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The Understanding of Consciousness in Psychology

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Parapsychology itself is the study of parapsychological experiences such experiences may include ESP, psychokinesis and phenomena suggesting survival and life after death. Phenomena orientated around survival and life after death, such occurrences may include near death experiences and reincarnation. These ‘paranormal’ experiences are not new to the modern world; research suggests that there is record of paranormal experiences dating back thousands of years. This theory and the phenomena that it entails can be identified through out ancient texts. Many parapsychologists discuss parapsychology prior to ‘the enlightenment’ as mystical, it is suggested that before the enlightenment individuals had very little distinction between what was ‘normal’ and what was ‘paranormal’.

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Consciousness and the unconscious mind has been a subject that many psychologists, of different approaches have proposed theories for. Consciousness itself is the state of being aware as an individual of your surroundings, thus acting responsibly in relation to this consciousness. Consciousness within an individual means you are able to experiences emotions and your own inner conscious thoughts. Psychology in the modern day attempts to understand consciousness from a more cognitive and biological approach, however the first look into consciousness came from various philosophical and parapsychological research and experiences. Modern day psychologists find studying the consciousness of the human mind difficult, as it is something many still do not label as scientific, due to consciousness being individualistic and very difficult to scientifically test. One point various psychologists who research into consciousness would agree on is that there is not one specific approach to psychology that can define consciousness. Thus, multiple approaches have theories and research into the understanding of consciousness.

Rogge claims that due to the progress of medical science and technology that more patients are being resuscitated from clinical death. Many individual’s claim to experience a ‘near death experience’ after coming round from an unconscious state. Individual’s state to have experienced various characteristics during their experience, however these characteristics are similar for each individual. Parapsychologist and psychiatrist Bruce Greyson created a questionnaire for the characteristics that can be measurable by a scale. Greyson identified that despite the experiences themselves being individual to each person, we are able to draw similarities between the varied experiences. Furthermore, Rogge states that “Greyson writes in The Lancet of Febr.5th 2000 after having examined all bio- and neurochemical explanations that these do not offer any satisfactory solution for this phenomenon”.

Greyson has previously published work on phenomenon of near death experiences and resuscitation. Greyson researched into near death experiences and the recovery of mental function when it was believed to have been lost shortly before death. Greyson claims that over the past two hundred and fifty years there had been reports in Western medical literature of patients on their deathbed with severe neurologic or psychiatric disorders seem to have a return of mental clarity and yet this has received very little to no attention. Greyson claims “There are cases published in the medical literature of patients suffering from brain abscesses, tumors, strokes, meningitis, Alzheimer disease and other dementias, schizophrenia, and mood disorders, all of who had long ago lost the ability to think or communicate. In many of these patients, there was evidence from brain scans, or from autopsies, that their brains had deteriorated to an irreversible degree. And yet, in all of these cases, mental clarity returned in the last minutes, hours, or sometimes days before the patient’s death”. Within Greyson’s work ‘Nature of Mind and Consciousness’ He investigated a 42-year-old male who had developed a malignant brain tumour. The individual soon became blind and bed ridden, he also began to lose his speech. Eventually he was confused in his personality and would not sleep at night. Eventually one night he began speaking again with his family and began to discuss his death for the first time. Unfortunately, later that day he stopped speaking again and the individual died soon after.

This case study claims that despite the brain was on the verge of death it still had the strength to form communication at the last stage of life. With the general consensus between psychologists being that consciousness is produced in the brain, this study complicates that hypothesis due to the individual lacking in brain activity meaning that they would have very little to no consciousness. Research such as this suggests that there is a more complicated link between consciousness and how the human brain functions.

Scientifically, to experience a near death experience individuals are classed as clinically dead; this also would mean that there is no active brain activity and a loss of consciousness. Numerous case studies suggesting otherwise makes professionals question what consciousness itself really is. Parapsychological research has helped identify that consciousness may not be as simplistic as first thought.

The case study of Pam Reynolds in Dr. Michael Sabom’s book named Light and Death, claims that Pam “underwent a rare operation to remove a giant basilar artery aneurysm in her brain that seriously threatened her life”. Pam’s heartbeat and breathing soon stopped due to complications during surgery, she was pronounced as clinically dead. During Pam’s experience she was able to float above her own body and observe what was happening in the theatre room. Furthermore, Pam reunited with family members who had already died. They told Pam that she must return to her body, she described this as easy as ‘jumping into a swimming pool’. Once Pam had regained consciousness, she was able to describe, in detail, the tools that the surgeons had used during the brain surgery. In a scientific sense, this questions everything we currently know about consciousness as we expect our brain to control our consciousness but this could not be possible whilst our brain is not functioning and clinically dead. To add, our unconscious brain cannot either hallucinate or produce images. Thus meaning there is more to the unconscious we are not fully aware of.

Parapsychologists Ring, Cooper and Tart have collected research on blind people experiencing near death experiences. Center states Ring, Cooper, and Tart studied 31 blind patients; 21 of these patients had experienced a near death experience and 10 had experience out of body experiences. 14 of the 31 blind patients had been blind from birth meaning that they have never been able to have any type of sight, whereas 17 of the subjects had experienced a small amount of sight during the past. Results found that those of the individuals who had experienced near death experiences experienced a classic type of near death experience pattern. In addition to this, 80% of the 31 blind participants stated that they were able to see during either their near death experience or the out of body experience. Center claims ‘this study is particularly important, because there is no physical explanation for the phenomenon described by it. The sight of these patients was completely impaired or almost completely impaired – in their physical bodies. Thus the only explanation for their sight would seem to be the capacity for visual perception in their transphysical state’.

Furthermore, Mango claims that Ring and Cooper’s theory suggests that the spiritual body transcends limitations of the physical body. Their theory proposes that “the blind can see because, with the physical body temporarily inoperative, the spirit within them can make use of the finer sense organs of the astral body, which presumably are perfect, to gain temporarily a kind of vision they could never have in life.” Ring and Cooper conclude that the are able to use an ‘expanded super-sensory awareness’. This model suggest the idea that there is a ‘spiritual’ consciousness within, a consciousness that exists within it’s own right.

 The findings of Ring and Cooper

A case study within Kenneth Ring and Sharon Coopers ‘Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind: A Study of Apparent Eyeless Vision’ suggest that blind people can also recall being able to see during out-of-body experiences. The case study under the name Nancy was a 41-year-old woman who went into surgery in 1991 to have a potentially cancerous tumour removed. By mistake, a surgeon cut into a large vein that sends blood to the head; the surgeon sewed together the vein that caused Nancy to become blind. Nancy claims she remembers coming round and screaming that she was blind. In a rush the nurses began to push her bed to go for an angiogram, on their way they knocked the bed into a closed elevator door. Consequently causing Nancy to have an out-of-body-experience. “Nancy told us she floated above the gurney and could see her body below. However, she also said she could see down the hall where two men, the father of her son and her current lover, were both standing, looking shocked. She remembers being puzzled by the fact that they simply stood there agape and made no movement to approach her. Her memory of the scene stopped at that point”. Ring and Cooper went on to interview both of the men involved in Nancy’s out of body experience. Nancy’s lover Leon can recall the event and confirmed the facts of the event. Ring and Cooper reported that Leon’s story was inline with Nancy’s, despite having not spoken to her for several years when the research was conducted. The findings of Ring and Cooper suggest that these visions are accurate and not just a created fantasy by the individual. “but they leave unexplained the paradox of our discovery that the rumors some of us have been hearing all these years, that the blind can actually see during their NDEs, appear to be true. Whether and how this can be so is the mystery we must next be prepared to probe”.

Of course, there are various issues with using case studies as a method of research. Most of these studies have been carried out in a retrospective view meaning that the researchers went to search for individual’s for the study, thus meaning that the participants self selected themselves to be put forward for the research. This therefore means that the individual’s may not have been representative. Of course, due to the nature of what psychologists are studying one would presume that the results could not be generalised to the whole population. However, findings show from varied interviews and case studies that identical characteristics are identified in each out of body experience.

From drawing on findings from various pieces of research we can conclude that parapsychological research has indeed had an immense impact on the understanding of human consciousness. Without the parapsychological perspective to psychology it is highly unlikely that research such as Ring and Cooper would have never been carried out, without research like this we are left to look at studies of consciousness from a neurological and biological point. As our findings suggested, there is no medical or clinical explanation for the research of Ring and Cooper plus studies and findings from other parapsychologists. In modern day psychology, certain schools of psychology are too distracted on having a process for each theory; the joy of parapsychology is the open view on varied old and new theories. 

Moving forward, many parapsychologists are still looking into the understanding of our consciousness meaning there will only be more modern and new research to come.

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