Let These Waters Pour Back to the Ocean: Rethinking the Psi Debate

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"I know from my
own direct experience, backed up by stories and anecdotes told by many people I
know and trust, that human beings have tremendous, untapped psychic abilities.
I know that there are still skeptics and "experts," such as Richard Wiseman,
who argue against the existence of psychic powers and firmly believe that
consciousness is entirely brain-based. I find the arguments made in the
opposite direction far more powerful and convincing — such as those of Dean
Radin in his book, The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic
Phenomena
. And in any case, at this point I don't need scientific verification
as I have had, repeatedly, and in all sorts of circumstances, direct experience
of 'psi' for myself. " — Daniel Pinchbeck

"There is no other discipline that I know which engages at
the same time a person's critical faculties and his imagination and then
stretches them both to a comparable extent." — John Beloff, The Study of the Paranormal as an Educative
Experience.
 

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to become friends with Bill Sweet, whose
work with Spindrift Research in
the 1970's presented some of the first contemporary experiments with conscious
effects on the growth and health of plants.  My end of our initial conversations was usually tinged with a
bit of skepticism and a lot of scholasticism, I was able to quote sources, but
had lingering doubts as to the reality of what we were talking about.

Despite
having had personal experiences that would lead me to believe there was
something more going on than wishful thinking, I hadn't personally encountered
very many people who I could trust with even a well thought subjective stance
on the issue, let alone experimental verification. The massive heap of garbage that
the mainstream media has propagated under the name of psychical science didn't
lead to much assurance that there were answers to be had.

There
is a tendency in some of the more available media to swing the pendulum too far
towards acceptance and easy answers. This never sat well with me, but neither
did the cherry picking that goes on in skeptical circles to choose the most
unsuitable subjects for study. Does testing a television psychic really provide
a decent picture of anything? That seems to me like critiquing Christian
theology based on televangelists, or making assumptions about the whole worth
of contemporary literature by reading the Oprah book list. Psi
exists on a spectrum, and as Aldous Huxley points out in his writing,
traditionally the most powerful examples come from folks who've developed
themselves over a long period of time, through arduous trials, and who have
come face to face with both the beneficial and the malefic aspects of these
areas of human potential. Ever the elusive subject, powerful examples also
exist on the margins, but it is rare to find these examples in the mass
mediated environment of contemporary life. In all cases where strong psi occurs
there is usually a shadow side to the experience, a deep and unnerving change
that happens when faced with phenomenon that moves so far outside of what we
have been taught to expect. 

One
of the things that impressed me about Bill was that he wasn't afraid to admit
the shadow side of psi. The pastel picture of a harmonious potential, all angel
wings and gold lamé, didn't mesh with
my years studying folk magic and witchcraft. Whatever positive effects exist,
there is still the fact of maleficia, and one of the first signs of a limited
perspective is some wide eyed medium singing the praises of unmeasured contact
with the unknown.

Bill
isn't wide-eyed. Spindrift Research currently exists as a loose collective, its
founders, Bruce and John Klingbeil, a father and son team, both
committed suicide after years of harassment from the Christian Science
community they had sought to invigorate with their research, and from the
skeptical scientific community that saw their work as delusional. They thought
what they were doing would bring value to all sides, but they were ahead of
their time.

Living
in the shadow of these events Bill has a very realistic view of the
consequences that come with stepping out into a question with no easy answer.
Due to his work with intentional effects he also saw that there were deeper
issues at hand in the Klingbeil's actions, years of negative attention had
taken its toll. In a very real way they had been cursed by the people they had
sought to enlighten.

As
our discussions drifted around these topics I asked Bill if they had ever done
active experiments with these negative effects. Everything he had described up
to this point was based on research into positive intention and it's measured
ability to affect plant growth, but what about the opposite end of the
spectrum?

He
admitted that they had debated it, but even limited engagement along these
lines in their research with plants had led to psychological repercussions on
the participants. Going any further with it, based on the initial tests, would
not be ethical on more advanced subjects, and would likely cause the
participants more problems than it was worth. It seems that negative intention
leads to a diseased psyche.

While teaching the
history of witchcraft and folk magic, Dr. Jo Ann Scurlock would
always preface the semester with a warning to new students:

"What
we are going to discuss has never been proven by science, however it works. I
can't say how it works, or why it works, and I don't believe in it, but it
works. Every
anthropologist who has studied it honestly has encountered things that they
can't explain. Every culture in history has beliefs, and records events, that
have a similar basis in what people call magic. People
have died from it, people have been committed to mental hospitals from dabbling
in it. If you believe in it there are remedies that can help you, if you don't
believe in it then it doesn't work on you, but if you aren't sure where you
stand I suggest that you leave now and consider signing up for a different
class this semester. You've been warned, if you choose to stay then you're in
for a treat!"

There is a very personal
element in any investigation into psi phenomenon. When Bill introduced me to
George Hansen, author of Trickster &
the Paranormal
and former associate of the Rhine Research Center in Durham, North Carolina, one of my first, naïve, questions was "George,
seriously, is this stuff real? I mean, has all this testing really lead to any
results?"

His answer, paraphrased
as I can remember it, was simple, "Yes, but everyone who has been seriously
involved has paid a high price."

For those who were
fortunate enough to be involved in the government experiments with psi there
was the shadow of the Cold War, of the intelligence agencies, and political
maneuvering that was required to get funding. For those at the university labs
there was the loss of academic credibility, the public shaming, in the case of
John Mack, the Harvard psychologist who took the time to seriously consider
abduction phenomena, there was even a tribunal held to judge the viability of
his tenure at the university.  For
those, like John Keel, who traveled the road outside of institutional support
as a journalist and observer, paranoia and isolation becomes a constant
companion.

"Belief
in paranormal phenomena is still growing, and the dangers to our society are
real …" — Ray
Hyman, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Oregon

Hansen is a specialist in
the trickster phenomenon that surrounds anomalous phenomena, that untraceable
link between fact and hoax, between imagination and reality. One of the aspects
of this is the destabilizing nature of anomalies. They break through
assumptions and give lie to the safe and easy laws erected to maintain
cognitive order. Structured systems are not kind on destabilizing components,
or those that herald the discovery of such subversive elements.

Destabilization of a
system can be described in benign terms, but it requires a death of the former
structure in order to accomplish its goals, and the accomplishment is not
guaranteed. Initiation in the traditional sense has the very real chance of
killing the initiate before they reach the end of their path, in alchemical
terms a failed transmutation cracks the vessel before the golden essence is
isolated.

Skepticism is a
protective factor for the status quo, the reflex to pull your hand out of the
fire before it starts to burn. It is very telling that skeptical language often
plays on a sense of danger, or threat, when it comes to anomalous phenomena. Couched
in the peril of irrationality, the language used invokes a sense of physical risk
as well, or at least a physically manifested reaction, when critiquing
parapsychology and attendant disciplines.

A system is a construct, not an innate
organism, and it seems, if some of Jacques Vallee's theories are close to the
mark, that anomalous phenomena and psi phenomena can act as agents of change
and organic growth within a system when it gets too close to unhealthy stasis.
Mysterious events are cracks in the wall that let the light shine through. One
must realize, though, that the light can be blinding.

"Most
American adults — about 75%, according to a 2005 Gallup poll — believe in at least
one paranormal phenomenon. Forty-one percent believe in ESP. Fifty-five percent
believe in the power of the mind to heal the body. One doesn't need to be
psychic to know that the majority of believers in psi have come to their
beliefs through experience or anecdotes, rather than through studying the
scientific evidence (Dean) Radin puts forth in his book (The Conscious
Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena
)." –Robert Todd
Carrol, What if Dean Radin
is Right?

At this point everywhere
you look signs of unhealthy stasis are rampant, and the cracking has begun in
earnest. Biased skeptical positions are largely based on smooth rhetoric, which
works well when the funding is on your side, or you can convince the power
players that it's in their best interest to support your party line. With the
way the economy is developing this is rapidly changing, and hollow, repetitious
hounding of Occam's Razor doesn't cut it anymore.

Dean Radin has worked for
decades to bring Psi research into the public consciousness. As the Senior
Scientist at the Institute for Noetic Science, Radin's experiments have continuously
supported the development of a scientifically plausible examination of the data
on psychic phenomena.

As Radin puts it in The
Conscious Universe:

"While the idea itself is ancient, it has taken
more than a century to conclusively demonstrate it in accordance with rigorous,
scientific standards. This demonstration has accelerated Stage 2 acceptance,
and Stage 3 can already be glimpsed on the horizon. The idea is that those compelling, perplexing and
sometimes profound human experiences known as 'psychic phenomena' are
real. This will come as no surprise to most of the
world's population, because the majority already believes in psychic phenomena.
But over the past few years, something new has propelled us beyond old debates
over personal beliefs. The reality of psychic phenomena is now no longer based
solely upon faith, or wishful thinking, or absorbing anecdotes. It is not even
based upon the results of a few scientific experiments. Instead, we know that
these phenomena exist because of new ways of evaluating massive amounts of
scientific evidence collected over a century by scores of researchers."

We have had a chance to
consider the argument, and Occam's Razor turns out to be a double edged sword.
Ray Hyman and Robert Todd Carrol represent those stalwart skeptics who maintain
that belief in psychic phenomena, which they admit is based in part on
personal experience, and at times have admitted holds up to statistical
analysis, is irrational and dangerous to a coherent society. However, if we
consider their arguments, what they are basically saying is that a statistically
verifiable phenomenon, which is experienced by, or admitted by, nearly 75% of
the population, does not exist. Where does the irrationality lie?

Carrol goes on
to say that, "in 2005 the Nobel Committee once again passed over the psi scientists
when handing out awards to those who have made significant contributions to our
scientific knowledge." Yet Henri Bergson, a Nobel Laureate, was a one time
president of the Society for Psychical Research, and another Nobel prize winner
evinced that:

"As a man who has devoted his whole life to the
most clear headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result
of my research about atoms this much: There is no matter as such. All matter
originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an
atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together.
We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent
Spirit. This Spirit is the matrix of all matter
."

These are the words of the Father of Quantum
Mechanics, Max Planck, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics, from his 1944 speech
(Das Wesen der Materie — The Essence of Matter), held in Florence. This passage
was related to me by an Italian alchemist that I am acquainted with in correspondence
during a discussion of the possibilities of science, and the danger of short
sighted obfuscation.

It really doesn't matter
if some self professed medium fails the Randi Challenge, anyone who has had a
serious encounter with the unknown realizes that these things aren't able to be
so easily codified. If a person is claiming some straight forward metaphysical
map for what is occurring they've already failed the test of the mysteries, let
alone some strenuous laboratory con game. As Dale E. Graaf, physicist and a
former Director of Project STARGATE, points out in an article titled Resistance
to Psi:

"These
phenomena are referred to as "psi" — the 23rd letter of the Greek
alphabet (Y), meaning "unknown." This neutral label helps minimize
judgments about
explanatory mechanism and cultural biases that might be associated with
some of
the older terms."

One of the things that
struck me in talking to Bill and George was that there really were quite a
number of authoritative supporters of psi phenomena, I'd just never put it
together properly. The sheer weight of intellect was on the side of weirdness,
as so many have found there was no way that this much funding, this much
thought, and literally centuries of anecdotal, empirical and historical
evidence could all be chalked up to mass hysteria, psychological suggestion and
hoaxing.

Nobel prizes aside, if we are going to play a
rhetorical game of who has the bigger stick, we can look at David Bohm, Arthur
Young, Karl Pribram, or any number of forward thinking and "valuable"
scientists, for models of consciousness and physics that support the
possibility of psi. Jack Parsons, instrumental in the discovery of solid state
rocket fuel, and on hand during the founding of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
in Palo Alto, California, not only believed in psi, he was a practicing ritual
magician and alchemist.

Keeping things to the 20th century is
tying one hand back during a fight; Isaac Newton, Gottfried Liebnitz, and Johanne
Wolfgang von Goethe all held onto a world view that today's skeptics would
consider revolting. James Randi won't even conscience alchemy as anything other
than the foolish search for turning lead into gold, and yet Newton's achievements
were all based on magical thinking. Show me how I can touch gravity.

Skeptics seem to forget that Dean Radin himself,
during his time at Bell Labs and GTE, worked on projects that laid the
groundwork for our current influx of advanced communication technology. In fact
it would be arguable that those on the side of psi have provided much more to
society than any skeptics have beyond their own grandiose self-imaginings.

What I had misunderstood
was that it was literally everywhere I looked; there was no central point of
validation because from the creative arts to the most profound and rigorous
scientific inquiry, anomaly abounds.  These experiences exist under a myriad of different names,
they can never truly be codified, and they cannot be contained.

"The
survival hypothesis in psychical research is similar to the extraterrestrial
(ET) hypothesis in ufology. Both have served to establish paradigms and
theoretical constructs, and both lead to (premature) invention of taxonomies
and, unfortunately, limited ranges of inquiry. Such structures obscure
similarities across a range of phenomena and lead to the ignoring of relevant
cases." –George Hansen, Demons, ETs, Bigfoot, and Elvis: A Fortean
View of Ghost
.

Skeptics have had the
golden key to social reality, they have firmly convinced the folks with money
that these issues are to be left alone, they are masters of getting the news
out about their opinions (see the latest pieces in the Guardian UK that are
critical of Daryl Bem's peer reviewed experiements) and they have geared all of
the questions to things like "Do ghosts exist?" or "Do people have psychic
powers?" What is a ghost?  What is
a psychic?

After doing so they are
also masters of the very thing they accuse psi supporters of doing,
infiltration and dissemination. By supporting anti-psi secondary material, and
providing a host of resources that frame the debate as they need it to be
framed, they are able to draw attention away from what is actually there. To
the point that the media can make us disbelieve our own day to day experience.

It is in the best
interests of corporations and control groups to limit the amount of development
allowed outside of easily marketable means and media, and to tie every
experience into an easily commoditized terminology that can be tested and
replicated. We often hear about the occult roots of the Nazi regime, and rarely
see major media that exposes the fact that the Nazi regime targeted mystics,
Masons, psychics and occultists with the same vehemence it did all other groups
it saw as destabilizing to a healthy society.

This happens on the other
side of the argument as well, with tightly held beliefs about the origin of occurrence
clouding a deeper interpretation of experiential manifestation. In the same way
that the religion vs. science debate centers on the extreme views of intelligent
design and materialist evolutionary theories, neither of which represent a
mature view of religion or science, so too the psi debate centers on biased
believers and skeptics verbally assaulting each other with their speculative
metaphysical assumptions and childish language games.

When more amorphous
research and focus has been able to seep through this conflated set of snares
it's been based on funding from individuals who had enough social clout to
withstand criticism, and enough financing to push forward. One of the best
scholarly journals on anomalous phenomena, the Zetetic Scholar,
was an example of this. However this kind of funding is not easy to come by,
and it waxes and wanes with the economy and focus of the individuals involved.

One of the most profound
examples of how slippery psi phenomenon can be was pointed out to me by Daniel
Pinchbeck when he recommended I look into the story of Elizabeth Targ, daughter
of the well know remote viewing expert Russel Targ. What I found was a perfect
example of how even when the skeptics seem to get the upper hand in the
argument, psi's scorpion side gets in one last sting.

Elizabeth Targ's research
focused on remote healing of AIDs patients, and her initial studies were
successful enough to warrant significant funding from the National Institute of
Health towards further research, significant to the amount of 1.5 million
dollars.  As the peer review
process on this research progressed skeptical scientists investigating the
initial research were able to show that there were problems with how the
results were interpreted.

This lead to a well-publicized
dismissal of her work by skeptics such as Martin Gardner and others associated
with CSI (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry). Even some of the scientists who
initially had accepted the results of her research during the first session of
peer review started to reassess the findings. Skeptics saw the NIH's funding as
a sure sign that science was being 'infiltrated' by irrational forces.

"The
rise of Elisabeth Targ's distant healing studies is not a mere example of
defective science leaking into medicine . . . it is a leading wedge of a
nascent mystical movement that has been gathering tremendous steam in recent
years. The parapsychological enterprise has taken on a new life in its alliance
with alternative medicine and the consciousness movement. What we have is a
very productive alliance of parapsychologists, old-fashioned mystics,
new-fashioned mystics, and psychedelic mystics that has gotten a major foothold
in medicine." –Patrick
Curry in a letter quoted by Martin Gardner in Notes
of a Fringe-Watcher: Distant Healing and Elisabeth Targ

Written in 2001,
Gardner's piece was a damning critique of what is commonly held to be fringe
science, however a few years later the tables would be turned in a way that no
one could have suspected. 4 months after she received the NIH funding to
conduct additional studies, one on remote healing and AIDs, and another on
remote healing and glioblastoma multiforme, a rare form of brain tumor, Targ
began showing signs of mental deterioration, and as cited in Psychology
Today
:

"A
high-resolution MRI revealed that she was suffering from a rapidly growing grade
4 glioblastoma multiforme brain tumor. Word of the horrific diagnosis spread,
and healers began calling, visiting and praying from a distance — in a truly
eerie echo of her newly funded study. But they could not save her. Targ died at
11:11 p.m., 111 days after her diagnosis."

Here is a perfect example
of not only the trickster at play, but also of the narrative nature of psychic
phenomena. On one hand we can look at Elizabeth Targ's story as a sad reminder
that there is a very serious, and often deadly, side to anomaly. However, the
strange coincidences that attended Targ's death, and the continued anomalies
that her husband, the physicist Mark Comings, experienced afterwards show that the
issue is not as simple to denounce as skeptics would like us to believe.

The current glut of media
on paranormal topics, even the most trivial, is building a climate of
acceptance that can eventually support actual growth in our understanding of
these phenomena. Most of it has been, and is, fairly tawdry, adding to the ill
repute of anyone inquiring into the unknown, but after years of this slow
popularization we are seeing things develop that have a deeper focus. Public
debate, recorded across a multi-media landscape, shows how skeptical refutes
are repeatedly torn apart by events as they develop.

Things like the Evolver
Intensives or Rupert Sheldrake's interactive
website
, are realizing the goals he wrote about in the 80's when he asked
for science to be funded by the people that it sought to serve. In a way what
skeptics fears that the public interest would grow to the point that psi
phenomena can no longer be easily dismissed is coming to fruition. There are
many examples of projects that are utilizing today's connective technology to
bring individual scientists, philosophers, creatives, public servants and the
interested public together to explore areas that have been left untouched due
to the skeptics' death grip on the funding mechanisms of our society.

Reading a recent
article
on Robert Mcluhan's Paranormalia website discussing the current
state of the skeptical debate, I realized that what we are seeing is a way
around the places that biased skepticism has built strongholds. They can have
the academic institutions, we'll build new schools online, and in the streets,
where true study can happen, they can have their doubtful expertise, we'll
encourage an array of amateurs who are more passionate, more interconnected and
more focused on the benefits of true wisdom.  

Mcluhan mentions, via
Caroline Watt of the Koestler
Parapsychology Unit
, that in terms of departmental focus, and individual
academics, parapsychology is at an all time low since it's beginnings in the
late 19th century. However, parapsychology has always been a
decentralized and disparate field. This is what makes Robert Todd Carol's
specificity in choosing a single year where "psi scientists" don't win Nobel
recognition even more misleading. Judging it based on the centralized standards
of academic specialization, and weighing the argument with verbal misdirection,
doesn't take into account that the study of consciousness and psi is, by its
very nature, an interdisciplinary area of study. How else can one attempt to
engage the very movement of existence, than through all the means possible for
such engagement? Current economic models
that are being built on shared responsibility, local interest, and
multi-layered funding are perfect to support initiatives in this area, because
they mirror the very nature of the phenomenon itself.

"(Caroline)
Watt…points out that parapsychology hardly exists as a discipline: there are
fewer than 100 researchers working full time in the world, and many of those
study not psi itself but other areas such as paranormal belief. (Chris) Roe, a
psychology lecturer and psi-experimenter at the University of Northampton, adds
that at least 16 UK universities have academic staff whose doctoral training is
in parapsychology. Parapsychology has featured regularly at conferences
organised by the British Psychological Society, and he personally has had
papers accepted by its annual conference. Interestingly, the largest of the
A-level (the standard pre-university qualification) examination boards for
psychology includes 'Anomalistic Psychology' in its specification, including
elements on testing of ESP and PK. This means, Roe says, that 'future
undergraduates will come to university with a grounding in parapsychology and
an expectation that the subject will be represented on any comprehensive
undergraduate syllabus' — hardly characteristics of a subject confined to the
fringes. "

Whether they would like to admit it or
not, every time a skeptic comes home to their dog inexplicably waiting for
them, Rupert Sheldrake's research on telepathy in animals is confirmed. Every
time a skeptic watches a movie, a play, a television or internet show, or listens
to music, they are most likely encountering the results of some anomalous
inspiration as can be seen by the current research into the narrative nature of
the paranormal and the interstices of culture and psi. The last bastions of skeptical
security, the corporations and mainline academy, are falling under their own
weight and irrelevance, watching as more agile innovation is occurring in the
private sector and through loose collaborations. This has always been the case,
the largest collective project in the history of the United States, the
Manhattan Project, was conducted through a loose knit group of amateurs,
academics and industry leaders operating under the guidance of an ideal, not a
corporate mandate.

Bill and George's experience with
negative psi effects can shed some light on how such strongly held animosity
has for so long caused pains for honest researchers into psychic phenomena;
the skeptics are throwing unconscious curses, and curses come back if they're
not imparted with a pure heart. There is nowhere left for the skeptic to find a
hedge against the inevitable resurging recognition of life's every day
mysteries.

"He that diggeth
a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite
him." –Ecclesiastes 10:8

Close kept streams of thought and mental
culverts are cracking, the waters of experience are pouring back into the
ocean, there is no refuge left for the stale minded, the static status quo,
everything is in motion and the veil is lifting. As Daniel Pinchbeck suggests
in the opening quote taken from a recent reflection he posted on Facebook, we
can't deny our own experiences and the experiences of those we know and trust,
even if the skeptics insist that it's irrational to engage with existential
truths and believe what we ourselves encounter first hand.  

Honest scientific inquiry has no fear of
being brushed aside, however that dead eyed, smug and sickening attitude that
all too often accompanies biased critique is going to find it very difficult to
survive in a climate decided by self evident experience and popular support. Rhetorical
and financial coercion are losing their power for motivation, the same can be
said for the cultic behavior of uncritical belief which does not hold up to the
light of thoughtful investigation. 

"Virtually all
scientists who have studied the evidence, including the hard-nosed skeptics,
now agree that there is something interesting going on that merits serious
scientific attention." –Dean Radin, The
Conscious Universe.

Psi phenomena, synchronicity, and all
manner of mysteries are no longer socially unacceptable. What is at stake in
this debate is not a mere matter of rationality vs irrationality, it is the
opening or closing of the gates through which we are free to encounter the very
depth of our consciousness, and our potential as human beings to be more than meager
carriers for market messages and base commodity.

Psi is the unknown factor that gives room
for rebirth, the very seat of possibility and change. The clock is striking the
hour, and the time, the door is open. Let's leave the skeptics to their gnawing
solipsism, the true believers to their phantasms, and follow the forerunners as
we step back into reality. These candles are lit with an invisible flame, we
can see it now: Sanctitas, Scientia et Sapientia, sanctity comes through
science and wisdom.

 

Image by Argonne National Laboratory, courtesy of Creative Commons license.

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