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The Paranormal and Spirituality by James E. Beichler


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Spirituality Matters! The ASPSI e-Newsletter, 2012
Science, the paranormal and spirituality:
A new beginning
by James E. Beichler
Science, the paranormal and spirituality form a spectrum of sorts, ranging from the physical world and the logic that science uses to describe and probe it, to consciousness and intuition where the roots of the paranormal and spirituality can be found. The paranormal mediates between our scientific and spiritual worldviews, just as consciousness seems to bridge the enormous chasm between our internal mental image of self and the external material world. Therefore, a scientific study of paranormal phenomena seems the best way to understand spirituality at a higher level of physical reality than just our normal intuitive feelings for the world in which we live, our purpose in the world and how we interact with it. Within this context, the scientific study of the paranormal can be broken down into several historical periods. Each period coincides with specific developments and advances in scientific worldviews that are sometimes separated by paradigms shifts, both large and small. This fact is important because a new change in scientific worldview has recently begun to emerge and it coincides with new advances in the scientific study of consciousness which will greatly enhance and alter our worldview of the paranormal and spirituality.
The ‘Pre-Scientific’ Period
The pre-scientific period of the paranormal incorporates everything from the beginning of recorded history and science, through the first Scientific Revolution (from 1600 to 1687) to about 1850. It is characterized by the lack of any formal scientific inquiry into the paranormal. There were only misguided speculations which attempted to relate physics to the paranormal, supernatural and occult in a very naive manner. No more than this could have been expected since this same period of history was marked by the establishment and expansion of Newtonian physics itself and the emergence of the other sciences. The ‘pre-scientific’ period of the paranormal was a time of discovery and application within the early Newtonian paradigm. The Newtonian laws of motion and gravitation carved out a new science of nature from the background of natural phenomena that we observe and experience in our world.
The ‘Early-Scientific’ Period
Michael Faraday was one of the first noteworthy scientists to respond to the occult excesses of the modern spiritualism movement in the early 1850s. Faraday’s investigations represented the first recognition of a possible scientific relationship (or lack thereof) with the paranormal and psychic
Spirituality Matters! The ASPSI e-Newsletter, 2012
phenomena. In other words, some scientists began to pay attention to the Modern Spiritualism movement as soon as it developed in the mid-nineteenth century. At first, it might seem that scientific issues were being raised by the spiritualists, but it would be truer to say that psychic phenomena (levitation, apports and physical manifestations) and issues that bordered on areas within the scientific domain were being raised by nonscientists and this was worrisome to the scientific and scholarly communities. This concern became so serious that the Society for Psychical Research was founded in 1882 to deal with questions and concerns stemming from the modern spiritualism movement. However, any and all attempts to explain spiritualist and paranormal phenomena at this time were based on Newtonian physics, which presented a problem for the scientific study of the paranormal because the Second Scientific Revolution began in 1900 and the Newtonian dominance of physics and science slowly succumbed to paradigm changes. The ‘early scientific’ period of the paranormal, however, lasted for another three decades.
The ‘Middle-Scientific’ Period
The first implications of a new attitude toward scientific studies of the paranormal came during the 1920s as the Second Scientific Revolution solidified its advances (1927), but the truly significant changes only came after 1930. Experiments by F. Cazzamali and later by Hans Berger (1928) with the newly developed electroencephalograph (EEG) equated one-centimeter waves detected in the human brain to the transmission and reception of telepathic thought. Berger’s theory was more precisely a classical electromagnetic theory of psi, although it utilized new advances in the biological science of the human brain. Electromagnetic connections to psi became so popular that the novelist Upton Sinclair penned and published his book Mental Radio (1930), proposing that telepathy was electromagnetic in origin. On the other hand, J. W. Dunne (1927) developed a theory of telepathy and precognition based directly upon a special relativistic model of nature. Each of these theories reflected new realities in physics and science in general, but did not reflect any of the methodological changes which separated the new field of parapsychology from the older psychic research associated with Modern Spiritualism. That particular momentous change came with the work of J. B. Rhine in Durham, North Carolina.
Rhine brought scientific studies of the paranormal into the laboratory and thus transformed the psychic elements of the paranormal from the spiritualism movement into parapsychology as it is known today. He accomplished this task by isolating the subtle effects of psi evident in telepathic communication and clairvoyance and using modern statistical methods to analyze the results. He moved psychic studies from anecdote and personal experience to verifiable experiment, although the question of verifiability is still debated today. This fundamental change in method altered psi research and affected the development of parapsychology for the remaining decades of the twentieth century. Parapsychology thus became an objective experimental science as opposed to a subjective only science based upon anecdotal evidence, which was far more susceptible to fraud and personal bias.
Parapsychology progressed slowly but effectively over the following decades. This new science built a stock of statistical evidence implying the existence of psi and the paranormal and honed its experimental skills on the ever sharpening criticisms of its skeptics. While the stock of statistical
Spirituality Matters! The ASPSI e-Newsletter, 2012
evidence for psi slowly accumulated, speculative hypotheses and theories of psi were proposed to explain the newly discovered subtle effects attributed to psi. Many but not all of the new theories were ‘physical’ in nature, but were generally proposed by non-physicists.
The ‘Late Scientific’ Period
The few physicists and physical scientists that studied psi and the paranormal prior to 1970 when the ‘late scientific’ period began worked in the field of parapsychology rather than physics or paraphysics. It was only when physicists began to conduct psi research in greater numbers in the mid to late 1960s that scientists began to think of themselves as working in the field of paraphysics rather than parapsychology. This change in attitude coincided with several other events including the acceptance of the Parapsychology Association as a fully fledged member of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) in 1969 and a new philosophical view of how consciousness was to be interpreted in relation to quantum physics. These events reflected new changes of attitude within the physics community itself whereby a more expanded view of the universe as a whole resulted, primarily from space exploration and related advances in astronomy and cosmology.
The “emergence of paraphysics” as a new natural science was announced in articles by James Beal and Brendan O’Regan in Edgar Mitchell’s 1974 book Psychic Exploration. While the book was technical in nature and covered several physical aspects of current psi research, one whole section of the book was dedicated to the new paraphysics. Other publications also emphasized the newly recognized relationship between physics and psi. For the first time, books which either focused on the physics of psi or contained specific articles covering the topic began to appear. During this same decade, the top secret ‘Stargate’ remote viewing initiative began under the watch of Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ at the Stanford Research Institute while the PEAR (Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research) Lab began its own line of research at Princeton University under Robert Jahn. The 1970s set the tone for physical research in psi and the paranormal for the next several decades.
Paraphysics, Parapsychology and beyond
Attitudes changed from viewing psi as a purely mental ‘mechanism’ to a physical but non-material mechanism during this time period. The major question to be answered then became ‘what does physics have to do with the paranormal at all?’ Before the 1970s, many scientists separated the whole of our experienced world, not just the paranormal and spirituality, into a part that was purely mental and a part that was purely physical. The Cartesian split between mind and matter, dating back to the mid-seventeenth century, had survived the Second Scientific Revolution intact if not enhanced and was only challenged for the first time in the later middle decades of the twentieth century. Scholars had earlier argued that physics had nothing to do with the paranormal, let alone spirituality, because they were completely mental phenomena, i.e., products of mind rather than products of the material world which forms the domain of physics. Yet that was a false argument, because mind, at the very least, interacts with the physical world which is explained by physics, even
Spirituality Matters! The ASPSI e-Newsletter, 2012
if it is not itself material.
Physics is the most basic and fundamental of all the sciences, so it is to physics that any questions regarding physical reality itself are directed within the sciences and whatever mind and consciousness are, they are integral parts of our commonly experienced reality. All other sciences reduce to physics in the end so if science is to explain mind, consciousness and the paranormal at all, the task automatically falls physics. Unfortunately, the paranormal and spirituality are not accepted topics of study within physics by the physics community at the present, so the term paraphysics seems justified to fill this conceptual gap. In just the last two decades, an area of study called the ‘physics of consciousness’ has emerged which also deals with the paranormal to a lesser degree.
Taken together, these trends indicate that the emergence of any new paraphysics ‘must’ be an integral part of a newer scientific revolution that is slowly beginning to take shape. Science was clearly moving toward a paraphysics or ‘something like it’ in the 1970s, but more recently normal science seems to have moved beyond even that. In other words, paraphysics or ‘something like it’ would need to be ‘invented’ if paraphysics did not already exist. The truth is that those physicists and physical scientists that began to study the paranormal in the 1970s expected immediate revolutionary and paradigm changing results, but no such results were forthcoming. Their hope began to fade in the late 1980s and thereafter, but it did not fade away completely or disappear. Instead, something new emerged in the 1990s – a much broader scientific interest in all aspects of consciousness, both within and outside of physics, psychology and parapsychology.
Since mind and consciousness could not be so easily pinned down within the physical or biological sciences, a new buzz-phrase also emerged – physical correlates of consciousness. As it is now stands, scientists hope and expect to discover where mind and consciousness first emerge within the brain by studying the physical correlates of consciousness in neurons. Scientists have powerful and wonderful new tools for accomplishing this task that are far advanced from the old days of the EEG – MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines and fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machines. This new technology allows scientists to see inside the brain while it is functioning in real time. So it would seem that changes within physics as well as outside of physics and psychology are driving physics toward a new more comprehensive understanding of mind and consciousness out of which the possibility of paranormal phenomena, the survival of consciousness after death and spirituality will eventually emerge.
In fact, research pressures from outside of the parasciences community have become so great in the past decade that both consciousness and the paranormal may soon emerge as normal science, regardless of any past research and input from the experimental parapsychology community. Neuroscience and neurophysiology have advanced so far that universities around the world have established advanced degree programs in neurophysics – the physics of neurons and neural nets in the brain – as well as laboratories to conduct research in this new academic field in just the past ten years. Although these new programs do not deal directly with subjects such as the paranormal, psi, mind and consciousness, their research directly and profoundly affects these subjects. In fact, it seems that neurophysics is presently poised to overcome paraphysics and neurophysiology may well replace parapsychology.
In the fall of 2011, a laboratory at Stanford University used an fMRI machine to ‘read’ the
Spirituality Matters! The ASPSI e-Newsletter, 2012
minds of people watching movies. Without actually saying so, the scientists in this lab have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that thoughts originating in the human brain can be picked up by a machine outside of that brain, even when that machine has no direct material contact with the brain or skull, and those ‘signals’ can be interpreted by a computer to reproduce the ‘thoughts’ they represent. The laboratory has posted the images on the internet (on YouTube) for all to see. It would seem that the next step would be for another mind or consciousness to take the place of the fMRI machine and prove once and for all that telepathy (ESP) is possible. Some people may find this sequence of events disconcerting for a number of different reasons, but it does not need to be. However, parapsychologists and paraphysicists must take note because they could be rendered irrelevant. The parasciences are no longer ahead of the game at the forefront of science and are beginning to fall behind. Science, the paranormal and spirituality are about to radically change.
James E. Beichler. (2001) “To Be or Not to Be! A ‘Paraphysics’ for the New Millennium.” Journal of Scientific Exploration 15: 33-56. Available online at http://www.scientificexploration.org/journal/jse_15_1_beichler.pdf.
James E. Beichler. (2003) “From Spiritualism to Spirituality: The scientific quest to explain the psychical aspects of human nature.” Presentation at the annual meeting of the ARPR, 2003. Published in Proceedings of Academy of Religion and Psychical Research.
James E. Beichler. (2006) “Trend or Trendy? The development and acceptance of the paranormal by the scientific community.” Presentation at the annual meeting of the ASPSI, 2006. Published in Proceedings of the Academy of Spirituality and Paranormal Studies, Inc.
James E. Beichler. (2009) “A Mysphyt Revolution: The logical nature of spiritual enlightenment.” Journal of Spirituality and paranormal Studies 32, 4.
References and links to scientific papers, images, and news releases for the new experiments with the fMRI can be found online at http://gallantlab.org/.
YouTube. (2011) “Reconstruction from Brain Activity.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsjDnYxJ0bo.
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Am amazing reflection about the entanglement  of classical physics and paranormal research. In my experience there are three realms that overlap but reject to melt into something new and that is mainstream physics, paranormal research and spirituality. Now this article shows that there is a movement of physics towards the paranormal and finally of both of them towards spirituality.

Feels good to be a part of that!

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