Gods and Goddesses and ???
Charles T. Tart
A number of parapsychologists and I discuss many contemporary research issues on a private discussion list. Recently we’ve had some discussion about Srinivasa Ramanujan, a Fellow of the Royal Society (1887-1920), a self-taught Indian mathematician. Self-taught in that he had no formal training in mathematics, but claimed that most of his ideas were not created by him but given to him by an Indian goddess. Ramanujan was an ardent devotee of the goddess Namagiri Thayar.
Today many parapsychologists are physicists by training and, as you can imagine, gods and goddesses are not popular in mainstream science! I’m a product of modern culture too and understand (and often, but not always) share this attitude. But, I thought, could scientific method, ingeniously applied, provide any evidence, even just probabilistic evidence, for or against the existence of gods and goddesses, rather than just having their possible existence dismissed implicitly, if not explicitly, in science education and practice?
I’ve thought about this issue, inconclusively, off and on for years, but maybe I could stimulate some of these very bright parapsychologists to think about it?
So here I share the post I sent off to my colleagues today. If some interesting ideas evolve, I’ll share them in some later blog post, and readers here may have some good ideas to share in the Comments area…
Existence of Non-Physical Beings? NPBs
Our recent discussions about inspiration, gods, and goddesses have suggested to me that we could have an interesting methodological exercise. We’ve got some very sophisticated methodologists here, and while our scientific culture “prejudice” (literally pre-judgment as that’s the way we were educated/indoctrinated by and large) instantly rejects any reality to gods and goddesses, it’s always interesting to challenge one’s prejudices and see if your mind can break free in interesting ways
So suppose we seriously consider that there might be what I’ll call non-physical beings, NPBs. That’s about as emotionally neutral term as I can think of right now, much less loaded than gods and goddesses.
We wonder if certain of those NPBs actually exist, or we only imagine them. With physical beings, we can literally physically check up on their existence, go and look at the person, talk to them, etc.
What people have or haven’t believed about NPBs in the past, whether belief in the concept of NPBs is good for you matter your bad for humanity is not the issue. The issue is could we acquire evidence that argued more strongly for or against their existence.
I say argued more strongly for or against their existence rather than “prove,” as this is a very complex subject. I don’t expect any absolute answers in my lifetime (maybe “I” will know after I die?), but I could envision additions to knowledge that make the idea of their existence more or less likely. So what could we do?
We already have a similar question, with evidence pro and con in the question of whether some aspect of a living person survives death in a form that we could say the “person” survived. The most direct form of experimental evidence consists of using mediums, who we assume have the relevant psi abilities, to ostensibly communicate with these surviving entities, and then question these entities to see whether they can provide us with physically checkable facts about the life of the deceased person that they now claim to be, facts which would ordinarily not be known to the medium.
Those of you familiar with this research will know how complex it is, and many factors that have been checked so far. Some mediums, for example, are fraudulent, and either do cold readings to mislead sitters that they are in contact with deceased loved ones, actually hire detectives to find out information, etc. Most mediums seem to honestly believe in what they’re doing and not be consciously fraudulent, but we can worry that they’re simply unconsciously picking up on the body language of the sitters, so the best technique, long ago developed, was to use proxy sitters, people who will give the medium the deceased person’s name but otherwise know nothing about them, so the sitter can’t give any information away. If we still get good information suggesting this is the deceased person somehow surviving, then we can worry about super-ESP, the medium’s unconscious mind using ESP to connect, via the proxy sitter, via who knows how many links, to wherever the relevant information is, combine it with a subconscious impersonation, and seem to be the deceased communicator, but that’s not what’s happening. Some of us worry a great deal about the super-ESP alternative, some of us, usually including me, don’t worry much about it since super-ESP is too vague to be ruled out and so is not really a scientific hypothesis.
To greatly oversimplify more than a century of such research, we could say that many mediumistic readings give material that is comforting to the sitters, but is nowhere near specific enough to make a strong case for any kind of survival. In some cases the ostensible communicating spirits give excellent factual information, as well as some incorrect information, about the deceased person they claim to be the surviving spirit of, and in some cases also show mannerisms that further match the deceased person. This kind of evidence has convinced some people that we survive death, and left other people worrying about the complexities of assessing the evidence.
While we can learn much from survival research, I think the problem is harder when we ask about the reality of NPBs. I’ve defined an NPB here as possibly having a “real” existence on “some other level of reality,” but not on the physical level, so there are no physical databases you can check to see if the NPB is who she or he claims to be.
It’s been a while since I’ve read much channeled material (Arthur Hastings’ and John Klimo’s two books are the best sources I always recommend), but my impression is that some ostensible NPBs show enough inconsistency from one channeling to the next to make one doubt that there is some “real” entity behind it, but some others show a great deal of consistency.
So, our fun challenge.
Assume you have access to several “channelers” who reliably “contact” some NPBs, and these NPBs show enough consistency and are interesting enough that you really wonder if they are “real.”
What do you do to collect evidence for or against their apparent “reality?”
I look forward to our discussion. Here on OUR LIST we have some very bright people who I don’t think have given much thought to the survival question or the reality of NPBs, but who thus, in some sense, can start thinking about it in a more open-minded way. Who knows what will come up with?
PS: some people “believe in” or “have fun with” interpreting associated events as messages or oracles. So as I open my computer to start writing this this morning, I noticed I had an email from tinywords firstname.lastname@example.org, a bit of literary creativity I get each day for stimulation. Here’s what today’s tiny words, that I read just before starting to write this, were:
on the battered pier
fishing for ghosts
-Paul David Mena http://tinyurl.com/zbgtl2q
Encouraging? Discouraging? Certainly interesting…