Toward a Psychological Study of Occult Phenomena

A postmaterialist perspective on the paranormal.

There is a belief that consciousness can be explained by studying the interaction of smaller parts. In other words, by focusing on a study of the brain we will eventually find the source of consciousness and understand its mechanism. That is like saying we can study time by taking a clock apart. Serious people have a tendency to focus only on the measurable, reliable, and simple, ignoring the nuance of complex phenomena. In an effort to control the universe, they have removed its spirit, limiting their investigations on its mechanical processes. By doing so, they have ruled as impossible, superstitious, or unnecessary all phenomena that involves the transcendent, spiritual, and paranormal. However, centuries old research, which are replicable today, have shown that anomalous phenomena, such as telepathy, proves that consciousness goes beyond the brain, and that the brain might be merely a filter for it. Emerging fields of psychology, among them humanist and transpersonal psychology, have started to study spirituality as an important dimension of the human experience. The most revered minds in the history of psychology — Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, William James, and so on — have all at one point considered the possibility of the paranormal, having observed mysterious phenomena in their practice. It is therefore strange that today, many respectable scientists make it a point to shun all kinds of phenomena they cannot explain through mechanical models.

Some philosophers — as well as some scientists — have suggested that consciousness is fundamental to the universe, a concept known as panpsychism. This idea suggests that, since everything is made of the same stuff, and some things are conscious, then it is likely that all things are conscious in some way, varying in degrees of complexity. (At least, that is how I understand it.) Based on solid empirical research into psychic phenomena and the paranormal, some scientists have suggested a postmaterialist paradigm, as an alternative to the materialist and reductionist worldview. This alternative view suggests a nonlocal mind — that is, a mind that is beyond the brain and that is shared by all conscious beings. This explains mysterious phenomena and opens the door for non-judgemental research. Instead of assuming that spiritual experiences are symptoms of mental dysfunction, they are studied as alternative states of consciousness. Doing so may give us insight into multiple realities. This paradigm also allows for a better understanding of traditional modes of healing, where the diseases of the body usually come from issues of the spirit.

In addition to a study of mental phenomena, a study of the myths of the world gives valuable insight into social consciousness and the psychosocial development of individuals within particular cultures. Nietzsche philosophized about this, by writing about Apollo and Dionysus. Joseph Campbell attempted to summarize all myths into a single narrative structure, which he called the monomyth. It may also be valuable to explore “occult” or “new age” topics as metaphors for psychological processes. Jung famously did so with alchemy and astrology. A study of religious philosophy and experience shows us that there is a shared mystical experience that is recognizable across cultures. Aldous Huxley published a brilliant summary of this in “The Perennial Philosophy”. Similarly, Alan Watts is known for bridging the gap between Western schools of thought and Eastern wisdom. It is all possible. The criticism that this is a futile endeavor that does not yield empirical evidence is lazy. All knowledge is, after all, interpretation. In any research, reflexivity is important to acknowledge. Our biases will affect how we interpret things.

It is easy to just ignore an entire aspect of the human experience because it is difficult to measure it. However, once we move past the need to quantify psychospiritual phenomena, a balanced and grounded qualitative approach may lead us deeper into the being of others and, ultimately, of ourselves.

Likes Negronis, psychoanalysis, and the occult.