An Enlightenment Interview with
Dean Radin, Ph.D.
[Jordan S. Gruber conducted this interview with Dean Radin, Ph.D., on September 17, 1998, in Dean's home in Palo Alto, California. The interview primarily focused on parapsychology and Dean's new book, The Conscious Universe, which is reviewed elsewhere in Enlightenment.Com.]
When Only the Improbable Remains ...
E.com: Dean, when I describe your book, The Conscious Universe, to people I usually tell them that if a conservative but honest and open-minded scientist who doesnt believe in psi were to read it, he or she would have to change his or her mind and could no longer say "there just isnt any real evidence." Is that an adequate characterization?
DR: Yes, thats good.
E.com: Have you actually tried this with any scientist? Does it work?
DR: Well, Ive gotten quite a number of feedback examples from people who I would put into the category of interested, open-minded, and skeptical, and they do come to the conclusion that at least there is something interesting to look at. I dont know of cases where people have done flip-flops, but I know of a lot of cases where people at least came to the conclusion that what they thought they knew was probably not right.
E.com: Is the meta-analysis approach that you use the wedge that enables these changes to come about?
DR: Its partially that. As I try to point out in the book, part of the name of the game is meta-analysis, and part of it is a recognition that, among the skeptics who have spent their lives looking into psi as carefully as they could, the nature of their skeptical remarks has significantly changed.
Its no longer that the arch-skeptics claim that theres nothing worth looking at at all. The nature of the best evidence now is such that there are no longer any plausible alternatives. The arch-skeptics dont want to call it psi (because who knows what psi is), but they cant find any normal, plausible, alternatives to whatever we want to call it.
E.com: Were back to the Sherlock Holmes type assessment, that when only the improbable remains
DR: I just read a review the other day from the President of the National Capital Area Skeptics, a guy named Mike Epstein, who I think is a fair skeptic. In a sense he is like me; Im skeptical too, its just that I happen to probably have been dealing with this longer than he has. His comment was, "This is not the capstone that will convince people that psi is real, but it might very well be the cornerstone of something which will be constructed which will one day figure out what the truth is." I think thats a fair assessment.
Someone coming at this from a very skeptical position is unlikely to flip-flop into a complete believer. In fact, Id be disappointed if that happened. But, at minimum, if it would convince somebody that there might be something here and, if its true that theres something here, then it is revolutionary. And, on that basis, it is worth taking a risk to
somebody at some point has to take the herd instinct which everyone follows, including scientists, and recognize that if this thing is true, and can withstand the slings and arrows and the ridicule and everything else, then this is where the next Nobel Prize is. It may be a couple of generations away from now, but at some point somebody is going to figure out something interesting, and it is all going to fall into place.
E.com: It does feel though that you have certainly taken the state of the art in presenting the case past, lets say, anything that J.B. Rhine or Charles Tart did. Youve really got it: you present a compelling argument in its whole, exfoliated form and its hard to ignore when you really read your book.
DR: Well, I had known this for years. And my colleagues have known it for years too. One of the reasons I wrote this book is simply out of frustration with the degree of ignorance among other colleagues who didnt know or werent paying attention to this. For those of us and Im only talking probably about 40 to 50 people around the world who have known about this data in some detail for a long time, we knew that the usual skeptical approach to this was so wrong and full of inaccurate mythology.
Basically, I was lucky to have the opportunity of writing it up. It wasnt something magical that I stumbled across. I learned everything I know from other people who have been doing it longer than I have.
E.com: But, you were willing to do it and create the work.
DR: Well, fortunately I like to write, and I know that if I understand something well I can explain it so that anybody can understand it. Everything came together in just the right way.
E.com: Yes, for example, your work on confidence intervals as opposed to point scores was very good. Id never seen that presented that clearly in such a way that a layperson like myself could understand it.
DR: I really can claim nothing original in the entire book, with the possible exception of my own experiments. The whole baseball analogy, the idea of talking about confidence intervals and the way that I did it, is very well-known to statisticians, and I freely borrowed that from Jessica Utts as one of her examples. Its a matter of, in a sense, repackaging what a number of us have been talking about for many years.
E.com: Yes, but I think you are being a little bit too modest here. Once somebody comes up with something it seems obvious to everybody else. For you to have done this tour de force right here and right now
if you hadnt done it it wouldnt have gotten done.
DR: It wouldnt have gotten done in this way. Thats true.
E.com: And when someone like James Randi comes up to you and says, "its all a bunch of horse poop," I guess the best thing to do is to give him your book.
DR: Either do that, or say to him, "yes, with the kind of people that youre studying, I agree." Theres an awful lot of easy targets out there. But what you dont find are detailed skeptical attacks against the best research, because then all that is displayed is ignorance and it is basically embarrassing for the people doing the attacks.
E.com: Some of the early attacks were useful in getting the experiments to be even more rigorous and airtight.
DR: Constructive criticism is always useful. But even the best experiments today are going to be better a certain number of years from now because we just learned something better. Its true that a lot of the skeptical tirades have been useful, kind of, but only when the criticism was talking about experimental stuff.
E.com: As opposed to criticisms that go, "since we know it cant exist, you must have cheated."
Believe It Or Not
E.com: Interestingly, the good folks at GNOSIS Magazine changed the first sentence of my review when they published it. I originally had it as "Dean Radins The Conscious Universe forever lays to rest any question as to the experimentally demonstrated existence of at least some psychic or psi phenomena." They changed it from "forever lays to rest " to "Dean Radins Conscious Universe seems to lay to rest any doubts as to the experimentally demonstrated existence
So aside from the question of why they left the "the" out from the title, do you think it is significant that people like the GNOSIS people -- who are fairly conservative spiritual folks did not want to be thought of as New Age or flaky, and werent willing to put out my submitted version of the first sentence? It just struck me as odd.
DR: That is interesting, isnt it. Everyone -- especially journalists -- is afraid of being made to look foolish. Its understandable. When you are in the business of selling credibility, you dont want to make it look like you are a true believer or that you have taken something hook, line, and sinker, and now your credibility is blown. So its easy to put in a couple of the weasel words.
Also, if I was someone who had never spent much time doing the actual experiments, I would be extremely skeptical about what people are actually claiming, because it is very easy to make mistakes in any kind of experiment. Im as aware of this as anybody else is, and I guess I made the book as strong as I dared make it. If I put too many weasel words in there
. even my editor said that if I wrote in the style in which a scientist is trained to write, where Id use all of the modifiers, then after a while no one was going to know what I really thought.
I guess I was willing to bite the bullet and say that our best guess, at this point, is that this stuff is real. You take the scientific and the anecdotal and everything else and wrap it up into one and you cant really reach any other conclusion. The problem is that we dont really know how to explain it, and because of that people get very uncomfortable and say, "well, it might not be real," but I think thats just nonsense. There are all kinds of things that are real that we cant explain very well, but that doesnt change their ontological status.
E.com: So you think at this point that Occams Razor would say its real, that thats the simplest explanation at this point.
DR: Yes, except were not quite sure what "it" is. We also start having questions about what the nature of "real" is.
E.com: In my life, I can count -- and Ive made an actual list in the past -- between 10 and 20 different events that happened that subjectively seemed unambiguously psychic in nature. I think I may have done this as a way of giving myself permission to believe what I already believed in terms of the universe being far more interconnected than standard science would have it.
On one level, then, I believe in psi, and have been interested in it since I wrote a big report in 7th grade. I have always wanted to know more about it, Ive experienced it unambiguously a couple of dozen times, and from your book (and an earlier book by Charles Tart) I have a laypersons appreciation of its experimentally demonstrated validity. Even given all of this, I still find myself wanting to slip back into doubting and not believing. Its just sort of easier that way, rather than kind of walking through the world believing that on some level Im actually having at least minimal energetic interactions with all the people around me and that somehow Im co-creating reality with them. On some level I dont want to have to deal with all of that, so part of me wants to just ignore it all. Is this a familiar pattern that happens with people?
DR: Yes. Theres also something called retro-cognitive dissonance. You can have an amazing experience and within a day or minutes convince yourself that it didnt exist, at all.
One Half of One Percent
DR: I think that the people who are strongly psychic, those who walk around perceiving the world in psychic ways like the mutual friend we discussed before, well, I actually have little doubt that they are experiencing the world in pretty much the way that they are describing it. They are picking up thoughts, and feelings, and things, and are being buffeted all over the place.
But if you think of this from an evolutionary point of view, that would be a really bad way to evolve towards because now you have a bunch of people walking around with their faces in the sky and the tigers are jumping out of the tree and eating them all.
E.com: Right, as if William Jamess "boomin buzzin confusion" filter is open, wide open, and all of a sudden youre having to deal with a thousand times as much information.
DR: You cant tell whats right in front of you, so it is evolutionarily non-adaptive to be open to it very much. Thats why I think the number of people that are naturally open to it could probably fit into the fourth or fifth standard deviation on a normal curve. We might need those people, just like in a tribal situation you might need a shaman to help you. Or we need creative scientists and engineers to help pull ourselves up by our bootstraps but we dont want everyone to be that way. The analogy here is I really want people to feel comfortable, and dress the way they want, but I do not want the pilot of my aircraft to come in with sandals and jeans. I want those people to look absolutely prim and proper and wear suits and do the whole airplane pilot thing, and I dont want them to be creative.
E.com: Not when theyre doing their job.
E.com; And the reality is that when I put on a tie (and probably when you put on a tie) people treat me differently and I treat myself differently and all of a sudden Im like a serious business guy.
DR: So there are different roles that need to be adopted, and some people are very comfortable in their roles. A police person, as an example, probably doesnt drop too much of being a police officer because they cant, because so much of their job is invested in a certain way that they present themself to the world. An off-duty police officer is still a police officer. It wouldnt appeal to me, because I couldnt stand the idea of always having to worry about other peoples justice, or something, but Im really glad that there are people who do that. So we have something like two ends of the curve who are out four or five standard deviations. On one end its pathological, and these are the folks who probably end up being schizophrenic or psychotic or something, who just cant stand it.
E.com: In certain traditional cultures of course
DR: Theyd be honored.
Right, and the powers would be called siddhis, and everyone would know what to do with them, and these people would be honored, but in our rational society
DR: And they would still be recognized as being nuts. That might be the person who is living on a pole for thirty years but is honored as being a holy man because he is in contact with the woo-woo stuff. And on the other side of the curve are perhaps Ghandi or Krishnamurti or great inventors who someone manage to fake their way through ordinary society but still recognize that they are in very strong contact with other stuff out there.
Sometimes they can express it and other times they cant. If they can express it, they end up going to a patent attorney and say, "What do you think of this?" Well, where in the world did that come from? Well, maybe theyll tell you it came in a dream or maybe theyll tell you a little green man said, "Here it is."
E.com: And maybe they really experienced that little green man.
DR: Exactly. Once you are open to these other realities
E.com: Terence McKennas trans-linguistic elves
DR: Yes, the mushroom told me.
E.com: Maybe it did.
DR: I have no reason to doubt that the experience is real. To them, anyway.
E.com: You know how Maurice Bucke wrote Cosmic Consciousness in 1901, and had this theory that the number of cosmically conscious people is increasing over time. Do you think the numbers of psychically competent or talented people are increasing either percentage wise or in absolute terms? Do we have any evidence whatsoever about that?
DR: No, there have been too few studies of any systematic type to know what the answer is. The only studies that have been done have generally been for the U.S. government and there the percentages of the world-class psychics who are also high functioning is something like a half a percent.
E.com: So, of those people who are competent, powerful, psychics, those that can actually be in the real-world and hold jobs, etc.
DR: Those who are very high functioning psychics as well are about one half of one percent. You have a normal curve of talent just like anything else. Those half a percent are something like 3 standard deviations out from the center. Thats on the side of functioning. The other side are the psychotics who we dont hear about.
So, we dont know, there havent been systematic studies, ever, basically, at least in the public domain, that have done any kind of testing to verifiably see whether people are good psychics or not. You cant tell anything from belief, from what people say, or from how many psychics have their shingles out. But I suspect that we in our current form havent been around that long, and were very similar to people who were around 10,000 years ago in almost every way. So I dont think that weve evolved in this direction at all.
E.com: So there could, at some point, be some random mutation that might open up the psychic valve and yet not be
DR: If you could do a eugenics experiment and go find the 10,000 people or so who are the major super-psychics, and start breeding them together, perhaps that will bootstrap a race of psi-people.
E.com: What about genetic engineering advances?
DR: Yes, it might be that, or it might not be genetics at all. It might transcend genetics altogether. The mystics talk about multiple bodies that we have. We are beginning to learn a lot about what the physical body is like, but maybe there is something like DNA on some other level of energetic existence that we have no idea about, and maybe thats where this ability resides, not in the physical as we think of physical right now.
E.com: The ectoplasmic ether.
DR: Whatever. The ectoplasmic DNA.
E.com: I have had this notion that perhaps people like Buddha, Jesus, and Moses actually did perform miracles on a scale orders of magnitude greater than the psi functioning we see now, and that they were able to align with greater mind to do this. The reason that people today can't do that sort of thing is that there is almost a moral circuit breaker that kicks in. To the degree that you are trying to channel these types of powers for anything like personal gain or for the benefit of a small group of people, it doesn't work. Now other people have said to me that that's ridiculous, that if psi exists it's just neutral. Do you have any sense about this? It sort of gets back to the charisma notion you were talking about.
DR: Psi is probably morally neutral so it could be used for anything you wish to use it for. I would like to believe otherwise, but I dont think thats the way it is.
E.com: Thats what Russell Targ said as well.
DR: I think were dealing with something like physics, and we project our morality into it, but is an atom bomb good or bad? This depends on what you use it for.
E.com: Along these lines, Ive noticed that many people who relate psychic experiences to me are frightened and spooked by these experiences. My own dear mother, for example, has some psychic talent, but whenever anything psychic happens she gets very agitated -- almost frightened -- and shell retell the story several times trying to convey to me that something really bizarre happened, almost as if she wanted me to do something to take away the fact that whatever it was happened.
Sometimes I think that all of us could actually do all sorts of psychic things, and that were perfectly wired for it. However, if I was to actually levitate that camera over there, I would probably die from a heart attack because it would frighten and surprise me so much. Thats one of the reasons why we dim down our psychic powers. Basically, it would be too much for us to handle emotionally.
DR: Theres some of that, and there are two other thoughts that come to mind.
One is that although people who are pretty in touch with being psychic dont often talk about it, there is something similar to a sexual rush associated with the act of being psychic. You can see why people dont talk about this, because it sounds kind of nutty, but theres something like energy, kundalini, prana, flowing of chi, who knows what, that internally is like an adrenaline push, only its an energetic adrenaline push of some type. We dont have any idea what it is. Maybe there is kundalini; maybe those forces exist in some way and it is expressing itself through the body in some way.
Another possibility is that a psychic phenomenon, the experience of it, is often reported afterwards as numinous. Theres something really strange about it, which is probably why it captures the imagination so much. Well, whats the cause of the numinosity? Where does any form of numinous experience come from? It has a feeling of connection with anything from the divine on one side to the demonic on the other. Perhaps there are other worlds that coexist in some way, and every so often you have access to it.
And, there is a whole other mystical branch, with religious ecstasy on one end and cosmic connections on the other. Somehow, the opening into those realms either releases or generates an enormous amount of energy. Its not simply the strangeness of it thats different. There are all kind of strange things that happen, but theres something peculiarly, unusually, strange about psi experience which I can only point to as its numinousity and energetic qualities. Then there is the whole social side as well, in which half the people are thrilled to death to hear about it they want to hear about it over and over again and the other half are ready to commit you to the funny farm as a result of talking about it.
One of the things Im interested in at work is the issue of the numinous experience, which is related in some bizarre way to charisma, and to other, right-on-the-edge-of-effable concepts, that fall into a class where everyone knows what youre talking about, but no one has any idea what it is. We just know it when we see it.
E.com: Some people are very good at conveying it, and others are actually capable of catalyzing numinous experiences in other people,
DR: Thats right.
E.com: And thats where you get back to charisma, technically, the gift of grace, the ability to transform the other person. When you meet someone like that, you really know it.
DR: You know they have something, they are doing something, and you can start extracting their acting ability and their voice quality and all of the other things, and your expectations
and they still have something! Well, what in the world is that? I think it is related in some way to this psi connection to the numinous, which may be in a sense "nothing more than an opening to the infinite."
E.com: They are serving as a transformer, or a transducer, or something similar.
DR: They pull us up. The psi-conducive individual in the experimental world is very well known. Russell Targ is a good example. He can get a rock to be psychic. And he doesnt know why. But as an experimenter
if you wanted to have an amazing experience of remote viewing and youve never had one before, youd go to Russell.
E.com: Hes a proven quantity. Similarly, in the world of crystals, before he died, Marcel Vogel could do really weird stuff, but he could never show anyone else how to do it, probably because he, personally, was some sort of magician. He could verifiably change the makeup of water by inserting quarts crystals, and age wine impossibly quickly, and a variety of other bizarre things actually went on around him, but it wasnt able to go on after he died because he was the one who knew, deep in his bones, how to bring about these phenomena.
DR: This brings us back to parapsychology as a science. I think this magician quality, as you just referred to with respect to Vogel, is probably true in every realm. It is probably true in the biomedical world, and the chemistry world. All worlds have magicians who are able to do incredible things
E.com: By the way, in The Conscious Universe you did a great job of explaining how experiments in other fields are not completely clear-cut there either. I think people generally dont understand that.
DR: Its all a big magicians trick basically.
E.com: And psi is especially difficult, because no matter how many blinds you put in there if youre really assuming that time and space dont "matter," then all of a sudden everything gets conflated and how can you separate out anything and figure out anything?
DR: Thats right. Parapsychology points out that the whole notion of double-blind, and most of the methodologies that we use, are kind of a sham, and it really becomes apparent when you are using a double-blind and yet you are studying something where the double-blind doesnt make a difference. We dont even like to talk about this much in parapsychology, because if we do talk about it we pretty rapidly become paralyzed, and we realize that we cant do anything. There is a segment within parapsychology that roughly calls themselves "feminists" who say that they want to get away from this masculine
E.com: PROVING IT.
DR: Yes, proving it, and
E.com: They just want to do anecdotal demonstrations?
DR: Well, its never clear to me what they want to do. And they never propose anything, like "this is what we propose to do instead." So from my point of view, Im saying that this is nonsense. I will use any technique, regardless of what name we want to call it, if we can show that it actually can do something better than what we now know. The feminist camp, the feminist science camp, is not proposing anything at all. Theres no method, not even a method like "lets just collect anecdotes and play with the case studies."
E.com: They are sort of anti-method.
DR: What is that? What is an anti-method method? What do you do?
E.com: Have you read Ken Wilbers The Marriage of Sense & Soul? Hes got a brilliant critique of feminists and deconstructionists, and does an excellent job of showing how many of these approaches turn on themselves, swallow their own tail, and simply dont get you anywhere. "Sure, these are interesting, but were interested in actually advancing the ball of knowledge."
DR: You have to do something.
E.com: You have to do something. Were human monkeys and we like doing things.
The Weight of Credulity
E.com: Getting back to people who can actually induce this sort of phenomena, do you think that
Im thinking of Sri Chimnoy, theres a picture of him lifting a barbell with like 20,000 pounds of weight on it. His people will all swear to the person that they really put that weight on there, and that he simply went into a super-normal state and could lift that kind of weight pretty much at will. Do you think that that kind of thing can happen?
DR: I think it could happen, but I think it probably did not happen. One of the problems with Eastern belief systems especially is theres like a disconnection between what we agree that we will say that we saw versus what actually took place. There are all these classic cases of the fakirs throwing the rope in the air and the little boy climbs up to the top and disappears and all kinds of magical things happen. All the Easterners see it and will swear up and down that they saw it, whereas the Westerners see nothing. They were watching the fakir just stand there with his arms folded and the little boy standing there and the rope is on the ground and nothing happened.
E.com: Well thats even more interesting in a way. It suggests that the fakir had the ability to do real-time hypnosis.
DR: To meld mens minds. Its probably related to charisma in some way. Like the scene in Star Wars where Obi-Wan clouds the mens minds and they just walk through. I think that something like that is a much more viable explanation.
E.com: And the various books on mass delusions throughout history make it quite clear that every now and then lots of people simply go crazy. Do you think that the Internet and the web will enhance this? There is a story in the science fiction anthology Mirror Shades where a rock singer is the central focus of a crowd of people experiencing a concert, and everyone is somehow able to hook into this persons neurology so this singer has the ability to bring about a transformation in other people. Do you think we might be heading towards something like that, some sort of global brain?
DR: Yes. I think we may accidentally one day have a broadcast about something maybe around the turn of the millennium where one individual is the object of intense awe, or love, or hate, or something, and X number of billions are watching, and captivated, and something magical will happen.
E.com: Sort of like the anti-O.J. Simpson studies that you did.
DR: Exactly. That was for an instant, and the instant was not directed generally at an individual but at an event.
E.com: It would be more like when Princess Diana died, and perhaps everyones heart chakra opened at the same time.
DR: Yes, someone truly revered, like a younger Mother Theresa, who everyone thinks is a good lady and who generated great reverence. Youd need some magical number of people watching, lets say four billion. Thats when Gaia wakes up, or the sleep is over, or some bizarre thing.
E.com: The end of history, or a historical singularity in Terence McKennas terms.
DR: The Hundredth Monkey.
E.com: Which turned out to be a fake.
DR: Ok, the thousandth monkey.
It Changes Everything It Touches
E.com: Lets say that psi does become accepted as a reality. Do you think that the ramifications would most likely be technological, or spiritual, or something entirely different?
DR: When asked those questions I feel I get put into the position of the founder of one of the great computer companies who said that the world market is four computers. As you look through history at people trying to guess what was going to happen and almost every case they are way, way off.
E.com: Admittedly its an unfair question.
DR: The answer is it will either change everything or it will change nothing.
E.com: Or somewhere in-between.
DR: Yes, or somewhere in-between. If I had to guess, though, I would guess that it would change everything. And it would change it in ways that we dont have words for at the moment.
E.com: And it would change everything because it would be admitting that mind and matter, broadly understood, interact?
DR: It would change everything maybe in a way that requires an evolutionary advance in human beings because, as I said, ordinary human beings, the monkeys we are right now, cannot exist in a world where thought actually makes things happen. It would destroy us all quickly.
E.com: Some people would argue that thats going on anyway, and we just dont have volitional control over it.
DR: It may be going on unconsciously at very low levels. And collectively those low levels may have some impact. But you see, if suddenly all of the nightly news and all of the authorities started saying, "well, I guess they were right, there really is this stuff," you can spin out a number of different scenarios, all of which end up looking pretty bad at the end. I think there is some recognition that we shouldnt do that, it would be too disruptive. So the people who play the role of governors, in society, consciously or unconsciously, have decided you can not do this.
E.com: You are using the term "governor" here as a governor mechanism.
DR: Exactly. The media plays the role of a governor, and government plays the role of a governor, and people who are conservative play the role of governor.
E.com: I have a friend named Bill Eichman who is kind of a Gurdjieff-type. Once he described to me and I understood it, because I knew he was seeing it that there is sort of this control room in the back of your brain, kind of like the old Batman hideouts, with the curved or tilted floor, and theres some master controls up there, like the immortality control, the psi control, etc., and if you were to get up there, you would almost certainly pull the wrong lever and kill yourself. We just dont have a clue.
DR: And worse still, you might kill a lot of other people in the process. There are governors, or conservation principles, or something similar, which prevent us from going too crazy.
E.com: What about the use of substances and psi? People seem to think that they experience more psychic events when they are under the influence of certain psychotropic and entheogenic substances.
DR: The key there is the word "seems." I think it is a difficult question because so much of our perceptions change under the influence of substances, and there are basically no systematic tests done any more with very few exceptions -- so the answer is "we dont know."
Im completely in favor of doing substance psi tests on virtually anything. Yes, you need the right kind of controls and everything in place. I have colleagues in Europe who are doing tests on things like psilocyben, which are much easier to get there since they are only quasi-illegal. They report really good results in experiments like telepathy tests. So there is some objective evidence that its not just peoples subjective state, but that the feeling of being connected reflects actual connection.
Hooking Para-Physics to Metaphysics
E.com: What connection is there, if any, between proving the existence of psi and proving the existence of God or a spiritual nature to the universe? We talked on the phone about Ken Wilber a little bit, and he says that you shouldnt hook your metaphysics to your physics since your physics eventually always changes.
Wilber also has this analogy of there being a seven-story building. Were on the first floor in our basic physical realm, and were finding out now that its interpenetrated and holographic and all connected and ecological and really groovy. But for Wilber that has nothing to do with going to the higher floors of the building, to the successively transcendent levels that include but transcend the levels below in accordance with the Perennial Philosophy. So Wilber would say, I believe, that psychic phenomena are all on the first floor, and yes, its good that its real, but it doesnt really directly speak to spirituality per se. Do you think this analysis is correct?
DR: Well, I suppose he is right in some respects, because after all the mystics of the ages have always said dont get distracted by psychic phenomena because its merely coming along on the path along the way and its not really the end game.
E.com: "Ignore the powers."
DR: Right. On the other hand, I think that psi is clearly pointing in the direction that spirituality suggests. The spirituality that Wilber is pointing to, with multiple levels to it, whatever that means, becomes ineffable very quickly. Were already ineffable when were talking about psi, and the sense is that thats just next door, just beyond where we are a little bit, and we dont have language to talk about this stuff, which is one of the reasons why it hasnt gone very far. So if we have trouble talking about psi in these terms, then what in the world could anyone possibly think about spirituality if its much beyond that?
E.com: Thats why Kant said, "lets not even talk about it."
DR: Well yes, in a sense. I see that psi clearly is seductive, and a lot of people look at it in a popular sense and say, "that is the endpoint." Suddenly, thats spirituality. And thats probably wrong. Its wrong like saying "anything," that thing is it. Well, no, thats not it. Thats representative of some entry point into something bigger.
I think its worthwhile, especially giving the new reconciliation of religion and science, or at least the beginnings of that, that psi clearly fits right smack in-between them. Its a point where the two are connected in some way. It gives me hope from the scientific side that at some point well begin to understand more in a scientific way, or maybe well just develop its language in some way, that will tell us about the bottom rungs of this ladder that probably lead up into an infinite number or rungs.
Above psi levels, according to traditional models, there is psychic, and causal, and so on. I dont believe any of it. Its interesting that these sorts of models come about, but I think its got to be something like an extremely impoverished cartoon version of whats actually so.
E.com: Just like with the standard chakra system, the idea of having seven energy centers -- well, from what Ive read and understood and perceived, something like Castanedas version of it being a luminous swirling egg with thousands of swirling colors and energy gradients and densities is a lot more like what is actually happening, but our minds can handle seven much easier.
DR: We can handle seven, plus or minus two, so everything has to be seven plus or minus two because we just cant accommodate more. Is it pointing away, or is it a distraction? Well, I suppose that since I have no idea where the endpoint is I dont know whether psi is 90% there or one billionth of a percent there. I suspect that given our little monkey brain
the amount that any one individual can understand at any one time is so small, compared to whats actually out there, that I usually dont even like to give interviews any more because I feel so profoundly ignorant that I dont even know what Im talking about anything any more. I dont know anything.
E.com: Thats a sign of wisdom, as with Socrates, who was the only one in ancient Greece who knew he didnt know anything.
DR: But when you get to that point
E.com: Some people stop talking.
DR: Thats exactly what I was going to say. The only thing that you can say after babbling a lot is absolutely nothing.
It Aint Rocket Science
E.com: Do you think there is any way to measure peoples inherent psychic ability? Some way of interfacing a human beings "energy field" or brain configuration with some kind of experimental equipment, some sort of meter, some sort of something?
DR: Like in Ghostbusters?
E.com: Yes, thats it. Well, we have Kirlian photography for example. Does that really show anything? Can you take peoples auras for real? Or do we not really have the science to reliably do anything like that?
DR: Kirlian photography does show something: it shows Kirlian discharges. Whether that is related to auras or anything else is anyones guess. There have been a few studies looking at clairvoyants who claim to be able to see auras, but they dont see the same thing. So, you take somebodys subjective experience at face value. If person A and person B both see auras and are both seeing something quite different from each other
what do you do with that?
E.com: If we could have a committee of ten different great psychics, and each of them looked at the same people, and described their auras what Wilber called inter-subjective hermeneutical verification
DR: Well, there hasnt been any evidence that theres enough to agree on, that theres anything more than simply projection going on. Maybe some people have funny vision and they tend to see halos around things, and what theyre describing from the halo has to do more with the shape of the eye than anything else. On the other hand, maybe we havent selected the right psychics to be doing this clairvoyant task, and were just taking shots in the dark.
The big tragedy here is that the standard tools of science, and certainly the amount of people interested in this stuff, even scientists, is huge, in terms of what we can do, and the number of people available to do it. If a miracle took place and suddenly something like one-tenth of one percent of the NSF budget became available for people to do research in this realm, we would learn in one month more than we have learned to date ever. Simply because of the number of people to bring the bear to the job and the tools of big science. None of this stuff is so mysterious as to be unassailable.
E.com: In a certain sense its not rocket science, or brain science.
DR: No, its not rocket science at all.
E.com: Maybe one day it will get to that level where somebody will come up with the real theory and do the Einsteinian-type experiment, and the true genius who wins the Nobel Prize will show up. What I hear you saying is that if you had to you could come up with a thousand real experiments that would add to our knowledge, that could easily be done, before we left this table.
DR: I think one of the reasons Im impatient with theory right now is that we dont have enough empirical knowledge of what were dealing with to even begin to make viable theories. What we need is what Maxwell had to create his great synthesis. We need about a thousand different kinds of experiments, but instead of them having to do with electricity they would have to do with psi, the whole spectrum of it. And then a genius like Maxwell says, "you know what, all of this stuff kind of fits together in this way." That then becomes a theory that ties it all together.
My book describes six categories in which were beginning to get some sense of what is actually going on. Well, youre not going to have a theory based on six things. The best I can say at this point is that they are all related in some way. There are thousands of other things that anybody who gets interested in this often says, "Have you ever tried this?" "No." "Well, why not?" "Well, because Im one person."
E.com: Or theyll expect you to know what the answer is just because they posed the question.
DR: Yes. There are lots of things. And in the process of doing an experiment people will accidentally find things we havent even thought about. Thats the tragedy here. The tragedy here is that this is not difficult. Its perfectly amenable to all the methods that we currently use, and there are whole huge classes that have never been looked at.
E.com: And its potentially so huge and revolutionary in everything from the spiritual to the technological, and who knows what the interfaces will be with nano-tech and virtual tech would be
its the dreams of science fiction writers and fantasy writers and its right there, and the door is open a tiny little crack and a little bit of light is coming out right now.
DR: And the reason you dont have the fifty thousand people doing research in this area has nothing to do with interest. It has completely to do with who controls money. And, fear about being ridiculed.
E.com: Right, its mammalian politics. Its all territory and ego and the same old thing. Talking about this, then, why do you think you were drummed out of the Harry Reid Center for Environmental Studies at UNLV? Is it the fact that you were tweaking peoples conception of reality with your research?
DR: For exactly the same reason that anyone who has ever gotten interested in this, especially in an academic environment, who didnt have tenure, never got tenure. And its not just parapsychology. The structure of academia, which is the most conservative realm that anybody can do anything in.
E.com: They dont have any real power, so they
DR: Well, ideas are the currency. So if your ideas are pushing against the other group of ideas, then the governing process of the university says, "oh no you dont."
E.com: So its not even what the funding person thinks about it directly, its what the funding person thinks other people are going to think about the funding person for not thinking the person doing the experiment is crazy.
DR: Thats exactly right.
E.com: What about groups like the Institute of Notice Sciences? Are they not capable of generating enough money to make a difference here?
DR: They do fund some research. But they dont have gigantic amounts of money.
E.com: Theyre not going to get you to the 50,000 researchers.
DR: No, no. Youd need hundreds of millions of dollars, or even tens of millions of dollars, to start doing that. And that is a very, very small drop in the bucket.
E.com: What do you think the total amount of money going to psi research in the United States is?
DR: Its been stable at about $5 million worldwide for, probably, about the last 30 years. But thats worldwide. The amount of money in the U.S. right now is probably at one of its lowest amounts in the last 20 years. Most of it is in Europe.
E.com: Thats a pittance.
DR: Its nothing. Its affording about 40 people.
Psi Studies For You and Me
E.com: What are you doing now professionally?
DR: All I can say is that we have a project with a number of people full-time looking into psi, and thats about it. Im doing exactly what I want to do.
E.com: Thats great! Anything else youd like to say? What would you recommend to people whod like to stay up on whats going on in psi and contribute to the cause? What can they do?
DR: Eventually, the Parapsychological Association website will be up and running. It is up and running, but only in a private section. But the pubic side will be up and will be the equivalent to our newsletter. As an organization for people whoa re seriously interested, that is the only organization I would recommend.
E.com: The URL?
DR: Its www.parapsych.org. The PA is an affiliate of the AAAS, and its the only affiliate of the AAAS that is interested in parapsychology.
E.com: That would be the American Association for the Advancement of Science?
DR: Right. Its the only organization of its type, around the world, that is affiliated with the AAAS. You see, it goes both ways. Its the only one in the AAAS thats interested in this, and its the only one of its type that is part of the AAAS. So, by definition then, it becomes a scientific enterprise. The people and the annual conferences are about the best you can get right now for people who are mostly conventionally ingrained in some sort of science or other and are trying to do their best to figure out how any of this stuff work.
E.com: Meets in the United States pretty much?
DR: No, every third year it meets in Europe because its an international group, and were probably going to change it to meet every other year in Europe starting in 2000 because the action these days is in Europe, not in the U.S. The money and people are all in Europe.
E.com: What about academia in the U.S.?
DR: Here is the problem with the academic realm. If youre unlucky and you happen to have an administration who is either embarrassed at what youre doing or really does think that youre crazy, if they think that youre studying something that doesnt exist, then logically the only way that they can understand whats going on is that you are either completely incompetent, or actually crazy and sort of dangerous as a result.
And so, I have a certain sympathy. I dont like it at all, but I have a certain sympathy for someone in a governing position in a university. Their job is to conserve what is known. This is one of the problems with textbooks, which tend to be anywhere between two and twenty years out of date. They are teaching old stuff. So the new seminars tend to be advanced graduate level. But undergraduates are learning old stuff.
That used to be OK because things didnt change very quickly, but now things are changing so fast that if youre teaching from a textbook which has not been updated in 20 years, then what are they learning? Not only stuff which is irrelevant a students chronic problem but probably wrong, which is even worse.
So, the conservatives are always trying to make sure that what we are teaching, at least we have some reason to believe that this is right. But thats an old model. It is an invalid model. Unless youre teaching the Perennial Wisdom, which probably has not changed, and is not likely to
if youre teaching anything in science, or even in a lot of areas of scholarship, there is something wrong with the usual way of doing universities. Its lagging.
E.com: Maybe you can use your organization's website to create interactive teaching modules that keep people who are interested up to date on psi.
DR: Theres about a thousand things I would like to do, and thats one of them. On-line experiments would be another really good one. It would be easy to do, it would just take time to develop it and make it work. If I could charge a nickel every time someone accessed my site to do an experiment, Id have a lot of nickels. Theyd be happy and Id be happy. Theres a lot of potential commercial ways of actually doing reasonably well by responding to peoples interest. One of the variety of things I might do x years from now is to take advantage of whatever the web is like then to do something like that, some kind of interactive training and research. Theres lots of possibilities.
I get lots of e-mails all of the time from students or working people saying "Id really like to do this, where do I go look for jobs." The answer is: there are none. You have to use psi to create it out of nothing, because it doesnt exist otherwise. So one answer to students or people looking for career changes, or someone wanting to know where to go, or whether they can work in my lab, or where can I go for money
well, you have to figure it out yourself, because there is no career track, and I cant encourage anyone to do what Ive done. Thats a big tragedy.
Realistically, my situation at a Silicon Valley think tank right now is the only such thing of its kind, not only in the world, but ever. And so, its kind of neat because its a precedent, but wheres the career track? There is no career track. There is no certainty, no giant program. Id love to be able to take all of the youthful enthusiasm I see every day in e-mails, and on the web, and even middle-age enthusiasm, and say, "man, theres just so much happening, and things to do, etc.," but its just not true. Thats a real pity, because there are a lot of high skilled people who are just raring to go do something
E.com: Chomping at the bit
DR: And theres no horse. Chomping at the bit but theres no horse to carry the thing yet.
E.com: Maybe that will change in the new millennium, maybe there will be a spiritual renaissance of some sort.
A Post-Quantum Journey
DR: It may well be that quantum mechanics is the tip of an iceberg, and were beginning to see that the tip of the iceberg is such that, as Nick Herbert says, we now know that the world is strange enough to allow non-local phenomena. Non-local phenomena is psi in a nutshell, things that transcend space and time in ways that we dont understand. So, we now know after 300 years of hard-won science that the world is strange enough to support this, and yet we know absolutely nothing about consciousness and about things like intention. Were dealing with something that involves non-locality and intention with psi.
E.com: You multiply 0 by
DR: Its like zero times infinity, or zero times zero, or one over zero, or something, and were beginning to glimpse how we can kind of get there from here. Or at least weve seen that the world allows it now. We know that the world will allow this.
E.com: The journey is possible.
DR: Yes, thats a good way of putting it. The ship has gone out of port and we know that it floats. But what we dont know is
E.com: What direction, or where it goes
DR: Well, its quite clear now that existing quantum mechanics wont do it, and it wont do it mainly because of precognition. Precognition is not accounted for really cleanly by any existing physical theory. There are some things like advanced waves, electromagnetism, tachyon particles, and multi-dimensional worlds, etc., but none of it connects to psychology at all. All disciplines are fractured anyway, so they dont connect to each other.
Theres lot of guesses as to whats going on, a sort of post-quantum physics. Its all at the level of science fiction/fantasy/speculative physics. Some of it might be right. Almost none of it is testable so well never know if it is right. Thats my big objection with dealing with a lot of theoretical physicists who try to guess what psi is like. I wrote the chapter on theory because the editor insisted that I should to kind of wrap it up. I wanted to get away from saying "here it is," because no-one has any idea where we are going, so instead I just tried to paint a picture that, at minimum, there seems to be a convergence in thought that something like quantum entanglement is really true and out there, and these phenomena are very much like quantum entanglement but at the experience level.
E.com: You had holography, which had something to do with parts and wholes, and you had fractals, which has something to do with parts and wholes, and maybe those are only two types of a set of 50 or 100 things that actually work that way that we dont know about. Holography was a big thing 20 or 25 years ago and everybody wanted to explain everything in terms of it. And now its chaos theory and fractals and they want to explain everything with that, but thats not going to work either.
DR: It goes all the way back to electromagnetic phenomena, and thermodynamics. Every time there is a new development in physics everything is explained in those terms. At minimum we are moving in a direction where the existing physics does not rule out what we are doing.
E.com: But we dont know how much more physics well have to have before we can really begin to understand and apply what we know.
DR: Thats right. I really dont even think at this point that we can guess very well. We just dont know. I think what would really be cool is if people started doing experiments and it turned out that this was precisely the area that was necessary in order to do things like reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics. That would be really cool. And suddenly it would become mainstream over night.
Among other things, parapsychology would instantly disappear. We had a discussion this past year at the annual convention: How do we know if weve succeeded? We know, because we will instantly disappear, and it will be sucked up into all of the existing disciplines and reshaped in the language of those disciplines.
E.com: Instead of being this kind of weird pseudo-science.
DR: It would no longer be para-normal, for one thing. It would become normal in terms of the jargon thats appropriate for each stage. The only thing maybe thats left over is the issue of survival of bodily death, which traditionally falls into this bailiwick as well. Who knows how many more years well need to tackle this one, but that is very closely related to this whole psi business too.
People are basically like sheep-monkeys. The image of the monkey is a pretty good one, but so is the sheep part. If enough sheep are wandering out in the field, then the others are going to start thinking, where is the actual group? If those are known as leading-edge folks
At the very minimum we should figure out whether there is anything to it. So, maybe we can help pull a few people in the right direction. When I give the talk version of this book now it is extremely persuasive, for the reasons you know. The data is there, and you dont have to tap dance any more. You just say, "well look guys, here it is, you figure it out."
E.com: Thank you very much for your time.
DR: Youre welcome.
Addendum: The Filedrawer Effect Revisited
[The following short exchange occurred several months after the interview was conducted, and concerns the infamous "filedrawer effect."]
E.com: I really don't understand [one particular critical scientist's] inability to grasp the fact that the "filedrawer effect" is really not a problem at all in this context. How can somebody like this scientist just not "get" that other, very smart, very qualified, experts in statistics have already looked at this very carefully and have agreed (see, e.g., Wilber's notion of intersubjective hermenuetical verification) that this just isn't a problem?
DR: [This particular scientist] has focused on one assumption underlying the filedrawer effect, and he simply disagrees with it. From that disagreement, he spins out a different mathematical tale than the one that is commonly used.
Among those who pay lots of attention to the mathematics of making file drawer estimates, making other assumptions is not a trivial issue. Underlying the usual assumption is a guess about publication and editorial policies, the sociology and politics of science, etc. Nevertheless, even if we took [this scientist's] assumptions instead of Rosenthal's assumptions, the filedrawer effect still cannot explain away the results of all psi experiments.
I often find that a confirmed skeptic will think they've spotted a fatal flaw, and then they convince themselves that the flaw, real or imagined, undermines the entire argument. Then they ignore the big picture completely. What they miss is that within some classes of psi experiments (like dream and ganzfeld telepathy tests), we know essentially everyone who has ever conducted a study, and there is no hidden filedrawer.
As I point out in the book, even the knowledgeable skeptics admit this. In any case, the meta-analytic argument for psi does not rest on one pivotal issue. It rests on several classes of experiments, each of which has been replicated many times, over many years, by many people.
In addition, most experiments over in the last few decades are process-oriented, not proof-oriented. Why? Because even life-long skeptics like Ray Hyman agree that doing the same old proof-oriented experiments will no longer teach us anything. Everyone who's informed about the history of modern psi studies agrees that there's an anomaly. The question is, what is that anomaly? Is it filedrawer? I don't think so.