Inside the Mind of Charles T. Tart
By Greg Taylor of The Daily Grail
GT: I know from your writings that you are a great fan of the scientific process, but you also do criticise the philosophy of physicalism, ie. the belief that reality is all reducible to certain kinds of physical entities. In the past you have suggested State Specific Sciences as a "scientific way" of researching ASCs further. Could you give a quick recap on SSS, and I would also like to ask whether you truly think that matters of consciousness can be answered by science?
CT: Science, to me, is a commitment to put DATA, what actually happens and can be observed, internal experiences as well as external observations, ahead of all your theories and beliefs, no matter how much you like them and are attached to them. That's a hard commitment to live up to, we do so fall in love with our clever ideas! Putting that on the spiritual level, one of my favorite sayings is that "There is no God but Reality. To seek Him elsewhere is the action of the Fall." Seek the highest, yes, but if you let your ideas, desires and beliefs about the highest get in the way of learning from actual experience, you have fallen into ignorance. So a basically scientific - not the scientistic approach of physicalism, but genuine science - approach to life is quite applicable to one's spiritual search. Be open to experience, try to observe it as mindfully and openly as possible, form tentative beliefs about what is, but always keep checking those tentative, working beliefs back against direct experience. Spiritual teachers I really admire, like the Buddha and Gurdjieff, have given this advice - don't believe blindly, keep open and figure things out.
One of the categories of experience is experience in various ASCs - dreaming, meditative states, emotional states, etc. That kind of experience should neither be dismissed as irrational and so ignored, nor as automatically being THE TRUTH. It's data, it's experience, and as such, just like the data of ordinary life, you form tentative, working interpretations and beliefs about it, but you keep testing these against further experience. Humility, in a big way!
It's not easy. Even with ordinary experiences, when we form a belief that makes us feel good or special, we easily tend to fix that belief into THE TRUTH and defend it from new experience. With ASC experience, which can be more intense than ordinary experience, it's easy to get fixated, so we have to be open to it - some kinds of things only make "sense" in an ASC - but not get overly attached and forget our basic humility. My proposal for state-specific sciences, in a nutshell, is to systematically apply the basic procedures of essential science (and common sense) to the unusual experiences that happen in various ASCs. The idea is still, I'm afraid, ahead of its time. Lots of people have thought it a great idea, but few have even begun the work to make it real.
Science has worked very well in many other areas, so let's try it! After all, as Henry Ford said, "Those who think they can and those who think they can't are both right." If we don't try, or try with a defeatist attitude, of course we'll get nowhere. I don't know that we'll get all the answers from science, but let's see how far we can go!
GT: You've written about this tension between science and consciousness research as a paradigm clash, which you say have historically been characterised "by bitter emotional antagonisms, and total rejection of the opponent". Is this part of the reason why you created the website journal TASTE ("The Archives of Scientists' Transcendent Experiences")?
CT: Yes. One major reason is to provide an outlet for scientists who've had transcendent experiences to express them and get the social support of being on a site with others who've had similar experiences. A second reason, why I hope as many people as possible read the experiences on TASTE, is that I want to destroy the stereotype that scientists, as it were, have no soulsâ€¦â€¦. If I can help destroy that stereotype, more scientists will be able to look at these kind of experiences and help us learn more about them.
GT: Viewing TASTE, it certainly seems that a lot of scientists do have transcendent experiences, but do not talk about them publicly for fear of being ostracised. In the same respect, do you find that a larger number of scientists support the research on ASCs privately, while staying removed from the debate on a public level?
CT: Right. There can be very real consequences of "coming out" with personal transcendent experiences for a scientist, ranging from mild social ostracism at the least consequential end to losing her job (she must be a little crazy, we can't have her teaching students...) at the more consequential end of the spectrum.
GT: And as a final question: You've been at the center of consciousness and parapsychology research for around 40 years now - any thoughts of slowing down? Or is this all just too engaging to leave alone?
CT: Why would I want to stop doing something that I enjoy doing and that I think is of some service to helping others understand the mind? As long as this body holds up, there are so many interesting things to think about, research, write about, and encourage others to think about, research, and write about!
GT: Dr Tart, reading through your work has certainly inspired me not only to research further into areas of consciousness, but has also changed the way I think about myself and the world around me. Personally I'd like to thank you for all the great research you have contributed to a number of fields, and on behalf of TDG readers I'd like to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions for us.
[Attached is more information about the TASTE website, as well as a small description of one of the awards that TASTE has been honoured with. More information on Dr Tart, as well as other content including free publications, can be found at his personal website]