Supernormal by Dean Radin

radind-supernormalDean Radin is the senior scientist at the institute of Noetic Sciences. This is his third book on psychic phenomena. His first two, The Conscious Universe and Entangled Minds, concentrated on providing evidence for the reality of psi through statistical analysis of the wealth of experiments conducted over the past centrury or so. This new volume is largely concerned with why some people have a higher aptitude for psychic ability than others. The deciding factor that Radin attempts to identify as the culprit is meditation. The book is subtitled “Science, yoga, and the evidence for extraordinary psychic abilities.” Psi phenomena are extremely slippery to prove in a lab setting, except by doing a huge meta-analysis. But what if we could demonstrate a measurable trend, such as an observation that long-term meditators outperform non-meditators? Using a wealth of experiments, Radin builds a very convincing case.

The one aspect of the book I’m not so sure about was the wisdom of using the “siddhis” of Buddhism as a credible blueprint for a modern discussion of psi. Siddhis are the alleged supernormal abilities of Buddhist masters, recorded in Buddhist scripture. Radin reckons there is more than a grain of truth in the old scriptures, although there is almost certainly a large amount of overdramatism.

Having read Radin’s previous books, I’ve noticed that any discussion of technique was absent. It’s all well and good to have evidence for psi, but what does an experimenter actually do to cause psychokinesis, telepathy, or precognition. This absence is finally addressed in the latest volume, albeit in a rather vague way. If you want to play with psi, learn how to meditate. Why? Presumably because meditators have the required mental discipline and are competent at holding prolonged “empty” states of mind, where the ordinary, incessant mental chatter is silenced. From my own past experimentation, I concur that it is indeed the state of “no thought” that provokes psi phenomena. And there really is no shortcut achieving an effect. It takes persistent practice. I could occasionally perform limited acts of PK, using a device called a psi wheel, but only when I was daily practising. And even then it was hard to figure out exactly what mental mechanism was causing the effect. The daily practice had the effect of making it easier to slip into a state of “no thought.” Now that I’ve been out of practice for years, it appears to be much more difficult when I decide to just give it a try once in a while.

Most psi effects are small, although Radin has a striking personal story to tell about his own experience at a “PK Party”, where he accidentally ended up bending a spoon. I was also delighted to see the humble psi wheel get a positive mention, as this was my own personal area of interest and where I had some legitimate success.

Supernormal is written in a much wittier and more conversational style than Radin’s previous books. It’s very accessible, but no less deep. Although I have to say I didn’t much like the accompanying illustrations of superhero characters striking yoga poses. I think this image cheapens the credibility of psi and alludes more to those fraudulent career psychics who tout their so-called “powers.” The philosophical territory that the book deals with in the closing chapters is particularly profound. Psi phenomena provide the best evidence for the kind of non-dual underpinnings to reality that mystics have talked about for thousands of years. The book is written as a standalone volume, so there is some necesssary overlap with the previous books, in order to give a complete picture. But a little revision does us veterans no harm. I’ve learned a lot from all of Radin’s books. He is a meticulous thinker and a true pioneer. If I might indulge in a little prediction: when psi is eventually integrated into science, Radin will be looked upon as a key figure who was well ahead of the game. He’s doing really important work, especially when you consider that he’s investigating a side of reality that pioneers such as Stephen Hawking are not prepared to acknowledge. Those of us who are lucky enough to have had a legitimate paranormal experience might be ridculed, accused of fraud or self-delusion, but we know better. So does Dean Radin.

The Conscious Universe by Dean Radin

radind-consciousuniverseThis is the first book written by the senior scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. It was first published in the USA in 1997, but did not have a UK publication until 2009, where it bore the title The Noetic Universe (some UK readers, having already sourced Radin’s earlier work, mistook this for a new book). Both the US and UK editions, stylistically, contain huge marketing blunders. The US edition features an illustration of a levitating spoon, which, let’s face it, is not the sort of image that conveys legitimate psychic research. Meanwhile, the UK edition has a bewildering title and is styled like a Dan Brown novel – because psychic dabblers and Dan Brown fans constitute the same audience, apparently.

But that is where the criticisms end, because, quite frankly, this book is phenomenal. It is a painstakingly detailed critique of psychic research across the twentieth century. It’s a little harder to read than the book’s follow-up, Entangled Minds, but that’s only because the sheer attention to detail in the facts and figures makes the reading experience a little dry at times. Perseverance is well worth it.

The usual attitude of the armchair sceptic is that there is no evidence for psychic phenomena. Unfortunately, the person who says this has, more often than not, never looked for evidence. This is exactly the sort of book that is essential reading for a genuinely objective sceptic who wishes to become better informed. No serious sceptic could maintain a scornful attitude towards parapsychology, after digesting this volume.

The reality is that psychic phenomena are real, but subtle and hard to replicate. Radin’s main argument is through the technique of meta-analysis – by combining the results of all available psychic experiments, the failures and the victories (as well as taking into account the problem of selective reporting), to achieve an overall odds-against-chance figure.

After making a credible case for the existence of “psi,” Radin concludes the book with some philosophical discussion about the nature of reality. What do experiences of extrasensory perception and psychokinesis teach us about how the universe works? This section, for me, was the most rewarding. My own past interest in doing personal psi experiments stemmed from a philosophical conviction that the universe is non-dual – which is exactly the sort of model that Radin identifies as necessary for explaining how psi phenomena can be real.

Radin seems to care passionately about influencing his peers in the scientific community. I applaud him for daring to stand alone, in a poorly funded field that is often ridiculed. I feel that this is an extremely important book, ahead of its time. If you read one volume on psychic phenomena ever, make it this one.

Psyber Magick by Peter J. Carroll

carrollpj-psybermagickThis modern grimoire is written as a series of single-page chapters, each with an accompanying commentary page. Some chapters are so short that they consist of one paragraph and an illustration. There are only about 150 pages in total. But don’t be put off by the book’s brevity; it is more than made up for by a complete absence of hand-holding. The author goes straight to the point, without apology to any newcomers in magical thinking – and Chaos Magic in particular. In other words, this is not the book to read if it’s your first foray into the occult. You will likely be confused and disappointed. As for me, I was happy to be able to sink my intellectual teeth into something of substance without wading through reams of introductory material.

The author is skilled at communicating deep insights in a highly confined space, often with humour. The illustrations are not simply meaningless additions to the text; often a striking image can imprint an idea on the mind for more effectively than words. Sometimes Carroll would communicate something that I would instantly understand, while I could also see that it was something many others would find irrational. But while I often felt like an “insider”, it’s equally true that parts of this book baffled me. Maybe that means aspects of Carroll’s philosophy are weak, or maybe it means there’s something I’m not seeing yet. Hard to tell.

Carroll makes some striking cosmological claims, which he attempts to back up with equations pertaining to his own theory of three-dimensional time, i.e. time has three dimensions, just like space. I can’t quite wrap my head around what 3D time “looks” like. He comes very close to claiming that this theoretical framework gives him a theory of everything – the holy grail of science. Carroll does not believe that the universe originated with a singularity, nor will it end with one. The universe has always existed; it is finite but unbounded. In other words, it has no edge, in a similar sense to how one can travel around the world without ever reaching the “edge” of the world. Of course, the world has no edge, and we realised that once we transcended the flat-earth model. Similarly, our notions about an edge of the universe will be dispelled once we transcend the current view of the universe. Fascinating, mind-bending, unothodox stuff. True? Well, given my personal interest parapsychology, I’m not the sort of person who sides with a prevailing scientific orthodoxy on strength of numbers, but I do detect what appears to be a serious flaw in Carroll’s model. If the universe has no edge, but doubles back upon itself, why do we see blackness in space? Wouldn’t the light of all the stars reflect infinitely, causing us to see a fully lit night sky with no gaps. Imagine yourself standing in a dark featureless room that is mirrored on all sides, including the floor and ceiling, then you light a candle. All the darkness would be banished. Similarly, space would not be black if the universe has no edge. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how it appears to me. Stephen Hawking, in A Brief History of Time used a similar argument against the view that the universe extends infinitely in all directions.

The most memorable idea in the book, for me personally, was the notion of multiple selfs – not in the sense of everything being one consciousness, but the view that our personality is just role we play, an accumulation of habits that now come naturally. Given that personality is fluid and changeable, why settle for just one? Why not play many roles? To an extent, we all do this already. For example, there are probably some people you are willing to say cusswords in the presence of, and others you won’t. We tailor our personalities to suit our audiences. So why go for half measures? Why not really exploit this ability and create multiple selfs – a sort of consciously governed Dissociative Identity Disorder? Carroll has the quirk of constantly referring to himself as “ourselfs” throughout the book.

The beauty of Carroll’s writings is that they give the reader theoretical ideas to play with. They allow you to examine the universe (and oneself) in ways not often noticed. Unfortunately though, in comparison to Carroll’s first work, Liber Null & Psychonaut, I would not consider Psyber Magick essential reading. I’ve now read four Chaos Magic works, and the ground is definitely thinning at this point. I fear I may have mined Chaoist philosophy to the point where it has little more of substance to offer. Still, worth a look.

Liber Kaos by Peter J. Carroll

carrollpj-liberkaosAnd so, my quest to understand magical theory continues with another volume on Chaos Magic. I gained a great deal of insight and clarity from Carroll’s prior book, Liber Null & Psychonaut. The present work under review, published five years later, has turned out to be not so valuable.

We begin with heady material on quantum theory from a magical perspective. The majority of this was beyond me, but what I could understand struck me as far too theoretical to place any real confidence in – the idea that magic, which has its roots in the transcendent, can be reduced to a few equations. I don’t buy it. Carroll also makes the startling claim that there was no singularity at the beginning of the universe. He states that no matter when you exist in time, the universe always gives the appearance of being fifteen billion years old. This claim is in stark opposition to what we appear to observe about the motions of galaxies, and what we know of gravitation. The problem, Carroll maintains, is that we are approaching the issue from a classical perspective. There may be something to what Carroll is saying, but I confess I am not up to the task of debating the ins and outs of quantum theory.

Next we have some material on aeonics. Carroll claims that all philosophical worldviews fit one of three basic paradigms: materialistic, magical, and transcendental. The ebb and flow of these paradigms throughout history is reduced to a line graph that shows a definite cyclic pattern, as the world moves through aeons called shamanic, religious, rationalist and pandemon – the latter being the one that is allegedly emerging. It’s all very interesting, but unconvincing. There was plenty of rationality going round in the days of the ancient Greek philosophers, and there has been plenty of religion in the two and a half millennia since. There’s no doubt that Carroll has done a lot of homework, but his “psychohistory model” of aeonics appears fanciful at best. The decline and growth of our various worldviews is a product of consciousness, and consciousness will not be turned into a deterministic line graph that we have no control over. We are not automatic machines.

When Carroll turns to practical magic, that’s when the book takes a shift in a much more positive direction. He introduces a delightful phrase, “sleight of mind,” and explains it at length – as the key to effective magic. In my own experience with psionics, I can affirm that success requires a mind that is distracted from the task you wish to perform. You have to play a little mental trick with yourself to, for instance, accomplish a successful act of psychokinesis.

Terms like “psychic censor” and “sleight of mind” are useful in understanding the inner workings of magic, but a good portion of the book is also concerned with building new a system of magic, full of pointless new terms – as if the world needs yet another. Magic is divided into eight categories (seemingly for no other reason than the Chaos symbol has eight arrows). These are: octarine (pure magic), black (death magic), blue (wealth magic), green (love magic), yellow (ego magic), purple or silver (sex magic), orange (thinking magic), red (war magic). My question is: why? All these categories are arbitrary and artificial. It’s fine to break magic down like this for the purpose of talking about particular applications of magic in the practical sphere. But there is no benefit whatsoever to memorising this jargon as some kind of fundamentally meaningful system. Magic comes from that fuzzy non-dual transcendence from which everything springs. It isn’t truly eightfold in any sense outside of the author’s personal subjective preferences.

Evocation, divination, enchantment, invocation, illumination, sorcery, shamanic magic, ritual magic, astral magic, high magic. In my opinion, there’s a lot of pointless vocabulary being held up as important. And if that’s not enough, we have to contend with “sorcery invocation,” “shamanic enchantment,” “ritual evocation,” and a plethora of other allegedly meaningful combinations.

The book closes with some appendices that are mostly concerned with the administration of the organisation, the Illuminates of Thanateros (also known as The Pact). The material was of no value to me other than to reinforce the pointlessness of such semi-secretive groups.

I had high hopes for this book. Sadly, I have to report that I was able to extract only a few morsels of usable insight.

Condensed Chaos by Phil Hine

hinep-condensedchaosEver since I achieved some success in experimenting with psychokinesis a few years ago, I’ve been faced with the reaity of what may be called “magic,” and I’ve been highly motivated to learn what I can about it. This ongoing quest has been both mind-expanding and frustrating, as magical theories tend to be littered with all kinds of unprovable abstractions.

The Chaos Magic approach is somewhat unique in that it supports using beliefs as methods rather than relying upon them as objective truths. For instance, when attempting particular magical endeavours, it may be suitable to view the universe as having an astral plane populated by actual entities that can be compelled to do your bidding. This may not be true, but it could be a useful method of producing a desired effect. Another belief is that all minds are interconnected as a single Mind, allowing subtle communication and influence to occur between individuals. The truth behind appearances is a very slippery thing to get hold of. “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” is the slogan of Chaoist. This is mirrored in our conventional science, too. The dualistic Newtonian view of the universe worked fine until, in the early 20th century, our experiments forced us to to develop a quantum theory that blew our assumptions about the nature of reality to bits. Nevertheless, the Newtonian perspective can still be employed successfully as a usable model of reality for the vast majority of our everyday experiences.

Hine has done a great deal more dabbling into ritual magic than I have, so I can’t really comment on the effectiveness of his approaches. I found the material on the creation of sigils fascinating. The book’s brevity is deceiving, as it is crammed with information, and requires slow, careful reading to digest. Something of a treasure trove. Much of the magical theory concerns the transformation of the self, and the information is often given with a dose of humour. I like Hine’s presentation of magic a lot. He comes across as a genuine person, rather than someone who projects himself as a grand poo-bah of the occult.

This is one of those weird books that is hard to review, because I’m not sure what I got out of it, but I know I got something important. It’s hard to crystallise that benefit as one single thing, because the structure of the book is diverse; I got a bit of this and bit of that. In particular, I gained a deeper rational appreciation that the world is magical, as opposed to viewing magic as something completely otherworldly. When I read a magical text, I’m not looking for a whole new belief system to swallow. I’m ploughing through information that is unusual and cryptic, looking for insights that will make me go “Ah-ha!” adding greater depth and rationality to my own personal take on magic. Condensed Chaos provided that. A worthy addition to any occultist’s library.

The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot

talbotm-holographicuniverseThere is good reason to believe that the universe is, in some sense, holographic. Put another way: solidity isn’t quite so solid. Science has a lot to say in defence of this counter-intuitive idea. Atoms are mostly empty space, which is what allows vast portions of the electromagnetic spectrum, such as X rays and radio waves, to pass right through solid matter, including our bodies. Inside the atom, electrons are bouncing all over the universe with no regard for the speed of light restriction. There is a universe of localised objects which is held together by a deeper and more fundamental universe that is non-local. We may say the universe is “holographic” as a means of useful analogy. A holographic photograph has no actual three-dimensional solidity, but it gives the appearance that it does – as does the universe.

Talbot’s book begins by reiterating some deep and complicated scientific ideas by Karl Pribram and David Bohm. He suggests that the term “holographic” is more than mere analogy. Holograms have the curious property that if you cut them in half, you don’t end up with half the picture in each segment; you get two copies of the whole picture. The universe, it is claimed, is also like this. Each part contains the whole. Personally, I find more value in the simpler model that the universe is a non-dual unity; each part appears to contain the whole because there aren’t any parts. I rather like Bohm’s terms for the two sides of reality: the implicate and explicate order.

Once Talbot establishes his theoretical model of the universe, his interest is in showing how it can provide a rational basis for explaining paranormal phenomena. This is the very same insight that struck me some years ago, when I got to grips with non-dualism. I proceeded to experiment with psychokinesis, and managed to get some small but mind-blowing reults. PK was, however, something very slippery and hard to replicate on demand – which strikes me as the key reason why paranormal phenomena have never yet been integrated into science.

In the last two thirds of the book, Talbot tackles dreams, healing, stigmata, psychokinesis, the aura, clairvoyance, precognition, reincarnation, out of body experiences, near death experiences, etc. This is where the book started to fall apart for me. Although I have had direct experience of a psychic “ability,” there is no doubt that charlatans abound. Talbot provides a catalogue of paranormal experiences, some of which beggar belief. To his credit, he is conscientious about quoting his sources, but some of those sources seem more than a little dubious to me.

For instance, it is claimed that some stigmatics have nail-like growths protruding from their hands, mimicking the wounds of Christ. In Talbot’s view, this is due to the mind’s ability to change the body through intention. The Christian’s powerful identification with Christ through a lifetime of meditation eventually manifests in his own body. The problem is: if such stigmata are real, why isn’t the medical world standing back in awe? Why hasn’t it revolutionised our ideas about mind and body? This isn’t some highly subjective piece of evidence for PK or ESP. The stigmata is present and observable; it won’t wanish like a ghost when you shine a light on it. Since the phenomenon hasnt been subjected to scientific scrutiny, I have to question the reliability of the source. Talbot, however, doesn’t.

Similarly, he talks about Sathya Sai Baba in a positive light. Sai Baba was a very popular Indian guru, surrounded by countless devotees. He claimed to be able to manifest objects out of thin air. I have a hard time taking such claims seriously. The warning signs of fakery are all there: a love for public adoration, the projection of a larger-than-life image, and a refusal to subject your “powers” to scientific enquiry. It beggars belief how Talbot can simply accept this man’s claims without question. Talbot himself claims to have had profound experiences of his own in childhood: poltergeist manifestations and objects materialising out of thin air. All I can say about that is: I wish I had experienced it, because I’m unable to believe it otherwise.

I really wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. But when Sai Baba and the stigmatics came up, I lost all confidence in Talbot’s ability to separate truth from nonsense in the arena of the paranormal. If all the things that Talbot catalogues are true, then there is no good reason why James Randi’s Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge has remained without a winner for decades. For a far more rational and level-headed examination of paranormal phenomena, read the works of Dean Radin.

Michelle Remembers by Michelle Smith & Lawrence Pazder

The first book ever to be written on the subject of satanic ritual abuse (SRA) was Michelle Remembers in 1980, co-written by Michelle Smith and her psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder. Over a period of one year, Pazder records hundreds of sessions where Smith allegedly recovers repressed memories of herself as a five-year-old undergoing a prolonged period of ritual abuse at the hands of a satanic cult. She is tortured, sexually abused, locked in a cage, witness to murders, and painted in the blood of sacrifice victims. At one point, a Satanist sews horns and a tail into Smith’s flesh. The scars left by this surgery would have proved invaluable in authenticating the account, but there is no such evidence on Smith’s adult body.

The ceremonies were gory and bizarre, and bore no relation to the rituals of the Church of Satan. Nevertheless, Pazder wastes no time in naming this specific organisation as the perpetrator of Smith’s abuse. He also states, in total ignorance of known facts: “The Church of Satan is a worldwide organization. It’s actually older than the Christian Church.” Pazder was forced to withdraw his assertion of the Church of Satan’s involvement after the book’s publication, when Anton LaVey threatened to sue for libel.

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Smith’s idea of Satanism suffers from the same faulty assumptions as Doreen Irvine’s account (see From Witchcraft to Christ); she depicts Satanists as worshippers of the literal devil of the Bible. The rituals are filled with pointless, nonsensical, sinister elements, and horror movie trappings, including at one point the appearance of a monstrous spider crawling across the altar cloth and a vampire bat with claw-tipped wings perched on the altar’s edge. In the final quarter of the book, Satan makes regular appearances in the flesh. And Smith’s depiction of him is an all-out horror movie cliché, right down to the horns on his head and the claws on his hands. Curiously, he has a pig’s snout and sports a tail that occasionally shape-shifts into a snake. Fire sprouts from his back. Amusingly, Satan insists on continually speaking in rhyming verse throughout the account:

The knife is ready. It is time to begin.
It has been poisoned and sharpened very thin.

I confess that when I began reading this book, I seriously considered that this child might have been the victim of some deeply unethical occult group. But by the time I finished, the entire tale had made a nosedive into total religious farce. In addition to enduring the devil’s bad poetry, Smith witnesses heads spinning, just like Linda Blair in the movie The Exorcist (1973). Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Archangel Michael appear to Smith at various points during her dark days in the ritual chamber. Absurdly, Mary sprinkles her sentences with French, which would not have been her native language, nor is it Smith’s. The two authors’ combined depiction of Satanism seems to be a fusion of their own Catholic prejudices and Pazder’s past encounters with unusual religion from when he was working and living in Africa in the 1960s. He goes as far as drawing this comparison himself in the book. It’s hard to see how Pazder maintained any credibility with his peers after publishing this unconscionable mix of psychiatry and superstition as fact.

It also turns out that some of Smith’s claims are provably false beyond reasonable doubt. Early in the story, she is allegedly involved in a car crash that is staged to look like an accident, as a means of the Satanists getting rid of a dead body. Conveniently, it happened so long ago that police and hospital records of the event were destroyed at the time of Smith’s therapy. However, Pazder overlooked the fact that it’s possible to check the newspaper records in library archives. No such incident was reported around the time indicated by Smith’s testimony.

The book features a photograph of a mausoleum at Ross Bay cemetery, at which a ritual allegedly took place. However, when this building is snapped from different angle (as another photographer has demonstrated), the mausoleum is revealed to be within eyeshot of suburban houses. Maybe the Satanists used one of Doreen Irvine’s invisibility spells!

Towards the end of the book there is an eighty-one-day non-stop ceremony. Yearbooks from Smith’s elementary school have revealed no indication of her being missing for a lengthy period of time.

There are many more problems with Smith’s account that I could raise, but these examples suffice to destroy her credibility. All that remains is to determine whether she is delusional or an outright liar. The coherency and detail in her account causes me to side with the latter.

Even without the evidence against Smith and Pazder, the simple fact that nothing can be corroborated ought to raise warning bells in the minds of readers. But many people have never made the mental effort to learn what criteria they ought to use in determining truth from falsehood. People tend to believe things if they merely feel true, or if they simply want to believe. The ability to believe claims in the absence of evidence is how witch-hunts are born. And in this instance, that’s exactly what happened.

Michelle Remembers opened the floodgates for countless reports of satanic ritual abuse. Pazder was considered to be an expert. He became involved in the Cult Crime Impact Network and lectured to police agencies about SRA during the late 1980s. By September 1990 he had been consulted in more than a thousand ritual abuse cases.

Closure of the Satanic Panic finally came with the publication of the Lanning Report (1991) by the FBI. Three hundred cases of multi-victim, multi-offender SRA were examined and no physical evidence of abuse could be found. Aside from the occasional unethical pseudo-Satanist, there was no evidence whatsoever of any underground occult organisation engaging in SRA. This document can be read in full on the internet. Conspiracy theorists still like to keep the phenomenon alive. I read this in an online forum: “The Lanning Report is load of pig shit, if you ask me. Written by the same people it claims ‘do not exist.’” Of course, the conspiracy theorist doesn’t require actual evidence of the FBI’s involvement in a cover-up; the mere suspicion of it is enough to warrant belief.

During the years of the Panic, the lives of many law-abiding Satanists (and other non-satanic occultists) were subjected to the judgements of a dangerously ignorant population (including its law enforcement) that was feeding on a diet of sensationalist propaganda.

By contrast, the uncovering of real, verified, widespread child abuse within the Catholic Church has to be one of the most spectacular reversals of expectation in history, as we discover that real evil lies within those who masquerade as the good, rather than those who merely enjoy the glamour of sinister symbolism.

The Satanic Panic must never happen again. That will only be possible through the widespread triumph of reason over superstition.