The 2013 annual conference of the Society for Psychical Research took place at Swanea University in Swansea, Wales, UK from September 6-8. This was one of the most interesting conference I have attended, since my primary interest in psychical research is the survival issue, and many of the papers dealt with survival. I was able to attend most sessions; I wanted to see the ruins of Oystermouth Castle when I was there, so I missed some sessions to walk to Mumbles. It was a grand site, well worth seeing.
Alan Murdie did a fine job as Chairman of the Program Committee and MC. He is a worthy successor to Bernard Carr, who has done a splendid job the past thirty years in the same role. The first paper, by John Poynton, was entitled “Different Vibrations or Different Spaces? A Basic Question in Psi Research.” As I listened to this fascinating paper, my mind wandered back to Sunday School class when I was in high school. The teacher, Ken Schott, said that Heaven “could be in this very room, but in a different dimension,” and since then I have been intrigued with that idea. Professor Poynton surveyed possible locations of OBE survival, dividing the options into:
(1) single field theories, in which there is one single physical space (this he called “the common view” and
(2) many field theories, in which physical and OBE bodies occupy two different spaces of some kind (which he stated is the more common view in scientific settings).
Problems with single field theories include:
(1) How can the OBE body displace matter—“Kant’s Problem.”
(2) OBE space does not seem to be wholly isomorphic with physical space.
(3) OBE experiences are of a different quality than experiences in physical space.
(4) The theories are illogical—they seem to posit an outdated medieval world which Heaven and Hell are literally above the physical world.
In many field theories, different spaces may be viewed simultaneously—this can easily reduce to the single field idea. There are two many field alternatives to single field theories:
(1) Unnested—different spatial fields/worlds.
(2) Nexted—different superimposed spatial fields with a different hyperspace with faster vibrations.
Stevenson and Whiteman seem to assume non-nested spaces.
The nested view is held by the spiritualists—it holds there is an objectively real spirit world in the same space as we exist, but the matter vibrates more rapidly.
There may be a hierarchy of spaces, such as physical space, the space of paranormal experiences, and the space of mystical experiences.
Theorists suggest two ways layers may be organized:
(1) Like layers through a cake (Carr, Smythes)
(2) Like a Russian doll (Findley)
Prof. Poynton raised the important issue of whether human beings are capable of experiencing a four-dimensional world. Kant denied that we could [for Kant, space—as well as time—are forms of sensibility that structure our sense experience and are necessary and universal forms in the mind that we impose on the world. Kant believe the form of sensibility that is space to be three dimensional by necessity]. Prof. Poynton mentioned a fascinating account of an NDE by the Roman historian Plutarch in which the NDEr could see in four directions at once.
Prof. Poynton also raises the interesting Aristotelian point of how much do we know what fundamental processes (potentiality and actualization of potential) that underlie the manifestation for an observer of any spatial world and the object experienced? How much do (and can) we know about the constitution of non-physical objects.
Michael Whiteman uses words like “light” or “noetic” space. [Here I would point out that a medieval thinker overlooked in many discussions of psi is Robert Grosseteste (1168-1253), who believed that all was made of light and that light is the medium between matter and spirit]. Jean-Pierre Jourdan prefers to posit a “fifth dimension.” Bernard Carr prefers the term “hyperphysics.” His position is that the extra dimensions are time-like—different levels of the “specious present” but in the same space.
Professor Poynton’s paper was one of the most interesting at the conference. It was, by nature, highly speculative, but the speculations on multiple spaces (or times) seem reasonable and hopefully can generate further research that can aid in our understanding of OBEs, NDEs, and a possible “afterlife world.”