The Meaning of Psi and other strange experiences

Did you know Albert Einstein advocated telepathy research or that Marie Curie attended seances?

In this edition of The Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss, The Flip, a new book by Jeffrey Kripal.

The title refers to the range of experiences, from precognitive dreams to NDEs, that “flip” individuals from a mechanistic and materialist worldview. They become much more open to possibilities such as panpsychism and idealism. Kripal’s contention is that flips are common and, were they talked about, they would change culture. But would they? The conversation ranges over the links between psychic phenomena and spiritual experiences, to whether there are better ways of discussing psi beyond the perennial issue of proof? Is panpsychism an adequate way forward? And what is the meaning of the flips that people undoubtedly have?

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Owen Barfield: Imagination and Spiritual Sight, Pt 3

Having considered the insights of William Blake and Carl Jung in the first two talks of this series, I now turn to those of Owen Barfield.

He presents the biggest possible story for the imagination, integrating it into nothing less than our creation and return to the divine. What is fascinating is that he arrived at this conclusion from his story of words – those vehicles of the imagination that not only enliven our everyday but can become fossils of consciousness when used to track how human experience has shifted across millennia.

In this talk I briefly introduce Owen Barfield before describing:
– How imagination plays a part in the human story
– How imagination plays a part in the cosmic story
– How various kinds of spiritual materialism deviate from this big picture
– What the “final participation” Barfield outlined might be like.

The talk ends with two heralds of this destiny, William Blake and Thomas Traherne, whose poetic words become prophetic, offering felt intimations of the inside of the whole world.

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Carl Jung: Imagination and Spiritual Sight, Pt 2

The power of the imagination runs all the way through the depth psychology of Carl Jung. It is liberates because it is not axiomatic or discursive but perceptive. It goes beyond reactions and settled patterns of behaviour, to discover a new worlds. But it needs fostering, discerning, trusting.

In this talk, I begin with the case of Albert Einstein, whose use of imagination resonates powerfully with Jung’s approach.
– I discuss Jung’s ideas, particularly how they differ from Freud’s.
– I examine key sources of imaginative life in the human psyche – dreams, active imagination and archetypes.
– I consider how the imagination might connect us with the inside of the whole world and the divine.

The talk was the second of three given at the Fintry Trust on 28th July, 2020.

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Awaking from the Meaning Crisis QnA

I spoke with the group that meets on Discord to discuss John Vervaeke’s work on awakening from the meaning crisis. Here’s a breakdown of the questions that came up.

1.42 Christianity, Owen Barfield and John Vervaeke
8.20 Owen Barfield’s take on Christianity
9.50 How do Plato’s views on virtue relate to his views on knowledge?
11.40 What’s going on in Plato’s dialogues?
14.05 What did Barfield open in your understanding of Plato?
16.35 What’s the best way of reading the dialogues?
19.30 What does Socrates mean when he says he knows he knows nothing?
26.30 What’s the link between aesthetics, knowledge and eros in knowing the world?
32.50 Why does the church decouple the spiritual, erotic and imagination?
37.10 Does the church focus too much on procedure rather than transformation?
40.30 What ecology of practices do you follow?
43.50 How do you view Tillich’s work in the light of Barfield’s world?
48.48 Is Barfield’s take on Christianity modernist, akin to CS Lewis?
52.20 What does the Logos represent in Lewis and Barfield?
54.27 How does Barfield’s view on the Logos relate to Platonic and Neoplatonic thought?
58.40 How can we know God’s life “reliably”, as you put it in your book?
1.02.40 How does propositional knowledge relate to participatory knowledge?

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William Blake: Imagination and Spiritual Sight, Pt 1

William Blake argued that the imagination is the key human faculty for knowing fourfold vision, life to the full, and our divine destiny. But he also knew it needed cultivating, training, discerning.

In this talk, I look at Blake’s images that can become part of such a training. I also describe the schema of Ulro, Generation, Beulah and Eden-Eternity, which can become a guide to help understand our own states of mind, as well as offering a path to imaginative freedom.

The talk was the first of three given at The Fintry Trust on 21st July, 2020.

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The Inklings and the Evolution of Consciousness: a trialogue

Jeremy Johnson writes: In this much anticipated episode, Becca Tarnas and Mark Vernon return to the Mutations podcast for a trialogue on the Inklings and the evolution of consciousness. Together we explore the prescience and relevance of J.R.R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, and Jean Gebser respectively, during a time when history and myth appear to be intersecting, intensifying. I was honored and inspired to have Becca and Mark back for this trialogue, and I’d like to think our itself was in the spirit of the historical Inklings at the Bird and Baby pub in Oxford, in the 20th century. I look forward to when, someday after this lockdown is over, we might do this again together, and in person.

Becca’s Book:
Journey to the Imaginal Realm: A Reader’s Guide to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings:…

Mark’s Book:
A Secret History of Christianity: Jesus, the Last Inkling, and the Evolution of Consciousness

Jeremy’s book:
Seeing Through the World: Jean Gebser and the Evolution of Consciousness

More Notes:
– The notion club papers:…
– Owen Barfield and Jean Gebser (my podcast with Mark):…
– Recovering the Imaginal with C.G. Jung and J.R.R. Tolkien (my podcast with Becca)…

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Rupert Sheldrake & Mark Vernon on David Bohm & Infinite Potential

A new film, Infinite Potential: The Life and Ideas of David Bohm, has just been released for free online.

In this episode of the Sheldrake-Vernon Dialogues, Rupert Sheldrake and Mark Vernon discuss its excellent telling of the dramatic life and revolutionary insights of this deep scientific thinker.

Rupert first met Bohm in 1982 soon after the publication of his book A New Science of Life precipitated a negative reaction from the militant materialists; the editor of the leading scientific journal Nature tried to excommunicate him. Bohm had a similar experience forty years earlier with the quantum physics community.

Mark and Rupert talk about what Bohm drew from Krishnamurti, and how the formalisms of quantum theory are influenced by psychological and spiritual perceptions. They also explore the ways in which Bohm’s notion of an implicate order resonates strongly with that of morphic fields, and discuss Bohm’s engagement with the ideas of Owen Barfield, about whom Mark has written.

They highly recommend the film which is available online.

Rupert’s discussions with Bohm and Krishnamurti can be found on Rupert’s website here.

Owen Barfield’s discussions with Bohm are detailed on Mark’s website here.

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Dante’s Divine Comedy and Spiritual Sight

This is a recording of a richly illustrated talk I gave online as part of St Albans Cathedral’s online adult education programme.

My canto by canto podcasts and YouTubes of the Divine Comedy are online.

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A New Way of Seeing with John Vervaeke

My discussion with John on spiritual intelligence and perceiving wider reality: covering shifts of consciousness, the links between ascent and descent, simplicity and unity, 4E cognition, the transformation of freedom, and the centrality of love in knowing and participating.

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Psi and the Limits of Science

This piece was written for The Idler.

The modern world swears by science. If your intervention or idea is not evidence-based, you risk instant dismissal. So it’s odd when the same mindset refuses to acknowledge phenomena supported by way more evidence than, say, intergalactic dark matter or the chemical soup theory for the origins of life.

I’m talking about psi – the mental happenings that range from psychokinesis to precognition, from telepathy to synchronicities. My friend, Rupert Sheldrake, never tires of saying that such experiences are widespread in the population. He’s documented hundreds of cases of individuals anticipating when someone is about to phone, as well as pets who know when their owners are coming home. (If you want a lockdown treat watch his YouTubes on the telephone telepathy enjoyed by The Nolan Sisters and, to be truly amazed, Nkisi the apparently psychic parrot.)

Scientists are generally allergic to investigating these everyday occurrences, fearing ridicule, and the amount of money allocating to funding research is small. But enough brave individuals have done the work and proven that psi happens.

Consider the witness of just one, Jessica Utts, who is significant because she was the president of the American Statistical Association: if there is anyone who knows how to assess the evidence, it’s her. And this is what she’s said: “Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well-established.”

In fact, because of the aversion with which the establishment reacts, psi experiments are often better designed and more robust than other trials. If you want to know about controls or double-blind protocols or replication, ask a psi researcher.

A longstanding player in this field is Jeffrey Kripal. His new book, The Flip, is an ideal, up-to-date primer. It’s well written, wide ranging, and doesn’t hold back on implications and insights. He is a psychologist, known for his work on religious ecstasy, UFO encounters, near death experiences, and the many and varied links between sci-fi and psi.

In this book, his aim is straightforward: to show that many people who otherwise prefer to stick to the world as described by scientific materialism find themselves “flipped” by inexplicable and unignorable events. The stories of the well-informed and intelligent are particularly striking.

Mark Twain dreamt of his brother’s death. He saw him in a metallic coffin, garlanded with white and red roses. A few weeks later, his brother died suddenly and Twain witnessed what he had seen, unfolding before his eyes.

Barbara Ehrenreich was raised a passionate atheist. Then, one day, whilst walking home in a little town called Lone Pine, she had an epiphany of the cosmos flaring into life. It completely upset her worldview. She has subsequently speculated that we might be living symbiotically with psychic creatures who cohabit with us, much as bacteria do biologically in our gut.

Personally, my experience of psychotherapy convinced me of the presence of everyday, humdrum synchronicities. I’ve learnt to trust them as winks and nods, much like I’ve learnt to trust dreams. Sometimes they seem relatively inconsequential, like the time I was leaving a talk about the mischievous spirits known as djinns, immediately to see passing a delivery cyclist working for a company called Djinns.

At other times, I wonder where they might lead me, like the time I was reading a book by the angel seer, Lorna Byrne. She advises asking your guardian angel to show itself to you, which I decided to do. Then, I left the house to catch a bus. At the bus stop, I took out her book to carry on reading, and flicked through to find the page. The first words I read were: “you may be at a bus stop”.

I got interested in angels because I started to take seriously what some of the greatest minds in human history said about them. Consider Socrates. It’s well attested that he was accompanied through life by a daemon, the ancient Greek name for go-between spirits. Of course, he lived in different times to ours. The world was assumed to be enchanted back then. But our ancestors could also discern between mental ill-health, superstitious fears, and ethereal entities. I’ve concluded that it’s our times which are foolish to dismiss them.

Just how we might re-engage them is a fascinating question, and Kripal can help here, too. He applies theories of human perception to his investigations, as it’s clear that how we perceive the world is profoundly shaped by what’s already in our minds. This is why Catholics have visions of the Virgin Mary and Hindus, the goddess Siva. He has also concluded that this is why hundreds of thousands of people in the US see flying saucers. American culture is saturated with stories of space as the final frontier, seeking out new civilisations, and boldly going where no-one has gone before.

We experience what’s otherwise beyond comprehension through the myths available to us, which is not to say that we aren’t experiencing something real. And this is why it matters. As Plato taught: human beings desire to become consciously aware of all levels of reality – physical, psychological, ethical, social, intellectual, cosmic, spiritual, divine. If we cut out parts of reality, we cut off parts of ourselves. Doing that precipitates compensatory excesses, from substance abuse to runaway consumerism.

In short, it’s worth finding a place for psi as part of the remedy for modern despair or, to put it the other way around, psi phenomena are the evidence that there’s more to life than meets the scientific eye. “Whatever they are (or are not), such flips appear to be scripted as goads and inspirations not as blocks and trips,” Kripal writes. “They appear to be pointing us to the new real and to the future of knowledge.” I agree. Let’s follow them.

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