Dzhuna and Soviet (Para)Science Experiments

Author: Daria Shevtsova

This article grew out of the research for my master’s thesis on the Soviet healer Eugenia Davitashvili (1949–2015), also well-known to many Russian-speaking people as Dzhuna. What gave the impetus for this blogpost was the observation that some researchers and contemporaries of Davitashvili refused to be interviewed on the grounds that they consider their research to have been serious science and to have had nothing to do with occult and non-serious research. This article aims at showing the complex structure of late-Soviet institutional science and seemingly incompatible and contradictory research fields.

Listening to Dzhuna’s Hands

Dzhuna in Moscow on April 3, 1981 © Dmitrii Chizhkov 2010, 2.

According to this enigmatic woman and post-Soviet healing celebrity, as a child, she discovered her inexplicable ability to diagnose diseases and cure them by laying on her hands without touching the patient’s body (Davitashvili 1987, 19). Through the sensation in her fingertips – such as warmth, cold, or tingling – she learned to identify the nature and severity of the pathological condition and to relieve pain (ibid.). By the 1980s, Eugenia Davitashvili had become the most sought-after, expensive, and influential folk healer (narodnyi tselitel’ [1]) in the Soviet Union. Powerful officials, representatives of the intelligentsia, and celebrities swore by the ‘unexplainable’ and ‘phenomenal’ skills of this woman.

But it was vital for Dzhuna to be recognized by scientists and doctors as well. It is believed that thanks to the chairman of Gosplan, the Soviet State Planning Committee, Nikolai Baibakov, and the actor Arkadii Raikin, Dzhuna had gained access to the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev, who helped her to establish a laboratory to study her extraordinary abilities (Slavkina 2010, 187; Kolodnyi 2015, 13). However, this claim is based only on oral testimonies collected by journalists Marija Slavkina and Lev Kolodnyi, the latter of whom was also a close friend of Dzhuna.

In the early 1980s, the Central Committee charged one of the leading institutions of the Academy of Sciences – the Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics (IRE, now Kotelnikov Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics) to determine the mechanism of Dzhuna’s healing power (often referred to as phenomenon D). In 1981, Jurii Guliaev, deputy director of the IRE, and his friend Ėduard Godik, also an IRE associate and a Doctor of Physics, were appointed the scientific program’s chiefs. Professor Godik assembled a unique team of young physicists aged twenty to thirty, who were tempted to investigate the physical mechanisms of extrasensory phenomena (Torin 1997).

Dzhuna and Godik before the IRE on September 2, 1982 © Chizhkov 2010, 185.

The basic hypothesis was the following (Torin 1997): All observed effects, if they took place, were based on physical phenomena. Thus, Dzhuna’s treatment with non-contact massage could not be explained by anything other than by the physical fields (electromagnetic, acoustic, chemical, etc.). In order to prove this, researchers would need a complex of sensitive equipment and computer technology that was able to register natural fields and human biofields in all possible areas.

The Vice President of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Evgenii Velikhov, received one million dollars and ten million rubles from the government for conducting research into extrasensory phenomena (Kolodnyi 2017, 44-47). He divided the money between the laboratory of the Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics and his Department of Atomic Physics and Electronic Phenomena at Moscow University (ibid.). On January 7, 1982, the scientists moved into two basement rooms (Godik 2010, 12). However, it took almost a year for the laboratory and the Institute to get down to work. In early September 1983, Dzhuna was hired as a senior researcher at the Institute, a position usually held by people with Ph.D. (Kolodnyi 2015, 28). Dzhuna was by that time already well-known to a wider public and followed by publications in popular science magazines (“Nauka i Zhizn”, “Tekhnika Molodezhi”, “The Journal of Paraphysics”, etc.).

Dzhuna at the IRE. July 5, 1984 © Chizhkov 2010, 217.

Most of the known experiments with Dzhuna took place in the period between November 1983 and March 1985. She was brought to the experiments once a week, usually accompanied by some admirers of her talent. On those days when Dzhuna was not in the laboratory, other psychics were constantly invited. Mistrust, secrecy, and taciturnity prevailed around the project. No photographs were allowed to be taken, and no protocols were handed out. Even the purpose of the experiment was often concealed.

Dzhuna with scientists at the IRE. 1982 © Russell Targ’s private archive

The first report appeared, according to which the physical fields of Dzhuna did not differ from those of other psychics (Kuznik 1995, 248). Only in the “working mode”, i.e., during the healing sessions, her physical fields increased, but even these changes were too small. Concluding, the official report suggested that the effects were not related to any particular radiations but might be of psychophysiological nature, e.g. hypnosis or self-suggestion (ibid.).

The final report thus stated that no unusual abilities had been discovered in Dzhuna. Yet, in this light, one fact appears to be crucial, namely that there was another report that preceded the official final report and was addressed to Academician Gury Marchuk. The first interim report indicated both significant temperature changes (up to several degrees!) in Davitashvili’s hands and a change in the patient’s blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing during the treatment (Kolodnyi 2015, 36).

While the first report suggested considerable temperature changes in Dzhuna’s hands and their significant influence on patients, the final report stated just insignificant changes. It acknowledged however the psychophysiological nature of her treatment method. It should be added that it was up to Marchuk whether the laboratory would get new unique equipment and ten employees.

One also cannot help but wonder why these reports differ so much. It may be assumed that after a few experiments, the researchers realized that they could not achieve provable evidence. Still, they wanted to continue using her as a pretext for further research funding. This assumption is supported by the testimony of Guliaev, who claimed that the funding of the research program allowed scientists to develop other projects (Gubarev 2008, 274). The scientists obtained remarkable results, which, however, had nothing to do with the study of the supernatural (ibid., 275f): For instance, one device was constructed to detect meditation in yoga and another one to determine whether a birthmark on the human body was malignant.

Healing Experiments and Results

After Brezhnev’s death in 1982, the influence of Dzhuna’s protector Baibakov gradually waned. On March 29, 1985, the “lead researcher” Davitashvili was laid off (which equaled a dismissal). The physicists began to look for new ‘research objects’ and programs, for example, a nutrition program, the goal of which was to enable remote measurement of the temperature of cows, which was important for determining their health and, consequently, milk quality. In other words, scientists were now more interested in cows than in Dzhuna.

Soon perestroika reached its peak. The Department of Atomic Physics and Electronic Phenomena at the Institute of Radio Engineering and Electronics fell apart. First, the computers were stolen, and then all the employees quarreled. Eventually, Professor Godik was forced to leave the Institute. All materials were destroyed. More than half of the former employees moved to the USA, most of them to California (Torin 1997).

Many years later, in 2010, Ėduard Godik’s book The Mystery of the Psychics (Zagadka ėkstrasensov) was published, which offers a scientist’s view on the research of psychics. In this book, Godik confirms that the patient’s skin surface in the area of the projection from Dzhuna’s hands had warmed about one degree, but at the same time, as he emphasized, the warming of the hand itself was not a specific healing reaction. He offers two explanations for Dzhuna’s diagnostic and healing skills (Godik 2010, 23f): In the first explanation, he refers to infrared heat radiation as the carrier of non-contact interaction between the healer’s hand and the patient’s body. The second explanation was the psychophysiological character of the influence. According to this theory, the patient reflexively follows the movements of the healer’s hands with his side gaze. When the healer’s hand is held over the diseased area, an involuntary protective reaction by the patient can be observed, which manifests in changes of face, posture, muscle tone, and other signs. As for Dzhuna, she could have perceived such signs and thus easily found the “diseased area”. Then, she must have concentrated on the thought, “my hands are getting warm” (i.e. self-suggestion), and this warming of her hands was observed.

Dzhuna’s magical hands. Moscow, February 13, 1981 © Chizhkov 2010, 21.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine here whether one or the other explanation of Dzhuna’s abilities is valid or even credible. However, it is undisputed that the university laboratory staff had received a lot of money from the state and had purchased expensive equipment to study the phenomenon of Dzhuna. But what was the outcome? The program was shut, the technology was sold, and the scientists emigrated. Does this mean that all the efforts of Dzhuna, her sponsors, and physicists were in vain? Was it ultimately a mere waste of time and money? There cannot be given simple answers to these questions, as can be seen from the following paragraphs.

The laboratory became a venue for physicians from practically all leading medical institutes. Professor Godik mentioned in his article in the Journal Ogoniok, among others, the cooperation with hypnologists from the Center for Psychotherapy of the Ministry of Health and with the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (Vlasov 1986). Gradually, the most promising directions for the use of the devices and methods in medicine were identified, covering almost all branches of medicine from prenatal therapy to gerontology.

There also was a special program prepared by a number of Moscow’s leading medical centers (including the Cardiology Center, the Oncology Center, the Moscow Center for Mammology, and the Institute of Pulmonology) to develop a sensory therapy that would enable monitoring and correction of the body’s self-regulation. In addition to introducing the new methods in their country, the Soviet scientists negotiated about the production of medical devices with foreign partners, for example, with the renowned German company Carl Zeiss. Moreover, these devices were successfully tested and aimed at verification in three leading clinics in Berlin (Godik 2010, 59f).

All the projects of the Laboratory and the Institute were ruined during the late perestroika years. Nevertheless, some goals were achieved by the end of the 1980s. The scientists found out that the sensitive hand of a trained healer reacts to the changes in the organism of a sick person. Thus, the healing influence of hands was scientifically substantiated. This effect was not based on the imaginary biofield’s special properties but on the thermal, physical, detectable, and measurable influence on the human skin, which is very sensitive to heat, especially on dermatomes (also called “acupuncture points or Zakharina-Heda zones”) (Matveev 1990, 205).

Secondly, in the course of the research, it turned out that the body itself constantly reports on its condition with the help of radiations. A new method of early medical diagnostics came into view. Nevertheless, the attitude of physicians and physiologists toward investigations of human radiations remained controversial. Guliaev pleaded that traditional medicine should examine the possibilities of these methods more closely because only then would it be possible to classify what belongs to the sphere of natural phenomena or fiction (Vlasov 1986). After such a consideration, many phenomena would lose the stamp of mystery, and no space would be given to mystifications (ibid.). Finally, using the developed methods and equipment, scientists began to study the accumulated experience of Chinese medicine with non-contact healing. Physiologists, biologists, doctors, and psychologists joined in.

The fragment from a documentary film about Dzhuna. Gorky Film Studio, Moscow. July 18, 1984 © Chizhkov 2010, 224.

And all this was made possible by Dzhuna. She raised funds for research that held out the prospect of developing new sensitive medical equipment for physical therapy and diagnosis at an early stage. Dzhuna caused a psychological breakthrough in the minds of a whole generation of scientists. Partly due to her contribution, “serious” scientists began to engage more frequently and voluntarily in the “non-serious” and “thankless” studies of parapsychology and esotericism.

Notes:

[1] The leading American parapsychologist of the 20th century, Stanley Krippner, wrote in his book Human Possibilities (1980) about his experiences in Soviet Russia. While in Tbilisi in 1980, Krippner found out that folk healers (narodnye tseliteli) were common throughout the USSR. The Georgian Soviet Republic even allowed healers to apply for an official license. Once they received it, healers could charge money for their services (cf. Krippner 1980, 221).

[2] The term “biofield” was first introduced in 1944 by the Soviet biologist Aleksandr Gurvich in his monograph The Theory of the Biological Field. Aleksandr Gurvich proclaimed that all living cells produce invisible radiation. Just as there are an atmosphere and magnetosphere in the vicinity of our planet, human beings have a similar shell, invisible to the eye but quite material. Later, it was replaced by the new, more accurate term “physical fields of biological objects”. Ėduard Godik wrote in his book The mystery of the psychics (2010, 7f.) that this term was invented to explain (scientifically unproven) healing by psychics, e.g. non-contact interaction. The concept of “biofield” entered people’s consciousness, and when they ‘saw’ a psychic diagnose and heal without touching the patient, it was naturally explained by the existence of some field around biological objects called the “biofield” (ibid.).

References:

Davitashvili, Dzhuna. Die Macht meiner Hände [The Power of my Hands]. Zürich: Diana Verlags AG, 1987.

{Godik} Годик, Эдуард. Загадка экстрасенсов. Что увидели физики. Человек в собственном свете [The Mystery of the Psychics. What the Physicists saw. Man in in his own light.]. Москва: АСТ-пресс, 2010.

{Gubarev} Губарев, Владимир. “Академик Юрий Гуляев: «…везение обязательно придёт!»” [The Academician Jurii Guliaev: “…luck will surely come!”]. // In: Секретные академики, ed. by В. Губарев, 260–281. Москва: Алгоритм, 2008.

{Kolodnyi} Колодный, Лев. Джуна. Тайна великой целительницы [Dzhuna. The Secret of the Great Healer]. Москва: Алгоритм, 2015.

{Kolodnyi} Колодный, Лев. Эпоха Джуны. Записки журналиста [The Era of Dzhuna. Notes of a journalist]. Москва: Вече, 2017.

{Kuznik} Кузник, Борис. Легендарная Джуна [The Legendary Dzhuna]. Москва: Радио и связь, 1995.

{Matveev} Матвеев, Валентин. Загадки и резервы психики [The Mysteries and Reserves of the Psyche]. Свердловск: Изд-во Уральского университета, 1990.

{Slavkina} Cлавкина, Мария. Байбаков [Baibakov]. Москва: Молодая гвардия, 2010.

{Vlasov} Круглый стол с Сергеем Власовым [Round table ed. Sergei Vlasov]. “Биополе – Миф или реальность?” [The Biofield – Myth or Reality?]. Огонёк 51 (декабрь 1986). Accessed March 18, 2021. https://kaleidoscope.ucoz.org/zhizni/tainy/vanga/po_neizvestnym_esche_zakonam.htm

{Torin} Торин, Александр. “Невыдуманная история экстрасенсов в России” [The Non-Fictional History of Psychics in Russia], 1997. Accessed March 18, 2021. http://torin.vasaros.com/extrasens_nevidumannaja_istorija/nevidumannaja_istorija.htm

{Chizhkov} Чижков, Дмитрий. Вера: Дар исцеления [Faith: The Gift of Healing].Москва: Новый Ключ, 2010.

Archive material:

Russell Targ’s private archive

Cite this article as: Daria Shevtsova, “Dzhuna and Soviet (Para)Science Experiments”, in New Age in Russia, 30/03/2021, https://newageru.hypotheses.org/5752


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1 Response

  1. August 31, 2021

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