Oct 17 2012

Can Paranormal Experience be Found in the Brain? (part 6)

Published by at 6:33 am under Consciousness,PSI

Part 1 of this series explored some historical background to the question, in which we learned that psychic phenomena might be related to the uterus.

Part 2 of this series looked at various brain-related factors that may contribute to whether one is a “sheep” or a “goat”, or, a believer, or a non-believer in the “paranormal”.

Part 3 critiqued some of the psychological assertions made about those who believe in the paranormal, mainly the diagnoses of fantasy proneness due to childhood trauma, and schizotypal personality disorder.

Part 4 looked at the correlations between psi phenomena and temporal lobe weirdness.

Part 5 reviewed Michael Persinger’s work analyzing the influence of magnetic fields on the brain

Today, we look at…

The Road: A Head

As I hope I have shown over the lat several days, the search for neuro-physiological correlates to paranormal experience is far from over. It is a controversial field within a controversial field. Parapsychology, despite a long and rich tradition of scientific inquiry is still frequently and widely dismissed as “pseudo-science.” For many in the field of consciousness research (parapsychological or otherwise), there is an understandable mistrust of those who would seek to find neuro-physiological correlates to aspects of the mind and consciousness. Too often, the idea of “correlate” is replaced with “cause,” when this may not be the case at all.

In this conclusion, I would like to accomplish several things. First,  I would like to discuss a framework in which the idea of correlates can be more easily embraced without the discussion degenerating into reductionist thinking. Second, I would like to revisit the discussion of whether or not psi ability is indicative of an “evolutionary trend” in humanity. In other words, are we becoming “more than human?” Finally, I would like to suggest an avenue of exploration that I believe offers very interesting ramifications in terms of not only psi abilities, but consciousness itself.

While my personal belief is that consciousness cannot be reduced to physical origins, I do believe that the search for physical correlates is vital to understanding how consciousness works. In an article published on the now regretfully defunct SurvivalAfterDeath.org, Chris Carter argues that a physical reductionist argument is inherently flawed.

The hidden premise behind this argument can be illustrated with the analogy of listening to music on a radio, smashing the radio’s receiver, and thereby concluding that the radio was producing the music. The implicit assumption made in all arguments…[discussin] the relationship between brain activity and consciousness was always one of cause to effect, and never that of effect to cause. But this assumption is not known to be true, and it is not the only conceivable one consistent with the observed facts…Just as consistent with the observed facts is the idea that the brain’s function is that of an intermediary between mind and body – or in other words, that the brain’s function is that of a receiver-transmitter – sometimes from body to mind, and sometimes from mind to body (Carter, 2006, ¶12).

This is a valid point, and immediate examples of mind influencing body could include the placebo effect, psychosomatic illness, and sexual fantasy. Carter relies on supporting arguments from Ferdinand Schiller, Henri Bergson, William James, and more. These can be best summed up in the following assertion from Schiller, as quoted by Carter:

Matter is not what produces consciousness but what limits it and confines its intensity within certain limits…This explanation admits the connection of Matter and Consciousness, but contends that the course of interpretation must proceed in the contrary direction. Thus it will fit the facts which Materialism rejected as ‘supernatural’ and thereby attains to an explanation which is ultimately tenable instead of one which is ultimately absurd. And it is an explanation the possibility of which no evidence in favor of Materialism can possibly affect (as quoted in Carter, 2006, 14).

Indeed, there is nothing here that is inconsistent with the assertions of Lakoff and Johnson in part 4, though it may not be quite the interpretation they intended. I believe that if we begin to look at not only paranormal experiences, but consciousness itself, within the framework advocated by Carter, we may begin to find answers to questions that have kept many of us up late at night.

In terms of whether psi abilities are evident of future evolutionary development in humanity, I can only say “maybe.” I bring this up not only because of the much hyped “Indigo/Crystal/Rainbow Chilrden,” but also due to a recent reading of Michael Murphy’s book The Future of the Body, an intriguing survey of extraordinary human ability and experience.  As I discussed earlier, I am hesitant to embrace the view that these abilities are “new” or evidence of some sort of human teleological evolution. There have simply been too many cases documented throughout history of psi experiences and extraordinary human abilities. These abilities would appear to be nothing new, and may be inherent human capabilities that have long gone undeveloped (especially in light of social pressure, as hinted at by the DSM). It is difficult to ascertain this with the culture-specific interpretations of some of these events/abilities as advocated by the DSM. While it is admirable that the American Psychiatric Association wishes to embrace cultural sensitivity, in some respects these abilities and experiences need to be assessed not only within a cultural context, but beyond a cultural context. This is the only way I see possible to arrive at some sort of definitive truth.

If we can look beyond cultural norms in terms of what is deemed “pathological” (while obviously not negating all pathology, as I would like to reiterate, I do not for a moment deny that mental illness unfortunately exists), we can not only foster a true sense of inquiry, but create a context in which both psi and consciousness can be studied and explored.

Finally, one area of possible future research that I find promising is the with the phenomenon known as “biophotons.” Jeremy Narby, in his book The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge (1999), cites research indicating that not only does DNA emit photons (which are electromagnetic – perhaps interesting in terms of Persinger’s research and the idea of “electromagnetic signature” that I postulated earlier), but that “all living beings emit photons at a rate of up to approximately 100 units per second and per square centimeter of surface area” (pp. 125-126).  This becomes even more interesting when coupled with ideas of quantum entanglement and non-locality. In The Future of the Body (1992), Michael Murphy speaks of several instances, both recent and historical, of people being able to perceive what he terms “luminosities” – lights passing between people and within one’s own mind. This adds an entirely new spin to the idea of “enlightenment”, let alone spiritual traditions such as the Kabbalah and Ishraqiya, a form of Sufism based on a mystical view of light. How do biophotons relate to consciousness? Might they play a part in explaining Libet’s Delay, and precognition?  Both of those will be the subjects of future posts.

In dealing with phenomena such as psi or belief in psi, it becomes too easy to equate it with “magical thinking” or delusion. If we can learn how to accurately assess paranormal experiences and psi abilities, we can learn from them not only on their own merits, but use this knowledge to unravel the mysteries of consciousness itself. This path will require an intricate framework, and a lot of trial and error. Mistakes will be made. Ultimately, however, I believe the rewards will be worth it.

 


 

Sources:

  • Carter, Chris. (2006). Does Consciousness Depend on the Brain? Retrieved September 6, 2006 from http://survivalafterdath.org/articles/carter/consciousness.htm. Now available here.
  • Murphy, Michael. (1992). The Future of the Body: Explorations into the Further Evolution of Human Nature. Los Angeles: Targer.
  • Narby, Jeremy. (1999). The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.

 

 

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