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Charles Tart, Ph.D: Science, Religon, and Spirituality

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You know, if I have to think of the deeper reasons as to why I'm interested in consciousness and para-psychology and the like it's because of a conflict I had as a teenager which I think has actually won a lot of people I've had between the religion you're raised in and then you discover science and modern thought and so forth. I was raised as a Lutheran and my grandmother took me to church, you know. Grandmothers are unconditional love and what's good enough for her is good enough for me. But then I started thinking for myself as I became a teenager. Like a lot of teenagers I started noticing the hypocrisy of the adults around me, so those people who went to church, those grown-ups were not practicing what they preached, but I was exposed to science too and realized that science seemed to say that a lot of this religous stuff was nonsense and I was really in a considerable conflict there. Now when I look at what's happened to a lot of my friends and alot of other people, usually two things happen. They go in the direction of sort of jumping all the way to what they say is the science side and right. Religion is all nonsense. Forget about it. Or, they kind of psychologically compartmentalize, and they'll think about religion on Sunday for a couple of hours and not think about it the rest of the week and so not experience the conflict. I don't think in retrospect that either one of those is a completely healthy reaction. I was lucky because I was a veracious reader and I discovered the books on psychical research and para-psychology, in which people had gone through this same kind of conflict long before me and said, "Ok, let's use the basic scientific method to try to refine stuff in the area of religion and spirituality. Let's separate the wheat from the chaff." And I found that inspiring and basically that's what I've been working at most of the rest of my life. Trying to separate out where the kind of open-minded science, what's real and essential about the kind of stuff we call in the spiritual direction and what is indeed superstition or out-moded cultural stuff we can leave behind. There have been really first-class scientific experiments done over and over as well as things that happen to humans naturally that convince me that certain psychic phenomena are real and can form a basis for a kind of general spirituality. What has changed as I've matured is recognizing how much more complicated the problem is. How much more we can fool ourselves. Ok, I mean that's one of my special interests in psychology. The way in which we could believe we're being objective and realistic and actually just be reinforcing our prejudices. And the other is an appreciation that spirituality is a lot more complex and a lot more simple in some ways than I ever thought it was and so, it's not like I and my colleagues have worked out the answers to these things. It's like, all sorts of interesting stuff remains to be discovered. It's clear to me that what works for one person as a spiritual path, may not work for a second person, may be used in the worst possible way by a third person, might drive a fourth person crazy. The knowledge we desperately need to develop is what particular kinds of spiritual practices are suitable for what particular kind of person. Now, we don't have much of that because even when you have spiritual traditions where they talk about, we try to match the teachings to the student. I still get the impression that by and large it's one size fits all. Right, this is the way it's been done for thousands of years. This is the way you do it. It's not working for you? Do more of it. I think it would be brilliant if we could say at a certain time, mm stop your meditation. Think about ten hours of psychoanalysis on such and such a thing, We'll clear up a block and you can get back to it. We don't have the knowledge yet to do that. We're starting to get it. Some psychotherapists, for instance, with knowledge of some of the spiritual traditions are beginning to experiment with combining say, psychotherapy and meditation. But, by and large, we don't know. My dream is a very large scale, dozens of years, research project done purely empirically, cause we don't know how to do it theoretically. Purely empirically, where you take say, the next hundred thousand people who are going to go on various spiritual paths, test them with everything we got, and then go back and assess them every few years and eventually you can empirically work out ways of scoring the test so, when you came and said to me, "how should I develop my spirituality?" I might be able to say, "take this test" then look at the results and say, "well, whatever you do, don't do Zen. For your type, Zen leads to two percent enlightenment but there's a fifteen percent psychosis rate and that's pretty poor odds." "On the other hand, Suphi dancing, uh, the enlighten rate is low but the danger levels are..." I'd love to be able to give that kind of differential advice. We could, in principle I think, get the knowledge to do that. But it's not going to happen unless we get a real, positive interaction between science and spirituality. Spiritual teachers, by and large, aren't going to do it cause they're too invested in upholding their own tradition. So, we've got to have the open-minded psychologists and other scientists who will really look at this and see empirically, what happens when particular kinds of people do particular kinds of practices. So, to me, creating an effective spirituality for our times with transpersonal psychology is the particular vehicle, I see it this time is what I see is the thing I can most do, The thing I can most intend to make this world a better place.

Video Details

Duration: 6 minutes and 15 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Genre: None
Views: 124
Posted by: jphaas on Jan 20, 2011

Charles Tart

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