Blackmore, Susan J. (1951-)

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Blackmore, Susan J. (1951-)

British parapsychologist, best known for her study of out-ofthe-body experiences (OBEs). She completed a Ph.D. course in parapsychology in 1980 at the University of Surrey, England, then worked in the Parapsychological Laboratory at the University of Utrecht, in the Netherlands.

She held the Perrott-Warrick Studentship for four years, researching out-of-the-body and near-death experiences at the Brain and Perception Laboratory of Bristol University, England. She proposed a theory of OBEs as a psychological process involving memory and imagination, an altered state of consciousness like dream or drug states, and investigated relationships between OBEs, mental imagery, and other cognitive skills. Blackmore developed her theories in a series of research papers and the book Beyond the Body: An Investigation of Out-ofthe-Body Experiences (1981).

Her special interest in the OBE phenomenon arises from the fact that she had an OBE years earlier. Lasting about three hours, it appeared to be a classic astral projection case, complete with the often-reported "silver cord" linking the astral and physical bodies. At the time, Blackmore was reading physiology and psychology at Oxford University, England. She became convinced that in spite of the vivid feeling of reality that accompanies the experience, there should be an acceptable explanation within terms of normal physiology and psychology, and that such an explanation might also explain other claimed paranormal phenomena such as ESP, psychokinesis, ghosts, poltergeists, and near-death experiences. Blackmore conducted many experiments to test a general theory of psi, which proposed that psi and memory are aspects of the same process. In the case of OBEs, she suggested that when an individual's cognitive system is disturbed and loses input control, its normal reality construct is replaced with one drawing upon memory. This might explain the intense sensation of reality during an OBE, as well as in vivid dreams.

However, her experimental efforts to replicate or validate psi phenomena were largely negative, and after some ten years of careful research, she became increasingly skeptical about the validity of parapsychology itself. Of course, other researchers have also grappled with the age-old problem of the inability to replicate spontaneous phenomena under scientific conditions, and it may be that the whole question of evidence, particularly in the case of OBEs, lies in qualities of consciousness rather than objective demonstration or repeatable material measurement.

Blackmore has raised important questions for parapsychology, and as a conscientious and thoroughly honest investigator, she has not hesitated to discuss such matters quite openly. Her somewhat rueful article, "The Elusive Open Mind: Ten Years of Negative Research in Parapsychology," was first presented at the 1986 CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) Conference at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and details basic problems of parapsychology in a frank and stimulating way. She expanded upon the paper in a book, Adventures of a Parapsychologist (1986).

Sources:

Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Blackmore, Susan J. Adventures of a Parapsychologist. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1986.

. Beyond the Body: An Investigation of Out-of-the-Body Experiences. London: Heineman, 1981.

. "The Elusive Open Mind: Ten Years of Negative Research in Parapsychology." The Skeptical Inquirer 9, no. 3 (spring 1987).

. The Meme Machine. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

. Parapsychology and Out-of-the-Body Experience. London: Society for Psychical Research; Hove, England: Transpersonal Books, 1978.

. "A Psychological Theory of the OBE." In Research in Parapsychology 1984. Edited by Rhea A. White and Jerry Solfvin. 1985.

Blackmore, Susan J., and John Harris. "OBEs and Perceptual Distortions in Schizophrenic Patients and Students." In Research in Parapsychology 1982. Edited by William G. Roll, John Beloff, and Rhea A. White. 1983.