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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 4-14

Indian psychology, parapsychology and spiritual psychology

Chancellor, GITAM University, Visakhapatnam, India

Date of Web Publication21-Dec-2013

Correspondence Address:
K Ramakrishna Rao
35, Daspalla Hills, Visakhapatnam - 530 003
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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Science and religion are generally considered to be disparate and inconsistent, if not conflicting, attempts at understanding reality. However, they need not be so considered. Spiritual psychology may be seen as a discipline that combines in its pursuit spirituality and science. We can conceive of spiritual psychology as a science in search of the sacred. Indian psychology derived and constructed from classical Indian philosophies of mind and practices like yoga, and parapsychology as pursued in the West provide indirect support to spiritual psychology. They suggest possible existence of paranormal sources of knowing and states of consciousness that transcend the cerebro-centric conception of human nature.
A meta-theory of spiritual psychology and Indian psychology presented here shows the complementarity of science and spirituality. Some of the important conceptual and methodological issues in studies of spirituality and parapsychology are discussed. The implications of these for studying and understanding parapsychological phenomena are considered.

Keywords: Consciousness, Extrasensory Perception, Yoga, Religion

How to cite this article:
Rao K R. Indian psychology, parapsychology and spiritual psychology. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol 2013;1:4-14

How to cite this URL:
Rao K R. Indian psychology, parapsychology and spiritual psychology. Int J Yoga - Philosop Psychol Parapsychol [serial online] 2013 [cited 2024 Feb 21];1:4-14. Available from: https://www.ijoyppp.org/text.asp?2013/1/1/4/123286

  Introduction Top

Science and religion are generally considered to be disparate and inconsistent, if not conflicting, attempts at understanding reality. Our contention is that science and spirituality need not be so considered. We can conceive of spiritual psychology, a science in search of the sacred.

In order to show the complementarity of science and spirituality, I will present an outline of what I consider to be the major assumptions of a meta-theory of Indian psychology. I will also call your attention to some of the important conceptual and methodological issues in studies of spirituality, the relevant implications of these assumptions for psychological theory and research and possible areas of application.

  Religion and Spirituality Top

At the outset, we need to make a distinction between religion and spirituality, which are often equated in western mind set. Empirical studies of religion and spirituality have rarely made the operational distinctions between the two. They treated "religiosity" and "spirituality" as almost identical concepts. When a conceptual distinction between religion and spirituality is made, it is suggested that religion is external and observable and community focused, whereas spirituality is more subjective and person-driven search for the sacred.

There is a general consensus between the Indian and Western perspectives that the common ground between religion and spirituality is the sacred. The sacred may refer to different things such as God, divinity, ultimate reality and so on. The common denominator of all of them, it would seem, is transcendence, transcendence from the constraints imposed by our sensory system.

Transcendence implies going beyond what is given in one's normal sensory experience. In the spiritual traditions of India whether Hindu or Buddhist, there is an overwhelming emphasis on transcendence as a state of being that goes well beyond sensory awareness. Spiritual pursuit is an exercise for transformation of the human condition to achieve states of transcendence.

In the Indic traditions, spirituality is the quest and religions are contrived institutions, first, to aid the person in that quest and, second, to apply the discoveries of the spiritual quest to life and living. Spiritual psychology is the discipline dedicated to understanding this process. Spirituality is to religion what science is to technology.

  Science and Spirituality Top

Seen in this light, science and spirituality are two truth-seeking activities that seem to run parallel to each other. From time immemorial, science and spirituality have been two important avenues of human endeavor. Knowing truth and enjoying the benefits of that knowledge are the goals of science as well as of spirituality.

The discovery of truth, whether in the area of science or spirituality, quite often leads to development of technologies that affect our lives in a variety of ways. Technological development is not the exclusive province of science. Analogous developments take place in the sphere of spirituality as well. In a significant sense, religious practices are the offshoots of the application of spiritual discoveries.

Most of the time, science and spirituality have run as parallel quests. The option of convenience is to keep science and spirituality as separate as possible and limit them to pre-circumscribed domains with impregnable walls built between them. Alternatively, the tendency is to reject outright one in favor of the other. This is an unnatural arrangement, because both science and spirituality continue to affect our being and behavior, whether or not we acknowledge it. An obvious casualty in the process is a meaningful dialog between science and spirituality.

If the effects of spirituality on humans are genuine, as those of science, a dialog between the two is not merely warranted, but necessary. This calls for a meta-theory aimed at the unification of science and spirituality, because a theory of science or spirituality alone is unlikely to facilitate a meaningful dialogue between them. The basic postulates of a meta-theory embracing science and spirituality include the following.

First, science and spirituality are two knowledge streams that spring from the human mind. The two streams are marked by their distinct epistemological contours. They travel through different terrains, but finally merge into the mother sea of consciousness.

Second, emancipation of the human condition from the limiting constraints of ignorance and suffering to a state of happiness and well-being are the goals of both science and spirituality. These goals are pursued by different strategies and methodologies with varying degrees of success. However, success or failure is not confined to one domain or one methodological stance. Rather science appears to be more applicable to some areas of human concern, while spirituality appears to matter most in some others.

Third, there is no intrinsic opposition between science and spirituality. There are, of course, epistemic differences between them. They follow different methodological strategies which are valid in their respective domains. Problems arise and mistakes are made when there is conflation of the two and when transgression of the paths takes place, such as the attempts to prove the existence of God by science or the denigration of evolutionary theories by assertions of creation by some religious sects.

Fourth, it would not be correct to say that science alone leads to truth. Perhaps it can be said that science leads us more reliably to understand the physical world. The same may be said about spirituality as being more appropriate in dealing with non-physical matters such as values. There may be areas where both approaches are appropriate and a unified approach more fruitful.

In the Indian tradition, both science and spirituality have the same goal, which is liberation (mok'sa). The goal of science is enriching the human condition by freeing it from constraints of hunger, disease and deprivation and creating physical conditions for comfort, convenience and need gratification.

The goal of spirituality, like that of science, is also liberation. It is the liberation of the inner spirit. Spirituality could be seen also as a complementary force that gives a positive direction to science and acts as an antidote to the latter's use for destructive purposes. In the least, it provides coping mechanisms to deal with psychologically debilitating anxiety, stress, fear and helplessness. At its best, spirituality is known to free humans from all kinds of suffering born out of dysfunctional egos with insatiable desires and consequent personal frustration and externally directed aggression.

Science and spirituality involve two distinct epistemic modes. Science draws from the rational mode. Observed data constitute its territory; and one rides on reason. Spirituality is linked to the intuitive mode, where experience is the ground and revelation is the vehicle.

The validity of spiritual claims is predicated on the truth value of the revelations just as the validity of scientific claims is contingent on the truth of its observations. The two together suggest that there are rational as well as transrational pathways to truth. The rational pathway is the most appropriate when the subject allows for appropriate observational data. Transrational pathways are suited in areas where recourse to such observational data does not exist or is not available to explore.

  Spiritual Psychology and Indian Psychology Top

Spiritual psychology appears to be the fair ground for a meaningful dialogue between science and spirituality and to understand their complementary relationship in human search for truth and freedom. The basic postulate of spiritual psychology is the primacy of spirit defined as the principle or center of consciousness in the embodied human condition. Spiritual psychology, acknowledging the primacy of the spirit, explores its relation to the mind and the body and their unity in the person. It serves as the bridge to connect the otherwise disparate realms of personal and transpersonal, the secular and the sacred, reason and experience, the cognitive and the transcognitive processes.

Spiritual psychology shares a great deal with religious psychology and yet is very different from it. Religious psychology, as the Cambridge psychologist Thouless [1] defined it, seeks "to understand religious behavior by applying to it the psychological principles derived from the study of non-religious behavior." Spiritual psychology adds a new dimension to psychology itself. Postulation of the primacy of the spirit is the defining characteristic of spiritual psychology. Spirit (ātman, puruṣa) , in the Indian tradition, is consciousness as-such. Consequently, the study of consciousness as-such in its relation to the thinking-mind and the sensing-brain constitutes the subject matter of spiritual psychology.

Indian psychology is a system of psychology derived from classical Indian thought and the practices such as Yoga prevalent in the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years.

Indian psychology provides a strong base for spiritual psychology. In a significant sense, Indian psychology is spiritual psychology. Therefore, in what follows we use Indian psychology and spiritual psychology interchangeably. The following twelve postulates succinctly summarize for us the basic tenets of Indian psychology.

  1. Psychology is the study of the person (jīva)
  2. The person is consciousness embodied
  3. Consciousness as-such is irreducibly distinct from material objects, including the brain and the mind
  4. The mind is different from consciousness as well as the body/brain machine. Unlike consciousness, the mind is material, albeit subtle. Unlike the brain, the mind has non-local characteristics. It is not constrained by time and space variables, as gross material objects are. The mind is the facilitating instrument that interfaces consciousness at one end and the brain processes at the other
  5. The mind may be seen as an "inner theater" and also as an "inner observer." The mind is inner theatre in the sense that it is the stage on which the processed sensory characters make their appearance. It is inner observer in that the mind tends to appropriate as its own what is displayed on its stage set up by its ego function and illumined by consciousness
  6. This leads the person to misconstrue the ego aspects of the mind as consciousness as-such. Such a misconstrual is promoted by primeval ignorance (avidya) that is promoted by the congenital condition of human existence that depends on sensory information and construes it as ultimate truth
  7. Endowed with consciousness, mind and body, the person is capable of brain-processed learning (śravanṅa ), mind-mediated understanding (manana) and consciousness-accessed realization (nididhyāsana)
  8. Consciousness embodied in the person is circumscribed, conditioned and clouded by a vortex of forces generated by the mind-body connection. Consequently, the conditioned person becomes an isolated instrument of individualized thought, passion and action
  9. From individuation arise, on the one hand, subjectivity, rational thinking and relativity of truth and values. On the other hand, there arises the ego as the organizing principle
  10. With the ego, come attachment and craving, which in turn lead the person to experience anxiety, insecurity, stress, distress, disease and consequent suffering
  11. Situated in such an existential predicament of ignorance and suffering, the goal of the person is self-realization. Self-realization consists in achieving a state of freedom and liberation (mokṣa) by a process of deconditioning training and consequent transformation of the person. This is accomplished by controlling the mind, eliminating the ego and realizing consciousness as-such in transcognitive states
  12. Yoga is a method of liberation via realization of transcognitive states. Realization takes different forms relative to the different dispositions of the seekers. These include knowledge-focused jñāna yoga to meet the thought needs, devotion-filled bhakti yoga to deal with one's passionate nature and action oriented karma yoga for those dominated by the impulse to act. Thus wisdom, worship and work are three distinct routes for self-realization.

This model makes a fundamental distinction between "consciousness/spirit" and "mind" and a secondary distinction between "mind" and "brain." Consciousness is the knowledge side of the universe. It is the ground condition for all awareness. Consciousness is not a part or aspect of the mind, which, unlike consciousness, is physical. Consciousness does not interact with the mind or any other objects or processes of the physical universe. However, in association with consciousness, mental phenomena become subjective and are revealed to and realized by the person.

The mind thus enjoys dual citizenship in the physical world as well as in the realm of consciousness. As a material form, the mind's citizenship in the material world is by birth as it were. Its naturalization in the domain of consciousness/spirit is a matter of choice and an outcome of significant effort. Its citizenship in the material realm bestows on it the right to process information through its sensory channels and neural connections.

The mind also has involuntary and passive access to consciousness in that the light of consciousness shines on it to illumine its critically poised contents, which become subjectively revealed. The mind also has within its reach the possibility of partaking in consciousness as-such by disciplined practice so that it may have direct and unmediated knowledge.

Spiritual/Indian psychology explores these possibilities. It has important implications and some possible applications. M. K. Gandhi's thought and experiments in political action may be seen as grounded in spiritual psychology. The concept of satyāgraha and the nonviolent action themes for social change and moral reconstruction are landmark experiments in spiritual psychology. Satyāgraha is in a good sense yoga applied to social action.

Gandhi spoke of "spiritual force." He referred to an "inner voice" guiding him. His emphasis on truth, non-violence, love, compassion, and altruism are hallmarks of spiritual psychology applied to life and social action. [2],[3] It is very similar to Patanjali's emphasis on abhyasa and vairagya. In Western psychology - especially in its applied therapeutic aspects - the ego occupies the center stage, taking the place of the spirit. It is the functioning of the ego that is of primary concern. Understanding the problems of adjustment of the ego, and its dysfunctions caused by factors such as chemical imbalances, childhood trauma, or problems of sex, has been the saga of much of Western clinical psychology and psychotherapeutic practices.

The ego in the Indian psychological tradition is a manifestation of the mind and not of consciousness. It masks the spirit, the self. Shrouded by ignorance, the ego of the person masquerades as the self. Therefore, tearing down the veil of ignorance, taming the ego, transcending the limiting adjuncts of the mind to allow the true light of the spirit to shine and reflect on the mind of the person, become the focus of spiritual psychology.

The general psychotherapeutic approach is horizontal, traveling across the existential contours of the ego. The spiritual way is vertical, elevating the person from the tangled ego to the sublime heights of the spirit, that is, states of pure conscious experience. The recent investigations in the area of epidemiology of religion and clinical studies of the effect of religious and spiritual beliefs and practices on health and wellness, belong to the domain of spiritual psychology.

Spiritual psychology has important transformational consequences to the person and her well-being. The goal is one of bridging the gap between knowing and being. In the highest state humans hope to achieve, there is no divide between knowing and being. This is stated in an exemplary statement in one of the Upaniṣads: "To know Brahman is to be Brahman."

  Anomalous Phenomena, Science and Spirituality Top

Now, let us consider some of the implications of Indian psychology to anomalous phenomena, which constitute the subject matter of what has come to be known as parapsychology. It was earlier called psychical research. Other names used in more recent years include remote viewing, anomalies research and so on.

I have been in this field for 60 years now, nearly thirty of them as a full time researcher. What have I learned during these long years of involvement?

First and foremost, there is a huge amount of data in support of the existence of an anomaly called psi, which cannot be wished away as an experimental artifact, a statistical fluke, an outcome of investigator incompetence/unreliability, or downright chickenery and intentional fraud. The anomaly refers to the ability to acquire information shielded from the senses and not available by inference or other normal means. It includes such phenomena as extrasensory perception (ESP), telepathy, precognition and the direct influence of mind over matter, which is technically called psychokinesis (PK). At the same time, equally striking is the strong resistance from the mainstream science against accepting the data as evidence of anything significant that would add substantially to our knowledge of human potentials.

While a variety of reasons are given why parapsychological data are a suspect, the main reason is simple and straightforward. The data do not fit into the categories of understanding we are familiar with and the epistemology we subscribe to. They are not merely unusual, but are compellingly contrary to commonsense and uncomfortably offensive to the present conception of science.

While the mainstream science conveniently ignores parapsychological data as essentially inconsequential, a few scientists are challenged enough to commit their time to investigate the issues involved in an attempt to solve the riddle. In the process, they are either lost in the wilderness of the weird or find themselves reinventing the wheel. For those who are fortunate to get the results they are hoping there is excitement, which lasts for a while until the reality strikes back. Hence the status quo overtakes. The data are either disputed or ignored. However, by and large, the overwhelming majority of those who are involved in psi research or have firsthand familiarity with research consider the data as genuine, suggesting that something unusual is happening here.

  What is Parapsychology? Top

In the public mind parapsychology means many things all the way from chasing the Big Foot, searching for UFOs and aliens, reading Tarot cards and tea-leaves, practicing past-life regression therapies, miracle mongering and mind reading to serious investigation of anomalous cognitive phenomena.

However, there are two valid senses that I see relevant. First is the Indian understanding that parapsychology is the science of siddhis. The second is the western professional description that it is the study of cognitive anomalies.

The difference between the two is rather significant and not always acknowledged and appreciated. It stems from the striking difference in the practice of science in the two cultures. In the western tradition science and religion/spirituality grew apart, often one standing in opposition to the other. In the Indian tradition, there is no intrinsic separation or antagonism between science and spirituality.

In the west scientific discoveries were projected as revolutions displacing other beliefs. In India, they are seen as natural unfolding of physical laws without displacing other beliefs. Science and spirituality are complementary and not compartmentalized belief systems. Consequently we scarcely find in India such contentious and acrimonious debates like creationism/intelligence design versus evolution. Indian history is largely free from the practice of persecuting scientists for being blasphemous and irreverent.

What has all this to do with parapsychology? The story of parapsychology I am going to narrate will reveal why parapsychology as pursued in the west will remain forever a study of anomalies rather than a science with a specific subject matter and why parapsychology may never gain scientific legitimacy as a respectable academic discipline if pursued within the western paradigm.

The difference between eastern and western perspectives is not due to differences in the belief in ostensible parapsychological phenomena. Surveys around the world show that significant majority of people in both East and West, educated professionals as well as illiterate masses, believe in the genuineness of psychic events such as precognition.

If such phenomena are indeed real, as the available evidence suggests, they not only have profound implications to our theoretical understanding of who we are and what our place in nature is, but they also have almost limitless possibilities for practical application at various levels.

This fact was not lost sight of in the West. For example, documents declassified a few years ago in USA reveal that the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon had funded research into psychic abilities for a number of years at SRI, SRI International and SAIC. [4]

Before I give you my own assessment of parapsychology as studied in the West, I will try to provide you with a true and faithful insider's look into the field; as someone who spent over 50 years in parapsychology and many of them in leadership roles. I was elected thrice as president of the US based Parapsychological Association. I headed the Institute for Parapsychology founded by Rhine the father of experimental parapsychology, for nearly two decades I edited the Journal of Parapsychology, the premier scientific journal in the field, for even a longer period.

Attempts to study psychic phenomena scientifically began over a century ago with the establishment of the Society for Psychical Research in England in 1882. Since then sporadic studies of the phenomena were carried out in various parts of the world, some in universities and a few in other research establishments. With the exception of the work by Rhine at Duke University, much of the research in this area was piecemeal, haphazard and not sustained. Consequently, it had little impact on mainstream science. However, the work carried out at Duke beginning around 1927 and continued for over one half of a century was systematic, well planned and executed under the leadership of J. B. Rhine.

The work at Duke gave the field of parapsychology its name, basic concepts and methods, and some credible evidence for the existence of such phenomena as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and PK. Again, not-withstanding its initial impact that aroused a great deal of public interest, the field remained marginal, unable to penetrate into the academic and research establishments. There are many reasons for this state of affairs.

First, the theoretical implications of these findings are unsettling to the assumptive base of science in general and the physical sciences in particular. [5] They seem to question the basic principles that limit the extent of human information acquisition resources that are considered sacrosanct. [6] In other words, psychic phenomena are of a kind that would not happen in a universe determined by physical laws. If the universe is entirely determined by physical causation, as is generally assumed, any claims of psychic phenomena that appear to call into question such determinism should be considered spurious and a priori unreal. It is so because the antecedent probability accorded to their occurrence is zero. Therefore, no amount of evidence is sufficient to prove their existence. They are assumed unreal, ex-hypothesis.

The second is the methodological problem of reliability and replication. Psychic abilities appear to be notoriously unreliable, creating difficult problems of prediction and control. There has been a degree of replication of laboratory effects involving psi (a generic term for psychic phenomena), but far less than what is required to convince critics with a preexisting prejudice against the possibility of these phenomena.

Researchable psychic events fall into two categories - (1) those that refer to anomalous acquisition of information and, (2) anomalous mind-body interactions. The first category includes phenomena that are generally classified under the term ESP. ESP includes telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition. Telepathy is mind reading. Clairvoyance is awareness of objects and events outside of one's sensory field. Precognition is non-inferential knowledge of the future. The second refers to what is called PK or direct action of mind over matter.

Rhine [7] coined the word ESP, a concept that is extensively used in parapsychological literature. There are, however, numerous other concepts, which refer to the same thing. They include remote viewing [8] remote perception, [9] traveling clairvoyance, out-of-body experiences and so on.

All these terms are theoretically loaded. At this stage of relative ignorance as to the nature of the phenomena and the apparent transgression of the basic limiting principles and currently accepted epistemological assumptions by the putative paranormal phenomena, cognitive anomalies is the favored term to refer to these ostensibly extra-sensory and extra-motor events. Cognitive because they deal with information acquisition and anomalies because they do not fit into any current conceptions of cognition.

The existence of cognitive anomalies in the form of ESP and PK is demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt. This is not the same as saying that it is accepted as a scientific fact by the mainstream science. [10] I refer to two experiments, one by Rhine and Pratt [11] and another by Schmidt [12] and associates as providing overwhelming evidence for psi phenomena. These were replicated many times.

Parapsychological research has gone well beyond the question of the existence of psi. There has been experimental demonstration of various forms of psi such as ESP and PK and the discovery of lawful regularities between psi and other psychological and physical variables. One of the most important findings is that ESP, unlike any known physical phenomena, is apparently unconstrained by space/time variables or the complexity of the task.

Russian physiologist Vasiliev [13] reported that he was able to hypnotize his subject telepathically during randomly determined periods of time from a distance of about 1,700 km. He found also that his attempts to shield any possible electromagnetic wave transmission between the hypnotist and the subject by placing them in separate Farady cages did not diminish the success rate of the telepathic induction of hypnosis. Schlitz and Gruber [14] successfully carried out transcontinental remote viewing experiments in which the subject, totally unaware of it sensorially, attempted to describe a randomly selected location in another continent being visited by an experimenter.

There is also experimental evidence to support the precognition hypotheses. As in spontaneous cases in which people have reported their experiences of having information about future events apparently without any other means of knowing them, experimental studies have also shown that it is possible to have information about a target that does not exist now but will come into being at a time in the future. For example, it was found in some remote viewing experiments that the subjects were able to successfully describe the location where the experimenter will be at a predetermined future time. [9] Earlier, Rhine [15] had reported significant results suggesting that his subjects were able to guess correctly the target order in a deck of ESP cards randomized after the subjects made their calls. In a meta-analysis of forced-choice experiments comparing clairvoyance, and precognition, Steinkasmp et al.[16] found no significant difference in the success rate in precognition and clairvoyance studies, even though the cumulative overall effects is significant in both clairvoyance and precognition studies.

Another significant aspect of psi appears to be the relative ineffectiveness of task complexity in constraining it. Stanford [17] has reviewed the relevant literature and concluded that the efficiency of PK function is not reduced by an increase in the complexity of the target system.

Thus, psi, which is believed to involve no sensory mediation, is also found not to be constrained by the variables of space and time nor by the physical properties of the items of information. There is nothing to indicate from the research results available to date that any energy patterns emanating from the target objects reach the subject in ESP tests. It would seem that somehow the subject has access to information under conditions that simply do not permit any known physical energy transmission from the target. Such a possibility raises serious questions about the subject-object distinctions in cognitive processes and the representational theory of knowledge in general.

Not only is there compelling evidence for the existence of such cognitive anomalies as ESP and PK and data suggesting that these abilities are unconstrained by time, space and the complexity of the task, as normal abilities do, but there is also a vast amount of experimental evidence suggesting that ESP occurrence is facilitated by the reduction of ongoing sensory stimuli.

  Cortical Arousal, Extraversion and Extrasensory Perception Top

Several parapsychologists consider ESP "an ancient and primitive from of perception." [18] Therefore, it is suggested that conditions of high cortical arousal may inhibit ESP, whereas a state of relaxation and reduced sensory input may facilitate its occurrence. British psychologist Eysenck [18] surveyed a surprisingly large number of studies that have bearing on this. Pointing out that introverts are habitually in a state of greater cortical arousal than extroverts, Eysenck hypothesized that extroverts would do better in ESP tests than introverts.

Indeed, there is much evidence in support of this hypothesis. For over 50 years, extroversion-introversion has been one of the most widely explored dimensions of personality in relation to ESP, Sargent [19] reviewed all the English-language reports bearing on the extroversion-ESP hypothesis and found that significant confirmations of a positive relationship between ESP and extroversion occur at six times the chance error. Honorton et al.[20] report a comprehensive meta-analysis of 60 independent studies of the ESP-extroversion relationship. Again there is significant evidence to suggest that extroverted do better than introverted subjects.

There are a number of other studies, which shed direct light on the hypothesis of ESP facilitation via sensory noise reduction. There is substantial evidence to suggest that the occurrence of ESP may be enhanced by procedures that result in the reduction of meaningful sensory stimuli and proprioceptive input to the organism. In fact, many of the traditional psychic development techniques such as yoga appear to employ sensory noise reduction procedures, as do a variety of relaxation exercises and altered state of consciousness. Psi researchers have explored some of these.

  Relaxation and Extrasensory Perception Top

There are many ESP studies in which progressive relaxation procedures have been used. Majority of these gave significant results. William Braud and associates carried out the most extensive work in this area. In the first experiment, [21] there were 16 subjects and the subjects self-rated their degree of relaxation. Braud and Braud report that those who performed well in the ESP tests rated themselves as more relaxed than the poor psi performers.

The second experiment consisted of 20 volunteer subjects who were assigned randomly to "relaxation" or "tension" conditions. Those in the relaxation condition went through a taped, progressive-relaxation procedure (an adaptation of Jacobson's) before taking an ESP test, which was to guess the picture being "transmitted" by an agent in another room. The subjects in the other group were given taped, tension-inducing instructions before they did the same ESP test. Each subject's level of relaxation was assessed through electromyographic (EMG) recordings. The EMG results showed a significant decrease in the EMG activity among the subjects in the "relaxation" group and a significant increase among those in the "tension" group. As predicted, the ESP scores of the subjects in the relaxation group were significantly higher than those of the subjects in the tension group.

  Extrasensory Perception in Hypnotic States Top

The idea that the hypnotic state may be psi-conducive is as old as scientific parapsychology. Pierre Janet was reportedly successful in inducing a somnambulistic trance state 16 out of 20 times by mere mental suggestion. [22] The Russian physiologist Vasiliev, [13] as mentioned earlier was highly successful in inducing hypnotic trance by telepathy from a distance. There are a large number of controlled laboratory studies suggesting that hypnotic states are conducive for manifestation of ESP.

Honorton's [23] review lists 42-psi studies using hypnosis, 22 of which gave significant evidence of psi. Schechter [24] published a review and meta-analysis of the experimental studies of ESP and hypnosis. The analysis confirms the hypotheses that subjects tend to obtain higher ESP scores in the hypnotic state than in a controlled waking state.

  Meditation and Extrasensory Perception Top

A number of exploratory studies in which some kind of meditation procedure was used seem to suggest a positive relationship between meditation and ESP. Honorton [23] reports a survey that shows 9 out of 16 experimental series involving meditation giving significant psi results.

At Andhra University we conducted a series of experiments to investigate the effect of meditation on ESP. In one study, [25],[26] 59 subjects who had various degrees of proficiency in meditation took ESP tests before and immediately after they had meditated for ½ h or more. The ESP tests involved matching cards with ESP symbols and guessing concealed pictures. Both the tests yielded results that showed that the subjects obtained significantly better ESP scores in the post-meditation sessions than in the pre-meditation sessions.

  ESP in the Ganzfeld Top

Finally, a number of well-designed experimental studies looked at the effects of reduced external stimulation on subject's ESP scoring by utilizing the ganzfeld. The ganzfeld is a homogeneous visual field produced, for instance, by taping two halves of a ping-pong ball over the eyes and focusing on them a uniform red light from about two feet. The subject may also be given "pink" noise through attached earphones. After being in the ganzfeld for about one half hour, subjects generally report being immersed in a sea of light. Some subjects report a total "black out" complete absence of visual experience. [27]

In a typical ganzfeld-ESP experiment, the subject while in the ganzfeld for about 30 min is asked to report whatever is going on in his/her mind at that time. The subject's mentation is monitored and recorded by an experimenter in another room through a microphone link. In most cases a second experimenter, acting as an agent, located in a different room isolated from the subject and the experimenter monitoring the subject, looks at a picture for about 15 min, attempting to "transmit" it to the subject in the ganzfeld. At the end of the ganzfeld period, the monitoring experimenter gives the subject four pictures with a request to rank them 1 through 4 on the basis of their correspondence to the subject's mental images and impressions during the ganzfeld. The monitoring experimenter of course does not have any knowledge as to which one of the four pictures is the one looked at by the agent. After all the four pictures are ranked, the subject is shown the target picture. The rank the subject gives to the picture provides the score for a statistical analysis for matching the degree of subject's mentation with the target. Sometimes a judge, in addition to or in place of the subject, does the ranking.

Honorton and Harper [28] reported the first ganzfeld-ESP experiment, which provided evidence that the subject's mentation during the ganzfeld matched significantly with the target pictures. Between 1974 and 1981 there were in all 42 published ganzfeld-ESP experiments of which 19 gave a significant evidence of psi; it seemed that psi in ganzfeld is a highly replicable effect.

However, at the joint conference of the Society for Psychical Research and the Parapsychological Association held at Cambridge University during August 1982, psychologist Ray Hyman made a presentation raising serious questions about the replicability of the ganzfeld psi experiment. Subsequently, a comprehensive critical appraisal of ganzfeld ESP experiments was published in the Journal of Parapsychology. [29]

In this paper, Hyman (1) challenged the claimed success rate of replication, (2) argued that possible flaws involving inadequate randomization and insufficient documentation vitiate experiments reporting significant psi effects and concluded that (3) the ganzfeld-ESP data base is "too weak to support any assertions about the existence of psi."

Charles Honorton, who responded to Hyman's critique, called attention to the inconsistent or inappropriate assignment of flaw ratings in Hyman's analysis. He presented his own meta-analysis that eliminated multiple analysis and other problems mentioned by Hyman. His analysis revealed that neither selective reporting nor alleged procedural flaws account for significant psi effects reported in the ESP ganzfeld studies.

Hyman and Honorton [30] issued a "joint communiqué" on the psi ganzfeld debate. In it they agree that such considerations as selective reporting or multiple analyses cannot reasonably explain away the overall significance of the effect. They disagree, however, on the degree to which the effect constitutes evidence for psi. More important are the recommendations they make for conducting future experiments in this area.

Very significant in ganzfeld-ESP research is a report of a replication of the psi ganzfeld effect by Cornell psychologist Bem along with Honorton, [31] published in the mainstream psychology journal, Psychological Bulletin. This study, consisting of 11 experiments, utilized computer control of the experimental protocol. It complied with all the guidelines Hyman and Honorton recommended in their joint communiqué. The results from the new setup, called the autoganzfeld studies, strongly support the existence of a psi effect in the data and replicate the ESP ganzfeld effect, meeting the "stringent standards" requirement as recommended by Hyman and Honorton in their joint communiqué.

It seems reasonable, therefore, to say that we now have a broad range of replications of ganzfeld ESP experiments covering over a period of 25 years. They involve over 90 experiments by a wide range of investigators scattered around the globe, showing a fairly robust effect comparable across studies that adhere to the standard ganzfeld protocol. It should be mentioned, however, that the controversy whether ganzfeld-ESP effect is an established fact continues, addition studies raising new questions.

The results from ESP studies involving meditation, relaxation, hypnosis and ganzfeld thus meaningfully converge to suggest that a reduction of ongoing sensorimotor activity may facilitate the manifestation of ESP in laboratory tests. Whatever may be the mechanism involved in ESP, it is reasonable to assume that ESP is a weak signal that must compete for the information processing resources of the organism. In this process, any reduction of ongoing sensory activity should improve the chances of detecting and registering the ESP signal.

It would seem, therefore, reasonable to conclude that (a) psi exists; (b) psi effects are replicable and (c) sensory noise reduction through such procedures as the ganzfeld is psi conducive.

However, there is a general lack of agreement as to what they mean. Very little progress has been made in finding meaningful physical correlates of ESP or PK. Over the past 25 years, several attempts were made to fit psi into quantum mechanics. Observational theories such as those proposed by Walker [32],[33] and Schmidt [34],[35] and their modifications by others [36] did stimulate a significant amount of research.

However, the validity of any of the versions of the observational theories of psi based on quantum physics is yet to be established. [37] Even in the liberal versions of quantum mechanics, it is highly controversial whether the collapse of the state vector involves consciousness in the sense observational theories require for explaining psi. Further, the question of what constitutes an "observation" that is involved in the collapse of state vector is not answered with any degree of clarity in physical terms.

The explanatory void haunting psi phenomena has resulted in labeling them as anomalous by those investigating it. Furthermore it breathed a lot of skepticism among the scientists watching psi researches from outside. We can hardly expect scientists to have interest in things that make little sense.

Added to this is the confusion generated by the widespread observation of what is known as the "experimenter effect." Experimenter expectancy effects are not unknown in psychological literature; [38],[39] but the experimenter effect in parapsychology has taken new turns and twists causing severe problems to the researchers in this field and has become an easy target to the skeptics to shoot at.

It has been observed from the early days of scientific research into psi that the experimenter is a relevant variable. It is now well-known that some experimenters are more successful than others in obtaining results in support of psi hypothesis. Skeptics generally point to this as a weakness and argue that the evidential results could be due to slackness of experimental rigor and failure to control the artifacts. However, a strong case has been made that the experimenter effects observed in parapsychological research are genuine psi effects and not artefactual out-comes of experimenter incompetence or unreliability.

In fact, careful studies were conducted under well-controlled conditions to test whether one experimenter is consistently more successful than another in eliciting a psi response. For example, Wiseman and Schlitz [40] published an experimental study in which they both acted as independent experimenters to test whether psi is involved in the commonly experienced phenomena of being stared at. A feeling of being stared at, when no one is directly looking at them, is reported by a vast majority of the population. According to some surveys the percentage of people reporting such feelings is as high as 80%. [41]

The experiment involved monitoring the electrodermal activity of the subjects during randomly dispersed periods of covert staring and non-staring. It is hypothesized that there would be more electrodermal activity during the periods of covert staring, i.e., when the experimenter isolated from the subject stares at the video image of the subject. Each of the two experimenters carried out a separate experiment; but they conducted them in the same location and used the same equipment.

Schlitz has a long track record of being a successful psi experimenter whereas Wiseman, who is a skeptic, has been consistently unsuccessful in the past. The results of the study showed that there is a significant evidence for a psi effect in the data when Schlitz was the experimenter and no evidence of psi in the data of Wiseman. Thus the results of the study provide unambiguous evidence for experimenter psi effect.

The reality of genuine experimenter psi effects gives a new twist to psi controversy. If the experimenter is a relevant variable, his role in the experimental situation gains importance and needs clarification. In fact, serious questions as to who is the real source of psi are raised. It does seem parsimonious at least in some cases to consider the experimenter as the real source of psi rather than the subject.

  The Cause of Skepticism Top

After 60 years in the field, I am convinced that the western paradigm of studying psi is inappropriate for understanding psi in its various forms. The best we can hope to do with current research is to accumulate incontrovertible data suggesting the existence of an anomaly. Beyond that, it does not seem possible to learn much about the nature of the phenomena for the simple reason that our methods are designed to say if our assumptions about the assumed limitations of our cognitive abilities are contradicted or not.

The reality of psi poses severe explanatory challenges within the western paradigm of science. Psi phenomena refer to events that cannot simply occur in the physical universe as we know it. The basic limiting principles, as Broad [6] labeled them, governing the assumptive base of science rule out the possibility of mind-to-mind communication that does not involve meaningful transformation of energy between minds. Similarly non-inferential precognition is an absurdity.

All attempts to naturalize the supernatural result in a paradox. It is the paradox of demolishing the very assumptive base of science in the western tradition where a distinction is made between natural and the supernatural. Once such a dichotomy is postulated, we confront the "paradox of naturalizing the supernatural" in studying such phenomena as psi. Similarly the subject-object distinction so basic to western epistemology is at the root of the confusion caused by psi experimenter effects and the difficulty in tracing the source of psi.

In the classical Indian tradition no sharp distinction is made between the natural and the supernatural, the scientific and the spiritual. At some level of awareness, even the subject-object dichotomy disappears. Consequently, neither the paradox of naturalizing the supernormal nor the perplexities of the experimenter effects in psi research pose any serious threat for an understanding of the psi process within the Indian paradigm.

I am inclined to argue that parapsychology is unlikely to make much headway if the research continues to employ the disjunctive western conceptual categories. The most that could be established within western paradigm is to provide extensive and even compelling evidence for the existence of cognitive anomalies. Beyond this, I venture to hazard, few insights into the nature of the phenomena themselves could be gained by methods that basically assume their nonexistence.

In this context, Indian psychology has much to offer and give a new direction and a fresh impetus to parapsychological research. Not only is the native Indian culture hospitable for studying these phenomena, but we also have concepts, methods and models that could make a difference. In the Indian tradition, humans enjoy dual citizenship in the physical world of sense, reason and objectivity, on the one hand and in the realm of consciousness, on the other.

Implications of parapsycholical research to spiritual psychology and to religious thought in general are too obvious to ignore. From the perspective of spiritual psychology, parapsychological phenomena are not ruled out on a priori grounds. Rather they can be expected to exist. The characteristics of psi are prima facie inconsistent with the materialistic conception of the universe and point to a reality closer to the one that underlies major religious traditions. Therefore, it is conceivable that parapsychological facts may provide scientific ground for religious beliefs and spirituality in general. At the same time spiritual practices and religious traditions may provide fruitful models for investigating psi phenomena.

  References Top

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