Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Alan Joshua. Can you describe your new book, The SHIVA Syndrome?
First, the title can be misleading. Although the Hindu god Shiva is on the cover, it is symbolic and only mentioned in the book. SHIVA is an acronym for a special mind research project. The novel is cross-genre, consisting of speculative fiction, conspiracy fiction, psychology/mythology/anthropology/research fiction, with one foot in the present, and the other in the immediate future. I guess that makes it “fact-tion.”
It opens with the destruction of an actual city, Podol’sk (southwest of Moscow). Russian mind researchers lose control over their subject resulting in the obliteration of the city and the deaths of thousands—an event that leaves a mysterious one-mile deep crater in its wake.
Beau Walker is a research psychologist, parapsychologist, and reluctant empath. He is forced to join a research team, code-named SHIVA, to investigate the enigmatic event. During the story, Walker must fight past political and military deceptions and a host of deadly adversaries to unlock the riddle of the SHIVA syndrome.
In the excerpts I read, the writing seems very slick. Is this your first work of fiction?
Yes and no. I wrote an unpublished novel about cloning and an unpublished dystopian short story that’s still looking for a home. SHIVA is my first published novel. As far as looking “slick,” it has been in the hands of a number of editors who were helpful producing the final product.
What do you hope to accomplish with The SHIVA Syndrome?
My hopes are that SHIVA can entertain and educate the readers into recognizing that there is a helluva lot more to parapsychology than horny vampires and staggering zombies. Many people are completely unaware that parapsychology has been studied seriously, under experimental conditions since the 1930s. In addition, beyond the sensationalism of bending metal, “miraculous” healings, etc., people who demonstrate psi ability are all-too-human. As in Shelley’s Frankenstein, there is a very human story to be told. I try to touch on that in the novel.
Who is the book aimed at?
Well, I’ve had a variety of beta readers—from seventeen years of age and up, who were captivated by the possibilities shown in the book. Some read it for the action and adventure while others became fascinated by what some call “latent human potentials.” My goal was that every reader would be curious about the true nature of parapsychology—not just the commercial packaging—and take away something of value about the illusion we call reality. As Einstein said, “Reality is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one.”
How did you come up with the idea?
Some of the basic ideas came from parapsychological research—others and mine. I learned a great deal about the psychology of individuals capable of performing so-called “paranormal” activities, Later I recognized that, although my research involved “psychic” or spiritual healing, it also applied to other paranormal abilities as well. Yet another realization was that the technology for a SHIVA project exists today.
What led you from clinical psychology to an interest in psi and near-death experiences?
My interest in psi existed since I was a child. When I reached my twenties, I read The Sacred Mushroom, my first serious book, by Andrija Puharich. This was followed by many other books, including Dream Telepathy, a classic in its field by Drs. Ullman and Krippner, and Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science, Understanding the Nature and Power of Consciousness, by Edgar D. Mitchell. I had no idea that twenty years later Dr. Krippner would be on my doctoral committee at Saybrook University and a valued friend. He’s a giant in the field and I urge readers to get to know him and his writings.
A recent post on the website of Psychology Today magazine reports: “It appears that psychologists are more skeptical about ESP than other scientists and academics. In one survey of 1,100 university professors, almost half as few psychologists believed that ESP is a ‘recognized fact or a likely possibility’ as other academics such as natural scientists and arts and humanities professors.” Why do you think this is?
I read the article and was thoroughly impressed. I agree with Dr. Taylor’s assessment and conclusions. He is “on the money.” I can’t repeat the entire article, but I agree that there is a negative bias towards the paranormal among psychologists and other scientists. Dr. Taylor points out that it may be rooted in the difficulties psychology encountered becoming accepted as a genuine science. Of course, the negative bias doesn’t apply to all psychologists. Many secretly embrace the concept, unwilling to risk the wrath of the empiricists and jeopardize their professional standing. Quantum physics, however, in its formulation of string theory, has led us away from the physically-based blinders of nineteenth century science and into the postulation of an energy universe with eleven or more dimensions and multiverses.
There’s another problem in the terminology: “parapsychology” and “parapsychologist.” “Parapsychology” came into use in the 1920s as meaning “beside psychology,”something different, apart. But parapsychologists are not, in fact, psychologists. They come from a variety of disciplines, from philosophy to physics. A nicely illustrative list can be found at www.psychicscience.org/researchers.aspx.
I believe advances in quantum physics will inform psychology and other disciplines of the validity of parapsychological phenomena. I hold a firm belief that we hunger to understand what lies beyond the limits of our senses and drives us towards the “paranormal” for answers not supplied by science or religion.
What is your opinion on the reality and/or metaphysical significance of psi and NDE’s?
These are two questions in one. I have no doubt about the reality of psi, and consider it as an extension of normal consciousness, not a separate entity. This is even mentioned in my book. The Bible and other ancient texts are replete with what we now call psi phenomena. There is sufficient laboratory research to satisfy me – as well as personal experiences – that there is something significant to be learned from these. They are not simply quirky manifestations, but are far broader, a deeper understanding of the nature of reality—and ourselves—that demands further investigation. Closed-mindedness will not make these anomalies disappear.
On the subject of NDEs, I keep a skeptical position: neither in favor of its existence or against. As a matter of fact, I can see where NDEs may have a relationship with the issue of the reality of psi. But I can’t get into that here.
Have you explored related issues such as spontaneous or induced after-death communications, mediumship, deathbed visions, apparitions, and reincarnation memories?
I haven’t personally explored NDEs, only read about them. What are the odds that, in my “psychic” healing research, seven of ten healers I interviewed experienced NDEs?
I have attended séances, witnessed mediumship, and I did some informal—and stunning—research into reincarnation. I was friendly with a man who consulted with a well-known psychic/medium. He had many family antiques. Although a particular piece of furniture had been in his possession for years, the medium was able to tell him about a secret drawer that, upon examination, he was able to find. It’s very hard to scoff when you’re a firsthand witness to a situation like that.
Have you personally experienced or witnessed any examples of psi or expanded consciousness (OBEs, NDEs, mystical states, etc.)?
I’ve experienced what you’re calling “expanded consciousness.” Some very personal things occurred that I can’t share, proving to me that William James was right when he said, “Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, … all about it … lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different.”
As far as OBEs, I had two patients in psychotherapy, who had never revealed to anyone their personal experiences. One was a young man who, at bedtime, would leave his body. When he told his mother, she said it was the “devil’s work,” and frightened him silly. Although this wasn’t the main focus of our work together, I had him read a book entitled Journeys Out Of the Body, by Robert Monroe. He then realized that OBEs were experienced by many people, whether religious or not, and not necessarily as demonic.
A second patient was receiving gynecological surgery. While under anesthesia, she suddenly realized that she was floating above the surgical team operating on her below. She was not frightened, but felt a sense of peacefulness. This was not a typical NDE, but an OBE. The state of peacefulness she felt was so enticing that she was tempted to stay in that state. Then she thought of her children and felt suddenly anxious. That was enough to “snap” her back to her body and unconsciousness. Later, she awakened later in her hospital room and remembered what had happened. The surgeon visited her; she asked how the surgery had proceeded. He said it went fine, without a hitch. Later, the surgical resident visited. She asked him the same question. He smiled and shook his head, then told her, “We thought we’d lost you there for a while.” This corroborated the experience for her.
How open are your colleagues to this subject matter?
We’ve already talked about Dr. Taylor’s article. However, I can give a personal example. While in a doctoral program at Temple University. I was in a seminar and decided – since it was a course on thinking processes – to present on parapsychology. Knowing beforehand that I would be dealing with bias, I invited a local psychic to attend and give mini-readings on the eight people in attendance. The results were split. When the professor returned from his “reading,” his face was grim; he had virtually nothing to say. However, his student assistant was extremely talkative, especially about the psychic’s ability to tell him that he had an outstanding scar on his knee (he was wearing jeans), although she referred to the wrong knee. He was clearly shaken by the information she provided. This was the only presentation of the entire semester where the students approached and thanked the presenter – me. This did not endear me with the professor.
Do you think the scientific consensus on psi and NDEs is changing as more and better evidence piles up?
First, there is no accounting for selective attention, intentionally ignoring phenomena that are unexplainable or at odds with the popular worldview. To be a true skeptic is to be open-minded to possibilities. Scientific prejudice is no better than other forms that have haunted humankind for ages. It’s what almost caused Galileo’s death and that of countless others.
Second, it takes an enormous amount of evidence—and time—to change a paradigm. Some traditionalists would rather go to the grave holding on to outdated, outmoded views rather than entertain the possibility of something new—and potentially frightening. So, to answer your question, accepting psi and/or NDEs is especially threatening because it is asking the scientific and theological community, as well as the population as a whole to rethink their conception of reality. This ironic where theology is concerned. The Old and New Testaments are filled with miraculous and parapsychological happenings.
In The SHIVA Syndrome, you write about research indicating that gamma brainwaves serve to harmonize brain activities. Last year a study was published in which low-gamma spikes were recorded in the brains of rats immediately after the onset of cardiac arrest. Do you think these spikes indicate the high-level coordination of global brain activity consistent with consciousness, or is the overall level of activity in the dying rats’ brains too minimal for the gamma spikes to matter?
Although the body of knowledge is growing, we still know too little about the brain and nervous system as a synergistic whole. It would be premature and overly simplistic to make any comments about what gamma actually means at this point. Remember, although it was discovered many years ago, gamma was shelved as a research area. Only since digital EEG came into being was it brushed off to be re-examined. Consequently, there is a way to go before anything firm can be said.
You also write about the entorhinal cortex as a means of coordinating activities involving the hippocampus (the “old brain”) and the neocortex (the “new brain”). What are the possible implications for sleep and dreams?
Yes, I incorporated this into The SHIVA Syndrome, but more as an extrapolation of science than established fact. That isn’t to say that what I offer in the book is incorrect. Not enough research has been done to provide any kind of firm statements. I have no doubt that there are many as yet undiscovered paths of communication between the so-called old brain and new brain, but I urge more advanced mind research laced with new and creative hypotheses. Rephrasing Gene Roddenberry, human consciousness, not space, is the “final frontier.”
The same statements I made above can be applied to psi. Again, we cannot look at psi events simply as hiccups of human behavior. The implications are more far-reaching. Psi fits into a far broader framework, one that challenges existing paradigms and philosophies. It also has ramifications that extend into religious matters. So, for me, the whole area is emotionally charged and requires a concerted effort – an interdisciplinary team effort – to even approach the subject.
If NDEs are, in fact, real, what does that say about our view of physical reality? Once again, there is a challenge to our philosophy, our notions of religion, as well as science.
In a message to me, you wrote that some proposed answers to questions raised by psi and NDES “challenge the very nature of reality is conceived by the Western mind.” Do you think psi and near-death experiences require a paradigm shift? Or do you think the current materialist paradigm can accommodate these phenomena?
Any physically-based paradigm is inadequate to approach psi and NDEs. A paradigm shift is needed, indeed. Shifts of that type are not easily accomplished.
If a paradigm shift is needed, can you offer a thumbnail sketch of a model that might be better suited to our explorations of consciousness? Or is it too early for that?
It’s far too early for that type of model. Numerous models of consciousness exist already. Each offers some element(s) of truth. But the development of a paradigm of the magnitude you are questioning is going to require an investment of time, energy, finances, and the capability of setting aside the egos and biases found in science and elsewhere. It would take a heroic search for truth.
Finally, how close is science to replicating the experiments described in The SHIVA Syndrome—and should it?
Mind sciences have much of the technology available, but research of that type is of low priority—unless it relates to national security and the military. Unfortunately, quite a bit of funding—including the remote viewing experiments of Targ and Puthoff—has been supplied by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency. This issue is touched upon (as fiction) in the novel.
Thanks very much, Alan Joshua.
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