Sunday, 27 November 2011

A note on psi experiments in general

As I understand them, psi experimentation could be viewed as an altruistic exercise on the part of the experimenters, all of whom hope to explain a phenomenon that most people cannot directly witness themselves. It is the altruistic nature of this exercise that causes parapsychologists to work long hours on these subjects despite poor funding and heaps of scorn from other professionals, negative publicity, and the general public. It is altruism that causes these men and women to alter their experiments frequently, to answer questions or criticisms by skeptics. It doesn't even matter how well-grounded an objection is, they'll cater to the whims of people who haven't the slightest notion how experiments are conducted or how the data is interpreted or indeed what inadequate or fraudulent data looks like. If this weren't true, you wouldn't see Julie Bieschel going beyond double-blind experiments to triple-blind, quadruple-blind and even quintuple-blind. You wouldn't have Rupert Sheldrake using dogs as subjects, because that completely eliminates many objections about the motives of human subjects. You wouldn't have researchers discarding NDE data unless the subject was clinically dead, had a flat EEG, and was congenitally blind (as Ring did in one study.)

All of this, all of these ridiculous extremes, these cost the literature tremendous quantities of perfectly good data. But why is all of this valuable data sacrificed? Altruism. The people who do it are trying to explain a difficult thing to people who do not understand it and have no idea what it should look like. So they are patient. They know the objections don't always make sense, but they cooperate anyway because they know that they will be able to demonstrate something despite limitations that would have scientists in other fields crying "Foul!"

It can be quite frustrating, but on the other hand it is also true that bending to these often silly requests has its own challenge. "Can I show it in this way?" The parapsychologist might ask himself, and then with some pleasure discover that it can be done, like progressively increasing the difficulty of a video game. At a certain point however, the process no longer serves the original goal. It is possible to over train and in so doing lose the time for legitimate appropriate research that was instead spent distracted, working on ever-higher levels of difficulty that never connected very well with one's original research interests.

It seems to me that as long as experimental research is conducted by people who are genuinely interested in it and who think it is the most legitimate method of answering certain questions, it is a legitimate endeavor. However, when that same research is directed by the arbitrary and uninformed criticisms of people who are fanatically attached to the desire of curtailing, stopping, interfering with, or in some other way harming the research, one might expect that work to run aground from time to time.

It may be that psi research threatens other fields. Frankly, I think it not only does "threaten" other fields, but the facts behind the research, the reality it is based on, already makes a mockery of several basic principles in a variety of sciences. Reincarnation, spirits, telepathy, PK, spirit guides, all of these and other related phenomena show that there is much more than modern physics, medicine, or religion has seriously contemplated. For this, research into psi is dangerous because once these things are demonstrated, many ideas accepted for a mere two centuries or so, must fall. Why, with this opposition, do others persist? Because it is a part of nature to explain when asked a question, and to want to tell the truth if one knows it--particularly if others don't. Again, altruism.


Saturday, 17 September 2011

Proof, God, and Richard Wiseman

Due to the unfathomable success of Richard Wiseman's books, most recently Paranormality, I have found myself explaining the errors in his book more often than I would like, particularly because I made an extensive review of the book earlier in this blog. A far better book on the same subject is Robert McLuhan's Randi's Prize. It's one thing to complain about the quality of evidence based on legitimate grounds, but quite another to pretend it doesn't exist at all as some skeptics like to do. When it comes to veridical OBEs however, they kind of have a point.

It isn't that such things don't exist in the academic literature, but there aren't very many of these accounts outside of popular books, like Robert Monroe's Journeys out of the body or my Dreamer: 20 years of psychic dreams and how they changed my life (note to self: shorter title next time). Another thing not often found in academic journals are accounts of spontaneous cases. The result is that the records I have in my dream journals are much stronger and more numerous than anything I've been able to find in academic journals. There is a problem however, that these are spontaneous experiences, and such things are frowned upon by researchers. I think I've designed a methodology for analyzing them that defeats the complaints, but we'll know for sure in a few months after the papers I wrote on the subject have been through peer review.

The method is quite simple: each entry is considered in the harshest possible light. They are treated in a demonstrably unfair manner that cannot possibly be considered as conducive to a positive result, yet the stronger examples survive the test. It is this sturdiness that gives me real confidence in my analysis of the veridical dreams I've had, and even to some of the non-veridical items such as those involving God and other religious figures.

I've had some criticisms of my book because I included a few chapters on these religious subjects, but ultimately that is what the book was about. My study of the dreams has shown me that mere evidence of paranormality is not very useful. More than that, without including the religious material, it is impossible to see the purpose of the veridical material. I continue to find it interesting that a person can be amazed by a simple veridical OBE or precognitive dream, then turn stubborn when God is mentioned. They are part of the same message and should be seen as connected. It isn't as if I didn't suffer from the same fault at one time, but having turned the corner on that issue a few years ago, it is becoming more difficult to remember the justification for it. Looking back on it now I think it came down to peer pressure.


Saturday, 13 August 2011

To meditate...or play a video game

Over the past year or so, I have been given some messages from a person I met through a forum I post on regularly. She has some remarkable psi experiences in her life, interesting enough to warrant some trips out to some laboratories to see what is going on. For this reason and some others, I felt bound to take the messages seriously. In each, she said that a ghost or spirit guide had approached her to say that I was supposed to be meditating. In a recent conversation, she says that she knows now that if a spirit guide starts talking about meditation, it's a message for me.

I've had similar messages in my dreams, also from spirit guides, both before and after my friend starting giving me similar messages. At first I did try to meditate, but before long the daily grind took over and I wasn't doing it any more. Instead, I was going to work, giving feedback to students, and working on my PhD. Every month or so I might have a day to myself that I could use for meditation. Instead, I liked to play a game of Civilization V. That doesn't sound very spiritual, and the reasons are even less so. The urge to play would often come from seeing some bit of history in the news, like a story about the pyramids, and then I would want to build in Civ V. Other times I just wanted to conquer countries. The motive for this was usually that the French had beat me to the pyramids, or the Germans had attacked without provocation in the last game, so I would want to have another shot at them by playing again. This is where my meditation time was going.

One thing I'd like to think I've learned from my dreams is that we do shape our lives by our actions. If that is the case, what is the effect of shaping mine with these video games? It may be kind of relaxing, but it certainly doesn't come close to meditation. Is it useful? I've beaten the game so many times that there isn't much more to get out of it, though I still enjoy the game. How is entertainment quantified against utility? Don't I deserve some rest once a month?

I think I should get back to meditating. It is a good mental discipline, it won't keep me up until 6am (as happens in Civ V), and maybe those ghosts will stop bothering my friend.


Saturday, 23 July 2011

Why psi matters

On Monday I will be giving a talk at another dream conference. Unlike the talks I gave earlier in the month in Kerkrade, I will have a full two hours to talk about some of my experience with psi dreams. It will take all of this time to lead up to answering a question that should take all of one minute or less to provide: why does psi matter? The question is on my mind because of an on-air conversation I recently had with the UK's Pete Price, the host of a popular talk show. He asked me the question, just as many other people have asked me before. For the first time, I think I knew at least a portion of the answer. You can listen to the interview here.

Some listeners first need to see that there is a reason to suspect that there is such a thing as psi. That will take about one hour and fifty-nine minutes of the talk. Why psi matters, on the other hand, can be stated quite simply, but can also open the door onto a very long conversation. Strangely enough, that conversation is often like the first section of the talk I tend to give because it will be a demand for proof.

What it comes down to is this: psi does happen and there is evidence to demonstrate it. Secondly, it happens because we are not purely physical beings. One could even say we aren't even partly physical beings in the same way that we aren't "partly" an automobile simply because we get inside of them when we want to drive. Psi is the natural mode of communication and action for our non-physical selves.

Psi can be looked at as a meaningless side effect, as the Hindus say it is when the describe it as a siddhi, but it is a bit more than that. Psi allows communication with other beings who know more than we do about certain things. This is why psi matters. Psi, as it is popularly conceived as a kind of music hall magic trick, is not that useful. Even if you take it to the extreme of that kind of thinking, winning the lottery for instance, it only brings material rewards. This has no permanent utility and may be considered irrelevant in the face of far more important things, such as developing a sense of compassion, mercy, and charity. Even as a way to enhance one's spiritual insights, psi is more useful on a genuinely practical level than any amount of gambling winnings.


Thursday, 30 June 2011

Rolduc, a conference, and Robert Waggoner

I just returned from a very pleasant stay in the beautiful abbey of Rolduc, in the Netherlands, for the International Association for the Study of Dreams annual conference. The abbey is located a short distance from the train station if measured by the inexpensive taxi ride to their grounds, but it seemed so much farther because of its ancient self-contained beauty. Inside the massive stone courtyard, one already feels isolated from the rest of the modern world, and this despite a number of automobiles parked there. Step into the building and then walk out onto the patterned brick paving leading to their gardens and you will feel thrust backwards a couple hundred years in time. Juvenile pears and apples grow quietly in shady trees under a gentle mist, and to the side, other crops, ornamental bushes, enormous whispering trees, and a small graveyard effectively cancel out the noise of busy thoughts.

The purpose of my trip was to present a couple of lectures on psi dreams. The first was about the validation of spiritual dreams, if this is even possible, and the second concerned my observations about the fact that many seemingly symbolic dreams are not symbolic dreams at all. Due to an unintended impression created when I checked the A/V equipment for my presentation, some of the people there came to consider me "the A/V guy", and I was asked to assist several people with their presentations also. I briefly had the impression that other attendees knew me better as the person who knew how to make the remote work (by plugging in the USB antenna) than as the presenter of a couple of presentations on his psi dreams.

One of the room monitors for my talk was IASD president Robert Waggoner, author of Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the inner self. I didn't discuss his book with him when we first met, at least partly because I wasn't too interested in lucid dreams. As far as I was concerned, the term "lucid dream" was just a fancy gimmick designed to artificially create interest in a not-particularly-interesting subject. He seemed pleasant enough, but I'd read enough to be turned off by the idea of turning dreams into amusement parks by practicing techniques that allow dreamers to manipulate the content of their dreams. This had nothing to do with Waggoner, as I found out just hours before I had to leave the conference to return home.

My last presentation was one of four, all done together. This meant that whether I liked it or not (and I didn't mind) I would have to listen to the other three in addition to giving my own. To my surprise, Waggoner not only offered to help advance my slides for me when the remote turned up missing, but then he got up to give his own talk and asked me to do the same for him. In this way I not only had an opportunity to hear him talk about lucid dreaming, but really had to pay attention, or risk making a mistake with the slides. Considering that I wasn't enthusiastic about his subject, I thought it was ironic to play a role in his presentation. The irony changed to something else when I realized that his take on lucid dreaming was quite different from what I expected.

The first thing Waggoner did was to say that if a person uses the lucid state in a dream to manipulate it, they are likely disturbing whatever legitimate and valuable information it may contain. This was exactly my argument against being interested in lucid dreams. They only encouraged the destruction of legitimate dream elements, or rather, if focused on for that purpose, that is the result. In one stroke then, I was disarmed. Waggoner went on to discuss his own study of lucid dreaming. To my ears, it sounded very much like my own road to discovering that legitimate information, oftentimes of genuine spiritual value, is conveyed in dreams. After listening for awhile, his lucid dream interactions sounded more and more like a kind of dream meditation, and worthy of any meditation expert.

After listening to his talk, and then having a short conversation with him afterward, I believe he has made some genuinely valuable observations and written about them in his book. My dreams are sometimes lucid, and sometimes they are good quality dreams, but not always. When they aren't, it is always because I interfere with the existing dream content by consciously manipulating it. In the good quality lucid dreams, I am more passive and observe what is presented to me. What Waggoner describes in his writing, is how he discovered that he can be active without destroying the dream, in order to better understand the dream that is there, rather than for mere entertainment. This is an interesting take on the subject, and one worth knowing more about. His website can be found here.


Friday, 3 June 2011

Veganism and disbelief

I've had a vegan diet since September of 1984. That is almost twenty-seven years since I last had any meat, fish, or dairy products. I became vegetarian very soon after leaving home to go to college when I was 18, and within months, was vegan. At the time I didn't understand the difference between the two, nor did I become vegetarian or vegan on purpose. What happened is that when no one was putting meat dishes in front of me, and I was free to select whatever looked appealing at the store, it didn't occur to me to buy meat products. Maybe it was because I didn't want to cook, but don't think that was it. In the first few months after leaving home, my stepmother brought me some raw ham. I ate it raw, "Henry the eighth style" as my disgusted roommate liked to say. But then it was gone and I didn't replace it. By the time my stepmother came by with another non-vegetarian dish--pizza--I realized I didn't like that kind of food, and never had. I'd tolerated it for the sake of the people around me, that is all.

As a newly independent adult, I decided to eat what I wanted to, so I turned down the pizza. Over the course of the next few months I made some more discoveries. Milk always made me want to spit. It finally occurred to me that if I didn't drink milk, I wouldn't have to worry about this uncomfortable problem. Then, perhaps because I no longer had milk coating my throat, I noticed that cheese left a burning, raw sensation in my throat, so I stopped eating that also. I'd never eaten eggs except under extreme duress (because I have always hated them). Trying to get me to have a bite was like trying to get a cat into a bath full of water. So, with the milk and cheese gone, and the meat given up months before, the only remaining dairy in my diet was yogurt. I gave that up shortly after starting school at Art Center, about a year after leaving home, and just before I turned 19.

Since then, I have had to defend that decision many times. These days I just about say, politely, "leave me alone" when asked, but in the old days I had some long discussions about the subject. My position was much weaker when I was young because I had not done any reading on the subject and knew of only a few real living vegetarians I could point to as people who hadn't dropped dead of the suspicious diet. One man I knew was a registered nutritionist. He gave me three years to live. I wasn't particularly worried, but when the three years were up and I was still alive, I did notice. Relatives and friends insisted that I had to go back to eating meat, or at least fish, or just an egg or some milk. They said I wouldn't get enough B-vitamins without these things and would eventually waste away and keel over.

I didn't want to eat anything else because I didn't like anything else. However, these persistent attempts to assist me out of my intransigence inspired me to do a little reading on the subject and to notice a few relevant facts. I read about the Hunza indians, vegetarians or vegans all, and that they they had the longest life span of any known human population in the world. Or an athletic tribe of Brazilian jungle-dwellers, or the many vegetarians of India who seemed to avoid death at an early age despite a vegetarian or vegan diet. Ironically, the malnourished of India are less likely to be vegetarian than those who are free of concern about starvation because vegetarianism is a fixture of the Brahmin caste--the highest, most affluent caste--of India. The lower castes, including the poverty-stricken "untouchables" are allowed to eat meat, and do. But never mind that, years passed, and I became more athletic, and healthier, than I had been before I was vegan. I even gained weight. I am less skinny today than when I wasn't a vegetarian, though I am still slender by most measures.

So after almost 27 years of being vegan, and a little over 27 years of vegetarianism, the issue still comes up. What fascinates me is the level of denial that goes into the explanations I hear for my continuing ability to remain alive. The most common trigger for a conversation is if I have a headache, hay fever, or an occasional cold. "Ah, well if you ate meat, it would go away. Clearly your immune system is weakened." I used to get this from an old friend who was sick far more often than I was. One friend said that being vegan would sap my energy, yet I put in much longer hours than he ever did, and got less sleep, and could walk on my hands for recreation (but he couldn't.) My in-laws thought I wouldn't be able to have children. If headaches were caused by veganism, aspirin companies would go out of business.

I'm 45, almost 46, and am still quite active, have all my hair, and don't need glasses. I work longer hours than my colleagues and may still get less sleep. Nevertheless, I need to start eating meat "to be healthier" they say. This reminds me of something I was told by C.C. Wang, my wife's grandfather. He was visited in New York by a famous monk. This man was almost 80 years old, but could do a handstand balanced on just two fingers of each hand. He performed this feat in C.C.'s living room. This man was a lifelong vegetarian. C.C. told me that he died a few years later at the age of 88. "Think how much longer he might have lived, a man like that, if only he hadn't been vegetarian!" I've been told that the only reason I'm still alive is that I ate meat when I was younger. Never mind that there probably isn't even a single cell of that remaining after 27 years, what of the people who were lifelong vegetarians, like the Chinese monk, or the Brahmins of India. You can't even say that they inherited meat-nutrition from their vegetarian mothers.

Never mind the fact that the world's largest land animals (giraffes, elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses) are all vegetarian from birth, and vegan after being weaned. Clearly, health, size, and athleticism do not depend on the consumption of flesh. And yet, there is this popular notion in western countries that it is necessary. This view is so prevalent, that serious effort must be made to explain the living vegetarians in this world, but the results are hardly credible. And yet! For lack of anything else that makes sense, many accept those explanations regardless.

Is this any different to disbelief in psi, the supernatural, or God? I don't think so. The same ridiculous explanations are trotted out, but they all come down to this: "either it didn't happen or it's a hoax." That is about the same as "You have three years to live" because you are vegetarian. These kinds of things can only be said in complete ignorance. One might even say, innocence.


Sunday, 22 May 2011

Religion and belief

Because some of my dreams contain imagery that is concordant with Christian expectations (see examples here) several people have identified my dreams as Christian-inspired. If that is the case, I don't mind, but I don't think it is true. This same type of mistake is apparent in conversations about God with people who are atheistic or agnostic. The problem is that various religions have defined God in their own way and i so doing, have established limitations regarding what God is, what he will or won't do, and what he looks like. Having created this definition, the religion becomes synonymous with the things it endeavors to describe.

It makes some conversations rather frustrating, because I do not consider myself Christian, despite having been baptized twice. The first time was as a new baby Catholic--one who became an atheist very quickly--and the second was in a Messianic Christian church. The latter occasion was prompted by my sincere desire to understand religious issues, particularly as they related to my dreams. At the time I didn't know the subject well enough to know if I had serious differences with the church, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for the purpose of learning more. Later, I discovered that many differences existed. I didn't care too much about this, but these differences are important to most people in Christian or Messianic congregations.

To back up a bit, the non-believers who have expressed an opinion on this declare that the "Christian" content of my dreams is the product of cultural ambiance or leakage from my wife, who is Christian. This argument looks great as long as it isn't compared to the facts, which refute it rather well. This is important because these specific dreams are significant to me in part because I had them first and then learned how they fit into existing theological constructs. It did not work the other way around. I am confident of this, despite the supposed all-pervasiveness of Christian-themed information in America, because my early life did an excellent job of avoiding all this information. As for my wife, we never discussed religion at all. I did not go to church with her, and I didn't sneak a peek in her Bible. She did give me a Bible at one point, and I read part of Matthew before getting bored and putting it down.

Beyond this, I'd seen a lot of paintings by Catholic artists. Based on these, my understanding of Christianity was that Moses might have been Jesus' disciple, Jesus was crucified, there was a "last supper" of some kind (I didn't connect it to the crucifixion), and some guy named Stephen was shot full of arrows for some reason. I was aware that Paul was crucified upside-down, that David slew a giant named Goliath, that someone's head was given to a woman on a silver platter. I recognized the images, but had no idea what they meant, what the context was, or how they fit together. I had no idea that the majority of Catholic art focused on events in the last three days of Jesus' life, and had no idea how the pieces fit together. I got the flight into Egypt mixed up with the Exodus, in both cases aware only that Egypt and fleeing people were involved, including Jesus and Moses, who I still didn't realize lived in vastly different time periods.

The subject matter of my dreams is most closely connected with the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Exodus, Genesis, and Revelation. Although there are numerous paintings based on material from the last three of these, I don't know of any from the first two. Also, The images in my dreams are not about the scenes we all recognize from paintings in art history books, nor are any of the dreams simple recreations of familiar material. Instead, they are original but consistent with what is found in various parts of the Bible, and in most examples, there are no great popular depictions of what might be considered source material for the dreams I've had.

Admittedly, I did attend a summer camp once that was sponsored by a Christian group. It was for the benefit of needy children as a way for kids to get outside and have a nice couple of weeks during summer. The price was right, so my mom sent my sister and I off to this place. I couldn't stand the religious stuff, so I avoided the counselors around the campfires and anywhere else I could get away from them. I enjoyed the hiking, the camping, and the crafts, but diligently avoided dealing with their ulterior motive for bringing us all there: to enlighten us about God. I got trapped twice into listening to a thirty-minute Bible reading. On the second of those occasions I had a horrible nightmare about Satan. I immediately blamed it on the Christian camp counselors, for reading scary stories out of the Bible to us kids. I'm satisfied that one dream was influenced by environmental ambiance, but take note there was nothing subtle about it. It wasn't like subliminal advertising in a Coca-cola advertisement. They were sitting right in front of us reading directly from the Bible. That is the only truly overt example I have. Some aspects of that dream were very peculiar, but I'll save that for later.

In 2005 I had a dream that I call "The Book." The Book dream did not reference a Bible or even God directly, but I saw a book written by the most powerful author of all creation. I saw his words become things as they spilled out of the book and became the entire history of the cosmos. That is the dream that made me decide to go to church and start exploring these religious dreams further. I was almost 40 years old when I had that dream, but the religious dreams started much earlier than that. The camp incident was age 10, a dream of angels and heaven came to me at 16 or 17, I first saw God in a dream when I was about 24, and I'd seen Jesus in a few dreams a year before that. And they have continued to appear regularly ever since.

Some time before I first went to church for the purpose of exploring the possibility that my dreams might have some legitimate connection to theological ideas, I had come to the conclusion that God had to exist. However, I thought of God as existing well outside of any known religion. The idea of an inerrant Bible made no sense to me, nor did I agree with the notion that any one religion was necessary and excluded all others. Because of those two assumptions, I never explored any religion at all until I had that dream in 2005 at the age of 40.

When I did start looking, I was amazed by the large number of parallels I found in the Torah and NT, though primarily the Torah. This is why I went to a Messianic church, because of their emphasis on the Torah. Also, I found that many of the things in my dreams were seriously in conflict with major portions of Christian doctrine. It is because of these differences that my dreams cannot be considered a representation of Christian doctrine or thought, even if I do think they are consistent with the Torah origins of Christianity.

According to my dreams, (and numerous studies by Ian Stevenson) reincarnation is a fact. This means that spirits do not sleep in Abraham's bosom until judgment day, and also that spirits who are not "with Abraham" are not necessarily evil as a consequence. This also creates questions about the validity of one religion being superior to all others. If a Christian can be reborn as Jewish, Buddhist, or something else--and vice versa--then it casts some doubt on the validity of death bed conversions. I see Jesus and God in my dreams, and on one occasion, together. They are not the same being, but distinctly separate. Not only that, but the difference between the two is like a candle to the sun, even if that candle is like a sun in comparison to the majority of humanity (and that is how it is.) Thus, I cannot accept the Holy Trinity, another cherished principle of many Christian denominations. There are many other things, all of which puts me well outside the confines of any given church, yet I am at the same time deeply sympathetic for people who at least try to understand God and their obligations to him by going to church.

What this means is that I will speak favorably about religion even though I am aware of at least some of its errors. This does not make me a spokesman for any religion because I plainly do not speak for them. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is that God is real and we should do our best to satisfy our obligations to him, all of which are benevolent in nature.


Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Radio and other appearances

This is to announce that a recent interview with me can be found by following this link. There are a few more coming up, including Second Sight NYC at 6PM this Thursday EST.

I just answered a post on the forum that really had me scratching my head for a little while. The writer, who I am thankful to for his comments, asked why I didn't discuss the "junk dreams" mentioned in my book at any great length. He said that even these may have value, so they should be treated as worthless. He may be right about that, but my book was about the paranormal dreams, not the ones that looked like they weren't regardless, it made me think of things that could have been said about them in relation to traditional ideas on what dreams mean, what they are, and what is to be expected of them.

I have looked at them in this light, but not at the level of detail or degree of scrutiny to produce any meaningful insights. With this in mind, I'm going to take a look at them from that angle the next chance I get and see what comes of it.

Sorry for the short post, but will try to make up for it later.


Sunday, 1 May 2011

Dream wisdom

I teach computer graphics for a living. Among the many lessons I give to my students, I explain how to create a structural map of an object by defining all of the points essential to its definition. To do this, one must identify each location where a surface changes, and put a point there. Then, one must connect these points correctly. If you get this wrong, instead of getting a beautiful 3D car, you can instead create a tangled mess of yarn. If you have the edge pattern built properly, then you need to define whether the edges that pass through it are smooth as the enter and as they exit, if they enter one way and exit another, or if they are hard. This is the difference between the smooth curves on a fender or the sometimes sharp edge that creases its way through a door. All of these things come down to the node network, the lattice of points that the entire structure is built from. Every one of the elements is essential, and it is the specific combination of these things that combine to create, for instance, an Aston-Martin or a Ford Mustang.

I had a dream recently that mentioned these lessons in an unexpected way. In the dream, a spirit guide explained that the events of a life can be pleasant or difficult. They can be soft or hard, like the edges in an edge network from one of the assignments I give my students. Our lives contain many events, like the nodes in the network. Each of these events, regardless of their incoming and outgoing connections, is integral to the final shape of the life, just as the nodes in a well-made structural node network are essential to the integrity of the vehicle design they represent.

It may be that an experience appears to be superfluous, but if it is taken away, that portion of the life, or something connected to it that we cannot see, will collapse. In the same way, there may be things in our life that we would add because we want to and there seems to be no purpose to leaving them out. However, adding such things affects the elegance of the overall node pattern, by introducing new pathways that must connect to each new node. So if we have a life where there appears to be no difference between owning a car and not owning a car (for instance), it may be that owning a car complicates the life we have come to live in unanticipated ways. Perhaps it is not a matter of money, or of knowing how to drive, but that if we have the car, we must meet different people. Those new nodes must now be added to the overall pattern of our life. The new connections can mar the perfection of its original design, so for some, this will not be. For others, those connections may be essential to the purpose of that life, to fulfill those objectives that must be fulfilled, and the car will be bought, and driven, and done with what must be done.

Our lives, the spirit guide told me, are just like that node network I teach to my students, except we do not act upon these nodes and edges, they are already there for us, just as my students must reverse engineer a node network from an existing car. We may not ordinarily see the pattern of our life, but it is there just as much as it is present in any vehicle, though invisible and in plain sight at the same time. Therefore, he encouraged me, the hard times are just as important and necessary as the easy times, and both are to be accepted as the sweet and the spice required for this dish, for this design to be realized to its fullest extent. Do not grudge the difficulties, because they have a purpose.


Monday, 25 April 2011

Why skeptics aren't worth the effort

When I first started reading Paranormality by Richard Wiseman, it was because of some comments made about it by Robert McLuhan in his blog, and then later in his book Randi's Prize. My original goal was to discover what McLuhan was talking about, but after I started reading, I very much wanted to respond to it directly with an article written for publication. Before I go too far into this subject, I would like readers to know that of the two books, Randi's Prize is far superior to Wiseman's offering, against any literary or academic criteria you should care to measure it. I do not say this lightly, or without reading both books thoroughly from cover to cover.

The reason I wanted to respond to Wiseman so strongly is that he is so wrong, so deceptive, and so ungallant that he needed to have his nose pulled. Quite frankly, that is what it came down to. One can only read so much deception and ignorance before wanting to apply some form of corrective measure. One could say that perhaps Wiseman simply doesn't know the subject very well, but if that is the case, why does he write about it so often? Indeed, why is he considered to be an expert in the field when his profound ignorance of source material shines forth like a full moon? More than that, why does he have a reputation for charm when this book is loaded with ungallant innuendo and low class character smears against people he cannot know much, if anything, about?

As I wrote earlier, I was inspired to write an article about this book for publication. However, I have decided to do something else instead. The reason is that Wiseman has already been fairly assessed in print by Chris Carter, Robert McLuhan, Rupert Sheldrake, and others. Instead, I will write a report based on one or more of my precognitive dreams or OBEs that should be sufficient in itself to put to the lie several claims made by Wiseman.

It is a bit difficult to let it go at that however, so for those who are curious, here are some comments about Paranomality:

This book has 7 official chapters, but ten major sections that could be called "chapters". Each follows a very similar pattern where Wiseman describes a type of paranormal phenomena, such as an out of body experience (OBE), ghosts, or prophecy. He then usually describes a real case. In the section on OBEs, he describes the "Maria's tennis shoe" case. After this, he creates an imaginary case that is supposed to reflect the attributes of a real example, except it doesn't, and besides, he has a real example sitting right there, untouched. If he does go back to the real example, and he doesn't do this much, it is to attack it with irrelevant or exceedingly weak justification. For the tennis shoe example, he describes how a couple of students went to the scene and came up with their own theories, none of which were relevant to the actual case. Michael Prescott does an excellent job of describing their pathetic effort here, on his blog.

In his chapter on what he calls "fortune-telling", but which includes various forms of clairvoyance, he relies entirely on the word of an anonymous source who is a self-confessed fraud. Because of this, Wiseman avoids discussing even one genuinely important case, such as the 20 year-long investigation of Leonora Piper by the Society for Psychical Research, and instead discusses cases known to be fraudulent. He doesn't even try to do the difficult work of looking at cases that have standing, or, as in the Maria's tennis shoes example, he relies on the flimsiest claims as justification for dismissing the case entirely.

Overall, it is clear that Wiseman either knows absolutely nothing about the history of parapsychology and its major cases, or that he is committed to deceiving his audience by misrepresenting parapsychology through calculated omission of material information.

I wondered while reading if he would ever break this pattern, but not once did he do so. He would introduce a topic, reference a single case that is an easy target because it either is unrelated to the subject, actually is admittedly fraudulent, or has been "proven" to be a fraud (however flimsy that proof might be) and then he goes on to discuss completely unrelated matters. In this way Wiseman consistently mistakes "magic tricks" for "paranormal", or, in more modern parlance, "psi". In other words, he cannot tell the difference between a magic trick and genuine psi. It may be that he hasn't tried very hard to detect such differences, or it could be that he is congenitally blinded to them. Either way, this single defect of his makes it possible to confuse clairvoyance with fortune-telling, an OBE with phantom limb sensations, and precognitive dreams with massive imaginary lotteries. These kinds of misunderstandings are fundamental to his inability to speak on this subject intelligently or with any authority.

He actually has a chapter entitled "Ghost-Hunting" that doesn't reference the word "poltergeist" once. He does talk about the famous Fox sisters, famous for being the inspiration for what became known as Spiritualism, but he doesn't describe any of the related events as possessing characteristics common to poltergeists. What the Fox sisters experienced was a classic, though extremely mild, example of poltergeist activity, yet Wiseman doesn't mention this at all, nor does he reference it anywhere else in his book. In a chapter on ghosts, this is an extremely serious omission. To dispense with the Fox sisters, he accepts that, after years of poverty Margaretta Fox was paid $1,500 (a considerable sum at the turn of the century) to confess and did so honestly. She later recanted, but to Wiseman this testimony purchased from a needy woman is all it takes to destroy everything that preceded it. As a scientist, he ought to know that at worst this might have suggested to him using a different example.

When I got to the chapter on precognitive dreams I was really hoping that Wiseman would have by then improved his method. It is the last chapter of the book, and the subject I know the most about, so I had been looking forward to it. Unfortunately, Wiseman proved to be every bit as incompetent here as elsewhere. I was, however, very impressed with how skillfully he hid his various inadequacies and lack of knowledge by the use of what might be called conjurer's tricks in writing. He would start to talk about something real as if he would carry the discussion to some sort of conclusion. Then, he would bring up some completely imaginary scenario that has nothing to do with the thing he started talking about and then he would move on as if his imagined scenario answered questions raised by the real case.

Another trick he used was to dismiss things without discussing them at all, as if he'd already dealt with the issue. A case in point is the Lindbergh kidnapping from the 1930's. Wiseman describes this episode, then tells of a newspaper appeal for precognitive dreams. This yields 1,300 responses. Of these, Wiseman notes that:
Only about 5 per cent of the responses suggested that the baby was dead, and only 4 of the responses mentioned that he was buried in a grave near some trees. In addition, none of them mentioned the ladder, extortion notes or ransom money.
After this statement, he concludes that precognitive dreams are not paranormal and then goes on to discuss other topics. He doesn't discuss even one of the four dreams that described where the dead baby was to be found, or any of the approximately 62 dreams that correctly stated that it was dead. Even if none of these dreams mentioned none of the three items Wiseman mentions, there is no rule that they would have to, nor is it clear from his statement that they didn't say anything else that was also correct, even if not on Wiseman's list.

He did the exact same thing when discussing dreams related to the Aberfan mining disaster of 1966. For this famous case, Wiseman chopped it into three sections spaced throughout the chapter. First, he describes the disaster and then the newspaper appeal for dreams related to it. From this request, 60 responses are sent in, 36 of which did not record the dream prior to the event. Wiseman then ignores the remaining 24 for a few pages while he allows readers to imagine that the first group of 36 have been dealt with. When he does get back to the 24 who put their dream in writing beforehand, or mentioned it to one or more witnesses, he has this to say:
But what of the other 23 cases in which people produced evidence that they had described their dream before the tragedy occurred, and where the dream did not seem to reflect their anxieties and concerns. To investigate, we need to move away from the science of sleep and into the heady world of statistics.
From here Wiseman talks about big numbers, odds and probability theory. He never discusses any of the facts related to those 24 dreams or the validity of their verifications. Every time Wiseman pulls this trick in the book, mentioning a subject then spinning around to discuss something else as if one is an explanation for the other, he never goes back to discuss any of the details of the case. They are plainly irrelevant to Wiseman. He has a theory to explain every one of the imaginary examples he creates, and he somehow has persuaded himself to believe that these imaginary examples are fair representations of the real examples he has at his disposal but doesn't use. It is like saying that houses collapse and so do pies, so when a pie is baked in an oven and the door opens, the building collapses. This is how bad his connections are. It is stunning that the man is taken seriously by anyone, and should be an embarrassment to any journal that publishes his work.

I looked up the original case history of the dreams related to this disaster, curious to see what Wiseman had left out. The first thing I noticed is this(Barker, 1967): "Out of the 76 letters I received, 60 required further investigation", but Wiseman states on pg 273 that "he received 60 letters". This contrasts with Barker's account. It is a small mistake, but he makes much larger ones elsewhere. The point is, how easy is it to fact-check something like this? Couldn't he have rewritten the sentence so that it would be true? Barker then provides a table of the 36 respondents he found to be the most credible, including information about the amount of time between the dream and the disaster, who confirmed the dream, the name and age of the witness, and a synopsis of the dream. In three examples, he provided longer accounts. There is a good deal of information here that Wiseman totally ignores, including this, for instance:
Case I. E.M.J., aged 10, was a pupil of Pantglas School and one of the victims of the Aberfan disaster. This tragic story was compiled by a local minister. It was then carefully read through by both parents and signed as correct in his presence.
'She was an attractive dependable child, not given to imagination. A fortnight before the disaster she said to her mother..."Mummy, I'm not afraid to die." Her mother replied, "Why do you talk of dying, and you so young; do you want a lollipop?" "No", she said, "But I shall be with Peter and June" (schoolmates). The day before the disaster she said to her mother, "Mummy, let me tell you about my dream last night." Her mother answered gently, "Darling, I've no time now. Tell me again later." The child replied "No, Mummy, you must listen. I dreamt I went to school and there was no school there. Something black had come down all over it!" The next day off to school went her daughter as happy as ever. In the communal grave she was buried with Peter on one side and June on the other."
This kind of thing is easy enough for Wiseman to gloss over by talking about 45 million people in Britain available to have this dream, and that by chance it was this girl who happened also to have been buried in coal slurry along with almost every other person in the school, and just a day after her dream. Easy enough to dismiss also, the account of another woman who dreamed of one of the few people to be rescued from the disaster, a young boy, only to see that come to pass as well. These details are conspicuously absent from this book. For this reason and no other the book may fairly be deemed worthless. However, Wiseman goes a step farther.

Along with his lack of research, lack of knowledge, and lack of coherent examples, Wiseman frequently attempts to exercise wit. It is grating to read whenever he makes the attempt, and sometimes comes across as not just ghoulish, but quite undignified and crass. Here are some examples:

When each patient looked like they were just about to pop their clogs...
Baraduc's wife became seriously ill and clearly did not have long to live. Eager to make the most of the opportunity, Baraduc set up his photographic equipment and patiently waited for her to shuffle off her mortal coil.
Baraduc did what any loving father and dedicated scientist would have done--he snapped a picture of his son's lifeless body lying in its coffin...

It may be that the people Wiseman thus described were just as misguided and strange as he described them, but must he describe them so disrespectfully when it does nothing for the book, cannot be known for fact, and is clearly done out of his own sense of smug whimsy? This is another of the constants in the book: Wiseman consistently uses pejorative adjectives to describe people he does not respect, and positive adjectives for those he does respect. Why does he feel compelled to add these sarcastic jabs when a simple description of the goings-on should suffice to inform the reader? This is where Wiseman descends from being simply an incompetent to being a crass incompetent.


Sunday, 24 April 2011

530,000 and counting...

Last week I transcribed most of my most recent dream journal into my digital archive of journals. Partway through the transcription, I crossed the 530,000 word barrier for all of the transcribed journals combined. As it stands now, there are 28 journals, a little over 530,000 words, 3,150 records (exactly), and an uncounted number of illustrations (it is no less than the 800 I've scanned, but that only covers the first few years). One might excuse me for thinking that is a lot of material, but then it covers almost 22 years. The amazing thing is that, even with a nearly seven year break in the middle of the record keeping, I still average one record every three nights. That's a lot of dreams!

I'm thinking about this because of our dear Mr. Wiseman, whose book I am still reading. In it, he briefly describes an old notion we've all heard before: that dreams sometimes appear to be paranormal because we have so many dreams and we have so many daily experiences that it is inevitable that they will line up from time-to-time, even the extremely unusual items. While I don't doubt that one could break down the events of any person's life into literally millions of incidents or more, when it comes to dreams, my records tell me this cannot be done with them. Wiseman mentions 21,900 dreams in a person's 60-year lifetime, which is about 7,300 for the number of years I have recorded. This is only a little over double what I actually have, so it isn't bad estimate. He then compares millions of real-world events with these thousands of dreams, like two giant tumblers in a slot machine, where any combination is just as likely as any other because both wheels are simultaneously available and each must stop on something. Eventually, as the argument goes, there likely will be a match.

In the example just given, the stationary tumbler represents a single dream. The moving tumbler represents the many events of life. The example gets a bit more complicated though, because there isn't just one stationary dream tumbler, but as he claims, millions of them because there are millions of people dreaming at any given time. With millions of stationary events constantly being evaluated against an ever-growing number of real-world events that also number in the millions, it is easy to see why Wiseman is so sure that precognitive dreams only seem that way because of the large numbers involved. To be fair, Wiseman is far from the only person to believe this. It is a commonly held theory likely to be encountered in almost any conversation with skeptics on this subject. It does, however, have some flaws.

Thanks to dream journals kept by myself and others, it is easy to see that many assumptions about dreams are simply wrong on a numerical basis. In my records, which are about as extensive as they get as dream journals go, I have a grand total of 3,150 records. Each record contains an average of four dream scenes with an average of 5 clearly distinct items described in each. This is a total potential of 63,000 items that can be matched randomly with millions of real world events. However, there is a catch: in real precognitive dreams, the individual items are related to each other, so you will get dreams where in (for example) record X there are 6 scenes. In scene B there are seven items. Five of the items are an exact match, one is questionable, and the seventh cannot be checked. This is typical, but it can be much more extreme.

In dream record 59 from journal 3, there are 30 items that are individually described. Of these, 7 are discrepant but consistent with the event all 30 items are plausibly connected to: the 9/11 attacks that occurred about eleven years later. This is the largest number of veridical items I am aware of from my journals, though I have only checked the first three journals at this level of detail so far. The point is that the figure of 63,000 potentially veridical separate possibilities is too large. It makes more sense to look at the individual scenes, because this is how they are grouped in the journal and for verification later. Single items are not considered verified unless they match other items as well, so we can reduce the pool of possibilities to the number of scenes rather than of items. This brings the total number of possibilities down to 12,600.

Some records contain multiple scenes that relate to the same later event. This isn't always true though, so I am comfortable leaving the number of possibilities--over 22 years time, at 12,600. Now consider that with each verified dream, that number is diminished because the verified dream is no longer a member of the pool of possibilities. In dream journal 3, out of a total 80 records, 43 contain at least one verified scene, and many have several verified scenes. That is over half the total number of records eliminated. As a rule, if I ever run across a dream that appears relevant to more than one event, it counts as "unverifiable" and is eliminated as well as being counted as "not verified".If we then remove the eliminated dreams, both because they are verified or because they cannot be verified, from the total pool of possibilities, we are left with about 6,300 records. That isn't much when considering that 6,300 possible scene matches translates to about 1,500 records.

More importantly, what of the content of those dreams? The way skeptics portray them, it's as if there are an endless array of possibility against an endless variety from daily life. Is this true? My records say otherwise. For instance, a common theme in skeptic argumentation is that we tend to selectively remember the matches, and forget about the misses. My journal gives proof to that lie. As of October 3, 1999, the name "Sara Ewing" appears once in my journal, in the context of a family member dying of illness. Although I hadn't seen or heard from my friend Dayton Ewing or his mother Sara for over twenty years at the time of the dream, I later learned that she died of cancer in the same month as the dream. In other words, I know for a fact that I am not "forgetting about" the misses. I know exactly how many mentions there are because I not only have my original hand-written documents, but the digital word-for-word transcriptions of them that I made later. These transcribed journals are very easy to search for things like this. What they demonstrate over and over again is that the endless variety of options described by skeptics do not exist.

So, there are not thousands of possibilities in a person's dreaming life, and as demonstrated by the Sara Ewing example (and hundreds of others), many unique real world events have only one matching counterpart in the journal and no "misses" that have been conveniently ignored. This effectively reduces the range of options on the dream side to exactly one for each dream--not tens of thousands, but one. Now look at the number of real-world events they could match and that is a truly huge number. This is where you get such figures as a "one in a billion chance", because that is what it is. It is not closer to the 1:1 odds skeptics would give on the basis that there are equal numbers on either side. But then, let's forget about the numbers for a minute. The dreams aren't numbers, and the content isn't a pile of numbers either. The records describe specific real world situations. Why would I dream of the spirit of the mother of my best friend from childhood? I hadn't dreamed of her before, and then in 1999, about 20 years since I'd last heard from the family, I have my first dream of Sara and she's telling me that someone in the family has died of an illness. At about the same time, it turns she has died of an illness. Does that sound random? Or does it sound like the spirit of a woman who died wanted to communicate the fact of her death to me?

Numbers can be interesting, but they are far from telling the full story.

Some interesting links about Wiseman and his friends at CSIcop for those who are interested:
Chris Carter's critique of Richard Wiseman's methods You'll have to scroll down to Chris Carter's name to get the PDF, but it is a good read.
An article on Wiseman's "hero" (as stated in "Paranormality"), Martin Gardner and his flawed research (if there was any research at all.)
Brian Josephson comments on Ray Hyman and the Natasha Demkina case

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Our dear Mr. Wiseman

Thanks to a Skeptiko podcast about the book "Randi's Prize" by Robert McLuhan (an excellent book), I was made aware of Professor Richard Wiseman's latest effort, "Paranormality". There was some publicity about this book, and there was an exchange about it between McLuhan and Wiseman. This made good sense because Wiseman does run afoul of many of the problems Skeptics create for themselves as identified by McLuhan. The biggest of these is that skeptics either have no working knowledge of parapsychology, even those who profess to be parapsychologists, or they are so deeply in denial about what they know that there is no way to distinguish between that and a true lack of knowledge. This, at least, is the impression I came away with after reading McLuhan's book.

I responded to McLuhan by email because of some things Wiseman had said about precognitive dreams that McLuhan wrote about on his blog. My point was that Wiseman didn't know the subject very well, or he'd be aware, vividly so, that his explanations were completely divorced from reality. Due to this interaction and my growing curiosity about Wiseman's book, I decided to buy a copy when I was next in London, to see if there was anything to it. I had read that Wiseman was an affable man, courtly even, and honest (this last from the librarian at London's Society for Psychical Research), so I wondered if his book could possibly reconcile this reputation for personal integrity with the things he had written.

I was particularly interested in what he would have to say about a series of events involving some experiments by Dr. Rupert Sheldrake of Cambridge, designed to test ESP in animals. The reason I was curious is that I had read some material by Wiseman and Sheldrake on the matter and it looked very much as if he had done something dishonest in the test. He might be in the clear as far as making deliberate lies is concerned, but I wanted to be sure, because that is what it looked like. He replicated Sheldrake's experiment, got even better results than Sheldrake did, though with a much smaller sample, and then claimed the opposite. He made a big deal about the failure of those experiments, the idea of animal ESP, and Rupert Sheldrake. He did all this despite his research producing the same kind of results Sheldrake had. Was he lying, dissembling, or in some other way being dishonest with his many readers?

So I got his book and have been going through it carefully. He mentions the Sheldrake incident immediately, but doesn't mention Sheldrake at all in the body of the text. There is a link to Sheldrake all the way at the end of the book in the end notes, but the impression one gets reading Wiseman's account is that Sheldrake wasn't involved (he was), he got negative results (he didn't) and that there was no controversy (there is, though this is acknowledged much later in the book in a section most people will never read.) He was clever how he wrote it though. If one didn't know the back story, it is very easy to accept Wiseman's account as true. As it stands, in a way it is. It is like saying of a plane that it landed and the pilot is eager to get home to be with his family when one means that it has crashed, killing everyone aboard except the captain. Wiseman leaves out so much that I find it difficult to credit him with honesty in the sense that he is far from being forthcoming with his information. It is not the kind of thing one can get away with in most academic writing. This book however, is popular non-fiction, so he is not held to the same standard.

All of this matters little compared to the pervasive sneer he maintains throughout the book. In perhaps its most insidious touch, he writes that a magician's goal is to "...make you misperceive what is happening inches from your nose, prevent you from thinking about certain solutions to tricks, and persuade you to misremember what has happened right in front of your eyes" and then he proceeds to do this very thing in chapter after chapter of his book. He accomplishes this by consistently using positive adjectives to describe skeptics, negative ones for everyone else, avoidance of real-world data on the subjects he discusses, and heavy use of imaginary situations which he then takes apart as if they are a fair representation of the real thing--but they are not. In this way he applies peer-pressure to his readers to gain your confidence, keeps your eyes focused on solutions to the wrong problems to keep you from thinking of the right ones, and then applies this to your own psi experiences (if you've ever had any) as if his explanations should have any currency with you. That he can be so bald as this and get away with it is quite amazing.

My overall impression though, is that for all his accolades, his position, and his many fans, Dr. Richard Wiseman knows very little about parapsychology, is not familiar with the literature, does not understand the literature if he is familiar with some part of it, and has no scruples when it comes to making witticisms at the expense of people who disagree with him or who are, as he sees it, among the vast horde of psychic charlatans. For this reason I find it very difficult to accept characterizations I have read and heard that he is indeed a gentleman. Perhaps one needs to know the man--but then perhaps the man needs to know a bit more as well. As it is, if this book is any indication, he simply hasn't got the qualifications to tackle this subject.


Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Deborah Blum on Skeptiko

The latest episode of Skeptiko features Ghost Hunters author Deborah Blum. Her book follows the no-nonsense creation of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in the late nineteenth century by a group of brilliant scientists. While reading the book I felt transported back to the nineteenth century to witness the events she described. Hearing her discuss the research from a contemporary perspective was quite interesting because it told a different tale, and yet it is very much the same as that told in her book.

The members of the SPR are well-regarded scientists of their time, several of whom have Nobel prizes to their name. And yet, upon becoming involved with the SPR, they suddenly become tainted within the scientific community, as if their collective intelligence is reduced by the association. The prejudice evident in this story would be more surprising if the same isn't true of modern researchers in parapsychology. They too have Nobel prize winners, like Brian Josephson, and they are still marginalized once they sink their teeth into the problems presented by anomalous experiences. As the guest interviewer stated at one point, "our relation to science these days is the same relation as the laity once had with the clergy. We aren't experts, so we rely on them to give us the right answers."

This was the heart of the interview, but there was one thing Blum said that really struck me as a great question, and that is what I wanted to highlight here. She pointed out the difficulty spirits have communicating to living people. There is no explanation for this, but the difficulty is evident to anyone who has looked at mediumship research. And yet, some types of messages seem to be more easily transmitted than others. "Look at the kind of messages that get through. What kind of messages are they? Why do those get through easily but others do not?" She then pointed out that in telepathy research, she was told that researchers have discovered that the color red is more difficult to convey telepathically than any other color. Why is that?

I think the answer to the color question is that red is probably the first color that comes to mind for most people and they know it, so they don't trust their instinct when it happens. The overall point though is that these kinds of questions are far more interesting than the pedestrian issue of whether psi occurs that occupy the attention of all skeptics.


Saturday, 2 April 2011

So many similar prophecies

I was just reading an article here about prophecies of doom. Whether ancient or modern, there are a lot of them and they sound very similar to each other. There are plenty of prophecies that are realized either within the lifetime of the person who made it or later, but this isn't true for all of them. The end of the world prophecies have a tendency to not occur. At least, that's how it looks so far.

I've had my share of precognitive dreams. All by themselves they do a good job of convincing me that prophecy does happen from time to time and that it can be valid communication of future information. I've even had a few that would be called prophetic rather than merely precognitive because the message is delivered to me by an angel in the dream. Some of these have come to pass, but many have not. This may be a matter of patience as opposed to an error in the dream. I can say this because I know it can take years for a dream to be realized.

The end times prophecies however, definitely seem to be taking longer than other types of dreams to happen. This bothers me because I have also had dreams that look very much as if they relate to end times prophecies. They have huge calamities, angels destroying the unrighteous, Muslims overrunning Israel and nearly wiping out Judaism, and then--God returns. He establishes a city of truth. Some are allowed inside, most are not. Eventually we are all given new bodies. These aren't physical bodies, but a different kind that doesn't need food, shelter, or any of the other things associated with being necessary to life.

Do I take these dreams seriously? Or do I look at the pantheon of still-to-happen end times prophecies and count them as so many misses? It's one thing to claim things will end on a certain date, or year, as Pat Robertson once did, but if the date is left open, surely that improves the odds. Rather than be cynical about it, I'll just say that I want to take them seriously. I am aware of the history of these things, but am also aware of the history of my own precognitive dreams. One thing they have shown me is that no matter how unlikely something seems to be, it sometimes happens anyway.


Friday, 1 April 2011

New drawings on the dream page

Last year, Dr. Jacquie Lewis of the Saybrook Institute asked me if I had a drawing in my dream journal from a certain dream she wanted to discuss in a conference. The dream in question pre-dated my journal, so there was no drawing. However, I wanted to help her out.

My policy has always been to make drawings in the journal based on that night's dreams, and to not use the dream journals for any other kind of drawing. I didn't want stray doodles to distract me years later, trying to figure out which dream they referred to. I also wanted to maintain the integrity of drawings that could later be used to verify precognitive dreams. This means that once they were drawn in the journal, I did not go back to them. For verification purposes however, I have cleaned up journal drawings and sent the cleaned up version by FAX to people for verification. This was an acceptable compromise because the FAX dated the drawing as it was sent and it was sent for verification, so there is no question of it being made post-verification.

Dr. Lewis' request was for a dream that is connected to a group of 9/11 related dreams. It was highly symbolic though, as opposed to literal, so I decided to make a watercolor of it and then write in the corner that it was made in 2010, 20 years after the original dream. The sketch came out so nicely that I decided to do more but only from the dreams that haven't been verified yet or dreams that have strong spiritual content.

The sketches I've made so far are just drawings. None are what I would call finished illustrations, but they are much cleaner than many of the drawings in the journal. If you want to see what they look like, please visit my site here.


Sunday, 20 March 2011

The value of disagreements

Here is an old dream from 2010:
October 24, 2010

> I see all the things of the universe woven together in a huge spiral funnel shape. Each item emanates or projects knowledge of God; even those that deny God do this, for that is how they are built. In this way, the information is projected everywhere, without exception.

All of the people and things in this dream contribute to the final product, which is understanding of God and other spiritual matters. All the skeptics and all the believers, all the Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Christians, Mormons, atheists and even Scientologists, everyone contributed somehow to the overall goal which was to discover and describe God.

This may not make sense at first, because there are so many mistakes, misunderstandings, and contrary mutually exclusive positions out there, but it actually did make sense. A person like the atheist Richard Dawkins, everyone really, no matter who they are, somehow brings people closer to God even when they are trying to accomplish the opposite. The reason is that their strenuous efforts to contest the existence of a spiritual reality that includes God invariably draws attention to the idea of God and spirituality. By raising a topic that might otherwise not have been raised, it can be considered by others who may not have thought of it themselves. At death, as anyone with knowledge of an NDE is aware, the Dawkinses of the world will finally have their empirical evidence of the afterlife, and in the meantime, they will have people thinking about the subject.

More than that, for some people it is clear that Dawkins, James Randi, a so-called "psi-debunker" or scientist Richard Wiseman either know little about their subject or obfuscate the truth when they do. This is an indication that the opposite of their positions are true. Some people may be temporarily fooled, but eventually this contest results in people becoming more aware of the spiritual reality around them, including its fiercest critics.

It is undeniable that fraud does exist in this world, but having found some in the realm of religion or parapsychology does not justify the assumption of fraud in every single example, particularly when many frauds are perpetrated by debunkers like Randi himself, such as when he "hoaxed" researchers at SRI back in the 1970's by having associates break into the lab when it was closed to alter materials in an effort to falsify research conducted there. It is in fact actions such as this that have such a powerful effect on other people's beliefs, because they show clearly that the debunking effort was not fair and above board, leaving plenty of room to doubt the message it was meant to convey.

This however, is all top-level material. In the dream I saw that the very existence of people was enough to give everyone a hint in the right direction. There are clues to God's existence that are so normal and all-pervasive that few bother to think about them, instead looking for exotic signs. What the dream showed was that everything, no matter what it was, somehow was a true reflection of God. Not only that, but even those who deny that God cannot help but be living proof of his reality, regardless of what they have to say.


Saturday, 19 March 2011

Where are we and how are we found?

Last night I dreamed that I looked over the shoulder of a young woman as she read my book. She was on page 76, reading the section where I describe seeing a future TIME magazine cover. My impression was that she thought the book was interesting, but that this page was particularly interesting. She was outside, seated on the ground, with other people walking by from time to time. Not a particularly interesting vignette in itself, but it did suggest an interesting question.

I have a large number of dreams where I go and visit people while I sleep. If the person is known to me, I am often able to confirm that the details I remember from the dream match a recent event in the subject's life, often an event that is roughly simultaneous with the dream or no more than a a couple days old. In some of these, I was surprised to discover that the person I saw had actually wanted me to come. Admittedly, we are only talking about a couple of people here, but they enjoyed remarkable success when they tried to get me to visit them during my sleep by focusing on me mentally.

There are hundreds of other dreams in my journals that appear no different from my visits to friends, except they are visits to people I don't know. There is no way to verify these dreams because I have no way of contacting these people. Imagine if you could hover invisibly near a random stranger in a park in some town you've never seen before. How would you know who the person is? In many cases, there wouldn't be any way at all. These dreams have always bothered me because I would have liked to confirm at least a few of these stranger visits. This brings us to the question raised by last night's dream.

If my friends can get me to visit them while I sleep by focusing on me, could strangers accomplish it also? Is it possible that the mere act of reading my book could, in certain conditions, lead to an OOB visit from me? Is that what happened last night? It is at the least an intriguing possibility. If it happens again, I'll post the details.

Of possibly greater interest is that this dream and others like it suggest that at least some amount of navigation from within a dream state is done via telepathic communication. Not only that, but that the sending of such a signal is equivalent to pinpointing the origin and a correct path to the sender. If this is true, does it shed light on the remarkable navigation skills of some animals? The reason I ask is because it seems to me that people and animals frequently resort to psi in everyday life without realizing it. It is called instinct sometimes, but is actually the act of tuning in to this inner source of information.


Friday, 18 March 2011

Fatigue and dreams

Twenty years ago I tried to figure out what kinds of things prompted me to have interesting dreams. This means that I would make notes in my journal about ambient issues at the time I went to sleep or when I woke. Some entries describe going to bed with a headache (and waking with one), noisy neighbors keeping me up, goals for things I wanted to dream about, if I was sick, etc. Of all the many varieties of external conditions I could think of, I couldn't find strong evidence that anything influenced my dreams at all.

Occasionally I would have a dream that reflected my goal for the evening, but this was very rare and highly specific. Sometimes it seemed to work if: I tried to see a certain person in an oobe, or I prayed for an answer to a question. I did not dream of random thoughts of the day, but if I meditated enough on seeing one person and only that person, I found that I could occasionally accomplish exactly that. Then, I would go see several other people, often in different states and all on the same night. The same is true for meditating on getting the answer to a question. The common factor is meditation. I concentrated on achieving these goals and sometimes it worked. However, other goals that I meditated on never happened. I could go see someone specific or I could get an answer. I did not dream of any other specific subject on request (such as winning lottery numbers, future disasters, etc.)

For awhile I thought that fatigue affected my sleep to such an extent that I would surely have poor recall on mornings after fitful sleep, only a few hours of sleep, or deep sleep after too many hours of wakefulness. But then I had a couple of extremely profound dreams while utterly fatigued. Another theory shot to pieces.

So tonight I am going to bed utterly exhausted. I am working on a PhD, have a full-time job, and am about to pitch a big project that I've had to prepare for. My thought as I sat down to write this was that "there is no way I remember anything tonight", but then I've been proven wrong before in these circumstances. Not only that, I am almost always wrong when I try to link physical conditions with dream experiences.

This makes me wonder if it could be used as a tiny little prop to buttress a dualistic view of mind and spirit? After all, if the body's condition has no effect on dreaming at all, and dreaming is an expression of consciousness, then perhaps consciousness is not body-centric. We'll see if there is anything interesting to report tomorrow morning. Until then,

Good night.


Thursday, 10 March 2011

A blameless life

I have now been asked twice to post more about my spiritual dreams on the blog, so I'll answer that request now by doing so. I do not intend to post all of them as they happen because I think some require the context of other dreams to be properly understood, but others certainly do stand on their own, like one powerful dream I wrote about earlier here in a blog titled "Modern Honesty" (look it up if you haven't seen it.)

In a dream from June 29, 2010, a spirit guide gives me some advice regarding the utility of wishing for material comforts. He brings me to a vantage point from which I can see the Earth far below. He points to a specific location on the planet and it is brought close for us to see. It is a squalid scene in a slum like those found in Cairo or Calcutta. People live in tin-roofed shacks surrounded by garbage. I am asked to look at one shack. Inside, there is an average-sized family for this part of the world. Among the children is one boy of about six to eight years old. The guide asks me to consider his life of poverty and squalor as he explains his message.

"Why should you wish for a life of comfort when true comfort comes from peace? The best thing is to live a blameless life. Why should you or anyone be allowed to live in a place of enduring peace unless you yourself are peaceful? Until you become this yourself, you cannot be allowed to live in such a place."

The boy I was asked to watch was an example of a person who was living a blameless life, and so his comfort in that slum was greater than anything offered in any palace of the world. That kind of comfort could be had by anyone immediately by making the effort of becoming peaceful themselves.

It is easy enough to project our lack of comfort onto many external things, but the power is within each of us to change that by changing ourselves. I just read a wonderful book by Laura Hillenbrand titled "Unbroken" that touched on this theme strongly. If you enjoy reading long well-written non-fiction about personal growth under trial, I recommend it highly. At the moment, it is high up on my all-time top ten list of favorite books.

A blameless life is an ample reward, just as the cost of anything less may be too high.


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

The fear of uncertainty

I've had quite a few dreams that are primarily spiritual in nature. Most of these are left out of my recent book, and some of the ones that were included had large sections left out. This was partly because I had to keep the book to 90,000 words and that meant heavy editing (it started as 116,000). The other reason is that it was difficult to publish certain items because I didn't know how to verify them. In a way, that is the primary reason I organized Dreamer the way I did. By showing the dreams that could be verified first, then how they related to other dreams I hoped to demonstrate how I came to trust the spiritual-themed dreams.

Ironically, I probably now have far more "evidence" to support trusting the spiritual content of dreams than I have ever seen for more common concepts, like the idea that democracy is a better form of government than any other. And yet, I still worry sometimes. The funny thing is that we make decisions based on very little information all the time, but when it comes to spiritual concepts, the amount of evidence required is huge even if the concept comes down to an angelic request that we stop using profanity. That shouldn't be too hard to accept, but then there is the way it is expressed, through an angel, and that can be very distracting. Additionally, and in this case I am thinking of a specific dream I wrote of in my book, there is the penalty of non-compliance. The angel showed me the penalty, and it was a kind of spiritual disfigurement. This wasn't visible physically, but it was there regardless. That is where it suddenly gets difficult for people. The advice sounds good, but that consequence sounds pretty severe, so let's chuck the entire idea without more evidence to back it up.

What about non-angelic, non-human, non-animal nature spirits? I dream of these regularly, though not often. They come across as perfectly real, but associated as they are with childhood fantasy, I left them out of my book altogether. I would have liked more evidence to be comfortable presenting those dreams, and this is despite an incident where I actually saw many of these creatures when I was young. But then, I was young, so it isn't good enough. Best wait for another sighting, and maybe I will, before writing about them in more detail.

Still, how much evidence do I really need before I feel comfortable? I probably have a lot more than other people. Out of over 3,100 records, I have hundreds that are verified in some way. Surely that would lead to a great deal of confidence, and it does, but within carefully proscribed limits. I trust my family to be honest in their dealings with me and do not expect proof of their every statement, but that is sometimes how I treat my dreams--with extreme suspicion. But is this fair? Surely after over twenty years of verified dreams some trust has been earned or is deserved?

This is on my mind right now because I just finished writing a presentation I will give at a conference on dreaming this summer. One of the topics I will discuss is how spiritual psi is verified. Because there are often no physical connections, it is quite resistant to all normal forms of verification. While writing it I realized how much I feared uncertainty. I like to be as sure of myself as anyone else, but sometimes you have to just accept that it is up to you to make your best guess based on what information you have.


Everyone's a scientist (now)

When it comes to psi, "science" has an opinion. According to "science" psi doesn't exist. If you don't believe it, try and find a single scientific paper that says otherwise. This is what "skeptics" will tell you if you if you bring up the subject. To be clear, it is only fair to point out that "skeptics" seriously corrupt the meaning of the word by applying it to themselves. According to Merriam-Webster's, a skeptic is "a person who questions or doubts something". Originally, it meant only a person who was thoughtful or who "looked into" things. On the surface, it does seem fair to say that skeptics doubt things. The problem is, they only doubt things that fall into certain categories. Their selectivity ruins the value of the word. Doubt, generically applied, could be looked at as a trait in common with the dispassion that is so valuable in an investigator or a scientist.

Skeptics, or at least the people who choose to identify themselves this way, not only avoid dispassionate attachment to their positions, but they don't appear to have ever seriously considered their positions in the light of criticism. This is to say that when confronted with criticism, it is not evaluated with dispassion or what the ancient Greeks once called "skepticism." They can be fiercely critical of any statement supportive of paranormal phenomenon (psi), but will often shun examining their position in any depth at all. A favorite and rather strange statement frequently heard in these debates is "It's not science!" It is strange because whether something is or is not science is irrelevant to whether something is or is not real. Additionally, to say that an entire field of scientific study--parapsychology--isn't "science" also makes no sense. By definition, it is. The people who write papers in the field are scientists. They have doctoral or post-doctoral degrees, they publish in peer-reviewed journals, and some of them, like Brian Josephson, have won the Nobel Prize in scientific categories.

"Science" is "...knowledge about or study of the natural world based on facts learned through experiments and observation." One could argue that parapsychology does not concern itself with the natural world, but it cannot be argued seriously that their experiments and observations do not take place in the natural world. It may be that they attempt to study aspects of the physical natural environment that suggest a non-physical environment as well, but this hardly qualifies it as a non-science.

I'm writing this partly in response to the numerous frustrating conversations I have seen or participated in recently in various forums. The fact is that as soon as anything related to psi comes up, hecklers from the "skeptic" crowd drown out all attempts at conversation. They probably don't see themselves as hecklers. To them, they are merely asking reasonable questions "Prove it!" and making reasonable statements "Psi is not science". I've decided that it is too much effort to try and play their game by their rules. After all, when they ask for papers and papers are produced, they normally do not read them. So far I have had a few acknowledge that they started but did not finish a couple and that really isn't enough. They ask for evidence, such as it is (how much can be given over the Internet that is truly evidential?) it is given, and then they make complaints unrelated to the items presented. It is like a bad magic trick: You say hello, and they say what's that behind you? While you look the other way, they rearrange the contents of your pockets.

So, I'm tired of that, at least for today. So what I am going to do instead is talk about the things I want to discuss here. My goal is to exercise some restraint and ignore all unoriginal posts from skeptics. All this means is that if they come up with things that look like they came off the common sheet of anti-psi propaganda they all seem to read from, it will be ignored. Examples of this are:

Skeptic statement:"That was debunked by [insert name]"
Answer: Probably not. Every time I've looked these up, they turn out to be a bunch of wishful thinking. There will indeed be an article that claims that it has debunked something or other, but on reading they fall apart. In many of these, I have found powerful counter-papers that, unlike the so-called "debunking" are not littered with supposition and imaginary facts. Therefore, as a true skeptic myself (in the original sense of the word) I must accept that these debunking claims are far more likely to be false than true.

Skeptic statement:"That isn't scientific!"
Answer:See above. This statement, and every scrap of everything offered to justify it cannot change its inherent falsity.

Skeptic statement:"Psi isn't repeatable. If it can't be repeated (on demand) it can't be proved"
Answer: While it has proven to be difficult to repeat on demand with individuals, it has also proven to be relatively simple to reproduce on demand in large studies involving multiple subjects. It has also been shown that psi can be repeatable by specific individuals within certain ranges of time, that is, that psi events occur at a regular rate even if exact timing is difficult to predict.

Skeptic statement:"Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence"
Answer: While I disagree with this principle on the basis that something either is evidence or isn't, I also disagree with the implication that extraordinary proof in this case is absent. To the contrary, there is a wealth of it. The work of Dr. Ian Stevenson, Dr. Brian Josephson, Dr. Dean Radin and Dr. Rupert Sheldrake are just a few scientists who have accumulated quite a lot of what could fairly be described as extraordinary evidence.

Skeptic statement: "There isn't one piece of evidence that psi is real!"
Answer: This comes down to how one defines "evidence". I've noticed that every time a description is asked of a skeptic and then the request for that kind of evidence is satisfied, they exercise some real ingenuity figuring out a new definition of evidence that must now be satisfied. In this way, parapsychology experiments may now be among the most heavily controlled against fraud in the world, and possibly the least likely place to find it in any of the sciences.

Skeptic statement: "To report an NDE, the patient cannot have died, therefore, the NDE report is a brain-based fantasy and the patient was never dead."
Answer: This is a kind of statement I see frequently on NDE threads. The fact is that NDEs also involve veridical OBE experiences that argue strongly for a separation between brain and mind, making all "brain-based hallucination" statements rather off base. Every time I've seen the veridical OBE information presented, it has been either completely ignored on the other side, or has been scoffed at in what is to my eyes a highly scoff-worthy manner in its own right.

Lastly, why is it that in normal life the people who are constantly invoking the white knight champion of "science" are not always scientists themselves? I know there are scientists out there, that some of them have a skeptical interest in psi, and that these people sometimes post to the Internet, but I also know that not every self-identified skeptic is also a scientist. Why then, these appeals to science? An irony is that they make these appeals sometimes in the face of pro-psi comments that are sometimes made by people who are in fact professional scientists.

I hope with this post to get back to more interesting subjects.


Monday, 7 March 2011

An annoying conversation

An hour ago I was just starting to work on the second of two presentations I will give at the International Association for the Study of Dreams conference in the Netherlands. I heard the doorbell ring downstairs, so I hustled down two flights of stairs and answered the door. It was G, a woman traveling door to door to discuss God. I don't mind discussing God in some circumstances, but standing there in my bare feet with icy wind creeping up my toes while I was trying to get some work done was not ideal.

She wanted to give me a copy of Watchtower magazine, which is perfectly fine with me because my wife sometimes reads them, but as she went on about things that sounded not only dogmatic but wrong, I pointed out that I had my own source for this kind of information. At the time she had been saying how God connects to us through the church (her church) and reading "his word" (their dogma). So I showed her my book. A bit cheeky, but I thought that would solve my need to get back to typing upstairs. When she saw the word "Psychic" on the cover, she had to remark on it. As soon as she started talking, I knew the Demons, Hellfire, and Satan Express was headed my way.

G whipped out a different copy of Watchtower headlined "Occultisme" ("Occultism" in Dutch). I tried explaining to her that "Occultism" and "psychic" aren't necessarily the same thing, and that religion is based on what we would now call psychic or paranormal events. However, she now had to defend herself against a person who wasn't just interested in "occultisme" (which I'm not by the way) but who had written a book about it (again, I didn't write about occultism). So at the same time as she wanted to show me the light to change my ways, she was simultaneously concerned about defending herself from my ideas. These, she spared no energy describing as inspired by Satan to deceive me and everyone else. During all this, as ungracious as it was for me to notice, I was wishing she would wipe off the lipstick she had all over her teeth. Listening to her leap from "psychic" to "Occultisme" to "Satan" to me while looking at her teeth and freezing at the front door was pretty uncomfortable.

What will be next? Is it equally possible that she will now shun our house in the future or will instead bring crusaders to the door? I hope she shuns us, but have a feeling that she now has a duty to annoy my family.

And all I had to do was not show her my book. The fact is that she has come by several times over the past few years to talk to my wife. My wife tolerates the visits but is not impressed by this woman's church. She wishes they would stop coming by, but doesn't know how to say it nicely. I figured showing my book would do the trick, but I obviously wasn't thinking strategically or I would have realized that I'd just given red meat to a hungry dog.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

More Hollywood Psi

I just saw a preview of the new Clint Eastwood movie Hereafter. It seemed to me that Eastwood has a sincere interest in NDEs and medium communication but the movie came off as naive to me. Like many other popularized treatments of the subject, the medium was morose and haunted. That all by itself is a serious problem when compared to actual mediums like John Edward or James van Praagh. He then compounds this problem by doing the same thing to his NDE representative (who to my irritation spoke French that was rendered into Dutch subtitles that I barely understood).

Just because relatives of deceased persons can be morose as a reaction doesn't mean that mediums and people who have NDEs are also morose. My impression is the exact opposite. There may be outliers, but the people I am aware of seem to be not just well-adjusted, but even more positive than would be considered average.

I think the problem is that the popular notion of things psychic conflates the reaction of grieving family members and the craziness of frauds with genuine psychics or genuine psychic experience. The Sixth Sense did this too. They had the little boy seeing gruesome images of death everywhere and he was frightened as a result. The problem is that spirits do not normally show themselves that way and anyone who sees this kind of thing customarily is more likely than not going to become inured to it and will not find it frightening at all.

Inception was an attempt to explore lucid dreaming. It did so in a highly unrealistic way by creating mechanical contrivances to limit the dream state in ways that make more sense in the context of materialism. It also made lucid dreams into something much greater than they are: a glorified version of a typical dream fantasy. If they wanted to explore dreams, it is a pity they didn't go after something with a paranormal element.

Audrey Rose from the 1970's is a bout a girl who relives the fiery death of her previous incarnation. The movie is a pretty standard horror movie, but as an explanation of past life memories it is pretty week. Ironically, the screenwriter for the movie got the idea after his son started mentioning his own past life memories at a very early age and he managed to track down who the previous personality was. The true story was far more interesting than the screenplay he wrote. Strangely, the author didn't just change a few names while retaining the core experience he knew of firsthand from his son, instead he made it over completely in the image of existing expectations among people who not only knew nothing about the experience but who disbelieved in it. In other words, while his inspiration was a real experience, the product was based on the state of his knowledge prior to the personal experience. This was done to appeal to people who weren't familiar with or willing to accept the subject as it really is.

The shame of this is that if writers and entertainers continue censoring this content to appeal to existing tastes, they not only create those tastes but also present a large and powerful body of false literature on the subject. As a debunking exercise you can hardly do worse than make a bunch of filmed entertainment that makes no sense.

Psi is not a completely unpopular subject in Hollywood, but the way it is portrayed is like an alternate form of psi, something that could literally be called "alt-psi" because it certainly is not psi. Movies like Premonition, Precognition, Carrie, The Amityville Horror, The Shining, and many others all contribute to a laughably false caricature of psi experience. It shouldn't be any wonder with these movies and the many books like them that parapsychologists have so much deprogramming to do before they get around to discussing the subjects of their research.

For anyone with a serious interest in the subject the first step is always to counter the pile of false programming, like so many mounds of leftover Carnival trash, before getting to the real subject. Unfortunately, the trash just keeps on coming.

It is possible to insulate oneself from the effect for awhile, either by working quietly in a lab or keeping one's experiences to oneself, but as soon as they are public the battle with the public's misconceptions begins.

The debate about brain-based NDEs is an example. So pervasive is the mind=brain propaganda that it is hard to let go of the notion when the most visible evidence from the other side is coming from places like Eastwood's Hereafter. It isn't that I think he was insincere. In fact, he was possibly more careful than many others who have attempted to deal with paranormal subjects in film. Unfortunately he still makes some big errors that cannot help but erode credibility for the point he is trying to make. Rather than present a fictionalized story of an NDE and a medium, he would have been better served by making a movie about the real thing. It couldn't possibly be the same kind of movie, but at least it wouldn't add to the confusion that already exists.