In "There Are No Living Atheists" I attempted to show the complete absurdity of materialistic philosophy. We want meaning, we yearn for it. We want to ascend to the heavens but we have become "men of matter," our spiritual senses dulled by the onslaught of Western culture and the monotony of daily life. Our first step, then, must be to dig deeper into our own soul and sense the Transcendent One, Blessed is He, from within. Modern culture, in the name of science, has tried to convince the world that we are nothing but genes and neural circuitry (and maybe even memes!). Our first goal is to show that this is not the case mostly through paranormal psychology and the philosophy of the mind.
I. Paranormal psychology
Larry Dossey has pointed out that "these anomalous experiences are commonly called paranormal events. But 'paranormal' is a deceptive word, because in view of their widespread occurrence, there is nothing 'para' about such events...Those who turn away from this area need a wakeup call, a reality check (The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion, pg. x)."
There are two ways to go about proving the reality of the "anomalous" - anecdotal evidence or controlled scientific studies with statistical data. Regarding the former, Rupert Sheldrake has reminded us that "anecdote" comes from the Greek an and ekdotos, meaning "not published." However, once published it becomes a case study, and case studies, a form of observation, is the starting point of science. I think the most intellectually honest approach is the same as the one applied to Chassidic stories: If you deny all of them you are a heretic and if you believe all of them you are a fool. To discount every paranormal experience as a either a lie or a fluke is plainly ridiculous. Strange things happen in the world everyday to ordinary people, and to deny them is to live in a little box. It was quite sad to read Tom Schroder, in "Old Souls: The Scientific Evidence for Past Lives," struggle to deny the convincing stories he intimately experienced.
For the sake of space and time I will recount a few stories and some of the outcomes of the scientific studies in every category of paranormal experience, together with some of the arguments and counterarguments. In this post we will discuss telepathy. After that telekinesis and distant healing, followed by out-of-body and near-death experience, and evidence for reincarnation. Lastly, our discussion of mystical experiences will join the soul and the Divine.
Mario Beauregard, in "The Spiritual Brain," defines Psi as a "stable, low-level, effect, typically a little too high to be chance (pg. 169)." Perhaps the most common form of telepathy is "phone call telepathy." Every one has had the experience of thinking of somebody, not particularly prone to call you, and then very shortly after receiving a call from that very person. For some people this occurs quite frequently.
Another very common form of telepathy is emotional impressions. Ian Stevenson, in "Telepathic Impressions" has carefully recorded twenty-three such impressions. For example, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Hughes were traveling to Crewe when Mrs. Hughes got the strong impression that she should continue traveling to Chester where her cousin lived. They changed their plans and when they arrived to find out that her cousin had been praying for her to come; she had lost Mrs. Hughes address and wanted to inform her of her newly discovered illness (pg. 41).
Another such case is recounted in "The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion" (pg. 11): "Melanie...is jogging across a bridge when she's hit by a truck and hurled onto a concrete embankment. Around the same time, her parents are at a meeting on the other side of the continent when her mother jumps up and says to her husband, "Glen, something's just happened to Melanie." She is right - and since the interruption is recorded in the meeting minutes the coincidence is memorialized."
Other times certain images may be picked up. For example, a patient was describing to his therapist his uncle's new girlfriend, when the therapist noticed an image of peaches. The patient then mentioned that the girlfriend had four younger sisters from Georgia and that the girlfriend's father had always called his five daughters "five Georgia peaches (The Sense of Being Stared At, pg. 36)." Another example is that of "dream telepathy" in which a "receiver" will go to sleep, monitored by an EEG, and during REM a "sender" will focus on a picture. Then the reported dream was compared to the picture that the sender focused on. The overall hit rate from all 450 trials was 63 % (The Sense of Being Stared At, pg. 50).
Transference of images have also been studied in the lab. Sensory deprivation experiments, called ganzfeld, have "receivers" in a very relaxed state and a "sender" trying to send the subject one out of four possible images. Meanwhile the subject would speak about his impressions. After the session the subject would be shown the four images and choose which most closely corresponded to his experiences. The expected hit rate by guessing at random was 25 % while the actual hit rate was consistently above 30 % (The Sense of Being Stared At, pg 51). A meta-analysis of all ganzfeld telepathy studies up to 1997 revealed a probability of a million billion to one against chance (The Spiritual Brain, pg. 171).
Now, there are three general categories of explanations for telepathic experiences:
1) The Materialist dismisses it as pseudoscience and anecdotes, or throws up his hands and hopes for the time when materialistic science can accommodate such events.
2) The Quantum Physicist draws attention to entanglement in the micro-world or to multiple dimensions. Or Controversial Biologist, Sheldrake, views the world in terms of morphic fields and extended minds. These approaches do not necesarily deny the existence of a non-material mind.
3) The Spiritualist views this as another argument in favor of a non-material mind. However, the nature of this mind/soul has different interpretations - energy, world souls, mind-bodies, and of course, Dualism. That is for later. One interesting caveat based on Sheldrakes, work. He has argued that animals also show evidence of telepathic impressions. This is not necessarily an issue within Judaism as there are some sources which discuss some form of spirituality or consciousness within animals (and non-living entities). For example, see Shiurei Da'at, I:2 which has a kabbalistic explanation of Perek Shira.