Parapsychology, Spirituality, and the Battle Against Scientific Materialism — Part 3
This follows on from an introduction, where I outlined the reasons why I think an acceptance of parapsychology is so important in modern times, part 1 where I described my personal experiences of ESP, and part 2 where I gave a history of parapsychology research since the 1880s.
I’m now going to consider exactly who and what is capable of ESP. If such powers are in theory available to everyone, why do we not all access them more frequently? Not speaking specifically about remote-viewing, Peter Kingsley in a book called Reality says: “if you think about something out of sight, hundreds or even thousands of miles away, then your mind knows no distance: whatever you are thinking is directly present in your awareness… There is no distance at all between yourself and what you are imagining or seeing”. Should we therefore be able to perform remote-viewing all the time?
Children appear to have stronger ESP abilities than adults, whether in experiments or anecdotally. There is an interesting book by Cassandra Eason called Psychic Power of Children, which contains several examples of psychic ability in the very young, many of which come under the general heading of clairvoyance, the awareness of events happening at a distance. These stories are, of course, merely anecdotal, and would not qualify as scientific proof. They are nevertheless very interesting. The book opens with the story of her two-and-a-half-year-old son, who suddenly announces during breakfast that his father has just had a motorcycle accident, but that he is all right. This turned out to be true.
As one might expect, such experiences occur most frequently between close members of the family, and often in relation to death, accidents, or danger — what Eason calls telepathy under stress. Young children can be aware of these, even from a long distance, and make accurate statements about the details. As well as awareness of concurrent accidents or deaths, she also provides examples of apparent premonition of an accident, precognition, even a precognitive dream. The psychic link can also pick up good news; one child became aware of the exact time of the birth of his brother in hospital, even though he was at the family home with a babysitter.
Parapsychologist Arthur Ellison says that “in my experience all really strong psychics have been psychic from birth. They tell of experiences which they did not realize were unusual until they became old enough to talk about them”. So, if children are more psychic, it would be interesting to know why this is so. If we have an innate or early ability, why do we lose this as adults? There seem to be two possibilities. One is that we simply grow out of it as part of the normal process of life. The alternative is that we are educated out of it. I’ll now explore these two alternatives, while noting that in either case we can assume that parapsychological ability is part of our nature, even if some people are more gifted than others.
As mentioned in a previous article, it is believed that telepathy works best in relaxed, hypnagogic states, which are related to an alpha brainwave pattern. It is therefore interesting that, as Lynne McTaggart reports: “EEG studies of the brains of children under five show that they permanently function in alpha mode — the state of altered consciousness in an adult — rather than the beta mode of ordinary mature consciousness”.
Along similar lines, physicist Danah Zohar says that children’s brains emit a mixture of theta and alpha waves, that between the ages three to five, theta waves predominate, but that between the ages of five and eight, this balance shifts towards a dominance of alpha waves. Then beta waves characteristic of adults begin to appear. We see therefore that children’s brains seem conducive to parapsychology.
Psychic abilities like telepathy suggest that a person is more than a separate individual, rather part of an interconnected, collective psyche. There is a phase in the life of a baby when this appears to be the case. As Peter Russell says: “The newborn baby is aware of the environment but does not appear to differentiate himself from it. He is not aware of himself as a separate entity. As awareness of physical separateness from the mother begins to grow, so does the awareness of separateness from the rest of the environment. According to most psychologists, a true sense of individuality does not develop until simple language has begun to develop (some, such as Jean Piaget, would claim that full identity of the self is not attained until the age of seven or eight)”.
So the age of eight keeps appearing in this literature. That age was also considered significant by Dr. Ernesto Spinelli of Surrey University, who several decades ago did some experiments which seemed to show that young children had considerable telepathic powers. He found that three-year-olds did best of all, but the apparent ability then declined until the age of eight, when the results were similar to those of adults. His interpretation of these results was that telepathic power is a sort of externalised thinking that disappears once the child learns to do his thinking inside his head. This would suggest that the loss of power is part of the normal process of life, as the child begins to understand that he or she is a separate individual.
Other researchers failed to replicate his results. It has been suggested that the reason for this is that he created an emotionally appealing environment for the tests, using bright colours, puppets, and thinking caps for the children to wear. This was also true of the earlier research of Margaret Anderson who dressed up her tests as a science fiction game in which good ESP scores helped to launch a space rocket. Critics have therefore suggested that this says nothing about differing abilities in children and adults, since adults perform ESP experiments in a more neutral, less appealing environment. Hans Eysenck and Carl Sargent, who are among those who have made that observation, nevertheless concede that “his suggestion that rational intelligence may interfere with psi, particularly with ESP, certainly seems plausible”.
William Wordsworth referred to this in his famous poem: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood: “Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the growing boy”. Also, this process of closing down is analysed brilliantly by Alan Watts, who calls the pre-ego ‘clouds of glory’ state floodlight consciousness, and the restricted ‘prison-house’ state spotlight consciousness. Also relevant is what is known as the Transmission Model, the idea that the brain is an organ which filters and limits consciousness. I believe this term was coined by William James, but Aldous Huxley popularised it. The philosopher Henri Bergson also talked of the notion of screening faculties, suggesting that our nervous system is designed as an elaborate filter, intended to let through those energies and radiations which are of use to us in developing our higher intellectual faculties, and coping with what we experience.
Wordsworth and these others seem to be suggesting that this loss is an inevitable, even if regrettable, part of life’s process. This may be so, but it also seems true that to some extent we are educated out of the original childhood state. This is the second alternative mentioned above. Spinelli came to a conclusion along those lines: “telepathic powers come from the same source as ordinary thought but that in the young child, this ability has not been suppressed by learning”. It is also true that children can be criticised or punished for making parapsychological statements, and told that they need to ‘grow up’. It is not surprising therefore if, in order to please their parents, they seek to repress their abilities.
Eysenck and Sergeant are also critical of Spinelli’s conclusion, saying that: “The reason why children tend to be superior to adults in ESP experiments is, on the available evidence, a social one. Children have not learned to be sceptical. They tend to be lively and impulsive — like extraverts”. They also talk about “the effects of social evolution in a society wary of the psychic”. On that theme it is interesting that in the past, claims of parapsychological ability, what we would call clairvoyance or remote viewing, were on an official list of symptoms of mental illness.
Here is an example of one such child being lively and impulsive. Even though sceptics doubt Uri Geller’s claimed powers, researchers frequently say that children are especially proficient at metal-bending. The more open-minded biologist Lyall Watson tells this story. “Last year, I was in my home village in Ireland, I was sorting through my things and found a video from a decade back of Uri Geller bending a key in my company. I took this over to a neighbour’s house to show them, because they had asked to see something like it, and we sat and watched it on their television. It was just the sort of thing you’ve seen him do often enough. The difference on this occasion is that I had sitting with me on my knee my neighbour’s youngest daughter, a child of three of whom I’m very fond. We watched it together and afterwards, I simply pulled out my own large steel latch key and gave it to her. ‘You try,’ I said. By implying that this was something that everybody did, I gave her permission to do it. And she did. She simply stroked it like Geller had done and it flopped like limp spaghetti”.
He goes on to analyse what he thinks is happening: “The problem here is that I’ve seen this happen dozens of times, but I can’t do it. I know it is possible because I’ve seen it done, but there’s part of me that knows it is impossible, part of me that’s tied to my education that says that it can’t happen and as a result, I can’t do it. That little girl didn’t have my problem. No one had told her it was impossible. I had implied everybody did it by showing her someone doing it, and so she did it”. So Watson didn’t manage to escape Wordsworth’s shades of the prison-house.
So we are faced with some interesting questions. Is the phase of evolving consciousness with loss of psychic powers, shades of the prison-house, essential for the ego’s development, or can it be avoided? Is it in any way damaging to children to remain in contact with the early magical self? Could we in fact retain the sense of magic throughout our lives?
In the next article I consider the possibility of ESP in animals
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