The Roads to Supernormality: A Biological Perspective

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Alex A. Álvarez1,2 
1Unidad Parapsicológica de Investigación, Difusión y Enseñanza, Mexico City, Mexico 
2Centro de Investigación de la Sintergia y la Conscienciav Mexico City, Mexico

Introduction: In the last century, there have been great advances to try to explain how psychic phenomena could occur, but there is still a great void regarding plausible biological explanations. However, in the last few years, there has been growing evidence concerning a biological basis that can allow for psychic functioning (Nolan, 2018; Radin, 2020; Wahbeh et al., 2021). I have identified nine possible situations from which people consider they have obtained psychic abilities, grouped into four categories:  

  1. Hereditary. Some people are said to be “psychic-born”, though sometimes the appearance of psychic abilities occur in a later stage of their lives (Cohn, 1994). A genetic component could be argued if some of their blood-relatives also possess psychic abilities, which is usually the case (Cohn, 1999). 
  1. Stressful. Refers to both psychological and cellular stress. The sources of psi that fall within this category are Unidentified Aerial Phenomena encounters (Vallee, 2014), Near-Death Experiences (Sutherland, 1989), deep psychological traumas (i.e., poltergeist cases) (Dixon, 2016), and being struck by lightning like some shamans (Madsen, 1995).  
  1. Directed. People who have never had any type of psychic ability and, through training, manage to succeed at PSI tasks; for example, people from the STARGATE project categorized as “normal, non-psychic individuals” (Puthoff & Targ, 1976), and meditators who spontaneously experience psi phenomena (Roney-Dougal et al. 2008). 
  1. Induced. This is usually achieved by taking psychedelic substances, such as DMT, LSD, mescaline, among others (Luke, 2012). 

The latter three categories involve situations that have a physiological effect on the individuals. So, it seems likely that the different roads to supernormal abilities involve some common biochemical, regulatory and/or epigenetic features. 

Approach: Let us assume that there is a biological trait, most likely a brain structure, responsible for the experience and performance of psi phenomena. Considering the different scenarios by which people report to acquire such abilities, it is highly improbable that a different structure is involved in each case. Indeed, the most likely scenario involves the physiological convergence into a single brain region, perhaps the extra connections in the caudate-putamen area (Nolan, 2018). Furthermore, we would expect it to be the same structure in “psychic-born” people and in those who do not inherit psychic abilities but acquire theme during their lifetimes. This suggests that the difference between inheritance and acquisition has more to do with genetic (or epigenetic) regulation than with being born with the “right genes”. 

Proposal: A possible mechanism that could account for psi development is genetic compensation. In many cases, mutants for an essential trait do not show deleterious effects. This is achieved because, somehow, other gene (or genes) is compensating the loss-of-function. This means that there are different “roads” that lead to the same phenotype, which rely on the activation of regulatory pathways that lead to different gene expression patterns so that the individual keeps its robustness and develops normally (El-Brolosy & Stainer, 2017).  

I propose two scenarios that relate to the appearance of psi. “Psychic-born” people possess specific genes that are expressed normally, perhaps in a specific brain region, which in turn favors an innate development of anomalous cognition and/or perturbation. On the other hand, “non-psychic-born” individuals may go through situations during their lifetime which effects are known to produce deep physiological modifications (i.e., Stressful, Directed or Induced). These can lead to alteration of gene expression patterns in a way that could resemble genetic compensation through epigenetic changes and/or pathways involving different kinds of RNA molecules. Such modifications in gene expression may ultimately be reflected in a modification of the brain region that permits psychic functioning, which is most likely the same as in “psychic-born” individuals. 

Conclusion: Recent studies with people prone to events that involve anomalous cognition are beginning to shed some light in what a biological basis for supernormality might be. Although a hereditary component seems to be involved, when we consider the different situations leading to psi development it seems unlikely that it all relies in specific gene variants (polymorphisms). Here, I have proposed a plausible mechanism that could allow the acquisition of psi talent through different scenarios. It involves changes in neuronal connectivity through modifications of gene expression patterns, induced by a wide range of situations. These findings, in combination with state-of-the-art methodologies in genetics, neuroimaging and “omics” technologies, could allow us to have a better understanding of why psychic abilities arise in the first place, and why there is a large gradient of them when comparing different people. By expanding our knowledge on the biology of this phenomenon, perhaps we can finally answer why psi is so elusive.

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Cohn SA. (1999). Second sight and family history: Pedigree and segregation analyses. Journal of Scientific Exploration13(3), 351-372 

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Radin D. (2020). Parapsychological Association 2019 Presidential Adress. Making Sense of Psi: Seven Pieces of the Puzzle. Journal of Parapsychology, 84(1), 166 

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Wahbeh H, Radin D, Yount G, Woodley of Menie MA, Sarraf MA, & Karpuj MV. (2021). Genetics of psychic ability – A pilot case-control exome sequencing study. Explore000, 1–8. 


Alejandro Álvarez
Alejandro Álvarez

I am a mexican biologist, currently doing my PhD in the field of Evolutionary Biology. I have been a Student Member of the Parapsychological Association for two years. I have always been interested in the field of Parapsychology and I’ve been doing independent research for the last three years. I am interested in trying to explain psychic abilities from an evolutionary perspective, which I think is almost scarce in the field. I co-founded the Research Center of Sintergy and Consciousness.

The Roads to Supernormality: A Biological Perspective


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