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Transpersonal Realities or Neurophysiological Illusions:
Toward an Empirically Testable Dualism

Presented at 1978 Meeting of the American Psychological
Association in Toronto

Charles T. Tart
University of California, Davis, California
Consultant, SRI International
Menlo Park, California

Abstract: Transpersonal experiences, in which a person seems to go beyond (trans) the limits of his body and mind, are exceptionally important to their experiencers, and can form the basis of religions and philosophies, yet the current scientific position that totally equates consciousness with brain functioning automatically views the content of these vital experiences as illusions and delusions. Transpersonal psychology is thus reduced to the study of hallucinations. More than 600 experiments, however, provide first-class scientific evidence for the existence of paraconceptual phenomena such as extrasensory perception (ESP), phenomena that cannot be explained in terms of brain processes and which argue that some aspects of consciousness are of a qualitatively different nature than physical processes. This paper presents a theory of Emergent Interactionism, in which consciousness is seen as an emergent systems product of two qualitatively different systems, the brain or B system on the one hand, and the mind/life or M\L system on the other. Psi phenomena, ESP and psychokinesis (PK) are the mechanism of interaction between the B and M\L systems. Thus psi phenomena are seen as common within a person, it is only their manifestation outside the body to produce information about distant events in the world that is unusual. In contrast to philosophical theories of dualism, Emergent Interactionism has testable consequences, and so it is proposed as a scientific theory rather than a philosophy. From this point of view, transpersonal experiences, rather than necessarily being illusory, may be valid and important insights into the nature of human consciousness.

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Although psychologists like to emphasize the empirical nature of psychology, every psychologist starts more or less with his own personal experience of himself and his world, experience which creates both explicit and implicit guides as to what is important to study. Western psychologists have focused on our ordinary, Western state of consciousness, appropriate in a culture highly concerned with manipulation of the external world, and much of our research interests reflect this. There are a large number of experiences, however, that we might call transpersonal, experiences which while not actively encouraged in our culture nevertheless happen, and seem to imply a much broader view of man than our Western psychological one. Let me give you some brief examples of such experiences.

The first is from William James' classic collection:

. . suddenly, without warning, I felt that I was in heaven an inward state of peace and joy and assurance indescribably intense, accompanied with a sense of being bathed in warm glow of light, as though the external condition had brought about the internal effect - a feeling of having passed, beyond the body, though the scene around me stood out more clearly and as if nearer to me than before, by reason of the illumination in the midst of which I seemed to be placed. This deep emotion lasted, though with decreasing strength, until I reached home, and for some time after, only gradually passing away. - James, 1929, p.388

As a second example from James, consider Symonds' description of an experience he had while undergoing chloroform anesthesia:

I thought that I was near death; when suddenly, my soul became aware of God, who was manifestly dealing with me, handling me, so to speak, in an intense, personal present reality. I felt him streaming in like light upon me . . . I cannot describe the ecstasy I felt. Then as I gradually awoke from the influence of the anesthetic, the old sense of my relation to the world began to return, the new sense of my relation to God began to fade. - James, 1929, p.382

To be a little more contemporaneous in time, consider the following experiences of Claire Myers Owens, an American writer on Zen Buddhism. She had been sitting for three days in a Zen session, having a very difficult time attempting to clear her mind and meditate. Finally she reports:

as I stared at the blank surface of the low divider wall in front of me, I suddenly beheld a row of people - my mother (dead), my brother, and a young woman, my friendly enemy. They were all gazing at me with sad accusing eyes. I knew I had hurt them in real life in various ways, though not always intentionally. Suddenly such powerful repentance and desire to expiate seized me that my very body shook uncontrollably. Sobs tore up from the depths of my being. It was like tearing up the roots of my ego, annihilating life-long delusions of my own goodness. This emotional storm continued hour after hour. I was oblivious, blind to everything and everybody in the zendo. After five hours two monitors came and lifted me up. My body was so heavy and my legs so weak I was unable to walk. They carried me upstairs and placed me on the bed. After an hour's rest I returned to the zendo and commenced concentrating with renewed assurance. As I gazed at the low wooden dividing wall in front of me it seemed to abruptly turn into a beautiful luminous blue with the lights flickering at the lower edge. Then it changed to thick silvery ice, next to gauze. Then I saw right through the wall and beheld two men sitting on the other side. I was incredulous even while this phenomenon was occurring. When it happened again the next day I accepted it as makyo, a psychic power, encouraging, but not worth clinging to.

As a final example of a transpersonal experience, consider this older case of a near-death experience:

On Saturday ninth of November, a few minutes after midnight, I began to feel very ill, and by two o'clock was definitely suffering from acute gastro-enteritis, which kept me vomiting and purging until about eight o'clock . . . by ten o'clock I had developed all of the symptoms of acute poisoning: intense gastro-intestinal pain, diarrhea, pulse and respirations became quite impossible to count. I wanted to ring for assistance, but found I could not, and so quite placidly gave up the attempt. I realized I was very ill and very quickly reviewed my whole financial position. Thereafter at no time did my consciousness appear to me to be in any way dimmed, but I suddenly realized that my consciousness was separating from another consciousness which was also me. These, for purposes of description, we could call the A and B consciousness, and throughout what follows the ego attached itself to the A consciousness. The B personality I recognized as belonging to the body, and as my physical condition grew worse the heart was fibrillating rather than beating, I realized that the B consciousness belonging to the body was beginning to show signs of being composite - that is, built up of "consciousness" from the head, the heart, and the viscera. These components became more individual and the B consciousness began to disintegrate, while the A consciousness, which was now me, seemed to be altogether outside my body, which it could see. Gradually I realized that I could see, not only my body in the bed in which it was, but everything in the whole house and garden, and then realized I was seeing not only ''things'' at home but in London and in Scotland, in fact wherever my attention was directed, it seemed to me; and the explanation which I received, from what sources I do not know, but which I found myself calling to myself my mentor, was that I was free in a time-dimension of space wherein "now" was in some way equivalent to "here" in the ordinary three-dimensional space of everyday life.

The narrator then says that his further experience could only be described metaphorically, for while he seemed to have ordinary two-eyed vision, lie "appreciated" rather than "saw" things. He began to recognize people he knew in his visions, they seemed to be characterized by colored condensations around them. He goes on to report that:

Just as I began to grasp all these, I saw my daughter enter the bedroom; I realized she got a terrible shock and I saw her hurry to the telephone. I saw my doctor leave his patients and come very quickly, and I heard him say or saw him think, "He is nearly gone." I heard him quite clearly speaking to me on the bed but I was not in touch with my body and could not answer him. I was really cross when he took a syringe arid rapidly injected my body with something which I afterwards learned was camphor. As the heart began to beat more strongly, I was drawn back, an4 I was intensely annoyed, because I was so interested and just beginning to understand where I was and what I was "seeing". I cam back into the body really angry at being pulled back, and once I was back, all the clarity of vision of anything and everything disappeared and I was just possessed of a glimmer of consciousness, which was suffused with pain.

What do we make of such experiences?

As we all know, mainstream Western psychology has made nothing of these shorts of experiences. Partly this is a matter of the training of psychologists, in which they are informed at various times that "crazy" experiences happen to people which gives them strange beliefs, but these sorts of experiences need not be taken seriously. As a result, the typical psychologist unconsciously avoids coming across these kinds of experiences and casually dismisses them if he does come across them. But why this strong dismissal among the community of psychologists?

I think an important part of the answer lies in considering the implications of transpersonal experience. The prefix trans conveys the idea that these experiences go beyond the individual, not merely in an abstract sort of way as we might say that democracy goes beyond a single person, but in a very real and important sort of way. These sorts of experiences seem to imply that consciousness may not always be restricted to the body and brain, that there may be other kinds of consciousness than human with which we may interact, etc. Aside from the many historical reasons, such as the old conflict between science and religion, for rejecting these implications, a more immediate and formal reason is that monistic, physicalistic philosophical views about the nature of consciousness are dominant in modern science.

Monistic Views of Consciousness

The physicalistic, monistic view of consciousness which is so predominant states that physical matter and physical energies, operating within physical space and physical time, are the fundamental realities of the universe. Consciousness is not considered to be a basically different kind of reality, but merely a manifestation of matter, energy, space, and time. Every manifestation of consciousness, every kind of experience, is, in principle, reducible to physical interactions within the body, brain, and nervous system. I express this view schematically in my States of Consciousness book.

Starting with fixed physical reality, basic and immutable physical laws govern all manifestations in the universe. A particular segment of. this manifest reality of great interest to us is the physical structure of the brain (I shall, for short, speak only of the brain rather than the full system of body, brain, and nervous system). The brain structure, whose operation is in principle reducible to more basic physical laws, can further, for convenience, be divided into two aspects, the relatively fixed qualities of the brain, such as the built-in "instructions" on how to run the kidneys and the like, and the more flexible, programmable aspects of it, the "software" for those who like computer analogies. Each of us has the software capabilities of the brain programmed by his interactions with the culture, his parents, the language he speaks, and the like, to produce further semi-permanent structures or processes in the brain. The interplay of these various physical processes in the brain is very complex; a very small subset of them, from the physicalistic. monistic view, lead to the experience of consciousness as we know It.

I conceive of something labeled pure awareness emerging from the physical structure of the brain. This is an important distinction in my systems approach to understanding states of consciousness, for it relates to certain kinds of experience, often associated with meditative practices or altered states of consciousness, in which a person seems to get back to a more basic version of awareness than the concepts and word play which is our usual experience. From the physicalistic, -monistic point of view, however, this experience of pure awareness (or any other kind of special experience, for that matter) is an emergent from the physical operation of the brain, and can be totally reduced to it, in principle. In practice, of course, the brain is incredibly complex and we may never be able to find the exact physical parallel of every single experience, even though in principle we believe it is there. -

The physicalistic, monistic view of consciousness tells us that the four experiences cited at the beginning of this paper were indeed real experiences. Any experience reduces to some specific pattern of electro-chemical firing within the brain, and the four "transpersonal" experiences given are just as real as your everyday experiences. Everyday experiences, however, are assumed to be a rather good reflection of the reality of the physical world, while these transpersonal experiences are clearly hallucinatory insofar as the physical world is concerned. When Trevor felt himself bathed in a warm glow of light and found the scene around him standing out more clearly, with a feeling of great peace and joy, we postulate that some unusual firing pattern in his visual-sensory and emotional brain centers was taking place. When Symonds experienced God like light streaming in upon him during his chloroform experience, he was clearly experiencing a simulation ion of reality on the order of a dream, probably again with some firing pattern in the appropriate emotional centers of the brain giving that special feeling of peace. Owens' seeing of faces of emotionally relevant people in her life and undergoing catharsis as to her relations with them was probably good for her mental health, but was again hallucinatory in that the faces were not there in the external world, and her experience of apparently seeing through a wall was obviously also a neural firing pattern in which hallucination replaced her concurrent visual sensations. Finally, the gentleman who apparently left his physical body in his near-death state and experienced his consciousness as a composite may have had a useful psychological insight in seeing the composite nature of consciousness, but the visual experience of floating above his body was obviously another neural firing pattern creating a visual hallucination, as were his feelings of being able to perceive wherever he directed his attention, or getting explanations of his state from some sort of non-incarnate entity. While I personally do not necessarily accept these explanations, they are straightforward ones from a physicalistic, monistic point of view.

Now I shall make a statement that may very well be unpopular with many of you, but one that I think it is important to make. If the sorts of things illustrated were all that there were to transpersonal experiences, I think it would be fair to say that the developing field of transpersonal psychology is one in which unusual illusions, hallucinations, and aberrations of thought processes were studied. It would be different from classical abnormal psychology in that transpersonal experiences may have a positive, beneficial effect on tile people they happen to. Nevertheless, they are clearly unrealistic, abnormal experiences, and those of us dedicated to values of making people more rational would have an inherent distaste for them. Even so we might consider ourselves realistic and accept the fact that most people do not want to face the cold hard facts of reality, but need some sort of comforting illusions for the sake of their psychological health, and so it might be useful to learn how to induce transpersonal illusions deliberately in order to reinforce irrational belief systems that nevertheless allow people to function well. Politically speaking, this is also a convenient path to social respectability for transpersonal psychology, as it will seem to fit experiences which tend to be regarded as disturbing into the physicalistic, monistic status quo. Since psychologists have always been a little bit insecure about their status as "real scientists", we should not underestimate this political aspect of things!

As a scientist, I am supposed to be more committed to observational data than to theoretical concepts, to be ready to reject old conceptual systems and explore new ones if my data require me to do so. In spite of the controversial nature of what I shall present, I have followed the implications of some very important data and will attempt to show that there is first-class scientific evidence for a dualistic theory of consciousness. a theory that has a "mind" or "life" component to consciousness that is of a different nature than known physical systems, and thus implies that at least some transpersonal experiences are not merely interesting illusions, unusual patterns of neural firing, but actually tell us something about the potential for literally transcending our ordinary physical limits.

Paraconceptual Phenomena

Let us start by operating strictly within our contemporary scientific knowledge of the physical world In this framework, it is both a useful and a precise statement to say that a given person is located at a certain spatial position and his behavior is occurring at a specific time. We can also specify both theoretically and practically, by means of instrumentation, the kinds of physical energies that might reach this person or emanate from this person, and accordingly calculate whether such physical energies could serve as useful carriers of information. We can then put two people at different spatial locations and, either by the sheer physical distance between them and/or by physical shielding existing between them, we can set up a situation in which we can say that these people are totally isolated from each other, in terms of practical information transfer. That is, we can say that the physical energies emitted by the one person, even if they are modulated to carry information, are so attenuated and lost in the noise level before they reach the second person that no information transfer could occur. If we have two people sitting in open fields a hundred miles apart, for example, we can physically show that no matter how loudly one shouts, the sound vibrations of the shouting in the air drop below the noise level of the Brownian motion of the air long before that sound energy reaches the second person. We can do the same thing by putting our two people in sound-attenuated rooms.

We can now carry out an experiment in which one person, whom we shall designate the sender, is given some randomly selected stimulus, such as a number to concentrate on or a picture to look at, and ask him to try to mentally "send" it to the other, sensorially isolated person, the receiver in this experiment. What if, over a series of experimental trials, the receiver's behavior shows sufficient correlation with the randomly selected targets presented to the sender that we cannot dismiss it as coincidence, but, using appropriate Statistical tests, we find that there is at least some transfer of information at a statistically significant level? If such a thing were to happen, we would have a paraconceptual phenomenon. That is, our observation is what it is, we observe such and such an amount of information transfer, but it is beyond, para to our conceptual system.

Under basic rules of scientific procedure, our first obligation would be to double check or triple check the physical isolation between the sender and receiver to make sure we had not overlooked some potential information transfer channel. Suppose we did that and found no overlooked channel, so our paraconceptual phenomenon was still with us. Our next task, under the basic rules of scientific inquiry, would be to then recognize that our current conceptual system was incomplete, and then to investigate our paraconceptual communication effect to see what new things it might tell us about our sender and receiver or our view of reality. To concertize this and take it back to our earlier example, suppose the gentleman who was ill not only believed he could tell what was going on in London, in spite of the total sensory isolation of his body from London, but that he had gone on and given a highly specific description of a very improbable, non-deductible event happening in London at that time. This would be a truly transpersonal event, for his consciousness would seem to be functioning beyond the confines of his physical body. What then?

I have been speaking hypothetically, but, as you know, there have been claims that these sorts of para conceptual, transpersonal events happen rather frequently in everyday life. In a representative survey of the American population, for example, the sociologist, Andrew Greeley, in 1975 found that 58% of his sample believed they had experienced telepathic, mind-to-mind contact with someone at a distance at least once in their life. Many other kinds of paraconceptual experiences, extrasensory perception to use the general term for them, occur in everyday life and clearly they are quite "normal" in that at least some form of ostensible ESP experience happens to the majority of people. At least in the ordinary American population, if not in the academic subculture!

These kinds of ESP experiences seem to fit some kind of dualistic view of mind, and so might be potentially very important in deciding between a monistic and dualistic view, but, as we know, the scientific investigation of ESP and related phenomena is not only not exactly in the mainstream of American psychology, it is an extremely small-scale activity. A recent survey of mine showed that the entire research budget for America only runs around half a million dollars a year, and there are not more than a dozen or so scientific investigators working most of their time on this subject.

As psychologists we can readily think of reasons for not taking a large number of spontaneous ostensible ESP occurrences seriously. Many people have faulty judgments about the paraconceptuality of such events to begin with, their memories may be faulty, they may distort or exaggerate their accounts for various reasons, etc. This point was recognized at the beginning of the century, and the few scientists interested in this area realized that a firm scientific basis for the existence of paraconceptual phenomena could not be established very well by the investigation of spontaneous cases. These events needed to lee studied under laboratory conditions where alternative hypotheses like incorrect observation, sensory leakage, object fraud, and the like could be ruled out. Occasional scientific experiments were carried out over the years, and the methodology for them became quite refined, especially beginning with the work of J.B. Rhine and his colleagues at Duke University in the 1930s. Because of a variety of factors, primarily what I would consider prejudicial ones where people attached to various conceptual systems preferred to reject the data rather than question their conceptual systems, the large body of high quality experimental work that has accumulated in the last 40 years is largely unknown to the scientific community. It is published in five specialty journals (Journal of Parapsychology, European Journal of Parapsychology, International Journal of Parapsychology, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, and the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research) and in book form. In spite of the small scale of the effort compared to most fields of science, however, I estimate that more than 600 high quality experiments, the vast majority showing statistically significant evidence for various kinds of paraconceptual processes, have now been published, and the overall mass of this evidence is quite compelling. I do not have time here to even begin to consider this mass of evidence in detail, but the interested reader might look at my recent Psi: Scientific Studies of the Psychic Realm, or the recent, authoritative Handbook of Parapsychology (Wolman, et al., 1978). What I shall basically do is just define the four kinds of paraconceptual or psi events as they are now generally called, for which I believe there is overwhelming, high quality scientific evidence.

The first of the four well-established psi phenomena is clairvoyance, a phenomenon involving a direct (without mediation by the known senses or any known form of physical energy) perception of the state of physical matter. The classical experimental procedure which established its reality was that of a card-guessing test, in which a deck of cards would be thoroughly shuffled, face down, so that the shuffler did not know what the order of the deck of cards was. The cards would then be guessed at by a receiver-subject who was sensorially isolated from them, and after his guesses had been recorded they would be checked for correspondence with the card holder, and the results statistically evaluated for hitting beyond chance expectation. Many dozens of experiments established the reality of clairvoyance with this experimental procedure. Clairvoyance has been demonstrated for many other types of target material than cards, such as identifying musical selections on randomly selected magnetic recording tapes to which no one was listening.

The phenomenon most people think of with respect to psi is telepathy. The classical experimental procedure for establishing this was to again start with a very thoroughly shuffled deck of cards, but now each card would be looked at for a fixed period by a person designated the sender or agent who attempted to mentally "send" the identity of the card to a receiver. Again the receiver would be thoroughly isolated (in terms of our current physical world view) from any informational energies put out by the sender. Results would again be scored for extra-chance hits, and many dozens of experiments with cards and other kinds of material established the reality of telepathy. However, most researchers conversant with this field would now argue that while the concept of telepathy is appealing, this particular experimental paradigm does not necessarily establish it as a phenomenon separate from clairvoyance, for there is no way of telling whether a successful receiving subject acquires the information from the sender's mental processes or directly by clairvoyance from the cards. Indeed, Rhine has argued that it may be logically impossible to test for telepathy in a way that totally excludes clairvoyance.

The third kind of psi phenomenon is precognition, the prediction of future events that cannot be logically predicted from a knowledge of current events. The classical experimental procedure for this was to ask a subject to write down what the order of a deck of cards would be after it had been thoroughly shuffled at some future time. That time lag might be anywhere from a few minutes to days or months. Again, results have been quite successful in establishing the reality of precognition. I have personally always found this difficult to accept, in spite of the strength of the experimental evidence, but I have been forced to accept the reality of precognition in spite of my emotional resistance to it because of strong precognitive data appearing my own laboratory work.

The above three kinds of psi have been generally classified as extrasensory perception, an information gathering process analogous to sensory perception, but occurring in the absence of any known form of energy and/or receptor to convey the information. There is a fourth major psi phenomena, psychokinesis or PK, the direct influence of desire on the state of the physical world, without the mediation of any known form of physical energy. The classical experiment for establishing this was to have a machine throw dice. A subject who could watch the events but not otherwise physically influence them would be asked to try to make particular die faces come up more often than would be expected by chance, and dozens of successful experiments were reported. Modern research on PK usually uses electronic random number generators, where the subject is asked to influence a meter or recorder monitoring the decisions of the electronic random number generator. A large number of experiments have been tried with electronic generators and have been quite successful.

There are a variety of other kinds of phenomena around that have been claimed to be paraconceptual, to be psi phenomena, but many of these have simply not been studied very extensively and so may be potentially explicable in ordinary physical terms, so I shall not discuss them here. I shall take the basic existence of the four psi phenomena mentioned above as well established, and go on from there to propose a scientifically useful form of a dualistic understanding of consciousness.

It is important to note that the dualism I shall propose is in no way absolute. In my attempts to read philosophical theories about consciousness, I have always been struck by the attempts philosophers have made to come up with absolute, everlasting definitions of terms. Philosophically I am inclined to be a pragmatist, and, with my scientific preference I also consider experience and data much more primary than concepts. The dualism I shall propose is a pragmatic one: my argument is that it is useful to distinguish mental and physical aspects of consciousness, and that these will have effects on the kinds of research we do. The distinction is based on our current knowledge of the physical world, however, and reasonable extension of it, and the distinction may very well be broken down by further scientific progress. Indeed, I associate fairly often with physicists, and the cutting edge of their world in the quantum realm is so unusual and uncommonsensical that much of it seems more far-fetched to me than psi phenomena do!

Emergent Interactionism

The primary empirical data that forces me to propose a dualistic theory are psi phenomena. Given our current knowledge of the physical world and our concepts about it, and reasonable extrapolations of these concepts, psi phenomena are paraconceptual. They indicate a quality to consciousness that is not likely to be explained without recourse to some other conceptual system than physics. My various psychological studies of consciousness and altered states of consciousness, further force me toward a dualistic position. This position is basically expressed diagrammatically in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Basic model of the Emergent Interactionist approach to understanding consciousness.

The physical structure of the brain is represented on the left hand side of Figure 1, the qualitatively different factor we can loosely call Mind/Life is represented on the right hand side of the figure. In order to avoid semantic problems associated with our ordinary associations to terms like brain or mind or life, I shall begin referring to these two basic component subsystems of consciousness as the B system and the M\L system. The B system refers to the body, brain, nervous system, these physical things that we understand by physical concepts. The M/L system refers to those qualitatively different aspects of consciousness that defy understanding in physical terms. The L or life aspect of the M/L system is added to reflect the fact that psi phenomena can happen in conjunction with a person without there necessarily being any conscious experience going with it. Although the evidence is still sparse here, I suspect that it is a general property of life to exercise some sort of weak psychokinetic effect on the physical matter about it. Consciousness, as we experience it, is an emergent factor, a systems effect from the interaction of the B system and the M/L system.

The B system is the link between consciousness and the physical world around us. Environmental factors are registered via the sense organs and end up as electrical/chemical patterns within the B system. Decisions to behave in various ways begin as electrical/chemical patterns somewhere within the B system and eventuate in specific neural impulses to motor apparatus that creates our overt behavior.

The B system is an ultra-complex, especially interesting structure, for while many aspects of the B system functioning seem clearly determined, such as basic reflexes, a variety of other important aspects seem to be under the control of quasi-random or fully random processes, they are controlled by neurons or neural ensembles that are frequently in an almost, but-not-quite, -ready-to-fire state, easily triggered by very slight influences. My dualistic theory of consciousness, that I am calling Emergent Interactionism, postulates that the M/L and the B systems interact by psi. Specifically, the M\L system at least occasionally cognizes the physical state of the brain, and thus factors in the environment that are represented as physical patterns in the B system, by means of clairvoyance. Further, the firing patterns of the B system are influenced at Critical junctures by a psychokinetic influence from the M\L system, in addition to the organization imposed by the deterministic and self organizational properties inherent in the B system. The holistic emergent of the interaction of these two systems, the system or, more technically, supra-system emergent of the B an M\L system interaction is consciousness as we experience it. To express that another way, what we ordinarily consider our consciousness is not an experience of what our B system alone is like, nor what the M/L system alone is like, it is the experience of the emergent of the complex mutual patterning and interpenetration that is the normal state of the organism.

I am making a quite unusual claim, namely that psi is not a rare occurrence, but something that goes on all the time. Under normal circumstances, psi is frequently occurring within the organism. Psi is the mechanism that philosophers always leave out in dualistic positions, the mechanism whereby mind and body, the M\L system and the B system, interact. To keep the discussion clear, I shall begin to call psi within the organism auto-psi, or more specifically, auto-clairvoyance and auto-PK. The unusual manifestation of psi that makes us aware of it in the first place, its use to gather information about events distant or shielded from the organism, we shall call allo-psi, and we may break that down into specific forms such as allo-clairvoyance, allo-PK, allo telepathy, etc. The model of the Emergent Interactionist approach sketched in Figure 1 is, of course, grossly over-simplified, for we know that the B system is a highly complex, large self-organized, hierarchical system in and of itself. It manifests properties determined nut only at particular levels by component parts but, as in any complex system, has emergent properties manifesting at various levels. A more realistic schematic representation of the Emergent Interactionism position is of the sort shown in Figure 2. This representation beings in a number of new considerations.

First, we should realize that there are various hierarchical levels of organization in the B system alone, leading to system complexities, without even beginning to consider M/L system interaction. The lowest level shown on the left hand side of Figure 2 is that of the individual neurons, and while they have isolated properties we are beginning to understand fairly well, they are organized into neural ensembles at the next level of complexity, a level which would begin to have emergent, system properties. That is, basic neural ensembles can have properties that are not clearly predictable from those of neurons alone. The ensembles, in turn, can interact back down to the more basic level to influence the properties of isolated neurons. Various neuron ensemble levels become more and more complex, interacting in more and more ways, as is represented by the information transfer and interaction arrows in the figures. We have many lifetimes of scientific work ahead of us just trying to understand the B system solely in terms of physical properties because of these complex interactions and emergent properties.

The M\L system is represented on the right hand side of Figure 2. Because physicists have found it highly profitable to assume that there is a basic symmetry in real world processes, I have applied this symmetry principle in drawing the picture and have assumed that the M/L system is also organized hierarchically. At the lowest levels would be the most basic "life energies", a vitalistic term I am not really comfortable with, but one I've not found a good replacement for yet. Basic M/L system phenomena occur at these lower hierarchical levels, which, as in the B system levels, interact with each other and have various emergent properties. As we go higher in the M/L system hierarchy, there is more likelihood of an experiential representation of M/L system properties, so we can begin to talk about it as a "mental" level rather than just a basic life energy level. Thus system properties result from emergence laws in both the B and M/L systems.

Click here for Figure 2
Extended model of the Emergent Interactionist position,
representing the complexities and emergent system properties of both the B and M/L systems,
as well as their interactions.

B System Self-Determination

While it would be highly speculative to discuss possible self-organization qualities of the M/L system, it is clear from current scientific knowledge that the B system possesses a considerable degree of self-organization. We cannot make this an absolute statement, for, insofar as the Emergent Interactionist position is correct, we never observe a B system functioning in total isolation: if the M/L system were not interacting at all with the B system, the B system would be dead. Dead brains do not process much information. However, since we are now learning how to build complex, internally stabilized and organized computer systems, and can extrapolate from present day computer systems to at least some of the functions of living B systems, it is a good assumption that much self-organization and self-determination in the B system comes about through its inherent physical and system properties. We could further divide this self-organized activity into basic biological functions that the organism can carry out from birth, such as internal homeostatic operations on the body, and learned operations that come about through the enculturation process. The very fact that we have concepts such as the personality or habit, implying the predictability of a person given a knowledge of the situation, suggests that semi-permanent physical changes are made in the B system which will produce determined results given the requisite environmental stimuli to trigger off these internal circuits. Further, a moment's introspection about ordinary consciousness will indicate that it is characterized by almost continuous mental activity, thinking, remembering, associating, planning, thinking, in a never-ceasing stream. Since the content of this activity largely reflects the consensus reality about us, and was created by stimuli in our developmental history brought in and mediated by the B system, it seems likely that this continuous activity is mediated largely by semi-permanent physical traces in the B system also. The B system then, can be seen as doing a great deal of information processing and internal operations purely on its own, without regard to specific interactions with the M\L system. This automatization of ordinary consciousness is an important factor to keep in mind.

Ordinary and Non-Ordinary Psi

As I stated earlier, from the Emergent Interactionist point of view we postulate that psi is being used a great deal of the time in everyone's life as auto-psi, used internally within the organism. What we observe in parapsychological experiments, however, is not ordinary psi but extraordinary psi, allo-psi, taking a process ordinarily confined within an organism and requiring the M/L system to interact via psi with something outside the organism. I have represented the various considerations that we would like to make in Figure 3.

The information flow arrows in the figure summarize points made previously and expand on them. Two of the most prominent information and energy flow arrows are sensory input to and motor output from the B system. Within the organism, auto-clairvoyant interaction from the B system to the M\L system and auto-PK interaction from the M\L system to the B system also constitute major routes of information flow. Thus the B system and M/L system interact to produce the emergent system property of consciousness as we experience it.

The unusual use of psi outside the organism is shown by the information flow arrow for allo-clairvoyance, arid the information\energy output arrow for allo--PK for interaction with the physical world. Communication from one discrete M/L system to another, telepathy, can be divided into receptive telepathy, picking up information from another M/L system, and projective telepathy, sending information to another M\L system. This division maintains symmetry with the clairvoyance and PK processes. With our terminological convention, telepathy is automatically a form of allo-psi. Indeed, the fundamental distinction with psi processes could be M\L system to M\L system interaction and M\L system to physical world system interaction. There is, of course, a methodological problem in trying to observe pure allo telepathy under experimental conditions, for if we want objective verification of it we must add auto-PK in order to have a behavioral manifestation6n of the telepathically acquired information that we can verify.

Earlier in this paper I noted precognition as one of the basic psi phenomena, but I am now inclined not to consider the temporal specification of when psi operates as a fundamental distinction. This is reflected in Figure 3, where I've indicated that the M/L aspect of consciousness has a low inherent degree of localization in space and time, an idea arising from my concept of transtemporal inhibition. The B system, on the other hand, is very highly localized in space and time. We can make quite useful and precise statements that certain neurological firing patterns exist in such and such locations at such and such moments in time.

This lower degree of inherent localization of the M\L system comes from the properties of psi, or, more technically, allo-psi, which allow the organism to pick up information sensorially distant or shielded from it, and distant or shielded by either space or time. To put it more generally, there is an aspect of human consciousness that while largely focused on the here and now of physical space and time is also spread out to some extent in the immediate space and time around the organism, and is capable of focusing to quite extreme spatial and temporal distances away from the organism when allopsi is successfully used. It illustrates one of the empirical consequences of the Emergent Interactionist approach to consciousness, namely the prediction that consciousness will manifest properties that are paraconceptual by our ordinary concepts of space and time, and so which require understanding on their own terms. M\L system terms, rather than being reducible to physical explanatory concepts.

Out of the Body Experiences

I have been trying to make a careful scientific case for my version of dualism, Emergent Interactionism, drawing upon the implication of hundreds of high quality experiments. In the real world, however, very large numbers of people, probably a majority, do not need any scientific ease made for a dualistic division between matter and some kind of soul. Now, we need not take the fact that large numbers of people believe in some kind of non-material soul as very important evidence in science, for we know, as psychologists, that almost all beliefs people have (including the belief that they do not have a soul) are not formed from scientific evidence but are conditioned in people in the course of enculturation. What should interest us as psychologists, however, is the fact that there are some people, I do not know how many, who believe that they have some kind of immaterial soul not on the basis of what they have been taught, but as a result of personal experience. These are people who have had what I have termed an out-of-the-body experience, abbreviated OOBE.

In a classic OOBE, a person finds himself located at some other location than where he -knows, at the time, that his physical body is located. He can look around, inspect that location, try interacting with it in various ways, etc. just as he would any ordinary physical location. Second, and of crucial importance in definition, the experiencer knows during the experience that his consciousness is basically functioning in the pattern he recognizes as his ordinary state of consciousness. Just as you can right now, with a moment's introspection, realize that you are in your ordinary state of consciousness and not dreaming or drunk or in any other altered state, the OOBE experiencer recognizes the pattern of functioning of his consciousness during the OOBE as ordinary. He can call upon most or all of his ordinary cognitive faculties during the OOBE, and it is not uncommon for people during the OOBE to engage in very "logical" reasoning to the effect that what is happening to them is impossible by all they have been taught, they cannot be in their ordinary state of consciousness and yet find themselves located outside their body, but nevertheless there is their experience, perfectly real and happening to them right at the moment, regardless of their conceptual system.

A few of the people who experience this classic sort of OOBE retrospectively manage to talk themselves out of the implications of their experience, and convince themselves that it must have been some kind of unreal experience no matter how real it seemed. The majority of people who have had an OOBE, however, know, at a direct experiential level, that there is some essential aspect of their consciousness that is of a quite different nature from their brain functioning. We could logically argue the contrary, of course, and state that their B system was obviously functional, and perhaps the experience was just some kind of interesting hallucination, perhaps what has been called a lucid dream elsewhere, but our arguments as outsiders carry little weight with people who have actually had the experience.

As I have defined OOBEs so far, they can easily be included within the domain of ordinary psychological concepts and investigation, although, as we know, they are not, probably because their implications make them too paraconceptual. The example of the gentleman who seemed to be floating above his body given as an example of a transpersonal experience at the opening of this paper is an excellent example of an OOBE, at least the first part of it where he seems to possess his ordinary consciousness, before it began to change later in the experience.

In some OOBEs, however, there is a psi element that drastically strengthens the implication that the M/L system may indeed be functioning in a quasi-independent way from tile B system. When an OOBE case has a psi element, what this means is that the person not only experiences himself as at some distant location, he accurately describes what is going on at that distant location at the time, and his description is sufficiently accurate and the events sufficiently improbable, given what he could ordinarily know, that we consider psi the best explanation for how the information was gathered. The particular example at the beginning of the paper does not have a strong element like that: the experience of the perception of his daughter coming into his bedroom, for example, could readily be explained in conventional terms as mediated by his senses and B system, even though he was having the hallucinatory experience of being outside his body.

There are case collections of OOBEs where the information about a distant location is specific enough to seem to require a psi explanation. The one example I shall give you today, however, comes from an experimental study of OOBEs under laboratory conditions that I was able to carry out through having the good fortune of meeting a young woman who had had several OOBEs per week throughout her life as long as she could remember, and was still having them. Basically, this young woman spent four nights sleeping in a psychophysiological laboratory where I monitored EEG, eye movements, blood pressure, and skin resistance on a polygraph through the night. She slept in an ordinary bed with short electrode cables that prevented her from sitting up or getting out of bed. There was a shelf approximately seven feet above the floor, over the bed, with a clock beside it. After she was ready to go to sleep for the evening, I would go off to another room, randomly enter a random number table and write a five-digit random number from it on an 8< x 11 sheet of paper, put this sheet of paper in a folder, take it into the laboratory and slip the sheet of paper off, face up, on the shelf, so that the number could not be read by anyone even walking around the laboratory, much less lying in bed with short electrodes on, but was readily visible to an observer whose visual apparatus was near the ceiling. The subject, whom I called Miss Z, was instructed to try to have OOBEs during the night, to try to wake up shortly after them if at all possible in order that I could compare the physiological records at about the time of her reported OOBEs with her ordinary sleep record, and she was also instructed to try to float high enough during her OOBE to read and memorize the target number and report it to me.

She had several OOBEs during the nights she was able to spend in the laboratory, and because of her relatively quick awakenings from them I could generally localize them on the physiological records with some confidence. I discovered that this rather unique psychological experience occurred ill conjunction with a rather unique EEG pattern. Although I had been involved in sleep research for some years prior to this experiment, I had never seen a pattern quite like the EEG pattern that went along with these OOBEs, consisting, as it were, of a mixture of a stage 1 EEG such as might be found in conjunction with REM sleep, but also containing large amounts of slowed alpha rhythms and no rapid eye movements. So we had an interesting correlation: a unique psychological experience, a unique EEG pattern. Heart rate and skin resistance measures did not show anything noticeably different from the ongoing sleep pattern. In all but one of her OOBEs, Miss Z reported that while she was definitely out of her body, she was not able to control her movement within the room to get high enough or close enough to the target number to be able to read it, so she ventured no opinion as to what the target number was. On the one occasion in which She reported that she had been able to see the target number, she correctly reported all five digits of it in order, 25139, an event with an a priori probability of one in 100,000.

I suspect that this was a clearcut instance of psi functioning, although I do not generally make this as an airtight claim, both because this was the first experimental study of this type and because I could not feel absolutely certain that some sophisticated form of fraud had not been used by Miss Z, although I doubt this latter hypothesis strongly. I took these results primarily as a demonstration that these exotic Sorts of experiences could be studied under laboratory conditions. It does lend support, however, to the psi component of OOBEs.

Although this is a radical thing to say as far as mainstream psychology is concerned, I am inclined, because of the strong psi component of some OOBEs, to take them as being pretty much what they seem to be, a temporary spatial-functional separation of the M\L system from the B system. This separation is only temporary (otherwise we wouldn't get any subsequent report!), and it is probably only partial with the M/L system still interacting with the B system by auto-psi to some extent. Several aspects of case reports of OOBEs support this separation view.

First, in most OOBEs the person does not experience his consciousness as very different from ordinary: Indeed, I use the maintenance of ordinary consciousness, as perceived by the experiencer, as a criterion for a classic case of OOBE. But I have defined ordinary consciousness as an emergent from B and M\L system interaction and mutual patterning, so this suggests that a considerable amount of this autopsi interaction is still occurring, and/or that the force of habit, the lifetime practice of this patterning, is still fairly active in the M\L system in spite of partial or full loss of interaction with the B system.

Second, while most OOBEs seldom seem to last more than a minute to a few minutes, there are OOBEs which seem to last for half an hour or an hour or more. In these prolonged OOBEs, or the OOBEs of people who have had many such experiences rather than the typical once in a lifetime case, or OOBEs apparently resulting from severe disruption of physical functioning as when a person has almost died, consciousness as experienced tends to start drifting away from its ordinary pattern and become some kind of altered state. The transpersonal experience given at the beginning of this paper is an excellent example: the experiencer first simply experienced his ordinary consciousness as being above the bed, and then it began to function in ways that were ineffable for reporting. This alteration of style of consciousness function is what we would expect from the Emergent Interactionist point of view as interaction between the B system and the M/L system decreased. The M\L system would start drifting toward its own inherent patterns of functioning as they would be unpatterned by B system characteristics. Indeed, it is these unusual kinds of OOBEs that may offer us one kind of potential for insight into the inherent properties of the M\L system.

Third, the case study evidence we have suggests that there are few if any physiological changes of great consequence during ordinary, brief OOBEs. The physiological changes I found for Miss Z, for example, were unusual but not of the sort associated with pathological physiological functioning. From this we might reason that the B system is able to function pretty much on its own in an adaptive fashion, maintaining body homeostasis, during brief OOBEs. People who have reported prolonged OOBEs, however, often report large and usually pathological changes in their physical body that they notice upon the cessation of the OOBE. Robert Monroe, for example, an American businessman who began having prolonged OOBEs quite spontaneously, reports that his body has been quite chilled following prolonged OOBEs, a pathological enough sign so that he tries to avoid their being prolonged. .1 suspect this reflects the fact that life and consciousness, as we know them, arise from the mutual interaction and patterning of the B and M\L systems, and when the patterning of the M/L system upon the B system becomes sufficiently attenuated, the B system cannot adequately run the complex system of the brain and body by itself. Small physiological errors start to accumulate, and, in principle, would eventually lead to death.


I recognize that in terms of mainstream psychological constructs, the theory of consciousness I have proposed, Emergent Interactionism, is quite radical and will be automatically dismissed as a throw-back to primitive and unscientific notions by some psychologists. Nevertheless, I feel that excellent scientific evidence forces us to be pragmatic dualists at the present stage of our knowledge, to acknowledge that consciousness has aspects to it, particularly the psi aspects, which are not and probably never will be reducible to contemporary physical notions of what the physical world is about.

As a psychologist, however, I recognize that logic plays only a part in paradigm change. The interest in transpersonal psychology is partly a matter of ordinary scientific interest, and partly a deeper dissatisfaction (with strong emotional components) of the view of man prevalent in orthodox, mainstream American psychology. Thus, to be realistic, I expect that some of you will find the Emergent Interactionist position I have presented a useful formulation of what you would like to see as a basis for transpersonal psychology because of personal as well as scientific reasons, and I expect others to find it too far-fetched for personal as well as scientific reasons. Nevertheless, I want to end by underscoring the most important conclusion to be drawn from this Emergent Interactionist position, namely that transpersonal phenomena may be something more than interesting but hallucinatory patternings of neurological firing in the brain. Note carefully that I am not saying that every unusual experience, whether or not "glorified" by the label "transpersonal" should be taken at face value. People have experiences, and they then almost always go on to interpret these experiences. These interpretations are usually based on emotional and psychological needs rather than logic. A great deal of nonsensical and pathological interpretation of ordinary experiences as well as transpersonal experience has always been with us, and will always be with us. Much pathological material will not be presented by its exponents under the name of transpersonal. So, my proposal for an Emergent Interactionist paradigm for understanding human consciousness is in no way a call for abandoning a critical stance and scientific rigor in our research. It is a call to not automatically dismiss the apparent meaning and implications of transpersonal experiences which imply that a human being is not necessarily limited to the neural firing patterns within his brain. It is my personal belief that we are creatures of much wider potential than orthodox psychology imagines. My concern now is that we do not leave the important human experience in the area of transpersonal psychology solely in the hands of cultists, but use what we have learned about scientific investigation to go on to fully understand the transpersonal and psychic nature of man, both for the sake of scientific knowledge and for human betterment.


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