What Really Happened To UCLA’s Parapsychology Lab
Between the years of 1967 and 1978, some strange things were being studied in a small room at the University of California Los Angeles. These strange things were claims of ESP and PSI powers as well as claims of ghosts and hauntings. The infamous Parapsychology lab of UCLA was born in the late 60s. It helped pioneer research into the unexplained forces that play a role in our conscious and subconscious minds. But by the late 70s, the lab was under the blinding spotlight of the school’s board.
Given its success in paranormal experimentation, the local media began running segments on the “wild claims” by these young scientists. The exposure catapulted the small “non-existent” lab into the bigger spotlight. As their publicity grew, so did the animosity between the lab and board. In 1978, the lab closed its doors for good, but not before introducing the world of science to some of the most well-studied cases in paranormal phenomena.
If you ever wondered about what a real “ghost hunter” is all about, read this well-written post by my good friend Dr. Barry Taff. In the following post, he explains the short and tumultuous life of the parapsychology lab in UCLA.
Source: Barry Taff.net
Many people are curious as to what the real story was regarding UCLA’s former parapsychology lab, not a department, which existed from about 1967 through 1978.
This lab was located on the fifth floor within the former Neuropsychiatric Institute [NPI] (now the Semel Institute) at UCLA’s Center for the Health Sciences. In many ways it was a clearinghouse for various researchers and scientists to visit and share data, conduct their own research or participate in ours.
Each member of the lab sort of did their own “thing” in relationship to the lab’s operations.
The head of UCLA’s parapsychology lab was Dr. Thelma Moss, a clinical psychologist by training. She initially began conducting studies of extrasensory perception (ESP), hypnosis, healing, alternative medicine, and the investigation of hauntings and poltergeists.. Dr. Moss received great accolades and academic respect for her pioneering research efforts and the contribution such made to the neonatal science of parapsychology. She was a brilliant, accomplished and dedicated medical psychologist and parapsychologist.
Interestingly, Dr. Moss started her adult life, not in academia, but as an actor and screenwriter writer under her maiden name Thelma Schnee. One of the films she co-wrote was Colossus of New York (1958), which starred Marla Powers, Otto Kruger and Ross Martin.
The story dealt with the transplantation of a human brain (Martin’s) into a large, menacing robot with an extraordinarily massive head. The robot soon develops a rather evil personality and, somewhat prophetically, supernatural/paranormal powers. Given the era that this film was produced in, that of low-budget sci-fi/horror films, it was quite well made for it’s time. After the death of Thelma’s husband, almost immediately following the birth of their daughter, she went back to school to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology.
My involvement with the lab and Dr. Moss began as a research assistant and as a subject. There was a formal study conducted on me starting in the fall of 1969 that was later published in a medical journal, “A Laboratory Investigation of Telepathy: The Study of A Psychic” by Thelma Moss, Ph.D., Herbert H. Eveloff, M.D. and Alice Chang, M.A., in Behavioral Neuropsychiatry, Vol. 6, Numbers 1-12, April-December 1974-January-March 1975, pp. 71-80.
It was extremely difficult for Drs. Moss and Eveloff to even find a peer-reviewed journal that would publish this study, as its results were a just a little too good for most to believe, which is why it took so long for it to be put into print.
Moreover, the neurophysiological data collected on me over the course of the study was so “unique” shall we say, that even the aforementioned, publishing journal automatically assumed that the instrumentation used to collect such data must have been malfunctioning and in need of repair, which meant that the results were, at best, artifactual.
Following the study, I stayed on and eventually became a research associate, which is a more dedicated and integral member of the lab, from which I started conducting more of my own research as described herein and elsewhere on this site.
However, after reading Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain by Ostrander and Schroeder in 1971 and meeting Kendall Johnson shortly thereafter, who brought in his own homemade Kirlian photography apparatus, Dr. Moss totally changed her interest and orientation toward parapsychological research, as she erroneously assumed that Kirlian photography was the indeed human aura.
Dr. Moss became obsessed with this, then poorly understood corona discharge-photographic method and pretty much lost touch with her real parapsychological interests. In the end, her compulsive obsession with Kirlian photography cost her her job and career, as she was ignoring her professional responsibilities at the NPI and not publishing the proper types of articles in the proper peer-reviewed journals. You know the old phrase in academia “publish or perish”? If one did not follow this tenant, they’re toast in academia.
Dr. Moss was a very skilled clinical psychologist, but had no knowledge of photography, electronics, physics, electrophysiology or biophysics, and as such she was totally out of her element in terms of investigating any paranormal linkage to Kirlian Photography.
Kirlian photography, for those who do not know of, or remember, is (and was), a high-voltage, very high-frequency, extremely low voltage process that was applied to an electrode covered in a protective dielectric, in order to take pictures of what many originally thought was the aura. That invisible, mythical part of ourselves that extends outward and carries within it who and what we are. Unlike normal photography, there’s no lens employed with this method.
The visually stunning color photographs generated by this method depicting people’s fingers, hands and plants, while intriguing to the eye, were not what they appeared to be. These photos were so visually compelling, that many refused to look at the fact underlying them. This was a situation where one only looks for evidence that support their own theories, which is not science. Science is where your theory conforms to the data which supports it.
Unlike normal photography where one captures light reflected by the subject, Kirlian photography was totally dependent upon generating that high-voltage charge to run over the person or object in what’s known as the “skin effect”. If the frequency was dramatically dropped and the amperage even marginally raised, you’d have been instantly electrocuted. Basically, all the Kirlian photography was was attaching an old Tesla Coil to a timer and electrode plate.
As hardened scientists began examining and experimenting this process, they discovered that it is little more than corona discharge photography, and is primarily mediated by the presence of moisture in or around the object being photographed. While there appeared to be some potential applications for Kirlian photography as a non-destructive testing and evaluation method, it’s use in parapsychology was/is no more relevant than the old galvanic skin response (GSR) or an EKG.
A considerable amount of misinformation that sprang from Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, might literally have been a form of disinformation generated by our old cold war buddies within the Soviet Union?
Dr. Moss was an assistant professor of clinical psychology and she was finally promoted to an associate professor, but at the same time she was made an adjunct professor. Essentially, this is equivalent to one step forward, two steps backwards.
She was eventually dismissed from her position at the NPI in late 1978, and she continued her work privately until she suffered a massive cerebral aneurysm in the late 1980′s requiring lengthy surgery and prolonged rehabilitation. However, the severe physical damage and trauma to her brain left Dr. Moss in a mental state where she frequently confounded past and present, having almost no long-term memory and a severely impaired short-term memory. Dr. Thelma Moss passed away on February 1st of 1997, at the age of 79.
On the other side of the coin, I was doing research on two fronts. One aspect was in the lab, wherein I conducted psi training research groups from 1971 through 1980 (this matter is discussed in some detail in “Learned Psi: Training to Be Psychic” on this site), and the field work of investigating ghosts, hauntings, poltergeists (The Entity and the Hollymont cases). Both of these endeavors yielded considerable evidence in terms of our better understanding the nature of psi at many levels.
Many things led to the demise of our lab, chief among these were the following events which apparently attracted way too much media attention for UCLA in general and the NPI in particular.
It began with a rather lengthy, tongue-in-cheek article on the front page of the Los Angeles Times View section in May of 1976, dealing with the Hollymont haunting case (see chapter one “A Haunting Thought” of my book Aliens Above, Ghosts Below: Explorations of the Unknown).
This lead article mentioned the lab, Dr, Thelma Moss, Dr. Gerald Shure from psychology department on campus, myself and my colleague at the time. The reporting could have been far better in terms of its attitude, but also could have been much, much worse in painting all of us as nut jobs and lunatics. This article attracted a great deal of attention at all levels, and was strike one against us.
Strike two occurred when our lab was visited by Eye on L.A. from KABC-TV, where they did a lengthy piece on both Gaynor and myself related to our field research. That show was entitled “Ghost Hunters” and was the first time that holography was used in such an illustrative way in terms of its seemingly obvious relationship to ghosts and apparitions. The show was nominated for an Emmy for its unique visual presentation. This show generated even more publicity for the lab, which was not a good thing.
A few months later, yours truly was featured in another KABC-TV News show, “Psychic Wonders with Christine Lund”. In this seven-part series, which ran daily for one week, I was using my medical intuitive ability to diagnose various members of the KABC-TV news staff on camera. Apparently, I was very accurate in my diagnosis of the various news staff members. Strike three, we’re out!
In what seemed rather odd, I received absolutely no reaction or feedback regarding this final KABC appearance, at least no reaction I was aware of.
Behind the scenes however, there was a very strong reaction, where a bubbling cauldron of embarrassment, humiliation, anger, worry, concern and literal paranoia on the part of the powers that be at UCLA and the NPI specifically was brewing.
Adding considerable fuel and fool to this simmering pot, was the fact we (the lab) were actually teaching a ten week parapsychology course at UCLA Extension division from 1974 through 1976, for three quarters out of four, for each of those years.
These classes were held in Moore Hall 100, the largest lecture facility on campus back in those days. The attendance was absolutely massive for each class with standing room only in the 700-seat auditorium. Needless to say, this level of response from the community and media was shooting even more holes in both our port and starboard sides. We were sinking rapidly and weren’t even aware of it.
This proverbial shit was about to hit the fan, and the primary processed, precise manner of such was manifested in a most extraordinary way.
In early 1978 I had a very vivid dream about the lab. In this dream, we’re all at the lab, Dr. Moss, Kerry, John and Francis as well as this author.
Suddenly, the head of the NPI, Dr. West, walked in and began talking about his dislike of the work we were doing. In the midst of his ranting, the entire room began to violently shake, as though we were suffering a major earthquake.
As the shaking continued, the room felt as though it was falling and the entire building was collapsing beneath us. We all attempted to grab onto something in response. Then, the shaking and falling sensations abruptly ceased. These motions were now replaced by others, that of moving horizontally.
All of our attention was immediately drawn to the lab’s windows facing west. We were indeed moving horizontally. However, there was an odd wooden plank of sorts upon which sat the rotted corpse of a woman. To her right, was the rotted and mangled corpse of a large German Shepard.
Upon seeing these bizarre “corpses”, Dr. West let out a loud scream. He told us that the woman sitting upon the plank was his dead sister and that the dog was her old German Shepard that was also dead.
Then the room’s motion entirely ceased. I opened the only door the lab had and stepped out into what should have been the hallway. Surprise! No hallway, no building.
The image we were presented with was right out a horror movie. We were now outdoors. Under a brilliant full moon, the ground appeared as moist, dark, freshly turned earth, with a subtle shrouding of fog hanging over it. Immediately before me were crude wooden steps that led down towards the ground.
Once upon the ground, I turned back and was shocked to discover that our lab’s room had turned into a early-to-mid 19th century funeral coach with glass walls and candled lights at each corner. Sitting atop the driver’s bench was the rotted corpse-like woman with the mangled German Shepard.
I asked our “corpse driver” what all this was. She or it, immediately answered, “I’ve brought you here to bury you because you’re dead.” How nice of her to inform me of such.
I immediately awoke covered in sweat with a feeling that my heart was about to explode out of chest. Can you say high anxiety night terror?
Words cannot convey my emotional reaction to this dream. It goes without saying that my first thought was that perhaps there would be a major earthquake and the entire NPI would collapse causing all of our deaths. Not a pleasant thought.
After I had some time to logically and rationally think about the dream, there was a far more likely possibility that what I perceived was a horror-laden, melodramatic metaphor of our lab dying.
Of course, I had no way of knowing which of these interpretations was correct, although the second one seemed more likely. I discussed my dream with Thelma, and she too thought it was little more than my insecurities about the lab’s future producing a fearful dream.
While this may have been partially correct, all of us in the lab were well aware of how Dr. West, the NPI’s officials and UCLA’ administrators in general, felt about our work.
Even in those early years, there was the formal, academic concern over political correctness. Therefore, we all knew that we, and the lab, were living on borrowed time so to speak, as we had access to all the facilities and services of a conventional lab without any funding whatsoever.
I did formally look in to filing research grant requests with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). As it turned out, both of these governmental agencies were somewhat interested in the laboratory work I was doing in learned psi, as were various intelligence and military agencies referenced in my bog entitled “Learned Psi: Training to Be Psychic”.
However, UCLA and the NPI in particular, wanted nothing whatsoever to do with being formally and publicly associated with parapsychological research, as such would have surely been political suicide, even back in those halcyon times. UCLA and the NPI made it very clear to me and the rest of us, that they would not allow or condone such efforts.
On the other hand, Dr. Moss had no interest in even filling a grant applications as she knew all the inherent problems associated with such procedures and the inevitable fallout related to it. This scenario was the essence of “Catch-22″ situation, where no matter what we did, we would lose. Thus, our fate was sealed.
Anyway, back to the story.
I did not totally subscribe to Thelma’s belief that my dream was nothing more than my subconscious fears regarding the lab’s inevitable demise, as it was common knowledge to all concerned that the lab’s days were numbered. The possibility of our lab’s imminent death was no more on my mind at that moment in time that at any other.
After the passage of several days and then weeks, I pretty much forgot about this bizarre dream, and perhaps for good reason. Several weeks’ later Dr. West made an unexpected visit to the lab. I’ll bet you can guess what happened next?
Dr. West proceeded to tell us that our lab would be shut down and its space given to others who had funding available that would pay for the requisite facilities and services we were getting free of charge. Well, I guess nothing lasts forever, does it?
As Dr. West was leaving the lab I asked him if I could speak with him for a moment and he agreed. I do not know what gave me the courage to ask Dr. West if he has a sister, but I did. His reply was very enlightening.
Apparently, he did have a sister. Naturally, given the content of my dream, I had to ask, “What do you mean, did? He said that she died some time ago. My immediate follow up to his reply was, “May I inquire as to what caused her death?” “She suffered a protracted death from cancer which wasted most of her body”, the doctor said. My immediate reply to Dr. West was to give my condolences. He thanked me, but then asked why I asked about his sister and I told him that someone had mentioned it to me some time ago and I was curious.
As I might never again have an opportunity to speak with Dr. West in such a casual manner, I quickly asked him one last question. “Did your sister have a dog?” West looked at me very strangely, cocking his head to one side, probably trying to figure out why I was asking such obscure questions of him.
He thought for a moment, finally answering. “Why yes, she used to have a dog.” I immediately followed up with, “What breed of dog?”, “A German Shepard, he responded. “What happened to that dog?” I asked. Again, Dr. West looked at me as though I was a police detective conducting an intense interrogation of a suspect.
However, the good doctor answered my final question in saying that his sister’s German Shepard was killed in a violent auto accident many years before she herself passed.
I thanked Dr. West for his time and he walked away, never suspecting the real reason I asked such bizarre questions of a literal stranger. Had I told him of my dream, he very likely would have thought that I belonged in the NPI as an inpatient, as he was extremely skeptical about such matters.
Having learned what I just did, it was obvious that my dream had a very common form of distortion called “primary process”. In laymen’s terms, this is a method by which our subconscious mind colors or modifies information going to our conscious mind that might otherwise be too painful or difficult to deal with. Primary process distortion could be looked at as the noise as related to the signal.
Obviously, the thought of our lab closing was one that was far too painful for my conscious mind to deal with, so my unconscious cleverly cloaked it with the melodrama of a low-budget, Roger Corman, horror movie. This is certainly preferable to dying during an earthquake while in the lab, isn’t it? This type of distortion is extremely common when dealing with paranormal perception. In fact, it’s very rare when such does not occur.
Given the fact that some thirty-two years have passed, if you now call UCLA or the Semel Institute and question anyone there about our old lab, the reply is simple and direct, “There was never such a lab anywhere on campus”. And as the Extension division does not have records going back that far, there’s no proof that we even taught parapsychology anywhere on campus at any time. And even though stories about our lab appeared once in the UCLA Monthly and three times in The Daily Bruin, the school’s newspaper (although there was a piece on the lab published there in 2010, but they cleverly avoided mentioning the fact that the two of us [Taff & Gaynor] were also students on campus during that same period) , numerous times, they too have not kept files or records regarding such stories going back that far in time.
Thus officially, we never existed as far as UCLA is concerned, but that really doesn’t surprise me given their utter embarrassment of our presence and passage of such an amount of time, as literally everyone we knew way back when is either no longer there, or has passed away. I’m sure that this is the way the university would like it to remain, and I do not really blame them given all the junk-science paranormal reality shows currently on television and online.
It’s odd how sensitive universities were to this matter some four decades ago and lengths they went to hinder and stifle research in this field. However, even after the end of what was a real legacy, some of us continue our own research but now in the public sector, although some were discouraged at the loss of such a great facility in the midst of an incredible university and teaching hospital.
In the final analysis, all things must end, in order for other things to begin anew. There may never be another facility like this on earth in my lifetime, but that doesn’t mean that it’s memory and the shining hope of faith it generated in all us will not live on long beyond our years. I truly do not know what I would have done with my life and where I’d be today had it not been for the lab and the foundation it offered all of us in terms of organization, learning, evolving and growing. There is no “what if” when it comes to this lab. There was only what was and is.
Thank you for being there to help nurture and guide us along into this most intriguing and fascinating adventure of life in all its mysteries.