Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Great. I'm #1 on Google for something I don't even think about now

The Psychic Twins. What can I say? I haven't been by their site since their failed Presidential prediction of '08, but people are still apparently interested in them, based on the Google stats for this blog. I just hope that they haven't put a hex on me... I have enough karma to pay off, thank you very much.

As I've indicated, I've stopped listening to alternative or "paranormal" shows for a few basic reasons... Primarily, it is due to the mindset, or "baggage," that's associated with paranormal topics. You cannot follow the paranormal without being constantly assaulted with certain core beliefs: that the individual is powerless relative to various amorphous malicious groups (the "government," abdicating aliens, end-of-the-world scenarios, the Illuminati, the United Nations, Al Qaida); the truth can be had, but only by subscribing to the paranormal mindset; the future is grim; mysterious beings or entities are liable to intervene in you life, in ways not to your benefit; etc.

It became too much of a struggle to wade through this mess to pick out the one or two pieces of information that I already knew. Plus, I learned what other paranormal hobbyists already know: what you focus on, you will get. There is a corrosive effect to these beliefs that will deconstruct your life, if you let it.

At a certain level, the ideas are interesting; the baggage, not so.

So what began as an inquiry into the paranormal might well become a journey away from it. Can an alternative view of reality be constructed that bypasses the paranormal?

I think so. What I've carried away from my several years of "Coast To Coast" and similar forums are a couple areas of inquiry that I think have merit... areas that explore the nature of consciousness and how consciousness interfaces with the material world: NDEs, OOBEs, and time anomalies. In my opinion, we can't fully understand material reality unless we step outside it.

My attack of the Psychic Twins stems from my interest in time anomalies. The future is knowable. I've had premonitions that have come true; so have others. However, this fact--that I and others have "seen" future events--not only violates current scientific consensus, but also has profound implications about the nature of reality. Ditto NDEs and OOBEs. Science refuses to acknowledge these experiences, for a good reason: they violate the materialist structure that grounds classic science.

Now, it is possible that NDEs, OOBEs, and premonition are themselves illusions; that the brain somehow reassembles its perception of time and reality to create these anomalies. I can't rule it out. But if this is the case, can we ultimately be sure of anything? If the mind (or brain) can alter our perception of reality, does it, ultimately, create it?

I actually don't blame science for not asking these questions; but I do blame the paranormal for not attempting to answer them.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Children That Time Forgot

The above book by Peter Harrison, which I think that I read long ago, is currently free to "borrow" for Amazon.com Prime members.  I'm on my second reading. If you are remotely open to the idea of reincarnation, I highly recommend it. Harrison documents what might be the strongest evidence for reincarnation: the spontaneous recall of past lifetimes by very young children. There's little documentation; no footnotes or transcripts, so it's not "proof," but I have no reason to doubt the book, and it replicates findings by other researchers.  Per Seth, newborns and young children are "cushioned" by memories of the immediate between-life state as well as past-life memories...  so, if the Seth information is correct--and I have almost always found it to be--we should *expect* young children to have past life recall. The memories disappear once the child enters school.

I've spent a lot of idle thought wondering what past-life memories I had as a young child.  While I have many memories from a very early age, I don't recall anything reincarnational--except a major obsession with the 1920s and '30s when I was a pre-teen.  And it was an obsession.  I was particularly obsessed with the Ford Model T. Today this obsession continues on my Flickr stream. I find it ironic that my obsession with the early Twentieth Century has entered its fifth decade--a span of time sufficient to transport the '30s resident into the disco era.  For me, however, that era remains frozen in time; finished; complete--which is what one might expect of a reincarnational memory.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sabbatical from the paranormal

I've stopped listening to paranormal radio.  I've wiped my iPods clean, and now I listen to music shows downloaded from dar.fm. (For those curious, I download Bob Parlocha, Jazz On The Side, Rhythm Sweet And Hot, and Bluegrass Breakdown.)  The reason was very simple: what is commonly labeled as "paranormal" is not the paranormal that I grew up reading.  There's something distinctively negative and "off" about it.  I'm not sure why that's so--but today's paranormal is too much Alex Jones and not enough Charles Fort. I'm actually careful about what I put into my ear (and mind), and I've just decided that it's not worth my time.

So what have I salvaged from my eight-year dalliance with the paranormal?  Strip away the frauds, deconstruct the logical fallacies, filter out the obvious perceptive errors, trash the bogus scholarship, and what remains are the fundamental unknowns that have historically engaged the great philosophers: What is the nature of consciousness? To what extent does our consciousness perceive what is "real," and what part is "hallucination" or delusion? Is there a way to reference apparent hallucinations to theoretical "other" realities?  Do we perceive only what we are trained to perceive, and if so, is there another reality behind our perception? Who, indeed, is the percipient? These are the fundamental questions that I instinctive ask when confronting the paranormal, but paranormalists not only do not ask them, they seemingly do not realize that they need to be answered, or at least acknowledged.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Another book I'd like to get when Amazon.com lowers the price

Dr. Jill Bolt Taylor (another neuroscientist who has gained insight into consciousness following a massive brain injury) penned My Stroke Of Insight, which, for the moment, is cheaper on paper than on the Kindle. I would not half mind getting the book when the digital price dips. (I paid full price for Dr. Eben Alexander's book, something I try to avoid.)

For those wondering at this strange conflation of material neuroscience and mysticism in my posts (or even why I write at all), I guess that I can disclose that it's a form of self-therapy after a close family member was diagnosed with a severe mental illness. I am the primary caregiver, so I've had to navigate the American mental health system while providing what care that I can, all the while trying to juggle other responsibilities.

We don't normally think about consciousness. We are simply conscious, and we focus our awareness onto the world "out there." But I've thought a lot about consciousness in recent months as I've studied the myriad and endless ways this consciousness distorts when the brain breaks down. I've had to educate myself; in the U.S., you just can't drop someone off at the hospital and say, "I think that person is mentally ill; treat him." You have to be able to articulate why you think that a given individual is, in fact, ill, and needs treatment, and you have to use the correct combination of phrases, along with a few "magic words" (such as "suicidal") to move the process along. It is the price that we pay for living in a non-totalitarian society.

So what have I learned? Well, for one thing, I've learned that it's common for the mentally ill to blend into society and go untreated for years, or even a lifetime. As long as you can walk, talk, and appear somewhat oriented in time and place, society will not intervene. A person can, in fact, become completely dysfunctional, and the medical establishment still will not intervene to help until someone demands it, and only then after using the correct "magic words" as well as presenting the correct medical insurance cards.

I've learned that when the brain begins to break down, the distorted view of reality that follows is strangely reminiscent of some of the more extreme viewpoints articulated by religious extremists as well as any given guest on Coast To Coast. Many people, for instance, claim to see angels. Is such an experiencer, in fact, seeing a "real" angel? Or is the brain creating the illusion of an angel? Is there an undiagnosed psychosis that causes the person to see an angel? Or is there some breakdown in the language-processing part of the brain that causes a person to say that he's seen an angel when, in fact, he's seen only a bird? Or does brain incapacity cause the experiencer to glimpse realities that are both real and normally unperceived? I'm not pretending to know any of these answers. It's quite possible that all of these scenarios are valid at some level.We know so little about how the mind (or even the brain) interfaces with the material reality that it seems to perceive.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Defense of the Linda Cortile case

Many months after losing interest in the controversy of UFO abductions and the research thereof, I stumbled upon a site by Sean Meers and a self-published defense of the case.  I've started reading the defense.  It seems to be thoroughly documented and very impassioned.  Meers points out several apparent errors by Paratopia in attacking the late Bud Hopkins and seeks to discredit the criticisms of Carol Rainey. Having gained some distance from the whole "abduction" controversy, my opinions have settled down to a few remaining impressions... largely informed by some life experiences.

I think that the fundamental reason that sciences refuses to touch the abduction phenomenon is because the experiences bear more-than-a-casual resemblance to mental illness and other brain anomalies, including the oft-cited "temporal lobe epilepsy." Unfortunately, science cannot publicly say this, for a number of important reasons. A diagnosis of mental illness is not easily nor lightly made, so (in defense of science), the scientist has no choice but to stay as far away from the subject as possible.... which leaves the abduction research mostly to investigators not trained in psychology.

Now, does this mean that abductions are signs of mental illness? No. But look at it from this perspective. If I saw a strange object in the sky and did not know what it was, I'd call it an unidentified flying object, implying, in the popular imagination, that it was an alien craft. However, a trained pilot might come along and say, "Oh, that's not a UFO. I know exactly what that is. It's a C-43-whatever." When we see objects in the sky, we consult with professional aviators to rule out pedestrian explanations (and trust that the pilots aren't covert CIA disinfo agents). Unfortunately, it's quite taboo for an investigator to consult with a psychiatrist when documenting perceptions of events that fall outside the range of normal. The experiencer might be recalling a "real" abduction--or he might be experiencing psychosis. We just don't know.

This problem is compounded by the fact that many paranormalists who report very bizarre experiences also show an obsession with a number of ill-informed conspiracies. Their beliefs are often indistinguishable from the truly delusional. So, science isn't going to go there.

Unfortunately, because science can't (or won't) touch these cases, we cannot know their true nature. We simply don't know what's causing them. And I argue that we, as lay people, should tread lightly on these cases and not rush to argue that they are, in fact, what they appear to be.

(How does this differ from investigations of near-death experiences? Well, NDEs usually happen in a clinical setting and are studied by researchers who specialize in medical science. And more often than not, they can convincingly argue that the NDE was "real" and not the result of known problems of perception.)

I actually bought Bud Hopkins' book on the Cortile incident right after it came out (albeit at discount from a second-hand store). Someone had bought it and quickly resold it for reasons unknown. I was very impressed with the book. Bud Hopkins was a good writer who was able to convey an aura of authority to his material. When I read George Hansen's critique of the case shortly thereafter, I thought, "Hey, wait a minute... this makes a lot of sense, too." Ultimately, I was more convinced by Hansen's critique for an important reason. Hopkins told an extraordinary story that defied logical explanation, and while it was fascinating and well-told, it was unsubstantiated. It was an extraordinary, profoundly strange experience that lacked the necessary hard proof. We were asked to accept the account as-is, based on the testimony of some of the participants. As a result, Hansen was able to cause me to doubt the testimony by highlighting some significant flaws in the narrative. For all I know, the Cortile case might have gone down the way that Hopkins said it did. But after Hansen, I doubted it then, and I still do now.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Predictions for the upcoming century

Since I've ridiculed virtually every prominent, self-styled prophet and seer on the paranormal circuit, I've often thought that it was only fair that I see if I can do any better. I'm not sure that I can, for several reasons. First, I don't believe that future events are laid out on a predetermined grid. And second, I'm not sure that even if some events are predetermined, we are allowed to see them.

Still, I thought I'd give it a try, based on some emerging ideas that I've tried to pay attention to. These are emerging probabilities (especially ones that preoccupy paranormalists) that I see for the next few decades, dosed with a fair amount of objectivity.

Climate change is real, and will have measurable consequences, but we do not yet know the outcome. Change does not always follow a straight line.  I think that we should be alarmed by global warming, but swapping out all our incandescent bulbs for fluorescent ones won't stop it. A decade ago, I was very alarmed over the issue of "peak oil." The data seemed irrefutable. There was only so much oil in the ground, and we had gotten most of it. Numbers don't lie. However, something miraculous happened, almost unnoticed. Improvements in extraction technology (most notably, with "fracking") have increased American productivity to the point that some commentators have predicted that the US will become "energy independent" within a few decades. While this was not unforeseeable, it was unpredicted.

Children being born in the coming decades will be quite unlike their parents, in ways not immediately noticed--particularly in the way that their consciousness interfaces with the material world.  I don't read about the so-called "indigo children" anymore, for good reason. This New Age idea was popular a decade or so ago. However, the predicted result--that in a few years, we would be awash with all these enlightened kids who would usher in a new world--has not materialized. Why? Probably, because the researchers shoe-horned a few isolated instances of gifted children into an emerging, universal trend that conformed to New Age dogma. However, I have noticed one unusual prediction in several "unofficial" sources, and it intrigues me: within this century, the "veil" between the material world, and the larger non-material world, will be dropped a bit, and those being born will be able to recall their pre-birth existence. This will obviously have a significant impact not only on science and philosophy, but also technology. Of course, if many don't "believe" in reincarnation or in a non-material world (a significant percentage) or have a distorted religious view of it (the majority), these children will go unnoticed or misunderstood. This change will be recognized only in retrospect.

Organized religion will become increasingly marginalized and irrelevant, supplanted in the short term by extremist offshoots that will continue to disrupt established institutions.  Since these extremist movements are anarchistic in nature, they are not sustainable in the long term and will remain in the margins. But, if Seth is correct, the "framework" that Christianity has provided the world will be increasingly unable to solve emerging problems. Science has filled the vacuum for the past few centuries and will continue to do so, but I predict that unless "scientific consensus" moves away from a strictly materialistic view of the world, it will also cease to be effective. The larger aspects of human consciousness that science denies will find expression in religious extremism and para-scientific superstition.

Artificial intelligence may be created very soon (perhaps within a decade), and this will have significant disruptive effects on civilization, mostly positive.  The question remains, however, whether this newly created intelligence will "believe" in the existence of a human creator, or will blindly worship humanity as a god.

The current western-based economic model, based on increasing consumption and the accumulation of capital, appears to be breaking down. Peak oil notwithstanding, virtually all of our current economic problems are caused by the simple fact that population growth is increasingly unsustainable. Hence, the current move toward "sustainability" that informs both the left and right political wings... The left thinks that we, as a whole, should accumulate less, whereas the right thinks that we (specifically, the "government") should spend less. Both are caused by the fact that we are hitting a brick wall in terms of growth: we have outgrown this planet, and we are running out of stuff.

Fears of increasing governmental authoritarianism are overblown. Some commentators on the paranormal scene like to obsess on the emerging "fascism" of the American government. Actually, I think the opposite is occurring: we as a population have become lazy and have surrendered too much prerogative to "government," which is showing itself as increasingly incapable of governing. The rise of extremist political groups in all political spectrums have a singular motivation: reclaiming rights and powers that were once "inalienable," and filling the vacuum left by ineffective government.

While we probably won't have a one-world government, globalization will cause increasing homogenization of nation-state governments. The debate during the last century was which would happen first: the Soviet Union becoming democratic, or the American government Communist. It was a silly argument in retrospect, but, arguably, the governments in Washington and Beijing are starting to look a lot alike in this century.

Which leads me to a final prediction: The human population will have to decline, one way or another. The accelerating increase in human population seems to be serving several purposes in this century.... I think that it might serve as a trigger, or a tipping point, that will cause specific changes at specific times: changes in consciousness, or changes in the environment, that would not otherwise normally occur in a stable population. All of the "unofficial" sources that I read indicate that our population growth is by design. However, the downside of this design is that once the changes occur, population will have to sharply decline. Some foresee mass extinctions in this century caused by famine or environmental catastrophe. I think that both of these are quite possible. If we continue on our present course, these will happen. However, I don't think that anyone knows yet *what* the final outcome will be. We are seeing only probabilities, and I think that it's possible that mass awareness of probable disaster scenarios--scenarios that may not actually occur--are part of the "plan" for purposes yet unknown.