- by Karen Jaenke
Consciousness Studies in Context
With seeds in the Human Potential Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, Consciousness Studies is a pioneering field within academia. Still today, Consciousness Studies is a cutting edge, alternative course of study existing in only a handful of universities throughout the nation and world.
The Consciousness and Transformative Studies program at John F. Kennedy University, located in the San Francisco Bay area and established in the late 1970s as the first accredited Masters in Consciousness Studies, stands as a leader in this field.
A Brief History
The Consciousness & Transformative Studies MA program at John F. Kennedy University offers a unique leading-edge interdisciplinary curriculum that has successfully attracted graduate students across a 40-year span.
The program had its inception when Pascal Kaplan, Ph.D. and David Surrenda, Ph.D. teamed up to found a formal MA program in Interdisciplinary Consciousness Studies, with a primary focus on self-awareness and spirituality. Kaplan and Surrenda designed and implemented the first accredited graduate program in consciousness studies in the U.S, and the first Masters graduates in Interdisciplinary Consciousness Studies completed their degree in 1981.
Since that time, the program has gone through various iterations and name changes, overseen by four program chairs, who have successfully adapted the program to meet emerging cultural trends and institutional challenges. Each program chair has championed the program amidst naysaying voices in order to maintain its integrity and continuing existence.
During the 1980s the program was almost disbanded. Susan Galvan, MA, Program Chair and Assistant Dean from 1982 – 89, was a real fighter and saved the program from demise by bringing more academic rigor along with coursework in professional development. During the 1980s, she also brought in well-known transpersonal teachers, including Fritjof Capra, Angeles Arrien, Ken Wilbur and Arthur Young, to teach in the foundational Paradigms of Consciousness course.
In 1989 the program name was changed to Consciousness Studies. In 1990, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) put the Consciousness Studies program on probation, giving it two to three years to become more academically rigorous. Vernice Solimar, Ph.D. who took over as Program Chair the prior year, staved off potential closure by WASC by raising academic standards and performance. Since then, the program has consistently passed WASC accreditation reviews.
In response to economic demands to translate the degree into right livelihood, in 2003 Marilyn Fowler, Ph.D. was hired as Program Chair to further develop the Professional Development track, adding career-oriented courses in the areas of business, coaching, teaching, curriculum development, writing and publishing.
In 2005, the program underwent a major yearlong redesign and revision, with a name change to Consciousness and Transformative Studies, reflecting a new emphasis on personal transformation as an integral part of the degree. Also, four optional specializations were created for students who want to focus their studies in a particular area – dream studies, culture, healing and philosophy and religion. This more robust curriculum made the program very viable and compelling, and enrollment increased from the mid-30s to a high of 55 students.
During these years, the Consciousness Studies program spawned several leading-edge Certificate programs: Dream Studies Certificate (1998-2008), founded by Fariba Bogzaran, Ph.D.; Personal & Professional Coaching Certificate (2001-2008) (with the School of Professional Psychology and the School of Career Development); and the Ecotherapy Certificate (2010-2014), founded by Craig Chalquist, Ph.D.
In 2013, Karen Jaenke, Ph.D., then Director of the Ecotherapy Certificate, took over as Program Chair. She implemented revisions to the curriculum and Program Learning Outcomes to once again make it more robust, incorporating current emphases on human development, living systems theory, evolution of consciousness, participatory action research and leadership development. Reflecting a growing demand for practical application of the degree into real world situations, the current Program Mission is Consciousness-in-Action— that is, creative action that expands consciousness and human potential and fosters conscious leadership in service of personal, organizational, cultural and ecological change
In 2015-16, Dr. Jaenke mobilized institutional support and WASC approval to expand Consciousness Studies into the online modality, to run in parallel with the existing onsite program. The new online program, designed to meet growing requests for this course of study from national and international audiences, will launch in Fall 2016. The online modality speaks to a growing national and global interest in the breadth and depth that consciousness studies imparts, with an underlying aim of increasing the conscious footprint on the planet.
The current Consciousness and Transformative Studies curriculum draws on three traditional academic disciplines: philosophy, psychology and religious studies. In addition, it incorporates the new sciences of living systems theory, neuroscience, quantum physics and cosmology. Finally, the program addresses cultural perspectives through courses in diversity, myth, ritual and symbol, shamanism and ancestral consciousness. Thus, a rich blend of ancient wisdom and contemporary perspectives inform the study of consciousness.
At JFKU, Consciousness and Transformative Studies brings a dual emphasis on consciousness principles and practices. The “Transformative” part of the curriculum enters into the picture as most courses explore consciousness both conceptually and personally. Students are asked to engage the material by applying consciousness principles to oneself, and by exploring and engaging various transformative practices that aid in the expansion and transformation of one’s own consciousness.
An ideal outcome of the curriculum is that its graduates come to accept responsibility for all states of consciousness arising within oneself, releasing all vestiges of a stance that negates any experience or displaces blame for one’s own subjective states onto external circumstances or others—i.e., victim consciousness, an inherently disempowering stance. Simply put, a major goal of the curriculum is to foster a high level of awareness and accountability for one’s own states of consciousness. Thus one of the formal Program Learning Outcomes targets the capacity to “demonstrate awareness and accountability for one’s subjective states, stage development, and impact on the inter-subjective field, using psychological and spiritual principles and practices.”
The program recognizes that consciousness that is relatively integrated and transparent, in the sense that fragmented and shadow aspects of the self are brought under awareness and accountability, can become a significant force for good and wholeness in the world. Conversely, split or dissociative consciousness is apt to produce division in the world. Thus, it is not just a richer, multi-perspectival conceptual understanding of consciousness that the program seeks to foster; it also seeks to generate more integrated consciousness – consciousness capable of taking creative action in the world from a place of integrity and empowerment. To restate, the core mission of the program is Consciousness-in-action.
In creating practitioners of conscious awareness, a distinguishing feature of this program is its emphasis on cultivating professional skills, alongside fostering consciousness growth. Because graduates are not apt to be greeted by job announcements for a degree in Consciousness Studies, the 58-unit curriculum incorporates 8 units of professional development in order to assist graduates in translating the degree professionally. The professional development courses address areas commonly pursued by our graduates: teaching, facilitation, writing and publishing, coaching, starting your own business, and organizational consulting.
In the final year of coursework, students take four successive research classes, focusing on qualitative research. They identify and define a research topic in the interdisciplinary field of consciousness studies, and one with deep roots in their own life story. They develop a literature review and conduct participatory action research, write up and present their results. Through the rigor of the final integrative project, students cultivate an area of expertise within the broad field of consciousness studies, which can then be applied professionally.
The current interest in online Consciousness Studies, along with the technological capability to deliver that curriculum, may point to a promising trend—the growing popularization and application of consciousness principles and practices. With the findings of neuroscience research, mindfulness practices are becoming mainstream. The business world increasingly recognizes the productive benefits of stress-reduction, mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Google now offers a two-day “Search Inside Yourself Leadership,” a mini-course in consciousness studies. The planetary ecological crisis, wide economic disparities, and the emerging global consciousness spawned by internet technology, are together creating new conditions for humanity to wake up. Amidst these necessities and possibilities, formal graduate education in consciousness studies can play a vital role in generating conscious leaders who can accelerate consciousness growth across the planet.
- by Sebastian Penraeth
Since 1994 the BIAL Foundation has supported 537 projects involving some 1200 researchers from 25 countries, resulting in the publication of 759 articles and abstracts in indexed journals. The current repository of scientific activity supported by the BIAL Foundation is fully searchable through their new database of project documents. Grants for research in Psychophysiology and Parapsychology are between €5,000 and €50,000, determined by the Scientific board according to the needs of each project.
Through its Grants Programme for Scientific Research, the Bial Foundation is accepting applications of research projects in the areas of Psychophysiology and Parapsychology - projects from Clinical or Experimental Models of Human Disease and Therapy shall not be accepted.
Applications should be submitted in English by the 31st of August 2016, in accordance with the applicable regulation and through the Bial Foundation Grants Management System.
- by Sebastian Penraeth
In his new act The Brain Show British comedian Robert Newman targets the failings of neuroscience in assuming that brain equals mind, saying “the idea that the brain is a wet computer is a philosophical assumption, not a scientific idea”.
After volunteering for a brain-imaging experiment meant to locate the part of the brain that lights up when you're in love, Rob emerges with more questions than answers. Can brain scans read our minds? Are we our brains? If each brain has more connections than there are atoms in the universe, then how big will a map of the brain have to be?
“Maybe what we’ve discovered is the bit of the brain that lights up when we spot an elementary conceptual blunder in experimental design.”
Kerri Smith of Nature's Books and Arts blog A view From the Bridge posted about the show in: Humour on the brain: Robert Newman reviewed. While not agreeing wholeheartedly with his premise, the author gives us a respectful treatment of the show.
[Robert Newman] lays out the shortcomings of these projects’ best-known predecessor, the Human Genome Project, which, he bemoans, never did find half the genes it promised. There was no “gene for getting into debt”; no “low voter turnout” gene. And he explains what the rest of his argument will be: that humans cannot be thought of as machines, and that scientists devalue us all by conceptualising people in this reductive way.
You can catch The Brain Show at the Wells Comedy Festival on June 4th, the Cyc du Soleil Benefit Gig in Oxford on June 9th and the Edinburgh Festival in August. See Robert Newman's website for details.
- by Sebastian Penraeth
Starting on April 15, 2016 the Institute for Venture Science (IVS) will be accepting pre-proposals for the funding of unconventional scientific investigations that challenge mainstream paradigms. Early submittal is key as they may need to limit the number of submissions; the deadline is June 25.
IVS is interested in a wide range of subjects, from gravity, magnetism, relativity and the physics of water to consciousness, NDEs and remote viewing to cancer and global warming. They hope to foster breakthroughs that will enrich the world and create solutions for otherwise intractable problems.
"The Institute for Venture Science (IVS) will fund high-risk, non-traditional scientific inquiries that may produce fundamental breakthroughs. We identify the most promising challenges to prevailing paradigms. We then simultaneously fund multiple research groups worldwide for each selected challenge."
"The IVS will fund the idea, not just the person advancing that idea. That is, it will seek out and fund multiple groups using diverse approaches to pursue the same unconventional idea. A dozen – even a half dozen - groups cannot be ignored. Challenger and orthodoxy will therefore compete on equal footing, and the better of the two approaches will soon prevail."
- by Rupert Sheldrake
The world of science is in the midst of unprecedented soul-searching at present. The credibility of science rests on the widespread assumption that results are replicable, and that high standards are maintained by anonymous peer review. These pillars of belief are crumbling. In September 2015, the international scientific journal Nature published a cartoon showing the temple of “Robust Science” in a state of collapse. What is going on?
Drug companies sounded an alarm several years ago. They were concerned that an increasing proportion of clinical trials was failing, and that much of their research effort was being wasted. When they looked into the reasons for their lack for success, they realized that they were basing projects on scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals, on the assumption that most of the results were reliable. But when they looked more closely, they found that most of these papers, even those in top-tier academic journals, were not reproducible. In 2011, German researchers in the drug company Bayer found in an extensive survey that more than 75% of the published findings could not be validated.
- by Alexander Moreira-Almeida
The WPA (World Psychiatric Association) has just approved the Position Statement on Spirituality and Religion in Psychiatry that was proposed by the WPA Section on Religion, Spirituality and Psychiatry.
Based on surveys showing the relevance of religion/spirituality (R/S) to most of world's population and on more than 3,000 empirical studies investigating the relationship between R/S and health, it is now well established that R/S have significant implications for prevalence, diagnosis, treatment, outcomes and prevention, as well as for quality of life and wellbeing.
The statement stresses that, for a comprehensive and person-centered approach, R/S should be considered in research, training and clinical care in psychiatry. It will be published as a paper at the February 2016 issue of the WPA journal World Psychiatry.
Alexander Moreira-Almeida, MD, PhD
- Associate Professor of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, Federal University of Juiz de Fora (UFJF), Brazil
- Director of the Research Center in Spirituality and Health (NUPES) at UFJF, Brazil
- Chair of the Section on Religion, Spirituality and Psychiatry of the World Psychiatric Association
- by Sebastian Penraeth
This essay by Ashish Dalela was written in response to the call for essays by the Royal Institute of Philosophy for their yearly essay contest. For those concerned with post-materialist science, it's a worthy read.
An assumption implicit in this question is that non-living objects probably don’t present a problem for materialism, because if that weren’t the case, we would be asking if materialism is a sound approach for all of science and not just the study of living forms. In this essay I will argue that: (1) the problem of materialism is not unique to living forms, but exists even for non-living things, and (2) the problem originates not in materialism per se but from reductionism which reduces big things (or wholes) to small things (or parts). Reduction has been practiced in all areas of science – physics, mathematics, and computing, apart from biology – and it makes all scientific theories either inconsistent or incomplete. This is a fundamental issue and cannot be overcome, unless our approach to reduction is inverted: rather than reduce big things to small things, we must now reduce the small things to big things. This new kind of reduction can be attained if both big and small were described as ideas: the big is now an abstract concept while the small is a contingent concept, and contingent concepts are produced from abstract concepts by adding information. This leads us to a view of nature in which objects are also ideas – just more detailed than the abstractions in the mind; the abstract ideas precede the detailed ideas. When the reduction is inverted, a new kind of materialism emerges which is free from its current problems. This materialism presents a new theory of inanimate matter, not just living forms.
- by Alexander Moreira-Almeida
Psychiatrists’ views on the mind-brain relationship (MBR) have marked clinical and research implications, but there is a lack of studies on this topic.
To evaluate psychiatrists’ opinions on the MBR, and whether they are amenable to change or not.
We conducted a survey of psychiatrists’ views on the MBR just before and after a debate on the MBR at the Brazilian Congress of Psychiatry in 2014.
Initially, from more than 600 participants, 53% endorsed the view that “the mind (your “I”) is a product of brain activity”, while 47% disagreed. Moreover, 72% contested the view that “the universe is composed only of matter”. After the debate, 30% changed from a materialist to a non-materialist view of mind, while 17% changed in the opposite way.
Psychiatrists are interested in debates on the MBR, do not hold a monolithic view on the subject and their positions are open to reflection and change, suggesting the need for more in-depth studies and rigorous but open-minded debates on the subject.
- by Kathleen Noble
Kathleen Noble, Ph.D.
Professor of Consciousness
School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math
University of Washington-Bothell
In One Mind, a sweeping journey through the landscapes of consciousness, Larry Dossey says “I know a way out of hell.” (2013) Hell, of course, is the mess we humans have created for ourselves and for all the inhabitants of this fragile biosphere as a direct result of the limited and limiting materialist mindset that has dominated science since the 17th century. It may or may not be too late for humans to pull back from the brink, but one thing is clear: without the widespread recognition that we are nonphysical beings enjoying a physical existence that is embedded in a vast multidimensional reality we cannot hope to begin the journey back to a sane and healthy future.
For those of us who have spent many years studying, teaching, and practicing an integrative approach to Consciousness, Dr. Dossey’s call to action is not new – but it is nonetheless much needed. As Einstein warned us long ago, “no problem can be solved at the same level of consciousness that created it.” We know all too well what problems are caused by the materialist mindset. We also know that a profoundly different mindset is necessary to solve them. And we have abundant evidence to draw upon in determining what this mindset could be. After all, we have 150 years of increasingly robust scientific data that clearly show the vast nature, range, and power of consciousness. We have ancient spiritual practices like yoga and meditation that offer us intricate maps of consciousness and its possibilities and permutations. We have clinical cartographies from millions of people who have survived encounters with death and returned to life thanks to advances in resuscitation science and their own intrepid wills. And we have impressive evidence from ancient and contemporary dreamers that we can harness the power of dreams to reveal creations and solutions that cannot be perceived within the confines of the rational waking mind. Granted, we are still arguing with and against the materialist mindset that has systematically denied and sequestered this evidence, but as Thomas Kuhn (1962, 2012) revealed in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, paradigms in their death throes always fight back, most vituperatively when they are about to be supplanted by a new paradigm that has already taken shape.
But back to Einstein. We clearly need to bring an expanded level of consciousness to solve the problems we have created through a reductionist mindset. The question is how to do this to greatest effect at this critical juncture in human history. To my mind, educating a new generation of consciousness scholars and scientists is crucial. Certainly the general public is increasingly aware of the power of the mind thanks to the great work of scientists and scholars like Rupert Sheldrake (2012, 1999), Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer (2007), Dean Radin (2006), Sharon Begley (2007), Alan Wallace (2008), Jeremy Narby (1999), William James (1902), Pim Van Lommel (2007), Robert Jahn and Brenda Dunne (1987), Larry Dossey (2013), Charles Tart (2009), Robert Waggoner (2009) and many, many others. But this collective body of scholarship has yet to make significant inroads into mainstream academia, which is where scientists and scholars are born. This dearth is not for lack of trying, yet pioneering programs like William James’ at Harvard, the Rhines’ at Duke, Jahn’s and Dunne’s at Princeton, and Charles Tart’s at UC Davis did not outlast the death or retirement of their founders. No one should underestimate the power of the old paradigm and its death grip on higher education. Indeed, I suspect that there are many scholars and scientists in academia who are personally or professionally committed to an integrative approach to consciousness but who are closeted because of the resistance and/or hostility of their materialist colleagues. Having experienced this firsthand I am under no delusion about the difficulties that confront us.
Still, our mission – should we choose to accept Larry Dossey’s challenge - is not only to create a new field of inquiry that is integrative and transdisciplinary in nature and scope, but also to train a new generation that is prepared to take consciousness seriously. Given that so many amongst the current leadership in Consciousness are aging, retiring, or reincarnating, the training of the next generation is a matter of great urgency. It is they who, in the words of Kuhn, are “less committed than their contemporaries to the world view and rules determined by the old paradigm” (1962, 2012, 143) and it is they, therefore, who, properly trained, will propel the study of consciousness into the next century and beyond.
This is a mission that I have been embarked upon at the University of Washington since 2000, first on its Seattle campus and, for the past five years, on its younger Bothell campus (UWB). My purpose here is to share my current efforts with the readers of OpenScience.org and to encourage the creation of an international academic community that can, in turn, create educational opportunities for a new generation of consciousness scholars.
At the outset I must confess that consciousness has had me firmly in its grip since 1975, when 3 powerful and profound near death experiences blasted me out of law school and set me on a path that I’ve been travelling ever since. I recount those experiences at length in my book Riding the Windhorse: Spiritual Intelligence and the Growth of the Self (Noble, 2001) and won’t reiterate them here except to say that I returned to life convinced, like Dr. Dossey, that a deeper understanding of the nature of consciousness and reality were critical to the maturation and survival of the human species. That awareness led me to graduate school and licensure in clinical and counseling psychology and eventually to the faculty of the University of Washington, Seattle where – amongst other responsibilities - I spent many years trying to create an integrative program in consciousness but succeeding only in teaching one course each year for the Honors Program. Finally, after a conversation with the then-Provost in which she stated baldly that “there would never be consciousness on this campus,” I decided the time had come to look elsewhere. Elsewhere turned out to be the more interdisciplinary and innovative Bothell campus where a new School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math was forming under the leadership of Professor Warren Buck, a former UWB Chancellor, professor of physics, and practicing Buddhist. He believed that the addition of Consciousness to the traditional STEM curricula would help to expand the minds of both students and faculty and he invited me to do just that. Thus, to the shock and discomfiture of several traditionalists in the School, I joined their faculty and began the long and arduous process of creating what is now officially known as the Minor in Consciousness.
Why a minor rather than a major? There were two primary reasons. First, a minor reaches the largest number of students without their having to compromise their vocational plans by majoring in something which isn’t yet recognized as either a legitimate area of academic inquiry or a career path. Second, a minor brings together students from many different disciplines – business, nursing, biology, psychology, education, computer science – and encourages them to recognize the ways that consciousness can inform and transform the ideas and issues they care about most.
The Minor in Consciousness formally launched in September 2014, becoming the first of its kind in a School of STEM at a public research university. As stated in the General Catalog: The Consciousness minor investigates the nature, dynamics, and functions of the mind through the perspectives of psychology, neuroscience, physics, biology, and contemplative practices. It utilizes both objective and subjective methods to explore levels of awareness, the intersection of mind and matter, and ways to enhance individual and collective well-being.
Currently there are five permanent courses that comprise the core of the minor, all of which I developed and teach. These are:
BCONSC 321: Consciousness Studies: Introduces the field of consciousness studies. Explores the interaction of mind and body through scientific studies of dreams, intuition, intention, and anomalous phenomena. Includes the role of meditation and contemplative practices in physiological and psychological well-being.
BCONSC 322: Exploration of Consciousness: Deeper inquiry into the nature of consciousness and the interaction of mind and body. Topics include the biology of compassion and belief, the role of attention and intention in neuroplasticity, experimental studies of meditation and mental training in promoting psychological and physical health; and the emergence of an integral paradigm of the mind.
BCONSC 323: Psychology and Science of Dreams: Explores the psychology and science of dreams. Topics include the history and theories of dreams, modern experimental studies of dreaming and dream content, lucid dreams, contribution of dreams to scientific creativity, and dream incubation and interpretation techniques.
BCONSC 424: Consciousness and the Natural World: Explores emerging models of consciousness in the natural world. Topics include scientific and shamanic research about animal and plant consciousness and the ethical implications of this inquiry for human interaction with other species.
BCONSC 425: Consciousness and Well-Being: Focuses on understanding the non-local dynamics of human consciousness. Topics include entanglement and attunement as underlying principles of psychological and physical reality, experimental and phenomenological studies of shared consciousness with humans and other species, and ways to expand the mind and promote health and well-being.
Students can also elect to take two other courses that, while not focused on consciousness, help them extend their new awareness into behavioral biology and cosmology.
The Minor’s educational goals for students are both personal and professional. Again as stated in the General Catalog: As a result of completing the minor, students will be prepared to explore the complex relationships among mind, brain, and body with scientific rigor and open minds. They will be able to converse about the relationship of mind and matter with contemporary scientists and contemplative scholars, comparing and contrasting different approaches, and assessing their strengths and limitations. They will learn contemplative practices that have been proven to help them concentrate, increase their motivation and persistence, enhance their higher order thinking skills, and achieve a greater sense of equanimity. These skills will help them cope with the increasingly complex problems of the contemporary world and contribute creatively to their solutions. Students will be encouraged to become more reflective, compassionate, insightful, and resilient, to cultivate their self-awareness, and to consider carefully the consciousness and needs of other species and the biosphere. As a result, students will gain a greater sense of meaning and purpose, an enhanced capacity to draw upon and integrate different forms of knowledge, and a heightened ability to utilize inner resources to live mindfully at home, at work, and in their communities. Three years of research into whether students’ experiences meet these expectations is currently underway and should be ready for publication in 2016.
Thus far, more than 300 hundred undergraduates have enrolled in one or more courses and the minor’s reputation has spread rapidly amongst the student population. Introductory courses (BCONSC 321 and 323) are fully subscribed shortly after they open for registration and their waiting lists are long. Many students report that they have to wait several years to gain entry into 321, which is a prerequisite for all courses in the Minor with the exception of 323. Unfortunately, the situation is not likely to resolve in their favor in the immediate future because of the continuing opposition of materialist colleagues to increasing students’ access to the conversation about consciousness. For example, at a recent faculty meeting when I argued the need for additional faculty, the chair of my division vowed that he would “never vote for a faculty member who wasn’t a materialist.” Another junior colleague opined that “she went to church and believed in god but didn’t believe that religion should be taught as science.” (“Neither do I, I replied….that’s not what consciousness is about”.) Still another snidely dismissed the study of consciousness in general and Rupert Sheldrake’s work in particular as “pseudoscience”, although when I asked him which of Sheldrake’s experiments or books he found objectionable, he admitted, not surprisingly, that he had read none. And then there was the colleague who offered me the unsolicited advice that if I wanted his – and STEM’s - support, I would start to teach consciousness from a materialist perspective. Anyone who takes an integrative approach to consciousness has heard such comments as a matter of course. Needless to say I have yet to acquire the resources to recruit more faculty for Consciousness, although UWB’s traditional STEM programs have grown exponentially in recent years.
Still, there is reason for hope. It was a five year uphill battle to create and implement the Minor; indeed, there were many occasions when it seemed due to die before it was born. Yet the way that the minor achieved final approval despite institutional opposition is perhaps the most important part of this story. The Minor in Consciousness would never have surmounted the hurdles it faced were it not for the burgeoning and unwavering enthusiasm of the students who flocked to the courses from Day One. A particularly dedicated group of five formed an officially sanctioned UWB Consciousness Club in 2012, and when the minor first went to the academic council for its review in 2013 they wrote a powerful letter of support that articulated their personal experiences of transformation as a result of exposure to the material. Unfortunately neither the council nor the administration was swayed by their eloquence and the proposal languished on a Vice-Chancellor’s desk for almost a year before the students decided to act. This time a group of about 50, led by Consciousness Club officers and alumni, petitioned the student government for a resolution that the administration approve the minor based on student demand. After all, students said, they were paying the tuition. To everyone’s surprise the next day the paperwork was signed and sent off on the last leg of the approval process. Four months later, in March 2014, the minor was authorized by the president of the university and formally launched the following September.
Now, the next phase of our project has begun. Given the administrative resistance to Consciousness, its future on this campus is uncertain unless means can be found to render it financially sustainable. To that end a dedicated group of students, alumni, and colleagues like Paul Revis of SetScienceFree.org, are working with me on a crowd-sourcing campaign to raise funds to create a Center for Education and Research in Consciousness (CERC) at UWB. The mission of CERC is to recruit additional faculty, expand the undergraduate program to include a major, create a transdisciplinary Ph.D. in Consciousness, generate original research, and host community educational forums. If the campaign is successful we will hold a symposium in 2016 and invite the leading minds in the field to brainstorm and broadcast educational curricula that can prepare a new generation of Consciousness scientists and scholars. We may or may not succeed, but if we are to find our way out of hell, we have to try. On behalf of all the students, alumni, and colleagues who are committed to this cause, I invite you to join us.
Begley, S. (2007). Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain. NY: Ballantine.
Dossey, L. (2013) One Mind: How Our Individual Mind is Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why It Matters. CA: Hay House 2013.
James, W. (1902). Varieties of Religious Experience. NY: Modern Library.
Jahn, R.G., and Dunne, B.J. (1987). Margins of Reality: The role of consciousness in the physical world. NY Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987
Kuhn TS (1962, 2012). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. IL: U of Chicago Press1962
Mayer, E.L. (2007). Extraordinary Knowing: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable Powers of the Human Mind. NY: Bantam Books.
Narby, J. (1999). The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge. NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam.
Noble, K.D. (2001). Riding the Windhorse: Spiritual Intelligence and the Growth of the Self. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Radin, D. (2006). Entangled Minds: Extrasensory experiences in a quantum reality. NY: Pocket Books.
Sheldrake, R. (2012). Science Set Free. NY: Deepak Chopra Books.
Sheldrake, R. (1999). Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home. NY: Three Rivers Press.
Tart, C. (2009). The end of materialism. CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Van Lommel, P. (2010). Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience. NY: HarperCollins.
Waggoner, R. (2009). Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self. Needham, MA: Moment Point Press.
Wallace, B.A., and Hodel, B. (2008). Embracing Mind: The Common Ground of Science and Spirituality. Boston, MA: Shambhala.
- by Rupert Sheldrake
Charles Darwin was a firm believer in the inheritance of acquired characteristics. In his book The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, Darwin gave many examples of the hereditary transmission of adaptations. He also published an account in Nature about dogs with an inborn fear of butchers. Their father had a violent antipathy to butchers, probably as a result of being mistreated by one, and this fear was transmitted not only to his children but also to his grandchildren.
Darwin knew nothing of genes or random mutations, which only became part of biology in the twentieth century. He put forward his own theory of heredity in the The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, entitled ‘The Provisional Hypothesis of Pangenesis.’ In order to understand, for example, how a dog could inherit something a parent had learned, or how a plant’s descendants could inherit its adaptations to a new environment, Darwin proposed that cells all over the body threw off microscopic ‘gemmules’ which somehow entered the egg and sperm or pollen cells, transforming them to make these characteristics hereditary.
The great French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Larmarck proposed decades before Darwin that habits could be inherited, and in this sense Darwin was a Lamarckian. Darwin’s theory of pangenesis was largely ignored, and was airbrushed out of twentieth-century hagiographies of Darwin. In twentieth-century biology, Lamarckian inheritance was treated as a grave heresy in the West, where Neo-Darwinism predominated. In the Soviet Union, by contrast, the inheritance of acquired characteristics was orthodox, which only intensified the prejudice against it in the capitalist world. Neo-Darwinism differs from Darwinism in attributing heredity to chemical genes, which can only change by random, purposeless mutations, and in denying the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Many neo-Darwinians are unaware that Darwin himself had very different views. Darwin was not a neo-Darwinian.
The selfish gene theory, advocated most strikingly by Richard Dawkins, took the neo-Darwinian world-view to an extreme. The genes were personified: Dawkins argued that they were selfish, and as ruthless as Chicago gangsters. They had the power to ‘mould matter’ and ‘create form.’ The genetic material, DNA, was no longer a mere molecule: it was animated and purposive. Ironically, Dawkins persuaded many of his readers that life was purposeless and mechanistic by using vitalist rhetoric, attributing minds and purposes to DNA molecules. But behind the haze of misleading metaphors about selfish molecules, he was popularizing the standard neo-Darwinian theory that evolutionary creativity occurred only by random mutations, with no purpose or direction. Evolutionary change was driven by the changes in gene frequencies in the population as a result of natural selection. Acquired characteristics could not be inherited.
Unfortunately for Neo-Darwinism, the facts do not fit the theory. The taboo on the inheritance of acquired characteristics was lifted at the beginning of the twenty-first century, with the recognition of epigenetic inheritance, meaning inheritance over and above the genes. Some kinds of epigenetic inheritance depend on small RNA molecules (sRNA), others on the methylation of DNA, others on modifications to the proteins that bind to DNA. The genes are not changed through mutation, but are switched on or off through the way they are packaged. The discovery that some of these changes are inherited through eggs, sperm and pollen marks a revolutionary change in modern biology.
Some remarkable recent studies have shown that mice can inherit their fathers’ fears, reminding us of Darwin’s report of dogs with an inherited fear of butchers. In these experiments, carried out by Brian Dias and Kerry Ressler, males were exposed to the smell of a chemical called acetophenone that they would never normally encounter in nature. They were given mild electric shocks when smelling this chemical, and soon became frightened when they smelled it again. This was a classical Pavlovian conditioned reflex. However, their children and grandchildren were also terrified of the smell of acetophenone. They were affected even when the fearful fathers’ sperm was transmitted by artificial insemination, preventing any form of cultural contact.
How could fearful responses to a smell be transmitted from noses and brains to sperm cells? Dias and Ressler suggest that molecular influences travelled through the blood stream. This sounds very like a modern version of Darwin’s gemmule hypothesis. In plants, too, there is now good evidence that sRNA molecules can move from various organs of the plant through the sap to the eggs and pollen, bringing about heritable changes that continue over generations.
To what extent can the fears of human fathers be transmitted to their offspring, even in the absence of any contact between the fathers and their children? No one knows.
Much remains to be discovered about epigenetic inheritance. But it is already clear that evolutionary theory needs to be extended or revised. The dogmas of Neo-Darwinism have been superseded. Not surprisingly, this is the subject of a lively debate within contemporary biology.
As evolutionary theory moves beyond the narrow confines of Neo-Darwinism, the question of evolutionary creativity is once again thrown open. The inheritance of learning and adaptations does not depend on random genetic mutations, but on direct transmissions from parents to offspring. Hence the creative responses of organisms to challenges are a major source of evolutionary creativity, just as Darwin thought, and as Lamarck thought before him. Darwin attributed these adaptive abilities to the ‘co-ordinating power’ inherent in living organisms. But he did not explain how this power worked, and we still do not know. But we do know that organisms themselves can be creative, and that some of their learning and adaptation can be passed on to their descendants. Evolution can happen faster and more purposefully than twentieth-century biologists allowed them to think.