East Grinstead

Intro to Consciousness and Spirituality


If we really are spiritual beings temporarily inhabiting bodies and who will continue to exist when the body dies, there can be little knowledge, if any, that it is more important for us to obtain. People have been interested in this from at least the time when they began to record their thoughts but until the techniques of science began to provide us with objective means of gathering and recording knowledge we had only belief and individual testimony; this enabled people who had no such beliefs or experience to assert that there was no such thing as spirituality and that people who thought there was were deluded.
But not only has science provided us with the methodology for investigating spirituality, it has also provided us with some heavyweight researchers. Sir William Crookes, who was made a fellow of the Royal Society and knighted, for his work in physics and chemistry (in particular for pioneering the valve, or vacuum tube, his investigations of cathode rays, and his discovery of the element thallium) was one such. He studied movement of bodies at a distance, levitation, appearance of phantom figures and many other paranormal phenomena. Another famous scientist to have done much important research into spirituality was Sir Oliver Lodge, a physicist ennobled for his work in wireless telegraphy and inventor of the Lodge sparking plug (which U3A members are old enough to remember). Among other things, he conducted a long series of séances in which his son, Raymond, who was killed in the 1914/18 war, communicated much information that was scientifically satisfactory as evidence of survival.
At Duke University, in America, Dr. J. B. Rhine conducted his famous telepathy experiments with spectacular success. And in Russia, Vasiliev, after winning a famous bet with Stalin and thereby securing funding for his psychical research facility, produced some remarkable research material.
In addition to this, a number of UK universities have parapsychology departments, and we should not forget the famous parapsychology department at the University of Freiburg in Germany.
Philosophers too have weighed into the debate about spirituality; of the more recent ones, I would like us to look at the contribution of C. D. Broad.
But this would not be a balanced course if we did not consider the views of some of those that dispute spirituality and the findings of psychical research. I do not intend to spend much time on this as I think they are mistaken and I have looked in vain for any substance in what they say; I think that they will go the same way as flat earthers and the proponents of the phlogiston theory have in the past.
And finally, I would like to make you all aware of the Society for Psychical Research. This august body has been in existence for about 130 years and holds an enormous amount of data on psychical research. It does not, itself, have an opinion about the fact, or otherwise, of spirituality – though the opinions of individual members are often expressed in the peer-reviewed papers that they present.
John Gibbs