Friday, June 06, 2008

Superpowers


This week I attended a symposium on "The Supernormal and the Superpower," sponsored by the Esalen Institute's Center for Theory and Research. The group of about 20 religious scholars, comic book artists, writers, and historians, and scientists, discussed overlaps among mythology, religious lore, comic book superheroes, and experimental evidence that some of the superpowers (primarily psychic abilities) are real.

Here's a link to a picture of the participants, from Christopher Knowles' (one of the participants) blog: The Secret Sun: Super-Normal Seminar Class Picture

I'm interested in the ontological implications of real superpowers. Obviously the powers of comic superheroes are embellished for the sake of art, but I suspect that some of the powers (known as siddhis in yogi lore, charisms in Catholic lore, and attainments in Sufi lore) are based on genuine abilities not just in superheroes, but potentially in all of us.





These photos show the Esalen grounds just outside of our meeting room.








25 comments:

Zetetic_chick said...

Hi Dean,

I'm also interested in ontological (and, in general, philosophical) implications of superpowers and psi abilities.

Unfortunately, most philosophers or thinkers don't explore the philosophic implications of psi research for our worldview.

Perhaps one exception is Neal Grossman. He's a trained philosopher interested in the philosophy of parapsychology. I think he's going to publish a book about it.

It's only a matter of time most thinkers and philosophers explore real psi scientific evidence and include it in their reflections.

This topic should be included in Academia's discussions.

Brenda said...

I need help in understanding the implications of Bell's inequality. I have reread the passage (p.230, 231) several times and have allowed several days for a new concept to sink in but no luck. I still have not experienced my "gut suddenly droping" or the sinse that it is the "most profound discovery" What am I missing?
Brenda

Dean Radin said...

Why is nonlocality (as formalized in Bell's Theorem), the "most profound discovery" in science?

Because it says, and physics experiments have confirmed, that at a deep level of reality everything is profoundly interconnected, even transcending the ordinary boundaries of space and time. This is what mystical experiments have been saying since the dawn of history, and what psi experience is all about. It completely changes how we (scientists mainly) think about the fabric of reality.

In mysticism all this is old hat. But within the scientific worldview that has developed over the past few centuries, nonlocality is such a radically new idea that it easily qualifies as a profound discovery.

Fifi said...

Wow, now that's a view! Hopefully you got some downtime to relax on that amazing deck out in the back. (Knowing how I am, I would probably be messing with the lily pads, hehe!)

I do agree that most of these experiences are exaggerated by different media outlets (movies, comic books, etc.), but I don't necessarily doubt their existence -- I've had some of my own "gut droppers", dreams, and what have you which have left me scratching my noggin (feel free to ask and I would be happy to share).
There are so many people out there having these experiences, so it's hard to doubt that these experiences AREN'T going on.

Dean Radin said...

Fifi says, feel free to ask and I would be happy to share...

Yes, let's hear!

Eric said...

"Perhaps one exception is Neal Grossman. He's a trained philosopher interested in the philosophy of parapsychology. I think he's going to publish a book about it."

I have to disagree with you. In contemporary times, Stephen Braude far outshines Grossman or anybody else. He is much more cautious and rigorous in his argumentation and evaluation of the evidence.

Dean Radin said...

I think it goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that Eric's opinion of the "shinyness" of one philosopher vs. another is his alone, and doesn't reflect my views.

When it comes to philosophy and philosophers I freely admit that I know next to nothing, so my opinions in that realm aren't worth much.

Zetetic_chick said...

Eric, my comment about the "one exception" wasn't accurate. I agree that Braude is a great philosopher. Maybe, we should include another great one: David Ray Griffin.

My point is that Grossman, Braude and Griffin seems to be the exception, not the rule. Most philosophers seems to be uninterested in parapsychology's findings.

In fact, as far I know, the topic "philosophy of parapsychology" don't exist as a specialized field of philosophy.

If Dean's books, Braude's books or Chris Carter's book were well known and discussed in philosophical community, or were reviewed in philosophy journals, maybe most professional philosophers and students would have interest in psi research.

I think the contribution of philosophers to parapsychology is very important, because evidence for psi (and other anomalous phenomena like NDEs) have important metaphysical and epistemological implications.

Parapsychology suggest the existence of some unknown (or not well known) aspects about the nature of reality and consciousness.

Eric said...

"If Dean's books, Braude's books or Chris Carter's book were well known and discussed in philosophical community, or were reviewed in philosophy journals, maybe most professional philosophers and students would have interest in psi research. "

Don't hold your breath on that ever happening. George Hansen's thesis that parapsychology will never be accepted by mainstream academia may well turn out to be wrong, but I haven't seen any developments that would lead me to doubt his main point.

Tor said...

Erik said:

Don't hold your breath on that ever happening. George Hansen's thesis that parapsychology will never be accepted by mainstream academia may well turn out to be wrong, but I haven't seen any developments that would lead me to doubt his main point.

I think that we will see acceptance. But it will probably come as a consequence of physics expanding into new areas, not because of the parapsychology literature itself.
I'd say that we can see signs of this happening already. I'd pay attention to how quantum effects are being found in biology now. It wasn't that long ago this was thought to be impossible.

Dean Radin said...

In my book, theses asserting that a phenomenon will never be adequately explained reflect a failure of imagination.

Psi effects exist, so unless science completely collapses into dogma and ceases to evolve, it will one day accommodate these phenomena. When that happens is uncertain, but I do know that there is enormous interest among mainstream colleagues. Quiet interest.

Tor said...

Dean Radin said:


Psi effects exist, so unless science completely collapses into dogma and ceases to evolve, it will one day accommodate these phenomena. When that happens is uncertain, but I do know that there is enormous interest among mainstream colleagues. Quiet interest.


Where I currently work, most of my colleagues have master degrees or higher in physics or engineering. And I have to agree that there is a big interest in these phenomena. I've also observed that people here seem to be more open minded than what was the case at the university.

Not that long ago we had a guest lecture about some new experimental discovered effect similar to what we think of as antigravity. Now such a phenomena should be interesting to everyone considering the implications, especially physicists! Only one person from the university came. I think that shows the attitude to unconventional topics in academia.

Zetetic_chick said...

In the interview for Skeptico, Chris Carter said that the controversy on psi isn't about evidence, but about skeptic's preconceptions:

http://www.skeptiko.com/blog/?p=8

I agree with him. There are good scientific evidence for psi effects. Based on scientific evidence alone, psi should be recognized as a real phenomena by academia.

So, the opposition to it is based on philosophical conceptions, not scientific ones. Psi effects expose the limitations of specific philosophical worldviews.

This is one reason why I consider the philosophical aspect of psi research as very important. It's necessary a "philosophy of parapsychology" to deal in depth with these problems in a academic level.

I think parapsychology will be accepted as a legitimate science, and psi effects will be accepted as proved. But it only will happen when a new generation of scientists and academics examine their own philosophical preconceptions and try to adapt them to the evidence (and not to force the evidence to adapt it to their worldview).

Dean Radin said...

The academic world is hypersensitive to pack mentality, because the pack decides who gets tenure, and that decision is often based as much on personality, conformity, and social skills, as on scholarly ability. A reputation for rocking the boat is not acceptable in a context where you have to elect colleagues for life (more or less).

Within industry the goals are more pragmatic, and while pack mentality always holds to some extent because we're social creatures, it doesn't hold to the same degree in industrial research because there's no tenure. If someone goes funny in the head, you can fire them with impunity.

Fortunately, there are always some rare birds who can both skate the thin ice of academic ideological correctness and pursue interests that fall outside the herd's grasp.

But that said, I am very sympathetic to academics who remain quiet about their psi interests. It's irresponsible to challenge the herd when you have bills to pay and a family to support. It's safer to go along with the flow. Probably not as interesting or satisfying. But safer.

david said...

It's too bad there apparently aren't any more wealthy entrepeneurs like Chester Carlson (inventor of Xerography) inclined to endow universities for research into the paranormal. He funded the original researches of Ian Stevenson at the University of Virginia.

David Bailey said...

Regarding Bell's theorem, and your answer to Brenda - yes, two entangled particles are interconnected (and ultimately presumably all particles in the universe are entangled) but in standard QM that doesn't seem to buy you much - I mean, you can't send a signal from A to B using it - just check the correlations later.

Do you see quantum entanglement as an explanation for Ψ in itself - or as a hint of something more powerful.

Fifi said...

Sorry it's taken me so long to get back (work, blech).

Here's a weird one for ya...

I was around 12 when I had the first one. I had a dream that my family and I were going to be moving. In the dream I was standing in front of the house with my father, and I was watching him shake hands with a blonde woman who had on a purple top who was wearing gold bracelets, and had on red nail polish, the season was summer. Well, 2 years later in July we ended up moving out of town and I saw the same woman that I had seen in my dream, complete with purple top, gold bracelets and red fingernail polish.
Six years later after moving away from my hometown, I started having dreams that we were moving back. A couple of months after having those dreams, we end up moving back. Two years after moving back both my grandparents passed away, and my parents ended up buying their home.
Every time I stay over here (which is usually around the holidays, such as Christmas), I always have vivid dreams about both of my grandparents.

Eric said...

"Psi effects exist, so unless science completely collapses into dogma and ceases to evolve, it will one day accommodate these phenomena."

There has been good evidence for more than 100 years that psi exists, but it hasn't made a dent in mainstream academia...not even with the dissolution of Newtonian mechanism. I certainly hope your point of view proves to be correct, but I'm not optimistic given the current climate. One debate that tangentially concerns parapsychology is the Darwin debate. Once you dig deeper behind the confusions of both the Darwinists and the ID conservative evangelicals, you realize that the core issue is whether humans can be reduced to mechanism. The science community is absolutely tenacious in maintaining its commitment to the Darwinian worldview (I don't blame them since the evangelicals are dangerous). There is no way that academia is going to let parapsychology through its firewall when it could severely undermine its worldview in this debate.

Eliezer Sobel said...

"in mysticism all this is old hat. But within the scientific worldview that has developed over the past few centuries, nonlocality is such a radically new idea that it easily qualifies as a profound discovery"

Even though, as you say, this is old hat among mystics, and I am an old mystic, I don't think I actually heard the exact term "non-locality" until a few days ago. Then it appeared again later in the day, and now here--is this an example of non-locality?

I'm sure you're familiar with Rupert Sheldrake's work with morphological fields? One example was that when a group of rats mastered a maze in NY, another group of rats in London were then able to master it quicker, having somehow connected into the interdependent rat-mind!

Also the 100th Monkey idea, which has been debunked by some, but remains a useful idea whether literally true or not. I actually just published a humorous memoir called The 99th Monkey, which makes the claim that I am single-handedly holding back the great paradigm shift of the ages through my ongoing legacy of resistance. There's a chapter about my early years at Esalen in there--you can read the prologue at http://www.the99thmonkey.com

But in terms of academia and psi--I lived near Charlottesville for many years, and (again, you must know this already, I'd imagine) but there is actually an official Dept of Personality Studies at UVA based on Ian Stevenson's work, where they document the case studies of children who remember specific and verifiable details of their past lives. So it has crept into the academic world there at least.


Eliezer

Dean Radin said...

David asks: Do you see quantum entanglement as an explanation for Ψ in itself - or as a hint of something more powerful.

As the latter. Before entanglement, our best understanding of the fabric of reality did not allow for spooky influences transcending space and time. Such influences are, of course, the hallmarks of psi experiences. So now we know that the physical world does allow for these types of connections. That's a major step in the right direction.

The next big advancement will be detection of entanglement in living systems, and I think it is there that the no-signaling prohibitions may be overcome. I.e., so far we've only seen quantum correlations in elementary systems, but that may be because elementary systems are not smart enough to modulate or use those correlations. Or, perhaps we can reframe psi effects into pure correlations, where signaling is not necessary. (I discuss all this in Entangled Minds.)

Dean Radin said...

Eric said: There is no way that academia is going to let parapsychology through its firewall when it could severely undermine its worldview in this debate.

If would help if you defined what you mean by the "academic worldview." I suspect that such a definition, which may well be adopted by many academics, is either partially or completely wrong.

Eric said...

"If would help if you defined what you mean by the "academic worldview.""

It's exemplified by PZ Myers:

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2008/06/the_sheldrake_phenomenon.php

Dean Radin said...

The fellow's opinion on your cited website reflects the stubbornly emotional, angry attitude typical of fundamentalist skeptics. Such people refuse to look at data for one simple reason: They are afraid to challenge their prejudices.

I've certainly encountered this sort of extreme opinion before, but I discount it as irrational. Fortunately, I don't think it accurately reflects most scientists' opinion about anomalies. If it did, scientific progress would quickly collapse into dogma. And while there is always some danger of this, there are enough genuine scientists out there who see this sort of pigheadedness for what it is.

loveProphet said...

Radin, you mentioned Sufis in your original post.
Its an interesting topic and really worth looking into how Sufis explain these experiences.
Basically i asked one(he not only experienced such things but is also well versed in philosophy and the different beliefs and practises of different people such as the Buddhists) and he said that what they experience and what the Buddhists etc experience is subjective and really difficult to put into words but the experience itself is often real.
Thus people tend to explain these incidences according to their preconceived notions and beliefs. Now to find out what truly were these experiences and the source of them, he said that you need to actually use reason to verify if the beliefs are actually sound.
If they are, then the interpretation of the experiences is sound, if contradictory to reason and logic, then the interpretations will be wrong.

Also I do believe and have read from their writings, and the person i asked told me that the experiences of Sufis are at a level far above the Buddhists and Hindus and others that are non-Muslims.
For example the Sufis(note the real ones, not the pseudo-Sufis that are very common) describe things and stations that are not described(e.g. fana') by people from other religions.
But at the same time, they claim that such things are actually distractions for them and that they do not like to focus on them as their actual purpose is to draw closer to God.
Also they often say(such as Nuh Keller) that it is a greater miracle to pray consistently for 40years without missing a single one than to fly in the air or walk on water.
What you should do is try to get such people and research and do studies.
Oh yes, you should read some of what Ibn Ata Illah has written about what he witnessed about "reading minds" etc. His book is called "Subtle blessings".
However it will definitely be
Now obviously people will disagree, i'm just relaying what i think is interesting here and have noticed.

Dean Radin said...

As they say (and in my case true), some of my best friends are Sufis.