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Vasiliev, Leonid

Category: Scientist


Professor Leonid Leonidovich Vasiliev (Russian Cyrillic: Леонид Леонидович Васильев; April 12, 1891 - February 8, 1966) was a Russian Soviet professor of physiology at Leningrad University, who helped establish the first parapsychology laboratory at Leningrad.  Even in the 1920s and 1930s, Vasiliev was conducting extremely sophisticated experiments in remote viewing, often over very great distances, inter-composer communication [then called telepathy or mind reading] and the use of hypnosis to aid in this process.

Vasiliev was a Member of the Academy of Medical Sciences, Head of the Department of Human and Animal Physiology of the Leningrad State University, and the author of many works on the physiology of the nervous system, biophysics, biochemistry, and psychophysiology.

Parapsychology Work

One of the more fascinating aspects of Vasiliev’s work is that it involved the equivalent of a series of progressively more sophisticated Faraday cages and although initially the objective seemed to have been to see if the communication was electrical and thus would be hampered by the cage, the opposite was found to be true - Faraday cages, by screening out unwanted electrical stimulation of the brain, helped the people get into a more relaxed and thus receptive state.

Experiments in Mental Suggestion – Forward by Arthur Hastings

Vasiliev transmitted telepathic instructions to create hypnotic sleep in willing subjects, conducted ESP studies over hundreds of miles and sealed participants in large lead and iron containers to shield against electromagnetic leakage.  His accomplishments in experimental design included the use of probability statistics, methods for evaluating successful ESP; and the use of shields, mechanical randomising and images as targets.  His ingenuity is obvious and his honest reporting of negative findings as well as stunning successes is an indication of his integrity.



Vasiliev was not without his critics in the Soviet Union and thus he carried out his experiments in an atmosphere described as ‘hostile’; if we think the USA is materialistic today and hostile to anything spiritual, it was as nothing in comparison with the Soviet Union of this time which mandated materialism.  As such it took great courage to come to the conclusion that the electromagnetic view of telepathy was simply not confirmed by research.

Vasiliev started on the assumption that telepathy was electromagnetically based and as such his equipment was largely set up to test this premise.  He proved telepathy existed quite satisfactorily, but he saw no electromagnetic connection.

Experiments in Mental Suggestion – Forward by Arthur Hastings

He first shielded the transmitter and the percipient in Faraday cages – electrically shielded rooms.  The telepathic instructions still worked. He put them in separate rooms.  The effects continued.  Eventually he sealed them in iron and lead covered boxes.  The image of a hypnotised subject, sitting in a totally dark and electrically shielded lead box with a round metal door at the top floating in a seal of mercury, and rhythmically squeezing a rubber ball to indicate wakefulness, is an unforgettable one, not easily matched in parapsychology. The telepathic suggestions were still effective.

Then Vasiliev placed the transmitter and receiver at longer distances, including a 1500 mile separation between Sebastopol and Leningrad, and still the percipient went into hypnotic sleep on command.  Whilst they are less electronically sophisticated than would be designed at present, the experiments nevertheless provide sufficient evidence that the blocking of EM radiation does not affect the telepathic transmission – a conclusion that is still current


Another novel aspect of his work was the use of hypnotic trance.  In Vasiliev’s early studies, suggestions were given telepathically to the subject to do such things as moving limbs, to experience intense emotions, and to go into trance and then wake up from trance and reproduce drawings.  After some time, so successful were the suggestions to induce trance, that they were used almost exclusively.


Vasiliev’s experiments were inspired by people like Dr Esdaile in the UK and doctors like Pierre Janet and Joseph Gilbert in France, who found they could perform distant telepathy and induce trance states using their subject – a patient – Leonie B.  In the latter experiments some of the distances between the hypnotist and subject were over 1500 feet and they were still successful.  Vasiliev was familiar with these accounts – mostly carried out in the 1800s.

Interestingly, telepathic suggestion lost its interest to many researchers in the 1900s in Europe, but gained a great deal of momentum in the Soviet Union.  As late as the 1960s, biophysicist Yuri Kamensky conducted a telepathic experiment between Leningrad and Moscow.

Life and career

Leonid Leonidovich was a graduate of St. Petersburg University. He graduated in 1914 (‘with a diploma of the first degree’). And as a great hope in the field of science was left in his "alma mater" at the Department of Physiology. This department was headed in those years by Nikolai Evgenievich Vvedensky, who specialised in neurophysiology. Here Vasiliev carried out some of his first scientific research, on the ‘intimate nature of the nervous system’, it was said to have been ‘highly appreciated’ by Vvedensky.

Things seemed to be all set for him to continue in this area, when ‘a formidable disease’, pulmonary tuberculosis, forced him in the spring of 1917 to urgently leave Petrograd and go to Ufa, for treatment.  He lived in Bashkortostan for more than four years, and taught whilst he was there. Fortunately, his treatment and the favourable climate helped him to overcome the disease. There is the tantalising hint that during his illness, Vasiliev had his own experiences which served to whet his curiosity about why these things happened.


Although Vasiliev returned to Vvedensky, who gladly accepted his pupil back, he also received another tempting offer to work simultaneously at the Brain Institute under the direction of Bekhterev.   

The Institute for the Study of the Brain and Mental Activity (its full name) had been organized in 1918 on the initiative of Academician Vladimir Mikhaylovich Bekhterev.  Bekhterev was the first Russian scientist to propose an electromagnetic hypothesis for explaining telepathic phenomena. In the validity of this hypothesis, he never doubted, and had from around 1919, enthusiastically engaged in experiments on mental suggestion in dogs, in collaboration with the well-known trainer VL Durov. Bekhterev attached great importance to these experiments.

In the autumn of 1921, just at the height of the experiments on mental suggestion in animals, Leonid Leonidovich Vasilyev joined him.  Vasiliev was described at the time as “tall, slender, with a stern vigil of black eyes, and in his thirty-first year.”


Vasilyev was actually no stranger to the subject, as he had actually already studied telepathy in his student years, in 1913.  Not much is known about what he actually learnt other than that he went to  Paris, attended a course in “some telepathic academy" and received a diploma, ‘decorated with mysterious cabalistic symbols’ [!].  Vasiliev also had a copy in Russian of the book by E. Gurney, F. Myers and F. Podmore. The book had been published by Alexander Nikolaevich Aksakov, the nephew of the famous writer S.T. Aksakov, one of the "leaders of Russian spiritualism," as he was often called.

His views on telepathy at that time are clearly evidenced by his article "Biological Rays", published in the autumn of 1925 in the journal Vestnik znaniya. Speaking about the possibility of telepathic phenomena, he asserted (almost 100 years ago):

"There is nothing unusual or unscientific in this question.  To reject such an opportunity means to go against the physical understanding of life."

Telepathic experiments with people in the Brain Institute had begun in a minor way before Vassiliev arrived. Bekhterev himself had conducted sessions using mental suggestion to a girl who had an ‘heightened nervous disorder’. She could easily pick out an object from a dozen laid out on the table via suggestion. Bekhterev sat down behind an opaque screen. He was given a hat with folded papers on which the names of the objects were written. He at random took one of the notes, and unfurled it. After reading it, he began mental suggestion. And each time the girl accurately chose the correct object on the table, the image of which was mentally transmitted to her.

Vasiliev knew about these experiments, but decided he wanted more scientific correctness, greater rigour in the formulation and conduct. Bekhterev died in December 1927, but Vasiliev took over the work. Vasiliev's group was very small, and consisted of four or five scientific staff, physiologists, 'physician-hygologist'  [sic] and engineer-physicist. There were also some freelance consultants - academician V. F. Mitkevich and professor M. V. Shuleikin - authoritative experts in the field of radio engineering.

The war, however, had a major impact on their work.  The group stayed in Leningrad, but it was not easy.  "It's cold," he wrote in one of the letters of that time, "We live as if at the front." Then the Institute was evacuated into the interior of the country in Elabuga and endured considerable hardship.  But he never gave up "There will be joy!" he wrote in the winter of 1943 and indeed after the war, Vasiliev received a professorship at the Leningrad University, and became the head of the Department of Physiology.

At the time of the "Khrushchev thaw", Vasiliev was able to start his experiments again and this is when his books on telepathy came out.  The official view of research on mental suggestion remained the same: "pseudoscientific search," the ‘propaganda of the occult, ideological diversion’. He risked his job by publishing, but for Vasiliev, truth was more important and he continued the research.

So, in 1960 at the Physiological Institute of the Leningrad University a "telepathic" laboratory was formed.  In the mid-60's, during the peak of work, it consisted of 8-10 people: physiologists VK Pavlenko, AI Pudovkin; physicists VP Leutin and VA Doroshenko, and hypnologist AS Efremov.

Vasilyev invited more engineers and physicists to a new laboratory. In the experiments, physiological indicators, in particular, electric signals of the brain, began to be used more widely. There was less room for a subjective assessment of the phenomenon, more and more for an objective, impartial one.
In an interview in early 1961, Leonid Leonidovich expressed the hope that in three years many issues in telepathic communication would be cleared up. “Such was his optimism”. He died on February 8, 1966.

Experiments in Mental Suggestion – Forward by Arthur Hastings

Vasiliev’s experiments are landmarks.  They were thought out carefully and systematically and conducted with attention to detail.  The results were solid, as indicated by more recent research which essentially has produced the same findings.



  • Таинственные явления человеческой психики [trans. "Mysterious Manifestations of the Human Psyche"] (1959, 1965)
  • Экспериментальные исследования мысленного внушения [trans. "Experiments in Mental Suggestion"] (1962, 1963)
  • Внушение на расстоянии ["Suggestion from a distance", trans. "Experiments in Distant Influence"] (1962, 1976)


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