Beliefs about consciousness

consciousnessBeliefs about consciousness

Imants Baruss

Kings University College, London, Ontario

Journal of Consciousness Studies, 15, No. 10-11, 2008, pp. 277-92

The paper comprises a study that relates (1.) the degree to which people are rational in their approach to the world, (2.) the degree to which they are curious, and (3.) their score on conventional measures of intelligence, to three main categories of belief system. These are (1.) conventional organised religions, (2.) materialism and (3) transcendental concepts involving mystical experience, altered states of consciousness and belief in such concepts as ESP and reincarnation.

The study suggests that those with transcendental beliefs are the most rational, most curious and open to new ideas and also the most intelligent of the three groups. This, of course, contradicts the normal view of the scientific community that only the unintelligent and deluded are involved with such ideas. It is further suggested that many in the scientific community are closet transcendentalists, who disguise these beliefs, for fear of damaging their careers. The study suggests that the followers of conventional religions are the least rational, curious or intelligent, with the materialists in the middle position.

Examples of common transcendental experiences or beliefs encountered by Baruss, included mystical and out-of-body experiences, belief that the physical was an extension of the mental, and that consciousness was the ultimate reality, belief in ESP and reincarnation, in understanding superior to rational thought, and an emphasis on the inner experiental world, altered states of consciousness and self-transformation. Perhaps not surprisingly, when the transcendental group were asked about their religious affiliations, they tend to classify these as ‘own beliefs’. The importance of consciousness increased across the groups from materialists to transcendentalists. Materialists tended to regard consciousness as a by-product of brain processes, for religious believers it is important, and for transcendalists, it may be viewed as the ultimate reality.

In tests designed to indicate a person’s interest in rationally understanding the world, there was a correlation between higher scores and transcendental beliefs. The transcenentalists scored 50% above those with conventional religious beliefs and one eighth about the materialists. In tests designed to indicate appreciation of sensory impression and general openness to experience, the transcendentalists scored about 10% above religious believers and about 20% above materialists. Other tests suggested that the transcendental group had a less ‘up tight’ approach to life being less worried about social recognition, risk avoidance or being well organised. Separate studies of IQ suggested a lower IQ amongst conventional believers, a middling IQ amongst conventional materialists, and higher IQs amongst the transcendental group. The authors remark on the cognitive deficits hypothesis, widespread in the scientific community, that those with transcendental beliefs are irrational or stupid. This view claims support from a 1983 study (Tobacyk & Milford), but this seems to refer more to what might be termed superstition, such as thinking that 13 is unlucky.

Finally, a survey of participants in the 1996 Tuscon II ‘Towards a science of consciousness’ conference showed a high score for transcendental beliefs. The author remarks on how little this was reflected in the relevant published literature. He reminds us that it can be difficult to pursue academic programmes, obtain tenured positions, receive funding, publish in mainstream journals or supervise graduate students without subscribing to the materialist agenda. The discrepancy between the 1996 study and the published literature is taken to suggest that there are a good number of closet transcendentalists in the scientific community.

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