The Changing Face of Russian Psi Research

From New Dawn 104 (Sept-Oct 2007)

Were the Soviets really experts in paranormal research? Were they, as some researchers claimed during the Cold War, light years ahead of the rest of the world in the field of parapsychology? If so, what kind of work are the Russians up to today?

The mysterious case of Robert Toth may shed some light on the matter.

The Toth Incident

Robert C. Toth, a Los Angeles Times correspondent, was arrested and detained in Moscow on June 11, 1977. He had been given papers by a Soviet scientist named Valery G. Petukhov, who claimed to be Chief of the Laboratory of Bio-Physics at the State Control Institute of Medical and Biological Research. The papers supposedly disclosed ‘state secrets’ and Toth, of course, had obtained them illegally. He was arrested before he had a chance to examine them properly.

The papers were supposed to offer proof of Petukhov’s grounding breaking scientific research in the field of parapsychology. When living cell undergo division, Toth had been told, they emit certain particles that can be “detected and measured.” These particles can “carry information,” and their function could “explain the basis for telepathy” and other phenomena of this nature.

Toth claimed that seconds after he had been given the papers, a small car pulled up beside him, from out of which emerged five men, dressed as civilians. They threw him inside the vehicle, which then sped off. “Our car drove through red lights and down one-way streets the wrong way to a militia [police] station,” writes Toth. “My captors were firm and polite, offering me cigarettes… I was ushered into a room with an inspector who declined my requests to phone the US Embassy but said a Soviet Foreign Ministry official would be called.”

Toth was detained for a period of several days. He was interrogated by police officers and KGB officials. A senior researcher of the USSR Academy of Sciences, Professor I.M. Mikhailov, was asked to provide expert testimony on the information Toth had been given by Petukhov. “This material is secret and shows the kind of work done in some scientific institutes of our state,” he declared.

Suddenly told he was free to go, Toth caught the next flight back to America. The Toth incident hit newspapers all over the world, including The Washington Post and The New York Times. The story was quickly forgotten, however – at least by the public. “But,” writes the late Martin Ebon, “intelligence analysts understood that Toth had gotten into his hand, if only for a few moments, one of the tips of the enormous iceberg of top secret Soviet research into psychic powers of the human mind.”

The Psi Warfare Gap

Another possibility is that the Toth incident was a Soviet orchestrated conspiracy – a set up, in other words. Between 1969 and 1971, during the height of the Cold War, American intelligence sources discovered the Soviets had a deep interest in parapsychology, were researching the subject extensively, and that this research was being well-funded by the Soviet military and the KGB.

In 1967, it was learned, the Soviets were spending an estimated US$500 million a year on parapsychological related research. The money was being used to fund fourteen separate research institutes. This naturally worried the Americans, who deduced a hostile intent behind the Soviet’s actions.

As to why the Soviets were spending so much money on psi research, a brief explanation needs to be given. In the aftermath of World War II, Soviet authorities feared the prospect of becoming involved in yet another war – this time with the West – much in the same way that the US authorities were greatly concerned about a possible ‘communist takeover’ and nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

Acting as an important catalyst for the Soviet ‘psychic boom’ was a story that appeared in the French periodical Constellation, entitled ‘Thought Transmission – Weapon of War’. The article, published in 1959, told of supposed telepathy experiments that were being conducted by the US military. The article claimed that the ‘receivers’ in the experiment, located onboard the submerged nuclear submarine Nautilus, had successfully managed to pick up telepathic transmissions from the ‘senders’ back on land.

When the US Navy denied the story, the Soviets assumed they were lying, deciding to take it seriously. Not wanting to be left behind in the field of psi research, the Soviets took immediate action. The father of Soviet parapsychology, the physiologist Leonid L. Vasiliev, who, in 1923, had been ordered by Joseph Stalin to investigate telepathy, made the following remark in April 1960, while addressing a group of top Soviet scientists: “Today the American Navy is testing telepathy on their atomic submarines. Soviet scientists conducted a great many successful telepathy tests over a quarter of a century ago. It’s urgent that we throw off our prejudices. We must again plunge into the exploration of this vital field.”

One theory is that the Nautilus story was a clever piece of American disinformation, aimed to lead the Soviets astray, so that they would start to invest money and energy into a decided waste of time. “Whether telepathic communication experiments were ever carried out aboard the USS Nautilus is a topic that generates much doubt and dispute among paranormal enthusiasts,” explains W. Adam Mandelbaum in his book The Psychic Battlefield.

Regarding the Toth incident, the parapsychologist Elmar R. Gruber has some interesting comments to offer: “The feeling remains that the Soviets were attempting to impart deliberate disinformation in their power game with the Americans… Did they intend to create the impression that they were far more advanced in this field than the Americans?”

Intentional or not, the impression was certainly there, as proven by a now declassified 1972 Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) report, entitled ‘Controlled Offensive Techniques’. The report begins by stating that parapsychology in the Soviet Union is very different to that in West, the former being a “multi-disciplinary field consisting of the sciences of bionics, biophysics, psychophysics, psychology, physiology and neuropsychology.” The Soviets had named this field ‘psychotronics’. The nearest English equivalent to the word is mind (psycho) energy applications (-tronics).

The report mentions that Soviet scientists had explored “detrimental effects of subliminal perception techniques,” which, using “telepathic means,” might be “targeted against the US or allied personnel in nuclear missile silos.” The report continues: “The potential applications of focusing mental influences on an enemy through hypnotic telepathy have surely occurred to the Soviets… Control and manipulation of the human consciousness must be considered a primary goal. Soviet knowledge in this field is superior to that of the United States.”

Psychic Discoveries Behind The Iron Curtain

The year 1970 marked the publication of a now classic book on Soviet psychic research. Called Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, it was written by two Western journalists, Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder. During their stay in what was then the Soviet Union, Ostrander and Schroeder travelled far and wide, interviewing numerous scientists who were conducting groundbreaking research in the field of parapsychology.

When Psychic Discoveries was first released, it caused quite a stir, sparking both public and government interest in ‘psychic warfare’. Had it never been written, the US government’s fear of ‘Soviet psychic mind control’ would probably not have reached the extreme that it did.

Kirlian photography, dowsing, telepathy, eyeless sight, telekinesis, hypnosis – these are just some of the subjects that Ostrander and Schroeder investigated and wrote about. Their book showed that Soviet scientists had already managed to gain a practical understanding of how these types of phenomena were possible, while the rest of the world was lagging far behind.

So what had the Soviets discovered about the unknown powers of the human mind? And how did they approach the study of this enigmatic subject?

Experiments In Distance Influence

Existing in the Soviet Union were two different types of parapsychology – one official, the other secret. The former was allowed to exist in public, while the latter was taking place at well-funded, top secret state-controlled research institutes, and was largely military-based. Parapsychologists who wanted to do research in non-military areas often had difficulty obtaining funding.

To divert attention away from the real research they were doing, the Soviets had established, in Moscow, a military-based parapsychology centre called the Institute of Problems of Information Transmission. To help it look authentic, the Soviets made sure it was well-guarded at all times. As for the real research, that was being conducted in a remote region of western Siberia, near the pioneer town of Novosibirsk, in a massive research facility named Akademgorodok, ‘Science City’.

Built after World War II, Science City was composed of around 40 scientific centres, and housed tens of thousands of scientists and their families. It was developed, says Martin Ebon, “with such single-mindedness that even the names of the streets and city squares reflect its nature. For example, one could take a bus down Thermophysics Street, get off at the corner of Calculators Street, and walk across the Institute of Hydrodynamics Square.”

One of its scientific centres was called the Institute for Automation and Electrometry. Located here was the mysterious Special Department 8, where entry was not permitted unless one had access to a special code. Security was such that the code was changed on a weekly basis. For the sixty or so scientists employed at No. 8, their job was to investigate telepathy and distant influence, otherwise called ‘biocommunication’.

For psi to be possible, thought Soviet scientists, there had to be an exchange of energy taking place. At No. 8, writes Ebon, “physicists sought to discover the nature of ‘psi particles’, the elusive elements that some Soviet scientists regarded as essential to the function of such psychic techniques as biocommunication and bioenergetics.”

In one series of experiments, telepathic communication was tested among people. Experiments in telekinesis were also conducted. Some of the subjects used were Tibetan monks and Siberian shamans, who had been carefully selected by the KGB for their remarkable psychic abilities. The American journalist Jim Marrs says the KGB “laboriously screened more than a million people in an effort to locate ‘super naturals’, persons with the greatest amount of psychic power.”

In another series of experiments – which were conducted at No. 8 before it was closed down in 1969 – August Stern, one of the scientists who worked there, and his colleagues tested the properties of biophotons, to see if they could account “for some inexplicable forms of communication.” Photons, by the way, are the smallest physical units of light, the quanta of electromagnetic radiation. Biophotons are a type of photon that radiate from living cells. In this experiment, bacteria was placed on two sides of a glass plate, “to see whether a fatal disease could be transmitted through the glass” with the help of biophotons. “There were also experiments with photon waves, in which frogs’ eyes were used as a more sensitive measuring instrument than a machine,” recalls Stern, who migrated to France in 1977.

Due to the shutting down of No. 8, the photon communication experiments conducted by Stern and his colleagues were not fully realised. Several years later, however, three Soviet scientists attempted the same problem, achieving impressive results. Their names were Vlail Kanachevy, Simon Shchurin and Ludmilla Mikhailova. In their experiments, two groups of cells were used, one of which was contaminated with a virus, the other of which was not. They were placed adjacent to each other, but remained physically separate. When the two groups were isolated by quartz glass, which ultra-violet waves are able to penetrate, the non-contaminated cells suddenly became contaminated; they ‘caught the disease’, in other words. When regular glass was used, which ultra-violet waves cannot penetrate, this did not occur; the non-contaminated cells remained healthy.

These results confirmed what many Soviet scientists in the field of bioenergetics had previously theorised – that living cells can ‘communicate’ with each other over distances, and in a non-chemical way. When the affected cells were attacked by the virus, says Shchurin, they “virtually cried out loud about the danger” and “their cry freely penetrated the barrier of quartz glass… Something highly improbable happened. These waves were not only perceived by the neighbouring cells, they also conveyed the sickness to the neighbouring cells.”

The KGB Takes Control

No later than 1970, the KGB had taken control of the country’s research in parapsychology. It should be mentioned, however, that the KGB was an integral part of everyday life in the Soviet Union, permeating society on all levels, so their influence on psi research was not exactly sinister.

During the 1970s, more and more KGB-controlled parapsychology research institutes were established. Because the nature of Soviet psi research was becoming increasingly secret, many Western parapsychologists lost contact with their colleagues ‘behind the iron curtain’. In addition, rumours began to circulate about sinister ‘mind control’ experiments being conducted in clandestine Soviet labs, as well as the development of dangerous ‘psi weapons’ to be used against the West. As mentioned in Psychic Discoveries, a Czech engineer named Robert Pavlita claimed to have invented a ‘psychotronic generator’, which could apparently store, enhance and radiate ‘psychotronic’ energy.

Also known as ‘bioplasmic’ energy, Soviet scientists claimed that this energy was behind all manner of psychic phenomena, that it filled and animated all living things, and could also be harnessed for healing purposes. Using a process called Kirlian photography, the ‘bioplasmic body’ – or aura – could allegedly be photographed. The Austrian-American scientist Dr. Wilhelm Reich called this energy ‘orgone’. He invented a device called an ‘orgone energy accumulator’, consisting of a box lined with alternating layers of organic and inorganic materials, which was apparently able to trap this energy.

“A psychotronic generator can influence an individual or a whole crowd of people. It can affect a person’s psyche mentally and emotionally. It can affect memory and attention span. A psychotronic device can cause physical fatigue, disorientation, and alter a person’s behaviour,” asserts the Soviet biologist Edward Naumov. According to Ostrander and Schroeder, “certain generators can arouse fear, anxiety, anger, insomnia, depressions and suicidal thoughts and even lead to cerebral thrombosis.” The KGB, says Naumov, spent more than half a billion roubles on developing psychotronic technology.

When it comes to alleged Soviet mind control technology, nothing can compare to the immensity of project ‘Woodpecker’. Apparently, using an array of giant transmitters, the Soviets began to beam extremely low frequency (ELF) modulated signals all over Western Europe, Australia, North America and the Middle East. These transmissions, claims Tim Rifat, were designed to “permanently rewire the neural networks in the brains of the entire Western population, thereby destroying their social cohesiveness…” The KGB, it is said, had copied the brain frequencies of pathological criminals, mental patients, clinically depressed people and socio-psychopaths, whose brain wave maps they had studied. It is these negative frequencies that were beamed down on the West – from the early 1980s until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Assuming it was real, project Woodpecker appears to have been a tremendous success!

Apparently, the Soviets were not the only ones who managed to create advanced ‘psi weapons’ and large scale ‘mind control’ devices; so had countries in the West – most notably the US. This technology was allegedly used against the Soviet Union, in an attempt to bring about its destruction.

Soviet journalist Emil Bachurin claimed in Young Guard magazine that Yuri Andropov, the head of the KGB, spoke of several “psi weapons centres” in Canada, adding that “Canadian research must be surpassed.” The information was given to Bachurin by a KGB general. Other members of the Soviet intelligence community have mentioned the existence of advanced ‘psi weapons’ created by the West, even claiming that such devices have been used many times against civilian populations in the Soviet Union.

Comments made by the late Aleksander Lebed, a distinguished General and popular politician, seem to support such charges. As mentioned in New Dawn No. 43, Lebed insisted that Western secret services had carried out a series of psychological operations (or PSYOPS) against the Soviet Union, involving “tech­nologies of psycho-semantic pro­gramming,” brainwashing and hypnosis. One such psychological operation, claimed Lebed, was the collapse of the Soviet Union itself, which had been artificially organised by the West.

Modern Psi Research

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, some interesting psi experiments have been conducted in Russia, many of which involved animals and other living things. The Russians have long tried to develop biological ‘psi detectors’ – and so far they’ve been partially successful. Their theory is that psi is primarily a biological process, and that living systems react far more strongly to mental influence than do material systems. Researchers in the US have also attempted to develop psi detectors, or ‘thought switches’ – electronic devices that respond to mental intention.

The eminent American parapsychologist Dean Radin has already managed to construct a prototype of such a device, which, he says, “incorporated a new type of physical detector, involving a matrix of random-number generators, and some advanced statistical and signal-processing techniques to detect the predicted psi-influence.” As Radin explains in his book The Conscious Universe, countless laboratory experiments have shown that random number generators – devices that produce a stream of random digits – can be influenced by a focused mind. These ‘electronic coin flippers’ are designed to operate in a truly random fashion, producing an equal number of ‘heads’ and ‘tails’. Due to the influence of consciousness, however, these devices begin to function in a more ordered way, producing statistically less probable results, such as more heads than tails, for instance.

Georgi Gurtovoy, head of the Laboratory on Applying Isotopes in Ophthalmology in Moscow, and Alexander Parkhamov, a physicist, have done some interesting research on the distant influence of living systems that produce random fluctuations. Some of their instruments have been able to register micro-PK effects. They have also carried out anomalous distant influence experiments involving a species of fish called Gnathonemus petersii. These fish are known for their ability to emit pulsed electric signals, which they use to assist navigation in the darkness. Psychics were asked to slow down the rate of the fishes’ pulses – allegedly with much success.

Also compelling are the experiments of Sergei Speransky, a toxicologist at the Institute of Hygiene in Novosibirsk. His findings seem to confirm the existence of ‘morphogenetic fields’, as proposed by the controversial British biologist Dr. Rupert Sheldrake. In one experiment, a population of mice that had grown up together in the same cage were split into two groups. The mice in one group were fed as usual, while the mice in the other group were made to starve. Almost instantly, noticed Speransky, the non-starving mice began to consume much more food than before, as though trying to compensate for their ‘friends’. There appeared to be a telepathic link between the two groups. Had the non-starving mice picked up a signal from the starving mice, warning them that food was scarce and that they needed to increase food consumption and storage within their bodies?

Out of the thirty experiments conducted, twenty-seven had a positive outcome. Speransky then carried out an additional series of experiments, so as to refine his methodology, varying weight, sex and other variables. Once again, the results were nothing less than astonishing. Speransky concluded that the “biological significance of the rapid increase in weight in mice which received signals about starvation from their ‘friends’ is clear: a danger of starvation has to give them an additional stimulus to be sated.”

It’s interesting to note that the famous British biologist Sir Alister Hardy had formulated a similar theory to Speransky’s, stating that telepathic communication between animals might play a role in evolution and adaptation. Animal habits, he suggested, might be spread by “telepathic-like means.” He further suggested that a “psychic pool of existence” might operate among members of a species.

This brings us back to the work of Sheldrake. He believes morphogenetic fields contain the information that is required to shape the form of living things, much in the same way that certain frequencies of sound ‘contain the information’ to create complex geometric patterns in sand. We are reminded here of the bioplasmic body, which, as mentioned in Psychic Discoveries, was thought by Soviet scientists to be “some kind of matrix, some kind of invisible organising pattern inherent in living things.” Morphogenetic fields also serve a social function, shaping behaviour on both an individual and group level.

Furthermore, due to a process called ‘morphic resonance’, remarkable forms of ‘communication’ – not limited by space or time – are able to occur within a species. “The fields organising the activity of the nervous system are likewise inherited through morphic resonance, conveying a collective, instinctive memory,” writes Sheldrake. “Each individual both draws upon and contributes to the collective memory of the species. This means that new patterns of behaviour can spread more rapidly than would otherwise be possible.”

A Revolutionary New Approach

When, in the 1920s, parapsychology was beginning to establish itself as a legitimate scientific field in the Soviet Union, Leonid Vasiliev greatly influenced the course of its development – more so, by far, than anyone else. In his highly influential books, articles and presentations, he continued to assert that the study of psi phenomena should be approached in a purely physiological manner, as he feared it would be exploited by proponents of “religious superstition.”

Nowadays, parapsychology in Russia is undergoing a gradual yet fundamental transformation, thanks partly to a growing interest in transpersonal psychology. New approaches to psi research are being sought out, with an emphasis on Asian religious concepts. Scientists, moreover, are no longer so averse to ‘spiritual’ ideas. Ever since the end of the totalitarian communist regime, explains Gruber, “spirituality and religion, the pre-eminent features of the Russian soul, which were forced underground for so many decades, are again raising their claims to be the guiding principles in the understanding of man and his position in the world.”

Russia’s leading expert on parapsychology, Alexander Dubrov, who is regarded as the spokesman for the modern approach to psi research, believes there is more to psychic phenomena than biology and neurophysiology. Psi phenomena, he says, is a quantum-mechanical process, and man is a ‘quantum subject’. Be that as it may, says Dubrov, the physical side of psi and the psychophysics of altered states of consciousness should also be taken into account, so as to gain a complete understanding of the matter.

This article was published in New Dawn 104.
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Lucid Viewing – The Way Forward in Remote Viewing, How it all Started – In Russia,

Compare Martin Ebon, Amplified Mind Power Research in the Former Soviet Union, 1996-7,

Deep Black Magic: Government Research into ESP and Mind Control, Ingo Swann on CIA/ESP Connection, 1995,

Rupert Sheldrake, Biologist and Author, Morphic Fields and Morphic Resonance – an Introduction, 2005,

Elmar R. Gruber, Psychic Wars: Parapsychology in Espionage – and Beyond (Blandford, UK, 1999)

Jim Marrs, Psi Spies (AlienZoo Publishing, US, 2000)

Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder, Psychic Discoveries (Marlowe & Company, USA, 1970

Adam Mandelbaum, The Psychic Battlefield: A History of the Military-Occult Complex (St. Martin’s Press, USA, 2000)

Dean Radin, The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena (HarperCollins, USA, 1997)

Tim Rifat, Remote Viewing – What is it, Who uses it and How to do it (Vision Paperbacks, UK, 2001)

Holly DeNio Stephens, The Occult in Russian and Soviet Culture (Cornell University Press, 1997)

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About the Author

LOUIS PROUD is a writer and researcher specialising in anomalous, or Fortean, phenomena. His articles have appeared in New Dawn, Paranormal, FATE, and Nexus magazines. He is the author of Dark Intrusions, The Secret Influence of the Moon, and Strange Electromagnetic Dimensions: The Science of the Unexplainable. Louis lives in Burnie, Tasmania, Australia.

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