Sunday, June 08, 2014

ASCS conference this July

When I learned of the Academy for Spiritual and Consciousness Studies (ASCS) only a few months ago, it was a welcome discovery. The Academy seems to be carrying on in our age of scientific materialism the original impulse that led researchers to form the Society for Psychical Research in England in 1882. The SPR founders primarily wanted to invest the resources of scientific methodology in studying the age-old mysteries of human consciousness. Those included, prominently, evidence for survival of at least some part of our identity beyond that wall we are all heading toward: death of the physical body.

It's often said that the goals of the original SPR and other psychical researchers have not been realized. A hundred and thirty years later, the field remains stifled by skepticism and lack of interest among both scientists and the public. Under its new, supposedly more respectable name, parapsychology, studies are conducted at a handful of universities. In keeping with the Zeitgeist and the academic setting, though, emphasis has shifted to experimental laboratory work whose results can be measured and analyzed. Those experiments apply mostly to phenomena such as telepathy and psychokinesis (moving or affecting objects by purely mental power).

That sort of stuff is interesting, although it consists of refinements to knowledge of phenomena whose existence has been demonstrated over and over. But what is left out is spontaneous events that can't be produced and reproduced in a lab -- and most of the evidence for survival is unexpected, unplanned, or generated by unusual people working in conditions that many find bizarre and dubious.

ASCS doesn't shy away from what is today the fringe of psychical research, although formerly at the center of it. It appears most ASCS members are concerned with (not necessarily believers in) life after death.

In one sense, progress -- while sporadic -- has been made even in that area of study. Anyone with an open mind who wants to take the time and trouble to read up on mediumship, apparitions, and similar phenomena is bound to be impressed; not so much by individual cases as by the total weight.

The problem today has changed since 1882. (Incidentally, many individuals were studying psychic phenomena and writing about them even earlier -- for instance Allan Kardec, The Spirits' Book [1857] and The Book on Mediums [1861]; and Catherine Crowe, The Night Side of Nature [1848]. The SPR was only the first formal scientific organization to take up the study). We have plenty of recorded instances that strongly imply survival, although additional findings are naturally welcome. 

The biggest challenge now is to understand the phenomena: what they mean, how they work. That requires not just raw information but a theory to account for the massive, and sometimes seemingly contradictory, variety of paranormal events. As Henry Sidgwick, one of the SPR founders, said, "Facts alone form a mob."

Theories about survival form a mob as well, while consensus is notably absent.

But another promising development in psychical research has been the growth of techniques for after-death communication (ADC) -- in plan language, talking with the spirits of the dead. The ASCS conference theme is "New Developments in Afterlife Communications." Some of them you can try at home.

If you have a serious interest in the "big picture" of life in this world and beyond, or are even just curious, you might consider attending the conference.

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