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 Conversations Toward a New World View: Era Three Medicine 
 
Interview with Dr. Larry Dossey MD
   as interviewed by Russell E. DiCarlo

Let me tell you why. These non-local manifestations of consciousness--among which prayer is one type--display characteristics that are not displayed by any known form of energy. For example, prayer, transpersonal imagery effects, an so on, are not a function of the amount of distance a person is from their target. These activities are just as effective when done on the other side of the earth as when they are done close up. All known forms of energy display something called "The Law of the Inverse Squared" which means that the farther away from the source of the energy you get, the weaker the energy becomes. Prayer doesn't do that. Transpersonal imagery effects don't demonstrate that principle of physics either. Robert Jahn's data at Princeton doesn't display dissipation with distance. Furthermore, you can put the object of the prayer in a shielded Faraday cage lined with lead, which for all practical purposes shields out electromagnetic energy of all types, and the prayer still gets through. The transpersonal imagery still works.

What I am saying is that the psyche has ways of manifesting far beyond anything known to materialistic science. You need to get a feel for what's at stake here. The reason that many of the dedicated materialistic scientists are so infuriated over the mere discussion of prayer and distant healing, is that it really begins to call into question their world view. It calls into question the adequacy of materialistic science, upon which these people have staked their careers, self-identity and self-esteem. And when you begin to question somebody's world view, that's more inflammatory than making derogatory comments about their mother. It generates tremendous animosity and really draws a line in the sand. If the data is right, then the materialist's model of the universe is inadequate. It's down to that. That's why you see people libeling and slandering other people over these issues in the scientific journals. These are really fighting words, and that's why people get angry about them.

DiCarlo: In a lot of respects, I would guess that a lot of researchers in this area have been forced into a catch-22 situation. Prestigious scientific journals will not even publish the research, and if an individual is not able to publish, they are essentially put out of business. No money for further research will be available.

Dossey: It's slowly changing...if it were all as intractable as it seems at times, things would never change. But historically, science and medicine have been dynamic and world views do change. Thomas Kuhn's work at Harvard regarding paradigms demonstrates this. Up to a point, everything seems secure and people are locked-in to a particular world view, but gradually the exceptions that just don't fit the prevailing world view tip the scale. And when the scale gets tipped, the paradigm switches rather rapidly. I personally get the feeling that the data is mounting up inexorably on the other side of the scale. The tip is visible in the not-too-distant future. I just think you can never put this genie back into the bottle. According to Kuhn's model of scientific revolution, it's predictable that the critics and the skeptics are never more vocal and hostile than right before the switch in world views.

Right after I began to attract the attention of cynics, materialists and skeptics in medicine, I pulled a book off my shelf called "Garrison's History of Medicine" which was written back in 1929. It's one of my favorite books. I went back and I looked at the way the great medical authorities of the day treated Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was among the first to suggest handwashing. He was vilified for proposing the silly idea that washing your hands could cut down on the incidence of infections and death following childbirth, in spite of the fact that there was supportive scientific data which had been collected from the hospital. It showed that the practice of physician hand-washing tremendously lowered the death rate following childbirth. The data was in, yet in spite of that, this man was unbelievably hounded by other leading orthodox obstetricians.

This kind of response never changes. It has been played out time and again in the history of medicine. You are seeing it again here, and I will tell you, it will probably make the objections to hand-washing look very tame in comparison. You have world class researchers and a great many other philosophers saying all this stuff is silly. And they will claim that they have carefully looked at the data and it's all baloney. What we have is a basic disagreement. Although this may not be perfect science, I believe that a great many of these experiments are so clean and tight, with such great controls that you can take them to the bank. Look at it this way, if just one of these 130 experiments that I mention in the book is right, the materialists viewpoint is bankrupt.

DiCarlo: Marcel Truzzi , a self-acknowledged skeptic, suggests that the focus needs to be on the preponderance of the evidence, not simply isolated studies. Would you say that the preponderance of the evidence in the studies that you have researched indicate that prayer works and that the prevailing materialistic paradigm is inadequate?

Dossey: Yes. I would emphasize the word inadequate. I don't want to say invalid. We haven't thrown away Newtonian physics just because quantum physics came on to the scene, but it certainly did show Newton's view was incomplete. I love Truzzi's phrase, "preponderance of evidence". There is variation in all areas of scientific work. I don't care what area it is. All the studies in any given field never show exactly the same results and this is true in the 130 experiments I have identified. Over half of them showed statistical significance that something phenomenal was going on. But the skeptic will say, "Ok, well look. Half of them show significance, but half don't. Trash the whole thing." That's not fair. That's not the way science is played. One must look at the preponderance of evidence.

In any given field, one looks at the most precise and accurate experimental protocols. You don't look at the experiments that are not as well designed. You look at what the best-designed studies show. And I would be willing to say that the best studies in this field offer the best evidence. They show the most powerful effects. Actually, there are about three or four areas of parapsychological research which have been subjected to "meta-analysis" a powerful form of statistical analysis by people with world-class reputations like Robert Rosenthal at Harvard. Rosenthal has made a career in figuring out how to do this kind of analysis in tough subject areas. He was invited to analyze parapsychological studies by the National Research Council (NRC), which is a materialistically-oriented organization,which was putting together a report on human performance. After looking at several areas in the parapsychological literature, Rosenthal concluded that the level of quality of the research in those areas was extraordinarily high. This so angered the NRC that they asked him to withdraw his statement in their report. He refused and they eliminated it anyway. This is an example of the ends to which people will go to keep the prevailing paradigm propped up. Physicist Max Planck, commenting about the controversy surrounding quantum physics around the turn of the century said that, science changes funeral by funeral. That's a clever way of stating that some people are never going to change their mind.

DiCarlo: What evidence exists to support the assertion that a new paradigm is emerging within the field of medicine?

Dossey: You can get a feeling for the profound changes taking place within medicine by looking at Dr. David Eisenburg's 1992 Harvard survey which found that over 60 million Americans went to alternative therapists that year--one-third of the adult population. That sounds like a huge shift to me.

DiCarlo: It's interesting that a lot of the change that is taking place in medicine is occurring through forces outside of the medical profession.

Dossey: One of the great examples of that is the way the Office of Alternative Medicine became established within the NIH. It came about as a result of outside political pressure. Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa was the prime advocate. And I think it's still true that most doctors within the National Institute of Health wish that this office didn't exist and would go away. But it has been established by order of law. It really is a landmark development and it does illustrate your point.

DiCarlo: What is the purpose of the Office of Alternative Medicine?

Dossey: First of all, it is not an advocacy group. It's not advocating anything. It's purpose is to dispassionately evaluate alternative forms of medicine in this country to see if further exploration is warranted. It's intended to apply science to areas of therapy other than drugs and surgery, which typically get evaluated within the rest of the NIH. It really is a window of opportunity to take a look at therapies that otherwise would not be evaluated.

We want to see what will shake out. There are basically three questions that we must ask of any alternative therapy:

  1. Does it work?
  2. What's the downside or side-effects?
  3. Is it cost-effective?

And that's the role of this office. It's not to advocate anything.

DiCarlo: Are there certain assumptions that we have about ourselves as human beings that your research would tend to reject?

Dossey: Yes, I think we have been laboring under some fairly dismal and erroneous assumptions about ourselves. The most erroneous assumption is that we are separate individuals. By definition, if something about minds is non-local and there aren't any boundaries around them, at some level there cannot be some five and one-half billion individual minds walking around on the earth all safely separated from one another. At some point, they are one. This was the point that was put forth by Erwin Shroedinger back in the 30s--a Noble Prize-winning physicist.

Now, I would propose to you that if people could really "get it"--that at some point we really are not separated but instead we share identity at a certain psychological dimension-- this would constitute a radically different ethical and moral imperative. It could have the effect of reducing a lot of international anger and war. Why would you want to go and make war on another individual if at some level you and they were the same? I think this raises brotherhood and sisterhood to a new level. It takes it out of the dimension of just being nice towards another person. It really does take it out of the level of metaphor to the level of fact. It makes it very, very real.

I think that this could have a transformative effect on business. For instance, as a natural urge, why wouldn't you want to make the very best possible product for another human being, if at some level you and they were the same? You are not doing this for somebody who is totally different and isolated from you. You are doing it for yourself, to yourself. This makes literal for instance, the Golden Rule imperative, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Why? Because at some level they are you. And so I think you can see how non-local implications of mind reverberate through virtually every human activity we can think of.

DiCarlo: Are there any other limiting assumptions many of us tend to have?

Dossey: I think that a lot of people in this culture have been deeply brutalized by the false assumption that there are only two ways you can live a life and you have to choose one or the other. You can choose to be intellectual, rational and scientific on the one hand, or on the other, you can live your life intuitively, spiritually. It's being either the scientist or the artist or mystic and there is no way to get those two abilities together in your life. This schizophrenic assumption has caused immense suffering for people in this culture and I think that's a false divide. If you look at the implications of these prayer studies for example, where you can show under laboratory controlled conditions that things like empathy, compassion, love, and caring can make a difference, and that there is some aspect of the psyche that is eternal, non-local, immortal--spiritual if you will-the fact that we can show that scientifically suggests that this great divide between science, religion and spirituality is false.

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