Toward evidence-based spirituality.
Article Type: Essay
Subject: Parapsychology (Analysis)
Spirituality (Analysis)
Author: Tart, Charles T.
Pub Date: 03/22/2010
Publication: Name: The Journal of Parapsychology Publisher: Parapsychology Press Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Parapsychology Press ISSN: 0022-3387
Issue: Date: Spring, 2010 Source Volume: 74 Source Issue: 1
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 238093017
Full Text: I want to thank the Parapsychological Association for the way they honored me in giving me the Charles Honorton Integrative Contributions Award for 2008. I'm sorry I couldn't attend the meeting last year to express my thanks immediately, but hopefully you who were there enjoyed the small video of thanks that I sent.

It's an obvious honor to and recognition of Chuck Honorton's work in our field for the PA to have created this award, but, to ask the eternal question, why me?

Well I admit to having been busily working away at parapsychology and related fields for some time. I had a psychophysiology laboratory for the study of sleep and dreams at University of California, Davis (UC Davis) from the beginning of my career, and many parapsychology experiments were conducted by me and my students there. My work on altered states of consciousness, meditation, spiritual growth, and the like has always had, in my mind, implications for parapsychology.

Some 15 years ago, back in 1994, I took early retirement from the University. The State of California was having big budget troubles back then--sound familiar?--so the University offered generous retirement deals to entice senior faculty to retire. I figured I could live on what they offered, and, indeed, thought of it as my "permanent government grant" to have time available for parapsychology and related interests. That part has worked out, but my other thought at the time, that in my semi-retirement I would have lots of free time to fool around with so many things that interested me, turned out to be quite a fantasy. (Making the video of my thanks I sent to the PA last year was one of those things I wanted to fool around with, but such time has been way too sparse.) Any of you thinking of retiring, be warned, it can be busier than still working!

Although officially "retired" from UC Davis, I had no intention of actually retiring. I've always liked doing research, teaching, and writing, so why would I stop? I've been teaching part-time at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto since leaving UC Davis, doing a lot of writing and speaking, and, for most of these years, running an internet discussion group of experts in postmortem survival research. Reinforcing my belief that I wasn't anywhere near "retirement," the PA honored me with an Outstanding Career Award in 1999.

This is a continuation and expansion of the invited talk in response to that Career Award that I gave to the PA at the start of this new millennium--I've been busy! The major themes of that earlier talk were the need for parapsychology and transpersonal psychology to work together, and why, on a personal level, I was proud to be bath scientific and spiritual in my professional and personal approaches to life. That earlier talk to the PA was published (Tart, 2002) in the Journal of Parapsychology, and a comparable exhortation to transpersonal psychologists as to why they needed to work with parapsychologists was published (Tart, 2004) in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. Hopefully this talk will inspire some of our younger members with ideas about some possible and important directions our field could go in.

The PA was the first professional organization I joined--and I was very proud to be accepted--and has remained the central professional organization in my life. To be at a PA meeting is, besides hearing and being stimulated by interesting papers, to see old friends and colleagues, people who have experienced the same kind of prejudicial hardships I have in order to pursue our interests in parapsychology. So talking to you is rather more like an informal talk to "family," rather than presenting a formal, learned paper. I am also aware that I am speaking at the end of a long day of complex technical papers, so I will try to be somewhat entertaining as well as stimulating. I wish I could give you that authoritative, learned paper, based on my half century of experience, of exactly what our field needs to do to make remarkable advances, but while I have some ideas, I don't have "the Answers," so what I'll say today is more a work-in-progress report of some aspects of parapsychology that particularly interest me.


At this point I planned to show a nice-looking title slide, one that gave the formal title: "Toward Evidence-Based Spirituality," author info: "Charles T. Tart," and time and place data: "Charles Honorton Integrative Contributions Award Address, PA, 2009." To honor our friend Chuck, I chose a background of pretty clouds in the sky and superimposed a photo of Chuck up in the corner. I like clouds, and thought it looked pretty.

A senior PA colleague saw it and warned me that it might be too much for a PA presentation; it looked too "spiritual" to have a wispy Chuck hovering up in the sky! Some of our colleagues have followed a purely technical strategy for gaining mainstream scientific acceptance for parapsychology, a strategy that I might oversimply describe as "leave out any references to spiritual and religious stuff or human meaning, stick to the technical, scientific analyses--F tests, interaction terms, effect sizes, correlation coefficients, and so on." These colleagues, I was warned, might be offended by even a visual artistic suggestion that Chuck had survived death and was somehow hovering in the sky looking down at us....

Well, I understand and sympathize with the reasoning behind that strategy. I usually use it myself when addressing audiences I think are overly attached to physical science and emotionally resistant to the possible spiritual aspects of our nature. But the reality is that psychical research and parapsychology grew out of questions about religion and spirituality, and our data are of considerable significance and meaning to these areas of life. I don't think this strategy of avoiding the spiritual implications of psi data has worked in gaining us more scientific acceptance, though. The pseudoskeptics who attack our field aren't fooled by scientific jargon; they know psi has spiritual implications and they are against them! Judging by the blatant departures from logic and scientific reasoning so often manifested by the pseudo-skeptics in their attacks, I'd say there is a high degree of emotional energy behind their attacks, and we're not going to overcome them with rational means, even though our typical experimental procedures have long embodied the highest standards of scientific procedure.

Indeed, one of the profitable research directions I would suggest for the future is to look on at least some of the pseudoskeptics (or some scientists in general) as what I'm starting to call spiritual beings in denial. Without going off on a tangent here to elaborate what I mean by spiritual, let's just say that we know a lot about the psychology of denial in general, in many areas of life, and applying this psychology to understanding the intense and irrational opposition we face in some quarters might be very profitable.


I'm going to cover a lot of ground in this article, so I'll list the main topic headings here. It will help in keeping the forest visible in spite of the interesting trees.

--Chuck's and my careers: some parallels

--My and others' motivation to enter parapsychology

--Transpersonal psychology

--Clarifying key terms regarding evidence-based spirituality

--Bringing it all together--toward integration

--The End of Materialism book

--Bottom line, basic conclusions

--Some speculation: Where can we go?

--Working assumptions guiding where we want to go

--In conclusion


In preparing a few things to say to honor Chuck (if you knew him, it's hard to get formal and say Charles Honorton), I was reminded of how long I've been in our field when I saw the necessity of just saying who he was. Factually, I have to accept that a lot of the younger people in our field never personally knew him. Chuck and his prodigious work were so central to us for so long that it's hard to believe he died 17 years ago. So the quick overview: here's what the PA webpage says (http://www.parapsych. org/members/c_honorton.html) :

A good friend, a wonderful colleague, sorely missed.

Remembering Chuck and looking at this capsule bio, I was struck by how parallel our parapsychological careers were. My interests also centered on parapsychology, consciousness, and spirituality from my teenage years. It never occurred to me that I could write a physically distant, iconic figure like J. B. Rhine, but I met him my first year in college when he lectured in Boston, and we began corresponding. Looking back at that correspondence, I can see that J. B. Rhine was quite stubborn about what he thought was right, although he was very skilled at expressing it diplomatically-and I was quite stubborn too! I doubt that I had a tenth the skill of diplomacy Rhine had, though.

Fellow students and I had started a parapsychology club at MIT, and we visited Rhine's Duke lab. As I became more and more fascinated with parapsychology and disenchanted with the engineering I was majoring in, I wanted to become a parapsychologist, but knew even then how difficult it would be to make a living in our field. But I also realized I could become a psychologist, which would be close to parapsychology, and Rhine helped me transfer from MIT to Duke, where I could major in psychology. He also promised me a part-time job in his laboratory, which was a tremendously exciting prospect.

In our MIT Parapsychology Research Group, as we grandly called our student club, we also met Andrija Puharich, through the graces of Eileen Garrett, whom I had met when she lectured in Boston. We were fascinated with Puharich's experiments, for he seemed to have found an electrical method (Faraday cages in various configurations) that could selectively enhance or inhibit psi. What more interesting possibility could there be for a bunch of physics and electrical engineering majors interested in psi? We had Puharich talk at MIT, and a group of us visited his laboratory in Glen Cove, Maine. Most of us felt his experimental procedures were basically sound, although, as in any new field, the more exploratory studies were somewhat loose. Excited--and needing summer work to help with my college expenses--I got a research assistant job with Puharich. I participated in a number of fascinating experiments, but won't go off on that tangent now.

As my correspondence with Rhine was showing, though, Rhine was the "establishment" of parapsychology, and he suspected Puharich of being incompetent, a charlatan, or both. When I arrived at Duke in the fall, I got one brief talk with Rhine, the promised job disappeared, and I was told by other lab staff I had befriended that I had been put on the list of people to be discouraged from visiting the Parapsychology Laboratory. Rhine felt that if I was immature and dumb enough to take a job with Puharich, much less defend the man's research, I was not a suitable person for the field of parapsychology. He and his colleagues had worked so very hard to create quality standards of research, and there were already too many fringe people calling themselves "parapsychologists." He didn't want one more.

This is another parallel between me and Chuck. He was as stubborn as Rhine or me when he thought he was right, and he resigned his position at Rhine's lab over some disagreement--I don't recall what it was about any more--and many other staffers resigned with him, too. Chuck and these others became some of the most creative and productive people in our field.

Of course I was angry at Rhine for not coming through on the job offer and putting me on that persona non grata list. With the wisdom of age and hindsight, though, I would have done the same thing were I in his position. I am strongly identified with our field, I've worked hard to demonstrate and encourage the highest research standards to promote our scientific acceptance, and I am at best ambivalent and often negative about wild young people who want to become "parapsychologists" when they show, to me, no basic understanding or respect of good scientific procedure. Years later, Rhine did change his mind about me and we got along fine. I would also add that I still think Rhine was wrong then on the issue of Puharich's early research. Puharich's findings that specific electrical configurations of Faraday cages could enhance or inhibit psi functioning in talented subjects was based on sound research. Insofar as it's true, it could be one of the most important findings ever in our field, allowing us to amplify weak psi, or shield it. Puharich's later involvement in many other highly controversial and fringe areas, like Nicolai Tesla's work, psychedelic drugs, and controversial Israeli psychic Uri Geller, reinforced his image in our field as just too far out and, except for one partial replication of his Faraday cage findings by me (Tart, 1988), his work has been forgotten.

The best part of my association with the Parapsychology Laboratory, though--I visited a lot to use the library and talk with other staffers, in spite of being on the discouragement list--was the day a pretty young coed walked into the library after having heard Rhine lecture to the freshmen women and invite them to visit his lab. She asked me if I believed in ESP. She distinctly remembers my haughty reply, "It's not a matter of belief, it's a matter of evidence!" In our 52nd year of a happy marriage, Judy tells me I still use the same line a lot.


Like Chuck Honorton, my interest in parapsychology began as a teenager. In particular, it was caused by my personal conflicts between science and religion. As many people went through or are still going through similar conflicts, let me say a little about that.

I was raised as a Lutheran, through the influence of my maternal grandmother, who lived in the apartment below us for many years. My parents had no real interest in religion that I know of, but my grandmother was a regular churchgoer and she took me to Sunday school, from as young an age as I can remember. As with most kids, my grandmother was the main source of unconditional love for me, so if this religion was good enough for her, it was good enough for me! When I was 12 I attended Confirmation classes, was accepted as a church member, and went to church on my own (my grandmother unexpectedly died when I was 8) for several years. I have a photograph of me in the youth choir from back then. Me and most of the other teens and the pastor have rather frowny looking expressions: I remember that brand of Lutheranism as being big on guilt.

Two major problems arose with my simple, childhood faith, though. The first was my increasing love and knowledge of science. I was an avid reader and devoured adult books from the Trenton Public Library, especially those explaining science, and I became very aware that religion didn't make sense in terms of science. Indeed, there was a lot of nonsense under the guise of religion. Compounding these growing doubts was the special sensitivity teenagers develop to the hypocrisy of adults. Those grownups in the church were not practicing what they preached very well, yet teaching that it was the most important thing in the world! As an adult I see the word "hypocrisy" as too moralistic and strong, but as a teenager the world is very black and white, not shades of gray. (My teenage self would probably say I've sold out, of course).

With the perspective of adulthood, I see that this kind of science/ religion conflict is quite common, and the uncomfortable conflict is usually "solved" in one of two ways. The first is an extremism of belief to one side or the other of the conflict. For some, their religion is The Truth and they deny and ignore any so-called science that contradicts it, perhaps seeing it as the work of the Devil. For others, they believe that materialistic science is completely correct, religion is all nonsense, often the source of great evils, and they will have nothing to do with it. The second solution is a kind of dissociative compromise: religion is something accepted on special days, but has little thought given to it in the rest of "ordinary" life. As a psychologist, I know that any of these defense strategies is costly. Conscious conflict is reduced or eliminated if you deny science or religion. But if, as I believe the findings of transpersonal psychology and my own experience convince me, we have a genuine spiritual side as well as having and expanding wonderful scientific knowledge, then while lots of religion does indeed not make scientific sense, wholesale denial and suppression of either side keeps us from being whole, and involves a myriad of psychological costs. The dissociative compromise similarly exacts psychological costs from us. Mapping out these defenses, their costs, and their consequences will be a very useful line of future research.

I was lucky, for my voracious reading led me to the early psychical research literature, and so I discovered a third solution. Here I found that intelligent men and women in the late 1800s went through conflicts between science and religion just like I was going through, but they came up with an incredible idea. Instead of wholesale faith in any religion or in the completeness of any current, materialistic worldview in science, why not apply the methods of science--careful observation, development of hypotheses, and logical testing of these hypotheses--to the phenomena associated with religion, and so start a sorting process? Some religious ideas, beliefs, and phenomena might have a reality basis, others might indeed be partly or totally nonsensical, but we could gradually refine our religions and spiritual systems in ways compatible with scientific method.

The emphasis was on scientific method, not the current findings, the corpus of science at any time. Each era in science too often believes that its findings are the final word on Truth---but that's just typical human arrogance. The beauty of science is that its "beliefs," its theories, are always subject to revision as new facts are discovered or old ones refined. In my own lifetime I have seen numerous "scientific truths" overturned. It was practically dogma, for example, when I was young, that extrasolar planets were extremely rare if they existed at all, and we would probably never find any. Now they seem to find a new one every month.

Using basic scientific method to refine our knowledge of the spiritual--which includes many things we might prefer to label psychic--has been the basic theme of my career. My personal conflict between science and religion was solved--I can deal with both domains, always trying to observe carefully, conceptualize as clearly as I can, and not get so attached to my concepts that I become blind to new data. I can now succinctly express the goal of my personal and professional life as helping to develop an evidence-based spirituality. Or, as it's quite complicated, at least an evidence-enriched spirituality.

I should note too that my voracious reading included much more than science. I read Theosophical books, books on yoga, comparative religion, meditation, magic, philosophy, and so on, and so forth. So as a teenager I was pouring the "wisdom of the ages" into my mind. As well as the "nonsense of the ages." I'm still doing a lot of sorting out.


I noted above that conflicts between science and religion were not mine alone; many people go through them. Back in 2002, I wondered how specifically spiritual motivations or attempts to resolve science/religion conflicts applied to other parapsychologists. The pseudoskeptics certainly think they are important, and often accuse us of trying to push a religious agenda on people while disguising it as science.

To look at this empirically, I did an email survey of members and associate members of the PA, with a good response rate (Tart, 2003). Table 1 shows the main results for the first question in my survey.

If you prefer that our field seek scientific acceptance by downplaying any spiritual implications of psi data, you can cite this finding as showing that the largest group of parapsychologists surveyed deny having spiritual interests as motivation for getting into the field. If you think it's best for us to deal with the spiritual implications of our data, you can say that almost half of us (45%, the "yes" and "partly yes" responders) reported that spiritual interests were important in bringing them into the field.

Other aspects of my survey, though, found significant numbers of us feeling somewhat frustrated that the current climate of our field downplays spirituality and makes it difficult to express interests in spirituality. That ethos is one of the reasons why I often define myself as a "transpersonal psychologist," rather than as a "parapsychologist."


As my 1975 book Transpersonal Psychologies (Tart, 1975b) helped to establish the discipline, I don't feel too presumptuous in defining what this field is. My book was actually called Spiritual Psychologies up until the last minute. In my personal explorations of various spiritual growth systems, I had noticed that they all contained extensive psychologies, that is ideas about human nature, its development, cognitive functions, and so on, the kinds of things that contemporary psychology deals with. These psychologies, often stimulatingly different from current Western ideas, were usually buried in the religious aspects of the system, though, and so were unlikely to be discovered by and be of use to students of psychology. I wrote three introductory chapters about this and then had experts in various spiritual traditions write about these traditions as psychologies, rather than as religions or spiritual systems. I found the results fascinating, and naturally named the resulting anthology Spiritual Psychologies.

As the book was going to the printer, I got a call from my editor at Harper. He had good news and bad news. The good was that the country's biggest psychology book club wanted to adopt the book as a monthly selection! I was thrilled; this would help it make an impact. The bad news was that the club's editors stated that psychologists could not deal with the word "spiritual"; spiritual stuff was just too weird and taboo for psychologists. Could we change the title to drop that word?

And so Spiritual Psychologies became Transpersonal Psychologies. A few of us Californians were using the term "transpersonal," literally beyond the personal, as a new term to stimulate the founding of a new field to take the spiritual seriously and study it, but the vast majority of psychologists or people in general had never heard the term "transpersonal," so had no conditioned reactions against it.

So what is the field of transpersonal psychology? Here's a definition I created, with help from my colleagues, that we used in the catalog for the Institute of transpersonal psychology for a few years.

This covers the field well (although there are constant debates about just how to define this young and still developing field), but to put it more briefly, transpersonal psychologists think that some of what we call the spiritual might be real, and that we should find out which parts are and aren't real, study the nature of those parts, and learn to apply them more effectively to improve our world by helping people have transpersonal/spiritual experiences.

Putting it another way, transpersonal psychology is a discipline working toward developing an evidence-based spirituality.

How do the fields of transpersonal psychology and parapsychology relate to each other?


Physics deals with the basic properties of the material universe; engineering creates useful devices and processes utilizing and working within the basic properties physics has discovered. Analogously, parapsychology discovers basic properties of human consciousness and transpersonal psychology creates effective applications. To concretize this analogy, an engineer might want to build a bridge, but physics tells him that the material he wants to use isn't strong enough for the load; he will have to use a stronger material or a different bridge design. A transpersonal psychologist might want to create a high-powered machine to increase the efficacy of psychic healing, for example, but a parapsychologist might tell her that it's a basic finding that machines don't seem to do anything psychic on their own; they just give the operators of the machines confidence and permission to use their own psychic abilities. Thus the transpersonal psychologist might be advised not to waste resources on actually increasing the power of some machine supposed to produce psychic effects, but to use the resources to increase the appearance of power to the users so their own psychic abilities might function better.

I've written extensively on the relations between the two fields (Tart, 1981, 1996, 1998a, 1998c, 1993, 2002, 2004).

This analogy is useful at the present time, when transpersonal psychology is more involved with applying spiritual ideas to help people than with fundamental research into the nature of spirit and consciousness, but this could change in the future and transpersonal psychology could become as basic as parapsychology.

Personally, defining myself as transpersonal psychologist gives me more semirespectable room to maneuver in than defining myself as a parapsychologist. I can legitimately show more concern for the implications of psi, especially their spiritual implications. Then my parapsychologist colleagues who want to keep trying the abstract science, leaving-all-that-spiritual-stuff-out strategy for winning mainstream acceptance can more easily distance themselves from me: "He's a transpersonal psychologist, not a parapsychologist." But note that identifying myself as a transpersonal psychologist, with a specialty interest in parapsychology, is one way in which I integrate my varied interests and try to broaden parapsychology. Under other circumstances, of course, I am quite happy to identify myself as a parapsychologist with a specialty interest in transpersonal psychology.

I say semirespectability, as for many mainstream psychologists, transpersonal psychology still means Kooky California Psychology.

"Progress" note: At my age and semipseudoretirement status, I care a lot less what the mainstream thinks of me, although I still try to move them toward a little more openness. Whether this reduced concern with my image is a boon or a menace to our field: Well, we'll see ...

So this article is centered round a theme of evidence-based spirituality. Let's clarify this and related terms.


People are always insisting that we must have clear, unambiguous, and comprehensive definitions of key terms before we can make any progress in most fields. I think it's wonderful when we can do this in some fields, but in others I think this insistence is a stumbling block that inhibits research. The field of consciousness studies is one area like this. There is constant discussion and argument over how to define "consciousness" on the Journal of Consciousness Studies online list, and, frankly, I don't bother to read these discussions anymore. I don't think they are going anywhere. The process of defining things is one small part of the totality of what we refer to as consciousness. Why should we expect a small part to be able to absolutely define the whole? We can make it reasonably clear what we mean by consciousness in specific contexts, though, and so get on with the work. Without any claim of absolute comprehensive accuracy and definitiveness in all contexts, then, here are the ways I'm using some important terms in calling for an evidence-based spirituality.


Key elements in the definition of evidence, from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (SOED), are "... 2 An indication, a sign; indications, signs" and "3 Facts or testimony in support of a conclusion, statement, or belief. ... Something serving as a proof." We all naively like to think there is no question about this; facts are facts, proof is proof. Thus our parapsychological data leave no doubt that various forms of psi exist, right? Well, as parapsychologists we know that it's not that simple. If a "fact" doesn't fit with someone's belief system or worldview, that person is quite likely not to see it as a fact at all.

What a person believes and accepts as evidence supporting one's beliefs can come about for many reasons other than scientific research. Authority-based beliefs are extremely common. You believe X because some Authority said it was true. Cultural conditioning is another source of belief. You absorbed what everybody "knew" to be true in the course of growing up. Hope and fear also play a huge role in determining our beliefs, as do various psychodynamic factors that have nothing to do with rationality. All these factors interact too.

There are more or less persuasive aspects of evidence. If I were to make a rough listing from least persuasive to most persuasive--a listing not everyone would agree with--I would start with personal observation near the bottom of the list (personal in that I observed something or people I know say they have observed it). But how good an observer am I? How good are they? How will my rating of my or their goodness as observers interact with what I want to believe?

We can have some disagreement here, of course. If I am enamored of myself as thinker and observer, I'm liable to put my personal experience of something at the top of the ranking of evidentiality!

Moving up the list, we come to common knowledge, adages, and anecdotes. My favorite example of common knowledge is the adage I learned as a child and that all the adults I knew accepted as true, the advice "Stuff a cold and starve a fever." That seemed clear enough. If you have a cold, eat a lot; fast if you have a fever. But while taking a course in historical linguistics, my wife Judy read that the original form of this old English saying was "Stuff a cold and starb o'fever." "Starb" is a now obsolete word derived from the German sterben and means "to die." So the old advice is not to stuff someone with a cold but not to do it, lest they die of the resulting fever! Common knowledge may not be very reliable.

Moving further up the evidentiality spectrum, we might find miscellaneous case histories that seem to show a common theme. If these were systematically collected, rather than casually collected, we'd be inclined to give them more weight, and even more weight if they had been subjected to some clear, logical analysis leading to a firm conclusion.

In this age of science, though, we give much more validity to evidence that comes from experiments. We can start with simple, crude experiments and then add factors like adequate sampling of relevant populations, single and double blinding to minimize experimenter effects, and meta-analyses over large bodies of experiments to get strongly convincing evidence of some effect.

Of course actually being able to demonstrate the effect on demand is even better!

But remember, all of these levels and kinds of evidence interact with our beliefs, so what is strong evidence to a person with one belief is dubious to one with another.


In advocating an evidence-based spirituality, I'm obviously drawing a parallel with evidence-based medicine. This is a fairly modern ideal that all medical practices be based on the highest quality studies that provide evidence that a particular treatment will actually be practically effective for a specific medical problem. I describe this as an ideal, rather than an accomplishment, for most medical practice is still based on tradition or on lower quality studies that are below the contemporary "gold standard" of extensive, double-blind, placebo controlled experiments. Indeed this "gold standard" is questioned by some physicians, for while those kinds of studies may be useful for making general decisions about populations of patients, the knowledge and "clinical intuition" of an individual physician dealing with a particular patient is still vitally important. So some kinds of treatments have evidence-based support, but many do not. We don't have an evidence-based medicine yet and perhaps never will have such completely, but we certainly have an evidence-enriched medicine. Similarly with my proposal for an evidence-based spirituality. What we have now is almost entirely a matter of traditional lore and individual knowledge with almost no experimental studies of outcomes or effectiveness. Given how little we know about what spirituality actually is, and what is or isn't effective for individual practitioners, we will have to draw primarily on lore for a long time but, realistically, I believe we can create an evidence-enriched spirituality within a decade or two.


The aspects of the word "spirituality" of interest to us here, from the SOED, are

I don't think we can adequately define spirituality in ordinary consciousness language, just as we can't adequately expect the part to define the whole in the case of "consciousness." Spirituality often involves altered states of consciousness (ASCs), which means possible state-specific perceptions, feelings, evaluations and actions that do not translate adequately into the state-specific functioning of ordinary consciousness. For our purposes here, "spiritual" points toward ultimate values and meanings primarily involving nonphysical aspects of reality. Note too that spiritual values are usually considered far more important than material values to the experiencer of spiritual epiphanies.


In accordance with most writers, I use "spirituality" largely to refer to individual experiences and their effects on individuals, with "religion" referring more to the social organizations that form in response to spiritual experiences, but which involve numerous adaptations and compromises to fit with social structures. I am something of a loner and don't have much feel for social factors, so will say little more about religion in this talk.


I usually avoid using the words "God" or "gods," as they tend to tap powerful emotional sources, both positive and negative, that too seldom mix well with rational, scientific discussion. Nevertheless, many spiritual experiences, especially among Westerners, involve "God," so we parapsychologists may have to use it at times to deal adequately with the reality of human experience, whether we're worried it will scare away mainstream colleagues (or each other) or not.

The SOED's relevant entry is

I am glad to be able to cite the most authoritative dictionary here, rather than implicitly being so arrogant as to think I can adequately define a Being or beings who are supposed to be enormously more intelligent than me. Contrariwise, I am often amused at the implicit arrogance of militant atheists who, in effect, say "I am so intelligent that I can state with absolute conviction that there cannot be any being in the universe more intelligent than me!"

As an empirical and pragmatic scientist, I usually regard "god" or "God" as a shorthand way for people to express their theories, their beliefs, about the nature of reality and a being or beings more intelligent and powerful than us ordinary humans. These theories/beliefs may be relatively automated conditioning and indoctrinations stemming from childhood training or, in some cases, new ideas or modifications of old ideas based on individual spiritual experiences. Few people recognize that their beliefs are largely theories, though, or are willing to subject them to the imperative of science that all theories are subject to modification or rejection and must have testable, observable consequences. Indeed the emotional associations and investments connected with most people's religions and ideas of God make it threatening and heretical to even think about testing their theories.

I would note that while there is a lot of current argument and debate about science and religion in Western culture, it is almost all too theoW-specific, with no recognition of this narrowness. That is, it's about God as a bearded, old Middle-Eastern patriarch as the only way of thinking about spirituality, when actually there are many kinds of spirituality and spiritual experiences that must be considered as data in developing a more comprehensive theory of the spiritual. As a psychologist, I often look at some of these debates and think, "This scientist must have had a bad childhood experience in Sunday school and is still emotionally wrought about it..."


The relevant aspect of the SOED's definition of materialism is "The doctrine that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications. Also, the doctrine that consciousness and will are wholly due to the operation of material agencies."

I'm not concerned with the many philosophical variants of materialistic theory here, but with what we might call classical "man-in-the-street" materialism. I usually represent this in lectures by a picture of a billiard table, with someone getting ready to strike one of the balls with a cue. This is man-in-the-street materialism: the world is made of solid hunks of stuff. That stuff just lies there, inert, until some material force whacks it, and then it flies off in accordance with just how it was whacked. In the more elegant language of the SOED's definition of "inertia": "The property of a body, proportional to its mass, by virtue of which it continues in a state of rest or uniform straight motion in the absence of an external force."

I've always been intrigued by thinking that most early physicists were members of the intelligentsia or aristocracy, and those gentlemen-they were almost all men back then--played billiards. How much has the physics and mechanics of that game intrinsically shaped our ideas of the physical universe? It's also amusing to think what physics might be like if they had played golf instead of billiards. I don't play myself, but I'm told that there is a great deal of prayer for success, cursing for failure, and superstitious ritual on golf courses. Perhaps modern physics would have much more emphasis on chance, intention, prayers, and curses than on exactly how you whack the billiard ball atoms if they had played golf.


This brings us to a key term for parapsychologists, for anyone trying to understand the social impact of modern science, and especially for people who have had spiritual aspirations or experiences but think science has shown them to be all nonsense, namely scientism. The SOED defines it as "Excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge and techniques, or in the applicability of the methods of physical science to other fields, especially human behavior and the social sciences."

It's a wonderful thing to be a scientist; I'm quite proud to claim that title. Why not feel proud when you and your colleagues discover better understandings of the principles which govern reality? Being human, though, justifiable pride easily slips over into rigidity and arrogance, and you start automatically thinking you understand the Laws of Nature. No more real thinking is necessary; you are at the pinnacle of understanding. Scientism stems from that. The current scientific understanding of nature becomes psychologically indentified with, emotionally attached to. With intellectual and emotional attachment, a defensiveness develops; you don't like reports of things which don't fit your superior understanding, which might question your superiority. The founders of psychical research that I referred to earlier were aware that science too easily becomes scientism, that reliable relationships too easily become The Laws and the mind closes down. The fact that some aspects of the then-current religious beliefs were contradicted by the current scientific knowledge became a rationalization for rejecting all of religion and spirituality as nonsense. The founders of our field had the intelligence to see that the methods of science--the collection of empirical data, construction of logical theories to account for that data, and constant testing and revision of such theories by new data--were indeed a very useful way of advancing knowledge, but you had to keep the essential science process open and moving, not freeze it at some current point.

All the purportedly logical and scientific rejection of our principal findings on the reality of fundamental psi phenomena is a scientistic, not a scientific, rejection.

In my recent The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal Is Bringing Science and Spirit Together (Tart, 2009), I frequently touch on the pathologies of cognition that keep us from advancing our knowledge, and scientism is a particularly pernicious kind of pathology. Being genuinely scientific is a high-class position in our society, but scientism is the delusion that one is being genuinely scientific, being genuinely skeptical in the sense of open-mindedly searching for better explanations of reality, while actually being simply prejudiced. As delusions go, scientism is about as high-class as you get.


I'm speaking to you as a result of receiving the Charles Honorton Integrative Contributions Award, so let me now focus more on the topic I've been building up to, integration--or lack of it--of my other interests and our field of parapsychology.

I'd like to claim that all aspects of my professional and personal work have reinforced and contributed to all other aspects, that it's all synergistically integrate--but I can't. One major reason, of relevance to most of us, for what we might call tactical isolation of parapsychological aspects of our work, is the intense and irrational prejudice we face in scientific circles just for being parapsychologists. We often have to be careful of what we say to what audience.

To make a romantic comparison, my career has been somewhat like the old 50s TV show I Led Three Lives. If any of you are old enough to remember it, the protagonist of that series, Herbert Philbrick, was an advertising executive by day, but also a secret member of the Communist party, and also a counter-intelligence agent for the FBI. My professional life has not been that dramatic, but I have led three lives that I usually kept pretty separate for the different audiences they were presented to. (Note that I'm talking about my public professional lives here, but privately my professional and private interests were often all contributing to one another.)

One life was as experimenter and investigator of consciousness, particularly ASCs like hypnosis, dreams, and drug-induced ASCs. My first book in 1969, Altered States of Consciousness: A Book of Readings (Tart, 1969), turned out to be very timely and helped establish the study of ASCs as a respectable part of psychology and psychiatry. This book was pivotal in helping establish my "respectable" credentials and gain me tenure at UC Davis. I don't need to tell this group how useful tenure is if you want to devote even part of your work to parapsychology! Having a steady job that I couldn't easily be fired from (although I could be hassled in various ways) was a great foundation to do parapsychological work from.

I always devoted a substantial part of my professional work to studying consciousness. My most creative contribution was probably my proposal to create state-specific sciences (Tart, 1972, 1988b), to use the different perceptual and thinking perspectives in various ASCs to do scientific work and so expand our view of reality. Little practical application has come of this proposal yet. I like to think I was ahead of my time, although I sometimes consider the hypothesis that perhaps the idea, as some critics who insisted that science can only be done in "normal" consciousness claimed, didn't really make sense. My systems approach to understanding ASCs (Tart, 1975a) was also, I believe, a major contribution, but, like the state-specific sciences proposal, either ahead of its time or (I hope not) somehow flawed.

Chuck Honorton and I often discussed ASCs, and he told me that my ASC book and work was one of the inspirations that started him on ganzfeld studies, so this may be one of the best contributions and integrations of this line of my work into parapsychology. In general, I see in almost all of our social/psychological conditioning that there is no psi as occurring in our ordinary state of consciousness, so, aside from their specific qualities, ASCs give us states where that conditioning is weaker and so psi may not be so inhibited.

My second professional life was as a parapsychologist. My second scientific publication (Tart, 1963) was on physiological correlates of psi cognition, that experiment, "legendary" among my colleagues, that nobody quite seems to personally want to repeat, where the experimenter, acting hopefully as a telepathic agent, is given severe electrical shocks at intervals while correlates are looked for in the percipient's physiology. It was excruciatingly painful to me as experimenter/agent, but well worth it in terms of data and ideas produced. I should note, though, that I haven't been motivated to be shocked again.

Three other lines of work, one almost unknown, have been my major contributions within our field. One was the application of basic learning theory to multiple-choice ESP guessing studies (Tart, 1966), arguing that lack of immediate feedback in massed trials constituted a classical psychological extinction paradigm, and, as would be then predicted, the decline effect was common in our studies. In a percipient with enough psi talent to begin with, the learning process ought to overcome the inherent extinction effects created by being right by chance alone that occur in any multiple-choice mass trials study, so increases in scoring, learning, should be apparent. My initial studies strongly supported this (Tart, 1976); my second study, with significantly less talented percipients did not produce learning, as would be expected (Tart & Redington, 1979). Curiously---or as a sign of unconscious resistance to strong psi functioning, something else I have written about at length (Tart, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1999; Tart & LaBore, 1986)--the few colleagues who followed up my work with feedback studies ignored my clearly stated requirement of using talented percipients to begin with, and, as predicted, got no results.

A second contribution was my psychophysiological study of a young woman who could have out-of-body experiences (OBEs), which demonstrated the feasibility of taking an exotic experience like the OBE and studying it in a laboratory setting (Tart, 1968).

My third, almost unknown, contribution concerned the military proposal in the late 70s and early 80s to build the MX missile system, a multibillion dollar project to constantly shuttle intercontinental nuclear ballistic missiles (ICBMs) among concealing silos connected by an elaborate railway system. There would be lots of silos that hid the missiles, many more than the actual missiles we could afford to build. The idea was that it would discourage the Soviets from launching a first-strike attack: They couldn't afford to build enough ICBMs to hit all the silos, so enough of our missiles would survive to destroy the Soviet Union. We believed in those days--it all seems rather insane now--that the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, MAD, would keep either superpower from initiating nuclear Armageddon. The cost for MX was going to be absolutely enormous, of course.

I was working as a consultant for the remote viewing project (Targ & Puthoff, 1977) at SRI International at the time. This required a Top Secret security clearance, since much of the funding for the research came from the military and intelligence communities, so we had a lot of government connections. Hal Puthoff took that data from my first UC Davis study of immediate feedback as a way of learning better ESP abilities, applied the level of psi functioning shown in it to the statistical problem of which of the proposed missile silos to target with a limited number of ICBMs, and mathematically showed that using psi to facilitate your targeting made the odds of the Soviets successfully wiping out all of our missiles much higher--a first strike might well be worth it. We knew that the Soviets were devoting significant resources to parapsychological research, so ... Hal told me that he communicated this analysis to high-level people in Washington and it was an important reason for cancelling the proposed MX missile system. I'll probably never know how much of this story about the effect of the analysis in Washington is true, but I like to believe it.

My third professional life was as a transpersonal psychologist. My Transpersonal Psychologies book, mentioned earlier (Tart, 1975b) when we discussed the term "spiritual," helped to establish this field, and I have also written several books on mindfulness practice, adapting some old spiritual ideas to work more effectively in the modern world. I have been teaching at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology since retiring from UC Davis, and it's been most satisfying. I teach a course on mindfulness, one on altered states, and one on basic parapsychology. I regard the parapsychology course as especially important in the intellectual preparation of transpersonal psychologists, so when they are criticized as California Kooks with a PhD who believe in psychic and spiritual stuff, they can cite our numerous studies of psi to show a scientific foundation for the transpersonal approach.


Being in the latter part, indeed perhaps being near the end, of my career, I decided that integrating my various strands of knowledge in a way that might be helpful to people was more important than pursuing new discoveries and refinements, so I spent the last 3 years writing my integrative book The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal Is Bringing Science and Spirit Together (Tart, 2009). I have no delusions that this is the final word on these subjects, of course; it's just the best sense I can currently make of the relationship between science and spirituality, mainly through implications of the data of parapsychology. I'm a pragmatic empiricist, though, so any ideas in the book are always subject to change as further data comes in.

The End of Materialism, a title I owe to Matthew Gilbert at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, the copublisher of the book, is a dynamic, attention-catching title that I am quite charmed with. You can appreciate some of the flavor of the book, though, with other very accurate, but not as catchy, possible titles it could have had, such as Implications of Parapsychological

Findings for the Spiritual Life or The End of Dismissive Materialism or Scientific Foundations of Transpersonal Psychology.

The book is not a comprehensive survey of the latest and greatest in parapsychological research: I refer readers who want that to books like Dean Radin's (Radin, 1997, 2006). Nor is it a "sophisticated" discussion of the finer points of our research, such as whether clairvoyance could be better explained as precognition of future sensory feedback about the identity of targets. It's not particularly aimed at parapsychologically sophisticated readers like this audience, although I think you could find many interesting ideas in it. Indeed, it's deliberately "old-fashioned" in most of its discussion of experimental data to make it easier for the average person to follow. Or, perhaps I use older studies mainly because I'm "old-fashioned?" (;-)

My primary identities as the author of The End of Materialism were first as a psychologist concerned with helping to alleviate useless suffering, second and more specifically as a transpersonal psychologist interested in people's spiritual development, and third as an educator, where my primary tasks are to share useful information with people and stimulate their thinking.

It's also a much more personal book than my previous writings, using my own studies of some phenomena to illustrate them to the reader. They are not the methodologically best studies I know of in the literature, but they establish a more personal connection between author and reader. I've slowly learned, despite my education/brainwashing about the "objective" impersonality of science, that people learn more from personal connections.

Who is The End of Materialism written for then? For the many people who have spiritual aspirations, or who have had spiritual experiences, but believe they have to repress or deny them because they "know" that Science long ago proved that all religious and spiritual beliefs were nonsense, or neurotic, or both. These people are suffering and the suffering is not only useless, it is based on the false beliefs of scientism that they have been indoctrinated in.

There are certainly many beliefs classified as religious or spiritual that are factually incorrect or that satisfy neurotic needs--as there are in all areas of life. But my argument is that this total, blanket dismissal of any possible reality to the spiritual is bad science. It's scientism, it's dogmatic, pseudo-scientific adherence to a doctrine of materialism, not real science. When you use real science, essential science, as we do in our field of parapsychology, you discover that certain psi effects have a very high certainty of being objectively real. They cannot be explained by dismissive materialism, and they are the sort of qualities we might expect a "spiritual" being to have. Therefore it is reasonable to be both scientific and spiritual in one's outlook. That's my personal integration of my scientific and spiritual lives, and I want to show others they can overcome needless worry and suffering about being dumb or neurotic because of their spiritual interests because of reasonable implications of our parapsychological data.

What's in the book? After introductory material about spontaneous cases (I use one of my own experiences to help form that bond with the reader), then a discussion of how we can properly use science to discover and refine knowledge, and then a look at various emotional and cognitive obstacles that distort and inhibit scientific progress, I survey parapsychological data under two main categories, the Big Five and the Many Maybes. The Big Five are the foundational findings of our field, the phenomena we have so much and varied evidence for that, I argue, no reasonable person could doubt their existence. I then discuss telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, PK, and psychic healing as our fundamental Big Five.

A sophisticated audience like this can have many discussions of whether some of these Big Five are really versions of another, like maybe psychic healing is "merely" a form of PK. Perhaps it's really a Big Four, a Big Three, or a Big X, but, as I mentioned above, the book, my integration, is aimed at ordinary people.

I then move on to the Many Maybes category, phenomena for which I think we have enough evidence to argue that they might exist and have enormous implications for life if they do exist--and certainly should be further investigated, not ignored--but where there just isn't enough definitive evidence that most of us would feel comfortable saying they have been proven to exist. The ones I discuss are postcognition, OBEs, near-death experiences (NDEs), and evidence bearing on postmortem survival, such as after-death communications (ADCs), mediumistic communications, and reincarnation cases. You could all add more Many Maybes, of course, but I didn't want to overwhelm readers of the book, just to show enough findings to flesh out the idea ("flesh out" seems like a funny phrase when we're talking about postmortem survival ...) that there's good scientific evidence that we have the kinds of qualities we would expect spiritual beings to have.


I'll draw two primary conclusions from the book, and my and our work, relevant to integration.

First, Dismissive Materialism is scientifically inadequate as a total explanation of human life. It's an overgeneralized philosophy that simply does not account for our parapsychological data, and any scientific theory that does not account for all the data, while claiming to, is inadequate at best.

Note carefully that I'm not dismissing materialism as a working scientific theory per se. It's very useful in many areas of science, especially those we call the physical sciences, to assume that stuff is material and obeys certain physical laws. What I am rejecting is Dismissive Materialism's claim to totality, its automatic dismissal of all data, observations about spirituality in particular, that don't fit in with it. I'm especially rejecting the harm it does to real human beings by automatically dismissing any and all of their spiritual longings and experiences as inherent nonsense.

Second, our parapsychological data forces me to conclude that people sometimes show the kinds of qualities we might expect "spiritual" beings to have. I'll just briefly touch on these, since my time here is running out, drawing only on the Big Five. For example, people occasionally show evidence of telepathic contacts with other humans. Isn't telepathy just the sort of "carrier mechanism" we would need to take the transmission to a distant or nonphysical entity in prayer seriously?

We have some data suggesting that people may sometimes have psi contact with animals too. Well, is it too unreasonable then to think that psi contact might occur with nonphysical, spiritual entities?

As another example, people sometimes show clairvoyant contact with distant or shielded aspects of physical reality. A primary spiritual experience is the mystical experience of Unity, of feeling at very deep levels of being that one is an integral part of, united with, all life or all the universe. Dismissive Materialists would say this must be a malfunctioning of brain circuits that make us aware of our biological boundaries, the skin encapsulating us. Well maybe sometimes, but the existence of clairvoyance, and the fact that with present knowledge we cannot put any limits on what is accessible clairvoyantly, must make us think that perhaps the feeling of unity with the rest of life or the world has some reality to it, rather than being nothing but brain malfunctioning.

Precognition ... Well, it's hard for me to speculate about the spiritual aspects of precognition, since the phenomenon makes no intellectual sense at all to me, in spite of the fact that the evidence forces me to admit that it exists. It's at least a good reminder that our understanding of the universe is a lot less comprehensive than we would like to believe it is.

As a final example, people sometimes affect physical processes through intention alone, PK, and/or affect biological systems, psychic healing. Well, would "spiritual beings" be of much interest to us if they couldn't affect the ordinary reality we live in?

So, I reiterate my general conclusion: It's reasonable to be both scientifically and spiritually inclined.

And my general reservation: All areas of human life have lots of nonsense in them; developing discrimination is absolutely necessary.


It's personally very satisfying to me to be able to tell people that, based on my own and my colleagues' scientific work over many decades, it's reasonable to be both scientific and spiritual. But my call for discrimination is even more important. The worst thing that could come from our work would be for people to take the attitude that anything that is labeled spiritual or religious or psychic is certainly true! To begin discerning the true from the false, the spiritually enriching from the delusion-enhancing, the true-enough-to-be-useful from the used-to-be-good-in-past-times-butdoesn't-work-with-moderns, we have to study and experiment with religion, spirituality, ASCs, parapsychology, and so on. This idea of "experimenting with" will be threatening to those who are overly attached to their particular religious and spiritual systems, of course, but knowledge advances by questioning received wisdom and experimenting with new possibilities.

To mention just the principal fields that will contribute to our experimentation and discernment, parapsychology is primary, of course, in determining what does and doesn't have some reality basis, but we will draw extensively on psychology and transpersonal psychology, on the physical sciences, on consciousness studies, especially of ASCs, and on sociology and social psychology since we are social creatures, strongly affected by our cultural and group milieus. Traditional religions and spiritual systems will interact with all of the above, both as sources of inspiration and wisdom and as diversions and emotionally loaded blockages. Plus ... many other areas of knowledge we can't even think of yet.

I will, of course, sound the traditional academic refrain: We need more research on everything! And it's true!


Research always takes place in an intellectual and emotional milieu, of course, so I think it would be useful to briefly sketch the research assumptions that I See enriching our knowledge of the spiritual:

--We are "spiritual" beings in some real and important sense.

--We make a lot of mistakes and suffer a lot through ignorance and prejudice; in traditional spiritual terms, we are "Fallen."

--We have a capacity to learn and improve.

--Present spiritual systems and religion are a mixture of the valid/ important on the one hand and nonsensical/neurotic/subverted on the other.

--We can at least come closer to truth even if we may never know about Truth in some absolute sense.

--We can enrich and refine our spiritual practices by research.

--We can create an evidence-enriched spirituality.

--Creating an evidence-enriched spirituality is one of the most important activities we can undertake, if not the most important!

There's a big and exciting job awaiting us! Now let me finish up by giving some more concrete examples of the kinds of research we might undertake in developing an evidence-enriched spirituality.

Making Meditation More Effective

From the perspective of Dismissive Materialism, the various forms of meditation practice are relatively inefficient ways of rearranging chemical and electrical patterns in the brain to achieve certain ends. Someday we'll understand the brain well enough to do this far more efficiently through direct chemical or electrical means, so research on the chemical and electrical properties of the desired brain states should be most efficient in reaching our goals.

But if, as our parapsychological data shows, we humans are something more than just our brain functioning, the traditional spiritual claims that meditation practices can lead to real spiritual goals, to something presumably more than merely chemical and electrical rearrangement of brain patterns, then meditation practices are much more important. The experience of contact and union with all of life, for example, is sometimes induced by various meditation practices, and we've raised the possibility earlier that this may involve some sort of genuine clairvoyant contact with the universe, not simply a malfunctioning of the brain mechanisms that keep us aware of our biological boundaries. Since also learning to make psi function more reliably is an important goal in our research, and we have some indications that meditation practices may aid this, meditation research is of importance to our field. And perhaps learning to make clairvoyance function more reliably will lead to more Unity experiences ...

Speaking some years ago with Shinzen Young, a pioneer in adapting Eastern meditation techniques to make them more effective for Westerners (Young, 2005 and, I asked a question about how effective meditation training was. He noted that his experience, and that of other meditation teachers he knew, was that almost everyone who was taught basic meditation in classes or retreats found it rewarding and intended to make it a regular part of their lives. If you came back a year later, though, if 5% of them were still meditating, you were doing very well as a meditation teacher!

As a university teacher, I was horrified! If I were running a college and 95% of my students left in the first year, I'd think there were major problems with our teaching style and effectiveness. Maybe Western teachers weren't very good yet? Shinzen assured me that it was this way in the East with traditional meditation teachers too, 95% dropping out within a year. They "explained" it as the workings of karma. If you had good enough karma from your previous lives, you would seek out a meditation teacher; then you would stick with the meditation and get somewhere. But most people have poor karma, so naturally they don't stick around. Maybe if they are good in this and their next lives, they will come around again for meditation instruction a few lifetimes down the road.

Well maybe. But this idea of good and poor karma also struck me as functioning as an excellent rationalization to avoid facing up to the fact that even "good" meditation teachers don't know how to teach meditation very effectively. Thus our need to learn how to teach more effectively, and I think fairly straightforward psychological research can accomplish that goal by studying what kinds of meditation techniques work for what kinds of people, then directing people to methods and teachers appropriate for their type.

The Reality, or Lack of It, of Nonphysical Worlds

A spiritual world with "spirits" in it implies some kind of world or worlds where those spirits exist. Back in 1986, at our Rohnert Park convention, I proposed a general methodology for exploring the reality or lack of it of various "nonphysical worlds," a proposal subsequently published (Tart, 1987). In ordinary, physical reality, if someone tells us of the existence of some particular place, call it World X, we can sometimes go there ourselves to verify the existence of that "world." If we can't go ourselves, we can compare the accounts of various travelers who claim to have been to World X. If these accounts are very consistent and we can plausibly rule out other factors creating pseudoconsistency, such as their all having read each others' accounts before talking with us, we have evidence that World X exists in some relatively real way.

For example, my friend Robert A. Monroe wrote extensively about his many OBEs (Monroe, 1971, 1985, 1994). Occasionally he experienced traveling to ordinary world locales, and he could verify later that his recall of what he had observed there was objectively correct. Most of the time, though, he could not recognize where he was even though it seemed like some place in our ordinary world, or he experienced some unusual, clearly not-of-this-world place. A few times, when he employed a particular and, for him, unusual technique for leaving his body, though, he found himself in a world of experience that seemed perfectly real, was consistent in its general features from OBE to OBE, and while seeming to be a physical world, was clearly not our world. The technique? Instead of his usual waiting for or inducing a state of "vibrations" in his body and then floating up and out, when the vibrations began he turned himself 180[degrees] around the long axis of his physical body, so it felt as if he were lying prone on his bed, within the space of his physical body, rather than on his back. He then reached over his head with his arms, felt a wall there with a hole in it, and pulled himself through the hole.

I don't have time to go into detail here--it's described in Monroe (1971, pp. 86-100), but if we could find other voluntary OBErs, or train people to be OBErs, and we could be sure they had never heard of Monroe's description, we could ask them to employ the same method and see if they gave descriptions of their experiences that were consistent with Monroe's account and consistent with each other. Perhaps they wouldn't ... but if they did, wouldn't that be interesting?

Researching NDEs

Back in 1975, when Raymond Moody published his Life After Life (Moody, 1975) book on NDEs, I became fascinated by NDEs as ASCs. In fact, I usually differentiate OBEs and NDEs by reference to the experiencer's state of consciousness. In most OBEs the experiencers report on how clear, ordinary, and rational their consciousness was throughout the experience, as if they were normally awake, but just happened to be elsewhere than where their physical bodies were. NDEs often start with this kind of OBE, but typically the functioning of consciousness alters radically and there are new, ineffable (in ordinary language) styles of perception and knowing, the hallmarks of an ASC.

What was even more interesting about NDEs back then, though, was their ostensibly parapsychological aspect. The vast majority of people had never heard of NDEs. They had little or no expectations, or only traditional religious expectations, about what dying would be like. Yet NDErs from all walks of life gave quite consistent accounts of their experience, often contradicting traditional religious teachings. If NDEs were only "subjective," semiarbitrary products of a dying brain's malfunctioning, we would expect great individual differences in the experiences, and their content would largely reflect the beliefs and social conditioning of the people having them. This consistency was, on the other hand, what we would expect if there was something "real" and universal about the dying process.

The enormous popularity of Moody's and others' books about NDEs has vitiated most content comparisons of NDEs happening today, though. So many people have now read an article or book or seen a TV documentary about NDEs that, insofar as NDEs are at least partly subjective, consistency among new accounts has been programmed in by ordinary means. We could say our NDE observers are now more likely to be strongly biased by past knowledge than they used to be.

Nevertheless, we have not yet reached the stage of detailed phenomenological studies of NDEs, detailed questioning by skilled professionals to help experiencers go somewhat further on detailed description of the usually ineffable. The discovery of deeper levels of consistency in NDEs would be as interesting as the discovery of consistency in nonphysical worlds accounts discussed above ...

Operation of Karma

The concept of reincarnation is almost always inherently coupled with the idea of karma. Karma, for the SOED, is defined so: "In Buddhism and Hinduism, the sum of a person's actions, especially intentional actions, regarded as determining that person's future states of existence." If we can collect and study evidence on the reality, or lack of it, of reincarnation, one of the Many Maybes in The End of Materialism, can we study karma? There's a "noise" factor: Hindu and Buddhist concepts of karma point out that we have many karmic tendencies from our many past lives, so particular manifestations of karma, the "ripening of karmic seeds," depends on appropriate circumstances in this life occurring.

Let's say we have a child, then, who claims to remember a past life and provides sufficient details to identify an appropriate past person that the child seems to be a reincarnation of. The "theory of karma"--for we can take Hindu and Buddhist beliefs as working theories--says we shouldn't expect the child, as he or she grows up, to be exactly like the previous identified personality. Circumstances may not have occurred in this lifetime that would activate all of the previous personality's karmic propensities. But we would expect a general, statistically significant correlation.

The late Ian Stevenson and his successors at the Division of Personality Studies at the University of Virginia have, I believe, about 4,000 such cases of childhood recollections of apparent past lives, and about 2,000 of these cases have been computer-coded and entered into a database. I expect to see all sorts of interesting findings emerge from analyses of this database.

But here's one particular, informal "study" already done that suggests the falsity of one of those "theories" derived from Buddhism.

A teaching I have heard from a number of Buddhist teachers over the years, especially Tibetan Buddhists, is that there are a number of "realms" or conditions of existence a deceased person may reincarnate into. One of these, the human realm that we live in, is the most favorable for working toward enlightenment; it has the right balances of pleasure, pain, and intelligence. But, the teaching goes, it is very difficult to have or gain enough "good" karma to be reborn in the human realm rather than some other realm. The analogy given is to imagine the world is one big ocean, and floating in that ocean is a 6-foot diameter ring. A turtle lives underwater in that ocean, and once every 1,000 years swims up to the surface to take a breath. What are the odds that the turtle will just happen to surface within the ring? The moral is that unless you work very hard in this life to accumulate good karma, you are extremely unlikely to be born as a human being in the next life.

If this theory of the rareness of appropriate karma were true, I would predict, then, that among those children who recall previous lives the great majority of them would be reincarnations of holy or saintly people, people who had accumulated the needed appropriate good karma. When I informally asked my friends and colleagues at the Division of Personality Studies on our internet discussion group for a general impression, though, they thought there were maybe half a dozen or so cases of yogis, nuns, or otherwise obviously religious previous personalities among the 2,000 cases they had already coded. The overwhelming majority of previous personalities were ordinary people.

I can sympathize with the probable motivation behind the ring and turtle story: make good use of this human incarnation for your spiritual development. But I think the literal truth of this aspect of reincarnation theory is incorrect.

OK, that's enough of far-out ideas. Far out compared to our typical quantitative lab studies, but not so far out when your goal is to develop an evidence-based or evidence-enriched spirituality.


I've been working in our field for more than half a century now, and I'm still fascinated by it. I'm fascinated at what we might call the "techno-nerd" level; I love the details and cleverness of experimental design, and I'm even more fascinated by the implications of our findings, and pleased that they can, in my integration, help reduce the useless suffering created by Dismissive Materialism.

I'm not satisfied with this article, though. I've been changing its content right up until the last minute; there are so many interesting ideas I'd like to pass on and there just isn't time! But I'm not done with our field, and for many of you younger colleagues, you're just in the early beginnings of a fascinating career.

I've gone on too long, but my last bit of advice is to remember, no matter how fascinating the techno-nerd side of parapsychology is, that it's also very much about the spiritual nature of human beings--and there's little that's more important than that.

Thank you again for honoring me with the Honorton Award! I look forward to the many interesting ideas and findings that will enrich our field as they are brought in by others from other fields.


MONROE, R. A. (1971). Journeys out of the body. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.

MONROE, R. A. (1994). Ultimate journey. New York: Doubleday.

MONROE, R. S. (1985). Far journeys. New York: Doubleday.

MOODY, R. (1975). Life after life? The investigation of a phenomenon: Survival of bodily death. Atlanta, GA: Mockingbird Books.

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Institute of Transpersonal Psychology

1069 East Meadow Circle

Palo Alto, CA, USA

(1) This text is based on the author's invited address at the 52nd Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association in Seattle, WA, USA, August 6-9, 2009.
Charles Honorton (1946-1992) was, first and foremost, a
   parapsychologist. From his early childhood, his interests were
   centered on the mind, consciousness and its potentials.

   As a teenager, he corresponded with Dr. J. B. Rhine and, while he
   was still a high school student, he travelled from his home in
   Minnesota to Durham, North Carolina, to spend his summer months at
   the parapsychology Laboratory of Duke University.

Transpersonal psychology is a fundamental area of research,
   scholarship and application based on people's experiences of
   temporarily transcending our usual identification with our limited
   biological, historical, cultural and personal self and, at the
   deepest and most profound levels of experience possible,
   recognizing/being "something" of vast intelligence and compassion
   that encompasses/is the entire universe. From this perspective our
   ordinary, "normal" biological, historical, cultural and personal
   self is seen as an important, but quite partial (and often
   pathologically distorted) manifestation or expression of this much
   greater "something" that is our deeper origin and destination.

... 3 The quality or condition of being spiritual; regard for
   spiritual as opposed to material things; specifically the study and
   practice of prayer, especially as leading to union with God ..... b
   A spiritual as opposed to a material thing or quality.... 4 The
   fact or condition of being non-physical ....

The relevant aspects of the SOED definition of religion involve

   ... 3 Belief in or sensing of some superhuman controlling power or
   powers, entitled to obedience, reverence, and worship, or in a
   system defining a code of living, especially as a means to achieve
   spiritual or material improvement;

   acceptance of such belief (especially as represented by an
   organized Church) as a standard of spiritual and practical life;
   the expression of this in worship etc.....

1 A superhuman person regarded as having power over nature and
   human fortunes; a deity. Also, the deity of a specified area of
   nature, human activity, etc.... 5 In Christianity and other
   monotheistic religions, the supreme being, regarded as the creator
   and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority.


"Did you enter the field of
parapsychology because of, to some
significant degree, what we might call
'spiritual' interests or motivations,
i.e., important concerns with questions
of meaning, spirit, connection and the

Yes     No    Partly   Unclear

36%     49%     9%       6%
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