Dr. Charles T. Tart on October 15th, 2017

Back in 1968, I published a pioneering study of out-of-the-body experiences (OBEs) with a young woman who had experienced them since she was a child.

Tart, C. T. (1968).  A psychophysiological study of out-of-the-body experiences in a selected subject.  Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 62, 3-27.

 

I hoped my findings would demonstrate that it was feasible to study OBEs under laboratory conditions where we might learn a lot about their nature, and stimulate others to do so.  In the almost 50 years since publication – it was in a specialty journal where few people would see it – but hardly anyone has done studies like it, and the few done in the last decade or so strike me as misguided, taking some minor aspect of an OBE as if it were the whole experience when the studies are clearly not studying actual OBEs.  That’s a shame, as OBEs convince people, rightly or wrongly, that they will survive death so it’s really important to study them.

I constantly get people writing me or talking to me after lectures about that initial study (I’ve done others), often believing that I claimed something spectacular, something like “This proves that the soul actually leaves the body.”  They don’t like that apparent conclusion.  But either they heard about the study from some secondary source that left out information about it, or they are so strongly motivated to explain OBEs “away” as merely some sort of hallucination, that they pay no attention to what I write and claimed.  I’ve had to correct people so many times that I’ll do it once and for all here.

Here is the actual final paragraph of the published study.  Note it uses OOBE, an acronym I originally coined, rather than OBE, which I now use.  A proper British colleague chastised me, you don’t capitalize the “of” in an acronym – or at least it wasn’t proper back then.

“In summary, this brief study found a fairly clear-cut correlation between several of Miss Z’s reported 000B experiences and a physiological pattern characterized by a flattened EEG with prominent alphoid activity, no REM [rapid eye movement, characteristic of ordinary dreaming] or skin resistance activity, and normal heart rate.  Much more work remains to be done before we can begin to understand the psychophysiological and  parapsychological aspects of OOB experiences, and it is hoped that the present study, insofar as it has shown that these experiences can be studied by the techniques of modern science, will encourage other investigators to carry out further experiments.”

It’s normal human behavior to pay more attention to things you don’t like than to things you like, I do it all the time.  But if you’re going to criticize someone, it really helps your case to be accurate about what you’re accusing them of…

I’m happy to stick with my claim that we could study OBEs in greater depth with modern scientific methods, and grateful that I was lucky enough to “accidentally” find a person who could have OBEs almost at will so they could be studied in the lab.

 

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If only it was rare for bridging science and spirituality to be attacked, so those of us trying to do it could get on with bridge building.…   [Is there an emoticon for a patient sigh?]

It’s not too often that my scientific work and my ethics get denounced on a national level.  Given my hope that my work is not simply interesting but offers some guidelines to integrating science and spirituality, it would be irresponsible of me not to provide corrections that at least some readers may see.  I’d rather be writing to share new insights and possibilities on science and spirituality, but the following needs to be said…

 

We begin with a note from D.  Patrick Miller, Publisher of Fearless Books (fascinating books on the Fearless website!) regarding a nationwide denunciation of my (Charles Tart, CTT) scientific research and character.

Publisher’s Note: The September 2017 issue of THE ATLANTIC magazine featured an article entitled “How America Lost Its Mind,” by acclaimed journalist Kurt Andersen, excerpted from his new book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.  In reviewing some significant cultural movements and thought trends of the 1960s, Andersen wrote:

In 1968, a UC Davis psychologist named Charles Tart conducted an experiment in which, he wrote, “a young woman who frequently had spontaneous out-of-body experiences”—didn’t “claim to have” them but “had” them—spent four nights sleeping in a lab, hooked up to an EEG machine.  Her assigned task was to send her mind or soul out of her body while she was asleep and read a five-digit number Tart had written on a piece of paper placed on a shelf above the bed.  He reported that she succeeded.  Other scientists considered the experiments and the results bogus, but Tart proceeded to devote his academic career to proving that attempts at objectivity are a sham and magic is real.  In an extraordinary paper published in 1972 in Science, he complained about the scientific establishment’s “almost total rejection of the knowledge gained” while high or tripping.  He didn’t just want science to take seriously “experiences of ecstasy, mystical union, other ‘dimensions,’ rapture, beauty, space-and-time transcendence.” He was explicitly dedicated to going there.  A “perfectly scientific theory may be based on data that have no physical existence,” he insisted.  The rules of the scientific method had to be revised.  To work as a psychologist in the new era, Tart argued, a researcher should be in the altered state of consciousness he’s studying, high or delusional “at the time of data collection” or during “data reduction and theorizing.” Tart’s new mode of research, he admitted, posed problems of “consensual validation,” given that “only observers in the same [altered state] are able to communicate adequately with one another.” Tart popularized the term consensus reality for what you or I would simply call reality, and around 1970 that became a permanent interdisciplinary term of art in academia.  Later he abandoned the pretense of neutrality and started calling it the consensus trance—people committed to reason and rationality were the deluded dupes, not he and his tribe.

It should first be noted that it is wholly inaccurate even to mention Dr. Tart’s body of work in an investigation of how “America went haywire” or lost its mind.  As a journalist I’ve closely followed Dr.   Tart’s work for over twenty-five years; as a publisher I’ve recently brought two of his important titles back into print.  Thus I know that his entire career has been devoted to the study and elucidation of states of consciousness for these reasons: so that people might learn to recognize their own tendencies toward delusion, enhance their opportunities for self-knowledge, and benefit from techniques of advanced self-awareness.

A clue about how Andersen could have made this substantial error of judgment lies in the way his conclusions were drawn — a process which failed to include fact-checking with Dr. Tart himself.  A broad and defamatory assertion like “Tart proceeded to devote his academic career to proving that attempts at objectivity are a sham and magic is real” demands not only substantial documentation (which Andersen does not provide), but also a simple check of the assertion with the subject.

As a former investigative reporter myself, I would never have published such a claim without having first called Dr. Tart himself to ask, “I have drawn this conclusion after assessing your work.  Do you have a response?”  That’s Journalism 101.  Both Andersen and his publisher should be deeply embarrassed that he did not pursue due journalistic diligence in this regard.  Apparently Andersen quickly decided what he wanted to believe about Dr. Tart’s work, and with the same dismissive attitude he decries in his book and article, presumed that he could malign a career scientist’s reputation in print without incurring any consequences.  (That presumption would be incorrect.)

In the point-by-point factual response that follows, Dr. Tart answers Kurt Andersen’s claims about his work.  In so doing, he echoes his impressive legacy as a thoughtful researcher and career educator.  Anyone who has closely studied the constantly shifting states of human consciousness, as Dr. Tart has, knows that a crucial key to both good research and personal development is the ready willingness to question one’s own assumptions about what is “real.”  For there is no quicker ticket to a personal fantasyland than the refusal to challenge one’s own beliefs, or to avoid checking those beliefs against the input of those who are capable of disproving them.  — D.  Patrick Miller, Publisher, Fearless Books

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Here’s my fact correcting response:

Charles T.  Tart, PhD:  I largely agree with the general theme of Kurt Andersen’s new book, which is that many Americans gradually stopped having any real respect for facts, and have adopted a general attitude of believing whatever they want to believe.  I think this is unfortunately true across large segments of society today, and normally I’d look forward to seeing someone with Andersen’s cultural expertise revealing the details.  But in his characterization of my work, he commits some of the sins he is so concerned about — particularly when it comes to getting the facts right.

Over the years I’ve had many popular articles written about my work and I’m accustomed to getting calls from fact checkers who work for a magazine or book publisher, confirming that things stated by an author are indeed factual.  Just about all of what Andersen said about my work could have been fact-checked in a few minutes via a phone call or email, but no such check was performed.  Some of what Andersen got wrong lies in the realm of interpretation, and some of it is just plain factually wrong.  Either way, I can’t escape the feeling that Mr.  Andersen approached my work with the attitude of believing whatever he wanted to believe about it — rather than testing his assumptions against the input of the most reliable source available, namely myself.

In the interest of fact-checking and providing a first-hand view of my work, here are my responses to Andersen’s chief points:

 

In 1968, a UC Davis psychologist named Charles Tart conducted an experiment in which, he wrote, “a young woman who frequently had spontaneous out-of-body experiences”— didn’t “claim to have” them but “had” them….

CTT:  It is a fact that the young woman I cited had spontaneous out-of-body experiences (OBEs), for that is what she reported.  If you go to your doctor and say you are experiencing a burning pain in your leg, it would be arrogant and very unhelpful for the doctor to reply, “So you’re claiming to have a painful, burning experience?” Whether you want to think of an OBE as a real departure from the body or merely an hallucination, an experience is an experience is an experience.  Denigrating the reality of others’ actual experiences, based on your a priori assumptions about the ultimate nature of those experiences, is disrespectful and unscientific.

Other scientists considered the experiments and the results bogus…

CTT:  Since Andersen doesn’t cite any of the other scientists who “considered the experiments,” I’m left wondering who they were.  Frankly, I would have been delighted if many scientists from a variety of disciplines had read this article.  But like most scientific articles, it was published in a specialty journal where it was likely to reach only the researchers most interested in it.  None of those researchers said it was bogus; rather, they regarded it as a unique step forward in the study of OBEs under laboratory conditions.  My main point in publishing it was not to prove that an OBE means a person does or doesn’t leave the body, but to show that this exotic experience could be studied in a modern laboratory, and thus tell us more about its nature.  No such study had ever been done before.

I was pleased to report that it could be done.  Understanding the OBE is especially important, as it’s a major life-changer for almost all those who have it.  A typical comment after an OBE is something like “I no longer believe that I will survive death… I know I will, I’ve had a direct experience of being alive but not in my body.” Those of us who have not had an OBE may quibble with this logic, but it’s probably one of the main sources of the belief in a soul.  That alone makes it a worthwhile subject for legitimate scientific and humanistic study.

That my OBE subject showed a unique brainwave pattern that I, as a sleep researcher, had never seen before, suggested something about the nature of her experience.  That she correctly read a five-digit random number on a shelf up near the ceiling (odds against that happening by chance being 100,000 to 1) suggested that there was an extraordinary form of perception involved.  But, again, the point was to show other scientists that OBEs could be studied in the laboratory, not to conclusively establish the real nature of OBEs.

 

Tart proceeded to devote his academic career to proving that attempts at objectivity are a sham…

CTT:  Andersen presents this summary of my career as a fact, but again, neither he nor anyone employed by his publisher bothered to check this assertion with me.  My career as a scientist has resulted in publishing more than a dozen books and a couple of hundred articles in scientific journals.  I’d be surprised if Andersen read more than one or two of those.  If he had, he would see that over and over again I kept stressing that the power of the scientific method comes from the fact that theories must lead to testable, observable outcomes, or they’re not science.

…and magic is real. 

CTT:  I have written that the reality of certain kinds of extrasensory perception (ESP) is well-established.  That evidence is reviewed in my latest book, The Secret Science of the Soul (Fearless Books, 2017).  But calling it “magic” instead of using specific research terms such as ESP or psi — referring to the capacities examined in thousands of studies — is a rhetorical maneuver intended to devalue the entire subject matter.  Andersen is not the first to resort to rhetoric to dismiss research he hasn’t seriously examined or isn’t comfortable with.  But it’s a far cry from objective journalism or rigorous science.  Andersen eschews fact-based language, as well as a close examination of data gathered from legitimate research, in favor of reasserting what he wants to believe.

 

In an extraordinary paper published in 1972 in Science, he complained about the scientific establishment’s “almost total rejection of the knowledge gained” while high or tripping.  He didn’t just want science to take seriously “experiences of ecstasy, mystical union, other ‘dimensions,’ rapture, beauty, space-and-time transcendence.” He was explicitly dedicated to going there. 

CTT:  It looks like Andersen may have skimmed, or read only a summary from some secondary source of my 1972 paper in Science.  For somehow he seems to have missed my statements there about looking at all the data gathered in experiments, and about theories needing to be tested: “Any theory a scientist develops must have observable consequences, and from that theory it must be possible to make predictions that can be verified by observation.  If such verification is not possible, the theory must be considered invalid, regardless of its elegance, logic, or other appeal.”

The main point of that Science article was that countless people were having powerful experiences in altered states of consciousness — the psychedelic revolution was in full swing then — and those experiences called for investigation because they were changing lives.  I sketched an expansion of scientific method that would allow us to get a better understanding of altered states.  Specifically, I suggested that in order to fully understand some altered states of consciousness, the investigators needed experience in those states, otherwise they would have no direct observations of the data.  Psychological theories that come from no direct experience of what they’re supposed to explain are often not likely to have much value.

 

A “perfectly scientific theory may be based on data that have no physical existence,” he insisted.  The rules of the scientific method had to be revised. 

CTT:  What I actually proposed was not any alteration in the basic rules of essential science, but that science could be conducted in altered states.  Of course each state would need to be tested to see how well this worked: some states might be very fruitful, others useless.  Again I stress that scientific theories need to have testable consequences if you want them considered scientific.  My article was daring for the time, proposing expansion or altering of dominant paradigms if they empirically worked.

Besides being reprinted in several scientific anthologies, that article is still being read today (see “States of Consciousness and State-Specific Sciences” at www.academia.edu).  While most articles in scientific journals seldom result in letters to the editor, this article drew more than 100 comments when it was published.  There was much argument about whether we could do science in altered states.  About half of the letters were against the idea, and I could see from the names of the writers and their academic ranks that they were from older scientists.  The other letters were from younger scientists who basically said “let’s get on with it.” But no letter writer claimed that I was proposing that we ditch the scientific method!

 

To work as a psychologist in the new era, Tart argued, a researcher should be in the altered state of consciousness he’s studying, high or delusional “at the time of data collection” or during “data reduction and theorizing.”

CTT:  I’ve never claimed that a scientist should be in a “delusional” state, or that one’s biases and value judgments should distort thinking.  It’s important to understand, however, that both science and journalism regularly suffer from contamination by biases, value judgments and/or delusions, with or without the aid of altered states.  I’m afraid that owes to human nature, not my espousal of state-specific research.  Again and again in more than half a century of work, I’ve constantly harped that theories and conclusions have to be tested by observable results to be fully scientific.

 

Tart’s new mode of research, he admitted, posed problems of “consensual validation,” given that “only observers in the same [altered state] are able to communicate adequately with one another.”

CTT:  Andersen seems to think that I’m proposing something extraordinary by saying there could be problems with consensual validation in the study of altered states.  In fact, it’s an increasing challenge across all sciences.  A couple centuries ago, almost any educated person could perform most science experiments to see if a finding was replicated and thus consensually validated.  Today very few of us can test the theories of most modern sciences in order to replicate results, because we’d have to get into an extraordinary mindset — created by spending five to ten years in higher education and advanced training — to learn to think like a scientist in a specialized field.

Compared to the general population, many scientists are arguably in discipline-specific “altered states” which make it difficult for them to discuss or validate their findings with others not in the same mental states.  Popular distortions of advanced scientific findings result from just this difficulty of “consensual validation,” because the press is often not sufficiently scientifically literate to accurately interpret research data, and thus runs with the most sensational (and usually distorted) aspects of research.

 

Tart popularized the term consensus reality for what you or I would simply call reality, and around 1970 that became a permanent interdisciplinary term of art in academia.  

CTT:  I am pleased that the term consensus reality, which I may have coined, has caught on, as the concept was a central part of my theorizing on the nature of both ordinary and altered states.  If you are “normal,” you can at least act like you have a consensus with the way the other people in your culture see things.  Indeed, much of your mental operations are biased by your culture.  That makes it easier to automatically get along with others in your culture.

But it should be quite apparent to any socially and politically aware person that “our reality” may differ substantially from the reality experienced in cultures around across the world (or even in different regions of our own country, or right next door).  Remembering that what may seem “obvious” or “real” is actually a semi-arbitrary cultural construction may alert you to your own biases, and possibly trigger transcendence of them.

 

Later he abandoned the pretense of neutrality and started calling it the consensus trance — people committed to reason and rationality were the deluded dupes, not he and his tribe.

CTT:  Consensus reality is a value-neutral, descriptive term, intended to promote scientific objectivity and self-knowledge.  As noted, there are significant limitations and biases to regarding only your culture’s consensus perspective as the whole of reality.  Consensus trance, by contrast, is a deliberate reference to the cultural dulling and biasing of sensitivity and intelligence, which can have a variety of causes.  I would challenge Mr.  Andersen to confirm exactly where he read any assertion of mine claiming that “people committed to reason and rationality [are] deluded dupes.” If so, I’d be one of them!

The mindset that Andersen deplores — believing what you want to believe regardless of the facts —could well be described as a consensus trance.  At any given time, we have a variety of consensus trances operating within our culture, making social cohesion and political progress difficult.

For instance, my research suggests that strong emotions can usefully be understood as altered states.  In chronically angry people, e.g., the whole organization of their mental state has crystallized around anger.  Their perceptions and thought processes are tragically altered by this hardening, but nonetheless the beliefs they act upon seem quite sensible and logical to them, from the perspective of that state.  But much of their thinking and behavior makes no sense to people not in a chronically angry state.

Thus, understanding altered states — in part by observing and communicating what we experience within those states — can help us understand others’ views of reality.  Even more important, it can help us recognize when our own view of what’s real, rational, or reasonable is clouded by some degree of delusion.  With the social divisions and political conflicts raging in America today, the significance of such an understanding cannot be overstated.  But the work begins “at home,” with the consistent questioning of our own beliefs and assumptions, making sure that we are regularly testing them for validity and usefulness.

CTT’s Summary:  A central goal of my professional life has been helping to expand our knowledge of the mind.  I’ve offered observations and theories differing somewhat from mainstream psychology because I’ve studied and experimented with a wider range of human experiences and activities than most researchers, including sleep, dreams, hypnosis, biofeedback, meditation, experimenter bias, and paranormal phenomena like ESP.  In so doing, I’ve explored and enumerated both the advantages and disadvantages of operating from various “altered” stances.  For the fact is that everyone experiences alterations of consciousness on a daily basis, and to a greater extent than we may be comfortable recognizing.

Had Kurt Andersen fully examined my life’s work or bothered to discuss it with me, he would have learned that I have spent many more years studying and teaching the higher capacities of human consciousness — especially including meditation and other techniques of advanced self-awareness — than I did studying the “altered states” induced by psychedelics.  Along with colleagues like the late Arthur Deikman, M.D., I helped found the branch of psychological study now referred to as “transpersonal,” meaning that it pursues legitimate scientific exploration of advanced human capacities that have heretofore been classified as “spiritual.”

This is a realm that Andersen might well dismiss wholesale as magic.  But calling it magic doesn’t make it go away, as a wide variety of profound spiritual and psychic experiences have always been part and parcel of human consciousness.  That makes such experiences a legitimate focus for scientific exploration, and I am proud and honored to have contributed some of the pioneering work in that field.

 

Updated bio that the Publisher added to his notes for the Fearless site:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Charles T.  Tart, Ph.D., is internationally known for his psychological work on the nature of consciousness, particularly altered states of consciousness — as one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology — and for his research in parapsychology.  His two classic books, Altered States of Consciousness (1969) and Transpersonal Psychologies (1975), were widely used texts that were instrumental in allowing these areas to become part of modern psychology.

He was a Professor of Psychology at the Davis campus of the University of California for 28 years, where he conducted his research and was a popular teacher.  In the 1970s Dr. Tart consulted on the original remote viewing research program at Stanford Research Institute, where some of his parapsychological work was instrumental in influencing government policy makers against the funding of the proposed multi-billion dollar MX missile system.

Besides Altered States of Consciousness and Transpersonal Psychologies, Dr. Tart’s other books are On Being Stoned: A Psychological Study of Marijuana Intoxication (1971); States of Consciousness (1975); Symposium on Consciousness (1975, with co-authors); Learning to Use Extrasensory Perception (1976); Psi: Scientific Studies of the Psychic Realm (1977); Mind at Large: Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Symposia on the Nature of Extrasensory Perception (1979, with H.  Puthoff & R.  Targ); Waking Up: Overcoming the Obstacles to Human Potential (1986); Open Mind, Discriminating Mind: Reflections on Human Possibilities (1989); Living the Mindful Life (1994) and Body Mind Spirit: Exploring the Parapsychology of Spirituality (1997), which looks at the implications of hard scientific data on psychic abilities as a foundation for believing we have a real spiritual nature.

His 2001 book, Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People presents mindfulness training in a way that makes sense for science professionals, and his most recent book, The Secret Science of the Soul: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together integrates his work in parapsychology and transpersonal psychology to show that it is reasonable to be both scientific and spiritual in outlook, contrary to the widely believed consensus that science shows there is nothing to spirituality.

He has had more than 200 articles published in professional journals and books, including lead articles in such highly prestigious scientific journals as Science and Nature.

Not just a laboratory researcher, Dr. Tart has been a student of Aikido (in which he holds a Black Belt), of meditation, of Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way work, and of Buddhism.  He has been happily married for more than 50 years and has two children and two grandchildren.  His primary goal is still to build bridges between the genuinely scientific and genuinely spiritual communities, and to help bring about a refinement and integration of Western and Eastern approaches for knowing the world and for personal and social growth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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