BOOK REVIEWS (ARCHIVES): Lawrence LeShan’s A New Science of the Paranormal is a very readable and excellent tome, which seeks to address the way forward for research into the paranormal and fringe areas of consciousness research. Lawrence LeShan is a veteran researcher in the field, and at just 125 pages, this book makes for a quick, enjoyable and thought-provoking read.
As with my other intuitive reviews, I will take a look at not only the explicit knowledge detailed in the book, but I will also add my intuitive insights into the writer, and the way his psyche has helped shape the book. I am a spiritual counselor, so in this process I apply a similar process to that which I apply when counseling people: I intuitively glean information from the psyche – in this case that of the writer. It shouldn’t surprise you then, that I am a “proponent” in the so-called “psi-wars.”
In A New Science LeShan argues passionately for the argument that the paranormal is crucial to understanding our place in the cosmos. Contemporary science and philosophy have created an extreme distortion of experience which alienates us from our spiritual roots, and psi experience can help redress that imbalance. I am reminded of Susan Blackmore’s 1996 paper “What can psi teach us about consciousness?” Blackmore concluded that it can teach us nothing, basically because it doesn’t exist, and especially in lieu of her belief that consciousness does not have agency. LeShan’s and Blackmore’s perspectives are diametrically opposite, yet the question is crucial. Let me then be clear. My long experience in working with the intuitive mind leads me to conclude that LeShan is correct. Blackmore’s position, although supported by mainstream establishment thinking in science, is simply wrong. As LeShan states, this is a question of monumental importance, and I believe that A New Science is a little step in the right direction. LeShan calls the quest to understand psi “a terribly important adventure” and “the wild card in our seemingly hopeless attempt to get the human race off the endangered species list.” (p. 18)
LeShan lists four definitive ways “psychical research” can help move us forward. The following outcomes might occur if “the existence of large-scale psi events becomes part of the background assumptions in our culture.” (100)
1. The idea that we are separate, isolated entities will change.
2. We will see ourselves both as individuals and as part of something much greater. This is in line with the teachings of many spiritual traditions.
3. As a result of the first two points, the way we behave towards each other and the planet will change.
4. These changes will be of a significant scale, such that they will help the human race survive its current critical evolutionary impasse. (p. 101)
These are all positive outcomes which I concur can happen. However, in order for points one and two to shift towards points three and four, these understanding will have to move out of “the head” and become deeply embodied. Such an outcome may be more difficult than LeShan understands. This is because our minds are embedded within fields of resonance which have self-organising propensities, and these greatly influence our behaviour. For example, consciousness fields dominated by fear and shame are extremely ‘dense’, and it is very difficult to consciously extract one’s mind from them. I speak here from personal experience. However, for the human race as a whole, I believe these fields of resonance can be transcended over a greater expanse of time.
One of the key distinctions that LeShan makes in A New Science is that between normative-driven parapsychology and “psychical research”. The former is, for example, the approach taken by Dean Radin, who has devoted decades to the statistical analysis of lab experiments which attempt to gather empirical data for such cognitive processes as ESP, clairvoyance, telekinesis, precognition and so on. Leshan’s point is that while such work is vital, it should not come at the expense of a “softer” examination of psi. One of the prime foci of psychical research is the study of anecdotes, the extraordinary stories that people the world over have told for countless millennia, which seemingly point to the existence of paranormal human cognition and states of mind. LeShan suggests that a purely statistical and experimental approach to such things is not enough, for it would then preclude much of the most valuable and fascinating and meaningful data: the human experience of the paranormal itself. LeShan has come to this conclusion over many years, and in the wake of his early career, with its unbalanced focus upon measuring psi.
I am in full agreement with LeShan on this one. It is the human element that is the essence of the so-called paranormal, and it is our experience of it that is most deeply meaningful.
An interesting comparison that LeShan brings up is that of the explanatory gap in parapsychology, versus the explanatory gap in neuroscience. The explanatory gap in psi theory is obvious, and oft-quoted by skeptics. How does a ‘thought’ pass from one mind to another? Speaking scientifically, we don’t know yet, and no satisfactory mechanism has yet been identified. Yet in brain science a similar gap exists. How does the firing of the neuron produce conscious experience? How does, say, your thoughts about your mother within your mind, come from micro-machinations within physical, neural systems? It’s the old mind-body problem. That we still don’t know the answer to this suggests the need for some sobering humility within the neuroscience community, instead of the typical hyperbole of describing physical sub-systems and pretending that in doing so we “understand” consciousness.
One thing I like about LeShan is that he avoids a common trap of many researchers in the field, and he states this point very clearly. He makes no apologies for being a proponent, and strongly chastises many psi researchers for getting around with long faces, thinking that the world is against them. LeShan is right. This victim consciousness/siege mentality is far too prevalent amongst researchers in psychical research. Lawrence LeShan knows that he has an important contribution to make to science and knowledge, and he holds his head high. Younger researchers and proponents in general should follow his example.
As a person who works as a spiritual counselor, and having had countless experiences of many of the things that LeShan, writes about, I find LeShan makes some invaluable and valid insights in A New Science.
· Consciousness is not quantitative, and therefore it is a mistake to restrict ourselves to purely empirical investigations of its nature. What LeShan calls “structural entities” (the physical) can be studied empirically, while “functional entities” (which are relationship based and may not contain definitive space-time characteristics) such as many psi phenomena, necessitate a softer, more qualitative examination. Dominant Western science in the modern age is unnecessarily skewed towards empirical methodology, and the softer approach to science (once more widely practiced in some European nations such as Germany) has fallen away.
· LeShan points out that the state of consciousness in which the paranormal occurs is orientated towards “the perception of relationships rather than to the perception of structure” (p. 110). In other words the perception of structure is primary, and the physical structures secondary. This is indeed correct, and why so many paranormal perceptions are not “literal”. What we often perceive in psi experience is a metaphorical representation of the energy or consciousness of the event. This is something I was told quite directly in a dream many years ago. It’s a distinction that those wishing to understand these realms of experience should take careful note of.
· “…there is no such thing as a generally ‘correct’ or ‘normal” state of consciousness, but various states, various origanizations of consciousness, that can be compared in the way they succeed in enabling us to solve our problems and arrive at our goals.” (p. 66) LeShan is correct again. Whatever state of consciousness is deemed ‘normal’ is culturally mediated. The proliferation of verbal/linguistic and abstract cognitive processes in the modern age of science has resulted in the establishment of a typical state of consciousness dominated by these “rational” modalities; but at the expense of intuitive and spiritual ways of knowing and being.
· LeShan hypothesises that “Psi occurrences tend to stabilize identity and maintain consistency of action and perception more often than they tend to destabilise identity.” (p.48) This is both correct and incorrect, depending upon the agency involved. Conscious projections emerging from (or mediated by) the psyche (shadow) tend to be directed at maintaining stability. This is the ego’s function: keeping things under control. However a prime function of information which emerges from spiritual guidance may be to destabilise the system, especially when the individual is unconsciously thwarting their own psycho-spiritual development by maintaining a delusion about self, the world, or the self’s relationships with the world. The latter occurrence explains why the spiritual journey is often uncomfortable and just plain scary.
There are, however, a few distinctions LeShan makes which my experience leads me to believe are incorrect.
It is important that I point out the single greatest error relating to the paranormal that LeShan makes. LeShan writes:
Everything we know, including all the data from psychic healing, seems to indicate that psi effects have a positive, goal-directed orientation. (p.28)
Unfortunately this is incorrect (after all, it would hardly be possible for me to write an intuitive review if I wasn’t able to perceive the way that writers and creators unintentionally distort truths!). Much of the projection of consciousness from mind to mind is manipulative, and some plain destructive. The essence of this ‘dark’ side of psi is fear and shame, which have strong psycho-spiritual energies associated with them. As one example, a spiritual teacher I once worked with had quite a ‘dark’ energy, which I did not see at first. After some time I realised that my consciousness field had become subsumed by hers, and I was being bombarded with a constant stream of destructive energy. I had completely given my power away to her, and she had ‘possessed’ me. I discontinued all relationship with her, and had to work very hard to disentangle my mind from her influence. However this was a good lesson for me, so I cannot say the event did not have its positive side. Nonetheless, many people never see how their own spiritual evolution has been suppressed in related ways. Possession is a genuine and ‘dark’ spiritual event, and we ignore the reality of it at our own peril. Most of the time the source of the possession is not a discarnate entity, but another living human being to whom we give ourselves away.
Therefore it is true that most psi events are goal directed, but the direction of influence is not necessarily ‘good.” This is one domain that LeShan, like many investigators and paranormal buffs, prefers not to acknowledge. Needless to say it is part of the ‘shadow’ side of A New Science.
At one point early in the book, LeShan identifies nine characteristics of psi phenomena which he says are almost certainly correct, but “a small doubt remains.” (p 26) His sixth point is that “If a person has information that he or she very much desires to keep secret, it cannot be attained psychically by other persons.” (p. 27). This is incorrect, and I have seen this quite clearly. A person with a high level of what I call Integrated Intelligence (spiritual intuition) can easily pick up whether another person is lying or withholding the truth. I was once kicked out of a spiritual training group when the clairvoyant leader correctly ‘read’ that I was having a major problem dealing with an issue involving other group members. I desperately wanted to keep the issue secret because I had a strong motivation to stay in the group. That leader had not seen me for months at the time she ‘picked up’ the information intuitively from a city hundreds of kilometers away (she phoned me to tell me). I could give many other examples from my own experience. The human ‘shadow’ as Freud and Jung called it, can be easily read by an intuitive who understands how it functions.
It is for similar reasons that LeShan’s seventh point is also incorrect. He writes that one cannot tell whether intuitive information comes from the other person’s conscious or unconscious minds. (p. 27) Again, this is not difficult to ascertain in many cases. The shadow tends to operate in readily definable patterns (power and control over others, avoidance of pain) and information which emerges from it is thus readily identifiable. Further, the conscious mind has a shallow “feel” to it, and the information tends to come in short, predominantly verbal bursts. Information from deeper within the psyche is “heavier”, and often has a powerful emotionality behind it. Most experienced clairvoyants can tell the difference between conscious and unconscious information.
Shadow reading of LeShan
Here I come to the offensive bit of the review where I probe the psyche of the writer for traces of unconscious distortion and agenda! I do this by peeking into the psyche of the writer clairvoyantly. In the case of A New Science, I do not sense a great distortion, but there are some issues which should be brought to attention for the reader.
The first limitation I sense is that LeShan’s mind is predominantly left-brained, and his own intuitive capacities are not well developed. I get that his mental orientation is about 20/80 skewed to the left. This means that he is hindered somewhat with first person insights into the problems he is addressing. Nonetheless, this has not created too many errors in the text.
This first issue explains another distortion in the text that I have already mentioned, which is that it tends to deny the dark side of psi effects.
There is also a pronounced “us vs them” orientation within LeShan in regard to mainstream science and strong skeptics. This is perfectly understandable, given his profession as a psychic researcher. Such an attitude is important though, as ultimately judgment ensnares us in the drama of conflict. In the long run, human beings will have to rise above binary conflict as a medium for knowledge acquisition. Binary conflict reflects an evolutionary predisposition in the human mind, and is currently the norm is modern science and philosophy. I developed a process of “Harmonic Circles to help overcome this tendency. My purpose in pointing this out is so that readers might avoid being “sucked into” the consciousness of binary conflict which is so dominant in discussions about psi phenomena. The simplest way to avoid this trap is to acknowledge judgments of ‘the other’ as they arise, and then to release them.
Lawrence LeShan’s A New Science of the Paranormal is highly recommended. It is an eloquently written and insightful look at the paranormal and its significance for the future of the human mind.