The Templeton Foundation awards $US5,000,000 for studies related to “immortality”.
Posted on 21 August 2012, 9:19
It has been awarded to John Martin Fischer, a humanities professor at the University of California, Riverside. A wiki entry suggests that the professor is eminent in his field of philosophy, but that he has not written about matters relating to psychology or psychical research. Fischer (below) is quoted in a Los Angeles Times article as saying that “the project is not aimed at proving anything. He described himself as sceptical about an afterlife, but believes it could be a good thing.”
From what we read it would appear that Prof Fischer is not only sceptical about the afterlife, but does not appear to be acquainted with the vast scholarly literature relating to psychic research over the past 150 years. For a prestigious organisation such as the Templeton Foundation to make such an award, seems hardly respectful to the eminent scholars who have worked in this field, including a number of Nobel prize-winning physicists. It could appear to diminish the standing of existing research that is in fact of the highest quality.
At the end of this blog are links to what Michael Tymn and Victor Zammit have to say about the matter. There is a link to a more comprehensive account of Fischer’s proposal by Roy Stemman. He is more friendly to Fischer than the others, and wishes him well. But he does raise the same issues as Tymn and Zammit. For the study to have any value, it will need to take thorough regard for existing research. I do recommend the reading of those articles. [Links to them are found at the end of this blog]
While I agree with much of what Tymn, Zammit and Stemman have to say, I am anxious that a further area of study will be omitted, namely how we should integrate psychic research into the general study of the phenomena of consciousness in academic psychology. Psychical research needs to do this, and so do Prof Fischer and the people that he co-opts into his research project.
The problem with people who say they are sceptics.
There are two kinds of sceptics. There are the open-minded scientists who must withhold accepting a phenomenon as real until there is sufficient reliable evidence. Prof Fischer says he is a sceptic about immortality and doesn’t expect to prove anything. It may do him an injustice, but the words suggest that he would downplay evidence, and attack the credibility of scientists who assert the reality of phenomena relating to the afterlife. I shall be forwarding this article to the Templeton Foundation, and if it is felt that I am mistaken, I will publish a correction in the next blog.
An open-minded sceptic is Nobel prize-winner in physics at Cambridge University, Prof Brian Josephson. (Below) At the end of this article I give a link to the address that he gave to other Nobel laureates about the destructive work of members of the sceptic community, mentioning also their exploits in relationship to Wegener’s Continental Plate Theory, and Cold Fusion.
We must indeed respect the right for Prof Fischer to say what he believes is correct. The question is about the Christian Templeton Foundation spending so much money to support his sceptic point of view, if such is the case.
How should we integrate psychic research into the general study of the phenomena of consciousness in academic psychology?
This question should always be asked alongside our studies of the evidence for afterlife, for the reason that academic psychology makes very plausible assumptions about mental processes, that are widely taken for granted. There are continuing very real advances in the study of the brain, and they must be acknowledged. If these assumptions are justified, then there can be no mental activity apart from the brain.
These issues are exhaustively studied in Irreducible Mind, Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century. Kelly and Kelly, et.al. Rowman and Littlefield, 2007. 800 pp. (A link to many reviews of this book is given at the end of this blog)
Take Near Death Experiences, and Out of the Body Experiences: according to the academic understanding of the brain remembering is an electrochemical process involving the synapses between nerve fibres in the cerebral cortex. It is noticed that when part of the cortex is injured by accident or by disease, then memories are apparently erased; impairment is also noticed when a person is under the influence of alcohol and drugs. There is no disagreement about this.
So, how can it be claimed that there is memory during an OBE or NDE?
In academic psychology the recording of memories is variously ascribed to “memory traces”, engrams, well-worn neural pathways. Those are theories widely accepted as facts. In favour of these theories, for instance, we can refer to the fact that the ability to learn language can be prevented by lesions in the brain. Irreducible Mind addresses these issues in a very scholarly way, with numerous references, and clearly shows that the “commonsense” findings need fundamental modification. The book traces the history of cognitive psychology from Behaviorist James B. Watson to the present day. It describes how for many years, consciousness was regarded as an epiphenomenon, a useless side effect of brain activity and how consciousness only became a serious topic for academic study about 1990. It describes John Searle’s Critique of Computational Theories of Mind; why there is unity in conscious experience, how genius level creativity can arise, and mystical experiences. The book surveys the evidence for the reality of psi phenomena. It discusses Automatism and Secondary Centres of Consciousness, with reference to F.W.H. Myers, Pierre Janet, Morton Prince, William McDougall, Carl Jung, and others. The powers of the mind to heal or injure are exhaustively discussed, together with faith healing and hypnosis. The work of prominent Quantum physicists with regard to consciousness, synchronicity and extrasensory experiences, is described.
This is but a small selection of almost 350 headings in six and a half pages of index. If you are interested, do consult the link to “Irreducible Mind” reviews at the end of this blog.
In short, Irreducible Mind is a landmark work that can fairly claim to comprehensively deny the validity of the Materialist or Naturalist position that mental activity is nothing but electrochemical processes in the brain. The alternative Mentalist interpretation of consciousness studies is coherent through a number of disciplines, and consistent with studies claiming to demonstrate an afterlife. The book stops short of affirming the reality of an afterlife, mainly because it is felt that an alternative “super-psi” theory cannot be ruled out: the hypothesized super-psi implies that a medium is plucking information from the minds of the sitters, or “out of the air”.
But on page 597-8 we read: “Our general attitude toward super-psi explanations is essentially that of Ducasse (1969): When Occam’s razor is alleged to shave off survival as a superfluous hypothesis, and to leave ESP as sufficient to account for all the facts in evidence, it turns out that ESP cannot do it without being arbitrarily endowed with a “beard” consisting not of a far-reaching perception, but of a capacity for reasoning, inventing, constructing, understanding, judging, i.e. for active thinking; and more specifically for the particular modes of such thinking which only the particular mind whose survival is in question is known to have been equipped with. (p.41)”
With that quotation in mind, I wonder whether the authors of Irreducible Mind were finding it expedient not to be too sure – they had their academic reputation to consider.
It may be of interest, if at a later date I discuss in greater detail some of the issues addressed by Irreducible Mind.
Is $5 Million for Life After Death Research a Waste?
Victor Zammit :http://www.victorzammit.com/week21/
Brian Josephson @ Ground of Faith
Roy Stemman @ Paranormal Review
Irreducible Mind reviews @ Ground of Faith
Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.
Next blog September 7th