193. Dr. Daryl Bem on the Quantum Theory Secret Psychologists Need to Know
Interviews from the 2012 Parapsychology Association conference with Dr. Daryl Bem, Dr. George Williams, Dr. Athena Drewes and Dr. Robert Van de Castle.
Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris and Dr. Richard Grego for interviews from the 2012 Parapsychology Association conference. During one of the interviews Dr. Daryl Bem reveals the secret psychologists need to know about quantum theory:
Dr. Daryl Bem: Quantum theory, quantum mechanics, has never had an empirical failure. That is, to the degree you can measure, within the error of measurement, every prediction made by quantum mechanics has come true. The thing that so boggles the mind of physicists in the 20th Century was no one knows how it works. So even Richard Feynman, who won a Nobel Prize for all of this said, “Stop beating yourself up by asking ‘But how can this be?’ Nobody knows how this can be.”
And psychologists and non-physicists generally don’t know that conundrum exists in physics. They say, “Well, I don’t have the mathematical knowledge to know what quantum mechanics is.” They should give themselves more credit. No one knows. No one has an understanding of the mechanics of how it works.
Now some psi researchers actually think quantum mechanics does contain the seeds of an explanation. It has to do with what we call “Quantum Entanglement.” Now, there are technical arguments why that won’t work, but every week in physics there’s usually some new paper that shows entanglement at higher temperatures than we would have expected. Or, at longer distances. Or, at a more macro level. So some of psi researchers believe that’s this is going to be it.
Today we welcome back Dr. Richard Grego to Skeptiko. Rich, as you may remember, has brought us some kind of feed on the street interviews, most recently a few episodes back from The American Psychology Association Conference. This time, he has a series of interviews that he recently conducted at the Parapsychology Association meeting for 2012 and I believe that was in Durham, North Carolina, is that right, Rich?
Dr. Richard Grego: Yes, it is.
Alex Tsakiris: So Rich is also, as you remember, a Philosophy Professor at Florida State College. He’s an old hand by now on Skeptiko so we don’t need to introduce him very much. We’re going to jump right into these very, very interesting interviews that he’s brought us from The Parapsychology Association Conference.
So where I thought we’d start, Rich, why don’t you give us a little bit of a feel for the conference in general? You know, the number of attendees, kind of who were the people that were there, what it was all about.
Dr. Richard Grego: Okay, yeah. The Parapsychological Association, of course, is the primary or one of the primary professional associations for scholars in the field of parapsychology and The Parapsychological Association Conference is the annual, I guess, convocation at which these scholars share their latest research. And this year it was held August 2012. It was in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, right adjacent as a matter of fact, and it was no coincidence to the famous Rhine Research Center that was formerly connected with Duke University.
And you know, since parapsychological research obviously concerns cutting-edge controversial explorations and stuff regarding the nature and the substance of consciousness and the cosmos, I wanted to get a chance perhaps to talk to the scholars there and obtain as many abstracts and summaries of the presentations and so forth for Skeptiko. There were about—I would say—a couple hundred scholars there, researchers from various fields like everything from neuroscience to physics to philosophy.
My project was to gather abstracts and summaries of these presentations as well as follow-up questions regarding how they felt their findings impacted evidence for a non-material consciousness or dimension of consciousness. So that’s essentially with the nature of the conference and what I was attempting to do there.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay. Well then, let’s jump right into the first interview that we’re going to bring to folks and then talk a little bit about and that’s, of course, Daryl Bem. Why don’t you set this up for us briefly with what his presentation was about?
Dr. Richard Grego: Sure. Daryl Bem, of course, as most people know is a pre-eminent scholar in the field of social psychology, I guess formerly at Cornell, and his ground-breaking work in the parapsychological field was in the area of precognition. His really famous paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology caused a huge stir because of its really fantastic results.
His paper at the conference was entitled, “What I’ve Learned During my 15 Minutes of Fame,” and it was sort of this informal, but very interesting and insightful and entertaining really, overview of the scientific community’s reception of his work and sort of the culture of the scientific community now and current theories of physics and consciousness that relate to psi phenomena. It was really a very interesting presentation.
An hour interview in its entirety covered that stuff and this excerpt is sort of in keeping with my main focus regarding his reflections on how popular fashionable metaphors and analogies really have influenced scientific research on consciousness, as well as implications of that for physics and research in psi.
Alex Tsakiris: Great. Let’s play that clip:
Dr. Richard Grego: One of the fascinating things I thought you said being a philosopher and a professional I thought was a really particularly profound and insightful was you mentioned that this is switching gears a little bit from sort of methodology but related. The extent to which—correct me if I’m paraphrasing you wrong—the extent to which our metaphors for mind you can figure what questions we’re permitted explore with respect to consciousness is really interesting and so I was wondering. What’s the current metaphor do you think? How is it shaping what questions we’re permitted to ask and how our methodology…
Dr. Daryl Bem: What led me to comment on this was back in the ‘50s when Vance Packard wrote the book “The Hidden Persuaders,” it was all about subliminal stimulation. Stimuli that are flashed so quickly that your conscious mind is not aware that they’re there. And there are a whole set of experiments done at that time that showed that people had different personalities and reacted to threatening stimuli differently.
What you would do is flash a horrible picture or a sexual picture or something so fast that the conscious mind couldn’t do it. There were claims being made then about how people react to this kind of threat. Can they see them faster or slower than other people, for example. And all of that sort of fell apart. People said that we don’t believe there’s subliminal stimulation. We can’t believe these experiments and all that. So it just lay fallow for a long time.
Now a social psychologist uses subliminal stimulation as part of their methodology. And the question is what changed? Well, first of all, people did get more methodologically sophisticated on how to run these experiments but I think from the language used you can tell that people’s metaphors of what the mind is like changed. And that changed. Then it was more like a switchboard. Mind has stimuli in, responses out. And if that’s the view you have then to be told that somehow you react to threat that you haven’t seen—and so people were saying, “So who is this little homunculus in your mind that looks out at the world and says, ‘No, don’t see that’?”
Well, that sounds absurd. It’s almost ridicule to say that. Now our metaphor has changed from a switchboard and it’s sort of implicit to a computer.
Dr. Richard Grego: Yeah. Is that the popular—I hear that metaphor a lot.
Dr. Daryl Bem: Everybody uses it whether they realize it or not because you talk to your computer. You say, “Dummy! The information’s not on the hard disk. Go over and look at it here.”
Dr. Richard Grego: Sure, and there’s a parlance between people you hear that from.
Dr. Daryl Bem: And you certainly know that what you see on the screen is only a tiny fraction of all the processing that’s going on in the computer. So the notion is that the human mind is at least as good as a computer, that things are going on underneath. So when you’re working on a computer it’s making decisions about, you know, you misspelled a word. Well, is this the word you really meant?
Well, that means that there’s all this processing going on. You can think of the computer screen as what’s conscious and everything else which is almost much, much larger is going on. So even if people don’t acknowledge that that’s their metaphor, it makes the question so who is this homunculus in your mind that looks out and says, “Don’t see that”—it’s just not a problem anymore.
Dr. Richard Grego: Right. That’s interesting.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, Rich, I’m going to break it off there because I’ve really broken up this clip into two parts because it’s so great, it’s so rich, it’s so brilliant. I love what you’ve done and I love his answer. Let’s talk about that first part. I love this little bit of history about how subliminal messaging went from this tremendous fad to being totally debunked to quietly being accepted as fact. And you can’t help but feel that maybe he’s drawing some parallels to what might happen in the future with parapsychology.
Dr. Richard Grego: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I agree. I was wondering how you and/or the Skeptiko constituency in general would sort of respond to that because it is interesting about how the metaphors for mind or consciousness that creep into the scientific community from extra-scientific sources very often seem to configure what questions scientists are allowed to pursue, even, for when they’re investigating things like consciousness. So I was curious to know.
Alex Tsakiris: Right, the switchboard versus the computer analogy I thought was wonderful. Wonderful and really strikes home.
Dr. Richard Grego: Absolutely, yeah.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, let’s play the second part of this clip and chat a little bit about that:
Dr. Richard Grego: Are there theories of precognition? Sort of ontologically what is going on?
Dr. Daryl Bem: Yes, well, there are a couple of things here. First of all, physics had its moment of embarrassment but extraordinary knowledge in the 20th Century. And so quantum theory, quantum mechanics, has never had an empirical failure that is to the degree you can measure within the error of measurement. Every prediction made by quantum mechanics has come true. The thing that so boggles the mind of physicists in the 20th Century was no one knows how it works. So even Feynman, who won a Nobel Prize for all of this said, “Stop beating yourself up by asking ‘But how can this be?’ Nobody knows how this can be.”
And psychologists and non-physicists generally don’t know that conundrum exists in physics. They say, “Well, I don’t have the mathematical knowledge to know what quantum mechanics is.” They should give themselves more credit. No one knows. No one has an understanding of the mechanics of how it works and there were bitter fights, with Einstein ending up on the wrong side of the thing. And so that has caused physicists to be much more humble or to just ignore it. There’s a branch of physics that we call “Shut Up and Calculate.” Geeze, don’t worry about the foundational questions.
And I don’t think psychologists, just as one non-physics group, have yet had their world shaken up to that extent. Now some psi researchers actually think quantum mechanics does contain the seeds of an explanation. It has to do with what we call “Quantum Entanglement.” Now, there are technical arguments why that won’t work but every week in physics there’s usually some new paper that shows guess what? We found entanglement at higher temperatures than we would have expected. Or at longer distances. Or at a more macro level. And so some of the psi researchers believe that’s going to be it.
Dr. Richard Grego: What do you think?
Dr. Daryl Bem: Well, there’s a paradox here. I think at some point quantum mechanics may well provide a mechanism but quantum mechanics does not provide us with an explanation of reality that we understand. What do we mean by “understand?” We mean that we can relate what is new to what we already accept as a given.
Alex Tsakiris: So here he provides this really fresh look at quantum mechanics and how we’re supposed to understand it as a non-physicist. And I love how he says, “You know, psychologists, step up and call their bluff a little bit because nobody knows what’s going on here.”
Dr. Richard Grego: Yeah, I found that really interesting. And then a few of the other interviews I did people touched on that issue, particularly the one with George Williams that directly addresses the Psi and the Problem of Consciousness. I think that was his title. I think that notion that a theory for non-material consciousness and psi phenomenon coming from quantum mechanics is just almost as old as the hills as far as research goes.
I’m familiar with how ideas like entanglement and complementarity and observer-dependent measurement and all these things they talk about sort of relate to consciousness studies but I always get the sense—and I think maybe this is what Daryl Bem thinks as well–that quantum physics in a sense just pushes the problem of reconciling a mechanistic, material brain with a subjective intentional qualia-laden consciousness just one step further back. Almost without solving it.
Alex Tsakiris: Oh, completely. I think that’s acknowledged when you really push him. And I think Bem does a great job making it clear that that’s what they’re doing and kind of calling folks on this pushback that we hear all the time, which is “Aww, don’t start talking about quantum physics. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” And his pushback is, “Yeah? Well, you don’t know what you’re talking about either.”
And I think the way he relates that to real science rather than just two people standing talking about how much they don’t know about the gap here. I love his pushback about entanglement and how there’s news coming out every day. He does a great job of saying it. Entanglement at higher temperatures, entanglement at higher-ordered biological structures. I know I’ve just…
Dr. Richard Grego: Macro structures.
Alex Tsakiris: Yeah. I’ve stumbled across some of that research and bounced it off of some folks in the neuroscience consciousness camp and they’re generally ignorant of that, too. So I think he makes a very valid point there.
Dr. Richard Grego: I do as well, yeah. And I think that is the common refrain you hear from the skeptical community, particularly physicists and neuroscientists who talk about the impossibility of these kinds of dynamics operating at the level of what they call “the hot wet brain” and all those kinds of objections. But I think Daryl Bem’s cautionary admonition to not come to such dogmatic conclusions at this point in time is a really good one. That perhaps the skeptical community should take under advisement.
Alex Tsakiris: We really have to stop saying “skeptical community” because it’s really mainstream science in general. They’re just running cover for everyone else who hides behind that dismissive attitude of we don’t have to pay attention to psi. We don’t have to pay attention to parapsychology because you just said quantum mechanics and you don’t know what it means.
Let’s move on. You mentioned Williams. Intro that clip for us.
Dr. Richard Grego: Sure. George Williams, again his paper was titled “Psi and the Problem of Consciousness” which really enticed me because that to me was the foundational question that was driving my own project and interest in parapsychology and these interviews. He was the only presenter there actually who was a relative unknown in the parapsychological field and community. He’s a very bright guy and very well-read.
I think by training he’s an economist rather than a psychiatrist or neuroscientist or physicist or anything but on his overview was a very good philosophical discussion about empirical research like the Global Consciousness Project and in the larger interview he talked more about that than in his presentation. He’s particularly interested in that. How that kind of research speaks to the traditional mind/body debate.
He suggested that a theory for psi phenomenon and for non-physical consciousness generally might well come from quantum physics. The area that he thought was most promising in that regard would be on David Bohm’s notion of the implicate order via the hidden variables kind of theory of quantum dynamics. So that’s kind of what this interview was all about.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay. Let’s listen:
Dr. George Williams: The most scientific thing we can do is simply at this point accept the data that is and consider seriously what it means to our world, to our reality. Now my interpretation may not be correct but at least I am accepting the data and saying given the metastudies that Dean Radin and Jessica Utts and others have looked at, if we’re going to follow through scientifically we have to—now that the evidence is basically in is what I’m saying.
Dr. Richard Grego: Okay, and then in regard to the problem of consciousness specifically you did a really good job, I thought, of clarifying for a non-philosophical audience three general descriptions. You’ve got materialism on one end of the spectrum; dualism, mind/body dualism in the middle; and then what you describe as “pan-psychism” at the other end of the spectrum if you want to look at it that way. Now briefly, materialism, dualism, pan-psychism, what are they and what are you contending then that psi is evidence of?
Dr. George Williams: Materialism is basically the idea that everything that is consciousness is somehow emerged from matter. This is something that I think most scientists believe or are trying very hard to believe even though no one really has any good way of explaining how non-conscious matter, atoms and molecules and so forth, can actually somehow give us consciousness. And this is a very difficult problem. David Chalmers has termed this “the hard problem of consciousness.” How do we explain why we experience anything?
So then there are some alternatives and the two that I discuss and I think these are the main classes. It would be dualism which is basically somehow that consciousness or maybe some people might prefer the term “spirit” is fundamentally different from the physical body or matter. And so as I mentioned, the challenges of those who favor dualism is to try to explain how these two fundamental substances can interact with one another.
And then you’ve got what I term “pan-psychism.” I also use another term, “neutral monism.” I think they’re very closely related. Basically pan-psychism is the idea that everything, all material objects, bodies, biological structures, and so forth, have some kind of awareness. Have some sort of mental or experiential component. And neutral monism is a similar term and that is that basically consciousness and matter are two aspects of some sort of maybe some greater underlying reality.
Dr. Richard Grego: And in your estimation, of course, psi phenomenon make belief in a very simplistic kind of materialism very difficult, whereas one of those other two alternatives, either dualism or pan-psychism, obviously comports with the evidence we have of psi better. Is that correct?
Dr. George Williams: Yes, yes. The psi experiments such as the Ganzfeld experiments and there have been metastudies which combine all of those different studies together and find that the results are very robust, that the effect psi does not diminish, and I think Daryl Bem’s paper gave a follow-up rebuttal to Wiseman basically showing that if you follow the protocols that they’ve laid out you get very robust results.
But anyway, in Ganzfeld they use electromagnetic shielding to kind of like prevent any kind of electromagnetic transmission between sender and object. So there are really no physical—there’s nothing about physical energy that can explain those kinds of phenomenon. And so we really have to look at something else. And as you point out, the main alternatives can be classified as either dualism or pan-psychism or neutral monism.
Dr. Richard Grego: And again, your contention then is the one possibly plausible scientific approach to reconciling the seeming impossibility of a material brain having this conscious psi experience of things can be found in quantum dynamics. Is that fair?
Dr. George Williams: Well, quantum mechanics actually has its own mysteries itself and there are a number of explanations. But when you look closely at what’s going on in quantum mechanics those don’t really fit very well with our normally accepted views of reality.
Dr. Richard Grego: The physical world, in other words.
Dr. George Williams: Yeah. What we could call, let’s say, the Newtonian classical ways of thinking about the world. So in quantum mechanics you have, based on how the experiment is observed, you can get very different results either that suggest some sort of particle-like—in other words, that you’ve got a particle or something that looks like waves and Niels Bohr was the one who came up with the idea. It looks like the waves are some sort of probabilistic component of what’s going on with the subatomic particles.
As you probably are aware, many people seem to argue that the observer/object relationship is so integral and so kind of like woven together that you actually presumably need to bring in something like consciousness to explain completely the phenomenon. Now, that’s a controversial idea; not all physicists want to go there, but it’s difficult to totally exclude that as a possible explanation.
Alex Tsakiris: Great. So you really get a sense for what you’re talking about. I love how he seems to come at this so fresh, you know? It’s like “Hey, isn’t Dean Radin’s meta-analysis really terrific?” And we all want to go, “Yeah, yeah it is! Why don’t more people get it?” And here’s somebody coming in fresh and going, “Yeah, that’s just the data. We have to deal with it. Why is that such a novel concept that we have to deal with good data?”
Dr. Richard Grego: Yeah, absolutely. I was wondering how you’d feel about what he was saying. In a sense I guess his insights aren’t necessarily original but I thought they were very well articulated on something I think if you’re looking at the implications of psi research in particular for what the nature and character of consciousness might be, I thought he did a really good job of placing it on the spectrum there.
Alex Tsakiris: Right, and the big take-away for me from all that is materialism is dead. Materialism has been falsified. For all intents and purposes it’s falsified and that’s the really big step. I think that’s how he lays out the landscape, as well.
Dr. Richard Grego: Yes, I agree.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, so next Athena Drewes.
Dr. Richard Grego: Dr. Athena Drewes is actually another fascinating person with a really interesting career. She’s a psychotherapist by training and she’s actually worked in the past with Stanley Krippner and Chuck Connerton and some of these big names at the Psychophysics Research Laboratory at Maimonides during those famous experiments that Krippner did in the late ‘60s, I guess, at Maimonides Hospital. Her clinical specialty involves work with children and she has this ongoing project via a website. I think it’s called perceptivechildren.org in which she receives emails from children who, among other things, have these sort of paranormal or parapsychological experiences.
She gave several presentations at this convocation, but the one that I focused on was this fascinating quantitative/qualitative sort of comparison between a survey of email correspondences that she has received on her website over the past year with a survey of letters to Louisa Rhine and the Rhine Research Center. She’s a well-known figure at the Rhine Research Center during the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Both of these sets of correspondences were from children and teenagers and she uncovered some fascinating demographic data regarding age and gender and the type of phenomenon they reported, and just talked about the comparison/contrast between them.
Unfortunately, the excerpt I provide here is just a segment of the interview in which I asked her to respond to some of the potential criticisms of her findings and speculate about its implication regarding the nature of consciousness, of course. I guess you should understand that within the context of that general interview and the general subject that she talked about.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay. Let’s give a listen:
Dr. Richard Grego: I thought maybe if we could run down a list of possible explanations for these experiences that people might offer and what your response to them is. The first of them, of course, from the hard-nose skeptics who don’t believe anything, fraud. You know, confabulation of some sort. Do you get the sense that in maybe not the majority but is there a significant amount of anything like that that you get the impression you’re encountering in your letters or no?
Dr. Athena Drewes: I feel that–as Louisa Rhine felt when she received 13,000 letters from everyday people—that these are well-meaning, sane people who are not out to manipulate or to scam and be fraudulent in any way. There’s nothing to gain from it. And the emails, the conversations I’ve had through the emails, are very sincere and very sane individuals. And the parents themselves seem to be noteworthy for being pretty normal people. So I tend to doubt it would be fraud on any level.
Dr. Richard Grego: Again, I’m anticipating the skeptical response, even from within our field—there are plenty in the field of parapsychology, right—that these are children so there’s the issue of imagination. Would you attribute a lot or any of these or a significant amount of these reports to that? Just plain they’re seeing things in the shadows and really making an honest mistake.
Dr. Athena Drewes: That is a possibility and I raise that to parents, especially if children between say, two or five or six where imaginary playmates are a normal developmental component and it could be just their imagination. But they sort it out and keep a journal and they look at some of the details and they’re consistent stories.
Dr. Richard Grego: Are they? Do you follow-up on that? Do you follow-up pretty rigorously with a lot of them in that way to verify the…
Dr. Athena Drewes: For some of them they do respond. We do have a little correspondence back and forth around it. And I’ll say, “Well, it could be an imaginary playmate. From what you’re describing it’s hard for me to tell.” And they may follow-up with another email with much more detail at that point because they’re not sure about me, either, and this website. What am I going to do with this information? And it can also be the parent’s reaction to it, you know, if they’re into this stuff. It’s like, “Oh, tell me more.” The child may want to create more experiences to get attention. But generally I’m not seeing it as just imagination. Yes, some of that would be but…
Dr. Richard Grego: Overall no, huh?
Dr. Athena Drewes: Yeah, I wouldn’t say they all fall in that category.
Dr. Richard Grego: Well, we’re not done with the skeptical responses. A neural malfunction of some sort. A temporal lobe seizure or something?
Dr. Athena Drewes: Very possible.
Dr. Richard Grego: Do you get that impression from most of them?
Dr. Athena Drewes: No, I don’t. And there are a small percentage of the parents who are writing in that their child might have some kind of physical thing. We do explore that. I would say the vast majority are not. It could be a small percentage but to rule them all out based on that, I wouldn’t do that.
Dr. Richard Grego: The other one—you’re a therapist so I’m sure this might have occurred to you. What do you see the implications of that being?
Dr. Athena Drewes: Well, I think the research and the emails about seeing discarnate figures and spirits has the implication that there’s a separation of mind and body that can occur at death. And that our consciousness can survive and does survive physical death and possibly has other lifetimes after that and this is not the only one. So that has a huge implication for a lot of religion a lot of political kinds of things. People’s own views of what this lifetime’s about and their body is about. So definitely that there’s a spirit in us that does survive death.
Dr. Richard Grego: And your research has convinced you of that? Or is convinced too strong a word for a rigorous scientist?
Dr. Athena Drewes: I would say my personal experiences were the foundation of it as a child wondering how this can happen. How can you have a precognitive dream about something that’s yet to happen and then it does happen? How can you see things after someone’s dead and have contact from them? What does that all mean? So it started me questioning and the research just helps validate it. And the children’s experiences just help validate that. Yeah, we’re all seeing and feeling the same thing.
Dr. Richard Grego: Right. Ultimately do you think the essence of what we are or the essence of the conscious dimension of what we are is immaterial? At least the way the material is currently defined, I guess, by science? Because that could change. Or do you not want to make that bold a statement?
Dr. Athena Drewes: Yeah, I mean…I don’t want to speak for the whole field…
Dr. Richard Grego: Well, I guess I was wondering what your personal feeling on the issue is based on your research.
Dr. Athena Drewes: I think in terms of our physical being…
Dr. Richard Grego: When your body dies do you think you have a conscious dimension…
Dr. Athena Drewes: I do. I do. I absolutely do. From my personal experience and from what I’ve gotten from children and from teenagers and from the research. Absolutely.
Dr. Richard Grego: Wonderful.
Dr. Athena Drewes: I don’t doubt that.
Dr. Richard Grego: Really? I appreciate you giving me hope. As long as you’re sharing your personal reflections, it’s something that I want to believe.
Dr. Athena Drewes: Yeah. I don’t want to speak for the whole field and everyone in it and all the researchers but I know from my life experience and what the people I come in contact with, the adults and children, absolutely. I would not doubt that one bit that we not only survive death but we have had other physical experiences in the past and possibly the future.
Alex Tsakiris: I see what you mean here, Rich. So what was your take-away from where she winds up at the end of the day?
Dr. Richard Grego: Yeah, one of the things I think was interesting–and maybe this is sort of an upshot in general of one of my main take-aways, I suppose, or has to do with one of my main take-aways from all the interviews I’ve conducted–and that’s that you can’t really study psi phenomenon specifically, let alone consciousness generally without addressing the whole complex matrix of psycho-social-cultural factors that encompass it.
And that’s ultimately what her presentation emphasized and I think it’s one that anybody looking at consciousness or working at the cutting-edge of science in any field has to keep in mind. I think science likes to consider itself this divinely unperturbed, objective enterprise that has nothing to do with anything else and that’s what makes it objective and impartial and unbiased.
But I think to look at any kind of scientific phenomena and really especially things like consciousness, it really needs to be examined within this whole complex matrix of other influences that influence not only the phenomenon but perhaps influences the way people investigating the phenomenon are approaching it.
Alex Tsakiris: Awesome. That’s kind of a neat segueway into the final interview we’re going to bring folks, and that’s with Van de Castle. Do you want to tee that up?
Dr. Richard Grego: Yeah. Robert Van de Castle is another fascinating guy. Incidentally, he was only willing to talk with me after consulting and sort of obtaining a positive reference on my behalf from Andy Paquette because he apparently has worked with Andy or knows Andy Paquette from other venues. Apparently Van de Castle has had some bad experiences in the past. He’s had a long, distinguished career and he’s had some bad experiences with prominent pseudo-skeptics whose names I’ll leave out. I guess the name “Skeptiko,” when he heard it kind of spooked him and he didn’t know if he wanted to talk to me or not. So Andy Paquette gave me a positive reference.
But Dr. Robert Van de Castle is Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia Health Sciences Center and he’s a former Director of the Sleep and Dream Laboratory at the University of Virginia Medical Center. Again, his specialty besides parapsychological issues is, of course, dream research. He’s just widely published. He’s edited a book series on dream studies and dream research and written a book called, Our Dreaming Mind.
His presentation basically covered his reflections on how dream research can shed light on both parapsychological research and what the potentialities, I guess, of consciousness are. It’s along with quantum entanglement, how it needs to be looked at or examined as part of a matrix of other minds and the environment and the world and the universe and the cosmos of which it’s a part. I guess that was the focus of his presentation.
Alex Tsakiris: Great. And here it is:
Dr. Robert Van de Castle: Consciousness is so broad we can now start to gain access to deeper regions within our unconscious and program it and through lucidity now speak without due stammer. So you could now—like that movie that was made with the British king—so now you can overcome that in a lucid state.
Or you can now start experiencing the divine because a lot of times the sensational light works—it’s the 1812 Overture, the you know, the 4th of July fireworks up in D.C. It’s this incredible, explosive, beautiful kind of experience and you can have that and think, ‘Wow. That’s in me. I have this wonderful, wonderful ability to experience so, so deeply.” And you can appreciate some kind of power so it isn’t like you get–specifically you don’t become Catholic or Lutheran or whatever but you really feel like there is some awesome power…
Dr. Richard Grego: It’s a channel to spiritual experiences that you wouldn’t ordinarily have. And that’s becoming—that’s currently sort of a hot topic in dream research. To get back to the original, to sort of sum up what you think maybe are the implications of your experience and your research as expressed in this paper, “The Matrix of Entangled Dreams,” what exactly then would you say in terms of psi phenomena is occurring in these dream experiences? Do you think…
Dr. Robert Van de Castle: Let me back up for just one second. For the book I chose the title of “Our Dreaming Mind.” Hobson, who had been the guy with the hindbrain and this was all just nonsense stuff, that the brain was trying a make a job of this goofy chatter coming through, his is called “The Dreaming Brain.” So I wanted to differentiate between brain which to me is just a lump of gray matter to mind which is to me a much more active or expansive…
Dr. Richard Grego: Which is exactly what I wanted to ask you about.
Dr. Robert Van de Castle: Rather than “The” which is “the Toshiba computer here,” “the cellphone,” you make it “our,” this is now “our conversation.” When you get done with this tape in a sense that’s “our tape” now. So I wanted to convey the collective quality of that.
So I think since everybody dreams every night, in your normal lifetime you’re going to have 100,000 dreams. So you’re not quite born to be a millionaire but you’re born a dream inheritor of 100,000 dreams in a lifetime. And what do most of us do with it? If you really felt like that was what you were given as your inheritance upon being a human being, you can pro-rate at age 40 how much you’ve still got of the original money you got what have you squandered? How much have you thrown away? How much have you stayed with?
And so to me the psychic dreaming is one aspect of that. You can get creative aspects and do writing and all the things we mentioned before—the poetry, the painting, the art, all of that kind of thing, inventions—would be there. And with lucidity you can now gain access to all of these other parts of yourself. So the psychic one, to me, is saying we all are truly connected. You have your living inside your skin; I’m living inside my skin. But that at some level we’re sharing our bodies. At some level we’re sharing our minds.
Alex Tsakiris: So great. What I love is he goes right there with the divine. I mean, that’s one of my topics, as you know, and he’s not afraid to throw that in the mix just as freely as he’s throwing in shared consciousness and how that all might work together. I really appreciated that.
Dr. Richard Grego: Yeah, me too. He and Athena Drewes in particular were two accomplished researchers there who weren’t as afraid and reluctant to speculate in that regard as some of the others. Even Daryl Bem, who eventually reluctantly during the course of our larger interview—I wouldn’t say he admitted—he acknowledged that his research has led him sort of reluctantly because he began as a skeptic.
He’s very adamant and still calls himself a skeptic with materialist leanings but he said his research has led him reluctantly to thinking that consciousness probably has a non-physical dimension. At the very least I think he refers to it as “non-local cognitive stimuli,” I think he calls the non-physical dimension of consciousness. But Van de Castle and Athena Drewes were pretty open about their belief that a life-long career of research in this field has led them to believe based on empirical evidence that consciousness at the very least has a non-physical dimension.
Alex Tsakiris: Great. Well, those were some great interviews. I hope people enjoy them as much as I did listening to them. You know what ? You’ve touched on maybe one question we can tee up for a forum discussion and that’s this psycho-social part of parapsychology and how we can’t really pull that from any kind of lab experiment we want to do of guessing Ping-Pong balls out of a hat or whatever we’re going to do. I think that’s a great point. I’m glad you made it.
Is there another topic we might tee up for discussion as a result of this conference?
Dr. Richard Grego: One of mine related to that pertains to the character and nature of what we call “personal or self-identity” versus just the nature, which I look at as sort of a sub-field of consciousness studies and I think similar to what we were saying. I think the more the non-material character of consciousness is established it seems like the more the non-local extended relational character of our personal identity itself becomes apparent.
It seems to me that the concept of a person as an individuated, isolated, ego-centered sort of being that’s bounded by a physical body is obviously an inadequate concept of the human being, of the person. And for us to really examine human experience and do justice to it we have to look at the human agents of experience as—at least in the context of a larger environment or world or universe. So that’s one of the main take-aways I had from this interchange.
Alex Tsakiris: Excellent. That’s something we haven’t really talked about and I haven’t fully contemplated, I think. That will be a good one to discuss so thanks for bringing us that. Okay, so Rich, that was all good. Tell us about your website. Do you have any plans for publishing more complete versions of these interviews? And if so, might they appear on your new website?
Dr. Richard Grego: Well, as a matter of fact, at the behest and inspiration of Alex Tsakiris, I actually constructed the website recently and posted all of the interviews I conducted at The American Psychological Association Conference and The Parapsychology Conference in their entirety on that website.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, we’ll definitely link you up there, Rich, and I hope people do check it out. Terrific work. I’ll have to find where to send you next. This is really working out great.
Dr. Richard Grego: [Laughs] Thanks. It’s a great pleasure and honor to do it.
Alex Tsakiris: It’s great for us. Thanks and take care.
Dr. Richard Grego: Thank you, Alex.