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Excerpted from Reality Sandwich:
The Science of Magic?
Taking an objective position on this notion of psychic awareness -- if there is such a thing as objectivity -- science also holds a means of investigating magic with a critical, yet open mind. This empirical approach is the essence of parapsychology, which can be considered as the science of magic, covertly at least because the word magic itself is anathema to most parapsychologists, keen as they are to remain respectably scientific and scientifically respectable. The word magic, taken seriously, is actually completely abhorrent to most scientists, who commonly subscribe to what has been called "scientism". This is the view that science has ontological supremacy in the explanation of reality, primarily assuming that all processes can be reduced down to mechanical explanations governed only by physical laws, a position known as materialist reductionism. Parapsychology, as a scientific discipline, has been brave enough not to make such materialist assumptions by upholding that science is just a method, not a position or a belief system, thereby keeping a door open for the possibility of real magic and the existence of mind, and even spirit. Much to the alarm of many opponents in the mainstream, parapsychology has used modern methods and technologies to devise experiments that increasingly point toward humans as genuinely psychic beings.
Considering such recent advances, had it not been for the advent of modern psychophysiological monitoring technology, such as electroencephalograph (EEG) brain mapping equipment, psychical research might otherwise have languished in the repetitive and boring loops of card-guessing experiments so popular a few decades ago. Weirdly enough, however, the man renowned for naming the EEG, Hans Berger, developed this technology early in the 20th century for measuring electromagnetic (EM) fluctuations in the brain because he (incorrectly) thought that these EM emissions might be the carrier waves responsible for psychic transmissions between brains. Marconi had earlier thought the same of EM when he invented the telegraph. Berger himself had changed career from astronomy to psychology to study the neurophysiological processes of psi after his distant sister had an accurate vision of him involved in a near-fatal accident. Somewhat poetically then, Berger's EEG, after disappearing as a tool of psi research but flourishing in neuroscience, has been brought back into the field of parapsychology. This time though, the EEG is being used to find telepathic thought transmissions in a slightly different way, by demonstrating that distant brains can seemingly communicate without the owners of those brains being conscious of it, but not through the medium of electromagnetism as Berger once thought.
What many people may not be aware of is that much of the recent research in parapsychology adumbrates psi as a genuine, albeit subtle and largely unconscious phenomenon capable of escaping our conscious detection, even though our nervous system seemingly picks up the psychic information and responds to it. To illustrate, using brain mapping technology such as EEG a person in one room has their brain monitored while a person in a distant room has their brain randomly stimulated, usually through visual stimulation, such as a flash of bright lights. These visual stimulations are known to reliably cause easily observable reactions in the brain of the person directly perceiving them. What is not generally known is that these stimulations can also be observed somewhat more subtly in the brains of a distant person sealed in another room, well out of sight of the flashes. Some successful experiments even found this effect to occur in the visual cortex, the brain region where the effect might be expected if their brains were being stimulated directly. The same effect was also found using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology - even localising the spot in the brain where the effect was detected - and so these findings, repeated with different technologies, cannot be easily explained away as an artefact of the brain imaging technique. However, the effect tends to be observable only with pairs of people who have some kind of emotional bond, such as with friends and lovers, with some indication that twins do particularly well. Complete strangers, curiously enough, tend not to exhibit this distant brain synchronisation effect, which seems to imply that those people who are emotionally bonded are also somehow cerebrally bonded too.
One surprising effect that occurred in some of these "distant brain correlation" experiments is that there was also a slight time difference between the stimulation in and its reception in the brain. This time difference occurred in those being directly stimulated, in one experiment, and those being distantly stimulated, in another. The trouble is, this slight time shift occurred in reverse, such that the brains seemingly registered the stimulation just a few hundred milliseconds before it occurred. Ordinarily this might seem to be an impossible twist to some already very strange results, but psi researchers are also beginning to amass a wealth of data to support something they call presentiment -- the body's ability to react, or rather "pre-act," to immanent events before they happen, without any known physical means of predicting theses immanent events.
In the basic set-up for these experiments the participants' physiological arousal is monitored while they are randomly shown images that are either emotionally arousing or emotionally neutral, such as a burn-damaged child or a wicker chair. Using sensors that detect minute fluctuations in skin perspiration by measuring skin conductance, called electrodermal activity (EDA), an accurate gauge of general physiological arousal can be obtained. The EDA of a person reacts directly and almost instantly to the content of the image being seen. However, defying what is generally understood about time, a very small "pre-stimulus response" (something I think would more accurately be called a "presponse") is also observed a few seconds before the presentation of the arousing pictures. Having ruled out other explanations for this effect, the best interpretation of the successful results suggest that the body is subtly prescient to future events, although we may not be consciously aware of it. Similar experiments have successfully been carried out by measuring physiological changes in heartbeat and EEG and also by using pornography, loud noises or even electric shocks as the arousing stimuli, though no one yet has combined all three of these stimuli -- at least not as a parapsychology experiment.
"Sacred Activism is the fusion of the mystic's passion for God with the activist's passion for justice, creating a third fire, which is the burning sacred heart that longs to help, preserve, and nurture every living thing." - Andrew Harvey
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