In facts, not fiction, this book presents the case for the paranormal. Changing the way we look at the universe is not easy, and requires a true openness to exploration and experiment. Professor Ellison suggests that most of us are conditioned by our Western science-based education to think that the universe is much simpler and ‘material’ than it really is. He argues that we should recognize the limits of the current scientific worldview that fails to account for genuine paranormal experiences, including phenomena such as out-of-body experiences (OBE), reliably reported by thousands of people.
Science and the Paranormal is part of The Paranormal, a series that resurrects rare titles, classic publications, and out-of-print texts, as well as publishes new supernatural and otherworldly ebooks for the digital age. The series includes a range of paranormal subjects from angels, fairies, and UFOs to near-death experiences, vampires, ghosts, and witchcraft.
“A most valuable work and a lasting testimony to the author’s remarkable contribution to the field.” —Bernard Carr, Scientific and Medical Network Review
“Written for the lay person in down-to-earth language . . . this book is for those who want a broad-brush of matters like the evidence for telepathy, near death experiences, survival research etc. without having to plough through a century-high stack of scientific papers. A welcome introduction to human nature’s further reaches.” —Christian Parapsychologist
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Normal Western Science and Reality
In the following pages, we shall be considering a quite different and perhaps more fruitful way of looking at our normal daily consciousness. It is therefore clear that we should start by reviewing the way in which we have all been conditioned to 'normal reality' in our twentieth century Western culture. All cultures do not look at the world in the same way. We must consider also the almost unconscious psychological defences we have to any suggestions that our present view might not be the most helpful or the 'truest' way of considering our experiences of the physical world. And we must see how this can be made obvious. In other words, we must analyse exactly what we are doing when we examine the world around us and how we use normal science to 'describe reality.'
In doing this we shall find some disagreements with many 'normal scientists' — including those whose job is particularly to help the public understand science. I beg leave to suggest that they hardly know what they are themselves doing! But readers must make up their own minds whether they agree with me or not. All I can do is present the evidence for open-minded consideration.
Let us start then by considering our experiences when we first entered the physical world at birth. A baby is born and opens its eyes for the first time. What does it see? The answer is — it may be obvious to some readers — nothing. It has presumably experiences going on in its mind and it does not 'understand' any of these. One might say that it is not separate from the rest of the universe. We shall return to this concept when we consider — in Chapter 18 — mystical experience. The baby's parents then almost at once start to condition it by telling it the cause, in their Western culture's opinion, of those experiences going on in its mind. They point to objects and give them names. They indicate that that object waving about just there is part of itself — its toe — and they show it that other objects are separate from itself. Gradually it is conditioned to the idea that it is surrounded by objects separate from itself. It is itself an electrochemical machine having a little computer at the top and five 'sensory channels' providing inputs to that computer. It learns of that separate physical world through those five sensory channels, which provide the only ways of doing so. And any other experiences going on in its mind are either useless fantasies or elaborations of the facts gleaned from out there. One vitally important fact is always missed — and by many of the philosophers too: that the physical body itself is one of those 'objects out there.' This renders completely fallacious any reasoning based on the idea that the physical body is the human being and is separate from the other objects around and receives information from them.
Many children have experiences of things which the adults around them do not. They are considered by the already normally conditioned adults to have over-active imaginations and those adults 'know' that the things they experience are not 'true.' Some children have imaginary playmates; others have out-of-body experiences and describe floating around the house at night. Sometimes their parents become angry and scold the children, who then stop talking of the experiences they have. Such adults have a heavy responsibility for destroying the possible flowering of what might be looked upon as an extra window on the universe they do not themselves have. We shall discuss this sort of experience later, with the evidence.
So all of us tend to grow up in our culture with the idea that we are an electrochemical machine surrounded by objects we perceive via the five senses. This is our metaparadigm, our big model or paradigm on which our understanding of all our experience is based. The very language with which we discuss these matters is based on that paradigm. It is founded on dualism: that we (the subject) are here, the objects are there, and there is a relationship between them. A philosopher would call this a philosophy of classical realism and for most of us in our Western science-based culture it is, we would say, obviously true.
What, then, is science? This is an enormously important topic to understand clearly as we shall be using the scientific method throughout this book and because our educational system is supposedly based on it. It is considered of great value by most people in our culture and indeed often as the only possible and reasonable way to understand the universe after thousands of years of superstition.
Modern western science started some three or four hundred years ago with Galileo, Newton, and others. Up until that time, if one wanted to know something about the physical world and the things in it one often looked up the writings of Aristotle. The scientific method involved referring to the physical world for facts about it. For example — perhaps oversimplifying a little — if you wanted to know the number of teeth in a horse's mouth you would, many centuries ago, have referred to Aristotle; the modern scientist would find a horse and look in its mouth.
The scientific method involves first observation, and then the devising of theories. These might truly be described as mental models, in terms of which the perceived world and the objects in it can be understood, explained. Those theories are then, if possible, tested to destruction. If they cannot be falsified then they are used for predicting future relevant occurrences. It is important to understand that the scientific method is not a way of proving anything. The theories devised are used until they prove unable to make appropriate predictions. When this occurs for a theory, then further facts of experience are, as a result, available, with which to devise a new theory. This also is used until it breaks down.
Much of scientific knowledge deals with matters of which no one has any direct experience. No one has ever directly seen an electron, for example, but according to the theory it is a stream of electrons which causes chemicals on the back of the screen of a cathode ray tube to fluoresce, and so paint the television or computer picture. The theory is very useful. The theory of matter in the form of different particles — electrons, protons and neutrons — enables all sorts of useful things to be done. Experiments in large machines, smashing streams of particles together, have shown that they can be considered as made up of smaller components, and much of modern physics is devoted to the study of these particles.
We are all aware of the story of Newton and the falling apple. The genius of Newton devised from this simple fact, which everyone had often observed, the theory of gravitation, hypothesising that it did not apply only to objects falling to earth: all objects attracted all other objects. The force between any two varied directly, he suggested, as the product of the masses and inversely as the distance between them. At the present time this might be considered almost common sense. This idea of a force through empty space was considered by Newton's great German contemporary Leibniz as a ridiculous metaphysical idea; but it worked. With that theory we can understand and model the workings of the solar system, and indeed of the whole universe. It is today used to predict and control the movements of space shots.
Later work showed that when objects were moving at speeds approaching that of light then Newton's gravitational law broke down. Another great genius, Einstein, devised another theory, even more outlandish, which suggested that the presence of objects distorted the space around them (more accurately, the space-time). Einstein's theory suggested, then, that objects distorted the space around them and other objects just travelled freely through this warped space. There is no idea of an attraction between them. Einstein's theory reduces to Newton's theory at velocities much below that of light but at speeds approaching that of light it is essential to use Einstein's for accurate results. The important point I am making here is that the theories of science give us ways of predicting what we shall observe to occur under certain circumstances. And I shall often be emphasising that, despite the apparently normal descriptions I shall necessarily use, and have just been using, all these observations occur in the mind.
Let us first examine what most scientists, indeed, most non-scientists, consider science to be. Most people think science's business is to describe in ever greater detail the world in which we find ourselves. In this understanding, we shall in time have a complete and accurate description of everything, and science will come to an end. It is often said that scientists have 'discovered' something or other, i.e. it was 'out there' all the time and now we know about it. Very often newspapers speak of science itself discovering something instead of an individual scientist or group of them.
All this is what was termed 'normal science' by the American philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn, in his book, The Nature of Scientific Revolutions. The reader will remember that it is based on this paradigm we have just considered, called realism. Kuhn defines the work of 'normal scientists' as 'puzzle solving within an unquestioned paradigm.' All the problems which are said to be paranormal, to which I have referred, are the results of that paradigm (realism) being inadequate to the job of accounting for many of our most important human experiences — and many other experiences too. Scientific theories are paradigms (models) within that metaparadigm and take it for granted.
I suggest that science actually is: a process of building mental representational models patterning and ordering our mental experiences. As we have seen, we have nothing for certain other than mental experiences. It was Descartes who started from the only position he felt was certain — that he was thinking and therefore he existed. Cogito ergo sum: I think therefore I am: we have nothing for certain but our thoughts. We considered this earlier and it will be appreciated that our normal scientific model of perception ends with electrochemical pulses arriving at the cortices of the little computer in our head. We pointed out at that time how our parents and others conditioned us to 'understand' all this in terms of a 'world out there,' taken as the source of that information. It was never considered, at school or university or elsewhere, and this was pointed out earlier, what a circular argument this is, our own body being one of those objects 'out there.' Nor was it ever suggested to us that there are other perfectly respectable ways of modelling our experiences. We shall consider this later. For most of the matters of ordinary daily life it is of little or no importance; a somewhat naïve realism is perfectly adequate. The reason we have to consider it here is because we shall later be trying to understand, that is to model, those unusual experiences called paranormal.
One very important result of having an 'unquestioned mental model' which represents all our experiences, as the 'normal scientists' have realism, is that it decides for us to a considerable degree what we are likely to accept as 'possible' and what is 'impossible.' The spoon-bending phenomena associated with Uri Geller provide a good example. If a spoon is a normal metal object out there in physical space and independent of ourselves and governed in its behaviour by the laws of metallurgy, crystallography and strength of materials, then it is 'obviously' ridiculous to consider that it can be bent by gentle stroking. Such phenomena must be the result of conjuring. I shall be giving later evidence that metal bending in this paranormal way is most certainly not always the result of conjuring and should not so readily be dismissed. It has enormously important implications for science.
Any human experience which can be neither explained nor described within the terms of the current scientific paradigm of realism (and there are many such) is therefore called paranormal. These experiences — and many will be considered later — show clearly to any scientist with an open mind that realism is inadequate as a complete way of modelling all our human experiences. There is another and possibly better way of modelling them, as we shall see. To dismiss quite common paranormal experiences as trivial or unimportant because they do not fit realism is surely the height of bigotry and unworthy of the name of science. Yet it is done often and by otherwise quite distinguished scientists.
You will remember Dr Johnson's stone-kicking by which he attempted refutation of idealism (that it is all in the mind). An equally vacuous suggestion is sometimes made that if you think that everything is in the mind just go and jump in front of the next big red bus to come along. If one did that, of course, and did not act as though the world we are in was real, one would immediately have one's consciousness changed to a different level, which will be also in the mind — but that will come later.
The likelihood is that our language also — based on realism/dualism — is very likely to mislead us. It is important to keep this in mind. We may — in fact I think we shall — find later that a different philosophical basis has a wider and more encompassing scope. We shall consider the claims of monistic idealism ('it's all in the mind' — but nonetheless 'real') when we have looked at the scientific evidence that appears to require it.
It is important also for the reader to realize that when I am suggesting that all we can be certain of, when we say that our experiences of the world, considered to be real and 'out there,' are actually in the mind, I am not embracing the philosophy of solipsism. This is the theory that the self is the only thing that can be known to exist and that the world we appear to be perceiving exists only for us. Of course the experiences of other people are much the same as ours. The relatively slight differences are well accounted for in the philosophy of realism by variations in the working of the senses, or by optical illusions and the like.
Scientific views of quantum physicists
We shall also consider the views of those scientists who are, most people would agree, at the forefront of science. I refer to the quantum physicists. As we shall see, those who agree with the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics enunciated by Niels Bohr and his colleagues at Copenhagen (probably a majority of the leading quantum physicists), would say that the universe depends on us, its 'observers,' for its meaning and reality. To use an expression of John Wheeler, we are in a 'participative' universe. Objects — and usually they consider small particles of which every larger object is considered to be composed — objects do not exist until they are 'observed,' i.e. measured. The 'observation' is said to 'collapse the wave function,' which is, in effect, a set of probabilities or potentialities. This is mentioned briefly now, in this introductory chapter, because it indicates that even some 'normal scientists' appear to be compelled, by open-minded reason and logic and the results of ingenious experiments which we shall be considering, to move towards what appears to me to be a position of idealism (although many do not go all the way). It seems most encouraging to observe that the prosecution of the normal scientific method, if done with open-mindedness and clear thinking, shows the major difficulty at the heart of realism.
Are we all in a 'trance'?
Hindu philosophers believe that our observations through our awareness of the physical world lead to a maya or illusion and not to reality — that things are not at all as they seem. The American psychologist and parapsychologist Charles Tart calls this the 'consensus trance' which we nearly all share almost all the time. Many of the practices of raja yoga, meditation, are designed to awaken us to reality. We shall refer to this again when we have examined the multifarious evidence that it must be true. It will arise when we consider lucid dreaming in Chapter 4. We shall also have a few suggestions to make as to the possible purpose of our illusory state. Many of the paranormal experiences being reported by ordinary people appear strongly to indicate that the universe is by no means a fortuitous concourse of atoms hurrying aimlessly to a pointless end. We shall mention later some of the various statistical surveys which show this. All the great religions of the world are undoubtedly the results of the founders having such paranormal experiences — and interpreting them in various ways, i.e. modelling and categorizing them, usually later much elaborated and not always to the advantage of Truth, over the centuries.(Continues…)
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Table of Contents
Foreword David Fontana,
Preface and Acknowledgments,
1. Normal Western Science and Reality,
2. The Near Death Experience (NDE),
3. The Out-of-Body Experience (OBE),
4. The Lucid Dreaming Experience (LDE),
5. Daylight or Near-Sleep Imagery,
6. The Hypnotic Trance State and the Role of Belief,
7. The Likelihood of Life after Death,
8. The Seance,
9. The Psychic's Experience,
10. The Mediumship of Mrs Eileen Garrett,
11. Difficulties in Paranormal Communication,
12. Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) and the Paranormal,
13. Paranormal Healing,
14. Reincarnation and Karma,
15. Parapsychology: the Controlled Laboratory Work,
16. Limited (Normal) Science and Pseudo-Science,
17. The Case for Idealism,
18. A Different Model,