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Observations placeholder

Bessant, Malcolm - A Pilot Study in Dream Telepathy with the Grateful Dead



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

A Pilot Study in Dream Telepathy with the Grateful Dead

Stanley Krippner, PhD

“Telepathy” is a word used to describe purported information obtained by one individual from another, supposedly through “mind-to-mind” contact. It is one manifestation of the events that parapsychologists refer to as potential “psi phenomena” -- anomalous (or unexplained) interchanges of information or influence that appear to exist apart from currently identified physical mechanisms. Other manifestations of “psi” include clairvoyance (reported anomalous perception of information), precognition (reported anomalous perception of future events), and psychokinesis (reported anomalous influence on objects or organisms). Considerable overlap exists, especially between telepathy and clairvoyance. For example, Carlos claimed to dream of a gift that Maria, who lived overseas, had decided to buy him for his birthday. Was this a possible instance of telepathy? Or could Carlos have had clairvoyant knowledge of Maria's thought processes? Or was it merely a coincidence?

Anecdotal reports of telepathy in dreams are unreliable because one cannot guard against coincidence, dishonesty, self - delusion, or logical or sensory clues of which the dreamer was unaware. The Para psychological Association, an international group of professionals in the field, insists that the term “psi phenomenon” be used only to describe events obtained under conditions in which all known sensor motor channels for anomalous interactions have been eliminated.

A wealth of anecdotal and clinical material exist which supports the possibility of telepathic effects occurring in dreams (Krippner, 1974). However, an experimental approach to the topic did not become possible until psycho physiological laboratory technology became available. It was discovered that sleeping research participants awakened from periods of rapid eye movement (REM) activity were frequently able to recall dream episodes. As a result, it was possible to request a “telepathic receiver” to attempt dreaming about a target stimulus that was being focused on in a distant location from a “telepathic sender”.

In 1964, Montague Ullman, a psychiatrist, initiated a series of experimental studies at the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. This research project tested the hypothesis that sleeping subjects could dream about aspects of randomly selected target material, for example, films, drawings, photographs, or art prints. I joined Ullman soon after the studies began, and over a ten - year - period, we carried out several experiments, the majority of which yielded statistically significant results (Ullman & Krippner, 1989).

We used postcard-size art prints in most of these experiments because of their ability to maintain the attention of the “telepathic sender” and to evoke their emotional and esthetic responses. I selected the art prints from a variety of New York City area museums on the basis of such elements as vivid color, dramatic content, and strong feeling -- the same elements typically found to characterize presumptively telepathic dreams reported anecdotally in uncontrolled settings.

In the typical experiment, the “telepathic sender” and the “telepathic receiver” met at the Maimonides Medical Center dream laboratory, interacted briefly, then separated and spent the night in distant rooms. By throwing a pair of dice, an experimenter randomly selected an art print (from a collection or “pool”) and gave the print to the “transmitter” in an opaque sealed envelope, to be opened only when he or she was in the distant room. The experimenter awakened the subject near the end of each REM period and requested a dream report. These reports were transcribed and sent to outside judges who, working independently, matched them against the pool of potential art prints from which the actual print had been randomly selected. Statistical evaluation was based on the average of these matchings, as well as by self - judging of the research participants following the conclusion of the experiment. There was no apparent way in which sensory cues or fraudulent collaboration could have influenced the dream reports and the resulting statistical results.

One example of a finding in a session that was part of an experiment that obtained statistical significant results occurred on a night when the randomly selected art print was “School of the Dance” by Degas, depicting a dance class of several young women. The “receiver's” dream reports included such phrases as “I was in a class made up of maybe half a dozen people; it felt like a school”. “There was one little girl that was trying to dance with me”. Sometimes the material corresponding to the art print was intrusive (for example, “There was one little girl that was trying to dance with me”), and sometimes it blended easily with the narrative (for example, “It felt like a school”). At times it was direct, at other times symbolic. Although these dream reports had presumptively telepathic characteristics, their construction and description did not appear to differ insignificant ways from other dreams collected in laboratory studies (Krippner, 1991).

Preliminary Session

To investigate the possibility that a large number of “telepathic senders” would be effective in facilitating dream telepathy, a preliminary session was arranged for the night of 15 March 1970. The entire audience at a Holy Modal Rounders rock concert served as “telepathic senders”. A local media artist, Jean Millay, took charge of target preparation in collaboration with the Lidd Light Company, a group of luminal artists who executed the light show that accompanied the music. Ms. Millay gave the audience brief verbal directions before the target was flashed on the screen by means of a movie projector and six slide projectors. A color film about eagles and their nesting habits was shown on the movie projector. The programs for the slide projectors featured various birds from around the world, as well as a mythological phoenix, while the Holy Modal Rounders played the song, “If You Want to Be a Bird”.

There were five volunteer “telepathic receivers” for this session, each located in a 100 - mile radius from the concert's location in Manhattan. All five of the research participants were told the location of the concert and were directed to record their images at midnight, at which time the target material would be exposed.

One “telepathic receiver,” Helen Andrews, had the impression of “something mythological, like a griffin or a phoenix.” The second, third, and fourth research participants reported images of “a snake”, “grapes”, and “an embryo in flames”. The fifth participant was Richie Havens, the celebrated American singer and recording artist, who reported closing his eyes at midnight and visualizing “a number of sea gulls flying over water”. Both Mr. Havens' and Ms. Andrews' reports represented direct correspondences with the target material.

In reviewing the procedure and the results of this preliminary session, it was decided to make future directions to the audience more explicit, and to tell the members of the audience the location of at least one “telepathic receiver”. It was also decided to randomly select the target material just before it was revealed to the audience so as to eliminate the possibility of sensory leakage through conscious or unconscious collusion or fraud.

Methodology for Pilot Session

When members of the Grateful Dead rock group volunteered to participate in a dream telepathy experiment, we decided to consider it a “pilot study”. There were two reasons for this decision;

(1) only six nights were available, too few to utilize for appropriate statistical analysis;

(2) there was always the possibility that a member of the concert audience could have telephoned one of the research participants providing information concerning the target material. In the latter instance, however, only one “telepathic receiver” was in her own bed; the other was at Maimonides Medical Center, spending the night in a soundproof room.

We felt that the emotional intensity that accompanied Grateful Dead concerts would resemble the feeling tone that accompanies anecdotal reports of telepathy, as when a parent dreams that his or her child is in danger at the same time that the son or daughter is at risk of some sort. Hence, one of the dream laboratory staff members, Ronald Suarez, selected 14 slides of art prints which he felt would be appropriate for the study. On the day of each session, he threw dice which directed him to two of these slides which were given to the staff member (Ronnie Mastrion) actually present at the concert. The slides were placed in separate, sealed, opaque envelopes; Mr. Suarez marked one of them “heads” while the other was marked “tails”. At 11:30 PM each night, Mr. Mastrion tossed a coin and noted whether it came up “heads” or “tails”. This toss determined which envelope Mr. Mastrion opened and which slide he projected on the screen facing the concert audience.

Slides of such art prints as Scralian's “The Seven Spinal Chakras” and Magritte's “Philosophy of the Boudoir” were in the target pool. Duplicate copies of the slides were put aside for later evaluation by the outside judges, Michael Bova, an art therapy student, and David Powlison, a divinity student.

The six concerts involved in this pilot study were held at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York, approximately 45 miles from Maimonides Medical Center's dream laboratory in Brooklyn. In February 1971, when this study was executed, the members of the Grateful Dead included Jerry Garcia, who had originally suggested the project to me, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, Ron McKernan, and Bob Weir.

“Telepathic Receivers”

Two individuals who had participated in earlier experiments at the dream laboratory served as “telepathic receivers”. One of them, Malcolm Bessent, spent the night at the laboratory with electrodes attached to his head. His sleep - dream cycle was monitored with standard psycho physiological equipment, and he was awakened about ten minutes after the detection of REM activity. The other “receiver”, Felicia Parise, slept at her Brooklyn apartment. She was awakened by telephone from time to time during the night and asked for dream recall.

Mr. Bessent's dreams were tape recorded and subsequently transcribed. Ms. Parise's dreams were recorded manually and subsequently typed for the judges' evaluations. The following morning, both “telepathic receivers” went over their dream reports, giving associations and adding any pertinent details that may have been omitted.

However, the 2,000 people at the Capitol Theater were only informed regarding Bessent. At 11:30 PM, Mr. Mastrion flashed the following six slide sequence on the screen facing the audience:


At this point, the randomly selected art print was projected on to the screen. Members of the Grateful Dead discussed the art print and encouraged members of the audience to “send” the images to Brooklyn.

It was conjectured that Mr. Bessent's dreams would demonstrate closer correspondences with the art print because

(1) psycho physiological monitoring made possible a more complete collection of his dream activity;

(2) the “telepathic transmitters” at the Capitol Theater knew his name and location, but knew nothing about the participation of Ms. Parise.


Each judge was given copies of the six art prints actually selected for use in the pilot study. They were also given typed transcripts of the six nights of dreams for each research participant. Each judge read the transcripts and examined the art prints. On a 100 - point scale, the judge made a mark describing the degree of correspondence he noted between the art print and the night of dreaming. In other words, each judge made a total of 36 evaluations for Mr. Bessent and another 36 evaluations for Ms. Parise.

The average evaluation of the two judges was computed for each pair of dream transcripts and art prints. If coincidence, rather than telepathy had been operating, the judges' evaluations of the correct transcript - target pairs would have attained chance results, providing higher scores only one time out of six. This was the case with Ms. Parise; only one correct pair obtained the highest average rating from the judges. In the case of Mr. Bessent, however, the correct transcript - target pair received the highest score four times out of six. There are only 12 chances out of 100 that such a result could have been obtained by coincidence.


On the night of 19 February 1971, “The Seven Spinal Chakras” was randomly selected as the target picture and projected on the theater screen. This painting by Scralian, an Armenian artist, shows a man in a lotus position practicing yoga. All seven “chakras” (or “energy centers” centering on his spinal column) are vividly colored. That night, Mr. Bessent had the following dream: “I was very interested in using... natural energy.... I was talking to this guy who said he'd invented a way of using solar energy and he showed me this box... to catch the light from the sun which was all we needed to generate and store the energy.... I was discussing with this other guy a number of other areas of communication and we were exchanging ideas on the whole thing.... He was suspended in mid - air or something.... I was thinking about rocket ships”. Another dream excerpt read, “I’m remembering a dream I had... about an energy box and... a spinal column”.

On several other nights, Mr. Bessent's dream reports demonstrate what the judges considered to be a high degree of correspondence with the art print. On 20 February 1971, “Philosophy in the Boudoir” by the French artist Magritte was randomly selected; it portrays a headless woman in a transparent gown. Mr. Bessent dreamed about “a little girl's doll” and a “fantasy..., a card around my neck”. None of Ms. Parise's transcript - target correspondences was as dramatic despite the fact that she had made high scores in other dream telepathy experiments. However, many people believe that telepathic ability is not constant; in addition to the reasons previously cited, it is possible that February 1971 was not the optimal time of “psi” functioning for Ms. Parise.


As the target pictures were 45 miles from the research participants, the possibility of sensory cues can be dismissed. In the case of Mr. Bessent, the “telepathic receiver” whose scores were the more statistically impressive, there is little chance that someone from the concert could have reached him by telephone (or even a hidden ear receiver, as this possibility was considered and checked), informing him as to the art print being projected on any given night.

Considerably more work needs to be done to determine if 2, 000 “telepathic transmitters” are better than one. However, this pilot study did lead to the utilization of multi - sensory stimuli in future studies where auditory, tactile, gustatory, and olfactory stimuli accompanied the visual stimulus of the art print. Furthermore, their willingness to participate in this pilot study demonstrates the ingenuity and creativity of the Grateful Dead band members (Krippner, Honorton, & Ullman, 1973). The results of this study were published in a medical journal in1973, becoming one small part of the Grateful Dead legend.

The source of the experience

Bessant, Malcolm

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Dreaming and lucid dreaming



Krippner, S. (1991). An experimental approach to the anomalous dream. In J. Gackenbach & A. A. Sheikh (Eds.), Dream images: A call to mental arms (pp.31 - 54). Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing.

Krippner, S. (1974). Telepathy. In J. White (Ed.), Psychic exploration: A challenge for science (pp.112 - 131). New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons.

Krippner, S., Honorton, C., & Ullman, M. (1973). An experiment in dream telepathy with “The Grateful Dead.” Journal of the American Society of Psychosomatic Dentistry and Medicine, 20, 9 - 17.

Ullman, M., Krippner, S., & Vaughan, A. (1989). Dream telepathy: Experiments in nocturnal ESP (2nd ed.). Jefferson, NC: McFarland.