Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
In the first article on Psi in Animals, I gave an overview of some of the research. In this post, I’m going to go into more depth. There are
several, not very many, very few, OK, just one guy doing research on psi in animals. That is Rupert Sheldrake, a scientist living in London, England. He is one of a handful of people in the world doing psi research full time. This article is based on his book: Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and other unexplained powers of animals.
When we look at psi abilities in animals, one thing is very clear: they do it to survive. All of the traits observed in animals can be explained in terms of survival. By far, the most important trait, which was mentioned in my first article, is psi trailing. This is the ability to locate a place or a another creature beyond the abilities of the five senses. So before we can continue, we need to know the limits of those other senses.
Sight is obvious and it is all weather. To locate a place or another creature, the animal must either see it or be traveling through other territory which has been seen. So if a creature is in unfamiliar territory and beyond the sight of its intended destination, then sight is not being used to determine the direction it should go. It does not work particularly well under water, where visibility is more limited.
Smell is a poor direction finding tool. The creature must be downwind of what it is seeking for the smell to travel in the right direction or if it is trailing another creature, it must have traveled along that path and it must have been fairly recently. It is fairly obvious when a creature is trailing a scent because it will stop frequently to either sniff the air, or follow a winding path along the ground to pick up where the scent has drifted to. It will occasionally lose the trail and sweep the area to pick the trail up again. Rain, snow, wind and combinations thereof, inhibit, or eliminate smell as a direction finding tool. Under water, it is practically useless unless, say, a shark is trailing a bleeding animal.
Hearing is an excellent direction finding tool, but only for short distances and the creature or object being located, must be making noise. Locations do not make noise and cannot be found in this manner. Wind, rain, fog, intervening objects, background noises and distance all have a dramatic effect on hearing as a direction finding ability.
Touch and taste have little to no value as direction finding tools.
It is possible for animals to follow the sun and the stars, but they move and this ability does not work everywhere all the time. An overcast night, rain or fog eliminates the ability to navigate by the sun or stars as well as mountains and trees. This ability is also limited because the animal would have to know which direction to point itself in and would become less and less useful the closer it got to its target. An animal could miss its target by many miles and not know whether it has gone far enough or too far. Once it got close enough, it would have to sweep the area to find out where to go. This does not work for animals under water.
The earth’s magnetic fields are also a possibility, but while these function in all weather, it has the same problem as sight. An animal has to know the way already. It might help for locations provided an animal has used them already, but it is useless for locating other creatures. To use the earth’s magnetic field, the creature would have to sweep an area to find something familiar, and then follow that magnetic trail, effectively re-tracing its way along familiar magnetic landmarks. A problem with this approach of course, is that magnetic fields move and they are only stronger and weaker. They have no other features. There is very little information in a magnetic field and they are very big. They would be very hard to use for direction finding.
So what do animals actually do? They head straight for their destinations whether they are migrating thousands of miles through the air, whether they have been blown off course, taken off course or in some cases, never been to the location they are seeking. Turtles travel in a straight line to islands thousands of miles away and only a few miles in diameter in the middle of a huge ocean, never once straying from the course and without sweeping the area once they get close. Wolves spread many miles apart and then find each other again as if on cue once one of them finds food. And no one is quite sure how homing pigeons do what they do. Butterflies never live to do the same journey twice and still find where they are going.
Homing pigeons have been the most closely studied. They have been blindfolded, their ears plugged, various caps put on their heads to block out magnetic influence; they’ve been transported to different locations and had their internal sense of time messed with. None of it makes any difference. They fly around disoriented for a bit and then they’re off, straight to their destination.
It is the straightness of the path that is the most baffling for any non psi explanation. No physical method of direction finding allows for this. There is no evidence of hunting for landmarks, picking up scents, feeling magnetic fields or hearing anything. Animals do not sweep the areas looking for clues, they just arrive.
Domesticated animals know when someone important to them is coming long before they are in hearing distance or sight or smell and they know the direction they will be coming from. When they travel they know when they are coming to a destination they are familiar with.
Hot weather or cold, overcast or sunny weather, rain, sleet, fog, nothing makes any difference. Animals know where they are going. They can find locations and they can find each other. It is easy to understand the importance of this ability from an evolutionary standpoint: Getting lost can be lethal. If we were to postulate the existence of psi in animals, this is exactly where we could best expect to find it. Psi is certainly the best explanation for the observed behavior; it is also an expected observation in a consciousness driven universe.