Inside the Mind of Charles T. Tart
By Greg Taylor of The Daily Grail
GT: Today we've managed to have a chat with one of the world's most respected researchers and commentators on altered states of consciousness (ASCs), Dr Charles Tart. I thought we might start off by "filling in the blanks" for those not familiar with his work, or even with the research into ASCs over the years.
Dr Tart was born in 1937 and grew up in Trenton, New Jersey. He was active in amateur radio and worked as a radio engineer while a teenager. He studied electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before electing to become a psychologist. He received his doctoral degree in psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1963, and then received postdoctoral training in hypnosis research with Professor Ernest R. Hilgard at Stanford University.
Dr Tart is internationally known for his psychological work on the nature of consciousness (particularly altered states of consciousness), for his research in scientific parapsychology, and as one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology. His two classic books, ALTERED STATES OF CONSCIOUSNESS (1969) and TRANSPERSONAL PSYCHOLOGIES (1975), became widely used texts that were instrumental in allowing these areas to become part of modern psychology. He is currently a Core Faculty Member at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (Palo Alto, California) and a Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences (Sausalito, California), as well as Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the Davis campus of the University of California, where he served for 28 years.
Thanks for joining us Dr Tart. First off, a little history - considering where it has led, I'd be interested in knowing what inspired the change in your early study pursuits, from Electrical Engineering to Psychology?
CT: As a teenager, electronics was my hobby and a burning interest. I was a ham radio operator, enjoying learning about and building the equipment more than the actual talking on the air with other hams, and I taught myself enough electronics to pass the government tests for a First Class Radio Telephone license. That allowed me to work as an engineer in various radio stations, responsible for keeping the equipment tuned and running. It was a great way of working my way through college, as my main job was to be there and log the meter readings every half hour, so I could study in between. Of course if anything happened that took the station off the air, I had to work fast and furious to put it back on - no broadcast, no commercials, no income! So it was natural for me to plan to become an electrical engineer. Also, I was really interested in parapsychology, but it never occurred to me that I could make a living in it - most people still can't, actually, given the lack of money in the field and the prejudice against it - nor did I realize I could become a psychologist, which would be close and fit in with all my interest in the human mind generally. I don't think my high school had anything like vocational counseling when I was there in the early 50s, or, if they did, I was already so set on electrical engineering that I paid no attention to it.
Once I became a student at MIT, though, several things happened. On the positive side, some other students and I formed a parapsychology club and I got to personally meet and correspond with some of the leading figures in the field, like J. B. Rhine, Gardner Murphy, and Eileen J. Garrett, so my interest went up enormously. Mrs. Garrett introduced me to Andrija Puharich, a parapsychologist who was "far out" even by parapsychological standards, but he seemed to have found a way to use electronic equipment (a Faraday cage system) to enhance ESP functioning, and that kind of enhancement was exactly what the field needed (and still needs). I was able to spend the summer of my sophomore year working with him as a research assistant. On the negative side, I found I didn't really have the very mathematical kind of mind that was needed for engineering, so I put these things together, found out I could become a psychologist and, with the assistance of J. B. Rhine, transferred to Duke University after my sophomore year. All in all, a very good move!