Before I tell the story, here is some important background information. This comes from the life of Stanislav Grof, who is one of my intellectual heroes. He began as a psychiatrist in Marxist (therefore atheistic) Czechoslovakia, where he became involved in an experimental programme, using LSD for therapeutic purposes. Because this often induced spiritual experiences, he felt compelled not to reveal his results to the authorities there, and worked secretly. He later moved to the USA, where he continued this research, until LSD was made illegal. He then devised a system of intensive breathing to obtain the same results without using the drug. His patients explore their own personal unconscious, often go on to relive their birth, experience ego-death and rebirth, have past life memories, encounter archetypal beings (gods and goddesses), and much more besides.
To understand what LSD does, we need to turn upside down the conventional scientific understanding of consciousness. The normal assumption is that consciousness is a by-product of the brain. Spiritual traditions believe rather that the brain limits consciousness, acts as a kind of reducing valve. This theory is called the Transmission Model, following the great American psychologist William James. (I have discussed this in an earlier article¹.) It seems that LSD somehow deactivates or bypasses the reducing valve, thus enabling consciousness to free itself from its everyday limitations.
Now for the anecdote. Grof tells this story in The Adventure of Self-Discovery², but the following account is taken from Michael Talbot’s The Holographic Universe³, (a brilliant book which I recommend to anyone interested in new-paradigm science).
“On occasion subjects also traveled to what appeared to be other universes and other levels of reality. In one particularly unnerving session a young man suffering from depression found himself in what seemed to be another dimension.It had an eerie luminescence, and although he could not see anyone he sensed that it was crowded with discarnate beings. Suddenly he sensed a presence very close to him, and to his surprise it began to communicate with him telepathically. It asked him to please contact a couple who lived in the Moravian city of Kromeriz and let them know that their son Ladislav was well taken care of and doing all right. It then gave him the couple’s name, street address, and telephone number.
“The information meant nothing to either Grof or the young man and seemed totally unrelated to the young man’s problems and treatment. Still, Grof could not put it out of his mind. ‘After some hesitation and with mixed feelings, I finally decided to do what certainly would have made me the target of my colleagues’ jokes, had they found out’, says Grof. ‘I went to the telephone, dialed the number in Kromeriz, and asked if I could speak with Ladislav. To my astonishment, the woman on the other side of the line started to cry. When she calmed down, she told me with a broken voice: “Our son is not with us any more; he passed away, we lost him three weeks ago” ’. ”
Make of that what you will. From the point of view of science, of course, this is ‘only an anecdote’. The story can’t be checked, it can’t be repeated in a laboratory, and so on. This means that (materialistic) science can conveniently ignore such experiences, and dismiss them as unreliable, illusory, or ‘pseudoscience’. In order to arrive at a better understanding of the universe and how it works, I believe we need to start taking more notice of such anecdotes.
- Consciousness and the Brain – the Transmission Model
- State University of New York Press, 1988, pp.108–9
- HarperCollins, 1996, p69