Reflections: The Question of Psi

In 1975, at the age of 20, I conducted a personal experiment in telekinesis.  I had read that it was possible to exercise the muscles necessary to levitate a milk cap disk given two months of daily training.  The disk was thin cardboard and could be easily removed from the inside of a pint-sized milk container.  Every day after meditation for 30 minutes, I spent one minute trying to levitate the tiny desk.  After the required two months, I concluded I was not going to succeed.  As far as telekinesis was concerned, I became an agnostic.  Well, not entirely agnostic.  While I felt that levitating objects seemed unlikely, I was willing to keep an open mind.  What seemed plausible to me were the subtle effects of mind influencing objects or events.  So I was not particularly surprised to later learn that experiments designed for the mind to influence the outcome of a random number generator had consistently demonstrated “statistically significant” results.

That’s always been the story of psi experiments – statistically significant results, but either not replicable in a “neutral” (read hostile) laboratory, or not impressive enough to win over the skeptics.

Way back then, it occurred to me that the model of artificial testing did not replicate the natural environments or circumstance that made psychic phenomenon possible.  These are generally not random events.  I realized that psychic events often required either necessity or some sort of momentary or long-term connection.  I stopped following the scientific backbiting and focused on the only true measure of knowledge: experience.  Mindful, open-minded, discriminating, and dedicated experience.  Some of that experience I wrote about in the autobiographical Gathering My Life into Feathers.

Here’s my little surprise, and one of the reasons for this post.  According to the recent book Fringe-ology (by Steve Volk), skeptics (such as Richard Weisman) all agree that the scientific evidence for psi (telepathy, remote viewing) “would meet the standards of any other area of science.” Their problem with the evidence has become the standard ongoing argument: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.  The saying is credited to Carl Sagan, but was originated by skeptic Marcello Truzzi.   Truzzi was a skeptic of the paranormal.  What it is almost ironic is that he had a sense of fairness that caused him to split with debunking organizations.

But the sentiment regarding extraordinary evidence did not begin with Truzzi.  Some say it began with the philosopher David Hume, who argued that before we believe in a miracle, there should be so much evidence that it would be foolish not to believe.  I, for one, would not be proud to make David Hume the ancestor of my philosophy.  He argued against knowledge gained by the senses, against the existence of the self, against cause and effect, and against God.  He pretty much obliterated our perceptual sense of the universe with his philosophy.  To be fair, part of Hume’s 18th century philosophy stood in opposition to powerful religious authority.  Denounced as an atheist (the dangerous charge of heresy), he was clearly agnostic by his own admission.  He rejected the God of standard theism, but did not rule out the possibility of other forms of deity.

In mysterious aspects of human experience, perception often lines up with authority.  As long as the field of psi is attempting scientific acceptance, opponents will use the scientific authority of current consensus to  cast judgment.  We shouldn’t underestimate the power of authority is any field of human endeavor. Physicist Max Planck is famous for the quote: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.” Perception and belief go hand in hand.  As believe shifts, experience shifts, and the sorts of evidence streamed and accepted will shift as well.

It is common in the human experience for bias to screen and stream our reality – to the point where we accept or reject evidence based on that membership of belief.  If someone doesn’t line up with a perception, they literally won’t see it. We may think of this is an ignorant means to negotiate reality.  But I believe that the nature of perception is governed as much by what we stream – where we hold perceptual membership, place our attention, and grant relevance – as by “objective reality.” There are aspects of the world that people do not see because they are distracted or trained to look in another direction.  (By the way, it’s always easier to see the bias in others, and remain blind to our own sets of bias.)  Rather than saying, “They are completely bias against all forms of psychic phenomenon,” it may be more accurate to say, “In no way do they line up perceptually with psychic phenomenon.”

Perceptual processes are often governed by the questions we ask.  When it comes to the paranormal, I think we’re asking the wrong questions.  The question shouldn’t be: Does psychic phenomenon exist within the human experience?  Statistically, it’s already been proven.  The question should be: When, how, and under what circumstances do psychic phenomenon operate?  We should be willing to admit that psychic phenomenon do not operate equally under any and all circumstances.  If we accept that, the process of mindful discrimination begins.  That examination leads me to two fundamental aspects of experience: Potential and Connection.  Potential and connection, I believe, have a great deal to do with perception generally, and the operating parameters of psychic phenomenon specifically. Explanation will require additional blog posts.

Next blog – Shamanic Experience: The Fields of Potential

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