Serialised book: “The Subtle Dance” – 7th instalment

Part I: The subtle side of reality

More than five senses

The activity of our mind is continually fuelled by fresh information. But how does the mind manage to obtain information? We could visualise the mind as a kind of personal computer with data and software stored on a disk and flows of new data pouring through the well known five senses, and through more subtle channels. The five senses operate like systems of captors catching bits of information from the “outside”, processing them and sending messages to brain cells. For instance, the retinas of our eyes receive information in the form of electromagnetic radiations; the information is processed by neurones within the eyes themselves, along the visual cord and finally within the brain. Similar patterns apply for hearing, touching, smelling and tasting.

But not all lights, or sounds, or fragrances, can potentially be picked up by our ordinary five senses, far from it. For instance, only a very limited spectrum of electromagnetic radiations can be decoded by the visual system, the so-called “visible range” of frequencies. Radiations with higher or lower frequencies go through our bodies without being detected, though not necessarily without effects. Similarly our hearing system can only detect mechanical vibrations of a particular range. We can’t detect ultra sounds, whereas dogs can, nor can we hear the very low frequencies, which elephants routinely use in their own communication. The same kinds of limitations apply to the detection of molecules by our neuro-physiological system dealing with smell and taste, and to the sensing of mechanical contact through touch. As a matter of fact, we humans are walking largely blind and deaf through an extraordinary rich ocean of information, of which only small parts are accessible to our ordinary senses.

On the other hand we seem capable of accessing information in other ways than through the ordinary five senses. When we walk into a room and get a bizarre feeling which can be heavy and disturbing or on the contrary light and pleasant. Or when the telephone rings and we know for sure who it is before picking up or seeing the number calling.

In the mid 1980’s, at a time when I was still firmly caught in the materialist belief system, I had the opportunity to have someone read the lines of my hand. To my utter amazement the person read in my hand as if my mind had been laid open on the table, bringing up very personal stuff right back from childhood. He did the same with other people in the room, who were equally amazed. This happened in London during an alumni dinner of my business school. The psychic was an MBA, banker, member of the Conservative party. Not the type of person you expected to read in the hand. I had never met him before. We weren’t contemporaries at the business school. I asked him how he proceeded to interpret the lines. “I don’t really know, he replied, I just pick up things”.

Now, years later, after a fair amount of research on supra-normal phenomena and with some personal experience of non conventional techniques, I am beginning to grasp what he meant. Looking at lines in the hand, or holding a pendulum, or picking up Tarot cards are just modalities facilitating extra sensory perception. They help the mind get into a state where it is able to pick up information in unusual ways (at least unusual in our present culture) and to transfer it from the unconscious to the conscious. Take the example of the pendulum. You ask yourself a question and use a pendulum to help you to the answer. When your unconscious mind receives the answer, this causes your hand to move slightly and make your pendulum turn clockwise or counter-clockwise depending on whether the answer is “yes” or “no” (and in accordance with your “inner convention” for positive and negative). Similarly when you pick up a card from a pack your hand is guided towards the one card that carries most meaning for you at that time, and if a connected person is next to you, he or she can use his or her extra sensory perception to help you interpret the message in your context.

In line with our cultural habit of always trying to separate and classify, we can discern different phenomena involving extra sensory perception: clairvoyance, often technically referred to as remote viewing, clairaudience or remote hearing, precognition, telepathy, etc. In each case it looks as if the mind has access to information that it couldn’t possibly have obtained through ordinary channels. In the representation of the mind as a sort of personal computer the five “ordinary” senses appear like interfaces between the mind and the “outside”. But the idea of a frontier between inside and outside the mind is very simplistic. As indicated in the second chapter the very notion of boundaries is one of the simplifying assumptions underpinning narrow science. Science has no coherent model for what the mind is (as opposed to just the brain), nor for consciousness, nor for what reality is. What we call reality in everyday speech is only images, sound effects and other impressions produced and experienced within our mind. That is what we experience. From that experience materialist thinking goes on to make various limiting assumptions; it assumes a mechanistic universe with separate creatures each following its distinct trajectory in space and time. In the narrow vision derived from its limiting assumptions and arbitrary postulates, material thinking cannot conceive of phenomena that seem to abolish boundaries, distances and the barrier of time.

Some people calling themselves “sceptics” maintain that such phenomena simply don’t exist. The posture of total denial is well known to psychologists who have established that human beings have great difficulties perceiving, let alone accepting, anything that does not concur with their belief system. But while sceptics deny en bloc the possibility of all apparently unexplainable events, a discipline called “parapsychology” has emerged over the last hundred and thirty years or so to study a number of so-called paranormal phenomena. The declared aim of the discipline was to consider strange phenomena with the same “objectivity” that nineteenth century and early twentieth century scientists prided themselves to exercise when studying any facet of the natural world, even the most unusual.

In the early period, researchers in parapsychology gathered evidence by studying psychics or individuals practising the “divinatory arts” and by collecting reports on unusual events. They also organised experiments involving mainly “gifted subjects” and more rarely ordinary individuals. A number of studies and books published in the first decades of the twentieth century reveal the impressive amount of evidence gathered at the time.

The term parapsychology only began to be used in the 1930’s and gained wide acceptance mainly after the war. It indicates an explicit connection with psychology, because to be fully accepted, the new discipline had to comply with the methods of conventional science.

Superficially this seems fine, but it hides the fact that a mentality shift of great consequence had occurred in the sphere of science and research since the early part of the twentieth century. While many scientists of the olden days were free curious minds keen to discover and understand, scientists of the more recent era – say from the second half of the twentieth century – are first and foremost professionals of a scientific and academic community whose organisation and financing depend on governments and big business.

The work of modern scientists has to follow the agenda of powerful masters, and be in line with their worldview. Under that tutelage, conventional science has developed fairly rigid methods and protocols designed to keep research within certain general lines. For disciplines in fairly mechanical domains of science, having to comply with modern methods and protocols might not immediately appear to be too much of a problem. But it is a huge problem for a discipline dealing with phenomena whose very existence call the materialist worldview in question. Nevertheless, from the late 1950’s many researchers in parapsychology, anxious to be accepted by the wider scientific community, imposed upon themselves the requirement that the phenomena they were studying had to be strictly repeatable under controlled conditions, otherwise they couldn’t even be considered as taking place at all.

This self imposition had the potentially favourable consequence of creating a large mass of data concerning specific types of paranormal phenomena. However the specific types studied in this strictly formatted manner were not necessarily the most significant or the most useful.

In any case most parapsychology research carried out in various establishments throughout the world, including specialised departments of renowned universities, met with scepticism.

Endless discussions on methodology protocols and statistical significance of results obtained led parapsychology into a stalemate. In spite of their strenuous efforts, academic researchers in parapsychology have not, to this day, managed to be fully if at all accepted by the wider scientific community. When their claims of statistical significance of large scale studies cannot be rejected on the basis of faulty protocols, they are confronted to the (true) observation that small deviations from chance occurrence may be real, but are not much use for any application.

And yet, be in no doubt whatsoever: a number of the phenomena that are supposed to be investigated by parapsychology are very real, frequent and of major significance. So what went wrong with parapsychology as a serious discipline? In short, its proponents got themselves in a trap when they focused their efforts on trying to apply methodologies that are not fully suitable to the object of their research. For example, they would make ordinary people with no particular gift try and guess which of, say, six cards carrying distinctive drawings, is being turned over out of their view, and they would repeat this hundreds or thousands of times. If statistics of the experiment showed that guesses had been correct significantly more often than one out of six times on average they would point to a “statistically significant” indication of “remote viewing” by the subjects tested. But then they wouldn’t quite know what to do with such results.

By contrast, if we go back to the work produced in the early decades of the discipline, researchers weren’t confining themselves to endlessly repeat very restricted experiments in order to produce masses of data analysed statistically. Such repetitive large scale protocols shed comparatively little light because psychic phenomena concern essentially specific individuals with specific intentions in specific circumstances. We are dealing with the subtlety of consciousness, not with standard characteristics of robots. In that sense, parapsychology cannot be a hard science. Parapsychology is a subtle discipline requiring a mix of rigorous logic, intuition, observation and clever analysis, rather than statistical number crunching.

While academics in the discipline are pretty stuck, more and more people with a free mind build their own corpus of observations on supra-normal phenomena and are able to exchange on them through various forms of networking.

To give a feel of what non academic activity can produce here is a well known case of a practising clairvoyant who organises training classes. Interestingly she starts by encouraging her students to develop their capacity to describe events from their distant past, such as early childhood. At the beginning their descriptions tend to be rather poor and dull, but with practice they all manage to piece together more much vivid and detailed reconstructions of past events in their lives. Only after they have attained a certain fluency in using long range memory, does she present them with objects such as photos of people they don’t know and ask them to produce information on these unknown people. Again the quality of the material they come up with is weak at the start but improves noticeably with practice. And what is truly fascinating is that when different subjects work on the same object, their contributions tend to be very complementary, combining to offer an impressively accurate profile of unknown people, animals, objects, or places that they were asked to report on through remote viewing

Perhaps the key conclusion of such training, confirming what had been shown by many other observations, is that “psi” capabilities are not restricted to a few exceptional subjects; they are natural faculties that all humans possess to some degree. As with other faculties, some subjects seem more gifted than others, but everybody can improve with motivation and practice. The main obstacle to practice of course is that Western culture doesn’t accept the reality of these phenomena, because they are incompatible with its reductionist worldview. So most people are positively discouraged to take an interest, and if they do they fear to be criticised and ridiculed.

Assuming we free ourselves from this intellectual cage of materialist thinking, how could we explain supra-natural perceptions? Let’s be careful here not to fall into an alternative form of “we know all” arrogance, having rejected mainstream dogmatism. Our starting point must be humility; we know so very little. That said, there are reasons to posit that reality is infinite, even though we cannot logically figure out what infinite truly means. Although it’s beyond our logic and capacity to comprehend, that infinite continuum must imply a sort of fundamental field (for want of a better word) of energy and information, and probably consciousness and intent. We’re out of our depth, but we can tentatively assume that everything must be related to that fundamental field. And that must include the human mind. Why is it that information from the fundamental field should reach the mind directly in some cases and only indirectly via the physical senses in other cases?

At this stage it is useful to combine various insights gained so far and take a new look at a tentative holistic vision emerging from them.

Copyright © Leo Foresta 2014



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