Archive for the 'Consciousness' Category

Nov 28 2013

A Possible Non-Supernatural Quantum Model of Precognition – Part 3

Published by under Consciousness,PSI

[Note: This is taken from a research paper I wrote in 2007.  It’s entirely possible that research since then has entirely refuted my interpretations of the Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. This piece is being presented “as-is” or, rather, “as-was.”  I am particularly interested in feedback and discussion, as I realize I’m making some ambitious suggestions in this series.]

Part 1   Part 2

Part 3: The Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics

With the subject of time now exposed for being both subjectively and objectively complicated, let us look at Cramer’s transactional interpretation of quantum theory. “The basic element of [the transactional interpretation],” writes Cramer (1986), “is the transaction describing a quantum event as an exchange of advanced and retarded waves, as implied by the works of Wheeler and Feynman, Dirac, and others.”

The TI is explicitly non-local and thereby consistent with recent tests of the Bell Inequality, yet is relativistically invariant and fully causal…The TI permits quantum mechanical wave functions to be interpreted as real waves physically present in space rather than as “mathematical representations of knowledge” as in the [Copenhagen Interpretation]. The TI is shown as to provide insight into the complex character of the quantum mechanical state vector and the mechanism associated with its ‘collapse’ (Cramer, 1986, pp. 647-648).

These are ambitious claims. How does it work?

According to Cramer’s proposal, a vibrating electron produces a field, which physicist John Gribbin describes as “a time symmetric mixture of a retarded wave propagating into the future and an advanced wave propagating into the past (Gribbin, p. 238).” The retarded wave moves forward into the future until it comes into contact with an electron capable of absorbing its energy. This process causes the absorber electron to vibrate, sending out its own retarded field, which cancels the original. At the same time, the absorbing electron sends a negative-energy advanced wave into the past to the emitter, causing the emitter to send an advanced wave into the past, which cancels out the original. “All that is left,” writes Gribbin,

is a double wave linking the emitter and the aborber made up of half of a retarded wave carrying positive energy into the future, and half of an advanced wave carrying negative energy into the past…because two negatives make a positive, this advanced wave adds to the original retarded wave as if it too were a retarded wave traveling from the emitter to the absorber (Gribbin, p. 238).

As if this wasn’t difficult enough, Gribbin notes that this transaction can happen in the other direction as well, originating in the future. All of this gets hideously complex in trying to imagine.  Perhaps an illustration can simplify things a bit.

ti-diagram(Gribbin, p. 239).

This transaction between electrons happens instantaneously.

At first, the idea of sending a wave back in time may sound ridiculous, and the instantaneous nature of the quantum “handshake” to be pushing things a bit. Yet upon examination, this may not be as counterintuitive as it seems. Leaving aside, for the moment, the vagaries of subjective time as explored in the introduction to this paper, let us, for a moment, revisit Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. The Special Theory of Relativity links space and time into a continuum – spacetime. Furthermore, Bell’s Theorem and the experiments of Alain Aspect have shown that particles can become “entangled,” and behave in a manner that suggests nonlocality in the universe. Locality is a spatial description. If space and time are linked, then atemporality is merely a way of describing a different aspect of the same phenomenon. Indeed, Cramer has emphasized that his model is no different from “regular” quantum mechanics. It is only offered as an alternative conceptual framework (Gribbin, p. 239).

Yet re-conceptualizing quantum theory in this manner opens up discussion of a number of topics, not the least of which is the idea of precognition. If there can be this exchange of information between the future and the present or the past (whatever these might now be), is it possible to “tap into” this process, and know about events before they happen?

In his introduction to what has been called the worst movie ever made, Plan 9 from Outer Space, television psychic Jeron Criswell reminds us that “We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.” Throughout history, humanity has sought to know the future, utilizing the services of oracles and fortune tellers, or by using any number of divinatory tools, from animal entrails to tea leaves, to palm reading, to the I-Ching. History is full of anecdotal stories of people who could “see” the future. Are the reports of these seers merely lucky guesses? Coincidences?

To begin this discussion, we will next look to some of the research being conducted to determine if such precognition is even possible.

Up next: My Presentiments, Exactly!

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Sources:

  • Cramer, J. (1986). The Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Reviews of Modern Physics, 58, 647-648.
  • Gribbin, J. (1995). Schrödinger’s Kittens and the Search for Reality: Solving the Quantum Mysteries. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

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Nov 27 2013

A Possible Non-Supernatural Quantum Model of Precognition – Part 2

Published by under Consciousness,PSI

[Note: This is taken from a research paper I wrote in 2007.  It’s entirely possible that research since then has entirely refuted my interpretations of the Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. This piece is being presented “as-is” or, rather, “as-was.”  I am particularly interested in feedback and discussion, as I realize I’m making some ambitious suggestions in this series.]

Part 1

Part 2: Quantum Retro-Causality

One hundred years after its initial formulations, quantum physics is no less weird. With cats that are both dead and alive, non-locality, waves behaving as particles (and vice versa), and inherent uncertainty, it would seem humanity’s folly in thinking it can “know” how the universe ultimately works has hit a brick wall. The universe is calling our bluff. The more we poke, prod, and tickle the universe to find out its secrets, the more it begins to tickle back. That quantum mechanics works is not in dispute. How and why it works, is still a matter of debate. The implications of quantum physics are astounding. To a degree, it becomes clear why some caution that quantum physics is a “loaded gun” in the hands of the laity. (Rosenblum and Kuttner, 2006, p. 3)

In order to cope with the ramifications of quantum theory, a number of interpretations have been devised. Though physicist Richard Feynman is correct in stating “no one understands quantum physics,” this has not stopped people from trying. Perhaps the most widely known interpretation of quantum theory is the Copenhagen Interpretation of Niels Bohr. This approach is essentially a “don’t ask, don’t tell” interpretation. “How” and “why” do not matter. What matters is that it works, and that it can make incredibly accurate predictions. Unfortunately, human nature tends towards the curious. Demanding that we not worry about “how” and “why” makes some people (myself included) wonder about these things even more. Fortunately for the curious, there have been a number of attempts to explain the “how” and the “why” in quantum theory, each of which offers intriguing possibilities for understanding reality.

Einstein was troubled by the implications of quantum theory, feeling it must be somehow incomplete. One interpretation that hopes to reconcile the mysteries of quantum theory is hidden variable theory. In essence, as quantum theory deals with the incredibly tiny, there may be factors involved that we simply do not know about, and cannot know about with current technology. One such hidden variable theory is David Bohm’s Implicate Order theory. Per Bohm’s interpretation, there is an “implicate order” to nature, and an “explicate order.”  Particles and objects that we observe unfold from the implicate order into the explicate order, only to be enfolded back into the implicate order later.   Another interpretation of quantum theory posits that there are multiple universes, where each moment an observation is made, another universe is created where that observation was not made. There are various versions of this theory, ranging from finite to infinite numbers of universes.

One of the more fascinating interpretations of quantum theory is John Cramer’s Transactional Interpretation. Before discussing this, some background discussion is in order. While the notion of moving backwards in time might seem counter-intuitive, and the stuff of science fiction, there is a very real possibility that time may not be as formally structured as we experience it. I outlined some of the fluidity of our subjective experiences of time in the introduction to this paper. What does “objective” science have to say, though? It turns out that backwards movement in time is not as controversial as we might think.  Richard Feynman has shown that there is no mathematical difference between an electron traveling “forward” in time, and its anti-matter equivalent (a positron) moving “backwards” in time. If this isn’t radical enough, things actually get more complex.

If a photon has enough energy, it can actually turn itself into a pair of electron-like particles (to do the trick, the E in the photon must be more than the mc² in two electrons). One of these particles is an everyday electron; the other is just like an electron, but has positive charge instead of a negative charge, and is called a positron. As ever, the equations that describe the process are symmetrical. When an electron and a positron meet they reverse the process and annihilate each other, to form an energetic photon. In a standard scenario, observed many times in experiments, an energetic photon moving from one place to another may turn into a positron-electron pair in this way. The two particles go off in different directions, and very soon the positron meets another electron and annihilates, producing another energetic photon (Gribbin, 1995, p. 100).

How often does this occur? Constantly (p. 100).

Up next: The Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics

———-

Sources:

  • Gribbin, J. (1995). Schrödinger’s Kittens and the Search for Reality: Solving the Quantum Mysteries. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
  • Rosenblum, B. and Kuttner, F. (2006). Quantum Enigma: Physics Encounters  Consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press.

 

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Nov 26 2013

A Possible Non-Supernatural Quantum Model of Precognition – Part 1

Published by under Consciousness,PSI

[Note: This is taken from a research paper I wrote in 2007.  It’s entirely possible that research since then has entirely refuted my interpretations of the Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. This piece is being presented “as-is” or, rather, “as-was.”  I am particularly interested in feedback and discussion, as I realize I’m making some ambitious suggestions in this series.]

He who controls the past, controls the future; he who controls the present, controls the past. – George Orwell

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime, doubly so. – Douglas Adams

Humanity’s relationship with time is complicated. We speak of “free tim,” either craving more of it, or complaining that others with creativity have too much of it. Our days, on the surface, appear rigidly bound to time: 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep, and 8 hours to do everything else. Spiritual leaders and some physicists tell us that there is no such thing as time, yet living in that conceptual framework quickly becomes difficult (and even the adverb “quickly” makes use of a temporal reference) when having to deal with appointments.

Things get even more complicated when one begins to ponder the deeper significance of Einstein’s Theories of Relativity. Our very perception of time is dependent on factors mostly beyond our control, such as velocity. I can travel at variable speeds on Earth, yet have no control over the speed at which the Earth rotates, how fast it orbits the sun, how fast the solar system travels through the galaxy, or the galaxy through the universe. It has taken me 15 minutes to write this paragraph, yet on a level, I have no idea what that means.

This meditation on time becomes even further complicated by looking around me. The sun light I am using to see while I write this is 8 ½ minutes old. It always will be. As I look at the night sky, I can only see the past. It is not even an “objective” past, as each star in the sky is of varying distance from the Earth. As such, the light from each has taken a different amount of “time” to reach me. Are those stars even still there? I will never know. The night sky is dependent on me being precisely where I am. As the 1990s pop tune by the group Jesus Jones goes, “right here, right now…there is no place I’d rather be.”

Yet if all I can do is stare at the past, or utilize 8 ½ minute old light, surely in my day to day existence, I am aware of things as they happen. Not quite. It turns out (and upon reflection, it should be obvious) that stimuli are generally not perceived instantaneously. A signal must travel from the stimulated nerve endings to the brain. There is a delay. Fortunately, this delay is minimal, and we do not have to wait a lengthy amount of time to determine that the stove is, in fact, hot. So it seems we can never know what is “actually” happening at any given moment. It would seem we are doomed to forever live in the past. Yet there are people who claim to be able to “see” the future. These perceptions are obviously beyond the threshold of normal stimulus/response. Is this possible? To understand this phenomenon we need to look deeper into the mysteries of time.

To try to understand precognition, I will first offer a summary of John Cramer’s “transactional interpretation” of quantum physics. This interpretation might offer some clues to help further understand the mysteries of time and perception. Working upward from the quantum level, I will touch briefly upon simple cases of “everyday” precognition (such as “knowing who is on the phone when it rings”), and then consider large scale events.  Prior to the sinking of the Titanic, there are well documented cases of people seeming to have precognitive information about the catastrophe. In addition, I will review cases of eerie foreshadowing to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Finally, I wish to explore the role that consciousness might play in this process.  These are ambitious goals, but should all prove insightful to understanding the nature of reality.

Up next: Quantum Retro-Causality

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Nov 12 2013

Witch Way

A piece at The Blyssful Witch crossed my path this morning: The Whitewashing of Witchery in American Neo Paganism – The Taming of the Witch.

The author writes:

To understand witchcraft we must descent into the darkness of the deepest oceans of the mind. In our efforts to avoid facing the realities of human evil, we have tamed the witch and made her comic, dressing her in a  peaked cap and setting her on a broom for the amusement of children at Halloween.

Thus made silly, she can easily be exorcised from our mind, and we can convince our children-and ourselves-that ‘there is no such thing as a witch.’

But there is, or at least there was.

I am weary of the weak witch; that watery individual who lurks on the fringes of occult studies and Crafting, proclaiming to take the ‘higher’, moralistic road and for the sake of acceptability and temperance, decides to ignore the history and origin of Witchery in its true form.

The ‘menace’ in the Craft has been taken out and replaced by bland mediocrity; a mouth with no teeth, a religion and practice with no bite, no fervor, no sting and no power.

We are pale, insipid reproductions of the Wise Women and Cunning Men of our past.

How far we have fallen.

This arrived at precisely  the right time for me.  I’ve been undergoing a prolonged case of reluctance.

This reluctance was born out of a sense of betrayal that took over my life in 2008-2009.  This reluctance made me over-reliant on approval of others who either don’t understand, will never approve, or are apathetic. What I somehow forgot in the process is that this is fine.  I don’t need their understanding, I don’t need their approval, nor do I need them to even care. My avoidance of speaking and living my truth has become detrimental to myself, and is decidedly not the example I wish to set for my son. I can no longer afford to let “what will THEY say?” be a concern.

The Blyssful Witch continues:

The white washers have replaced the fear of hell with the fear of ‘karma’ or the three-fold law coming back to bite you in the ass.

They have replaced Christ and the Virgin Mary with the Lord and Lady.

They have replaced ‘love thy neighbor’ with ‘harm ye none.’

Not much difference really. What a fucking sad state.

To quote Peter Grey, “Modern dazed paganism often makes this mistake, choosing to take the palatable aspects of an imagined past and from the fashion an escape into an unrealized fantasy…In order to protect cherished beliefs that have been proved false, we often cling to fantasies…Modern pagan witchcraft… is beginning its arc of entropic decay of locked empty postures and meaningless gestures.”

(The Peter Grey quote is from his 2013 book Apocalyptic Witchcraft published by Scarlet Imprint – note to self: track down a copy).

This has been my biggest beef with just about every “spiritual” system I have come into contact with during my time in California – or at least most of the practitioners of them.  There are four powers attributed to the Sphinx: To Know, To Will, To Dare, and To Be Silent.

I will simply say that there is a lot of noise.  A LOT.

As Lao Tzu once said: “Those who know, don’t tell. Those who tell, don’t know.”

There is a line between “shaman” and “showman.”

When your weekend “shamanic” workshop includes a session on how to read animal entrails, then I’ll consider attending.

I am no longer interested in determining who is a huckster and who believes their own bullshit.  Both are equally frivolous pursuits.

It is time to move forward.

Am I giving up on Consciousness Studies and Dream Studies?  Hell no. But I am reclaiming and redefining them on my own terms.

I have a few ideas for projects, including one that doesn’t really have a name or a clear set of parameters to it – I only know it by what I am being called to read (mostly things that Those-Who-Would-Make-Me-Reluctant would hate if I thought for a moment they even knew what some of it was) as background material. 

The Blyssful Witch writes:

I will not be lumped together in the stew of acceptability and mediocrity that has been simmering on the back burners of modern paganism for the last few decades.

Nor will I, though I’m not talking about just paganism here.

I will not bow to gods that have no power and a practice that has no teeth.

Nor will I.

It’s time to push back.

It’s what I do.

“Serenity is a problem / When you get this close to Heaven / But you really want to see / The wonders of the underworld”Jhonn Balance

 

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Aug 05 2013

Meditations on Sol Niger, part IV

‘I can see in the dark,’ boasted Nasrudin one day in the teahouse.

‘If that is so, why do we sometimes see you carrying a light through the streets?’

‘Only to prevent other people from colliding with me.’  – as told by Idries Shah

In his book Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam (1993), Peter Lamborn Wilson (yes, I’m aware of his proclivities) discusses the darkness and “black light” in the writings of the 12th Century shaykh Ayn al-Qozat, who equated it with the tragic figure of Iblis (aka “Eblis”) – the angel who disobeyed God out of love for God, refusing to bow before Adam. An interesting parallel in Christianity is the figure of Lucifer, whose name means “light bearer.” Lucifer is now considered one of the names for “the Prince of Darkness.” Al-Qozat explains that

in love there must be both rejection and acceptance, so that the lover may become mature through the grace and wrath of the beloved; if not he remains immature and unproductive. Not everyone can fathom that both Eblis and Mohammad claim to be guides on the path. Eblis guides one away from God, while Mohammad guides one towards God. God appointed Eblis the gatekeeper of his court, saying to him, ‘my lover, because of the jealousy-in-love that you have for me, do not let strangers approach me’ (as quoted in Wilson, p. 90).

Wilson illustrates this in terms of لآ اِلَهَ اِلّا اللّهُ, (la ilaha illa’Llah), describing how “the unworthy will never reach beyond mere negation, the la (no), or attain the inner sanctum of illa’Lah. The guardian or chamberlain of this inner realm is none other than Iblis (p. 90).” Al-Qozat elaborates on the role of Iblis.

Has the black light above the Throne [of God] not been explained to you? It is the light of Eblis…compared with the Divine Light it is darkness, but it is light just the same…hear the word of God! ‘Praise be to God, who has created the heavens and the earth, and has established darkness and light [VI:I]’ How can black be complete without white or white without black be complete? It cannot be so. The Divine Wisdom has so ordained (as quoted in Wilson, p. 91).

In keeping with our alchemical theme of “as above, so below,” Aziz ad-Din Nasafi (a student of Ibn ‘Arabi’s) retells the story of Iblis in terms of the microcosm within each of us.

God delegated his viceregent to represent him in the microcosm, this divine viceregent being ‘intellect.’ When the ‘intellect’ had taken up the viceregency in this microcosm, all the angels of the microcosm prostrated before it, except ‘imagination,’ which did not, refusing to bow, just as when Adam assumed the viceregency in the macrocosm, all the angels prostrated to him except Iblis, who did not (as quoted in Wilson, p. 93).

The importance and power of associating Iblis, “the black light” with imagination cannot be overemphasized. As Wilson explains,

Imagination…both dissipates and concentrates the faculty of remembrance, and seduces both to ‘sin and rebellion’ and to the vision of the divine-in-things. According to Ibn ‘Arabi himself, without images there can be no spiritual realization at all, for the undiffferentiated oneness of the Real can be experienced only through its manifestation as (or in) the multiplicity of creation (p. 94).

Islamic scholar Henry Corbin (1994) tells us that “‘the black light’ is that of the attribute of Majesty which sets the mystic’s being on fire; it is not contemplated; it attacks, invades, annihilates, then annihilates annihilation (p. 108).”

nightsunOn the night of May 28, 2006, I had an experience that I still do not understand. In the middle of the night, while asleep, I suddenly went lucid. Being an active dreamer, this was not troubling in itself, however for what I became aware of in my lucidity, I have no ready explanation.

I found myself hurtling towards a massive (and I mean massive) light, as if being pulled by an intense gravitational force. This was not a free-fall sensation, so much as being drawn towards the light. I felt no fear, but I also knew that this was not the proper time for me to be dealing with this phenomenon. The light was getting closer, surrounding, and penetrating me. I could feel my entire physical body vibrating, almost shaking. I somehow managed to pull myself awake, asserting rather strongly (and with great difficulty) “I…am…HERE” (my bed). I awoke, but still felt myself being pulled out of the back of my body. I closed my eyes again, felt the vibrations return, and found myself once more heading towards, becoming enveloped in, and penetrated by the light. Though the light was white, it possessed what I could detect to be an inner darkness. The only way I can describe this is through a rather weak synaesthetic analogy. A White Russian may look like a glass of milk, but contains tastes (Kahlua, vodka) hidden within it. An unsuspecting person may lift the glass to their mouth, expecting to taste only milk. They would be surprised by the taste of alcohol. In the same way, there was a core of blackness to the white light I was engaging. In some respects, it reminded me of the way sunlight appears during an eclipse (an important image  I will return to towards the end of this series). I managed to pull myself awake a second time, this time sitting up in bed for a while. Eventually I lay back down again, and entered into some kind of dialogue(?)/agreement(?) with the light, and the rest of my sleep was undisturbed.

I cannot comfortably say if this was all a dream, the onset of an out-of-body experience, a near-death experience, a seizure, or something else entirely (I’ve experienced sleep paralysis, and this wasn’t it). I simply do not know.

In an attempt to understand what happened to me that night, I turned again to Henry Corbin (1994).

The ‘black light’ is that of the divine Ipseity [“self”] as the light of revelation, which makes one see. Precisely what makes one see, that is to say, light as absolute subject can in nowise become a visible object. It is in this sense that the Light of of lights (nūr al-anwār), that by which all visible lights are made visible, is both light and darkness, that is visible because it brings about vision, but in itself is invisible (p. 102).

Black Light serves another purpose, for Corbin, echoing the words of Ayn al-Qozat and Aziz ad-Din Nasafi, he states:

The darkness above…in mystical terms…corresponds to the light of the divine Self in-itself (nūr-e dhāt), the black light of the Deus absconditus, the hidden Treasure that aspires to reveal itself, ‘to create perception in order to reveal to itself the object of its perception,’ and which thus can only manifest itself by veiling itself in the object state. This divine darkness does not refer to the lower darkness, that of the black body, the infraconsciousness (nafs ammāra), but to the black Heavens, the black Light in which the ipseity of the Deus absconditus is pre-sensed by the superconsciousness (pp. 100-101).

I want note that for Corbin, the “black body” in this quote would be physical matter, which absorbs light, only to reflect it. For instance, a red object isn’t actually, technically “red,” per physics. It absorbs all light, yet reflects light in the red bandwidth. Corbin talks about this further in terms of Najm Kobrā and Suhrawardi, stating that this is akin to the “fire of dhikr,” causing the “re-emission” of light. Wilson would equate this absorption into the darkness followed by re-emission as the crossing of the threshold guarded by Iblis, moving from “la” to “illa ‘Lah

In terms of Corbin’s description of the “Light of lights (nūr al-anwār), that by which all visible lights are made visible, is both light and darkness, that is, visible because it brings about vision, but in itself invisible,” we have seen this in terms of imagination, Iblis, and a form of the Divine Self. As above, so below, it can be all of these things. But now that we have pushed into the far reaches of abstraction, let us bring the discussion to realms a little more “this-worldly” (though not entirely). In the next post, I will discuss Corbin’s description of nūr al-anwār“visible because it brings about vision, but in itself invisible” in terms of an example that is perhaps easier to grasp from within our own paradigm; an example that is widely accepted, if not entirely accepted – the Near-Death Experience. Death and Re-birth. As above, so below.

Sources:

Corbin, Henry. (1994). The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism. New Lebanon, New York: Omega Publishing.

Wilson, Peter Lamborn. (1993). Sacred Drift: Essays on the Margins of Islam. San Francisco: City Lights Books.

(to be continued)

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Aug 02 2013

A Fall from Grace

Published by under Consciousness,newage

This is what I don’t talk about.

After an experience that turned my life inside out in terms of how I perceived the nature of reality, and after exhausting the potential explanations offered by every alternative I could find, I embarked on a 5 year academic research project into the nature of consciousness .  I enrolled in a Master’s program in Consciousness Studies.  It was a multi-disciplinary approach to the ultimate philosophical questions – why are we here? What/where is here? How does it all work?

The program brought in divergent disciplines – philosophy, biology, psychology, spiritual/religious studies, and more.  As I proceeded through the program, I found that it was gradually morphing into something else.  At first, it seemed to be overrun with “Integral Theory” and related conceptual frameworks developed by Ken Wilber.

I was asked to read a number of books by Wilber, and I did.  Wilber is an entertaining writer, and puts forth a number of very seductive ideas.  The problem is, if you start looking under the hood, you find that Wilber’s take on things has a number of flaws. These are too lengthy to go into here, but I will say that when I asked the questions his works naturally brought up for me, answers ranged from “Oh, you need to read his unpublished stuff” or “Oh, you need to read this other book of his,” or remarks that I just wasn’t “advanced” enough to fully grasp what he was saying.  Occasionally, there would be a quiet concession that I had a point, but this was usually brushed aside, as it was embarrassing to point out the flaws in the ideas of “one of the most important philosophers of our time.”

So, I did the only thing I could do.  I ignored Wilber. I would give him occasional lip-service in papers (yes, we were required to use the Integral Model a number of times in our papers) and then move on to what I felt was important. It seemed to me that the purpose of graduate school was to formulate our own ideas; our own theories. Instead, the program became a degree in showing how versatile Integral Theory was at explaining everything.  We were on the “cutting edge” of philosophical inquiry. We were infiltrated by faculty who had close dealings with Wilber and his various organizations. This was not what I signed up for.

After a while, Wilber faded into the background a bit (maybe coincidentally around the same time the university’s accreditation was under review), and more sinister forces began to work their way into things.

My field of study – an area that held deep, personal meaning for me, became a degree in feeling good about oneself.

The term “Transformative Studies” now took root in our program’s name. The program became less about understanding and delving into the nature of reality and consciousness, and more about uncovering all the ways we’d been wounded in life, sharing them with each other, and “healing” these wounds through a variety of techniques.

I will be the first to admit that I had some powerful experiences during these exercises. However, I am not so bold as to claim any sudden magickal shamanic powers simply from taking a class.

Unfortunately, I know too many people who do.

Many of my classmates and instructors are very bright, intelligent people. Many of them, I respect very highly. Frankly, it breaks my heart to see so many of them forget simple critical thinking, or be led into believing that critical thinking involves wholesale rejection of dominant paradigm culture.

I have seen the likes of Descartes, Freud, and Newton be summarily dismissed, if not outright maligned and trashed by people who have never read any of them. They were blamed for all that is wrong in the world. Dualism. Mechanism. Subject/object.  All of these things inevitably lead to war, homophobia, racism, sexism, destruction of the environment, and more. These men (and their “masculine” ways of thinking) are each responsible for every conceivable ill.  We need to return to more “feminine” ways of thinking, or embrace Buddhist non-dualism, or both of these things and more, all within a holistic Integral framework to heal and transform the consciousness of our planet.

Or something.

At one point, I realized I don’t even know what the fuck that means.

As 2012 approached, the noise surrounding the “impending Shift™” became almost deafening. To be fair, I graduated in 2008, but circumstances kept me employed at the university for a few years afterwards. I was privy to a lot of conversations. A lot.

2012 has come and gone, and I’ve noticed an equally deafening silence on why nothing has changed.

Things continued to go downhill.  My graduating class had three of us writing theses.  Mine was 300+ pages long. I am proud of that. I chose to do that. I did it to prove to myself that it could be done. Meanwhile, most of my classmates were being discouraged from writing a thesis. Instead, they were told to opt for a “final project,” which in some instances, the best I can tell, involved making a collage.

Really.

And we all got the same M.A.

I went above and beyond the requirements of my degree, and I went above and beyond the requirements of my individual classes, because I needed to make this my own.  And I did.

I do not mean to make it sound like I am disparaging the very sincere work done by my classmates. I am not. I know that a number of them went through very intense personal upheavals throughout the course of the program.

My problem is, that is not what the program was or should have been about.

It became an exercise in cult-like group therapy at times; not an inquiry into the nature of consciousness.

Two examples come to mind.

First, a class called “Effective Communication A” should probably be how to clearly formulate and express ideas. We were dealing with admittedly esoteric areas, and one would think this would be a class on how to present them to the outside world.

Instead, it became a weekly confessional.

Each week, we were supposed to grab a random partner in the class and confess our deepest “core wound” of shame, guilt, fear, powerlessness, etc.  Then, after 20 minutes, switch. Then, after some wrap-up discussion involving Buddhist  concepts of non-attachment, go home.

It became a pissing competition. Who could slit their wrists and bleed the furthest? Additionally, having NO training as a therapist, and NO tools provided by the instructor, I had to listen each week to someone pour their hearts and souls out to me about how they’d been inappropriately touched by a relative,  raped, almost committed suicide, etc.  Afterwards, there was barely a “see you next week!” before we left for the evening. My classmates mostly seemed to feel tremendously relieved and refreshed at another “powerful” session and grateful for the “sacred safe space” that was provided for them to purge themselves of these dark secrets.  I felt like shit for 48 hours afterwards.

Another class I took was on Alchemy. No, we didn’t try to turn lead into gold, but what was for the most part a rather fascinating historical and philosophical (and psychological) foray into Alchemy also tended to take weird detours into over-sharing. Again, at some point, we were split up into small groups where we needed to share painful experiences with each other.

I now know (for reasons unfathomable to me) that one of my classmates who once told me that she wanted to meet Ken Wilber so she could “feel his energy” used to be a bit of a sex maniac.  I also know another classmate used to have problems achieving orgasm when he was having sex with other men. Why did I need to know this? Why did I need to find this out in a class about Alchemy?

Oversharing deeply personal information was not just relegated to classmates. We were supposed to write about it regularly in our papers, as well. “Experiential” learning was another big component. Don’t just read about something, think about something, write about something – do it, live it, embody it (whatever that means).

On a side note, I should also mention that practically nobody assigned primary texts. Why read Jung, when you can read a book about Jung? Primary texts are hard. Take our word for it. Descartes, Newton, Freud – they’re bad people who’ve caused immeasurable suffering and wounding. Don’t read their writings – we (or Ken Wilber) have already done that, so you don’t have to.

Finally, there are two other reasons why the whole experience has left a sour taste in my mouth.

First, as much as the program claimed to be “open” about people exploring spiritual “paths,” if it wasn’t Buddhism or some bastardized version of Hinduism, forget it. Sufism was tolerated, Christianity was tolerated if it was couched in mysticism, Judaism was ignored, and Indigenous traditions kept at a respectful distance.  It was okay to “appropriate” eastern spiritual practices, and suddenly declare your name to be “Vipassana” (I only hope there’s a woman in India calling herself “Dualism”), but don’t you touch that native tradition, unless it’s part of your cultural heritage!

This heavy emphasis on Buddhist principles (and, really, I don’t ultimately have a problem with Buddhism, it’s more about the hypocrisy of the program), led to a lot of people taking on learned helplessness. Too many times, I heard “I just have to accept that this is what is…” or “The universe is presenting this to me for a reason…” or some such.  I subscribed to these things, too, for a while. As a result, I let myself get sucked further and further into an abusive relationship with a mentally disordered woman. I figured I was to blame. I wasn’t “listening.” She was being a “teacher” to me. “I just needed to accept that this is what is…”

I almost walked in front of a train.

Really.

Second, as much as the program claimed to be “holistic,” anything that involved Western philosophy, Western science, or Western medicine was immediately suspect.  It was all responsible for the ills in the world! This is why there’s war! Environmental crises! Hatred! Newtonian mechanism doesn’t explain the whole, only the parts! Western medicine doesn’t cure the whole, only deals with symptoms!  Bad! Bad! Leper! Outcast! Unclean!

Fortunately, a few years after the abovementioned abusive relationship, I met my wife.

We have a son.

One would think that we would be all about having the natural childbirth at home with the chanting and the incense, and the Tibetan singing bowls, etc.  Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, there were complications in the pregnancy.

My wife and son almost died.

More than once.

Is this Western medicine’s fault?

Actually, no.  Western medicine saved their lives, which is more than a home birth would have allowed for. No amount of herbs, chimes, and candles could have saved their lives.

And we were not about to just “accept it for what it was.”

So, I have a healthy respect for these things now. Is the system perfect? Probably not. But for anyone thinking that “the old ways were better and more natural,” I challenge you to research historic infant mortality rates.

If you want to suggest to me that we should “emulate Edo period Japan, because they knew how to live sustainably with minimal waste,” (as one classmate of mine presented in a class), I invite you to read the history of the period further, and understand the brutal dictatorship of the Shogunate and understand why people had to be less wasteful (hint: food shortages).  Seriously.  This is like saying “those people in Soweto in the 80s sure were good recyclers! We can learn from them!”

Approximately 2000 words later, all of this can be boiled down to a few things, I suppose.

  • My program lost the plot. Am I bitter? Yes.  Should I care? Probably not. Do I? Yes. Why? Because I still think and firmly believe that the study of this field is important, and necessary.
  • I don’t like hypocrisy.
  • It breaks my heart to see smart people blindly accept things without figuring out answers for themselves (Again – should I care? Probably Not. Do I? Yes.)

Finally, I want to end with some points to anyone from my program (and related programs) whom I haven’t alienated to ponder these questions:

Should going through intensive, well-intentioned, but poorly executed therapy be rewarded with a graduate school degree?

If it is assumed that you are “wounded” and need “saving” from the ills of the dominant paradigm, how is this different from the Christian conception of “Original Sin”?

In short – I am grateful for the knowledge I gained in my program. I am grateful for the experience. I now know what to do, and what not to do in terms of how to further research my areas of interest. What this program does not do, and should not do, is claim to prepare you for the beautiful (and oftentimes tragic) complexity of life.  To claim that embracing the Integral paradigm or whatever philosophy is the flavor of the year will immediately solve all of your problems and cure all the ills of the world is narcissistic, misguided, and inappropriate at best, and seriously harmful at worst.

Meet the new boss – same as the old boss.

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