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.

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