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Psi of Regret: Pitfalls of Prophecy from Paul Muad’Dib to Patanjali

Psi of Regret: Pitfalls of Prophecy from Paul Muad’Dib to Patanjali 102

It’s been over twenty years since I last read Dune, but inspired partly by the phenomenal documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, I recently re-read Frank Herbert’s masterpiece and a few of the sequels. Although the latter are uneven, I need hardly say that Dune itself holds up magnificently. It is still the one novel I would put in the hands of a teenager—even more than anything by Tolkien (even though Tolkien’s “literary worth” is probably greater)—because of the priceless seeds the book planted in me when I was the age of its main character, Paul. (For instance, “the first lesson of all was the basic trust that he could learn. It’s shocking to find how many people do not believe they can learn …”—that’s a powerful message every adolescent needs to hear and I am ever thankful I paid attention; and the “litany against fear” was incalculably important to me.)

Although the Dune books are about many things, it is sometimes forgotten (amid praise for Herbert’s world-building and his anticipation of American-Mid-East relations in the 70s and beyond) that they are significantly about seeing the future; the sequels, particularly, are basically an extended thought experiment about the siddhi of precognition and the pitfalls of prophecy. Thus I couldn’t help read them now in the light of my interest in psi research and the nexus of science fiction and the human potential movement being newly examined by writers and scholars like Jeffrey Kripal (whose Mutants and MysticsPsi of Regret: Pitfalls of Prophecy from Paul Muad’Dib to Patanjali 103 and Authors of the ImpossiblePsi of Regret: Pitfalls of Prophecy from Paul Muad’Dib to Patanjali 104 I can’t recommend highly enough).

Psi of Regret: Pitfalls of Prophecy from Paul Muad’Dib to Patanjali 105According to Kripal, the notion that humans are on the threshold of the next phase in our evolution and that psychic abilities will be a big part of it is an idea that goes back to Frederic Myers in the late 19th century. Myers likened our nascent psychic powers to the “imaginal characters” or structures present in a caterpillar that hint at its future transformation into an aerial being. This imminent metamorphosis has remained a dominant meme pervading comic books, of course, most famously in the X-men, not to mention sci-fi visionaries from Alfred Bester to Herbert to Philip K. Dick.

But despite the democratizing impulse in modern writers on psi, like Russell Targ and Dean Radin, who emphasize that we all have latent psi abilities that we can develop if we choose, it is important to bear in mind some important social and maybe even evolutionary reasons why certain forms of psi—especially precognition—are not already more widespread than they are, why they may actually not be part of our species’ birthright, and why they may even not be such a great idea in the larger scheme of things. Herbert keyed in on some of these reasons in his novels; the ancient yogis like Patanjali keyed in on others.

Muddying the Waters

A rarely considered pitfall of prescience that Herbert used brilliantly as a plot device in Dune Messiah is that if more than one individual can see the future, it tends to negate both of their abilities. In a conspiracy to assassinate Paul Muad’Dib, the plotters involve in their plans a Guild Steersman, whose spice-induced oracular vision effectively cloaks the whole affair from Paul’s mental futurescape.

Psi of Regret: Pitfalls of Prophecy from Paul Muad’Dib to Patanjali 106The reason for this effect is simple when you think about it: If precognition is not seeing the future as such but seeing some vague and shifting topography of possibilities in a butterfly-effect universe (as Herbert sort of characterizes it), then the possibility and usefulness of foresight become radically limited once it becomes shared by others. A glimpse of the landscape of future possibilities by one freely willed being capable of altering that future must inevitably muddy the temporal waters for other precogs/prophets.

When you start to multiply the number of people with oracular vision (and thus freedom to alter what they see through even minor actions), then the seen, malleable future breaks down rather quickly. Even a few rival seers would tend to negate each others’ powers; if a whole species could exercise prescient abilities, the time stream would become a hopelessly opaque and deceptive mush. In such a state of affairs, there would clearly be diminishing utility in being able to see the future at all. You would be better off blind to all but the present and past, so as not to be distracted by prophetic information that was probably wrong.

Restraining Bolts

There is a paranoid belief that someone or some force is keeping us down psychically, keeping us unaware of our true natures and working to thwart the development of our true ESP capabilities. Remote-viewing inventor Ingo Swann confided to Jacques Vallee in 1979 that “There’s a non-human system that keeps the human race under observation to make sure it doesn’t develop psychically … You become aware of the barriers erected by this system as soon as you try to develop your psychic abilities.” This seems to be a standard Gnostic suspicion, echoed in comic book mythologies: Extraterrestrials or Archons fear our psychic potential and have thus installed some kind of restraining bolt in our minds. The sense of some ancient psychic lock being blown off or removed, opening floodgates of forbidden information, seems like a common sentiment among the psychically awakened—for instance Philip K Dick in his 2-3-74 experience, or the Scientology-steeped remote viewers at SRI (it’s all about “clearing blockages”).

But evolution itself (social if not biological) provides ample reason why such mutations or experiences may not herald some new evolutionary phase in human development and why the forces of psychic inhibition may be far more mundane (and even beneficial) than Swann suspected. Because of the Dune Messiah logic I mentioned, there may be completely natural, homeostatic mechanisms working to limit our cognitive receptivity to future events or possibilities, causing such a sensitivity to atrophy and be selected against in the population. There would be social pressures not to be precognitive, and we might even evolve some kind of biological blinder mechanism to block it out, on the model of Bergson’s reducing valve.

Psi of Regret: Pitfalls of Prophecy from Paul Muad’Dib to Patanjali 107I don’t have any insight into what the biological/genetic basis for precognition or its inhibition might be, but the social mechanisms inhibiting foresight and prophecy are plain enough. Ostracism, persecution, and violence against people accused of witchcraft and sorcery are still endemic in many societies and surely go back to the dawn of history. Witch-killings are still rampant in many parts of the world. A leader of a Papua New Guinea village I visited in the early 1990s had spent time in jail for disemboweling a suspected sorcerer with a machete; it still happens all the time in that country. It doesn’t matter that in most such cases—as in Europe in the Middle Ages or in early America—“witchcraft” was a broad brush with which to tar all kinds of personal enemies and social outcasts, such as the old, the poor, and women. The point was, it was a serious deterrent to deviance of all kinds, including psychic deviance.

Societies provide strict, narrow social channels to a career in prophecy, such as the accepted shamanic paths that exist in traditional cultures, and it’s a dangerous career: You better be damn sure you are perceived as using your powers for healing, not harming. The threat of ostracism and violence must act as a powerful check on “developing your ESP abilities” (i.e., having truck with the spirit world) if you live in a traditional community.

In our enlightened society, psi-inhibition takes less disturbing forms, namely rabid skepticism and materialism and ridicule of the paranormal. But even if it is less violent than traditional social controls, such ridicule is still a very powerful deterrent. Writers encouraging people to develop their remote viewing abilities, like Targ, emphasize that simple “permission” to remote view is a crucial first step. Even those intellectually persuaded of the possibility and eager to learn often have massive unconscious inhibitions that get in the way.

Thus, there is no need to invoke non-human, extraterrestrial, or Archonic interference to explain lack of widespread psi ability: Social expectations that psi not only does not exist but that it is actually ridiculous do a fine job of keeping people from peering into the future.

Prophet Motives

There’s an interesting kicker of course: The more “beyond the pale” psi and prophecy become, the more effective they would be for those able and brave enough to exercise these abilities. Even if the barriers against psi were rooted in our genes, chance and mutation would dictate that enhanced precognitive ability would arise from time to time; although there could be no group, society, let alone species of prescients, there might be a rare individual, a mutant who saw the future and capitalized on it. A prevailing present- and past-mindedness in the masses would create a relatively unmuddied futurescape navigable by a gifted individual able to capitalize on the herd’s future-blindness. Indeed, through this evolutionary logic, those who benefit the most from the social suppression of prophecy would be the prophets themselves.

Psi of Regret: Pitfalls of Prophecy from Paul Muad’Dib to Patanjali 108There are good analogies to this in evolutionary biology, one of them being sociopathy. Because we are socially dependent animals and society is built on trust, humans have evolved to essentially trust each other. It’s a very sound long-term evolutionary strategy, but it also makes us vulnerable to occasional manipulators who are able to cynically capitalize on that trust. Such individuals only arise at relatively low levels in the population, because when there are too many untrustworthy people in a community, people stop trusting, and the community breaks down. But when they arise, they tend to rise to the top. (Research shows many CEOs and politicians are sociopaths, for example.)

Prophecy might work the same way, as a “frequency dependent, socially parasitic strategy” (to quote George Dvorsky in an article on sociopaths). Despite the “democratizing” impulse of contemporary psi teachers and enthusiasts, some of these talents may only work if they are rare and most people don’t practice them or don’t believe in them. There are various ways in which the paranormal erects a barrier between the herd and an elect, and this is one of them—another variant of what I call the “anamorphic wedge” that seems to operate in other domains like UFOs.

I’ve argued previously that there’s a dark elitist undercurrent to sci-fi Gnosticism that can be seen plainly in its most famous manifestation, Scientology: L. Ron Hubbard was the Ayn Rand of psychic human potential, preaching pure selfishness with a sci-fi twist. From what it is possible to glean of its methods, I don’t doubt their efficacy. It was in an out-of-body experience during early Scientology training that Pat Price’s formidable psychic abilities, dormant for a half century of life, awakened: “I was asked to sit down and look at some other guy for period of time and do nothing. After about three minutes I found myself outside of my body, looking at him looking at me. It was very interesting.” (John L. Wilhelm’s excellent 1976 book The Search for Superman is a great resource on Price, Swann, and the SRI work with Uri Geller.)

The superpower benefits that arise through Scientology training may not be accidentally related to the clear and obvious drawbacks of that lifestyle: Namely, intellectual isolation and social ostracism as a result of being, lets face it, kind of an asshole. Scientology training includes exercises (like the one Price mentioned) designed specifically to break down or cleanse the participant of social anxieties and emotions that we possess for a reason, thus turning the “operating Thetan” into an intense, intimidating, “aggressive” savant who may not thrive outside the company of other Scientologists. Real X-men could potentially look a lot like them: out of touch and megalomaniacal, but with some authentic supernormal abilities as a kind of grim consolation prize.

Fear is the mind-killer…

Despite lifelong skepticism, I have become persuaded of the reality of psi in general and of precognition in particular. Once you take even the slightest interest in the subject, fate provides ample confirmation in the form of uncanny premonitions and synchronicities. Having followed J.W. Dunne’s protocol in An Experiment with Time, I have confirmed to my own satisfaction (which seems all anyone can ever hope for in parapsychology) that his thesis is correct: In any given week of faithfully recorded dreams, a consistent minority of dream elements encode future experiences, usually of the subsequent day but occasionally farther out, exactly the same way the majority of dream elements encode recent past experiences—and through exactly the same “art of memory” logic I have described elsewhere. In dreams we are remembering the future as well as the past. Hypnagogic imagery and voices are also a rich source of precognitive material, and plain-old remote viewing of tomorrow’s New York Times can also produce interesting results.

Psi of Regret: Pitfalls of Prophecy from Paul Muad’Dib to Patanjali 109Invariably in my case, these bits of future information are fragmentary and useless from the standpoint of planning or guidance. I’m no prophet—and I’m not sure I’d really want to be. Another “inhibitory” function I’ve discovered in my venturing imperfectly down the psi path is simple existential fear. While omnisicence and expanded consciousness sound totally awesome to my inner 10-year-old, I’ve discovered that my outer 47-year-old is deeply fearful of learning too much about the future. There are too many dark terrors that objectively lie in wait for us all—illness and death of self and loved ones are biggies—and the temptation to dwell unproductively on ominous signs (like a strange cough or unfamiliar pain) is great enough at times without the added burden of trying to decipher scary symbols and portents gained through psi channels. Among the siddhis described by Patanjali is the yogi’s ability to see his/her own death. No thanks.

Because the energy of psychic phenomena is trauma (as Frederic Myers discerned in the 19th century), it makes sense that death and destruction would be dominant themes in our prophecies. And sure enough, the bulk of my precognitive dream material does concern something at least slightly negative, usually just uncomfortable or unpleasant social experiences but also news of crimes, disasters, or death. This focus on the negative gives rise to an ironic and unwholesome logic: The eagerness for psi to work or to confirm your own powers causes one not only to focus on negatives but even at times to hope for them—for example, having a strange dream about a certain celebrity and then eagerly checking some news site to see if they died or have been involved in some scandal. Obviously, “eagerness to find out someone died” is not at all a congenial frame of mind to be in if you aspire to be a spiritual or positive person.

Thus I think there really is some way in which precognition is “toying with dark forces,” although it isn’t anything as grandiose as “opening up doorways to other worlds” or awakening evil or Tricksterish energies (even if those are real too). It’s simply a matter of reinforcing unwholesome aspects of the ego—plain old negativity, which is bad karma (and unhealthy) no matter how you look at it.

I suspect all these factors may have played into ancient teachers’ disinterest in the siddhis and into modern teachers’ reluctance to discuss them. Patanjali warned not to get attached to superpowers in your meditative practice, and he’s not just talking about showing off (as Radin suggests in his book Supernormal). Attachment itself is the root of suffering; attachment to psi may bring its own unique sufferings and doubts that are simply not wholesome to harbor, such as those I’ve mentioned. So, while the 10-year-old me is incredibly glad that the paranormal and supernormal are gaining legitimacy through the work of Kripal, Targ, Radin, and others, I also would hope that we not lose sight of our basic humanity in our quest to become superhuman. Sometimes it’s also awesome to be (merely) normal.

Psi of Regret: Pitfalls of Prophecy from Paul Muad’Dib to Patanjali 110

 

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Metaphysics & Psychology

Psilocybin mushrooms sprout in the blood of an ‘experimental’ patient

Psilocybin mushrooms sprout in the blood of an 'experimental' patient 123
Image: Giphy.com

US doctors described the story of a man who tried to relieve depression with psilocybin mushrooms in an unconventional way. He injected an intravenous infusion of mushrooms, causing the mushrooms to continue to multiply in his blood and cause multiple organ failure. The case was reported in the Journal of the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry.

Many drugs that people traditionally use as psychedelics are increasingly becoming the focus of medical attention. Some of them have already been repurposed and started clinical trials: for example, micro-doses of LSD have proven to be at least safe in the case of Alzheimer’s disease, and psilocybin has helped patients with  migraines and  depression. Often in such experiments we are talking about microdosing – that is, the mass of the substance is not enough for a psychoactive effect.

The story of an American who decided to experiment on his own was described by doctors led by Curtis McKnight of Creighton University School of Medicine. According to relatives, the 30-year-old American suffered from bipolar disorder, but shortly before the incident stopped taking his prescribed medications and suffered from alternating states of mania and depression.

When he stumbled upon research on the potential benefits of psychedelics, he boiled psilocybin mushrooms and injected the filtered solution into his vein. A few days after this experiment, relatives found him in a lethargic state with jaundice, diarrhea and bloody vomiting and took him to the hospital.

Doctors discovered the patient had a problem with multiple organs at once: acute renal failure, liver damage, tachycardia, and low blood saturation and ionic imbalance. He was prescribed droppers to normalize the composition of the blood, vasoconstrictors to raise blood pressure, antibiotics and antifungal drugs. Despite this, he developed septic shock and DIC (excessive blood clotting) and needed plasmapheresis. Only eight days later he was discharged from the intensive care unit, and at the time of publication of the article he had already been in the hospital for 22 days.

In the patient’s blood tests, in addition to the Brevibacillus bacteria , there were also Psilocybe cubensis fungi  – the same ones from which he injected himself intravenously. Apparently, due to insufficient filtration of the solution, the fungi entered the bloodstream and multiplied there, causing intoxication and multiple organ failure.

Psilocybin mushrooms sprout in the blood of an 'experimental' patient 124

The authors of the work note that this is not the first such case – at least in the 80s of the 20th century, doctors already described a patient with similar symptoms after an intravenous injection. Therefore, McKnight and coauthors warn their colleagues: since psychedelics are increasingly used as a medicine (at the end of 2020, they began to legalize it in the United States), it is important to remind patients of the inadmissibility of self-therapy. Intravenous administration can be dangerous – doctors still do not know if it has the same psychoactive effect as the classical methods of administration.

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Metaphysics & Psychology

A part of a person’s essence accompanies him throughout his life: this is confirmed by a brain scan

A part of a person's essence accompanies him throughout his life: this is confirmed by a brain scan 125
Photo: pixabay.com

A new method of scanning the human brain has produced amazing results. It turns out that in every person there is a certain part of his essence, which accompanies him all his life from the moment of birth to death.

Scientists believe that this is the core of a person’s self-awareness. It combines memories of the past with fleeting sensations of reality and provides a basis for anticipation of events in the future.

It turned out that a certain part of a person’s consciousness is consistent as they grow older and older.

For centuries, scientists and philosophers have been interested in the question: can this sense of “personal self” be stable throughout life? A new psychological study with the results of a brain scan made it possible to conclude that a certain part of a person’s consciousness really accompanies him throughout his life.

It is consistent as it gets older and older. Miguel Rubianes, a neuroscientist at the Complutense University of Madrid, says the aim of the study was to answer the question: Are we the same person throughout life? In combination with the results of other studies, scientists have concluded that there is a certain component that remains stable from birth to death.

The other part of consciousness remains susceptible to current changes. The scientists recognized independence as the basis of identity. And every time a person uses the word “I”, he means a thread that connects together all the events and experiences that have occurred in life.

Experience gained over the years changes a person, changes the components of his identity. Each case associated with personal experiences, a broken heart, a successful career step, expected or unexpected failure lead to the fact that a person compares himself to himself before and after these events. It is a neurological programming scheme that involves visual self-knowledge as an indicator of connection with your impressions of yourself.

This effect makes it possible to cope with memories and recognition of information when it is associated, for example, with one’s own photograph of an infant. Although this principle has a lot of evidence, scientists believe that the very mechanism of the brain involved in this remains a mystery.

This study was published in the journal Psychophysiology.

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Metaphysics & Psychology

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop 126

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we sometimes do not notice how time flies past us, what miracles surround us. We do not have time to listen to the rustle of leaves in the wind and we miss those minutes when the crimson moon hangs at the very horizon.

Below are 10 films that reflect the beauty and diversity of our world. You watch such a movie and forget about everything.

Kytice

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

7 fairy tales-ballads based on Czech folklore are filmed colorfully and poetically. 

They endure a time when people were closer to nature, believed in miracles and the spirits of the forest, when the terrible and the beautiful were merged together.

Ashes and snow

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

Gregory Colbert’s documentary has no plot, but it attracts with its stunning, unrestrained beauty, reflecting the unity of man with nature.

The film was shot for 13 years in the most exotic corners of our planet: Burma, Ethiopia, India, Antarctica, Sri Lanka, Tonga islands and many other picturesque places.

The fountain

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

The main character Thomas tries to find a cure for his wife Isabelle. Every day she gets worse, and he cannot be near, because he puts experiments in the laboratory. In his soul, love, the desire to be with Isabelle and the desire to extend her life are fighting. 

Darren Aronofsky’s philosophical drama was filmed in vivid colors, despite the fact that the director did not use computer special effects.

Samsara

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

This is a beautiful one and a half hour trip to the most amazing places on the planet. 

Director Ron Fricke showed the inextricable connection of all people and events on earth, the cycle of death and birth, the versatility of our world, where beauty coexists with nondescriptness, and the end means the beginning.

The Bear

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

The story of a bear cub that lost its mother and nailed to a large wounded bear. Together they have to go through many trials, the worst of which is meeting the hunters. 

The wonderful plot of the film is combined with stunning music that helps you immerse yourself in the world of nature and feel it with your whole body.

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

The harsh Siberian nature, untouched by man, the majestic Yenisei River and the small village of Bakhta with a simple way of life. 

People live and survive in these parts, rely only on themselves and also ask only themselves. Four seasons – four lifestyles for each of them.

August Rush

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

Young musician August Rush does not know his parents, but he really wants to find them and for some reason is sure that if he plays, they will hear and recognize him by his music. 

Mesmerizing music permeates the entire film and works wonders to dispel the evil spell of separation.

Baraka

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

A documentary masterpiece, a philosophical essay accompanied by superb cinematography and music, goes without words. The only and main actor here is life in all its diversity and unity. 

The gaze of a monkey sitting in a hot pond is equal to all the depths of cold space, and the dances of the aborigines are synchronized with the movements of the forest.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

This is a beautiful and unhurried philosophical parable about a wheel of time moving into infinity. Each time, with the beginning of a new cycle of rotation, life on earth is renewed, and everyone has the opportunity for a new rebirth. 

The film by Korean director Kim Ki-dook tells about two monks – a teacher and his student – and the obstacles that must be overcome on the way to finding harmony.

Chronos

Beauty and diversity of our world: 10 movies that will make time stop

The main characters of the documentary narration are cultural and historical monuments. 

They absorbed the life of the people who created them, and have remained for centuries as an imprint of bygone eras.

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