David Luke, Author of the Month for May 2009
Psi-verts and psychic piracy: The future of parapsychology? (cont.)
By David Luke
The research of dream psi has long been fruitful in generating successful results, as has research with partial sensory deprivation environments known as the Ganzfeld, to some degree. But aside from a few projects looking into meditation there has been very little research done recently into psi with other altered states. Revisiting the hopeful days of the 1960s, one of the areas of research I've been working on, in virtual solitude, is the parapsychology of psychedelic experiences. So far, about a dozen experimental programs using LSD, psilocybin, ayahuasca, cannabis or Amanita muscaria have provided promising evidence for the inducement of psi with psychedelics, under certain conditions, albeit with some methodological difficulties. Not least of which was that most of these experiments, primarily conducted in the 1960's, gave psychedelics to inexperienced trippers and then got them to do long series of boring card-guessing tasks while they wrestled with their first numinous experience. More recently a number of surveys looking at drug use and paranormal experiences have provided results consistent with the idea that psychedelics in particular can induce psychic experiences, but this probably isn't news to most trippers. Occultist Julian Vayne notes that among psychedelic explorers of inner space, dubbed psychonauts, the telepathic experience is so common that it is hardly remarked upon. Shamans too have been using these substances for millennia for clairvoyance, telepathy, precognition, psychic diagnosis, psychic healing, hunting, warfare, magical combat and a host of less easily definable esoteric activities.
Personally, I think it is these other magical activities and apparently paranormal phenomena that occur after a gaze into one's medicine bag that most deserve investigating. Take the relatively common occurrence of entity encounters with the endogenous psychedelic N,N-dimethyltryptamine (or simply DMT), those classic meetings with self-transforming machine elves or alien praying mantis-neurosurgeons. Outside of my own research, contemporary parapsychology has virtually nothing to say about these encounters. This appears to be largely because parapsychology has yet to recover from its untimely split with the psychedelic research community in the late 1960's when psychedelics became illegal and all human research with these substances terminated. Since then anybody working on the fringes of science, be it with psychedelics or psychic abilities, has already become too marginalized to risk being further ostracised by their proximate scientific community. On the weird edges of science where funding thins out like oxygen at high altitudes, nobody wants to be a maverick in an already maverick field and researchers on both sides are wary of being seen to discredit their own field by joining the other (though occasionally fools rush in). Meanwhile monstrous be-tentacled beasts with thousands of eyes regularly terrify naïve psychonauts as they burst through the veil to inner dimensions - apparently at least - and parapsychologists, let alone psychologists, have nothing much to say about it.
Up and till now parapsychology has largely confined itself to the study of psi, psychic healing, near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, mediumship, the survival of the personality after bodily death, hauntings, ghosts, apparitions, and other ostensible communications from the spirits of the dead, such as electronic voice phenomena. Whatever conservatism has kept the field back from scientifically researching more esoteric activities and phenomena over the last 125 years, it would seem like an appropriate time to expand these activities to include the weirder phenomena found with shamanism, magic (not the illusory stage magic kind), and the use of psychedelics. Lets face it, 2012 or not, things are looking set to get quite a lot weirder in the coming years. A glance over at the world of genetics alone indicates that pretty soon we may all be living in a kind of surreal Neuromancer-type reality.
Recent news suggests that scientists are on the verge of creating purely synthetic genes that can be injected into cells and brought to life - if you believe that life can be created from non-life. Similarly, in 2007, geneticists were granted ethical approval to create hybrid human-animal foetuses, purely for stem-cell research of course and not to go to full term and give birth to hybrid human-animal babies. Given that this kind of technology is available now, the creation of real mutant humans and hybrids the likes of your favourite comic book hero or heroine, is only the thickness of an ethics committee away from being a reality in the near future. And what strikes me as poetic about this is that all those ancient therianthropic images of centaurs, griffons, and mermaids adorning art and myth for millennia may have been more than just the outpourings of imaginative minds, and could have been genuine insights into our mythological mutant future. I, for one, sure wouldn't mind a set of wings or a pair of goaty pan legs.
So what does modern science have to fear about investigating the mutant gods and demons that lurk within certain neurohacking molecules? Especially molecules like DMT that have long since being naturally occurring in our own brains. Surely with centaurs, neurofeedback control of computers, space travel, nanotechnology and all the other really weird stuff happening in science there's a genuine need for psychology to catch up by overcoming its taboos about drugs and the paranormal and to really start mapping the weirder realms of the mind. After several years of experimentation with altered states the scientist John C. Lilly said he looked forward to the day when parapsychology was just another branch of psychology. That day never came in John's lifetime and, given the resistance to non-materialist thinking still current in the mainstream, that day appears to remain a long way off. Perhaps 2012 will change all that. Perhaps not.
Coming back to the start of this essay, one thing that seems apparent, however, is that psi research won't be starting a revolution in advertising just yet. Rest assured that although there seems to be some good evidence emerging recently for an essentially constant and unconscious psychic awareness in all people, albeit very subtle, there seems to be little indication that the desire to buy a specific product - be it yoga classes or the latest phone - can be psychically 'planted' in one's unconscious mind. The bad news is that in principal such "psiverts" are completely feasible and resemble much of the work that has occurred in parapsychology over the years. Thankfully, however, psychic advertising appears to have been totally overlooked by both researchers and marketing executives alike for the last 125 years. And although psychical research seems to suggest that psychic information can be picked up unconsciously, whether or not this has an effect on spending habits has yet to be researched. This lack of research probably has more to do with good taste and the difficulty replicating individual results in parapsychology than with any lack of imagination.
The other problem for psiverts of course is that psychic abilities, if we assume they are real, are concerned with accessing truths that are not known whereas advertising really wishes to gloss over the warts and present a shining "whiter than white" hyperbole that keeps the truth hidden. Yet, its seems unlikely that the corporate and capitalist machinery in all its manifestations has so far overlooked this area for boosting profits, and it's possible that at least some organisations may have already conducted such activities covertly. Furthermore, if psychic piracy were at work the fact that psi seems to work unconsciously most of the time means that we would be unlikely to suspect anything at all, so there may already be corsairs costcutting in our cortices and buccaneers billboarding our brains trying to gain that vital extra sales edge on their competitors.
Meanwhile, I won't let it keep me awake at night but I am determined to try and remember that phone number in the yoga advert next time I dream it and give it a call anyway. Real or not, all this speculation has left my pineal gland feeling like the cerebral equivalent of the Somalian coast and I think all this psychic piracy floating on the aethers has ruptured one of my charkas, so a spot of yoga certainly seems in order. As Eddington said, "The Universe is not only stranger than we imagine, but it is stranger than we can imagine."
I am very grateful to Marios Kittenis, Peter Moore, Shelley Morin, Anna Hope, Thomas Bonnie and Gyrus for feedback, comments, inspiration and encouragement in the drafting of this article.
David Luke, PhD