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Shadow Matter and Psychic Phenomena.

In Shadow Matter and Psychic Phenomena, Gerhard D. Wassermann, a lecturer in applied mathematics at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, proposes what is perhaps the most innovative, creative, and outlandishly speculative theory of psi phenomena in recent memory. Wassermann takes as his point of departure the concept of shadow matter, a form of "dark matter" postulated to exist by superstring theorists Kolb, Seckel, and Turner (1985). Shadow matter consists of dark twins of ordinary matter particles whose mode of interaction with particles of ordinary matter is restricted to gravity. For this reason, shadow matter would normally be expected to sink to the center of a planet such as the Earth. This does not happen in Wassermann's theory, because he postulates a much lighter variety of shadow matter than do Kolb et al. (Wassermann asserts that because Kolb et al.'s assumptions about the masses and modes of interaction of shadow matter particles are arbitrary, he is free to make his own assumptions.) The lowered mass of Wassermann's shadow matter may reduce its ability to account for much of the undetected "dark matter" in the universe, which is one of the main appeals of shadow matter in physics. Of course, even this lighter version of shadow matter should still quickly settle at the center of the Earth. Wassermann resolves this difficulty late in the book by asserting that the entire Earth has a shadow matter twin that prevents the surface-based shadow matter from sinking further.

Now for the strange part. Wassermann contends that every person has a shadow matter brain and body that are exact duplicates of his ordinary brain and body and that are normally in such exact alignment with the ordinary matter body that each particle of the shadow matter body is in sufficiently close proximity to the corresponding particle of the ordinary matter body that it is gravitationally bound to it. The shadow matter brain or body is capable of separation from the ordinary body and of serving in the role of an "astral body" during an out-of-body experience. (Wassermann does not designate the source of the energy required to climb out of the potential energy well caused by the tight gravitational binding of the two bodies.) At death, the shadow matter body (SMB) could become permanently projected; thus, the SMB would serve as a "material soul" allowing an indefinite survival of the human personality after the death of the physical body (Wassermann proposes that shadow matter is exempt from the second law of thermodynamics, the law of entropy increase, and thus would not be subject to decay and deterioration).

Wassermann hypothesizes that the ordinary matter brain and the shadow matter brain are capable of interaction via the exchange of gravitons. He assumes that memories are stored exclusively in the shadow matter brain and that conscious experience is associated exclusively with activity in the shadow matter brain, explicitly calling such conscious experiences an "epiphenomenon" of such activity. In an appendix to the book, Wassermann cites examples of hydrocephalic people with high IQs despite having minimal cortical tissue as evidence that the shadow matter brain may develop normally and permit the development of elaborate conceptual skills despite the inadequacies of the ordinary matter brain. He does not explain how this is supposed to occur if the SMB is constructed as an exact copy of the ordinary matter body.

As already stated, out-of-body experiences (OBEs) are due, in Wassermann's view, to a separation of the shadow matter brain or entire body from the ordinary physical body. While in the OBE state, the SMB perceives its environment via the detection of sphotons (shadow matter photons) from ordinary physical objects. Wassermann hypothesizes that these sphotons are gravitationally bound to ordinary photons, although elsewhere in the book he allows for the existence of unbound sphotons. The detection of sphotons by the SMB is made possible through the SMB's possession of shadow matter eyes that are duplicates of the person's ordinary eyes. While Wassermann denies the view that OBEs are simply hallucinations, he does recognize that the clothes worn by the shadow matter body must be hallucinations constructed by the SMB (although later in discussing hauntings he does postulate the existence of surviving shadow matter clothes).

Wassermann considers that hypnosis constitutes a state that is opposite to the OBE in that it involves a tighter than ordinary binding between the SMB and the ordinary brain, producing a "non-autonomous" state. This view of hypnosis is somewhat strange in that Wassermann contends that the tight coupling of the SMB and the ordinary brain in the everyday waking state of consciousness acts as a Bergsonian filter inhibiting psi and that at least a partial separation of the SMB and the ordinary brain is necessary in order for psi to occur. Thus, his theory would seem to be at odds with the view that hypnosis may be a psi facilitating state. Wassermann gets around this difficulty by proposing that localized breaking of bonds between the SMB and the ordinary brain may occur in hypnosis, allowing psi to occur. He also states that a great loosening of the bonds between the SMB and the ordinary brain may occur in trance mediumship, so his views on hypnosis are somewhat inconsistent.

In a very brief treatment of the subject, Wassermann proposes that cases of multiple personality are due to the semi-autonomous behavior of portions of the SMB.

As he turns his attention to the subjects of telepathy and clairvoyance, Wassermann is careful not to let his theorizing be unduly restrained by the law of parsimony. He proposes that the SMB is capable of separating from the ordinary brain and constructing duplicate copies of itself, much as a DNA molecule is capable of duplicating itself. (DNA molecules of course have a lot of help from other molecular machinery in such duplication, and the mind boggles at what machinery would have to be postulated to account for the duplication of an SMB.) These duplicate copies of the SMB are in turn capable of duplicating themselves. Thus the SMB is capable of sending out an army of nonconscious drone copies of itself to scan remote regions of the Earth for events of relevance to itself (Wassermann postulates that only the original SMB is associated with conscious experience, presumably to avoid philosophical difficulties associated with duplication of consciousness). When a particular drone SMB perceives an event, it continues to make duplicate copies of itself, one of which may meet up with the original SMB, which is still bound to the physical body (by a silver cord no less!), and transfer the memory of the event to that SMB, producing a clairvoyant experience. Because of the continual duplication of the SMBs, clairvoyance would not be subject to the inverse square law, as the density of SMB copies would not decrease with distance. To counter the objection that such duplication would quickly use up all the available shadow matter in the vicinity of the Earth because of the geometrical growth of the number of SMBs, Wassermann proposes that shadow matter mechanisms may be available to degrade these copies of the SMB after a limited time of existence. However, if the degradation process is not at least as fast as the duplication process, one would expect the number of copies of the SMB to grow geometrically, using up all the available shadow matter. If it is as fast, one would expect inverse-square law attenuation of the psi signal. Thus, it is not clear that one can get around the inverse square law in this manner without using up all the available shadow matter.

Wassermann assumes that telepathy is due to a percipient's interacting with a drone copy of another person's SMB and gaining access to the memories stored in that copy. Wassermann explicitly assumes that brains use the same neural code for memories, an assumption that Beloff (1980) saw as so unlikely as to be a fatal objection to all physical signal theories of telepathy. Telepathic interaction could occur through an exchange of memories between a copy of a person's SMB and the SMB of another person, followed by the return of a duplicate descendant of the SMB copy to the physical body of the percipient, whereupon the memories of the telepathic interaction would be dumped into the original shadow matter brain. Wassermann leaves unspecified the exact mechanisms by which such memory transfer takes place. Crisis apparitions are explained as the detection by the partially separated SMB of the percipient of a copy of the shadow matter body of the agent. It would seem possible to construct a theory of clairvoyance involving only one-way travel analogous to Wassermann's theory of crisis apparitions. Why not assume that ordinary objects create copies of their shadow matter bodies that could be detected by the partially separated SMB of a percipient? (Wassermann proposes that inanimate objects have such shadow matter bodies and that his theory has the unusual feature of predicting the existence of psi phenomena involving only inanimate objects.) Wassermann in fact considers this proposed mechanism for clairvoyance, but rejects it on the basis that shadow matter copies of objects would not be perceived as coherent systems, inasmuch as he assumes for some reason that sphotons are emitted only when shadow matter objects are bound to ordinary matter objects. (However, he is not consistent in maintaining this position elsewhere in the book.) He states that sphotons would be able to penetrate barriers such as envelopes covering ESP cards, although how this could be the case when he describes sphotons as being bound to photons in this case is unclear. He attributes the selectivity of reception of psi signals to "attentional processes" that screen out irrelevant psi information.

Wassermann accounts for hauntings by assuming that a shadow matter copy of a person (including shadow matter clothes) can become bound to a physical object such as the wall of a house and then serve as a template for the production of replicas that are then detected in the vicinity of the house by various percipients. (How such a presumably gravitational binding of a person to a wall could take place in view of the dissimilar construction of the two entities is not made clear.) Wassermann asserts that instances of collective perception of apparitions are caused by one person's perceiving the shadow matter copy of the deceased's body and then inducing corresponding hallucinations in the other witnesses through telepathic interaction. Here one would have thought it simpler to postulate that the shadow matter body may emit sphotons that could be simultaneously detected by all the witnesses. In fact, this view could be similar to Wassermann's own theory of autoscopy, that autoscopy occurs when one perceives sphotons emitted from a shadow matter copy of one's own body.

Instances of psychometry or object reading are accounted for by a similar theory. He assumes that copies of the shadow matter brains of people can become attached to objects which they have contacted, enabling a psychic later to gain access to the memories stored in those brains.

Wassermann would not see instances of haunting as evidence for the survival of the self since he regards such shadow matter copies of a person's body to be unconscious. Consciousness is associated solely with the original shadow matter copy of the physical body, which is typically bound to the body with a silver cord of the type that used to be frequently reported in out-of-body experiences. The original shadow matter brain or body may, however, become permanently projected at death, forming the basis of a material soul. (In Wasserman's theory, the original shadow matter body is arbitrarily given immunity from the decay mechanisms that continually destroy the secondary copies of it.) Wassermann likens his view of the material soul to the views expressed by the materialist philosophers of classical Greece, such as Epicurus, who saw the soul as being composed of "matter of a special kind." Wassermann proposes that such surviving shadow matter brains could interact telepathically to form "superintelligences" that could possibly communicate with still-living persons, forming the basis of experiences of inspiration and intuition.

Wassermann provides no quantitative way to test his theory. The view that theories should be able to be tested by generating predictions to see whether they are falsified or verified is a "dated" view, he says. Instead he feels it is adequate to show how his theory is capable of explaining (i.e., "postdicting") cases of ostensible psi phenomena. However, the "discipline" of psychoanalysis seems to be likewise capable of "explaining" everything that might occur on an ex post facto basis, but that theory is widely discredited as being unscientific precisely because of such unfalsifiability (i.e., its compatibility with any conceivable event). It would seem possible to test Wassermann's theory by making assumptions regarding the production and decay rates of shadow matter bodies that would enable predictions regarding distance dependence effects to be derived, so it is not the case that the theory must necessarily be regarded as unfalsifiable.

Wassermann incidentally dismisses much of the experimental evidence for psi as consisting of minor, unimpressive, and unrepeatable effects. He ignores, for instance much of the modern evidence based on the technique of statistical meta-analysis which shows that many lines of psi research, such as ganzfeld studies, are characterized by fairly strong effects that remain highly significant when the entire body of research is included in the analysis. Instead, he focuses almost exclusively on spontaneous cases, and the book indeed contains over eighty lengthy descriptions of instances of apparent spontaneous psi phenomena.

Wassermann's theory is least suited to accounting for instances of precognition and psychokinesis. Indeed, Wassermann ignores these two modes of psi until the very end of the book. He minimizes the evidence for precognition, saying that there are not many cases of spontaneous psi on record that involve precognitive experiences. However, an analysis by Schouten (1982) indicates that almost half of the cases in Louisa Rhine's collection involve precognitive experiences, so Wassermann's remark may not be consistent with the evidence. The experimental evidence for precognition does not, of course, count in Wassermann's mind. After presenting a few spontaneous cases suggestive of precognition, he finally feels compelled to offer an account of the phenomenon in terms of his theory. He devotes a mere three pages to it, but what a three pages they are. He proposes that shadow matter copies of the entire Earth are continually being manufactured. These copies then shrink to a small size, enabling them to interact with the brain of percipients. Because time is accelerated on these shrunken copies of the Earth, a percipient may be able to peer into a future state of the world when he interacts with one of these miniature copies of the planet.

In the main body of the text, the issue of psychokinesis is all but ignored, with the sole exception of a footnote in which all of the evidence for psychokinesis, with the possible exception of a handful of poltergeist cases, is summarily dismissed. However, in an "Epilogue" to the book, obviously added as an afterthought, Wassermann reconsiders this dismissal on the basis of evidence from psychokinesis experiments conducted at Cambridge University. (In reading the book, one gets the impression that Wassermann is simply not familiar with the recent experimental literature. Since he was a student of S. G. Soal, one can perhaps understand his antipathy toward experimental research.) He then briefly suggests that PK could be effected via the emission of gravitons from shadow matter copies of an agent's brain that has traveled into proximity to the object. Given that Wassermann is postulating a variant form of shadow matter that is capable of forming molecules and hence must obey some analogue of the Pauli exclusion principle, one might think that in his version of shadow matter the shadow matter body might be permitted to simply push the shadow matter bound in the target object, resulting in motion of the latter, in some instances of PK. In fact, he explicitly denies the interpenetrability of shadow matter when he proposes that it is the shadow matter copy of the Earth that prevents shadow matter at the surface from sinking to the center of the planet. In general, he seems to vacillate between his version of shadow matter and the more orthodox version in which shadow matter is assumed to interact only gravitationally, thus indicating that he has not thought the properties of shadow matter in his theory through in a consistent manner.

Wassermann concludes that psi phenomena constitute the "best indirect evidence" for shadow matter (as there is no direct evidence, it would therefore be simply the best evidence, period). For this reason, he feels that physicists should embrace his theory, although one suspects that most physicists would prefer a world with no shadow matter and no psi phenomena to a world with both. He also feels that his theory shows that psi phenomena are compatible with modern physics and so should be embraced for that reason. Whatever else may be said of Wassermann's theory, it is creative and elaborate; if it should ultimately prove to be true (which is exceedingly unlikely in view of its extreme complexity and paucity of specific evidential support), it might itself constitute the single most striking psychic hit on record.


BELOFF, J. (1980). Could there be a physical explanation for psi? Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 50, 263-272.

KOLB, E. W., SECKEL, D., & TURNER, M. S. (1985). The shadow world of superstring theories. Nature, 314, 415-419.

SCHOUTEN, S. (1982). Analyzing spontaneous cases: A replication based on the Rhine Collection. European Journal of Parapsychology, 4, 8-48.

DOUGLAS M. STOKES 219 Sugartown Rd., Apt. P-303 Wayne, PA 19087
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Author:Stokes, Douglas M.
Publication:The Journal of Parapsychology
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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