INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber



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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

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CONSCIOUSNESS,
PARAPSYCHOLOGY,
AND EVOLUTION

INTEGRATING LANE AND SMITH

Elliot Benjamin

In David Lane's recent Integral World article: Consciousness, Meditation, and a Higher State [1], he describes his optimistic perspective on the accomplishments and expected progress of scientific research on consciousness. Lane's remarks are in the context of a response to a previous Integral World article by Andy Smith: Are Physicists Conscious? [2], which in turn is a response to two previous Integral World articles by David & Andrea Lane: Is Consciousness Physical? and The Physics of Being Aware [3]. In the most recent episode in this debate, Andy Smith has continued the dialogue with his Integral World article: On Religious and Scientific Agendas: Reply to David Lane [4].

Essentially the difference of opinion between Lane and Smith can be summarized as Smith advocating that there are states of meditation and higher consciousness that are beyond our present and foreseeable knowledge of science to explain, and Lane claiming that Smith is being narrow minded and unaware in regard to what science has already accomplished and may likely accomplish in the near future regarding our understanding of meditation and higher consciousness. From my own perspective, I can see the value in the points of view and arguments of both Lane and Smith, and in this scenario I appreciate the original integral vision of Ken Wilber in finding the “truths” in what appears at first glance to be very conflicting arguments [5].

Smith claims that in order to truly understand the experiences of meditation and higher consciousness states of awareness, one must experience these states firsthand, and cites Wilber's clear formulation of this argument in his early writings, in particular in his book Eye To Eye [6]. Lane counters that Smith's use of the terms “meditation” and “higher consciousness” are individualistic and not well defined, but claims that if there are higher levels of consciousness then there should be empirical demonstrations of these higher states in lower states that precede them. When I think of how one can integrate these two apparently conflicting arguments of Smith and Lane, what initially comes to mind to me is the pair of tremendously productive parapsychology researchers for a number of decades in the middle of the 20th century: J.B. Rhine and Louisa Rhine [7].

These husband/wife parapsychology pioneers paved the way for the development of their respective quantitative and qualitative approaches to parapsychology. J.B. Rhine conducted many scientific experiments to test the accuracy of the psi phenomena of telepathy and clairvoyance. Louisa Rhine formulated a huge collection of case studies describing various kinds of psychic experiences, inclusive of communication with supposed departed spirits [7]. Louisa Rhine, as the original pioneers of the Society for the Study of Psychical Research, inclusive of Frederick Myers, Edward Gurney, and Henry & Eleanor Sidgwick [8], investigated paranormal phenomena through a collection of case studies, attempting to capture the subjective experiences of what she was studying.

On the other hand, J.B. Rhine focused upon his various psi symbols in laboratory controlled experiments to attempt to “scientifically” establish the likelihood that certain kinds of psi phenomena exist. As it turned out, it is J.B. Rhine's laboratory empirical parapsychology methods that have subsequently dominated parapsychology research in the field's continuous, though by no means successful, endeavors to gain approval in the world of mainstream psychology. There have been numerous critics of parapsychology research and findings [9], and although psi researchers have responded to the arguments of critics with significantly improved scientific methodologies and controls, the situation is currently one of ongoing debate and lack of consensus [10].

From my own experiences, both in my personal life and in my preliminary qualitative experiential parapsychological research [11], as well as from my substantial readings in consciousness studies and parapsychology as part of my current doctoral program in psychology [12], I believe that there is a strong likelihood that some kind of higher consciousness and psi phenomena does indeed exist. I also believe that there are multiple methods of effectively exploring the occurrence of higher consciousness and psi phenomena, inclusive of quantitative experimental laboratory science studies and qualitative experiential expanded science studies.

The quantitative experimental laboratory science studies have the advantage of being grounded and empirical in the physical world with the full force of accepted mathematical/statistical techniques at their disposal. However, the deeper subjective states of what is being explored may very well be beyond these experimental laboratory techniques, as qualitative researchers claim. However, the qualitative experiential expanded science studies may very well contain an excess of subjectivity that makes it difficult to determine what is legitimate and valid, as quantitative researchers claim. But as Wilber would claim: “they both can be right.”

In other words, through a mixed media approach, the arguments of both Smith and Lane in this context can not only live with each other, but can even enrich each other for a fuller understanding of consciousness and psi phenomena. At least this is how it appears to me from my own perspective, but who knows--perhaps Smith and Lane will come to agreement to disagree with my own perspective.

I know that bringing up the subject of parapsychology may be inviting a hornet's nest of disapproval, based upon the severe criticism of a previous Integral World article on psi phenomena [13]. However, I am fully aware that there has been extensive and ongoing research in neurobiological and quantum physics approaches to psi phenomena, inclusive of mirror neurons (as described in Lane's article [1]) and microtubules [14]. There are numerous theories to explain the meanings people ascribe to controversial paranormal phenomena such as near-death experiences, life after death communications, and reincarnation, such as “subjective validation” [15], fraud [9], and super-psi [16].

My perspective is an agnostic one, and I am actually quite comfortable staying in this context. I can understand the evolutionary perspective Lane describes, based upon the work of Gerald Edelman [1], in which it is claimed that consciousness evolved over millions of years as a survival mechanism for the advantage to animals that were able to have greater awareness of their continuous dangers in the wild. And if we assume for arguments' sake that psi phenomena does exist but that there are neurobiological and quantum physics explanations for its occurrence, then perhaps as consciousness evolved it simultaneously gained abilities that we refer to as “psychic.” How far this kind of expanded science evolutionary perspective can go to explain phenomena described by the terms “higher consciousness' and “psi” is debatable, but it seems to me that there is a plausible argument here, and may even be consistent with the perspective of the “lost Darwin” [17].

However, I will also subjectively admit that the thought that I am nothing more than one miniscule inconsequential result of a blind chance random evolutionary process extending over billions of years does not leave me feeling very uplifted. But even more than this, subjectively it does not “feel” right to me either. Perhaps this is what Andy Smith is getting at in his articles; there is something in us, some kind of “higher consciousness” that knows more than we can scientifically understand. To quote Smith in his most recent article in this debate series: “Everything that we--society or the scientific community--know about higher consciousness is based on someone's experience.” [4]

But then David Lane might say that I am merely expressing a very understandable human quality of not wanting to admit my utter insignificance in the universe, and that this can very well be considered as completely scientifically understood. Hmm--as I continue to write I can see that I am starting to truly expose myself, for the truth is that I consider myself to be not just an agnostic, but a “spiritual agnostic.” Yes, I will admit that in spite of my logical Wilberian perspective of seeing the enriched messages and integrating the perspectives of both Smith and Lane, my heart is not completely in my unbiased intellectual analysis; I must admit that my leanings are more with Smith than Lane in regard to the value of one's experiences in our understanding of higher consciousness. But once I start talking about my “heart,” I may as well start talking about my “spirit,” and then I am stepping on quite shaky ground for an essay on Integral World.

In conclusion, although I resonate more closely with the experiential expanded science perspective of higher consciousness formulated by Andy Smith in comparison to the experimental empirical science perspective of understanding consciousness championed by David Lane, I find merit in the arguments of both Lane and Smith regarding the experiences of meditation and higher consciousness. I believe that their respective viewpoints are representative of the quantitative experimental laboratory science and qualitative experiential expanded science perspectives. Putting these perspectives together in the original integral context of Wilber can be enriching for our understanding, and can be assimilated with theories of evolution as well as parapsychology.

NOTES & REFERENCES

1) Lane, D. (2009). Consciousness, Meditation, and a Higher State. Retrieved February 23, 2009, from www.integralworld.net

2) Smith, A. (2008). Are Physicists Conscious? A Reply to David and Andrea Lane. Retrieved February 23, 2009, from www.integralworld.net

3) Lane, A., & Lane, D. (2008). See the Lanes' articles: Is Consciousness Physical? and The Physics of Being Aware. Retrieved February, 23, 2009, from www.integralworld.net

4) Smith, A. (2009). On Religious and Scientific Agendas: Reply to David Lane. Retrieved February 23, 2009, from www.integralworld.net

5) See Wilber, K. (2000). Integral Psychology. Boston: Shambhala.

6) See Wilber, K. (1983). Eye To Eye. Boston: Shambhala.

7) See a listing of references for J.B. Rhine and Louisa Rhine in Irwin, H., & Watt, C. (2007). An Introduction to Parapsychology. London: McFarland.

8) See Gauld, A. (1968). The Founders of Psychical Research. New York: Schocken.

9) See for example: Hyman, R. (2003). How not to Test Mediums: Critiquing the Afterlife Experiments and Randi, J. (1982). Flim-flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus.

10) See Irwin, H., & Watt, C. in [7] for an excellent comprehensive summary of both up-to-date research in parapsychology and arguments of skeptics.

11) See Benjamin, E. (2009). An Experiential Exploration of Mediums and Life After Death. Retrieved February 23, 2009, from The Ground of Faith Journal, http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~thegroundoffaith

12) In addition to Irwin, H., & Watt, C. in [7], see Baruss, I. (2002). Alterations of Consciousness. Washington DC: American Psychological Association; Rao, K.R. (2002). Consciousness Studies: Cross-cultural Perspectives. Jefferson, NC: McFarland; Kelly, E.F., Kelly, E.W., Crabtree, A., Gauld, A., Grosso, M., & Greyson, B. (2007). Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

13) See the following series of 2008 Integral World articles: Salmon, D., & Maslow, J. The Challenge of Writing About Sri Aurobindo's Integral Psychology; Falk, G. The Salmon of Belief: Comments on the Status of Psi Research; Benjamin, E. Psi Rsearch Status: A Comment on a Comment; Salmon, D. Integral Psychology Beyond Wilber V: Inviting Open-minded Skepticism of the Materialist View. 8) Retrieved February 23, 2009, from www.integralworld.net

14) See for example Hameroff, S. (1994). Quantum Coherence in Microtubules. A Neural Basis for Emergent Consciosness? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 1(1), 91-118.

15) See Carroll, R.T. (2006). Subjective Validation. The Skeptics Dictionary. Retrieved February, 23, 2009, from http://skepdic.com/essays/gsandsv.html

16) See Braude, S. (2004). Immoral Remains: The Evidence for Life After Death. New York: Rowman & Littlefield; Gauld, A. (1982). Mediumship and Survival: A Century of Investigations. London: Paladin.

17) See Benjamin, E. (2009). Love, Evolution, and Higher Values in Darwin; and Loye, D. (2009). Darwin and Wilber. Retrieved February 23, 2009, from www.integralworld.net




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