Recently my colleague Ed Kelly circulated a set of bullet points summarizing some consensus arising from the Esalen invitational Sursem conferences on the possibility of postmortem survival. The focus at these conferences had slowly widened from how do we scientifically investigate the possibility of postmortem survival per se to questions about the ultimate nature of reality and human consciousness. Dr. Kelly’s brilliant summary of this consensus inspired me: it was time to make some statements about my own understandings of reality and consciousness after a half century career of personal and scientific investigation. I agreed with practically all Dr. Kelly expressed, but added some modifications. So, as a summary and to stimulate others, here’s what I think – lots of uses of Dr. Kelly’s words here, they were so good, but the final version here is strictly my responsibility, not his.
→ Mainstream physicalist/reductionist science cannot account for well-documented mental and psychophysiological phenomena of the sorts catalogued in Irreducible Mind (and elsewhere), and must give way to something larger. [Irreducible Mind by Edward F. Kelly (Author), Emily Williams Kelly (Author), Adam Crabtree (Author), Alan Gauld(Author), Michael Grosso (Author), Bruce Greyson (Author) is the best reference around for these points.]
→ The ontological doctrine of classical physicalism must be rejected when it is claimed to be a complete description of reality, and instead seen as a special case of a larger reality.
→ Science itself, however, is inherently more adaptable and must not be rejected; it can and must be expanded to a form more nearly commensurate with the dimensions of our subject matter. This is not to say, of course, that science is all-powerful and can explain everything. And it is vitally important to discriminate science as a method of investigating and understanding from scientism, a “psychological hardening of the conceptual arteries,” a common kind of pathology of cognition.
→ Reliable data from science and human experience demand that we consider that both the world we experience and our experience itself emerge out of some sort of hidden background that under normal conditions is not accessible to most of us – at least not consciously. This background can be investigated to a degree to be determined by our efforts.
→ At the psychological level, a filter-type theory of the Myers-James-Bergson-Irreducible Mind type, that we screen out most non-local information from wider Mind for the sake of concentrating on local information relevant to our biological survival, seems to be headed in the right direction – and that theory can certainly be developed further – but we must also strive to identify a coherent ontology that complements and supports it. Note too that the concept of “filter” often seems rather passive, though, a filter just sits there and screens out predefined material. The actual psychological “filtering” may be an active process, filtering/construction, though, creating a virtual world of experience normally best adapted to dealing with the physical world. I’ve written about how it’s useful to conceive of us as living in a biological-psychological virtual reality in several articles on www.paradigm-sys.com/cttart/.
→ High quality scientific data. as well as human experience. make it clear that some kinds of psi are real, and. while interpretation of the data are complex, there is excellent evidence for some kind(s) of post-mortem survival and reincarnation, so these should be treated as facts of nature, and an empirically adequate metaphysics must somehow accommodate them. As to the kinds of psi that are real or maybe real, see the distinctions I’ve made between the Big Five (telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis and psychic healing) and the Many Maybes in my The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together.
→ Existing data and theorizing suggest it would be worth while to postulate that reality is, at bottom, in some sense, “mental” in character, and the inescapable everyday phenomenal distinction between mind and matter vanishes at some level beneath or beyond that of everyday appearances. Investigations conducted from this premise will probably be very fruitful.
→ It is classical, Newtonian physics that seems to say psi phenomena can’t happen, but in some versions of quantum theory, one of the most successful theories in the history of science, consciousness is an inherent part of reality and psi, in some versions, either is possible or, indeed, is required.
→ Ordinary consciousness, a semi-arbitrary construction emerging from the brain and the ultimate nature of mind, is very useful in myriad ways but may not be capable of some kinds of needed understandings. Thus observations and ideas obtained from investigation in various altered states of consciousness (ASCs) need to be refined, expanded and tested for their usefulness in further understanding the nature of mind and reality, along the lines of creating state-specific sciences, as proposed by me in Science in 1972 (article available on my www.paradigm-sys.com/cttart/ site.
→ Research on mystical experience, and on the known means of systematically producing it such as meditation and the major psychedelics, seems of the highest priority, scientifically speaking.
→ Scientists, religious scholars, and scholar-practitioners can work together productively on these matters, and they should!
→ Contrary to the recent spate of anti-religious polemics by mainstream scientists, which are based on distorted and culturally limited ideas of human spiritual experience, meaningful reconciliation of science and religion – i.e., a reconciliation that is both comprehensive and theoretically satisfying – constitutes the most humanly urgent and potentially consequential task of the present era.
Thanks again for Dr. Kelly for stimulating me this way!