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Posts Tagged ‘scientism’

real-life halloween horrors

Dr Neil Dagnall said:  “This study shows there is an association between belief in the paranormal, lack of control and anxiety. We have observed that magical thinking is likely to occur when individuals believe they lack control over external events.

“One reason for this could be that paranormal beliefs represent an attempt to establish control and reduce anxiety – in this context, mental toughness shows a person has control and reduces anxiety and should be associated with lower levels of paranormal belief.” (https://www.mmu.ac.uk/hpsc/news-and-media/rke/story/?id=7559)

Anxiety has followed me for most of my life. As an adult, I have struggled with it mightily, trying everything from medication to therapy to alternative treatments in a futile attempt to banish it. My latest “tactic” is accepting it for what it is: a finely-tuned adaptive trait that sometimes creates psychic pain. My anxiety allows me to notice too much; that can include my own thoughts, which can quickly become distorted by fear. In the wild, I might have survived while the rest of my tribe perished. I don’t eat food that is slightly off, and I spare myself the convulsive illnesses that others fall prey to; I notice a snake in a hole before anyone else has any clue that it’s there; I know when someone is plotting something and might be a danger to me or someone close to me, and I protect myself. I can sense an angry dog before it appears around a corner; I know that a car is racing around a curve moments before it does. The list goes on and on.

In the realm of the paranormal, my acute sensitivities are both a blessing and a curse. The article quoted above is yet another abortive attempt to understand highly sensitive people with a marked tendency towards anxiety. This article and many others in the discipline of psychology attempt to understand me in ways that simply don’t take into account the reality that I experience. The idea that “paranormal beliefs represent an attempt to establish control and reduce anxiety” is exactly misguided.

Paranormal investigations are anxiety producing. They teach you that you have no control over the spirit world, or however you might with to designate the unseen realms where consciousness continues to communicate with those who seek its manifestations. My motivations were not to reduce my anxiety or to gain control, but to understand anomalous experiences that I had experienced my entire life. Perhaps wanting to understand is an attempt to gain control, but in that case, every time we wish to know something can be pathologized as a desire to gain mastery over chaos. To be human is to want to know, to seek to solve mysteries, to figure out reality to the extent that we can.

The first time I captured an EVP on my recorder at an abandoned psychiatric hospital, the last thing I felt was control or mastery over fear. I felt overwhelmed by the bizarre voice that sang childish tunes in a place where no children had been present for decades. Very quickly, it became clear to me the limits of my understanding. Reality became more warped, more unfathomable, and far more complex and multilayered than anything I had previously surmised. In fact, if anxiety is produced by change, the intrusion of the unknown, and a loss of control over and comprehension of reality, then what I had stumbled into was the perfect recipe for anxiety. It was not unusual for me to have panic attacks when the atmosphere thickened, and I sensed a presence–or many of them–without any real idea what or who it was.

Fear turns you into a hyper-attuned radar for frequencies outside of your normal range; you feel energies and sense changes in the environment on an instinctual level. It’s not a snake in a hole, but a sense that something or someone has entered your space. The animal brain kicks into high gear: What is it? Where is it? What does it want? And, most importantly, is it a threat to me or my tribe? Here’s the problem: you simply cannot answer those questions; and because the answers are elusive, your heart rate rises, your breathing becomes shallow, you feel a flood of adrenaline, and you have to force yourself to stay in that area, to not run. There is no control here, no mastery of anything; you want to know what is in your space, but you cannot, because all you can do is catch a voice, see a shadow, get a fleeting glimpse of something out of the corner of your eye or feel the touch of something on your lower back, only to see later that you have received three, distinct scratches. You are attacked without being able to discern the predator. It can be terrifying beyond measure.

This brings me to the “mental toughness” addressed in this study. If the premise is faulty, then so is this conclusion: namely, that the more toughness you develop, the more you will feel in control, the less anxious you will be, and *voila*, you will cease engaging in “magical thinking” and the paranormal. In addition to insulting–equating belief in the paranormal with “magical thinking”–this statement seems like magical thinking to me. We are not in control. Even a minimal incursion into the worlds that open up when you explore consciousness will show you that control is an illusion. I would love to believe that I control my destiny, my reality, my surroundings, my circumstances, and those around me–but that is a far greater delusion than “belief” in the paranormal.

Those who seriously study the paranormal are not doing so due to “belief” in an ideology or philosophy that supports such things as the existence of non-material aspects of reality, but rather we study these phenomena because we have, generally speaking, experiences that are non ordinary in nature and cannot be explained by our dominant epistemology: materialism. If you grow up perceiving aspects of the world that others do not perceive, you want to know what you are experiencing. You want to know if there are others like you. You learn that science can’t explain everything; you learn that psychology has its limits, its biases, and its ideologies that blind it to the breadth and depth of human experiences. Science turns people like me with extraordinary sensitivities into studies in self-delusion and pathology. That does a tremendous disservice to intricate mysteries of the unknown. It’s gaslighting.

So. If I believed, however erroneously, that I am in control (of what?), I would stop all this anxiety-fueled investigation of the unknown. I would be a good materialist, a strong, mentally tough woman without all of the nonsense. Seems to me that our culture has such a good grasp of ultimate reality and everything that inhabits the multiverse that I do not need to explore anymore. I need to stop the search, or risk trivialization of my person. Sounds like ontological fascism, or an epistemology of the dominant culture.

If that is the trade off–feeling “out of control” and anxious when the world reveals itself as utterly strange sometimes–I will take it over a false sense of security and a belief that academia and materialism can save me from myself.

–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD

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Jim Tucker

You know that a book is important to me when I still have 15 pages left and I can’t wait to write about what I have read so far. I am a big fan of Dr. Ian Stevenson’s research and Jim Tucker’s work as well (see: Life Before Life). The late Dr. Stevenson worked out of the University of Virginia in the Division of Perceptual Studies where Jim Tucker continues his work on reincarnation. Drs. Stevenson and Tucker are the world’s leading authorities on children’s past-life memories along with Carol Bowman, who is a non-scientist studying the phenomena in depth.
Return to Life picks up on Dr. Tucker’s American reincarnation cases and offers several examples of apparent past lives lingering well into a current life. Typically, children start forgetting these memories at around age 5, but some remember key features of a past life well into adulthood. One of the stories recounted is quite well known already—the case of young James who remembered a life as a WWII pilot shot down over Iwo Jima—and is well documented in Soul Survivor, a book his parents wrote after documenting his case for many years.
One of the chapters is particularly interesting to me: those cases where there is little hard, objective evidence that connects one person to a previous personality but where the child (or adult) continues to exhibit behaviors, phobias and emotional reactions that are not easily explained by current life situations or childhood traumas. I fall into that category myself, and to this day struggle with emotions and reactions that don’t appear to originate in this life.
I have discussed this elsewhere in this blog, but I still have more to talk about when it comes to the topic of past lives. In my case, my childhood was remarkable for the ‘weird’ remarks I would make and the odd behavior I would display, for no apparent reason. Lately, I have been reinterpreting stories and memories from the past and wondering if my experiences had something to do with breakthrough memories from the past. All of this, of course, leads me to wonder what the ‘self’ really is, and what part of Kirsten has come back this time around. One of the children in the book explains it as having a different personality, but a same self. That might take me hundreds of pages of writing to unravel (sorry, Soulbank readers, but sometimes I just have to write it out!).
When I was around five years old, I remember feelings of terror regarding drug use (illegal drug use). Anytime someone tried to make me take a pill or give me a shot, I would lose my mind. This was especially difficult for me, since I underwent two major surgeries at age five for unrelated issues and was often forced to deal with prescription drugs. I also had asthma and spent a fair amount of my childhood attached to an inhaler and prescriptions for steroids. However, I did know that there were medicines that one had to take for illness and drugs that people took for fun or to alter their consciousness. The idea of taking or being forced to take a drug to alter my consciousness terrified me to the point of trauma.
When I discovered joints hidden at the bottom of a drawer (I was seven or eight at the time), I lectured my parents about drug use even though they had never discussed the topic with me and were shocked that I knew what a joint was. I was obsessed with marijuana plants, hating them intensely and trying to keep my parents away from them (they did have one on the deck of one of our many apartment buildings, and no matter how much they lied to me about what it really was, I KNEW it was a ‘bad plant’). The 1960s psychedelic culture created total panic in me, even though I was not directly exposed to it. My parents listened to Cream and The Beatles, and even though there were psychedelic elements to some of the music, it was not their interest and there is no good way to explain my trauma around a certain aspect of 1960s hippy culture.
My fear of psychedelic music, images or lyrics had to do with the fear of losing consciousness. I associated that kind of experience with death. I know that the 1960s were obsessed with alterations in consciousness, but as a four and five year-old, it was odd that I was in full panic mode over any alterations of my consciousness produced by certain music, sights or sounds. To this day, I suffer from severe anxiety over anything I ingest that I don’t feel is 100% tested and safe for me. I am terrified of any kind of drug; I don’t even take Tylenol without extensive soul searching and fear. In high school and college, I would drink alcohol to excess—there was no panic over that unless I started to feel like I was seriously altering my consciousness—but I would not touch any pill or illegal drug even though everybody around me had no such qualms.
Even now, falling asleep is scary because it involves alterations in consciousness. A threat to my conscious awareness can come in almost any form, but I struggle attempting to remain in control of my faculties and not drift off, never to return. I remember an incident at 15 that triggered a very old memory. I was watching “Major Tom,” performed by David Bowie, on our old television in the living room. It was 1980. As I watched him and listened to the song, I had an out of body experience and a profound alteration of consciousness that so terrified me that to this day, I cannot watch Bowie perform the song without profound feelings of fear. I felt that this music would, somehow, kill me or take me so far out of my normal, rational experience of life that I would be mad or drugged and not be able to return.
The fear of drugs seriously affected my friendships. I would cry if a friend smoked a joint. I would lecture fellow college students on the dangers of drugs and make myself an unwelcome guest at many school parties. Anything, even an aspirin, seemed to contain the horrendous possibility of a slow, downward spiral into unconsciousness. As I have written about before, I ‘knew’ the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco not from a tourist point of view, but from the standpoint of a drug addicted, teen-aged prostitute.
That, of course, is speculation. However, it fits with certain behaviors, automatic reactions and responses, emotional trauma and general life perspective that doesn’t make much sense unless I lived a certain kind of life in my distant, previous-personality past. There are other aspects to my life as a young adult that point strongly in the direction of the past life that I mention above, but the details are so personal and painful that I don’t wish to relive them in a blog post. The most I am willing to say is simply this: I knew what it felt like to prostitute myself for money and drugs without ever actually doing it. I would talk to myself about my life as a prostitute, the narratives rich with detail, yet I should not have known or understood the content of those narratives. I have repeated those stories for years, for decades, even.
As weird as that sounds, I know that my instinctual reaction of nausea, sadness and depression simply writing about it validates that it did happen, and not in my current lifetime. Psychologists are the enemy of reincarnation theories, since they would always say that the roots of this narrative are in my childhood, and that I repressed the memories that would lead me to understand myself a certain way. Of course, when an entire profession bases its authority on key evidence that the individual cannot, by definition, access—repressed memories resulting in unconscious behaviors—there is no way for me to claim my life as within my understanding. The mental health profession cannot prove their theory nor can I prove mine; but how many key aspects of our lives can we not prove yet know to be true? Most, I think.
My strongest evidence comes from the memories that I do indeed have access to, and no ‘logical’ explanation for. My highly precocious childhood and my abnormal understanding and knowledge of a world I never lived in is proof enough for me. In many ways, I am still struggling to overcome the legacy of that past life. I believe that it continues to traumatize me to this day, but since I can’t find a mental health professional who treats past life trauma (wait—I’m in L.A.—they are probably everywhere), I will continue to work on the details of this life the best way I know how: bringing these issues into the light.
Back to Jim Tucker’s book; I DID finish it as of this writing, and I have to say that I am slightly disappointed with the theories he proposes that explain reincarnation. It is common in the last several years to use quantum theory as a tool to understand everything anomalous, but dare I say we lay people might not understand quantum theory well enough to make such sweeping connections to phenomena such as reincarnation? Yes, it’s true that particles behave strangely in quantum physics, so much so that an observer is required to bring a result into reality; it is also true that particles can exhibit backwards causality, where an observer can determine in the present the outcome of something that supposedly already happened.
It’s fun to go in circles with quantum mechanics and speculate on what it means for consciousness, but until there is some definitive proof that consciousness is required in the observation process in order for a present reality to coalesce, I have to take all this as interesting but not necessarily compelling. OK, so Dr. Tucker does say that important figures in the field of quantum physics have stated that the conscious observer is necessary for the outcome of present reality, but I need to read the original sources in order to accept that. My fear, of course, is that I will not be able to comprehend the original sources at the depth necessary to be able to make any true statements.
Dr. Tucker admits that he is speculating based on some commonplace tropes in quantum physics (I am really tired of the double-slit experiment and Schrödinger’s stupid cat), but I keep coming back to a basic problem with the idea that the universe and everything in it does not exist without my conscious observation (or someone’s conscious observation). It sounds too much like solipsism, the notion that the individual creates his own reality with every act of observation, and therefore the moon is not there if I do not look at it. Dr. Tucker does address that briefly, but doesn’t satisfy my objections.
Maybe this sounds stupid and reduces my credibility, but this little story doesn’t seem to have a good answer for me: the other day, I was looking up at the balcony and I tripped over a clump of grass that I had no idea was there. I fell and was injured. I did not observe that clump of grass, but it was there nonetheless. This sounds a lot like the disagreement between Bishop Berkeley and Samuel Johnson, which goes like this:
Refutation of Bishop Berkeley
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the nonexistence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it — “I refute it thus.”
Boswell: Life
It appears that quantum physics is being used to prove the validity of what I see as sophistry: matter only appears to exist because we perceive it to exist. I don’t want to start walking down this long road of philosophical debate, because, frankly, it exhausts me. If the universe is a great thought, and our lives are successions of dreams, then there really is something pointless about existence itself, since it is not REAL (and here, drum roll please, is where I am supposed to ask ‘what is real,’ but let’s hold off for a moment on that one). Dr. Tucker disturbs me when he compares lives we live to dreams. He finds that metaphor most apt to understand our multiple incarnations, but for me the metaphor falls flat. Most dreams have very little in common with what it feels like to be alive in the world. He quotes a communicator through the famous medium Leonor Piper who, when asked what the afterlife is like, states that she was most shocked at how REAL it was, how everything had substance and weight. Reports on the afterlife via reputable mediums coincide on this observation; there is nothing vaporous, illogical, bizarre or contradictory in the afterlife. It seems just like a natural extension of this life.
Therefore, the extended comparisons to dreams don’t make much sense to me. If incarnations are us dreaming new existences, then it sounds like our lives are rather inconsequential. We are working out our spiritual development, but to what end? In which world? With what consequences? Dreams are experiments in reality that are not, in the end, real; dreams are psychological in nature when not precognitive, lucid or visionary or facilitating contact with the spirits of the deceased. Most dreams, probably 99% of them, are not indicative of a new reality but are rehashing our current one. No one can argue that most dreams feel like dreams, and that wandering around in the world of the awake is very, very different—very predictable, for one thing.
So while the dream analogy falls flat for me, I do understand why Dr. Tucker has to follow that route. If you accept that reality is created by the observer, you take away an external, objective world that forces people to interact and engage with challenging situations. If you believe that the world only exists as your projection of consciousness, then you run the risk of believing that you have no obligation to change it for the better, unless it’s to work on your personal, spiritual evolution. There is no suffering ‘other’ that needs you, just endless projections of you, everywhere you look. Take away the suffering other, all that which is NOT you, and you are left with a world saturated with your consciousness alone, your giant ego in search of self expression. It makes you God. And that makes me very, very uncomfortable.
I suppose that is the crux of the problem. These “we create the universe” theories turn the self into the Creator. Whether or not you believe in a Creator separate from you is not the issue; do you believe in anything that is not an extension of you? If you don’t, you’re probably two years old or a certain kind of scientist. I might have misinterpreted Dr. Tucker’s intentions or analyses here, and if I have, I hope he or someone who knows his work better than I do will set me straight.
We may not ever be able to “prove” reincarnation as scientific fact. I am dismayed by the fact that science is considered the ONLY way to prove an assertion. The statement “we live more than one life” can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt through other venues besides hard science. It can be proven using legal definitions of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.” Once you have accumulated enough anecdotal and circumstantial evidence that it becomes preposterous to reasonably believe anything else, you can declare your case proven for the vast majority of the population. Why is it that we are so obsessed—especially in the study of the so-called ‘paranormal’—with proving via the scientific method something which hard science CANNOT EVER ACCEPT AS PROVEN?
The blessings of neuroscience or psychiatry will not be forthcoming. We can use their language and their methods to explore issues of continuation of consciousness, but we are not going to be invited to their awards ceremonies or ever find a place at their table.
That does not change the fact that reincarnation is the closest theory that fits the truth of so many people’s experiences. It does not change the truth of my life or the truth of the lives that I lived before, or the reality of the lives I have yet to live.
–Kirsten A. Thorne, PhD
Kirsten with glasses

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