Dr. Robert Davis’ research into peak experiences reveals multiple paths to extended consciousness realms.
photo by: Skeptiko
Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Dr Robert Davis to Skeptiko. Bob is an internationally recognized expert in the field of sensory neuroscience. I was just browsing his curriculum vitae before we talked here and way beyond my comprehension, but I have to take it for what it’s worth. He’s a guy who’s had a stellar academic career, all the usual stuff, articles in scholarly papers, NIH grants, called to conferences to speak, all of this stuff.
And then, like we like to say on Skeptiko, you know, the universe knocked more or less. Bob and his wife had a rather lengthy UFO sighting a few years back that led to his first book, The UFO Phenomenon. Then he had a rather remarkable shared near-death experience or shared death experience, I should say, if you know what that is, leading to his second book, Life After Death.
And to top it all off, he has this rather remarkable Kundalini experience, a peak experience that more or less leads to his third book, and one that we’re going to talk a lot about today, Unseen Forces: The Integration of Science, Reality and You.
Alex Tsakiris: Bob awesome, awesome work. Thank you so much for joining me
Dr. Robert Davis: Alex, it’s really a pleasure to be with you. I’ve been listening to you for quite some time.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, great. You were telling me that a little bit beforehand and that’s always good to hear, especially because I want to try something different here. I’ve just started trying it out lately, but I really like the way that it goes because it launches us into these level three kinds of discussions, and in the email exchange we had back and forth and because you’re a listener to the show, you know what I mean when I say level 3. We don’t have to go over the basics, we don’t have to try and painstakingly deal with all of the stupid skeptical nonsense, and we can get to some of the real issues that are important to the people, like you and I who are deeply into trying to figure this stuff out. So are you ready?
Dr. Robert Davis: Oh, I’m ready. Let’s go
Alex Tsakiris: Skeptiko Jeopardy. For those who are listening along here are my categories for you. Mind Equals Brain. Biofield. NDEs versus Abductions. Different World, and we’ll explain what that means, but that’s one of the key ideas from the book. Time and Space. Peak Experience, obviously we have to get there. Xanax, I’ve got an interesting spin on how much we should rely on the medical field to save us from the spiritual emergencies that are no doubt there. Kundalini, we’ve got to talk about that. And of course, I always have God on the list because God seems to be left out of these discussions all too often.
So, Dr Robert Davis, please pick your category.
Dr. Robert Davis: Well, we’ll stay with Bob, but we’ll start with, I guess, the Peak Experience. I think that’s the overarching issue, in a sense, right here. So let’s go with that one.
Alex Tsakiris: Okay, Peak Experience, and I guess that leads to a really easy question for me. How are you defining peak experience?
Dr. Robert Davis: Well, it is debatable. Stace talked about it quite a while ago. It’s a broad range of spiritual, mystical, extraordinary experiences, perceived generally in terms of an ineffable type of description of reality. They have people report having an altered sense of time and space possibly even interacting with non-human entities. That’s a distinct possibility, but they sense this interconnectedness, a common sense of oneness with the cosmos as they say.
Alex Tsakiris: Do you worry? Here’s a direct question right out. Do you worry that we’re lumping too many things together when we talk about peak experience?
Dr. Robert Davis: We may very well and that’s part of the problem, weeding things out, trying to, more specifically define with precise criteria what we are talking about, and I have lumped the NDEs, OBEs, and the UAPs, meditation, psychoactive reactions that falls under the heading, those are all trigger like experiences of this overarching peak experience. This extraordinary event that seems to transform people in remarkable, often similar, generally positive ways, in terms of psycho-spiritual changes, and the question here is why?
Why do these different types of trigger events share similarities, unique differences no doubt? But why do they have such a remarkable effect on people from that day forward, that is the critical question here. And why doesn’t the medical community, psychiatric community particularly, give it more emphasis, more attention to the millions of individuals who are having difficulty integrating this remarkable, let’s call it a peak experience, just call it a spiritual awakening, a transcendent, whatever you want to call it? It goes by many different names.
But nevertheless, people are questioning what happened to them, “Why me? Did I actually interact with another reality? And I going insane?” They’re hesitant to seek professional help for fear of being regarded as psychotic in nature, because the last thing you want to hear is that you are psychotic when you question your sanity. That can put you over the edge and it does. Many people obviously don’t want to go there. So they’re in silence or confide in just one person. And people know that they’re different, they’re having a spiritual emergency. I had a spiritual emergency.
Alex Tsakiris: Well, that’s why I brought that, you know, I just popped that up on the screen. Let’s talk about that because that’s pretty amazing and it takes us in a bunch of different directions that I think are interesting.
First of all, we want to tell people what a Kundalini experience is. It’s been documented in the yoga literature for a long time. Culturally we’ve kind of, maybe not always used it correctly, in terms of the definition of what it is in the West, but it still basically comes through, and it’s a physical biological kind of thing, a lot of times the way people talk about it.
And then there’s this integration problem that you’re talking about. Sometimes people have these Kundalini awakening kinds of experiences, these all-knowing peak experiences, wild energy that runs through the body kind of experience, and sometimes that comes after a very rigorous set of exercises, meditations over a period of years, guided by an experienced Guru type who’s going to lead you there.
But other times, as you’re going to, I think tell us about, it comes in a more spontaneous out-of-control way, out of the blue sometimes. We’ve had some people on the show who’ve talked about exactly that and it can be very unsettling when it comes that way.
So, I’ve kind of teed it up a little bit, but fill out the missing pieces and tell us about your Kundalini experience.
Dr. Robert Davis: Well said Alex. A Kundalini experience, it’s just simply another type of trigger event for an overarching peak experience. They’re very similar. In my case it didn’t emerge spontaneously but let me give a little backdrop to this quickly.
I gave a talk in Australia. Following the talk I was invited to participate in a little party in the hotel room. One of the women there, a physician actually, said, “Let’s do some medical healing.” So people sat around, about five, six of us, and she started to talk. She started to talk about erasing engrams, removing negative energy, energies, genetic dispositions, all of this type of information that kind of was focused on cleaning the person out, removing all the negative so-called karma and she was very descriptive about it.
Nevertheless, I started coughing, I couldn’t stop for 20 minutes. I started having involuntary movements at my shoulders, my head, and I was conscious, I was fully aware of that. I was literally out of control, I could not and have not ever experienced that, I could not control myself.
At the same time, while I’m more than curious about what’s going on with my body, I felt wonderful. I felt that surge of energy that you talked about, kind of like a foundation in a way of a typical Kundalini, what people talk about, maybe something having to do with a chakra, a release of energy from the base of the spine. Maybe that’s all that it is, but it’s obviously not clear to the medical community what is actually going on, other than it was like a dual awareness, that I was here in the moment but I couldn’t control my body, although I was very aware of what was going on and I loved it. It was a very positive energy.
Here again, it’s impossible to fully explain to another person unless they have it, but I was, for a period of time transformed by that. It was extraordinarily positive in many ways, but it had a spiritual emergency attached to it. Numerous obvious questions are going to be asked by anyone, but I felt that interconnectedness. How does it manifest? Again, ineffable, I can’t explain it. I felt more at one with reality, to the point where I started to hug trees every time I walked in the park. I felt that kind of closeness. It’s a lifelong…
Alex Tsakiris: How long did it last?
Dr. Robert Davis: Several months. I was very anxious. I tried to read everything about the Kundalini experience, and eventually found Dr Grof’s book on spiritual emergency, anybody who is experiencing something like that, whatever event, and people have it for, again, a variety of trigger experiences; NDEs, OBEs, psychoactive, etc., and UAP.
The thing is, that book is a critical resource and it does provide sufficient perspective to give you a better sense of what’s going on and possibly what to do. Now, you need that kind of comfort, you need that kind of…
Alex Tsakiris: So let’s back up and make sure everyone knows who Stan Grof is. Of course you and I do, but absolute pioneer in these fields and has explored these extended states from a number of different kinds of venues or pads in, as you were kind of talking about. So started out with psychedelics, but also just went to meditation, rhythmic kind of drumming and all of this kind of stuff which then relates to what we see in cultures throughout time that are isolated from a [modern 00:10:44] society. They still have this way and now we understand that as a way of accessing these peak experiences, these altered states and that starts to connect.
So then the other thing Stan Grof starts to start documenting is what it’s like to be in these states, how long these states last, as you were alluding to, and maybe you want to speak more of. They can be extremely uncomfortable and also just unsettling in a number of ways. I mean they lead to all sorts of personal problems, you know, the people that are closest to you may not be able to relate to you for that six months or sometimes for a year, that people are kind of off and doing things.
So there’s all those things we want to pull apart and maybe I’ll stop and do that. But then what I really want to get to, is beginning to start to understand or take stabs at what we think that’s saying about this larger reality and whether it’s a different world or whether it’s looking at the world differently as you like to put it. But fill in any gaps I left about Stan Grof’s important work and then the general lay of the land for these Kundalini experiences. Go ahead, I’ll stop there.
Dr. Robert Davis: Yeah. We need more support from the psychological community, and they need to be aware of the unique types of psychological problems these individuals are having, trying to wrestle with what happened to them. The fact that mainstream science of course, doesn’t recognize the things that we’re talking about as being true reality, in the sense of an NDE, a Kundalini etc. Maybe that lack of acknowledgement, understanding has led to a paltry, inadequate, inferior management system on the part of the medical community, psychiatric in particular, and psychological, to manage people to help them with the unique experiences.
There are some who do that but they’re few and far between and billions of people have these experiences every year. We know 200 thousand people in the United States alone have an NDE. Do you think they were the same person having their morning coffee and a bagel the day before? I don’t think so. Coming off of something like that is going to more than rock your world and transform you in many ways and that is a critical question among many others. Why are these individuals, again, transformed?
Alex Tsakiris: But I always wonder, and I always worry if we’re not asking the wrong question there. So let me review some of the data that you just glossed over. You go and talk to an NDE researcher like PMH Atwater, who’s done an awesome job of exploring exactly that topic, that is under reported if you will, because not a lot of folks want to talk about the fact that you’re going to have this NDE, you’re going to meet God, you’re going to be transformed and then you’re going to come back and you’re going to be suicidal and get a divorce. No one wants that to start, and it’s not like that always happens, but you know, it doesn’t solve all of the problems.
Then interestingly enough, you know, you are super well-versed in the UFO contact, ET contact experience stuff, and you’re well tied into the Free Organization and know the data set as well as know the stuff around that.
So there the story is the same, right Bob? These people, even if they have spiritually transformative experiences as part of their contact experiences, or if they don’t, if they have more traumatic experiences, same thing. They come back, divorce rate goes way up, feelings of isolation goes way up, you know? All these things are kind of the hidden message.
Then I go and talk to a guy, I really appreciate him, like his work, Dr. Jeffery Martin. A guy who studied the awakening enlightenment experience scientifically, Harvard trained social scientist, right up the alley of what we’re talking about here. So go and talk to Christian mystics as well as Buddhist Zen, the best practitioners. You go to a community and you say, “Okay, who’s really got the goods? Who’s really enlightened?” and then you go and talk to those people and you find out their experience, their phenomenology, what that’s all about. And you go and study that and you look the best you can at what it means to become awakened or enlightened.
Again, same thing, “Yes, it’s a great transformation, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world,” also leads to increased divorce, higher rates of major upheaval in your interpersonal relationships and stuff like that.
So here we’re talking about people who are just going through a different kind of awakening, but we’re saying the same thing. So let’s tackle that for a minute, particularly with… Well, I understand what you’re saying about turning on the medical community to this. The flip side is, is that really a viable path, because they are so ingrained with the thinking, and that was really the point of what I had up on the screen of the Xanax thing?
I mean, this is a Xanax world, where Xanax is like the most popular party drug at college, and kids are doing Zanny all of the time, and we have a pharmaceutical industrial complex that cranks that stuff out. They know they’re selling a hundred times more Xanax than anyone in the world would need, unless they’re using it for recreational purposes, and they don’t care and the whole system is built around that model. And I don’t want to get super conspiratorial other than to say, is that really where we want to turn for help? And I guess we could argue that, where else are we going to go, because people need help and they’re going to go and see their doctor? But boy, it’s just a tough road.
Dr. Robert Davis: Yeah, There’s so much there’s. That’s one critical aspect of this whole phenomena. We don’t even understand the essence of the different types of phenomena we are addressing, let alone consciousness in order to try to make sense of what is reality, of people actually having these experiences, and is consciousness distinctly different in the brain? It all ties into into these bigger issues that we all bring to the table on a daily basis. Is this all there is, what my senses tell me? And if I pierce the veil, if I have an extraordinary experience, if I have an altered state of consciousness that is so distinctly different, joyous, positive, then do I have so many conflicts in my life thereafter?
Like you mentioned, a high divorce rate, that is quite true, three-quarters of those who have an NDE have a divorce within the first five or ten years after the experience. It does result in interpersonal relationship problems.
So here again, big deal, if they say they’re spiritually awakened, yeah, why all of the crises on the home front? There is a disparity here, and the medical community regards these individuals, for the most part, as having a form of psychosis. Another issue.
So not only do we need to manage it, we have to understand that we are managing their symptoms, that were facilitated by some type of perceptual, experiential interaction with something which includes all of the things that we’re talking about, which includes the silvery disc in the sky and the Greys and the reptilians coming into people’s rooms.
People who have NDEs, they say they’re interacting with deceased relatives and only deceased relatives or a supreme being or people are saying, “I knew my friend had died, even though I didn’t know he or she was sick.” More common in twins, but nevertheless, a shared death experience that I had, this overwhelming sense of knowingness that someone had died. Or ESP, which in my mind is real. I don’t want to hear otherwise, subtle effects, very subtle, but it is real, and then the psychoactive drugs or DMT, psilocybin.
They’ve just done an online survey at John Hopkins University, over 3,000 individuals. A quarter of them are atheist. After ingesting psilocybin, about half of them became believers in some supreme being.
The point is, it has to be a profound event to alter one’s religious profile, in a sense spirituality to that magnitude.
Alex Tsakiris: Let me just put an exclamation point on that. I love that you brought that up because I heard that in one of your interviews and I didn’t have it in the notes. It’s a phenomenal point, because I would just relate it to Dr Jeffery Martin’s finding on the awakening enlightenment thing.
In case people don’t know, the point you just made is like rock solid, in terms of evidential in the psychology community. People do not change those beliefs. The number of people who just don’t have any kind of peak experience and yet have fundamentally changed their beliefs in that way is really, really, really low. So the fact that it would be that high is super significant and is a major pointer that something is going on along the lines of what you’re talking about. So, I’m really glad you brought that up.
Alex Tsakiris: You said something, either I read it in your latest book Unseen Forces or I heard it on one of the excellent interviews you’ve done. You’ve done some great interviews and people can check those out and maybe we’ll provide some links to the other interviews in the notes, because we are kind of jumping in the middle of things here. But you said peak experiences relate to meeting an entity, right?
So I wanted to explore that because I thought that was kind of a cool idea, is that these people invariably are talking about having an experience with an entity, and I love where that takes us because it takes us in a couple different ways. You know, we all understand the abduction thing, the entity is a Grey on a ship but in the NDE the entity is different. Sometimes it’s just a spirit light, sometimes it’s God, sometimes it’s Jesus and Jesus tells you to come up and feel his hand, where he was nailed to the cross kind of thing.
But then, we can also again jump over to the shamanic experience or the DMT experience, and there’s another entity. But yours was the first case and it made me think differently of peak experiences equals meeting an entity. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
Dr. Robert Davis: I like that, A plus B equals C. Yeah, you know, you could make the case not only for entities being one similarity among this. Sure the Greys with the UAP, the deceased relatives in the NDE, the Elementals, Lilliputians for the psychedelic. There is this interaction. Is it based on wishful thinking, does it come from the unconscious in terms of…?
Alex Tsakiris: Oh forget it, let’s get way past that. Let’s get way past that, because here is part two of that question that’s really interesting to me because I’m going to definitely drive you passed that stuff, and that is, are we at a point where we can start making some educated guesses of the structure and the architecture that those entities are in? I mean, here’s the question, I always kind cut to the chase, does ET have an NDE? Who does ET pray to?
And I say that just to be provocative, you know, that wasn’t a question I would really ask you Bob, but, you know, it just kind of sets people spinning. Could we say at this point that, you know, “Oh, the reptilians are bad”? So on this spiritual development scale, if we put it at one to ten, reptilians can be anywhere from a five to an eight, or a two to an eight. Human beings can be like a three to a nine, and that up at the top is the godhead, kind of thing.
I mean, this is eventually I think where people are wanting to go, in terms of mapping the extended realm and mapping the entities that are in that realm, and how close are we to start being able to say those kinds of things? They do add a little bit more meaning to this.
Dr. Robert Davis: You know, if we had the answer to that question and many people consider that they do, and all I have to say is that their egoism is showing when they do say with fierce determination that they do. As far as I’m concerned, no one knows the answer. I doubt we’re even close to the answer. We probably aren’t even asking the right questions, and if we were given the answer, we couldn’t even understand it.
So it’s almost like consciousness talking about consciousness and trying to define consciousness with your consciousness. That’s the greatest paradox of all. We’re trying to define this issue of non-human entities in all of their various shapes, sizes and bizarre types of interactions that people have reported, been reporting for eons, that the dwarfs and the elves of folklore in the Bible are now possibly the Grays or reptilians of today. You can’t ignore the archetype structures, Jung would refer to it as possibly the evolution of these entities over time that’s consistent with this psychocultural, sociological norms, anthropological norms. There are papers written on that.
I don’t have the answer. I’m just throwing it out there. I don’t have the answer to anything here. Let me say that up front. I’m trying to synthesize and integrate a massive overwhelming amount of information as best as I possibly can. I may be completely off base and it just brings me to the peak experience as the foundation. You have all of these little spokes going off, and then more spokes but I think it’s been altered states of consciousness and the various things that give rise to altered states of consciousness and the associated semantic perceptual content of the experience, the interaction of beings as they say, in all shapes and sizes, etc.
It boggles the mind how many varying types of experiences we’re talking about here, but they share a common things and there’s a long list of things and why the medical, scientific and non-scientific community doesn’t allocate much more attention to this critical issue is something that has troubled me. But I always wrestle, not only with the issues that I’ve had that led to writing these three books, the Kundalini experience I had that led to the Unseen Forces recently. I question it daily. I question reality daily. Not from a psychotic perspective, at least I hope not.
Alex Tsakiris: No, I totally know what you mean.
Dr. Robert Davis: Yeah, and we’re all truth seekers. You are obviously, you know, look at you and your listeners. We’re all truth seekers. Maybe innate spirituality? Probably transgenerational, epigenetic inheritance can make a case for how we are spiritual in nature, like our ancestors were. They had to be, much more so I think, to try to provide some comfort, in terms of a crazy chaotic world of lightning strikes and thunder that had no meaning, explanation. So they were always looking to Gods.
I think we got some of that genetic stuff and we’re still asking questions in an appropriate way, many going into religion, many going into nothing, atheism, many going into maybe the genre that we address and you can make a case for it being a religion in of itself, but it’s turned into a circus. It’s turned into a business and that’s okay. That’s okay. It draws specific subsets of people, that’s okay. Maybe that however is another reality that we’re missing the boat on, that should coexist, be given more consideration by mainstream science.
Alex Tsakiris: I agree. I just want to emphasize that last point, in terms of that’s okay, because I like the way you laid that out, because it is true. People get into, for example, the UFO community, and then people freak out and you go and tell your wife, you go and tell your friend, and they’re like, “Oh my God, you’re a tinfoil hat,” and stuff like that. And that still exists, you know, that’s still hard to do.
And yet, as you and I know, there are a lot of really smart thinkers in the UFO community and there are some people who are seeking it for other reasons, and like you said, that’s okay. All of these different tribes are okay, and we can try and bring the tribes together in different ways and we probably should. But it’s natural given how they’ve been ostracized and systematically made to feel alone, afraid, isolated, disinformation, misinformation, of course that’s how it’s going to be. So that’s a great point.
I want to try something else out. I’m really interested in bouncing this idea off of you, because you keep going in a slightly different direction and you may be right. So I’m not saying this in terms of saying, I know this is the answer, or I’m not even sure how I lean, but I guess I’ve got to put it out there before I say.
When I look at the yogis, and I say yogi in the the general term. It could be a Christian mystic, it could be a Zen Buddhist, whatever. When I look at those guys, they seem to be saying something different about these extended realms than other people are saying. They say things like, “Capture the castle, don’t worry about the entities that you’ll experience along the way, the witches and the demons and all of that. Just let all of that go, go deeper, go deeper, capture the castle.” Saying there’s something beyond all of that and this is a middle ground.
You go and talk to Yogananda, the famous yogi who used to live right up the road from me. “Find the river of love and jump in and drown yourself.”
So they’re saying that all of this stuff that we’re talking about is still in the middle, do you know what I mean? It’s still this middle ground and there’s something else beyond it. And I see threads of that in the NDE as well. I see some people who go to the NDE space and they’re in the middle, and that’s all they can handle. They’re in the middle, “Hey, you didn’t do so good, here’s the fire, if you don’t look out you’re going to wind up here.” Then there’s other people who just transcend that and go way, way further.
So I don’t know if that’s really a valid map or not, but what concerns me and what I think you and I Bob could have an interesting talk about is, if there’s some truth to that map, that paints this whole thing we’re talking about quite differently. Do you have any thoughts? You know what I mean, right?
Dr. Robert Davis: It’s a profound question. Boy, it requires a heck of a lot more time to explain, and it could be how we are evolving, in terms of human potential. With the yogi’s, the people you refer to, they seem to have a better grasp, a handle on that expanded consciousness, on spiritual awakening, on interacting with these beings, going beyond, the capturing the castles, finding the river of love.
We have it today from some event, an NDE, an OBE, that Kundalini, and it’s triggered just like that. It’s an all-or-none spontaneous event which is impossible to study obviously for that reason alone in part, but these individuals have been practicing some form of yoga and mind-body stuff for what, many years, obviously decades, and they get good at it. We can learn from them, possibly they’re demonstrating to us an aspect of human potential that anybody can have in the right cultivating kind of conditions.
Instead of trying to remember the year America was discovered, let’s focus a little bit more on really, maybe enhancing our potential abilities and maybe the brain is impeding these abilities. Maybe it’s now in full-blown and we’re kind of hostage to it. You could make the case for that, and it’s kind of symbiotic with the brain. They win, you know, I‘m in my 60s, I can’t do very much with the brain now. Maybe we all could have as children.
I think I see where you’re going and there are many ways to address that and that was expressed beautifully Alex, but that is what we need to look at. You know, the little nuance within the phenomena. We have these people, but we have these people and we can learn from it. Yes, I think so.
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