Can objects be moved by thought alone? A dubious notion, eh? So when the History Channel asked me to look at the brain waves of “a mentalist” I didn’t have much interest. Back when I was in psychiatric training Uri Geller was at the Stanford Research Institute demonstrating New Physics and mind-over-matter with mental spoon-bending. In the intervening years, Uri Geller and his spoon bending was supposedly debunked as just a magician and his tricks. See for instance http://www.skepdic.com/geller.html which has a couple of good YouTube videos of Randi and Michael Schermer “debunking” Geller. But the producer was persistent, saying had a mentalist who seemed adept, and they just wanted to see what was happening to the brain waves of this man at the moment he seems to be moving things with his mind; if we could monitor him, they would not mind what we demonstrated–or not.
I asked Bill Scott, who was working out of my office at the time, if he was willing to join me in this project. It happened that he was using a new protocol that can look at EEG frequencies in a very precise way and was eager to demonstrate its utility. And so we met with the team from the History Channel’s Stan Lee’s Superhumans and mentalist Guy Bavli. Bavli demonstrated a number of tricks which had me gasping–but I kept telling myself that he is a professional magician. I did not expect what we found.
For the data collection, we chose one demonstration–moving a pen in a glass without touching it. (You can see a video of a similar event on line. The segment filmed in my office has not run yet, but should run soon and I will post a link when available). For technical reasons, Bill took EEG data from the pre-frontal (forehead) areas on both sides. Bill processed the data, and we took a look at it the following morning.
Bill and I were surprised to see an indication that when the pen moved there was a massive shift in the gamma region of the EEG–only on the left side. Later, we analyzed the data more carefully and noted that at the same time there was even more elevation in the theta region of the EEG. We believe that the gamma elevation is more impressive because, technically, these are much smaller wave forms that tend to rarely spike as high as we observed.
These are interesting findings which in no way prove that Guy Bavli moved the pen with mental force alone. But we did demonstrate that there were very unusual EEG findings occurring simultaneously with pen movement that we could not account for. This seemed like something we should report to the scientific community for further study and validation. I wrote up the findings and we presented a Poster at the International Society for Neurofeedback and Research this past September. Below I have reproduced that poster and its content (below that).
Asymmetric Frontal Gamma & High Beta During a Telekinesis “Demonstration”
Thomas M. Brod, MD, DFAPA, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Geffen UCLA School of Medicine
William Scott, BS*
*Data acquisition and HHT processing.
Early this year we had the opportunity to observe EEG function during a demonstration of “telekinesis” with EEG monitoring for The History Channel.* We observed that coincident with the mentalist apparently moving a pen in a glass without touch (but not under control conditions), there was a sharp rise in left frontal high beta and gamma activity with no corresponding rise on the right. These non-blind observations will not convince skeptics (including ourselves), but they do open a path for open-minded rigorous evaluation of the phenomena that were observed.
We acquired two channels of EEG from sites FP1 and FP2 with the BrainMaster Atlantis amplifier, comparing resting eyes open condition (watching his breath) to the condition where the mentalist apparently moved a pen telekinetically. We were not using a 60Hz notch filter. We hypothesized that if he was using an electromagnetic current to pick up and move the metal in the pen, we would see a very large 60Hz signal from both sensors.
We utilized the Hilbert-Huang transform (HHT), a new method to construct a sharp and clean time-frequency spectrum of a non-linear and non-stationary signal. Using empirical mode decomposition while retaining intra-wave modulation makes it very suitable for quantitative EEG analysis; also, HHT has excellent potential for clinical EEG neurofeedback.
* It is expected to run on The History Channel’s Stan Lee’s Superheroes.
We applied the HHT to both conditional data sets. We used Microsoft Excel to graph the time-frequency data. The HHT is dynamic, working best on fast changing signals like gamma. Another advantage to the HHT is that we do not need to arbitrarily pick a frequency range for each band,for example “Gamma = 38-43Hz. Here, Gamma was 38-54 Hz.
Baseline frequency bands (empirically derived, HHT) were highly symmetrical at faster frequencies
A post hoc analysis of the mentalist’s Hilbert-Huang Transform (HHT) data and revealed 8 distinct frequency bands (for clarity we have not shown the three lowest bands). The range of each band was obtained by taking the median + and – ½ the standard deviation frequency at each point in the wave.
This is the control condition where the mentalist was watching his breath. We are graphing Gamma amplitude (intensity) against time.
“Mentally” moving the pen seems to correlate with Left Frontal activation.
Here we see the Gamma frequencies deviating both times the pen moved (lift and drop back). The observed pen began to move and lift at sample period 5,753 and dropped back into the glass at 13,521. Observe the left/right asymmetry.
High Beta increased the most of his frequencies. His high beta did not change dramatically when the pen dropped into the glass, but left/right asymmetry persisted.
Here we see some Theta increasing at point 5345 which proceeds the bursts of high beta and gamma.
These data have documented an asymmetrical change in brainwave function of the mentalist as he appeared to move a pen into a glass without touching it. Artifacts from an electromagnetic generator or from physical movement should have shown up equally in both the left and right EEG channels.
Additional Literature FYI
Barnhofer T, Chitka T et al.(2010) State Effects of Two Forms of Meditation on Prefrontal EEG Asymmetry in Previously Depressed Individuals. Mindfulness 1(1):21-27.
Bengstron, WF (2007) A method used to train skeptical volunteers to heal in an experimental setting, Journal of Alternative and Complementary medicine, 13, 329-331.
Bengstron, WF, & Moga M (2007) Resonance, placebo effects, and Type II errors: some implications from healing research for experimental methods, Journal of Alternative and Complementary medicine, 13, 317-327.
Berkman ET. Lieberman MD (2010) Approaching the band and avoiding the good: lateral prefrontal cortical asymmetry distinguishes between action and valence. J Cogn Neurosci. Sep 22(9):1970-9
Buzsaki G (2006) Rhythms of the Brain. Oxford University Press
Chia-Lung Y, Hsiang-Chih C, et al (2010) Extraction of single-trial cortical beta oscillatory activities in EEG signals using empirical mode decomposition, BioMedical Engineering OnLine 9-25.
Davidson RJ. (2004) What does the prefrontal cortex “do” in affect: perspectiveson frontal EEG asymmetry research. Biol Psychol. 67(1-2):219-33.
Hendricks L, Bengston WF, Gunkelman J (2010) The Healing Connection: EEG harmonics, Entrianment, and Schumann’s Resonances, Journal of Scientific Exploration 24:4 655-66.
Leder D (2005),“Spooky Actions at a Distance”: physics, psi, and distant healing. J Altern Complemen Med, Oct;11(5):923-30
Lutz A, Slagter HA, Rawlings NB, Francis AD, Greischar LL, Davidson RJ, (2009) Mental Training enhances attentional stability, Jneurosci. 29(42): 13418-27
Lutz A, Greischar LL Rawlings NB, Davidson RJ, (2004) Long-term meditators self-induce gamma synchrony during mental practice. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101(46):16369-73
Petrantonakis PC & Hadjiileontiadis LJ (2010) Emotion recognition from EEG using higher order crossings, IEEE Trans Inf Techol Biomed 14:2, 186-97
Schlitz M, Radin D, et al (2003) Distant healing intention: definitions and evolving guidelines for laboratory studies, Altern Ther Health Med, May-Jun;9(3 Suppl):A31-43.
Shagter HA, Davidson RJ, Lutz A (2011), Mental training as a tool in the neuroscientific study of brain and cognitive plasticity, Front Hum Neurosci 5:17.