As a young child, I was captivated by any story or film that had to do with the supernatural. When I was growing up in the late 70s, popular films included “Star Wars,” “ET,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and “Poltergeist.” Uri Geller appears on TV bending spoons with his mind, and every household seems to have a Ouiji board. In this context, belief in the supernatural makes sense.
At that time, it was clear that there were still many mysteries that needed to be understood and explored. While I would give anything to have some sort of “superpower,” I also envision myself as a junior scientist. Of course, I had no idea what that actually meant, but I collected magazine articles about demonic, ghost, or alien possession, figuring that I would need them later as “proof.” Instead of exercising, I prefer to bike around the neighborhood, “investigating” possible UFO landing sites. Even at 9 years old, I wanted to go beyond belief and “prove” that these things were real.
My stepfather, who was with me from ages 9-20, was emotionally abusive. A Vietnam War veteran, he coped with his trauma by drinking. He is controlling, unhappy, and unpredictable. It makes sense that I subscribe to a belief in supernatural powers. They created hope that I could be special. My frequent daydreams about being taken aboard an alien spaceship and transported to an alien planet also made sense. In my mind, I could get out of my situation and start a new life.
As I grew older, pursued graduate training in psychology, and adopted a more professional identity, I became more cynical and skeptical. I dismissed most of my previous supernatural beliefs as wishful thinking. I viewed my childhood fantasies as psychological attempts to escape or feel powerful.
I started reading magazines like The Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptic, which used critical thinking to refute extraordinary claims. From this point of view, humans are seen as very good at deceiving and fooling themselves. Rational and logical thinking dictates that we view belief in ghosts and paranormal abilities as a psychological reaction and a trick of the mind.
Meanwhile, my psychology training program shaped a certain way of looking at the world — that the atheistic, logical, and rational approach was the only valid approach. Belief in the paranormal is associated with immaturity (at worst) and psychopathology (at worst). Consciousness is seen as emerging from the brain’s neural connections. When we stop breathing and the brain stops functioning, consciousness is lost, and the body rots. There is no God. There are no ghosts. Nothing is real unless science can prove it. I was no longer open to experiences and possibilities outside of what was considered “normal,” but that was about to change.The author performed an EEG connection with psychic medium Laura Lynne Jackson.
In 2013, while working at the University of Missouri, something happened that reignited my interest in the paranormal and changed my life forever. Just before graduating and moving, one of my research assistants announced that she wanted to tell me about her mother. He seemed nervous and cautious, and I had absolutely no idea what would happen next. Why is he acting so strange? I felt like he was getting ready to tell me bad news, and I steeled myself. He went on to tell me a long and complicated story about his mother, Janet Mayer.
Apparently, Janet began speaking spontaneously in a South American tribal language after participating in a holotropic breathing session. What a relief! No bad news. Wait what!? Spontaneously speaking a South American tribal language? I understand why he was careful about sharing this news. Sounds ridiculous.
After a breathing session in which these languages emerged, Janet admitted she learned how to access this ability simply by shifting her awareness. Of course, at that moment, he wasn’t even sure that what he was speaking was a language. It feels and sounds like a language, but no one seems to recognize it. It’s possible he just made up sounds that gave the impression of a language. Maybe he spoke in tongues?
In an effort to understand what happened, Janet recorded herself during the language experience and sent the recordings to professors and researchers from across the United States. Although many experts were polite, they didn’t know what was going on.
After four years of searching, Janet finally found someone who could help. The late Dr. Bernardo Peixoto, an anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution and a shaman comes from the Ureuu-Wau-Wau tribe in Northern Brazil, where he is known as Ipupiara or Ipu. He recognized something in Janet’s recording and indicated that she was speaking Yanomami, the language of a South American tribe. This was the confirmation Janet was looking for.
Even though he didn’t know what he was saying, he always felt that there was meaning behind those sounds – that they weren’t just empty talk. If the exact words are translated, they generally consist of prayers and teachings related to respecting Mother Earth. Over time, Ipu translated some of the tapes and reported that Janet sometimes spoke dialects of other South American tribes, including Fulnio, Tukano, and Kanamari.
Janet knew that I was doing brain EEG imaging and was open to participating in a series of experiments to measure what was happening in her brain when she allowed the language to emerge. One of the first things I noticed was a significant change in the EEG signal originating from the sensor location in the right rear quadrant of the brain. Instead of the normal, nice, neat pattern we expect, these signals pop off the screen and almost look like seizure activity. After double and triple checking my equipment and finding the same activity changes on several test occasions, I had to accept that something dramatic was going on in Janet’s brain.
It turned out that the specific location involved was in the right parietal lobe (RPL). This part of the brain is involved in self-definition and perception, self-related thoughts, body perception, and autobiographical memory. Essentially, when this part of the brain does its job, it creates an understanding of “self” as a separate and separate entity that is tied to the definition of “me.” When this part of the brain is damaged or goes “off-line,” as it did with Janet, it is associated with feelings of spiritual transcendence and a softening of the boundaries between “self” and “others.”
Somehow, it seems that Janet was able to temporarily disrupt his RPL function, perhaps allowing him to alter his consciousness in such a way that some people claim that other forms of consciousness can speak through him. Despite what I thought I knew about reality, and as crazy as it may sound, I came to the conclusion that Janet was somehow channeling some person, creature, or entity.The author practices psychokinesis with an aluminum foil pinwheel.
We presented our findings at the Forever Family Foundation Conference, which is an organization dedicated to the exploration of “life after death.” This experience introduced me to the world of psychic mediums and new scientists who were trying to understand how these abilities were possible.
I continued to map the brain and expanded my research to include telepathy, ESP, telekinesis, energy healing and mediumship. What started as a “random” story from one student turned into a decade of research that ultimately became the basis of the book “Becoming Psychic: Lessons from the Minds of Mediums, Healers, and Psychics,” and convinced me that these abilities were real. . Unlike what we see in movies, the results are not always consistent, and the results are not always amazing. However, I have seen enough things to make me believe that our minds are capable of more than we dare imagine. While we may not fully understand how or why, it now seems clear to me that psi abilities are a natural and normal part of the human experience, and that scientists should dedicate more time and resources to exploring them.
When these abilities are inconsistent, messy, vague, or complicated, it’s because our brain is interfering. I believe it is our “left brain” tendencies to analyze, judge, and predict that prevent us from entering this broader field of knowledge. Perhaps the challenge is understanding how the mind works and learning how to intentionally navigate different states of consciousness. We have only begun to scratch the surface of this field of study and there is much more we can discover and learn.
Of course, there are those who will (and do) argue that I am engaging in pseudoscience, wasting my time, and perpetuating a series of lies that support charlatans. While I would never deny that there are fake psychic mediums who exploit vulnerable and grieving groups, the evidence shows that there are also people out there who have legitimate abilities. Having overturned my previous beliefs about psi, I would ask other skeptics to look at the evidence and keep an open mind. We must let skepticism guide us in this endeavor, but when faced with evidence, we must be willing to (re)consider what we think is true. In fact, I would argue that this is the essence of the scientific method – to explore the unknown with a willingness to discard hypotheses that are no longer tenable. I would also like to note that many things we once thought were miraculous or impossible – from magnetism to medical treatments – are simply mysteries awaiting scientific explanation.
Personally, this exploration has opened my mind to completely new possibilities. After witnessing the “impossible” on many occasions – even in scientific settings – I finally accepted that consciousness can transcend the physical body. This new perspective has given me hope, reduced my fear of death, deepened my spirituality, and made me a more compassionate human being.
This was not the result I expected or was looking for, but it seemed a natural outcome of this work. Whether we will be able to definitively “prove” that psi abilities are “real” remains to be seen. But maybe that’s not the point. Perhaps this entire exploration is an exercise in learning to work effectively with both hemispheres of the brain, moving fluidly between logical, structured, analytical processing and more subtle, mysterious, and intuitive ways of understanding. Can we be scientists and mystics; skeptic and believer? I believe the answer is yes.
Jeff Tarrant, Ph.D., BCN, is the author of “Becoming Psychic: Lessons from the Minds of Mediums, Healers, and Psychics.” He is also the founder and Director of the Psychic Mind Science and NeuroMeditation Institute in Eugene, Oregon. Tarrant is a licensed psychologist and board certified in neurofeedback, and specializes in teaching, clinical applications, and research combining technology-based interventions with meditative states to improve mental health. His research focuses on exploring brain wave changes that occur as a result of contemplative practices, technological interventions, unusual states of consciousness, and psi-related abilities.