Psychic Powers

The Psychic Powers of Nina Kulagina

Part 1 | Part 2   

Testing the Psychic

According to various books (see sources) Doctor Leonid L. Vasiliev, a psychologist at Leningrad University, had pioneered ESP study in Russia at the Institute for Brain Research in Leningrad, and was one of the first to test Kulagina, continuing to do so right up until his death in 1966. Another Soviet scientist, Dr. Genady Sergeyev, apparently a well-known physiologist working in a Leningrad military laboratory, did several years of intensive laboratory research on Kulagina, and made special studies of the electrical potentials in Kulagina's brain.  During observations he apparently recorded exceptionally strong voltages and other unusual effects. In one series of experiments in Leningrad, recalling those of Dr. Shvetz, he and his colleagues placed undeveloped photo film in a black envelope. Incredibly, by staring at the envelope Kulagina was able to expose the film inside. If this is incredible story is true, then it is particularly unfortunate that there is no published account of the extraordinary experiment.

Chairman of Theoretical Physics at Moscow University, Dr. Ya. Terletsky declared on 17 March, 1968, in Moscow Pravda: 'Mrs. Kulagina displays a new and unknown form of energy.' The Mendeleyev Institute of Metrology also studied Nina, and announced in Moscow Pravda (why not a science journal?) that she had moved aluminium pipes and matches under stringent test conditions, including surveillance on closed-circuit television. They could not explain how the objects had moved.

A Strange Mind Power Experiment

One of Kulagina's strangest filmed experiments involved the effect of her 'psychic powers' on a raw egg floating in a tank of saline solution almost two metres away from her. Seeming to use nothing but 'intense concentration', she slowly separated the yolk from the white of the egg, and moved the two apart; if she focused her energies for long enough, she could put the egg back together again. But the most unusual experiment of all took place in the Leningrad laboratory on 10 March, 1970. Satisfied that Kulagina had the ability to move inanimate objects, scientists were curious to know whether Nina's abilities extended to cells, tissues, and organs. Sergeyev was one of the many scientists in attendance when Kulagina attempted to use her energy to stop the beating of a frog's heart, floating in solution, and then re-activate it. She focused intently on the heart and summoned all her powers. First she made it beat faster, then slower, and, using intense will power, she stopped it. Apparently she could also disrupt human heart beats, on one occasion giving a hostile Leningrad psychiatrist a frightening first-hand experience of her power.  Again, if these extraordinary experiments actually took place as indicated, there should be published accounts of the groundbreaking results, so where are they? Any facility director with an executive master of health administration degree should know that multiple forms of documentation would be needed to verify the experiments.

In one of the (silent) films shot of experiments with Kulagina in her Leningrad apartment she is seen seated at a large, round, white table, in front of a lace-curtain window. According to Russian scientists she had, on this occasion, already been physically examined by a medical doctor, who had x-rayed her to make sure there were no hidden magnets or anything else concealed on her person, nor any pieces of shrapnel lodged in her body from her war injury. She was found to be clean and the experiment begun. 

The film crew, scientists - Naumov among them, and reporters, moved in for a close-up. Naumov placed a compass on a wristband, a vertical cigarette, a pen top, a small metal cylinder like a saltshaker, and a matchbox on the table in front of her. Kulagina began with the compass - apparently the easiest object to warm up on. She held her fingers parallel to the table about six inches above the compass and started moving her hands in a circular motion. For a while nothing happened . . . then the needle quivered and slowly began to rotate counter clockwise, then the whole compass, case and all, began to spin.  Many conjurers would not be too impressed with this performance, though there is no indication that Kulagina was using trickery on this occasion.

The 'Impossibility' of PK abilities

Naturally, Kulagina was not without her critics, but sometimes it went beyond criticism. In the Moscow paper Pravda there was a vicious attack on Kulagina, demonizing her and calling her a fake and a cheat. It was said that she performed her tricks with the help of concealed magnets and threads, though how magnets could move nonmagnetic things like glass, eggs, apples and bread was not explained. Kulagina's supporters also claimed that  she could move any one or two objects from a group chosen by the investigator.  In the end it was revealed that the author of the Pravda piece had never even seen Kulagina. He had decided that PK was impossible therefore she must be cheating. At the same time as the Pravda article, it is claimed that a campaign of harassing phone calls began against Kulagina. It was thought unlikely that these were merely harmless crank calls - there were no telephone books in Russia at that time; to get somebody's phone number involved lining up for hours at special address booths in the streets. Secondly, she was known to the public as Nelya Mikhailova, not by her real name of Nina Kulagina. 

So whoever was calling had to know her real name and her address. It seems likely that it had been well organised. But by whom? Was the KGB involved? Or, as is most likely, was the whole story concocted to increase the mystique surrounding Kulagina? Apparently, the calls finally got so out of hand that the scientists decided to hide Kulagina in the country outside Leningrad.  

Some sceptics have claimed that Kulagina was only tested in her own apartment and in hotel rooms, but according to Pravda for example (unreliable to say the least) she was also tested by eminent Soviet scientists in controlled laboratory conditions. These scientists are quoted as more than once stating that after watching Nina in action that they had found 'no hidden threads, magnets, or other gimmicks.' This does not of course  prove that Kulagina did not cheat, as stated earlier we have no information on how thorough the checks were. There is, however, no direct evidence that Kulagina ever faked her abilities. Despite the lack of evidence for trickery. sceptics still believe Kulagina's abilities to be entirely fraudulent or at least greatly exaggerated by Soviet authorities, probably to be used as propaganda in their Cold-War era psychological battles with the U.S. Indeed the lack of publication of the incredible experiments with Kulagina and other Russian psychics in scientific journals has persuaded some researchers that the experiments never occurred at all, at least as described in the popular press.

But there was a down side to these experiments. Whatever Kulagina's 'powers' were, it is said that they had always taken a lot out of her. After one set of tests with Dr. Rejdak she was totally exhausted, and had almost no pulse. Her face was pale and drained and she could hardly move her body. She had apparentl lost almost four pounds in half an hour (many Western mediums, such as American Felicia Parise, have also described this weight loss during PK; it was as if she were converting the matter of her own body into energy. According to Dr. Zverev's report, her heart-beat was irregular, there was high blood sugar, and her endocrine system was disturbed. All this was consistent with high stress. She had also lost the sensation of taste, suffered from pains in her arms and legs, couldn't coordinate, and felt dizzy.

According to popular accounts, Kulagina's use of her psychic abilities apparently led to a strain on her health culminating, in the late seventies, in a near fatal heart attack. Her doctors recommended that she reduce her activity, though she kept up some lab work until she died in 1990, around the time of the death of the Soviet Union itself. It is still believed by many in Russia that these experiments exhausted her, ruined her health, and probably hastened her death. Different health decisions may have been made by her doctors if a Masters in health administration online degree was available at the time.  At her funeral, Soviets praised Kulagina as a 'hero of Leningrad' after her bravery during the nine-hundred-day siege of World War II. But many also lauded her for sacrifices of a different kind to her country, allowing scientists and doctors to examine and test her 'psychic abilities' incessantly in their quest for an unknown and elusive energy. More down to earth researchers however, believe claims of Kulagina's 'psychic abilities' to be entirely groundless.

Sources and Further Reading

Gris, Henry, and Dick, William. The New Soviet Psychic Discoveries. London, Souvenir Press, 1979.

Inglis, Brian. The Paranormal An Encyclopedia of Psychic Phenomena, London. Granada publishing, 1985, p112.

Ostrander, Sheila, & Schroeder, Lynn.  Psychic Discoveries. The Iron Curtain Lifted. London, Souvenir Press, 1997 (1971).

Spencer, John & Anne. The Poltergeist Phenomenon. London, Headline 1997, pp227-8.

Copyright 2003 by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved.

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