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What is a paradigm and why does it matter?
To some extent, before you ever even begin to spend any time with skeptics (more often accurately called disbelievers), you need to understand the concept of paradigms. There are important precepts to science that are such an integral part of our lives and culture that we are completely unaware of them. But the fact that we are not conscious of their influence, doesn't make them unimportant. In fact, the opposite is true. It is critical to recognize and understand what these precepts are, and how they affect us.
So, what is a paradigm? And why does it matter to parapsychology?
I often get the comment that psychic phenomena don't exist and anyone who believes in them is delusional. When I ask whether the people making that comment have bothered to read any journals or see what science says, they invariably respond that they don't need to, because no scientific journal of repute would waste its time on something so bogus. At this point, I could start listing journals in fields that include parapsychology, physics, electrical engineering, and medicine, but I realize there's no point. The real problem comes from a difference in opinion about what science is.
How can that be, you ask? Surely science is the same for everyone? It's facts, right?
The problem is one that Thomas Kuhn elegantly described in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. What he demonstrated, using examples from chemistry and other fields, is that science is as fallible as people are. In fact, it can be extremely limited because it is based on beliefs. These beliefs are such an intrinsic part of our normal, everyday world view that we typically never even realize that we've made any assumptions. But we have. They are part of the underlying beliefs that make up a "paradigm."
A paradigm can be thought of as the way we make sense of the world. An old paradigm -- such as the belief that the sun and stars circled around the earth -- sometimes has to give way to a new paradigm -- such as the belief that the earth rotates around the sun. However, anyone who's read about Galileo understands that the period when two paradigms are fighting for dominance can be rough on the scientists who get caught in the fray.
Thus, a paradigm is infrastructure of beliefs that underlie science and determine how we see the world around us. It acts as a model to help us make sense of things. Moreover, it not only determines what is true, but how truth can be determined. Indeed, it is so fundamental that most people aren't even aware that it exists or could be questioned. It simply is how the world "is."
It is important to recognize that a paradigm is both a help and a hindrance. It helps us make sense what is going on around us, but it also limits our perception of the world and what knowledge we can arrive at. Anthropologists give us an example of this. When the Spanish galleons originally arrived at some of the South Pacific Islands, the natives did not see them. In fact, it was only when the Spanish got into their rowboats to come ashore that the islanders were suddenly able to see them, as if appearing from nowhere. Why? Because their world view did not include the concept of a ship that big, they were literally unable to see it.
There comes a time when scientists start to realize that their paradigm doesn't do a good job of answering enough questions. Granted, it may answer many questions correctly, but not all of them. Like a puzzle, where more and more pieces don't fit, scientists suddenly realize that they may have gotten the frame or border wrong. Then it's time to experiment and try the pieces in different combinations to see what fits best. During these periods, there can be a battle between paradigms, trying to figure out which one does the best job of making sense of the puzzle pieces we have of knowledge. A "paradigm shift" occurs when there is a major change in how we look at the world and is in active conflict with "normal science." Eventually, the new paradigm is accepted or rejected. However, if accepted, it can lead to new insights and understandings that allows science to more farther forward. It then becomes the new "normal science."
What makes these paradigm shifts so bloody is that the paradigm itself determines what is "proof." Scientists from competing paradigms have trouble agreeing on almost anything. It is as if they speak two completely different languages and have no one to translate between them. What is "proof" in one paradigm is "worthless" in another. There can be no agreement. Typically, as Max Planck said, "an important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents ... what does happen is that its opponents gradually die out." Thus, the new paradigm generally "wins" when the scientists who believed in the old one die off and younger scientists see the advantages of the new paradigm in explaining things.
We are now in the middle of a paradigm shift. The classical paradigm, which has been held since Descartes, is based in the underlying assumption that the observer is separate from the observed. In essence, duality. It says that there is a fundamental subject-object (or mind-body) split. This presupposes that there are objective ways to define and measure the fixed external world--which the proponents of this paradigm would say is the only world that matters. The classical paradigm favors experimental research design, which presumes to measure the world in an objective way.
Anyone who has grown up in today's school systems might be justified in being a little confused at this point. We are taught that the double blind controlled experiment is the gold standard research methodology. What happened?
The emergence of quantum theory started a fundamental shift in how we understand the world. Physicists suddenly realized that there is always some indeterminacy in our measurements. This is because the act of measurement itself can define and change that which is being measured. This means that the experimenter is always part of the experiment, and all our "objective" facts are, in fact, potentially flawed. This insight led to the idea of a paradigm based on nonlocality. Somewhat amusingly, people who are unaware of this revolution in physics often become confused at this point, and accuse scientists of going off the deep end, falling for the trap of religion. Not true, although the ancient Hindu and Buddhist literature is in agreement about the oneness of the universe. This is science. Physics, to be specific. And while not all physicists agree, the new paradigm that is emerging is one in which the universe is a single whole, within which every part is intimately connected to every other part. Thus, the so-called objectivity of the classical paradigm is the true illusion, as an "observer effect" is inevitable in any observation. The experimenter is a part of his or her experiment. This new paradigm does not, in itself, "prove" psi exists (which I believe has already been done using meta-analysis of Ganzfeld studies). However, it is quite compatible with the possible existence of psi, and may lead to our better understanding the phenomena.
The conflict between these two paradigms is ongoing. Because these belief systems are far more deeply ingrained and widespread than religion, topics that touch on these fundamentally different world views cause bitter and violent debate, with no room for compromise. The lack of common ground means that the question cannot be solved by discussion. Understanding the role that paradigms play makes it easier for advocates of competing world views to agree to disagree with mutual respect, which the best that one can hope for in these situations.
It is always wise to remember that the new paradigm, if it wins, will eventually be supplanted by another. That's how science evolves. My advice to skeptics is get used to it.
What is the best way to deal with skeptics?
One of the things psychics and (to a lesser extent) parapsychologists have to deal with is harassment by skeptics. This is no laughing matter, and, in the case of psychics, may even affect your ability to perform. Unfortunately, it's a problem that won't be going away any time soon. The page looks at paradigms--which is why rational arguments and scientific proof often get you nowhere with these folks--and offers some thoughts and suggestions for how you might want to respond to them. We'll look first at the issue of paradigms, what they are and why you need to be aware of them.
The best approach for dealing with these individuals is to start by determining whether or not you are dealing with a true skeptic--in other words, someone who doubts the existence of psi yet remains open to the possibility of it--or if they are instead a complete disbeliever of psychic phenomena. I would say that 95% of the time you'll find they are simply a disbeliever. In these cases, be polite, but don't waste your time on them! You'll NEVER convince or convert them, and no amount of evidence will ever be sufficient. The problem is one of paradigms and competing world-views. (See FAQ here...)
Various approaches for dealing with psi disbelievers include: 1) ignore them; 2) change the subject to something other than psi (a good way is to ask them if they are familiar with paradigms and explain the term); 3) politely agree to disagree; or 4) walk away. I usually opt for one of the latter three.
If you are dealing with an open-minded skeptic (and believe it or not, this isn't an oxymoron, they do exist), then it is something completely different. In this case, it may be worth your time to sit and talk with these folks. Not only might you be able to correct their misconceptions or lack of knowledge about what experimental parapsychology and quantum physics suggest about psi, but if you are a researcher, you may get valuable tips and ideas for how to design better experiments. It is this form of skeptic that helps, not hinders, the advancement of science (including parapsychology).
"Originally formed to critically and scientifically investigate claims of the paranormal, critics argue that CSICOP is in actuality a pseudo-scientific, fundamentalist, elitist, irresponsible, specialist interest advocacy group whose sole intent is vehemently condemning--not scientifically investigating --any and all claims of the paranormal." (From Psychic Criminology by Hibbard, Worring, and Brennan)
"Considering the evidence for psychic phenomena cited ... it is obviously far more unreasonable to deny its existence than what many consider the 'unreasonable' belief in psychic phenomena .... Most objections to psychic phenomena are based on ignorance; scientists and laymen alike rarely bother to inform themselves about things they do not want to believe and that run counter to their preconceptions. When pressured to account for psychic phenomena, critics will .... attempt to discredit the investigator, ignore reports by credible laboratories, declare positive experiments hoaxes, credit positive results to chance, pay undue attention to negative results, attack the experimental procedure and statistical analysis, and twist and reinterpret the experience or experimental results, so that it correlates with what is known and accepted .... In a critique ... the Rockwells accuse the critics of using false categorization, personal defamation, group derogation, unsubstantiated allegations, contradictions, non sequiturs, rumor and innuendo, appeals to authority, censorship, and apocalyptic rhetoric in their denouncement. The Rockwells conclude that "The 'debunkers' have thus become the very thing they claim to despise: evangelical 'true believers,' standing on unexamined faith rather than objective analysis." (From Psychic Criminology by Hibbard, Worring, and Brennan, pages 43-44.)
"Regardless of your track record, there's always someone who wants you to prove it to THEM. There are five billion people in the world. Are you going to do this for EVERY one of them? Don't waste your time!" (Lyn Buchanan, controlled remote viewer)
"Well I have to say this, that I know when the psychic connection works best, is because the person has a genuine need, and is not just curious, or skeptical and wanting to be convinced, that sort of thing, you know? But they want something to be able explain away.... So, I find myself not caring one way or the other, don’t bother me, go do it yourself, if you want to convince yourself." (Alan Vaughan, parapsychologist & psychic)
"It is not easy to change a lifelong, strongly held belief, even when there is strong evidence that the belief is wrong, so the publicly proclaimed skeptics are not likely ever to admit that psi per se is genuine ... The core assertion is the tired claim that after one hundred years of research, parapsychology has failed to provide convincing evidence for psi phenomena. This argument follows a certain logic. Skeptics refuse to belief that psi experiments, which they admit are successfully demonstrating something, are in fact demonstrating psi itself. By acknowledging that the results are real and unexplainable on the one hand, but by stubbornly insisting that those results could not possibly be due to psi on the other, then of course they can claim that parapsychology is a failure." (Dean Radin from The Conscious Universe, pages 210-211)
"What the debunkers state doesn’t matter. What someone can do or cannot do is absolutely not proportional in any way to anyone else’s belief or disbelief … Just go back through your history books and you’ll discover that just about everything you take for granted today in your daily lives was absolutely impossible not so many years ago." (Martin Caidin, MMI performer and author)
"If someone comes to me and truly wants to understand psi, then I'm happy to answer their questions. But if they're really a disbeliever and all they want to do is argue, then my feeling is don't waste my time. Because I have no interest in that. I'd far rather spend my time aiding people who already know this stuff exists and need help dealing with it." (Pamela Heath)
What is the role of the unconscious mind in psi?
Whether you call it the unconscious or, as some prefer, the subconscious mind, it's important to recognize a bit about the basic nature of this part of you. Why? Because not only can understanding it make your life easier, it will also help you to be a better psychic. The unconscious mind is the doorway to psychic information. All psi - whether ESP or PK - appears to operate through its mediation. And it not only acts as an access point, but as a filter for everything that passes through it. Some psychologists make the mistake of treating the unconscious mind like the "bad guy" part of you, responsible for all you problems. Now, think about it. Do you really believe it's going to want to cooperate with you if you approach it with such a negative attitude? Of course not! Like us, it wants to be respected and appreciated. And like us, it's trying to do the best job it can. However, the unconscious mind can be a bit like a computer with old programming. It can't upgrade its own software to do a better job. That's the job of the conscious mind - its the main programmer (although it takes a lot of its programming in from the family when very young).
The good news is that unconscious is often delighted to switch to easier, more effective techniques as long as it meets two key criteria: the unconscious mind must feel the new way of doing things keeps you safer and more protected, and it must believe it helps you to survive better. However, it's important to understand when talking about safety and survival, that the key issue for the unconscious mind is whether it has a track record of surviving that situation in the past. If, for example, you grew up in an abusive home, you're likely to seek abusive relationships. That may sound crazy, but to the unconscious mind, you survived that abuse when you were young, so clearly you have a track record of surviving it or you wouldn't still be around. Whereas, you don't know whether you could survive a healthy, non-abusive situation because you haven't tried it. There's no track record. The good news is that the unconscious mind is usually willing (with a bit of negotiation) to try something new if it thinks it might make it safer, even without the track record. Let's talk about some basic unconscious traits, some of which are pretty universal and others of which are a bit more individualized.
We've already mentioned a few universal unconscious traits: 1) it likes to be appreciated and treated with respect; 2) it can't change it's programming on its own; and 3) its top priorities are safety and survival. Let's look at some other common characteristics. First and foremost, the unconscious mind is very concrete. It can be like dealing with a brilliant two-year-old child. It takes things literally. I really mean that. You need to be extremely careful with your words because it will take them at their exact meaning - no more, and no less. You'll also find the unconscious mind has a tremendous sense of humor. It loves puns and plays on words. Some of this probably relates to its concrete nature. Why should you care what its sense of humor is? Because the unconscious mind can be very playful. And if you play with it, it will like you... and that means it do things for you that it wouldn't otherwise do. This is important if you want it to help you out by giving you accurate psychic information or letting go of some of your old baggage, which is holding you back in life. Trust me. You want to be on it's good side. Humor will do that. Another thing that it's important to remember about the unconscious mind, is that it remembers everything. And I mean everything! It may not share those memories with the conscious mind (especially if it is trying to protect the conscious mind from trauma or something it considers dangerous) but it stores them nonetheless. That's why those memories, complete with smells, tastes, sight, sound, and touch can be retrieved under hypnosis. Why is this important? For a couple reasons, which are important enough that I'm going to go into some detail here.
If you are one of those people who is forgetful, recognize that the unconscious mind may be doing that on purpose. It's not accidental or "just the way you are." Nope. Untrue. It's deliberate. Your unconscious could make sure you remembered if it wanted you to. So, it's sometimes useful to ask yourself why it might not want you to have remembered whatever it was you forgot. It's amazing how much your memory can improve when you start holding the unconscious mind accountable for what it has caused you to forget. However, be aware that for some people, forgetting is a way of protecting them from painful or traumatic memories. In those cases, the unconscious may be in a default forget-everything mode that won't change until and unless those memories are dealt with and their emotional charge has been defused.
It's critical to understand that the unconscious mind remembers everything, because you MUST ALWAYS KEEP YOUR WORD if you make a promise to it when negotiating a deal. Don't lie to it, because it will never forget that, and may never trust you again. And believe me, you aren't going to get very far making the changes you want for yourself without that trust. So, don't make any promises that you can't - or won't - be able to keep. Be honest and follow through with whatever you agree to. Only then can you trust the unconscious mind to keep its end of the agreement.
Before the unconscious mind will make any big shifts for you, it will want the security of knowing that you understand it. Some of this may be the respect of not pushing it too far or too hard, or of recognizing the importance of a track record of safety and survival. But often - perhaps partly as a mark of respect - there are times that the unconscious mind won't tell you things but wants you to play guessing games with it. One way of looking at it is that it likes you - it's giving you a chance to make it feel understood. This is because if you can correctly guess the answer, that means you understand it. That makes the unconscious mind really happy, which it turns mean it will do things for you, make changes, because you've built up a rapport and demonstrated your trustworthiness. I haven't met an unconscious mind yet that didn't love a good story. Because of this, hypnotists often use stories as learning tools or ways to get the unconscious mind to make a shift. Typically these stories involve the protagonist (which need not be a person) having a problem, meeting a wise person who gives them a solution, and the solution working. Unconscious minds love stories so much that they are sometimes treated as a reward. They REALLY like them.
Although we often think of the unconscious mind as a unitary process, this isn't terribly accurate. Instead, it often seems to consist of multiple different parts, which may have different roles and divergent opinions about things. This can lead to conflicts, sabotage, and the interrupting of changes. The best way to avoid such problems is to consult the unconscious in advance in such a way that everything can get worked out ahead of time, so all parts of the unconscious agree to make a given shift and set aside any sabotaging behaviors.
Finally, perhaps in part because of what I just mentioned above, the unconscious mind is the ultimate multi-tasker. It can quite literally do thousands of things at the same time, and do them well. Also, because it is capable of dealing well with complex, integrated, and sometimes even multi-dimensional tasks, you may want to take advantage of its skills and expertise. It can be a great consultant when you want to figure out a better way of getting things done. Just make sure it agrees on four parameters up front - that whatever it comes up with will be: Beneficial to you and those around you.
Delightful to the unconscious mind.
Unanimously acceptable to the entire unconscious.
Keep you safer, more protected than you have ever been before and help you to survive better.
Does the unconscious mind have its own distinct personality?
Yes. People sometimes treat the unconscious mind as if it were a blank slate. Not so. It has a distinct personality if you take the time to get to know it. Moreover, it may not be surprising to know that its personality may in some ways reflect key aspects of your own personality. Mine, for example, is very stubborn. I also know when I'm getting close to a touchy area because it starts getting very, very picky. And I can recognize and own those traits in myself, although they are displayed a bit differently by the unconscious than they are by me as a whole. Of course, everyone's will be different. Over time, your unconscious mind will reveal various aspects of itself. This can actually not only lead to some personal insights, but also be a lot of fun - especially if your unconscious mind is a creative one.
Building a relationship with your unconscious is the same as building a relationship with another person or even your guide (although guides cut you a lot more slack). Take the time to get to know the quirks of your unconscious mind and enjoy those quirks. After all, it's very much a part of you. Make friends with it.
A good rule of thumb when dealing with the conscious mind is to be considerate of it, show respect for it, and always thank it when your unconscious mind does something nice for you! It will pay off for you down the road in big dividends.
I spoke about this before under Psychic Tools, but ideomotor activity it a great way to chat directly with your unconscious mind. The word ideomotor refers to unconscious body movements. These may be as small as a slight muscle twitch or big a big coordinated motion. They happen all the time. Once you master a skill, whether sitting, walking, running, riding a bike, driving a car, or anything else, the actual muscle actions required to do it become unconscious, and you operate on automatic pilot. It can also reveal hidden thoughts and feelings to observant readers of body language and everyday tasks.
How can you communicate with the unconscious mind?
Ideomotor activity can be used to open up a dialog with your unconscious mind, creating a direct line of communication with it. The best way to start is by asking the unconscious to give you ideomotor signals (like moving a finger) for things like "yes" and "no." In essence, you create a shared language. Nor does this language need to be restricted to simple yes/no answers. Depending on how much time and effort you want to put into it, you can create quite an extensive vocabulary. With practice, remote viewers can build an extraordinarily complex shared language with their unconscious minds, complete with grammar and syntax, using ideomotor lines or ideograms that are drawn without conscious input.
Once it gets the knack down, the unconscious mind LOVES to communicate. You'll find it commenting on things all the time, whether you ask it to or not. This can lead to some amusing insights, but also be the start of a higher psychic hit rate. I've noticed, if I say something and the unconscious mind agrees, that it tends to be right. Whereas if I guess at something and the unconscious mind says "no" or "not exactly," that it is almost always correct.
In addition, the unconscious mind isn't limited to communicating with you by ideomotor activity. For many (if not most people) it uses other lines of communication, including dreams, imagery (I often see specific colors or images as comments from my unconscious mind, which I then have to interpret), smells (a great way of evoking feelings, making comments, or letting you know that you have a certain spirit visitor present), body feelings (like the classic "bad feeling" in your gut). Indeed, nothing limits the unconscious mind from using any of your senses - sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell - as a line of communication.
Another important point to recognize, is that the unconscious mind may not keep the same form of communication all the time. Instead - especially at first - it may change modes just to keep you on your toes and make sure you're paying attention to it. I recommend being flexible and remaining alert to all avenues of communication. Eventually, the unconscious mind will settle on the one it likes best, and you can build a terrific line of two-way communication, that not only makes you a better psychic, but have a happier and healthier life.
What kind of unconscious baggage needs to be dealt with?
Although working on our own unconscious stuff is important for anyone, it is critical for a psychic. So, let me go into a bit more detail by what I mean by "psychological baggage." Although this can be as simple as the emotional charge on a memory (like a car accident or an embarrassing moment), which is easy enough to deal with, it more often involves one or more of the following three levels: BELIEF - Beliefs are the hardest level of things to shift. Often psychological baggage may have one or more beliefs, which can be intertwined. There are a variety of ways to work on this level, but typically you go back to before you began believing that belief, and in a safe way (keeping the earlier you surrounded by light, the essence of love, safety and protection, and put all the knowledge you have both consciously and unconsciously into that earlier you) change the situation so in essence you need to replace the old belief with a new one that supports your new way of being. Sometimes this can also involve giving the earlier you new resources, someone or something for moral support, and even transforming other people or the situation itself in imagination.
SECONDARY GAIN - much as we often hate to admit it, we often get a number of needs met by what the conscious mind wants to get rid of. For example, if we have back pain it may get us out of some kind of work or get us sympathy from others. Typically, this can be handled by negotiating a better way of getting our needs met. You just have to make sure that all of the above four parameters are considered before choosing what you are going to replace it with. Also, it's generally a good idea to let the unconscious mind find three new ways to get your needs met, so it can have some flexibility. Also, if you make a deal with your unconscious mind, ALWAYS keep it. So, don't promise something you aren't willing to follow through with. Otherwise, not only will it not keep its end of the bargain, but it won't believe you in future negotiations.
HABIT - this is usually the easiest to shift. You can often simply ask the unconscious mind to let go of it.
If you believe in past lives (which I do), then it is possible that some patterns and beliefs may extend to past lives. In these cases, you may need to consider working in such a way that you do not limit yourself to this lifetime. Also, always - and I mean ALWAYS - block homeostatic pull (our tendency to be pulled back into our old way of being by other people, situational or emotional triggers, and sabotaging parts of the unconscious mind). I have a mantra that I say before I finish any hypnosis session where work has been accomplished: "If any person, place, or thing tries to pull me back into the old way of being, block them in kind, gentle, loving, but strong ways that are beneficial to me and those around me, delightful to the conscious mind, unanimously acceptable to the entire unconscious, and keep me safer, more protected, than I've ever been before."
Lastly, there is a saying hypnotists use: Resistance is the gift. This is because that resistance is the unconscious mind telling you that (assuming you're not simply beyond the growing edge of what's possible for you at this point in your life) you're probably working right where you need to be. The harder it is to make a change, the greater the effect will be in that ripples through your life when you finally succeed at it. That way, instead of getting frustrated when you're struggling to make a change, you can smile to yourself and say "I'm right where I need to be."
We all have psychological baggage. We spend years accumulating it even though a surprising amount of our beliefs are formed by age of two or three. It takes time, practice, and help to deal with these issues. Often I'm reminded of an onion, where you peel one layer only to realize another one lies underneath it. I strongly recommend you to take advantage of the skilled help of a licensed professional - whether a psychologist, psychiatrist, MFT, or hypnotherapist - before you start down this path. You'd be amazed what a difference it can make, especially as we are often blind to things that are obvious to a more dispassionate eye and may have techniques that greatly smooth the process. The work may be long and difficult, but the payoff is well worth it.
How does intuition differ from ESP?
Most people who talk about using their intuition are using ALL of the information that comes to them from their unconscious mind. This not only includes ESP, but also normal channels of information, such as subtle cues the unconscious mind has gleaned from body language or intonation and forgotten sources of data (known as cryptomnesia). So, it is best to think of intuition as involving a much broader range of input that may or may not include psychic channels.
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