Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
This is, I think, a truly great theory of psychic ability. The book was first published in 2012 so it is all quite new. The intended audience of the book were clearly psychologists and parapsychologists with a psychology background as it is a very difficult read for the average person. In the book, Carpenter builds the case for his theory literally study by study showing how the existing literature supports his premise. This isn’t just some interesting idea he thought up, the whole book is a blueprint for further study. The thing that makes this book so difficult to read is also what makes it important: the theory is built on a very solid experimental foundation. You can find Dr. Jim Carpenter’s biography here.
I will explain the theory in a moment, but I should mention first that the reaction of the average experiencer will be “Well, Duh! I didn’t need a fancy theory to tell me that.” because many of the revelations seem obvious. But therein lies the greatness of the theory. It does not contradict how we perceive psi experiences, rather it explains what we already know in terms that the rest of the world can understand. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that Carpenter shows how this is supported by the research. In informal conversations I’ve had with parapsychologists this theory is already well respected.
The theory “First Sight” derives its name from the concept that our primary means of perception is outside of time and space, (i.e. non-local) and that psychic ability is a natural outcome of this. This part of the theory is not new. The concept of “first sight” was developed by Cleve Backster who proposed the idea of primary perception based on his research into the telepathic ability of plants, living foods and human cells. It makes sense. If this perception is indeed primary, it should show up in all conscious entities, which, according to Backster’s research, it does.
This means that there are layers of consciousness, but we have to be careful with that term. Consciousness itself is non reducible. We can turn a coin for example to see either heads or tails, but neither is a thing unto itself. They are both parts of the same coin. So when we talk about layers of perception we are really talking about different facets of the same consciousness. They are not separate in any strict sense and they blend seamlessly together.
According to the theory of first sight, we normally use what I’ll refer to as secondary perception, which is using our five senses to experience and interact with the world. Secondary perception is far and away the most useful way for us to interact with the world. It is so useful in fact, that we rely on it almost (but not quite) exclusively. We feel things with our hands, we communicate with our voices, ears and hands, we move with our feet and we see with our eyes. We don’t try to do these things solely with psychic ability because our ordinary senses are so much better at ordinary interactions.
According to Carpenter, psi is more or less an unconscious process that operates all the time. It is impossible to tell where our psychic ability ends and our ordinary perception begins. They blend together seamlessly and beyond our conscious awareness most of the time. This is because of subliminal perception; we are wired to recognize things at an unconscious level before they reach our conscious awareness. Many studies have confirmed this. But there is more to it. Recent studies have shown that we have subliminal precognition. We are constantly feeling the future before we sense it.
Overt Psychic ability will typically come into play when our fives senses cannot perform an action that we intend to undertake. At that point we can suspend our incredibly useful five senses in order to access our primary perception. Examples include being alerted to danger through precognition, such as avoiding getting on a train that’s going to crash, (Cox, 1956), having to intuit what someone is thinking in order to understand them, reading people’s emotions when they’re not showing any or aren’t around, or a mother being “in tune” with her child. All these situations have one thing in common: ambiguity.
Our five senses have limitations, of course. When our need for information exceeds the abilities of our five senses, we have a situation where ambiguity is present. When there is sufficient ambiguity, (another way of looking at this is when a situation is beyond our control) our primary perception may take over if our five senses have the ability to quiet down enough for us to access our primary perception more fully.
That’s exactly what we experience! Crack open any how-to book on psychic ability and you’ll find that they all stress the same thing: quiet down the five senses and allow yourself to just “be.” That is a state of ambiguity. This is also intimately tied to creativity, which is strongly related to psychic ability. Here’s a lecture by John Cleese on how he gets his creative ideas. At one point during is Monty Python days, he noticed that he consistently came up with better ideas than one of his counterparts that he regarded as more talented. He eventually realized that this was because he was willing to keep trying if an idea was not good enough. His creativity (analogous to psychic ability) came through because he was willing to tolerate an extended state of ambiguity.
Once I began reading this book I started to pay attention to how skeptics deal with ambiguity. (This isn’t part of his book. This is my interpretation.) The answer is: not very well. Skeptics, it turns out, are a very different personality type than experiencers. On the Myer Briggs Type Index skeptics are mostly ST, (Sensing, Thinking) personality types. This means that they place far more emphasis on their five senses than other personalities and that they prefer thinking through problems rather than going by feel.
By doing that, they are favoring secondary perception to the point that primary perception is dulled to the point of non awareness. When they are confronted with an ambiguous situation, they will often choose a sensory solution whether it is appropriate or not because they have trouble accessing their primary perception directly. Belief in materialism is a prime example of this. This is not to say that there is something psychologically wrong with skeptics, there isn’t. They are just better at some types of thinking than others. Dealing with ambiguity happens to be one of their weaknesses and partially explains why they aren’t open to psychic ability; it is the epitome of ambiguity.
There is far more to this and I will cover this in future posts.