David Luke is a senior lecturer for psychology at the University of Greenwich, researching transpersonal experiences, anomalous phenomena and altered states of consciousness, particularly with regard to psychoactive substances.
David Luke obtained a first in psychology at the University of Westminster followed by a PhD from Northampton University that included parapsychological research. In 2008, he joined the department of psychology, social work and counselling at the University of Greenwich, where he is course coordinator for psychology of exceptional human experience and for the undergraduate programme.
Luke is the director of Breaking Convention, an annual conference of leading academics in psychedelic research. He edits high profile anthologies of works related to psychedelics and exceptional human experiences.1
He is the author of Otherworlds: Psychedelics and Exceptional Human Experience (2017) and co-editor of DMT Dialogues: Encounters with the Spirit Molecule (2018).
Psychology of Psychedelics
Luke’s current focus is on understanding the psychological foundations of the psychedelic experience. In one study, the effects of microdosing (ingesting tiny non-psychoactive amounts to try to improve mood and cognitive function) LSD was tested in a double-blinded placebo controlled protocol.2 The results indicated no effect on subjective measures (perception, concentration, mentation) but did increase time dilation (the perception of time stretching out) compared to placebos.
A review of studies investigating drug use and synaesthesia (the phenomenon of blending the senses, such as to ‘hear’ colours and ‘smell’ sounds) found a strong correlation with chemicals that excited the serotonin system such as LSD, psilocybin and 2C-B.3 Methodological weaknesses discouraged strong conclusions, however.
For his PhD thesis Luke studied the judging of dream ESP transcripts, finding that groups more often correctly identified targets than individuals judging alone, although not to a statistically significant level.4
Luke also investigated the relationship between belief in luck and psi scoring, finding clear correlations with belief in luck and also other psychological measures such as perceived personal luckiness, belief in psi, belief in the paranormal and erotic sensitivity (the targets were of an erotic nature).5
In other research, a questionnaire was circulated among regular drug users who reported mystical and unusual experiences arising from particular substances: for example, ketamine with out of body experiences, marijuana with telepathy and DMT with ‘entity encounters’. No relationship was found between psi experiences (telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition) and drug type, possibly because this was obscured by high level drug use among the subjects.6
An early initiative at the University of Greenwich was to investigate circadian rhythms on ESP performance, in particular the possible role of melatonin, which is known to fluctuate throughout the day. The study tested for precognition among ten participants across ten nights at 3am (when melatonin levels are highest) and 8am (when melatonin levels are lowest). Dream precognition performance was significantly better at 3am than 8am when melatonin levels were highest (p = 0.031). Personality measures were taken but none correlated with precognition performance.7
Geomagnetic Activity and Meditation
A four-year study investigated the possible influence of local geomagnetic field fluctuations and meditation experience on psi performance among 26 experienced meditators at the Samye Ling Tibetan Centre in Scotland. Overall performance for males’ psi scores were significantly negative (p = .02); females scored at chance. No relationship was found with meditation experience. The participants with the highest temporal lobe activity (as estimated by a questionnaire) showed the strongest geomagnetic/psi relationship (p = .06). The disappointing results were thought to relate to untypically low solar and geomagnetic activity during the study period, the lowest in a century. 8
Covert Needs-based Precognition
Luke and associates carried out a series of successful experiments exploring Stanford’s psi-mediated instrumental response (PMIR) model, which proposes that psi is an evolutionarily adaptive function serving the needs of the organism at an unconscious level. They gave subjecs an automated precognition task, some being asked afterwards to carry out either a further, unpleasant or pleasant, task. The findings tended to support the PMIR model. Overall precognition scoring across these experiments was highly significant (p = 0.001). Additionally, there was a strong overall correlation between psi scoring and sheep-goat effect (p = 0.0013).9
Sense of Being Stared At
With PhD student Ross Friday, Luke has investigated the ability of volunteers to consciously and unconsciously detect when they are being viewed by a person at a remote location through CCTV. More than 200 participants took part in 4000 trials in rigorously controlled lab tests, confirming results obtained by biologist Rupert Sheldrake a decade earlier. Here, subjects could not guess consciously when they were being observed, but their physiology (skin conductance) showed clear and consistent changes during the stare trials. Behavioural measures (performance on a Stroop reaction speed task) slowed when they were being covertly watched. The effects were replicated in ‘listening’ trials, although to a lesser degree, where the sound the subjects were making was relayed at random times to distant observers. The most powerful effects occurred when both CCTV images and sound were relayed. Luke and Friday have repeated this experiment and the results are broadly in favour of the original effect.10
Luke has coined the term ‘psychedelomancy’, meaning to use psychedelics to improve psi ability. In a broad series of investigations a number of different psychedelics have been examined.11
Testing indigenous tribes in Ecuador for precognition, Luke found the Ayuhuasca, which contains the active ingredient DMT (dimethyltryptamine), was ineffective at increasing scores above the pre-dosage baseline. He speculates this might be because the artificial nature of the experiment (for example, the use of a laptop to generate targets) caused anxiety among the tribesmen.
San Pedro Cactus
Luke repeated the experiment using San Pedro Cactus, but found difficulty recruiting twenty volunteers, so acted as the sole subject, recording his mentation before a target was randomly selected and presented together with three decoys. After 20 trials the overall scoring was significant (p = 0.032) including some striking hits.
In an LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) study involving academics, Luke obtained precognition scoring significantly below chance. He speculated that sceptical attitudes prevalent in that group might have caused them to miss more targets than chance would predict.
Luke is following up these investigations with a field study in the UK using psychonauts under the influence of DMT, during which time they will undertake a precognition tests. Interim results are expected by end of 2019.
Luke, D. (2011). Experiential reclamation and first person parapsychology. Journal of Parapsychology 75/2, 185-200.
Luke, D. (2011). Discarnate entities and dimethyltryptamine (DMT): Psychopharmacology, phenomenology and ontology. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 75, 26-42.
Luke, D., (2012). Psychoactive substances and paranormal phenomena: A comprehensive review. International Journal of Transpersonal Studies 31/1, 97-156.
Luke, D. (2013). Editorial: Ecopsychology and the psychedelic experience. European Journal of Ecopsychology 4, 1-8.
Luke, D. (2017). Otherworlds: Psychedelics and Exceptional Human Experience. Muswell Hill Press, London & New York.
Luke, D. and Morin, S. (2014). Exploration of the validity and utility of a reward contingency in a non-intentional forced-choice precognition task. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 78, 207-218.
Luke, D. , Sherwood, S., and Delanoy, D. (2008). Psi may look like luck: Perceived luckiness and beliefs about luck in relation to precognition. Conference: 51st Annual Parapsychological Association Convention, At Winchester, UK, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/278301630_Psi_may_look_like_luck_Perceived_luckiness_and_beliefs_about_luck_in_relation_to_precognition
Luke, D. and Spowers, R. (eds.) (2018). DMT Dialogues: Encounters with the Spirit Molecule. Park Street Press, Rochester, VT, USA.
Roe, C., Sherwood, S., Luke, D. and Farrell, L.M. (2002). An exploratory investigation of GESP using consensus judging and dynamic targets. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 66.
Luke, D., Terhune, D., and Friday, R. (2012). Psychedelic synaesthesia: Evidence for a serotonergic role in synaesthesia. Seeing and Perceiving 25, 74-74.
Luke, D., and Terhune, D.B., (2013). The induction of synaesthesia with chemical agents: A systematic review. Frontiers in Psychology, 17 October, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00753
Luke, D., Zychowicz, K., Richterova, O., Tjurina, I., and Polonnikova, J., (2012). A sideways look at the neurobiology of psi: Precognition and circadian rhythms. NeuroQuantology 10/3, 580-590.
Luke, D., Zychowicz, K., (2014). Working the graveyard shift at the witching hour: Further exploration of dreams, psi and circadian rhythms. International Journal of Dream Research 7/2, 105-112.
Luke, D., Zychowicz, K. (2014). Comparison of outcomes with nonintentional and intentional precognition tasks. Journal of Parapsychology 78/2, 223-234.
Roney-Dougal, S, M., Ryan, A., and Luke, D. (2013). The relationship between local geomagnetic activity, meditation and psi. Part I: Literature review and theoretical model. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 77, 72-88. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/82957732.pdf
Roney-Dougal, S, M., Ryan, A., and Luke, D. (2014) The relationship between local geomagnetic activity, Tibetan Buddhist meditation and psychic awareness, Journal of Parapsychology,78/2, 235-254.