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The Templeton Foundation awards $US5,000,000 for studies related to “immortality”.

Posted on 21 August 2012, 13:19

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, 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 :

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.

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Afterlife Teaching from Stephen the Martyr - Michael Cocks

Next blog September 7th

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Boiling an egg vs Spirituality

Posted on 07 August 2012, 11:57

I am boiling an egg… I am boiling an egg in Christchurch, in New Zealand,  ...on Earth… I am boiling an egg in the Milky Way galaxy. Am I any the wiser if I do this in a galaxy?


I think that my mind is nothing but the dance of electrons in my brain… I think that our minds are part of the cosmic consciousness, and that we are all one. Am I then enlightened? I have become aware of a wider context, and that may be an improvement, but other things have to come into place before I could think of calling myself enlightened. And of course, if I were truly enlightened, would I boast about it?

Perhaps some of us have memories of belonging to a spiritual group where we held hands and wished peace, love, and harmony to all the world, smiled at each other, and remarked that we are all one. We have done that, and yet, sooner or later, in some way or another, our lives have fallen apart.

When we are in deep meditation we are in what Lawrence LeShan calls the “clairvoyant” or “holistic” mode of relating to reality. We feel one with the universe. Indeed, for our spiritual health we need to relate this way. But don’t try relating in this way when crossing a road, or we may become one with a bus, with fatal consequences. Learning to relate in LeShan’s “sensory-physical” mode is also crucial.

I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 13.2-3: “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”  Sadly, we learn the truth of this, feel guilt , lose heart, and can fall by the wayside.

The problem may not lie with the spiritual path we are following, but with our failure to be realistic about the challenges facing us in our ordinary lives. All of us have our defects: we may not be fully conscious of the emotional forces driving our behaviour; we may be overly assertive or submissive, we may lack empathy with other people, we may not be open and honest in our relationships with others. We may be burdened by the personality problems of others with whom we are in daily contact.  All of us without exception have some such challenges to face. We need to have been making progress in meeting these challenges for any enlightenment to “stick.” We must build the foundations in this physical life before we can build a spiritual edifice that has any chance of enduring. No amount of deep meditation, no amount of forgiving everybody on the grounds that this world is illusory, will change the facts on the ground namely our difficulties in coming to terms with the challenges posed to us in our physical lives. Meditating on the infinite may give us respite, but it does little to alleviate pain received from an alcoholic spouse.

When I mention boiling an egg, I am making the point of course that whatever the context I am still boiling an egg. However advanced, or not advanced our personal spirituality may be, we still have to earn a living, look after a family, handle challenging personal relationships, handle our own mood swings, play our part in the community, deal with ill-health, continue with our personal education, look after aged parents, and so on. But I repeat myself.

I am impressed by a book published in 2010 by Robert Augustus Masters, (below) an Integral Psychotherapist, called Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters.


He begins, “Spiritual bypassing, a term first coined by psychologist John Wellwood in 1984, is using spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs… Part of the reason for this is that we tend not to have very much tolerance, either personally or collectively, for facing, entertaining, and working through our pain, strongly preferring pain numbing “solutions,” regardless of how much suffering such “remedies” may catalyse… Aspects of spiritual bypassing include exaggerated detachment, emotional numbing and repression, overemphasis on the positive,  anger-phobia, blind or overly tolerant compassion, weak or too porous boundaries, lopsided development (cognitive intelligence often being far ahead of emotional and moral intelligence), debilitating judgement about one’s negative or shadow side, devaluation of the personal relative to the spiritual, and delusions of having arrived at a higher level of being.” (pp.1-2). 

With all the faults church, mosque or synagogue may have, they have one advantage that New Age and independent spiritualities do not have, and that is that they take full cognizance of the limitations and fallibilities of human nature, while still affirming our divine and spiritual nature. Yes, they are often overdo the sin bit, and against this people have rightly rebelled; but it is still not helpful to disregard human fallibility. Organized religion does also strongly emphasise forgiveness and moving on.

Let me give a few more quotations from Spiritual Bypassing. Even though you may not buy the book, you may perhaps find the quotes stimulate further thought:

From the chapter Let’s stop being negative about our negativity: “So the road to genuine forgiveness is often paved with hatred. Go to the heart of hate and you won’t find hate but rather great heart-wrenching grief, a broken-open depth of being that is both agonisingly and exquisitely painful, soberly spacious, and eventually liberating. It is through this fire that forgiveness becomes not just some paint-by-numbers spiritual bypassing activity but a tremendously powerful and empowering practice. Those of us caught up in the spiritual bypassing tend to slap the labels “positive” and “negative” onto the emotions as if such qualities were absolute givens. But the more we investigate the reality of our lives, the clearer it becomes that ascribing qualities like “negative” and “positive” to emotions is inevitably context-bound undertaking.(p.17)

The real concern isn’t whether or not to express our “negative” feelings but how we choose to express them. Repressed anger is implicated in various illnesses (weakening the immune system), but so too is over-expressed anger (think hostility). Beyond the polarities of holding our anger in and directly expressing our anger is a possibility of a truly healthy capacity for both containment and release of anger that is infused with compassion, clarity, and vitality. So turn toward your negativity. Stop mythologising it, stop relegating it to a lower status, stop keeping it in the dark. Go to it, open its doors and windows, take it by the hand. Meet its gaze. Feel it is woundedness, feel into it, feel for it….

Keep something in the dark long enough and will probably behave badly. Turn on the lights, slowly but surely. Your simple presence is enough. Let your heart soften. Breathe a little more deeply, bringing what you call your negativity closer to you opening at a fitting pace. No rush. Let it shift, however slowly, from a distant foreign object to a reclaimed part of your being. Let its pain and longing break your heart. Your ambition to transcend your negativity is now all gone, as you realise right to your core that your true work is to reclaim and re-embody it. Your ambition to transcend your negativity is now all but gone, as you realise right to your core that your true work is to reclaim and re-embody it.

You are with yourself more deeply, your initial aversion all but gone, and now hold what you previously determined your negativity in the way that loving parents hold their distressed child, bringing it into your heart, feeling a rising desire and power to protect that little one. No negativity now, just love, ease, recognition, presence, effortless wholeness. This is life in the raw, too real to be reduced to positive and negative, to live to be shut down.” (p.20)

These excerpts will give an idea of what Masters has to say, and will provoke thought about what it means to be enlightened.

I recommend the whole book.


Afterlife Teaching From Stephen the Martyr by Michael Cocks is published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.

Paperback               Kindle


Afterlife Teaching from Stephen the Martyr - Michael Cocks

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“Children and the Light” by Peter and Elizabeth Fenwick – ALF Rose had this experience many years ago when he was ill with pneumonia as a young child of four or five. Suddenly I was out of my body and floating near the top of the window in my bedroom. I could see myself in bed and my mother kneeling at the side of the bed. She was crying and looked very distressed. I gazed at this scene for a little while and remember that I didn't feel any emotion at all and was completely indifferent to what I saw. Without any warning at all I was travelling very swiftly through a dense forest. Read here
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