Empirical Evidence I
How would an empirical analysis interpret our intuitive perceptions of the physical world? Can consciousness influence matter, or is it simply an epiphenomenon of matter? Thompson probes these along with a variety of similar philosophical concerns involving mind–body issues.
TRANSCRIPT: Empirical Evidence I - Origins Seminar 4: San Diego - c. 1986 / (004)
At the end of the last class the question came up which I thought I should discuss. It’s a somewhat important point. The basic question was raised: If somebody does not accept the idea of accepting knowledge by a descending process, in which that knowledge is coming down from a higher transcendental source, and if the person wants to have empirical evidence for what we are saying, then how can you respond to that? Well I was pointing out that there is empirical evidence for some of the things which we say and for some of the things which are described in the Vedic literature. Of course, obviously, there is not empirical evidence for the really important things. For example, the transcendental characteristics of Krsna are not something you would expect to find empirical evidence for. How can we expect to show that Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has pastimes as a cowherd boy by empirical evidence? Obviously you couldn’t expect to do that.
However I was pointing out that there is evidence for such things as reincarnation, the soul being distinct from the body, and so on. Actually by normal sense data one can find evidence for that. However, just because that evidence happens to back up the Vedic viewpoint doesn’t mean that evidence is perfect or anything of the kind. Empirical evidence by nature is imperfect and our basic philosophy is that it’s always imperfect. And empirical evidence that happens to back up the Vedic viewpoint is just as imperfect because it’s based on the same process of relying upon the material mind and senses. So somebody may say though, “You’re saying so many different things which are extremely far out; how come there is no evidence whatsoever based on the mundane mind and sense that backs up what you say?” Well the answer is, actually there is evidence based on the mundane mind and senses that backs up what we say. However, we do not actually put much reliance on that ourselves. In fact when it comes down to it, we don’t put any reliance on it because that evidence is by nature imperfect and unreliable. However if someone wants to see such evidence, it does exist. It’s not that we’re presenting a picture of reality which doesn’t correspond in any way to what you can pick up with your material senses.
So in this magazine we mentioned some evidence of that kind. I was mentioning last time the empirical evidence concerning reincarnation and out-of-body experiences, just to give an example. So this material indicates, well let’s say gives an indication, that some kind of conscious, thinking entity that has memories and so on can transfer from one body to another. So of course people who dislike this conception have tried in many ways to explain the evidence in different ways. For example, there are cases in which young children spontaneously start talking about a previous life, and in which they identify family members in a previous life, and places in which they lived, and activities that they carried out. And in many cases it’s been possible to actually check these stories and find that they were correct. That is, one can go to the town in which they said they had lived previously and find that a person who they described really had lived there and that his family members really were as described and so on. And one can even check out various trivial details such as the particular floor plan of the house, or the fact that the person owned a certain item of some sort and so on. So there are cases like this. Other people, however, have tried to point out that you can explain these without invoking the idea of reincarnation. For example there’s what’s called the super-ESP hypothesis.
According to this idea, we know that some people can apparently pick up information from other people’s minds. This is called telepathy or extra sensory perception. So perhaps these children just have a remarkable ability to pick up from the minds of certain living people information about someone who died a long time ago and then using that information they just make up a story according to which they were that person. So this is one explanation which is offered. Actually it’s not too plausible because in these cases it’s generally observed that the, in fact as far as I know always observed, that the child doesn’t have any particular ESP powers that are used in any other way. So why would the person use these powers just once and why would the person try and read the minds of people to find out about the life of one particular person and so on. So the story is not very plausible. But various types of alternative explanations can be made. So when it comes down to really proving things by the empirical method you wind up with a sort of swamp of vague possibilities and conflicting arguments and so forth. That is inevitably the way it works out. But none the less there is empirical evidence. There is obvious empirical evidence of the kind represented, say, by the reincarnation memories, and then there are things which require little more thought in order to understand them properly.
Now we mentioned quite a few things of that kind in this magazine. In some cases the actual evidence is unquestionable but to understand what it means you have to think very carefully.
For example in this article on consciousness we point out that consciousness itself is something you can’t understand in material terms. So that is a step in the direction of Krsna conscious philosophy. To be sure it’s a small step, but it’s the first step that we always take because the basic point we make in giving an initial presentation of the philosophy of Krsna Consciousness is that the conscious self is distinct from the material body. So actually you can see by direct perception, and by careful thought concerning what consciousness is, that consciousness is something that you can’t understand in material terms. So unfortunately many people find it difficult to understand this point. At the present time a great deal of propaganda has been made to the effect that consciousness must be a name for some software which is being executed within the brain. Nowadays we are in the age of the computer revolution and so there are these terms hardware and software. So the hardware is the actual machine, the computer itself, and the software consists of patterns of symbols that you store in the memory of the machine so that when you set the thing into action these symbols represent instructions, and then it carries out the instructions, and as a result the machine does certain things – figures out your income tax or something like that. So this setup of a pattern of instructions is called software, whereas the actual equipment itself is called hardware.
So people nowadays have received a lot of propaganda to the effect that what we call the mind or the conscious self, since everyone practically blurs these two things together – we make a distinction there – what we call the mind or the conscious self is really just software. And the brain is the hardware. So the mind is just like a computer program being executed by the brain computer. So if you talk about consciousness they will immediately talk about information transmission within the brain, manipulation of data through transmission of nerve impulses through synapses, and so on and so forth. So, actually however, one should stop and think that whatever consciousness is, it’s not that. Because our consciousness has actually nothing to do with nerve impulses and so on. Our consciousness is what we directly perceive. For example, I am sitting here and seeing this temple room and different devotees sitting here. So that’s a perception, and to describe the perception one has to talk about form, color, shape, and things like. One never talks about nerve impulses or data transmission or execution of instructions or anything of this kind. That’s one thing I don’t perceive. So one can only describe consciousness using a certain vocabulary and if you think about that vocabulary you’ll see that it’s very hard to tie down the words used in that vocabulary to a physical substrate.
For example, take color. The fact that I see that there’s a certain shade of blue on the wall there, how do you describe that in physical terms? You can, for example, talk about light and the wavelength of light and say, “Well, blue light has a certain wavelength.” And that’s all well and good, but that has nothing to do with my perception of blueness. For example, I might be able to convey to a person who is congenitally blind a very good understanding of the wavelength of light. Actually it’s known that you can do this kind of thing. For example, once somebody came up with a very elaborate mathematical theorem describing how certain surfaces curve together in space. To make a picture of those surfaces would be very difficult. But he came up with this theorem and he communicated it to a blind person – apparently this was a person who had always been blind – and that blind person communicated it to another seeing person, and the seeing person could make a picture of what these shapes were supposed to be. So that went through the blind person. So he had no trouble imagining this.
But could a person who has been blind from birth really understand what the color blue is like? Actually I don’t know whether they can or not! It would be hard to tell because you couldn’t show them a blue object and see how they responded to it. Or could a person who is congenitally blind understand what a sunset looks like? So even though you could describe physics to a blind person and discuss the wavelength of light and so forth, discuss the wave equation and so on and so forth, but that wouldn’t convey what blue is like or what red is like and so on. So these are perceptions, and our vocabulary for describing perceptions cannot be reduced to physical terms. And along with perceptions there are feelings, emotions, desires, so on and so forth. So we have an elaborate vocabulary for describing these things but you cannot reduce any of these things, any of the words in this vocabulary, to physical terms. That is, consider for example anger. Now we all know what anger is like because we experience it, but can you explain that in physical terms? Now it’s a fact that you can talk about adrenaline flowing through the blood and you can talk about an increase in the rate of the beating of the heart and so on, and a whole host of other physical symptoms that are connected with anger. And certainly when a person becomes angry these physical symptoms tend to arise. But the anger is one thing and the symptoms are something else. You wouldn’t say anger is more rapid beating of the heart. For example, by walking quickly you can also make the heart beat more rapidly but that doesn’t mean you’re angry.
So when we say "anger" we actually mean the feeling, and the feeling is something internal; but how can we describe that in physical terms? Actually you can’t do it. So now there are certain philosophers who are aware of this point. Many people aren’t even alert enough to be aware of this distinction that I’m making here. So when you say feelings they think nerve impulses because they have been told, well, feelings are just nerve impulses. They don’t stop to think that when they feel something they’re not even thinking of nerve impulses in the least degree. That’s the last thing they are thinking of. So there’s a certain group of philosophers, though, who are a bit more sophisticated. So they’re aware of this fact, that you can’t take terms describing consciousness, feelings, and perceptions, and so on, and explain them in physical terms. So their conclusion then is that all these words are meaningless. This is their program: to remove from our vocabulary all words that cannot be explained in physical terms. Their idea is that all such words are devoid of meaning because for something to have meaning it has to be explainable in physical terms. They will say that you cannot define consciousness because if you try to define consciousness you’ll do it using other terms which refer to consciousness, and so you’re just using circular reasoning. Actually you can see that that happens if you try to say what consciousness is. You’ll say, “Well, feelings, thoughts, desires” and I’ll say “Well those are just states of consciousness.” Well, it means you’ve gone in a circle. You’re just saying consciousness is consciousness! So that just shows that this word is meaningless; you can’t define it.
Their idea is that in the early phases of human evolution, when we were just gradually coming out of the savannas and the jungles and so on, we developed certain rather muddled ways of thinking about the world; and gradually with modern scientific progress we’ve eliminated some of these crude ideas. We have eliminated the idea that if you get a disease it’s due to an evil spirit, for example, or something like that. But we still have a certain residue of these vague superstitious notions lingering in our minds and these words involving consciousness and so on are part of that residue. So to be really scientific we should eliminate these words from our vocabulary and so they would say, for example, that instead of saying “I feel a pain” you should say “C fibres are firing” so as to give the physical description. So the basic point, though, that can be made here, is that actually this is absurd because these words referring to feelings and so on, states of consciousness, are perfectly meaningful and everybody knows what they mean – except those philosophers who have managed to talk themselves out of that understanding. So actually it is possible by philosophical sophistication to fail to understand something that even a child can understand. This is the benediction of philosophy.
So in the magazine here we make the basic point that there’s an aspect of reality, namely states of consciousness and so on, that you cannot explain in physical terms. That means the whole science of physics says nothing about it. So if consciousness is something real – and it must be real because we are conscious, or at least I am (this is another point that comes up: I don’t know about you but at least I am) – if consciousness is real then that means that there is something real in nature that you can’t understand in terms of physics. Physics says nothing about it. Now there’s this point which many of these people are very eager to bring up, which is that the whole idea of consciousness is subjective, because I can only say that I’m conscious. I’m only aware of my own conscious perceptions; I’m not aware of anyone else’s. So how do I know that they exist? That's pure supposition. This argument will be made. So the argument will then be made that, “Well, consciousness is subjective because I can only talk about my subjective impressions of it. It’s not something objectively real because I can’t go out in the world and find examples of it and measure it in other places. So therefore it is unscientific to talk about consciousness; indeed we should banish this idea from our thoughts.”
So they will argue in this way, but if you think about it this argument also is not very good because actually you can turn the argument around completely and apply it to matter and here’s how you can do that: I can say “Well okay, I know at least that I’m conscious – of course other people will say the same thing but at least I know that I am conscious – and I have perceptions of different things; and among those perceptions are perceptions of objects and so on, so I take it that there are material objects. I’m convinced of it. There’s no doubt about it.” But how do I know that there are material objects? It’s an illusion to think that I directly perceive material objects. For example I may say I perceive that wall. But I don’t directly perceive it and that proof is very simple. I go like this and now I don’t see it anymore. So that proves that my perception of that wall is something going on inside my eye. So how do I know that there is a wall out there? Well you could say that I can walk over and touch it. Well if something happened to the nerve in my arm, which happens to some people sometimes, then I wouldn’t feel anything, would I? So that proves that when I touched the wall it's not that I'm directly coming in contact with the wall, but I’m picking up something that’s going through my arm. And you can say the same thing with sound. Say I hear something from over there. But alright, suppose I have wads of cotton stuck inside my ears, well then I don’t hear; so that proves that what’s going on there is something happening in my ear. So I’m just inferring that there are things out there.
So if I can infer that there is matter out there and then how do I infer it? Well the way I do that is this: all the different perceptions through sound, feeling, hearing and so on that I have all fit together consistently according to the idea that there’s something really out there. It never fails to fit together in a perfectly consistent way; so I can infer that there really are things out there. Well, if I see other people behaving as though they are conscious, that is, for example when I have a certain idea I act in a certain way which is associated with it – for example I speak and express that idea – if I see other people acting similarly, why can’t I infer that they are actually conscious? How is that any different from inferring that there’s matter out there? If someone says “Well, you can’t infer if they are actually conscious, that you can’t objectively see their consciousness”; then I can also say that, “I can’t really infer that there’s actually matter out there either.” On the other hand, if I can infer that there is matter out there what’s wrong with inferring that other people are actually conscious? And then it comes down to the fact that it’s a matter of common sense. We always assume that other people are conscious, and we assume that there is matter out there, and it would be absurd to think otherwise. So if someone tries to say that it’s just subjective to say that other people have states of consciousness, that’s as bad as saying that it’s absurd to say that other people have material bodies. So this argument can be made.
Actually recently when I was in Cambridge, I was talking to this physicist, Sir Brian Pippard. And he was saying that, “The one thing which has no place in science is the idea of mind,” and he presented this whole idea that, “The whole idea of the mind is simply subjective, has no place in science whatsoever.” But this, you can also say that the whole idea of matter has no place in science. And of course what you end up then is something that’s called solipsism: nothing exists but me and my perceptions. But who can live according to a philosophy like that? So we can argue that there’s something called consciousness. It’s real. It exists in the world. It at least exists in every human being. And as a matter of fact when you see that dogs and cats and so on have feelings, which any child can perceive, then it stands to reason that it exists in animals also, at least higher animals. We may not really be able to understand directly whether an earthworm has consciousness or not, but at least you can say it for a monkey or something like that. So this consciousness is something real which cannot be explained in terms of physics. That means that the whole picture of the world that the physicists are putting together is drastically incomplete, because it leaves out this element.
Now the physicists tend to be quite ambitious and they are, for example, trying to put together this unified field theory that goes along with the Big Bang theory, which is intended to explain everything. The idea is that by writing down certain equations and then saying that the universe is the solution to these equations, you describe all reality: everything whatsoever, that’s it. So this is their idea and they’re struggling very hard to get their equations to work out properly. And as I was saying, one problem that they have is they haven’t put together relativity theory and quantum mechanics yet. So they’re worried about that. But meanwhile they’ve completely left out consciousness, and that has no place in their equations at all. And in fact you can’t even begin to think of how to describe consciousness in terms of equations; so that’s one basic point that is made here. Actually even some prominent materialists have been aware of that. For example we cite Thomas Huxley here. This Thomas Huxley was known as Darwin’s bulldog because he went around proselytizing everybody in favour of Darwinian evolution theory. In fact Darwin never went out of his own house practically. He was sort of a recluse. And if it was left to him, practically no one would really have paid much attention to his ideas.
This Thomas Huxley went around giving lectures and holding debates everywhere, and so he did great work to convince people of Darwinism. But even he recognized that consciousness is something you can’t explain in material terms. So you can see even some thoroughly materialistic scientists can recognize this point. He had no explanation for it. In fact he said consciousness is an epiphenomenon – this was his term. His idea here was that we know from physics that everything that matter does is explainable in terms of Newton's equations of motion. Of course he was a 19th century physicist; nowadays we have quantum mechanics, relativity theory, and a whole different way of understanding matter. But he was convinced that Newton's equations of motion exactly describe everything that matter does; but at the same time he was convinced that consciousness is something real and you can’t understand it in terms of physics. And also he recognized that what matter does affects our state of consciousness, because if we see matter moving in a certain way – if we’re conscious of that – then our state of consciousness changes to reflect the changing circumstances. So he came to the conclusion, “Well, consciousness is real and matter is real and matter can influence consciousness. But if consciousness could influence matter that would mean that a physically indescribable thing can affect what physical objects are doing; and that would mean that Newton's equations can’t be the last word on the subject, because if consciousness – which is physically indescribable– affects what matter is doing, then it must deviate from those equations. Or on the other hand, if it doesn’t deviate from those equations, then nothing else is affecting what it’s doing.” So he called this the idea of an “epiphenomenon”, that there’s a one-way link. Consciousness is influenced by matter but it doesn’t influence matter in the slightest degree.
Now this idea, actually some physicists have responded to this, for example Eugene Wigner (Nobel prize-winning physicist) responds to this by pointing out that we don’t know of anything in nature in which “A” influences “B” but “B” doesn’t influence “A” in the slightest degree. We don’t know of any instance of that. So he said, “It stands to reason then that if matter can influence consciousness, which we grant that it can, then consciousness must be also able to influence matter.” And if that’s true then our equations of physics can never be complete. That’s simply impossible. You can forget about it. It means equations of physics can only be approximate. They can never possibly be complete. So Wigner actually came up with... [break in audio]
...in the flow of the material stream within different bodies and they transmigrate from body to body. But they exert no influence on what’s happening whatsoever. So according to this philosophy all you can do is go with the flow and enjoy it, and that’s all there is to existence. You can’t do anything because matter is doing everything; so that’s the atheistic Sankhya philosophy. So that was similar to the idea that this Thomas Huxley proposed, the epiphenomenon concept. But Wigner’s point is also quite reasonable, that if matter can influence consciousness, why can’t consciousness influence matter? If that happens then physical science is fundamentally limited. So that’s one basic point we make here.
So if consciousness is something real and nonphysical which both influences and is influenced by matter, then what more can we say about it? Well this much we can say practically just by thinking carefully about our day to day experience (trouble is you have to think somewhat carefully, but that can be done): Srila Prabhupada point outs in the purport in the Second Canto that the common man, simply by careful thought, can realize that he is a nonphysical conscious being. And it’s interesting if you consider what Srila Prabhupada’s standard for the common man must be, because most common men don’t think this way at all. But he said actually that the common man, by careful thought and introspection, can come to this conclusion, that actually I’m a nonphysical conscious entity. And then Srila Prabhupada went on in that purport to say that the common man also can go on to think that I’m not in control of material energy. Now the epiphenomenal idea then is that “I have no control over material energy at all,” but one can think a little more carefully about this, Srila Prabhupada points out. To say that by careful inspection of what’s going on in the world I can realize that material energy is controlling so many different things: different processes are going on within the body without my understanding, various events are occurring within the world and so on. But yet there’s a link between my desires and what is going on in the world: I can move my arms and so forth, various things occur in accordance to my desire. Srila Prabhupada pointed out that one can understand that there’s some kind of guiding intelligence and that actually that guiding intelligence is providing for our material needs and is actually arranging the different actions of the material energy so that we are able to function. Srila Prabhupada pointed out that actually by careful thought and introspection one can come to that conclusion. And that brings one to the idea that there’s actually such a thing as the Supersoul which is controlling and guiding this material energy.
Actually, even on an empirical basis it is possible to get reasonable evidence for the existence of the Supersoul, or for the existence of some kind of higher guiding intelligence. Actually Srila Prabhupada pointed out that even by observing our day-to-day activities one can obtain such evidence if we think carefully about what is going on. But one can also provide more extreme examples. For example, there’s the phenomenon of inspiration which occurs, for example, with musical composers, mathematicians, scientists, and so on. I’ll give a few examples of this inspiration phenomenon. We mentioned something, some of that, in here, but also in that book which I wrote, there is a chapter on inspiration there. So for example there is a mathematician named Poincaré, who lived around the turn of the century in France, and he describes how he was trying to solve a certain very difficult mathematical problem. So every day he would spend a couple of hours just struggling with it, writing down equations to try and get things to fit together to get a solution. And for several weeks he tried this every day and he had no success whatsoever. He was totally frustrated, and so then he just gave it up and worked on something else for a few weeks; and he was frustrated with that also. So then he went on a geological field trip just as a diversion, and he was going around looking at rock formations and things like this. And at a certain point he was just about to step onto the trolley car to take him somewhere and suddenly the entire solution to the problem that he’d been working on several weeks before flashed into his mind. And this was the complete solution – everything was there in a flash; all he had to do was go and write it down.
So there are many examples of this kind of thing. And Poincaré himself was led to the idea that these ideas might be brought to us by something that he called the “subliminal self.” And he began to examine what the characteristics of this subliminal self must be, he thought carefully about it and finally he said, “It seems the subliminal self is superior to the conscious self because it can do things that the conscious self is incapable of doing and it exhibits great discrimination, great subtlety, great tact, and great depth of understanding and so on. So aren’t we led to the conclusion that the subliminal self is superior to the conscious self?” And then he said, “Actually for my own part, I would hate to come to such a conclusion” and then he proceeded to completely try and tear down what he had built up and give a material explanation as to what was going on. But nonetheless he was led up to practically that conclusion even though he was thoroughly materialistic in his outlook. So you can give many many different examples of this kind of thing.
For example, we mentioned Mozart here. Mozart had some rather amazing talents. He describes that, he describes actually his method of composing symphonies. He would be, say, taking a walk after dinner or something like that, and suddenly this music would start coming into his mind. And he describes a complete symphony with all its different parts, many different instruments and so on, would just come into this mind all at once. And it would be just like the whole thing would be playing in his mind just like that, and he describes that he had difficulty writing down all the music fast enough. In fact, sometimes then another symphony would come into his mind and would start interfering with the first one that he was trying to write down. And so one can ask, ”Well how is this working? How does it come about that his brain is producing nerve impulses of this sort?” So Mozart himself attributed this to a divine source; he said that, “Actually I don’t know how it’s happening; it must be coming from some higher source, it’s actually a gift which is being given to me.” So in fact we can understand things like this from the point of view of the idea of karma. Why is it that this happened with Mozart but doesn’t happen with other people? Also why is it Poincaré could have obtained solutions to mathematical problems that were very difficult, but it doesn’t happen with other people. But of course we can understand this by the idea that the Supersoul is actually providing all of this material: Poincaré’s mathematical results or Mozart’s symphonies. But he is doing it in accordance with the desire of the individual and past karma.
So let’s say Mozart, due to whatever he did in the past, acquired both the desire and the qualifications for receiving this kind of information. But it’s not that a mass of neurons linked together according to some biochemical instructions are going to simply produce symphonies. The information has to be transmitted into the brain apparatus and once it’s transmitted in, then perhaps the neurons can process that information and as a result the arm moves and writes down sequences of musical notes. But there has to be some higher source of the information itself. So this again is a matter of evidence that you can point to which confirms the Vedic view point. Now of course people can argue and they can say, “Well I don’t wish to accept this Supersoul idea; I prefer to think that some material explanation is there. After all, science is advancing. We’ve already come so far and were making rapid progress, so in the future somehow we’ll come up with a material explanation.” Someone can say like that. But still one cannot deny also that this does constitute evidence for the Supersoul, because you can look at it that way too. So all right, I’ll stop there. Are there any comments or questions? Yeah?
A: Oh, they will dismiss that as complete rubbish. Yeah, a standard hard-line scientist will dismiss that kind of thing completely. They will say that there’s no truth in it. Scientists have a certain ability to throw out evidence also that disagrees with their views. So if you say, actually people have done this kind of thing. I know that there was a lady somewhere in Nebraska, or something like that, who had a series of small greenhouses, and she put plants in those greenhouses and taped in some, put in taped music of different kinds in different greenhouses. She was actually quite scientific. She arranged that the lighting conditions, the amount of water, fertilizer and so on was the same in each of these greenhouses. But in one she had, I think, classical symphonic music, and another she had some Indian devotional ragas, and another she had acid rock. And she found that in the greenhouse with acid rock the plants were actually withering away, especially near the loudspeaker, they were actually tilting away from it. And they seemed to like the devotional music. They were flourishing there and they seemed to do all right with the symphonic music also. So that’s recorded. So I don’t know how you’d explain that. I’m sure if the scientists did accept it you would have to explain it in terms of something to do with the frequency spectrum of the different types of music. But anyway... yeah?
Answer: I don’t know; I’d have to see the context and the exact statement. It certainly is true, though, that if you have a certain mindset, as they say, then that’s going to determine what kind of experiments you perform. And it's also going have a great influence on how you interpret the results. So a person who thinks in one way is going to perform a certain kind of experiment and thus he’ll tend to come to certain conclusions. A person who thinks in a completely different way may perform other experiments and come up with other conclusions. So that can be there. And that certainly has an affect because, consider biochemists for example, who insist on seeing life in terms of chemical reactions. Well, they only perform experiments involving chemical reactions – they don’t perform any other kind of experiments – so naturally all they see in living organisms are chemicals. What else can you see using chemical-type experiments? So then they conclude that there’s nothing to life except chemistry. So that is a product of their outlook
A: The placebo effect, well that’s a different thing, where the effect of a substance on the person’s state of health depends on what the person is thinking. That’s due to the fact that the person’s mind has a very profound influence on the state of his health and what’s going on in the body. So the person is feeling sick and you give them a sugar pill and say this will cure your disease, they may start feeling better, simply because his mind has a very great effect on his body so what he thinks will influence his physical state.
A: Well now let’s be careful indeed. Just because something is it is inspired by Supersoul doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.
A: Yeah, we’re talking about the law of karma here. Supersoul is providing the different arrangements in the lives of all different people. Some of these things are good and some are bad. Supersoul is impartially providing all of these things in accordance with the desires of the individual. So essentially what Krsna is saying is that, ”Alright, if you insist on engaging in all this foolishness then I’ll provide you with the facility for doing it, if that’s what you insist you want to do. But I’m warning you that you’re going to get in trouble, but it’s your responsibility. I refuse to take further responsibility for you because I have warned you." And so then Krsna provides all kinds of things, including the technique of distilling heroine and so forth from the opium plant, and all these different things are all provided by Supersoul. All the atomic bombs are provided by Supersoul, Marxism was provided by Supersoul, all of these things. So Krsna isn’t saying that it’s going to be good for you. He’s saying actually you should give all this up and surrender unto Me and then I’ll give you something that’s really good for you if you want.
A: Well that kind of thing definitely happens, for example, with parapsychology. Of course parapsychology involves, for example, studying the effect of a person’s will on physical processes. That’s a whole subject which also provides evidence that the mind is not just an arrangement of nerve impulses. For example I have a book about this thick, consisting simply of data showing that people can affect decay of radioactive atoms by their will. That is, you set up a little thing in which atoms are decaying and it’s picked up by a Geiger counter, or something like that, and it is used to drive some apparatus which causes lights to flash in a certain way. And you have a person sitting there willing the lights to flash in a certain way that they wouldn’t normally tend to do, and it’s found that to a certain extent people can do that, even quite ordinary people. So it seems that then a person’s will was influencing the atoms and what they were doing, but it will happen differently with different people. And it’s also been observed that if someone who is very sceptical about this kind of thing is present, then the effect can disappear. Well you can consider, well, his will is that it shouldn’t happen so why shouldn’t he get his will? So this kind of thing also goes on.
A: In London I went to meet a scientist there who has studied this kind of thing, for example, and it was quite interesting. He’s actually the head of the Physics Department in Birkbeck College, University of London and he’s an experimental physicist. It seems that he initially got involved with Uri Geller back in the heyday of spoon bending, and of course one thing that I’ve always wonder about this kind of thing is, “Why spoons, anyway?” It seems kind of arbitrary. But anyway, supposedly Uri Geller would take a spoon and gently stroke it with his finger and it would start curling up like a piece of spaghetti or something. And not only that, but Uri Geller went on national TV in England, and also in France, and I think Sweden, and after each TV program, reports started coming in from TV viewers, that all kinds of things started bending in their own homes. And to make it even worse, children who’d watched the TV programs started bending spoons and doing things like that. So this was really weird. So this scientist, Hasted was his name or is his name, started investigating the children because he figured that children would be less sophisticated in faking things than adults; because the argument will always be that these things are faked: Uri Geller has some bent spoons up his sleeve and the hand is quicker than the eye, he sort of gets you to look that way, and he pulls out the bent spoon and says, “See, it’s bent.” Or else he very deftly gets you to look the other way and then he reaches down with a pair of pliers, twists it, and “See?”
And then there’s a magician, who’s named the Amazing Randi, and he claims that by simple trickery he can do any of these things. And he claims that scientists are incapable of investigating these things because they don’t understand magic, that is, professional trickery, and anyone who investigates these things should bring along a professional magician to find out all the tricks. Of course there’s a certain validity to that because people do play tricks too. Especially with card games where people guess cards and so on, there are all kinds of clever tricks with cards you can play. So anyway, so he investigated these children and accumulated a lot of evidence that they’re doing something. So I went to visit him and he showed me all kinds of different spoons that had been being bent by children. For example, one of them was a regular spoon, fairly thick, but the handle had been bent around 180° with respect to the bowl of the spoon. And the bend was so tight that the bent region was about this wide, so it was hard to see how you could even do that with a vise and a pair of pliers because bending it to such a tight angle the metal would tend to just rip and just break. And the comments, the sceptic’s explanation is that the child put the thing under his shoe and then bent it with his hand. But it was very stiff metal, so I don’t think I could bend it with my hands if I tried; the metal would cut into your fingers.
So he showed me a whole bunch of things like that including some glass globes about this big around with a little hole in one side of the globe, and then with paper clips, maybe several hundred paper clips, inside the globe all twisted around one another in a tangle. And the idea is, the challenge is: do this by just putting them through the whole, one paper clip at a time, and you get them to twist up like this. And he showed me a case where first the child had produced a twisted tangle like this of paper clips of one color, like the whitish sort. And then another time a type of a sort of golden color were inserted into the middle of the tangle so that they twisted and wrapped around the ones in the whole tangle. So he showed me the result of that, so all of these things. So he said, “Well, these things happen and I’ve observed them myself.” So there’s another example of empirical evidence, because an ordinary scientist, if you tell about this, will say, “This is complete rubbish, I don’t believe a word of it, it’s all a hoax, there’s some normal explanation, you’re never going to get me to believe this.” And how are you going to get someone to believe this? They just don’t believe it.
As a matter of fact, it’s interesting, one question devotees sometimes raise is, “In order to prove Krsna consciousness philosophy wouldn’t it be good if we had a yogi who could perform many amazing mystical feats? We’d just have that yogi go around to the different Universities, and so on, and levitate through the air, and walk through walls, and walk on water, and materialize things, and do all kinds of things. Wouldn’t that convince them? So why don’t we do that?” So, interesting point is, it has been done, at least according to reports. There was a, this happened also in England, there was a man named Home, I think it was his name, who was what they called a physical medium. Mediums are the people who hold séances and make the table tilt and cause one’s long deceased uncle to come and give reports on the other world and so forth. So this fellow Home could do all kinds of things: he could float up into the air, he could make the furniture float up into the air with him, he could make ectoplasm come streaming out and take different forms, and do all kinds of utterly weird things – and do it in broad daylight also, according to reports. Supposedly, sometimes he would float outside of his hotel window and hover over the street and float back in, and scientists observed these things, for example Crookes of the Crookes tube.
Let’s see, who were some of these other people? What’s his name, who invented the evolution theory along with Darwin? What was that guy’s name? Wallace, that’s it. He observed these things; also I think Becquerel, who discovered radioactivity, and he also observed these things. So a whole bunch of scientists actually witnessed these things, and this fellow Home gave demonstrations in many different places. He traveled to America and gave demonstrations of the same thing. So that’s already been done, but what impact did it have? Who believes it? You can read the reports today but they’re just ink on paper. No one believes it, so it had no impact whatsoever. The people who actually saw it believed it, at least some of them did. Others, I don’t know what they did, they rationalized it somehow, and the other people in the scientific world who didn’t directly see it didn’t believe one word about it. So the yogi technique has already been tried; it won’t work.
A: Well yeah and that of course was in days when they believed in things like that, back in the old Roman days. Nowadays they don’t bother to kill the person because the person doesn’t provide a threat. Actually Jesus presented a considerable threat because people tended to believe all those things back in those days, but nowadays in the scientific era you don’t even have to bother killing the person; you just don’t believe them.