.hy off __________________________________________________________________________ | COPYRIGHT NOTICE: | | | | You may forward this document to anyone you think might be interested. | | | | The only limitations are: | | A) You must copy this document IN ITS ENTIRETY, WITHOUT MODIFICATIONS, | | including this copyright notice. | | You do NOT have permission to change the contents or make extracts. | | B) You do NOT have permission to copy this document for commercial | | purposes. | | | | The contents of this document are copyright (c) 1993 by Charles | | T, Tart. | | | | It was posted on the University of California at Davis ftp server by | | permission of the copyright holder. This ftp server contains ASCII | | files of published articles by Professor Charles T. Tart. Individuals | | wishing to obtain other documents there (which are added to from time | | to time) should | | Connect to ftp server, "ftp.ucdavis.edu". | | Log in as username "anonymous". Send your e-mail address | | as the ident/password string. | | cd to /pub/fztart. | | A "dir" command will show you what is available. | | A "get" command will retrieve documents. | | The file "currentcontents" will be updated regularly, showing | | what papers are available, perhaps with an abstract of each. | |__________________________________________________________________________| Consciousness: A Psychological, Transpersonal and Parapsychological Approach Charles T. Tart University of California Davis, California 95616 and Institute of Noetic Sciences Sausalito, California 94965 ----------------- This paper was presented at the Third International Symposium on Science and Consciousness in Ancient Olympia, 4-7 January, 1993. ----------------- It has long been fashionable to speak of humanity as a tool-making species. This is accurate but, unfortunately, we tend to then concentrate on the secondary tools, the physical, external machines, and ignore the primary and ultimate tool, human consciousness, our own minds. What is the nature of human consciousness, especially its deeper and more profound aspects? I shall approach this questions from three related perspectives that represent major aspects of both my scientific research and my personal life as a Westerner. (My personal life is included in this statement of approach because we cannot ignore the mind of the scientist when it comes to studying the mind, as we can in so many more external disciplines.) The three perspectives are those of ordinary psychology, transpersonal psychology and parapsychology. I shall briefly discuss each of these perspectives in turn, with comments on its primary implications for understanding consciousness. Ordinary Psychology: I begin first with ordinary, mainstream psychology, an area long dominated by two approaches, the behavioristic and the psychoanalytic. Behaviorism insists that externally observable behavior (material phenomena) is the only proper subject matter of a scientific psychology. It has given us useful research tools in some areas, but its dismissal of experience as a legitimate research topic has made it far too narrow. The psychoanalytic/psychopathological approach, drawn from observations of and therapy with the mentally ill, has been very useful in dealing with mental illness, and has cast much light on ordinary activities of consciousness, especially socially hidden kinds of pathologies. Unfortunately this second mainstream approach tends to see almost all human activity as pathological, giving us a lopsided view. Classical behaviorism is no longer of great importance in psychology, partly because of its shortcomings, but mainly through having been largely displaced by contemporary cognitive psychology. Cognitive psychology was inspired by digital computers, and its primary function is to explain consciousness in terms of simpler, non-conscious subsystems, to reduce it to information processing procedures in a physical system, whether that system be digital computer or biological computer. As a result of the dominance of behavioristic/cognitive and psychoanalytical approaches, humans tend to be seen as nothing but some combination of robots and instinctively driven animals, whose raw instincts are barely held in check by civilization. These views do not encourage exploration of the deeper levels of consciousness, for they suggest that all we will find there are animalistic and primitive impulses that are best left alone. These two dominant psychological schools are very much in harmony with the materialistic view of man that still dominates Western intellectual thought, a view that, when it masquerades as science, I and sociologists of science have called "scientism," a rigidity and pathology of thought that takes the success of the physical sciences and their current findings as a total system of thought. It is called scientistic or scientism because of its resemblance to various other dogmatic religious and political systems, rather than having the continual openness to new data and ideas that proper scientific inquiry should have. To illustrate the effects of scientism in Western life, some years ago I devised an experiential exercise to use in workshops, a "belief experiment" I called the Western Creed. It's purpose was to make people aware of the implicit and hidden assumptions that Western civilization and scientism have instilled to varying degrees in all of us, even people who think they have a spiritual orientation to life. I will just describe the Western Creed exercise today, as it is usually too emotionally powerful to actually do with people unless time is allowed to work with the feelings arising from it. Just hearing it described will give you some feeling for it, though. I ask people to participate in a "belief experiment," a 20-minute period where they will believe the words we later say as much as possible and will try to observe and later share their emotional reactions to it. I stress that they participate emotionally, rather than intellectually, from the heart rather than the head, because it is the emotional aspects of our beliefs that are of prime importance in their lives. Then I use the power of social pressure and conformity to intensify the effects of participation. I don't know how universal this is, but in the United States we are trained as children in school to stand in a martially rigid position of attention, in orderly rows and columns, put our right hands over our hearts, and recite the pledge of allegiance to the American flag, in unison with each other. I have participants take that physical posture and recite the Western Creed together. This Creed takes the same external form as the Nicene Creed in Christianity, but its content is based on currently popular scientistic beliefs, put in a form to make their emotional connotations clearer. Incidentally, I want to assure you that this is not an attack on Christianity, only an educational exercise. Here is the creed the participants read aloud together: I BELIEVE - in the material universe - as the only and ultimate reality - a universe controlled by fixed physical laws - and blind chance. I AFFIRM - that the universe has no creator - no objective purpose - and no objective meaning or destiny. I MAINTAIN - that all ideas about God or gods - enlightened beings - prophets and saviors - or other non-physical beings or forces - are superstitions and delusions. - Life and consciousness are totally identical to physical processes - and arose from chance interactions of blind physical forces. - Like the rest of life - my life - and my consciousness - have no objective purpose - meaning - or destiny. I BELIEVE - that all judgments, values, and moralities - whether my own or others - are subjective - arising solely from biological determinants - personal history - and chance. - Free will is an illusion. - Therefore the most rational values I can personally live by must be based on the knowledge that for me - what pleases me is Good - what pains me is Bad. - Those who please me or help me avoid pain are my friends - those who pain me or keep me from my pleasure are my enemies. - Rationality requires that friends and enemies be used in ways that maximize my pleasure - and minimize my pain. I AFFIRM - that churches have no real use other than social support - that there are no objective sins to commit or be forgiven for - that there is no divine or supernatural retribution for sin or reward for virtue - although there may be social consequences of actions. - Virtue for me is getting what I want - without being caught and punished by others. I MAINTAIN - that the death of the body - is the death of the mind. - There is no afterlife - and all hope of such is nonsense. Now I have not asked you to actually perform this belief experiment, but I suspect that some of you, from just hearing the description, are feeling some of the depression, nihilism and negativity that participants commonly experience. I think of this as a "sadder but wiser" psychological exercise, for participants discover that many of these beliefs are indeed part of their makeup and affect their lives. They never made any conscious decisions about whether they wanted their beliefs to be like this, they were just conditioned into them as part of being a modern Westerner. Ordinary psychology is a source of much useful information about and research methodology for studying consciousness, but it is usually carried out within the implicit scientistic paradigm of our times. In spite of these limitations, there are a number of findings relevant to understanding consciousness that we can draw from it. To note just three: (1) The totality of mental functioning is greater than the part we experience as the contents of our conscious mind. (2) There are personal psychological distorting mechanisms, such as the classical defense mechanisms of psychoanalysis or needs for personal approval, that warp our observations of the contents of consciousness, as well as our observations of the external world and other people. (3) There are culture-specific emotional and cognitive investments in various beliefs and world views that similarly warp our observations. This brings me to the second perspective I bring to studying the nature of consciousness, transpersonal psychology. In the 1950s, a new kind of patient began coming to see psychotherapists. Your ordinary patient comes because she or he can't function well in ordinary life. They may experience too much stress, have unsatisfactory personal relationships, be too shy or too resentful, etc. These new kind of patients should have been perfectly happy by ordinary social criteria, for they functioned well and had the social rewards that are supposed to produce happiness, things like fulfilling relationships, good sex lives, respect in the community, good jobs, and lots of money and material things. Their complaints were things like "Is this all there is to life?" Or "I'm bored with just getting richer, isn't there something more?" These "existential neurotics," as they were called, wanted more meaning than Western society was able to provide. Intermediate Step - Humanistic Psychology: This led to the creation of a small but important new branch of psychology, a "third force," humanistic psychology. People who functioned especially well, rather than psychiatric patients, were studied by psychologists like Abraham Maslow. New, heretofore largely neglected, psychological topics became legitimate areas of study, topics like authenticity, peak experiences, love, and creativity. Culturally "normal" successful psychological functioning was shown to be subnormal, compared to what humans could learn to be. Considerable emphasis was put on practical application of these ideas, primarily as new forms of emotional and bodily education, and we had encounter groups, e.g., where otherwise ordinary people learned to live a much richer emotional life. By and large, though, humanistic psychology did not really question the reigning materialistic, scientistic paradigm. We were still nothing but material processes, with no inherent reasons for living other than the accidentally acquired biological drives which pushed us on, and with everything ending in meaningless death. Transpersonal Psychology: My second perspective on consciousness, transpersonal psychology, the fourth major force in psychology, evolved from humanistic psychology in the 1960s. "Trans" comes from Latin roots which mean beyond, beyond the "persona," the social mask, the ordinary self, the personal. All through history, women and men have had experiences that convinced them that we are far more than our ordinary selves. Consider this minor "mystical experience," described in one of Yeats poems, "Vacillations." My fiftieth year had come and gone. I sat, a solitary man, In a crowded London shop, An open book, an empty cup On the marble table top. While on the shop and street I gazed, My body of a sudden blazed, And twenty minutes, more or less, It seemed so great my happiness That I was blessed and could bless. That is not the way we ordinarily feel about ourselves, but a feeling of being an intimate part of and "channeling" something much greater than our ordinary selves, "trans" our personal. As a fuller example, consider the full blown mystical experience of Maurice Bucke, a 19th century physician. He described it in the third person, trying to be as accurate and objective about it as he could. It was in the early spring at the beginning of his thirty-sixth year. He and two friends had spent the evening reading Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Browning, and especially Whitman. They parted at midnight, and he had a long drive in a hansom (it was in an English city). His mind deeply under the influences of the ideas, images and emotions called up by the reading and talk of the evening, was calm and peaceful. He was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment. All at once, without warning of any kind, he found himself wrapped around as it were by a flame colored cloud. For an instant he thought of fire, some sudden conflagration in the great city, the next he knew that the light was within himself. Directly afterwards came upon him a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness, accompanied or immediately followed by an intellectual illumination quite impossible to describe. Into his brain streamed one momentary lightning-flash of the Brahmic Splendor which has ever since lightened his life; upon his heart fell one drop of Brahmic Bliss, leaving thenceforward for always an after taste of heaven. Among other things...he saw and knew that the Cosmos is not dead matter but a living Presence, that the soul of man is immortal, that the universe is so built and ordered that without any peradventure all things work together for the good of each and all, that the foundation principle of the world is what we call love and that the happiness of every one is in the long run absolutely certain. He claims that he learned more within the few seconds during which the illumination lasted that in previous months or even years of study, and that he learned much that no study could ever have taught. The illumination itself continued not more than a few moments, but its effects proved ineffaceable; it was impossible for him ever to forget what he at that time saw and knew, neither did he, or could he, ever doubt the truth of what was then presented to his mind.... To say the Bucke was beyond, trans, his ordinary self is to put it mildly. Transpersonal psychology is the study and application of these experiences that seem to take us beyond our ordinary, biological and material selves. Still in its infancy, it draws heavily on older spiritual traditions for stimulation. Young as it is, we can still draw a number of important points from it for understanding human consciousness. In the realm of human experience, a qualification whose importance I will discuss below, we may say that it is possible for humans to experience: (4) A huge widening of the sense of self and consciousness that makes ordinary consciousness seem, by comparison, a very narrow and limited manifestation of a greater totality of Self. (5) An amusement and loving tolerance for the pretentiousness of the ordinary self in taking itself as the supreme manifestation of intelligence. (6) Various kinds of new knowledge, "transcendent knowledge," which make ordinary knowledge relative rather than absolute. These transcendent kinds of knowledge are often state-specific, i.e., they are not remembered or understood very well in ordinary consciousness, but make perfect sense in the altered transpersonal states of transcendence. The content of such knowledge usually concerns questions of ultimate value and purpose, and constitute "emotional" as well as intellectual "knowledge." (7) Even the briefest kinds of transpersonal experiences may enormously transform the remainder of the experiencer's life. An example is the absolute conviction brought back by many who have had near death experiences (NDEs) that the primary purpose of life is to learn to love; that if you haven't learned to love, your life has not been of much value. (8) Absolutely convincing knowledge that the universe is an intelligent living organism, in a mind dimension that includes material phenomena as a subset, and that this Intelligence makes the universe inherently loving and meaningful, in spite of apparent horrors on the ordinary level. We are an inherent part of that Intelligence, not a meaningless accident. Parapsychology: Note that in giving a brief overview of considerations for understanding consciousness from a transpersonal perspective, I qualified them as phenomena in the realm of human experience. Now we must deal with the main reaction that those caught in the scientistic paradigm usually have to the transpersonal. This reaction would be something like "The import of these transpersonal experiences is obviously factually false, conceptually nonsensical and probably psychopathological: human consciousness is nothing but the operation of the human brain. Consciousness, the human brain, is confined within the skull and body, with only indirect, sensory contact with the external world and others, and when the brain dies, consciousness dies. At worst, these transpersonal experiences foster delusion and superstition; at best they might be necessary opiates to soothe those who cannot face the reality of our material mortality." From the scientistic paradigm, transpersonal society can never be more than the study of illusions. Parapsychology, a field of psychology literally para, beyond or along side of, ordinary psychology, is my third perspective on the nature of consciousness, as it is of vital relevance to this criticism. It is somewhat daunting to try to summarize more than a hundred years of scholarly and scientific study in a few paragraphs, but I will try. Parapsychology began with "psychical research," primarily scholarly, but retrospective study of spontaneous human experiences of acquiring information about distant events when no plausible sensory or physical mechanisms seemed able to account for them. A mother, e.g., who seldom recalled dreaming, might suddenly have a terrifying dream of her son being killed and later receive a telegram that her son, in a distant country, had unexpectedly been killed in an accident at that time. Although one can build a moderately convincing case for unknown information transfer mechanisms from the better cases of this sort, there are inherent problems of the reliability of witnesses, distortions of memory, occasional hoaxes, and evaluating precisely just what "coincidence" is in this approach. Parapsychology is the termed generally applied to the body of procedure and knowledge built up when active laboratory research began to solve the above problems. I should also note that, unfortunately, the term parapsychology has become one popularly used to cover everything mysterious, but I speak here only of serious scientific parapsychology. Over the years stringent laboratory methods gradually developed, employing elaborate safeguards against fraud, double blind procedures, and conservative statistical evaluations of results. To make a long story short, four basic psi phenomena, as they are now termed, had enough research with significant outcomes (dozens to hundreds of studies each) done on them that I consider them proven to exist beyond any reasonable doubt. These are three forms of extrasensory perception (ESP), viz. telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition, and one form of physical action on the material world, psychokinesis (PK). There may be other genuine forms of psi phenomena, but we will stick with these basic four here. Although psi phenomena usually manifest weakly and unreliably in the laboratory, we can conclude the following. Given what we scientifically know about the nature of the material world and reasonable extensions of that knowledge, in the absence of any known or readily plausible physical information transfer mechanisms: (9) People can sometimes pick up the conscious mental contents of another's mind, telepathy. (10) People can sometimes directly cognize the state of the distant physical world when it is currently unknown to any other human, clairvoyance. (11) People can sometimes accurately predict future events which are inherently unpredictable due random processes determining their outcome, precognition. (12) People can sometimes affect the outcomes of physical processes simply by wishing for a desired outcome, psychokinesis. Without having the time to argue it in detail, the consideration for understanding consciousness that is readily drawn from the above is: (13) Since these empirical data show properties of consciousness that do not seem to be reducible to physical variable with our current physical understanding or reasonable extensions of it, they indicate that consciousness must be investigated as a factor in its own right and with real properties of its own, not just as an epiphenomenon of physical brain and nervous system properties. Note that this is a pragmatic approach and a conservative scientific approach. I am one of those scientists who believe data is primary and theory secondary. We have data that do not fit scientistic, physicalistic models. While we could have some kind of "religious" faith that perhaps someday they will be explainable in terms of some future physics quite unlike the one we know, that is faith, not a proper scientific approach. Conclusions: Now we have the scientific basis to deal with the criticism that transpersonal psychology is about nothing but illusions. Of course it is - some of the time. Ordinary psychology has shown us innumerable mechanisms by which people fool themselves and each other. On the other hand, the data of parapsychology show us that sometimes there is a very real way in the "mind" "transcends" the "brain." I put all three critical words in quotation marks to emphasize that while this statement is correct in general, our understanding of what exactly this means is still very crude, and great amounts of open-minded research are needed to flesh this statement out. These considerations for understanding human consciousness are not simply intellectually interesting, but of great import to our and our planet's survival. The "Me first!" ethic fits easily with the dominant scientistic world view. Who cares about the meaningless lives and meaningless fates of a bunch of other meaningless biological accidents, other people, compared to my pleasure? The traditional values of the worlds great religions say we should care, and exhort us to live moral lives and be kind to our neighbors, but they have become value systems seemingly left behind in the modern world, apparently "proven" to be just superstitions by scientism, so we can't count on those traditional sources of values to create the attitudes that can reorientate us to a compassionate, global perspective. Religion is just conditioning, exhortation, meaningless words to too many people. If you look at the sources of the great religions, however, you discover transpersonal experiences by the founders of the religions. If you look at transpersonal psychology, you see that such life transforming experiences of love, unity, and compassion are a basic part of human potentials, not just things that happened to a few people long ago. And if you look at the data of parapsychology, you see that the scientistic basis for automatically rejecting such transpersonal experiences is fallacious. There is considerable hope for humanity as conscious beings, and there is a lot of excitement awaiting us as we discover exactly what that means! end of paper