Reading cosmologist Martin Rees’ Before the Beginning, you come away with respect for the key role of gravitation in the evolution of the universe. According to Rees, the particular strength of gravity is as it had to be to produce galaxies and the very conditions for life on Earth. Gravity is the glue of our evolving universe, the fundamental factor of physical reality.
In light of that, the phenomenon of levitation seems all the more interesting. There are many examples and many forms of levitation. I’ve focused on a well documented case, which includes thirty-five years of reliable eyewitness testimony. St. Joseph of Copertino’s (1603-1663) frequently observed flights occurred in the complete absence of any known physical force. That’s a huge challenge to science.
Many, of course, will automatically recoil with disbelief. I attribute this to ignorance, possibly compounded by hostility to anything paranormal. I cover the testimony for Joseph’s levitations at some length in two books, The Man Who Could Fly and Wings of Ecstasy (both available on Amazon). In my view, the evidence is compelling. I cannot explain away 35 years of massive eyewitness testimony.
The question I want to ask here: why is levitation so important?
First, I want to clear something up. Some say that levitation “violates” the law of gravity, but this is not true. If I throw a baseball straight up into the air, I’m not violating gravity; I’m exerting a mechanical force that briefly works against gravity. With levitation, however, no known physical force is involved; the cause, it seems, lies in the recesses of the levitator’s mind. So it is not gravity that is “violated” but the assumption that levitation is impossible.
Levitation, if real, is of scientific and philosophical interest. Physicalism cannot explain levitation. Can a thought cause a suspension of gravity? It would be impossible, if physicalism, or materialism, were true. Levitation, a rare but natural phenomenon, supports philosophies that affirm the metaphysical primacy of mind and consciousness. Mind and consciousness, irreducible and autonomous; but also causally potent, as observed in levitation and other psychophysical phenomena.
Levitation is a challenge to physics. There must be a physics of human levitation. But how does it work? There might be help from modern physics and cosmology. Newtonian physics, mindless and mechanistic, would be no help. But, as physicist Henry Stapp says, quantum depends on the presence of the observing mind. Stapp holds that quantum physics should in principle be able to account for levitation. Cosmologist Bernard Carr thinks that concepts of higher space may shed light on levitation phenomena. The Man Who Could Fly offers a fledgling chapter on the physics of levitation. So philosophy and physics are challenged but also enriched by the phenomenon.
Levitation should also be of interest to scholars of religion. It’s a fact worth noting: among scholars of religion are few religious scholars. You are more likely to find a share of anti-religious ideologues. 18th century progressives wanted to crush the infamy of magic, superstition, and miracles in order to expedite their rationalist utopia. The ghost of this ill-conceived attitude still haunts much of the academic world.
So levitation has implications for the theory of religion; for example, for the idea of ‘miracle.’ In the seventeenth century, levitation was thought to be supernatural, god-granted or devil-inspiredc—in any case, a ‘miracle’; today we describe it as a species of psychokinesis, an anomalous mind-body interaction.
All religious structures center around a transcendent factor: the supreme way or principle, a supreme being, god or goddess; or a supreme state of being such as nirvana, ataraxy, immortality, peace beyond understanding; or a function such as prayer, divination, meditation—all ways of connecting with the transcendent.
If by transcendent, we mean extraphysical, then Joseph provides a whopping counter-example to reductive physicalism. Everything about Joseph flies in the face of physicalism. In my opinion, the challenge is how to reinstate and reintegrate the transcendent factlor in religious studies. This will require poetic imagination, along with respect for logic and matters of fact.
Levitation is a challenge to psychology. There is one extraordinary feature of Joseph’s psychology that is mostly off the radar for most people. We admire and value people who keep their noses to the grindstone, anchored to their worldly interests and duties. Joseph was the stellar opposite to this, and revelled in being “useless” and attached to nulla—nothing!
From early boyhood, our flying friar had a genius for creative dissociation, a talent for vacating his body, for getting totally absorbed in an idea, image, or sound—thus losing contact with the external world. The term for this is ecstasy.
What is it about the ecstatic state that permits apparently super-human powers to manifest? The great psychologist of higher consciousness, Frederic Myers, singled out the ecstatic state as key to our creative evolution.
Have we humans reached the peak of our evolutionary potential? Correct, that was a rhetorical question. And this, too: Can anybody think of a time more needful of our next quantum leap of consciousness?
Levitation, making light of gravity, cracks open a vista of possibilities. Add bilocation, teleportation, disappearance, materialization—all these suggest a more dreamlike physical reality. Inedia, healing power, odor of sanctity, and bodily incorruption presage our future bodies.
All the super-facts help us imagine the impossible. Strange to say, we may be evolving into what begins to look like Greek gods and goddesses. By no means perfect beings! But light years beyond the idiots wrecking life on Earth nowadays.
So there’s some good news, after all. True, the world may be coming to an end but there are real super-heroes with real super-powers. Call them human singularities-- Joseph of Copertino is a case in point.
Something else of importance; the story is about us. There is a ‘super-hero’ buried in each of us. The big question is—How do we break into the treasure trove within? How do we bring ourselves to full life?
Levitation is a huge challenge to science. It blows up the mind-body problem; poses interesting questions for quantum mechanics and concepts of higher space; raises issues about magic and miracles for scholars of religion; and radically deepens the concept of human personality. Along with other supernormal capacities, levitation may be a foretaste of our evolutionary future—on Earth, or after death, or who knows, maybe both? Everything depends on being ready to soar into the future of consciousness.