Friday, December 30, 2011

The Cassandra Complex

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was Princess of Troy, the daughter of King Priam.

A legendary beauty, Cassandra promised to be the god Apollo's consort, but at the last minute she refused his attentions.

As punishment, Apollo gave Cassandra the gift of prophecy but withheld the capacity to convince anyone of her predictions.

In other words, she was given the ability to predict disaster, but not the ability to prevent it.

This dubious gift of knowledge drove her mad.

Cassandra's prophecies grew more and more garbled and abstract. so that eventually she barely made any sense at all. It was only in retrospect that others were able to look back at her words and, post-disaster, recognize their precognitive nature.

I think sometimes that such is the nature of all prophecy. Taking prophecy literally leads to error, but ignoring it isn't a good idea either. That leaves us with the problem of interpretation, a task most people refuse because it is 1) scary, 2) uncertain, and 3) difficult.

Most people want to believe that the world is a known entity and that life will go on as it is, or better, indefinitely. We love the illusion of control. Deep down we all know that it is an illusion. But who wants to dwell on disaster if you can't prevent it? Such an orientation would drive anyone mad.

In some modern circles where psi ability and the symbolic content of dreams are taken for granted as valid, the refusal to pay attention is referred to as "The Cassandra Complex."

You have a strong intuition that some specific thing will come to pass, but you ignore it because it doesn't make logical sense. Then the damned thing happens, and you look back and think, "Oh bloody hell."

You should have listened to your gut.

In the Greek scheme of things, sophia or wisdom, is the feminine face of knowledge, whereas logos or word, is male.
In modern terms, we might say that intuition and logic are meant to be used together, married--but in fact what we have now is a rational domination of intuition which denies it even exists or which mechanically contests its validly.

This, in spite of the fact that some of the most famous scientific minds of the past centuries (Einstein, for example) have credited intuition for their greatest scientific achievements.

We may not know the way back to our balanced knowing selves, but I think we have to brave the confusion and the dark to find it. We have to get out of our societal Cassandra Complex.

A good place to start might be Socrates answer when told that the Oracle at Delphi had named him the wisest man in all of Greece.

He defended that verdict, noting that, "he, at least, knows that he knows nothing."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

True Memory Syndrome

In the early 1990s, when psychologists Elizabeth Loftus and Richard Ofshe coined the term 'False Memory Syndrome' (FMS), they were reacting to a spate of lawsuits that developed out of recovered memory, hypnosis, and regression therapy.

At that time, FMS was welcomed by the scientific community as an organizing concept. Some of the stories emerging in therapy were so outlandish and alarming that they seemed impossible.

Ordinary housewives, cops, and truck drivers were remembering frightening episodes of alien abduction, satanic ritual abuse, and sexual exploitation at the hands of respected community figures. Some people were claiming to host hundreds of different personalities in one single brain and body.

It was all getting a little bit hallucinatory and hysterical and disturbing.

Science is by definition uncomfortable with strong emotion and vivid internal imagery anyway, so scientists were understandably anxious to tone down the volume ASAP.

Loftus helped that happen.

[Multiple personalities exit stage left. Shoo.]

However, even when Loftus first published her (self-described) groundbreaking research into FMS and confabulation within the therapeutic setting, it struck me that there was an ontological problem with the whole concept--a problem that, if rigorously examined, would likely reveal much more interesting stuff than the unremarkable fact that people in therapy are sometimes prone to suggestion.

No one was talking about this problem at all. They still aren't talking about it.

I realize now that no one will be talking about it, not ever--at least no one in mainstream science.

The underlying problem with the idea of false memory is simply that it implies that its opposite--true memory--actually exists. For FMS to be meaningful as a organizing construct, there have to be two kinds of memory: verifiable or 'true' memory that is grounded only in straightforward material events, and isolated or 'false' memory grounded in fantasy, imagery, and emotion.

Yet we know that memory is not organized around this duality.

ALL memory is fluid and creative and informed by emotion and symbolic content. The way you remember an event the day after it happened differs radically from the way you remember it forty years later, and it should. The mind naturally alters memory to suit the current context, to provide the most needed information in whatever situation it finds itself. This is a normal process, not pathology.

The mind may also connect bits of events here and there to symbolic content in order to convey metacontent more efficiently than, say, a philosophy treatise: kind of like a mnemonic zip file. Some recent research even suggests that memory may be holographic in the sense that it can occupy many dimensions of experience at once.

In other words, the mere fact that a memory can be confirmed by others when broken into bits of raw data in no sense makes that memory 'true'. For example, witnesses to a crime often make similar misidentifications. A bunch of people can verify details of an event that are not empirically correct, and this happens all the time without the aid of a therapist.

Families also commonly construct group stories that when examined by an outsider turn out to be pure myth, yet most people in the family will readily verify all the details.

No one would look at memories of a pleasant childhood and cry 'false memory syndrome' when the family had itself implanted this falsely idyllic scene by consensus, but in fact such narratives do fit Loftus and Ofshe's definition. Such memories only become problematic when one family member exhibits pathology based on events that everyone else has edited out.

Likewise, the fact that a memory cannot be confirmed or verified in any way does not necessarily mean it contains no useful, genuine information. Such memories are not so much 'false' as they are complex and highly dependent on social context.

Satanic ritual abuse is an interesting example. Many such claims were made by people experiencing real institutional mistreatment that was nonetheless supported and normalized by the right wing religious communities to which they belonged.

These people were truly suffering and sought help because of their genuine pain, but they literally could not say that their preachers, fathers, mothers, congregations, or beliefs were doing them grave harm. They lacked the social context to make any such statement.

Their consensual reality, their 'true memories' left these victims no room for seeing what was obvious to an observant outsider, much less the words to vocalize the problem. No one in their own right wing Christian world would validate such an accusation--it would have seemed like madness or heresy.

The memories that emerged in connection with their very real pain therefore were not so much false as they were symbolic: An attempt by the mind to accurately convey actual abuse that was done ritually to their most vulnerable selves within a social context that accepted such abuse as normal, systematically editing out all evidence of it as a condition of membership. The satanic tale was a symbolic reflection of an empirical fact.

Social reality is always created by consensus, but consensual reality is highly limited and selective. When people tend to report as 'real' only events that can be confirmed by others or that validate their own views about what is possible it strengthens the group. There is real comfort in this. It's not all bad. The process makes daily life more comfortable and bearable.

'Confirmation bias' is widely documented in a bazillion solid behavioral studies that illustrate it in a bazillion different ways. This bias causes us to gravitate toward and validate what we already think we know. The up side is that this tendency makes community life possible. The down side is that it leaves communities vulnerable to group delusion and harmful rigidity.

In other words, consensual reality itself is a kind of socially implanted 'false memory syndrome', systematically editing out private, individual experience in favor of the group version. When a society demonizes and invalidates individual experience and gives it no place for expression and integration, it risks sailing off the edge of sanity itself.

We see this all the time in cults. And technology. 

Other cultures have always found ways to integrate private and symbolic experience into the reality of the tribe without denigrating or invalidating the individual. The fact that our culture has not yet found a way to do this causes sporadic outbreaks of social hysteria, all manner of mental, physical, and emotional illness, and no small measure of mainstream delusional behavior--much of it within science itself.

One look at our earth reveals instantly that for all its hubris, science lacks even the most basic grounding.

Maybe we need a new term, a term for the tendency to debunk and invalidate all uncomfortable personal and social phenomena: Maybe, False Memory Research Syndrome?


The truth?

Seriously, some psychologists can't handle the truth.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

What Remote Viewers Say About Earth's Future

Recently I watched The Men Who Stare at Goats on cable. I expected to enjoy it immensely. After all, I love George Clooney. I love weird psi stuff. I love to laugh. So I expected a lot from this movie.

I momentarily forgot: The secret to happiness is low expectations.

Or no expectations.

So it turned out the movie wasn't that good, and it wasn't all that funny either. The film tells the mostly true story of Ingo Swann and a U.S. government undercover operation that delved briefly into 'remote viewing,' a psychic visualization technique in which trained intuitives focus on a set of anonymous coordinates and sketch or report what they see.

For awhile, the U.S. government thought the Soviets were hotly pursuig remote viewing (and more) as a form of military reconnaissance, and so on the basis of that rumor alone, the intelligence community decided that the U.S. better jump on the psychic research bandwagon and pronto.

The oddest part was that it turned out that reports of Soviet involvement were incorrect. Basically, the U.S. entered into a psychic intelligence race that was totally imaginary: a race with itself.

That part, I admit, is pretty delicious.

The biggest irony of all is that remote viewing does seem to actually work quite well under certain controlled conditions, especially if the viewers are trained in the technique and start out with a natural gift.

No one knows why remote viewing is so accurate, although it seems to draw some theoretical support from recent quantum physics experiments and from a view of the universe that is more multidimensional-dimensional and less linear.

Despite its unexpected effectiveness, the government claims to have dropped the program entirely and now, instead of spying psychically, Hollywood-type people make money making movies making fun of remote viewing and psychic spies.

Maybe the government really no longer does this. Maybe it does it all the time. Maybe it's remotely viewing this blog right now! (OK, probably not.)

Who knows?

It's fascinating stuff though, and I think not all that hilarious. For instance, I also just finished Jim Marrs wacky but fascinating book, Alien Agenda, which features an entire chapter on remote viewing. It seems that not only can remote viewing provide accurate information about geographic coordinates, it can also be used to explore different locations in time, deep space, and parallel dimensions.

In one carefully controlled experiment, remote viewers who were given planets as targets (without being told that's what the targets were) came up with remarkably consistent and accurate descriptions of phenomena that had not yet been discovered by astronomers--phenomena like the rings on Jupiter or the color of the sky and the molten landscape of Mercury.

Initially this 'incorrect' info was taken as 'proof' that remote viewing is total rot. Then, later, the viewers turned out to be spot on.

Remote viewing isn't fool-proof: Viewers have to be trained to filter out their own interpretive tendencies and to distinguish between their own thoughts and actual target info, but some people get amazingly good at this, providing accurate information that should not be possible to obtain using nothing but the human mind.

And yet it is possible to obtain info this way. Possible and, with practice, reliable and likely.

When remote viewers are given targets involving the far future here on planet earth, the 'hits' are also remarkably consistent and detailed--and more than a little bit scary.

Most of the remote viewers asked about earth's future predict that:
  • Starting around the year 2015, the earth will be hit with a series of volcanic eruptions that will cause major climate changes and crop failures. Many people and species will die.
  • These volcanic eruptions will distract the human race from very serious problems involving environmental pollution. By the time the eruptions stop being an urgent problem consuming all human attention, the environmental destruction of the planet will be so out of control that earth will become for all practical purposes uninhabitable. 
  • People will slowly be pushed underground to survive. These underground communities will evolve into domed cities that look a bit like terrariums. Life outside them will be impossible. People will grow all their food and satisfy all their survival needs inside these enclosures. Violence and war will become rare to nonexistent because humans will be forced to use all of their energy on survival issues.
Will this really happen?

I guess we'll find out.

It reminds me of the bit about life being what happens while you are making other plans. We spend so much time these days worrying about what we think will be the catastrophic outcome of our own current behavior as a society, that it would be kind of darkly funny if while we are busy obsessing about THAT, some other catastrophe  were to happen that we weren't even considering.

Really, that's how life usually goes at the personal level, doesn't it?

BTW I really don't want to see George Clooney kill another goat by staring at it.

But I might try to teach myself remote viewing.

I'm not doing anything else at the moment.

And time's a wastin'!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Daemonic Versus Demonic Realities

The word 'daemon' comes from an ancient Greek belief that certain nature spirits and demigods (called 'daemons') served as intermediaries between the Gods and men.

Daemons were originally neither good nor evil. They often possessed both positive and negative traits, but they did tend to be tricksters with a darker than average sense of humor. They could become corporeal fleshy creatures or incorporeal spirits and phantasms at will.

People were most likely to encounter daemons when they themselves were faced with major life changes or transformative events. Such encounters were rarely without danger, but they gave life a depth and a degree of meaning that is utterly lacking when all is calm and under perfect control.

Change is rarely all-good or all-bad, but it is almost always frightening. Encountering a daemon almost was a sign that deep and major change was on the way, either personally, culturally, or both.

Christianity Demonizes Daemons

The Christian Church was the first to divide and separate the daemonic realm into a struggle between evil supernatural creatures versus good supernatural creatures with humans in the middle. This was a substantial departure from the original Greek concept of varied and naturally ambivalent creatures that mediated between people and the Gods.

Now, instead of the daemons standing between people and the divine, between the natural and the supernatural, people stood between good and evil daemonic forces that were themselves supernatural. Humans moved to center stage, the demons to either wing, and the Gods of antiquity were kicked out of the drama entirely.

The evil intermediaries came to be known as demons; the good ones were called angels. Angels supposedly carried messages from (the one True) God and did God's work when God was in the loo or at the grocery store or whatever.

Demons, by contrast, did the Devil's work and either tried to seduce human beings into evil by stealing their souls, or else tormented the good and the holy out of sheer resentment of their relentless goodness and holiness.

Discernment suddenly became a hot topic. Good demon or bad demon? How to decide, what to do, what to do?

Clergy stepped up to 'help', and thousands of people were burned alive and tortured to death to save their souls and cleanse them of unholy daemonic associations.

With the dawn of the Age of Reason, demons also came to be associated with ignorance, while angels were trivialized as fluffy tokens of a kind of naive trust in a benevolent higher power. This trivialization further exacerbated the Christian divide between good and bad demons that was already well underway, and also tended to discredit and belittle the daemonic realm in general.

Weirdly enough, during the transitional period between the Middle Ages and the Age of Enlightenment, many learned men of the Church practiced alchemy, science, and angelic/demonic magic side by side without feeling any conflict of interest whatsoever--but this eclecticism did not last.

By the end of the 17th century, magic, daemons, and even most forms of religious belief were pushed aside by science, which declared itself the one and only true way to know anything about anything.

Daemons and Demons

Over the course of modern history, the term 'daemonic' has been significantly altered and transformed into the term 'demonic'.

The complex, mercurial nature of the daemonic realm has been successfully reworked in the popular imagination into something terrifying and wholly bad.

This re-imagining of the daemonic is a serious perversion of its original and true nature.

The main difference between the daemonic and the demonic then is the pejorative taint attached to the latter term. Daemons have literally been demonized: first by the Church, and then by science.

Depth psychology (Carl Jung, James Hillman) preserved something of the original daemonic realm in the form of the Jungian archetypes and the concept of personal inner daemons that drive creativity (kind of like a muse, only more relentless).

Depth psychology instead made the polarization of the daemonic an inner/outer affair. Demons were neither good nor bad but they resided inside the personality: they were defined as psychological phenomena without physical substance. This too is a significant departure from the original meaning.

Are Daemons/Demons Real?

Yes. Yes they are. But you have to expand your understanding of reality in order to accommodate them, and you also have to let go of the need for total personal control, and embrace instead the notion that personal transformation is a major part of life, that tranformation is ongoing and unavoidable, and a that it is a worthy goal and one of the great joys and adventures of being a creature.

Until that happens on a grand cultural scale, the daemons/demons are likely to haunt and scare us, and scientists are likely to keep turning up their noses at them and laughing.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Who Says God Doesn't Have a Sense of Humor?

I've been frazzled and frustrated lately over several intractable 'problems' that I think I'm going to just let go as I seem to have no clue how to fix them. The other night I asked the Univerise, God, the ghost of Elvis, anyone really who might have some bright ideas... for a sign.

The next day, even though I hadn't told him I did this, my BF showed me the photo above online.

He thought it was funny.

I do too.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Can Intelligent Entities Move In and Out of the Dreams of Others?

Lucid dreaming is usually defined as the ability to maintain waking consciousness during a dream or to be able to control and direct one's own dreams.

In Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan series, the Mexican shaman Don Juan is always trying to teach the narrator to dream lucidly by reminding him to look at his hands.

Night after night Castaneda goes to bed intent on remembering to look at his hands in his dreams, and night after night forgets to look at his hands until he wakes up the next morning and realizes he hasn't done it.

The whole point of Don Juan teaching Castaneda to remember to look at his hands while dreaming is so Castaneda can then learn to move between dreaming and waking states freely, and so he can understand that the two realities are not that rigidly separate. Moving from one state to another at will is an important part of shamanic practice.

Learn to look at your hands in your dreams today, fly around in the body of a raven tomorrow.

It's all connected.

That's the idea anyway.

Every so often I have an experience with dreams that is lucid-like but is not exactly the same as what Don Juan was teaching Carlos. It's more passive and a bit unnerving.

What happens is that people and objects seem to move between my dreams and waking reality without any problem, blurring the line that might tell me where they are really from.

I know this sounds weird. But it happens with some regularity, if not all the time or even every week. Jung called this phenomenon 'synchronicity', but sometimes it gets way weirder than synchronicity. I promise to post an example later to illustrate what I'm talking about.

Recently I've been thinking about this a lot, about how our culture is one of the few on earth that insists dreams are 'imaginary' (as in 'not real'), and then goes on to rigidly separate dreams from waking life, discounting the importance of these (often incredibly vivid) experiences.

Some psychologists do interpret dreams, but interpretation is a very different thing from believing in a matter of fact way that the dream reality is as real in its own way as the material reality we all imagine we share while awake.

Psychology lays down a fairly rigid barrier between inner and outer, personal and cultural, material and symbolic. It's a dualistic system of thought. The Ego versus the Dynamic Ground. The personal versus the Archetypes. "Psychological states' versus bodily illnesses. Blah, blah, blah.

What if that whole way of framing it is wrong?

I think maybe it is.

In truth, we don't really have a clue what reality is. If you think I'm overstating that, then you've never taken a single philosophy class--or at least you've never stayed awake all the way through one, which is completely understandable.

What if there are intelligences, alien or earthly, that can move enter dreams and reality at will? Why should this be an impossibility? Shamans claim to do it. Freddy Krueger does it. Maybe all sorts of other being do it.

Maybe we even do it.

I also think some people have thinner boundaries than others in general, and that people with very permeable personal boundaries may well notice more wanderers between states than people who are more rigidly defined.

I think this could explain quite a lot of paranormal perceptions without making any value judgments about thin or thick boundaried people. Some people may just be born this way, just like some people are born good at math, and others have perfect pitch, and others are color blind.

We know some people claim to learn to be this way.

I think that truly "there are more things in heaven and earth" than we know.

I wish we could study them more seriously, without all the ridicule.

Friday, June 25, 2010


The issue of possession is a hot one in paranormal circles.

Some people fear every aspect of the paranormal and are convinced that even the most superficial flirtation with these topics will quickly result a complete loss of autonomy and forcible invasion by some dark aspect of the spirit world.

Other people believe that just about any activity is safe so long as you 'cast a circle of light' around yourself and ask your Higher Power for protection.

Still others believe that only relentless positivity and prayer can protect you from demonic assault. And then of course there's the idea that 'the devil made me do it!'--The belief that just about any negative behavior or attitude is the direct result of spirit possession.

I personally believe that all of these ideas about possession are misguided or wrong.

Let's look at them one by one:

Flirtation with paranormal topics is dangerous and invites possession. 

This is akin to saying that reading chocolate cake recipes makes you fat. The question of intent and self-discipline comes into play here. Are you reading chocolate cake recipes because you have a chocolate cake problem and can't think about anything else? Are you a person who eats NOTHING except chocolate cake and you are now exactly one pound away from death by morbid obesity? Are you one of those people who is powerless in the face of chocolate cake and have you been skipping your meetings?

People with a weak sense of self and people who have fantasies about power and control can get into trouble dabbling with the paranormal, but such people get in trouble with ordinary life, too. You may run into dark forces in paranormal work, that's true. You may also get robbed at gunpoint when you leave your house.

Or, you may be the victim of a home invasion even if you NEVER leave your house for fear of being robbed. Stuff happens. As with everything in life, what happens during paranormal investigations is partially about you, but it isn't ALL about you. Possessing a living human being is not that easy a feat for the disembodied. I don't say it never happens, but it isn't that easy to accomplish.

Cast a circle of light and that will make you safe. 

In dealing with the paranormal or any other aspect of life, NOTHING will make you 'safe no matter what'. One of the most dangerous attitudes you can adopt in any context is that some trick of consciousness or ritual makes you 'safe no matter what'.

Discernment is a necessary skill for all aspects of life, and you can't put it down when approaching the paranormal, not ever. All that glisters is not gold.  Much of what looks bright and shiny and good in the world of the paranormal is dangerous, in the same way that the best con men are usually the most likable.

That said, tremendous confidence and an understanding of who you are and where you begin and end is an asset when dealing with the spirit world.

Much of what is hanging around the ether waiting to chat is akin the the guys who hang around dive bars all the time and want to buy anything in a skirt a drink. Keep your wits about you and don't be chatting up every stiff that floats by your Ouija board no matter how lit up your circle is. You have to know when to say 'buzz off' and when to call it quits. Not all inquiries are productive.

Protection from demonic assault/recovery from demonic assault. 

I have long noticed that the people most often featured in stories, books, and movies about possession are people who are trying very hard to be perfect, nice, and good every single minute.

Christians are especially susceptible to possession because they frequently believe that they must push away and deny their own personal darkness, and additionally, they are already used to giving away all personal authority and power to an outside entity: the Church. When dark forces invade their lives, they believe it is their piety that has attracted them, and in a way it is.

These people are are unbalanced; they have allowed another parasite (the Church) to make them weak and ill and now they are food for wraiths. Their fear of darkness is so huge, and their shame at their own darkness is so equally huge, that any kind of darkness can now use that huge reservoir of fear to magnify itself. The best possible protective course is the hardest one: Face the fears, look inside, make friends with yourself, all of your parts, the pretty and the ugly and the not so nice.

Often you hear these debates about, "Is it darkness coming from inside (psychological projection) or is it an actual dark external spirit? (demon or entity)" I think this is not really a useful question. The answer is often: "both, all of the above." The real issue is not where the dark force originates, the issue is the lack of balance, self-possession, and enormous fear present in the person under psychic attack.

Just as predators in the material world look for the weakest animals to eat, dark psychic forces look for people who fear their own darkness and are used to be being bossed around.

Check your intent

When approaching paranormal topics, check your intent and your attitude. If you are goofing around, expect goofiness and mischievous responses in return. If you are very fearful, expect to be intimidated and harassed. If you are curious and centered, expect to learn a few things.

Be careful. Don't isolate. Proceed with caution always.

And to thine own Self be true.