Scientists, shamans, and sages : gazing through six hats

Scientists, shamans, and sages : gazing through six hats

par Mario Varvoglis

ABSTRACT: Most parapsychologists espouse traditional scientific methods, involving data collection and data analysis, refereed publications, critical feedback, methodological improvements, renewed hypothesis testing, and so on. Overall, this approach has helped establish the legitimacy of the field, while also yielding substantial statistical evidence favoring the existence of certain anomalies. Several considerations, however (e.g., experimenter effects, the apparent absence of spatiotemporal constraints on psi) suggest that the phenomena studied may not be fully amenable to traditional research models; the latter may need to be complemented with other approaches. In this context, tools for divergent thinking can be of great use: They help people resolve complex problems by encouraging creative exploration of many novel and unusual directions. Six Thinking Hats is a divergent-thinking method that induces particularly rich explorations of solution space. The individual examines the problem not only through the familiar analytical and critical forms of thinking but also through lateral thinking, cross-disciplinary perspectives and emotional intelligence. Six Hats can thus be of considerable use to parapsychologists. Given the multifaceted nature of psi phenomena and the complexities of the research, it is essential the full spectrum of intelligence be used to progressively construct a rich, multidimensional map of our subject matter.


This presidential address has several sources of inspiration. One of them, as many of you have probably guessed, is Rex Stanford’s intriguingly titled Are We Shamans or Scientists, delivered at the 1979 Parapsychological Association (PA) convention. I consider this article a turning point for the field, not so much for the answers it provides as for the questions it raises. Stanford’s main concern was psi-mediated experimenter effects and how these might undercut the validity and replicability of our laboratory results. Indeed, he questioned whether approaches that leave ample room for experimenter effects could really be termed scientific: Do they yield results that are analyzable, predictable, “localizable” in terms of cause-effect, or are they more like “magic” or miracles, one-shot demonstrations that maintain a total ambiguity about their source, timing, and mechanism?

A second source of inspiration is more personal; it focuses on that same year, 1979. At that time, Charles Honorton established Princeton’s Psychophysical Research Laboratories (PRL) and invited me to join him there as a full-time parapsychologist. In reflecting about this presidential speech, I suddenly realized that the creation of PRL, or at least my experience of that event, metaphorically captured an essential aspect of Stanford’s rhetorical question.

I had come to know Chuck at the Maimonides Hospital Division of Parapsychology and Psychophysics, better known as the Dream Lab. I volunteered there as an undergraduate psychology student-somewhat skeptical, I confess, but thoroughly fascinated by the context, the researchers, and the issues they were examining. Far from being just an intellectual activity, I discovered, psi research was a passion. Many had had personal experiences, most were trying out all sorts of things, and the lab buzzed with curiosity, personal exploration, ideas, and theories. There were pilot studies of all sorts and colors, ganzfeld sessions, long philosophical discussions, and constant samplings of different states of consciousness. The personal computer was just around the corner, and the accelerating technological innovations were sources of genuine excitement. We were certain that these fascinating toys would open brave new vistas into the universe of psi and were impatient to integrate them in our investigations. For example, the processor-based precision thermistors by Autogen quickly found their way into an impromptu session with a visiting trance medium, who claimed to be in touch with discarnate entities. Three of us locked ourselves with her in the highly isolated Industrial Acoustics Corporation (IAC) room. While she was purportedly channeling the entities, we felt a drop in the temperature-which, of course, reminded us of the subjective sense of “cold breezes” or “chills” frequently reported in the mediumnistic literature. Only in this case, when we came out of the IAC room, we discovered that the Autogen thermistor had indeed recorded a quite sizable drop in the room’s temperature, in apparent contradiction with what would be expected in an isolated room enclosing four heat-radiating bodies. I do not recall any formal write-up or follow-up to this striking result-it was just another exploratory session at the Dream Lab, typical of the creative, spontaneous mood of that period.

Of course, I do not want to paint an all-rosy picture. Our field lost some fine minds at Maimonides. Many of the young researchers who went through the Dream Lab, initially excited, curious, and bright, came out bruised and discouraged by Chuck’s management style and personality. Still, Maimonides came as close as I have known to “frontier science”-exploratory, creative, provocative, in full rebellion against behavioristic parapsychology, yet not quite settled into a systematic, well-defined alternative.

Then, in 1979 Chuck Honorton closed down the Maimonides Lab and established PRL. The move from the underground corridors of Brooklyn Hospital to the sunny, prestigious offices of Princeton was a major transition. We now were all full-time researchers rather than volunteers, with salaries, job descriptions, and private offices. We were in a high-visibility situation, vis-à-vis both colleagues and outsiders, and had to live up to the corresponding demands. The McDonnell Foundation had allotted us a substantial budget, along with obligations, deadlines, and annual reports. Also, we all came to be involved in the Honorton-Hyman ganzfeld debate, at least indirectly, focusing most of our energy on the auto-ganzfeld rather than the development of new possibilities.

In short, the move from Maimonides to PRL represented a shift in priorities, in process, in our very rapport to psi: It moved us from “shamanistic,” participative science to a more “normal,” detached form of science. In this sense, I believe it was symptomatic of a far more general trend in the field, one which is growing and accelerating: Increasingly, we are looking to professionalize parapsychology and render psi research and psi “normal.” I would like to reflect on the wisdom of this approach.


There is a well-known tale of a bunch of blind men who come upon a strange entity that has just arrived in town, known as an elephant. Each blind man is trying to figure out what this elephant entity is all about. One puts his arms around its huge leg and concludes the elephant is probably a living tree, another crashes into the massive body and visualizes the elephant as a solid wall, a third feels the vibrating tusk and naturally infers it must be a huge serpent, while yet another touches the tail and concludes that it is just a wimpy, rope-like animal.
The point of the story is that each character is limited by his encounter-his initial experience-and, of course, by his past knowledge and assumptions. Extrapolating from these two incomplete sources of understanding each invents quite different-and severely limited-representations of the unknown whole.

The elephant story has been cited several times, in connection with our field, but I think it is worth recalling its relevance once more. We are in much the same situation as the blind men, only worse: The psi-elephant is virtual (a negatively defined hypothetical construct), invisible to all, and apparently shifting and morphing each time we try to probe into its nature, even when we think we are sampling the exact same spot.

Of course, the last thing we want to hear, as scientists, is that we are wasting our time like a bunch of blind men. We all want to believe that our rigorous methods, our data collection, our persistence and patience, are slowly getting us to the essence of things. I do believe we have made considerable progress. But what if the tools we use, the assumptions, methods and approaches guiding our research, are simply not up to the task of revealing the full psi-elephant, in all its glorious richness and complexity? In deciding that we will stick to the rules of normal science-to borrow Kuhn’s overused term-are we not excluding some perspectives that could afford quite different, yet essential information on psi?

Feyerabend (1975) would claim that science is just one tool among several available to human intelligence-and, he would add, not the one most adapted to issues related to meaning, intentionality, or culture. Closer to home, Braude (1979, 1986) has repeatedly argued that the typically scientific attitude of reductionism-the “small is beautiful” assumption-runs into serious conceptual problems when applied even to normal mental functions, let alone to psychic phenomena.

Whether by conscious choice, social pressure, or groupthink, we seem to have made up our collective mind about the right path to follow, in the “shamans versus scientists” dilemma. My argument, however, is that we have come to premature closure on this issue. In trying to become psi-scientists, to the detriment of psi-shamans, we have accentuated the predicament of the blind men: first, by denying the validity of certain tools and perspectives; second, by wholeheartedly adopting objectivist standards, which obscure the impact of our epistemology on our discoveries.

Of course, it would be pure madness to do an about-face, abandon whatever we have achieved, and move toward magic and miracles. Rather, what I would like to propose here is to abandon the either-or logic of ‘shamans versus scientists and adopt a richer conceptual framework to guide our work.


For the past dozen years or so, I have been involved in the field of creative problem solving (CPS) as business consultant, trainer, and university teacher. The raison d’etre of creativity tools is to help us do a better job in exploring alternative possibilities, when confronted with all sorts of unknown elephants. Whether in engineering, research and development, management, marketing or design, creativity is typically called upon as a last resort, that is, when the “normal” means of rational problem solving yield consistently inadequate results, and we need to expand our thinking.

If there was just one major lesson to draw from creativity research, it is the following admonition: When venturing into unknown territory, do not assume the superiority of any single angle, tool, perspective, or framework, but try to cover as much ground as possible using divergence tools. Put differently, when the usual way of handling things seems to lead to an impasse, the first thing to do is to stop taking the familiar mental path, the path of least resistance. Then, we must change not only where we look but how we look as well. Particularly in the early phases of problem solving, when paradoxes and puzzles far outweigh consistencies and answers, we need to diverge, grope around in the solution space, without deciding too quickly whether the items discovered are worthwhile or useless. Convergence, zooming in on the “best” ideas, comes at a later stage.

Central to this “groping around” process is mental flexibility: the ability to consciously introduce multiple viewpoints, orientations, perspectives-even different types of intelligence-so as to be able to “shift paradigms” and thus explore the solution space more thoroughly. In this context, I would like to introduce Six Thinking Hats (de Bono, 1985), a powerful problem-solving approach that enhances mental flexibility by encouraging individuals to attack an issue from several orthogonal but complementary conceptual angles. In line with Gardner (1993), Goleman (1995) and others, de Bono’s Thinking Hats accepts the existence of several different forms of intelligence-beyond the analytical kind, assessed by IQ tests and dominating formal intellectual discourse. The metaphor of Thinking Hats is meant to represent distinct cognitive orientations, each with its own focus, its territory of predilection, its strengths, weaknesses and blind spots.

White Hat: analytical, rational intelligence, focusing on information, facts, and figures, “objective,” quantifiable facets of the issue, inferences that can be reasonably drawn from the known data.

Black Hat: critical intelligence, conservatism, skepticism, with a focus on weaknesses, risks, problems, and shortcomings; the “devil’s advocate.”

Yellow Hat: constructive intelligence, adaptability, optimism, positive problem-solving attitude, geared toward improvements, opportunities, possibilities; the “angel’s advocate.”

Red Hat: emotional intelligence, based on gut feelings, instinct, intuitions, and hunches; the focus here is on the psychological, interpersonal, affective components of the problem or project.

Green Hat: divergent or creative intelligence-rejection of established rules and norms, visionary “thinking out of the box,” wild ideas, extravagant possibilities, provocation, inventiveness.

Blue Hat: transversal or cross-functional intelligence; broad, global perspectives, overview, synthesis and reconciliation of different viewpoints. This hat comes close to what we might call wisdom.

It should be clear that we are not simply talking about different levels of resolution here (e.g., microscopic vs. wide-angle vs. telescopic perspectives) but rather of qualitatively different types of tools: an electron microscope, X-rays, biochemical analysis, FMRI, and so on. The Six Hats are intended to complement each other, bringing out qualitatively distinct facets of the object, process, or problem examined. During this process, there is little attempt to resolve contradictions or conflicts between the various observations and statements. It is only at the end, when thinking has matured and evolved to Blue Hat intelligence, that we can afford to compare and reconcile the divergent statements, prioritizing and converging on the best ideas.

Thus, good thinkers temporarily restrict their mental processes to just one form of intelligence until they have extracted all they can using that particular tool; then, they shift to another form of thinking, and then to another, until they have examined the issue from all perspectives. By thoroughly plunging into each of these thinking paradigms, one at a time, we progressively construct a map of the complex territory we are considering-a map that is far more extensive, detailed, and rich than afforded by analytical, critical, or adaptive intelligence alone.

So, how well does our field measure up to this multidimensional mapping approach?


White: Data and Objectivity

A mouse is an animal that, when killed in sufficient quantities, under controlled conditions, produces a doctoral thesis.

Woody Allen

In our field, the White Hat is the neutral, noncommittal perspective that observes and accumulates data and sticks close to that data, preferably eschewing interpretations, theories, broad claims or generalizations. The psi researcher in White Hat mode notes the behaviors and activities of those claiming to have psi experiences or those producing experimental results. She or he conducts all kinds of surveys and focuses on the what, when, where, who, how, how many-anything that can be objectively described, measured, quantified. Psi experiences are cautiously labeled “subjective paranormal experiences,” and experimental work is ultimately relegated to a complex of data entries in a meta-analytic spreadsheet, with replication and flaw counts yielding a probability statement as to the kinds of inferences that can be safely drawn. In epistemological terms, the White Hat favors inductionism as an approach to knowledge.

Black: Doubt and Pessimism

Nothing stops progress. It stops all by itself.

Alexandre Vialatte

Whether coming from outright skeptics or not, conservatism, doubt, criticism and pessimism abound in our field. Acute awareness of all the traps, weaknesses, risks and difficulties of psi research seems to be a trademark of the experienced, weathered parapsychologist. The Black Hat is important: Part of our evolution, particularly in methodology, is due to the vigilance of critical or skeptical thinking. But excesses are easy to come by here. From a pure Black Hat perspective, gifted subjects are suspects, striking personal anecdotes are fabrications or coincidences, and productive experimental methodologies are probably flawed. Consistently Black Hat parapsychologists harbor serious doubts that psi actually exists or that it is anything more than a statistical anomaly; they insist on repeated demonstrations or replications and only relax when negative results start coming in. They amplify their ambivalence and wear it like a medal by joining both the PA and CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal). The preferred epistemological approach here is falsificationism.

Yellow: Constructive Optimism

I hate reality but it’s the only place they serve a good steak.

Woody Allen

If the Black Hat sees the glass as half-empty, the Yellow Hat sees it as half full. Yellow Hats adapt quite readily to new realities, constraints and givens; they make the best out of any situation. When operating in this mode, psi researchers are quite confident about the reality of psi, believe in the potential of parapsychology and look to help the field evolve and develop. The approach is based on an optimistic faith in science and a patient, progressive construction of a better case for psi. Yellow Hats invest in process-oriented research, they are interested in systematicities and regularities, in links and correlations between datasets. They constructively engage critics in debates, which they hope will turn to dialogue. Anecdotes of personal psi experiences are welcome, to the extent that they reveal persistent patterns and give clues for research. The order of the day is constructive hypothesis testing and verification, and the favored epistemological approach is justificationism.


These three Hats-these three epistemological orientations of White, Black, and Yellow-have dominated the PA’s activities, practically since its birth: data collection and data analysis, refereed publications, constructive or not-so-constructive criticism, search for patterns and regularities, refinement of tools and methods, postulation of counter-explanations, progressive elimination of counter-explanations. Despite our conspicuously strange subject matter, we have largely sought to understand the psi- elephant through science-as-usual modes.

No doubt this strategy has yielded considerable benefits. We have succeeded (at least to our own satisfaction) in statistically establishing an anomaly in at least three domains: real-time GESP (remote viewing, ganzfeld studies), precognition (RNG and presentiment studies), and bio-PK or DMILS (direct mental interaction with living systems). We have detected several moderator variables, including psychological, physiological, and perhaps even physical factors. We have also partly removed the stigma associated with psychic research, and gradually nudged open some academic doors and funding.

But I question whether “science as usual” will get us beyond anomalies; I doubt it will take us much further than where we are, in terms of results or understanding. We are dealing with phenomena that, in their most significant aspects, part company with the objects, forces and processes studied by most other domains. In the meantime, while we go through the motions of normal science-focusing on increasingly technical and minor issues, replicating each other’s work, fine-tuning our discourse, adapting to skeptical positions-we progressively abandon the fresh thinking and maverick spirit that originally vitalized the field and inspired progress.

It could be argued that all this is a sign of a maturing (as opposed to pre-paradigmatic) science. I personally have difficulty with this idea. The first sign of a mature science, I would think, is mastery of its subject matter, that is, an ability to describe, at least in general outline, the elephant that is out there. I do not think we are there yet, and I believe it is premature to lock into “normal science” approaches exclusively. We parapsychologists need to round out our White, Black, and Yellow forms of intelligence with more color and seize the opportunity to create a new field-one that is not simply imported from other domains but truly adapted to its subject matter.

Red: A Personal Affair

He who has never been in chains, can never know liberty.

Serge Gainsbourg

After sipping a few glasses of Bordeaux, many of us would probably admit that emotions and gut feelings played some role in our joining the field: Maybe it was a sense of awe and wonder following a personal psychic experience, or a burning curiosity about the deep nature of reality, or a need to reconcile spiritual and materialist orientations. More to the point, the Red component of psi is frequently in the foreground of our research: We acknowledge the importance of experimenters’ interpersonal skills, we correlate results to subject mood or personality, we assess the impact of sender-receiver pairing on telepathy “hits.”

On the whole, however, let us face it: Scientists are not supposed to be too Red, at least not during working hours. Even when it comes to exploring the emotional component of psi and psychic phenomena, we remain fully White-data oriented, noncommittal, detached. We are far more at ease with the neutral-objective model of science, where we can read pretyped instructions to the subject, follow the protocol, and make sure things do not get too much out of hand.

The question is, does this approach match the elephant we are studying? I suspect that if we are to learn more about the “red” aspects of psi, which are essential, we will have to take some personal risks and make room for the impulsive, gutsy, emotional, irrational facets of nature.
I recall Chuck’s story of his first clear-cut encounter with macro-PK. It was at Maimonides, with Felicia Parise, an attractive and strong-minded lady, who was also a very good ESP subject. Felicia had seen a film on Kulagina(1) and promptly assumed that she should be able to do PK as well. But despite her single-minded efforts to move small objects, she just did not seem to make any progress. One day, she received some upsetting news about a close relative and, just as she was about to dash out the door, she reached for her pill bottle-and saw it jump back a few centimeters. She was startled, but too preoccupied to think much of it then. Later on though, she started focusing a lot of “psychic energy” on that little pill bottle of hers, and began to get some results. When she told Chuck, he was appropriately skeptical. But his comments had gotten Felicia a bit worked up and aggravated and, at some point, in a rather offhanded way, she flippantly tossed a word like “abracadabra” (I don’t remember the exact words) and the bottle moved-in good light, far from Felicia, and smack in front of Chuck’s eyes.

From a Red Hat perspective, there are several noteworthy items here: Felicia’s strong-headed personality, her competitive spirit, seeking to emulate and surpass Kulagina, her “accidental” PK effect at a moment of distress, her focus specifically on a highly meaningful personal object (her pill bottle, which went wherever she did). But I find Chuck’s reactions even more interesting. As I recall, he said that when he saw that little pill bottle move, he got very nervous, sweaty and agitated, and started desperately looking for the trick, the error, the fraud, anything that could rationally explain that small movement. He was in a state of sheer panic at the idea that he might be forced to accept-and publicly declare-that he had witnessed macro-PK.

To his credit, Chuck did not stop there but went on to conduct macro-PK research with Felicia-until she tired of the stress, physical effort, and suspiciousness of parapsychologists. She pulled out and refused to avail herself to research anymore.

I think this story well illustrates something that most of us share: the fear of large-scale psi, and the fear of being duped into thinking we have witnessed large-scale psi. Repeating Charles Tart’s well-known thesis, I would argue that the well-rounded psi researcher must come to terms with such gut-level fears. It seems that parapsychology is essentially a participative science, given the possibility of experimenter effects; consequently, the chances are that our own fears, as well as excessive skepticism, would block the skills of even a gifted subject.

If we do not have the emotional intelligence to recognize our own sensitive spots, know their true roots, and deal with them honestly, then we cannot fully welcome large-scale psi, or its statistical equivalent. And if we cannot do this, we cannot expect outsiders, particularly the skeptics, to do so.

A related point concerns our personal psi explorations: Are they central to our professional work or peripheral? The traditional White Hat perspective is categorical: Scientists do not pollute their objectivity and detachment with potential biases deriving from subjective paranormal experiences. But from a Red Hat point of view, it is absurd to try to intellectually understand psychic phenomena without the benefit of first-hand, lived-in experience-whether subjective or otherwise. To the extent to which experimenter effects are real, it seems much healthier for the investigator to have a sense, from within, of what paranormal experiences are about. This means informally trying out things with friends and family, participating as subjects in our own experiments, maintaining a journal of relevant dreams, insights and synchronicities, exploring psi-conducive states of consciousness-in short, keeping the passion alive.

If nothing else, such personal implication shifts the investigator’s empathy and rapport with subjects; it may well determine whether she or he is psi-conducive or psi-antagonistic. As far as our participants are concerned, the investigator’s conviction and confidence-which are reinforced by personal experience-translate to a clear message: This is not just my job, as scientist: I am personally invested in the discovery of psi, and I am interested in how others experience it; participants in my experiment are not just data points-they are members of the club.
It is a lot of work, I grant that. But if we want to be good researchers in parapsychology, we cannot just settle for being good statisticians, methodologists, or critics. As far as the Red Hat is concerned, studying psi is not science-as-usual.

Green: Creative Magic

I know my limits. That’s why I can transcend them.

Serge Gainsbourg

Lateral thinking values paradox, divergence, anomalies, instability, exceptions, surprises. Contrary to “normal science” hats, it thrives on the disequilibrium induced by a departure from assumptions and expectations.

As a group, we are more prone toward rigor and reliability than play and creativity. Perhaps we are embarrassed by the apparent elusiveness and unreliability of our “quarry” and compensate by counting on the slow, sure and solid methods of objective experimental science. Or perhaps we need to project a serious image to the world, in view of the theatrical excesses that have been associated with psychical research in the past-“strange powers of the mind,” spiritualism, spirits and phantoms, Hollywood and its horror films. Whatever the reason, we tend to be suspicious of the playful, provocative, norm-breaking Green Hat.

Not that Green dynamics are foreign to our field. For one thing, much of our progress can ultimately be traced to the breakthroughs of a few highly creative researchers-their methodological innovations, their serendipitous discovery of “bizarre” results, bold theoretical “leaps,” tentative connections to external findings and fields. Also, on a more general scale, we implicitly recognize the relevance of the Green Hat in explorations of psi and creativity, in the emphasis we place on novelty, play and surprise, in our hunch that mechanical repetition and ad nauseam replications are not the best approach for capturing our quarry.

However, if we are really interested in grasping the mysteries of our subject matter, we must go much further with the Green Hat game, occasionally push it to its logical extreme, and accept the price that goes with it. We cannot constantly seek the approval of normal science; we need the confidence and guts to question pre-established epistemological models and explore many divergent approaches. Our methods need to emerge from within, driven by our subject-matter, rather than being imposed from the outside.

Green Hat parapsychology is necessarily an elitist, highly selective approach, with psi events seen as rare, exceptional breakthroughs. From this perspective, it is hubris to proclaim our research and results as accessible to all; it is futile to model psi as a normally distributed function, dormant in the general population; it is equally meaningless to view psi as a low-level signal that can be teased out from effects bordering on noise. In Green Hat mode, the focus is on exceptional conditions, on extremes, on “borderline” subjects and bizarre claims. Among the recommendations are the following:

1. Renew in-depth explorations of multiple personality, dissociative mental states and altered states of consciousness.

2. Resuscitate the prematurely abandoned, highly promising, investigations on group dynamics that encourage massive psi events-from the early mediumnistic sittings with Home, Palladino, Kluski, or Schneider, to the later approaches by Batcheldor, Brooks-Smith, or the Phillip group.

3. Similarly, accept, as a working hypothesis, the reality of sheep-goat effects, and amplify these through stage-setting devices, role-playing, ritualistic behaviors, suggestion and deep hypnosis. In this context, we have much to learn from Hollywood, advertising, video games and so forth on how to create convincing lifelike experiences out of sound, image, message and context.

4. Accept the logical consequences of an elitist science: Not everyone who has a PhD and training in experimental methodology is capable of conducting fruitful psi research

5. In short, rekindle Tart’s idea of a state-specific science and integrate the psychophysical and epistemological conditions that welcome psi in both subjects and experimenters.

If all this sounds rather shamanistic, well, in a way it is-especially once we acknowledge the central role of the shaman-investigator. To what extent are our findings true discoveries, conforming to objective lawfulness, and to what extent are they inventions, shaped by some hidden, fundamental form of creativity? I guess this is what really worried Rex Stanford, years back, and I bet it is what makes all of us nervous today. Normal scientists are supposed to just set the stage and silently take notes while the play unfolds. But the reports and studies keep coming in, suggesting that, as researchers, we somehow share center stage with our subjects. To Green Hats, this is quite normal. After all, the creative mind naturally assumes it is at the center of its universe; it necessarily pervades all that it observes. The concern, from the Green perspective, is not so much to pinpoint, measure and partial out experimenter effects as to amplify and refine them. If the magician does not do this, who will?

Blue: Scientists, Shamans, or Sages?

The Blue Hat builds on all other forms of intelligence-analytical, skeptical, constructive, emotional, creative-and arrives at an understanding that is greater than the sum of its parts-something we might call wisdom. Not the inert, philosophical, white-haired version of wisdom; rather, the meta-perspective that grasps the meaningful foundations of all viewpoints, sees the links and connections between them, and then pushes forward in a renewed, evolutionary spiral.

It would seem that, by its very nature, our field ought to have a strong dose of Blue Hat intelligence. After all, parapsychology is the transdisciplinary field par excellence, the discipline that explores extended psychophysics and mind-matter interactions. And, indeed, Blue Hat thinking does come out of the woodwork, occasionally: It is present whenever someone in the field puts broad, long-term vision first, rising above ego, territory, consensus, technical expertise, wittiness and flair. It is present in lucid, incisive overviews of entire research paradigms, in transversal, transdisciplinary analyses of trends, in deep reflections on the place of psi in nature, on the meaning of it all. It is, or should be, the main color of invited addresses or presidential speeches.

Still, the Blue Hat seems to be losing its popularity in our field. Rare, nowadays, is the mind that steps back, takes on a helicopter view, and generates the vision of giants like Myers, James, Richet, Rhine, or Murphy. Perhaps we have accumulated a certain distrust of those who propose a Theory of Everything, as we are all far too aware of the multiple exceptions to any proclaimed universal framework. Or maybe, as we become increasingly specialized, adopting the logic of engineering, or physics, or cognitivism, we get absorbed in a silo mentality that obscures the sight of the whole.

There are no short-cuts to the Blue Hat; it emerges naturally out of a lived-in mastery of all other Hats. We cannot attain wisdom if some forms of intelligence have been over-developed while others are kept on a tight leash. We need all “thinking paradigms” to explore multiple perspectives, before forcing premature closure and choosing a unique, privileged viewpoint.

My suggestion is that we transcend the either-or logic of “shamans versus scientists”, acknowledging that the complexity of our subject matter demands a correspondingly complex form of reasoning. Our “normal” science Hats-White, Black and Yellow-are necessary; they reflect centuries’ worth of expertise as to how to investigate reality. However, these Hats must be complemented by other approaches, including Green and Red forms of intelligence, which are far more subjectivist, emphasize the idiosyncratic and transient qualities of things; value belief, ritual, and magical thinking; and accept the participative nature of the game.

In systematically applying the different Hats of intelligence, both individually and collectively, we can go beyond the discourse of blind men and progressively build a rich, complex, panoramic map of our subject matter. I suspect that, as we near twilight-blue wisdom, we will discern that the map contains, and moves with, our own inquiring spirit. But then again, if and when we reach that state of grace, I am sure we will be ready to embrace such paradoxes and enjoy the intense beauty of the vision.
I conclude by citing a Red/Blue voice of sagesse. These phrases have been pulled out of the opening pages of Martin Buber’s I and Thou (1923/1970).

The world is twofold for man, in accordance with his twofold attitude.

The attitude of man is twofold in accordance with the two basic words he can speak.

One basic word is the word-pair I-You. The other basic word is the word pair I-It.

Thus the I of man is also twofold.

For the I of the basic word I-You is different from that in the basic word I-It.

The basic word I-You can only be spoken with one’s whole being.

The basic word I-It can never be spoken with one’s whole being.

There is no I as such, but only the I of the basic word I-You and the I of the basic word I-It.

Whoever says You does not have something for his object. For wherever there is something there is also another something. Every It borders on other Its. It, is only by virtue of bordering on others.

But where You is said there is no something. You has no borders.

Whoever says You does not have something; he has nothing.
But he stands in relation.


BUBER, M. (1970). I and thou. New York: Scribner’s.

BRAUDE, S. (1979). ESP and psychokinesis: A philosophical examination. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

BRAUDE, S. E. (1986). The limits of influence: Psychokinesis and the philosophy of science. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

DE BONO (1986). Six Thinking Hats. New York : Little Brown & Co, 1985.

FEYERABEND, P. (1975) Against Method, Humanities Press.

GARDNER, H. (1993). Frames of mind. New York: Basic Books

GOLEMAN, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

STANFORD, R. G. (1979). Are we shamans or scientists? Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 22nd Annual Convention.

Institut Métapsychique International
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This article is a revised version of the presidential address for the 45th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association, held in Paris, France, August 5-8, 2002. I would like to thank Rick Berger for his support and useful comments on the original version.


1) Nina Kulagina, probably the best known Russian psychic, was a particularly gifted macro-PK and bio-PK subject. She was studied in the 1960s and early 1970s by some of the top russian parapsychologists (e.g., Leonid Vassiliev and Genady Sergeyev). Several western parapsychologists, including M.Ullman and J.G.Pratt, were able to witness Kulagina in action and bring back some films of experimental trials done with her.