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Looking through a glass darkly – The paranormal, normal and bias

The Latin prefix para means beside or beyond. Like the word supernatural, paranormal refers to any phenomenon that eludes explanation through normal science or conventional wisdom.

Paranormal can be a misleading term because what is ‘normal’ is open to debate and subject to change.

At what precise point, for instance, does intuition or insight become as ESP or clairvoyance?

Funnily enough, the US courts still provide an option for placing the right hand on the Bible while taking oath—and the Bible is a book that invites believers to enjoy eternal rest in the paranormal realm of heaven.

Image: Wikipedia

Likewise, more recent versions of the American psychiatric diagnostic manual (DSM-x) accept religious beliefs that include the paranormal, providing the religion is well established and actively practiced within a given culture. Individual beliefs, however, are far more suspect, which speaks volumes about the psychiatric worldview.

Traditional religious persons tend to be wary of the paranormal, saying that it deals with magic, evil spirits, the occult, divination and demonic realms. Heaven, on the other hand, is said to be a faith-based concept denoting God‘s realm. So traditionalists tend to use the word supernatural instead of paranormal, as if that resolves all ambiguity about what is good and not good in the uncharted world of the spirit.

Many who have had unusual experiences or who believe they have psi abilities probably do not report these for fear of repercussions. They would not want to be ridiculed, bullied, harassed, stigmatized, marginalized or perhaps, worse, rough-handled by a medical establishment that leans toward what C. G. Jung called “medical materialism.”¹

Vallisca Paranormal Journalism

Vallisca Paranormal
Journalism: billnwmsu / Will Murphy

We can only wonder just how many genuine paranormal encounters go unreported. But one thing seems pretty clear: The data is questionable.

Social credibility bias, misreporting and unreliable statistics compel us to ask whether ‘normal’ and ‘paranormal’ are relative instead of absolute categories. Just as postmoderns deconstruct the idea of the ‘natural,’² the difference between normal and paranormal is relative to cultures and subcultures.

Cultural biases can be subtle but also pervasive. Bias often goes unrecognized because we are blind to our prejudices, expectations and limitations. And despite what many will say on either side of the fence, this happens with both kinds of believers—believers in the paranormal and believers in the normal sciences.³

¹ Things may be slowly changing for the better. But Jung speaks clearly about mid-20th century biases. See http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk3/ftp04/nq21958.pdf p. 143.

² This approach was popular in the mid-1980s and 90s, just before widespread acceptance of the LGBTQ community.

³ Some call for a new kind of relational science that could be applied to paranormal accounts. See http://www.collective-evolution.com/2015/10/22/the-top-8-paranormal-scientific-studies-what-we-can-learn-from-them, “Daniel Siegel in conversation with Paul Zak” on Vimeo https://vimeo.com/182895570 and http://www.teemingbrain.com/2012/07/23/liminality-synchronicity-and-the-walls-of-everyday-reality/

† Re title: https://thenface2face.wordpress.com/what-does-now-we-see-through-a-glass-darkly-mean/

Related » Atlantis, Clairaudience, Clairvoyance, Dreams, Empath, Guiley (Rosemary Ellen), Luke Skywalker, Randi (James), Remote ViewingScience journalism faces media changes, emerging discoveries, SeerTalbot (Michael), Tarot, Watts (Alan)

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Panpsychism – The Future Calls?

Toaster is in lurve

Toaster is in lurve: Cle0patra “Toaster has a new friend – Ice, they’ve been inseparable since she arrived” via Flickr

Panpsychism is the belief that all things possess consciousness. Some extend this belief to say that the type of consciousness matches the complexity of a thing’s organization.

The idea goes back to ancient times and has appeared around the globe. But it was rejected by a Church that adhered to a speculative, Aristotelian view of matter and which made a sharp distinction between organic and inorganic substances.¹

The Church’s teaching that human beings, alone, have souls complicated things, especially during times when disagreeing with or merely peeving powerful religious authoritarians could lead to ruin—that is, loss of property, torture and death.

After the Church, the philosophy of logical positivism helped to further squash panpsychism in the mid-20th century.

But it never went away.

Interest in panpsychism reemerged in academic philosophy, the New Age, science fiction and quantum physics. Also, it never really left Eastern religions, especially within Korean, Japanese and Chinese beliefs.

Image via Google Images CC

Today, with the rise of robotics, computing and artificial intelligence, a whole new vista of debate has opened up.

A contemporary panpsychist might say that an electrical circuit or machine generates a quality of consciousness in keeping with the degree of that object’s organizational complexity.

Also, the way a thing is organized could affect its consciousness. Not just the degree.

Sound nuts?

Well, let’s remember that human consciousness is demonstrably affected by our bodies and especially the electrochemical pulses coursing through the brain, nervous system and organs. So maybe the panpsychic view is not too far-fetched.

Additional critiques of panpsychism maintain that it is doubtful machines have souls, which many say is an essential component to life.

This might seem like the most compelling critique.

But can we be certain that God does not instill certain machines with souls… if not now, perhaps in the future?

St. Jerome produced a 4th-century Latin edition of the Bible, known as the Vulgate, that became the Catholic Church’s official translation – Wikipedia

Also, as our human bodies are increasingly transformed by science and technology even before conception – with in vitro fertilization – where do we draw the line between mankind and machine?

Traditional theology classes would probably not ponder these kinds of questions in a mature way.

It seems they are more geared toward generating revenue, defining intellectual boundaries and inculcating organizational obedience within a financially free clergy.²

But the questions raised by panpsychism are not going away. And soon they will have to be taken seriously.

Our future might depend on it.

¹ (a) This agrees with “Aristotle’s distinction between the mineral kingdom and the animal and vegetative kingdoms.” https://books.google.ca/books?id=KGaghraz8AUC&pg=PA526&lpg=PA526&dq=Aristotle%E2%80%99s+distinction+between+the+mineral+kingdom+and+the+animal+and+vegetative+kingdoms&source=bl&ots=o6Uhhd0oLB&sig=agRCj_3qQwuEsfs99EywODtzNac&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwirkcut4r7UAhVK44MKHQLxBaYQ6AEIKDAA#v=onepage&q=Aristotle%E2%80%99s%20distinction%20between%20the%20mineral%20kingdom%20and%20the%20animal%20and%20vegetative%20kingdoms&f=false

(b) “There is no clear or universally agreed-upon distinction between organic and inorganic compounds.” See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inorganic_compound

² From the perspective of depth psychology, emotionally challenged individuals often want something to cling on to. It might be hoards of money, status, or just something old and familiar. I say “financially free” because clergy who fit the bill are not burdened with financial concerns. How many working people around the world can claim that?

Related » Artificial Intelligence (AI), Strong AI Thesis, Leibniz, Spinoza


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Samkhya Philosophy – Another Golden Age Gone Wrong

gunas by Gustavo Peres

gunas by Gustavo Peres

Samkhya is one of the six main schools of Hindu philosophy. Most agree that it has conceptual roots in the Rig Veda but it is usually attributed to the legendary sage Kapila (circa 6th century BCE).¹

Kapila postulated a fundamental distinction between spirit (purusha) and nature or matter (prakrti). Prakrti has many subcategories but Samkhya is usually called dualistic, meaning that its whole system rests on the basic distinction between spirit, on the one hand, and nature/matter on the other hand.

Kapila believed in the existence of individual souls. He also proposed that material nature has three qualities (gunas) of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.

The three gunas are material but are also associated with different types of consciousness within living beings.

  • Sattva is the highest of the three gunas; it manifests as calmness, light and peace
  • Rajas is neither the highest nor the lowest guna; it expresses itself as excitement, action, passion and force
  • Tamas is the lowest of the three gunas; it induces feelings of darkness, grief, fear and laziness.

Like most philosophical systems with religious overtones, Samkhya enjoyed a sort of primal golden age. According to the belief, the three gunas originally existed in a happy equilibrium but the workings of the spirit threw them out of balance. The inevitable tensions, conflicts, attractions and affiliations arising from their disequilibrium contributed to a process of cosmic and spiritual evolution. This kind of evolution is, for Hindus, much grander and deeper than the Darwinian take on evolution.

Representation of a soul undergoing punarjanma...

Representation of a soul undergoing punarjanma. Illustration from Hinduism Today, 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like the theory of reincarnation, Samkhya is an imaginative but arguably limited human attempt to understand the godhead, creation and the interaction of time and eternity. My main critique of both samkhya and the idea of reincarnation stems from how they make me feel.

Even in writing this entry, I feel a vibe that differs from the kind of uplifting warmth and love that I experience through the Catholic Mass, especially through the Eucharist. But I can’t demonstrate that to anyone. It’s just a matter of my sensitivity to the numinous and to grace.

So I usually have to rely on intellectual arguments to try to suggest that not all numinosities are the same as grace and that some spiritual experiences, and the theologies that they emerge from, may be preferable to others.²

The idea that I usually talk about is how Hindu philosophy tends to be couched within a one-directional understanding of time. With Samkhya, there is an initial golden age, things go awry and then human history, nay, the history of the cosmos, marches along from past to present. This may take a somewhat circular arc (Hindu philosophy tends to be cyclic) but it’s still one-directional in the sense that creation travels from past to present. Same thing with the belief in reincarnation. A soul starts out at a simple level of consciousness and, through many reincarnations, apparently evolves into higher levels of consciousness. All from past to present.

Today we’re moving past such a simple view of time. Physicists have demonstrated that at the subatomic level, some interactions go back through time. And with relativity theory, we have empirical support that time, actually space-time, is not fixed but a flexible relationship among elements and conditions. So I think it quite possible, for example, that someone in the present could have a backwards ripple effect to someone in the past. Also, someone in the past could have a forward ripple effect on someone in the present, who would exist in the past person’s future.

Cleopatra (1962 novel)

Cleopatra (1962 novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the alleged “past life” some dream about or see in visions could conceivably be caused by something quite different than the dynamic of reincarnation. These people could be connecting with another person in the past—not with themselves in the past, but with another person, another soul.

This may not be quite as glamorous as believing we are the reincarnation of Napoleon or Cleopatra, but in my way of thinking, it’s far more exciting because it opens the door for many intuitive connections, as many as we are meant to experience. And that could be a lot.

It also means that we could possibly connect with people in the future. Or who knows, we might even be able to connect, on some intuitive level, with ourselves in our own future.

Think about it. If we can intuitively connect with people in the past, we are located in the future from their perspective. So the same dynamic should apply to people located in our future and ourselves.³

If by chance this has gotten a bit too complicated or innovative to easily understand, please don’t feel dumb. I myself have had to double check a few sentences because dealing with different time frames as they relate to grammar can get confusing!

Suffice it to say that the belief in reincarnation just doesn’t cut it when it comes to more contemporary theories about the fluidity of space and time. In subatomic physics we’re moving beyond a simple, past to present cosmology, and I think speculative theory about consciousness should begin to take a similar direction—umm, make that, directions. 🙂

¹ Some scholars dispute the idea that Samkhya has Vedic origins. Part of the problem is the sheer time scale involved when trying to decipher its beginnings, transmission and influences.

² For those who insist that all religions are the same, or perhaps that all religions are bogus, this is a challenging issue. Also, I realize that one person’s preference need not be another’s. However, one should hopefully be in a position to compare and make up one’s own mind, rather than be dictated to by ignorance or by political correctness as to what they, themselves experience (which of course is ludicrous at best, oppressive at worst).

³ A complication to this theory arises in that some people believe they can connect with the souls of the dead. So they would connect with souls in an afterlife, not with past souls still living on Earth. Myself, I don’t see why both scenarios could not occur. Even Carl Jung, whom in my opinion was something of a kindergarten student when it comes to spirituality, suggested that the soul exists beyond space and time, and that spirituality somehow collapses space and time. So he may have been unadvanced but was, in my view, heading in the right direction. Later in the day I added this additional consideration at earthpages.org. I didn’t want to put it here because, as I said, this was already getting a bit long and involved.


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Rupert Sheldrake and Morphogenetic Fields

Rupert Sheldrake, Toward a Science of Consciou...

Rupert Sheldrake, Toward a Science of Consciousness, Tucson, Arizona via Wikipedia

Morphogenetic fields is a biological term adapted by the English biochemist Rupert Sheldrake to suggest that evolution is a transference of past habits to present ones.¹

Sheldrake says morphogenetic fields have “physical effects” but “are not made of matter.” In contrast to the idea of morphic resonance, which deals with chemical and species behavior over a distance, morphogenetic fields are localized and refer to the development of chemical and biological forms.

When I last wrote this entry, the morphic field was described as a larger family of morphogenetic fields. But today the line seems blurred. Sheldrake himself says that morphic fields are hierarchically nested. So it seems that the two terms are, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable.  Most likely he is streamlining his terminology to make his ideas more accessible.

Sheldrake has gathered archival and previously ignored “anomalous” scientific data that he believes supports his theories. He says morphogenetic fields may explain Carl Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious but does not consider the possible influence of the future on the present, as Jung would.² Also, his theory does not consider possible spiritual influences from heavenly and hellish realms.

In Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home he adapts mathematician Rene Thom’s notion of the “attractor” and says habits “come only from the past, not from the future.”³

Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and A...

Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle would become highly revered in the medieval Islamic world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If we look at Aristotle‘s view of causality within the time frame pertaining to evolutionary theory, Aristotle’s thinking is not entirely unlike Sheldrake’s. Aristotle outlines four interrelated causes: material, formal, efficient and final. However, Aristotle includes a “prime mover” which exists outside of space and time. In Wim Kayzer‘s  A Glorious Accident: Understanding Our Place in the Cosmic Puzzle (1993), it’s clear that Sheldrake is not antagonistic to divine ideas. But he doesn’t seem to fully integrate all that theology has to offer within his scientific theories.

Although Sheldrake’s concepts have caught on within some New Age circles, to some paranormal investigators they seem limiting. Conversely, not a few scientists and skeptics, alike, say his theories are too general or paranormal (connoting “unfounded” or perhaps “speculative”).

To his credit, Sheldrake does advocate a scientific approach to parapsychology. But just what type of science is most appropriate to the study of parapsychology remains debatable. After all, science is variously defined. And those who favor and, perhaps, benefit from a given scientific approach usually champion that approach as if it were the gospel truth. And their own human limits probably prohibit them from seeing things differently.4

¹ Rupert Sheldrake, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, New York: Crown, 1999, p. 305.

² See this » Click Here

³ Sheldrake, Dogs That Know, pp. 304, 306.

4 When I was even more of an unknown than now, I wrote Dr. Sheldrake via snailmail with images of some Indian dogs (taken during my M.A. in India). These dogs  seemed to know when challenger dogs were going to invade their turf, well beyond the range of sight, scent and sound. Dr. Sheldrake replied cordially, which was surprising given his stature. So I can see why he has a considerable youth following. He seems like a decent person who cares about the advancement of knowledge—and not just a paycheck, like some professors I’ve known.

On the Web

Related » St. Augustine, Synchronicity


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Freud’s “Secondary Revision” of Dreams

wordscraft – Sigmund Freud

In Sigmund Freud‘s seminal work on dreams and the unconscious, The Interpretation of Dreams, secondary revision is said to occur whenever we remember a dream’s content.¹

Freud says the original dream content is usually obscure, incoherent and highly symbolic, so our memory of it is fragmented, at best.

On waking, the conscious mind fills in the gaps to make sense out of the dream, even though our waking interpretation doesn’t necessarily fit with the actual dream content.

Encyclopedia Britannica says:

The final function of the dreamwork is secondary revision, which provides some order and intelligibility to the dream by supplementing its content with narrative coherence.²

In his Dictionary of Psychology, J. P. Chaplin calls this secondary elaboration, and says we essentially try to make a better “story” out of the dream content.³

¹ The Interpretation of Dreams (German edition: 1899 & 1900).

² http://www.britannica.com/topic/secondary-revision

³ Dictionary of Psychology (Bantam: 1985).


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Tao

Research Association of Laozi Taoist Culture

Research Association of Laozi Taoist Culture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tao (the way or path) is a concept central to the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism.

Taoism is an outlook on life that attempts to harmonize the individual will with natural and spiritual influences. Personal thoughts and actions alternately coincide or conflict with the Tao, which signifies the flow of the universe, or in some commentaries, the Will of Heaven.

Ideally, ones lives in wu-wei, which has been translated as “effortless action.” This does not imply inaction, per se. The Taoist can be quite active. But again, this action is in line with the Tao.

One of the classic passages oft quoted about the Tao comes from Lao Tzu, who says

I do not know its name; I call it Tao.

In other words, Lao Tzu realizes that naming the Tao always falls short of its true meaning.¹

¹ More here: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Laozi

 


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Theodicy

Showdown Between Good and Evil by

Markus Aaron Brechbiel – Showdown Between Good and Evil via Flickr

Theodicy is a theological term describing attempts to uphold God‘s absolute goodness and power with the presence of evil in the world.

In Christian theology evil is often seen as a necessary part of God’s plan of salvation. Most Christians accept as an article of faith that God permits evil for some greater good, beyond the comprehension of mere mortals (see Isaiah 55:8-9).¹

One school of thought, stemming from Irenaeus and popularized by John Hick, argues that evil is permitted but not caused by God.

Why, one might ask, would a benevolent and all-powerful God permit evil?

For the Irenaean school the answer lies within the idea of “soul making.” A soul freely choosing to abstain from evil is of greater value than one automatically avoiding evil. The free and virtuous soul better glorifies God than would a sinless automaton.

Although evil may ravage, test and torment good souls living on earth, the true goal of our finite, earthly life is to be made worthy of eternal heaven.

According to this view, evil acts as a crucible. Souls not succumbing to but ultimately resisting evil are purified and strengthened towards the good. Evil, then, is necessary. It acts as a kind of “hammer” that pounds out the soul’s impurities.

Meanwhile, St. Thomas Aquinas, in keeping with the final winnowing of the Apocalypse (Luke 3:17, Matthew 3:12), writes

God permits some evils lest the good things should be obstructed.

The Prophet Jonah, as depicted by Michelangelo...

The Prophet Jonah, as depicted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perhaps this means that God allows evil to grow with the good because trashing evil too soon could cause some collateral damage, which might be permitted in military ops but with God, must be kept to zero.

Another argument, influenced by Plato’s idea of the Forms, is given by St. Augustine. Augustine sees evil as a privatio boni—the absence of good. Because God is good, Augustine says, evil must be where God is not present. So God doesn’t create evil. It’s a choice.

Needless to say, not everyone is happy with this argument. Some, usually religious believers, see it as self-evident while others, often atheists, say it’s philosophically unsatisfying. And somewhere between these two extremes, Carl Jung believed that if God knew how we would choose, and created us in the first place, it’s a joke to say that we are responsible for evil.²

¹ Although in some Catholic homilies, I’ve heard variations of this belief. For example, one priest claimed, I think facilely, that God wants us to be happy all the time. In so doing, he seemed to overlook and trivialize another basic Christian belief—namely, that there is value in some forms of suffering. God may wish us to be happy all the time in heaven. But life on Earth is anything but heaven 24/7.

² I think a problem with Jung’s argument is that he’s viewing the issue from the perspective of linear time, which according to Einstein’s relativity theory, doesn’t really exist. This is a surprising error on the part of Jung, because he was aware of the latest scientific developments, well before the time of his death (1961). I think Jung also displays a dash of human arrogance. Perhaps with more humility he might have found more answers.

Related Posts » Fatalism, Felix culpa, Hick (John), Providence

On the Web:

  • A humorous video presenting the Irenaean theodicy: