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Real Magic

Prominent researcher and synesthete says real magic is frontier science.

Dr. Dean Radin by Stéphane Allix.
Source: Dr. Dean Radin by Stéphane Allix.

Dean Radin, Ph.D., has pursued the most mind-boggling fringes of science — ESP, telepathy, and other wonders — earnestly and with excellence for decades. He is the chief scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) in Petaluma, CA, a next-level research and educational organization founded by the late astronaut Dr. Edgar Mitchell. Dr. Radin also worked on the United States government's top-secret psychic espionage program, known as Star Gate.

His new book, Real Magic (Harmony, April 10), is a triumph of an open mind over limitations. As his publisher points out, what was magic 2,000 years ago is scientific fact today. No less than Brian Josephson, Nobel Laureate in Physics and Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of Cambridge, calls it, "A thought-provoking book. The author makes a convincing case for the reality and significance of magic.”

His publisher states: "Radin has spent the last 40 years conducting controlled experiments that demonstrate that thoughts are things, that we can sense others' emotions and intentions from a distance, that intuition is more powerful than we thought, and that we can tap into the power of intention (think The Secret, only on a more realistic and scientific level). These dormant powers can help us to lead more interesting and fulfilling lives. "

The book begins with a history of magic, continues on to a review of the scientific evidence for it, and concludes that magic will play a key role in the frontiers of science.

And he is a synesthete. This is our Q & A:

Please tell me about your new book.

DR: The unique aspect of Real Magic, which may end up in the occult, metaphysical, or religious section of most bookstores, is that it's really about science, and in particular what happens when science looks at the full nature of reality, including unusual subjective experience and consciousness. Because I want to promote it as a science book, I sought endorsements from my scientific colleagues, so I'm very grateful that it has been endorsed by two Nobel Laureates, a president of the American Statistical Association, a program director from the National Science Foundation, and etc. I could have asked historians, notables in the human potential arena, and ceremonial magicians for endorsements. But there are plenty of books available from those angles. This one is different.

Can you tell me about your early experiences with synesthesia? What form did you have? When did you notice it?

DR: I didn't realize that tuning my violin strings according to their colors was unusual. The E string was a clean silver, A was ​a pleasant blue, D was a rich orange, and G was an earthy green. When the string was at the right pitch, the color also carried a feeling tone, hence terms like clean, pleasant, rich, and earthy. I think I was always aware of this, but I noticed it as a "thing" when I learned in my late teens that not everyone experienced sounds this way. This combined sound-color-feeling sense was not always welcome. I recall practicing my violin one day and becoming aware of something intrusive and "off." I tracked that feeling to my mother, who was in a room on the other side of house, quietly humming to herself. The just barely audible humming, blocked by multiple walls and closed doors, felt so "loud" to me that I couldn't practice. To this day, if I'm listening to music, and there's other music or just a rhythm beat playing somewhere else, even very far away, it drives me to distraction. I don't think I outgrew this, because when I place my attention on intonation today, I can still re-evoke the same colors and feelings. One of the consequences is that it makes listening to live performances difficult, because off-pitch playing and singing in live contexts is fairly common. It's not as bad for studio recordings, because editors can (and do) fix pitch in post-production.

Where IS synesthesia, anyway? Is it fifth dimensional in any way, since the related colored forms or other impressions sometimes projected outward cannot be touched, and yet we "see" them?

DR: I imagine most of it involves somewhat unusual cross-connections in the brain. Some aspects of this phenomenon might extend beyond the brain​, but I don't think it's necessary to go that far.

Do you think having synesthesia when you were young "opened you up" to unexpected experiences?

DR: No, because I don't recall having any of the classic psychic experiences​ when I was young, and nor did anyone else in my family. In hindsight, I suppose I was highly sensitive and empathic (as many young children are), but not in a way that today I would call psychic. I was attracted to parapsychology mainly out of curiosity. I was always curious about everything, and I've never found anything more curious than phenomena like psychic phenomena because they tell us that something about our common-sense understanding of reality is missing something important. Of course, this is also what mystics have been trying to tell us throughout history, so I've learned to pay close attention to that literature as well.

I have heard that synesthetes make excellent remote viewers. Can you confirm that, and if so, why is it so?

DR: I haven't looked into this in any detail, but I have heard similar claims. If I had to guess, I would say that synesthesia tends to amplify the ordinary (and possibly the non-ordinary) senses, because there are multiple ways for the same source of information to reach conscious awareness. As I mentioned above, such heightened sensitivity might sound like fun, but it is often annoying. I have always been drawn to quiet and calm environments to avoid becoming overstimulated, and I avoid crowds, because I find them to be exhausting. ​

Are we at a crossroads in science? Does your new book signal the death of materialism?

DR: Science is always advancing into new territories, so what I'm proposing in Real Magic is just part of that evolution. Today's version of materialism is still quite robust, and it will likely remain so for a long time, because it's very effective for learning about certain objective aspects of reality. But materialism doesn't cover the whole territory, and that's where we're seeing rising interest in expanding our scientific worldview to embrace what philosophers have called idealism. Real Magic explores the challenges of fitting psychic, mystical, and magical experiences into the scientific worldview (which is only a few hundred years old) by carefully considering the wisdom of the esoteric traditions (which are many thousands of years old). It's in that ancient lore, most of which is still vibrantly alive today, where we find clues about the next big advancements in science. Those advancements will entail a change in our basic assumptions about reality. Consciousness will be placed front and center, rather than relegated to the far fringe as a meaningless epiphenomenon, which until recently has been a basic tenet of academic psychology and the neurosciences. This change will also leave existing scientific disciplines pretty much in the same state they are today, so we won't need to throw away our textbooks. But we will begin to view reality in a more comprehensive way, one that will more easily accommodate commonly reported experiences that have been dismissed as merely "anomalous," or worse, as "woo-woo."

What is ahead for IONS? So many exciting programs...

DR: We are in the process of selecting a single focus, where the seven senior scientists and three research assistants on the science staff will work together on a "moon shot" research program. We will all continue to work on our personal interests as well, but we think that combining our skills on one project will leverage our combined expertise in a unique way. We have also started the IONS Discovery Lab, where we'll be taking data on the roughly 5,000 people a year who attend workshops at our retreat center. The goal is to learn more about the effects of training in meditation, yoga, healthy eating, learning about ecology, and the many dozens of other workshops held at the IONS EarthRise retreat center. Anecdotally, we know that the majority of people really enjoy their retreats, and some even report powerful transformative experiences. But now we're going to track their experiences more formally, eventually including biomarkers and physiological measures. After a few years, we'll have developed the largest database available on the mental and physical health effects of transformative practices, and also on psychic abilities, as those are among the measures we're taking.

Do you still play the violin?

DR: Only in my mind. I know how much time it takes to ​get into and stay in performance shape, but I have so many other interests and demands on my time that I'm letting the violin rest until I can return to it in earnest.

Dr. Radin has conducted research at AT&T Bell Labs, Princeton University, University of Edinburgh, and SRI International. He is also the author or coauthor of over 250 technical and popular articles, three dozen book chapters, and three books, including the bestselling The Conscious Universe (HarperOne, 1997), Entangled Minds (Simon & Schuster, 2006), and the 2014 Silver Nautilus Book Award winner, SUPERNORMAL (Random House, 2013).

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