Visionary Fiction and the Science of Consciousness, Part 1

Dr. Gary Schwartz Ph.D.

Introducing Gary E. Schwartz, Ph.D.

Parapsychology is a field of study concerned with the investigation of paranormal and psychic phenomena, which include telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, near-death experiences, reincarnation, apparitional experiences, and other paranormal claims. It is often identified as pseudoscience…. Parapsychology has been criticized for continuing investigation despite being unable to provide convincing evidence for the existence of any psychic phenomena after more than a century of research. It has been noted that most academics do not take the claims of parapsychology seriously.

The above, in italics with the bolding mine, is a quote from the current Wikipedia entry  for Parapsychology. I could spend time berating its fake facts as ought to happen with the fake news all the rage today. Instead, I’ll cut to the chase and, as an allegedly sane visionary novelist who specializes in historical fiction featuring reincarnation and other paranormal phenomena, take down this benighted description with the example of a highly-credentialed academic who indeed takes parapsychology seriously.

Look up Dr. Gary E. Schwartz on the internet, and you will discover a gentleman with his Ph.D. from Harvard, who taught psychiatry and psychology at Yale (both reputable schools, I understand), and is currently professor of psychology, medicine, neurology, psychiatry, and surgery at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He has published more than 450 scientific papers, including six in the prestigious journal Science, co-edited 11 academic books, and authored 8 books for the general public. (Click this link for a listing of his works on Amazon.) He also serves as the director of the U of A’s Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health (LACH). For the record, I am an autodidact who tends to sneak past scholarly institutions and their pundits.

In 2002, while researching reincarnation for my novel The Anathemas,  I happened across Dr. Schwartz’s The Afterlife Experiments: Breakthrough Scientific Evidence of Life after Death. The book’s erudite title and Dr. Schwartz’s lofty credentials promised to somewhat legitimize my obsession with the still-maligned occult.  Few were the mainstream scientists/educators who were willing to put the words “scientific” and “life after death” in the same book, much less in its title.

I followed Dr. Schwartz through the years as he produced book after book that crisply and bravely brought science and spirituality closer together without wandering too far into either the wooly pasture of woo-woo or the prickly cacti of ultra-skepticism. Since I too live in Tucson, site of the University of Arizona where Dr. Schwartz teaches, our paths narrowly missed crossing at various events several times. Finally, in early 2017, I attended a pair of IONS (Institute of Noetic Science) lectures that featured Dr. Schwartz and his two most recent works. The first, An Atheist in Heaven: The Ultimate Evidence for Life After Death? with co-author Paul Jeffrey Davids, is an out-of-this-world true story about Hollywood horror genre personality, Forrest J. Ackerman. An avowed atheist, the film maker nevertheless told his friends that he would let them know if he found something to life after death if there was something when he got there. The book chronicles how “Forry” kept his promise, making his continuing existence evident on dozens of occasions, the authors witnessing most of them. As many have said about their own paranormal experience, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

The second of Dr. Schwartz’s recent books, germane as well to visionary fiction, is Super Synchronicity: Where Science and Spirit Meet, just released on February 18.  More on that one later. For now just know that it is a supersynchronicity that, after 15 years of trying, I finally sat down for that coveted one-on-one with Gary (switching to first-name basis here) this past month.

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With his commitment to the study of the paranormal, Dr. Schwartz might be an outlier among academics, but he is hardly the first or the only one. Some of the world’s greatest scientists and intellects (Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Kircher, Liebniz and Newton, to name a few) risked their lives and careers to study and promulgate ideas that were factual but forbidden, and so were classified as heretical or occult by the authorities. Only in 1882 was a professional body, the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), formed in London that gave scientists and scholars a forum to investigate paranormal phenomena. Struggling for validation and funds throughout the 20th century, parapsychologists experienced some success (labs of distinction were founded at Stanford and Duke in the US) but more often got the cold shoulder or worse from peers. Their chosen discipline lay in the strafed no-man’s-land between fundamentalist theology and equally dogmatic scientism.

By the 1980s, parapsychological research had waned in the United States. Even the CIA disavowed the results of the remote viewing program at Stanford Research Institute that it had operated for decades. Currently, only two American universities have active psi laboratories. I encountered the one, the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies made famous by psychiatrist Ian Stevenson, when first researching reincarnation. The second is the University of Arizona’s LACH directed by Dr. Schwartz.

While paranormal research still flourishes in other parts of the world where religious and scientific cynicism is less prevalent, the burden of parapsychological study and practice in America is now carried by private institutions. These include the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), founded by astronaut Edgar Mitchell in 1973 “to broaden the knowledge of the nature and potentials of mind and consciousness and to apply that knowledge to the enhancement of human well-being and the quality of life on the planet”; the International Association for Near-Death Studies (IANDS) based in Durham, North Carolina with its vision to build “global understanding of near-death and near-death-like experiences through research, education, and support”; and The Monroe Institute founded in the 1970’s by inventor Robert Monroe to advance “the exploration of human consciousness and the experience of expanded states of awareness as a path to creating a life of personal freedom, meaning, insight, and happiness.

This list is suggestive, not exhaustive. There are dozens of worthy organizations researching consciousness and thousands of paranormal practitioners using the many effective modalities defined. Living and writing in Tucson, I have the distinct advantage of Dr. Schwartz’s laboratory down the street, which contributes to thriving local IONS and IANDS units, both with outstanding monthly speaker programs as well as study groups and workshops. Here the paranormal has become quite normal, and this is a red state. Expanding consciousness is everyone’s concern; it is thrilling to see the opportunities to explore it growing exponentially. Even  communities less endowed than Tucson have ample resources available on line.

Visionary Fiction Partnered with Scientific Fact

I don’t expect visionary fiction writers and readers to be among the naysayers when it comes to paranormal phenomena even though we can and should be vigorous in vetting what seems impossible or improbable.

As fiction, our writing embraces the general objectives of any art: to engage and entertain our audience. In writing visionary fiction, as is stated in the Characteristic Features of VF, our stories use reincarnation, dreams, visions, paranormal events, psychic abilities, and other metaphysical plot devices. The fantasy genre uses these elements also, ordinarily outside a realistic framework. But VF employs them in the specific context of promoting growth in consciousness. To accomplish this purpose, the paranormal elements used must be actual (based on real data) or at least probable. If it sounds like I am waxing scientific here, good, because I am.

I don’t mean that every VF author has to head for the lab and perform precise experiments, double-blinds and all, before using a paranormal device in a story. I know I don’t. In fact, I’ve been known to almost wet myself when real evidence suddenly provides proof for some paranormal element that I thought emerged whole-cloth from the Stygian swamp of my overwrought imagination. (For an example, check out the Intuitive Research page on my website.)

No wonder I get excited when I come across something like Gary Schwartz’s Super Synchronicity: Where Science and Spirit Meet. Such books, and operations like the Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health at the U of A, allow us visionary authors to write about various preternatural  phenomena with confidence in their veracity even though we have neither the time, resources, or perhaps brains to perform the requisite scientific experiments ourselves.

In PART TWO , we take a closer look at the effect the work of scientists like Dr. Schwartz can have on both the creativity of individual visionary artists and the vector of universal growth in consciousness. And as a bonus, I introduce you to the SoulPhone®, a technology in development by Gary Schwartz and associates that promises to allow those on Earth to communicate with those “in spirit.”

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About Victor Smith

Victor E. Smith, a lifelong generalist with a diverse resume, sees himself as a scribe of the realm “in-between.” Writing largely visionary and historical fiction, he seeks to observe, absorb, and express those close encounters between the spiritual and material universes that form the unique adventure called human life. Vic is the author of The Anathemas: A Novel of Reincarnation and Restitution (2010) and Channel of the Grail (May 2016). He is a core team member of the Visionary Fiction Alliance. For further information, visit his website, victoresmith.com.
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18 Responses to Visionary Fiction and the Science of Consciousness, Part 1

  1. Thanks for introducing us to Dr. Schwartz, Vic. I plan on reading about Forrest Ackerman. I agree that it’s important for VF metaphysical plot devices to be grounded in a realistic framework. Of course what is probable to one reader or writer may not be probable to another, depending not just on their scientific understanding, but on their own encounters with paranormal realms. Looking forward to the next installment.

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  2. reanolanmartin says:

    I did not know about this man or his books! Thanks so much for bringing him to light for us, Vic. Always scholarly and illuminating! xo

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  3. aevermore says:

    Fascinating article, thank you. I very much like this parapsychology.
    A frequent problem with ‘mainstream science’ is that because it cuts itself off from spirituality it often constrains itself to a limited world-view incapable of accurately or effectively describing the world around us. I suspect this self-handicap has been deliberately done at the higher levels, but that would lead me completely off topic… 🙂

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  4. Wonderful information. Thanks for letting us know about this research, Vic!

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  5. Dana Taylor says:

    Very nice! Welcome to my world, as they say. Schwartz, Stevenson, Mitchell have been brave thinkers and pioneers breaking barriers and opening our understanding of multidimensional living.

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  6. ellisnelson says:

    Been following his work for years. His books are readily accessible for the lay person. Can’t wait to read his latest!

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  7. Very interesting work by Dr. Schwartz, and it certainly provides a rich foundation for talking about ‘reality’ based visions! I like how you emphasize the difference of Visionary Fiction writing and fantasy writing – where VF writing may “use reincarnation, dreams, visions, paranormal events, psychic abilities, and other metaphysical plot devices. The fantasy genre uses these elements also, ordinarily outside a realistic framework. But VF employs them in the specific context of promoting growth in consciousness.” It seems our purpose in writing VF aligns well with Dr. Schwartz’s studies! Thank you, Vic for another excellent article.

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  8. First of all, I love the following, Vic. “Here (in Arizona) the paranormal has become quite normal, and this is a red state.” Okay, with that out of the way, thank you for highlighting Dr. Schwartz and his commitment to the study of the paranormal (the still-maligned occult, which is more of a spontaneous study than one studied in a lab) and bringing science and spirituality together. We, as visionary fiction writers, also believe that the reality of the paranormal should be part of our general worldview. I just finished reading “A NEW SCIENCE OF THE PARANORMAL, The Promise of Psychical Research,” written by Lawrence LeShan, Ph.D., in which he says, “There is tremendous hope and great promise in psychical research–the study of the paranormal. In spite of where the field appears to be now, this promise is close to fulfillment. We know far more about he paranormal than is generally believed.” And this was published in 2009!

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    • Victor Smith says:

      Thank you, Margaret. Maybe should qualify the AZ statement with “Here in southern AZ…” Up in Phoenix not so much. Will check out LeShan’s book, one I missed. He is very right with: “We know far more about he paranormal than is generally believed.” Why would can expect that people will be hungry for great VF if in the near future.

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      • Drew Fisher says:

        Working as a minority within the Phoenix Indian High School community in 1978 I was shocked by how many people had stories of the supernatural to tell–both personal and heresay. My point is, I think all of the SW has a higher contact and immersion rate with paranormal than you imagine!

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    • Margaret, In response to your comment about Lawrence LeShan – wow – Lawrence LeShan has been around a long time. I remember reading his classics in the 19070’s and 80’s. I just found out he has also written science fiction under the pseudonym Edward Grendon. Perhaps it is more VF than Science fiction?

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  9. Robin says:

    Victor, thank you for introducing us to this brilliant, inspired individual. I can’t wait to read “An Atheist in Heaven: The Ultimate Evidence for Life After Death.” I keep wondering why the prefix “para” bothers me. Adding it to “normal” or “psychological” gives them a non-specific occult value. Maybe we should invent new terms. :-).

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    • Victor Smith says:

      Thanks, Robin. I agree with you on “para-“, a prefix with two many different meanings:
      (from dictionary.com:)
      1. beside; near: parameter, parathyroid
      2. beyond: parapsychology
      3. resembling: paramnesia
      And then “beyond” (#2) can be above or below, so paranormal can be and often is construed to mean above normal but also below normal.
      I’m for inventing new terms, but in the meantime…

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  10. Thanks so much for introducing us to Dr. Schwartz, Vic. I’ll definitely check out his work further, and look forward to learning more about your meeting with him in your next installments.

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