Archive for the 'PSI' Category

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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Oct 17 2012

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

Published by 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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Oct 16 2012

Can Paranormal Experience be Found in the Brain? (part 5)

Published by 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.

Today, we look at Michael Persinger’s idea that geomagnetic fluctuations may have affect the brain, and account for a sense of “presence” of the deceased, among experients.

The geomagnetic fluctuation hypothesis, while highly suggestive at first glance, seems to buckle under stress. First, there are logical problems. One of the experiences that Persinger has noted in people he feels are “susceptible” to the influence of geomagnetic flucturation or even other types of magnetic fields such as solar flares, seismic activity, radio and microwave transmissions, etc. (Horgan, 2003, p. 91) is the sensing of a “presence.” Persinger concludes that this may account for some apparition experiences, as well as visitation dreams (Persinger, 2001,¶ 22-23). In the case of visitation dreams, he asserts (in agreement with much literature in the Dream Studies field on the subject) that many of these dreams take place within 3 days of the death of the deceased, and between the hours of 2:00 and 4:00am. It seems highly coincidental that geomagnetic fluctuations would coincide in such a manner to the death of a loved one.

In addition to logical considerations, there has been difficulty in trying to prove Persinger’s hypothesis in a laboratory. A pilot study by Dean Radin and Jannine Rebman in 1996, Are Phantasms Fact or Fantasy? A Preliminary Investigation of Apparitions Evoked in the Laboratory proved inconclusive. John Horgan, in his book Rational Mysticism (2004) pays a visit to Persinger’s lab in Canada, and volunteers to be subjected to the type of magnetic activity that Persinger claims will cause a Subjective Paranormal Experience. Horgan left the lab less than impressed.

That said, however, I do not believe we need to abandon the hypothesis of magnetic influence, entirely. In his article The Neuropsychiatry of Paranormal Experiences (2001), Persinger relates the story of a subject who had experienced a series of presences, normally between the hours of 2:00 and 4:00am. Persinger concluded that these experiences were caused by a possible interplay between a childhood brain injury, and the magnetic field generated by her alarm clock (¶21). These experiences of non-specific presences (i.e., not as specific as “my dead grandfather”) coupled with the mixed results of the experiment by Radin and Rebman, might have a different explanation.

Perhaps, rather than “apparitional experiences being caused by magnetic fluctuations,” the avenue of inquiry needs to be “is it possible that apparitions/the human soul might have electro-magnetic properties that can be perceived by the human brain?” This is not to say that all apparition experiences are true, by any stretch. Yet if magnetic fluctuations can be perceived and processed by the brain, as Persinger’s and Radin and Remban’s work seems to suggest, perhaps specific electro-magnetic patterns (rather than a more “generic” patter produced by an alarm clock, for instance), might be perceived in a more specific manner. If I am familiar with the electro-magnetic signature of my grandfather, perhaps I am thus able to recognize him if he appears to me in a dream, or waking apparitional state. Proving or disproving this experimentally is a long way off, but it is an interesting hypothesis to consider.

Finally, Persinger has also looked at the role that the right brain hemisphere might play in paranormal experience, most notably in a paper co-authored with W.G. Roll, and others. Once more, the right hemisphere proved to be a difficult place to locate paranormal experience. While Roll and Persinger’s paper seems to suggest right hemisphere involvement, Neppe disputes this finding, stating that “it is impossible to test a single hemisphere’s functions, as the other hemisphere may be compensating for or accentuating anomalous or dysfunctional elements (Neppe, 1990, p. 172).

Tomorrow: I begin to wrap up this whole sordid saga, tying it all together, and offering some ideas about where we might go from here.

 


 

Sources:

  • Horgan, John. (2003). Rational Mysticism: Spirituality Meets Science in the Search for Enlightenment. New York: Mariner Books.
  • Neppe, Vernon M. (1990). Anomalistic Experience and the Cerebral Cortex. In Stanley Krippner (ed.). Advances in Parapsychological Research: Vol. 6. (pp. 168-183). Jefferson, North Carlina: McFarland.
  • Persinger, Michael A. (2001). The Neuropsychiatry of Paranormal Experiences. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 13(4), 515-524. Retrieved August 5, 2006, from http://www.neuro.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/13/4/515.
  • Radin, Dean I. and Rebman, Jannine M. (1996). Are Phantasms Fact or Fantasy? A Preliminary Investigation of Apparitions Evoked in the Laboratory. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 61(843), 65-87.
  • Roll, W.G., Persinger, M.A., Webster, D.L., Tiller, S.G., and Cook, C.M. (2002). Neurobehavioral and Neurometabolic (SPECT) Correlates of Paranormal Information: Involvement of the Right Hemisphere and its Sensitivity to Weak Complex Magnetic Fields. The International Journal of Neuroscience 112(2), 197-224.

 

 

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Oct 15 2012

Can Paranormal Experience be Found in the Brain? (part 4)

Published by 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.

Today, we’ll look at whether it might be possible that psi abilities such as ESP, telepathy, or the ability to perceive auras and/or apparitions (to name a few) might be related to normal brain functions. Might these be natural, inherent processes that we all possess to some degree or another?

[NOTE: I originally wrote the material in this series in 2006. James Carpenter  recently published First Sight: ESP and Parapsychology in Everyday Life, which may address these issues more in-depth than I do. I’ll post an update to this series once I’ve had a chance to read it. I am very interested.]

In their book Philosophy in the Flesh (1999), George Lakoff and Mark Johnson speak to what they consider to be the limits of knowledge.

…the very structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment. The same neural and cognitive mechanisms that allow us to perceive and move around also create our conceptual systems and modes of reason. Thus, to understand reason we must understand the details of our visual system, our motor system, and the general mechanisms of neural binding… .it is shaped crucially by the peculiarities of our human bodies, and by the specifics of our everyday functioning in the world (p. 4).

It might be easy to dismiss Lakoff and Johnson as reductionists. Yet it is possible to work within the framework they construct, and still find room for human abilities that one might consider “paranormal” or “anomalous.”

While everyone has more or less the same brain structure, each of us has had varying life experiences. Could the development of neural networks within the brains of some people facilitate some psi abilities? Could there be un- or underdeveloped pre-existent brain structures within us that allow for ESP, telepathy, or the ability to perceive auras and/or apparitions?

Before examining some of the research that has been done, I would like to make clear that I do not believe these abilities to be a recent evolutionary advancement. Despite the recent minor excitement over what are being termed “Indigo Children”* there is significant record – parapsychological, historical, and anecdotal – of people having these abilities for hundreds, if not thousands of years. In this post, I would like to look at some of the work being done by Vernon Neppe to locate parts of the brain that might be involved in psi processes, as well as will examine the work of Michael Persinger and his research in temporal lobe epilepsy. Persinger has also attempted to correlate  magnetic fields and psi phenomena. I will cover that in tomorrow’s post. I will revisit Lakoff in the final post in this series.

Just as much research is being done to map the more “normal” aspects of brain functionality, efforts are underway to determine what parts of the brain may be involved in psi activity. There is, of course, controversy over this, as well as disputes over the various conclusions that have been reached.

Dr. Vernon Neppe, of the Pacific Neuropsychiatry Institute, has been attempting to link what he calls “SPEs” (Subjective Paranormal Experiences) with temporal lobe dysfunction in the brain. Neppe defines an SPE as “any apprehension, manipulation of objects, or event perceived by the percipient (or experient) to be psi-related” (Neppe, 1990, p. 168). Neppe includes a variety of subcategories, such as “subjective telepathic experience, subjective clairvoyant experience, subjective precognitive experience, subjective mediumistic experience, subjective psychic healing experience, subjective psychokinesis, and subjective spontaneous psi” (pp. 168-169). Though Neppe is primarily interested in the temporal lobes, he admits that “not all subjective paranormal experiences may derive from or be associated with the same anatomical locus or have the same psychophysiological predispositions” (p. 169). He also feels that the occipital lobes might be involved in the perception of auras or apparitions, due to their visual nature (p. 171).

While it may be tempting to paint Neppe in a reductionist light, this need not be the case. In a 2003 paper, Neppe, along with co-author John Palmer, reinforce their case for pursuing this line of inquiry.

Our understanding of psi from a physiological point of view would be greatly enhanced if we could pinpoint a section of the brain in which psi mediation occurs, or at least an area that plays a primary role… First, by considering the functions performed by this part of the brain, we could develop more incisive insights about how psi manifests…Second, if momentary brain states could be found to correlate with the accuracy of discrete psi responses, progress could be made in predicting which particular psi responses (e.g., guesses on a card test) will prove to be correct. Third, attempts could be made through biofeedback, drugs, or other means to alter the functioning of this part of the brain to enhance psi performance (Palmer and Neppe, 2003, p. 75).

Palmer and Neppe speak of mediation, not causality. This emphasizes more of a facilitation of process, rather than a generation of one.

Pursuing a similar line of inquiry to Vernon Neppe, is Michael Persinger of the Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory at Laurentian University. Persinger’s model is considerably more complex, and takes into account a number of variables. First, Persinger believes that there is a correlation between paranormal experience and the temporal lobes (Persinger, 2001, ¶3). Second, Persinger believes that there may be a form of epileptic microseizure in the temporal lobes, specifically the hippocampus and amygdala (as cited in Neppe, 2003, p. 76). Finally, and perhaps most controversially, Persinger believes geomagnetic fluctuations may be responsible either for these seizures, or work in conjunction with these seizures to produce subjective paranormal experiences.

In regards to the correlation between paranormal experience and epilepsy, one would expect temporal lobe epileptics to have a higher incidence of subjective paranormal experience. Unfortunately, as Palmer and Neppe point out in their 2003 paper, A Controlled Analysis of Subjective Paranormal Experiences in Temporal Lobe Dysfunction in a Neuropsychiatric Population, this correlation has not been established (p. 77). One thing that might be interesting to attempt to establish, would be to flip this on its head: rather than temporal lobe seizures causing paranormal experience, might paranormal experience cause certain types of seizures in some experients? Regrettably, I have not the training, the background, nor the resources to conduct such an experiment.  Naturally, there would be ethical considerations as well.

Tomorrow: We dive into Persinger’s geomagnetic fluctuation hyptothesis, and see what we find!

 

*The “Indigo Children” are children who allegedly have an indigo-colored aura (there are also now “Crystal Children” and “Rainbow Children”), and are believed by assorted parents and teachers to have special powers, and will be the next wave of human evolution, bringing about world peace, and a global paradigm shift. Unfortunately, I am not as optimistic. In many ways, this is merely a new-age re-telling of the same narrative used by fundamentalist Christianity in terms of the “sanctity of the child,” projecting all of our hopes and dreams on the next generation. I suspect some of these children may have some form of AD/HD, or might just suffer from bad parenting. Indeed, I’ll be curious to see what sort of developmental issues they face as they grow older, having to deal with the pressures of saving humanity. It is entirely possible that some of these children may have a certain level of psi ability, but I would like to see more research done before I accept that there is an entire generation of Messiahs being born.

 


 

Sources:

  • Lakoff, George, and Johnson, Mark. (1999). Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and the Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.
  • Neppe, Vernon M. (1990). Anomalistic Experience and the Cerebral Cortex. In Stanley Krippner (ed.). Advances in Parapsychological Research: Vol. 6 (pp. 168-183). Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland.
  • Palmer, John, and Neppe, Vernon M. (2003). A Controlled Analysis of Subjective Paranormal Experiences in Temporal Lobe Dysfunction in a Neuropsychiatric Population. The Journal of Parapsychology 67(Spring 2003), 75-97.
  • Persinger, Michael A. (2001). The Neuropsychiatry of Paranormal Experiences. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences 13(4), 515-524. Retrieved August 5, 2006, from http://www.neuro.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/13/4/515.

 

 

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Oct 12 2012

Can Paranormal Experience be Found in the Brain? (part 3)

Published by 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”.

Today, I would like to offer some critiques, both of H.J. Irwin’s supposition that childhood trauma may lead to fantasy proneness, and hence belief in the paranormal, and the DSM-IV TR’s diagnosis of “Schizotypal Personality Disorder” for those who believe.

Yesterday, I mentioned that Irwin suggests that traumatic experience “evokes in the person a need for a sense of control over life events,” which can be facilitated by the embracing of paranormal belief, and using it to attribute meaning to said events (Irwin, 1994, p. 108).

First, and foremost, I am unsure “how” taking up a belief in supernatural forces allows one to feel more in control of a traumatic experience. This seems counter-intuitive to me. If one attributes mysterious forces at work for causing something bad to happen, this seems to me a step of further surrender of control. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, while there may be a strong correlation between childhood trauma and paranormal belief, there may be other reasons for it. The key to this may be the use of the term “subculture” in the DSM-IV’s description of schizotypal disorder. To arrive at my conclusion, I need to first provide some additional background information.

Margaret Wertheim, writing about an entirely different subject in her book The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet (1999) sums up the current Western scientific paradigm brilliantly.

[W]hile we have been mapping and mastering physical space, we have lost sight of any kind of religious or psychological space…in the very literal sense that we have lost any conception of a space in which spirits or souls or psyches might “reside.” In the modern scientific world picture it is a matter of cosmological fact that the whole of reality is taken up by physical space, and there is literally no place within this scheme for anything like a spirit or soul or psyche to be contextualized. In the vision painted by modern science, the physical world is the totality of reality, because within this vision physical space extends infinitely in all directions, taking up all available, and even conceivable territory (p. 32).

If this is indeed the dominant Western paradigm (and thought things may not be quite as extreme as Wertheim asserts, this is at least very close to the conceptual framework most of us operate within), then paranormal belief, let alone paranormal experience have no place. It is outside (as the DSM-IV puts it) our “subculture.” The DSM is adamant about this relation to culture/subculture and “wellness.”

Cognitive and perceptual distortions must be evaluated in the context of the individual’s cultural milieu. Pervasive culturally determined characteristics, particularly those regarding religious beliefs and rituals, can appear to be schizotypal to the uninformed outsider (e.g., voodoo, speaking in tongues, life beyond death, shamanism, mind reading, sixth sense, evil eye, and magical beliefs related to health and illness) (American Psychiatric Association, 2000, p. 699).

If a cultural milieu has no framework to deal with transcendent experience, let alone “no place for anything like a spirit or soul or psyche to be contextualized” (per Wertheim), then it is only logical that paranormal belief would be classified as pathological in terms of Western psychiatry.

Yet the DSM inadvertantly gives us a way out of this mess. By placing schizotypal disorder as being conditional on the interaction between individual and contextual culture, it does not deny the possibility of anomalous or transcendent experience. It only asserts that when those experiences are at odds with the dominant paradigm, that one might be considered to have a “disorder.”

Let us then step outside of our culture for a moment to assess paranormal belief in another context, specifically as it relates to childhood trauma. I realize I am walking a fine line with what I am about to suggest, but can only offer my own admission to having undergone childhood trauma as compensation (I might also add that I held no paranormal beliefs until 20 years after the fact, having been a pretty stubborn “goat” up until that point).

In a number of shamanic and spiritual traditions, there is a belief that one must undergo an initiatory ordeal of death and rebirth. We can find modest echoes of this in the Christian concept of being “born again,”  and the resurrection of Christ, Sufis speak of “dying before death,” shamanic traditions will often speak of dismemberment at the hands of various spirits or demons before being reborn/reassembled in a new form. Even Freemasonry has its own resurrection rituals. Could childhood trauma, for some people, be a parallel for such an ordeal?

If these rituals and beliefs foster an enhanced awareness in cultures that accept the validity of such beliefs, how would this enhanced awareness be perceived in a culture that no longer has room for it? I suspect that such an awareness or belief would be handled much in the manner that it is presently handled in dominant paradigm Western Culture.

Lest this linkage between shamanism and spirituality and paranormal belief seem stretched, the precedent has been set by psychologist Charles Tart in a series of books (1990, 1992, and 1997), parapsychologist James Houran (2004), and can even be traced back to the concluding chapters of The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James. Additionally, if belief has an effect on neuroplasticity in the brain, could sustained belief in the paranormal lead to the creation of neural network patterns that allow for ESP or psi ability?

I would like to make one final set of disclaimers. I am painfully aware of the controversies surrounding belief in the paranormal and psi. In addition, I am in no way asserting that every victim of childhood trauma has some sort of “ability” or predisposition. I am also very cognizant of the fact that there are people with very real mental disorders who are in considerable need of help and have a knack for being aware of things that most of us are not.  It does not necessarily mean that they are merely “misunderstood.”

While I do believe there seems to be an abundance of over-hyped “syndromes” and “disorders” these days, I do not mean to negate the very real and tragic experiences of those with mental illness, nor the very admirable efforts of the doctors who attempt to help them. I am simply suggesting that there may be instances of misdiagnosis or opportunities for further study of psi abilities. This becomes especially true in the DSM-IV’s reliance on social norms as a determinant factor in schizotypal disorder.

Monday – Part 4 will ask the question “Is It All in the Head?”  Is there a possibility for psi abilities to be part of brain function? Are there physical correlates?

 


 

Sources:

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM IV TR). Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Association
  • Houran, James. (ed.). (2004). From Shaman to Scientist: Essays on Humanity’s Search for Spirits. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
  • Irwin, Harvey J. (1994). Childhood Trauma and the Origins of Paranormal Belief: A Constructive Replication. Psychological Reports 74, 107-111.
  • Tart, Charles T. (ed.). (1990). Altered States of Consciousness. New York: Harper Collins
  • Tart, Charles T. (ed.). (1992). Transpersonal Psychologies: Perspectives on the Mind from Seven Great Spiritual Traditions. New York: Harper Collins.
  • Tart, Charles T. (ed.). (1997). Body Mind Spirit: Exploring the Parapsychology of Spirituality. Charlottesville, Virginia: Hampton Roads Publishing.
  • Wertheim, Margaret. (1999). The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

 

 

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