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Obituary: E. Douglas Dean 1916-2001.

E. (Eric) Douglas Dean, one of parapsychology's most brilliant innovators, died on August 15, 2001. Douglas was a gentle, charming man, so modest that few in parapsychology knew his varied accomplishments, or recognized the profound implications of his research.

Consider, for example, his most recent major work, a series of experiments on PK (Dean, 1983). It combined two of his lifelong interests: electrochemistry and psychic healing. He had the insight to see an important possible meaning in what Grad (1964) had reported but dismissed as a probable artifact. Water held by a healer may have shown an unusual reaction to infrared light at a very high frequency, but these hints of an effect were disregarded because the measuring instrument was inaccurate at that high frequency. Dean decided to investigate whether the effect was authentic.

Instruments sensitive at that high frequency existed but were too expensive for him to buy. The first task Dean set himself was obtaining the use of one. He encountered a series of frustrating difficulties, but after years of effort found one that he could borrow for a limited time. His next task was

implementing the procedure that would make best use of its measurements. This demanded that he secure the full cooperation of powerful healers.

His years of devoted work on healing gave him access to powerful healers. To enlist their cooperation, he showed what is (unfortunately) a rare sensitivity to the way they use their abilities. How would they be at their best? When healing someone who needed them, and when working under the conditions natural for them. This precluded taking them to a laboratory or imposing other restrictions, such as preset timing. Douglas instead brought the laboratory to them. He had them, while engaged in their usual healing, wear a flask of water that he provided. The flask was unobtrusive; healing could be conducted as it would ordinarily be. It is an ethical procedure, elegant in its simplicity.

When the borrowed, sophisticated instrument analyzed water in flasks that healers had worn, it showed that the hint from Grad's data had been no artifact Repeatedly a marked deflection at between 2.65 and 2.70 angstroms appeared in healer-held water, a deflection that could be considered an absorption peak or a transmission trough. It was not present in water held by non-healers. Further, for water held by healers, the effect changed in orderly ways. One was an increase in the size of the deflection for water that the healer had held longer. (Dean reported a range of holding from 2 to 30 minutes.) Another was a decrease in the deflection when more time had elapsed since the healer held the water. Dean found the effect with either tap water or distilled water and also in a single test with heavy water, and he noted that it had first been observed in a saline solution.

Other provocative data from exploratory but incomplete investigations were reported. Perhaps most notable was that the deflection changed with the ratio of water to air in the flask. Two ounces of water in a 2-ounce flask (which of course held some air bubbles) gave a smaller deflection than 2 ounces in a 4-ounce flask, and the deflection was still greater with 2 ounces in a 35-ounce bottle.

One interpretation of the deflection attributes it to hydrogen bonding. Dean investigated this by boiling the healer-held water, then condensing it and retesting. He found the effect was still present. This interpretation may therefore be disregarded.

Two replications of the research have both confirmed it. The first was by Grad and Dean (1984); and the second, in an independent laboratory, by Schwartz, De Mattei, Brame, and Spottiswoode (1987). The finding may be considered sound. What are its implications?

One is that it should end the contention, still made by some parapsychologists, that PK cannot produce a physical change. These parapsychologists argue that apparent PK is due only to precognition of future physical changes. Though their argument is applicable to some PK procedures, it does not hold for the orderly and replicated alterations in healer-held water that Dean demonstrated.

More interesting is the possibility that the changes shown here are integrally related to whatever process occurs in psychic healing. Does healer-treated water interact in unexplored ways with particular molecules that are present in the air and are important in body function? The work suggests further explorations; they might lead to understanding the healing process.

This seminal research has, remarkably, been almost neglected. The neglect may be partly due to its radical implications about PK, which are threatening to some theorists, but it partly is due to Douglas's diffidence in presenting it. A better publicist, for example, would have offered workshops at a PA convention on the physical theory it demanded and the further research it warranted. He did not. Without such spelling out of its implications, few saw its importance.

In contrast to Douglas's modesty in promoting his own work was his skill and persistence in promoting parapsychology as a whole. When he was PA president in 1967, he began an effort to affiliate the PA with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He and others continued the effort, and the AAAS accepted the PA as an affiliate in 1969.

Little space remains to tell of other important events in his life. Douglas was born in Scotland in 1916. He acquired two B.A. degrees and a master's in electrochemistry. In 1947, he was one of those awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as members of the British Friends Service Council. A long-term hobby was mountaineering; he climbed the Matterhorn (and later did deep sea research, finding that a considerable depth of water did not shield from ESP). He moved to the United States and while at the Parapsychology Foundation began sensitive research on ESP and mood. Body changes, measured by the plethysmograph, showed ESP responses when concealed targets were emotionally meaningful. Much of this work was conducted with Mihalasky, and their further collaboration brought clear, astonishing evidence of precognition. One of its highlights was evidence that a feeling of group membership (vs. a feeling of alienation) resulted in successful ESP (vs. failure). Another was that objective criteria of business executives' succe ss had a positive correlation with their success in precognition (Dean, Mihalasky, Ostrander, & Schroeder, 1974). Belatedly, years after his presidency of the PA, he decided to earn a PhD; his doctoral dissertation was the research on water described above. And throughout all this time, he pursued his helpful work with healers, earning still more honors there.

The world was enriched by his presence.


DEAN, E. D. (1983). Infrared measurements of healer-treated water [Abstract]. In W. G. Roll, J. Beloff, & R. A. White (Eds.), Research in parapsychology 1982 (pp. 100-101). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

DEAN, E. D., MIHALASKY, J., OSTRANDER, S., & SCHROEDER, L. (1974). Executive ESP Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

GRAD, B. A. (1964). A telekinetic effect on plant growth: II. Experiments involving treatment of saline in stoppered bottles. International journal of Parapsychology, 6, 473-478, 484-488.

GRAD, B. A., & DEAN, E. D. (1984). Independent confirmation of infrared healer effects [Abstract]. In R A. White & R. S. Broughton (Eds.), Research in parapsychology 1983 (pp. 81-83). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

SCHWARTZ, S. A., DE MATTEI, R.J., BRAME, E. G., JR., & SPOTTISWOODE, S.J.P. (1987). Infrared spectra alteration in water proximate to the palms of therapeutic practitioners [Abstract]. In D. H. Wiener & R. A. Nelson (Eds.), Research in parapsychology 1986 (pp. 24-29). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.
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Author:Schmeidler, Gertrude R.
Publication:The Journal of Parapsychology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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