Black Swans and Other Challenges to Comfortable Reality
Once upon a time . . .
There was a great kingdom that prided itself on being the smartest, the most logical, and the greatest at absolutely everything.
And indeed, the kingdom was rich and powerful and received lots of grant money donated from everyone important. The philosopher-king who ruled this magical land noticed one day that every time he saw a swan, it had white feathers. After consulting with his Truth Committee, he found that every single member agreed: No one had ever seen a swan with anything except white feathers. Thus, a theory was born:
All swans are white.
This theory was duly recorded in the Annals of All Truth for the kingdom. Once thus inscribed, it was added to every textbook in the land, so that all children were thoroughly trained in the principle—one hesitates to say “dogma”—that all swans are white.
One day, a naughty little girl listened to her teacher state that all swans are white. The little girl thought about that, then she stuck her grubby little hand into the air.
“What is it, Brunhilda?”
“What if they’re not? I mean, what if all swans aren’t white?”
Horrified by such heresy, the teacher set little Brunhilda to writing “All swans are white for sure” a thousand times. Brunhilda did as required, muttering all the while, “I still don’t believe it.”
Fast-forward decades later. Brunhilda is now out in the wilderness where she hears a swan honking from a pond nearby. Sneaking up on the pond, she peeks through the bushes . . . and sees a black swan!
At that point, she knows that she has toppled orthodoxy.
The point of this story is that if you have a theory that all swans are white, it takes only one confirmed sighting of a black swan to realize that the theory is incorrect.
This is the state of science today. Current scientific orthodoxy holds the theory that psychic phenomena are “impossible.” With this theory held as “truth,” any claims to the contrary are ascribed to hoaxes, frauds, mistakes, delusions, or hallucinations.1
As with the theory that all swans must be white, if any single psychic skill is demonstrated proven, it topples scientific orthodoxy that all psychic phenomena are impossible.
This book is an attempt to topple that scientific orthodoxy.
Please note, Brunhilda did not have to demonstrate that all swans are black, or even that black swans are particularly common. To disprove the theory that all swans are white, she only needed to find a single black swan.
Like many people, and certainly like most people trained in the hard sciences, I, too, grew up believing that all swans are white, that psychics were all jokes, hoaxes, and charlatans— fun entertainment, but with nothing real about them. I studied physics—as hard a science as there is—and spent a career in computer science, focusing primarily on artificial intelligence and neural networks. Things don’t get much more logical and down-to-earth than that.
The problem is, when I started experiencing odd, inexplicable effects, I had to choose from three alternatives. I could dismiss my experiences as self-delusion, trickery, or imagination; I could decide I had lost my mind and tipped over the edge into psychosis; or . . . just maybe . . . I could have found a Black Swan.
Since by most reports people seem to believe I’m a moderately normal, functioning adult, I do not believe I’m psychotic.2 On top of that, my Black Swan hasn’t been a single event, but a bevy of Black Swans. They’ve come one right after another. They’ve come in whole bevies, flocks, herds of Black Swans. Some have come with hard physical proof.
It’s pretty difficult to throw away the amount of data that I’ve accumulated from personal experience. In fact, the experiences are so compelling that I’ve had to completely change my perspective about almost everything I thought I understood as orthodoxy.
With that said, I also recognize that my personal experiences are compelling and convincing to only one person—me. No one else can possibly trust these experiences as meaningful evidence, because they were not generated in formal scientific protocols or under rigorous scrutiny. In fact, the only person who knows exactly what happened and what didn’t happen is me.
I’m like little Brunhilda. I’ve seen my Black Swans and I know that current orthodoxy is wrong. Unfortunately, I also know that just as Brunhilda’s word about what she has seen in that pond isn’t sufficient to convince the philosopher-king to change the Annals of All Truth, my personal experiences, no matter how ardently I protest their veracity, will convince no one else that my Black Swans exist. To accomplish that, I need harder proof. And that hard proof is what this book is about.
In the chapters that follow, I’ll guide you through a handful of the Black Swans I’ve seen. I’ll tell you why I personally believe in these Black Swans, mostly because I’ve personally experienced them. But, recognizing that you’ll need more proof than my personal stories, I’ll also show you that each one of these Black Swans is supported by an extensive array of scientific evidence. In other words, you don’t have to believe my stories. While I hope you enjoy them, and that they enliven your journey, you don’t have to believe a single word I tell you about what happened to me. Instead, I ask you to believe the many scientists who have spent years of their lives and risked their professional careers and reputations to investigate the possibility that not all swans are white.
Over the following chapters, I’m going to invite you to observe eight separate Black Swans. There are other Black Swans out there that I won’t discuss, of course, and to some degree, the ones I’ve chosen to discuss are those that have most intruded on my life. I could have included several more topics, but only at the risk of making this book excessively long and unwieldy. But here’s a sneak peek at the beautiful Black Swans you’ll meet in these pages.
The First Black Swan is psychokinesis, more specifically spoon-bending. I start there because whenever I do a workshop, I nearly always make time for a spoon-bending exercise. People love doing it. (And, yes, in my workshops they don’t watch me bend spoons. I pass out spoons and forks and have the participants do it themselves. It’s way fun.) Furthermore, it’s something people remember; it sets them up for a good time. And . . . well, you’ll read all about it in the next chapter.
The Second Black Swan is remote viewing. This is the skill that the CIA and the military spent more than twenty years developing by supporting a group of “psychic spies.” You may think you know all about that program, and you may think you know that it was “discredited.” If you believe that, I think you may find yourself quite surprised by what the evidence really shows about the effectiveness of remote viewing.
The Third Black Swan is energy healing. This is a Black Swan that surprised the heck out of me when it impinged on my life. As you’ll learn in the stories I share about this particular skill, though I had learned to respect several other psychic skills, when healing showed up in my life I was completely blown away. Happily, there’s a substantial body of evidence that supports psychic healing and, interestingly, the ability of prayer to affect the outcome of health crises.
The Fourth Black Swan is telepathy, and, as a related skill, something I call “telempathy.” The dividing line between these is subtle. I consider telepathy the ability to read another person’s thoughts. Telempathy, a word I coined, is the ability to read another person’s emotions. To me, telempathy is easier to believe in, but as it turns out, the scientific evidence is pretty clear that telepathy works, too.
The Fifth Black Swan is animal telepathy. This Black Swan is near and dear to my heart. Like many of you, I’m a pet owner. Or rather, I should say I am proud to be allowed to share my home with my cat. I grew up with dogs and love them dearly, too, but in recent years I have switched to cats as my companion animals.3 I find animal communication with my cat is both very real and amazing when it happens. In this chapter, you’ll learn that there are some surprising experiments that provide good evidence for the ability of animals to read our minds, at least some of the time. Don’t believe me? Read the chapter.
The Sixth Black Swan is precognition. If you thought it was hard to believe in animals reading your mind, when it comes to looking into the future, you may decide that is even wilder.
But as it happens, there is solid scientific data that demonstrates that we absolutely do have proof that we can look into the future. (I don’t use the word “proof” lightly, by the way.) You might be surprised by this chapter, but I hope you’ll be open-minded enough to read it.
The Seventh Black Swan is survival after death. Yes, that’s right. I’m going to address the question of whether any part of us survives after death. To put this in perspective, I used to be absolutely convinced that there was no chance that anything survived the death experience. As a good little scientific materialist, I was completely convinced that death meant the cessation of everything. No heaven, no hell, no ghosts, no nothing. Death merely meant you just . . . stopped. I tell you some part of what has changed my mind about this, and then I review the solid scientific evidence that demonstrates that some part of us—a spirit, a soul, something—survives death.
The Eighth Black Swan is reincarnation. Yes, that’s what I said. Reincarnation. By that I mean exactly what you think I mean: the whole prospect of having more than one life. In this chapter we take a look at cases where children remember lives they’ve lived before, and we consider how credible these cases may be. This again is a topic that once would have surprised me. Fifteen years ago I would never have imagined myself writing anything in support of reincarnation—that was simply far too strange for me. As it turns out, however, when I measure the outrageousness of the concept today, it’s . . . not so much.
After considering each of these eight Black Swans, I recap what we’ve learned in chapter 9. I summarize the evidence presented and offer my own generalizations for what they imply about how psychic phenomena operate. No, I don’t present a theory that attempts to explain how they work—I leave that to the professional physicists and theoreticians like Ervin Laszlo and Amit Goswami, who are working on such theories. These and other very smart men and women will no doubt eventually succeed and lead us into a better understanding of how the universe really works.
In the chapters ahead I have had to winnow through the available evidence. There are dozens and dozens of papers in each of these subjects that, for lack of room, I have had to leave out. I tried to find interesting, solid research projects, and wherever possible, I looked for experiments that maybe haven’t been publicized as much as others. A glance at the reading list will show you that there is far more research out there than I have discussed, or could discuss in less than a one-thousand-page tome. With occasional exceptions, I limited my list of papers to only those published in the past ten years or so.
Because most people don’t have access to the libraries where most of these academic papers can be found, however, I have also included a Recommended Books list. These are books that are favorites on my personal bookshelf, and all of them should be available in regular bookstores or libraries. All are well written and good reading.
Finally, experience has proved to me that many people who read a book like this will want to explore their psychic abilities for themselves. (And, yes, you do have psychic skills, even if you’ve never experienced them so far. If I can do these things, so can you.) Thus, I’ve provided some interesting resources that you can follow up on if you like.
Most of all, though, I hope you find this book fun and entertaining as well as informative. Although I take the subject seriously, the last thing in the world I want to do is bore you into submission. Instead, I hope you’ll be entertained, enlightened, and set free to go discover your very own Black Swans. Reading about other people’s experiences won’t convince you of anything.