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Not Second Sight, But First Sight

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There is a new theory about your mind -- about where your decisions and experiences come from before you are aware of them. This theory has solid science behind it, and it suggests that there is a lot more going on in your mind than you realize.

Parts of this theory are familiar. Research has told us that brain events stand behind every thought we think and lead to them. And we have learned that many implicit psychological processes precede our experiences too, processes like subliminal sensations, stored memories and long-term values. These things aren't conscious in themselves, but the unconscious mind uses them to help lead to whatever we do become conscious of.

A difference about this theory, called "First Sight," is that it assumes that a much bigger domain of unconscious information stands behind experience. This includes things that are beyond the reach of our senses -- it includes the extrasensory. And it assumes that this reference to extrasensory information is not rare, but that it is continual.

First Sight brings in what is popularly called the "paranormal." It is different from previous ways of thinking about the paranormal in that it shows that our use of extrasensory information is actually normal and helpful, although unconscious. No "para" is needed anymore. This theory leads us to an expanded idea of our normal psychology.

I am the author of this theory, and while I have mainly had a career as a clinical and research psychologist, I have also had an abiding interest in ESP. My mother started it for me by having many experiences that suggested bursts of unusual knowledge. She would sometimes just know when something bad happened to one of our relatives in another state. Then a phone call or letter would usually come along and fill in the details. Once when the family was in deep trouble and she was exhausted from worry, she had an odd vision that reassured her. A man who looked like Santa in a business suit told her that the family would be alright and would be moving to a town that was two towns divided by a river with no water. A few weeks later, my dad got a good job in Las Vegas, N.M. -- a divided town that fit the description.

While my mother's experiences probably stimulated my interest in ESP, they also provoked my skepticism. I couldn't see around corners, and she generally couldn't either. I didn't know what to make of these aberrations. I believed that science should be able to sort it out.

Experiences like my mother's are not particularly rare. According to polls, most Americans believe that ESP is real, and most think that they have had at least one such experience. A number of laboratories around the world have been studying these things rigorously for over a century and much information has accumulated about them. This knowledge has remained mostly on the edge of science because it has been hard to square it with the rest of our understanding of human functioning.

I have been increasingly troubled by the gulf between our growing knowledge about ESP (and related ideas such as telepathy, precognition and psychokinesis, together referred to as "psi phenomena") and the rest of our understanding of how we tick. First Sight brings them together.

My major thesis is that psychic abilities such as ESP -- long considered to occur only in "gifted" individuals or on rare traumatic occasions -- are, in fact, ongoing subconscious processes that continuously influence all of us in making everyday decisions. As the model's name implies, these common abilities should not be regarded as an incidental "second sight" but as a critical "first sight," an immediate initial contact with information not otherwise presented to our known senses. And just as we are not typically aware of other subliminal or incidental stimuli that impinge upon us and influence us in myriad ways, so too we typically remain unaware of this extrasensory information and its influence. Subliminal primes lead us to experience related things more quickly and more emotionally than we otherwise would. Psi information does the same.

I develop this point of view in First Sight: ESP and Parapsychology in Everyday Life, published by Rowman & Littlefield. Predictions from the model are held up against our knowledge both in parapsychology and in mainstream research in cognitive psychology, social psychology, personality/clinical psychology and neuropsychology. The model organizes the parapsychological knowledge very well, and helps resolve several puzzling inconsistencies. It also shows that our unconscious use of non-local information is essentially continuous with how we use other kinds of implicit information. ESP, memory, subliminal perception, implicit physiological responses to emotional events and many other things all follow the same tacit rules. No need for "para."

The model tells what psi is for. It's for helping to implicitly guide us in forming each thought and decision. The theory spells out how and when non-local information can be expected to turn up in our experience and behavior and when it should not. The research facts fit these hypotheses well.

The model also tells us where psi fits into personal experience. When are we likely to experience it, and how might we develop this aspect of ourselves? Some of the things that make experiencing psi more likely include an openness to it as a source of information, an open and non-analytical state of mind, and a great need for the particular information. Remember the time my mother had an experience of a town that she didn't know of yet, but to which we would be moving? She believed that ESP was real, she was too exhausted at the moment to be analytical about her experience, and she really needed to know something reassuring and true. These are some of the crucial ingredients and they opened up a moment of expanded knowledge. First Sight is intended to help us learn more about this hidden side of our minds.