If psychic ability is not rooted in the relatively new (in evolutionary terms) prefrontal cortex of modern man, then it must be housed in some older part of the brain. If this is the case, then would psychic abilities have been available to prehistoric man?
As we’ve come to find, through the many various studies of prehistoric hominid fossils such as Australopithecus Aferensis (‘Lucy’) and Ardipithecus Ramidus (‘Ardi’) [and others], bipedalism, which developed somewhere around 4.5-5 million years ago in hominids, was the catalyst for what may have been the most essential evolutionary divergence ever experienced by a large mammal. This development meant many things for hominids, and by all indications, the most significant aspect of that development was the beginnings of our long evolutionary journey to abstract cognition, brought about through a highly developed prefrontal cortex.
To modern man, the prefrontal cortex is the most important part of what makes him (or her) human. It offers us the ability to reason (whether we use that ability individually or not), or in the words of Jeremy Lent:
“The prefrontal cortex (or “pfc�?) is that part of our brain that’s primarily responsible for our thinking and acting in ways that differentiate us from all other animals. It mediates our ability to plan, conceptualize, symbolize, make rules, abstract ideas, and impose meaning on things. It controls our physiological drives and turns our basic feelings into complex emotions. It enables us to be aware of ourselves and others as separately existing, and to turn the past and the future into one flowing narrative.�?
The prefrontal cortex may be the root of our famed sense of self, our individualised self-importance and, to the traditionally metaphysical/spiritual, the soul. Though there has been an enormous amount of scientific, neurological, biological, anthropological, psychological and sociological study conducted with the intended purpose of defining exactly what it is that the prefrontal cortex does for us, as a species, and there are some who seem to take an ego-centric approach to the cannon of information available on this subject.
Among such theories as neurological harmony, collective consciousness, and various perversions of Unified Field Theory, there is a large (and growing) group of people who hold to a belief that the pfc is responsible for all things natural and supernatural (and even supernormal) that make humanity stand out against the crowd of biological diversity we share this spinning blue ball with. And among that crowd, the metaphysical authorities have laid claim to the prefrontal cortex as the home of all psiability.
Before moving on though, we should probably define this term “psi�?. Within the realm of parapsychology, psi is a catch-all term used to describe all of those strange and wonderful abilities certain people seem to possess, which are traditionally thought to be “psychic�?. Moreover, it provides a non-theoretical reference to extra-sensory perception and psychokinesis (as an alternative to those terms and thus avoiding their inherent bias). It is derived directly from the Greek alphabet and literally means ‘mind’ or ‘soul’. It is in this definition that I wish to work today, and thus provide an alternative way of looking at what psi is and where it might come from.
Eminent French biologist Rene Peoc’h conducted an ingenious experiment in 1985, testing the ability of animals, specifically chicks (baby chickens), to display psi abilities, and ultimately to demonstrate psychokinetic ability. His experiment was largely successful, though he, like any scientist, has his detractors. The following is an abstract from Peoc’h’s findings from that experiment:
“80 groups of 7 chicks were used to test their ability to influence the trajectory of a robot bearing a candle as the unique source of light in the room. The robot is driven, via telephone line, by a random generator located 23 kilometres away. When chicks are present, the robot moves preferentially into their direction (66.25% out of 80 trials). This is significantly different from the non specific displacement of the machine in the absence of chicks and observer (p<0.00001). The random generator being the source of movements, this result suggests that chicks are able to influence it over a long distance.�?
The outcome of this experiment, which seems to have been conducted fairly cleanly, is such that there is statistical evidence suggesting that these chicks did indeed possess the ability to affect the ‘tychoscope’ through some form of psi. Peoc’h went on to claim that this was achieved over a great distance of more than 23 kilometres, though this is where his detractors come in; but this issue is not relevant to my purposes here.
This experiment, which has been repeated with similar success, doesn’t speak to defining what psi is, in any of its various forms, but it does seem to present a few things that may eventually become theoretical fact (with a caveat):
1) Chicks have the ability to affect non-related entities without physical contact.
2) Chicks require either an emotional/instinctual connection to the entity in question, or must perceive a survival advantage intrinsic to the entity, thus assigning importance to it.
3) Distance and locality is irrelevant to the effect.
This research is supremely interesting in-and-of-itself, and many have endeavoured to duplicate the effect with other animals, with varying degrees of success. But there is an underlying significance to this research that may not be readily apparent.
If you were to compare the brain of a chicken (whether full grown or as a chick) to that of a human, there would be some glaring differences, not the least of which is the difference in size. Though anatomically, there isn’t a whole lot separating these two brains; that is except for the presence of a prefrontal cortex in the human and none in the chicken (which likely comes as no surprise). Though does this present a slight problem for the earlier idea that psi ability originates in the pfc?
If the above is true, in either regard, then these ideologies cannot be reconciled, which means that one of the two must be false. Since the results of Peoc’h’s experiment seem to be supported by statistical data, can we throw out the notion that psi originates in the prefrontal cortex?
I believe we can. However, this presents new problems, specifically, if psi doesn’t originate in the pfc, then where does it come from? I believe some light is shed on this issue by understanding the second point presented through Peoc’h’s experiment.
In later experiments from the same sequence, Peoc’h changed the tychoscop and included a lit candle on its surface. Upon darkening the experiment environment, the chicks were drawn to the light of the candle (as all chickens naturally fear the dark). You’ll note that in the initial experiment Peoc’h had to take care to imprint the chicks on the tychoscope, and in every case where he didn’t there was no effect between the chicks and the robot, except when he introduced the candle.
What this seems to show is, beyond merely attracting the attention and focus of the chicks, it is an emotional attachment or perceived importance that was most significant to the chick’s ability to influence the robot. I believe this is our first indicator for tracking down where psi abilities originate in the brain. Through neurological studies of epilepsy, as well as other such neurological disorders, science has come to understand that emotion is the product of the limbic lobe of the brain (the limbic system), which includes the hypothalamus.
The hypothalamus is a particularly powerful and central component of the brains of pretty much every animal on earth, it acts like a control module for the two parts of the autonomic system of the brain and is believed to be the source of instinct.
So what does this mean?
There seems to be a suggestion hiding in all of this exploratory conjecture, that psi ability, along side emotion and instinct are generated or controlled by the autonomic systems of the brain, and moreover that psi ability is not a cognitive process. It seems to be much more closely linked to instinct and baser emotions, in both chicks and humans, which in and of itself is quite an interesting conclusion, though I think there may be more to this idea than just an interesting point of conversation.
As mentioned earlier, it isn’t entirely known when our evolutionary development began working on a prefrontal cortex, but one thing is clear, the hypothalamus (which is literally one developmental step above the hindbrain) is much older in evolutionary terms. Does that mean that psi ability is as old and physiologically intrinsic as say…fight or flight?
Whether psi, or its more popularly termed components -ESP and/or psychokinesis, are founded in a rational process of thought and desire, or that of a much more basic instinctual process is highly intriguing, and this brings me to one final suppositional question…is psi the remnant of a prehistoric ability intrinsic to all mammalian (or even all biological) life, that has, as a result of pfc development, become redundant and ultimately been replaced with human imagination and by extension, technology?
(As a side to the above, I want to point out the irony that such a supposition holds, not only in the fact that I would not be able to participate in this logic, had I not been afforded the benefit of a prefrontal cortex, but also as a challenge to the idea that many metaphysical enthusiast believe mankind is on the brink of some kind of spiritual/psychical awakening, otherwise known as transcendence; though if we’ve shown that psi ability is a discarded piece of old brain semantics, have we not shown that such an awakening would be a serious evolutionary step backward?)
 For a definition of bipedalism, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bipedalism; also see Paranormal People’s article regarding ‘Ardi’ here:  As found on Mr. Lent’s blog here: http://jeremylent.wordpress.com/2009/10/16/the-tyranny-of-the-prefrontal-cortex/
 See the Wikipedia entry on the “tychoscope�? for more information (translated from French via Google Translate): http://translate.google.ca/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tychoscope&ei=RdQWS8_CBcuglAf0gtnEBQ&sa=X&oi=translate&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CBQQ7gEwAg&prev=/search%3Fq%3DRene%2BPeoc%25E2%2580%2599h%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG
 See the work done by Rupert Sheldrake as presented by John “Birdman�? Bryant: http://www.thebirdman.org/Index/Fight/Fight-SheldrakeOnPresentiment&Psychokinesis.html
 See also Imprinting (psychology): http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Imprinting_%28psychology%29
 For an excellent and understandable breakdown of the importance of the hypothalamus, see: http://www.becomehealthynow.com/article/bodynervousadvanced/825