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“In Supernormal, consciousness researcher Dr. Dean Radin shows compellingly that specific ancient claims about extraordinary psychic abilities are real, and how they have been confirmed by an outpouring of ingenious experiments whose statistical power is simply galactic. Supernormal is the crown jewel in Dr. Radin’s landmark trilogy, which also includes The Conscious Universe and Entangled Minds. Supernormal is a reader’s delight. Beautifully written, it is spiced with that rarest ingredient in science writing: humor. If this book does not take your breath away, it should, because it reveals how we can awaken to innate human potentials that are glorious, on which our future may depend. Thank you, Dr. Radin, for showing the way.” -- Larry Dossey, MD, author of One Mind
"In the last 50 years, major discoveries in modern science increasingly support the wisdom and vision of the ancient philosophers and sages. Dean Radin’s work is a major step in the same context, showing us how the statements made by the ancient sages like Patanjali are supported by the current research conducted with strictest scientific protocols. Radin’s work seems to bear even greater promise of what is yet to come." --Swami Veda Bharati, D. Lit.
“Great advances in science are made by following the evidence, wherever it may lead. Adhering to this principle, internationally-known researcher and author Dean Radin convincingly demonstrates that psi phenomena invalidate the assumptions associated with the obsolete materialist worldview. Recognizing the fundamental aspect of mind and consciousness, Dr. Radin also explains why it is now time to significantly revise and expand our concepts about who we are and the ultimate nature of reality.” --Mario Beauregard, author of The Spiritual Brain and Brain Wars
"As with Dr. Radin’s previous work, this book is thoroughly researched, clearly written, and immensely engaging. Once again he has pushed the boundaries of religion, science, psychology, and philosophy. Invaluable reading!" --Michael Bloch, University of San Francisco
"Dean Radin is a modern-day Galileo of psychical research. He is an impeccable scholar and premier experimental scientist, and this is a terrific book. Come, look through his telescope; with great clarity, he goes right to the core of the most profound issues in the contemporary science of mind. By including a detailed review of a variety of experimental findings, this book presents in one easily accessible place a wealth of information, creating a valuable reference and teaching/learning resource for students and scholars alike. And by connecting all this with contemplative investigations of the nature of mind carried out over the course of millennia, this book makes an invaluable contribution to expanding the modern dialogue between science and the contemplative traditions." --David E. Presti, University of California, Berkeley
“In Supernormal, Dean Radin skillfully weaves threads of Eastern praxis (yoga) and the results of Western psi experiments into a seamless and fascinating tapestry, one that portrays not merely who we are but what we might aspire to become.” --Daniel Sheehan
While the science of yoga may be demonstrably true--while its findings may be revelatory and may show popular declarations to be false or misleading--the field by nature fails utterly at producing a complete story. Many of yoga’s truths surely go beyond the truths of science. Yoga may see further, and its advanced practitioners, for all I know, may frolic in fields of consciousness and spirituality of which science knows nothing. Or maybe it’s all delusional nonsense. I have no idea.9 (p. 222)
Does science really know nothing about the more exotic claims of yoga? By the end of this book we’ll have discovered that Broad didn’t dig deep enough. We actually do know a few things.
Escape to Reality
Many ancient teachings tell us that we have the capacity to gain extraordinary powers through grit or grace. Techniques used to achieve these supernormal abilities, known as siddhis in the yoga tradition (from the Sanskrit, meaning “perfection”2, 5), include meditation, ecstatic dancing, drumming, praying, chanting, sexual practices, fasting, or ingesting psychedelic plants and mushrooms. In modern times, techniques also include participation in extreme sports, floating in isolation tanks, use of transcranial magnetic or electrical stimulation, listening to binaural-beat audio tones, and neurofeedback.
Most of these techniques are ways of transcending the mundane. Those who yearn to escape from suffering or boredom may dive into a cornucopia of sedatives and narcotics. Others, drawn to the promise of a more meaningful reality, or a healthier mind and body, are attracted to yoga, meditation, or other mind-expanding or mind-body integrating techniques.
Transformative techniques are potent, and like any power they are seductive and rife with pitfalls. Yoga injuries can occur when enthusiasm overcomes common sense.9 Meditation can lead to extreme introversion, depression, or spiritual hedonism.10 But the human need to transcend the humdrum is formidable and easily overrides caution. We see this in two of the more popular transformational techniques available today--alcohol and tobacco. These two mind-altering substances are tightly integrated into the economic engines of the modern world. The average household in the United States spends more just on tobacco products and its paraphernalia than on fresh fruit and milk combined, and more on alcohol than on all other nonalcoholic beverages combined.11
The World Health Organization estimated that in 2007 the societal cost of alcohol-related diseases, accidents, and violence was over $200 billion a year in the United States alone.12 The purchase cost of alcohol was even greater, estimated at nearly $400 billion a year in 2008.13 There is a similar statistic for tobacco.14 The formidable human desire to escape, just considering these two products alone, costs society trillions of dollars a year. If we included the costs associated with the use and abuse of stimulants and recreational drugs, gambling, and the entertainment industry, the total expense is staggering, a sizable proportion of the world’s economy. Humanity seems desperate to escape.
With banks and stock markets teetering at the edge of an apocalypse during the second decade of the twenty-first century, escaping outward has become too risky and too expensive for most people. What about escaping inward? Rarified minds tell us that they have seen something beautiful and glittering in our depths, something that promises a dramatic advancement in human potential. After seriously setting out on that path, most esoteric traditions say that we will eventually encounter genuine extraordinary phenomena, including the acquisition of supernormal powers.4
Classic yoga texts, such as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, written about two thousand years ago, tell us in matter-of-fact terms that if you sit quietly, pay close attention to your mind, and practice this diligently, then you will gain supernormal powers.15–19 These advanced capacities are not regarded as magical; they’re ordinary capacities that everyone possesses. We’re just too distracted most of the time to be able to access them reliably.
The sage Patanjali also tells us that these siddhis can be obtained by ingesting certain drugs, through contemplation of sacred symbols, repetition of mantras, ascetic practices, or through a fortuitous birth. In the yogic tradition, powers gained through use of mantras, amulets, or drugs are not regarded with as much respect, or considered to be as permanent, as those earned through dedicated meditative practice.5
The promise of these superpowers has little to do with traditional religious faith, divine intervention, or supernatural miracles. As Buddhist scholar Alan Wallace says,
In Buddhism, these are not miracles in the sense of being supernatural events, any more than the discovery and amazing uses of lasers are miraculous--however they may appear to those ignorant of the nature and potentials of light. Such contemplatives claim to have realized the nature and potentials of consciousness far beyond anything known in contemporary science. What may appear supernatural to a scientist or a layperson may seem perfectly natural to an advanced contemplative, much as certain technological advances may appear miraculous to a contemplative.20 (p. 103)
Yogic wisdom describes many variations of the siddhis. Today we’d associate the elementary siddhis with garden-variety psychic phenomena. They include telepathy (mind-to-mind communication); clairvoyance (gaining information about distant or hidden objects beyond the reach of the ordinary senses); precognition (clairvoyance through time), and psychokinesis (direct influence of matter by mind, also known as PK).
For most people, psychic abilities manifest spontaneously and are rarely under conscious control. The experiences tend to be sporadic and fragmentary, and the most dramatic cases occur mainly during periods of extreme motivation. By contrast, the siddhis are said to be highly reliable and under complete conscious control; as such they could be interpreted as exceedingly refined, well-cultivated forms of psychic phenomena.
The more advanced siddhis are said to include invisibility, levitation, invulnerability, and superstrength, abilities often associated with comic book superheroes. All these abilities are also described in one form or another in shamanism and in the mystical teachings of religions. In fact, most cultures throughout history have taken for granted that superpowers are real, albeit rare, and surveys today continue to show that the majority of the world’s population still firmly believes in one or more of these capacities.21
Mainstream science is not so sure. Many scientists and scholars trained within the Western worldview regard such powers not as supernormal capacities of the human mind, but as superstitions used solely to promote religious faith.22
Who’s more likely to be correct about the siddhis--the world’s wisdom traditions or today’s scientific orthodoxy? We will explore this question not by recitation of amazing stories, or by analysis of religious arguments, or by examination of case reports (although we will look at a few). Rather, we’ll concentrate on controlled experimental evidence published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
We will find that the scientific method is so powerful in discerning fact from fiction that a strong argument can be made in favor of some genuine siddhis. This is an example where scientific evidence trumps previously held assumptions, and it’s also a demonstration of the power of science to pull itself up by its bootstraps and to change from within.
This is not to say that this evidence has been warmly embraced. All organized holders of knowledge, whether in scientific or religious contexts, strenuously resist change. We will explore this resistance as well, as it will help us understand why we are only vaguely aware of our true potentials.
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