Monday, May 28, 2018

On Having One's Mind Blown

by Michael Grosso:
How does somebody with a Ph. D. in philosophy from Columbia University come to believe in impossible things like flying friars?  I’m often asked what got me interested in all the weird stuff—events that seem to break the familiar laws of nature.  Some folks might just be naturally curious.  But what I’ve seen is that people open up as a result of some mind-blowing experience.  Example after example could be trotted out to illustrate.

I won’t try to define the criteria for such experiences, except to say that fundamental ideas about how reality works may be shattered. Let me describe an experience of mine that had such an effect on me. It was April 23, 1971, about 11 PM, a clear night in Greenwich Village, New York. I was in my apartment on the top floor (6th) at 14 Bedford Street, listening to John Coltrane’s “The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” with my girlfriend. It was the week I had to defend my dissertation at Columbia University, which was about the Myth of the True Earth in Plato’s Phaedo.

Thinking of nothing in particular, I go to the window and suddenly see before me a cluster of dazzling lights in the sky, flying back and forth in apparent rhythm with Coltrane.  Jane comes to the window, sees same; lights do their dance for us, then shoot straight to the dome of our Lady of Pompei, about three blocks north.  They stay motionless, pulsing light (at us, it seemed); then bolt away north and vanish over the Empire State building. Stunned, we went up the roof and ran into Louie, a young guy interested in Coltrane—he saw what we saw, noted its noiseless character, and a pattern in the lights, which he described as pyramidal. 

Three of us saw the thing.  The way it moved in space was more cartoonish and surreal than physically credible. I would call it a close encounter of a telepathic kind.  It seemed to know we were listening to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost (a very intense jazz composition), and proved it by flying to the dome of Our Lady of Pompei, where it pulsed and beamed at us, and then vanished.

I don’t believe it was a vehicle from outer space, but more like a tearing open of physical space and something bleeding into our reality.  What it was to this day I’m unable to say, and why it appeared that night, I don’t know.  But something out there knew what we were doing—listening to that music—and was signalling us.  Somehow Louie was involved whom I had just turned on to Coltrane.  It was Jane’s birthday (Shakespeare’s too, by the way).  I was scheduled to defend my dissertation, and get my Ph.D., which meant I could call myself “wise,” i.e., “Doctor.”

I wondered if somebody out there had a message for me: “Well, Grosso, now that you’ve been officially declared doctor, EXPLAIN US!”  

The effect on me was lasting.  It intensified my desire to dig more deeply into the world of anomalous experience.  Actually, I’ve had many encounters that contradict ingrained beliefs about reality, for example, precognition and levitation. The one severely challenges our concept of time; the other our idea of agency.

For three reasons my recent focus has been on levitation.  1) The phenomenon corresponds to an archetypal yearning for flight, space, freedom.  2) It is a radical challenge to assumptions about the limits of mind, i.e., physicalism.  And 3), the evidence for the phenomenon, though seemingly rare, is abundant and compelling.

I prefer concrete examples like Joseph of Copertino (1603-1663)--the best, single case history I know of that illustrates a kind of archetype of supernormal performance. Here we have a real story of an amazing “super hero.” 

In fact, extraordinary phenomena keep emerging in every period of history, including the present.  Objective research suggests that startling powers are latent in all human beings, but to see this we have to battle our way through the dogmas of science and religion.  What these phenomena may imply for us human beings is the question.

If you are in or near New York City, I’ll be talking about all this on June 22 at the New York Open Center. Join me.

New York Open Center
22 East 30th Street
Phone   212 219 2527


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