Monday, September 05, 2005

Something strange

About half of the emails I receive express concerns about strange, exhilarating or disturbing physical and mental experiences. I have great sympathy for these people, but I'm not trained to help in such matters, so all I can do is offer an opinion on where to look for more information.

In some cases the symptoms described seem to be related to kundalini, defined here as "the primordial Shakti, or cosmic energy, that lies dormant in a coiled form in the muladhara chakra at the base of the spine. Through the descent of grace (shaktipat), this extremely subtle force, also described as the supreme goddess, is awakened and begins to purify the entire being. As Kundalini travels upward through the central channel, She pierces the various chakras, finally reaching the sahasrara at the crown of the head."

For those of us who grew up in Western culture, this definition sounds like a fairy tale suitable mainly for psychiatric counseling. But with the rising interest in yogic practice and lore, Eastern concepts like chakra, subtle forces, and shaktipat are slowly being absorbed into popular culture. Western religious fundamentalists view these ideas as demonic, of course. But such folks assume that, except for the exceedingly tiny slice of reality that they inhabit, everything else is ultimately evil and/or demonic. Western science mostly ignores the idea of a kundalini energy because no one knows how to measure it, or even how to reliably confirm that it is what it is said (or more precisely, experienced) to be.

So when a writer asserts that he or she is otherwise normal, and has no history of mental illness, and they offer that they have been meditating for a few years, to me it suggests that they may be in the throes of a transformative experience that is better accommodated by Eastern traditions.

One website useful in exploring the concept of kundalini is by El Collie; especially helpful is her section on signs and symptoms.

Another good resource is an article by Judy Tart, offering sage advice for people having strange experiences, including those called psychic, mystical, or associated with a non-ordinary state of consciousness.

Friday, September 02, 2005

My job

My job involves exploring the frontiers of consciousness. What does that mean? To explain by example, I'll describe what I've been doing at work over the last month or so.

I co-taught a two-week summer study program on parapsychology with Dr. Christine Simmonds from the Rhine Research Center, and I was the host for the annual convention of the Parapsychological Association (PA), an international scientific and scholarly organization interested in psychic phenomena (and an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science since 1969). This year I'm serving as President of the PA.

I've been developing a number of new experiments. One is a quantum optics experiment investigating possible mind-matter interaction with photons, a second explores a possible theoretical link between quantum entanglement and telepathy, a third is investigating evidence for precognition in the human brain, a fourth is exploring the psychophysiology of gut feelings in sensing a distant person's emotional and physical condition, and a fifth is studying implicit psychokinetic effects in the local environment. I have a handful of other projects in various stages of completion, but I haven't had time to work on them much recently.

I worked on a grant proposal, I'm writing a journal article with some colleagues, and I refereed a batch of articles submitted for publication to several scientific journals. I also reviewed a children's book about ESP, and started adding content to my new website.

I spoke to a producer of a TV show who'd like to do an interview with us (the IONS research department), a journalist considering a story on our work for a national magazine, and one of the producers of the What the bleep do we know movie. I consulted with two students working on research projects, and I interviewed altered states and transpersonal psychology pioneer, Dr. Charles Tart, for an IONS web-casting show.

Emissaries from an enlightened Indian guru came to our campus to demonstrate a form of direct spiritual transmission known as diksha (or shaktipaat). I corresponded with another well-known Swami and agreed to speak at a workshop he'll be holding at IONS later in the year. And I visited a local meditation society to learn about the practice of Raja meditation.

I received an impressive packet of materials from the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, including a life-size plaster cast of a (supposed) bigfoot's footprint. This topic is a bit far afield from my usual work, but I've maintained an interest in cryptozoology over the last few decades as a result of listening to scholarly talks on these topics at the annual meetings of the Society for Scientific Exploration. There does appear to be some evidence for legendary creatures. The evidence is sporatic and difficult to clearly assess, but given that there are still vast areas of the Earth that are almost completely devoid of humans, I think it's entirely plausible that there are plenty of undiscovered species out there.

I get an average of about 400 email messages a day, of which maybe 50 are useful correspondance. I receive an average of two unsolicited manuscripts a week, often describing things like new theories of gravity, or a new angle on the convergence of science and spirituality, or stories of unusual personal experiences. I wish I could offer comments on each of these documents, but there aren't enough hours in the day.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

In the beginning ...

I don't really want to spend lots of time writing a blog, but I am even less inclined to spend many hours a day answering emails that ask the same questions. So this site will become a depository for me to record my responses to frequently asked questions, and as an outlet for an occasional random thought or rant.