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The Cutting Edge
by Dean Radin
http://www.shiftinaction.com/node/1661

 


The mission of IONS in basic science is to explore the frontiers of human consciousness, to push the boundaries of the known, and to probe the cutting edge. This seems straightforward enough, but locating the edge isn't as easy as it sounds.

Say you're preparing to slice a squishy tomato. It's always a good idea to sharpen a dull knife before attacking a slippery object, and after a few swipes on a sharpening stone, the blade begins to sing. A few strokes more and it's sharper still. Now you're inspired and wonder how finely honed this blade can get. A thousand sharpening strokes later you're completely exhausted and the knife blade has visibly shrunken.

But oh boy, now it's incredibly sharp. You figure that with a few more hours of determined grinding you'll be able to sharpen the cutting edge down to a single atom. But wait, why stop there? Maybe it's possible to develop a subatomic cutting edge! Eyes glazing over, you ponder the possibilities of a quantum cutter, and then you completely forget about the tomato.

This parable hints at one of the difficulties encountered when exploring the frontiers of consciousness. Frontiers are unexplored territories; there aren't any road signs out there, and the only certainties are doubt and ambiguity. In addition, the exciting, spicy edge often feels far off and futuristic. But when studying consciousness the frontier is more like seeing ancient legends with new eyes.

One popular way to sharpen one's vision of this edge is by becoming a "psychonaut," by personally diving into the depths of inner space through the disciplined practice of meditation, chanting, or any number of other mind-expanding techniques. This subjective approach is often personally persuasive and at times can even be transformative. But it also contains a dilemma - experiences in nonordinary states of awareness can be extremely difficult to evaluate. It's well known that expectations distort ordinary perceptions and memories, so you can imagine how dramatically warped nonordinary experiences may be. Without the checks and balances of multiple ways of knowing, including objective scientific methods, there is danger of succumbing to what might be called "narcosis of the deep mind." These seductions can easily lead the explorer into a hall of mirrors littered with the skeletons of explorers who've lost their way.

Close cousins of the psychonauts' amazing tales are rumors of secret, breakthrough experiments performed by exotic scientists whose names, remarkably, often have no vowels. Such enticing stories always outpace the plodding march of peerreviewed science, and the consequence of this knowledge lag is that the authentic razor's edge - the scientifically verifiable claim - is full of qualifiers, devilish details, and advances measured in halting baby steps. By comparison the faux cutting edge is chock-full of thrilling possibilities, is easy to understand, and advances at warp speed.

Why is it important to discuss the distinction between the authentic and the faux cutting edges? Because when I give a presentation to a popular audience about how we are exploring psi phenomena, afterwards I get questions asking why we're still stuck on such elementary problems. Why aren't we on to more exciting things by now, like using telepathy to communicate with extraterrestrials (or in Terence McKenna's wry terms, the "pro bono proctologists from Zeta Reticuli"). Surely, the questioner grumbles, conducting one more psi experiment, regardless of the degree of scientific sophistication, is a waste of time, hearkening back to the old-fashioned 1970s (or even the 1880s). My response is that we're obliged to be exceptionally cautious when exploring the frontiers and that thoroughness is always exasperatingly slow.

In addition, raising funds to launch these explorations is a challenge because the return on investment is completely unknown. Sometimes research leads into unexpected realms. Sometimes it leads nowhere.
One might think that exploring the frontiers of consciousness would be passionately interesting to lots of people, and funds would be plentiful. After all, what could be more exciting than investigating who and what we are? But surprisingly, funding in this area has always been microscopic. Compare funding for psi research to funds spent on, say, cancer research. The total funding for cancer research conservatively amounts to perhaps $100 billion. All funds ever spent on psi research total about $50 million. To put this into perspective, imagine that all of the cancer research took place in one 24-hour day. The comparable effort on psychic phenomena would then amount to a mere 43 seconds of that day. In this sense it's amazing we've learned anything at all. Imagine what we'd know by now if $100 billion had funded explorations of deep mind.

Incidentally, the largest systematic effort to understand psi, at least in terms of funding (about $20 million), was the formerly classified program supported by the United States government. Most of that program's work is now declassified and available through the Freedom of Information Act in the form of nearly 12, 000 documents. A large proportion of this information is mundane paperwork associated with a government research program. But it also contains thousands of pages of original research and reviews (from the 1970s to the mid-1990s). Browsing through this historical treasure trove, one can find examples of remote viewing that blow your socks off. Remote viewing isn't always as reliable as, say, a billion-dollar spy satellite. But then again, sometimes remote viewing can do something no piece of hardware could ever hope to duplicate: accurately describe future events and the inner recesses of heavily fortified buildings. It would be foolish to rely solely on remote viewing for gathering intelligence, but it would be equally foolish to dismiss it just because it isn't perfect. (Can you think of any form of human performance that's perfect?) You can now own copies of these once classified documents by purchasing the "Star Gate Archive" on CDs from the CIA, or more conveniently you can order them through a website run by one of the former military remote viewers (www.rviewer.com).

But this hasn't answered the nagging question, "Is psi research really at the frontiers of consciousness research?" The answer is yes, because when I talk about psi to a scientific audience, instead of evoking yawns, I'm yelled at by angry academics (typically just one or two) who insist that such effects violate the laws of the universe, so any evidence to the contrary is pseudoscientific nonsense, intentional fraud, or worse. That some unbending skeptics go ballistic and refuse to examine the data is not news. But the fact that the rest of the audience is often cowed into silence is more troubling. The taboo against speaking openly about one's interests within the scientific academy remains a potent constraint to progress.

IONS is in a leading position to help break this taboo because we're not subject to the social limitations that restrict what can be studied within academia. We'll continue to explore the deep mind, develop increasingly robust forms of scientifically validated evidence, and help catalyze mainstream interest in these topics. Real psi remains a profoundly important challenge to prevailing scientific assumptions, so it's one of the genuine cutting edges we'll continue to investigate.


DEAN RADIN, Ph.D. is IONS' Senior Scientist. Dr. Radin earned a Masters degree in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Illinois, Champaign. He has held research appointments at Princeton University, Edinburgh University, University of Nevada, and several Silicon Valley industrial research labs, where he has conducted basic research on exceptional human capacities, including psychic phenomena. His books include The Conscious Universe and the upcoming Entangled Minds. Dean's website: www.deanradin.com