The TV program “Closer to Truth,” hosted by Robert Lawrence Kuhn, recently released a series of videos interviewing lead researchers in the field of ESP, the paranormal, and parapsychology, as well as their skeptics. They are intriguing discussions about this mysterious phenomena, which includes such things as telekinesis (mind over matter, or changing things at a distance), telepathy (minds reading other minds), clairvoyance (knowing information at a distance), and precognition (knowing the future).
I am skeptical of the paranormal, but perhaps not for the traditional reasons. I think such things may actually exist, but we can never prove that they do, for the same reason that I think God exists, but we cannot ever prove it conceptually or scientifically or even philosophically. God’s existence is fundamentally experiential, and will always remain in that domain in its most absolute sense and ultimate truth. God is only fully known through direct conscious intuition. Nothing else can reveal God in absolute truth. Nothing.
In these ESP/parapsychological areas we seem to be trying to reach into that transcendent realm that is beyond our finite capacity to intellectually grasp, to comprehend, to articulate in outward forms, to symbolize in our conceptual linguistic grammars and structures. We are trying to show definitively that the infinite exists, in finite ways and methods, which I think is fundamentally impossible. The infinite will always be infinite, and the absolute will always remain absolute. We cannot finitize or relativize them, and keep them as they are in themselves. The finite is never the infinite, ever. It will never be, by definition.
The Fundamental Impasse
It’s not merely that we haven’t done enough studies or tests, or haven’t thought about it properly yet, or philosophized it enough yet, but rather that there is a fundamental impasse in trying to demonstrate that that which transcends the mind can be understood by the mind. It never will! It is a contradiction of terms, a total impossibility. The mind cannot ever understand or comprehend that which transcends it, which seems self-evident, but this is often lost on us, lost on our minds, our intellects, our egos.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t investigate these phenomena, just like it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t investigate what God or the Divine means in philosophy, but it does mean that I don’t think we will ever come to conclusive absolute answers. And the same, remarkably, goes with every area of scientific inquiry as well. Just because we study an area of nature, and recognize certain patterns out there, doesn’t mean that we know it in any absolute sense. That is a logical fallacy.
Where ESP and parapsychology may differ from other more mainstream scientific studies is that they are trying to test and probe into the very deep workings of consciousness itself, which is beyond all mental categories of conceptualization. Consciousness cannot ever fully understand itself, for the same reason that the eye cannot see itself. It is eternally beyond the scope of comprehension. Comprehension arises from consciousness, but is not consciousness itself, and this is the radical incompatibility when it comes to trying to demonstrate aspects of that fundamental quality of life. That which appears in consciousness will never be consciousness itself, as it is in its essence.
All the phenomena traditionally attributed to ESP, the paranormal, and parapsychology, I think are aspects of that underlying fundamental consciousness, beyond the intellect, beyond reason and rationality, beyond the conceptual mind. They are transrational, transintellectual, transconceptual, transperceptual, and because of this transcendence they will never be able to be fully articulated or proven by the rational, intellectual, conceptual, perceptual mind.
Let me give an example with the phenomena traditionally called clairvoyance, meaning “clear seeing” or “clear vision.” It might also be called seership.
Is there something really like this “clear vision,” being able to see beyond what many can typically see? Being a seer? Yes, I think so. But it has far less to do with optical vision and more to do with having a clear mind, a pure consciousness, utterly open awareness and receptivity, wherein reality can be perceived more directly without the clutter and veiling and filter of uncontrolled thoughts, impulses, cravings, distractions, perceptions, sensations, and feelings. The mind has become radically open, still, serene, like a dry sponge ready to soak up reality as it is, without any preconceptions.
One’s consciousness is able to sort through, discern, pick out, arrange, and evaluate all of reality in a much more elevated fashion than everyday deliberate rational thinking. Knowledge (gnosis), understanding, and insights from the unconscious or subconscious or collective conscious mind can surface into conscious awareness more readily and opportunely. Creativity, connections, associations, synchronicities, meanings, relationships all become much more vivid and real. Possibilities seem to manifest themselves spontaneously. Reality is “seen” as one vast interconnected Whole, and the pieces of the puzzle seem to come together on their own, without effort. They are intuitively and immediately seen, rather than traditionally known through the rational intellectual faculty of mind.
This is not voodoo, woo woo, or pseudoscience, but the operation of consciousness at a higher level. As a society today we know very little about the various degrees or capacities of consciousness. Many think that to be awake is to be fully consciousness and aware, that you are either awake or asleep, and that is all there is to consciousness. But I think this is a great error. There clearly seem to be some states of consciousness which are more elevated, clear, insightful, pure, visionary, and true than others. Those who can reach these states of consciousness we have traditionally called seers. Today we might call them clairvoyants, sages, mystics, contemplatives, visionaries, prophets, or wisdom teachers. They are not doing anything supernatural or magical, but rather super natural, beyond the range of what we typically think is natural, and almost certainly beyond the scope of what we can rationally process and comprehend.
The Varieties of Conscious Experience
There are many varying degrees of consciousness, levels of awareness, capacities of insight, that are possible, and science is just beginning to learn about these many various modes and operations of consciousness to take them seriously, including altered states of consciousness, how we come into them, their benefits and risks, and what they mean for humanity and life and being.
But just because people can actually enter such elevated altered states and see such transcendent truths does not mean that we can prove it. Even those people themselves can try to tell us what they saw, but they will necessarily be interpreting and translating their experience through their own culturally conditioned and limited finite intellect and rational mind. Do you see the problem? That which is known in transcendence cannot ever be brought fully into the realm of the mundane, the everyday, the conceptual, the scientific, the philosophic. The sacred is never profaned. It is impossible to do, by its very nature.
Of course we try, we do all we can to bring those transcendent truths back down to Earth, to make it “on Earth as it is in heaven.” Oh, we try very hard indeed, and we pray sincerely that we might (Matthew 6:10). I am doing this myself with all that I am writing on this website. All of it. But we will always come up short. We cannot ever finally bring heaven down to Earth, showing that “heaven” to be real, because of its very nature. All we can do is point, point, point, point, and try as we might to point harder and better and more accurately and more plausibly and with better symbols, but we can never turn anyone’s gaze to look at the moon directly. That is something that only each and every person can do themselves. No one can do this for them. We cannot prove it for them without their looking. They cannot know the moon as it truly is unless they know it themselves.
This is the fundamental problem I see with studying ESP, the paranormal, and parapsychology, which is not unlike studying religion, spirituality, theology, or philosophy. Such real phenomena will always be out of our reach of demonstrating it in any absolute sense empirically, openly, with consensus, scientifically, conceptually. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist! We must be careful to completely disregard the numinous, the transcendent, the sacred, the mystical, or we end up with a very disenchanted world, devoid of wonder, mystery, and miracle, anything beyond our egoic selves and rational minds, which is largely where we are today, at least in our Western culture. As Nietzsche observed, God is dead, and we killed “Him.” How did we kill “Him”? By losing touch with the contemplative mystical dimension of our very own consciousness. God is not actually dead, but we have generally lost access to “Him.”
The Restoration of the Mystical
But there is hope on the horizon. I do see many people today awakening to the mystical, the transcendent, the Divine, the Spirit, consciousness, contemplative nondual mind (whatever we want to call it), all around the world. There is a reemergence happening, a reckoning, a remembering, a recognition, a gnosis of this deeper nature. It is happening slowly, but I think it is definitely happening. There is profound renewed interest in studying consciousness, altered states, psychedelics/entheogens, contemplative practices such as meditation, new psychotherapies, new approaches to intentional community, religion, etc.
Of course, there are also risks. New Age woo woo does creep in, and makes us think we know more than we do. We must be careful and cautious in proclaiming too dogmatically what the “true” nature of the mystical reality really is. I usually try to give about a dozen different interpretations or names of what it may be and how it might work, so as to not paint myself into a corner of a particular belief system or ideology. These are never absolutes in how we talk about them, and we must constantly remind ourselves of that. The only way of knowing it in truth is to experience it. We must always keep that in mind.
What do you think? Do you think ESP, the paranormal, the parapsychological, are real phenomena? How so? Are they phenomena that break the laws of nature as we know them, or do they transcend what the human mind is capable of knowing but yet can experience? Let’s discuss it.
4 thoughts on “The Problem with ESP, the Paranormal, and Parapsychology: A Mystical View”
This is very well written. I am also skeptical about the paranormal, but mystics’ consciousness is certainly not “normal.” What I call suprarational is beyond reason, logic and images.
Thank you, Ron. Yes, mystical consciousness transcends reason, logic, and all concepts, and so it can be viewed in a way as super-normal, beyond the normal, beyond our everyday consciousness, beyond the limits of rationality, beyond our normal experiences. As Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “That whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent.” He seems to have clearly known the mystical, that which transcends language itself.
I really enjoyed reading this, it is so well written. Truly resonated, validated and expanded my thinking and feeling around the paranormal.
Thank you, Karen. I am glad that you enjoyed it!