Dr. Charles T. Tart on July 2nd, 2017

Finally, with the hardback edition of The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together out of print, I’ve arranged for a somewhat revised paperback second edition, The Secret Science of the Soul: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together.  It can be pre-ordered now on the Fearless Books website, soon direct from Amazon.

Some of my more uptight scientist colleagues may try to take my white lab coat away for daring to use the word “soul” along side of “science,” but what the heck…    ;-)

I’m also going to be interviewed on altered states, science, spirituality, parapsychology, all that good stuff on Thursday night, 10pm to midnight July 6, 2071, on the Coast-to-Coast AM radio program.  Should be fun!  I know, it’s after my bedtime and maybe yours, but I think they make a recording of the program available for a while after – check their website

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Dr. Charles T. Tart on June 14th, 2017

And now for something totally different than all this stuff about consciousness, spirit, science, altered states, etc…

A few of days ago I was finished with one task, not quite ready to start the next, how could I entertain myself for a few minutes?  I had brought back an unread Tom Clancy thriller from the library, but it was a huge book and I needed a big block of time to get properly started on it.  Ah, there was a book of my wife’s, Generous Fruits, A Survey of American Homesteading, written by her sister, Barbara Bamberger Scott, on the table.  Homesteading in America?  I didn’t think that topic would be very interesting to me, although Barbara’s a good writer, but it would do to pass the time for a few minutes, and it would satisfy my brother-in-lawly duty to take a look at it.

I can’t believe how fascinated I’ve become!  It amazes me at a deep level, as it’s not just interesting facts about pioneers and homesteaders, it’s about the depths of my own personality: I am an American, and that’s great!  (Although we have a lot to be ashamed of too, like the way the government set up homesteading to help pacify and wipe out the Native Americans…)

At an ordinary level, I’ve been something of a pioneer in opening up psychological ways of understanding altered states of consciousness, but my fascination is not just in ordinary time, present time.  My roots for, as it were, liking to learn the lay of the land, blazing new trails (or at least trying to), helping others to settle these new territories of the mind are my rich inheritance from the pioneers who created our nation.  I’m supposed to be a sophisticated intellectual, but as I read, I want to find a flag to salute!  What those pioneers and homesteaders did was so obviously sensible and right under difficult circumstances…and…my goodness, that’s me!

And “me” is part of a great American “we!”  Yes, yes, we’ve made and keep making  lots of mistakes, but we’ve moved so far toward freedom and creating a way to a good life for so many!  At a personal level, e.g., my maternal grandfather emigrating from Germany as a young man before he would have been drafted to fight in the innumerable bloody wars between various German states – much “fun,” I suppose, for the princes who ruled, not much “fun” for the maimed and dead soldiers…

I want to get back to reading on in Generous Fruits !  The only critical thing I’ve thought of so far for the book is that I hope a big, coffee-table edition comes out soon, with pictures!  We’ve got enough to worry about it today’s world, let’s really share the pride of what we can accomplish and keep pioneering and homesteading!

 

 

 

 

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Dr. Charles T. Tart on May 4th, 2017

Bias and Mind: Detecting It, Working With It, Transcendent Mind

Charles T. Tart

Copyright © 2017 Charles T. Tart

While eating my breakfast this morning, I was reading an excellent new book on expanding the frontiers of science to include the mind, rather than materialistically explain it away.  It’s Transcendent Mind: Rethinking the Science of Consciousness,  by Imants Barušs and Julia Mossbridge.  While I haven’t read enough of it to give it a full review, I want to at least plug it here.  The reason I’m writing this right now is that was prompted by its connection to an interesting event that happened to me Tuesday afternoon.

My wife and I have been attending an eight week class on MBSR, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.  I’ve been curious to see how ancient spiritual and meditation techniques have been adapted to modern culture – and seeing it’s been done very well!  This was the seventh class, and the instructor began it by having us sit quietly and simply noticing where we were sitting in the meeting room, what the room looked like from where we sat, and how we felt.  After encouraging us to do this for a couple of minutes, he suggested that rather than continuing to sit in the place we were in, which might well be the usual place we sat in every class, we might switch to another chair.

Having taught various forms of mindfulness myself (and still doing so occasionally at GlideWing.com), I thought this was an excellent exercise: a slight amount of stress introduced in the context of mindfulness can be very growthful.  I’ve been on many meditation retreats and noticed, with some “superior” amusement, that people get incredibly territorial about exactly where they sit.  They either have their designated spot to sit on cushions on the floor or their special chair to receive teachings and meditate.  I put superior in quotes because I know my attitude is a distorting remnant of childhood conditioning and try to not let it catch me in life.

When we were asked to move, I had already picked a more comfortable looking chair across the circle of students, a chair I’d always wanted to try and which was then empty.  But as I started toward it, I noticed one of the women in the class was also making toward it.  I sped up!  I’d like to say that I quickly and consciously accepted the fact that I preferred to sit in that chair and consciously decided to speed up, but the speeding up actually occurred slightly before my conscious mind had gotten to the point of thinking about it!  Some other part of me, a very basic, bodily part of my nature had decided on a goal and was going for it!  Like a robot or a self-driving car, programmed that if A is sensed, B should be done…

Alas, she got to that chair and started sitting down before I could get there quickly enough to politely precede her.  Instantly, in terms of my conscious experience, though, I saw there was a similar style chair just outside the circle, in back of her, and quickly pulled it over and into the circle so I could sit there.  It was, as I had hoped, more comfortable, and besides trying to be mindful – that’s the point of the class! – I felt mildly satisfied, it was a good approximation to my desired chair.

As we listened to the instructor giving us more suggestions on noticing and reflecting on our sensations and feelings, I looked toward the chair I had started from.  This was another chair I had deliberately picked as more comfortable than many others that were in the room, at least for the way I sit, and I had left my jacket hanging on it.  I think a part of me was deliberately deciding to “mark my territory,” without much conscious involvement in deciding to do this!  No one had sat in my chair, though, and I noticed that, at a bodily level, I was also pleased that my chair had been left alone.

When the instructor asked us to switch chairs once again, I went straight for my original chair and was pleased to get back in it.  Then I thought about these observations of aspects of me other than my conscious mind making decisions and initiating actions…

This is an example of personal growth, manifesting in my ordinary life.  I’m not very advanced as a meditator, but Gurdjieff work on mindfulness in life has been very helpful to me, and I eventually wrote three books (Waking Up: Overcoming the Obstacles to Human PotentialLiving the Mindful Life, and Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People) bringing that kind of mindfulness practice and modern psychology together, primarily on a personal practice level.  I don’t hold any extreme views of the sort that the Ancient Masters knew all Truth and we must believe whatever they are supposed to have said or, at the other extreme, only answers blessed by mainstream Science have any real value.  Done properly, which we have little knowledge yet of how to do, both science and spirituality can enrich each other’s knowledge and effectiveness.

How to help the best of science and the best of spirituality enrich and help each other?  One way I’ve thought a lot about concerns problems of unrecognized preferences and biases, hopes and fears, personal and cultural distortions,  distorting and limiting the process of science as well as personal functioning.  So I’m honored and pleased that Barušs and Mossbridges’ Transcendent Mind  found that one of my examples of discovering, working with, and largely transcending personal and cultural bias has been helpful in advancing science.  This is perhaps discovering a way ESP may use a known information processing strategy to be more accurate.  Until I can find time to write a proper review of the whole of Transcendent Mind, the following quotes constitute a specialized review of the book, but I strongly recommend it to anyone involved with science or deeply interested in the nature of mind.

Barušs and Mossbridge write: “But not all biases lead to scientific disaster, as long as they are discovered in time.  In The End of Materialism, Charles Tart (2009)  described how he thought a nonconscious bias against precognition ironically allowed him to uncover data in support of precognition.  He was confronted with the reality of this bias while examining data from one of his telepathy experiments.  In this experiment, a “sender” sat in front of an array of 10 lights.  A random- number generator would determine which of the 10 lights would be lit next, and once that light was illumined, the sender attempted to communicate the appropriate target light to a “receiver” who indicated on a similarly arranged panel of 10 switches which light she thought had been lit.  The data supported Tart’s hypothesis in that the suggested telepathy had occurred.  Tart could have stopped there, but he recognized that other researchers had analyzed telepathy trials for precognitive telepathy by comparing the correct response for each trial (e.g., Trial 2) with the response given on the previous trial (e.g., Trial 1).  He analyzed the data in this way to look for precognitive telepathy, even though he assumed he was just being thorough.  To his surprise, he found a statistically significant effect.”

“Tart (2009) reflected that finding this precognitive effect is what made him aware of his bias against precognition, a bias that surprised him because he thought he believed the existing precognition data from other laborato­ries.  “My bias is that at some deep level, I find the idea of precognition .  .  .  so incomprehensible that I just never think about precognition in a serious way” (Tart, 2009, p. 136).  He suspected that the reason he was able to do the analysis that led to seeing the evidence for precognitive telepathy in his data was because he found precognition so absurd that it did not threaten him.  “In a sense I hadn’t ‘rejected’ or ‘defended against’ the idea of precognition; the very idea was so nonsensical to me at a deep level that I hadn’t needed to actively reject or defend against it” (Tart, 2009, pp.  136-137).”

“But Tart has recognized this bias in time.  If he had not, he could have easily dismissed his newfound evidence for precognitive telepathy a bit later, when he discovered that what he had assumed was a random series of light patterns instead was not in fact random.  It turned out that the particular sequence of lights he used could have been responsible for what seemed to be a precognitive telepathy effect, because after a particular light was lit, it was not likely to be lit again.  This was a flaw in the randomization, and it happened to match a tendency in the participants to not choose the same light twice.”

“It would have been easy for Tart to assume that the precognitive telepathy results were due to the correspondence between the nonrandom sequence and the participants’ responses.  However, Tart thought critically about the situ­ation, realizing that if the errant randomization had been to blame, then he could simulate the randomizatio
n error and calculate whether the results could be explained fully by it.  He found that the patterns created by the randomiza­tion error and the participants’ responses could explain some, but nowhere near all, of the precognitive telepathy effect.  So, even if Tart is correct in assuming that the depth of his bias is what allowed him to do the analysis in the first place, the data were eventually correctly interpreted only because Tart care­fully observed his own subjective state and used critical thinking to counter his own bias!”

The information sharpening process I theorized was at work in my ESP data, which I named transtemporal inhibition, might be a key to how psychic processes like ESP work.  I say “theorized,” as it will take a lot of research by other scientists (I’m retired from active research projects now) to test in order to see whether I “theorized” about it in an interesting way but it didn’t work out or I “discovered” it…  More on transtemporal inhibition can be found at a recent publication about it in the Journal of Scientific Exploration (Spring 2017, pp. 29-48) will inspire research.

Barušs and Mossbridge note that:  “Introspection is a critical path toward identifying our biases, and intro­spection is one of the processes that occurs during some forms of meditation.  For many Western scientists and clinicians, the benefit of meditation has been taken seriously as a research topic only in the past 2 decades…”

I would amplify “introspection” not just in the usual Western sense of thinking about something but developing some skill in the disciplined observation of internal experience, as introduced in MBSR work or in the earlier Buddhist Vipassana meditation tradition…

This is the end of this note, but hopefully just a step in a continuing process where we understand our minds much better and apply that understanding for betterment…and as much transcendence as possible…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dr. Charles T. Tart on April 24th, 2017

Suppressing the Future to Use ESP in the Present

Charles T. Tart

Some years ago I was amazed to discover unexpected and massive amounts of a particular kind of ESP, precognition, in an analysis of experiments designed to see if people could be trained to use ESP more effectively in a telepathic kind of situation.  I was amazed because while intellectually I accepted the existence of precognition, predicting the future with ESP when there was no way of inferring it correctly from knowledge of the present, the whole idea of getting information from the future made no real sense at all to me!  I have, in many ways, an old-fashioned mind and live in a Newtonian universe.  Time and space are there, the time is now, the past is over and gone, the future does not yet exist!  And yet, here were the data, way too strong to try to explain away.

Transferring Into Enlightenment John Forest Bamberger

Compounding my confusion, it was precognitive missing, i.e. scores were way below chance.

If you were asked to guess red or black on a deck of face-down ordinary playing cards with no trial-by-trial feedback on correctness, and you called all 52 cards correctly, you don’t need a statistician to tell you this is enormously improbable.   (By chance, once in 552 times, probability about 2×10-26).  You should get about half your calls right each time by chance.  But suppose you got none right?  That’s just as improbable.  Psi-missing, as it’s been named, occurs under some experimental conditions, and no one has ever thought of a hypothesis to explain it other than that some unconscious part of the mind knows by GESP, on a particular trial, what the correct target is and inhibits the conscious mind from calling that.

The discipline of science requires that data, what you’ve actually found, is far more important than what you think about it, what you think is possible or impossible, so you have to work with the data.  So I eventually created an unusual idea, viz. that the “now” of some part of the mind, the part that can use ESP, was wider than the “now” of our ordinary mind.  When I look to see what is on my work table with my ordinary eyes, I see just what is there right now.  But if that part of my mind looks, it will “see” not only what is there now, but what has been there recently and what will soon be there…

If my goal is to use ESP to determine what’s on my work table now, though, that information about the immediate past and the immediate future is noise, it’s informatio
n that may mislead me.  I can do better using ESP the way I want to, about what’s there now, by suppressing that immediate past and future psychic information so it’s less likely to confuse me…  This led to my theory of trans-temporal inhibition as an information processing strategy for ESP…

Hardly had I finished formulating the theory when, as is typical in my life, I was diverted to working with many other fascinating phenomena (like remote viewing), and although I had published my findings no one really worked with them.  Indeed it would be hard to work with them as the level of ESP in most parapsychological experiments was quite low, just above the noise level, and TTI was lower in size and so harder to detect.  I had gotten quite high levels of ESP in my studies.

In the current issue of the Journal of Scientific Exploration, the Editor, philosopher and parapsychologist Steve Braude, wrote an editorial about trans-temporal inhibition to revive interest in it.  You can read his editorial at

http://www.scientificexploration.org/docs/31/jse_31_1_Editorial.pdf

He gave me an advance peek and a chance to elaborate on what it was all about, which you can read in the same issue at

http://www.scientificexploration.org/docs/31/jse_31_1_Tart.pdf

Incidentally if you want to stay informed on hot issues at the frontiers of science, I strongly recommend this journal!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dr. Charles T. Tart on April 6th, 2017

 

What Meditation/Mindfulness Does for Me – Quiet Stuff – Part 1

Charles T. Tart

“Subtle is significant” – Shinzen Young

Recently a meditation teacher colleague of mine asked me what practicing meditation did for me.  Uncharacteristically, I was at a loss for words.  Since I’m not a masochist, and I spend 15 to 30 or more minutes most days practicing some kind of meditation, it must be doing something for me that I value.  Continuing to think about it, I think it does a variety of things but they are “quiet” sorts of things.  I think there may be some people trying meditation and mindfulness in its various forms who may think, as I too often did, that I wasn’t getting anywhere with this mindfulness stuff, so I will occasionally write about the quieter effects, to share what I’ve learned and perhaps to encourage some of you.

When I first heard about meditation many years ago, I formed the expectation that it should do incredible things.  This seemed a reasonable expectation, as descriptions of meditation and similar spiritual practices often talk of wonderful outcomes.  In my reality, though, not much of anything happened when I tried to meditate.  But I figured I was new at it and didn’t really know how to proceed.  Reinforcing this feeling that I wasn’t getting anywhere with meditation, I received the gift of a variety of a psychedelically induced experiences in a psychiatrist’s studies while in graduate school, so I knew what incredible, mind-blowing experiences were like.  I also got a lot of valuable insights and demonstrations  into how my mind worked, which were very useful all through my career.  Wasn’t that what meditation was supposed to do, give deep insight into Truth?

Many years of trying various forms of meditation followed, without much result.  I then tried the Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation, as it was billed as working for anyone.  The results were interesting, (see A Psychologists Experience with Transcendental Meditation) but certainly didn’t produce any fantastic experiences for me, and by the mid-70s I had pretty much given up attempting to practice meditation.  It struck me that it must require a  special talent which some people, like me, didn’t have.

Quiet Change:

On the other hand practicing increased mindfulness in life, along the lines that G. I. Gurdjieff taught, was very rewarding, and I’ve written about its effects and relations to other psychological understandings in several books (Waking Up, Living the Mindful Life, and Mind Science).  The application of Gurdjieffian mindfulness in everyday life, as I understand it, became my chief growth practice, and is still central today.  I’ve also noticed that in half a century of practicing mindfulness in life and eventually a fair amount of various forms of formal meditation, I have changed a lot, but, by and large, it’s quiet change.  I can’t say “I sit down to meditate and have these great experiences,” but once in a while I notice that there was this stupid thing I used to automatically do, with appropriate thoughts, emotions, actions and consequences, and, gosh, I haven’t done it in years!  It just quietly fell away.  So I’m going to take a look at some of this quieter stuff, this more subtle change, and, if it looks interesting, share it, both as a possible contribution to generally understanding meditation and mindfulness and, as I mentioned above, perhaps as an encouragement to other people who are still waiting for fantastic things to happen as they practice, but are perhaps getting impatient and discouraged.

Level of Arousal:

One of the things various forms of meditation –

Besides trying to be more mindful in everyday life, I generally do a form of vipassana (“insight” meditation) each day that I learned from Shinzen Young.  There are a variety of ways to practice this, my favorite is focusing on observing flow and change, and gently trying to do so with concentration, clarity and equanimity.  When I have some success at this, even for just a few moments, it drops my level of ongoing mental activity/arousal and physical tension.  I’d like to say it can drop to zero, even if only for a moment, but it’s pretty rare to hit zero.  But it can drop it to a much lower level than I habitually carry through my busy days.

Something I’ve noticed in bringing mindfulness into my everyday life over the years is that when something stimulating or stressful comes along, how much it affects me depends on my level of physical and mental tension at the time it happens.  If I’m pretty relaxed, the stimulus might not have much effect, I wouldn’t even call it a stressor.  If I’m already fairly stressed or tensed, though, it has a much stronger and usually negative effect.  The arousal effect tends to last and only go down slowly, so the next time a stressor comes along it will have even more effects.  I’ll sketch that common, everyday life process in the diagram below.

Starting in the lower left of the chart, something of a certain intensity happens that I sense, represented by the downward pointing arrows.  If I’m calm when it happens we can think of it simply as a stimulus, but if it’s inherently threatening and/or I’m already in an aroused and defensive state, we could often more accurately call it a stressor.  For simplicity, I’ll call all the stimulating events  stressors from now on.

Then there’s a reaction – sensorially, mentally , emotionally, bodily – to the stressor, represented by the upward pointing arrows, with the size of the arrow representing the strength of the reaction.  That results in raising my overall level of activation, represented by the wiggly line.

So with the first stressor there’s a quick reaction – possibly tightening of muscles, tuning my senses for clearer perception, stress hormone release, mental analysis, wondering whether it is dangerous, possibly bodily preparation for fight or flight.  But nothing else happens right away in this case, so I start to calm down.  Calming down usually takes a while compared to the immediate response to a stressor.  But by the time the next stressor occurs, my initial overall tension level is higher than it was before, so I tend to react more strongly to the second stressor, even though it’s the same intensity, than if it hadn’t been preceded by something that already alerted or stressed me to begin with.  My overall activation/arousal level goes up.

Our bodies and minds have a natural, built-in tendency to calm down when our world gets calmer, but calming down generally takes longer than a quick reaction to a stressor.  So as you see in the chart, the third stressor is perceived when I am at a higher level of activation and produces an even greater reactive response.  After a few of these stressors, I am way over-reacting and I am considerably mentally-emotionally-physically tense.

So if I can take even a moment to come to the present, the here-and-now, even better several seconds or more of being more in the here-and-now, there’s a relatively automatic relaxation of mental tension and physical tension.  When I become consciously aware, of my body state, which is the usual immediate consequence of trying to be more here-and-now, and I notice I’m being uselessly tense about something, I automatically relaxed.  It’s a silly and useless thing to be unnecessarily tense.

As a concrete example, I had a traumatic history with dental work as a kid and still haven’t completely worked it through.  So sometimes my dentist (who is a very nice person!) is working on me and I’ll notice that my arms are tense, almost making fists!  But that doesn’t accomplish anything, so I consciously I relax them – but half a minute later I may notice I’m doing it again! But when I’m lost in mental processes (that’s what “ordinary mind” is a great deal of the time, being absorbed, lost in ongoing mental/emotional processes), I may not be aware of what a level of tension I’m carrying along, and it has its consequences.

So let me see if I can sketch what happens to my mental/emotional/physical tension level if I’m present for even a moment every once in a while.

Suppose I’m doing a formal sitting meditation, like vipassana on bodily flow sensations, or staying pretty here and now in life situations by keeping some of my voluntary attention monitoring body sensations, a Gurdjieffian approach.  Left alone, that means I am generally pretty calm.  There are little fluctuations occasionally, even with a pretty quiet meditation I can suddenly remember I forgot to make an important phone call, for example, should I stop meditating and make it, should  I just calm down and make it later, etc.  But by and large I am calm, aware of my current environment and body, not striving to do anything in particular.  If asked what happened in my meditation, it would be straightforward for me to answer, “Nothing much, really.”  Compared to the usual frantic state of my “ordinary mind,” though, I’m doing a lot!

The next chart shows what happens when various stressors come along while I’m being more mindful, more present. 

 

The clear difference is that my reactions to various stimuli is such that they really aren’t the usual “stressors,” my reaction/perception stays pretty much appropriate to the intensity of the stimulus.  And I’m not accumulating arousal and stress that  increases my reactivity, so at the end of this time period I’m still pretty focused,  calm, and equanimous, rather than stressed out and over reactive.

That’s quite an accomplishment when I can also respond when asked about my meditation-mindfulness session, “Nothing special happened.”

I think almost all of us can learn at least this much “skill” in meditation-mindfulness, so it’s worthwhile to keep practicing…

I plan to write more about these quiet aspects of mindfulness and meditation.

 

 

 

 

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Brief Review of Phenomena:  The Secret History of the U. S. Government’s Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis

Charles T. Tart

In the last part of March, 2017, colleagues on discussion lists for scientific studies of parapsychological phenomena began discussing the forthcoming publication of Annie Jacobsen’s new book, Phenomena:  The Secret History of the U. S. Government’s Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis.  Expectations were high, as the jacket of Phenomena  bills it as “The definitive history of the military’s decades-long investigation into mental powers and phenomena.”  Knowing a lot about this important area, since I spent a year as a consultant on the Stanford Research Institute’s (SRI’s) original program on remote viewing, as well as having done many independent studies of parapsychological phenomena and related areas like altered states of consciousness (ASCs) and transpersonal psychology, I was very interested.  But, alas, my colleagues’ main comments were about important distortions of the history in the book.

Annie Jacobsen’s name rang a bell, and I recalled she did a pleasant interview  with me a few years ago, although it was mainly about my work with ASCs, rather than parapsychology.  She kindly sent me a copy of Phenomena, though apologizing for using so little of that material and only mentioning me twice in the Phenomena book.

So I’ve begun reading with great interest, but caution, and my comments here are specific to what I’ve read.  Jacobsen’s an excellent writer.  The text flows nicely and I easily get caught up in the story lines.  But a “DEFINITIVE HISTORY” requires more than a smooth flow, it requires rigorous factuality.  So I’ve concentrated here on her mentions of me and my work, and, I’m sad to say, have had to question the “definitive history” categorization.   Perhaps there will be a second edition incorporating fact checking.

Her first mention of me, a small point, notes, largely in passing, my attendance at a conference on human energy fields where Andrija Puharich described some of his research, and notes “Also present at the conference were several of Puharich’s former colleagues from the Round Table Foundation, including Arthur Young and Charles T. Tart.”  Puharich is a controversial figure in scientific parapsychological research, although I believe some of his early research was very important.  Describing me as a “colleague” from Puharich’s Round Table Foundation research is a small departure from factuality that perhaps honors me t

Andrija Puharich + unknown person in background

oo much, I was just a college sophomore then.  Under most circumstances, I would not bother to point this out, but it’s that “definitive” adjective pushing on me.

I worked for Puharich as a research assistant for the summer of 1957, between my sophomore year as an MIT student and transferring to Duke University as a junior.  Duke was where J. B. Rhine’s laboratory was located, and I chose it because of my interests in parapsychology.  On the other hand, I am the only parapsychologist I know of who independently carried out a high quality, double-blind scientific study of one of Puharich’s basic discoveries, confirming that the electrical condition of a Faraday cage could enhance ESP ability.

But the second mention is seriously distorted, creating wrong impressions of what happened.  Jacobsen had a huge task trying to capture half a century of research, much of it classified, but I regret Phenomena’s publisher (Little Brown and Company) didn’t fact check the manuscript before publishing if they were going to use that word “definitive” to describe it.  I’ve had better fact checking done by the National Enquirer on a story they did on my ESP research years ago.  Jacobsen writes:

“As head of the Electro-Optic Threat Assessment section, Graff was also involved in an array of brainstorming ideas, designed to beat  the MX missile basing system as part of an official Air Force vulnerability assessment team.  He wondered whether remote viewers using ESP could determine which transport vehicles were carrying the real missiles and which were carrying dummy warheads.  He contracted with Hal Puthoff to conduct a study.  Using a computer-generated shell game, Puthoff’s colleague Charles Tart of the University of California, Davis collected data from a group of psychics tasked to try to beat the shell game.  Random guesses would produce a correct guess 10% of the time.  On the average, remote viewers trained in SRI protocols were correct 25% of the time.  One “sensitive” individual in the group produced exceptional results, Graff learned.  After 50 shell game trials times, she had guessed the location of a marble with an accuracy of 80%. Hal Puthoff’s report for Graff indicated that remote viewers could significantly increase the odds in determining the location of the real ICBMs.  This report was sent to the Pentagon.”

Really dramatic, yes?  And mostly real and very important, but…  Very briefly described: what was going on?

The “computer-generated shell game” was not a project developed or carried out at SRI, though, nor was it done with the MX missile system in mind.  It was continuing work, with encouraging success, on trying to get ESP to work in the laboratory more strongly and reliably.  Details can be found in a a book length report (Tart, 1976).

The year I was consulting full time on remote viewing at SRI was when we were asked to see if the MX missile system could be defeated.  The basic idea was that the Soviets had a certain number of (very expensive!) ICBMs (as we did), and if they launched a first strike, they could wipe out most of our missiles before we could launch, and then take over (what was left of) the world.  Neither we nor the Soviets could afford to build several times as many missiles (and there was already enough nuclear weaponry to blow up the earth several times over in those insane times!), but we could afford to build (for many billions!) a lot of silos to hide missiles in and constantly shuttle them about in a hidden way.  The Soviets would not know which silos were empty, and which had the missiles they wanted to destroy.  We could retaliate devastatingly if they struck first, so (hopefully!) they wouldn’t.

But if you had some way of knowing better, not perfectly but better, where our missiles were, maybe a Soviet first strike would be worthwhile?  That was the question SRI was tasked with: could ESP, remote viewing by the Soviets, improve their odds of winning with a first strike?

Physicist Hal Puthoff did the sophisticated mathematical analyses, using both results from SRI remote viewing studies up till that time AND the data from my ESP training studies at UC Davis.  I don’t know the relative weights given these two kinds of data, but I think my data were particularly worrisome, as I’ll explain below.

Jacobsen writes that I  “…collected data from a group of psychics,“ implying specially talented people, “psychics.”  Maybe there weren’t too many good  “psychics” around in the Soviet Union so there wasn’t too much danger?

But my data was from ordinary college students, roughly a couple of thousand to start with, who had no thoughts of being “psychics.”  They were ordinary students at UC Davis who were selected by taking a very simple and quick card-guessing test at the end of one of their ordinary classes.  The ones who scored high were invited to take half a dozen formal ESP tests in the laboratory with one of my several student apprentices.  Those who continued to score high probably had some ESP ability to begin with, and they were then each able to take part in 20 formal tests, with immediate feedback.  If you could end up with even half a dozen people quite talented at ESP, at a level practical enough to indicate, with far-from-perfect but better-than-chance accuracy, which silos had missiles in them, finding and training “psychics” to beat the MX system looked practical.  Thus the Soviets could have enough information to risk a first strike.

Thankfully the whole MX shuttle system was cancelled, undoubtedly for many reasons, but I hope my and my apprentices’ findings helped make that happen.

OK, I’ve set the record straight on that part that I was intimately involved with, but it’s certainly alerted me to be cautious and skeptical about how “definitive” Phenomena is…  Jacobsen is an excellent writer and story teller, she took on a huge task of describing all that happened, I hope a fact checked version will be published someday.  As I indicated, I’ve just focused on parts of Phenomena where my work was mentioned.  But if my colleagues comments are correct, the book has far worse distortions than this and is not a DEFINITIVE HISTORY.

Reference:

Tart, Charles (1976).  Learning to Use Extrasensory Perception.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  Can be found on Amazon.

 

 

 

 

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Ongoing Thoughts on Spiritual Ideas (Buddhism, e.g.) and Practices for Understanding Consciousness – 1

Charles T. Tart

I’ve always tried to get essential science (not dismissive materialism) and essential spirituality (ways of direct experience, not dogma) to interact to advance both areas.  Our knowledge in all areas is far, far from complete.  Advancing our knowledge, both intellectually and spiritually, is so important…

I’m focusing on Buddhism here, but consider this a general invitation to think about the usefulness of what we could generally call spiritual insights and processes in advancing knowledge.

Here are some thoughts I’m sharing with some scientist colleagues in parapsychology to see if I can stimulate to deep thinking.  You can comment below if you want, and I’ll eventually read them.  But I must confess I am so busy writing and the like that I get way behind on looking at comments, which is not helpful to stimulating discussion.  But I will eventually see your good ideas!

Back in early March of 2017, one of my colleagues posted some interesting material on Buddhism with respect to issues about reincarnation.  I was particularly interested in this approach, having long been a student of Buddhism (but not a Buddhist, mostly a pragmatist if I must be categorized), but we quickly drifted off on to other issues.  I want to respond to that posting to see if others are interested in developing this line of thought re spirituality, particularly Buddhism, and consciousness and psi.

Let me simplistically sketch my general working hypotheses to show where I’m coming from.  I’m sure I have a very selected, intellectual Westerner’s view, so some of you who are Indian probably have a practical, cultural as well as intellectual experience that may illuminate aspects of this better.

Way back in Gautama Buddha’s time and probably way, way back, there was (and still is) a lot of suffering in the world.  Religious beliefs and practices were intended, among many other things, to give a conviction that the universe made some kind of sense and, by living in accordance with religious and moral principles, you could be happier.  Worshiping the gods you were told existed, making sacrifices (bribes?  gestures of respect?), and following moral principles couldn’t guarantee happiness, but increased its likelihood, and often it was believed that the gods would reward you with a good afterlife and/or reincarnation if you didn’t reap much happiness in this life.  A recurring theme in human history.

One way of thinking about Gautama Buddha –- yes, I know, after 2500 years there are so many ideas and doctrines attributed to the Buddha that you can pick and choose to support any perspective you want, kind of like you can with the Bible –- is that after being shielded from the tough parts of life into young adulthood, a prince in a palace, he encountered suffering, sickness, old age and death, happening in spite of worshiping the gods.  It didn’t look like religion worked very well – but there was what was touted as a better solution, spiritual practice, illustrated by wandering, ascetic yogis.

Leaving his life as a pampered prince and becoming a yogi, he learned the primary yogic practice, concentrative meditation, learning the skill of focusing the mind so intently on a single thing that an altered state of consciousness (ASC) developed.  He got better at concentrative meditation than his teachers.  While tranced out, you were in some sort of abstracted state, no bodily sensation, and, indeed, all suffering was gone.  The problem was it was temporary.  When you came out of one of the concentrative ASCs (samadhis), all your bodily and other ills became apparent again…  By living a highly disciplined ascetic life you could spend a lot of your life in non-suffering ASCs, but it was a pretty restricted life…

As I’ve been taught it, Gautama’s big contribution was that his disappointment with the temporary nature of suffering reduction via ASCs led him to discover/invent/develop insight meditation, vipassana.  After enough basic skill in concentration had been learned, instead of just blissing out you could use that concentrative skill to examine in depth the way your mind worked, and start discovering the root causes of suffering and solutions to them.  In a sense there’s a parallel with the development of Western insight therapies like psychoanalysis.  You suffer because of pathological mental processes that are normally unconscious, but with the help of a therapist you can discover their nature and motivations and change them.  I’ve often thought you could see this as the therapist replaces the patient’s need to develop great concentration, the therapist is not so caught up in your neuroses and is observing you and reflecting things back that you would otherwise miss.  An “outside” feedback mechanism, rather than an “inside” vipassana one.

As I have learned it, Gautama Buddha wasn’t much interested in the ultimate nature of reality, and often refused to even speculate about it.  Speculating about abstract questions (like the meaning of life) was a way of avoiding working on the root causes of suffering.  He presented himself as someone who could teach people to suffer less and even eventually eliminate all suffering – enlightenment.

Again oversimplifying, basic Buddhist meditation practice, especially vipassana (insight), has two main effects.  One, it exposes to consciousness a lot of neurotic habits and processes, many of which can be dismantled by insight alone, others by insight plus corrective processes.  Two, by quieting the many processes that create, shape, and stabilize “normal” consciousness (it is a semi-arbitrary, culturally shaped process, not “natural” – see my systems approach to states and their induction), altered states of consciousness (ASCs) may occur which provide quite different, possibly more profound (as well as possibly more deluded) ways of seeing oneself and one’s world, which can lead to very deep change.

A major problem from my pragmatic and scientific perspective: the insights in ASCs can seem so profound and obviously True that they lead to the experiencer believing that these are Final Truths about Reality, instead of a way of looking at it that might or might not be true and useful, and which needs to be tested.  Ideally, like a scientific theory, it’s not enough that it’s clearly logical and brilliant and makes you feel smart, it needs to account for old data and accurately predict new things.

So, as a pragmatist and empirical scientist, I often think of Buddhism as having provided us with an “experiential microscope,” vipassana meditation, for making internal observations.  That’s my dominant view when I’m feeling fine.  When I’m ill or stressed with troubles, Buddhism’s potential abilities to reduce my suffering become much more prominent!

A friend mentioned the other day that the idea that 10,000 hours of practice makes you an expert in anything has become fashionable in the intellectual world.  Of course that’s practice of something you basically know how to do, not learning from scratch.  OK, let’s say you want to be a physicist, and your undergraduate study has shown you have the basic talents needed.  Now comes, say, 4 to 5 years of graduate school.  Assume about 50 hours a week devoted to learning and applying physics, 50 weeks a year (I’ll generously allow a couple of weeks’ vacation), 4x50x50, that’s 10,000 hours.  I think people who put that much practice into insight meditation would be really good at observing experience deeply, and I treat their insights seriously!  Seriously, but as theories for me as an outsider, of course, calling for examination and testing…  Some, I’m guessing, are indeed wonderful insights into the mind and/or reality, some are probably true only as one possible way of the mind functioning, some are probably false.

So I see methods and ideas of (some forms of) Buddhism as potentially very useful for studying the nature of the mind, as well as studying psi.  “Some forms,” as, of course, much of Buddhism has turned into ordinary religion, doctrine to be believed and followed without thinking, rather than dedicated practitioners of meditation.  And even among dedicated meditators, there are real issues of how much the meditator stays open to observing more closely what actually happens in the mind as opposed to automatically forcing the experiences into culturally and religiously prescribed “correct” and “spiritual” experiences…

Personally perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned from my practice of various forms of insight meditation is how rare it is for me to be able to observe any aspect of my experience openly, without attachment to it being some “right” way according to people who are supposed to be way more spiritually advanced than me, or seeing aspects of my mind quietly “pushing” in the background to make it the “right” kind of experience…

OK, that’s enough, let’s see if this is of interest.

 

 

 

 

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Dr. Charles T. Tart on January 26th, 2017

A Visit/Tease from the Trickster?

Charles T. Tart

A funny thing happened this morning (1-26-17).  I awoke around my usual time and was lying in bed half-asleep, not quite dreaming, but thinking rather loosely, and found I was thinking about “ampere,” both the measure of electrical current, and the French scientist Ampère, for whom that unit is named.  I realized that while I knew a lot about early scientists, I didn’t really know anything about Ampère.  What was his first name, I wondered?  So I made a guess that it was probably René.  While realizing that you can hardly go wrong guessing that a Frenchman would be named René…Ampere

My fantasizing/thinking went on to wonder if Ampère had had a daughter.  If so, would she have been named Milly Ampère, a rather forced pun on the female name Mildred or Milly and ampere?  A deliberate pun on the electrical unit of the milliampere, one thousandth of an ampere.  I shared this silly punning with my wife Judy, who indeed thought it was silly!  (But she’s used to me…)

Fully waking and getting up, I found my thinking/fantasizing amusing, and I had no idea why I would’ve been thinking about ampere or Ampère.  I doubt that I’ve ever thought about them on waking before, although back in my days half a century ago as a ham radio operator and then a radio engineer, I was often concerned with the size of currents, measured in amperes or milliamperes.

milliammeter

After breakfast I wanted to learn more about the scientist Ampère, so I googled him and got the Wikipedia entry for Ampère.  As I wrote my wife,

“I was wrong in guessing René.  It’s André-Marie Ampère (1775–1836), but both first names rhyme well with René…”

I thought about this event occasionally on and off through breakfast, thinking there were no recent events in my life that would have me thinking about electrical currents and so lead to the word Ampère.

Then as I was getting dressed, I remembered a pleasant lunch with parapsychologist colleague Lloyd Auerbach yesterday, and we touched on the topic of the too common unreliability of paranormal effects actually occurring when you are ready to investigate them.  I told Lloyd that some of the older parapsychologists I had known back in the 60s and 70s sometimes thought that perhaps there was something of a “trickster” factor controlling paranormal events, they were allowed to happen often enough to keep us intrigued, but not often enough to let us make any real progress in understanding them.  For reasons perhaps known to whatever the “trickster” was, but not to us.  I also mentioned my parapsychologist colleague, Russell Targ, one of the pioneers in creating the remote viewing paradigm, who had once told me that although he has probably seen more instances of very strong ESP happening in remote viewing sessions than any other parapsychologists, once in a while he finds himself having doubting thoughts, is this psychic stuff really real?  Then he needs to see another example of strong psychic functioning to remove this nagging doubts.  He told me this in the context of a discussion we were having about the enormous cultural pressure in our times to deny the paranormal, and how it could affect even those of us working with the paranormal.

And then it hit me.  This Ampère business.  It might’ve happened as an illustration that indeed things happen for reasons beyond our understanding once in a while, to keep us interested, but this set of events was clearly too easy to write off as coincidence, not really demonstrating anything.  Darn!  Does it actually mean anything?  I wouldn’t claim anything definite for it.  Have I been trickstered?  Or is my mind just having further fun with a little nonsense?

Reading further in the Wikipedia entry, I find that Ampère had a son, but no daughter.  Goodbye Milly.

An interesting way to start a day.

 

 

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Dr. Charles T. Tart on December 29th, 2016

Pain, Leaving the Body, Spiritual Realities or Illusion?

© Charles T. Tart 2016

Why are we here?  What should we do?  Why does it hurt so much sometimes?  Can’t we just be given Certain Answers from Spirit?  And….

remote-viewing-rv-procedure-ctt

 

One of my friends, let’s call him Ralph, is a very interesting and thoughtful person.  He has had out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs), done some remote viewing (RV) under conditions which have shown ESP is involved — it’s not just an interesting but subjective, imaginary experience of viewing a distant place — and had physical problems much of his life that have forced him to deal with intense pain.  I think the following excerpts from my  recent correspondence with Ralph would interest some people.

obe-astral-projection-couch

Personally, I would much rather deal with pain in a distant, intellectual way, but biology too often takes away that luxury…  I was going to put a wry smiley face   ;-)   after the previous sentence as I found it amusing, but of course a wry frowny face is just as or more accurate…     ;-(

Talking about a life of pain and his experience of OBEs, why they happen to him, Ralph notes that he had a great need to completely disassociate from his body when he went in for frequent surgeries, as the usual pain killers pretty much stopped working for him.

I wrote Ralph that I get upset just reading about the level of pain he’s had to deal with in his life, oh my God!  “Although it’s not your intention, you also make me feel like a real wimp!  What, I complain because for years now I’ve had headaches essentially all day long, only partially helped by medication, massage and other methods.”  Nothing compared to what Ralph deals with.

I don’t know if you’re aware, Ralph, that I did hypnosis research for the first decade or so of my career.  Although pain wasn’t of that much interest to me back then, it wasn’t impacting me personally, I was amazed that 20 to 30% of ordinary people had enough hypnotic talent to experience considerable pain reduction when it was suggested, and maybe 10 to 20% could completely cut off pain.  One example that dramatically brought it home to me was a standardized test item widely used in research to assess very high levels of hypnotic talent.  After a subject was hypnotized, for about a minute I would suggest that she couldn’t smell anything, and then asked her to take a good sniff to see that she couldn’t smell.

Then I uncapped a bottle of household ammonia and held 1 inch below her nose.

The result always amazed me.  Not only did talented hypnotized subjects report that they didn’t smell anything when I asked them if they had, they didn’t show any sign of pain!  To me, sniffing household ammonia that way is like a thousand tiny pitchforks come into your nostrils and start jabbing away!

[If you’re curious, do not try this at home this way, start with the ammonia bottle further from your nose so you’re not overwhelmed with pain…]

And for the really talented hypnotic subjects, we purchased laboratory ammonia that was 10 times as strong as ordinary ammonia…

hypnotizability-distribution-hilgard

Absolutely mind blowing!  And I was always a little envious, I’d like to be able to turn off pain that way, but I have very little talent for being hypnotized, although the meditative techniques I’ve learned from Shinzen Young help me deal with some kinds of pain to a useful degree, but far from not feeling pain at all.  As to lack of hypnotic talent, probably for all my intellectual open-mindedness, some part of me says “No way is anything outside my precious ego going to exert control over what goes on in my mind!”

shinzen-at-issseem-2010-no-2

A nice, intellectual hypothesis, but the reality of it was strongly demonstrated to me back around 1959 when I was one of the first WASP Americans to take mescaline.  It was given to me by a visiting Austrian psychologist, Professor Ivo Kohler, who had done some research in Europe on it, but didn’t know of any literature about the reactions of Americans to mescaline.  I had read Aldous Huxley’s “The Doors of Perception” so was really interested and open (I thought), and Kohler gave me what I realize later was a very strong dose, 400 mg of the chemically pure mescaline.

mescaline-formula-w-out-bkgrnd

And nothing happened…

I had even skipped breakfast to take the mescaline on an empty stomach.  At that time in my life, that was a big sacrifice!

So he told me I could go home, we could call it a day — I guess he figured Americans were different from Europeans — or he could give me some more.  Luckily for me, I chose the latter option and got another hundred milligrams, and little while later suddenly went from being perfectly straight to the peak of the psychedelic experience!  It’s been more than 50 years, but oh wow oh wow oh wow!!!

I realized later that for all my intellectual openness, some control freak part of my mind had basically clamped down on all the chemical changes so they weren’t sufficient to actually affect my consciousness, but I was finally overwhelmed by the increased dose.  God bless mescaline, God bless Aldous Huxley for his psychological programming of my first trip!

aldoous-huxley-from-web

I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about how our socialization and cultural context affects how we interpret experience.  I took the mescaline already being deeply into science, knowing that a drug was affecting my brain, so I had a kind of psychological safety valve that I didn’t really have to take anything about the experience too seriously if I didn’t want to, I could just call it altered brain functioning, chemical illusions.  But if I had been raised in a non-scientific culture, a religious culture, the obvious interpretation would have been that my experiences were clearly a gift from God, and I might very well have become a mystic.

In my conventional role as a psychologist, I learned an enormous amount about the way the mind could work from that and some later psychedelic experiences a local psychiatrist was conducting.  Some  of those experiences translated into concepts I could talk about or use in my research, but some experiences still struck me as obviously sacred, not the kind of thing I would talk about to hardly anyone.  Indeed, there were a few (luckily I don’t really remember them consciously) where it was clear to me that I was not ready to handle them and I asked if they could please be “put into storage” as it were, and only come back if ever I was ready, but otherwise to stay out of sight, they might just inflate my ego.  I’m not sure it’s right to even mention these, but my commitment to using science properly stresses being complete about data…

Ralph goes on to write that pain medications are of little help to him now, so he has to dissociate from his physical body in order to handle the pain.  This kind of “dissociation,” an OBE or “astral projection” is typically experienced as leaving his physical and traveling “out” or “in” to elsewhere into the cosmos, and experiencing whatever happens.  But, Ralph notes, these “other world” journeys are confusing for him, as he can’t tell if they are “real” worlds in our space/time dimension or worlds in “other dimensions…”  Or….

Real or not real?  What is “reality” anyway?  But in terms of his happiness, escaping overwhelming pain, I wish Ralph bon voyage!  Who gives a damn whether their “real” or not when they can help him so much?

But looking a little deeper, that question of the reality of these kind of internal experiences is a real tough one.  I certainly take, as a working hypothesis, that there may be other kinds of “spiritual” or “non-physical” worlds out there that people may contact sometimes, as well as knowing of our ability to imagine things.  But please don’t ask me to rigorously define what I mean by “spiritual” or “non-physical”…  And note I say working hypotheses, this is an interesting and perhaps useful way to think about these things, it’s the scientific way, but I have no idea what the ultimate nature of Reality is…

What complicates interpretation for me of such ostensibly OBE experiences is knowledge from my own research with hypnosis, some of my own meditation experience (which isn’t very “deep,” but informs me) and the work of others, which  leads me to see our ordinary consciousness experience as life in a virtual reality, like in some kind of computer game.

multiple-personality-article-first-page

The clearest experience of what we might call a pure virtual reality is nighttime dreams: I’ve almost never heard of anybody say they’re consciously working at creating and running a dream, but there you are in another world, things happen, characters act.  We have been taught to question dreams’ reality when we wake up, but while we’re in them we usually automatically accept them as real (we won’t deal with lucid dreams here).  In the kind of vipassana meditation I usually do I slip down to hypnagogic experience all the time, and in an instant a world and a scenario is created (not quite as vividly as my nocturnal dreams, but usually totally absorbing at the time it happens), things happen, it disappears and suddenly another world and scenario is created, and on and on.

I think our ordinary waking consciousness exists within the virtual reality that is created by the hardwiring of the brain, the way it has been a socially and personally programmed, hopes and fears, etc. I’ve detailed some of this in the article in the pic.  But what’s different from the nocturnal dream and hypnagogic stuff is that there are massive amounts of sensory input coming in all the time, and so the virtual reality you exist in, the 3D model of world and self, must constantly and rapidly adjust to reflect the state of that external reality, your body sensations, your thoughts and feelings.  Otherwise you bump into things or walk off the edges of cliffs and don’t last very long.  Survival and happiness require us to make our internal model, where we experientially live, an adequate reflection of external reality.

So somebody reports a spiritual experience, it’s very real and important to them.  Is it just something created in our virtual reality theater, just our “imagination,” or is it a relatively accurate perception of an independent reality?

A remote viewing in which the viewer gets really involved with the distant target is an interesting case.  The viewer may start to feel like he’s there at the target site, rather than staying, as is typical in remote viewing, anchored in his physical body but seeing visual imagery he hopes is of the distant target.  In so far as what you experience as being at the target site actually corresponds to what’s physically there and represent psi functioning, I find it useful to think of it as involving actual (para)”sensory” contact with the target site.  But how much other stuff in the “visit” is merely the creation of our virtual reality process?

I think successful remote viewers have  developed some rules of thumb to give less attention to certain kinds of things they  experience when remote viewing than others, as that style of things has turned out to seldom correspond to the target.  An example with successful viewers is the emphasis on avoiding “analytic overlay:” if it feels like your mind is running associations to a viewed element rather than actually paying further attention, getting further and further away from the basic psi impressions of the target, tone that down.  Other kinds of stuff you want to “look at” more closely…

question-mark-w-out-bkgrnd

OK, feel like you’ve been introduced to some very interesting questions?  OK, so far so good, but where are The Answers?

I know so much more than I did as a teenager very interested in matters of spirit, of science…and know even more deeply how little I actually know….

But what interesting questions!         ;-)

 

 

 

 

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Dr. Charles T. Tart on November 1st, 2016

Gods and Goddesses and ???

Charles T. Tart

A number of parapsychologists and I discuss many contemporary research issues on a private discussion list.  Recently we’ve had some discussion about Srinivasa Ramanujan, a Fellow of the Royal Society (1887-1920), a self-taught Indian mathematician.  Self-taught in that he had no formal training in mathematics, but claimed that most of his ideas were not created by him but given to him by an Indian goddess.  Ramanujan was an ardent devotee of the goddess Namagiri Thayar.

ramanujan-srinivasan

Today many parapsychologists are physicists by training and, as you can imagine, gods and goddesses are not popular in mainstream science!  I’m a product of modern culture too and understand (and often, but not always) share this attitude.  But, I thought, could scientific method, ingeniously applied, provide any evidence, even just probabilistic evidence, for or against the existence of gods and goddesses, rather than just having their possible existence dismissed implicitly, if not explicitly, in science education and practice?

I’ve thought about this issue, inconclusively, off and on for years, but maybe I could stimulate some of these very bright parapsychologists to think about it?

So here I share the post I sent off to my colleagues today.  If some interesting ideas evolve, I’ll share them in some later blog post, and readers here may have some good ideas to share in the Comments area…

 

The Invitation:

Existence of Non-Physical Beings?  NPBs

Our recent discussions about inspiration, gods, and goddesses have suggested to me that we could have an interesting methodological exercise.  We’ve got some very sophisticated methodologists here, and while our scientific culture “prejudice” (literally pre-judgment as that’s the way we were educated/indoctrinated by and large) instantly rejects any reality to gods and goddesses, it’s always interesting to challenge one’s prejudices and see if your mind can break free in interesting ways

So suppose we seriously consider that there might be what I’ll call non-physical beings, NPBs.  That’s about as emotionally neutral term as I can think of right now, much less loaded than gods and goddesses.

We wonder if certain of those NPBs actually exist, or we only imagine them.  With physical beings, we can literally physically check up on their existence, go and look at the person, talk to them, etc.

What people have or haven’t believed about NPBs in the past, whether belief in the concept of NPBs is good for you matter your bad for humanity is not the issue.  The issue is could we acquire evidence that argued more strongly for or against their existence.

I say argued more strongly for or against their existence rather than “prove,” as this is a very complex subject.  I don’t expect any absolute answers in my lifetime (maybe “I” will know after I die?), but I could envision additions to knowledge that make the idea of their existence more or less likely.  So what could we do?

We already have a similar question, with evidence pro and con in the question of whether some aspect of a living person survives death in a form that we could say the “person” survived.  The most direct form of experimental evidence consists of using mediums, who we assume have the relevant psi abilities, to ostensibly communicate with these surviving entities, and then question these entities to see whether they can provide us with physically checkable facts about the life of the deceased person that they now claim to be, facts which would ordinarily not be known to the medium.

Those of you familiar with this research will know how complex it is, and many factors that have been checked so far.  Some mediums, for example, are fraudulent, and either do cold readings to mislead sitters that they are in contact with deceased loved ones, actually hire detectives to find out information, etc.  Most mediums seem to honestly believe in what they’re doing and not be consciously fraudulent, but we can worry that they’re simply unconsciously picking up on the body language of the sitters, so the best technique, long ago developed, was to use proxy sitters, people who will give the medium the deceased person’s name but otherwise know nothing about them, so the sitter can’t give any information away.  If we still get good information suggesting this is the deceased person somehow surviving, then we can worry about super-ESP, the medium’s unconscious mind using ESP to connect, via the proxy sitter, via who knows how many links, to wherever the relevant information is, combine it with a subconscious impersonation, and seem to be the deceased communicator, but that’s not what’s happening.  Some of us worry a great deal about the super-ESP alternative, some of us, usually including me, don’t worry much about it since super-ESP is too vague to be ruled out and so is not really a scientific hypothesis.

To greatly oversimplify more than a century of such research, we could say that many mediumistic readings give material that is comforting to the sitters, but is nowhere near specific enough to make a strong case for any kind of survival.  In some cases the ostensible communicating spirits give excellent factual information, as well as some incorrect information, about the deceased person they claim to be the surviving spirit of, and in some cases also show mannerisms that further match the deceased person.  This kind of evidence has convinced some people that we survive death, and left other people worrying about the complexities of assessing the evidence.

While we can learn much from survival research, I think the problem is harder when we ask about the reality of NPBs.  I’ve defined an NPB here as possibly having a “real” existence on “some other level of reality,” but not on the physical level, so there are no physical databases you can check to see if the NPB is who she or he claims to be.

It’s been a while since I’ve read much channeled material (Arthur Hastings’ and John Klimo’s two books are the best sources I always recommend), but my impression is that some ostensible NPBs show enough inconsistency from one channeling to the next to make one doubt that there is some “real” entity behind it, but some others show a great deal of consistency.

So, our fun challenge.

Assume you have access to several “channelers” who reliably “contact” some NPBs, and these NPBs show enough consistency and are interesting enough that you really wonder if they are “real.”

What do you do to collect evidence for or against their apparent “reality?”

I look forward to our discussion.  Here on OUR LIST we have some very bright people who I don’t think have given much thought to the survival question or the reality of NPBs, but who thus, in some sense, can start thinking about it in a more open-minded way.  Who knows what will come up with?

Charley

PS: some people “believe in” or “have fun with” interpreting associated events as messages or oracles.  So as I open my computer to start writing this this morning, I noticed I had an email from tinywords haiku@tinywords.com, a bit of literary creativity I get each day for stimulation.  Here’s what today’s tiny words, that I read just before starting to write this, were:

on the battered pier

old men

fishing for ghosts 

-Paul David Mena  http://tinyurl.com/zbgtl2q

Encouraging?  Discouraging?  Certainly interesting…

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