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Edition Eight

Interview with Dr Larry Dossey: Recovering the Soul


Dr Larry Dossey is a physician of internal medicine, formerly chief of staff of Medical City Dallas Hospital.

Retired from the practice of medicine, he lectures widely on the subject of science and spirituality.

He has authored Space, Time and Medicine, Beyond Illness, and Recovering the Soul in which Dossey calls for a re-evaluation of the long-held "world-as-machine" model of reality which, he says, has brought humanity to the brink of materialistic self-destruction.

He presents evidence suggesting an aspect of mind which defies space/time limitations and is fundamentally creative of reality. Borrowing a term from physics, he postulates "non-local" mind to account for research and experiential data which is largely discarded by traditional scientists who maintain that mind is merely a product of brain physiology. Dossey says that the model of "non-local" mind underscores the interdependence of all life, implying the need for human beings to transform the way in which they interact with one other, with the environment, and with God. Betsy Whitfill interviewed Dr Dossey for Share International.

SI. What was the genesis of Recovering The Soul?

LD. A lifelong interest in spiritual matters. One of my quests has been to make peace between the rational, analytical, linear parts of myself emphasized in my scientific education and the inner feelings and messages which are, I think, inherent in almost everyone. That's very hard to do in this culture. The message is that you have to choose; you can't do both. You have to be soft, intuitive, artistic and spiritual or you have to be linear, rational, and scientific. My task has been to harmonize those inner needs in people and in myself in particular.

This is a marvelous age in which to do that. The data one has to work with clearly points to a coming together of these two sides of ourselves. This book is an attempt to put the notion of the Soul back on the table, by which I mean the fact that the psyche is eternal, omnipresent, immortal - all those ways we have, in the West, talked about the Soul - and to fortify this idea with science. I have tried to synthesize information that is usually regarded as conflictual. I don't think it is.

SI. Why now?

LD. There is no debate that we are in serious trouble as a culture. There is an increasing sense of urgency of epidemic proportions. This is not a very hopeful time if one looks at the messages of science. It has yet to be decided if science has even been good for the human race. Science has been disastrous as far as spiritual inclinations, yearnings, and the search for meaning are concerned.

The overall message is that consciousness is a function of the brain and body. When we die, that's it. There is no meaning beyond death; there's no hope. I don't think anyone can grow up in this culture and escape the devastating consequences of living under this bleak pronouncement about the future. Globally, we see the negative consequences of soul-less scientific pronouncements, a sense of dissociation from each other and the world at large, from nature and the environment. These consequences are devastating. We must find ways to restore a sense of unity among ourselves, and between humanity and the environment, or the human race is doomed. There is no technical fix that will work without a simultaneous restoration of spiritual meaning. I see this agenda of recovering the soul as a life or death issue for the human race.

SI. The central concept here is "non-local" mind. What is it?

LD. The mind as defined in the "local mind" model used by science is considered to be just the result of the anatomy and physiology of the brain. It is fixed in space and localized in time. According to this model, local minds do not wander about; they stay fixed and at home in the present moment. It is an individual and isolated "me." I and no one else.

The non-local model is none of that. It is not confined in space and time to the brain and body, although it may work through the brain and body. And it is not confined to the present moment. Infinite, and by inference immortal, eternal, omnipresent - all of these are consequences of anything that is non-local, not just mind. As a result, if mind is non-local, there is one mind, or Universal Mind, which is identical to what the West has regarded as the Soul.

These are spiritual ideas. I have tried to fortify or justify the non-local model. The evidence is overwhelming that mind behaves in a non-local way. If one honors the data, then one must conclude that the local model is incomplete. It is a matter of being a good scientist. If you honor the data, what kind of model must you make of the mind in order to account for what is happening? The non-local model is a good one. The concept is used in contemporary physics. Physicists have already had to make their peace with non-locality. Nick Herbert wrote a book, Quantum Reality, for lay people. In non-mathematical terms, Dr Herbert describes the world as essentially non-local. It may be hard to imagine, but physics experiments have clearly shown that non-locality is the characteristic of the world at the sub-atomic level. Bell's Theorem* has proven it. Non-locality is at home in physics and since physics is the most accurate science we've ever had, we are justified in using the term to describe a similar state of being at the level of mind.

SI. You describe the universe as non-local, purposeful, intelligent, meaningful and teeming with mind. Can you elucidate?

LD. It's time to quit beating around the bush, saying there is no purpose and goal-directedness in the universe. The common way that evolutionists, Darwinians talk about the world is that it just does what it does. Period. But there are studies, even in molecular biology and bacteriology, that show there is purpose, meaning, and goal-directedness in the universe. This is the most dramatic red flag one can wave at scientists these days. There is a series of experiments by Cairns** which demonstrate this (purpose, meaning, goal-directedness).

The Spindrift Prayer Studies*** show that there is an inherent tendency toward health, toward higher organization. When one prays in a non-directed way, then people just get healthier. That sure sounds like inherent goal-directedness to me. You must either throw away the data or, if the data is accurate, conclude that there is purpose. I go for purpose. If you are going to do science, you cannot throw out data to defend the model. You must honor that data and change the model to account for it.

SI. What is the current status of the mind-brain issue in the West?

LD. Something is happening at a very deep level. I recently was asked to participate in some small, high-level conferences at Princeton University in New Jersey and at Amherst College in Massachusetts, dealing with the relationship between science and spirituality. There's an increasing recognition of the need to bring these areas together. I think this is happening at a very deep level in our culture.

SI. How can the gap between science and religion be bridged?

LD. The most important stage in the process is to recognize that there are some domains in which science cannot go. Science deals with observables, what can be recorded and replicated and validated by independent observers.

All the esoteric traditions I know of say that the Absolute cannot be seen, described, and that once you begin to describe it you have in some sense missed it. There is a dimension where our religions cannot go and where science cannot go. The synthesis may be that science simply admits its limitations and stops claiming to be the arbiter of reality and dictating what all aspects of experience ought to be like. That would be the biggest gift. The synthesis would not be a homogeneous blending of science and the spiritual. That would be disastrous. But people must know the strengths and expertise as well as the limitations and weaknesses of science and religion so that the two can coexist.

Non-local healing phenomena

SI. What is Era III Medicine?

LD. Health is not, and cannot be, solely an individual affair. If we begin to let the cat out of the bag and acknowledge that there is a non-local event going on as far as the mind is concerned, then what we call mind-body medicine takes on a new twist. What I imply is that your mind can affect my body, and my mind can affect your body. Mind is no longer seen as a single thing.

In my next book, Era Three Medicine, The New Frontier, I will try to define all of the different sorts of non-local healing phenomena we know about - things like prayer, healing at a distance, long-distance diagnosis, therapeutic touch.

There is also a class of cases I have come across called telesomatic cases. Telesomatic means "the distant body." I have about 300 of these cases. Symptoms occurring in one person are perceived by someone who is half-way around the world and doesn't even know there's anything going on. It is as if bodies can respond non-locally when there is a change in consciousness. Usually these events occur between people who are emotionally very close - between mother, father, child, between siblings or lovers and so on. There is a large body of evidence showing that non-local mental events do result in bodily changes. So that becomes a concern of medicine. It affects the flesh so we're going to have to some day engage this information.

I don't think anyone has a clear idea of what non-local medicine would look like. Certainly, it would not supplant the use of drugs and surgery and so on. It would help to dispel the idea that illness has to be an independent and lonely experience. In some sense we are in this together and illness can be seen as a shared experience. If this were taken to heart it would be a tremendous consolation to people - and might even have healing effects. Time will tell, but non-local medicine is clearly on the horizon in addition to what we do now.

Editorial notes:

* Bell's Theorem, named for its author, Irish physicist John Stewart Bell, demonstrated mathematically that the speed at which information can travel from point A to point B is not, as Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity stated, limited to the speed of light or less. Dr Nick Herbert maintains that when A connects to B, non-locally, nothing crosses the intervening space, and that no matter how far A is from B, the connection is instantaneous.

** John Cairns and his co-workers at Harvard University proved that, contrary to previous thought, genetic mutations are not always random, and that experience can educate the genetic packet of an individual cell. They exposed bacteria which were genetically incapable of metabolizing sugar lactose to an environment in which sugar lactose was their only food. Rather than starve, the bacteria mutated, thrived on the sugar lactose and passed the new characteristic on to their progeny.

*** In the Spindrift Experiments, researchers documented the efficacy of prayer in increasing seed germination rates. Under a variety of controlled conditions, the prayed-for seeds germinated faster than control groups. In fact, the more the seeds were stressed, using salt water and extreme temperatures, the faster they germinated when prayed-for. Spindrift researchers found that non-directed prayer (as in "Thy Will Be Done") was more effective than praying for a specific result. These studies demonstrate another non-local characteristic of mind - the ability to affect systems at a distance.

By Betsy Whitfill