Understanding the human conscience is like deep-diving into a bottomless ocean. No matter how further down you reach, you are still scraping the surface. Yet, you continue with your quest, unsure of what lies ahead. Suddenly, the laws of nature don’t seem to function how they should. Stranded in this grey area of existence, you eventually come to a mutual understanding with John Lennon – “The more I see, the less I know for sure”. This is where Parapsychology rings in to save the day. According to the Parapsychological Association-
“Parapsychology is the scientific and scholarly study of three kinds of unusual events (ESP, mind-matter interaction, and survival), which are associated with human experience.”
The Origin of Parapsychology:
Man has long feared what he could not understand. Consequently, tales of inexplicable events, magic, and superstition shrouded in a veil of mysticism passed down through generations. The first inkling of a “higher phenomena” at work was perhaps observed in the treatment of seizures and convulsions by Franz Anton Mesmer – a technique now known as Hypnosis. Thus began the first investigations into parapsychological phenomena, without any links to occult or witchcraft of sorts.
However, it was Joseph Banks Rhine who laid the true foundations of modern parapsychology, rooted in scientific evidence and experiments. A botanist by profession, he switched his focus to psychology and joined Duke University in 1929. He aspired for a more scientific approach towards the study of unexplained phenomena and developed a card-guessing game involving a different symbol on each of the 5 cards. Known as Zener cards, the game was a test for clairvoyance and telepathy, depending on if the participant correctly guessed the symbol on the card.
A successful experiment involving a student named Hubert Pearce lead Rhine to coin the term Extrasensory perception (ESP) in 1934. ESP has surely been a front runner in the subsequent parapsychological findings.
However, Parapsychology is no doubt a relatively younger discipline. It still requires dedicated research to come at par with the conventional sciences.
Let’s take a look at some of the bizarre Parapsychological phenomena:
The Ganzfeld Effect:
Psychologist Wolfgang Metzger in the 1930s discovered the Ganzfeld effect, which roughly translates to ‘total field’ or ‘entire field’ in German. He established that upon short exposure to homogenized of visual and auditory perceptual fields, it is possible to enter an altered state of mind.
Simply put, subjection to sensory deprivation can induce a state of hallucination. On being surrounded by nothing but a white, blank visual field, coupled with unstructured audio such as white noise, or even complete auditory deprivation, one can hack their brain into a state of delirium. This happens when the brain begins to amplify neural sounds to fill in for the missing details due to sensory deprivation. Experiments have also resulted in altered EEG readings.
The Ganzfeld effect was long reported, albeit unknowingly, by Greeks and Tibetans venturing into deserted caverns, in a bid to get in touch with their subconscious. Arctic explorers and miners experienced a similar phenomenon, who often experienced apparitions of sorts while stuck in desolate caves.
Additionally, this a safe and reversible method of inducing hallucinations with people reporting “blooms of colors”, “absurd sounds and shapes” and other dreamlike sensations.
Commonly known as “Out of body experience”, it is often associated with shamans, ascetics and spiritual guides. Instances of astral projection have long been talked about, dating back to the writings of the great philosophers, Plato and Herodotus. The Egyptians referred to it as Kha and left inscriptions of the same on the walls of temples. OBE is also prevalent in Hindu, Japanese and Chinese scripture, even affirmed by the Dalai Lama.
Astral projection refers to a phenomenon in which the “soul” of an individual- the Astral body is capable of leaving the Physical body. The individual is capable to achieve a degree of consciousness, enabling him to view his body from a detached perspective. Or in simple terms, we can view ourselves in the third-person perspective. Astral Projection holds a ground belief that consciousness is independent of the physical body. It indicates a separation of an “Etheric Body” from a “Physical body”.
Most people who experience an Out of Body experience report feeling “lifted up” or “escalating” from their sleeping or unconscious bodies. Often hovering above, face-to-face with themselves. Reports suggest that between 8-20% of people experience some sort of Astral Projection at least once in their lives.
Auras and Kirlian Photography:
Aura refers to the type of spiritual energy emanating and enveloping a person. It takes up different forms and colors- indicating the manifestations of the spiritual faculties of a person. An aura of a person can be understood to be the “vibe” they give off to others. It is in the form of a weak electromagnetic energy field. There are seven layers of Auras, each corresponding with the Chakras of the body.
Kirlian photography refers to a type of contact photography. Semyon Kirlian discovered the phenomenon accidentally in 1939 on observing the creation of an image by the subjection of an object on a photographic plate to a strong electric field. Since this method claims to capture the Aura of a person, Kirlian Photography often finds itself amid controversy. The term is often synonymous with “Aura photography”. Various spiritual healing practices make use of it. Kirlian was even able to reproduce the same effect with non-living objects. He claimed that a certain “spiritual force” surrounds everything in the universe.
However, the debunking of Kirlian’s claims soon followed. Such imagery results due to the presence of water or moisture. However, it remains a popular subject of research in Parapsychology.
Lucid dreams are the result of an overlap between the dreaming and waking states of consciousness. Various spiritual leaders, poets, writers, and philosophers talked widely and openly about it. Aristotle was the first to give a clear description of lucid dreams in his short treatise On Dreams. He wrote,
“When one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which tells us that what presents itself is but a dream.”
The idea of lucid dreaming is rife in both western and eastern literature. This includes references in Upanishads, Tibetan Book of the Dead, and mentions by Thomas Aquinas and Sufi mystic Ibn El-Arabi. In addition, they considered Lucid dreams as a key to higher truths and consciousness.
One can dream lucidly in the REM stage of sleep. It involves rapid movements of eyes with mixed brain frequency, resembling that of wakefulness. REM stage occurs after 90 minutes of falling asleep and sets the stage for vivid dreaming.
People that are capable of having Lucid dreams, experience a high degree of consciousness. Subsequently, they possess control over their thought and actions when they are dreaming. Therefore, Lucid Dreams refers to high levels of awareness, mimicking that of a wakeful, conscious state within dreams.
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