the daughter of Joseph Rhine, founder of the Duke University parapsychology lab that eventually became the Rhine Center, located at 2741 Campus Walk Ave.

Feather has been involved in the research since she was young, helping her father out in the lab and overseeing experiments like with the Zener cards, in which one participant looks at the card and the other participant has to guess what’s on it.

“It indicates that there may be more consciousness to the brain than chemicals,” Feather said of parapsychology. “All the major religions believe there is something more than the body. All cultures have talked about these things, but we take a scientific approach to prove them.”

The lecture was held by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which was founded by Duke Continuing Education and the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development to organize lectures, social events and other offerings for seniors.

Anthony Waraksa, host of the Symposia Program lectures, said they invited Feather and Simmonds-Moore because the talk would be timely and fun for Halloween. Waraksa said the scientific rigor of the studies was important.

“They go where humans don’t usually go,” Waraksa said. “They’re not afraid to say, ‘Let’s go check it out.’ ”

The most intriguing part of the lecture, to him, was precognition.

“Darwin has said we evolve to take advantage of our environment,” he said. “If some people have precognition, then it would be a great advantage.”

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