Educating the Potential Human – Skepticism, Psychical Research and a New Age of Reason

Seeking Harmony

After a recent investigation into the public presentation of anomalistic science (as detailed at The Teeming Brain,) it’s fairly clear to me (if it wasn’t painfully so already) that much of the information being fed into the popular consciousness is nothing more than hyped up fantasy fixed and formatted for mass mediated consumption. With Dean Radin’s new book, Supernormal, reaching the top if it’s sales categories on Amazon, and ranking high in the Nielsen ratings, there is an obvious desire for more detailed investigations of these areas that go beyond the paranormalist freak show and the skeptical sub-culture’s deflated debunking.

The binary argument of real vs. fake, of truth vs. fraud, or any such division, is merely a set up to market to one side or the other, and both proponents and defamers alike rely on each other to stoke the fires of contention so that an audience lulled by the rhythms of the work place will feel called to seek some solace in the untenable possibilities of the unknown, or the thin empowerment of a pseudo-scientific righteousness found in the knowledge that all their dreams and fears from childhood have been firmly put to bed by the cold light of rational, technological progress.

Would you like to be a powerful psychic, with the world at your whim? or are you troubled by the regret some supernatural longing as a child that was never fulfilled? There’s an easy answer out there, packaged with a promise it will fail to fulfill, that can help with whatever you’re looking for. Whether it’s to become something more, such as the plasticine spirituality offered by most popular paranormalist and New Age material, or to cut out those irrational longings that haunt you, as the skeptical sub-culture affirms for their unofficial mission statement.

In a Newsweek piece on the James Randi Foundation’s most recent production of The Amazing Meeting, leading skeptic Jamy Ian Swiss is quoted as saying:

“The rabbi and the cantor were such assholes that they turned me into an atheist by the day of my bar  mitzvah.”

To which one might ask, what has mainstream religion to do with scientific inquiry? What has your personal experience with a rabbi and a cantor to do with questions of universal and para-universal investigations? And what kind of rationality exists in allowing this much personal angst to accompany investigations into the far reaching implications of human potential?

A more reasoned approach was noted by the famed mentalist and performance magician Max Maven, who also attended The Amazing Meeting this year, as evinced in this excerpt from a “live blog” of his talk:

Max Maven is telling us that we lie much more often than we seem to think that we do, that we lie to ourselves about lying to everyone, and that perhaps we shouldn’t feel too bad about it after all. “The goal of fighting the fakers is worthwhile…” but Max tells us that perhaps we are too quick to create a sharp dichotomy between us and them. Max is encouraging us to think critically about how we do critical thinking, “Who is skeptical about the skeptics?”

Whatever one’s personal beliefs on the subject of anomalous experience, it seems a bit blind not to realize that much of the heated conversation on the topic has nothing to do with actual understanding, and plays directly into the hands of profiteers of one sort or another, even down to the most mundane level of ego stroking experts on both sides who use the lack of clarity in the situation to support their personal brands. A disturbing implication in much of the paranormalist material is that our potential is fearful, fraught with danger, and the unknown is something to seek protection from. In the same light, skeptical material often highlights the inability of self-deluded humanity to survive without the aid of progressive, technological marvels and chemical enhancements that often, in the end, do more harm than good. In the shadow of these glaring and grotesque parodies of actual investigation exist organizations that have for years sought to apply reasoned analysis to question of the unknown and human experiences that lie outside of the accepted narrative of our culture.

Some, such as the UK based Society for Psychical Research, have existed for over a century. Having welcomed into its ranks some of the finest minds of science, it has never shied away from a proper application of skeptical inquiry.  Unless, that is, you consider base rejection and debunking as the litmus test of skepticism.  In the United States we have organizations such as the Institute for Noetic Sciences, where Dean Radin is an associate, and the older, and more established Rhine Research Center which grew out of Duke University’s parapsychology lab.

All of these institutions offer a continuous stream of public educational offerings, that make the deficit in information provided by the mass media all the more indicative of gross failings of the market based educational system we have in the United States.  While it may seem odd to see a some connection between mass media and education, most people get their information from paid pundits and talking heads rather than teachers, and in the case of anomalistic science the loud howling of popular skepticism and paranormal fantasy has stunted the public’s understanding of what we actually know and don’t know about the so-called ‘unknown.’

The Rhine Education Center is currently offering two upcoming courses taught by Dr. Nancy Zingrone, a former president of the Parapsychological Association, and Dr. Carlos Alvarado, the Rhine Research Center’s scholar in residence. The classes focus on topics which have received quite a bit of media attention lately, the first being on the history, research and phenomenology of Out of Body and Near Death Experiences and the second addressing Premonitions and Precognition with a similar rigor. Since Eben Alexander’s NDE has received so much attention and debate, as have recent studies which indicate some statistical evidence for precognition, it would be wonderful to see more people, especially journalists, bloggers and cultural creatives, engage in these kinds of educational opportunities which can inform them of the deeper history that attends the surface scratched in the mainstream media.

Through the auspices of the Rhine I’ve been able to meet with Russel Targ, the father of Remote Viewing, along with Ed May and Joseph McMoneagle who were both integral partners in the U.S. government’s psychical experiments known to most through the Jon Ronson’s book, and the movie of the same name, The Men Who Stare At Goats. What I experienced through interacting and talking with them is nothing like what has been promoted regarding the project, or any of the research that’s been conducted on psychical and anomalistic experiences, and I would hope that all those who are interested, or skeptical, would show the research, and researchers, some small amount of respect by actually encountering it, and those who work with it, rather than forming opinions based on marketable misinformation.

Research and inquiry is a slow process, which invokes as much personal change as it does changes in the wider cultural perception of reality.  To be stuck in belief or disbelief, especially in the realms of human potential, is never to know, and it is only through actively engaging knowledge that wisdom can grow. In our darkened, confused time, when commercial forces of technology, conspiracy and terror wreak havoc with our global culture, we need a few more open minded individuals to carry us into the light.

In order to achieve an age of reason, we need to act reasonably, and to continue to allow the illusory critiques offered up by sub-cultures, skeptics, paranormalists, marketers, corporations and commercial entities to stand in for personal engagement with the grand adventure of being human will only continue to put us in the hands of those too weak to explore their own existence, and too willing to substitute their own ego fulfillment for the treasure of enlivening our vast potential as a global society. Before you dismiss humanity’s long history of seeing the unlimited power of the mind to work in the material world, do yourself a favor and apply yourself to a serious education in psychical research, what you find may surprise you.

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David Metcalfe is an independent researcher, writer and multimedia artist focusing on the interstices of art, culture, and consciousness. He is a contributing editor for Reality Sandwich, The Revealer, the online journal of NYU’s Center for Religion and Media, and The Daily Grail. He writes regularly for Evolutionary Landscapes, Alarm Magazine, Modern Mythology, Disinfo.com, The Teeming Brain and his own blog The Eyeless Owl. His writing has been featured in The Immanence of Myth (Weaponized 2011), Chromatic: The Crossroads of Color & Music (Alarm Press, 2011) and Exploring the Edge Realms of Consciousness (North Atlantic/Evolver Editions 2012). Metcalfe is an Associate with Phoenix Rising Digital Academy, and is currently co-hosting The Art of Transformations study group with support from the International Alchemy Guild.

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4 responses to “Educating the Potential Human – Skepticism, Psychical Research and a New Age of Reason

  1. The thing about this analysis is that it still rests firmly within personal beliefs. The idea that “reason” and it’s siblings (logic, rational analysis,etc) equals truth. Or that “reason” is the best way to know more about what actually exists. It’s a belief that is both adjunct to, and formative of, the materialist viewpoint.

    The age of reason flopped. Bring on the age of genuine open-minded inquiry.

  2. Having read the “Newsweek” article, I am surprised at the religious position of the skeptics. Now, it would appear to me that, apart from matters dealing with spirits and/or the afterlife, there would be no reason for atheists to reject the paranormal. At the same time, there is no reason why someone who does believe in God would not be just as skeptical as they are. So when we discover that practically all the members are atheists, the implication is that some sort of ideology is in place. I suspect that they have simply replaced the Bible with the physics textbook as holy writ.

  3. And I’ll say amen to that!

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