New Book


From the Preface

[An ESP experiment] “immediately appeals to his [or her] unconscious readiness to witness a miracle, and to the hope, latent in all [people], that such a thing may yet be possible. Primitive superstition lies just below the surface of even the most tough-minded individuals, and it is precisely those who most fight…” 

C.G. Jung, 1952.

It is of natural science to investigate nature, impartially and without prejudice.

J.R. Smythies, 1967.


  • something that defies explanation – adds spice. Beyond spice, anomaly offers hope, the hope that something – whatever it may be – exists beyond the everyday. We humans live in hope eternally. But what exactly is an ‘anomaly’? I do not mean the kind of oddness or peculiarity in human behaviour that is everywhere to be seen. I am referring to things that really should not be so, the weird, the spooky, the face in the mirror that isn’t you. Anomalistic experiences are curious, strange, ‘funny peculiar’.  As we engage with the experience itself, we freely ruminate and craving to understand, we dig to discover something new. The goal here is to do precisely that, to dig below the surface of anomalistic experience, to take a close look at the psychology of the paranormal, to put psi ‘under the microscope’.  One should not be surprised if all is not as it seems and we can expect surprises aplenty here.

I approached the writing of this book with anticipation

wondering where the adventure might lead. I hoped it would lead towards new insights, explanatory theory and nuggets of new knowledge.

In the end, I reached an altogether unexpected conclusion…

How, you may well ask, can that be?  Surely, an ‘expert’ about psychology and the paranormal should already have reached an opinion one way or the other, a strong point of view?

Not so.

I genuinely have no idea where this new investigation will lead.I write as a zetetic.[1] I have a map and a set of place names[2],  but what exists at each place is uncertain. I last visited this field 20 years ago. Now, with ‘new eyes’ and new evidence, one’s understanding could be significantly different compared to 20 years ago.  Unlike previous visits, I am giving the psi hypothesis an initial probability of being a real, authentic and valid experience of 50%.

Please take a minute to consider your own current degree of belief in ESP.  Indicate your current belief with an arrow on the Belief Barometer below.[3]

My objective

is to cut a path through the vast, tangled jungle of publications with a machete that is sharp and decisive. With each new claim, one must reads, reflect, question, reflect some more, and ultimately decide at one particular moment the degree of plausibility that each specific claim possesses. Belief Barometers will be used to mark your and my degree of belief for each individual claim. The amount of variation in one’s degree of belief indicates a sensitivity to evidence.  If somebody simply says ‘0%’’ or ‘100%’ to absolutely everything, that surely indicates intransigence and intolerance of ambiguity.

One cannot profess definite explanations in advance because that would be blinkered. If we already KNEW the answers, we would cease to investigate, I would not be writing, and you would not be reading. The truth would already be out and we would be picking at the flesh of dead learning like vultures at a dead elephant.

No true zetetic starts from a fixed position. She/he suspends judgement while seeking and exploring with an open mind. In any science, all ideas are provisional, pending further investigation. Those who assert a fixed point of view before looking at the evidence break the ‘Golden Rule of Science’, which is to let conclusions follow the evidence.

Anomalistic psychology

includes the entire spectrum of conscious experience in all of its glorious splendour. By examining in-depth the evidence both pro and con any particular claim, one gains an entitlement to offer conclusions. Even then, the conclusions are tentative, pending further investigation by independent investigators. I am also minded to recall Heraclitus’ well-known dictum, “You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.”  Having stepped into the paranormal river on a few occasions, it was each time a different river.

It is impossible here to include everything in Anomalistic Psychology. The selected exemplify phenomena that have received significant attention from researchers over the last 50 years.  Fun though they may be: Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, Clever Hans, mediums, Ouija boards, and stage mentalists didn’t make the cut. See them in the ‘red tops’ and on YouTube.

Returning to the world of psi

after a 20-year respite, I am curious to see what has changed. Anomalistic Psychology is now the battle-ground of psi (Luke, 2011) and there is a growing stockpile of sophisticated methods and findings that can be considered to be supportive of paranormal interpretation.

My return to the field is not without some amount of trepidation, for now I risk being the target for pot-shots from both sides!

However, a strongly partisan view is unhelpful to making any progress in this, or any other part, of science.  Progress requires a dialogue between advocates of differing positions. I wish to put down a marker that says: “Peace. Nobody won. Stop fighting.” That’s not to say there won’t be criticism; there must be, otherwise there can never be progress.

To establish a dialogue, I invited seven *stars* of the field to respond to my criticisms and questions: Daryl Bem, Susan Blackmore, Stanley Krippner, Dean Radin, Hal Puthoff, Rupert Sheldrake, and Adrian Parker. Warm thanks to one and all.

Evidence, critique, new theories

In this book, I present evidence, critique, and new theories. Whenever possible, I use verbatim quotations of advocates concerning specific claims. Nobody can ever legitimately say that a claim has been ‘disproved’; if the truth of a claim is undecided, it is only possible to say that it is neither confirmed nor disconfirmed.

Whatever one thinks, the world is always independent of how we might wish it to be. There is nothing wrong about believing in psi if one chooses to, and scientists have no place disparaging such beliefs. Belief in the paranormal is normal.

Sociologist Andrew Greeley (1991) put it this way:

“The paranormal is normal. Psychic and mystic experiences are frequent even in modern urban industrial society. The majority of the population has had some such experience, a substantial minority has had more than just an occasional experience, and a respectable proportion of the population has such experiences frequently. Any phenomenon with incidence as widespread as the paranormal deserves more careful and intensive research than it has received up to now….People who have paranormal experiences, even frequent such experiences, are not kooks. They are not sick, they are not deviants, they are not social misfits, they are not schizophrenics. In fact, they may be more emotionally healthy than those who do not have such experiences.” (Greeley 1975: 7)

Scientists should be agnostic about the ontological status of paranormal experience and examine the circumstances that constrain or facilitate exceptional experiences.  In approaching each claim, I maintain a zetetic viewpoint, neither believing nor disbelieving,  attending to the evidence. Only after one has completed a thorough survey of evidence is one entitled to an informed opinion. A zetetic must not be naïve, however.

Master zetetic, Marcello Truzzi (1987):


“The ground rules of science are conservative, and in so far as these place the burden of proof on the claimants and require stronger evidence the more extraordinary the claim, they are not neutral. But, we also need to remember, evidence always varies by degree, and inadequate evidence requires a tolerant reply which requests better evidence, not a dogmatic denial that behaves as though inadequate evidence were no evidence” (p. 73).

Astronomer, Carl Sagan (1995) also offers wise advice:


“It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. Obviously those two modes of thought are in some tension. But if you are able to exercise only one of these modes, whichever one it is, you’re in deep trouble.If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything new. You become a crotchety old person convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) But every now and then, maybe once in a hundred cases, a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you are too much in the habit of being skeptical about everything, you are going to miss or resent it, and either way you will be standing in the way of understanding and progress. On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful as from the worthless ones.” (Sagan, 1995, p 25).

The first 20 years of the 21st century

brought many astonishing scientific discoveries: the first draft of the Human Genome, graphene, grid cells in the brain, the first self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cells, the Higgs boson, liquid water on Mars and gravitational waves. Not bad going in such a short time!  During this same period, Anomalistic Psychology has grown at an enormous pace with increased numbers of investigators and publications (Figure P2).  Disappointingly, however, new discoveries or theories are few and far between. If there has been one discovery, it might be stated thus: The science of anomalistic experience is more complex and obscure then most psychologists ever imagined. When we are at the beginning of new venture like this, we must not be deterred by having no real answer to two of the hardest questions in science: What is consciousness and what is it for? [5]

Screen Shot 2020-06-19 at 10.38.01

One of the greatest scientific minds of the last century, Stephen Hawking, stated:


“Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations” (Sample, 2011).

It has also been said that advances in science come not from empiricism but from new theories.

Parapsychology, like its ‘big sister’ Psychology, has always been heavily empirical and short on theory. The rapid growth is indexed by multitudes of empirical studies in the absence of notable theoretical developments.

By becoming more theory-driven, the field of ‘Psychology + Parapsychology’ as an integrated whole seems likely to make faster progress.

It seems counterproductive to treat Parapsychology and Psychology as separate fields.

Bringing the ‘Para’ part back into mainstream Psychology helps to integrate the discipline. This book takes a step in that direction. Parapsychology and Psychology contain myriads of variables, A,B,C…N…X,Y,Z.  An established strategy for developing new research in Psychology and Parapsychology is for the investigator to identity ‘gaps’ in the field and to set about filling those gaps with correlational and experimental studies with almost every possible permutation and combination of variables.  The gap filling approach is one strategy for keeping productivity high but, often, it is at the expense of developing new theories. As already noted, the academic world is based on quantitative measures of performance[6] and the number of publications a researcher can claim matters. This drive towards publications leads to what I call ‘Polyfilla Science’.

Polyfilla Science

For every ‘hole’ investigators can fill, they are almost guaranteed a peer-reviewed publication. ‘Polyfilla Science’ exists on an industrial scale, keeping hundreds of thousands of scientists busily occupied in hot competition. The ‘winners’ of the Polyfilla competition are the ones who tick the highest number of boxes and harvest the most citations.[7]

‘Polyfilla Science’ can be represented as a multidimensional matrix of cells where the task of science is viewed as filling every last cell in the matrix (Figure P3).  This method of doing science is more akin to a fairground shooting gallery than to theory-driven science.  In the absence of theory, many researchers use a Polyfilla ‘shotgun’ by testing a dozen or more “hypotheses” in one shot. Popular though it is, ‘Polyfilla Science’ isn’t the only game in town, and a theory-driven approach is also available.  Theory is used to identify the principles behind questions that need answering in a process of confirmation and disconfirmation of predictions. When one considers the fact that there are one hundred thousand psychology majors in the US alone, all needing a research project, it is no wonder the Polyfilla approach is so popular.[8]

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The book is geared towards the needs of teachers, researchers and students interested in Anomalistic Experience, Parapsychology and Consciousness Studies.

In comparison to the scientific discoveries in other fields, Psychology or Parapsychology have made no world-changing discoveries in the last 50 years. By this, I mean discoveries that are worth telling your grandchildren. In my opinion, the lack of significant theoretical developments, and the Polyfilla Approach, are two of the main reasons for this lack of progress.  All this needs to change.

Avoiding the drunkard’s search

One must beware – and avoid – the drunkard’s search principle – searching only where it is easiest to look. You probably already know the parable:

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his wallet and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes the policeman asks if he is sure he lost it here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost it in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, “this is where the light is”.


We must look wherever psi could be found, not only where it is easiest to look.

The search for psi is a complex, winding trail of traps and pitfalls. When we observe evidence, we must not,  a priori, rule it out as subjective validation or confirmation bias. An openness to being wrong may cause uncomfortable feelings, but knowledge and truth are never givens. When we are lucky enough to discover something new, this is hard-won treasure.

I present here new theories in the spirit of open inquiry. There’s a saying that ‘today’s theories make tomorrow’s fish-n-chip paper’. Possibly, probably, these theories are wrong.  So be it. If possible, falsify my theories, throw them out, and develop better ones. By testing and falsifying existing theories, newer, better theories can be obtained and so on indefinitely. As I share thoughts and conclusions, the reader will be able to contest and challenge  and contrary evidence.

We’ve walked on the Moon and are heading to Mars, but we still don’t yet know the function of consciousness. One of the starting points must be to separate fact from fiction in anomalistic psychology.


[1] Zetetic from the Greek zçtçtikos, from zçteô [ζητέω (zéteó) — to seek] “to seek to proceed by inquiry”.

[2] [2] Tópos, the Greek name for “place” (τόπος); ‘topic’ in English.

[3] Belief Barometers appear throughout this book.

[4] The majority of so-called ‘skeptics’ are disbelievers and/or deniers who have adopted the label ‘skeptic’ for its more temperate connotations. The late Marcello Truzzi was one of two co-founding chairman of the leading US skeptical organisation CSICOP (the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal). Truzzi became disillusioned with the organization, saying they “tend to block honest inquiry, in my opinion… Most of them are not agnostic toward claims of the paranormal; they are out to knock them.” Using the title of ‘skeptic’, Truzzi claimed that this association of debunkers could claim an authority to which they were not entitled: “critics who take the negative rather than an agnostic position but still call themselves ‘skeptics’ are actually pseudo-skeptics and have, I believed, gained a false advantage by usurping that label.” Genuine or ‘classical’ skepticism is the zetetic view to suspend judgement and enter into a genuine inquiry that assumes any claim requires justification. Maintaining a zetetic position of open inquiry requires a steady hand and a critical mind. There is no room for naivety but a touch of Socratic irony may at times be helpful. A protracted correspondence between Martin Gardner and Marcello Truzzi , indicating their two contrasting viewpoints, has been published by Richards (2017).

[5] Nagel (2013) and Strawson (2006), among others, argue for the ancient philosophy of pan-psychism, in which all physical objects from atoms to the cosmos all have conscious experience.  Elsewhere, I have described Consciousness  as “a direct emergent property of cerebral activity” (Marks, 2019)..

[6] Numbers of publications, citations, grant monies, prizes, promotions and awards.

[7] One of the world’s most published and ambitious ‘Polyfilla’ psychologists told me a self-effacing story about the occasion he went for an interview at the University of Oxford. A member of the panel asked: “Dr X, you have a huge number of publications. But what does it all mean?” He didn’t know the answer and got rejected for the post.

[8] Polycell Multi-Purpose Polyfilla Ready Mixed, 1 Kg, i#1 best seller on, 16 May 2019.

[9] The history of the field is adequately reviewed by others e.g. John Beloff (1993) or Caroline Watt (2017).

Vividness, Consciousness, and Mental Imagery: Making the Missing Links across Disciplines and Methods

Guest Editor: Amedeo D’Angiulli

All articles can be accessed freely online.

Marks, D.F. I Am Conscious, Therefore, I Am: Imagery, Affect, Action, and a
General Theory of Behavior. Brain Sci. 2019, 9(5), 107;
Views: 2082, Downloads: 1277, Citations: 2, Altmetrics: 2

Lefebvre, E.; D’Angiulli, A. Imagery-Mediated Verbal Learning Depends on
Vividness–Familiarity Interactions: The Possible Role of Dualistic Resting
State Network Activity Interference. Brain Sci. 2019, 9(6), 143;
Views: 1537, Downloads: 645, Citations: 0, Altmetrics: 5

Pinna, B.; Conti, L. The Limiting Case of Amodal Completion: The Phenomenal
Salience and the Role of Contrast Polarity. Brain Sci. 2019, 9(6), 149;
Views: 1307, Downloads: 701, Citations: 2, Altmetrics: 1

Craver-Lemley, C.; Reeves, A. Taste Modulator Influences Rare Case of
Color-Gustatory Synesthesia. Brain Sci. 2019, 9(8), 186;
Views: 1041, Downloads: 907, Citations: 0, Altmetrics: 0

Haustein, S.; Vellino, A.; D’Angiulli, A. Insights from a Bibliometric
Analysis of Vividness and Its Links with Consciousness and Mental Imagery.
Brain Sci. 2020, 10(1), 41;
Views: 810, Downloads: 300, Citations: 0, Altmetrics: 1

van der Helm, P.A. Dubious Claims about Simplicity and Likelihood: Comment on
Pinna and Conti (2019). Brain Sci. 2020, 10(1), 50;
Views: 699, Downloads: 234, Citations: 1, Altmetrics: 0

Pinna, B.; Conti, L. On the Role of Contrast Polarity: In Response to van der
Helm’s Comments. Brain Sci. 2020, 10(1), 54;
Views: 657, Downloads: 243, Citations: 0, Altmetrics: 0

Thorudottir, S.; Sigurdardottir, H.M.; Rice, G.E.; Kerry, S.J.; Robotham,
R.J.; Leff, A.P.; Starrfelt, R. The Architect Who Lost the Ability to
Imagine: The Cerebral Basis of Visual Imagery. Brain Sci. 2020, 10(2), 59;
Views: 2817, Downloads: 972, Citations: 0, Altmetrics: 56

Brain Sciences (ISSN 2076-3425) is a journal published by MDPI AG, Basel,


Consciousness without a cerebral cortex

Merker, B. (2007). Consciousness without a cerebral cortex: A challenge for neuroscience and medicine. Behavioral and brain sciences30(1), 63-81.


A broad range of evidence regarding the functional organization of the vertebrate brain – spanning from comparative neurology to experimental psychology and neurophysiology to clinical data – is reviewed for its bearing on conceptions of the neural organization of consciousness. A novel principle relating target selection, action selection, and motivation to one another, as a means to optimize integration for action in real time, is introduced. With its help, the principal macrosystems of the vertebrate brain can be seen to form a centralized functional design in which an upper brain stem system organized for conscious function performs a penultimate step in action control. This upper brain stem system retained a key role throughout the evolutionary process by which an expanding forebrain – culminating in the cerebral cortex of mammals – came to serve as a medium for the elaboration of conscious contents. This highly conserved upper brainstem system, which extends from the roof of the midbrain to the basal diencephalon, integrates the massively parallel and distributed information capacity of the cerebral hemispheres into the limited-capacity, sequential mode of operation required for coherent behavior. It maintains special connective relations with cortical territories implicated in attentional and conscious functions, but is not rendered nonfunctional in the absence of cortical input. This helps explain the purposive, goal-directed behavior exhibited by mammals after experimental decortication, as well as the evidence that children born without a cortex are conscious. Taken together these circumstances suggest that brainstem mechanisms are integral to the constitution of the conscious state, and that an adequate account of neural mechanisms of conscious function cannot be confined to the thalamocortical complex alone.

Keywords: action selection; anencephaly; central decision making; consciousness; control architectures; hydranencephaly; macrosystems; motivation; target selection; zona incerta

The conscious id

Solms, M. (2013). The conscious id. Neuropsychoanalysis15(1), 5-19.


Two aspects of the body are represented in the brain, and they are represented differently. The most important difference is that the brain regions for the two aspects of the body are associated with different aspects of consciousness. Very broadly speaking, the brainstem mechanisms derived from the autonomic body are associated with affective consciousness, and the cortical mechanisms derived from the sensorimotor body are associated with cognitive consciousness. Moreover, the upper brainstem is intrinsically conscious whereas the cortex is not; it derives its consciousness from the brainstem. These facts have substantial implications for psychoanalytic metapsychology because the upper brainstem (and associated limbic structures) performs the functions that Freud attributed to the id, while the cortex (and associated forebrain structures) performs the functions he attributed to the ego. This means that the id is the fount of consciousness and the ego is unconscious in itself. The basis for these conclusions, and some of their implications, are discussed here in a preliminary fashion. Keywords: affect; cognition; conscious; ego; id; unconscious

A General Theory of Behaviour VI: Wayne Rooney, Imaging and Action

Introspections by the footballer Wayne Rooney address key issues in our theory. This post is concerned with the very same issue: how are thinking, feeling and action directly connected?

What do Wayne Rooney and AGTB have in common?

“I always like to picture the game the night before: I’ll ask the kitman what kit we’re wearing, so I can visualise it. It’s something I’ve always done, from when I was a young boy. It helps to train your mind to situations that might happen the following day. I think about it as I’m lying in bed. What will I do if the ball gets crossed in the box this way? What movement will I have to make to get on the end of it? Just different things that might make you one per cent sharper”.[1]   Wayne Rooney

Building knowledge requires questions. Many times, asking a ‘good’ question leads straight to another question, and so on, until, at the end, there is an answer that may be useful to somebody. Or we may have no answer at all, and we realise that what we thought we knew, we didn’t know at all.

What is Consciousness, what is it ‘made of’, and what is it for?

No topic in Psychology prompts more questions than the issue of Consciousness.[2] When I taught a university course called ‘Consciousness’ 40 years ago it was seen as ‘off the wall’. Now it’s a part of the  mainstream, and we know more, but certainly not as much as we’d like to know. We have more questions than answers. In attempting to answer these questions, it is sensible to consider what we think we mean when we speak about Consciousness and to work from there

Thirty Claims about Consciousness

Based on large quantities of empirical observations, I summarise here thirty claims about Consciousness , and which have a fair-to-good chance of being true:

i) It is agentic: i.e. it has purpose, desire  and intentionality; [3]

ii)  It is deeply social in nature;

iii) It is the centre for feelings and moods;

iv) It operates with an inbuilt motivation to drive the organism towards pleasure and away from pain;

v) It is a centre for perceptions, interoceptive and exteroceptive;

vi) It serves as a ‘storehouse’ of memories including autobiographical memories from which information and images can be retrieved;

vii)          It is the control centre for action, perception, attention, affect regulation, cognition, information processing all of which require the making of predictions;

viii)         It has ‘layers’ and ‘levels’ and is capable of dissociation, splitting and confusion;

ix) It constructs a personal and a public identity for the ‘self’;

x) It is a centre for constructing and changing values and beliefs;

xi) It can set both altruistic and selfish goals, and anything in between;

xii) It can represent information, beliefs and values in an honest way or it can simulate, pretend, lie and be deceitful;

xiii)         It can be subject to hearing of voices and other hallucinations;

xiv)         It can be subject to illusions and delusions;

xv)          It can be accessed by introspection;

xvi)         It can be described symbolically in speech, writing and in works of art but it can also be ineffable;

xvii)        It varies in state of arousal from waking to sleep;

xviii)      It references values, beliefs, rules and customs, and has pragmatic methods for following them;

xix)         It strives the satisfaction of needs including equilibrium;

xx) It can pay close attention to detail or its concentration can wander;

xxi)         It fantasizes, ‘daydreams’;

xxii)        It plans new goals for the future;

xxiii)      It thinks and makes decisions;

xxiv)       It imagines and weighs consequences pro and con before acting;

xxv)        It receives feedback on the outcomes of action;

xxvi)       It ‘delegates’ well-practiced routines, tasks and habits to a lower level of automatic processing;

xxvii)     Automatic functioning such as autonomic system is also below the threshold of consciousness as long as it is performed as expected, but it becomes conscious if it fails to performs normally;

xxviii)   It dreams;

xxix)       It maintains Type II homeostatic responses of the whole organism;

xxx)        It remains imperfect.[4]


Based on the above observations, Principle IX  can be stated as follows:

Principle IX (Consciousness): Consciousness is the central process of the brain that builds images of the world, makes predictions about future events and selects which voluntary actions to execute.[5]

One of the major outputs of Consciousness is something that we could not do without: predictive simulations involving ‘what-if’ or ‘if-then’ relationships: ‘If I do X, will Y or Z happen’. The major input is exteroceptive, sensory stimuli – sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, temperature, vibration and pain – and also interoceptive stimuli, which form a cortical image of homeostatic afferent activity from the body’s tissues. This system provides experiences and visceral feelings such as pain, temperature, itch, sensual touch, muscular and visceral sensations, vasomotor activity, hunger, thirst, and ‘air hunger’. In humans, interoceptive activity is represented in the right anterior insula, providing subjective imagery of the material self as a feeling (sentient) entity, that is, emotional awareness.[6]

Everything that goes on in between stimulus input and output of behaviour is based on if-then operations and simulation geared towards prediction.  It’s mainly a matter of private fantasies and daydreams that studies suggest take up at least a half of our waking time. We also know that there is a huge quantity of pre-conscious automatic processing of sensory information and behaviour that does not require the effortful attention of Consciousness.  The controlled processing of Consciousness is serial, attention demanding, methodical and slow, e.g. preparing a meal using a a cookery book or reading a manual on how to operate a dvd player.[7] Automatic processing, on the other hand, is efficient and economical, and, quite often, quick, e.g. reading, writing, walking,  riding a bicycle, driving a car.

Brain research supports the idea that the forebrain of the cerebral cortex is the site of the Central Control System of Consciousness. The forebrain itself is involved in regulation of both autonomic and non-autonomic human responses in stress and affect. As we have seen, it is also the seat of both Type I and Type II homeostasis.

A significant part of the contents of Consciousness is mental imagery, the quasi-perceptual mental imagery that gets us from one point on our mental model of the world to the next.[8]  We turn to explore the nature and function of mental imagery.


“The purpose of a brain is not to think, but to act”  (Laborit, 1980).[9]  The central organising executive of the brain, Consciousness, enables organisms to mentally map the environment, predict what might happen next, and to act. One of the major processes for modelling, predicting and acting is mental imagery [AP 025]. Mental imagery is ideally suited to these purposes by providing preparatory images, which can exist in any sensory modality but, for the majority of people,  this is predominantly visual.  However, imagining the smell and taste of a delicious meal, ‘hearing’ the sound of some enchanting music, and imagining scenes and feelings of relaxation from a recent holiday are all equally possible.

Visual images are similar to perceptual images, but more faint and dim. If I am walking along a street and spy a delicious chocolate cake in a patisserie window, I do not automatically go inside to buy it. I may decide to buy it, but usually I will not. I know I do not need it, even if I want it and the impulse to buy it is strong. Similarly, if I am feeling peckish at home and imagine that same chocolate cake in that same window only a few minutes away, I do not automatically drop everything and go quickly to the store to buy it. Unless of course, my ‘addiction’ to chocolate is so strong, having resisted the temptation to eat chocolate cake for last three weeks, and feeling that I have earned a reward, then, yes, I may well go and get it.

We know that conscious imagery is not equally vivacious in all people. Imagery vividness is a combination of clarity and liveliness. Assessment of vividness using introspective report can be validated by objective means such as fMRI. Vividness of visual imagery is determined by the similarity of neural responses in imagery to those occurring in perception and performance of activities. [AP 026]. Two thousand published studies have used the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ; Marks, 1972) or the Vividness of Movement Imagery Questionnaire (VMIQ; Isaac, Marks and Russell, 1986).

For a small minority of people, voluntary visual imagery is entirely unknown. These few people lack any experience of mental imagery, a condition termed ‘aphantasia’. In the absence of mental imagery, Consciousness is a pallid and abstract affair consisting of entities such as ‘unheard’ words, ‘unheard’ music and ‘invisible’ imagery. One such person, a scientist, describes his conscious experiences as follows: “I am unaware of anything in my mind except these categories: i) direct sensory input, ii) “unheard” words that carry thoughts, iii) “unheard” music, iv) a kind of “invisible imagery”, which I can best describe as sensation of pictures that are in a sense “too faint to see”, v) emotions, and vi) thoughts which seem too “fast” to exist as words.” [10]  For these exceptional people, there must be non-imagery ways to plan goals and future actions yet to be investigated. Actions are guided by schemata, generic representations, in combination with goals and affect. [AP 027].

According to Frederic Bartlett,[11] schemata are much more than elementary reactions ready for use: “they are also arrangements of material, sensory at a low level, affective at a higher level, imaginal at a higher level yet, even ideational and conceptual”.[12]


The action system is inextricably linked to the perceptual system so that perceiving something generally leads to activity in either covert or overt form triggered by schemata (Bartlett, 1932). Imagined simulation consists of covert performances in which specific intentions, purposes and actions are fulfilled  (Marks, 1990, p. 6). A system with these features is shown in Figure 1.

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Figure 1 The General Theory of Action, or ‘VOAGA’ Model.  Action schemata (As) control voluntary action (V) in response to salient objects (O) in the immediate environment which are the focus of action in accordance with current goals (G).  Affect (Af) influences the goal and the schemata. Action simulation using mental imagery occurs in the same system as that used for overt action.

Principle X (Mental Imagery): A mental image is a quasi-perceptual experience that includes action schemata, affect and a goal.[13]

The VOAGA Model encompasses both overt and covert (implicit) actions. ‘Covert’ or implicit actions are neurally similar to the equivalent overt action. Sensory-affective mental images are an essential component of memory and imagination.[14]  We would be ill-equipped for these two functions without them.


Evidence for an affective component to Consciousness has been investigated by experimental psychologists for at least a century. Wundt (1907) wrote: “Often there is vividly present … the special affective tone of the forgotten idea, although the idea itself still remains in the background of consciousness. .. . In a similar manner . . . the clear apperception of ideas in acts of cognition and recognition is always preceded by feelings” (pp. 243-244).

Silvan Tomkins argued that the primary motivational system is the affective system and biological drives have impact only when amplified by the affective system (Tomkins, 1962). A similar view was reached by Zajonc (1980). When people imagine emoting happy, sad, and angry situations, different patterns of facial muscle activity are produced that can be measured by electromyography (Kinzel & Kubler, 1971). Similar affective responses occur when people mentally image faces, complex, scenes and look at pictures but the physiological responses are generally less intense in mental images (Lang, 1979). [AP 028]. A special link exists between imagery and anxiety and attempting to ‘suppress’ emoting may cause degraded mental imagery.[15] Individuals who inhibit emoting tend to experience less sensory, contextual and emotional details when imaging.[16] [AP 029].

Involuntary images and difficult to control visual memories are associated with psychopathology, e.g. patients with posttraumatic stress disorder, other anxiety disorders, depression, eating disorders, and psychosis frequently report repeated visual intrusions concerning real or imaginary events, “usually extremely vivid, detailed, and with highly distressing content”.[17]

It is worth considering different scenarios from the perspective of action  schemata. Activation of a schema can occur in any of four possible combinations associated by the presence or absence of physical activity and objects, namely:

(A) Activity and Object both absent: covert action as sensory-affective imagery. The more vivid the associated imagery, the more a covert action resembles the corresponding overt action. [AP 030]. The more an imagined object resembles the real object, the more closely the imagined activity towards the imagined object resembles real behavior. [AP 031].

(B) Activity absent, Object present: private/covert action which simulates or practices overt action with associated feedback and affect. Humans and other organisms use the capacity to adopt a simulation routine. [18]

(C) Activity present, Object absent: publicly observable action in the form of playing, pretending, or miming, associated with feedback and affect.

(D) Activity and Object both present: overt behavior, with associated feedback and affect.

In cases A, B and C, the strength of affect can depend upon many factors including experience with the particular activity, but the vividness of the imagery is the major determinant. [AP 032]. The term ‘affect’[19] always refers to the emotive feelings generated by an image. Vivid imagery plays a key role in planning all goal-directed behavior. The cognitive system needs a meta-level to control and monitor the object-level. This duality of levels enables moment-by-moment adjustments to goal-seeking behaviour to be conducted at the object-level.

Consciousness facilitates Type II homeostasis, providing a significant  advantage in striving towards equilibrium in the surrounding environment. [AP 033].

The General Theory [20] proposes a cyclical system of schemata, objects, affective expression and actions. The control system has both an Executive-level and a Schema-level. The Executive-level, which is what we normally refer to as ‘Consciousness’ , controls and monitors the Schema-level. This duality of levels enables moment-by-moment adjustments to goal-seeking behaviour at the Schema-level. Goals are set at the Executive-level of Consciousness. Goal-setting is guided by values and beliefs which, together with goals,  inform actions, inhibit actions, or reflect, as the situation requires.

Speech and other complex behaviours in competent performers normally does not require Consciousness. The motor system is largely served by an extensive sensory system which operates at a subconscious level. Afferents from the muscles and the activity of the cerebellum, where movement is organized, operate entirely subconsciously and produce no conscious sensations. Conscious imagery participates in the planning and organization of behavior through enabling the simulation of action sequences at the object-level without energy expenditure or risk. [AP 034]. The object-level interfaces with the social-level in the public domain of shared activities and object-levels. The possible outcomes of alternative future actions can be appraised prior to a course of action. In this way, conscious mental imagery serves as a mental toolbox, producing its internal contents for the user to explore and manipulate in the selection and preparation of future physical and social activity.

The principal role is to perform ‘thought experiments’ by rehearsing activation of ‘what-if’ schemata to evaluate potential outcomes before making any actions physically (Figure 1). Thought experiments enable the imager to generate a sequence of interacting processes consisting of goals, schemata, actions, objects and affects. Once triggered, implementation of activity cycles gives rise to actual physical activity, perception, and affect.

Imagery that is vivid, through virtue of being as clear and as lively as possible, closely approximates actual perceptual-motor activity, and is of benefit to action preparation, simulation and rehearsal. [AP 035].


Imagery, observation, and execution share similar neural processes. [AP 036]. The physiological mechanisms that are active during physical skill acquisition are also active during imagery and observation of the same skill. [21] Visual ideas may or may not be fleshed out as actions and not all ideas in human thought are visual. However, a significant category of ideas consists of images of varying force and vivacity. Without vividness, no Midsummer’s Night Dream, Le Malade Imaginaire or Don Quixote, and no Maxwell’s demon, Einstein’s elevator or Schrödinger’s cat. Whatever else humans may be, we are thinkers, schemers, idea-generators. Visual thoughts are an important part of what makes us human.  Antonio Damasio points to the huge value of  mental imagery to ‘creative intelligence’ in human evolution: “Creative intelligence was the means by which mental images and behaviors were intentionally combined to provide novel solutions for the problems that humans diagnosed and to construct new worlds for the opportunities humans envisioned”. [22]

There is an extensive literature on ‘mental practice’, otherwise referred to as `imagery rehearsal’ or ‘mental simulation’ (Richardson, 1965; Jeannerrod and Decety, 1995). Imagery is routinely and systematically employed in preparation and rehearsal of sports activity and has been shown to produce enhanced performance across a wide variety of skill-sets (Feltz & Landers, 1983; Markman, Klein and Suhr, 2009). Studies of skilled performers show that activity cycles are more effectively rehearsed when they incorporate vivid imagery (Isaac & Marks, 1990). Studies of Olympic athletes and performers capable of specialist skills suggest that high imagery vividness is of most benefit to performances that have significant perceptual-motor components or require visualization of complex interactions at the object-level (Isaac & Marks, 1994).

Converging evidence suggests that mental simulation of movement and actual movement share similar neurocognitive and learning processes leading to considerable interest in imagery simulation of movement as a therapeutic tool in rehabilitation of stroke patients, patients with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological syndromes.[23] Conscious imagery enables the user to explore, select and prepare physical and social activity.  [AP 037].

A common neural basis exists for imitation, observational learning and motor imagery. During mental simulation, the excitatory motor output generated for executing the action is inhibited. The autonomic system is also activated during motor imagery. The principal function of Consciousness is to analyse actions and predict their consequences. Simulation enables the imager to mentally try out a sequence of goals, schemata and actions that minimize hazard, loss and pain.

The principal measure of vividness, the VVIQ, is strongly associated with performance in different kinds of task: self-report, physiological motor, perceptual, cognitive and memory (Marks, 1972, 1973; McKelvie, 1995; Runge, Cheung and D’Angiulli, 2017). To quote Runge et al. (2017): “[V]ividness can be considered a chief phenomenological feature of primary sensory Consciousness, and it supports the idea that Consciousness is a graded phenomenon”.[24] Recent research has shown that reported vividness is associated with early visual cortex activity relative to the whole brain activity measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and the performance on a novel psychophysical task.

Vividness of visual imagery correlates with fMRI activity in early visual cortex scores demonstrating that higher visual cortex activity indexes more vivid imagery. Variations in imagery vividness depend on a large network of brain areas, including frontal, parietal and visual areas. The more similar the neural response during imagery to the neural response during perception, the more vivid or perception-like the imagery experience. [AP 038]. From these findings, it can be concluded that an image is an idea with visual attributes. The more vivid the image the more strongly we will be aware of it. Upon reflection of the alternative actions available, it is possible to inhibit certain actions and implement others, or to keep actions ‘on hold’ for the future. Thus Consciousness of the BCS is able to facilitate successful striving towards goals, and thereby the effectiveness of Type II homeostasis, providing a significant evolutionary advantage.


Executive functions are cognitive processes such as working memory, cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control that direct goal-directed behaviours. The Behaviour Control System (BCS) co-ordinates the REF, CLOCK AAIS and SCHEMATA systems to produce voluntary and involuntary action, affect and cognition. In its regulation of the REF,  Consciousness, at the top of the BCS, facilitates the effectiveness of Type II homeostasis and provides a significant  evolutionary advantage to the organism.  Figure 5.2 shows the different parts of the BCS together with other major processes involved in the planning and execution of behaviour.

Screen Shot 2020-03-15 at 11.09.47 Figure 2  The Behaviour Control System consisting of nine integrated processes for the generation of action. Schemata exist for all actions, designed to satisfy physiological and psychological needs that are striving towards equilibrium. The REF, CLOCK and AAIS systems (see previous post, black and dark grey) interconnect with the Action Schemata system (see Figure 1, light and dark grey).  Levels of control include sensory input, executive control, voluntary behaviour (including speech) and the AAIS, action schemata and REF, goals, sociality and affect, and automatized action. The AAIS and Action Schemata system trial implicit voluntary action in the absence of overt behaviour. Actions are generated in direct response to goals, the actions of others and the individual’s affective feelings.  Automatized, involuntary and habitual behaviours run off subconsciously and do not normally require executive control, unless there is an ongoing conscious effort to change them.


1)    The Behaviour Control System (BCS) coordinates the REF, CLOCK, AAIS and action schemata to plan goals and regulate action.

2)    The BCS employs conscious mental imagery to plan, simulate and execute goal-directed action to satisfy needs.

3)    Consciousness of the BCS facilitates the effectiveness of Type II homeostasis, providing a significant evolutionary advantage. 


[1] Quoted from Manchester United and England striker Wayne Rooney “Big match preparation”. In FourFourTwo Peformance.

[2] I will introduce Consciousness with some facts about what is established beyond any reasonable doubt rather than that cottage-industry of mental masturbation appropriately termed the ‘hard problem’. See: Chalmers, D. J. (1995). Facing up to the problem of Consciousness. Journal of Consciousness studies2(3), 200-219.

[3] It has been suggested that agency includes the following: “intentionality and forethought, self-regulation by self-reactive influence, and self-reflectiveness about one’s capabilities, quality of functioning, and the meaning and purpose of one’s life pursuits”; see: Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual review of Psychology52(1), 1-26.

[4] This list is not exhaustive but it encompasses much of what is known about Consciousness.

[5] Feinberg, T. E., & Mallatt, J. M. (2016). The ancient origins of Consciousness: How the brain created experience. MIT Press.

[6] Craig, A. D. (2003). Interoception: the sense of the physiological condition of the body. Current opinion in neurobiology13(4), 500-505.

[7] Schmidt, R. A., Lee, T., Winstein, C., Wulf, G., & Zelaznik, H. (2018). Motor Control and Learning, 6E. Human kinetics.

[8] Mental imagery is often categorized into types such as ‘after-imagery’, ‘eidetic’, ‘memory’, ‘imagination’ and ‘dream’ imagery. We consider in this chapter the visual imagery of wakefulness and reserve research on dreaming to a later chapter.

[9] In “Mon Oncle d’Amérique” (My American Uncle), a 1980 movie by Alain Resnais, where Laborit explains several of his ideas.

[10] Watkins, N. (2017). (A) phantasia and SDAM: Scientific and Personal Perspectives.

[11] My tutor Maggie’s prof at Cambridge way back when.

[12] Bartlett, F.C. (1926). Review of Aphasia and kindred disorders of speech, by Henry Head. Brain, 49, 581-587.

[13] Marks, D. F. (1999). Consciousness, mental imagery and action. British journal of Psychology90(4), 567-585.

[14] See: Marks (1999); Feinberg and Mallatt 2016) op. cit.

[15] Holmes, E. A., & Mathews, A. (2005). Mental imagery and emotion: a special relationship?. Emotion5(4), 489.

[16] D’Argembeau, A., & Van der Linden, M. (2006). Individual differences in the phenomenology of mental time travel: The effect of vivid visual imagery and emotion regulation strategies. Consciousness and Cognition, 15, 342-350.

[17] Brewin, C. R., Gregory, J. D., Lipton, M., & Burgess, N. (2010). Intrusive images in psychological disorders: characteristics, neural mechanisms, and treatment implications. Psychological review117(1), 210.

[18] It has been suggested that this capacity may have evolved from an action execution/observation matching system using mirror neurons. See: Rizzolatti, G., Fadiga, L., Gallese, V., & Fogassi, L. (1996). Premotor cortex and the recognition of motor actions. Cognitive brain research3(2), 131-141.

[19] Affect is discussed in detail in Chapter Six.

[20] This part of the theory was previously termed ‘Action Control Theory’ or ACT. See: Marks, D. F. (1999). Consciousness, mental imagery and action. British journal of Psychology90(4), 567-585. A similar theory was independently developed by Marc Jeannerod. See: Jeannerod, M. (1999). The 25th Bartlett Lecture: To act or not to act: Perspectives on the representation of actions. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A52(1), 1-29.

[21] Holmes, P. S., Cumming, J., & Edwards, M. G. (2010). Movement imagery, observation, and skill. The neurophysiological foundations of mental and motor imagery, 245-269.

[22] Damasio, Antonio. (2018). The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures (p. 71). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

[23] Pichiorri, F., Morone, G., Petti, M., Toppi, J., Pisotta, I., Molinari, M., … & Mattia, D. (2015). Brain–computer interface boosts motor imagery practice during stroke recovery. Annals of neurology77(5), 851-865.

[24] T Cui X, Jeter CB, Yang D, Montague PR, Eagleman DM. (2007). Dijkstra N, Bosch SE, van Gerven MA. (2017).

Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire (VVIQ)

What is the VVIQ?

The VVIQ is a self-report measure of the clarity and liveliness of visual imagery and, in so doing, aims to evoke images that vary in vividness, ambiance, and feeling as well. The instructions state the following:
“Visual imagery refers to the ability to visualize, that is, the ability to form mental pictures, or to ‘see in the mind’s eye’. Marked individual differences are found in the strength and clarity of reported visual imagery and these differences are of considerable psychological interest.
The aim of this test is to determine the vividness of your visual imagery. The items of the test will possibly bring certain images to your mind. You are asked to rate the vividness of each image by reference to the five-point scale given below. For example, if your image is ‘vague and dim’, then give it a rating of 4. After each item, write the appropriate number in the box provided. The first box is for an image obtained with your eyes open and the second box is for an image obtained with your eyes closed. Before you turn to the items on the next page, familiarize yourself with the different categories on the rating scale. Throughout the test, refer to the rating scale when judging the vividness of each image. Try to do each item separately, independent of how you may have done other items.
Complete all items for images obtained with the eyes open and then return to the beginning of the questionnaire and rate the image obtained for each item with your eyes closed. Try and give your ‘eyes closed’ rating independently of the ‘eyes open’ rating. The two ratings for a given item may not in all cases be the same.”

The Rating Scale in the VVIQ

The five-point rating scale of the VVIQ is presented below. Some researchers prefer to reverse the numerical scale to make 5 = perfectly clear and as vivid as normal vision, and 1 = no image at all, you only “know” that you are thinking of an object.

The 16 VVIQ Items

The 16 items are arranged in blocks of four, in which each has a theme and at least one item in each cluster describes a visual image that includes movement. Each theme provides a narrative to guide a progression of mental imagery. It is noted that at least one item in each cluster describes an activity or movement, indexing liveliness. The aim of the VVIQ is to assess visual imagery vividness under conditions which allow a progressive development of scenes, situations, or events as naturally as possible. The items are intended to evoke sufficient interest, meaning, and affect conducive to image generation. Participants rate the vividness of their images separately with eyes open and eyes closed.

For a small minority of people, the capacity for visual imagery is unavailable. In the absence of mental imagery, consciousness consists of “unheard” words, “unheard” music, and “invisible” imagery. This minority needs to employ more generic, verbal methods to recall events, and to plan goals and future activity—compensatory strengths that remain under-investigated.
An online version of the VVIQ is here.

Research using the VVIQ

To date, around 2000 studies have used the VVIQ or Vividness of Movement Imagery Questionnaire (VMIQ) as a measure of imagery vividness.

I Am Conscious, Therefore, I Am


Organisms are adapted to each other and the environment because there is an inbuilt striving toward security, stability, and equilibrium. A General Theory of Behavior connects imagery, affect, and action with the central executive system we call consciousness, a direct emergent property of cerebral activity. The General Theory is founded on the assumption that the primary motivation of all of consciousness and intentional behavior is psychological homeostasis. Psychological homeostasis is as important to the organization of mind and behavior as physiological homeostasis is to the organization of bodily systems. Consciousness processes quasi-perceptual images independently of the input to the retina and sensorium. Consciousness is the “I am” control center for integration and regulation of (my) thoughts, (my) feelings, and (my) actions with (my) conscious mental imagery as foundation stones. The fundamental, universal conscious desire for psychological homeostasis benefits from the degree of vividness of inner imagery. Imagery vividness, a combination of clarity and liveliness, is beneficial to imagining, remembering, thinking, predicting, planning, and acting. Assessment of vividness using introspective report is validated by objective means such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). A significant body of work shows that vividness of visual imagery is determined by the similarity of neural responses in imagery to those occurring in perception of actual objects and performance of activities. I am conscious; therefore, I am.


Figure 1. Leonardo da Vinci, Ramón y Cajal, Marie Curie, and Albert Einstein—creative people who used vivid mental imagery to make world-changing discoveries. Einstein’s thought experiments and his statements on the imagination are particularly salient.

Full text of paper available here.

Marks, D.F. I Am Conscious, Therefore, I Am: Imagery, Affect, Action, and a General Theory of Behavior. Brain Sci. 20199, 107.

The Paradox of Coincidence

The Paradox

By the Principle of the Long Run, a coincidence is always deemed to be a chance event, no matter how tiny the odds. If paranormal coincidences exist, the normal scientific approach means that they would be mixed in with chance events and made invisible.

Science rules out of existence the very phenomenon that it should be investigating: that some coincidences may be caused by an undefined non-chance process, X.

This assumption that coincidences must always created by chance means that the conventional criterion for statistical significance does not work for coincidences. Null hypothesis significance testing (NHST) is not applied.

P < .000000000001 Not Significant, says the accepted scientific view

The standard criterion for rejecting a null hypothesis H0 is p<.05 or p<.01. For coincidences, however, this probability can be as low as p<.000000000001 (10-12) or even smaller and the occurrence is accepted as falling within chance levels.

This double standard in evaluating the statistical significance of coincidences is interesting: no matter how improbable the outcome, the event is said to be consistent with the null hypothesis.

Escaping the Paradox

How can we escape this paradox? I wish to suggest a hypothesis that my totally skeptical friends and readers will find apocryphal. To avoid miscounting paranormal events as chance events, and defining them out of existence, it is necessary to hypothesise two populations of coincidental events, those due purely to chance, and those that have a putative paranormal source.

Imagine a coincidence with an odds of 10 to the minus 12. This is one chance in a million million. Consider the  possibility that there is an alternative to the normal, null hypothesis, which we can call the ‘paranormal hypothesis’:

H0: The null hypothesis – what occurred was purely chance

H1: The paranormal hypothesis – what occurred was too improbable to be caused by chance


Screen Shot 2020-03-06 at 18.38.29.pngPlausibility of events with different odds with a duplex of distributions for normal (chance) and paranormal (non-chance) coincidences. The shape of the distributions is normal and, speculatively, the dispersions are set to provide a cross-over point with odds of 10-12  where the Bayes factor is one (thin vertical line). Events with odds to the left of this line have Bayes Factors < 1.0 and to the right of this line, Bayes Factor > 1.0. The two dotted lines indicate events with odds of 10-6 and 10-18 where the Bayes factor is .20 and 5.0 respectively.

According to this hypothetical framework, a cross-over point with a Bayes Factor of 1.0 occurs with an odds value of 10-12. In order to specify the form of these distributions it would be necessary to collect large numbers of data points with exact odds values.The hypothesised existence of a separate population of paranormal events places N Theory and P Theory on an equal footing as explanations and avoids a double standard.

Is the theory correct?  It is impossible to say.



The Strange Self-Motion Illusion

Anomalous experiences tend to jolt one out of one’s comfort zone, tell us interesting things about how the mind works.  A vivid déjà vu, strange coincidence, or unexpected illusion can all be automatic attention-grabbers.  Some of the oddest experiences are visual. When a large part of the visual field moves, the viewer can momentarily believe that they have moved in the opposite direction.

The most common example occurs when looking out of a stationary train window at a station, and a nearby train moves away, you erroneously perceive that your own (stationary) train is moving in the opposite direction. This experience can happen on the railway, the road, at sea or in space, and it can cause accidents (e.g. see

The other day, driving along a busy A3 towards London on ‘autopilot’ (Vatansever, Menon and Stamatakis, 2017), I reached a  set of traffic light. In the middle lane, my vehicle was boxed in all sides by other vehicles so that I could not myself see the traffic lights. Suddenly I felt as if my vehicle was being pulled backwards so that my car would impact the one behind, a potential disaster.  I immediately slammed my foot on the brake and felt a surge of adrenaline. Thankfully, my perceptual-motor system quickly snapped back to reality – I realized that I was stationary and that the surrounding vehicles were moving forwards.  Reset! In less than a second, my foot came off the brake and onto the accelerator.  I had experienced the ‘Self Motion Illusion’ (Riecke, 2010).

My brain had falsely concluded that my vehicle was moving backwards. This is the natural response of a perceptual system with a default setting that expects constancy (Day, 1972).  I wish to argue that perceptual constancy is based on a universal principle of ‘Psychological Homeostasis’ (Marks, 2018).  When my perceptual world went haywire at the traffic lights, a rapid correctional ‘reset’ brought me back to my senses.

The rapidity of the reset is required to prevent a potential accident. This fact may be evidence of a general reset principle which is operating to produce equilibrium at each and moment in a conscious being.  Alternatively the experience was reset by the fact that I saw the surrounding vehicles moving away around me. It is hard to say from a single uncontrolled experience.


Day, R. H. (1972). The basis of perceptual constancy and perceptual illusion. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science11(6), 525-532.

Marks, D. F. (2018). A General Theory of Behaviour. London: SAGE Publications.

Riecke, B. E. (2010). Compelling self-motion through virtual environments without actual self-motion–Using self-motion illusions (‘vection’) to improve VR user experience. Virtual reality. InTech.

Vatansever, D., Menon, D. K., & Stamatakis, E. A. (2017). Default mode contributions to automated information processing. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences114(48), 12821-12826.




Psychology and the Paranormal


“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Thanks for the visit!

I approach this blog site with a sense of anticipation, wondering where it may lead…

I hope it might lead towards light, new treasure, in the form of new knowledge and theory.  

How can that be, you might well ask ?  Surely, a so-called ‘expert’ must already have an opinion one way or the other about the paranormal? Wrong!

The truth is that I have no fixed ideas about which direction the evidence will lead. 

One thing I do know – it is necessary to step beyond old assumptions, seek new objects of knowledge. 

If we already KNOW the answer, the TRUTH, why would we bother to read, write or even THINK for that matter, because the truth must already be determined, already out there, written by somebody, somewhere and all that would be left to do would be to pick up dead learning.

Believers vs. Disbelievers

It is quickly apparent to any observer that the paranormal field is heavily divided between two armies of believers (so-called ‘sheep’) and skeptics (so-called ‘goats’ who are actually dis-believers) battling it out with no holds barred.

The stakes are high. The fight is not about empirical studies, observations and anecdotes.  The very nature of science, life and reality are being contested.  

There are ‘dead bodies’ and ‘unexploded land mines’ all over the place and one would be lucky to leave the field in one piece. One can surmise that there can only be losers, never winners, in this futile type of war. In the end every soldier in the affray is a loser. It’s an intellectual version of World War I with permanent trenches and barbed wire fences that has been waging for over a century.  

I know this because I have been there on the battle field.  I entered the field and did several tours of duty. Then, battle-weary with the affray, I walked away.

Recently I returned to see if anything has changed.

As I stuck my head over the trench top waving a white flag of peace, a few warning shots were fired. The same old battle is raging but with the difference that many new foot soldiers have been recruited and there have been scores of  new studies over the last 20 years. These studies have been weaponised to provide increased power, precision and impact.

The army of non-believers now possesses a stockpile of findings consistent with scientific explanations of the paranormal. The believer army, meanwhile, has accrued an equally large stockpile supportive of paranormal interpretations.  

White Flag of Neutrality

Offering the white flag of peace and neutrality causes no small amount of trepidation.  Am I now to be a target for both sides – because, in the battle of the paranormal, nobody is permitted to be neutral?  It’s a ‘do or die’ scenario like no other in science.


The blog posts here are written from a dispassionate point of view. If I am passionate about anything, it is about the importance of neutrality. My purpose is to create a balanced and even-handed review based on the best contemporary evidence on paranormal claims in science and medicine.

I present here the evidence, both pro and con, explain the relevant psychological processes, present scientific arguments, and produce a final balance sheet at the end.


Out soon:

“Psychology and the Paranormal

Exploring Anomalous Experience”

June 2020 | 400 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd