This week’s post is an excerpt from OUR SECRET POWERS, a book by TERJE SIMONSEN. He is an historian of ideas who specializes in the esoteric and the occult. He lives in Norway.
Experiences of telepathy, precognition and related phenomena seem a poor fit with the typical modern, rational, Western worldview. But statistics show not the least regard for this, and impertinently insist that more than half of us will have experiences of this kind during our lifetime – experiences of something beside the normal, namely something paranormal (para = beside). So statistics would suggest that paranormal experiences are, in fact, quite normal!
These phenomena could be said to belong to the borderland of consciousness—a zone that we may have a vague notion about, but that most of us are not really familiar with. Seventeen years ago the American Psychological Association launched a mapping project in the exciting book, Varieties of Anomalous Experience
(E. Cardeña, S.J. Lynn and S. Krippner, eds.) in which a number of psychologists wrote about lucid dreams, out-of-body experiences, telepathy, precognition, healing, and other experiences that are not in harmony with our usual perception of reality. The authors of Varieties of Anomalous Experience emphasize the experience, and especially the aspects connected with personal meaning, and largely refrain from telling us how these phenomena are to be objectively understood. Psychologists and psychiatrists will typically explain (or explain away) such experiences, resorting to pathological descriptions such as hallucination, psychosis, dissociation, and trauma. But, interestingly enough, two of the three editors of Varieties of Anomalous Experience (Krippner and Cardeña) have said elsewhere that they think some of these strange phenomena are likely to be objectively real and that genuine telepathy (a direct transfer of thoughts, feelings and sensations from one person to another) may occur.
A similar stance has been taken by a number of talented physicists, including Nobel Prize winners, who have argued that these phenomena, rightly understood, need not be contrary to the Laws of Nature. For example, Cambridge Professor Brian Josephson, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1973, claims that both telepathy and psychokinesis (direct impact on the physical world by the power of mind) are “objectively occurring phenomena.”
In my book, OUR SECRET POWERS, I did not set out to prove that these phenomena are real, rather that they are something I hope to probe. The reader is thus not asked to believe in anything but simply to keep an open mind!
Some paranormal phenomena, such as clairvoyance and healing, seem to be a direct result of the human will and abilities. This type of paranormal phenomena is often called ‘psi,’ after the first letter of the Greek word psyche.The term ‘psi’ was introduced by psychologist Robert Thouless in the British Journal of Psychology in 1942. He coined the word to be able to discuss these phenomena in a neutral manner, without reference to religion or belief. For some readers the word ‘psi’ might perhaps sound a little strange, but it is well established in parapsychological literature, and the term – just as Robert Thouless intended – is quite neutral, and therefore very handy.
The main forms of psi, often referred to as the ‘Big Five,’ are:
- Telepathy: direct transference of thoughts or/and feelings
- Clairvoyance: psychic sight, remote viewing, mental television
- Precognition: paranormal foreknowledge, premonition
- Telekinesis: direct mental influence on physical objects
- Healing: direct mental interactions with living systems
The first three phenomena are about transmitting information, and are often called ESP (Extra Sensory Perception). Traditionally they are seen as an expression of ‘the sixth sense,’ and constitute the main focus of OUR SECRET POWERS. The last two phenomena are about transfer of energy, often called PK (psychokinesis), and I do write about them too.
Most of the stories in my book are based on incidents reported by scientists of one kind or another – anthropologists, psychologists, physicists – or by philosophers. More often than not they have well-developed observational skills. It seems reasonable to take their reports seriously, even when—or especially when— they dare to speak against the consensus when they vouch for the paranormal. I suggest that we seriously listen to their stories. They were there—we were not.
Some of the researchers who have dealt with this field have made suggestions as to how such events can be scientifically understood. An explanatory model that everyone can agree upon has not yet crystallized but one idea persists – that consciousness is something completely different and far more extensive than we usually imagine it to be. By routinely thinking inside the box, we tend to take for granted that consciousness merely exists inside our own head, and that “the brain is alone with the brain,” to quote the Norwegian pop band deLillos. But perhaps the brain is not that alone after all? For it has been suggested from several quarters that our own consciousness may be understood as being a part of a greater consciousness, a “Mind at Large.”
Based on this idea, there’s a quite simple model called the Mental Internet – that as our computers are linked together via the Internet, the ‘consciousnesses’ of all humans, and perhaps all living beings, are linked together via some sort of mental network. I am of course aware that such a model is a gross simplification, but as the great statistician George E.P. Box once put it: “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful!”
Early psychic researchers found wireless telegraph and radio to be helpful models when trying to grasp how telepathy could be possible since these technologies demonstrated that information could be transmitted instantly across vast distances. If a crude apparatus could perform such a miraculous feat, then our highly advanced minds might also be able somehow to accomplish such operations. Today the Internet gives us an even better analogy. There are two reasons for this: first, the Internet is collective, connective, and more reciprocal than the radio. (A friend of mine related that when he was a small boy, he found it utterly frustrating that the man in the radio was speaking all the time and never showed the faintest interest in listening!) And second, the Internet is not only a medium for the transmission of information but also for storing it. Some just disagree saying, “We know the Internet works, but telepathy—if real—must surely be a totally different matter.” But I feel such simple models can help stretch the imagination, and perhaps open us up to new possibilities.
Galileo once invited the Inquisition to look through his telescope in order to see what he himself had seen. But, as we know, the inquisitors were not very keen on having their horizons expanded and instead muttered murkily of ‘the work of the Devil.’ However, I take it for granted that the reader has a radically more open attitude than those darkened souls.We can refuse to drown in a swamp of naive acceptance or to crouch in a trench of dogmatic skepticism, we can just remain open and explore psi. Sam Harris, the philosopher, neuroscientist and high-profile skeptic, author of THE END OF FAITH, has stated:
“My position on the paranormal is this: Although many frauds have been perpetrated in the history of parapsychology, I believe that this field of study has been unfairly stigmatized. If some experimental psychologists want to spend their days studying telepathy, or the effects of prayer, I will be interested to know what they find out.”
It might be possible to think outside the box in a more radical way. If we follow the concept of a Mental Internet, telepathy could be considered as being ‘emails’ and ‘downloads,’ and a psychic would simply be a person who has an active relation to this network. Basically, that’s it! But of course, competence will vary greatly, much like musical ability: most people can learn to play for their own pleasure, but not all are gifted enough to be musicians. Very few will be a Mozart, a John Coltrane or a Jimi Hendrix, but we can all be involved with music.
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I was introduced to Terje Simonsen by Anne Wotring. He had e-mailed her after a book review she’d written caught his interest. I wanted to know more about him and about the general attitude in Norway to paranormal experiences. Here’s part of his response to my questions:
Reading about paranormal events in fairy tales and myths first spurred my interest. Later came strange experiences – healing, telepathy, and psychokinesis reported by friends in a Christian youth club that I belonged to. Then came experiences of my own: small scale telepathy like knowing in advance what people would say during a conversation. Later came experiences with professional psychics – some of whom were charlatans, but some impressed me greatly.
Once before a date, for example, I spoke to a respected psychic. In addition to commenting on the date he said, “… then I can tell you that this woman is 1.64 m tall.” During the date I just had to ask her, casually, “By the way, how tall are you?” She answered, “1.64 m.” Also, he’d had no time to consult the Internet before I asked him about the color of my house. That was no easy task because there are two colors, but he was correct. This experience, along with many others such as seeing future events on several occasions, got me hooked.
Norway is pretty much like other Western nations: urban people are generally quite skeptical when asked during the daytime, but when evening comes, and after a glass or three of wine, paranormal stories will be told. In some rural areas, the belief in people having “warm hands” (healers) or being able to “see” (psychics) is quite widespread.
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OUR SECRET POWERS, was published by Pari Publishing in 2018.
It is available from the publisher’s website: www.paripublishing.com/books/our-secret-powers/
If you wish to contact Terje Simonsen – he will soon have a Facebook page for his book. For now, his e-mail address is email@example.com
(Some of us might be interested to learn that one of the two founders of Pari Publishing was David Peat, colleague and biographer of theoretical physicist David Bohm.)