Academy of Consciousness Studies – Appendix

ByRobert G. Jahn [Abridged]
PEAR Laboratory, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08544 USA

The agenda calls for me to open this first convocation of the Academy of Consciousness Studies with some statement of “purpose”, as if a single, overarching goal could be specified. After some thought, I have decided respectfully to decline that assignment. […]

Since this leaves me with a lot of extra time, let me use it for a briefing on two related aspects – call them “history” and “environment” – which inevitably must condition even our vaguely-defined purpose. A central element in such review must be the evolution of our own Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory, which was formally established in mid-1979 following a surprisingly successful student project I had supervised for the two preceding years. From the start, the PEAR lab has attempted to deploy the most incisive engineering equipment, computational methods, and theoretical techniques to systematic study of certain consciousness-related physical anomalies.Specifically, we have focused throughout on an array of human-machine interactions, on generation and analysis of remote perception data, and on development of quantum mechanical models of consciousness-environment interactions. In its earliest days, the program concentrated primarily on building incontrovertible empirical data bases demonstrating the scale and character of the anomalous effects, per se, but this phase was quickly succeeded by the recognition that a broader role of consciousness in the establishment of physical reality was being demonstrated via these anomalies. With that recognition came an extension of our collegial technical interfaces from those in engineering, physical science, and parapsychology, with which we had began, into the domains of bioscience, neuroscience, and medicine, as well as into the aesthetic communities of philosophy, religion, archaeology, and anthropology. These broader scholarly dialogues proved essential to advancement of our understanding of consciousness, and carried through to the formation of the International Consciousness Research Laboratories (ICRL), a consortium of several research programs in such varied disciplines as archaeology, anthropology, biophysics, engineering, experimental and theoretical physics, medicine, neuroscience, and psychiatry that convenes semi-annually and conducts numerous collaborative research projects among its members. […]

The relevance of “environment” to our undertaking takes on more than one aspect. First, we have chosen to meet in an academic environment – at a university, where by long tradition contemplative study and freedom of inquiry are cherished, respect for different views and customs prevails, and practicality and profitability of application are not primary motivations. It is our hope that similar ethics will protect our discussions here. But we must also recognize the influence of our contemporary cultural environment, which, while less consonant with our efforts, actually makes them more urgent. Few of us would deny that our present Western culture is strongly conditioned, if not dominated, by modern science, with its sharply dualistic paradigm, its causal, deterministic presumptions, and its reductionistic reasoning. It is a secular science, from which matters of spirit and subjective experience are excluded a priori, and which tends to confuse its epistemology with absolute ontology, despite clear warnings from its most revered scholars. Because of its innumerable dramatic achievements, this secular, hyperanalytical, scientific format has infused most of our critical sub-cultures – economic, sociological, political, educational, medical – and may even intrude upon our philosophical, aesthetic, and religious activities. […]
None of this is to advocate rejection of science as an enemy to spiritual insight; rather, it is a plea for the re-inclusion of spiritual dimensions within the scientific purview. As another of our ICRL members, Charlie Laughlin, has put it: “There is no topic that can be fully explained by science; there is no topic that should be immune to scientific inquiry.” In a sense, he is echoing an earlier observation by William James:

The spirit and principles of science are mere affairs of method; there is nothing in them that need hinder science from dealing successfully with a world in which personal forces are the starting point of new effects.The only form of thing that we directly encounter, the only experience that we concretely have is our own personal life. The only completed category of our thinking, our professors of philosophy tell us, is the category of personality, every other category being one of the abstract elements of that. And this systematic denial on science’s part of personality as a condition of events, this rigorous belief that in its own essential and innermost nature our world is a strictly impersonal world, may, conceivably, as the whirligig of time goes round, prove to be the very defect that our descendants will be most surprised at in our boasted science, the omission that to their eyes will most tend to make it look perspectiveless and short. (James, 1956)

Science can alternatively be defined as a purpose, a methodology, a body of material, or a group of people. Its purpose – as its Latin root implies – is simply “to know” or “to understand”. Its methodology is to invoke empirical observations, theoretical models, and logical deduction to achieve that purpose. Neither of these is inappropriate to the more broadly defined agenda that Laughlin and James suggest. It is from its arbitrary restriction of topics, and the limited perspectives of many of its practitioners that its shortfall arises, and both of these could be readily remedied. In fact,modern science actually contains the requisite seeds of its own reformation within its present formalism. Four such seeds that pop immediately to mind are its growing attention to the science of information; its inevitable reliance on metaphor to convey its meaning; the Copenhagen or observational interpretations of quantum mechanics; and the ubiquitous phenomena of resonance. Let us skim these briefly.

Most early science, from the Egyptians through the Renaissance and Enlightenment, tended to focus on the behavior of tangible substance or, in contemporary scientific parlance, on mass, its gross mechanics, chemistry, and physical properties. Midway through the 19th Century and well into the 20th, the concept of energy, of many forms – mechanical, electrical, thermal, chemical, nuclear, etc. – became more central to scientific and technological endeavor. Most recently, over the past few decades, a third physical currency, information, has taken center stage, and clearly will dominate basic science and its applications over the foreseeable future. Superficially, these three physical properties of mass, energy, and information might seem to be quite distinct, but in point of fact, they are demonstrably fungible, with immense consequences. Einstein’s identification of the transmutability of mass and energy (E = mc2), has impelled much of 20th Century physics, and its technological, political, and sociological implications can hardly be overstated. A similar transmutability of energy into information, and vice versa, although somewhat more subtle, may well drive 21st Century science and many of its applications.

This entry of science and technology into the kingdom of information brings with it two intriguing problems, neither of which have been adequately acknowledged, let alone addressed. First, there is the self-evident distinction betweenobjective and subjective information. The former, the hard currency of information processing devices of all kinds, is thoroughly and uniquely quantifiable, and ultimately reducible to binary digits. For example, the objective information contained in any given book could in principle be uniquely quantified by digitizing each of its letters and every aspect of its syntactical structure. But the magnitude of subjective information the book presents clearly depends on the native language, previous knowledge, cultural heritage, and prevailing mood of its reader, and thus would seem to defy quantization. Nonetheless, we seem innately driven to attempt some quantitative specification; e.g., we say “This book is more interesting than that one.” Likewise, we might attempt to digitize the information displayed by a brilliant sunset or a magnificent waterfall in terms of the prevailing distributions of optical frequencies and amplitudes, but in so doing we would largely fail to convey the subjective beauty of the scene. […] Quantification of subjective information will be a major challenge to the coming science of information.

The problem is considerably compounded by the demonstrated capacity of consciousness to alter both subjective and objective elements of information, as indicated by the PEAR experiments and many similar ones elsewhere. The most parsimonious representation of our random event generator results, for example, is that the consciousness of the operator is somehow bringing a small degree of order into an otherwise random string of binary digits, i.e., inserting information into it. Thus it now falls to science to represent how consciousness, beyond acquiring and utilizing physical information, can generate it as well.

The second scientific seed that needs to be acknowledged and developed is its heavy reliance on metaphor to convey its concepts and relationships. Most scientific nomenclature has been appropriated from more generalized linguistics, wherein the terms have long been used to convey broader experiential elements than their specialized, analytical, scientific connotations. Terms such as “noise”, “energy”, “field”, and “information” long predate their modern technical application, but now serve as metaphors for particular scientific effects. It is little exaggeration to say that science is a fabric of empirical and theoretical relationships among its metaphors. The problem arises when science confuses such metaphoric epistemology with more absolute ontology, a failing well recognized by many of the more profound scientific thinkers. In Einstein’s words:

Concepts which have been proven to be useful in ordering things easily acquire such an authority over us that we forget their human origin and accept them as invariable. (Einstein, 1949a)

The system of concepts is a creation of man together with the rules of syntax, which constitute the structure of the conceptual systems…. All concepts, even those which are closest to experience, are from the point of view of logic freely chosen conventions, just as is the case with the concept of causality…. (Einstein, 1949b)

or those of James Jeans:

...the physical theory of relativity has now shown that electric and magnetic forces are not real at all; they are merely mental constructs of our own, resulting from our rather misguided efforts to understand the motions of the particles. It is the same with the Newtonian force of gravitation, and with energy, momentum and other concepts which were introduced to help us understand the activities of the world – all prove to be mere mental constructs, and do not even pass the test of objectivity. (Jeans, 1943)

or of Jonas Salk:

By using the processes of Nature as metaphor, to describe the forces by which it operates upon and within Man, we come as close to describing ‘reality’ as we can within the limits of our comprehension…. In this way, Man’s imagination and intellect play vital roles in his survival and evolution. (Salk, 1973)

Once we concede the intrinsically metaphoric character of science, we are free to attempt scientific representation of subjective quantities, seek for lawful relationships among them, and attempt their inclusion in more generalized physical models. Such effort is not entirely unprecedented in science. The labeling of the sub-nuclear “quarks” with such subjective properties as “flavor”, “strangeness”, and “charm” may, at some level, be a concession to their intrinsic ineffability. More profound, and probably more relevant, is the observational” interpretation of quantum mechanics, which is our third fertile seed.

Neils Bohr and his “Copenhagen” school of colleagues attributed many of the paradoxes of quantum mechanics to the inescapable influence of the “observer” on any observed physical process. From this perspective, a number of the quantum mechanical “principles”, most notably the principle of “complementarity”, that had originally addressed the ubiquitous wave/particle duality, acquired keenly subjective implications which Bohr clearly recognized and wrote about extensively. From this position, it is not so large a step to extend the “role of the observer” to the “role of the participant“, or the “role of the experiencer“, and to extend the complementarity principle to conjugate innumerable pairs of subjective/objective properties and processes for a more complete representation of experience. Such extensions of the quantum mechanical metaphor to the general interaction of consciousness with its physical environment is the basis for our theoretical model, as developed in Section IV of Margins of Reality.
The last, and probably most important, scientific seed we should mention is the well established concept of resonance. All manner of physical systems, whether mechanical, electromagnetic, fluid dynamical, quantum mechanical, or nuclear, display capacities for synergistically interactive vibrations with similar systems, or with their environment. Coupled harmonic oscillators, all common musical instruments, radio and television circuitry, atomic components of molecules, all involve this “sympathetic” resonance, from which strikingly different properties emerge than those that characterize their isolated components.

The most common subjective report of our most successful human/machine experimental operators is some sense of “resonance” with the devices – some sacrifice of personal identity in the interaction – a “merging”, or bonding with the apparatus. As one operator put it: “I simply fall in love with the machine.” And indeed, the term “love”, in connoting the very special resonance between two partners, is an apt metaphor and, remarkably, allusions to even this form of resonance can be found in scientific literature, none more eloquent than that of Prince Louis de Broglie, one of the patriarchs of modern physics:

If we wish to give philosophic expression to the profound connection between thought and action in all fields of human endeavor, particularly in science, we shall undoubtedly have to seek its sources in the unfathomable depths of the human soul. Perhaps philosophers might call it “love” in a very general sense – that force which directs all our actions, which is the source of all our delights and all our pursuits. Indissolubly linked with thought and with action, love is their common mainspring and, hence, their common bond. The engineers of the future have an essential part to play in cementing this bond. (de Broglie, 1962)

“‘Love’ in a very general sense. Could it be that the human/machine anomalies we are seeing on a laboratory bench are physical evidence of the efficacy of that “profound connection between thought and action”? Could it be that this “common mainspring” is the ingredient missing from modern science that would enable it to encompass the world of the subjective, the world of metaphor, the world of consciousness? And while we are at it, should we not also offer admission to love’s sibling, desire? Call it volition, call it will, call it intention, whatever, we need scientific acknowledgment of the proactive drive of consciousness toward its goal, its need, its vision, its hope. How scientifically apt then would become the revered triad of faith, hope, and love: faith in a proactive capacity of consciousness, driven by hope, and enabled by “love, in a very general sense”, that can assemble order from chaos, insert information into random process, and thereby create, as well as experience, its reality. I hope you have already sensed the faith, hope, and love in our preparations for this Academy, and that you will now contribute to it, and to the new community that will emerge from it, with these same powerful strategies.

de Broglie, L. (1962). The role of the engineer in the age of science. In New Perspectives in Physics. Trans. A. J. Pomerans. New York: Basic Books, 213.
Einstein, A. (1949a). In Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist. Ed., P. A. Schilpp, Evanston, IL: The Library of Living Philosophers, 175.
Einstein, A. (1949b). In Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist. Ed., P. A. Schilpp, Evanston, IL: The Library of Living Philosophers, 13.
James, W. (1956). Psychical research. In The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy and Human Immortality. New York: Dover Publications, 327.
Jeans, J. (1943). Physics and Philosophy. Cambridge: The University Press, 200.
Salk, J. (1973). The Survival of the Wisest. New York: Harper & Row, 45.

This summary was originally prepared for use by the Journal of Scientific Exploration, and permission to redistribute the information here is gratefully acknowledged.

Marsha Sims, Executive Editor, Journal of Scientific Exploration
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