Keep Your Experience to Yourself

Voice-hearing is one of those odd experiences that most of us ignore. Unless you’ve personally experienced it, it isn’t real. But for those who have, it can be one of the most real things they know, voices that can be as ever-present as the air one breathes.

In a book I was reading, the author mentioned visiting a conference for voice-hearers. Some people had been attending such conferences for years and they were old hands at talking about the voices they hear. Others were attending their first conference and it was a new experience to meet other people who also heard voices.

At the conference, there was a young man who came with an assistant. He was a voice-hearer who had autism. The author explained that he would get irritated. He heard voices and couldn’t believe that everyone else didn’t also hear voices. He thought others were putting him on by pretending they didn’t hear like he heard. I can imagine how autism would complicate the experience of voice-hearing.

What interested me is the basic situation of that young man. We all have experiences and we tend to assume that others experiences are more or less like our own. It is the opposite problem of lacking some experience and assuming everyone else also lacks it. Even language can’t overcome such gaps of experience. Sometimes language hides the gaps, to such an extent we don’t even suspect anything is unusual.

It amuses me to think of a scenario in an ancient bicameral society. Voice-hearing, according to theory, would have been the norm. Someone who didn’t hear voices would have been the crazy one. That person might assume everyone else was speaking metaphorically when they mentioned voices they heard. And so that person might even act like he was hearing voices because that is how everyone else was acting. It might not even occur to him to argue with anyone about whether the voices are real. If he did argue with others about it, it wouldn’t likely lead to happy results and easy relationships.

It’s not wise to argue with people about their experience of reality, especially when they are part of the majority.

Piraha and Bicameralism

For the past few months, I’ve been reading about color perception, cognition, and terminology. I finally got around to finishing a post on it. The topic is a lot more complex and confusing than what one might expect. The specific inspiration was the color blue, a word that apparently doesn’t signify a universal human experience. There is no condition of blueness objectively existing in the external world. It’s easy to forget that a distinction always exists between perception and reality or rather between one perception of reality and another.

How do you prove something is real when it feels real in your experience? For example, how would you attempt to prove your consciousness, interior experience, and individuality? What does it mean for your sense of self to be real? You can’t even verify your experience of blue matches that of anyone else, much less show that blueness is a salient hue for all people. All you have is the experience itself. Your experience can motivate, influence, and shape what and how you communicate or try to communicate, but you can’t communicate the experience itself. This inability is a stumbling block of all human interactions. The gap between cultures can be even more vast.

This is why language is so important to us. Language doesn’t only serve the purpose of communication but more importantly the purpose of creating a shared worldview. This is the deeply ingrained human impulse to bond with others, no matter how imperfect this is achieved in practice. When we have a shared language, we can forget about the philosophical dilemmas of experience and to what degree it is shared. We’d rather not have to constantly worry about such perplexing and disturbing issues.

These contemplations were stirred up by one book in particular, Daniel L. Everett’s Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes. In my post on color, I brought up some of his observations about the Piraha (read pp. 136-141 from that book and have your mind blown). Their experience is far beyond what most people experience in the modern West. They rely on immediacy of experience. If they don’t experience or someone they know doesn’t experience something, it has little relevance to their lives and no truth value in their minds. Yet what they consider to be immediate experience can seem bizarre for us outsiders.

Piraha spirituality isn’t otherworldly. Spirits exist, just as humans exist. In fact, there is no certain distinction. When someone is possessed by a spirit, they are that spirit and the Piraha treat them as such. The person who is possessed is simply not there. The spirit is real because they experience the spirit with their physical senses. Sometimes in coming into contact with a spirit, a Piraha individual will lose their old identity and gain a new one, the change being permanent and another name to go along with it. The previous person is no longer there and I suppose never comes back. They aren’t pretending to change personalities. That is their direct experience of reality. Talk about the power of language. A spirit gives someone a new name and they become a different person. The name has power, represents an entire way of being, a personality unto itself. The person becomes what they are named. This is why the Piraha don’t automatically assume someone is the same person the next time they meet them, for they live in a fluid world where change is to be expected.

A modern Westerner sees the Piraha individual. To their mind, it’s the same person. They can see he or she is physically the same person. But another Piraha tribal member doesn’t see the same person. For example, when possessed, the person is apparently not conscious of the experience and won’t remember it later. During possession, they will be in an entirely dissociated state of mind, literally being someone else with different behaviors and a different voice. The Piraha audience watching the possession also won’t remember anything other than a spirit having visited. It isn’t a possession to them. The spirit literally was there. That is their perceived reality, what they know in their direct experience.

What the Piraha consider crazy and absurd is the Western faith in a monotheistic tradition not based on direct experience. If you never met Jesus, they can’t comprehend why you’d believe in him. The very notion of ‘faith’ makes absolutely no sense to them, as it seems like an act of believing what you know not to be real in your own experience. They are sincere Doubting Thomases. Jesus isn’t real, until he physically walks into their village to be seen with their own eyes, touched with their own hands, and heard with their own ears. To them, spirituality is as real as the physical world around them and is proven by the same means, through direct experience or else the direct experience of someone who is personally trusted to speak honestly.

Calling the Piraha experience of spirits a mass hallucination is to miss the point. To the degree that is true, we are all mass hallucinating all the time. It’s just one culture’s mass hallucinations differ from that of another. We modern Westerners, however, so desperately want to believe there can only be one objective reality to rule them all. The problem is we humans aren’t objective beings. Our perceived reality is unavoidably subjective. We can’t see our own cultural biases because they are the only reality we know.

In reading Everett’s description of the Piraha, I couldn’t help thinking about Julian Jaynes’ theory of the bicameral mind. Jaynes wasn’t primarily focused on hunter-gatherers such as the Piraha. Even so, one could see the Piraha culture as having elements of bicameralism, whether or not they ever were fully bicameral. They don’t hallucinate hearing voices from spirits. They literally hear them. How such voices are spoken is apparently not the issue. What matters is that they are spoken and heard. And those spirit voices will sometimes tell the Piraha important information that will influence, if not determine, their behaviors and actions. These spirit visitations are obviously treated seriously and play a central role in the functioning of their society.

What is strangest of all is that the Piraha are not fundamentally different than you or I. They point to one of the near infinite possibilities that exist within our shared human nature. If a baby from Western society was raised by the Piraha, we have no reason to assume that he or she wouldn’t grow up to be like any other Piraha. It was only a few centuries ago when it also was common for Europeans to have regular contact with spirits. The distance between the modern mind and what came before is shorter than it first appears, for what came before still exists within us, as what we will become is a seed already planted.*

I don’t want this point to be missed. What is being discussed here isn’t ultimately about colors or spirits. This is a way of holding up a mirror to ourselves. What we see reflected back isn’t what we expected, isn’t how we appeared in our own imaginings. What if we aren’t what we thought we were? What if we turn out to be a much more amazing kind of creature, one that holds a multitude within?

(*Actually, that isn’t stated quite correctly. It isn’t what came before. The Piraha are still here, as are many other societies far different from the modern West. It’s not just that we carry the past within us. That is as true for the Piraha, considering they too carry a past within them, most of it being a past of human evolution shared with the rest of humanty. Modern individuality has only existed in a blip of time, a few hundred years in the hundreds of thousands of years of hominid existence. The supposed bicameral mind lasted for thousands of years longer than the entire post-bicameral age. What are the chances that our present experience of individuality will last as long? Highly unlikely.)

* * *

Don’t Sleep, There Are Snakes:
Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle
by Daniel L Everett
pp. 138-139

Pirahãs occasionally talked about me, when I emerged from the river in the evenings after my bath. I heard them ask one another, “Is this the same one who entered the river or is it kapioxiai?”

When I heard them discuss what was the same and what was different about me after I emerged from the river, I was reminded of Heraclitus, who was concerned about the nature of identities through time. Heraclitus posed the question of whether one could step twice into the same river. The water that we stepped into the first time is no longer there. The banks have been altered by the flow so that they are not exactly the same. So apparently we step into a different river. But that is not a satisfying conclusion. Surely it is the same river. So what does it mean to say that something or someone is the same this instant as they were a minute ago? What does it mean to say that I am the same person I was when I was a toddler? None of my cells are the same. Few if any of my thoughts are. To the Pirahãs, people are not the same in each phase of their lives. When you get a new name from a spirit, something anyone can do anytime they see a spirit, you are not exactly the same person as you were before.

Once when I arrived in Posto Novo, I went up to Kóhoibiíihíai and asked him to work with me, as he always did. No answer. So I asked again, “Ko Kóhoi, kapiigakagakaísogoxoihí?” (Hey Kóhoi, do you want to mark paper with me?) Still no answer. So I asked him why he wasn’t talking to me. He responded, “Were you talking to me? My name is Tiáapahai. There is no Kóhoi here. Once I was called Kóhoi, but he is gone now and Tiáapahai is here.”

So, unsurprisingly, they wondered if I had become a different person. But in my case their concern was greater. Because if, in spite of evidence to the contrary, I turned out not to be a xíbiisi, I might really be a different entity altogether and, therefore, a threat to them. I assured them that I was still Dan. I was not kapioxiai.

On many rainless nights, a high falsetto voice can be heard from the jungle near a Pirahã village. This falsetto sounds spiritlike to me. Indeed, it is taken by all the Pirahãs in the village to be a kaoáíbógí, or fast mouth. The voice gives the villagers suggestions and advice, as on how to spend the next day, or on possible night dangers (jaguars, other spirits, attacks by other Indians). This kaoáíbógí also likes sex, and he frequently talks about his desire to copulate with village women, with considerable detail provided.

One night I wanted to see the kaoáíbógí myself. I walked through the brush about a hundred feet to the source of that night’s voice. The man talking in the falsetto was Xagábi, a Pirahã from the village of Pequial and someone known to be very interested in spirits. “Mind if I record you?” I asked, not knowing how he might react, but having a good idea that he would not mind.

“Sure, go ahead,” he answered immediately in his normal voice. I recorded about ten minutes of his kaoáíbógí speech and then returned to my house.

The next day, I went to Xagábi’s place and asked, “Say, Xagábi, why were you talking like a kaoáíbógí last night?”

He acted surprised. “Was there a kaoáíbógí last night? I didn’t hear one. But, then, I wasn’t here.”

pp. 140-141

After some delay, which I could not help but ascribe to the spirits’ sense of theatrical timing, Peter and I simultaneously heard a falsetto voice and saw a man dressed as a woman emerge from the jungle. It was Xisaóoxoi dressed as a recently deceased Pirahã woman. He was using a falsetto to indicate that it was the woman talking. He had a cloth on his head to represent the long hair of a woman, hanging back like a Pirahã woman’s long tresses. “She” was wearing a dress.

Xisaóoxoi’s character talked about how cold and dark it was under the ground where she was buried. She talked about what it felt like to die and about how there were other spirits under the ground. The spirit Xisaóoxoi was “channeling” spoke in a rhythm different from normal Pirahã speech, dividing syllables into groups of two (binary feet) instead of the groups of three (ternary feet) used in everyday talking. I was just thinking how interesting this would be in my eventual analysis of rhythm in Pirahã, when the “woman” rose and left.

Within a few minutes Peter and I heard Xisaóoxoi again, but this time speaking in a low, gruff voice. Those in the “audience” started laughing. A well-known comical spirit was about to appear. Suddenly, out of the jungle, Xisaóoxoi emerged, naked, and pounding the ground with a heavy section of the trunk of a small tree. As he pounded, he talked about how he would hurt people who got in his way, how he was not afraid, and other testosterone-inspired bits of braggadocio.

I had discovered, with Peter, a form of Pirahã theater! But this was of course only my classification of what I was seeing. This was not how the Pirahãs would have described it at all, regardless of the fact that it might have had exactly this function for them. To them they were seeing spirits. They never once addressed Xisaóoxoi by his name, but only by the names of the spirits.

What we had seen was not the same as shamanism, because there was no one man among the Pirahãs who could speak for or to the spirits. Some men did this more frequently than others, but any Pirahã man could, and over the years I was with them most did, speak as a spirit in this way.

The next morning when Peter and I tried to tell Xisaóoxoi how much we enjoyed seeing the spirits, he, like Xagábi, refused to acknowledge knowing anything about it, saying he wasn’t there.

This led me to investigate Pirahã beliefs more aggressively. Did the Pirahãs, including Xisaóoxoi, interpret what we had just seen as fiction or as fact, as real spirits or as theater? Everyone, including Pirahãs who listened to the tape later, Pirahãs from other villages, stated categorically that this was a spirit. And as Peter and I were watching the “spirit show,” I was given a running commentary by a young man sitting next to me, who assured me that this was a spirit, not Xisaóoxoi. Moreover, based on previous episodes in which the Pirahãs doubted that I was the same person and their expressed belief that other white people were spirits, changing forms at will, the only conclusion I could come to was that for the Pirahãs these were encounters with spirits— similar to Western culture’s seances and mediums.

Pirahãs see spirits in their mind, literally. They talk to spirits, literally. Whatever anyone else might think of these claims, all Pirahãs will say that they experience spirits. For this reason, Pirahã spirits exemplify the immediacy of experience principle. And the myths of any other culture must also obey this constraint or there is no appropriate way to talk about them in the Pirahã language.

One might legitimately ask whether something that is not true to Western minds can be experienced. There is reason to believe that it can. When the Pirahãs claim to experience a spirit they have experienced something, and they label this something a spirit. They attribute properties to this experience, as well as the label spirit. Are all the properties, such as existence and lack of blood, correct? I am sure that they are not. But I am equally sure that we attribute properties to many experiences in our daily lives that are incorrect.

* * *

Radical Human Mind: From Animism to Bicameralism and Beyond

On Being Strange

Self, Other, & World

Humanity in All of its Blindness

The World that Inhabits Our Mind

Humanity in All of its Blindness

I’ve often written about various kinds of cognitive blindness.

Sometimes it’s an incomprehensibility. We don’t understand something and so to that extent we can’t really see it, not for what it is. The conceptual or cultural framework is lacking. There is no box to put it into or words to describe it. Maybe it wasn’t part of how we were raised.

Other times, there is a simultaneous knowing and not knowing. This relates to willful ignorance, in that we can go to great efforts at not knowing something that otherwise should be obvious. Even dissociation and splitting of consciousness can be involved, and it is probably more common than people think. It could involved suppressed trauma or even just general discomfort.

There is also context-dependent memories. I’ve had experiences that were some strange mix of emotions, almost visceral. When they happen, I recall having experienced them before. But when not experiencing them, I couldn’t for the life of me dredge up the memory of the experience, what it felt like or even figure out what elicited it. I forget all about them, until they pop back up in my experience.

All of these demonstrate how limited is our consciousness. Our perception is extremely narrow and filtered. We never see what is behind us, so to speak. The world is vast and we are puny. The flashlight of consciousness only lights up a few feet directly in front of us.

I was thinking about this because I came across another example of this. I’d heard of it before, but the way someone wrote about it caught my attention. It is from Scott Alexander at the Slate Star Codex blog. The post is: WHAT UNIVERSAL HUMAN EXPERIENCES ARE YOU MISSING WITHOUT REALIZING IT? I recommend checking it out. It’s a short read.

He discusses a number of examples of individuals lacking some common experience and not realizing it. These people even learn to speak about the experience, but they don’t realize that others are speaking literally. They assume it is just a metaphorical way of expressing something else.

This could involve color blindness or smell blindness. The blogger also shares his own experience of a medication that blunted his emotions for five years when he was a teenager, long enough that he forgot what he had lost, until he went off the medication.

I had a thought about how this might apply beyond the individual. I’ve been reading books about ancient societies. One of the challenges is that the best evidence left behind are texts, but that requires translation and interpretation. Many words in other languages simply have no equivalent in English. They might not even have any conceptual equivalent in our thinking. This brings up the question if we even have a psychological equivalent of the experience being described. Translation can end up blinding us to how different were those ancient societies and the people who lived in them.

We are creatures of our cultural upbringing, products of out time and place. After a few generations, events are lost from living memory. Experience dies with those who possessed the memory of them.

It isn’t even necessary to look to ancient societies to realize this. Cultural misunderstandings happen all the time. Modern languages also have words that don’t translate into other modern languages.  Heck, even when we share the same language, we often seem clueless and oblivious to other people’s experience.

That is why I find it bizarre that many people will assume that ancient people must have thought, felt, and perceived the world basically the same as they do. What immense hubris, considering many people struggle trying to understand their own family members and significant others.

The thing about being blind to something is that you are often blind to your blindness, as you are often ignorant to your ignorance. You just don’t know what you don’t know, and you don’t know that there is something you could or should know. That is how we live our lives until we stub our toe or walk face first into some aspect of reality or human experience we didn’t realize was there. But for most things we can go our entire lives without ever discovering our blindness.

Marmalade’s Meandering Mind

Marmalade’s Meandering Mind

Posted on Jan 7th, 2009 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade
Here are the things my mind was contemplating this fine evening…

I was walking home with an empty aluminum can that had a screw-on lid.  As it was cold, the air in the can took up less space.  The can contracted into the shape of a square.  That amused me for some reason.  Why did a round shape contract into 4 sides rather than 3 sides or 5 sides?  This incites my child-like curiosity… for whatever that is worth.

Another mildly interesting observation….

While still at work, I was talking to my boss.  His son has a learning disability.  I asked him about it.  His description of his son could just as well have described me as a child.  His son… has recall issues with words and facts (such as abstractions like dates and phone numbers), has good spatial ability in figuring out mazes, does math by breaking down numbers, and likes nature which he enjoys learning about (meaning he can remember certain types of facts that traditional schooling doesn’t care about).  What was particularly interesting about this is that my boss reminds me almost exactly of my mom, and deals with his son’s disability as my mom did. 

Its strange how humans fall into similar patterns as individuals and also in relationships.  Is there a connection to why a parent like him (and like my mom) might have a child like his son (and like me)?

Okay, next thought…

I started reading a new fiction book: Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory.  I picked it up because it plays off the idea of VALIS from Philip K. Dick.  Anyways, the character hears these sounds that no one else hears, and even he has a hard time of explaining the sounds themselves as they aren’t normal.  It reminded me of certain experiences I’ve had.  I don’t hear unusual sounds or anything, but I’ve had many experiences that are hard to describe.

I don’t know about other people’s experience.  I’d guess that everybody has experiences that aren’t easily described, and probably for that reason most people don’t try to describe them or maybe even try to think about them.  Its easier to just ignore the unusual.

So, about my experiences… I’ve had certain experiences that are very specific.  I’ve had these experiences at different times of my life but not very often.  However, every time I experience them, I very clearly recognize them and remember having had them before.  The thing is that its hard to recall these experiences when I’m not having them.  They are state-specific memories of specific states of experience.

At this moment, I only vaguely recall one of these types of experiences.  The closest I can come to describe it is that its like what I’ve felt while under the influence of Nitrous Oxide.  Its a cool buzzing sensation as if I were a contracted cloud of energy… or something like that.  I have no clue where this experience comes from.  I don’t even remember the last time I experienced it… maybe several years.  It doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason, no explanation or cause.  Its just there and then its not.

And the last thought…

For some reason, I was thinking about audio book services.  Finding some spoken word on Rhapsody and Last FM reminded me of how much I enjoy listening to people read.  Its the main reason I fell in love with Burroughs work.  He has an awesome voice.

There is a demand for audio book services.  There are many services, but they’re not very innovative compared to the music and movie industries.  Why is that?  My favorite movie service is Netflix and my favorite music service is Rhapsody.  Why isn’t there a audio book service that compares to either of these?

I’d be willing to pay for such a service if it was comparable to Netflix or Rhapsody.  So, why isn’t any company willing to offer it?  Why does this industry lag behind all others?  Is there just not enough demand?  Am I unusual?  Are most consumers of audio books happy with services that compare to where the music industry was 5 to 10 years ago?

Here I am just wanting to give my money away to some company.  Yet, no company seems to want my money enough.  Well… their loss… fine, I’ll just keep my money.  Ha!

That is the end of today’s broadcast.  Tune in next time for more deep insights and probing observations of life.

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about 3 hours later

Centria said

Ben, it feels like you’re in a really creative open period of your life right now. Is that true? You’re branching into fiction and flash fiction and meandering. I am smiling to see this energy coming out in different directions. Have fun!

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 6 hours later

Nicole said

yes, it’s a delight to see your curious mind exploring 🙂

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 11 hours later

Marmalade said

Creative open period? It does sorta seem that way going by my recent blogs. I hadn’t really thought about it. I just felt like blogging and so I did. I do feel a bit more free in my blogging.

This is the result of something in particular. I decided to refocus on my own blogging a while back. Then the holidays hit and I had a bunch of free time. In refocusing on blogging, I also refocused on looking at other sites to blog at. In considering all my options, it reminded me of what I wanted out of my own blogging.

I felt somewhat restrained about my blogging in the past. For isntance, I felt reluctant to blog about my interest in horror here on Gaia as its not exactly a horror-embracing community. However, I can only be creatively free if my curiosity is free which means free also to explore the dark side of life. Now that I let my dark side show more, my light (and silly) side will also show itself more again. The two sides of me are inseparable… can’t have one without the other.

I was glad to return to fiction finally. The thinking about horror helped with this also. I’m not sure exactly why that was. Maybe its because horror is a good meeting ground between fiction and nonfiction, and so was useful as a means of transition.

The recent fiction sort of came out of the blue. My mind had been on fiction, but I hadn’t thought about either of those stories before writing them. With both stories, an image popped in my mind and I wrote the whole story down immediately.

The creative juices seem to be flowing. I was born in the winter time (December). Winter, like the night time, focuses me on more introverted activities such as writing.

Thoreau: Truth and Simplicity

Thoreau: Truth and Simplicity

Posted on Apr 30th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade

Thoreau’s Walden was one of the books I read at a pivotal point in my life, and certain quotes have stuck with me.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived.  I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.  I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

Truth and experience… two themes of my life.  At least some credit has to go to Thoreau for my identifying myself as a truth-seeker.  Be it mean or sublime, just give it to me straight.  This quote is a bit melodramatic, but it spoke to me at a time of my life when everything seemed melodramatic.  I felt like I understood what drove him to the woods. 

“I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

This second quote is more close to my heart.  I’ve had most of it memorized for many years now… starting with the “In proportion” part.  I was attracted to the notion of simplifying my life and this relates to the first quote about truth.  And the castles in the air had clear resonance for a dreamer like me.

How can anyone go wrong with truth and simplicity?

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 15 hours later

Nicole said

truth and simplicity are anathema to guilt and shame… sad

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 22 hours later

Marmalade said

Yep… sad.

Have you ever read Thoreau?  Its been more than a decade since I read him.  I was thinking about rereading Walden one of these days.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

2 days later

Nicole said

funny, Ben, actually I haven’t. I have read so many excerpts I feel like I have 🙂 but it’s not the same as allowing his thoughts to wash over one, as being immersed from beginning to end in Walden or one of his other works.

so many books, so little time, honey!

“But in this dark world where he now dwelt…”

I’m in the process of reading again The Culture of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen.  In a recent discussion with Quentin S. Crisp, I was mentioning how Derrick Jensen is more depressing than even Thomas Ligotti. 

The more I think about it, though, their two views do seem to resonate to a degree.  Jensen is an environmentalist and writes about environmentalism.  Ligotti, although not an environmentalist as far as I know, relies heavily on the Zappfe’s philosophy and Zappfe was an environmentalist who inspired the beginnings of deep ecology.

There is one other similarity between the two.  Both take suffering very seriously which I appreciate, but there is a limitation to this.  I don’t know how else to explain this limitation other than to use an example.  Here is a scene from A Scanner Darkly (the video is from the movie and the quote is from the novel):

“There had been a time, once, when he had not lived like this… In former days Bob Arctor had run his affairs differently; there had been a wife much like other wives, two small daughters, a stable household that got swept and cleaned and emptied out daily, the dead newspapers not even opened carried from the front walk to the garbage pail, or even, sometimes, read. But then one day, while lifting out an electric corn popper from under the sink, Arctor had hit his head on the corner of a kitchen cabinet directly above him. The pain, the cut in his scalp, so unexpected and undeserved, had for some reason cleared away the cobwebs. It flashed on him instantly that he didn’t hate the kitchen cabinet; he hated his wife, his two daughters, his whole house, the back yard with its power mower, the garbage, the radiant heating system, the front yard, the fence, the whole fucking place and everyone in it. He wanted a divorce; he wanted to split. And so he had, very soon. And entered, by degrees, a new and somber life, lacking all of that.

“Probably he should have regretted his decision. He had not. That life had been one without excitement, with no adventure. It had been too safe.  All the elements that made it up were right there before his eyes, and nothing new could ever be expected. It was like, he had once thought, a little plastic boat that would sail on forever, without incident, until it finally sank, which would be a secret relief to all.

But in this dark world where he now dwelt, ugly things and surprising things and once in a long while a tiny wondrous thing spilled out at him constantly; he could count on nothing.

 ~ Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly (the book)

The last sentence is particularly what I had in mind as being a contrast to that of Jensen and Ligotti.  I’ve written before comparing Ligotti with PKD(Burroughs, PKD, and Ligotti, PKD Trumps Harpur and Ligotti).  There are certain similarities: both are mainly fiction writers who also wrote extensively about philosophical ideas, both willing to look unflinchingly at the sources of human suffering.  But the difference is that PKD expresses an endless sense of curiosity, wonder, awe (see: PKD, ACIM, and Burroughs, PKD on God as Infinity).

I just love the way he describes this sense of reality: “ugly things and surprising things and once in a long while a tiny wondrous thing spilled out at him constantly…”  That is beautiful.  It’s this kind of verbal expression that inspires my desire to write.

I’ve had many experiences that have touched me deeply, and they’re always at the back of my mind.  Even though I’ve rarely written about them, I strongly desire to write about them.  There are several things that hold me back.  First, they’re experiences that are a bit on the uncommon side.  Second, I don’t feel capable of of fully describing them in words, of capturing that actual in-the-moment experience.

Let me just mention some of them briefly so that you’ll have an idea of what I speak of:

  • Dream – In general, dreams are perplexing to write about.  One particular dream was of a theatre where spirits would come and go, but when the spirits were present the theatre transformed into a vast desert landscape.  The experience of it was profound and mysterious.  More than any other, this dream has always stuck with me.
  • Psychedlic – I experimented with drugs in my 20s.  I only did mushrooms once, but they really blew me away.  I felt the whole world alive, breathing in unison, and the field was shimmering like that scene from Gladiator.  Concepts such as ‘animism’ or panentheism are just interesting philosophies until you experience them.
  • Spiritual – In some ways, the most haunting experiences I’ve had happened while fully awake and when no drugs were involved.  There was a period of my life where depression, spiritual practice, and a broken heart all came together.  At the bottom of this suffering, I came across a truly incomprehensible experience of life, almost a vision.  It was a unified sense of the world that was both absolutely full and utterly empty.  My response to it was at times a sense of loneliness but it was an intimate loneliness that transcended my individuality.  It was a presence that wasn’t my presence.  It just was whatever it was.

Any of those experiences are probably meaningless to anyone who hasn’t had similar experiences.  Of course, they are far from meaningless to me.  Each individual experience is meaningful to me in that they’ve all influenced me.  I can even now viscerally remember these experiences.  More importantly, these experiences together are meaningful because they remind me of my sense of wonder.  The world is a truly strange place.

The animistic visions I’ve had particularly give me a sense of wonder on a daily basis.  I can to some degree shift my perception into an animistic mode.  I can put my mind into that sense of anticipation where the whole world feels like it’s on the verge of becoming something entirely else. 

This animistic sensibility combines both PKD’s gnostic revelation and the shamanistic worldview.  Much of PKD’s writing conveys a sense of paranoia.  I think this modern sense of paranoia is essentially the same thing as the premodern shamanistic view of the natural world.  The suffering of life is more than mere biological horror, more than mere existential angst.  The darkness isn’t empty.  There are things out there unseen that aren’t human.  The world is alive with intelligences.  The seeming empty spaces have substance.  We aren’t separate from the world.  Our skin doesn’t protect us from invasion.  Most of that which exists is indifferent to humans, but some things may take interest.  When we look out at the world, the world looks back.

We modern humans bumble our way through the world oblivious to all that surrounds us.  The police protect us.  Various public and private institutions make sure our daily lives run smoothly.  We generally don’t think about any of it… until something goes wrong.  The indigenous person lived differently than this.  A tribal person depended on themselves and others in their tribe to take care of everything.  If you’re walking through the wilderness, you have to pay attention in order to remain alive.  The possibility of death is all around one.  Death is a much more common event for hunter-gatherers.  When someone is injured or becomes sick, there is no emergency room.

This seems rather scary to a modern person.  However, to the indigenous person, this is simply the way one lives.  If your life had always been that way, it would feel completely normal.  You simply know the world around you.  Being aware would be a completely natural state of mind.  All of the world can be read for the person who knows the signs.  Just by listening to the calls of birds you can know precisely where the tiger is, and you simply make sure you’re not in that same place.

The problem is that I’m not an indigenous person and I’m definitely no shaman.  I at times can see something beyond normal perception, but I don’t know how to read the signs.  If you go by polls, most people have experienced something weird in their lifetime.  The weird is all around us all of the time.  We just rarely think about it.  And when we do notice it, we usually try to forget about it as quickly as possible.

Yes, Jensen is correct about how humans victimize one another, is correct about how civilization is destroying all life on earth.  And, yes, Ligotti is correct about how humans are paralyzed by suffering, is correct that all of human culture arose as a distraction from this primal horror.  Yes, yes, yes.  Even so, there is something beyond all of that.

Religious Syncretism, Paranormal Experience, and Democrats

I think I posted something about this poll recently, but I noticed something interesting in this article. 

The article is Paranormal Flexibility by Charles M. Blow.  I’m not surprised by the results because I’ve been following various poll and demographic data in recent years.  I noticed alternative beliefs slipping into mainstream religion such as with New Thought Christianity being included (under different names such as Prosperity Gospel) in the messages of some tv preachers. 

Like cultures and races in general, religions are getting all mixed together.  People are believing in whatever makes sense to them no matter what is stated in the official dogma of their religion.  Heck, even the gays are starting to be accepted by mainstream religion. 

I find it rather humorous and it just makes me happy.

Anyways, here is the bit that caught my attention:

For the first time in 47 years of polling, the number of Americans who said that they have had a religious or mystical experience, which the question defined as a “moment of sudden religious insight or awakening,” was greater than those who said that they had not.

[ . . . ]

Since 1996, the percentage of Americans who said that they have been in the presence of a ghost has doubled from 9 percent to 18 percent, and the percentage who said that they were in touch with someone who was dead has increased by about a third, rising from 18 percent to 29 percent.

For those keeping political score, Democrats were almost twice as likely to believe in ghosts and to consult fortune-tellers than were Republicans, and the Democrats were 71 percent more likely to believe that they were in touch with the dead. Please hold the Barack-Obama-as-the-ghost-of-Jimmy-Carter jokes. Heard them all.

The report is further evidence that Americans continue to cobble together Mr. Potato Head-like spiritual identities from a hodgepodge of beliefs — bending dogmas to suit them instead of bending themselves to fit a dogma. And this appears to be leading to more spirituality, not less.

The main thing that interested me was the last sentence.  Moving away from unquestioned religious dogma actually increases religious experience. 

Along with this, Democrats specifically have the highest rates of religious experience.  Does this mean that the Democrats are the Chosen People?  That part wasn’t surprising either.  Liberals tend towards the personality trait that Ernest Hartmann labels as thin boundaries.  Liberals are just more open to new experiences and less fearful of the unfamiliar.  The research shows that thin boundary types not only are more likely to believe in the paranormal but also are more likely to experience it.

Synesthesia, and Psychedelics, and Civilization! Oh My!

The Coast to Coast AM radio host George Noory just interviewed David Eagleman.  I only heard part of the interview, but what little I gleaned seemed quite interesting.

Dr. Eagleman spoke of synesthesia.  He said that around four percent of the population has synesthesia which is a fairly high number (more common than scientists used to think).  He pointed out that it isn’t considered a neurological disorder because there is no negative consequences for those who have it and in fact there are benefits.  Those with this condition (who are called synesthetes) actually have improved memories because abstract information is grounded in sensory experience (this relates to localized memory which is an ancient mnemonic device).  There are many ways senses and concepts can link together and almost everyone experiences this in mild forms.

I wondered if it might’ve been more common in the past.  Maybe our modern rational ego has helped to compartmentalize the mind and thus created more clear demarcations separating perception and thought.  This possibly could relate to Julian Jaynes theory about the bicameral mind.  Jaynes theorized that a natural function of the human brain was hearing other voices, and that a shift in early civilization changed something fundamental in how our brain operates (or rather how we operate our brain).  The theory is that primitives used to hear voices outside of them and the world was experienced animistically.  As such, there was no clearly defined separate sense of self, no inidividual ego with a sense of being in absolute control.  Everyone still hears other voices in their head such as the words of advice from your parents, but we’ve learned to compartmentalize our sense of self and disidentify with these other voices.  Schizophrenics don’t have this ability.

This relates to psychedelics as well.  Psychedelics loosen the constraints that civilization has placed on our brains.  Any normal person under the influence of psychedelics will experience such things as synesthesia, animistic perception, external voices, etc.  Psychedelics are able to to do this because they are processed in our brains like any other neurochemical.  In fact, the most common psychedelic in nature  is DMT and the human brain produces it in small quantities.  Terrence McKenna theorized that psychedelics helped to develop human consciousness.  McKenna’s theory might find support in other theories that synesthesia is common to all humans early in their individual development (which might be a carryover from when humans permanently lived in such a state of mind).  Other theories claim that language itself originated in synesthesia as language began with concrete experiences and vocalizations that then became abstracted.

Further related to all of this are Ernest Hartmann’s boundary types.  People tend towards either thin or thick boundaries which correlate to personality factors, but certain substances can influence our boundaries.  Psychedelics create thinner boundaries and amphetamines create thicker boundaries.  Besides perceptual alterations, thin boundaries also are necessary for the simple ability to sympathize with others.  Interestingly, creative types tend to have thinner boundaries and have an extremely higher rate of synesthesia.

If you want to check out some of my previous analysis of the topic of human experience of the world, then here is a blog post of mine from


And here is some interesting info I found around the web:

A developmental theory of synaesthesia, with long historical roots
by A.O. Halcombe, E.L. Altschuler, & H.J. Over (full paper)

The recent surge of scientific investigation into synaesthesia, ably reviewed by Hochel and Milan (2008), is representative of an increasing recognition that our various sensory modalities are intimately interconnected rather than separate. The origin of these interconnections is the subject of an intriguing theory by Maurer and Maurer (1988). They suggest that all of us begin life as synaesthetes, with subsequent neural development reducing the connections among the senses. We present some historical roots of the idea that human life begins with the senses intertwined. The influential 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau described an early theory of child development in his book Emile (1762), hypothesizing that if “a child had at its birth the stature and strength of a man . . . all his sensations would be united in one place, they would exist only in the common ‘sensorium’.” A half-century later, a young Mary Shelley (1818) brought this idea into popular culture with the Frankenstein creature’s recollection of his early experience: “A strange multiplicity of sensations seized me, and I saw, felt, heard, and smelt, at the same time; and it was, indeed, a long time before I learned to distinguish between the operations of my various senses.” William James in The Principles of Psychology (1890) expressed a similar idea. In this context, the assumption of many 20th-century scientists that the senses were largely separate appears to be an historical aberration.

Terence McKenna’s “Stoned Ape” Theory of Human Evolution (or here)

Perhaps the most intriguing of Terence McKenna’s fascinating theories and observations is his explanation for the origin of the human mind and human culture.

To summarize: McKenna theorizes that as the North African jungles receded toward the end of the most recent ice age, giving way to grasslands, a branch of our tree-dwelling primate ancestors left the branches and took up a life out in the open — following around herds of ungulates, nibbling what they could along the way.

Among the new items in their diet were psilocybin-containing mushrooms growing in the dung of these ungulate herds. The changes caused by the introduction of this drug to the primate diet were many — McKenna theorizes, for instance, that synesthesia (the blurring of boundaries between the senses) caused by psilocybin led to the development of spoken language: the ability to form pictures in another person’s mind through the use of vocal sounds.

About 12,000 years ago, further climate changes removed the mushroom from the human diet, resulting in a new set of profound changes in our species as we reverted to pre-mushroomed and frankly brutal primate social structures that had been modified and/or repressed by frequent consumption of psilocybin.

Graveyard of the Gods

Metaphor is based in the relationship between metaphier and metaphrand, strengthened by paraphier and paraphrand. A metaphor’s effectiveness in conveying meaning is not inherent to the structure of language or the words themselves, but the range of associations and connections between all elements (some of which are mostly unconscious) – the most receptive and accustomed to these elements will be most affected by metaphor. Cross modal abstraction increases the power of metaphor by bolstering the connective elements of the words we choose (the metaphiers and paraphiers) when attempting to express something – this probably why such as high percentage of artists display synesthesia (1 in 7 artists as opposed to 1 in 200 normal population).

Globalization, Romanticism, and Owen Barfield
by Jim Davis

Abram (1996), McLuhan (1964), et al argue that the phonetic alphabet led to a kind of synesthesia, wherethe visual was transformed into written symbols experienced as sounds. Early cultures were auditory cultures, wherelanguage was only spoken. The phonetic alphabet enabled an efficient writing system. It also resulted in thediminution of memory as the sole repository of tradition, and the fixing of standardized and “official” versions inauthoritative text. Following this line of thinking, the spread of the corresponding consciousness tracks the spread ofliteracy and the technology of writing reproduction.

The Paranormal and Psychology

A hallucination may occur in a person in a state of good mental and physical health, even in the apparent absence of a transient trigger factor such as fatigue, intoxication or sensory deprivation.

It is not widely recognised that hallucinatory experiences are not merely the prerogative of the insane, or normal people in abnormal states, but that they occur spontaneously in a significant proportion of the normal population, when in good health and not undergoing particular stress or other abnormal circumstance.

The evidence for this statement has been accumulating for more than a century. Studies of hallucinatory experience in the sane go back to 1886 and the early work of the Society for Psychical Research [1][2], which suggested approximately 10% of the population had experienced at least one hallucinatory episode in the course of their life. More recent studies have validated these findings; the precise incidence found varies with the nature of the episode and the criteria of ‘hallucination’ adopted, but the basic finding is now well-supported.[3]


The main importance of hallucinations in the sane to theoretical psychology lies in their relevance to the debate between the disease model versus the dimensional model of psychosis. According to the disease model, psychotic states such as those associated with schizophrenia and manic-depression, represent symptoms of an underlying disease process, which is dichotomous in nature; i.e. a given subject either does or does not have the disease, just as a person either does or does not have a physical disease such as tuberculosis. According to the dimensional model, by contrast, the population at large is ranged along a normally distributed continuum or dimension, which has been variously labelled as psychoticism (H.J.Eysenck), schizotypy (Gordon Claridge) or psychosis-proneness.[25]

The occurrence of spontaneous hallucinatory experiences in sane persons who are enjoying good physical health at the time, and who are not drugged or in other unusual physical states of a transient nature such as extreme fatigue, would appear to provide support for the dimensional model. The alternative to this view requires one to posit some hidden or latent disease process, of which such experiences are a symptom or precursor, an explanation which would appear to beg the question.


A person diagnosed with fantasy prone personality is reported to spend a large portion of his or her time fantasizing, have vividly intense fantasies, have paranormal experiences, and have intense religious experiences.[3] His or her fantasizing may include extreme dissociation and intense sexual fantasies. People with fantasy prone personality are reported to spend over half of their time awake fantasizing or daydreaming and will often confuse or mix their fantasies with their real memories. They also report several out-of-body experiences.[3]

Research has shown that people who are diagnosed with fantasy prone personality tend to have had a large amount of exposure to fantasy during childhood. People have reported that they believed their dolls and stuffed animals were living creatures and that their parents encouraged them to indulge in their fantasies and daydreams.[3]

Transliminality (literally, “going beyond the threshold”) was a concept introduced by the parapsychologist Michael Thalbourne, an Australian psychologist who is based at the University of Adelaide. It is defined as a hypersensitivity to psychological material (imagery, ideation, affect, and perception) originating in (a) the unconscious, and/or (b) the external environment (Thalbourne & Maltby, 2008). High degrees of this trait have been shown by Thalbourne to be associated with increased tendency to mystical experience, greater creativity, and greater belief in the paranormal, but Thalbourne has also found evidence that transliminality may be positively correlated with psychoticism. He has published articles on transliminality in journals on parapsychology and psychology. 

The categorical view of psychosis is most associated with Emil Kraepelin, who created criteria for the medical diagnosis and classification of different forms of psychotic illness. Particularly, he made the distinction between dementia praecox (now called schizophrenia), manic depressive insanity and non-psychotic states. Modern diagnostic systems used in psychiatry (such as the DSM) maintain this categorical view.[1]

In contrast, psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler did not believe there was a clear separation between sanity and madness, and that psychosis was simply an extreme expression of thoughts and behaviours that could be present to varying degrees through the population.[2]

This was picked up by psychologists such as Hans Eysenck and Gordon Claridge who sought to understand this variation in unusual thought and behaviour in terms of personality theory. This was conceptualised by Eysenck as a single personality trait named psychoticism.[3]

Claridge named his concept schizotypy and by examining unusual experiences in the general population and the clustering of symptoms in diagnosed schizophrenia, Claridge’s work suggested that this personality trait was much more complex, and could break down into four factors.[4][5]

  1. Unusual experiences: The disposition to have unusual perceptual and other cognitive experiences, such as hallucinations, magical or superstitious belief and interpretation of events (see also delusions).
  2. Cognitive disorganisation: A tendency for thoughts to become derailed, disorganised or tangential (see also formal thought disorder).
  3. Introverted anhedonia: A tendency to introverted, emotionally flat and asocial behaviour, associated with a deficiency in the ability to feel pleasure from social and physical stimulation.
  4. Impulsive nonconformity: The disposition to unstable mood and behaviour particularly with regard to rules and social conventions.

Psychoticism is one of the three traits used by the psychologist Hans Eysenck in his P-E-N model (psychoticism, extraversion and neuroticism) model of personality.

High levels of this trait were believed by Eysenck to be linked to increased vulnerability to psychoses such as schizophrenia. He also believed that blood relatives of psychotics would show high levels of this trait, suggesting a genetic basis to the trait.

Critics of the trait have suggested that the trait is too heterogeneous to be taken as a single trait. For example, in a correlation study by Donald Johnson (reported in 1994 at the APT International Conference) Psychoticism was found to correlate with Big Five traits Conscientiousness and Agreeableness; (which in turn correlated strongly with, respectively, MBTI Judging/Perceiving, and Thinking/Feeling).[citation needed] Thus, Costa and McCrae believe that agreeableness and conscientiousness (both which represent low levels of psychoticism) need to be distinguished in personality models. Eysenck also argued that there might be a correlation between psychoticism and creativity[1] .


Openness to experience (Wikipedia)

Openness to experience is one of five major domains of personality discovered by psychologists.[1][2] Openness involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity.[3] A great deal of psychometric research has demonstrated that these qualities are statistically correlated. Thus, openness can be viewed as a global personality trait consisting of a set of specific traits, habits, and tendencies that cluster together.

Openness tends to be normally distributed with a small number of individuals scoring extremely high or low on the trait, and most people scoring near the average. People who score low on openness are considered to be closed to experience. They tend to be conventional and traditional in their outlook and behavior. They prefer familiar routines to new experiences, and generally have a narrower range of interests. They could be considered practical and down to earth.

People who are open to experience are no different in mental health from people who are closed to experience. There is no relationship between openness and neuroticism, or any other measure of psychological wellbeing. Being open and closed to experience are simply two different ways of relating to the world.

The NEO PI-R personality test measures six facets or elements of openness to experience:

  1. Fantasy – the tendency toward a vivid imagination and fantasy life.
  2. Aesthetics – the tendency to appreciate art, music, and poetry.
  3. Feelings – being receptive to inner emotional states and valuing emotional experience.
  4. Actions – the inclination to try new activities, visit new places, and try new foods.
  5. Ideas – the tendency to be intellectually curious and open to new ideas.
  6. Values – the readiness to re-examine traditional social, religious, and political values.

Openness has also been measured, along with all the other Big Five personality traits, on Goldberg’s International Personality Item Pool (IPIP). The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) measures the preference of “intuition,” which is related to openness to experience.



by Michael Jawer

Proceeding from this framework of mind-body unity, let us return to the Boundaries concept propounded by Hartmann. The mind of the thin-boundary person, he suggests, is “relatively fluid,” able to make numerous connections, more flexible and even dreamlike in its processing than the thick-boundary person, whose processing is “solid and well organized” but not prone to meander or make ancillary connections.23 It is not surprising, therefore, that thin-boundary people exhibit the following characteristics1:
● A less solid or definite sense of their skin as a body boundary;
● an enlarged sense of merging with another person when kissing
or making love;
● sensitivity to physical and emotional pain, in oneself as well as
in others;
● openness to new experience;
● a penchant for immersing themselves in something-whether
a personal relationship, a memory, or a daydream;
● an enhanced ability to recall dreams; and
● dream content that is highly vivid and emotional.
The fluidity evidenced by the thin-boundary personality roughly equates to Thalbourne’s concept of “transliminality,” defined as “tendency for psychological material to cross thresholds in or out of consciousness.”24 Thalbourne has found that the following are part of the personality cluster of the highly transliminal person:
● creativity;
● a penchant for mystical or religious experience;
● absorption (a bent for immersing oneself in something, be it a
sensory experience, an intellectual task, or a reverie);
● fantasy proneness;
● an interest in dream interpretation;
● paranormal belief and experiences; and
● a heightened sensitivity to environmental stimulation.


Thin and Thick Boundaried Personalities

Studies show that one’s personality type plays a big role in the intensity of the dream experience and the amount of dream recall present in our waking life. The two types are described as thin boundary and thick boundary personalities. A Hartmann study shows that those who are classified as the thin boundary type tend to experience longer dreams, with a higher intensity of emotion, feeling, color, vividness, and interaction in them than did those classified as thick boundary types.  Those who are considered to be thin boundary personalities tend to have a heightened emotional sensitivity within their dream states.  The best way to describe this idea is that every type of emotion a thin boundaried person has is much more exaggerated within their dreams, which leads to the possibility of more nightmares.  They do not differentiate dreams from reality like a thick boundaried person does.

What differentiates the the two boundary types is a separation between mental process, thoughts and functions. Those with thin boundary type tend to often merge thought with feeling, have a difficulty with focusing on one thing at a time, daydream or fantasize, experience forms of synaethesia, have more fluid sense of self and tend to “merge” more with those who are close to them.
Those with thick boundaried personalities have much more separation between what is real and what is imaginary. They tend to have a distinct focus on one thing at a time, differentiate between thoughts and feelings, real and fantasy, self and others, lack strong memories from childhood, well organized and has a strong sense of self.
It is not to say that thick boundaried people do not suffer from nightmares, it is just that they seem to seperate the two worlds of dreams and thier waking life much more so.  They also tend to do the same between their emotions and thoughts.
by Ernest Hartmann, Robert Harrison, and Michael Zborowski
There are a number of suggestive studies indicating that people with thin boundaries may be not only creative and open, but may have a series of other interesting and so far poorly understood characteristics.  For instance, there appears to be a relationship between thin boundaries and multiple chemical sensitivities (Jawer, 2001).  There is also a correlation between thin boundaries and a belief in or tendency to experience paranormal phenomena. Factor V of the BQ – see table 3 – appears to pick up this aspect of thin boundaries and has been labeled “clairvoyance.”.  Groups of people who characterize themselves as shamans or psychics score thin on the BQ (Krippner, Wickramasekera, Wickramasekera, & Winstead, 1998).  Thalbourne and his collaborators, in their studies of persons who experience paranormal phenomena, have devised a “Transliminality scale” to measure these traits ( Lange,  Thalbourne, Houran, & Storm 2000;  Thalbourne, 1991).  Preliminary analysis suggests a high correlation (r = 068) between thin boundaries and the Transliminality Scale.
These relationships may be worth exploring further, since two very different hypotheses may explain them.  The most parsimonious view would be that all “paranormal” phenomena are imaginary, and that people with thin boundaries simply have better or looser imaginations, are more suggestible, or are more sensitive with a tendency to elaborate creatively on their sensitivities.  On the other hand, we could consider the possibility that phenomena such as telepathy, now considered paranormal could be related to transmission of information using perhaps portions of the electromagnetic spectrum which we are not usually able to detect.  Under unusual circumstances our ability to detect such information could be altered slightly, and quite possibly there might be inter-individual differences in the ability to detect information of this kind.  If so, it is possible that persons with thin boundaries who are sensitive in so many other ways, may also be sensitive to detecting such portions of the spectrum.


You don’t have to be crazy to believe in the paranormal but does it help?

by Chris French

Psychopathological Tendencies and Paranormal Belief/Experience 

    * Paranormal beliefs/experiences correlate with tendency towards bipolar (manic) depression


    * Dissociativity has been shown to be related to the tendency to report a wide range of paranormal and anomalous experiences

Fantasy Proneness 

    * fantasy-prone individuals spend much of their time engaged in fantasy, have particularly vivid imaginations, sometimes confuse imagination with reality, and report a very high incidence of paranormal experiences


    * Multidimensional
    * Different factors of schizotypy relate to different factors of paranormal belief/experience in complex ways (e.g., Irwin & Green, 1998-1999)
    * Unusual Experiences factor most consistently related to paranormal beliefs/experiences
    * Concerned with aberrant perceptions and beliefs
    * Sub-clinical tendencies towards hallucinations and delusions

Does Paranormal Belief/Experience = Psychopathology? No! 

    * High levels of belief/experience in general population
    * Correlations around 0.6
    * Believers scores raised but not typically to pathological levels
    * Atypical groups of believers (e.g., psychical research groups) have quite low levels of schizoptypy

A Link with Childhood Trauma? 

    * Both fantasy proneness and tendency to dissociate are associated with reports of childhood trauma
    * Defence mechanism?
    * Paranormal belief also correlates with reports of childhood trauma


Dissociations of the Night: Individual Differences in Sleep-Related Experiences and Their Relation to Dissociation and Schizotypy

by David Watson

I examined the associations among sleep-related experiences (e.g., hypnagogic hallucinations, nightmares, waking dreams, lucid dreams), dissociation, schizotypy and the Big Five personality traits in two large student samples. Confirmatory factor analyses indicated that (a) dissociation and schizotypy are strongly correlated―yet distinguishable― constructs and (b) the differentiation between them can be enhanced by eliminating detachment/depersonalization items from the dissociation scales. A general measure of sleep experiences was substantially correlated with both schizotypy and dissociation (especially the latter) and more weakly related to the Big Five. In contrast, an index of lucid dreaming was weakly related to all of these other scales. These results suggest that measures of dissociation, schizotypy and sleep-related experiences all define a common domain characterized by unusual cognitions and perceptions.


by Shelley L. Rattet and Krisanne Bursik
Do individuals who endorse paranormal beliefs differ from those reporting actual precognitive experiences? This study examined the personality correlates of these variables in a sample of college students, 61% of whom described some type of precognitive experience. Extraversion and intuition were associated with precognitive experience, but not with paranormal belief; dissociative tendencies were related to paranormal belief, but not precognitive experience. The importance of conceptualizing and assessing paranormal belief and precognitive experience as separate constructs is discussed.
by J.E. Kennedy
Paranormal beliefs and experiences are associated with certain personality factors, including absorption, fantasy proneness, and the Myers-Briggs intuition and feeling personality dimensions. Skepticism appears to be associated with materialistic, rational, pragmatic personality types. Attitude toward psi may also be influenced by motivations to have control and efficacy, to have a sense of meaning and purpose in life, to be connected with others, to have transcendent experiences, to have self-worth, to feel superior to others, and to be healed. The efforts to obtain reliable control of psi in experimental parapsychology have not been successful. Given the lack of control and lack of practical application of psi, it is not surprising that those who are by disposition materialistic and pragmatic find the evidence for psi to be unconvincing. When psi experiences have been examined without a bias for control, the primary effect has been found to be enhanced meaning in life and spirituality, similar to mystical experiences. Tensions among those with mystical, authoritarian, and scientific dispositions have been common in the history of paranormal and religious beliefs. Scientific research can do much to create better understanding among people with different dispositions. Understanding the motivations related to paranormal beliefs is a prerequisite for addressing questions about when and if psi actually occurs.


by Joe Nickell
Despite John Mack’s denial, the results of my study of his best thirteen cases show high fantasy proneness among his selected subjects. Whether or not the same results would be obtained with his additional subjects remains to be seen. Nevertheless, my study does support the earlier opinions of Baker and Bartholomew and Basterfield that alleged alien abductees tend to be fantasy-prone personalities. Certainly, that is the evidence for the very best cases selected by a major advocate.
by Per Andersen

While most of the studies of the psychopathology of UFO witnesses have demonstrated no pathological patterns in general, many of the studies nevertheless have discovered some specific personal traits for various groups of witnesses.

It has been difficult in most studies uniquely to characterize these personality traits of UFO witnesses and to describe them in a simple way. To that it should be added, that traits described in different studies vary a great deal from each other.

In a [U.S.] Fund for UFO Research-sponsored experiment, 9 witnesses were tested for psychopathology (MMPI) and their personalities were described by Dr. Elizabeth Slater. All nine had reported UFO abductions. The most significant aspect of the experiment was, however, that Dr. Slater did not know what the 9 persons had in common (if anything) (Bloecher 1985).

Dr. Slater did in fact find some similarities between the nine subjects, although these were played down by the sponsors. She described the subjects as a very distinctive, unusual and interesting group. They did not represent an ordinary cross- section of the population from the standpoint of conventionality in lifestyle. Several of the subjects could be labelled downright “eccentric” or “odd”. They had high intellectual abilities and richly evocative and charged inner worlds — highly inventive, creative and original.

What then about “ordinary” UFO witnesses that have not been abducted or in regular contact with space beings, but have experienced what I would label low strangeness sightings of UFO phenomena? For these groups of witnesses also some special personality traits have been identified in various studies.

Over [a period of] 17 years, Dr. Leo Sprinkle [University of Wyoming] tested 225 persons reporting mixed UFO experiences ranging from a light in the sky to being abducted. A study of these 225 witnesses showed that they had profiles with certain unique characteristics. Witnesses exhibited a high level of psychic energy, a tendency to question authority or being subject to situational pressure or conflicts, and to be self-sufficient and resourceful. Other characteristic were: above-average intelligence, assertiveness and a tendency to be experimenting thinkers (Parnell 1988).

Another major study of 264 persons did not find any significant differences between witnesses of various types of sightings (Ring 1990). However, the research showed that UFO witnesses reported more sensitivity to non-ordinary realities and having a higher tendency towards dissociation. It also documented that UFO witnesses and people with near-death experiences had very similar personality traits. There also seems to be a significant relationship between having UFO sightings and the personal belief system of the witnesses. This has been documented by T.A. Zimmer who found relationships between sightings and belief in occultism and science fiction (Zimmer 1984, 1985) as well as Spanos et al from the University of Ottawa. They found that witnesses to low-strangeness sightings had a tendency to esoteric beliefs and belief in UFOs (Spanos 1993).


by Martin Kottmeyer
It seems logical at this point to ask if the psychology of nightmares can throw any light on what is happening in alien abduction experiences. While not all the puzzles of nightmares have been solved, psychology has recently made significant strides in understanding why some people develop them and others do not. In building a profile of nightmare sufferers Ernest Hartmann developed a conceptual model termed boundary theory which expands on a set of propositions about boundaries in the mind formulated by a handful of earlier psychoanalytic theorists. It is from Hartmann’s study “The Nightmare” that we will develop the blueprint of our argument. (8)
Boundary theory begins with the axiom that as the mind matures, it categorises experiences. It walls off certain sets to be distinct from other sets. Boundaries become set up between what is self and what is non-self, between sleep and waking experiences, between fantasy and reality, passion and reason, ego and id, masculine and feminine, and a large host of other experiential categories. This drive to categorise is subject to natural variation. The determinants of the strength of that drive appear to be biochemical and genetic and probably have no environmental component such as trauma. When the drive is weak the boundaries between categories are thinner, more permeable or more fluid. When the boundaries become abnormally thin one sees psychopathologies like schizophrenia. Hartmann discovered individuals who suffer from nightmares have thin boundaries. >From this central mental characteristic one can derive a large constellation of traits that set these people apart from the general population.
From earliest childhood, people with thin boundaries are perceived as “different”. They are regarded as more sensitive than their peers. Thin character armour causes them to be more fragile and easily hurt. They are easily empathic, but dive into relationships too deeply too quickly. Recipients of their affection will regard them as uncomfortably close and clinging and they are thus frequently rejected. Experience with their vulnerability teaches them to be wary of entering into relationships with others. Adolescence tends to be stormy and difficult. Adult relationships — whether sexual, marital or friendships — also tend to be unsettled and variable. A slight tendency to paranoia is common.
One-third will have contemplated or attempted suicide. Experimentation with drugs tends to yield bad trips and is quickly abandoned. They are usually alert to lights, sounds and sensations. They tend to have fluid sexual identities. Bisexuals are over-represented in the nightmare sufferers’ population and it is rare to find manly men or womanly women in it. Macho pigs apparently do not have nightmares. They are not rule followers. Either they reject society or society rejects them. They are rebels and outsiders. There is a striking tendency for these people to find their way into fields involving artistic self-expression; musicians, poets, writers, art teachers, etc. Some develop their empathic tendencies and become therapists. Ordinary BLUE or white collar jobs are rare.
Hartmann believes the predominance of artists results from the fact that thin boundaries allow them to experience the world more directly and painfully than others. The ability to experience their inner life in a very direct fashion contributes to the authenticity of their creations. They become lost in daydreaming quite easily and even experience daymares — a phenomenon people with thick boundaries won’t even realise exists. This trait of imaginative absorption should also make nightmare sufferers good hypnotic subjects. (9)
Boundary deficits also contribute to fluid memories and a fluid time sense.
To be considered a candidate for the hypothesis that one is a victim of alien abduction a person must present certain symptoms. Among the factors which are looked for are conscious memories of an abduction, revealing nightmares, missing time, forgotten scars, or dramatic reactions to seemingly trivial stimuli like distant nocturnal lights. The last four factors act as screening devices to yield a population of boundary deficit individuals. This is blatant in the case of people whose candidacy is based on nightmares of aliens. It is subtler in the other symptoms.
People who have thin boundaries in their time sense virtually by definition will experience episodes of missing time. People with fluid memories could easily lose track of the event that led to the creation of a scar. People with weak ego-id boundaries and a sense of powerlessness probably would over- react to distant inexplicable lights as symbols of power. These candidates, in turn, are subject to further screening by their performance under hypnosis. The thicker the boundary, the less likely it is that a convincing narrative will emerge or be accepted as emotionally valid. We would predict the final population of abduction claimants would be biased in favour of a high proportion of boundary-deficit personalities.
The evidence that abductees have boundary-deficit personalities is, if not definitive, reasonably convincing. The points of correspondence between abductees and nightmare sufferers are several and consistent.
Ufology regards the Slater psychological study of nine abductees as an experimentum crucis for the view that abductees are victims of real extraterrestrial intrusions. It affirmed not only the normality of abductees, but offered a hint of traumatisation in the finding that abductees showed a tendency to display distrust and interpersonal caution. It is time to remind everyone, however, of what Slater’s full results were reported to be. Slater found abductees had rich inner lives; a relatively weak sense of identity, particularly a weak sexual identity; vulnerability; and an alertness characteristic of both perceptual sophistication and interpersonal caution. (10)
All four of these traits are characteristic of boundary-deficit minds. Clearly the abduction-reality hypothesis is, in this instance, unparsimonious. It fails to explain the presence of rich inner lives, weak identities and vulnerability. (I reject Slater’s post hoc attempt to account for the weak sexual identity via childhood trauma induced by involuntary surgical penetrations as undocumented, and just plain weird.) It should not be over- looked that Slater volunteered the opinion that her test subjects did not represent an ordinary cross-section of the population. She found some were “downright eccentric or odd” and that the group as a whole was “very distinctive, unusual, and interesting”. (11)
This nicely parallels Hartmann’s observation that boundary- deficit personalities are perceived as “different” from “normal” people. Slater’s study does indeed seem to be an experimentum crucis, but the conclusion it points toward is perfectly opposite from what ufologists have been assuming.
The boundary-deficit hypothesis evidently can also be invoked to explain the unusual proportion of artist-type individuals that I discovered in testing Rimmer’s hypothesis. Roughly one-third of abductees showed evidence of artistic self-expression in their backgrounds in my sample population, as you may recall. Hartmann’s study would also lead us to expect an unusual number of psychotherapists among abductees. In a recent paper, Budd Hopkins reported that in a population of 180 probable abductees he found many mental health professionals: two psychiatrists, three PhD psychologists and an unstated number of psychotherapists with Master’s degrees. (12)
by Neil Douglas-Klotz
Recent studies in cognitive psychology suggest that Western psychology still struggles for the language to describe the difference between a “psychotic” and a “spiritual” state in a nuanced way (for instance in the new anthology on psychosis and spirituality edited by Isabel Clarke, 2000). For instance, Claridge (2000) and others have sought to define a new personality type called “schizotypy” which is neutral with respect to illness or pre-disposing to illness and yet describes a person prone to “skinlessness” (or weakened cognitive inhibition), enhanced access to internal and external events, the reduced ability to limit the contents of consciousness and “transliminaliy.” In this view, the difference between non-pathological “psychoticism” and actual “psychosis” depends on history, circumstances and genetic pre-disposition.
Clarke herself (2000) proposes a “discontinuity” theory, which states that polarization of psychotic states and spiritual ones is a false dichotomy. She combines work by Kelly (the “personal construct theory”) as well as Teasdale and Barnard (“interacting cognitive subsystems,”1993) to suggest, among other things, that a “transliminal experience” means operating beyond a construct system and that, from an informational processing model point of view, a transliminal experience is created by a breakdown between the implicational and propositional subsystems of the mind. According to Clarke, the advantage of mystics of all traditions, many of which also include a very practical ability to this model is that it brings psychosis into the realm of universal human experience.
In both of these models, however, the attempt to describe a spiritual or mystical state in terms of modern psychology suffers from the need to begin with the Western language of pathology. In other words, does the mere presence of transliminality, reduced ability to limit the contents of consciousness, and the other definitions offered really describe the diverse experiences of the great mystics of all traditions, many of which also include a very practical ability to handle interpersonal relationships and accomplishment in the world?
Recent studies in cognitive psychology suggest that Western psychology still struggles for the language to describe the difference between a “psychotic” and a “spiritual” state in a nuanced way (for instance in the new anthology on psychosis and spirituality edited by Isabel Clarke, 2000). For instance, Claridge (2000) and others have sought to define a new personality type called “schizotypy” which is neutral with respect to illness or pre-disposing to illness and yet describes a person prone to “skinlessness” (or weakened cognitive inhibition), enhanced access to internal and external events, the reduced ability to limit the contents of consciousness and “transliminaliy.” In this view, the difference between non-pathological “psychoticism” and actual “psychosis” depends on history, circumstances and genetic pre-disposition.
Clarke herself (2000) proposes a “discontinuity” theory, which states that polarization of psychotic states and spiritual ones is a false dichotomy. She combines work by Kelly (the “personal construct theory”) as well as Teasdale and Barnard (“interacting cognitive subsystems,”1993) to suggest, among other things, that a “transliminal experience” means operating beyond a construct system and that, from an informational processing model point of view, a transliminal experience is created by a breakdown between the implicational and propositional subsystems of the mind. According to Clarke, the advantage of handle interpersonal relationships and accomplishment in the world?

Conspiracy: Experience and Reality

There is something on my mind that I’m reluctant to try to write about. It’s a complex subject that would take a book to provide the necessary cited data and analysis. Besides, it’s a topic that I feel few are inclined (able? willing?) to understand. I’m not even sure what to call the subject. The term “conspiracy” may be the closest I can come to describe it.

Within human nature, there is an inherent naivete that blinds and blinders us. It takes some combination of certain personality tendencies (in particular a questioning mindset), life experiences (of the strange variety is probably helpful), suffering (to a significant degree and length), a contemplative attitude (with or without an accompanying contemplative practice), and critical thinking skills (not limited to conventional logic) – along with any number of other factors – to even begin to take this subject seriously. I sense that it may be similar to what Ligotti writes about. His pessimistic philosophy is based on his own direct experience… either you’ve had similar experiences or not, and no amount of logic or data will be convincing otherwise.

I’m tempted to theorize that this gut-level sense of “conspiracy” is something beyond the political to which its normally applied. Is it metaphysical in terms of reality being illusory, deceptive even? Is it the insight of the Gnostics? Most definitely, the pessimistic views on suffering and freewill play a part in this, and along with all of this the noir vision of life. Of course, there are various psychological and socio-political explanations one can give for this experience (subjective or objective) of conspiracy, but to me any mundane explanation can’t touch upon the mystery at the heart of the matter. I could bring up many aspects, but I’m not in the mood to philosophically analyze.

If I’m interested in the mystery more than the explanations, then why did I choose to use the term “conspiracy”? There are two reasons. I am interested in the real world correlations of this experience which would include the topics normally placed in this category. The other reason is because Ligotti uses this word in the title of his book about pessimism. Ligotti’s views are in the background of my thinking even though this blog isn’t about his ideas.

Okay, let me now get at my main point. Conspiracies in the real world are only possible because the human psyche has a natural inclination towards conspiracies. Just consider the young of our species. Children are often conspiring with their siblings against their parents or with their friends against various authority figures or even with other children against other children. Children are no innocents. Conniving little beasts is what they are. Of course, parents and authority figures likewise conspire to control and mould children towards their own nefarious ends such as making them into law-abiding citizens and obedient workers.

Conspiracies are found in all aspects of life. A conspiracy is simply anything covertly shared between two or more people toward some end. I suspect that many people dismiss conspiracy theories because they wish to deny their own secretiveness. We all have many secrets. We all withhold information and distort the truth in trying to gain advantage in our relationships and our everyday activities. In fact, it’s normal and considered acceptable (expected even) for individuals to present their best face/persona.

As for the more common definition of “conspiracy”, one could spend (and many have spent) their whole life investigating and compiling the complex webs of covert (and often illegal) activities of various people and organizations: government officials, alphabet soup agencies, military, owners and CEOs of corporations, those involved in the stock market, special interest groups, scientists, unions, mafia, etc.). The close connections between old wealth families, royal blood, political position, and corporation ownership (such as media and oil) is intriguing to say the least. In terms of the US, some other interesting details that rarely make it into the mainstream media and are rarely investigated deeply even when they do get brief media attention: election discrepancies, history of government experimentation on citizens, missing federal money and black budget, illegal activities in other countries implemented or supported by this government, large number of people who disappear every year, and on and on.

Conspiracies (and other unexplained phenomena) are happening all of the time. One just hopes that they either benefit one or at least don’t cause harm. Most people simply trust (or maybe just never think to question) the government (and other powerful organizations including the mainstream media) even though there is no clear justification for such blind faith.

I’m not recommending mistrust and suspiciousness. I’m not actually recommending anything, but I am a proponent of curiosity and critical thinking… which I perceive as fairly rare attributes. It’s understandable. Few if any would willingly choose to think about conspiracies… only those who are insane or have too much time on their hands waste their lives on conspiracy theories. Its just that, once this view has been deeply considered (however that comes about), it’s extremely hard to forget. This isn’t to imply that it is somehow important. It seems to me that it doesn’t necessarily have much significance from a practical perspective. It certainly hasn’t helped me in my life.

Conspiracies always have existed and always will; and there have always been those obsessed about uncovering them and there always will. But who cares? I’m sure most people don’t care (bread and circus I suppose). Besides, if you’re one of the lucky few in the world to live well off in a powerful country, then most conspiracies probably work in your favor. And if not, then you’re just f*cked and you might as well resign yourself to your fate. Ha! How about that for cynicism!?!

Its true that all of this is a moral issue, but morality on this scale is practically invisible to the average person. Most people are just too busy trying to get by to worry about these seemingly pointless speculations. Even if someone becomes aware of various morally questionable covert activities, it is easy to rationalize them away. Morality only matters on the personal level and it’s hard to connect to conspiracies as being a part of one’s personal reality.

I only think about this kind of thing because I don’t know how to not think about it. I’m genuinely bewildered that more people aren’t bothered by it. Despite my cynical attitude, I don’t see conspiracies as specifically negative. That conspiracies exist is simply a fact. That the world is very strange (stranger than science will ever comprehend) is simply the way the world is. To speculate any further would be to enter the realm of philosophy and religion, and that could be a very very long discussion.