Dr. Charles T. Tart on April 3rd, 2016

To think about….

When we research whether Person A survived death, the kind of material we consider evidence is of several kinds.  A very important one is getting factually correct information about Person A (usually through a medium) while she or he was alive, information that we could not reasonably expect would be known to the medium through ordinary means.  A second one, given considerable emphasis in some cases, is whether the ostensible spirit of Person A shows distinctive mannerisms of speech or behavior that were characteristic of Person A while alive, and, again, which we did not expect to be known to the medium by ordinary means and which are distinctive and uncommon.

OBE as start of death w Q mark



My best working hypothesis at present is that when I die I am likely going to survive, although the form of my consciousness, without a physical body and nervous system to constantly shape it, will probably change significantly.  To use an analogy, the “user” may survive, but the “user” is so used to functioning through certain programs, embedded in my body and nervous system, that it will be quite different to not have those familiar programs to work with.  But, judging by mediumistic material, surviving spirits must be able to recall enough about their embodied lives to come up with unique, factual memories and have habitual mannerisms manifest.

To quote from the article, “Memory researchers used to believe that there was just one kind of long-term memory.  But in 1972, Endel Tulving, a Canadian psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist, introduced the idea that long-term memory comes in multiple forms.  One is semantic memory, which allows us to remember how to spell a word like say, autonoetic.  Years from now, you might recall how to spell it, but maybe not when and where you were when you first came across the word and its definition, perhaps in Wired.”

“Tulving argued that autonoetic consciousness is crucial for the formation of another kind of long-term memory—episodic memory—which integrates time and sensory details in the cinematic, visceral way remembering where and when you learn how to spell autonoetic: that’s in episodic memory.”

The article reports on studies of a woman therein called McKinnon, who simply does not have any episodic memory.  For example, she and her husband took many vacation cruises, but “McKinnon makes clear that she has no memories of all those cruises.”  No memories of buying the souvenirs displayed in her living room, in front of her and the interviewer.  She doesn’t remember any vacation she’s ever taken.  “In fact she cannot recall a single moment in her marriage to her husband or before it…”  It’s not that she doesn’t remember these memories are in losing them, she’s never been able to remember them in the first place.

By and large she functions quite well as a mature adult.  As the article notes, “McKinnon first began to realize that her memory was not the same as everyone else’s back in 1977, when a friend from high school, who was studying to be a physician’s assistant, asked if she would participate in a memory test as part of a school assignment.  When her friend ask basic questions about her childhood as part of the test, McKinnon would reply, “Why are you asking stuff like this?  No one remembers that.”  She knew that other people claim to have detailed memories, but she always thought they embellished and made stuff up—just like she did.”

So what would happen if McKinnon died, her spirit survived, she was contacted by a good medium, and she was asked to prove her identity.?  Assuming her consciousness survived pretty much as it functions now in life, she probably could certainly produce all sorts of every day, factual material, but no really personal memories.  And so we would conclude that?

We have thousands of well-documented mediumistic cases, but this kind of memory loss is apparently quite rare, so I don’t think we’ll be in luck and find such a case…although those who know that literature better than me may find something…

It reminds me that one of the most basic questions in survival research is not so much survival per se but what is consciousness itself?  A computer could store all sorts of facts about our lives, but, at least so far, we’re not willing to attribute consciousness to any computers….

Anyway, it’s a very rich article, and I recommend it.  Being terribly old-fashioned, I subscribe to wired as a printed document, but I’m sure there’s some way to get it on the web.

I’m not sure where I’ll go in thinking about this, but it’s an unusual and interesting entry point for thinking….



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Dr. Charles T. Tart on February 26th, 2016

NDEs, OBEs – What Did I Experience?

Charles T. Tart

I recently received a note from P. M. H. Atwater, an authority on near-death experiences (NDEs), about the vague and confusing way people were starting to talk about NDEs.  This struck a chord of sympathy in me, as I’ve had similar problems in my work, and I thought I’d share my response to her here.  It might help some of you figure out what happened to you.  Although the reality of your experience and its meaning to you is, of course, much more important than some intellectual classification put on it.

obe depiction



I empathize with your frustrations over the way people (mis)use terms like NDE’s.  If I were trying to clear things up for them, I would start by pointing out that the word experience is an inherent part of an NDE, so if you want to have a useful term, you have to say that certain experiences cluster together often enough that you can define that, ideally, as an NDE.  I say ideally, because in the real world there will always be various extras missing from some accounts, and some will be ambiguously reported enough, or maybe the actual experience was somewhat ambiguous, that you won’t feel happy giving it any particular classification.  That’s okay.  For research purposes, it’s fine to have a category of “Hard to classify, we’ll ignore these for now.”

I also note that advances in science and understanding generally are often triggered and facilitated by really clear definitions of what we are talking about.  Even though, of course, NDEs typically involve altered states aspects that are hard to grasp or explain in ordinary consciousness…

When people start applying it to experiences people might have simply when they came medically close to death, but perhaps had no special experience at all, they are confusing the possible induction method of an experience with what the experience was like.  Like you, I would emphasize that there is a cluster of experiences that go together to form an NDE, and if you want to talk about the induction method, or, since we’re not always sure, the likely induction method, that’s fine but we have to distinguish that from our definition of an NDE itself.

I’ve had the same problem with out of the body experiences, OBE’s.  I don’t count an experience as an OBE simply because during it the person had a thought, “I’m out of my body.”  I can have that thought right now, but my headache is still pounding along, and my body feels oh so real…        :-)

So I define an OBE as (a) experiencing yourself at a location other than where you know your physical body is at the time and (b) experiencing the quality of your consciousness as pretty much like your waking consciousness.  That is, you can think clearly, you know who you are, you can have fun “logical” arguments with yourself that you can’t possibly be out of your body, even though you obviously experience yourself that way, etc.  Although I don’t usually make it explicit, I could add that usually you don’t change your mind about it later.  There’s something rather real about an OBE or an NDE such that very few people will downgrade it into some kind of dream or illusion later.  With the possible exception of some people so desperate to maintain an ordinary belief system that they push away the obviously real qualities of their experience.

Note here that like what I’ve said for NDEs, I’ve said nothing about how you got there for defining an OBE.  It’s the experience of being out while in a clear state of consciousness.  Whether you have no idea how you got there, or were asleep, or had a dream transform into an OBE, or almost died, that’s all very interesting, but a separate issue from defining the OBE.

Anyway, good luck on trying to get people to use their terms more clearly!  I may have influenced a few people to be clearer about OBE’s, and distinguish them from NDEs (I usually note that an NDE may or may not include an OBE, and may start with consciousness feeling quite ordinary, but moves on to a clearly altered state of consciousness (ASC).  I’m sure there are some NDEs that are so short they only start with an OBE and don’t really go on to the ASC aspect.

An amusing historical note:  When I first wrote about OBE’s, I coined the abbreviation OOBEs, which created heavy semantic karma.  It never occurred to me that people would pronounce that and tell me about their Ooh bees!     ;-)




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Dr. Charles T. Tart on February 18th, 2016

Occasionally I get questions from students that strike me as of general interest, so here are some from a young woman and my responses, with my responses not at all comprehensive, but, hopefully, stimulating thoughts…

———- Forwarded message ———-

Subject: Questions about the field in Parapsychology
To: Office of the Parapsychological Association <office@parapsych.org>

Zener cardsHello my name is ***** and I am doing an Inquiry report on the necessary prep and day-to-day realities of the field of Parapsychology for my English class. If you, Charles Tart, or Carlos S. Alvarado have time to answer a few questions for me that would be amazing;

1.) Why do you think people look so down on the study of Parapsychology?

2.) What have people accused you of being because you are a Parapsychologist?

3.) What have TV shows and movies done to make people confused on the reality of these Phenomena? What TV shows or movies do you think have really made people confused?

4.) What are some scientific methods Parapsychologists use when experimenting or researching?

5.) What is some of the best evidence you put forth that a debunker still tried all they could to debunk?

6.) What made you want to go into the field? How can I try to get into the field?

Thanks again if you have time to answer these for me!

This email was sent through the contact form at The Parapsychological Association.

jp cover


Dear **********,                      Date Composed: February 18, 2016

So many questions!  I’ll try to give you some information to think about.

For my general understanding, though, you should see a book I published in 2009, The End of Materialism, available on Amazon as an e-book, and for career advice you should see my article on that at http://blog.paradigm-sys.com/careers-in-consciousness-research-parapsychology-andor-transpersonal-psychology/ .

I don’t have time to be comprehensive, but will toss out things to start you thinking.

1.) Why do you think people look so down on the study of Parapsychology?

It’s only been a few centuries in the West, a very short time in human history, since we stopped burning people at the stake that we thought had paranormal abilities, and murdering such people still happens in many cultures.  There is an element of fear of the paranormal, heightened by the entertainment industry, and the unadmitted fear has nothing to do with scientific evidence.  I don’t spend much time worrying about someone zapping me with their telekinetic powers, each of us is infinitely more likely to be “zapped” by some idiot driving a car while not paying adequate attention…

The people who look down on the study of parapsychology also, in practically every case, actually have no scientific knowledge of what it’s about, so you’re talking about irrational religious convictions rather than science.

2.) What have people accused you of being because you are a Parapsychologist?

Basically I’ve been accused of being stupid to think that there’s anything to parapsychology.  This must mean that I have a very complicated personality, because I seem to be reasonably smart in most areas of life.  In general, parapsychologists have been accused of being stupid and taken in by fake psychics or of being charlatans themselves, and while there are a very few charlatans and some fake psychics, that reality is not what’s behind these kind of accusations.  In science, demonstrable results are what counts, not what you believe about the universe.  Since the people who make these kind of accusations have almost never actually ever carried out a parapsychological experiment, you have to be very skeptical of their claim to be rational or scientific.

3.) What have TV shows and movies done to make people confused on the reality of these Phenomena? What TV shows or movies do you think have really made people confused?  

I don’t follow TV and movies that much.

4.) What are some scientific methods Parapsychologists use when experimenting or researching?

See my book, mentioned above.

5.) What is some of the best evidence you put forth that a debunker still tried all they could to debunk?  

On the rare occasions when there is a debate between a parapsychologist and one of the so-called skeptics, the so-called skeptics will make all sorts of vague general statements about the inadequacy of parapsychological experiments, but when asked to start commenting specifically on some of the thousand or more experiments that show evidence for parapsychological functioning, they will try to change the subject, or perhaps finally break down and admit that they haven’t actually read any of the experiments.  After all, since they know parapsychology is all nonsense, and there must be flaws in experiments even if they can’t figure out what they are, why should they waste their time reading experimental accounts?  That’s why I generally call these people pseudo-skeptics.

Actually being a skeptic is an honorable position.  It means you are interested in something and not particularly impressed with our current explanations about it, so would like to learn more about it and have better explanations.  But when you don’t bother to look at the evidence, that just means you’re not at all skeptical, you already have some other belief system that you think is being threatened, so you attack what you think of as your enemy.

The data of parapsychology don’t invalidate any of our best science, although they do indicate that there’s still a lot we don’t know.  That we don’t know a lot is, to me, exciting and challenging, and motivates me to try to find out some things.

6.) What made you want to go into the field? How can I try to get into the field?

As a psychologist, I’m interested in what things mean to people, as well as the way the world really is, so my initial interest in parapsychology came as a teenager when I became familiar with science and realized that the religion I was raised in was pretty questionable in lots of ways.  I discovered parapsychology and its early and more widely focused forerunner, usually called psychical research, and thought that it’s idea, that we could apply the methods of science to find out what might be real phenomena in religion and what was indeed nonsense looked like a very sensible way to start clarifying our knowledge.  I’m still working on that!

Good luck with your thinking!

Charles T Tart


















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Dr. Charles T. Tart on February 15th, 2016

Impermanence:  Why Do Buddhists Go On and On About It?

Charles T. Tart

I have been very interested in Buddhism for many years.  Two reasons are its emphasis on psychology, what you do with your mind, and its emphasis on meditation, which I see as a way of developing what you might call a microscope to begin to see the finer details of how your mind works.  Although I’m not that good at meditation, I have seen that many of the basic Buddhist ideas about the mind are indeed true for me, and understanding and gaining a little control over them is very helpful.

CTT office 2-15-16-small








Impossible Mess or Cozy Office?

One of the things that has always puzzled me, though, is that the very frequent emphasis on the idea of impermanence as a basic foundation of Buddhism.  Yes, of course, things change, and it’s clear that if you are too attached to something not changing, you set yourself up for more suffering than you would otherwise experience.  It’s also true that we do frequently get overly attached to things and so suffer when they change, and it’s helpful to be occasionally reminded that just about everything is impermanent, it’s subject to change, it’s influenced by changing conditions.

Yet this seems fairly obvious, so why is impermanence mentioned over and over and over again in Buddhist teachings?

There are probably reasons for this that I don’t comprehend, but this morning I had an insight as to one possible and quite important reason for this emphasis.

In my studies of altered states of consciousness (ASC’s) throughout my career, I came to realize that any strong emotion could usefully be understood as an ASC.  It changed the way you perceived yourself and the world, the way you thought about yourself and the world, and often the way you acted in response to your immediate situation.  But something that struck me that I began to recognize about emotions some years ago is that, by and large, they lie.

Emotions lie in that besides the specific feeling and worldview of a particular emotion, they usually carry an additional message, namely that “This feeling and understanding is eternal truth!  It will be this way forever!”

Once understood, this insight seems obvious.  But many times over my years of teaching students about ASC’s, I’ve seen a look of wonder and relief on their faces when I talk about how emotions lie.  They hadn’t realized it, and they glimpsed that they no longer have to take certain emotional feelings quite so seriously.

Since one of the functions of emotions is to get your attention focused on something that part of your mind or brain considers important, this “This is eternally true!” component probably helps.  But it makes it easy for the emotion to prolong itself and continue biasing your perception of yourself and your world in line with the emotion.

To create an example, suppose I was feeling rather depressed right now.  Emotions tend to alter and bias your perceptions, so I could look around my office, which I normally find a very pleasant place, and see how messy it is, how disorganized it is, how worn the furniture looks, how impossible it would be to even get started on straightening it up, the things that ought to be thrown out but I’m such a hoarder, etc., etc.

But if I remember impermanence, ah, okay, I feel this way at this moment, but it’s going to change.  I could get stuck in this altered state of depression and perhaps it might last for hours or days, or the phone could ring, a friend could call, and I would forget all about these depressing thoughts and stop feeling depressed in just a few seconds.  Oh, okay, I’m not denying how I feel at this moment, but I know it’s impermanent, so I can relax without worrying that I’m ignoring or suppressing my emotions and get on with what I need to do, or what I prefer to do.

I don’t know whether Gautama Buddha intended the emphasis on impermanence to be a support for not getting stuck in negative emotions or not, but it can certainly work that way.  On the other hand, I suspect too much emphasis on impermanence can lead to a kind of psychological and emotional flattening or neutering, where you start automatically not letting yourself care about anything, with the rationalization that it’s impermanent, emotions are just going to create trouble anyway, so it’s best not to have them.  I prefer Gurdjieff’s idea to the Buddhists’ here, that emotions are, at least in part, a way of analyzing the world, a way that has advantages as well as disadvantages, so what we need to do is develop our emotional intelligence, rather than suppressing emotions.




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Dr. Charles T. Tart on February 8th, 2016

Souls in Religion?

Charles Tart

I recently heard from a colleague in a private discussion group for those who research the scientific evidence for the possibility of survival of some aspect of consciousness after death.  He was rather triumphant in getting a university course approved dealing with evidence, scientific, philosophic, humanistic, etc. as to whether or not we have a soul.

But the director of the Religious Studies program at that University made it clear it couldn’t be offered for any credit in Flourescent WaterfallReligious Studies…

When I was young I used to enjoy learning more and more about the world and thinking I might figure it out some day… Oh well…




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How to Meditate in Public Without Looking Like You’re the Kind of Weirdo Who Meditates…

Charles T. Tart

I’ve been talking with a friend lately has had to move to a new home, such that a 2  hour long commute to and from the airport every week is part of life now, and she’s not particularly happy with it.  I tried to cheer my friend up with some general advice, talking about whether you see the glass, to use the old analogy, as half-full or half-empty.  Half-full is the optimist’s point of view, what can you add to it?  Half-empty is the pessimist’s point of view, it will probably get worse.  And then there is the engineer’s point of view, which says perhaps you can redesign the glass to be the optimal size.

A few days later I thought I’d pass along an idea I’ve used for some years, as I  realized it could be helpful to a lot of us who occasionally want to meditate in public places, like sitting in a park or riding on a bus, but realize we live in a society where a lot of people are going to look at you like you’re really weird if you do that.

So, falling into my reengineering the glass mode…

CTT w headphones book pen - small

Let’s say you have about an hour each way on the shuttle to and from the airport.  For a devoted meditator, that’s an opportunity to practice, and an especially good opportunity because you can generalize your meditation skills to a wider range of settings than sitting in absolute quiet in a perfectly upright posture where nobody will bother you, either because there’s nobody else around and you’re meditating in solitude, or you’re surrounded by other people who are meditating also.

Learning to meditate in quiet, supportive settings is probably the best way for most people to start learning various forms of meditation (Gurdjieff work excepted in many ways), and spending time meditating in supportive settings helps to develop the skill of quieting your mind and going inward.  But my current understanding is that a very important outcome of some kinds of meditation is learning to be present and spacious in everyday life, where lots of stuff is happening around you.  So if somebody looks at you funny or says something you think is a little hostile to you in an everyday  setting, it’s not really very practical to say “Excuse me while I sit down with crossed legs on this little black pillow and induce my meditative state to evaluate what you said more accurately and spaciously…”

And my observation should be followed by an emoticon for humor?      ;-)

An emoticon for sadness?   ;-(

But, given the nature of our world, and if you’re not yet that skilled at mindfulness practice under difficult conditions, and/or you like meditating with your eyes closed, do you want to be seen by others sitting on the bus or the park bench with your eyes closed, sitting up unnaturally straight?  Maybe you’re crazy?  Maybe you’re a good candidate for being robbed?  Even in California, I don’t think meditators are quite that socially accepted yet.

But, you have been saved by Apple’s success with iPods and iPhones, the fact that so many people are now wearing earbuds or earphones, listening to music or the like recorded on their iPods or cell phones.  So you put on a pair of old-fashioned headphones, which immediately cuts down the outside noise.  Then plug your headphone into your iPod or phone or other music player, for which I’m sure you can get an app that produces some nice, steady masking noise, surf or rain or something like that.  Now it’s like you’re on retreat in some wonderful place that’s got lots of nature!

CTT w earbuds-headphones book pen -small


But you still might look a little bit vulnerable, so, rather than looking like a meditator, lay an open notebook in your lap with a few scribbles in it, and a pen in your other hand.  So even though your eyes are closed, you could be a businessperson listening to a transcription of an important meeting, getting ready to take notes on the best phrasing for your next big contract.  Ah, that’s one of those Type A people, not really out of it, better leave them alone…


I know, I don’t look that much like a high-powered businessman, but by California standards my Silicon Valley startup may be selling for zillions tomorrow…    Such an interesting dream…       ;-)

Big headphones too odd?  Not fashionable enough?  Earbuds will do, although I personally don’t like them…Big headphones cut down outside noise better.  The kind of headphones they sell for use on airplanes with active noise reduction probably would not be good for this, as they pick up steady sounds, like the hum of the engines and produce a duplicate, but out of phase sound that cancels the hum, but do little for changing noises…

There’s more to improving life and psychological and spiritual growth than just messing with external circumstances, but why not bias them in a helpful direction?


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Dr. Charles T. Tart on December 8th, 2015

Why Our Emotions Drive Us Crazy: Take 1, They Have To Shout!

Charles T. Tart

As usual, these are thoughts-in-process…

As a person who likes to think of himself as a rational individual, I have often been amazed, embarrassed, and blown away by the way a feeling, an emotion, suddenly arises and takes over my consciousness, hijacking my thinking and perceiving so it fits in with the tone of the emotion.emotional brain









Most of my life I just lived with this is as a fact.  My lines of thinking and perceiving would give me a certain understanding and a plan to act in a certain way, and suddenly everything changed.  If it was a positive emotion, like joy, I didn’t particularly mind, but most emotional takeovers involved negative emotions.  I can remember how as a kid I was in a hurry to grow up, as I thought adults were more rational and less susceptible to such emotional hijacking.  Of course I eventually learned that that wasn’t true.

It all made a lot more sense to me when I read P. D. Ouspensky’s book, In Search of the Miraculous, about Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way psychological and spiritual teachings.  Gurdjieff said we had three kinds of “brains” or psychological functions, one intellectual, another emotional, and the third bodily/instinctive.  Becoming a more mature human being (as a solid basis for further spiritual growth) involved educating each of these kinds of functions as you went through life, so they performed their inherent functions properly.  Unfortunately, for practically everybody, one of these brains was much more dominant than the other two, so it would take over in inappropriate ways.  Thus one function was often doing work it wasn’t particularly suited for, or the sheer press of necessity activated one of the other functions, but they hadn’t really been very educated, so our non-dominant functions tended to be relatively ignorant and, given what I learned about psychology later, neurotic, if not psychotic.  For me, my intellectual function was dominant, which made me very clever with words, but, for example, my clever words about a situation were often not relevant or even counterproductive to some situation that was really an emotional or bodily-instinctive problem.  One of my main psychological growth tasks in life has been to give some education to my emotional and body instinctive brains, so they can both work properly on their own and work more harmoniously with all three together, within a wider kind of consciousness.

Gurdjieff taught that the emotional brain operated much faster than the intellectual brain, and I recognized that from my own self-observation of my functioning.  I would be just starting on some kind of intellectual analysis of a difficult situation, e.g., but an emotion which was an evaluation of the situation was already rising and often took over almost instantly, and hijacked my further thinking and remembering to fit the emotion.

In the last couple of decades we now have neurological research to support this idea that the emotional functions operates “faster” than the intellectual function.  If you trace the path of neural impulses from our sense organs, our raw information about what’s happening around us, you’ll find that shortly after they start toward the brain they split into two separate paths.  The raw sensory information, after a few additional neural relay steps, each of which takes some real time, goes on to the frontal cortex parts of the brain where we think “higher” intellectual appraisal and decision-making happens.  But the other split path is shorter and goes to a cruder part of the brain, so arrives there before anything gets to the intellectual parts.  This cruder part is not as discriminating, and tends to make binary “Good!” or “Bad!” decisions rather than “a little good but also some bad” kinds of decisions.  This emotional function has the power to instantly generate strong emotions, which can both drown out what the intellectual part is going to try to work out a few moments later and/or hijack practically all of our conscious attention, so the emotion, the reaction is central to our experience, rather than the information it’s supposed to be about.  This can also distort our otherwise rational thinking processes so they support the emotions.  The emotional brain is yelling “Bad!” and the thinking brain somehow starts to pull up relevant bad memories, etc., reinforcing the “Bad!” signal.  The strong way the emotional brain “yells,” it usually takes priority in shaping experience.

This kind of distortion is often talked about in Buddhist teachings.  A traditional example is you are walking through the jungle at twilight when you suddenly see a poisonous snake on the path, and leap back in fear.  Then as you calm down and look more clearly, you see it’s just a piece of rope lying in the bushes, not a deadly snake.

snake on path










This traditional teaching story is an excellent example of the way our consciousness is distorted in illusory ways, but it could also be used as an example of the value of the emotional brain.  In dim light conditions the piece of rope looked enough like a snake that the emotional brain instantly made its “Deadly danger!” decision and spurred you to jump back.  If you had stood there your intellectual brain might have told you to look more closely, “Oh, it’s a piece of rope that just looks kind of like a snake, no need to get excited.”  But, if it actually had been a snake, you might of been bitten and then died while your intellectual brain was being more precise.  So the extra rapidity and the, to use a Western metaphor, “Shoot first and ask questions later!” operating style of the emotional brain can save your life.  Better embarrassed at being spooked and alive than dead.

What got me thinking about this was a retreat this weekend with Lama Sogyal Rinpoche, where, among many other things, the value of training your attention in a “meditative” kind of way included a more clear and precise sensing of ongoing feelings in the body.  This made perfect sense to me as the primary Gurdjieffian technique I practiced for many years involved splitting my conscious attention, with a small percentage keeping track of bodily feelings.

I usually thought of that attention to bodily feelings as primarily being a way of anchoring my mind in the here-and-now.  My intellectual and emotional minds can wander way off in the “there-and-then,” but my body feelings always take place in the here-and-now, and so serve to anchor me here.  But I observed after doing this for some time that deliberately using some of my attention to monitor bodily sensations sensitized me to low levels of emotional feelings in the body, the first stirrings of the emotional function.  These often would serve to remind me to pay more attention to the emotional components of my ongoing experience, and discover some feeling had indeed been activated, some decision about the situation I was in had been made or was at least being considered by the emotional function, but I wasn’t yet consciously clear about it through being lost in intellectual activity.  I feel the tuning into my emotions this way has made me more emotionally intelligent, not to just my own feelings, but in sensing emotional states in others.

This brings us to the main point I want to put on record here.  Many (most?) of us do not keep much track of all of body sensation, so insofar as our emotional center is somewhat aroused and trying to get our attention, we don’t notice it.  Yet this emotional center is designed to be noticed, so the need to get our attention may build until a powerful jolt of emotion demands our attention, hijacks our consciousness.  Insofar as it’s our habit to not pay attention to these more subtle bodily feelings that could be a cue to the working of our emotional center, it makes some sense to think that the emotional center is not only shouting at us what it thinks there is deadly danger, it’s gotten in the habit of shouting at us most of the time because otherwise we simply don’t pay any attention.  

If we’ve gotten used to only noticing emotional shouting, that reinforces our habit of ignoring the more subtle emotional information presented us.  If we will only notice powerful emotions, we will be bombarded with powerful emotions as the only way to get our attention.

I think we’re lucky to live in the present time, certainly at least in the modern West, as many techniques have been developed for becoming more sensitive to, accepting of, and intelligent about our emotions, such as various psychotherapeutic methods, sensitivity training, etc.   Paying clearer attention to subtle bodily feelings is certainly not the only way to then develop emotional intelligence, but I’m very impressed with what it can do and recommend it.  I’ve discussed the practical side of it in various ways and at some length in my three books which work at integrating Gurdjieff’s ideas with modern psychology, Waking Up: Overcoming the Obstacles to Human Potential,  Living the Mindful Life, and Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People.





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Dr. Charles T. Tart on November 25th, 2015

Doubt and Belief as Energies:

Handicap and Powerhouse, or…

Charles T. Tart

Copyright © 2015 Charles T. Tart

 These are some of my ongoing musings about doubt. belief, and how you get to better understandings of reality, very important aspects of life.  For those very attached to their beliefs and doubts, though, I should warn you in advance that I don’t have any final answers as to how to deal with these things, and I raise questions!  If, on the other hand, you think would be interesting to explore doubts and beliefs, read on.


One of the things I do to try to keep my full humanity alive, as opposed to getting overly involved in the cool, rather detached objectivity of scholarship and science, is subscribing to a daily email called the Glimpse of the Day.  This is put out by the Rigpa Fellowship, Lama Sogyal Rinpoche’s teaching organization.  His first book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, became a spiritual bestseller when it was published back in 1992…., And remains so today.




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Lama Sogyal Rinpoche

These daily glimpses are primarily one or two paragraph excerpts from that book or his other writings, and they serve as reminders to me of various things psychological, inspirational, and spiritual.  I am very much an empiricist and  scientist, though, so I don’t regard them as The Truth, but as useful stimulations for me from a someone who I’m sure is a lot further along the spiritual path that I am.  Sometimes the day’s reminder makes me feel like “Right on!  Thanks for the reminder!”  And sometimes more like “I think that’s got part of the truth, but it needs more adaptation to the modern world,” and many other reactions.  If you’re interested in this sort of thing, I believe you can sign up at this website URL:  http://rigpa.us1.list-manage.com/profile?u=82919293b1ba54e8eb69e3fb5&id=3434aaf636&e=2a82da6a4c .

Note that in discussing a recent daily glimpse, I’m not trying to persuade you that I’m on to a superior form of the truth through Sogyal Rinpoche’s teachings, even though they’ve been extremely valuable in my own growth.  It’s clear to me, though, that what is a stimulating and valuable expression of spiritual teachings for one person may be nonsense for a second, tie into delusional and neurotic thinking for a third, and even be crazy-making for some people.

The November 23, 2115 reminder was about doubt, a topic that has long been of great concern to me.  Here it is.


November 23

The Buddha summons us to a different kind of doubt, “like analyzing gold, scorching, cutting and rubbing it to test its purity.” For this form of doubt really exposes us to the truth if we follow it to the end, but we have neither the insight, the courage, nor the training. We have been schooled in a sterile addiction to contradiction that has robbed us repeatedly of all real openness to any more expansive and ennobling truth.

In the place of our contemporary nihilistic form of doubt I would ask you to put what I call a “noble doubt,” the kind that is an integral part of the path toward enlightenment. The vast truth of the mystical teachings handed down to us is not something that our endangered world can afford to dismiss. Instead of doubting them, why don’t we doubt ourselves: our ignorance, our assumption that we understand everything already, our grasping and evasion, our passion for so-called explanations of reality that have about them nothing of the awe-inspiring and all-encompassing wisdom of what the masters, the messengers of Reality, have told us?


I quite agree with Rinpoche’s concerns about nihilistic and destructive doubt.  For many people, especially in intellectual settings, expressing doubts makes them feel like they are sophisticated, and that they are impressing others with their sophistication.  Thus the expression of doubt toward any idea they haven’t already heard about and accepted becomes an automatic, conditioned habit, not actually involving any real analysis leading to a rational reason for doubt, just a negative personality trait.  My own attempts at psychological and spiritual growth have involved a lot of effort in trying to monitor what it is I’m experiencing and doing, and I’ve seen this kind of habitual and destructive doubt in myself way too often!  The other side of this, though, is I’ve noticed how difficult it is to legitimately express a doubt as part of the seeking of a better understanding, without it too often appearing cynical or being perceived by others as an attack on what they think is true…


Doubt and Belief as Energies:


An image of doubt, from https://www.google.com/search?q=doubt&espv=2&biw=993&bih=723&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj_s6jXl6zJAhXLmogKHcTtDLYQ_AUIBigB#imgrc=tij0TxlJ5069YM%3A

One useful way I have found of thinking about doubt and belief as to see them as both kinds of psychological energies, which manifest not only in how we experience the world, but in how we act in it.  Beliefs, even if they don’t represent reality very well, can synchronize or desynchronize our energies and make them more or less effective, regardless whether the outcome of that might be good or might be bad.  Many of the craziest and most destructive people in human history have had very clear, integrated belief systems that led them to do horrible things.

When my wife Judy and I trained in the Japanese martial art of Aikido years ago, instructors would occasionally show us a simple exercise that I found to be an excellent demonstration of the effects of doubt and belief, of splitting your attention versus concentrating it.  Two people would be asked to stand 10 or 12 feet in front of you, with their inner arms reaching toward each other.  There arms did not touch or interlock, nor was this any kind of strong position to try to keep their arms from being moved.

I’m not sure this verbal description is too accurate, so with the help of my virtual twin (and the objections of my wife, “You’re going to have me photograph you dressed like that?”), here’s what I’ll call the Aikido Gate:

Aikido arm gate












The instructor would now have someone walk toward these two people who had  their arms outstretched.  The blue arrow illustrates the trajectory of the walk.  In one condition, the instruction would be for the walker to maintain a mental image of the space just behind where he started from as he walked forward.  In the other case the walker was to focus all his perception on what was on the other side of the people with their arms out.

With attention on a mental image in back of you, a person would walk into the arms and be suddenly stopped, or, perhaps by exhibiting exerting great muscular force, be able to push through after being slowed.  Without that “behind me” image in their mind, just focusing on what was in front, though, the walker simply and relaxedly walked through the two people’s arms gate with no real effort.

Split your energies in opposite directions, intention is split, power is lost.  Put all your energy and attention in one direction, and you’re strong.  This kind of principle is used in all the martial arts, so that in some ways these arts are like training in concentrative meditation, not just a matter of learning some physical techniques.

When you’re being taught some kind of concentrative meditation technique, a learnable skill central in probably all spiritual development systems, you are asked to rest your attention on one thing, and one thing only, and if it strays off, which it will certainly do for any normal person, gently bring it back.  If you start trying to learn concentrative meditation by doubting whether you can do that, such that, for example, you’re checking every few seconds, “Am I doing it correctly?”  Or “Damn!  I’ve drifted off into thinking about other things again!” you don’t get very far.

When you have some kind of belief system that gives you reasonable satisfaction in the way you experience and act in your life, it’s natural to get very protective about it.  You have beliefs, styles, goals that direct your attentions and intentions pretty well.  If someone comes along who questions it, you can get nervous, and/or defensive, and/or angry.

If the questioner is doing it in a hostile way, that’s not too hard to handle, you categorize them as an enemy and bad person, and certainly don’t give serious attention to thinking about the doubts they start to bring up.  You use doubt of their goodness to deflect what you may see as an attack.  If it’s a more friendly question, this rejection defense may not be readily available, but chances are you still don’t really want to think about your belief system, it means too much to you.

Insofar as your belief system is effectively adaptive, and the circumstances it was developed for don’t change too much, it’s useful to have that much investment in your belief system.  You’ve probably deliberately formed alliances with other people who share your basic belief system, or been raised by people who share that belief system—your culture, your particular religion, etc.— You’ve also got social support for defending your belief system.  At the extremes, you get religions who gain secular power and punish or kill heretics.

When your beliefs keep you functioning well in your world, you are, in a sense, in a close system, locked in by success.  When the outcome of your beliefs leads to the unknown, doubts arise….   Which can be seen as a curse, or a great opportunity….

belief cycle

One of the things I’ve liked about Buddhism, with its emphasis on psychological functioning, is its recognition that becoming attached to any particular beliefs about yourself or the world can create suffering.  A line in a Buddhist prayer I often use at the end of my meditation practice, as a way of reinforcing my goodwill toward people, is praying that we may live without too much attachment and too much aversion.  This is good psychological advice for most of life, and we’ve all had many experiences of having suffered about something only to eventually realize that it was our attitude, our attachment to that attitude, about the event that was the primary cause of our suffering, not the event itself.  The actual event simply wasn’t that important.

The version of the Buddhist prayer I use, without too much attachment or too much aversion, is a way that Lama Sogyal Rinpoche translated a traditional Tibetan prayer with this advice in it.  Later he began translating the Tibetan more literally, and this is how most Lamas translate it, that beings live without attachment and aversion.  Since I think living with no attachment and aversion is probably impossible for most of us – – it’s certainly impossible for me – – I don’t care for that translation, and I also suspect it could be misunderstood as advising an attitude of apathy.  You certainly won’t suffer much if you don’t give a damn about anything, but I don’t think that’s much of a way to live!

There’s so much more that could be said about belief and doubt and the energetic effects they have on us, but enough for now.










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Careers in Consciousness Research, Parapsychology and/or Transpersonal Psychology

Charles T. Tart

Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of California at Davis

Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Sofia University/Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, Palo Alto, California 

(Revision of Nov 13, 2015)


The contents of this document are Copyright © 2009  and Copyright © 2015 by Charles T. Tart.


I get many letters from prospective graduate students who want to study human consciousness, parapsychology, transpersonal psychology, or some combination of these fields, either with me or somewhere: thus this brief note, trying to condense decades of experience into a few pages.  This is my perspective, and may not be up to date in some areas since I am largely retired.jp cover


Because these areas are so important for a real understanding of human nature, and have so much to potentially contribute to making our world a better place, I am inspired by students’ interest in working in these areas!  I want to encourage your interests, but also give practical advice about studying these areas in order to make a career in them.


Note that I give this “practical” advice with ambivalence.  I feel an obligation to give realistic assessments to young people who will have to make a living in the modern world, even though the “practical” side will often mean having to suppress or deny, to varying degrees,  the interests and idealism that you have.  In my own case, I followed my own ideals in making career choices because I believed, and still believe, that the application of real science (as opposed to scientism) to understand the spiritual, start to separate sense from nonsense, and make it more effective in our time is so vital.  So I really appreciate the students who say “Yes, I may not make a good material living and have good job security if I follow my heart, but I will follow it anyway!”  But we have to be as practical as possible.

As Tom Potterfield, a former President of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology nicely put it, when we were discussing students with spiritual interests who go to conventional graduate schools and find, unfortunately, that they have to hide their deep interests because of widespread prejudice in such schools, “It would seem unhealthy for someone to go a place where that they had to hide or stuff their deepest desires just to fit in better.  Life is too short to live under false pretenses.”

And yet the experience of too many of my colleagues suggests that if you apply to a mainstream graduate school, the faculty there, and possibly the admissions committee, may well contain a member who is irrationally prejudiced against parapsychological and transpersonal interests and will automatically vote to reject you.  This prejudice is almost never admitted to, it’s held by people who pride themselves on being rational and scientific, and who would be really offended if you asked them, e.g., how much of the scholarly and scientific literature in these fields they had actually read in forming their opinion.  It’s certainly the case with parapsychology that the more vocal and fervent a critic is, the less of the actual literature they have bothered to read.  So you’ll need to learn to tolerate irrational opposition too often…and be careful who you talk to about your interests…

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To start: because I am well known in these fields, people often believe there is an active, graduate level program in one or all of those fields at the University of California at Davis where I taught for many (1966-1994) years, but, unfortunately, the truth was that I was rather alone at UCD in being interested in consciousness, parapsychology and transpersonal psychology, and UCD had hardly any course work at all in them, much less a real program. Further, I retired from the UCD in 1994 in order to devote my time to more focused teaching in transpersonal psychology and to writing, so I no longer teach or research there at all.  There is interest in consciousness research there now, particularly the neurophysiological bases of consciousness, but I have not followed this and can’t give advice on that UCD program, but as conventional psychology programs go, I’m sure it is excellent.  I understand there is some research on meditation there now, but I think it’s largely on physiological correlates of “meditation” for stress relief, rather than spiritually oriented.

If your interest in consciousness research can be focused on a relatively accepted aspect of it (cognitive psychology or biofeedback, e.g., or some area that is “legitimatized” in terms of current fashion, such as by appearing to have some neurological basis), you can probably find professors and programs at many  mainstream universities doing research in areas that you could work with. Check reference sources like Psychological Abstracts, Psych Lit, and MedLine, and do internet searches to see who is doing work in these areas and what institutions they are at, then write the people directly.  In the last few decades the study of consciousness, long considered taboo and unscientific, has gained a fair amount of legitimacy in various mainstream fields of science (although a main thrust tends to be explaining consciousness “away” in terms of brain functioning).

If your primary interest is in transpersonal psychology or parapsychology, things get much tougher. You can forget mainstream academic institutions if you really want to get involved during graduate school.  A further complication arises from whether your interest originates primarily from your head or your heart.


Scientific Parapsychology:

First let me clarify some terms: When I say “parapsychology,” I mean the field of scientific research carried out by people trained, usually to the PhD level, in some recognized scientific discipline (almost none are trained in parapsychology per se, due to lack of specialized programs, but come from biology, physics, psychology, etc.), research focused on understanding the nature of phenomena like telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis (PK), psychic healing, etc. The emphasis here is on very high quality, controlled laboratory experiments that produce experiments conducted up to or (typically) exceeding the methodological standards in other recognized fields of scientific inquiry, as well as a willingness to accept negative results (psychic functioning often fails to manifest on demand in either real life or the laboratory).  Some parapsychologists have strong spiritual inclinations and may personally follow various spiritual paths, but this does not interfere with the scientific quality and rigor of their work, some others have no spiritual interests or even are somewhat hostile to spirituality, but find parapsychological phenomena uniquely puzzling and challenging, since they defy conventional explanations.

Almost all investigators working in scientific parapsychology are members of the Parapsychological Association, an international organization and affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, with full membership usually requiring a Ph.D. degree in some recognized scholarly or scientific field and evidence of published contributions to the parapsychology field in refereed (meaning competent colleagues have judged the work to meet basic scientific standards) scientific journals. Fairly detailed information about scientific parapsychology and generally agreed on findings to date can be found via links from my web archives or from my most recent book, The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together.” Other important sources are the guides to parapsychology on the internet from the Parapsychological Association , and from the Parapsychology Foundation.  I do not keep up to date on web resources, and there are many web sites of variable or dubious scientific quality, but these are high quality places to start a search.

The Parapsychological Association also maintains updated advice on education and careers in parapsychology at http://www.parapsych.org/section/34/university_education_in.aspx .

In an ideal world (at least by my and most of my colleagues’ preferences), anyone identified as a “parapsychologist” would meet these scientific standards, but the reality is that many people who call themselves “parapsychologists” do not have graduate degrees in the sciences, and/or often do not understand what the discipline of science in general is about, and/or, if they have any publications, they are not in refereed journals but in popular books and magazines where some of the few truths we know about parapsychological phenomena are too often indiscriminately mixed up with personal beliefs, careless and sometimes incorrect reporting of events, and sometimes just plain fantasy or fraud.  There is no legal restriction on who can call themselves parapsychologists.  Because of this, the few of us who have tried to do quality scientific research on the field get considerable extra rejection from mainstream science because we are ignorantly lumped in with these others.  In spite of all the work I’ve done in parapsychology, for example, work I’m scientifically proud of, when I’m introduced as a parapsychologist I almost always try to correct this to my identity as a psychologist (where there are some legal standards), part of whose research has been in parapsychology.

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I am not saying that only someone with a Ph.D. should be allowed to be interested in or write about parapsychological phenomena: that would be silly.  It’s just a matter of not confusing people about what is and isn’t scientific knowledge.   By analogy, I am all for people who are unconventional healers (if they get results that physicians usually can’t get) calling themselves “healers,” but I’m also all for putting people in jail if they falsely call themselves physicians when they aren’t.  “Physician” is well understood by people to mean many years of intense training in conventional medical disciplines, and we have general social agreement that those who aren’t so trained shouldn’t mislead others.

I’ve gone on this long to make it clear that my advice about careers in parapsychology is primarily for those who want to do scientific research.  If this isn’t your primary interest, that’s OK, let’s just not be confused about it.  Perhaps transpersonal psychology (which is also one of my careers) is a more appropriate professional interest for you, for while much scientific research needs to be done in it, most of its current practitioners are working as therapists and counselors, helping people with emotional and spiritual problems, a necessary and noble undertaking.  Or they take parapsychological findings for granted and are interested in understanding how people can integrate psychic experiences into their lives in growthful ways.  Of course it would be better if we had much more scientific knowledge in transpersonal psychology, but meanwhile real people have psychological and spiritual needs that they can use assistance with!


Transpersonal Psychology: 

To partly define transpersonal psychology, here are parts of a definition I mostly wrote from an older catalog of the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology (ITP):

Transpersonal psychology is a fundamental area of research, scholarship and application based on people’s experiences of temporarily transcending our usual identification with our limited biological, historical, cultural and personal self and, at the deepest and most profound levels of experience possible, recognizing/being “something” of vast intelligence and compassion that encompasses/is the entire universe. From this perspective our ordinary, “normal” biological, historical, cultural and personal self is seen as an important, but quite partial (and often pathologically distorted) manifestation or expression of this much greater “something” that is our deeper origin and destination………Transpersonal experiences generally have a profoundly transforming effect on the lives of those who experience them, both inspiring those experiencers with an understanding of great love, compassion and non-ordinary kinds of intelligence, and also making them more aware of the distorting and pathological limitations of their ordinary selves that must be worked with and transformed for full psychological and spiritual maturity…….

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Transpersonal psychology is my primary vocation, and I see my scientific parapsychology work as a subset of the transpersonal field.  After retiring early from the University of California at Davis, I taught part time at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP) in Palo Alto CA for 20 years, until mid-2014.  ITP was a fully accredited (Western Association of Schools and Colleges, WASC), independent graduate school offering MA and Ph.D. degrees in transpersonal psychology, as well as distant learning MA and PhD degrees, programs, with a far broader range of subjects taught than in conventional psychology programs.

In 2013, ITP changed its name to Sofia University and made a wide variety of internal, programmatic and staff changes.  One result of these changes was my decision to retire from Sofia/ITP.  Although I hope for the best for Sofia/ITP, I do not keep up with the changes, so while I include earlier advice which has some generality, below, I do not specifically recommend or not recommend Sofia/ITP, and cannot provide further information about its programs.  So my use of “I,” “our,” and “we” below reflects history,  but not current reality for me. 

Starting in 2009, ITP was working on modifying our residential PhD program to make it more feasible for part-time students who need to keep earning a living, and that was operationalized.  We also offered a PsyD program in clinical psychology with a transpersonal emphasis, and it was aiming for American Psychological Association accreditation.  To my older knowledge, that was moving along fine, but I don’t know its current status.  Note that CIIS, the California Institute of Integral Studies, in San Francisco plans to start offering an online PhD program in Integral and Transpersonal Psychology in Fall of 2016. This will be offered online, with two residential seminars per year, and is a research-oriented degree. In addition, CIIS is developing a research laboratory in order to support the integration of transpersonal psychology with neuroscience—and students who choose to do so will be able to utilize this laboratory for their dissertation research.  CIIS offers many other graduate programs that would be of interest to those interested in transpersonal psychology or parapsychology.

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Careers in Transpersonal Psychology: 

In terms of realistic career advice, I should note that transpersonal psychology is a relatively new area and still considered “marginal” (at best) or “pseudo science” (at worst) by many in (prejudicially biased) mainstream psychology. If your goal is a tenured faculty position at a major university, with the ample time for research that the low teaching loads in these institutions allow (publish or perish!), please understand that a degree from a transpersonal school will not be looked upon with favor, indeed will probably give you much less chance of being hired than a doctoral degree from most mainstream institutions. Transpersonal psychologists usually make a living teaching (often part-time, due to lack of transpersonal positions) or doing clinical-like counseling practice or leading psychological and spiritual growth-oriented work. (A fair number of ITP graduate students already had a career that they could go back to, adding a transpersonal touch to it.)

If your interests in parapsychology and/or transpersonal psychology arise primarily from your heart, making a living helping people is no disadvantage at all!  If you can work well from both heart and head, wonderful!  Importantly, ITP tried to educate its students’ emotions, body, social skills, spiritual life and creativity as well as their intellectual sides, an approach unique in higher education, where putting clever words into your head is the main and usually the exclusive program.

If you are primarily interested in doing research, realize that very few transpersonal psychologists can afford to devote more than a small part of their time to research (even though it’s desperately needed).  I was luckily able to do a lot of research in my career because I taught at a mainstream school, UC Davis, where faculty teaching loads are light, so faculty have time for research.  I assume (I haven’t studied the proposed program yet) CIIS will give a basic, graduate level education in research methods, including exposure to many methods more suitable for transpersonal and consciousness research, but it may not be up to the level of methodological sophistication found in specialized mainstream schools: there’s only so much time in a program.

I was fairly passionate about what kind of students I wanted to come to ITP also, and I suspect some CIIS faculty will feel the same way.  If job security and mainstream acceptance are your primary goals, CIIS is not the place for you.  If you are sincerely dedicated to advancing and applying our growing scientific and psychological knowledge of the genuinely spiritual to helping the world, CIIS is one of the very, very few places that will not only support your ideals, but give you tools for doing this!

One way some people solve the problem of wanting the advantages of a mainstream position (they are real, although the personal costs of ignoring or denying your spiritual nature are high), versus the greater importance of the depths of transpersonal psychology, is by going to a mainstream school (where they are wisely discreet about their deeper interests – many prejudiced mainstream professors will write you off as crazy if you let them know of all your interests, or try to get you out of the program – it shouldn’t be this way, but it is), but keep up with transpersonal psychology or parapsychology by joining the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, which  publishes the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, and/or reading the parapsychological journals.  Membership in the Institute of Noetic Sciences is also very helpful for keeping up via their annual meetings and publications.

In terms of other possibilities (few, unfortunately), especially in parapsychology, you might contact the Parapsychological Association for their current list of schools offering some (usually one) parapsychology courses or programs, the Society for Psychical Research, and the Association for Transpersonal Psychology, mentioned above, for schools offering courses or programs in transpersonal psychology.  Another excellent source of info on careers in parapsychology is Irwin’s monograph.  But please note that scientific parapsychology is a minuscule field, with only a few dozen people in the entire world working in it, most only part time.  Unless there is an unexpected change that infuses a lot of money into the field, I must warn you that chances of a decent job, if you can find training, are small . If you are so dedicated that this news won’t stop you, that’s wonderful!  But be realistic.

Note that some of my colleagues currently think people who really want careers in parapsychology should emigrate to the United Kingdom, where the academic and scientific attitude is less overtly hostile than in the United States – although there are still only  a very few positions available.  As one colleague waggishly put it, Americans should not have too much trouble with the language…    ;-)

The Rhine Research Center (formerly the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man), the successor of Professor J. B. Rhine’s parapsychology laboratory at Duke University, used to offer an 8-week summer training program each year that was very good (and usually the only thing available) for getting a solid introduction to scientific parapsychology.  It may or may still be available in any given year.  They are also a good source of advice about training and careers in parapsychology.

Note again that I am busy writing and do not keep up with all that is available, especially now that it is so readily findable on the web.

In terms of keeping up with my own work in consciousness, parapsychology and transpersonal psychology, you can go to my web site where reprints of many of my articles are available.  I also have a blog accessible there discussing parapsychology, consciousness, transpersonal psychology, and notes on my personal problems and insights trying to integrate science and spiritual growth.  Perhaps some will follow these ideas up and develop them beyond my rough beginnings.  As I age, I am tossing out many of my observations and ideas in brief blog articles there in hopes that some may be useful to future researchers, as well as people in general.  While I have been very successful in publishing in high prestige scientific journals, as I age I don’t have time to jump through those hoops.

There are so many other things I could say, but I’m sure you’re overwhelmed by now, so I’ll stop.  Since you are reading this, I really appreciate your ambition and idealism in wanting to work in these fields!  We need you, but the opportunities are, as I’ve sadly said, more limited than is needed unless you really want to go mainstream and have the talent to work in correlating psychological functioning with brain functioning.  Our current scientific culture takes the belief that the mind is nothing more than the brain as unquestioned gospel, and so spends well on brain research, especially if it will make “funny stuff” seem to be explained away.  I am constantly amazed at the brain studies that claim to explain (away) apparent psychic phenomena like out-of-body experiences or near-death experiences while showing that their authors know almost nothing about these areas.

Parapsychology, transpersonal psychology and consciousness research in general are vitally important fields for understanding our nature and possibilities.  It’s too bad there’s so much prejudice to fight in scientists who should know better.

Whatever you do, good luck!

Please feel free to forward this information to anyone you think may be interested.

With best wishes for your career,

Charles T. Tart, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus, University of California at Davis

Professor Emeritus, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology

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Dr. Charles T. Tart on October 31st, 2015

How do you define consciousness?

An old friend wrote me that she was exploring how people define “consciousness,” and since I was supposed to be an authority on consciousness, how did I define it?  I either answered or ducked the question as follows:

>How do you define consciousness? <

Oh dear!


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A cover of the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, definitions of consciousness from the Oxford English Dictionary…

My first reaction is that I’ve got to try to help my old friend to not hurt herself too much, so you should find a nice soft pillow, fasten it securely to the wall, and as you start banging your head against the wall, be sure to stay where the pillow is so you don’t hurt your head too much…  The finest minds of humanity have been banging their heads against the wall on this one for a long, long time, and my short answer is that you can’t “define” consciousness.  By giving up on that myself, I haven’t needed to keep a pillow fastened to the wall of my study for some time…     :-)

Getting serious — well actually I was quite serious — the first big problem is that all sorts of people talk about consciousness, and awareness, perception, and so forth, as if they were all talking about the same thing, but generally they’re not.  What person A means when she or he talks about consciousness is not necessarily what person B means, etc., but since we like to agree and find support from each other, we’re tempted to assume they mean the same thing, and then things get really confusing!

My impression is that when someone talks about consciousness they’ve settled on one or two aspects of the many aspects of consciousness, and are thinking and talking as if that’s all there is to it.

To illustrate, how do you “define” an automobile?  No, you can’t take the easy way out by pointing out your window at one of those things sitting in the driveway.  I want a logical, unambiguous, and un-confusing definition.

Well, an automobile has tires.  Almost always true, so we’re starting out pretty well, but obviously there’s a lot more to it than that.  Okay, an automobile has seats.  An automobile has a windshield.  An automobile usually uses gasoline or diesel fuel.  An automobile can move, under the direction of a driver, from one place to another.  And, and, and…

Which of the above characteristics is most important?  None, of course.  Yes, an automobile has parts, but it’s the way those parts relate to each other, both statically and dynamically, that is much more representative of what the concept of automobile is about.  Our language makes us tend to habitually think in terms of things, solid, unchanging things, but really an automobile is a process using things.

Can the windshield, by itself, understand what an automobile is?  How about the tires?  How about the gasoline?  How about the process of combustion of the fuel inside the cylinders?  We’re asking if the part can comprehend the whole, when the whole exists only because of the interaction of many parts.  In technical terms, the whole is a systems emergent, emerging from a specific pattern of interaction of sub-systems, but the properties of the whole can’t necessarily be deduced from knowledge of the parts, the sub-systems.

So I regard “defining” as one of the many parts  or subsystems of consciousness.  Consciousness  has other parts, like perceiving, feeling various emotions, planning, remembering, etc.  People who write and talk about consciousness usually, as I mentioned above, are most interested in one aspect of this but then tend to treat it as if it were the whole.  But I don’t see how the part can understand the whole, so while defining can be a very valuable function of this much larger process we call consciousness, I don’t really expect that it can somehow comprehend the whole of consciousness.

But wait, don’t throw your hands up in despair!  While consciousness itself may be too big a process for the part called “defining” to comprehend, we can still communicate usefully about the actions of some of the parts, or the interactions of some of the parts, even if we can’t comprehend, “define” the whole from any particular parts perspective or qualities.  What we can do if we’re reading someone’s writings about consciousness or hearing them talk is get them to define what they mean by “consciousness” in this particular instance.  If we could get people to do that, we could have much clearer communications.  But as long as we’re talking about different things while always using that word “consciousness,” communication is pretty inefficient and often totally misleading.

Okay, is your pillow still fastened to the wall?  If you want to bang your head some more, please use the pillow, but if you’re feeling less puzzled, take the pillow down and sit on it, get clear about what particular aspect of “consciousness” you went to learn more about, and think and observe…

If I come across as too sharp, sorry, that’s not my intention, and I’m really quite optimistic about us getting a lot clearer about some aspects, at least, of consciousness.  In my years of studying altered states of consciousness, listening to many people’s accounts of what had happened to them, one of the smartest things I learned to do was stop assuming I understood that I knew just what they meant when they used common words, and ask them to get more specific about it.

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