Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"My faith was broken ..."

Last week the National Public Radio program "All Things Considered" mentioned one of the distant intentionality studies that my colleagues and I published last year. The study showed that in emotionally bonded couples where one was healthy and the other was being treated for cancer, that when the healthy partner sent compassionate intention thoughts towards their loved one, then the physiological state of the patient, who was isolated at a distance, responded. This is one of a few dozen similar studies conducted over the past few decades. Cumulatively they show repeatable evidence that we are connected in spooky ways that resemble on a macro scale what quantum entanglement is on the micro scale. [These studies were not designed to test whether that connection affects healing.]

It was predictable that some people would not like the NPR program. One of those comments appeared today in the Huffington Post by someone who was clearly miffed by the very concept that thoughts might influence the world. When I see such strong opinions expressed, it is almost always the case that the person offering those opinions doesn't actually know anything about the underlying empirical data. And the emotional pressure underlying that opinion, especially among scientists, very often can be traced to a deeply held anger against religion, which they imagine which is what motivates these experiments [It doesn't, at least not for me. I'm agnostic about religion.]

In this case, the author of that op-ed admits his bias: "When I was young, my faith was broken by God's apparent stony silence in the face of such [medical and other] agonies...." That same faith can be broken by discovering that Santa Claus is really your dad, or that the Tooth Fairy is really your mom. Some children never recover from the humiliation at being fooled by supposedly trustworthy adults, so like a steel trap their minds snap shut and forever after disallow certain ideas.

The problem is that in this case there is empirical evidence that has nothing to do with religious faith, or any sort of faith, that supports the idea that our thoughts actually do influence the world around us. A little bit. And not nearly to the extent that a child's imagination thinks they ought to. In addition, the quantum connection is not so easy to dismiss after all, at least for those who are willing to rationally ponder the evidence. My books and the book Quantum Enigma discuss all this in more detail.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Superpowers Symposium 2009

Chris Knowles provides an excellent summary of a symposium on "superpowers" I attended at Esalen Institute in Big Sur last week. I am used to attending scientific conferences, which are often heavy on details, data and statistics. By contrast, this meeting was heavy on the humanities and light on science, a challenging but very refreshing change for me.  My talk was entitled "Reality 3.3," in which I attempted to show how our models of common sense have evolved over time. I identified 3 major shifts in historical worldviews, and I speculated about a 4th (Reality 4.0) that is almost on the horizon.

The most startling part of the meeting for me was when Jacques Vallee spoke in detail about a UFO flap in Brazil. I hadn't realized the extent to which the Brazilian military was involved in studying that case, which persisted for three months, or the strength of the evidence, some of which is still classified.  

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Mystical Roots of Science Fiction

Here is a teaser of an audio clip interview with Jeff Kripal, author of the upcoming Authors of the Impossible (due out in early 2010). I've read an advance copy of that book, and I think his take on why people have always been drawn towards the paranormal is exactly right. As the blurb about his book says on the EnlightenNext website:

[It's] about the relationship between mysticism, pop culture, and the paranormal. Weaving together an interesting combination of sources--from Philip K. Dick to the human potential movement to the UFOlogy of French astronomer Jacques Valle—he describes why he thinks that our general cultural obsession with science fiction, as seen in the popularity of TV shows like Heroes and movies like The X-Men, is a modern expression of the same spiritual impulse toward the “supernormal” that lies at the heart of all religious traditions. But as Kripal points out, these new sci-fi mythologies are distinct from the traditions in that they are oriented toward the future rather than the past, allowing us to see our present-day culture as a more primitive version of what has yet to evolve.
Unlike many scholars who dismiss our impulses towards the supernormal as mere fantasy, Kripal recognizes that these impulses reflect something that is quite palpably real, meaningful, and important.