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.