Tuesday, January 23, 2018

How and why to explain and enhance psi (aka “soul”)

There has been an intense discussion this week about “psi” this past week, sponsored by the Vedanta Society but including major skeptics, leading parapsychologists, neuroscientists and others. Here is what I come out with from that.
Contents: the bottom line for humanity here; issue of whether it is real; why I propose the “baby noosphere” theory to explain it; practical applications, response to what they sent me about “third eye” yoga; and evaluation of the mixed impact we have seen from major religions, sometimes helpful and sometimes serving other interests.

BOTTOM LINE =======================================================
Many of us believe that there is overwhelming evidence that humans have “psi” abilities beyond what we can explain by the mundane capabilities of the brain. In my view, there is no way to explain such a thing rationally without assuming that we have what some call “souls” – living parts of us. I will give you my logic soon, but first, as a quick summary – it is like Dante’s idea that we ourselves are half beast and half angel. It leads to the old Rosicrucian idea that we should not waste time and energy on wars between the beast and the angel, but should seek an amicable and efficient “alchemical marriage” of close cooperation between the two.
For me, the bottom line is as follows: In trying to help humanity as much as I can, I focus on two ultimate, overriding values: (1) minimizing the probability that our mundane species (“the beasts”) becomes extinct before its time; and (2) maximizing the full attainment of human potential, for example by developing special schools aimed at maximizing the growth and strength of human bodies, brains AND souls. (Friends Community School in Maryland was set up with that charter, as was West Point! But on a recent visit to West Point, their talking points about soul all involved football and such, not quite living up to all that we humans can learn to do. George Washington understood better, but I guess he was never on their faculty.) The challenge of developing the soul part is an age-old value, which has inspired all kinds of wild efforts, but if we can understand better what is going on here, we may be able to do better.

ISSUE OF WHETHER IT IS REAL ==============================================
In my view, it is rational that some people simply do not believe in the existence either of psi or of soul. Others disagree. The discussion:
X wrote: However, from my perspective as an empiricist, I see the insistence of a theory before acceptance of data as not only completely backwards, but antithetical to science. Data must be allowed to trump theory, otherwise science is the same as religion.

My reply:
OK, epistemology, including epistemology of science (first person or third person), is a proper subject for this list. There are times when the followers of Popper and even Kuhn seem to be as far out of touch as the most extreme hermits in the woods.. but the subject is important.

I deeply respect Donald Hebb's reasons for rejecting parapsychology, and believe we need to understand and respect them. Hebb understood what science IS as much as anyone. I view him as the grandfather of the neural network field, on its mother's side. (Von Neumann being the other grandfather, more my side.) His book, The Organization of Behavior, does say a FEW things which now look silly to me, but it is far more profound than most of what I see written today about those subjects, and I recommend it to anyone who is serious about brains and consciousness. 

In the preface to his book, he argues that we need to think of inference by science itself in Bayesian terms. (My updated version of that is in www.werbos.com/Mind_in_Time.pdf, published in Russia.) As we try to develop the kind of theories which are capable of predicting things, we ask what their probability of truth is. From Bayes Law, we know that it is a convolution of the "likelihood" term (probability we would have seen what we did, if the theory is right, REQUIRING stochasticity in serious theories) WITH the "prior" term. The two terms are precisely EQUAL in importance in the mathematics. For psi, he argues that the likelihood is better than what we see with most theories in psychology (lots of evidence) but not so much better that it outweighs the low prior probability based on what we know about how the universe works. For many years, I agree with Hebb, but then two things happened to change MY first person probability assessment:

    (1) a direct personal experience so overwhelming (veridical) that it forced me to be open-minded, to upgrade the likelihood term;
    (2) after I was open-minded, not only more experience, but study of physics showing me that it is not so physically impossible as I had thought (for reasons I have mentioned here).

It is quite rational for some people to feel that there is very little probability of psi being real, based on the information available to THEM about the likelihood term and the prior term. 
It is rational for scientists engaged in science to follow Bayesian thinking. Discussions related to the prior term are also within the rules of third person science, if those discussions themselves are rational. 

I discussed this in more detail in the Mind_in_Time paper. I have wondered: how many of us have had the kind of first person experience which justifies our paying real attention to this area? One of the Vedanta discussion group members recently told us about a study which shows that the belief of scientists in psi correlates very closely with whether they really looked in a serious way at the empirical findings, which in turn correlates with their personal experience, but how many of us are there? Heisenberg’s interest in yoga and Vedanta is very well-documented, as is Schrodinger’s in Sufism, but activist opponents have argued that people like Heisenberg and Schrodinger were just sloppily falling into believing what their parents believed or that they were not as independent and creative in their thinking as the activists themselves. I wonder.

How many of us are there? The best information I know of to answer that question comes from a massive  NSF-funded survey aimed at probing the deep values of the American people. The survey had many findings, but I am most intrigued by those described in a popular summary written for the New York Times Magazine, “Are we a Nation of Mystics?”, by Greeley and McCready, reprinted in Goleman’s book Consciousness (which I recommend very highly to anyone interested in that subject). Based on their analysis of variance, about 70% of Americans with PhDs in the peak earning years would answer “yes” to the question: “Have you ever had the feeling of being very close to a powerful spiritual force that seemed to lift you out of yourself?” That sounds a lot more lurid than the experience in March 1967 which drive me to be open-minded about psi, but also a lot less
“veridical”. (That experience is described in section 3 of http://www.werbos.com/Space_personal_Werbos.htm, a chapter in Krone, R. M. (2006). Beyond earth: the future of humans in space (Vol. 58). Collectors Guide Pub., Apogee Books.) Greeley and McCready called for further survey research to learn what is really going on here, but I haven’t found any evidence that it was ever funded.

70?!!!  Could it really be that high? Could it be that issues like psi and spiritual experience have become taboo subjects, like sex in the Victorian era, when babies still kept being born but many people pretended they had no idea how or had nothing to do with it personally? As best we know, that’s how it is here. In any case, those of us who seriously think there may well be (or certainly is) something real here have good reason to pay lots of attention to the big question:

What IS going on here? How could we possibly explain it? What does it imply, logically, for our larger plans in life?

My answer:
The Vedanta group recently discussed two issues regarding psi: (1) demonstrating that psi is real (where I basically just agree with Dean Radin); (2) understanding how and why it works, SO THAT we have a basis for expanding and developing it further.

Many years ago, in pondering the second question, I asked myself questions like: "Does QED allow the construction of a box smaller than a sphere of diameter one meter, capable of using quantum technology to pick remote sites anywhere on earth at will and send back an image of what is there?" Governments have spent billions on that kind of thing, and I don't see any sign of a hope of a possibility of doing it. If WE HUMANS can do it (as in the huge literature on remote viewing), how could we explain it , in a way which helps us do it better?

I am sorry, Ram, but I don't see how attaching words like "consciousness" to fields like the fields of QED and EWT would make the explanation easier, or the device constructable, either by machines or in biology. The sheer switching capability involved in picking a remote part of the earth, or, even more, tapping into thoughts far away,
is ONLY plausible in my view, if it exists as a property of an EVOLVED COMPLEX BIOLOGICAL SYSTEM CONNECTING those remote locations with our location.
In short, it requires a "noosphere," a living "brain" based on something OTHER than the familiar fields of QED. Since we know that dark matter is more plentiful than ordinary matter in our cosmos, and we now know that it forms a kind of vast connected ocean, this is actually a very natural and logical explanation, once you get used to it. One would actually EXPECT evolution to lead to bodies, brains and consciousness in such an ocean of life anyway; the idea that we are CONNECTED to such a noosphere brain is just as plausible as any of the other proposed answers I have heard to Fermi's paradox. (Brin's pleasant novel Existence includes a nice review of the others.) 

I do hope that some of you would be interested in following up on that approach and what it implies, citing:
[1] P. Werbos, Unification of Objective Realism and Spiritual Development, http://scsiscs.org/conference/index.php/scienceandscientist/2017/paper/view/166/53
[2] David Brin, Existence, Tor Books, 2012

[1] is not just an abstract explanation; in fact, it points to operational possibilities for trying to enhance paranormal and spiritual development, presented (if slightly veiled) in my 2012 paper in Neural networks. And yes, it was informed by reviewing lots of practical mystical literature, including yoga and many other traditions. 

My theory here is NOT identical to that of Teilhard de Chardin, who suggested (like Verdansky) that our noosphere is simply the product of evolution on earth. But in practical terms, there are many similarities, and similarities as well to folks like Sheldrake. For example, de Chardin's book The Activation of Human Energy is very important to the praxis here. Those who just disappear into a cave and seek nothingness may indeed dissolve away into nothingness (as folks like Bannon and ISIS may do in a more active way), but that is not the more natural and sane goal of "mindfulness" which the Dalai Lama talks about. Our progress and survival is very much a function of the invisible spiritual connections we grow to the rest of humanity and to our local (earth? solar system?) noosphere in general. And, OK, it's not JUST connectedness, it is also what we contribute to those connections, as the word "mindfulness" BEGINS to suggest. The analogy to the internet is somewhat useful, but of course it is a much richer network than all of that. 

Perhaps my new theory might be called the “Baby Noosphere Theory: From Gaia to Terry.”

So what are the practical implications of the new theory, relevant to practical issues in psi?

An initial discussion:

On Thu, Jan 18, 2018 at 11:12 AM, Vasavada, Kashyap V <vasavada@iupui.edu> wrote:
Dear Alex,
Have you seen the video posted by Kushal about third eye demonstration? I would like to know your opinion, since you are both a scientist and Vedanta scholar. I am circulating this among my scientist friends to see their opinion. I posted it on a physics blog. The two responses I got were saying that it must be a scam! It is a tough road ahead for scientists studying paranormal activity!
Best Regards.

Thank you, Alex and Kashyap!

I am sorry that those two people were so virulent in dismissing this. But there are many times when the two people who speak first on a list are not representative, but merely the most extreme and overconfident. 

I am also reminded again of what the followers of Levi-Strauss said: remember the witch doctors who unknowingly used penicillin. Even if you dismiss the theory, don't ignore the experience or data which can be found there. If I were not overbooked this week, I might look more deeply into the issue of how to extract what can be learned from this group, and how.

There is a very readable simple book by Paul Sanders, You are Psychic, probably inexpensive from Amazon, which INCLUDES related experience as one of the four types of psi he has tried to work with in a very practical way. In many ways, I prefer Sanders' treatment, because he is not pretentious, because he focuses very directly on what he has learned over the years paying real attention to hundreds of people, and because the "third eye" part is rightly seen as just one of several ways people can develop their psi capabilities. Sanders is highly empirical, not up to the usual standards of third person science, but neither was Carl Jung; even Freud did not quite make it, and it took many years before his most basic ideas were translated into workable mathematics which we now use to build intelligent machines. But the kind of start which Sanders (and earlier Freud) offer is an important part of the "food chain" of scientific understanding, and it should be valued. 

My explanation of this, and of "chakra" stuff in general, is NOT that any part of the brain functions as a third eye, or as a dedicated receiver/transmitter of the force fields which carry psi information. Instead, the active receiver/transmitter is located in our "souls", the nonmundane biological part of our being, which are also capable of learning over time. Some people LEARN to interface via the frontal part of the brain (as do the "third eye" people, as do the folks whom Sanders classifies as the "intuitive" types). Some people learn more to interface through visual cortex, or auditory cortex. Part of the learning is in brain, but more is in "soul" learning better how to express itself through brain, in a process somewhat related to poltergeist and PK. 

Actually, my wife and I and younger son had great fun playing with Sanders' book when we first saw it in my brother's house. (It now sits in the kindle reader on the Imac I am typing into right now.) I clearly fit into his "intuitive" category ( a third eye type), while my wife was roughly half that and half clairovoyant. (The system is oversimplified, but so much better than assuming just one type like third eye.) One can use exercises of various kinds to try to enhance or diversify -- and it really would be important to understand better exactly how to do that, on a more comprehensive basis. In minor efforts to improve clairovoyance, I have found it helpful to focus on the visual cortex area WHILE also providing the kind of training input related to that task, in real time (not once-per-minute cards and such). Correct, concrete theoretical understanding does help, even if it is far from the explicit mathematical level. Of course, many attempts at training exercises have been tried by many groups through the millennia, sometimes with success, sometimes not, certainly all needing improvement.


One of the Vedanta people argued that the leaders of major religions have been 100% helpful in raising consciousness and capabilities here... but I argued that it has been a kind of mixed picture, like Toynbee's picture of the up-and-down progress of civilization in general:

How much have factors like simple mundane adrenalin, testosterone and androgen converted human religions and ideologies into a mixed bag, some growth but some regression, even at the birth of great cultural movements? 

I referred to only TWO aspects of how I have at times analyzed the progressions in more detail:  the new Freudian concept of defense mechanisms (as people may learn more mature ego defense mechanisms, described by Valliant) and a more general Hegelian concept (resolving contradictions, as in thesis antithesis synthesis, perhaps familiar to Joe as the "law of the triangle" in Western mysticism). But I also felt bad later that I did not even mention Freud's initial core concept, of working out traumatic (or euphoric) memories which bias the mind; we now understand these in mathematical terms, and this mathematics is what I was REALLY thinking about when I referred to "hot buttons".

Those of you who have already attained godhood (unlike humanity as a whole or even the noosphere as a whole) need not learn more about the challenges of further spiritual progression, and may simply sign out of discussing details irrelevant to them. But I for one freely admit I am quite imperfect, and need to work on all these dimensions (and more) of my own personal consciousness, both mundane and spiritual, both of self and of Self. Even our authentic spiritual leaders have had imperfections and struggles; indeed, they would never have gotten as far as they did WITHOUT those struggles, struggles which like physical exercises in childhood are vital to development and growth. 

We started this thread discussing Islam, an aspect of our collective intelligence which we will never forget if our consciousness is at a high enough level. There are certainly some interesting stories out there of the struggles which Mohammed went through, as there are of Jesus in the desert and such. I especially remember the story of a general confronting Mohammed as to whether his feelings about a coming battle were part of his verified spiritual input (like the white horse place) or a more ordinary mixed kind of feeling. Mohammed struggled with that (as best I recall), and said that THIS case was more the second type. His struggle and his admission were crucial to the success in that battle. At that moment, he struggled with a common kind of delusion of grandeur, and won that struggle with himself, his itzjihad. But victory was not just done and over. ALL of us on a meaningful, authentic spiritual path must CONTINUE to constantly struggle both with delusions of grandeur and delusions of helplessness. None of us are infallible, not even the leaders of authentic spiritual movements, let alone political imitators of such. 

I also felt bad, thinking over my initial post, that someone might imagine a criticism of Pope Francis. (Since many people "hear" things different from what I wrote, I have been even more worried.) The doctrine of infallibility, like the doctrine that Mohammed is the last prophet, do both have a kind of basic status of anathema, but Francis in particular has done so much to bring back more authenticity and spirit to the Catholic Church that I would certainly not want to propose changes which elevate folks like Ted Cruz instead. Somehow that reminds me of Condoleeza Rice and the challenge of how to actually strengthen democracy and freedom in a meaningful way -- not a trivial challenge, and not unrelated to allowing authentic growth of the spirit. 

As for Yeshua himself -- certainly a valid theme for discussion, but this particular email is maybe too long already. I did mention him in my initial post -- a long post, but brief relative to the subject itself. 


During Vashshitha or Vishwamitra's period, neither there were temples nor Hindus. Their message was meant for all humans of that period as well as for future generation.

During Buddha's period, neither there were Buddhists nor any pagodas. The message of Buddha was equally applicable to all sections of humanity at that period and of future.

Perhaps I should at least have added Buddha to my brief list. Fair enough. I was just giving examples, but yes Buddha is important enough I should have added one word anyway. Sorry.

As for the Aryan initiators of core Vedas, I deliberately did NOT pick an example, because it is too complicated and too hard to access in an agreed fashion so many millennia later in time. I would sooner have picked Lao Tzu, who is said by some serious people to be more than one person. But certainly they were wrestling with very serious and cosmic issues, beyond even just this tiny planet, even as they also had struggles with lots of adrenalin, testosterone and androgen. (Indeed, how much did estrogen and progesterone get reflected directly in the Vedas too?  I leave that questoin for others to wrestle with.) If I felt called to write a longer summary of the spiritual history of humanity, I would certainly have mentioned "the people of the horse" (like the early Indo-Aryans and like Genhghiz Khan of "the great blue sky" and Tiananmen and my wife's people and Scythia), the "people of the boat", the shamans of hunter-gatherers, and the priest kings of settled agriculture from early Sumeria. Lessons from that entire history are pertinent to this list, but  again this email is a bit long already, especially when some folks may only read the first sentence or two. 

Then who did prompted the dogfights? some mistaken followers of these spiritual leaders, who forget and started misinterpreting the universal teachings of their own spiritual leaders. created an ironclad institutional set up around their teachings. The fact is that over the period universal teachings of the great spiritual leaders have become secondary while institutional setup, having a complex network of customs/rules/regulations. This is the irony of every religion on the globe.

Yes. Even science and ideology have the same kind of entropy at work. (PLEASE, no one, take this use of the word "entropy" in too much of a cosmic or absolute sense!) Many forms of growth are "punctuated," with periods of surge forward, and periods of reconsolidation. The "entropy" both in religion and in government world-wide seems so overwhelming that I would EXPECT this species to go extinct relatively soon, were it not for a serious hope of "divine intervention" -- an intervention which we as part of the noosphere can contribute to directly, if we care enough to struggle enough with ourselves. I do consider the initial elevation of Pope Francis to be an example of that.


OK: they asked more..

... wrote:

Regarding what Charles Whitehead wrote: """What impresses me is not that psi disobeys natural laws, it doesn't seem too obey any laws at all, natural or supernatural. To me, this suggests that psi comes from a more fundamental level of reality than the laws of physics. """ and your and others' replies...

Me: This quotation from Whitehead should be followed by a quotation from Arthur C. Clarke, easily found on a google search:
Clarke's Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Clarke's Fourth Law: For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert. Clarke's Law of Revolutionary Ideas: Every revolutionary idea — in science, politics, art, or whatever — seems to evoke three stages of reaction

I really enjoy being able to recall an old book, and instantly get a link to where you could buy it for $3 from Amazon if you are really interested in the topic. (Lately, I do a lot of"kindle one-click" to see something instantly.) Clarke's "Third Law" has rightly drawn a lot of attention:


The term "doesn't seem to obey any laws" certainly applied to things like weather and lightning for many centuries. What "seems" magical and inexplicable is relative to what one understands.

In the Western tradition, Rosicrucians have been especially emphatic that nothing they study is "supernatural"; it is all about trying to understand and apply the relevant natural laws. That approach certainly goes back to the ancient Greeks. I have wondered at times how much Yeshua himself might have owed to Empedocles... though ofcourse we now have more of the prerequisites to understand such things. (Actually, there is a part of the New Testament where someone asks Yeshua why he uses parables so much, instead of being explicit. As best I recall, Yeshua replied: "Sorry, you don't have the prerequisites yet to understand it all explicitly. But in the future, the Spirit of Truthwill appear upon the earth, and the prerequisites will be made available." I sure hope so, and I hope we survive this very difficult period we are entering. It is so much like teenage years in nature, where we may grow or we may die. 

On Sun, Jan 21, 2018 a..... wrote:
Regarding your, """If we were still awaiting the Spirit of Truth then I think I would agree with your [Paul's] somewhat despairing tone. 

Me: This is an interesting sentence for me to wake up to today. {SHUTDOWN DAY 2). There are days when we must wrestle with delusions of grandeur, and days when we must wrestle with delusions of helplessness. All of us must, forever, except on OTHER days, and except for those who are resigned to ... less connection. But today's despair feelings are  not at all related to what I said about spirit of truth. I understand Colin's reading of what I said, but when I posted that quote from Yeshua/Jesus I had a thoroughly positive view. The view is that a lot of the apparent insanity and fragmentation in our world is NOT really insanity, but is ACTUALLY just a natural, normal process of immaturity and growth. Like three year olds looking at a car, we don't know the algebra needed to really know how cars really work (like Carnot's Laws), but we WILL learn it in time, and it IS HERE to some extent now. 

What causes me to feel bad this morning are reminders, for example, that presence of the spirit of truth and the acceptance of that spirit are not the same thing. Access to an algebra class is not the same as learning algebra. Debates on the government shutdown now underway here
have involved issue not only of truthfulness, but of respect for honor, duty, and the basic simple floor provided by basic principles of the constitution (which does NOT speak on all issues, but speaks very clearly on some). I even did facebook and twitter posts yesterday: 
"How to create an instant swamp: wait until 100,000 people come to the national mall, and then lock up all the bathrooms." (The reality of this was brought home to me because my wife and I walked from one side of the mall to the other, and back, and took pictures of this.)

But there are other difficulties which I probably should not discuss here and now. 

It is wrong to elevate the words "calm, relax" (CR?) into a theory of the meaning of life (or lack of it), but there are times when that is what is called for as one part of the larger rhythm, as we sort things out. It is ironic that one of the topics of debate in Washington is whether certain people (like certain Zen style Buddhists, quite the opposite of Tibetan in some ways) have OVERUSED the CR, and avoided what must be faced up to.

Who knows?

Best of luck,


HIM: However,  as I suspect that the Spirit of Truth is what has got us to this point,  I think we have reason for hope (though I would agree that it looks like there are difficult times ahead). Of course,  we all must die. Science certainly gives us reason to doubt that any afterlife we have will be anything rich and meaningful if it is up to chance where we end up.  Consequently,  if there is any hope of beating chance through securing the assistance of an omnipotent consciousness, I would jump at that opportunity.""",  

ME: It doesn't have to be omnipotent or omniscient to offer more hope. Maybe when children are VERY small, their chances of survival are greater if they simple assume their parents are all-wise, so that they listen when given guidance that can save their lives. But at some point, we can realize BOTH that our parents are not abstract deities, AND that we should listen to them, and even try hard to learn to listen better.


HIM: My guess, regarding  the Spirit of Truth trying to communicate with humans through individual humans, is s/he/it would often likely have to settle for "Close enough..." where we move through a series of successive approximations, via shifting tectonic plates, more or less like we witness as having happened and doing. 

I apologize that I did not make this point myself clearly enough to begin with

No comments:

Post a Comment