The Grateful Dead concerts used as a dream telepathy experiment.

An experiment that perhaps lacked any real scientific rigour, but is still of great interest due to its sheer ingenuity and social engagement.

Over a period of 6 concerts in 1971, the band ‘The Grateful Dead’ played to a total audience of 12,000 (deadheads as they were known). During these concerts, a series of 6 slides was projected onto a large screen above the stage.

The slides invited the crowd to participate in a dream telepathy experiment.

This experiment relied on the approximately 12,000 fans attending a series of six Grateful Dead concerts. The concerts were held in the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York, and the fans acted as senders for two receivers, Malcolm Bessent and Felicia Parise. Bessent was wired for recording and sleeping in the Maimonides Dream Laboratory, about 40 miles away in Brooklyn, New York. Parise was asleep at home in Brooklyn. It was a stunning experimental design. Most of the senders “were in states of consciousness that had been dramatically altered by . . . the music, by the ingestion of psychedelic drugs before the concerts started, and by contact with other members of the audience.

During each concert, one of six art prints was selected at random and projected for 15 minutes onto a large screen over the heads of the band while they played. Before the print was displayed, a series of slides explained to the fans: You are about to participate in an ESP experiment. In a few seconds you will see a picture. Try using your ESP to “send” this picture to Malcolm Bessent. He will try to dream about the picture. Try to “send” it to him. Malcolm Bessent is now at the Maimonides Dream Laboratory in Brooklyn. Both Bessent and Parise were awakened multiple times across each of the six nights for dream reports. Both of them also gave associations to each of their reported dreams the next morning. Afterward, transcripts of both dreams and associations for each of the nights were given to a pair of judges, along with copies of the six art prints. The judges were instructed to evaluate the “degree of correspondence between the dreams and the art prints” on a scale of 1 to 100 points. Then, for each night, the art print with the highest average correspondence was identified and compared to the art print shown to the concertgoers.

In evaluating Parise’s dream reports, the judges picked the print actually shown to the audience on only one of the six nights. But in matching Bessent’s dream reports to the art prints, the judges were correct on four of the six nights. Because there was one chance in six of matching up the right art print, the judges’ correct matching of just one of six for Parise suggested that her dreams had not been affected by the picture shown each night. But the correct matching on four out of six nights for Bessent’s dreams was extraordinary: the matches had only a 1 percent chance of occurring by coincidence. The fans, Krippner and Ullman concluded, had successfully transmitted telepathic impressions of the prints to Bessent on some of the nights. (Krippner recently complained about how much attention this particular study has attracted, pointing out that he and his colleagues have done much more rigorously scientific studies—and in all fairness, they have.)

When Brain Dream. Exploring the science and mystery of sleep.

In this short video, Stanley Krippner discusses some of his research conducted in the Maimonides Dream Lab in Brooklyn in the 1960s. It includes a reference to the Grateful Dead experiment (05:28 mark).

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