Thursday, August 26, 2010

SP5 – Eric responding to Bruce and Rick’s comments

Thank you for your respective comments. Research in parapsychology opens many philosophical doors, and it would take quite a while to do a complete tour of them, as C.D. Broad noted many years ago. Bruce and Rick have pointed to some of the important ones. Bruce touched on the question of eternity, a concept that we can described but that we cannot fully comprehend. The potential cyclical, or self-referential, nature of reality is a way for us to make this more comprehensible by removing the linearity of time. Although this is something foreign to our mundane experience, a phenomenon like pre-cognition is also as old as shamanism, the first mystical system on Earth. Mystical experience was and is also part of mundane experience, except for us, children of the Enlightenment.

This leads me to think about mythology, another point touched by Bruce, not so much about the validity of the actual content of those stories, but rather at common structure of thought they carry. The paranormal and psi effects have been associated by some (and especially Carl Jung, and more recently George Hansen) to the archetype of the Trickster. In Jungian psychology, archetypes are thought patterns we all share, and the Trickster is about the ones related to misbehaviour when we BS ourselves, coming in the form of slip of tongue for instance. Although the Enlightenment brought many good and useful things, it also pushed away the mystical component of the human experience, and it is in this context that the paranormal plays the role of the Trickster, at the social level. In spite of our best efforts to create a rational world, “annoying” and “surprising” events like pre-cognition keep tricking us and reminding us of the mystical realm that we collectively, but unconsciously, know to be central to the human experience. Myths, like dreams, carry important messages, but they are requiring a serious dose of interpretation.

Rick, for his part, opened a number of philosophical doors, from Kant to Husserl to Sartre. They share this notion that reality is what we are making of it, with the means available to us (once again, none of them ever implied that reality is totally plastic, far from it). The strength of phenomenology, in my opinion, is that it is capable to listen to the Trickster because it accepts that the symbolic meanings we attribute to reality have “a life of their own,” i.e. meanings evolve over time and so our understanding of reality. The Trickster makes cracks in the routine of meanings and forces us to adapt, if we listen. This is a key issue for parapsychology. How we define psi, the central concept of the discipline, will have a direct impact on what we see as psi effects. The case of the parapsychological neglect of UFOs is one of the most ostentatious illustrations. (I would go as far as saying that the limited progress in 60-plus years of ufology is in great part due to this unwillingness to consider UFOs as psi effects, in spite of the Trickster archetype being identified, indirectly, in the writings of people like Vallée and Keel).

There was also a question about the Philip Experiment. It was a series of small group PK experiment conducted a few amateur parapsychologists in Toronto, Canada, in the early 1970s. Iris Owen and Margaret Sparrow published a book in 1976 entitled “Conjuring Up Philip: An adventure in psychokinesis”, which relates their story of creating a ghost called Philip that would make noise and eventually moving a table in ways similar to the 19th century spiritist séance did. The main difference was that the participants were fully aware that they were the ones producing the effect, not any non-human entity. Their feat was even showed on television and filmed as part of a third party documentary. Owen and Sparrow duplicated in a more ostentatious way similar experiences conducted by Kenneth Batcheldor in the 1950s and 1960s in the UK. What they showed is that collective psi is real and empirically demonstrable, and they also showed own a collective unconscious can be created, a necessary component for such psi effects to occur. Owen and Sparrow’s book is now hard to find, but there are a few available in used bookstores. It is becoming a collector’s item.

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