There is no other discipline that I know which engages at the same time a person’s critical faculties and his imagination and then stretches them both to a comparable extent.
— John Beloff, “The Study of the Paranormal as an Educative Experience”
On the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, the United States’ longest running parapsychology research laboratory is hidden behind a humble facade. This is fitting for a research institute that delves into the very root of our experience of consciousness: that hidden realm lying beneath our own humble human facades.
Founded in the 1930’s by psychologist J. B. Rhine, the Rhine Research Center, as it is now called, has been at the forefront of research into anomalous human experience for more than seven decades. More importantly, it continues today as one of the major parapsychological research groups in the world, and the friendly folks at the Rhine are more than happy to share that experience with anyone who is honestly inquisitive about their work.
On October 19th and 20th, I attended a two-day seminar that was hosted by the Rhine Research Center and presented by Russell Targ, co-founder of the Stanford Research Institute‘s Remote Viewing program, which has become famous for providing training to the U.S. military’s so-called “psychic spy” initiative. As John Kruth, Executive Director for the Rhine, pointed out, the training given to those that attended the recent seminar at the Rhine (including myself) was the same training provided to the original SRI group. Read the rest of this entry
Neurosurgeon Eben Alexander, who has spoken at (for example) the Rhine Research Center, writes in the current issue of Newsweek about his personal discovery and conviction that consciousness exists beyond the body. His argument is especially intriguing because, although it is based on his own personal experience, it goes beyond the limp and lame argument that “I experienced it so I know it’s real!” to invoke his medical knowledge and expertise. Specifically, he points out that his otherworldly experiences occurred while he was in a coma, when his neocortex was shut down — at a time when, therefore, according to the brain-based model of consciousness, no experiences at all should have been possible.
Here’s the gist:
As a neurosurgeon, I did not believe in the phenomenon of near-death experiences. I grew up in a scientific world, the son of a neurosurgeon. I followed my father’s path and became an academic neurosurgeon, teaching at Harvard Medical School and other universities. I understand what happens to the brain when people are near death, and I had always believed there were good scientific explanations for the heavenly out-of-body journeys described by those who narrowly escaped death … In the fall of 2008, after seven days in a coma during which the human part of my brain, the neocortex, was inactivated, I experienced something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death.
… I’m not the first person to have discovered evidence that consciousness exists beyond the body. Brief, wonderful glimpses of this realm are as old as human history. But as far as I know, no one before me has ever traveled to this dimension (a) while their cortex was completely shut down, and (b) while their body was under minute medical observation, as mine was for the full seven days of my coma.
… There is no scientific explanation for the fact that while my body lay in coma, my mind — my conscious, inner self — was alive and well. While the neurons of my cortex were stunned to complete inactivity by the bacteria that had attacked them, my brain-free consciousness journeyed to another, larger dimension of the universe: a dimension I’d never dreamed existed and which the old, pre-coma me would have been more than happy to explain was a simple impossibility.
… Today many believe that the living spiritual truths of religion have lost their power, and that science, not faith, is the road to truth. Before my experience I strongly suspected that this was the case myself. But I now understand that such a view is far too simple. The plain fact is that the materialist picture of the body and brain as the producers, rather than the vehicles, of human consciousness is doomed. In its place a new view of mind and body will emerge, and in fact is emerging already. This view is scientific and spiritual in equal measure and will value what the greatest scientists of history themselves always valued above all: truth.
— Dr. Eben Alexander, “Proof of Heaven: A Doctor’s Experience with the Afterlife,” The Daily Beast (and Newsweek), October 8, 2012
For obvious reasons, this piece is being widely circulated around the Internet, and is eliciting comments and reactions galore. This is entirely appropriate, since it injects a truly fascinating perspective into the conversation on consciousness, the brain, the afterlife, and related matters.
Here’s a segment about Dr. Alexander and his experience and ideas on the Science Channel program Through the Wormhole:
Forgive me; I just returned from this year’s Parapsychological Association conference, and my mind is still digesting five days of intense engagement with the scientific study of exceptional human experiences. So this column will necessarily be very brief. Rather than regurgitate some half-chewed material, I’d like to share a few insights from Dr. Stanley Krippner, professor of psychology at Saybrook University, who was honored at the convention for his contributions to the field on the eve of his 80th birthday, which is coming up in October.
It’s difficult to write a brief summary of the career of a man whose work in various fields has provided a cornerstone for social progress in the 20th and early 21st centuries. For close to a decade, starting in 1964, Krippner was the director of the Maimonides Medical Center Dream Research Laboratory in Brooklyn, which was started by Montague Ullman in 1962 to study ESP in dreams. Serious study in all of the areas currently in vogue within the consciousness studies field, from dream studies to shamanism to distance healing, were all in some way progressed by Krippner’s efforts over the years to bring scientific rigor to the study of exceptional experiences.
He also has the rare honor of being equally respected by both the most vehement skeptics and those working in the field of parapsychology. During his address to the convention, he joked that he was one of the rare public parapsychologists to have received not one but three letters of apology from James Randi. Such a feat makes his advice to young researchers, and to those hoping to come into such a contentious field of study, very pertinent.
We are currently seeing a resurgence of focus on parapsychology after a 20-year lull, with more and more university groups and institutes returning to an area of study that held the world’s fascination for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. From the research work currently being conducted at the Rhine Research Center, University of West Georgia, University of Virginia, Windbridge Institute, Institute of Noetic Sciences, and University of Northampton, to the educational opportunities offered by organizations such as Atlantic University and the Monroe Institute, it is once again possible for students and young researchers to look forward to a career in parapsychology. However, we haven’t crested the hill yet, and much work still needs to be done to carry things forward into the 21st century.