The Conscious Universe, part Ia -
By Dean Radin
reality of psychic phenomena is now no longer based
solely upon faith, or wishful thinking, or absorbing
anecdotes. It is not even based upon the results of a
few scientific experiments. Instead, we know that these
phenomena exist because of new ways of evaluating
massive amounts of scientific evidence collected over a
century by scores of researchers.”
This is part 1 of the first chapter from Dean Radins
The Conscious Universe
makes the most powerful case for the reality of
parapsychological phenomena that I have yet
encountered. He shows how recent research gives
overwhelming evidence for the existence of forms of
influence and communication at present unexplained.
He writes clearly, powerfully and persuasively, and
this book shows that we are at a turning point in
our scientific understanding of our minds and of
Ph.D., biologist, author of A New Science of Life
and Seven Experiments That Could Change the World.
“The psyche’s attachment to the
brain, i.e., its space-time limitation, is no longer as
self-evident and incontrovertible as we have hitherto been led
to believe.… It is not only permissible to doubt the absolute
validity of space-time perception; it is, in view of the
available facts, even imperative to do so.”
– Carl Jung, Psychology and the Occult
In science, the acceptance of new ideas
follows a predictable, four-stage sequence.
In Stage 1, skeptics
confidently proclaim that the idea is impossible because it violates
the Laws of Science. This stage can last from years to centuries,
depending on how much the idea challenges conventional wisdom.
In Stage 2, skeptics reluctantly concede that the idea is possible, but
it is not very interesting and the claimed effects are extremely
Stage 3 begins when the mainstream realizes that the idea is
not only important, but its effects are much stronger and more
pervasive than previously imagined.
Stage 4 is achieved when the
same critics who used to disavow any interest in the idea begin to
proclaim that they thought of it first.
Eventually, no one remembers
that the idea was once considered a dangerous heresy.
The idea discussed in this book is in the midst of the most
important and the most difficult of the four transitions – from
Stage 1 into Stage 2. While the idea itself is ancient, it has taken
more than a century to conclusively demonstrate it in accordance
with rigorous, scientific standards. This demonstration has
accelerated Stage 2 acceptance, and Stage 3 can already be glimpsed
on the horizon.
The idea is that those compelling, perplexing and sometimes profound
human experiences known as "psychic phenomena" are real. This will
come as no surprise to most of the world’s population, because the
majority already believes in psychic phenomena. But over the past
few years, something new has propelled us beyond old debates over
personal beliefs. The reality of psychic phenomena is now no longer
based solely upon faith, or wishful thinking, or absorbing
anecdotes. It is not even based upon the results of a few scientific
experiments. Instead, we know that these phenomena exist because of
new ways of evaluating massive amounts of scientific evidence
collected over a century by scores of researchers.
Psychic, or "psi" phenomena fall into two general categories.
In both categories, it seems that intention, the mind’s
will, can do things that – according to prevailing scientific
theories – it isn’t supposed to be able to do. We wish to know what
is happening to loved ones, and somehow, sometimes, that information
is available even over large distances. We wish to speed the
recovery of a loved one’s illness, and somehow they get better
quicker, even at a distance. Mind willing, many interesting things
appear to be possible.
Understanding such experiences requires an expanded view of human
consciousness. Is the mind merely a mechanistic,
information-processing bundle of neurons? Is it a "computer made of
meat" as some cognitive scientists and neuroscientists believe? Or
is it something more? The evidence suggests that while many aspects
of mental functioning are undoubtedly related to brain structure and
electrochemical activity, there is also something else happening,
something very interesting.
When discussing the reality of psi phenomena, especially from the
scientific perspective, one question always hovers in the
background: You mean this is for real? In the midst of all the
nonsense and excessive silliness proclaimed in the name of psychic
phenomena, the misinformed use of the term parapsychology by
self-proclaimed "paranormal investigators," the perennial laughing
stock of magicians and conjurers … this is for real?
The short answer is, Yes.
A more elaborate answer is, psi has been shown to exist in thousands
of experiments. There are disagreements over to how to interpret the
evidence, but the fact is that virtually all scientists who have
studied the evidence, including the hard-nosed skeptics, now agree
that there is something interesting going on that merits serious
scientific attention. Later we’ll discuss the reasons why very few
scientists and science journalists are aware of this dramatic shift
in informed opinion.
Back to Top
The Universe, Part Ib – The Universe
As a Teaching
by Jacob Needleman
science has operated for centuries on the assumption
that we can understand the universe without
understanding ourselves. Jacob Needleman observes
it as a philosopher and metaphysician, from within. In
this first chapter from his book, “A Sense of the
Cosmos; The Encounter of Modern Science and Ancient
Truth” he presents us with the possibility that the
Universe is a living teaching. It is not another "New
Age" criticism of science.
Needleman has the greatest respect for science and
for the search for truth that is the heart and soul of
science. In part IV, What Is Consciousness? Needleman's
challenging reflections imply that there are states,
levels or qualities of consciousness that can be
developed within us. What is more, the implication is
that this development is the purpose of both the Cosmos
and Great Teachings.
This is part I from the first chapter of Jacob
A Sense of The Cosmos
Several years ago when I first started to write about the Eastern
religions, which are now taking root in America, I could not
understand why it was that every word I put down on paper seemed
false, why every beginning ended in a lie. To write about our young
people and their search, their experiences and struggles, that was
more or less within my grasp. But when I turned to the towering
spiritual systems of the Sufis or the Tibetans, for example, I very
easily lost my way. Standing before these ancient teachings, which
far surpass my understanding, I would often fall back on praising or
Gradually, I began to see that great teachings enter the world
according to an order and sequence that we are bound to find
incomprehensible. But men are impatient to have a handle of what
they do not understand. And so we fasten on one or another aspect of
a system --an idea here, a method there-- which satisfies our
impatience. The result is that all we have before us is, so to say,
a "cross-section" of the entire system. But obviously no number of
static cross-sections can add up to the flowing structure of a
Now I wish to write about the universe; and I wonder if the
difficulties will be greater or less. Is the order of the universe
any less organic than the order in the teaching of the Buddha or
It may sound strange to compare the universe to a teaching, but we
should realize that this is an absolutely fundamental question for
us if we are to move toward a deeper understanding of our place in
the cosmic order. It is not merely one authors personal brand of
metaphor; quite the contrary. The order by which a teaching is
introduced to mankind may be the most essential thing about it, more
so even than the conceptual content of the teaching itself. For the
apparent content varies, depending on interpretations, circumstances
and on individuals; but the sequence of experiences which a great
teaching brings to humanity at large is fixed and invariable. A
teaching is true to the extent that this sequence is a particular
incarnation of fundamental cosmic laws.
Let us, therefore, entertain the possibility that we understand very
little about what a teaching or a universe really is.
Every great spiritual teaching speaks of itself in its own way as a
mirror of cosmic reality. In the traditions of China the Tao is both
the way to truth and the way things are. In Christianity the
both the teaching of Jesus Christ and the fundamental manifestation
of God. In the Hindu tradition (including Buddhism) Dharma means
both duty and the sustaining order of the universe. And in the
Hebrew tradition Torah includes not only law in the sense of the
teaching, but also law in the sense of the foundations of God's
creation. A well-known passage in the book of Proverbs expresses
this idea without ambiguity. Wisdom is speaking:
The Lord possessed me in the
beginning of his way, before his works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the
When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were
no fountains abounding with water...
When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass
upon the face of the depth... when he gave the sea his decree,
that the waters should not pass his commandment; when he
appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by him...
Now therefore harken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are
they that keep my ways.
Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not.
Wisdom thus speaks not only as the
teaching (the instruction) but as the divine pattern of the cosmos.
How to think about this equation of the universe and a great
teaching? It is tempting, for example, to see a teacher such as
Mohammed or Bodhidharma, who brought Buddhism to China in the sixth
century A. D., as the bearer of an extraordinary energy which is
distributed to the world in the form of ideas, actions, events,
schools, factions and the organized efforts of the community of
followers. To compare this sort of pattern to a universe would
require that we think of reality not in terms of things but as a
ladder of processes, a great movement and exchange of energies. A
teaching would then be a copy of this cosmic process on the scale of
human time on earth. To receive such a teaching in ourselves, one's
own life would have to become yet another copy of this process.
Thus, taking Christianity for a model, one must ask: What was the
teaching of Jesus? Was it only what he said? Or does it not also
include what he did and suffered? But does the teaching stop even
there? A critic may claim that Jesus failed because Christian life
has become what it has become. But is not the distortion, the
crucifixion of the teaching, also, in a larger sense, part of the
teaching itself? And if a man is to become a Christian, perhaps it
is absolutely necessary that he witness the same process of
distortion within himself. How else will he understand that it is in
one's own thought and emotion that the "crucifixion," the
of the truth, really takes place?
Yet another line of speculation--again purely by way of opening this
issue: Spiritual teaching is often spoken of as indirect. What is
meant by this, I think, is that such a teaching does not act by
persuasion, which is a form of compulsion and seduction, but rather
by providing certain kinds of experiences. For a man who is
searching for truth, these experiences are such that they cannot be
assimilated only by a part of himself, the isolated intellect, for
example. They require that a person receive them with the whole of
Writing in the nineteenth century in a massive onslaught against the
theologians and philosophers who wanted to make the Christian
teachings accessible solely to the intellect, Sören Kierkegaard put
the point as follows:
The communication of results is an unnatural form of intercourse
between man and man, in so far as every man is a spiritual being,
for whom the truth consists in nothing else than the self-activity
of personal appropriation, which the communication of a result tends
And then, comparing God to a teacher, he writes:
For no anonymous author can more
cunningly conceal himself, no practitioner of the maieutic art
[the art of the midwife] can more carefully withdraw himself
from direct relationship than God. He is in the creation,
and present everywhere in it, but directly He is not there; and
only when the individual turns to his inner self, and hence only
in the inwardness of self activity, does he have his attention
aroused, and is enabled to see God.
The prophets and spiritual innovators
who have written of the universe as bearing the "signature of God"
must surely have included something like the above in their
thinking. Certainly, reality is as "silent" as any Zen master. And
perhaps the only way for us to understand reality is through a more
complete assimilation of the experiences which it presents us, both
joyful and painful. Yet the universe is so vast, our planet so small
and our lives on it so inconsequential that a teaching is necessary
in order for men to be exposed to the full range of events which
take place in a cosmos.
Back to Top
The Conscious Universe, part II - Shifting
by Dean Radin
In 1985, a
report prepared for the Army Research Institute
bottom line is that the data reviewed in this report
constitute genuine scientific anomalies for which no
one has an adequate explanation or set of
explanations.... If they are what they appear to be,
their theoretical (and, eventually, their practical)
implications are enormous."
part 2 of the first chapter from Dean Radins book
The Conscious Universe
The most important indication of a shift from Stage 1 to Stage 2 can
be seen in the gradually changing attitudes of prominent skeptics.
In a 1995 book saturated with piercing skepticism, the late Carl Sagan of Cornell University maintained his life-long mission of
educating the public about science, in this case by debunking
popular hysteria over alien abductions, channelers, faith-healers,
the "face" on Mars, and practically everything else found in the
Age section of most bookstores. Then, in one paragraph amongst 450
pages, we find an astonishing admission:
At the time of writing there are three claims in the
which, in my opinion, deserve serious study:
(1) that by thought
alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in
(2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can
receive thoughts or images "projected" at them
(3) that young
children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon
checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known
about in any other way than reincarnation
Other signs of shifting opinions are cropping up with increasing
frequency in the scientific literature. Starting in the 1980s,
well-known scientific journals like Foundations of Physics,
Psychologist, and Statistical Science published articles favorably
reviewing the scientific evidence for psychic phenomena. The
Proceedings of the IEEE, the flagship journal of the Institute for
Electronic and Electrical Engineers, has published major debates on
psi research. Invited articles have appeared in the prestigious
journal, Brain and Behavioral Sciences. A favorable article on
telepathy research appeared in 1994 in Psychological Bulletin, one
of the top-ranked journals in academic psychology. And an article
presenting a theoretical model for precognition appeared in 1994 in
Physical Review, a prominent physics journal.
In the 1990s alone, seminars on psi research were part of the
regular programs at the annual conferences of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science, the American
Psychological Association, and the American Statistical Association.
Invited lectures on the status of psi research were presented for
diplomats at the United Nations, for academics at Harvard
University, and for scientists at Bell Laboratories.
NEW (not in the book):
The first US patent for a psi effect
was granted to Princeton University researchers on November 3,
Patent "US 5830064" is entitled: Apparatus and method for
distinguishing events which collectively exceed chance
expectations and thereby controlling an output. This patent
specifically covers distant mental control of electronic random
number generator outputs. (click below
The Pentagon has not overlooked these
From 1981 to 1995, five different US government-sponsored scientific
review committees were given the task of reviewing the evidence for
psi effects. The reviews were prompted by concerns that if psi was
genuine, it might be important for national security reasons. We
would have to assume that foreign governments would exploit psi if
Reports were prepared by the Congressional Research Service, the
Army Research Institute, the National Research Council, the
of Technology Assessment, and the American Institutes for Research
(the latter commissioned by the Central Intelligence Agency - CIA). While
disagreeing over fine points of interpretation, all five of the
reviews concluded that the experimental evidence for certain forms
of psychic phenomena merited serious scientific study.
For example, in 1981, the Congressional Research Service concluded
"Recent experiments in
remote viewing and other studies in
parapsychology suggest that there exists an "interconnectiveness" of
the human mind with other minds and with matter. This
interconnectiveness would appear to be functional in nature and
amplified by intent and emotion."
The report concluded with
suggestions of possible applications for health care, investigative
"the ability of the human mind to
obtain information as an important factor in successful decision
making by executives."
In 1985, a report prepared for the Army
Research Institute concluded that,
"The bottom line is that the data
reviewed in [this] report constitute genuine scientific
anomalies for which no one has an adequate explanation or set of
explanations.... If they are what they appear to be, their
theoretical (and, eventually, their practical) implications are
In 1987, the National Research Council
reviewed parapsychology (the scientific discipline that studies of
psi) at the request of the US Army. The committee recommended that
the Army monitor parapsychological research being conducted in the
former Soviet Union and in the United States, they recommended that
the Army consider funding specific experiments, and most
significantly, they admitted that they could not propose plausible
alternatives to the "psi hypothesis" for some classes of psi
Dr. Ray Hyman, a psychology professor at
the University of Oregon and long-term skeptic of psi phenomena, was
chairman of the National Research Council’s review committee on
parapsychology. He stated in a 1988 interview with the Chronicle of
Higher Education, that
"Parapsychologists should be
rejoicing. This was the first government committee that said
their work should be taken seriously."
In early 1989, the Office of Technology
Assessment issued a report of a workshop on the status of
parapsychology. The end of the report stated that,
"It is clear that parapsychology
continues to face strong resistance from the scientific
establishment. The question is – how can the field improve its
chances of obtaining a fair hearing across a broader spectrum of
the scientific community, so that emotionality does not impede
objective assessment of the experimental results? Whether the
final result of such an assessment is positive, negative, or
something in between, the field appears to merit such
In 1995, the American Institutes for
Research reviewed formerly classified government-sponsored psi
research for the CIA at the request of the U. S. Congress.
Statistician Jessica Utts of the University of California, Davis,
one of the two principal reviewers, concluded that,
"The statistical results of the
studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance.
Arguments that these results could be due to methodological
flaws in the experiments are soundly refuted. Effects of similar
magnitude to those found in government-sponsored research … have
been replicated at a number of laboratories across the world.
Such consistency cannot be readily explained by claims of flaws
or fraud…. It is recommended that future experiments focus on
understanding how this phenomenon works, and on how to make it
as useful as possible. There is little benefit to continuing
experiments designed to offer proof….."
Surprisingly, the other principal
reviewer, skeptic Ray Hyman, agreed:
"The statistical departures from
chance appear to be too large and consistent to attribute to
statistical flukes of any sort…. I tend to agree with Professor
Utts that real effects are occurring in these experiments.
Something other than chance departures from the null hypothesis
has occurred in these experiments."
These opinions are even being reflected
in the staid realm of college textbooks. One of the most popular
books in the history of college publishing is Introduction to
Psychology by Richard L. Atkinson and three co-authors. A portion of
the preface in the 1990 edition of this textbook reads:
"Readers should take note of a new
section in Chapter 6 entitled ‘Psi Phenomena.’ We have discussed
parapsychology in previous editions but have been very critical
of the research and skeptical of the claims made in the field.
And although we still have strong reservations about most of the
research in parapsychology, we find the recent work on telepathy
worthy of careful consideration."
The popular "serious" media haven’t
overlooked this opinion shift. The May, 1993, issue of New
Scientist, a popular British science magazine, carried a five-page
cover story on telepathy research. It opened with the line,
research has long been written off as the stuff of cranks and
frauds. But there’s now one telepathy experiment that leaves even
the skeptics scratching their heads."
And in the last few years,
Newsweek, the New York Times Magazine, Psychology Today,
Nightline, national news programs, and television and print media
around the world have begun to moderate previously held Stage 1
opinions. They’re now beginning to publish and broadcast Stage
2-type stories taking scientific psi research seriously.
If all this is true, then a thousand other questions immediately
bubble up. Why hasn’t everyone heard about this on the nightly news?
Why is this topic so controversial? Who has psi? How does it work?
What are its implications and applications? These are all good
questions, and this book will attempt to answer them through four
general themes: Motivation, Evidence, Understanding and
Back to Top
The Conscious Universe, part III - Four
this is true, then a thousand other questions
immediately bubble up. Why hasn’t everyone heard about
this on the nightly news? Why is this topic so
controversial? Who has psi? How does it work? What are
its implications and applications? These are all good
questions, and this book will attempt to answer them
through four general themes: Motivation, Evidence,
Understanding and Implications.”
This is part 3 of the first chapter from Dean Radins
The Conscious Universe”
Why should anyone take psychic phenomena
seriously? The answer rests on the strength of the scientific
evidence, which stands on its own merits. But to fully appreciate
why the scientific case is so persuasive, and why has there been any
scientific controversy at all, we have to take a bit of a circuitous
That route will first consider the language used to discuss psi to
show how many confusions over this topic are due to misunderstood
and misapplied words (Chapter 2). This is followed by examples of
common human experiences that provide hints about the existence and
nature of psi phenomena (Chapter 3). We will then consider the topic
of replication, where we will learn what counts as valid scientific
evidence (Chapter 4). And we’ll end with meta-analysis, where we
will see how replication is measured and why it is so important
In sum, the motivations underlying this scientific exploration can
be found in mythology, folk tales, religious doctrines, and
innumerable personal anecdotes. While sufficient to catch everyone’s
attention, stories and personal experiences do not provide the hard,
trustworthy evidence that causes scientists to confidently accept
that a claimed effect is what it appears to be. Stories, after all,
invariably reflect subjective beliefs and faith, which may or may
not be true.
Beginning in the 1880s and accumulating ever since, a new form of
scientifically valid evidence appeared – empirical data produced in
controlled, experimental studies. While not as exciting as folklore
and anecdotes, from the scientific perspective these data were more
meaningful because they were produced according to well-accepted
scientific procedures. Scores of scientists from around the world
had quietly contributed these studies.
Today, with more than a hundred years of research on this topic, an
immense amount of scientific evidence has been accumulated. Contrary
to the assertions of some skeptics, the question is not whether
there is any scientific evidence, but
"What does a proper evaluation of
the evidence reveal," and "Has positive evidence been
As we’ll see, the question of
replicability – can independent, competent investigators obtain
approximately the same results in repeated experiments – is
fundamental to making the scientific case for psi.
Theme 2 discusses the main categories of psi experiments and the
evidence that the effects seen in these experiments are genuinely
replicable. The evidence is based on analysis of over a thousand
experiments investigating various forms of,
The evidence for these basic phenomena is so
well-established that most psi researchers today no longer conduct
"proof-oriented" experiments. Instead, they focus largely on
"process-oriented" questions like, What influences psi performance,
and How does it work?
Also presented are experiments exploring how psi interacts with more
mundane aspects of human experience like unusual physical effects
associated with the "mass mind" of groups of people (Chapter 11), psi effects in casino gambling and lottery games (Chapter 12), and
applications of psi (Chapter 13).
The wealth of scientific evidence discussed in Theme 2 will show
that some psi phenomena exist, and that they are probably expressed
in more ways than anyone had previously thought. The vast majority
of the information used to make this case has been publicly
available for years. One might expect then that the growing
scientific evidence for genuine psi would have raised great
curiosity. Funding would flow, and researchers around the world
would be attempting to replicate these effects. After all, the
implications of genuine psi are profoundly important for both
theoretical and practical reasons. But this has not yet been the
case. Few scientists are aware that any scientifically valid case
can be made for psi, and fewer still realize that the cumulative
evidence is highly persuasive.
In Theme 3 we consider why this is so. One reason is that the
information discussed here has been suppressed and ridiculed by a
relatively small group of highly skeptical philosophers and
scientists (Chapter 14). Are the skeptics right, and all of the
scientists reporting successful psi experiments over the past
century simply delusional or incompetent? Or there is another
explanation for the skepticism?
We will see that because scientists are also human, the process of
evaluating scientific claims is not as pristinely rational or
logical as the general public believes (Chapter 15). The tendency to
adopt a fixed set of beliefs and defend them to the death is
incompatible with science, which is essentially a loose
confederation of evolving theories in many domains. Unfortunately,
this tendency has driven some scientists to continue to defending
outmoded, inaccurate world-views. The tendency is also seen in the
behavior of belligerent skeptics who loudly proclaim that widespread
belief in psi is due to a decline in the public’s critical thinking
ability. One hopes that such skeptics would occasionally apply a
little skepticism to their own positions, but history amply
demonstrates that science progresses mainly by funerals, not by
reason and logic alone.
Understanding why the public has generally accepted the existence of psi and why science has generally rejected it requires an
examination of the origins of science (Chapter 16). In exploring
this clash of beliefs, we will discover that the scientific
controversy has had very little to do with the evidence itself, and
very much to do with the psychology, sociology and history of
Discussions about underlying assumptions in science rarely surface
in skeptical debates over psi, because this topic involves deeply
held, often unexamined beliefs about the nature of the world. It is
much easier to imagine a potential flaw in one experiment, and use
that flaw to cast doubt on an entire class of experiments, than it
is to consider the overall results of a thousand similar studies. A
related issue is how science deals with anomalies, those
extraordinary "damn facts" that challenge mainstream theories. Along
with an understanding of the nature and value of anomalies, and how
scientists react to them, we will explore the role that prejudice,
in the literal sense of "pre-judging," has played in controlling
what is presumed to be scientifically valid. Other issues, like how
scientific disciplines rarely talk to each other, and the historical
abyss between science and religion, make it abundantly clear that if
psychic experiences were any other form of curious natural
phenomena, they would have been adopted long ago by the scientific
mainstream on the basis of the evidence alone.
Beyond the themes of motivation, evidence, and understanding,
resides the question, So what? Why should anyone care if psi is real
The eventual scientific acceptance of psychic phenomena is
inevitable. The origins of acceptance are already brewing through
the persuasive weight of the laboratory evidence. There are
converging theoretical developments from many disciplines offering
glimpses at ways of understanding how psi works (Chapter 17). There
are explorations of psi effects by major industrial labs, evaluation
of claims of psychic healing by the Office of Alternative Medicine
of the National Institutes of Health, and articles about psi
research appearing in the "serious" media.
As acceptance grows, the implications of psi will become more
apparent. But we already know that these phenomena present profound
challenges to many aspects of science, philosophy and religion
(Chapter 18). These challenges will nudge scientists to reconsider
basic assumptions about space, time, mind, and matter. Philosophers
will rekindle the perennial debates over the role of consciousness
in the physical world. Theologians will reconsider the concept of
divine intervention, as some phenomena previously considered to be
miracles will probably become subject to scientific understanding.
These reconsiderations are long overdue. An exclusive focus on what
might be called "the outer world" has led to a grievous split
between the private world of human experience and the public world
as described by science. In particular, science has provided little
understanding of profoundly important human concepts like hope and
meaning. The split between the objective and the subjective has in
the past been dismissed as a non-problem, or as a problem belonging
to religion and not to science.
But this split has also led to major technological blunders, and a
rising popular antagonism toward science. This is a pity, because
scientific methods are exceptionally powerful tools for overcoming
personal biases and building workable models of the "truth." There
is every reason to expect that the same methods that gave us a
better understanding of galaxies and genes will also shed light on
experiences described by mystics throughout history.
Now let’s explore a little more closely what we’re talking about.
What is psi?
Back to Top
What is Consciousness?
raises us above other known sentient beings is our
ability to be conscious of our own consciousness. But
what does this mean, scientifically?
“It is now widely accepted that all knowledge, from the
beginning of time, is available to each of us, an
intelligence that is carried at the cellular, subatomic
level. Highly evolved individuals who have touched the
hem of the eternal and communed with the infinite
through their higher consciousness, made that quantum
leap but have been unable to transfer their
understanding due to limitations imposed by language.
Because language is incomplete and fragmentary, merely
registering a stage in the average advance beyond the
ape mentality. But all of us do have flashes of insight
beyond meanings already stabilized in etymology and
We are largely unaware of the traffic of 'thoughts' within our heads
including those that guide most of our living actions. The primary
actions that keep us alive, such as breathing, seeing, hearing,
touching and even tasting, take place without our conscious
participation or stopping to think about them.
It is interesting to note that most of our purposeful behavior
happens without the aid of consciousness. We even solve most of our
routine problems unconsciously. It is when a purpose or result can
be achieved by alternative means that consciousness is called upon.
In other words, at the routine level of existence, we do not employ
consciousness except when we are altering our actions or thoughts
from the routine, for a purpose.
Rudolf Steiner believed animal consciousness to be the experience of
desires, hopes and fears without self-awareness and the ability to
view the body and those emotions from the point of view of an inner
observer. He thought plants too have a form of consciousness,
perhaps resembling human sleep. The German philosopher Friedrich von Schelling (1775-1854) wrote:
"Mind sleeps in stone, dreams in the
plant, awakes in the animal and becomes conscious in man."
What raises us above other known sentient beings is our ability to
be conscious of our own consciousness. But what does this mean,
Consciousness, according to western science, has its roots in the
mind, which in turn is seated in the brain. The human brain, with
its highly developed frontal cortex, is divided into three distinct
parts and includes the cerebrum, cerebellum and the medulla
oblongata or stem. The latter is a remnant of our reptilian ancestry
with the ocean as its original habitat.
"Much of today's public anxiety
about science is the apprehension that we may be overlooking the
whole by an endless, obsessive preoccupation with the parts,"
says physician Lewis Thomas.
The following view is an attempt to
avoid the above pitfall.
"To learn is to eliminate," says neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux.
From the embryonic stage itself, there is a furious amount of
editing at work to fine-tune our brain content. It startled
scientists to discover that our growing up and learning process is
not of adding new material so much as editing existing ones. Nerve
cells in the brain die without being replaced in our infancy (or in
degenerative brain disease as adults), although they appear to
remain fairly stable later through a lifetime of healthy
individuals. The fact remains that the brain is the only organ that
does not grow new cells to replace those that are lost.
Human consciousness is a cerebral ability with inputs from the
approximately 50,000 million cells that constitute an adult body.
There is a growing understanding of the intelligence in individual
cells in living matter. The human body is incredibly complex and
each of its cells is in constant communication not only with cells
that perform similar functions but also with every other cell in the
body. Our consciousness probably results from assimilating all this
data and arriving at choices or solutions. Our present state of
consciousness may be likened to the tip of the iceberg of potential
human awareness, of itself and of the universe.
To arrive at consciousness, we have to enter the areas of the brain
that contain memory, information and emotion. Human memories go
back, to the primal soup and perhaps beyond, to the void before
material creation. Scientists of various disciplines are involved in
a worldwide research project that is trying to map all of the genes
in the human DNA sequence. Another project, not so widely
publicized, known as the Human Consciousness Project is already well
under way to map the gamut of human consciousness including the
unconscious. The latter project is also multidisciplinary and
researchers around the world are piecing together what they call a
spectrum of human consciousness. This includes: instinct, ego and
spirit; pre-personal, personal and transpersonal; subconscious,
self-conscious and super-conscious; thus, no state of consciousness
is dismissed from its embrace. Undisputed evidence is already in
hand that such a spectrum does exist.
The first concept associated with consciousness is 'awareness'. We
are conscious when we are aware. This is immediately seen to be not
quite true. We may be aware, for instance, without really being
conscious of being aware. Awareness is, therefore, only a part of
consciousness. Other known aspects of consciousness are:
Do We Know?
It is now widely accepted that all knowledge (heavily edited to
include only that which is useful to human life), from the beginning
of time, is available to each of us, an intelligence that is carried
at the cellular, subatomic level. Highly evolved individuals who
have touched the hem of the eternal and communed with the infinite
through their higher consciousness, made that quantum leap but have
been unable to transfer their understanding due to limitations
imposed by language. Because language is incomplete and fragmentary,
merely registering a stage in the average advance beyond the ape
mentality. But all of us do have flashes of insight beyond meanings
already stabilized in etymology and grammar.
Our brain is domineering when it comes to coping with reality. We
sometimes see things not as they really are, sometimes invent
categories that do not exist and sometimes fail to see things that
are really there. There are people who have never seen or heard of
an aircraft and will not be able to imagine it and a real airplane
overhead will be distorted in their minds, creating alternative
To recognize that what we call reality is only a consensus reality
(only what we have agreed to call reality) is to recognize that we
can perceive only what we can conceive. Captain Cook's ship was
invisible to the Tahitians because they could not conceive of such a
vessel. Joseph Pearce explains this best: "Man's mind mirrors a
universe that mirrors man's mind." On the other hand, if a seed of
imagination is sowed, a germ of an idea can be planted contrary to
existing evidence. The seed will grow and sooner or later produce
data to confirm or deny the idea.
According to neurobiologist William Calvin, the human mind (in all
likelihood, the seat of consciousness), located in the brain, is so
complex that we have only just begun to understand bits and pieces
of it. It is remarkable that despite the advancements of ancient
civilizations in India, China, Mesopotamia and
Greece, the discovery
of the crucial importance of the brain as the seat of thought and
action did not feature in human knowledge until barely two centuries
ago. The navel, the liver and the heart were revered instead by
different cultures, at various times.
Consciousness is the most advanced event in the history of
evolution. But we cannot separate it from the spirit, mind or brain.
In western science, to put it simply, consciousness is the output of
the mind, which is an aspect of the brain. Consciousness depends
heavily on memory, which is very tricky and can be full of holes,
patched up, more often than not, by fantasy. Memory is also
selective and, often, faulty. We paint rosy pictures of incidents,
events and people when it suits us and we also do the exact
opposite. The fact that some of our memories (true ones, because no
imagination is involved) go back several billion years to the
procrustean age while others belong to just a few moments ago, only
adds to its mysteriousness.
Muddying the waters even further is our emotions. Our feelings color
our consciousness as much as our memories do. Emotions are really
reactions to external stimuli. You cannot feel an emotion in a
vacuum. Even loneliness presumes that you have known togetherness.
So, it appears that our consciousness needs the 'other' even if the
other is your own mirror image or parts of your body/bodily
functions. It needs an external environment; it needs language, an
interaction with something outside itself. Consciousness therefore
presumes an entity that is aware of 'something' (including itself).
Understanding Our Own Minds
What does this mean? To understand something, first of all we need
evidence of its existence. Here, therefore, we are trying to use
something (the mind) to understand itself and produce evidence of
its own existence, somewhat similar to the Drawing Hands of
that depicts a self-drawn drawing. An inherent
paradox where something in the system jumps out and acts on the
system as if it existed outside it. And when we examine our own
minds, this is exactly what happens. According to Godel's
Incompleteness Theorem, understanding our own minds is impossible,
yet we have persisted in seeking this knowledge through the ages!
The framework of consciousness is thought. Its shuttle is random
selection and its warp and woof are memories and emotions. Human
consciousness, unlike awareness, includes a series of choices.
American psychologist E.L. Thorndyke called this the method of
trial, error, and accidental success. Modern AI (artificial
intelligence) calls it 'generate and test'. Applied to our thought
process, the chance creation concept goes back to Xenophanes in
Our thoughts begin at random, our mind taking the first opening
before it. Perceiving a false route, it retraces its steps, taking
another direction. By a kind of artificial selection we perfect our
thought substantially, making it more logical as we go along. With
enough experience, the brain comes to contain a model of the world;
an idea suggested by Kenneth Craik in his book The Nature of
In an average day, we are conscious of several million things.
Further, the conscious mind at a higher level is able to free itself
from order and predictability to explore every possibility with its
rich variety of choices and opportunities. This leads us to levels
From the conscious awareness of an infant to its immediate
environment, recognizing its mother as apart from others, for
instance, levels of consciousness rise as we grow.
Colin Wilson suggests at least eight degrees of consciousness, from
Level 0 to 7. They are:
Level 0—deep sleep
Level 1—dreaming or hypnagogic
Level 2—mere awareness or
unresponsive waking state
Level 3—self awareness that is
dull and meaningless
Level 4—passive and reactive,
normal consciousness that regards life 'as a grim battle'
Level 5—an active, spontaneous,
happy consciousness in which life is exciting and
Level 6—a transcendent level
where time ceases to exist. Wilson does take note of further
levels of consciousness as experienced by mystics but gives
Canadian psychologist Richard M. Bucke, in his book Cosmic
Consciousness, coined this term. It is a transpersonal mode of
consciousness, an awareness of the universal mind and one's unity
with it. Its prime characteristic is a consciousness of the life and
order in the universe. An individual who at attains this state is
often described as 'Enlightened' and such a person is also said to
have a sense of immortality, not of attaining it but of already
having it. Burke saw this state of consciousness as the next stage
in human evolution, very much as spiritualists have always seen it.
Indian yogis and mystics classify the seven states of consciousness
They point out that human beings normally experience
only three states: sleeping, dreaming and waking.
fleetingly you experience turya, literally the fourth state, or
transcendental consciousness, commonly known as samadhi.
state coexists and stabilizes with the other three, that is the
fifth state, where I-consciousness expands to become cosmic
The sixth state is God consciousness whereby you see
God everywhere, in everything.
The last is unity consciousness: what
is within is also outside—pure consciousness, and nothing else is.
Spiritually, consciousness is as vast as the universe, both known
and unknown. The potential power of this level of consciousness has
been merely touched upon and that too by a few mystics.
Consciousness at this level becomes capable of:
defying accepted scientific physical laws
giving us a glimpse of
probable future developments in, among other things,
Historically, great movements in any area emerge from a collective
consciousness. It is not surprising that in any given field of
activity, great ideas do not occur in isolation. Despite an idea
germinating in an individual mind, it is interesting to note that
the same idea strikes two or more thinkers, geographically far
apart, around the same time. Collective consciousness results from
At any given time, collective
consciousness is actively operational in a group as small as the
family and as large as half the global population. The power of
collective consciousness has not been fully explored or appreciated,
except perhaps in times of great distress when 'prayers' are offered
by a group of individuals for a particular reason and the prayers
Paradox of Consciousness
The conscious human mind is capable of great good and equally
extraordinary evil. It is only for the sake of simplicity that we
talk of levels in the form of tiers with an upward hierarchy. In
fact, consciousness, while rooted in causal linearity (within the
Darwinian evolutionary framework) is dynamic, free moving and
nonlinear. The greatest discoveries and inventions were arrived at
intuitively. The genius sees what we all see except that s/he thinks
about it differently. The evil genius does exactly the same.
"The supreme paradox of all thought is the attempt
to discover something that thought cannot think."
A conscious human
knows something and he knows that he knows it (ad infinitum). The
paradox of consciousness is not that we are aware of ourselves but
of other things as well, including those that do not constitute the
'real world'. Of course, when we 'conceive' or imagine something
'unreal' even our farthest imagination cannot transcend 'known'
symbolism, which is why there are some things that defy definition.
One of these is 'consciousness' itself.
Consciousness is a fresh fruit of evolution and our most prized
possession. It is consciousness that sets us apart from the opulent
variety of earth-life and puts upon us an onus of responsibility. It
takes us on incredible journeys and has given us the gifts of
insight and transcendence. The same kind of process that gives the
earth abundant life allows us to have a sense of self, to
contemplate the world, to forecast the future and make ethical
choices. Each of us has under our control a miniature world,
continuously evolving, making constructs unique to our own minds. In
the same way that life itself unfolded, our mental life is
progressively enriched, enabling each of us to create our own world.
The universe was born from chaos billions of light years ago and
evolved through random selection, and is doing so even today. Stars
(and people) are born and die for no better reason than that they
simply do. Some stars live longer than others do; some support a
host of satellites. Our sun is one of the latter and our fragile
planet is just a rock that accidentally came from the sun and
eventually became home to an abundance of life forms. As life forms
evolved through random selection, humans emerged on the top of the
food chain and from there, in the blink of an eye, here we are,
seriously and consciously looking for answers and meanings in the
universe around us.
Back to Top