Jeff Kripal at TedX Houston: The Art of Making the Impossible Possible

For some reason this video fell off our radar when it was released in 2013 (but it's never too late to correct that mistake): Jeffrey Kripal, professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Rice University, and the author of Mutants and Mystics and Authors of the Impossible, spoke at TedX Houston in 2012 about the literary quality of what we call 'paranormal' phenomena, and how these experiences tend to disrupt the either/of logic we are conditioned to use in our modern world, because they have an external component as well as an internal one --often deeply personal and meaningful to the experiencer.

It is because of this ambiguity that many great artists are drawn and inspired by these kind of events, which also hint at the pivotal role Consciousness may play in the scaffolding of Reality itself.

  • Authors of the Impossible: The Paranormal and the Sacred [Amazon US & UK]
  • Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal [Amazon US & UK]

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What is Wrong With Our Culture?

Alan Watts wonders what is wrong with our culture, starting with TV...

You know, for the vast majority of American families, what seems to be the real point of life, what you rush home to get to, is to watch an electronic reproduction of life. But you can't touch it, it doesn't smell, and it has no taste.

You might think that people getting home for the real point of life in a robust material culture would go home to a colossal banquet, or an orgy of love-making, or a riot of music and dancing...but nothing of the kind. It turns out to be this purely passive, contemplation of a flickering screen. You see mile after mile of darkened houses, with that little electronic screen, flickering in the room. Everybody isolated, watching this thing. And thus, in no real communion with each other at all.

...Even in the spectacles one sees on this television, it's perfectly proper to exhibit people slugging and slaying each other, but oh dear no, not people loving each other, except in a rather restrained way. One can only draw the conclusion that expressions of physical love are far more dangerous than expressions of physical hatred. And it seems to me that a culture that has that sort of assumption is basically crazy...

CT Scan of Buddha Statue Shows It Has a Dead Monk Sealed Inside

Monk's remains within Buddha statue (photo by M. Elsevier Stokmans)

When I recently posted news about a mummified monk, a reader sent me a link on Twitter pointing out another fascinating, related news story. In this case, a CT scan of a statue of Buddha which showed the remains of a 12th century Chinese monk were sealed within it:

In Amersfoort's main hospital, Meander Medical Centre, the nearly thousand year old mummy has been recently examined with a CT scan and an endoscope. Several hospital employees helped with this unique project in their free time. A gastrointestinal and liver doctor took samples of yet unidentified material and examined the thoracic and abdominal cavities.

The hospital: "He made a spectacular discovery: at the place where once had been organs, he found, among all kinds of rotten material, paper scraps that were printed with ancient Chinese characters."

Click on through for the full story, including a wonderful image that makes it look like the Buddha is giving birth...

(hat tip: @gaborcsigas)

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Mummified, or Master Meditator? Is this Extremely Well-Preserved Buddhist Monk Actually Alive?

Mummified meditating Mongolian monk

If there's one thing better than Forteana, it's alliterative Forteana! So check out this mummified meditating Mongolian monk mystery posted at BBC News:

A mummified monk found preserved in Mongolia last week has been baffling and astounding those who uncovered him. Senior Buddhists say the monk, found sitting in the lotus position, is in a deep meditative trance and not dead.

Forensic examinations are under way on the remains, found wrapped in cattle skins in north-central Mongolia.

Scientists have yet to determine how the monk is so well-preserved, though some think Mongolia's cold weather could be the reason. But Dr Barry Kerzin, a physician to Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, told the Siberian Times that the monk was in a rare state of meditation called "tukdam".

"If the meditator can continue to stay in this meditative state, he can become a Buddha," Dr Kerzin said.

The mummified/meditating monk was found after a man stole him and tried to sell him on the black market. The cadaver/near-Buddha is now being held securely at Mongolia's National Centre of Forensic Expertise.

Link: Mummified monk in Mongolia 'not dead', say Buddhists

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Heroic Monkey to the Rescue!

At the railway station in India's northern city of Kanpur, a monkey was seriously electrocuted after stepping on a live wire. The incident would have surely ended on a gruesome fate for the little primate, if it wasn't for one of his furry friends, who came to the rescue:

It is incidents like these which throw a monkey wrench (pardon the pun) on the whole 'selfish gene' notion promoted by neo-Darwinists like Dawkins and the like, who keep insisting that Evolution is spurred by violent competition; when in fact scientists like the late Lynn Margulis have proposed much more accurate evolutionary models founded on the concept of Symbiogenesis.

So next time you see someone in need of help, be a good ape and lend him or her a hand... or a tail.

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[UPDATE: Conner Habib has chimed in to point out that the monkey's heroism may have more to do with Mutualism (Cooperation) than Symbiogenesis --even though the latter is a scientific theory, and the other isn't. A fair point, yet the idea of mentioning Margulis was only to underscore how there are better ways to explain Nature than the 'dog-eat-dog' world proposed by Neo-Darwinists.

DMT & the Hebrew Prophets: New Book by Dr Rick Strassman

20 years since his seminal DMT studies, recorded in his book DMT: The Spirit Molecule (Amazon US/Kindle, UK/Kindle), Dr Rick Strassman has released a new book that's sure to get Joe Rogan excited.

In (take a breath before reading this out loud) DMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible (Amazon US), Strassman looks at the striking similarities between the visions of Hebrew prophets - including Ezekiel, Moses, Adam, and Daniel - and the experiences reported by the volunteers of his DMT studies. Strassman proposes a new model of consciousness and visionary experiences -- theoneurology, in which the Divine can communicate with us through DMT. Strassman's model is a counterpoint to neurotheology, and will no doubt rock the boat of neuroscience.

It promises to be a fascinating read, and a sample chapter available here certainly whets the appetite. If Mitch Schultz (who made a terrific film based on Dr Strassman's book) is considering a sequel, I reckon DMT 2: Hebrew Boogaloo would be a good title.

Via Disinfo.

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Rupert Sheldrake on the Joe Rogan Experience

Good googly moogly! Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, TED's favorite heretic scientist, was on the JRE podcast last Tuesday. He discussed with Joe everything from morphic resonance --which might be responsible for the passing of fears and talents from parents to their children-- experiments showing telepathic abilities in humans and animals, to the possibility of perceiving future events a few seconds beforehand.

Of course this being the Joe Rogan Experience, psychedelic substances and the visionary experiences they elicit were one of the main subjects, and Sheldrake was certainly up for the task --nothing less should be expected from someone whose first DMT experience was shared with Terence McKenna ;)

But also Sheldrake shared his life journey from being an atheist & a hardcore materialist in his early years --the sort of profile you were supposed to have if you cared about Science-- to realizing there had to be something more than genes in order to explain the complexity exhibited by all life forms; how he later started to practice transcendental meditation & yoga, dabbled with acid for a while, and later traveled to India where he joined an ashram run by a Catholic priest, where he re-embraced the Anglican faith in which he was raised by his family; it was Anglicanism which suited better his ideas of a spiritual life on a collective level, and trying to improve the lives of your community, instead of "seeking out your own personal enlightenment" the way his Hindu colleagues kept advising him. One gets the sense it is out of this yearning that he decided to become a public figure and write books in order to start a much-needed discussion about seeking a way out of the Materialism adopted by Science in the last 2 centuries --even when his books being considered suitable for a bonfire in the eyes of his most strident critics.

One of the highlights in the conversation was when Rupert discussed his experiments involving the sense of being stared at, which was something nobody had bother to look into until he was started to run tests in the eighties. He soon discovered most people register results slightly above chance, but what surprised him was when he tried the same experiment with his young son Merlin, who was then 4 years old: Merlin got an astounding 100% accuracy. At his insistence he switched places with his dad, and when he realized you could actually get it wrong sometimes, that's when the possibility of failure crept in his awareness; afterwards Merlin would only get a 75% accuracy when tested --which is still pretty 'magical' if you ask me!

All in all, a very enjoyable conversation. Rogan has become one of the most influential persons in the Internet --he's not called 'the podfather' by his friends for nothing-- and I'm sure this was the 1st time that thousands of listeners got the chance to be introduced to the work of Sheldrake, a scientist who I believe will be remembered as a sort of modern Copernicus by later generations --though probably the skeptic community would rather he became the next Giordano Bruno...

Vale BKS Iyengar, the 'Man Who Brought Yoga to the West'

BKS Iyengar

One of the most influential Yoga practitioners of the modern era, BKS Iyengar, has passed away at 95 years of age.

Better known by his initials, Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar is one of the world's best-known yoga gurus. As the New York Times wrote in a 2002 profile, "Perhaps no one has done more than Mr. Iyengar to bring yoga to the West." In 2004, Time recognized his global influence, naming him one of the world's most influential living people. His 1966 book Light on Yoga contains detailed instructions on how to perform more than 200 poses, according to Yoga Journal, and remains influential. That magazine has referred to Light on Yoga as the "Bible" of yoga.

For a glimpse of Iyengar in action, see the video below, filmed in 1977 (when he would have been around 58 years of age).

Full story: BKS Iyengar, who helped bring yoga to the West, has died

Is Schizophrenia Caused by Demonic Possession?

Still from 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose'

There is little doubt that in centuries past the condition we now know as schizophrenia would have been diagnosed as demonic possession. But that idea is also the topic of an article in the latest issue of The Journal of Religion and Health. In the article, Dr. Kemal Irmak, of the High Council of Science, Gulhane Military Medical Academy, Ankara, Turkey, interprets the way in which diagnosed schizophrenics talk about their thoughts, feelings and surroundings being 'controlled' by other forces, in a surprising way:

The most common delusion types are as follows: “My feelings and movements are controlled by others in a certain way” and “They put thoughts in my head that are not mine.” Hallucinatory experiences are generally voices talking to the patient or among themselves. Hallucinations are a cardinal positive symptom of schizophrenia which deserves careful study in the hope it will give information about the pathophysiology of the disorder. We thought that many so-called hallucinations in schizophrenia are really illusions related to a real environmental stimulus.

One approach to this hallucination problem is to consider the possibility of a demonic world. Demons are unseen creatures that are believed to exist in all major religions and have the power to possess humans and control their body. Demonic possession can manifest with a range of bizarre behaviors which could be interpreted as a number of different psychotic disorders with delusions and hallucinations. The hallucination in schizophrenia may therefore be an illusion—a false interpretation of a real sensory image formed by demons. A local faith healer in our region helps the patients with schizophrenia. His method of treatment seems to be successful because his patients become symptom free after 3 months. Therefore, it would be useful for medical professions to work together with faith healers to define better treatment pathways for schizophrenia.

Link: Abstract: Schizophrenia or Possession?

(via Improbable Research)

Jason Silva: What is a God?

We've covered a few of Jason Silva's "Shots of Awe" here on the Grail over the past couple of years. But if you're going to do 'awe', then you've got to go big, and in this latest monologue Jason scales things up to star size, contemplating the light- and life-giving presence that is our Sun. So much awe in fact that you can begin to understand how you might form a religion based on it...

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