EUROTAS Moscow Conference, 2005
Four dreams on the transpersonal studies of 21st century
Will transpersonal studies ever become a leading edge of psychology, or even of science? Such expectations may seem childish to some. Nevertheless, as a geneticist, I would note that altered states of consciousness, one of the most solid foundations of the transpersonal approach seem to be in many ways analogous to mutations. And it was the availability of mutations that allowed for the eventual grandiose success of genetics as science.
Dream 1: Transpersonal studies of the 21st century will grow centered around the formal mapping of memory/consciousness like genetics of the first ¾ of the 20th century was centered on the mapping of genes marked by mutations.
Dream 2: Transpersonal studies of the 21st century will be stimulated by a discovery of a potential original material carrier (ur-substrate) of memory/consciousness, like genetics was powerfully boosted by the discovery of the hereditary material—DNA. (Most likely in contemporary organisms this hypothetical former sole carrier of memory/consciousness is a seemingly minor body buried in some cellular structures of the baroque neural network.)
Dream 3: New transpersonal theory will include psychoptosis—the programmed (ordered, safe, not leading to pathology on the next higher level) death of various structures of consciousness (e.g., egoptosis)—modeled after the ancient mechanism of apoptosis—a well-studied pathway of programmed cell death.
Dream 4: Transpersonal studies (and other studies of holistic dimensions of human experience) will lead to revision of the scientific method.
Will transpersonal studies ever become a leading edge of psychology, or even of science? Most of us label such expectations as childish. I am a geneticist by training and as such I see at least one hopeful fact. Altered states of consciousness, one of most solid foundations of the transpersonal approach seem to be in many ways analogous to mutations. And here one can recall that it is the availability of mutations that allowed for the eventual grandiose success of genetics as science. Can I hope that big brother G will teach us some methodological lessons? I hope so. G stands for genetics and also for generosity and grace. But first come four dreams of a geneticist turned amateur transpersonalist.
D 1: I dream that we’ll start a “transpsychological” project of the mapping of memory/consciousness to create a highly ordered body of results with undeniable inner consistency. This will possibly come true with applying altered states as the major tool to study memory/consciousness (like earlier mutations were applied as a major tool for studying the genetic blueprint of living creatures). This study will possibly be expanded to include the ancient repetitive “heteropsychic” transpersonal service texts punctuating the unique individual “eupsychic” consciousness/memory “journal entries.” [Of course, “heteropsychic” and “eupsychic” are coined after heterochromatin and euchromatin.] In other words, I dream that the transpersonal studies of the 21st century will grow centered around the mapping of memory/consciousness like genetics of the first ¾ of 20th century was centered on the mapping of genes.
D 2: I dream that the transpersonal studies of the 21st century will be stimulated by a discovery of some potential material carrier (substrate) of memory/consciousness, like genetics was powerfully boosted by the discovery of the hereditary material—DNA. Possibly in contemporary organisms this hypothetical carrier is a seemingly minor body buried in some cellular structures of the baroque neural network, and at the same time one can hope to demonstrate that it is the former sole substratum of memory/consciousness.
D 3: I dream that the new transpersonal theory will include psychoptosis—the programmed (ordered, safe, not leading to pathology on the next higher level) death of various structures of consciousness (e.g., egoptosis)—modeled after the evolutionarily more ancient mechanism of apoptosis—a well-studied pathway of programmed cell death.
D 4: I dream that transpersonal studies (and other studies of holistic dimensions of human experience) will lead to revision of the scientific method.
What stumbling blocks can I see on the way to fulfilling of these dreams? Many. For example, mutations are very stable; altered states of consciousness are not. They return to the baseline state of “everyday consciousness.” Even if we were to discover such stable states of consciousness, one would not be allowed to send one’s subjects into such altered states of consciousness forever. Yes! But there are some clever tricks available. In the case of temperature sensitive mutations one has stable but “conditional” hereditary changes that are expressed only at high temperature. I suppose that one day we’ll discover some “conditional” states of consciousness. What one needs is possibly just a good trigger attached to every altered state of consciousness. Maybe one can derive some lessons from the practice of hypnosis. Three, two, one, zero—and you are in a specific altered state of consciousness. In the beginning stages of a new research path we need not understand too much about the exact mechanisms involved.
Again, there are thousands of different mutations. At the same time, so far people do not distinguish thousands of individual altered states of consciousness. Possibly this is not a real problem and one can find ways to discriminate between hundreds and even thousands of altered states of consciousness. There seems to be some progress in this direction. One author for example discriminates between 19 different kinds of peak experiences. More detailed classification of altered states of consciousness might be possible.
Now comes a very important point. In chromosomes genes are arranged in linear arrays. This is revealed by a widely known method of genetic mapping. There is another not so well known but no less important method—using mutational blocks to map linear parts of metabolic pathways. Again, a lot of self-consistent linear mapping has been performed that greatly influenced our thinking about metabolism. In contrast, altered states of consciousness seem not to allow such powerful and at the same time simple ways of mapping—despite some first provisional simple maps of some authors—a kind of oversimplification characteristic of such preliminary attempts. Thinking about the geometry of neural networks does not allow for great hopes of finding a lot of linear order. What is the conclusion? Must one try to work out some powerful multidimensional mapping procedures? Or will one be able to find a considerable amount of surprising, even shocking linearity even in this seemingly most complex realm? There are some grounds for this latter hope. Even if classification of altered states of consciousness needs complex geometry, our individual life story in our memory has an obvious linear component to it. One can have doubts, label this view as naive, suppose that the linear order is a secondary phenomenon but undeniably everyone has a very clear image of one’s linear life story, and this linearity must be grounded somewhere in the machinery of memory/consciousness.
In the mapping of metabolism a useful tactic has been combining two different mutations in one cell and registering the resulting phenotype (it is the earlier block that will be manifested). To attempt combining two different altered states of consciousness seems to be an almost hopeless task. Or is it? One might be able to design conditional (special stimulus dependant) altered states of consciousness. And trying to trigger two different states at once. Will some ordered body of results result? I don’t know.
Some more trouble. Most mutations have simple origin—a change of one base pair in the whole genome (in the case of humans it is one base pair out of 3 billion) to another base pair (or deletions of some base pairs). Altered states of consciousness are not likely to be linked to something so simple. I would remind you that many people opposed molecular genetics with just the same argument—mutations are very unlikely to be so simple an event. I am not sure, maybe there is a reference point allowing one to see how simple altered states of consciousness are. O.K., let’s suppose altered states of consciousness are not simple. Genetic methods of metabolism mapping work not only with mutations, but also with external agents influencing this or that reaction. We can supplement such a complicated event as cell cycle for metabolism and use sophisticated agents—and still the method works. So maybe it is not so hopeless?
In the problem of mapping one can have many doubts but the dream does not look like a hopeless Utopia.
The search for the original material basis of consciousness/memory can seem to be an adventure with much more grim prospects. What we know about memory coding does not speak in favor of some molecular engram. Any initial hypotheses about the nature of some ur-substratum of memory/consciousness seem to be on the verge of irresponsible speculation.
Maybe we must start some other way, with no a priori biochemical hypotheses. Let’s try to find some previously neglected above-water parts of the iceberg of memory coding, say, the abstract punctuation marks of abstract memory/consciousness text. We may know nothing about these marks, but it seems to be a guess that such marks exist to ensure synchronization of various processes in memory/consciousness that is in turn are needed for binding, bringing together the perceived colors, sounds, smells, shapes, etc., to create a realistic image. For example, to bring together forms, colors, sounds to get an image of an orchestra. Such synchronization signals must be repeated many, many times. So let’s search for psychological phenomena that are repetitive, or dependent on rhythm, music, dance, poetry, or that are connected to synchronization of brain activity. Then we can hope that the revealed (or guessed) punctuation marks will lead us to the most likely well-hidden original text and even back to the hypothetical ur-carrier of memory/consciousness.
One rather speculative but possibly important point: Molecular genetics gave us a curious concept of “filled commas.” Punctuation marks of genetic text can be “filled”—to contain a different level of genetic texts. This idea turned out not to be true in the case of genetic code, but possibly it works in the case of memory texts. If there are some such texts within synchronization signals, they are not directly related to step by step (in time) recording of the human life story. They are of a different, technically timeless realm. Intuitively one can guess that this timeless can be expressed as archetypal figures and myths. One would not suppose realistically recorded mythological scenes; most likely only myth or archetypal seeds that grow to images after hybridization with one’s individual life story material. Can memory texts of different worlds (in-time and timeless) give hybrid texts? The possibility of discovering such hybrids has been shown to us by dreams and by ancient religious imagery. Can this help us to understand if different spiritual paths lead us to the same end point? Answers are different depending on the frames of reference: in-time or timeless. From the timeless point of view, the most obvious differences can look just illusory.
Re third dream: To what substratum will the dying structures be reduced? Is there in the case of psychoptosis some analog of ROS (reactive oxygen species)—an important albeit controversial causal agent of apoptosis—involved? What is dead (water of) consciousness? What remains after psychoptosis (egoptosis)? Who will normally feed on dead psychological structures? Will some alternative structures sprout—like mutant cells after the death of the majority of yeast cells during apoptosis? In other words: What new developments (structures) will be nurtured as a result of psychoptosis? Many questions, no answers yet.
Re the fourth dream: What will the revision of scientific method look like? I don’t know. But the hypothetical new method must work in a situation where discriminating between experimental subject, experimenter, and witnesses of experiment has no meaning (only a sacral flow, only a story of the universe), when experiment cannot be isolated from life stories of the people involved (and even informed of it). It sounds far out but I guess we will have no alternatives.
Четыре сна в пользу трансперсональных исследований 21 века
Измененные состояния сознания во многом аналогичны мутациям. Именно исследование мутаций привело к первым успехам науки генетики. Может ли трансперсональная психология, исследующая измененные состояния сознания, стать передним краем будущей науки? Об этой возможности пока можно видеть только заманчивые сны, в которых далекие концепции сопрягаются.
Сон 1. Как центром генетики 20 века было картирование мутаций, так центром трансперсональных исследований 21 века станет картирование измененных состояний сознания.
Сон 2. Как генетика получила мощный толчок к дальнейшему развитию после открытия роли ДНК в наследственности, так трансперсональные исследования получат мощный импульс к дальнейшему развитию после открытия первоначального, простого субстрата памяти и сознания. В современных организмах этот первоначальный субстрат возможно является неким молекулярным атавизмом, выполняя незначительную служебную роль в нейронных сетях.
Сон 3. Как молекулярная генетика 20 века успешно исследовала не только дифференцировку—порождение специализированных клеток, но и не менее важную программируемую гибель клеток (в частности апоптоз), так трансперсональная теория 21 века будет включать понятие психоптоза—программируемой (упорядоченной, не приводящей к патологии) гибели некоторых психических структур, и создаст мощные методы для изучения механизма такой гибели. Одной разновидностью психоптоза наверно будет эгоптоз.
Сон 4. Трансперсональные исследования приведут к пересмотру самого научного метода, что откроет новые возможности исследования холистических явлений психофизического мира.
Catch 21 ½:
Dreaming under a hill of transpersonal_progress.ru
Publishing a Transpersonal Encyclopedia in Russian is proposed as a strategic next move in the development of transpersonal studies. If enough people agree with this idea, then a competition for projects of such a book would be a good starting point. Some possible negative consequences of a marriage of transpersonal activities with mass media are also raised.
One seemingly minor, but in my opinion urgent strategic point, is compiling and publishing a Transpersonal Encyclopedia. People badly need a better, more sensitive, and at the same time sensible language describing altered states of consciousness, mystical and near-mystical experience, a path from Ego to Self. To be available to a wide circle of readers the book must not be overly technical or philosophical. I would prefer something stylistically close to the writings of Charles Tart: full of common sense, clear, and at the same time sensitive to spiritual problems. Maybe we should start with a competition for projects of such books (judged according to some sample key entries, list of terms, and personalia). Once published, I hope this book will stimulate other transpersonal developments in our country.
Returning to the contents of the book, we must strive not to fall prey to homespun metaphysical systems (originating in over-credulous acceptance at their face value of hunches suggested via altered states of consciousness) and at the same time be cautious to avoid scientism and reductionism. If we shall succeed in this point, then such a volume will fill an important niche in the book market. For some rational people who are not inclined to think in terms of popular cults, such a book will also provide an opportunity for learning not to label one’s spiritual experience as pathological, nor to repress experiences of the sublime. For some less rational people, I hope the transpersonal language will be an important alternative for aggressive sectarian and xenophobic popular versions of pseudo-religious language. At the same time, not succumbing to the role of a voice of new age “scientific” religion, the T-language will possibly help some thinking spiritual seekers to appreciate their own standpoint in a larger, more inclusive perspective. T-language will gently nudge one to learn rather than to manipulate (not understanding the origin of one’s own wishes). Practically none of the above aims is assured (all depends on the quality of the text), but even in the worst case, such a book might do some good—at least it will draw attention to the transpersonal approach.
Besides traditional books there exists the treasury (and at the same time the garbage heap) of sundry texts in the world-wide web. We can increase the transpersonal presence on the Internet. I believe that several popular transpersonal forums for spiritual seekers will be created and, most importantly, more transpersonal books and papers will be available in the Russian Internet. Some publishers are certain that in our country, where many books never reach provincial bookshops, the appearance of a text on the Internet increases rather than decreases sales of the corresponding book.
A special (possibly Utopian) approach would be designing transpersonal computer games based on transpersonal values and transpersonal logic. A challenging task for some undaunted person!
One can dream that successes with an Encyclopedia and a wider presence on the Internet will lead to emerging transpersonal study groups, clubs, etc., in many corners of our country, especially if organized at bookshops so as to provide some help (including discounts) in obtaining transpersonal books. One can also dream about transpersonal corners in newspapers, the presence of transpersonalists in TV and Radio (I fancy a disembodied voice of some popular T-jockey answering and asking transpersonal questions, broadcasting 24 hours a day, with intervals for meditation music). Ram Dass was very good in speaking to various audiences in the USA. Can we find someone here embodying similar qualities?
One can dream about using the Internet and mass media to organize a Russian Transpersonal Wave—a series of 1-2 day popular transpersonal sessions in various cities (popular meaning here not vulgar, but high quality presentations in non-technical language).
The very presence of a non-sectarian (also non-political and non-competitive) spiritual viewpoint may benefit many people. This will possibly enable something like a popular transpersonal movement in the future.
Let’s stop here. Is it still a dream or is it a nightmare? Must we really strive to work on TV, in radio, in newspapers, on the Internet—in the limelight of public attention where spiritual dialogue so easily turns into bullfights of minds. Or must we work almost invisibly in the twilight of inattention, far from the mainstream life current? Sometimes I think that a wide popular presence of transpersonalism will result in more harm than benefit, and that Silence and Quality are two sisters—real muses of the transpersonal. I don’t know. I know only that I love texts and not battlefields (be it Kuru or .ru). Yes, the Bhagavad Gita teaches one not to avoid action, only to understand its illusory nature. But let’s not be entranced by dogmatically accepting even high truths like this. Let’s just search for understanding, for knowledge, for wisdom. Let’s search for one’s real Self. (This is what consciousness told to consciousness under a hill of transpersonal_progress.ru .)
Ловушка 21 ½:
Мечты о трансперсональном росте в точке ru
Обосновывается целесообразность составления и издания Трансперсональной Энциклопедии. Предлагается объявить конкурс на лучший проект подобной книги. Обсуждаются возможные теневые стороны масс-медийного дальнейшего развития подобных проектов.