Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove has a unique vantage point for evaluating the future of parapschology and psi research.
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On this episode of Skeptiko…
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: In many ways philosophers are pointing out that there’s a conceptional error there and that has to do with confusing technology with science. Technology has been so successful over the last two to three hundred years that we’ve become hypnotized by it in a way, and we imagine that the world around us is like a great big clockwork of some sort and that everything follows a kind of rationalistic materialistic logic. I think that occurs because we project the success that we’ve had with technology onto all of nature, and nature herself does not necessarily obey mechanistic principles all of the time.
Stay with us for Skeptiko…
Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science and spirituality with leading researchers, thinkers and their critics. I’m your host, Alex Tsakiris, and on this episode Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove joins me. He was actually a guest, like 10 years ago, which we talk a little bit about on the show — which is pretty amazing — and if you don’t know anything about him, he’s really, really an interesting guy. He has kind of seen it all, done it all, when it comes to parapsychology and has been involved with parapsychology education and public communication about it for a long, long time. His show, Thinking Allowed, which was originally on PBS, and his new show, New Thinking Allowed, are just mainstays for this kind of information.
But the other thing I want to talk to him about is this book that he wrote a long time ago called The PK Man, and it’s about his encounters with this guy Ted Owens; we talk a little bit about it in the interview, so I don’t have to repeat it, but it is an absolutely amazing kind of paradigm-shattering account of psychokinesis and psychic powers in a human being, and I don’t know how history has managed sidestep this case, because it’s really well documented in so many ways.
So that’s an interesting angle to mix into this little thing. I mean, here’s this guy… he’s been in the parapsychology field for 30 – 40 years, and he’s got this amazing firsthand experience with this guy who could direct thunderbolts with his finger and summon UFOs and make the weather change, incredible! So there’s a lot there to kind of ponder and think about.
Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove to Skeptiko. Jeff is the creator and host of New Thinking Allowed, a very impressive YouTube interview show that tackles cutting-edge, conscious related topics as well as some very deep spirituality, which really makes it especially terrific. He does it in a very intelligent way — a very academic way — but at the same time accessible, at least to most of us. Dr. Mishlove is also the author of several books, including The Roots of Consciousness and The PK Man, which — even though it was published 17 years ago, in 2000 — remains, in my opinion, one of the most important books about psi that really has ever been written, and that’s not hype. I hope we have a good deal of time to talk about The PK Man: it’s so important and it’s so mind-blowing in so many ways.
Anyways, it’s been — as I was just chatting one second ago to Jeff — it’s been 10 years since Dr. Mishlove was on Skeptiko, I can’t believe it’s that long, but it is certainly great to have him back. Jeff, welcome and thanks so much for joining me.
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: It’s a pleasure to be here.
Alex Tsakiris: What I want to pick up on is this deep spirituality, because it seemed to me that you were, in a very intelligent way, broadening to this new emerging spirituality. But then I went back and looked at the original Thinking Allowed, and that was always in the DNA of that show as well, but has this spiritual interest — in the way that you approach it — deepened, broadened for you [over] the years, or is it still you see the same vision of that?
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Well, I guess I could say this, my philosophy is that the spiritual traditions of the world are now the birthright of every human being. It’s no longer required that you have to accept the religion into which you were born, because every religion, every cultural tradition has some very unique insights into the nature of consciousness and we’re all entitled to partake of all of that.
Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, but what I like is that you don’t just explore it from that angle — because that sounds like kind of this religious equality kind of thing — I mean, you dig deep and try and bring science to it as well. I mean, many of your guests have done that, right?
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Yeah.
Alex Tsakiris: The name’s going to escape me now, but who’s the most recent guy you had on who was talking about the after-death communications, Betty?
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Oh, Stafford Betty, who’s a professor or religious studies at the California State University in Bakersfield.
Alex Tsakiris: Excellent, and your interview was excellent, and his information was excellent, and he’s a guy… and I think this is, to me, the quintessential New Thinking Allowed. He says, “Look, I don’t have any strong religious connection to this; as a matter of fact I see religion in slightly a less favorable light based on my research. I just wanted to look at issues that typically are included or exclusively the category of religion; that is, how do people encounter God in the afterlife, or who do they encounter whatever that is — afterlife — and I approached it from this mediumistic kind of way, but very scientific and stuff like that?” That to me seems to be really your sweet spot in New Thinking Allowed.
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: I would agree with you, we’re in an era in which science is beginning to offer many important insights that were once considered exclusively the realm of religion.
Alex Tsakiris: If I can, I want to switch back to talk about parapsychology, because what interests me, I think the deep spirituality is the most important, and I think the consciousness and the parapsychology stuff is a distant second, but it’s interesting. When I asked you, you kind of put it the other way around, which is cool. I mean, that’s where you’re coming from and I like that, but I went and listened to the interview we did 10 years ago, and I guess there’s a little bit of kind of, ‘I told you so’, in here for me, but I can’t see the glass quite as half full when it comes to parapsychology as you do.
So, I love the optimistic… eternal optimist spin that you put on it, but I see the state of parapsychology and the progress — or lack of progress of parapsychology in the last 10 years — in kind of a different view, so I was hoping we could kick that around. What do you think is the state of parapsychology right now?
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: I think you have to take a real long-term view of it. William James wrote, well over a hundred years ago, when the field was known as psychical research, but at that point he said, “We cannot judge this field decade by decade, the way we would judge other fields; we have to look at it century by century instead, because we’re dealing with something so very profound, our fundamental understanding of space and time and consciousness.”
So that’s what makes me optimistic is because I can look out, maybe 200, 300, 400 years from now and see where things are going. If I had to say, “Well, what’s happened in the last decade or two?” In fact the last five decades since I’ve been active in the field… I was much more optimistic and excited back in the 70s than I am today.
Alex Tsakiris: Right.
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: At that point I thought parapsychology would revolutionize everything and it’s interesting because my friend, Jacques Vallée, the great UFO researcher, remembers those days. He was involved in the creation of the internet, and he said, “Yes, I was involved in parapsychology and in the internet and they both seem to have revolutionary promise, but only the internet has so far actualized that potential, parapsychology has yet to do so.” But the data is there, the research is actually very good, there are significant practical applications that have been developed; it’s just that there’s enormous social resistance and that’s going to take a long, long time to wear away.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, and maybe we’ll explore that in a minute and one of the driving forces behind that resistance, both socially and within academia and science in general, but just to be clear, you know, I pulled out some quotes, just to kind of establish where we’re at. You look up ‘parapsychology’, the first thing that comes up is Wikipedia. We all hate Wikipedia, but we have to acknowledge the place that it holds in our collective culture opinion forming thing.
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Yeah.
Alex Tsakiris: Opening paragraph, last sentence, “Parapsychology, it is identified as pseudoscience by the overwhelming majority of mainstream scientists. Well of course that’s bullshit but aside from that, that’s there. But then what I did, and this to me is even worse, is you go to the Parapsychology Association website and it says, Most parapsychologists today expect that further research will eventually explain these anomalies, (that is everything we’re talking about, ESP, psychokinesis and survival of consciousness) in a scientific (what they’re really saying is, materialistic, mind equals brain) terms.”
So, that’s been the failing that I see; I mean, that’s the disappointment that I think you feel or talked about and I certainly feel, is that there’s been this coup from within, where even the Parapsychology Association is, you know, been kind of taken over from the inside and has kind of lost its way in my opinion, saying that, “We’re all convinced that all this is going to be explained as materialistic science as we know it.” That’s just crazy, that’s just ridiculous.
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Well there are, I would say a minority of parapsychologists who consider themselves physicalists or materialists who hold that view. Most of the people in parapsychology and I think — well I’m sure I can speak for most of the people in parapsychology — and say that, when they say there will be a scientific explanation, they don’t necessarily mean a mechanistic, materialistic explanation. I think they’re talking about a new kind of science, a science that will be based on a different sort of metaphysics, whether that’s idealism or panpsychism, it’s hard to say right now. But there are some very exciting developments in the philosophy of mind as well that suggest to me that — you know — in coming generations we’re going to have very different views of what we mean when we use basic terms like time, space, matter and energy.
Alex Tsakiris: I have no doubt, no argument there. I just think, again, look back to your show — in the current version of your show and what you’re doing — where you’re mining in the deep spirituality kind of vein, just seems so much more relevant, deep, rich than when we turn our focus to the very narrow-minded “why people believe weird things” [theme] that parapsychology, in a lot of cases, has become, or the very kind of very limited, narrow — you know — “How can we make this little psi experiment work?”
To me, we’ve reached the jumping off point where we have to jump, in the way that you’re doing, and say, “Okay, what are the broader implications for this complete redo of our understanding of consciousness?” And that is that it’s somehow, in some way fundamental, I mean, that’s where everything seems to be pointing and that’s why, to me it doesn’t make any sense for the Parapsychology Association to even say something like that and say, “No, we can keep going down this path, it will eventually work out.” No it’s not, until you make that shift, none of it makes any sense.
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Well there’s nothing inherent in the scientific method that requires that it be wedded to materialist philosophy. That’s kind of an historical fact right now, but in many ways philosophers are pointing out that there’s a conceptual error there, and that has to do with confusing technology with science. Technology has been so successful over the last two to three hundred years that we’ve become hypnotized by it in a way and we imagine that the world around us is like a great big clockwork of some sort and that everything follows a kind of rationalistic materialistic logic. I think that occurs because we project the success that we’ve had with technology onto all of nature, and nature herself does not necessarily obey mechanistic principles all of the time.
Alex Tsakiris: I would say this shut up and calculate thing that they reached in quantum physics, which is like, “Oh my god, all these discoveries seems to be completely contradicting our understanding of consciousness, consciousness is fundamental,” and then somebody comes in and says, “Okay, but shut up and calculate, let’s figure out how we can take…” Which we’ve done, I mean quantum physics is the heart of the computer, cellular information explosion that we’ve had, but it doesn’t remove the fact that we just kind of bypassed the deeper, philosophical questions that quantum physics was struggling with a hundred years ago.
So I think a lot of people… exactly what you were saying about technology. They don’t realize that, you know, it’s not an either/or thing; I mean, you can ignore the philosophical questions and still go on with your life, but the philosophical questions and the philosophy of science questions are still there, even if you ignore them. What do you think about that?
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Well Alex, I think it’s useful to appreciate that humanity itself is really just in its infancy. I mean, we think of ourselves as being so advanced because we have all of this technology, but really, the earliest human civilizations are only maybe 10,000 years old and in the larger scheme of things, that’s virtually nothing. I mean, I can envision the day when humans will look back and they’ll have a history that will extend for perhaps a million years, like other species have. So we have a lot of evolution ahead of us as a culture.
Alex Tsakiris: There has been significant progress, definitely in the last 20 years, especially in the last 10 years, and you talk about this on your show as well. But on survival of consciousness and after-death communication, what do you make of the considerable near-death experience science that’s kind of come forward and kind of done an end run on that whole skeptical debate? Because they’re really [reaching] the general public and the public consciousness in a way that — I don’t think — anyone really saw that coming either.
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Yeah the work in near-death experience is very important. There’s an international association for near-death studies.
Alex Tsakiris: But what do you think about that, what do you think about that research?
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Well that’s one line of research, there’s about a dozen different lines of research all pointing toward the existence of an afterlife, survival of consciousness after death. There’s probably a dozen different lines of research there.
Alex Tsakiris: Sure, but let’s get down. So near-death experience research versus the reincarnation research, primarily done at UVA with Jim Tucker and formerly Ian Stevenson. You know, compare or contrast, I mean really, this is what I’m saying. This is the kind of stuff I’d like to hear you say rather than just kind of a party line for the general public, “Yeah, there’s all these different things.” How do you see, how do you compare those, how do you stack those up, how do you look at those?
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Well, the database for both of them is roughly equivalent. We’ve got thousands of case studies, we have strong evidence — I would say — that something akin to reincarnation actually occurs. I think there’s a lot of confusion about it in the popular mind. Because of psychic readers and past-life regression therapists, people often confuse their wishful thinking and their fantasies with actual reincarnation, but the data is very strong. And then you have to ask yourself, well, if we reincarnate and if we also survive death, those are two windows into what an afterlife might look like. I think we can form a composite picture of the afterlife by looking at all these lines of evidence as a whole, and that’s why I like to talk about them all. I think they all have their weaknesses, and yet, if you look at the overwhelming body of evidence, they’re all incredibly strong. While some skeptics like to dismiss it all as some sort of cognitive errors or wishful thinking, anyone who takes a close look at the data will realize that the people who are doing research in this area are light years ahead of their critics.
Alex Tsakiris: That kind of leads me into the next thing because one of the things I appreciate that you do is you don’t set the boundaries. At least you don’t set them in the normal place that people do, because the next thing you go into… you’re not afraid to explore the UFO phenomenon, the alien contact phenomenon, demonic possession in the occult, I mean, I just don’t know how anyone can exclude those, or at least put them on the table, but you certainly don’t. So what is your best understanding of what’s going on, when we talk about UFOs and alien contact?
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: I think a good starting point for a discussion of these things would be F.W.H. Myers’ classic book, published in 1902 called, The Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, and what Myers did is he collected hundreds and hundreds of case studies that had accumulated in the offices of the Society for Psychical Research in London, which was founded in 1882, so he had about 20 years’ worth of data there. He put it all together in a spectrum and what he showed is that you can go to the most extreme cases pointing to survival after death, and show that they are part of a spectrum that includes normal human consciousness, just as we have the electromagnetic spectrum, everything from normal light and radio waves and cosmic rays, all on the same spectrum. We have a wide, wide range of phenomenon associated with consciousness, including reincarnation, UFOs, demonic possession and our normal everyday waking consciousness, which is just as much a mystery as everything else.
Alex Tsakiris: Great point, great point. One of my pet peeves is the hard problem of consciousness, and I always want to say, “What’s the easy problem of consciousness?” But on the UFO thing, I want to drill into that a little bit more because, as you know, in the UFO community, they’ve suddenly got religion about consciousness, but the way they bring it forward is kind of not always fleshed out completely. So, let’s nail that down. So, if someone comes to you and says, “I believe there’s a nuts and bolts reality to what I witnessed in the sky,” irrespective of whether there’s this spectrum of consciousness and it’s somehow connected with that and Strassman’s DMT beings and all the rest of it, leave all that aside. Somebody comes and says, “Hey, there was a nuts and bolts reality to that when it was flying in the sky,” how do you feel about that?
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Well, I’m inclined to think that there are dozens of different phenomenon that all get lumped together under the rubric of UFOs, and I can’t rule out the idea of nuts and bolts machines, but there are some severe problems with that interpretation. For example, some of these crafts had been known to — they’re even tracked on radar sometimes — travelling at thousands of miles an hour and then making a right-angle turn, instantly, and the normal laws of material science would suggest that, if it were a nuts and bolts aircraft, it would have fallen apart at that time, it couldn’t stand the stress of that much change in physical momentum.
So, it’s very likely that what we’re looking at is more a projection from another dimension, the way you can take for example, a spotlight and project it into the sky so that the beam will appear to move at thousands of miles an hour and make a right-angle turn, that could be done. So it suggests that these things are never quite what they seem to be.
Alex Tsakiris: But then we have to also mix in there what you said, I mean, we also have the radar, which is approaching a physical-ness to it, we also have eyewitness accounts which don’t, but when there are multiple eyewitness accounts, spread across…
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Yeah.
Alex Tsakiris: We have trace elements that a lot of people have explored and we don’t know quite what to make of those. We have people that have said they’ve come in contact with the physical…
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Yeah.
Alex Tsakiris: So, I know you’re not dismissing any of that and you’re really painting, I think, very fairly and appropriately, kind of this broad kind of thing; I just want people to get a sense for how you’re dealing with all the different data that’s out there. Maybe you’ve done that already, but if there’s anything you want to add, you know, please do.
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Well Alex, you know, with regard to the way that I personally process all of this data, it’s probably fair to say that my mind works like an encyclopedia. In fact, my first book, The Roots of Consciousness was called ‘an encyclopedia of consciousness studies’. So I’m willing to kind of take it all in and try and organize it and categorize it — maybe the way a librarian would work with the Dewey Decimal System — that each and every perspective should have its own little niche. I don’t think that we’re in a point in history now where we are yet ready to have an overarching theory that can explain everything; we’re still in the data collection phase.
Alex Tsakiris: Great, that’s awesome. So one other thing I brought up and I want to swing back to is demonic possession. That just throws a lot of people through a complete loop. The way you approach it, in the spirit that you’ve shared already on this show — and people will get this when they watch New Thinking Allowed — is, “Hey, that’s just another phenomenon that has to be looked at and examined,” but what particularly are your thoughts on demonic possession, malevolent spirits, the spirit world, the hierarchy of consciousness, whatever that topology is as best you understand it at this point? Any thoughts?
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Well, you know, the very term ‘demonic’, the way you’re using it, has sort of theological, religious components, and I think it’s useful to remind our viewers that in the history of religions on this planet what you see are many gods overthrowing others, many pantheons, the Greek Olympian gods overthrew the Greek Titans and so the Titans were labelled as demonic and often, when a new religion comes about, the deities of the previous religion are given that demonic label, and then sometimes it’s reversed. When Zarathushtra developed his philosophy in Ancient Persia, he took what had been viewed as a demon or an asura and made it the head deity of light, Ahura Mazda. So, you know, one culture’s demons may be another culture’s deities and not necessarily in a bad sense either.
Alex Tsakiris: Right. I’ll tell you what, in the time we have left, I promised myself and I guess our listeners at the beginning, that I really want to talk about The PK Man. I mean, how this didn’t get you the most distinguished chair at some university or a million dollar book deal, I don’t know, or started some religious cult, I don’t know, but obviously it didn’t and yet the story is just too amazing to not repeat and retell. So for people who don’t know the Ted Owens’ story in your amazing, many-year encounter with this, would you mind giving folks a synopsis of what that whole thing was about?
Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove: Well yeah, I met Ted Owens through Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ at SRI International back in 1976, when they were doing their early work and remote viewing and working with Uri Geller and getting funding from the CIA. They were getting a lot of publicity and Ted Owens learned about it and was sending them all of these letters saying things like, “You’re wasting your time with Uri Geller because I’m the world’s greatest psychic, and to prove it”, he said, “I’m going to do a demonstration for you.” There was a drought going on in California in 1976, a very serious drought, and he said, “I’m going to end this drought and you’ll know in a few days because there’ll be rain and sleet and hail and there’ll be UFO sightings, which are part of my signature of my demonstrations and power blackouts and a local newspaper will publish that the drought is over.” Well, all of that happened in like three days’ time.
So, Russell Targ sent a little note back to Ted Owens saying, “Congratulations, that was a really good prediction,” and Ted Owens wrote back to him and said, “That was no prediction, I caused it,” and at that point, Puthoff and Targ realized that this was more than they could deal with.