'Mystic' beliefs prevalent

May 1, 1998

A news round-up from the third conference on consciousness in Tucson, Arizona

More than a quarter of scientists and academics exploring human consciousness believe that "personal consciousness continues after death", and two-thirds say they "have had an experience that could best be described as a transcendent or mystical experience".

A survey by Imants Baruss of the University of Western Ontario and Robert Moore of Regina University also found that 67 per cent of some of the top thinkers indicated that "extrasensory perception is possible", and nearly a third claimed to "have had an experience that could be best described as an out-of-body experience".

Findings of the survey, conducted two years ago, were published this week as researchers from many disciplines met in Tucson, Arizona, for the third biennial conference on consciousness.

The report found that a quarter of more than 200 respondents were unconvinced by mystical arguments, believing "there is no reality other than the physical universe", and per cent agreed that "accepted methods of science are the only proper way to investigate consciousness". More than 90 per cent agreed, however, that "introspection is a necessary element in the investigation of consciousness".

The mean age of respondents was 50 years, and nearly 30 per cent were women. More than half of all respondents had a doctorate, and a third had made presentations at the 1996 conference.

Researchers found religion to be an influential but neglected variable among academics working on consciousness through the social sciences. As expected, those indicating their religious affiliation as "none" tended towards a materialist approach.

There is a strong sexual divide in beliefs about consciousness. Women tended towards the transcendental end of the scale compared with men, particularly in relation to extraordinary experiences and extraordinary beliefs. Men were much more likely to agree with the statement "I think that others are conscious in the same way that I am conscious".

The researchers say these findings suggest that, as a group, women have different experiences from men. "It is not only a logical fallacy but also empirically untrue that the experiences of a particular consciousness researcher with regard to consciousness must be universally true," the researchers say.

The survey found correlations of beliefs about consciousness and reality with researchers' areas of interest. As might be expected, those indicating an interest in phenomenology and culture had a high degree of interest in areas tending towards transcendental considerations of consciousness, while those interested in neural explanations were more inclined towards materialist approaches to the problem.

The researchers were, however, surprised that a significant number of those indicating an interest in physics and mathematics also expressed an interest in transcendental approaches. Applied and natural scientists placed less emphasis on exploration of extraordinary experiences.

*See research papers

Research papers relating to this page can be found on The THES Internet site: http://www.thesis.co.uk

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