Monthly Archives: August 2011

Outside the (brain) box

In my videoblog Have you been here before?, I comment that if past lives found during regression are exactly what they seem to be, then science needs a rethink. It may be helpful to explain this point further, also expanding points I made in my last blog, Where do you think?

According to orthodox scientific principles, the “mind”, “thought” and “consciousness” are simply electrochemical processes operating in the brain and cannot exist without it. The same, of course, goes for memories; they are stored in the brain’s cells (somehow, somewhere) and when the brain dies those memories cease to exist. Memories of past lives are therefore impossible unless they are stored outside the brain and can survive its death.

We therefore need to look at an alternative to the orthodox position, which is that consciousness and memories operate outside and through the brain rather than being generated by it. This “transpersonal” approach accepts that the mind is not limited by time or space and opens up the possibility of paranormal (or psychic) phenomena rejected by conventional science – life after death, reincarnation, telepathy, precognition (seeing into the future) and so on.

None of these phenomena have been “proved” for various reasons – one of which, as I commented in my last blog, is that sceptics can always come up with another explanation for any paranormal event, although these arguments can often be so far-fetched that the paranormal explanation would be by far the simplest. But there is certainly strong evidence for the paranormal – evidence that would be considered proof in any “orthodox” branch of science (with high levels of statistical significance).

A detailed commentary on this evidence would be enough to fill a fairly thick book, and even a cut-down version isn’t going to fit into a single blog post. So I intend to devote my next few posts to briefly covering evidence for:

  • reincarnation
  • survival of death
  • near death experiences and out-of-the-body experiences
  • extrasensory perception (ESP) – telepathy and precognition.

This may be a tall order, but I’ll have a go!

I’ll end this post by giving you my own position on psychic phenomena. One of the few ideas that I remember from my psychology degree is the difference between an “attitude” and a “belief”. An attitude has the following three components:

  • Cognitive – what one knows about the subject

  • Affective – what one feels about it; and

  • Behavioural – how one behaves in relation to it.

A belief, on the other hand, lacks the cognitive component.

I try to avoid beliefs and only hold attitudes, based on knowledge. My extensive reading on parapsychology (the semi-respectable modern word for psychical research), dating back over forty years, together with some limited personal experience, is enough to satisfy me personally that psychic phenomena exist in some form. But I am neither a “believer” nor a “sceptic” – I try to look at the evidence objectively. Unfortunately, most writers on the subject take one position or another, so when you’re reading about the paranormal you need to watch out for the writer’s prejudices and allow for them. I hope I don’t have any.

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Where do you think?

Did you see news reports at the beginning of August that a British man was the first to be fitted with a totally artificial heart? I listened to a radio phone-in that evening; the presenter was asking whether or not an artificial heart was a Good Thing. He commented that research had shown that the human heart contains neurons brain cells (“neurons”) and is part of the nervous system – in other words, part of our “mind” lives in the heart.

This sounded completely nonsensical to me – and to some of the phone-in’s callers – but as it’s years since I graduated in psychology I thought perhaps I’d better check it out. An internet search the next day came up with an astonishing article by psychiatrist Professor Mohamed Omar Salem, which you can read here:
http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/Heart,%20Mind%20and%20Spirit%20%20Mohamed%20Salem.pdf

Salem refers to research revealing that the heart not only contains neurons but also a complete nervous system – in effect, a “little brain”. The implication of this, and other research to which Salem refers, is that consciousness does not arise in the brain alone, but in the whole body, with the heart playing a significant role.

The part of the article which really struck me, though, was his final comment regarding “the concept of the spirit as the non-physical element, or the field, of the mind that can communicate with the cosmos outside the constraints of space and time”. This led me to one of Salem’s references – Thinking Beyond the Brain, a book edited by David Lorimer of papers by distinguished scientists and philosophers presented at the Beyond the Brain series of conferences.

When I studied psychology the prevailing view was “behaviourism”. Psychology had nothing to do with how humans thought – it was about observing how we (and animals) behaved. Modern psychology did not allow “introspection” as a tool; “mind” and “consciousness” were not considered scientific enough for study. I learned more about what makes me “tick” in my first one-week NLP course than I did in three years of my psychology degree.

Lorimer’s book shows that some psychologists are now beginning to think outside this particular box. The current orthodox scientific fashion is to regard “the mind” mechanistically, as a product of the chemical and electrical processes of the brain, but there’s significant evidence – not “proof” – that the mind may be able to exist outside the brain and body. I personally feel that there will never be definitive “proof” – the sceptics can always come up with another explanation, however far-fetched.*

Therapies which do not limit themselves to the usual bounds of the individual – or to three-dimensional space and linear time – are known as “transpersonal”. To clarify this a little, I’m a member of the Association for Transpersonal Hypnotherapy; the Association’s website explains the concept and lists a number of research areas in the field. My particular interest is in parapsychology, or psychical research, the scientific study of the paranormal, including in particular research on past life regression, which I use regularly in my hypnotherapy practice.

Parapsychology offers the strongest evidence – but not of course proof – that consciousness is not limited to the brain. I’ll be taking a look at some of that evidence in another blog, but for now I’ll just say that it’s strong enough for my personal satisfaction. I try not to hold “beliefs”, but for me the evidence indicates that there’s more to our minds than the mechanical processes of the brain – and heart.

*Funnily enough, I remember writing a very similar sentence back in 1973 – little has changed.