Interview with philosopher and mathematician Elliot Benjamin about cults, psi and afterlife research
Posted on 03 April 2011, 22:25
Interview with philosopher and mathematician Elliot Benjamin about cults, psi and afterlife research, mathematics, Ron Hubbard and Ken Wilber
This is a long interview with independent philosopher, psychologist, mathematician and researcher Elliot Benjamin. Here, we discuss about Ken Wilber, Ron Hubbard, afterlife research, mathematics and other topics of interest. I thank Elliot for accepting the interview.
1-Elliot, tells us something about your background.
Well my background is twofold. Academically I majored in both psychology and mathematics in college, soon afterwards I got Masters degrees in both mathematics and counseling, and in 1977 I entered a Ph.D. psychology program at the Humanistic Psychology Institute. After five months in the program I decided it was not working for me and I started my long career as a mathematics instructor and professor, in the course of which I got my Ph.D. in mathematics.
A few years ago I semi-retired from my mathematics teaching career and embarked once again on a Ph.D. program in psychology, which I am currently at the finishing stages of—at the same school by a different name (now Saybrook University) which I began my Ph.D. psychology studies nearly 34 years ago. I guess I always wanted to get a Ph.D. in psychology—better late than never!
But the non-academic side to me I think is more interesting.
I always pondered the deep questions of life ever since I was a kid—what was the meaning of life, if there is a God, do we have souls that live on after our bodies die, etc. After being immersed in various modern religious and spiritual groups off and on for 35 years, I still ponder these questions, which is at the core of my current Ph.D. psychology dissertation that I am working on.
But I’ll save details about all this for some of the subsequent questions.
2-Why did you get interested in psi and afterlife research?
I’m glad I decided to save some of the details for your subsequent questions. I got interested in psi and afterlife research as a way to gain understanding of what I always wanted to know about, as I mentioned above. It seemed to me that psi and the possibility of an afterlife might go together. I can remember soon after my mother died when I was 24, I went to a large audience lecture by a psychic and she singled me out in the audience and conveyed something that resonated with me deeply, related to how I found out about my mother’s death. This always had felt spooky to me, but I did not do anything to study it. Then about five and half years ago my brother died, who I was very close to, and I found myself reading books by mediums and I started thinking about seeing a medium. I wanted to know if there was any chance that my brother was somehow still out there. When I subsequently decided to once again try to get my Ph.D. in psychology and I needed to come up with a preliminary idea for my eventual dissertation, the natural choice for me was to see if I could stud the possibility of life after death as my psychology dissertation.
I knew this would be challenging to do in a Ph.D. program but I figured if there was anywhere I could do it, it would be at Saybrook and I was hoping that I could study with Stanley Krippner, who is a renowned expert on parapsychology, who I believe you have also interviewed on your site (Stanley has been a mentor to me at Saybrook and is presently on my dissertation committee).
3-Have you had any personal experience with mediums or some kind of phenomenon suggestive of afterlife and psi?
Yes, in the past three years I have done research with mediums, mostly at Temple Heights Spiritualist Camp in Northport, Maine. I experienced various groups with mediums, inclusive of seances, message circles, church services, workshops, and individual readings. I have an article published in The Ground of Faith Journal in January, 2009 describing much of my experiences, and an article published on the Integral World website (http://www.integralworld.net) entitled “Metaphysical Reflections” about some of my individual sessions with mediums as well as my Soul Surivial workshop at Omega retreat center with Raymond Moody, the originator of near-death experience study, and Brian Weiss—prominent in past-life regression therapy.
4-Do you think the overall evidence favors the idea that consciousness survives death?
That’s a good question—and a very difficult one to answer. I have an agnostic perspective about this, which is one reason I think I am in a good position to do this kind of research. There are a number of interpretations one can make about people’s experiences of an afterlife, ranging from there being a bona-fide afterlife to some kind of psi interpretation, generally referrred to as “super-psi,” to a kind of non-personal surviving remnants of “information” in the context of morphogenetic resonance, to even the possibliity of some kind of parallel universes (as in Stephen Hawking—and for which I think is the most far-fetched of any interpretation). And this is all assuming that there really is “something” going on, as of course the skeptics will not buy any of this and will insist upon factors such as sensory leakage, subjective validation, or fraud to expalin psychic and/or afterlife phonomena. But I will say that I think there is “something” going on in at least some of this phenomena, and I am still open to the possibility of there being some kind of bona-fide afterlife, but I go back and forth about this and I really don’t know.
5-Do you think the evidence for reincarnation is good?
I think there is interesting evidence to support some kind of interpretation of the reincarnation phenomena. But I don’t think that the most likely interpretation of this is reincarnation per se. What appears to me much more likely is that there is some kind of psychic linkage going on, through mechanisms such as telepathy or clairvoyance or morphogenetic resonance, where for some reason a child is able to pick up sensitivities of people who have died. This is all quite complicated and controversial and there are many factors that can come into this that needs to be carefully monitored, such as communications from family members, previous influences, social expectations, etc. But I am open to the possibility that in some cases there is a genuine connection being made, though I don’t see why it makes more sense to think it is the same person or spirit reincarnated rather than to think that there is some kind of psychic connection that is going on, which to me is the simpler and more basic possible explanation.
6-What do you think of the super-ESP hypothesis as a competing hypothesis to the survivalistic one?
The super-ESP (also called super-psi) hypothesis has been discussed in wonderful detail and logical analysis by a number of open-minded philosophers, including Steven Braude, Alan Gauld, and Robert Almeder. They all came to the conclusion that the bona-fide life after death interpretation made more sense than the super-psi interpretation, though they concluded this in varying degrees of confidence. I tend to agree with them, as there really are staggering assumptions that would need to be made to explain accurate communications of mediums (assuming these communications are indeed accurate) in terms of nothing more than psychic sensitivities of living individuals. Actually I think an interpretation of the “information” remnants of morphogenetic resonance is a more viable interpretation than super-psi as well.
7-You have studied the so-called “cults” for years. Can you give us your definition and common characteristics of a “cult”?
Sure—first of all I always emphasize that a cult is not an all or nothing kind of thing, but rather a gradient of factors, such that a group may possess more or less cult characteristics. But if we think in terms of a group having serious cult dangers, what I would focus upon are factors such as control of the lives of members by the group leader, dogma and wisdom attributed to the group leader, manipulation of group members with deception and under false pretenses, front groups without designating what the group is, claimed supreme authority of the group leader, very expensive or exorbitant fees to to take part in the group, extreme social coercion to think like everyone else (which has been referred to as “brainwashing”), being coerced or socially influenced to break away from family and friends who are not favorable to the group, and in the worst and most dangerous of these groups there can be violence, sexual violations, and inflicted trauma.
I describe my own experiences in various groups with different degrees of cult dangers in my Modern Religions book, which I expect to be available on Amazon in a month or two.
8-You have published many articles in the IntegralWorld website (which addresses mainly the ideas of philosopher Ken Wilber). What do you think of Wilber’s overall philosophy?
Generally speaking I think that Ken Wilber is a monumental figure in philosophy who deserves to be recognized for his immense accomplishments in this realm. What initially attracted me to Wilber’s philosophy was his inclusion of spirituality in the realm of philosophy, and his endeavors to make this into a coherent, logical, and scientific worldview. When he became immersed in his integral philosophy I found this to be stimulating and interesting and in many ways brilliantly and extensively formulated. However, I gradually started to have some concerns and disagreements about various aspects of Wilber’s philosophy, such as the added complications and details of his eight “perspectives” inside of his four quadrants, and I always felt uncomfortable about his assumptions of the descending view of spirit and his apparent certainty of all his esoteric high level forms of consciousness in the hierarchy of subtle, causal, non-dual, etc. as well as his assumptions about the bardo in-between lives realm.
This is all aside from the controversial personality aspects of Wilber that many have written about on the Integral World site, including myself, as right now we are just talking about Wilber’s philosophy. But I will also take this opportunity to say that I will always be indebted to Wilber for personally supporting me back in 2003 when I got an invitation to visit him in his Denver apartment and he spent two hours private time with me, as this is what gave me the impetus to embark on my lifelong goal of becoming a philosopher, very late in life—but once again, better late than never.
9-Which is your opinion about Wilber as a person and scholar, and what anecdotes can you share with us about your personal meetings with him?
Ah—I believe I have answered the bulk of this question above. But I will say that the two hours I spent with Ken Wilber alone in his Denver apartment was probably the most stimulating two hours I have spent in my life. Wilber was genuinely friendly and hospitable to me, and at that time I was just a mathematician who had never published anything in psychology or philosophy.
But I’ll relay one little anecdote. I left Wilber’s apartment in quite the daze and as soon as I got outside I realized that I had forgotten a little personal memento that was special to me. Wilber’s
girlfriend had just come in to the apartment right before I left, and I felt very awkward and embarassed to be knocking on his door again, as the last thing I wanted to do in the world was to interrupt Ken Wilber and his girlriend in the middle of what they might be doing, after he had been so wonderfully nice to me for the past two hours. But I knocked on the door and no-one answered so I opened the door and loudly said I was coming in as I left my memento behind, and I can remember Ken and his girlfriend sitting on the couch, Ken smiling and winking at me and all was well.
I’ll mention one other memory I have during my private session with Wilber. I asked Ken if he thought there was a danger of him becoming a “guru” as many people looked up to him with a workshiping kind of mentality.
His reply was that there was no danger in this, as he has a number of good friends who constantly tell him how “fucked up” he is.
And I felt quite reassured that Wilber was not going to become a dangerous guru, which I subsequently kept as my theme in my Integral World article on Integral Institute and Ken Wilber.
10-Some have claimed that there are cult dangers in Wilber’s Integral Institute and followers. As an expert in cults, which is your opinion about such common criticism?
Well as I have written about in my Integral Institute article that I have mentioned above, I concluded that there are not any kind of serious cult dangers in Wilber’s Integral Institute. I devised an experiential rating scale based upon three different schemes to evaluate the cult dangers of groups, which I had used for nearly 20 groups in my Modern Religions book. Based upon these experiential rating scales, I conluded that Integral Institute was in Neutral territory, in-between Mild cult dangers and Favorable characteristics.
My article came out in 2006, and this was my first article on the Integral World website, and I immediately found myself caught in an intensive anti-Wilber public debate with a vehement Wilber critic.
This led to my writing more articles on Integral World, but it is now nearly five years later and I can say that what I wrote in my first article is still my basic beliefs. I have had some dealings with Wilber and Integral Institute since then, as my Integral Mathematics article was published in Wilber’s AQAL (All Quadrants All Levels) journal, which included a phone conversation with Wilber. I have never received any negative correspondence from anyone in Integral Institute, and I have made a number of criticisms of Wilber in some of my Integral World essays.
All my cult articles are based upon my own experiences, and I must say that based upon my own experiences I still do not think there are any kind of serious cult dangers in Integral Institute to be concerned about.
11-You have written a book entitled “Modern Religions” which examines contemporary religious or quasi-religious/spiritual movements like Scientology, Conversations with God, Avatar, among others. What did motive you to write this book?
Well this is a book I have actually been working on for nearly 35 years. It all goes back to what I described in the first quesion, about my lifelong preoccupation with wanting to understand what life is all about, if there is a God, and if there is some kind of an afterlife. I was brought up in the Jewish faith and after I rejected religion in college and became an atheist, I fell in love and had what I consider to be some kind of transpersonal experience and I became an agnostic. A few years later I encountered Scientology at a vulnerable time in my life, and after being in Scientology on and off for two years I found myself writing about Scientology in a stream of consciousness which helped me assimilate my experiences and finally leave the group.
Within the next few years I became fascinated to explore different religious, spiritual, and philosohical organizations, which included Werner Erhard’s est training, a bit of the Unification church, Divine Light Mission, and a Gurdjieff group. Around 1979 I decided to put all this together and I formulated my Modern Religions book and used my essays to teach my Psychology, Religion, and Human Values course for a number of sessions at the Berkeley Adult School in California. This was also around the time I was trying out my Ph.D. psychology program at the original Saybrook (The Humanistiic Psychology Institute) with the intention of writing my dissertation on the relationship of psychology to my experiential study of modern religions. So my Modern Religions book has quite the long history!
But my book was always just an informal bound manuscript that I would sell to people from time to time, and that I would gradually add on to as I would accumulate more experiences in the 1990s and 2000s. But now I am finally serious about making my book available to people, and it will soon be available on Amazon.
12-What do you think of Ron Hubbard (as a thinker) and Scientology (as a religion)? Have you found something of philosophical, psychological or practical value in Hubbard’s ideas?
Oh boy—this is quite the question. Well Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard are exceeingly dangerous—make no mistake about it. I rated Scientology as having high cult dangers in my Modern Religions book, and I have an article describing some of my personal experiences in Scientology in Rick Ross’ internet cult blog. There is so much to be concerned about in regard to Scientology and Hubbard that I would not even know where to begin in this interview. But once again I am writing from my own experiences and this is primarily from the 1970s, though in 2002 my son and I did do a bit of “Scientololgy Hunting” (as my son called it) in Los Angeles and I got a bit more current on Scientology.
But the authoritarian guru dangers, control of members’ lives, dogma, indoctrination, front groups, exorbitant fees, manipulations, social pressures to think what the leader says, etc., all of this was in Scientology to alarming degrees from what I experienced in the 1970s, plus an extremely bizarre world of artificial constructs of L. Ron Hubbard that felt like one of his science fiction novels. I wrote a semi-autobiographical novel around 1980 and I included Scientology excerpts of my novel in my Modern Religions book, but I called Scientology “The Church of Spiritual Mechanics” which I think is a rather good name for Scientology. In terms of any kind of value that I have gotten from Scientology, I will say that I do think Hubbard had some interesting and potentially valuable psychological, philosophical, and educational ideas, that I describe in detail in my Modern Religions book. Much of his ideas is taken from other sources, but like any creative applied thinker he has put together his unique blend of various threads of innovative thoughts and ideas into practice. This was actually my initial motivation to write my book, as I wanted to decipher the valuable ideas of Scientology from its dangerous practices. But I’ve taken a peak at your next question, so let me continue with that answer.
13-Remote Viewer and psychic Ingo Swann was a scientologist (getting one of the higher spiritual levels in Scientology known as OT) who said that his paranormal or psychic abilities came from and were developed by Scientology. According to your research, have you found any scientific or anecdotal evidence that the so-called OTs (Operating Thetans) in Scientology have some kind of paranormal or psi abilities like having voluntary out of the body experiences (or “exteriorizations”)? Which is your experience with Scientology’s OTs and clears supposedly extraordinary skills?
This is an interesting question to me, as I have read some about Ingo Swann and his involvement in remote viewing, but I did not know that he was a Scientologist. I received some “auditing” (Scientology’s spiritual therapy to achieve the states of “Clear” and OT (Operating Thetan) but nothing close to what it would have taken to go “Clear” or OT.
My associations with Scientologists on these levels were primarily through my training courses and I cannot speak from experience about their possible paranormal or psi abilities. However, I will say that the aspect of experiencing deep Scientology auditing, which involves intensive self-scrutiny going back to earlier and earlier incidents of your life to find beginning traumatic experiences known as “engrams” and eventually going back to your birth and pre-natal experiences and then eventually to what is believed to be your “past lives,” may very well have the effect of stimulating one’s potential psychic abilities, as it may further one’s conscious awareness if the process goes well for someone. However, I would be very concerned about the lack of genuine caring, empathy, and humanistic values of Scientologists who are offering these kinds of spiritual therapy and I would not recommend this to anyone. But yes I can see how one’s potential paranormal abilities could possibly be stimulated by Scientology intensive auditing.
14-Which are your main criticisms against Scientology?
O.K. l think this is one question I have already answered—it’s the enslavement of the individual to the doctrines of Scientology and the rigid formulations of L. Ron Hubbard, and the exorbitant financial demands made upon individuals and the forced alientation of anyone the individual associates with who is unfavorable to Scientology, and everything else I said above!
15-You have written about “A Course in Miracles” too. Which are the positive and negative aspects that you have found about it?
I found A Course In Miracles to be essentially similar to Ken Wilber’s Integral Institute in regard to being in Neutral territory regarding cult dangers. I read the 1,000+ page A Course in Miracles text and attended a number of A Course in Miracles group meetings. Personally It is not something I was able to get much value of, and this is largely due to my initial Jewish upbringing and the fact that the course makes continual references to Christian patriarchal kind of language, in particular to the Holy Ghost and the trinity and it is assumed that the spiritual communicator to the “scribe” Helen Schucman (who was Jewish by the way) was Jesus Christ. But I did like the spiritual focus upon “forgiveness” and the authentic spiritual nature of the whole “course.” The “realness” of how much this course focuses upon spiritual experience appealed to me, but the form in which this was presented was not something I was able to pursue. But in regard to cult dangers or undue influence or social pressures, I did not experience anything at all that felt of concern to me.
16-Regarding “Conversations with God”, which are your conclusions about it? Do you think that Neale Donald Walsh had a true paranormal experience which inspired to write his books?
I have a few essays about Conversations with God in my Modern Religions book, and a Conversations with God essay on the ICSA (International Cultic Studies Association) E-Newsletter. I placed Conversations with God once again in Neutral territory regarding cult dangers, as I did Integral Institute and A Course in Miracles. But I was able to relate to the CWG (Conversaiions with God) philosophy and Walsch’s style of writing much better than I was able to relate to A Course in Miracles. I liked most of what Walsch presented in his CWG books, though I had serious problems with some of his pronouncements, which I described in my ICSA article after spending 4 or 5 days with Walsch in a large group seminar in 2003. I had serious problems with Walsch’s doctrine of there being no good or evil, even though I understood his philosophcal transcendental focus about this. But when he made his point in dramatic very insulting language to Jewish people, as in “Hitler went to heaven” I responded as a Jew, feeling disgust and personal insult and offense. However, what impressed me greatly is that I was able to express my disagreement to Walsch, at the microphone in front of 130 people at this conference, and Walsch responded with amazing openness to me, all of which I described in my article. It was at his point that I decided that Walsh was not a dangerous guru—just a very egotistical and extremely skilled theatrical personality.
And I feel the same way about Walsch at this time. I get frequent e-mail notices from the CWG subsidiary organization Humanity’s Team but I have never received any kind of coercive pressures from CWG for attending workshops or anything else. There is too much adoration of Walsch for my own comfort level, but I do not think he is a dangerous guru. Much of the philosophy of CWG is something I can relate well to, such as true tolerance for various religious perspecvies, and I interpret Walsch’s Conversations with God as getting in touch with one’s highest and deepest level self, and yes I am also open to the possibility that Walsch had a true paranormal experience which inspired him to write his books.
17-As a philosopher, do you think there are good scientific and philosophical arguments supporting God’s existence?
I’m an experiential philosopher, which means that the way that I gain my knowledge is primarily based upon my own experiences.
When people learn that I am a mathematician they are often initially suprirsed at hearing about my experiential philosophy, but this is who I am. I love mathematics and logical thinking, and I still am engaged in mathematical research—pure mathematics, by the way—algebraic number theory is my dominant field. My mind is virtually always going, and doing mathematics is a meditative calming activity for me, just as playing the piano is. And I love to philosophize and psychologize and write about my ideas. But when it comes to understanding about God and the possiblity of an afterlife and all that, the logic can go just so far for me.
I enjoy reading about all the scientific and philosophical thinking about all this, but for me the only way I can make headway into gaining more real understanding is through my own personal experiences in this realm. This is why I have engaged in dong an experiential dissertaion in psychology to get my Ph.D., as I am once again working with mediums, now in an intersubjective context that inolves interviewing them to learn about their experiences of receiving ostensible communications from deceased persons, and then having my own experiences with them doing readings on me.
So for me the logical and philosophical arguments about the existence of God do not hold much interest—I need to experience it.
18-As a mathematician, do you think numbers and sets have an ontologically objective existence (e.g. in some sort of a Platonic realm )? Or do they just exist subjectively in our minds?
Hmm—this is a different kind of question. Numbers of course can be thought of as representing concrete objects, as they were historically originated. For me, mathematics is pure thought, and it is all very abstract—which is how I like it. I don’t think too much about the philosophical meaning of numbers being subjective or objective, but if I were to guess I would say that numbers and mathematics in general is essentially based upon subjective thought, and for me its usefulness in the objective world is very secondary to their essential subjective abstract context.
But once again I am coming from the place of being a pure mathematician . Mathematics for me is an art form, and I have described this in my book Art and Mental Disturbance which I plan on also eventually making available on Amazon, as well as in my article “My Conception of Integral” on Integral World.
19-Let’s suppose that numbers and sets exist objectively (in the ontological sense), do you think it would give us some sort of evidence for God’s existence (e.g. broadly, for some kind of intelligent creator of the universe)?
Well if it were the case that numbers and mathematics did exist in some kind of objective/ontological sense, then perhaps this would give us some evidence for some kind of intelligent being who designed the universe—I suppose you can call it God. For the astounding logic involved in higher mathematics is staggering virtually beyond comprehension, with a phenomenal level of mental acrobatics involved in the highest mathematical realms. But once again this is not an area that I can speak very knowledgably about, as I am both a pure mathematician and experiential philosoher (both very subjective worlds).
20-Mathematicians argue that infinites can be basically of two kinds: actual infinites and potential infinites. In the mathematical (abstract) realm, they’re largely non-controversial. However, many philosophers have argued that actual infinites cannot exist in the actual physical or material world, because they’re metaphysically impossible and lead to absurdities. As a mathematician, which is your opinion of the actual infinites and their existence (or non-existence) in the physical world)?
Once again this is territory that I do not think much about. I have not come across the difference between “actual” and “potential” infinities, but as a mathematician I constantly deal with infinity and I’m comfortable with various levels of infinity, such as the real numbers (including square root of 2, etc.) is a greater level of infinity than the counting numbers or fractions.
But if I think in terms of infinite quantities, at first glance it might appear to me that actual infinities do not exist in the physical world, but the galaxies are so beyond comprehension that who knows?
Not my area of knowledge to say much more of, I’m afraid.
21-Some philosophers constantly argue that propositions like 2+2=4 or 12+1=13 are necessarily true (i.e. they’re true in every possible world and cannot possibly be false). However, it’s known that in alternative or special systems of aritmethics, such propositions are not necessarily true. For example, in clock aritmethics (in the countries which use a 12 hours system, am and pm) the proposition 12+1=1 is true (not 12+1=13). And in the countries which use a 24 hours system, the proposition 24+1=1 is true (not 24+1=25). So it seems to be false that such propositions like 12+1=13 are necessarily true in every possible world. They’re true only if we assume certain (arbitrary) axioms and rules of inferences. If it’s correct, it seems to undermine mathematical Platonism. What do you think of this argument? Are mathematical truths necessarily and absolutely true?
I think the kind of thing you’re talking about here is just a matter of how number systems are defined. Clock arithmetic is an example of modular systems in general, and in this context our ordinary way of thinking of arithmetic is different.
But the logic upon which these systems is based is what is fundamental here. If you start with basic mathematical premises then the logic that is used to prove statements is what I think is at the essence of mathematical truth. Now one can bring in Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem and worry about the consistency of mathematical systems to begin with, but this is a differnet kind of problem. When I am doing mathematics, I am working within a given mathematical system, and within this system I would say that there is indeed mathematical truth.
22-What do you think of ufology? Do you think there is good evidence for the existence of UFOs from an extraterrestial origin?
Oh—I’m glad we’re getting back to philosophy here. I try to be open to anything in philosohy but I must admit that I have a hard time with UFOs. There has been much research which has described the high levels of fantasy and creative thinking of people who report UFOs, and various personality characteristics that make it seem quite understandable how they could be visualizing having an UFO experience which is completely in their imagination. What I feel more open to is the possible spiritual nature and context of what they are experiencing, as opposed to actual spaceships and surgical operations, etc. But this is just my honest bent on things, and I am open to hearing about UFO experiences that could have an effect on my
changing what my inclinations are about this.
23-What do you think of Intelligent Design?
I recently wrote an artilce on Integral World about evolution, consciousness, and purpose that relates to Intelligent Design. This also relates to my articles on synchronicity that spurred on quite the Integral World debate with one of my critics—a total of 7 articles between us.
I understand the Darwinian or neo-Darwinian model of how the universe came into being through chance and mutation and survival of the fittest without the need for any kind of God or Intelligent Design, and I have a . multitude of books about all this that I plan on eventually reading (after I make some headway on my dissertation).
From what I am able to understand, the mathematical odds of the beyond comprehension complexity of the universe and the human organism, all happening without any kind of purpose or intelligent design, are what I would say is essentially infinitesimally small. In other words, my intellectual “gut” just does not buy the materialist argument.
Now quantum physics, at least in the classical interpretation based upon the original von Neumann formulation as currently promoted by quantum physicist Henry Stapp, logically concludes that this contemporary physics theory naturally leads to some kind of God consciousness, or perhaps archaic consicousness that started off the whole evolution process. They arrive at this conclusion completely by science and applied mathematics, which I find intriguing and in fact one of my books to eventually read is on the mathematical theory of quantum physics, by von Neumann. But once again for me, this all boils down to “experience.” Something deep inside of me is telling me that there we are not just random purposeless forms of life that happened to arise on this planet from evolution which happened to originate life from matter eons ago after some kind of unexplained big bang. But what is the alternative? God—religion—etc.? In this context, I actually think that Intelligent Design is a reasonable way to proceed, as it leaves open the details but it affirms the idea that there is some kind of purpose and plan for all of this to have happened. And my gut level feeling goes along with this. And since I am an experiential philosopher, this works for me, though I have learned the hard way that if I decide to write about this on the Integral World website then I had better be prepared for some nasty public debates.
24-Do you think the existence of psi and the afterlife (specially reincarnation) is compatible with the Darwinian theory of evolution?
Another good question. These are the kind of things I am presently quite taken up with, and this was the essence of my last Integral World essay, on evolution, consciousness, and purpose. I originally thought that Darwinian evolution was essentially incompatible with psi and the afterlife. However, I recently came across a little known book by the man who was considered the co-founder of evolution along with Darwin—Alfred Russell Wallace. The book is entitled Miracles and Modern Spiritualism and I was astounded upon reading this book. Wallace was a bona-fide Spiritualist who wholeheartedly believed in everything from hauntings to the afterlife to reincarantion, and he continuously argued for this reality back in the 1870s through the 1890s. But at the same time Wallace was Darwin’s close colleague and worked with him on the theory of evolution and natural selection, and wrote at least one book on the subject on his own.
Wallace briefly discussed how this is not contradictory for him in his book, as apparently he was under attack by his scientific contemporaries for his Spiritualism views. And one can also go back to the ideas of classical quantum physics, in regard to an archaic consicousness that started the whole process of evolution. For Wallace, spiritual evolution coincides with physical evolution, and one does not negate the other. And I suppose that this is as good a take on the whole thing as anything else I have come across. So I would say that I have learned that perhaps evolution and Darwinian theory are not necessarily contradictory to psi and a possible afterlife.
But it does take poweful belief in the spiritual realm to to allow this realm to go along with physical evolution, and it certainly makes the whole thing quite challenging to put together.
25-What books on psi, afterlife or consciousness would you like to recommend to the readers of this interview?
For psi, I would recommend Introduction to Parapsychology by Irwin & Watt, and The Irreducible Mind by Kelly et al. For consiousness studies I would recommend Alterations in Consciousness by Baruss, and Consciousenss Studies: Cross-Cultural Perspectives by Rao. For afterlife studies I would recommend The Afterlife Experiments and The Truth about Medium by Gary Schwartz (though realize there is much controvery about Schwartz’s work), Immortal Remains by Braude, and Is There an Afterlife? by Fontana. And I would recommend The End of Materialism by Charles Tart for all three areas.
26-Would you like to add something else to end the interview?
I think these have been great questions and have certainly stimulated me to think about what I think! Thank you very much.
Article courtesy of Jime @ http://subversivethinking.blogspot.com/
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