(image by Lazlo-photo, used under a Creative Commons sharealike license)
Yaaaar! We be back with more brain piracy, psychic mularkey and general cerebral oddity. This week, Dr. Dave looks at (amongst other things) the rather curious history of EEG, why certain tribes survived that Tsunami and several women through a telescope.
The Science Of Magic?
Slouching towards 2012 there’s a hopeful fervour brewing in the New Age and psychedelic cauldron that the end of the Mayan calendar will force us to leap spectacularly into an era of realised panpsychism, where telepathy no longer requires telephones and we can plug directly into the Gaian internet or Vernadsky’s noosphere (a kind of human collective consciousness). As a contemporary spokesman for this view Daniel Pinchbeck has borrowed generously from Rudolf Steiner, who foresaw the coming of the Age of Michael and the development of universal telepathy, as did Steiner’s contemporary Teilhard de Chardin.
Pinchbeck  supposed that, “…many people, myself included, seem to be experiencing an almost exponential increase in synchronicities and other types of phenomena that suggest that the psychic and physical realms are approaching each other at a high speed”. This is something that I once accidentally neologised during a lecture as the ‘frequenicity’, the sensed increase in the frequency of synchronicities that tends to occur after a sustained dalliance with altered states, much like that which occurred with Pinchbeck’s attempts to break open his head with psychedelics.
Sure enough, plenty of people on the New Age and psychedelic scenes talk about increasingly opening up to these ‘paranormal’ experiences, but does this reflect a new dawning in human evolution or is it just an artefact, a cohort effect if you like, something that some of us experience more often as we journey further together in our neo-mystical development? Are we each just experiencing this psychic awakening as we unfold on our own path, as many others have before us, or is this increasingly happening to everyone more and more?
The evolution of a psychic consciousness might genuinely be happening to all of us as a species, and the experience of opening up to one’s own power might be an indicator of this, but I’ll argue it’s also likely that a prolonged period outside the reaffirmation of our peers’ experiences would lead us to think that we’re just “doing it alone”. Hanging out with fundamentalist sceptics, which many scientists are, or a trip to prison, say, and the harsh realities of life outside one’s chosen bubble of the esoterically educated might lead to the assumption that we are actually travelling down the devolutionary path of psychic consciousness.
And, having failed to nurture real telepathy or clairvoyance, our ‘techne’ instead of our ‘psyche’ is increasing fulfilling our needs, plugging the gap between our desire for omniscience and the reality that this desire still very much remains unreachably in the domain of the gods.
Going back to our ancestral roots, a common theme evident in Mircea Eliade’s study of shamanism  is that, globally, the shamans lamented the passing of the Golden Age during which magic powers such as psi had been more potent than at any time since. According to Eliade this was an age that has long been lost and traditional shamanism now is considered a dying art, forever being diluted. Although this might be discounted as Eliade’s pessimism, there appears to be something in this notion.
Still clinging to a vanishing world, many of the various tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of the Indian Ocean have managed to resist contact with modern ‘civilisation’ (I use the term loosely) and would still be considered ‘primitive’ by anthropologists had this species of academic survived until now without evolving in a more politically correct direction.
According to the Fortean Times, as a testament to their heightened awareness, these tribes-people were likely the only humans to escape without casualties after their islands were hit by the devastating Tsunami that swept the region in December 2004. Hundreds of thousands of less-aware coast dwellers were killed by this wave across South East Asia . Strangely enough, apparently very few animals drowned anywhere at this time either, with many having broken their tethers to flee before the waves struck .
Such awareness to the perils of nature was attributed to a sixth sense, a sense that the modern human denizens of those beaches seemingly lacked. If this is a case of genuine paranormal faculties at work then there’s also a sense that we moderns are living in an age of psychic ignorance, where science has supplanted magic and we are becoming increasingly more detached from any vestiges of that psychic wisdom that our ancestors may once have had.
Taking an objective position on this notion of psychic awareness – if there is such a thing as objectivity – science also holds a means of investigating magic with a critical, yet open mind. This empirical approach is the essence of parapsychology, which can be considered as the science of magic, covertly at least because the word magic itself is anathema to most parapsychologists, keen as they are to remain respectably scientific and scientifically respectable. The word magic, taken seriously, is actually completely abhorrent to most scientists, who commonly subscribe to what has been called ‘scientism’.
This is the view that science has ontological supremacy in the explanation of reality, primarily assuming that all processes can be reduced down to mechanical explanations governed only by physical laws, a position known as materialist reductionism. Parapsychology, as a scientific discipline, has been brave enough not to make such materialist assumptions by upholding that science is just a method, not a position or a belief system, thereby keeping a door open for the possibility of real magic and the existence of mind, and even spirit. Much to the alarm of many opponents in the mainstream, parapsychology has used modern methods and technologies to devise experiments that increasingly point toward humans as genuinely psychic beings.
Considering such recent advances, had it not been for the advent of modern psychophysiological monitoring technology, such as electroencephalograph (EEG) brain mapping equipment, psychical research might otherwise have languished in the repetitive and boring loops of card-guessing experiments so popular a few decades ago. Weirdly enough, however, the man renowned for naming the EEG, Hans Berger, developed this technology early in the 20th century for measuring electromagnetic (EM) fluctuations in the brain because he (incorrectly) thought that these EM emissions might be the carrier waves responsible for psychic transmissions between brains.
Marconi had earlier thought the same of EM when he invented the telegraph. Berger himself had changed career from astronomy to psychology to study the neurophysiological processes of psi after his distant sister had an accurate vision of him involved in a near-fatal accident. Somewhat poetically then, Berger’s EEG, after disappearing as a tool of psi research but flourishing in neuroscience, has been brought back into the field of parapsychology. This time though, the EEG is being used to find telepathic thought transmissions in a slightly different way, by demonstrating that distant brains can seemingly communicate without the owners of those brains being conscious of it, but not through the medium of electromagnetism as Berger once thought.
Read Part 3
References and Further Reading
7. Anonymous (2005). The way in, is the way out: An interview with Daniel Pinchbeck. New World Disorder, issue 3.
8. Eliade, M. (1972). Shamanism: Archaic techniques of ecstasy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. (Originally published in French in 1951).
9. Anonymous (2005). In the Tsunami’s wake. Fortean Times, 196, 26.
10. Anonymous (2005). Did animals sense danger? Fortean Times, 194, 6.