I just found out that a parapsychologist colleague of mine, Gertrude Schmeidler, died last month (1912-2009). I say colleague rather than friend, for while we were friendly there was a great age range difference so we never got to know each other well.
Gertrude made one of the most important discoveries ever in parapsychology, one with strong spiritual implications and one which I think none of the spiritual traditions knows about, for while it’s something that can happen in everyday life, it’s pretty much unobservable except under laboratory conditions. She gave many classes of students ESP tests, guessing at concealed cards, but, before giving or scoring the tests, she had students fill out questionnaires that asked, among other things, whether they believed in ESP.
When she analyzed the results separately for the believers – the “sheep” – and the non-believers – the “goats” – she found a small, but significant difference. The sheep got more right than you would expect by chance guessing, they were occasionally using ESP. The goats, on the other hand, got significantly fewer right than you would expect by chance.
Think of it this way. If you were asked to guess red or black with ordinary playing cards, no feedback until you’d done the whole deck, you would average about 50% correct by chance. If you got 100% correct, you don’t need statistics to know that would be astounding. But if you got 0%? Just as astounding!
The sheep thought they could do it, they got “good” scores, they were happy. The goats knew there was no ESP, nothing to get, they got poor scores, they were happy, that “proved” their belief. These were not people who were sophisticated enough about statistics to know that scoring below chance could be significant….
Many other experimenters replicated this effect over the years.
The only way I’ve ever been able to understand it is to think that the goats occasionally used ESP, but on an unconscious level, to know what the next card was and then their unconscious, acting in the service of their conscious belief system, influenced them to call anything but the correct one. The goats used a “miracle” to support their belief that there were no such things as miracles….
Talk about living in samsara, in a state of illusion!
Our human knowledge is richer for Gertrude’s work. She had been retired for some years and died peacefully in her sleep on March 9th.