Undercover Agents of Consciousness
To read or revisit Part One of this series, click HERE.
Like researchers venturing beyond the known and allowed boundaries of sanctioned science, visionary authors often strike radioactive material that incites incredulity, hostility, and worse. For these, in the words of Carl Jung, “The experience that furnishes the material for artistic expression is no longer familiar…. It is a primordial experience which surpasses man’s understanding, and to which he is in danger therefore of succumbing. The value and the force of the experience are given by its enormity. It arises from timeless depths; it is foreign and cold. Many-sided, demonic and grotesque.” Writing, even if obviously fiction, that calls another’s sacrosanct belief system into question invites attack and ridicule. Ask Dan Brown or J. K. Rowling.
While we create stories to ostensibly enthrall and entertain, we are, in fact, undercover agents attempting to ignite the universal but often lethargic human impulse to grow in consciousness. That effort, like a medicinal shot, is rarely appreciated. Becoming more aware is hard; it takes change. Everything that improves our chances of success is on the table.
The state achieved by taking the recommended hero’s journey has to appear valuable, and the trip itself better seem doable, or we’ve lost our knight-errant. Readers want to see themselves performing the feats that our heroes do and to come away with some tools to do likewise. The more accurately informed (scientific) our work is, the more they will be inclined to try similar experimental deeds on their own.
Since we are dealing with the paranormal, too often misread as abnormal, and the unusual, also misread as untrue, we must ensure that our facts are facts more so than those who write realistic fiction. As Gary Schwartz reminds us in Super Synchronicity, Dr. Carl Sagan was fond of saying, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
Example: A Spiritually Transformative Experience (STE)
Some paranormal classes of experience are considered simple, like an instance of telepathy, picking up what another is thinking. And some are complex as in near-death experience, past-life regression, or supersynchronicity. The simpler forms of psi, another acceptable term for the paranormal, have already been proven in labs, but its complex manifestations do not easily lend themselves to standard testing.
As an example of this last, because it is compact but still complex psi and also fascinating, let me borrow a Spiritually Transformative Experience (STE) from by Charles Tart’s highly-recommended book, The End of Materialism. In 1872 Richard Maurice Bucke, a Canadian psychiatrist, who “thought of himself as a man of science, devoted to factuality and accuracy” had an experience from which he coined the term “Cosmic Consciousness” to describe what happened to him.
This according to Bucke’s own account although he tells it in the third person: On his way home, after a congenial evening among friends in London, Bucke “was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment. All at once, without warning of any kind, he found himself wrapped around, as it were, by a flame-colored cloud. For an instant he thought of fire, some sudden conflagration in the great city. The next he knew the light was within himself. Directly afterwards came upon him a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness, accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe. Into his brain streamed one momentary lightning flash of Brahmic Splendor, which has ever since lightened his life; upon his heart fell one drop of Brahmic Bliss, leaving thenceforward for always an aftertaste of heaven. Among other things he did not come to believe, he saw and knew:
According to Tart, Bucke maintained “that he learned more within the few seconds during which the illumination lasted than in previous months or even years of study and that he learned much that no study could ever have taught.”
Talk about extraordinary claims! And Tart’s book is non-fiction as are Gary Schwartz’s. If we VF writers come up with that kind of stuff, readers ask what drug the good doctor was taking. Note that Bucke’s enlightenment is presented not as a matter of belief but as direct experience, a form of multi-perceptual comprehension known as Gnosis, an immediate and experiential infusion of what is best called the divine delivered so as to permanently change the recipient’s life. This is darn close to Saul falling off his horse on the way to Damascus and coming off the ground as St. Paul, the ardent disciple of Jesus. How does one apply science to something like that?
Applying the Scientific Method to the Paranormal
Just thirty years ago, the idea of applying the scientific method to spiritual research was considered ridiculous. That has changed considerably.
There’s no space here to cover the entire process, but I’ll outline it as presented by American philosopher Ken Wilber, especially in his work, The Marriage of Sense and Soul. He differentiates between narrow empiricism (evidence allowed from sense data only, what Charles Tart and Gary Schwartz call scientism) and broad empiricism (evidence from sensory, mental, and spiritual experience). “Empiricism in the very broadest sense means that we always resort to experience to ground our assertions about any of these domains (sensory, mental, spiritual).”
Note that proof is derived from contemplation of experience (a posteriori or after the fact, science in its proper meaning, spirituality) rather than from decree of authority (a priori or decided before testing, scientism, dogmatic religion).
When applying the scientific method to paranormal or spiritual research, we are doing science in its broad meaning. We cannot measure paranormal/spiritual phenomena solely with sense data.
The scientific method, whether narrowly or broadly applied, has three main steps:
- specify an experiment (hypothesis, injunction),
- perform the experiment and observe the results,
- Verify/falsify the results with others who have done the same experiment.
After step 3, the process often loops the revised hypothesis back to step 1 for another round testing. It can, of course, get considerably more complex, but that I’ll leave to the scientists like Wilber, Tart and Schwartz and their informative books.
The Extraordinary is “Good to Go”
With “extraordinary” claims that are inherently true, there comes a point where the proof process is adequate. Despite the contempt for parapsychology demonstrated in the Wikipedia definition with which I opened Part 1, there has been, in fact, an extraordinary amount of experimentation and accumulation of evidence in and out of scientific laboratories that validate psi events.
In The End of Materialism, Charles Tart maintains that the scientific method under strict laboratory conditions has already been scrupulously applied to most simpler psi phenomena. After reviewing experimentation over the past 100+ years, he concludes that the “big five” (telepathy, clairvoyance or remote viewing, precognition, psychokinesis, and psychic healing) have been proven sufficiently that we can stop asking “Are they real?” and start looking for ways to put them to use. Go to it, visionary authors.
He puts the more complex psi phenomena (Post Cognition, Out-of-Body, Near-Death-Experience, Postmortem Survival, Mediumship, Reincarnation, and STEs like Bucke’s above) in a less certain status. Not that there aren’t numerous valid instances of these, but they don’t adapt easily to standard lab testing, at least with today’s level of training and financing. Applause goes to groups like IONS and IANDS that do much of this work independently, largely with volunteer scientists and grassroots funding.[Wow, I just realized that Part 2 is already long enough for a single helping, and there is still a lot to be covered, including Super Synchronicity itself and the very exciting Soul Phone. So, I queried the editors, and they were kind enough to let me spill over to a Part 3. And that will finish it —promise. 😊]