I recently had a couple of interesting experiences that provided glimpses into that ‘big’ question that sits silently in the background as we live our daily lives. I am certain that most people have had these types of experiences and glimpses, and then usually dismiss them as ‘weird’ or strange, and then slide back into our more comfortable ‘consensual’ reality without really considering the implications.
I was recently sitting in a meeting when for apparently no reason, an old friends name came to mind, and I realized we hadn’t communicated in over a year. It also occurred to me that he had probably visited San Diego in the years since we’d last seen each other. On an impulse, I sent him an email, with “What the heck?” in the subject line, accusing him of coming to San Diego and not getting in touch. He responded shortly with an email whose subject was: ‘Busted!’ He was in San Diego at the time at a conference, and was scheduled to leave that night. Coincidence, right?
I try once or twice a week to get out for a road-bike workout in the morning, but I hadn’t ridden in a couple of months. A few weeks ago, I prepared my bike the night before, got everything ready so that I could quickly leave the next morning on a short ride before work. That night I had a vivid dream of being on the side of the road with a flat tire on my bike. I got up that morning, put on my bike regalia and went into the garage to find my bike with a flat. Rarely has that happened before. Another coincidence, right?
Almost everyone has similar stories they can tell. There are however people who have regular and much more dramatic experiences of something that could indicate that there may be a connection between people, and events and places which goes beyond our normal, consensual experience of everyday life. And while some people consider these unexplained and seemingly random experiences as merely strange coincidences, a considerable amount of effort has taken place within the scientific community to reliably and consistently replicate and explain these phenomena. So far, such para-normal phenomena and experiences have not been able to be repeated with consistent or mathematical reliability in a controlled environment.
Those people who regularly and routinely have such experiences, usually can’t explain them, nor can they reliably call them up at will. Joe McMoneagle was studied by the Army and the CIA for years because he had an amazing ability to do what is called ‘remote viewing’ – describe a place with amazing accuracy where he’d never physically been. Edgar Cayce, when put into a hypnotic trance, could seemingly take his mind to anywhere in the world and describe what was there, as well as accurately describe the lives of people he’d never met – even when not in their presence. Other people have had dreams or visions that have accurately portrayed events that subsequently happened exactly as their dream or vision predicted – way beyond statistical probability.
I recently read a book entitled The Third Man Factor by John Geiger that seeks to explain the phenomenon recorded so many times of people in a life threatening situation sensing a ‘presence,’ which guides and comforts them, enabling their survival. (Those of you familiar with Ernest Shackleton’s trek over South Georgia Island know what I’m talking about.) One of my favorite philosophers, Colin Wilson, has recently written a book entitled Super Consciousness in which he explores what Abraham Mazlow described as ‘Peak Experiences’ and how people can intentionally induce these experiences. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink seeks to explain how our minds frequently make their best decisions without ‘thinking’ – and Gladwell makes no claims on any ‘unseen reality.’ String theory and Quantum physics (neither of which do I begin to understand) challenge our consensual reality and whether ‘reality’ is truly limited to the 4 dimensions of space and time.
There is a huge body of literature of scientists, charlatans, religious mystics, skeptics, new age philosophers trying to explain these phenomena that don’t seem to fit into the ‘consensual reality’ in which we live our daily lives. I read somewhere that much of philosophy and religion is an attempt to address whether there is only one objective reality, or whether there are multiple dimensions, and whether human beings have the means of bridging these different dimensions of reality and existence. Is there an ‘unseen order of things’? Are these strange experiences ‘leaks’ between one dimension of reality and another? Plato believed yes. Aristotle didn’t agree.
So what are ‘the implications’ of an amazingly predictive dream, or a ‘flash’ connection with someone that seems to have meaning – are they little glimpses of ‘the big question’? Is there an ‘unseen order of things’? Are we all connected by what Carl Jung called a ‘collective unconscious’? Is there another dimension that connects people, events, places and things beyond space and time? Or can indeed all of this be explained by a more thorough and complete understanding of biology, psychology, and physics within the day-to-day reality in which we ALL agree that we live? Struggling with these unanswerable questions can be profoundly personal, and can force one to confront one’s most deeply held values, who one is and how one lives one’s life – which can be awkward, and even scary.
When I worked in the Pentagon, we regularly were confronted with decisions and events within our ‘consensual reality’ that were perplexing and just didn’t make sense. To help us deal with these, my boss at the time used to quote the Hall of Fame football player Dick Butkus: “There’s a whole lot of S@%# going on that we just don’t understand.”