The Paranormal as a Force for Positive Transformation
This is a transcript of a talk I gave at the Theosophical Society in London on December 7th 2014. To avoid any misunderstanding, let me make it clear that although I am a member of the Society, this does not impose any belief-system upon me; all that is required is an acceptance of its three founding principles, which are stated below. I am very interested in Theosophical teachings and texts (Helena Blavatsky et al.), but do not necessarily endorse them in their entirety.
The talk lasted for over an hour, so this article is very long. I hope that some of my followers on Medium will find it interesting, however, and just say that it obviously doesn’t have to be read all in one go. It brings together many of the themes that I have addressed in earlier articles: parapsychology, nature of consciousness, divination, dreams, synchronicity, the failings of scientific materialism, humanity as a superorganism, and the allegory of Plato’s cave.
I could have edited it to make it read more like an article, but have chosen to produce it verbatim. It may at times seem somewhat colloquial.
The founding principles of the Society are announced by the chairperson at the start of each talk:
- To form a nucleus of the Universal Brotherhood of Humanity without distinction of race, creed, sex, caste or colour.
- To encourage the study of Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Science.
- To investigate unexplained laws of Nature and the powers latent in man.
Let’s consider for a moment the Theosophical Society’s founding statements, which you have just heard. Ask yourself how well, given recent events in the world, the Society’s first project is going. It seems that much of humanity is reluctant to accept what was for its time a bold and far-reaching ambition. Perhaps this is partly because people do not on the whole experience themselves as part of a universal brotherhood; even if they are decent and liberal-minded, espousing tolerance and good will, they retain a strong feeling of independence and separation from the rest of humanity. We might call this the “skin-encapsulated ego”. So, what would it be like if we literally experienced ourselves on a daily basis as part of a universal brotherhood? My suggestion is that the third founding principal, the hidden powers latent in man, can help to bring this about.
My main theme will be the conflict between paranormal experience and materialistic science. So here, to whet your appetite, are two quotes:
1) “There is no such thing as the paranormal and the supernatural; there is only the normal and the natural and mysteries we have yet to explain”.
2) “Unexplainable, psychic, parapsychological phenomena bombard our universe”.
The first one was Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine. For the moment I won’t reveal the second author’s identity, but I invite you to consider for a moment what type of person you think said it, what they might do for a living. I’ll tell you later.
Just one more quote. Materialist, sceptical scientist Milton Rothman describes the development of science thus; he calls it “a war of attrition between pragmatic concepts of nature and fantasies of the supernatural”.
That’s interesting, isn’t it? I have to admit that my eyebrows raised somewhat when I read that phrase, a “war of attrition”. Personally I prefer to look for a way of synthesizing these two apparently irreconcilable tendencies. But in the light of the other two quotes, perhaps he’s right. So Mr Rothman, if that’s how you want it, then let’s put the gloves on, and let the war continue.
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Before I move onto paranormal experiences, however, I would like briefly to establish a context for my thinking. There isn’t time to go into details, but I will allude to certain themes.
My question is: What might be the next stage in the evolution of life and consciousness? To try to address that question, my first theme is what in biology are called superorganisms, by which is meant: “the idea that colonies of social insects (for example ants and termites) are somehow equivalent to vast, multicreatured organisms, possessing a collective intelligence and a gift for adaptation far superior to the sum of the individual inhabitants”. “Collective intelligence” is the key phrase. We might also say “group mind”; individual ants are clearly not acting on their own initiative. This idea is stunning enough in relation to insects, but it becomes even more amazing when you consider that the concept is discussed seriously by biologists in relation to Foraminifera, which are relatives of amoeba, and slime-moulds. This is a topic too complex to go into here, but you can get the general idea from the title of this piece on the BBC Nature website: Brainless Slime Mould has an external memory.
My second theme is the history of how this idea has fared in science. In a 1910 lecture eminent zoologist William Morton Wheeler said that the facts ought to be faced, that biological theory must remain incomplete if the study of “superorganisms” was neglected because of “our fear of the psychological and the metaphysical”. There’s an interesting phrase for you. Science is meant to be a search for truth, yet might be afraid of the implications of what it might find!
Two significant books were published later: The Life of the White Ant by Maurice Maeterlinck, and even The Soul of the White Ant by Eugene Marais. Then, according to biologist Lewis Thomas the whole idea was swept under the carpet by conventional, that is to say reductionist, biologists, but according to biologist Rupert Sheldrake, writing in 1989, had up to that point never satisfactorily been resolved by them.
Now, if “superorganism” is a meaningful concept in relation to groups of insects and so on, here is a very interesting question: is humanity a superorganism? Or even, is the Earth a superorganism?
This leads to my third theme, the work of James Lovelock and his Gaia hypothesis, which examines the second of those questions. In his original book, published in 1979, he put forward the hypothesis that the whole planet is a “self-regulating organism”, thus appears to be alive. Having been attacked by biologists, he then backtracked somewhat, saying that the Gaia hypothesis was just a metaphor, albeit a very powerful one.
In his book The Awakening Earth, however, Peter Russell has no hesitation in declaring the Earth to be a superorganism. In the first chapter he refers to the experience of various astronauts who have travelled to the moon. They experienced exactly that, that “the whole planet appeared to be alive, an organism in its own right”.
He goes on to discuss the role of humanity in this process. One suggestion is that we are comparable to brain-cells. An alternative view is that we are more like cancer. Ecologists may incline towards the latter, but I take the more optimistic view, even if that suggests that the planet’s brain is not in an especially healthy state.
Lovelock may have backtracked originally but, if he was being sincere then, he certainly seemed to have forgotten this by the time of a BBC interview in 2009 when he said: “we’re just part of a great big assembly that is living”. “We humans could become so closely integrated with the planet that we could make it in effect an intelligent planet”.
So he seems to have come publicly a lot closer to Peter Russell’s view of things. He has returned to his original idea, which is perhaps where he always wanted to be.
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To summarise so far: I would like you to believe, or at least consider the possibility that the Earth, including humanity is a superorganism. Also I would like you to focus on two points from what precedes. Firstly, in the phenomenon of superorganisms we seem to have evidence of collective intelligence. In the case of insects, is there telepathic communication, or a group-mind, which would be interesting in the light of tonight’s topic? It is now believed that the insects communicate by smell messages (pheromones), but that does not in itself deny the possibility of the superorganism.
Secondly, I hope we can all agree that the purpose of science is to search for the truth about the nature of the universe. Sometimes, however, science refuses to search for the truth in order to maintain the worldview of the scientists concerned. Remember Wheeler’s phrase, “our fear of the psychological and the metaphysical” (we can perhaps paraphrase that as “the non-material and the spiritual”). It will be my contention that research into ESP and the paranormal has suffered from the same attitude, and that the superorganism/Gaia hypothesis is thus a kind of template for how materialist science treats the paranormal.
So, now we come to the crux of the matter. Can the paranormal help in the process of awakening us, so that we may awaken the Earth? We are not all lucky enough to be astronauts and have that direct transformatory experience.
I have three themes. The paranormal:
1) awakens us to other levels of existence beyond the material.
2) shows that we are interconnected, that we are not skin-encapsulated egos.
3) connects us to the meaning and purpose of our own lives, and beyond that to transpersonal levels of meaning and purpose. It therefore provides evidence for teleology, a scientific heresy.
The obstacle standing in the way is the dominant paradigm of modern science, materialism, with its excessive emphasis on reason. What is needed, therefore, are paranormal experiences which shatter belief in the materialistic worldview, which blow the mind. Here are two case histories:
Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer opens her book Extraordinary Knowing with a personal anecdote, which I shall relate in a moment. But first it is important to note that, as she says later, she considers herself to be “a skeptical, highly trained scientific professional…”
Now for the anecdote, highly summarized. She had bought an extremely valuable harp for her daughter, which was stolen. She says: “For two months we went through every conceivable channel trying to locate it: the police, instrument dealers across the country…” And more, but “nothing worked”.
A friend said she should consider calling a dowser. In desperation she agrees. She rings the President of the American Society of Dowsers, and asks for help. Over the phone he tells her that it is still in Oakland, where it was stolen. He then said: “Send me a street map of Oakland and I’ll locate that harp for you”. After two days, he tells her the address where the harp is located. After contacting the police, who could not accept her story as grounds for a search warrant, she decided to put up some posters in the locality, offering a reward. Within three days she has the harp back. Her reaction, This changes everything.
That was an example of dowsing, which is often dismissed as “pseudoscience”, i.e. nonsense, by sceptics, thus for them any claimed success would be considered paranormal. The dowser in question said that, in order to locate the harp, he entered what for simplicity I will paraphrase as an altered state of consciousness.
The second case history involves the Jungian concept of meaningful coincidence, or synchronicity. The following is the most famous example in the literature, as Jung uses it himself to demonstrate his point. This is his account: “A young woman I was treating had, at a critical moment, a dream in which she was given a golden scarab. While she was telling me this dream I sat with my back to the closed window. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, like a gentle tapping. I turned round and saw a flying insect knocking against the window pane from outside. I opened the window and caught the creature in the air as it flew in. It was the nearest analogy to a golden scarab that one finds in our latitudes, a scarabaeid beetle, the common rose-chafer, which contrary to its usual habits had evidently felt an urge to get into a dark room at this particular moment”.
Jung comments that the woman had been a very difficult case, essentially because her mind was full of “Cartesian philosophy” (i.e., scientific materialism). “Evidently something quite irrational was needed which was beyond my powers to produce”. So, when the scarab came in through the window, this was enough to blow her mind, and, quote, “the process of transformation could at last begin to move…”
I’ll return now to Elizabeth Mayer. The harp incident completely changed her worldview, replacing her “scientific” preconceptions. She then turns her life over to researching the paranormal. She describes her subsequent investigations. She was surprised that so many people wanted to talk, and was inundated with accounts. Mayer was a psychotherapist. Quote: “There were things my patients had been only half telling me for years, things they viewed as too weird or risky to reveal for fear I wouldn’t believe them or — worse — would think they really were crazy”.
She begins a course, with no voyeurs allowed, a compulsory condition of entry being a written account of an apparently anomalous experience. The college is inundated with applications, with people demanding to be admitted. So perhaps parapsychological phenomena do bombard our universe.
What are we to make of all this? The suggestion is that there is a vast amount of evidence in peoples’ lives for the paranormal, and yet most people are afraid to talk about it for fear of being thought crazy. This goes to show what a subconscious stranglehold the modern scientific worldview has over many people.
There is an interesting joke in spiritual circles, which I first saw as a cartoon. In it a schizophrenic tied up in a straightjacket is in the presence of some kind of weird-looking ascetic mystic sitting under a tree. Obviously suspecting that they have something in common, he asks him, “what is the difference between you and me?” The mystic replies, “I know when to keep my mouth shut”.
You may think in the light of the schizophrenic’s predicament that this is sensible advice, but there is a serious price for society to pay, if we all adopt the mystic’s attitude. In order to fit in with society and keep functioning within it, we have to adopt its rules, its general way of being. That is obviously what is going on in the minds of the people above. Therefore, in order to move forward we need to change the rules, society’s way of being, what is often called the current paradigm. But if we are to break the stranglehold, then people must be willing to come forward and tell their stories, reveal the crazy things that are happening to them.
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So I will offer to you a third case-history of the paranormal’s effect upon an individual, namely myself. If anyone sees the van drawing up with men in white coats, please warn me, so that I can make my escape.
Here is as brief an account as I can manage of the relevant background to the paranormal experiences which follow. At school, my best subject was French. During my A-level course I remember a letter arriving at our school from a university, I think Aberdeen, advising prospective students that having something as a best subject was not sufficient reason to study it at university. With hindsight that was very sound advice, but at the time, seeing no other course of action, I went to university to study French.
Within a few weeks I slumped into a serious depression, and drifted into a period of apathy, a complete lack of motivation, and spent four years doing almost anything rather than study. At school I had already become attracted to the gloomy, existentialist ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre. At university, I was introduced to and became fascinated by the perhaps even more depressing worlds of Albert Camus and Samuel Beckett, his Waiting for Godot, and the excruciatingly painful End-Game. All this literature seemed the perfect complement to my depressed state, locking together like jigsaw pieces.
I survived university, but afterwards the psychological problems seemed to get worse, and I developed what I now understand is termed a schizoid personality. A significant moment for me was when, browsing around in a bookshop, I accidentally came across R. D. Laing’s The Divided Self. The title fascinated me, and having read the book, the only difference I could find between the schizophrenics he described and myself was that they were in mental hospitals and I wasn’t.
A little later I had a spell in left-wing politics. This was not through total conviction, although initially I was enthusiastic about the ideas. I had enough self-awareness to realise that this was really a search for meaning, to be with other committed individuals, since I had become completely disenchanted with the superficiality of daily life. After a brief period of membership, however, I experienced a sudden withdrawal of energy for the project, which in retrospect I interpret as a recognition in the unconcious that I was searching for the wrong meaning. I duly resigned.
I then sunk into a further, even deeper, depression. I was having suicidal thoughts, the conviction that life was completely meaningless, and had absolutely nothing to offer. This was, of course, the logical outcome of my early literary leanings, for Albert Camus, faced with the meaningless absurdity of life, had said: “There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy”. One suspects that he thought that the logical answer was no.
Then things began to change. The husband of a friend of mine (whom I’ll call by his initial J) was heavily involved in an esoteric group, and seemed to know lots about psychology. I don’t remember specifically discussing my problems with him, but he introduced me to the concept of Psychosynthesis, and Roberto Assagioli’s book of that name, which he leant to me. One of Assagioli’s suggestions to people arriving in therapy was to write an autobiography. And so I did. Having completed that, I then began to analyse the material, looking inward to resolve my problems, thus became engaged in a personal psychoanalysis. This decision proved to be the significant turning point in my life.
Coincidentally, or perhaps not, about the same time, J’s wife drew to my attention an advert in a magazine for a training course in ESP, although I don’t know why she thought that would interest me. I went to a preliminary meeting, which I found interesting, and decided to attend the course. There was one starting the following week, and a further one about six or seven weeks ahead. For some reason which I cannot explain now, and which was not obvious even then, I decided to go on the second course. But there was an interesting by-product of that decision. People who give courses in self-development often say that the course starts from the moment you sign up, that is to say, you begin noticing the effects even before the first session. That was exactly my experience of this ESP course; it started as soon as I signed up. By the time the course actually started, I was already a firm believer in the paranormal, having experienced a sequence of events.
Details of the course are as follows; there were six Wednesday evenings followed by a whole day Sunday workshop. On each Wednesday there were brief presentations in aspects of psi, followed by experiments, including dream telepathy. The concluding Sunday was devoted completely to experiments in clairvoyance, psychometry and so on.
I think it is safe to say that everyone on the course by the end became convinced of the reality of ESP. But for me it was even stronger than that, because at the same time powerful synchronicities were happening to me, independent of the course. And the course itself, as far as I could tell, seemed to be having a deeper effect on me than on the other participants. For example, one of the weird things I noticed towards the end was that I was having an experience of the topic of each Wednesday presentation, during the week which preceded it. This suggested that some hidden intelligence knew in advance what the topic was going to be, and arranged for me to experience it. On the whole the details are too complicated to go into here, but one example stands out. Up to that point, I had never had a lucid dream in my whole life. One Thursday night I had a vivid lucid dream, and the topic the following Wednesday was lucid dreams. This was in fact what drew my attention to what was happening, and made me realise that the same thing had been happening in previous weeks.
I was continuing with my self-analysis, so this was mixed up with my paranormal experiences. I would like to relate three of the many significant incidents.
During this period I was sharing a flat with an old friend of mine. I must have been telling him something of what was going on, because his repeated advice to me was: “You don’t want to get inside your own head, Graham”. Then I had the following dream. I seemed to be somewhat lost in a large building with many rooms and long corridors. My friend then gave me directions on how to get out. I followed them, but as I emerged into the open air — it was night-time — a vicious black cat suddenly leapt up from below and attacked my genitals. I awoke in terror, but that moment was something of an epiphany. For in an instant I understood that the consequences of following my friend’s advice was leading me to a symbolic death, that therefore my self-analysis was absolutely the right path, and, even more importantly, standing behind the dream process was an intelligence which understood all this, and was trying to help me.
The second experience was one of the most extraordinary of my life. During this period I was for obvious reasons becoming very interested in psychology. At the time I was working in an office, and one day during my lunch break I was at my desk reading Jung’s autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Suddenly I felt a strong pain in my index finger, which I can only compare to a wasp sting repeating itself several times. This was quite shocking; I wondered what was going on, and desperately wanted it to stop. Then the idea flashed through my mind that the index finger is used for pointing things out, and perhaps that I had just failed to notice something in the text. I looked back through the last few lines, and saw a highly significant insight for my self-analysis. The moment I had taken that in, the pain stopped. I’ll return to a discussion of that incident later. Please remember those details.
The third significant experience was a powerful synchronicity along the lines of Jung’s scarab-beetle incident. I won’t give the precise details, but will just say that the external part involved a church and a quotation from the Bible. By the standards of some synchronicities, it was middle-of-the-road, but its effect on me was extreme. I experienced what you might call an explosion inside my head; my mind shattered. For several hours I felt as though I was struggling in a strong current. Why did this one incident have such a strong effect? My only explanation is that it occurred in the middle of this intense, weird period, so one might say that there had been a build-up of energy, which needed release, and that I was being prepared for something.
I have told only a couple of close friends about this. I describe it as “the moment I knew for certain that God existed”. Outsiders might wonder why I chose those words, but in any event it was a dramatic transformation of consciousness, a no-going-back moment, an initiation of some kind.
I have looked around for something to help me understand such an experience. The Jungian writer Marie-Louise von Franz says of such synchronistic events that they “constitute moments in which a ‘cosmic’ or ‘greater’ meaning becomes gradually conscious in an individual; generally this is a shaking experience”. Robert Aziz, another Jungian, says this: “The emergence of the self in the individuation process can be the source of a radical change of personality, and its sudden emergence may very well come upon one with the force of a full-scale conversion experience”. Outside Jungian writers, the most relevant description of my experience I have found comes from Rudolf Otto. In his book The Idea of the Holy he talks about numinous experiences, the annihilation of self, being in the presence of a tremendous and fascinating mystery, the elements of which are awefulness, overpoweringness, urgency.
Also, towards the end of this intense period, I had my first encounter with the I Ching, the Chinese coin oracle. I had been reading about it in Jung’s books, and J had told me that he had a copy. So we arranged for me to go to his place to make a consultation. Needless to say that, having posed my question, I was stunned by the relevance of the reply.
So all this gives you a flavour of how the paranormal affected me. Combined with my progress in self-analysis I was completely transformed in a period of about six months. To connect with tonight’s title, I would say that I was completely healed from my depressed, schizoid state, through having my world-view shattered by an immersion in the paranormal.
Those of you with a knowledge of psychotherapy will have noticed that what was happening to me was a fantastic demonstration of the reality of Jungian psychology, a potent mixture of personal analysis, dreams, ESP, synchronicity, and the I Ching, a method of divination.
Researchers sometimes say that ESP and the paranormal can be a way into religion and spirituality for those who are otherwise too blocked off. This idea seemed to be true in my case, and was confirmed somewhat humorously by a dream I had at the end of that six-month period. In it I was at the cinema, watching a Monty Python film. There was then an announcement that there would be an intermission, obviously for the purpose of buying ice-creams and so on. This seemed to be an ironic comment on the lengths that this paranormal process had had to go to in order to shatter my previous atheism; it had had to create an absurd Monty Python world in order to shift my perspective.
And the dream came true. There has been an intermission. Never since that time have I experienced such an intense period of paranormal activity. Dreams continue to be interesting and meaningful, as one would expect, and I have had occasional significant synchronicities and other paranormal experiences.
There are, however, two follow-up incidents worthy of mention. Soon after this intense period, J invited me to a lecture about Astrology. I had previously not given the subject much thought, but in the back of my mind probably agreed with the majority view that it was silly nonsense. But by this time, nothing would surprise me, so I went. The speaker made one statement which stood out. He said that the planet Saturn has an orbit of 28 years, thus at the age of 28 it has returned to the same place as at one’s birth; further, that Saturn is the planet of “unfinished business”, so that at that age a person is forced to deal with unresolved issues from the past. I was astonished, and left concluding that there might be something to Astrology after all.
Secondly, I later learnt from Psychosynthesis that they see depression as “a failure of Will” (that’s will with a capital W), by which they mean a loss of connection with one’s spiritual path, the plan for one’s life. Thus depression, at least in some cases and certainly in mine, was a psychological or spiritual problem, not a physical “illness” as modern science likes to call it.
You can easily imagine what the scientific response to my healing experience would be. Something along these lines: I have regressed to a pre-scientific, animistic, magical worldview, the state of mind that modern science is trying so hard to save us from. In my depressed state I was desperate for anything to help me, so that I became extremely naïve, gullible and succumbed to various illusions, and so on. Perhaps you won’t be surprised if I say I don’t care, and that actually I think that to return to such a pre-scientific worldview is exactly what the world needs.
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I will now briefly offer a few thoughts on the paranormal elements from my story:
Firstly dreams. I believe that, if our definition of the paranormal is that of other levels of reality breaking into the physical space-time universe, then dreams are an example of this. However, since that idea is worthy of a lecture in itself, and possibly controversial, I propose not to discuss that here. Just to note that dreams appear to emanate from a source which is a hidden, higher intelligence, wisdom, knowledge, whichever term you prefer, than that of the ego. That is a theme which will reoccur in much of what follows.
Secondly ESP. If you have never experienced it, and lead a completely fulfilling life without it, you may be wondering why I place such importance on it, what difference it can make. A possible answer is provided by one-time Oxford professor of philosophy H.H. Price, who said: “psychical research is one of the most important branches of investigation which the human mind has undertaken”; that it seems likely “to throw entirely new light upon the nature of human personality and its position in the universe”, and that in time “it may transform the whole intellectual outlook upon which our present civilisation is based”. He presumably meant that it threatens to overthrow the philosophy of scientific rationalism. So one can appreciate why materialists are so desperate to deny its reality.
The third element was synchronicity (or meaningful coincidence). There is an extensive, readily available literature on the subject containing many examples, so I do not need to discuss it in detail. Just two brief comments on the scarab story from earlier. Obviously we should note the powerful effect the experience had upon the woman; it blew her mind. Secondly, if Jung’s analysis is correct, then the implication is that the universe, presumably not the beetle, wanted the woman’s therapy to proceed, and contrived to produce the scarab at exactly the right moment to achieve this end.
I have a powerful example of my own. Sceptics say that such occurrences have no need of any extraordinary explanation, that such coincidences are bound to happen every now and then in an extremely complicated world. They sometimes draw an analogy with a roulette wheel, where events with odds of several million to one against do sometimes happen. Thus the sceptical maxim, “Never Underestimate the Power of Coincidence”.
So I invite you to consider whether the synchronicity I am about to tell you could really be the result of pure chance, or whether a paranormal explanation is more appropriate.
As Psychosynthesis had played a significant role in my healing process, I decided to become more involved with it, and took courses at the London Institute. They had Summer Schools and my first one took place at St. Davids in Wales. Because in my past I had acquired something of a reputation as a campfire guitarist and knew lots of popular songs, I wondered whether the participants might enjoy that, so I began to ask myself idly, “Shall I take my guitar to St. Davids?” I was putting this question to my inner, hidden dream-intelligence.
At the time I was working as a visiting officer for the DHSS (civil servant at the Department of Health and Social Security), so was frequently walking the streets to reach claimants’ houses. One morning, with this question still floating around in the back of my mind, I noticed in the gutter a guitar plectrum. This is somewhat unusual in itself; I’ve never seen another one in such circumstances before or since. Curious, I picked it up, inspected it, and to my amazement saw inscribed on the surface “St. Davids Nylon”. Already having an extensive experience of synchronicities, this seemed an obvious answer to my question.
This was one of a series of paranormal events and dreams which led me eventually to become a professional musician, which was secretly what I had always wanted to be, but did not have the courage to admit. So many years later, I had finally come to accept the advice of that letter from Aberdeen University, I had found the true meaning of my life, was finally healed, and had been guided there by paranormal events.
I’m hoping you agree with me that such a coincidence was too extraordinary to be just a random occurrence. But a problem starts when you begin to consider what would have been required in order for me to have this experience. However many years previously, a group of people would have had to come together, and decide to set up in business together in St. David’s, nowhere else, specifically to make nylon products, including guitar plectrums.
Alternatively, the directors of the Psychosynthesis Institute were unconsciously guided to choose St. David’s as the venue, because the organising power which wanted me to become a musician knew that this business was located there. In both cases, the people concerned would have been completely oblivious to the eventual outcome for me of their decision. And to top it all, the original owner of the plectrum somehow had to be forced unknowingly to drop it at precisely the spot where I was walking while this question was in my mind. The mind baulks when it contemplates all this, and we are drawn, if the paranormal explanation is the correct one, towards a hypothesis of a seemingly impossible web of interconnections.
An alternative approach would be to ask, is this actually how the human superorganism works? We are all unconsciously participating in a huge interconnected web. At any moment, without realising, we may be doing something which is contributing to someone else’s synchronistic event at some distance in the future. And perhaps, just perhaps, this is all part of some higher intelligence’s plan. You won’t be surprised that, when believers in synchronicity like me come out with statements like that, it sends scientific materialists into fits of apoplexy. And if you would like to read lots more statements along those lines, I highly recommend a book by Frank Joseph called Synchronicity and You.
The fourth element was divination. In my story above, the only example was my encounter with the I Ching. But before mentioning that, I would like at this point to introduce the topic of the Tarot.
Many people are sceptical of the possibility that a reading can be meaningful, and it is easy to understand why. Querents have a specific question, or want a general insight into their lives, but the cards are turned face down, so that when they pick they have no idea which cards they are choosing.
I have given Tarot readings, and believe in their reality, but rather than go into more of my autobiography in an attempt to convince you, I am going to ask you to temporarily suspend any scepticism you may have, and accept that readings are meaningful, often in very precise ways. So what are the implications of this? If a reading is indeed meaningful, there must be a hidden, unconscious intelligence which knows which cards are which, and guides the querent to choose the appropriate ones. The perhaps even more intriguing implication is that this hidden intelligence already knows the answer to the question, and is using the Tarot to bring this to the attention of the ego of the person concerned.
That is already interesting. However, it is more than just a question of choosing the right cards because each Tarot reader will have a different approach, may have a personal take on the meanings of some of the cards, and so on, so that their particular Tarot worldview has to be factored into the equation.
But it goes even further. I have a relation who is to an extent sympathetic to psychical and paranormal ideas. When I first took up the Tarot, I told her and offered her a reading. She declined, saying that there was something specific (which she confided in me), which she suspected, but that she did not want to be told.
So this was very interesting. She already had a sense of her inner truth (may I call that her destiny?), yet was resisting it. So I tried out an experiment. With the cards face down, whilst focussing inwardly on her name, I chose seven cards to create a spread called the Triangle. I then interpreted them exactly as I would have done if she were with me listening. So I had created a story of her life as presented by this reading, which included as a strong element the thing she told me she was resisting. When I met her the following Saturday, we sat down and after a couple of glasses of wine (which perhaps helped to loosen her tongue somewhat), she told me the same story.
So if all that is not “just” a coincidence, then it means that whatever force was guiding my hand had access to her psyche and her situation. Was it my hidden intelligence guiding my hand or hers?
Now to the I Ching, another type of divination. If you find my explanation of the Tarot hard to accept, then here, I’m afraid, it gets even worse. With the Tarot the querent chooses the cards, so it could be argued that there is some influence, albeit paranormal, of the unconscious mind. With the I Ching, however, the coins, according to the Western method, are thrown into the air and nevertheless fall in such a way as to produce a meaningful reading. That would seem to rule out the unconscious mind, and leaves us with the explanation of pure “chance”, however you understand that term.
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In my next section I’ll consider the response of scientists and sceptics to such ideas. Here is an interesting anecdote told by Colin Wilson, a writer sympathetic to the paranormal, taken from his book Afterlife. He had been researching some cases of poltergeists, with a view to writing a book. He then has a conversation with his publisher, who is highly sceptical. Quote: “He began to raise all the usual objections: inaccurate reporting, mischievous children, seismic disturbances, lying witnesses… I countered each objection by describing some other case in which it could not possibly apply, and he immediately thought up some new objections. After half an hour or so, I saw that nothing I could say would change his mind. As far as he was concerned, ghosts and poltergeists were a regrettable remnant of mediaeval superstition, and that was that… I had spent months studying hundreds of cases… And unless my friend could be persuaded to spend a few weeks studying the same cases, he would continue to believe that each one could be explained away as fraud or deception…”.
We can learn two important things from this anecdote. Firstly, Wilson had been investigating, examining evidence, actually doing research. His publisher, however, was dismissing the phenomena on theoretical grounds. This is a pattern which we will see repeated in our consideration of the critics’ response to the paranormal. They do not consider the possibility that there might be something wrong with their theory, despite apparently clear evidence to the contrary. Secondly, trying to convince a sceptic of the reality of the paranormal is like banging your head against a brick wall.
So now to the science. Before I begin I would like to make it absolutely clear that I am not in any way against science. I am totally in favour of it and admire it when it is conducted according to its proper ideal, namely the search for the understanding of the true nature of reality. I am critical of it, however, when:
a) Scientists break their own rules, the scientific method, or fiddle with it to suit their aims.
b) Scientists pass off their metaphysical beliefs, I would say prejudices, as science.
c) Scientists are oblivious to their own logical failings.
I hope it is obvious to you that science is not the same thing as naturalism; science is a search for knowledge, and naturalism is a philosophical position. That seems fairly clear and not difficult to appreciate. Yet you would not think so if you read certain scientists or philosophers, who think science is applied naturalism and can be nothing else. How about this quote: “The point of science is to expel miracles, to explain the world through natural law”. No, actually the point of science is to explore the truth of the universe, no matter what you might find. But, I might add, if that is your starting point, then it is not hard to work out what kind of explanations you will inevitably find. Also what evidence you are likely to reject.
Let’s have a look now at science and the scientific method, starting in general terms. The first problem relates to what I was just saying. In a sense scientists have no choice; they have to assume naturalism, and cannot allow paranormal elements into their thinking. But it is a huge unwarranted leap to say that because science wants and needs naturalism, it therefore becomes true.
Secondly, science tends to be conservative, sceptical, and rightly so. A popular statement is that “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. Agreed, but at least let us ask whether extreme sceptics are the best judges of what constitutes an extraordinary claim. Even without that reservation, there has to be a limit to this attitude. It may be useful in its correct context, but when taken to extremes it hinders the progress of true science, in that even potentially genuine evidence that challenges the current paradigm can be conveniently ignored.
Now for some more specific points within the scientific method. In order to obtain the required precision, science has developed a strict and elaborate protocol for the conducting of experiments, including rigorous controls and double-blind methods. There are also various requirements in the procedure, the most obvious and absolute one being replication of results.
Other ingredients, however, are not so essential, in that they are, or should be, merely useful tools or helpful guidelines. The first is the principle of falsification. If no one can devise an experiment to test the truth of a hypothesis, that is, if it cannot be falsified, then it is said to be a “non-scientific” question. The second is the need for a theory to make predictions, so that, if they come true, this obviously adds confirmatory weight to the hypothesis. Therefore, if science is to proceed satisfactorily, it is helpful to use these procedures. A third ingredient is the principle of Occam’s razor, which in modern language means that explanations, scientific or otherwise, should never be made more complicated than they need to be.
These tools and guidelines are fine, as far as they go. The problem begins when they are elevated to the status of universal laws. If a theory can neither be falsified nor make predictions, then it is said to fall outside the realm of science. The conclusions I draw from this are, firstly, that science is severely restricted, limited in its scope. Secondly, it does not mean that the theory is not true, but that is what the term “non-scientific” is often taken to mean.
In the case of Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation can become the explanation, even in the face of evidence suggesting something more complicated. It is not hard to work out what the simplest explanation will be in the eyes of materialists. The biologist Sydney Brenner refers humorously to the principle of Occam’s Broom, by which he means the use of Occam’s Razor by scientists to sweep inconvenient evidence under the carpet.
The next aspect of the scientific method to consider is the elimination of anecdotal evidence. Because science seeks absolute certainty, everyone can obviously understand why this has to be the case; we can cite the unreliability of witnesses, faulty perception, false memories, lying for whatever motive, and so on. But again there has to be a limit to this approach.
Let’s consider my wasp-sting experience. For me, in one incident which lasted let’s say ten to fifteen seconds, something happened which completely destroys one of materialistic science’s central dogmas, that the brain generates consciousness. If I analyse it from that perspective, it would go something like this:
I had never read this book before, but my brain knew its contents. My brain, obviously without my being aware, was able to monitor my consciousness, exactly where I was in the text and what I was about to read, and then implicitly criticise it for not noticing something. It was then instantaneously capable of producing strong pain, which is supposed to be caused by physical injury, or some internal problem, and then stopping it at will. This does not sound like any brain with which modern science is familiar, rather a hidden, helpful intelligence, which had access to my consciousness. You might call this the soul, the Higher Self, or a spirit-guide. Any of those seem a more likely explanation than the brain.
So I hope you can see why I am unimpressed by the beliefs of modern science. But, of course, this is only an anecdote, I might have made it all up, so science does not have to take it into consideration, and can safely ignore it.
I’ll now consider ways in which scientists fail to apply their own scientific method. This is supposed to work in one of two ways; either one begins from experimental data, then formulates a hypothesis, which is then tested. Or one formulates a theory, from which one makes predictions which can then be verified. If all this works out and a theory is accepted, then it is supposed to last until some kind of contradictory data or observations arrive, at which point the theory has to be reconsidered.
Two points can be made here. Firstly, the theory often becomes so engrained, that when contradictory evidence arrives, this is ignored and the original theory persists. Secondly, sceptics frequently say that they cannot accept ESP because there is no theoretical basis. That is to say, you have to understand the evidence before you can accept it. No, you collect the evidence and then try to formulate a theory to explain it. Materialist sceptics try this ruse because they are unwilling to contemplate the type of theory that such evidence would require.
Let us compare this with an example of how science is actually meant to work. These are the words of the early quantum physicist Werner Heisenberg: “I remember discussions with Bohr which went through many hours till very late at night and ended almost in despair; and when at the end of the discussion I went alone for a walk in the neighbouring park, I repeated to myself again and again the question: Can nature possibly be so absurd as it seemed to us in these atomic experiments?”
The answer, as it turned out, was, yes it can! Yet they had the courage to continue, they were brave enough to think through the implications of their results, and several decades later quantum mechanics was described as the most successful physical theory of all time.
So you can imagine where the world would stand now scientifically if Bohr and Heisenberg had adopted the attitude of the ESP sceptics, and said “we can’t understand these results, we have no theory to explain them, so let’s dismiss them”. Science does not move that quickly; it may take years to think through experimental data, and formulate new theories. We need to adopt the same attitude as Bohr and Heisenberg in relation to the study of psi and the paranormal, a complete re-evaluation or, if you prefer, revolution in the theory of psychology.
Interestingly, there is an echo of that conversation in the life of parapsychologist Dean Radin. He says: “One day, as I was complaining to a friend about the results of the experiments, I said, ‘I just can’t imagine how this can be!’ My friend calmly replied, ‘Well, it sounds like you’re limiting yourself’ ”.
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Materialist scientists are fond of giving the impression that believers in the paranormal, and religion of course, have some kind of psychological problem, the most common one being a desperate need for something more in their lives rather than facing the harsh reality of a godless, meaningless universe. This gives the impression that they are in the grip of an addiction or compulsion. The scientists of course have overcome this problem, and are part of a movement called “the Enlightenment”.
Thus they are trying to psychoanalyse the believer. I therefore thought that it would be interesting to turn this idea the other way round and psychoanalyse them, thus considering for a moment whether it is in fact the sceptics who have the problem. I’d like to begin this with three analogies:
My favourite story in the Bible is that of Elisha’s servant, found in the Second Book of Kings chapter 6. The situation is as follows. The king of Aram is at war with Israel, and makes various plans. Unfortunately for him Elisha seems to have ESP abilities, (shall we say clairvoyance?), and keeps warning the king of Israel about what the king of Aram is up to. Suspecting a traitor in his own ranks, he interrogates his officers, who tell him that there are no traitors, rather that “it is Elisha, the prophet in Israel, who tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber”. The king’s response is to send an elite force to surround the city where Elisha is staying. The next morning Elisha’s servant gets up, goes outside and sees the siege. Understandably perturbed, he calls out to him, “Oh no! Master! What will we do?” Elisha replies, “Stop being afraid, because there are more with us than with them!” Obviously the servant does not know what Elisha is talking about, so Elisha prays, asking the LORD, “Please make him able to really see!” And so when the LORD enabled the young man to see, he looked, and there was the mountain, filled with horses and fiery chariots surrounding Elisha!
What are we to make of this? It does not matter whether the incident ever happened historically, or is intended to be taken literally. The author wants us to understand that there are certain people who can live in, or tune in to, a different reality. Also that certain other people (the servant) can live in the “real” world, and be completely unaware of what is going on beneath the surface. In this instance, there is a paranormal reality lying behind his consciousness, to which he does not normally have access. It requires a divine, that is a paranormal intervention, in order for him to see it.
It is my hypothesis that modern materialist scientists can be compared to Elisha’s servant before the Lord’s intervention. They are completely unaware of, and have no reason to suspect what is actually going on all around them, albeit at a different level. And in passing, I note that in my own story above, I had the great good fortune to have the curtain between the worlds temporarily removed.
It is interesting in this context that the term clairvoyance means clear-seeing, seeing what is really going on. If I try to think of some figures to whom this level of vision might apply, the first that springs to mind is William Blake, whose art was inspired, contrary to what one might think, by actual experiences, not his imagination. The Blake expert Kathleen Raine says this: “Such visualizations seem to have come from some intermediate realm… peopled by shifting forms and images”. “There is the suggestion of an interpenetration of worlds or modes of consciousness”.
A second figure would be the psychologist Carl Jung. Those of you familiar with his autobiography will remember the figure Philemon who emerged from his unconscious, and became an adult version of young children having imaginary friends, who seem real to them. He says: “He was a mysterious figure to me. At times he seemed to me quite real, as if he were a living personality. I was walking up and down the garden with him.” Jung says that he gave him significant insights into the nature of the psyche, thus was a teacher for him.
So Blake and Jung seem to be in communication with a different level of reality; they see what others can’t see. Dare I compare them to Elisha How does the rest of the world react? A few years ago there was a Blake exhibition at Tate Britain. An invitation was given to the Association of British Science Writers to attend a special preview. Their first and frequently repeated question to the guide was, “Was Blake mad?” (I am grateful to my wife who was invited for this information.)
A friend of mine with psychotherapeutic interests, having read Memories, Dreams and Reflections, and some other material, told me “Jung was mad”.
Well, were Blake and Jung mad? Who was madder, Elisha or his servant? We are here back in the world of the schizophrenic and the mystic. These two brave men dared to speak out.
This brings me on to my second analogy. This is a story which Jung tells about a client of his who was a theologian. “He had a certain dream which was frequently repeated. He dreamt that he was standing on a slope from which he had a beautiful view of a low valley covered with dense woods. In the dream he knew that in the middle of the woods was a lake, and he also knew that hitherto something had always prevented him from going there. But this time he wanted to carry out his plan. As he approached the lake, the atmosphere grew uncanny, and suddenly a light gust of wind passed over the surface of the water, which rippled darkly. He awoke with a cry of terror”.
Jung discusses the dreamer’s reaction, concluding that he is happy to think of the Holy Ghost as something in the Bible, or at most on Sunday mornings as the subjects of sermons, but not as a phenomenon to be experienced. Thus the dreamer is being made aware of his terror of the reality of the spirit, a paranormal phenomenon. According to the dream, the paranormal force is real. We might say that he was unable to cope with Rudolf Otto’s numinous, the tremendous and fascinating mystery.
I propose to call this syndrome the pathological fear of the irrational, and I think a strong analogy can be made with modern sceptical scientists. Like the theologian, they too feel comfortable only in the ordered, logical world of the mind they choose to inhabit. They insulate themselves by denying that paranormal forces exist. In psychoanalytic language this is called a defence mechanism. I offer for your consideration some comments by our friend from earlier Elizabeth Mayer (she of the harp incident), a trained psychotherapist. She says: “The human psyche is organized to escape the experience of fear. We use a vast array of defenses to channel, transform, suppress, and regulate fear. When those defenses work best, they operate unconsciously. People cannot explain why they carry out behaviour which stems from workings of the unconscious mind. When they try, they often make up plausible but incorrect explanations.’
In my eyes, whatever the other undoubted merits of the scientific method, its misuse by sceptics in the ways I outlined above, without them even noticing what they are doing, reveals that in their hands it becomes a massive defence mechanism to protect themselves against their fear of the paranormal. Mayer says, referring to the same things I am talking about here: “Under an umbrella of fear, science acts like a deer in the headlights”. But the fear remains in the unconscious, what appears on the surface are the mental rationalisations.
We have just seen examples of rationalisations earlier when science writers thought that William Blake was mad. Again this would seem to be a defense-mechanism against considering the experiences as real. This protects them from the thought that similar experiences might be lurking in their own unconscious. In the words of Dean Radin “We do not perceive the world as it is, but as we wish it to be. Essentially, we construct… a world that is comfortable for our egos, that does not threaten our beliefs, and that is consistent, stable, and coherent”.
Put more simply, I have a good friend with whom I share some of my weird experiences. I once asked her how she would react if similar things started happening to her. She replied with refreshing honesty: “I would freak out”. That seems to say it all.
My third analogy is Plato’s famous allegory of the cave, taken from his book The Republic. Unfortunately, the text is far too long to quote in full here, but I encourage those of you not familiar with it to check it out later. This is a very brief summary of something very important.
Plato compares the human condition to prisoners in a cave chained so that they can only look straight ahead of them and cannot turn their heads. All they can see is a wall onto which are projected shadows of figures who are in reality standing behind them. Since that is all they have known, they take these shadows to be reality, and do not understand that what they are seeing is something emanating from elsewhere, a byproduct of a different level of reality.
I am sure you can see where I am coming from. The prisoners in the cave are just like the materialist scientists who mistake what they see for reality. They think that they are looking at matter, what they are looking at are shadows. There is more to say on this topic, but that will come later.
The point of my three analogies is to try to decide who can really see. In each one the persons failing to appreciate the paranormal reality are portrayed as having the inferior viewpoint. Materialist scientists claim their superiority over the spiritual, paranormal viewpoint. For me, they are more like Elisha’s servant than Elisha, they are the prisoners in Plato’s cave, and I therefore suggest to you that it is actually the other way round.
To return to the theologian’s dream, which I described as a pathological fear of the irrational. A symptom of this would be an over-compensation, an extreme overvaluation of the rational faculty, an elevation of it to something almost worthy of worship. I invite you for a moment to consider the figure of Richard Dawkins, (I’m sure you have some knowledge of him) and his Foundation for Science and Reason, both of which he worships religiously, beyond all reasonable limits.
The extreme overvaluation of reason was exactly the problem of the scarab woman. It needed a paranormal intervention to help her move on. In the Jungian view reason or thinking is just one of four functions which contribute to the totality of consciousness, the others being feeling, sensation, and intuition. The healthy individual is one who has a balance between them. Jungian analyst Jolande Jacobi says: “There is one main function which is as a rule congenital and is the most clearly differentiated… If a person avails himself all his life only of a single function, there is a danger of neurotic disturbances arising from the partial or complete repression of the other functions”. Can we recognize highly rational, sceptical scientists in this description?
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If ESP and the paranormal in theory are available to everyone, why do we not all access them more frequently? I’ll now attempt to address this question.
One possibility is that we have an innate ability, but simply grow out of this phase as part of the process of life. Now, whether you are sceptical or not about the Tarot cards as a tool for divination, one set of 22 cards within them, called the major arcana, have a separate function, and depict the course of an ideal life, from a spiritual point of view.
The second card in the series represents the phase in the womb, or possibly the moment just before birth, when the self is still whole, undifferentiated, remaining as close as possible to its source, the soul. And interestingly, this card is called the Magician. Might we say that when we are in close communication with the soul, then magical things are possible, that magic is our natural inheritance? The third card is called the High Priestess. It represents the phase when the baby does not yet experience itself as a separate entity, when it is still immersed in the interconnected, collective psyche.
So, if there is any truth in what I have just said, it would not be surprising if young children, only recently separated from the world of the High Priestess, were more likely to have magical ESP experiences. And there is some evidence of this. I refer you to Dr. Ernesto Spinelli’s work on telepathy in children. He noted that a decline set in about the age of eight.
William Wordsworth seemed to understand all this in his famous poem: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. (What an amazing title that is!) The beginning of stanza 5 spells it out with great clarity:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: the Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, hath had elsewhere its setting, and cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the growing boy
Stanza 1 is also interesting, if you should choose to read it later.
In this context, here are a few more observations:
So-called “primitive” tribes, with a less developed sense of individual identity, seem to have telepathic abilities.
It is interesting that in Plato’s allegory of the cave, he says “prisoners there since they were children”, not since birth.
Maurice Maeterlinck, attempting to explain his extraordinary observations in the world of termites, said: ‘It is more or less certain that we were formerly much nearer than we are today to this universal soul, with which our subconsciousness still remains in touch. Our intellect has divided us from it, divides us more and more every day’.
Wordsworth and these others seem to be suggesting that this loss is an inevitable, even if regrettable, process. This may be so, but it also seems true that to some extent we are educated out of it.
Researchers frequently say that children are especially proficient at ESP and metal-bending. Here is an example. The biologist Lyall Watson tells this story. “Last year, I was in my home village in Ireland, I was sorting through my things and found a video from a decade back of Yuri Geller bending a key in my company. I took this over to a neighbour’s house to show them, because they had asked to see something like it, and we sat and watched it on their television. It was just the sort of thing you’ve seen him do often enough. The difference on this occasion is that I had sitting with me on my knee my neighbour’s youngest daughter, a child of three of whom I’m very fond. We watched it together and afterwards, I simply pulled out my own large steel latch key and gave it to her. ‘You try,’ I said. By implying that this was something that everybody did, I gave her permission to do it. And she did. She simply stroked it like Geller had done and it flopped like limp spaghetti”.
He goes on to analyse what he thinks is happening: “The problem here is that I’ve seen this happen dozens of times, but I can’t do it. I know it is possible because I’ve seen it done, but there’s part of me that knows it is impossible, part of me that’s tied to my education that says that it can’t happen and as a result, I can’t do it. That little girl didn’t have my problem. No one had told her it was impossible. I had implied everybody did it by showing her someone doing it, and so she did it”.
So Watson didn’t manage to escape the shades of the prison-house. This life-stage appears in the fifth card in the Tarot sequence, called the Emperor, a father-figure, educator, a disciplinarian, the one responsible for teaching children how to live in the world. This is seen as a necessary phase, and could easily be the time when children begin to forget their magical beginnings. I suppose it depends on what the father-figure teaches them.
So we are faced with some interesting questions.
Is the phase of evolving consciousness with loss of psychic powers, shades of the prison-house, essential for the ego’s development and its sense of security, or can it be avoided? Is it in any way damaging to children to remain in contact with the early magical self? Could we in fact retain the sense of magic throughout our lives? Should we be playing ESP games in primary schools, in order to maintain children’s connection with that world? These are questions for professional psychologists, and unfortunately I don’t know the answers.
A further question is whether, once we are aware of this loss of our powers, we can do anything to regain them. My own experience was that a reconnection to the magic of childhood through ESP and the paranormal was a solution to my psychological problems, even though that was not something I was consciously striving for. This was not the problem, as claimed by sceptical scientists, desperate to free the adult psyche from the hangover of magical thinking.
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I’ll now address the question, what is the way forward? I have been describing the conflict as being between the paranormal and scientific materialism. It could just as easily be seen as the conflict between consciousness and matter as the primary reality, thus between the philosophical positions of idealism and materialism, or even atheism versus spirituality. A way out of this dilemma may be afforded by the quantum mechanics revolution.
It is noticeable that when physicists cite “inalienable laws of nature” as reasons to dismiss ESP, they invariably refer to laws from classical physics. One example would be Milton Rothman’s A Physicist’s Guide to Skepticism. I submitted some of his statements to a Cambridge professor of physics of my acquaintance. His reply was that they were “absolute nonsense”, and that the author had obviously no understanding of quantum physics.
Rothman claims that there are eternal, unviolable laws which rule out ESP, specifically the law of the conservation of energy. Yet quantum physicists have said that the law of conservation of energy can be transcended. And only eight years after Rothman’s book appeared, IBM physicist Rolf Landauer showed in an article in Science that, based on the ideas of quantum theory, there are no theoretical minimum energy requirements for transmitting a bit of information.
Does Rothman have a problem? It would seem to make sense, if you are going to be a sceptical materialist, that you should actually understand the nature of matter. The question of the ultimate building-blocks of matter has intrigued thinkers at least as far back as the ancient Greeks. Then, in the early twentieth century, technology developed to the point where a successful conclusion to the problem seemed possible. Having studied their results, the early quantum physicists moved decisively into an idealist (anti-materialist) position.
The most famous quote, which encapsulates the whole idea perfectly, comes from Sir James Jeans: “the universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine”. The whole paragraph from which that is taken is extremely interesting, but time considerations prevail, so tonight that decisive statement will have to stand alone. However, for an insight into how the new ideas revolutionised early quantum physicists’ thinking, I recommend also the works of Sir Arthur Eddington, especially The Nature of the Physical World. We are back in the world of Plato, and his allegory of the cave. Jeans actually uses it as the epigram to his book, and Eddington alludes to it continually.
It is not clear, to me at least, what, if anything, has happened since the 1920s to change this viewpoint, yet much science continues to operate from a materialistic perspective. Is it reasonable to think that the implications of the quantum revolution, like the phenomenon of superorganisms discussed earlier, have been swept under the carpet, especially by neuroscientists and biologists, because of their “fear of the psychological and the metaphysical”, to use Wheeler’s phrase again? Perhaps, if they are insulated inside their own subjects, they are not even aware of them.
We should also note, firstly, that quantum physicists tend not to have problems with accepting ESP and the paranormal. This is the moment to refer you back to my introduction, when I asked you to consider who might say: “Unexplainable, psychic, parapsychological phenomena bombard our universe”. I took that from a book called Spacetime and Beyond by two quantum physicists, Fred Alan Wolf and Bob Toben.
Secondly, quantum physicists accept principles at least as weird as psi, which are leading us in the direction of the paranormal. An example would be Mach’s Principle, which the rationalist philosopher Bertrand Russell said “savours of astrology”.
Thirdly, since the quantum revolution, physicists have suddenly become very interested in the problem of the nature of consciousness.
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I’ll conclude by briefly summarising my main points.
Firstly the paranormal is real, and is a pointer to other levels of reality apart from the material.
Secondly, such ideas completely undermine the dominant paradigm of modern science, materialism, specifically the claim that the brain generates consciousness, in that experiences of dreams, synchronicity, and of divination suggest that there are hidden, superior intelligences guiding the process which could not be the brain. And further, the claim that the universe is purposeless and therefore devoid of meaning. The experiences I have mentioned suggest that there is meaning in our lives. If that is true, then there is meaning in the universe.
Thirdly, the reality of the paranormal, including ESP, is not disproved by materialistic science or the scientific method. Sceptics often claim that experiments in these fields are not replicated in studies. This has become a mantra for them; it may give them some false comfort, but is actually not true. But even if it were true that would, in my opinion, be a problem for science, not for ESP. A suitable analogy would be that of mercury, also known as quicksilver. Perhaps some of you remember school physics lessons involving mercury, touching it and it spontaneously jumps, is thus very hard to pin down. It seems no coincidence that in alchemy the elusive psychic substance is mercury.
How appropriate this is to psi research! Some words of the physicist Freeman Dyson are relevant. Writing in the foreward to Elizabeth Mayer’s book, he says: “My own position (is) that ESP is real, as the anecdotal evidence suggests, but cannot be tested with the clumsy tools of science”. Therefore “one must believe that the scope of science is limited”. “A working hypothesis (is) that ESP is real but belongs to a mental universe that is too fluid and evanescent to fit within the rigid protocols of controlled scientific testing”.
Fourthly, the mind and its excessive love of rationality is a problem. The mind is not the same thing as consciousness. The rational mind can imprison consciousness. What is needed are experiences which blow the mind, thus allowing consciousness to free itself.
Fifthly, if scientists think that the laws of physics somehow forbid ESP, then the reality of ESP proves that any laws of the psyche, if there are any, must be different from the laws of classical physics, i.e. matter. This is further evidence that consciousness, and the psyche are not produced by the brain.
In the light of all this, it is reasonable to ask what the way forward is for science. Here are some suggestions:
Science needs to step back, become less arrogant, to stop insisting that it alone can provide the answers. Humans have a longing to know, to understand. Scientists have to realise, paradoxically, that they will never understand the true nature of reality if they adhere strictly to the scientific method. One obviously beneficial move in this direction would be to be more accepting of the accumulation of strong circumstantial, anecdotal evidence.
Secondly, rather than a war between science and religion, let us consider whether we can reunify them, create a synthesis of the best of both. Einstein, put this somewhat pithily: “Religion without science is limp, science without religion is blind”. The paranormal approaches from the side of religion, quantum physics approaches from the side of science. Quantum physics states explicitly the interconnectedness of all things suggested by synchronicities and ESP. These two cutting-edge topics shine a torch that may help us to move forward.
If we go in the direction of reunification, then science would have to change its hubristic attitude. The strict rules of the scientific method necessarily leave out a sizeable chunk of reality, which means that science is of limited applicability. Also it sees progress in linear terms. It thinks that it has helped human consciousness to emerge from magical thinking, a mythological, religious world-view. This is an assumption, which allows them to think that progress has been made and they are the prophets of a new age.
Spiritually inclined people tend to see the evolution of human consciousness as a line, yes, but not a straight one; progress occurs as a spiral, ascending but circular. In this model, old ways of thinking return but at a higher level, having gone through periods when other ways have dominated. Thus we need to free ourselves from the prison (remember Wordsworth) of materialistic science, and return to magical thinking, an irrational, spiritual world-view, but with all the benefits that have accrued from the advances in science and the development of our rational faculties. An acceptance of and involvement with ESP and the paranormal is an obvious tool to help us in that direction.
At the time the word “Enlightenment” probably seemed like a good one to describe scientific progress as a way out of ridiculous superstitions and popular naivety and gullibility. It expressed the optimism that was necessary to move forward at the time. With hindsight, given where materialistic science has taken us, this choice now seems something of a sick joke. Not so much enlightenment, rather an ugly black cloud blotting out the sun. In the light of quantum physics, pre-Enlightenment philosophy seems closer to the truth. The phrase “babies and bathwater” also comes to mind.
To return to the theme of my introduction, ESP may be a stepping-stone to experiencing ourselves as part of a superorganism. Each of us is a whole and a part. At any moment we can emphasise either the self-assertive or the integrative tendency. Both are true, but by accepting only the first, materialistic science holds us back, is therefore denying one aspect of what it is to be human, and is an obstacle to spiritual evolution.
Quantum mechanics, the best physics available, emphasises the second aspect. It also offers potential theories for the explanation of synchronicity. Synchronicistic events suggest that we are unconciously participating in a meaningful process way beyond our comprehension, but important in the context of transforming humanity. Peter Russell and others think that as we progress towards the global superorganism, then synchronicities will become more common. Synchronistic events are therefore evidence that this process is taking place. Elizabeth Mayer, a former “skeptical, highly trained scientific professional” asks the question: “Might we be capable of a connectedness with other people and every other aspect of our material world so profound that it breaks all the rules of nature as we know it?”
In surveys, up to 70% of the public admit to belief in ESP and the paranormal. This belief is presumably based on personal experience. Is it possible that the public know better than the scientists?
I referred briefly earlier to so-called “primitive” tribes’ ESP abilities. They also often have a highly developed spirituality, a sophisticated appreciation of psychology, and thus, I would say, a better understanding of reality than modern science.
And what about people from the world of the arts? I have already mentioned Blake and Wordsworth. Other figures worthy of mention are T. S. Eliot, and a couple of my personal favourites, the artist René Magritte, and the film-maker David Lynch, both of whom, so it seems to me, like the early quantum physicists, are heavily influenced by Platonic thinking.
So I am being only slightly facetious if I say that just about anybody has a better understanding of the nature of reality than materialistic scientists, and that search is supposedly their job. This includes even highly intelligent Nobel prize winners like Francis Crick, who, blinded by his preconceived beliefs, doggedly strives to maintain materialism, including its central dogma that the brain generates consciousness. He opens a book on his “scientific search for the soul” with these words: “The Astonishing Hypothesis (the title) is that ‘You’, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules… This hypothesis is so alien to the ideas of most people alive today that it can truly be called astonishing”. Indeed it can Francis. The most astonishing thing is that you could possibly believe it. But that is where a passionate faith in the religion of scientific materialism will take you. Is it just possible that all the ordinary people he refers to might actually be right?
I hope that I have given you enough paranormal evidence tonight to suggest that his thinking is wildly off the mark. But if not, in conclusion I offer you the words of Sir Alister Hardy, former Professor of Zoology at Oxford. Discussing the view that consciousness itself is no more than an illusory by-product of an entirely mechanistic system, he says: “I maintain that there is no reasonable support for the latter view and that to proclaim it as a part of well-established science is not only an unwarranted assumption or dogma but is a misrepresentation of the nature of life and of man, and so a danger to our civilization”. I’ll leave you to contemplate for yourselves exactly what he means by that, but in my opinion, that is ultimately why belief in the ESP and the paranormal is so important.