IONS Scientists Explore Discoveries in Human Consciousness at Bahamas Symposium

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IONS Scientists Explore Discoveries in Human Consciousness at Bahamas Symposium

Created date

22 March 2018
Arnaud Delorme

Earlier this month, Cassandra Vieten, Helané Wahbeh, Jonathan Schooler, and myself made presentations at the Symposium on Human Consciousness at the Vivenanda Ashram on paradise island near Nassau in the Bahamas. More than 200 participants from the ashram attended our sessions. Ashram participants are college graduates from all around the world interested in yoga and eastern philosophy. They are not necessarily devotees, although a core group of about 15 staff members are devotees themselves. It was therefore an enthusiastic and receptive audience to present our ideas and research.

Cassandra Vieten, IONS president, presented research on the future of meditation project. Cassi explained how, over the last four years, a task force of meditation researchers and teachers met regularly to develop recommendations for expanding the current meditation research field to include these important, yet often neglected, topics. These meetings led to a cross-sectional online survey to investigate the prevalence of a wide range of experiences in 1,120 meditators who responded to an internet survey. Results showed that the majority of respondents reported having had many of these anomalous and extraordinary experiences. While some of the topics are potentially controversial, we look forward to subjecting them to rigorous scientific investigation. These arenas represent largely uncharted scientific terrain and provide excellent opportunities for both new and experienced researchers. More information about this project is available at

Helané Wahbeh, IONS director of research, shared her research on trance mediums. She explained how the IONS channeling research program has made great leaps in many of its research questions. She presented results on a systematic review of terminology and a survey on dissociation and channeling data — the cross-sectional survey on channeling that will be distributed globally to measure prevalence (how common channeling is). She also explained how a focus group of full-trance channels was being held in March to learn about technologies, information relevant to channeling research, and about how channeling works. This is the first study of its kind to study multiple channels channeling simultaneously.

I myself presented results on medium research and accuracy of mediums in blind readings. In our previous experiment, we asked mediums to tell us if old photographs depicted individuals who had passed away or individuals who are still alive. This study was very successful and mediums were able to intuit correctly if an image contained a person who was living or deceased. This work has been published in the Explore journal. Our next study will test 12 mediums and 12 age- and gender-matched non-medium controls. We’ll ask mediums to classify face photographs as in the previous experiment. However, this time, the medium will have to indicate the cause of death and all depicted individuals will be deceased. They will have five possible choices: accident, homicide, suicide, cardiovascular, or cancer. I described the methodology and the expected results for this exciting experiment.

Jonathan Schooler, professor at UC Santa Barbara, presented a model of consciousness where subjective time and objective time are independent of each other. In his model, the angle between the two time axes represent our experience of time. A fly will go at a steeper angle than a human because time goes faster for a fly (for example, a fly can be sensitive to the fast flicker in neon lights, while a human perceives it as a steady light source). Some experiences, such as an out-of-body experience or enlightenment, could correspond to special arrangements between the two time axes, which Jonathan explained in detail. Jonathan even had a third time axis to account for free will. His model of time and free will is explained for a lay audience in the documentary Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman.

Overall, it was a very enriching symposium with lively discussions between the participants and the faculty. We are looking forward to sharing more IONS research projects and results in the future to further expand this field of research that IONS has been pioneering.


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