It is useful to begin with an apparently unrelated subject.
Recently I read with great interest Stephen E Braude’s Immortal Remains, his detailed examination of the evidence for life after death. He resolutely probes several strong and apparently convincing examples of this evidence, seeking to determine first of all whether there is something in need of explanation (ie something paranormal happened), and then whether we would be justified in thinking that what he calls super-psi can be ruled out, leaving survival after death as the likeliest explanation.
He is not flaky in the least. One example of that is what I wish to use now to get me going.
He is explaining what he sees as the various problems in the survivalist literature. A serious problem for him is (page 23) ‘its superficial treatment of dissociation.’ He continues:
Beginning at least as far back as the Delphic Oracle, and continuing through the more recent and rich history of hypnosis, we find many indications that dissociative phenomena elicit (or a least accompany) psychic functioning. And of course, it takes only a casual acquaintance with hypnosis and multiple personality to see striking similarities between their manifestations and the behaviour of many mediums. We have to wonder, then, whether the entities apparently communicating through a medium are nothing more than dissociative parts of the medium’s own mind, parts that simply claim and otherwise appear to be deceased communicators.
The logic is simple but telling. How can we know that what a medium claims is a departed spirit is not simply a split off segment of themselves?
For me, this logic cuts both ways though.
When we are dealing with so-called psychosis can we reasonably do so in ignorance of the rich literature on psi and spirituality? Should we not be subjecting the evidence to the same rigorous process as he does to determine, if we can, which parts of a ‘psychotic’ experience have meaning (not necessarily a transcendent one even) and which do not, rather than simply dismissing the whole lot as irrational? How can we do this effectively if we have not considered all kinds of evidence relating to what modern science considers to be insane states?
I have framed the title of this piece in terms of an extreme possibility, because I believe the question absolutely needs to be asked in this way if all the possibly relevant evidence is to be taken into account.
Why do I think this?
The main plank in my springboard to this position is the concept of transliminality.
Readers of this blog will be aware of my interest in the concept of a threshold between the conscious and the unconscious, and of my belief, on the basis of such thinkers as Myers in the 19th Century along with contemporary researchers such as the Kellys, and of the possibility that what crosses the line between can come from either the ‘treasure house’ or the ‘rubbish dump,’ and we have to be careful to make a distinction between them.
A good place to pick up the thread of Myers’s thinking again is with his ideas of the self and the Self. There are some problems to grapple with before we can move on. Emily Kelly writes (Irreducible Mind – page 83):
These ‘concepts central to his theory’ are undoubtedly difficult, but despite some inconsistency in his usage or spelling Myers was quite clear in his intent to distinguish between a subliminal ‘self’ (a personality alternate or in addition to the normal waking one) and a Subliminal ‘Self’ or ‘Individuality’ (which is his real ‘unifying theoretical principle’). In this book we will try to keep this distinction clear in our readers minds by using the term ‘subliminal consciousness’ to refer to any conscious psychological processes occurring outside ordinary awareness; the term “subliminal self” (lower case) to refer to ‘any chain of memory sufficiently continuous, and embracing sufficient particulars, to acquire what is popularly called a “character” of its own;’ and the term ‘Individuality’ or “’Subliminal Self” (upper case) to refer to the underlying larger Self.
Myers believed that the evidence in favour of transcendental or supernormal experiences is strong enough to warrant serious consideration and he distinguishes between that and subliminal experiences that come, as it were, from underneath (page 87):
Supernormal processes such as telepathy do seem to occur more frequently while either the recipient or the agent (or both) is asleep, in the states between sleeping and waking, in a state of ill health, or dying; and subliminal functioning in general emerges more readily during altered states of consciousness such as hypnosis, hysteria, or even ordinary distraction.
He felt that we needed to find some way of reliably tapping into these levels of consciousness (page 91):
The primary methodological challenge to psychology, therefore, lies in developing methods, or ‘artifices,’ for extending observations of the contents or capacities of mind beyond the visible portion of the psychological spectrum, just as the physical sciences have developed artificial means of extending sensory perception beyond ordinary limits.
We have still a long way to go in this respect and the price can be high for those whose experiences cross the line between culturally acceptable and beyond the pale, as we will see.
How far Myers was ahead of the game becomes clear in what followed. Kelly, in Irreducible Mind, explains (page 99):
In short, Myers believed that hysteria, when viewed as a psychological phenomenon, gives ‘striking’ support to ‘my own principal thesis’, namely, that all personality is a filtering or narrowing of the field of consciousness from a larger Self, the rest of which remains latent and capable of emerging only under the appropriate conditions.
Even the expanded consciousness of genius, in this view, is still filtering a lot out – in fact, it still leaves most of potential consciousness untapped.
There is in addition a common quality of excessive porousness which explains why, in Shakespeare’s phrase, the ‘lunatic . . . . . and the poet are of imagination all compact.’ Myers’s view is that (page 100):
Because genius and madness both involve similar psychological mechanisms – namely, a permeability of the psychological boundary – it is to be expected that they might frequently occur in the same person; but any nervous disorders that accompany genius signal, not dissolution, but a ‘perturbation which masks evolution.’
I have explored that last point in an earlier sequence of posts that highlights the idea of psychosis as potentially a trigger for growth so won’t expand upon it here.
In next Thursday’s post I’ll be looking more closely at the idea of the threshold in the context of psychosis.