Dr. Jim Carpenter's First Sight theory

Approaching Infinity

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We discussed Carpenter's book "First Sight: ESP and Parapsychology in Everyday Life", on two recent Truth Perspective episodes:
I'll write out a basic summary here. There will be more to come - I just want to get down some of the more basic concepts first.

Carpenter argues that psi (i.e. ESP and PK, and all variations) is the "leading edge" of consciousness. That is, psi is the unconscious mental processes that the mind uses to construct all conscious experience and behavior. It is an essential component of all experience, in addition to sensations and thoughts of various types, like goals, memories, imagination, and values. It operates similar to, and perhaps identically to, normal unconscious mental processes that scientists are aware of and accept as real, like subliminals or primes. Primes are sensory stimuli that affect the body, emotions, and thoughts without the subject's conscious awareness. Just as our conscious thinking uses conscious intentions, unconscious thought operates according to unconscious intentions. Psi is the expression of these unconscious intentions combined with the information gleaned from beyond the boundaries of the senses. For example, PK events often express the unconscious emotions and intentions of the PK subject as in poltergeist cases (ESP information is also always important in one way or another, even if it's just to score a hit in an ESP test).

Psi has an expressive, 'afferent' side (psychokinesis) and a receptive, 'efferent' side (ESP). PK specifically is the expression of nonsensory information (e.g., in meaningful behaviors of physical objects or systems), and ESP is the impression of nonsensory information (e.g., in the form of meaningful images, dreams, hunches).

First Sight theory is based on two fundamental premises:

1) Mind is unbounded in nature, and interacts unconsciously with an "extended universe of meaning" in time and space, actively and receptively.

By unbounded, he means that there is no clear edge between the mind and the wider world. The two are coextensive, yet each mind is still individual. The unconscious mind is constantly scanning and grasping for relevant meanings in a vast sea of nonsensory information in order to create conscious experience and meaning that is relevant to the organism in question. Carpenter writes:

By way of introduction, we can say that we propose that organisms exist and transact continually in an extended, nonlocal universe, that the mind thinks unconsciously about all of these transactions along with other unconscious transactions, that this unconscious thinking produces consciousness and other goal-directed experience, that all such thought serves the need to predict and control a personal future, and that empirical elucidations of the rules of unconscious thinking must include an articulation of the patterns governing psi processes.
Organisms are not stimulus-response machines, and mental processes are not mechanical and impersonal in nature; they are always personal and goal-directed in nature. Thoughts don't mechanically proceed from one to another. Rather, each thought is chosen after consulting all the relevant information in accordance with an aim. This process is only 'mechanical' to the degree that it occurs unconsciously. But even then it is a purposeful, intentional process. Carpenter writes:

Experiences and behaviors are caused by unconscious processes, but these processes are not impersonally mechanical. They are highly personal, always guided by one's particular unconscious intentions, goals, and aversions. What makes our experience? We do, but we do it unconsciously.
This is also what Jordan Peterson is talking about when he points out that we do not perceive facts. Something mysterious weights some of the facts as more important than others. We wouldn't be able to perceive ANYTHING if we weren't able to somehow weight things according to a hierarchy of value. It's how we perceive objects, sense things to be important, and choose (consciously or not) to behave in this particular way as opposed to all those other particular ways. It is a constant holistic process of selecting the aspects of reality that are relevant, and the action to be taken based on the strongest intentions of the moment.

2) Experience and behavior are made up of purposeful, unconscious processes acting upon multiple streams of information (theoretically ALL information), which the unconscious mind is constantly scanning and evaluating. This process is mediated by unconscious intentions and contextual appraisal, that is, those things which are personally desirable and beneficial in the specific situation. And it does this rapidly, holistically, and efficiently, bringing only the most useful information to consciousness and behavior. It prepares the organism for what comes next, anticipates, and points in a particular direction.

There are several corollaries of the theory that will have to wait for another post.

Carpenter breaks down the construction of consciousness into four phases:

a) nonsensory anticipation (and/or elicitation). He likens this process to that of a prophet - he knows something is coming. In this phase, all nonsensory information is rapidly evaluated in terms of how likely it is and its relevance (he calls this 'weighting'). In essence 'everything' is reduced down to 'this one important thing'. This is the function of psi, to orient us toward this or away from that, to impel us in this direction or that direction.

b) subliminal sensation. He likens this one to an artist, sensing the vague impression that something is interesting. Intention is focused on the relevant sensations, preparing the body and mind unconsciously for what is to come.

c) sensation. This is the scientist, who focuses on the relevant sensory data and attempts to construe it.

d) perception/experience. This is just the ordinary person, experiencing a complete perception as we all know it.

Carpenter gives an example, in reverse chronological order:

D. I see X (an attributed understanding of an experience), and I think about it.
C. Just prior to that, I experience a collection of sensations that I attempt to construe.
B. Just prior to that, sensations register subliminally.
A. Just prior to that, an extrasensory anticipation of the event (and/or a psychokinetic elicitation of the event) initiates the perceptual process.
Those are just some of the basics. More later. But overall, what he is saying about consciousness is that its purpose is to focus on the most useful thing at any given moment, and that usefulness is judged in terms of the intentions of that moment. There will be more general, universal intentions, as well as more individual ones. For example, he gives his view on the more universal ones:

In the case of human beings, it is more adequate to think of these needs as "intentions" rather than blind "forces".
1. We want to continue to live, and to live happily and freely, so we also want to avoid potential danger, pain, and confinement.
2. We want to maintain harmonious and fruitful relations with our interpersonal network, so we also want to avoid conflict, shame, and guilt.
3. We want to maintain adequate control over our circumstances and a well-functioning predictive understanding of events, so we also want to avoid confusion, identity diffusion, the invalidation of core constructs, and a loss of freedom to explore and investigate.
You could say we have some basic biological, emotional/social, and cognitive values and intentions. These guide our perception and our behaviors (which is not to say they are always correct).

Thinking of consciousness in these terms has wide implications, as Carpenter shows in the book, and even in areas beyond what he writes about. For instance, it has implications for basic cognitive processes: attention, memory, association, creativity, perception, values. As well as personality development and psychotherapy (pathogenic beliefs caused by trauma, mental illness, knowledge of self through the understanding of unconscious intentions and potentially changing those unconscious intentions and beliefs). And of course for psi itself: what is it, what is its function, how does it work, why does it present in the ways it does (often allusive or metaphorical in nature), and how does it relate to other aspects of psychology. And wider issues: what does it imply for things like evolution?
 

Approaching Infinity

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One of the main points Carpenter makes for psi is that it is never conscious, just as primes are never conscious. The psi process itself is completely unconscious, and all we ever see are inadvertent behaviors or images (again, same with primes). You might ask a person why they do something after being subliminally primed, and they'll have no idea why - they might come up with a reason, but they won't know the real reason. Same with psi-influenced behaviors. "Why'd you do that?" "Not sure!" And even in the process of psi experiments, the subjects are simply guessing. Unless they're highly trained, their 'hits' will not be experienced any differently from their 'misses'. They're just guessing, though their guesses may be significantly above chance.

When the process of creating a conscious experience proceeds normally, psi is essentially invisible, because it has been incorporated into what is actually experienced. For example, there might be a nonsensory awareness of a person coming through a door, who you then SEE with your eyes. (Another important point: psi isn't just pointing out what to attend to, it is also actively telling the mind all the things to ignore.) Or the nonsensory prime for an action, like picking up a plate, which your body then DOES. The only time we see psi is when this process cannot complete. So for instance, if a loved one dies in a distant location, this is highly meaningful to the subject. But they cannot use their senses to 'confirm' the nonsensory data. In which case they might have a significant dream, an apparition, or some significant event will take place (e.g., something associated with the loved one moves, breaks, or acts oddly). Or, if an action cannot be completed, it will seem to take place without the person's conscious, bodily participation, e.g., the plate moves on its own. On PK:

If psychokinesis is unconsciously expressive behavior, then it also functions as an inadvertent statement of our unconscious intentions. The only difference from other unconsciously expressive behaviors is that it occurs outside of the physical boundaries of the organism. Instead of an odd act of clumsiness resulting in an accident and expressing an unconscious sense (perhaps) of guilt, a meaningful picture falls from the wall, expressing the same inner condition.
There are all kinds of inadvertent behaviors that can express subconscious intentions and nonsensory information: slips of the tongue, accidents, dreams, mental images, feelings. But his main point is that we're never SURE of what they mean like we're sure of what we're actually seeing. We can merely interpret the SIGNS of psi. Nonsensory information by its very nature is vague, because it is prehended unconsciously. It's the conscious mind's role, in league with the senses, to confirm whatever is presented in that initial phase of seeking meaning/relevance. What happens is that the nonsensory information evokes potential meanings - metaphors, essentially. Carpenter writes:

In that marginal awareness, psi information is not transformed into something fragmented or metaphorical, although it might appear to be; it preconsciously alerts us to classes of potential meaning that help us to interpret the sensory events to come, and these activated classes of meaning can sometimes be glimpsed as such. When expressions of these activated classes of meaning are later compared to the initiating stimulus in the full light of consciousness, they may seem metaphorical or fragmented: a bear may have aroused an image of some other kind of animal or some other kind of danger, a line of windows in a building may have evoked an image of a row on a checkerboard, or a scene of an automobile accident may have stirred up an imageless sense of repulsion. Those expressions occur when the mind chooses to attempt an interpretation of preconscious experience prior to obtaining clearly interpretable sensory information. The expressions will seem partial and allusory.
This is why psi-derived information is often symbolic in nature: it can only alert our minds to things 'like' it. And one of the findings is that memory is very important here. If you have a lot of experience of the thing you are getting information about, the image will be clearer (like Joe McMoneagle remote viewing buildings very accurately - because he's a draftsman and has a ton of experience with building layouts). Even then, it won't necessarily be perfect, as in the examples above (e.g. getting the image of a "threatening animal", even if it's not a bear).

Another way he puts it is that nonsensory data arouses implicit questions. The mind forms hypotheses, and tests them by scanning for confirming evidence. Psi asks/proposes, sensation answers/responds.

Carpenter writes:

Our unconscious psychological processes seek to construct reliable experience and to perform adaptive behaviors, all in accord with our basic needs and our intentions. Direct sensory experience of events and our sensory awareness of trusted others - the things they say and imply by what they do - are our most reliable sources of information for constructing experience and behavior. The mind will turn naturally and habitually toward them when they are available. This is why intense engagement with the purely implicit information of psi is normally short-lived. The mind moves automatically and quickly on to what it understands to be most reliable.
In other words, the reason we're so 'locked' into our senses most of the time is because sensory information is usually the most relevant at any given moment. And it's only in those moments where it is not, that psi can be expressed in the 'anomalous' forms typically associated with it. (But again, remember that according to the theory, psi is actually going on all the time, anticipating sensory information with its nonsensory precursors, and initiating all actions through the preparation of the brain and body for action.)

In cases where sensory information is missing, or vague in nature, the conscious mind needs to guess based on what it potentially COULD be. So we might see things that aren't there (a shadow becomes a person for a moment), because sensory data isn't clearly available as confirming evidence. Carpenter gives the example of the onset of schizophrenia as what happens when the 'confirming' part of this process is somehow blocked. Schizophrenics see meaning in EVERYTHING, as if all sensory information is vague and they need to latch on to one particular meaning to make sense of what are really innocuous events. Carpenter writes: "Such sustained confusion and sense of ineffable, implicit meaning do appear to result in the person consulting inadvertencies and trying to wrest meaning from them. The need for meaning, for an explanation, can be agonizingly strong." They might even be psychic some of the time! But he points out that even some famous psychics seem to have become that way because of brain damage. But in general, the state of mind most conducive to this sort of experience is one of openness or uncertainty.

I think this is what's going on when you have a strong, deep QUESTION. If there is a mystery that truly baffles you, and you want to know, the answer may come to you. Just as when you pray for an answer to some problem. "What am I doing wrong? What should I do?" You may not like the answer, but in the right state of mind, it will come to you. Carpenter also calls this state of mind "suspended cognitive closure". Non-anticipation?
 
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Approaching Infinity

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This is why psi-derived information is often symbolic in nature: it can only alert our minds to things 'like' it. And one of the findings is that memory is very important here.
And this is also why learning (continual knowledge input) is so important! Our mind can only work with what we give it. And the more knowledge we have, the better prepared we are to pick up on the subtle signs and nuances of reality, and thus the better prepared we are to choose the best course of action in any given moment.

In cases where sensory information is missing, or vague in nature, the conscious mind needs to guess based on what it potentially COULD be.
Another implication here has to do with pattern recognition run amok. In the face of vague, contradictory information, we will seek to construct a picture of what's going on. But that picture will be influenced by our biases and intentions. The more you do it, the harder it is to stop. Just think of the actor theorists. Or Trump Derangement Syndrome. Or any other number of examples. And remember that it's not just other people who do it. We ALL do it to one degree or another.
 

Joe

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Interesting book by the sounds of it, thanks for the summary. Does he say anything about what part of the mind does the sensing of the extended universe of meaning?
 

Joe

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Another implication here has to do with pattern recognition run amok. In the face of vague, contradictory information, we will seek to construct a picture of what's going on. But that picture will be influenced by our biases and intentions.
Not just by biases and intentions, but by a lack of knowledge, as you mentioned previously. The theories of 'actors theorists' are, to a significant extent, based on their lack of knowledge about basic physics and human anatomy, among other things.
 
Thanks Approaching Infinity.

I have listened to the two Truth Perspective episodes and gleaned some understanding from them. I tried to read the book but found it very heavy going for my level of understanding. Your above entries are helping me to add to the two episodes and especially your examples of what exactly he means at certain points are very very helpful. Thank you very much
 

Approaching Infinity

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Interesting book by the sounds of it, thanks for the summary. Does he say anything about what part of the mind does the sensing of the extended universe of meaning?
Not specifically - that would get more into philosophy, which he doesn't really do. I think what he MIGHT say, is that that is simply the nature of mind, whatever mind happens to be. Whitehead, from whom Carpenter borrowed the term 'prehension' (by way of psychologist Harold McCurdy), also had a similar view as Carpenter, though he came at it from the direction of physical science and philosophy, not parapsychology. He argued that there must be a form of nonsensory perception in order for sensory perception to be possible, and that it must underlie sensory foundation and apply to the most fundamental units of reality. He argued that the 'mind' which senses the extended universe is the "mental pole" of any "occasion of experience", i.e. the mind of any organism, large or small. I guess you could call that the most basic or fundamental part of the mind, but that's about as specific as you can get.
 

Approaching Infinity

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Funny how something that is undoubtedly fundamentally scientific is deemed 'philosophy'.
Not sure I get your point. What exactly do you mean by science and philosophy? I think Collingwood described it best: science makes abstractions from concrete reality, which pretend to be knowledge but aren't. In practice I think that means observing events in the material world and attempting to interpret those observations. A scientific theory will try to account for the observable facts of 'concrete' reality, but the theory and practice of science itself will both depend upon philosophical presuppositions, like the nature and reality of mind, reason, freedom, etc. Science doesn't deal with that level of analysis; philosophy does. So when it comes to mind, we can experiment and measure mental effects (i.e., the effects of intention on our physical bodies and the physical world), but science can't tell us much about the mind in and of itself.

Collingwood also called philosophy self-consciousness, i.e. the mind knowing itself. If you're studying mind, you're studying your own mind, and by extension, absolute mind. Maybe you could also call that 'spirituality' or religion in its best form, but not science. Science studies concrete 'facts' - philosophy studies the mind that does science (among other things). I'm not sure you can have a real 'science' of mind, at least not with prevalent definitions of science.

Take the unconscious phenomena Carpenter describes. The mind can't be directly observed when studying external reality, only its effects in the material world, e.g. events from the level of neurons to the overall behavior of organisms themselves, which express the mind's intentions. You can set up experiments, and make observations and measurements of the observable expressions, but any description will inevitably be an interpretation of those signs. You can come up with a theory that coherently accounts for the phenomena studied, but that too will depend upon philosophical presuppositions. And it still won't be a direct study of the mind, which can only be 'observed' within.

But maybe I didn't understand your original question. You asked which part of the mind Carpenter thinks senses nonsensory reality. Which 'parts' did you have in mind as potential candidates? And how to you envision a science of mind?

Your description of the book makes it sound like a combination of ideas from 'the field' and 'thinking fast and slow'.
Yeah, but much more than that, too. For the most part, the book is an in-depth study of the parapsychological literature (and 'ordinary' psychological research in areas that overlap), with particular reference to creativity, fear, memory, extraversion, and other factors that seem to facilitate psi, as well as on experimenter effect, and 'beyond the lab' applications, like in everyday life and in psychotherapy. The stuff in the posts above is just the basis on which the rest of the book builds as it looks over all the scientific data and shows how the theory accounts for it. (Those two posts cover some of my notes for the first 70 or so pages out of around 400).
 

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You can come up with a theory that coherently accounts for the phenomena studied, but that too will depend upon philosophical presuppositions. And it still won't be a direct study of the mind, which can only be 'observed' within.

But maybe I didn't understand your original question. You asked which part of the mind Carpenter thinks senses nonsensory reality. Which 'parts' did you have in mind as potential candidates? And how to you envision a science of mind?
The main problem science has in this area is often ignoring the area aka not coming up with theories and calling it "philosophy" as a kind of insult. Via things like the 8/11/18 session, science could be thinking about DNA antennas. You could also have consciousness models with bound information structures in both the brain and at the Planck scale (cosmic mind). Science unfortunately tends to use imprisoned knowledge in these areas so developing these ideas optimally gets left to the very few.
 

Joe

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But maybe I didn't understand your original question. You asked which part of the mind Carpenter thinks senses nonsensory reality. Which 'parts' did you have in mind as potential candidates? And how to you envision a science of mind?
I meant that he describes how psi works 'scientifically' within the human being and that it is the 'root' of sensory perception of an extended universe of meaning, but then (by your account) does not go further to theorize what physical (I presume) parts of the brain do this sensing because it would be 'philosophy'. I was just noting that there is likely a physical component to the 'sensing' and that there is, therefore, no reason to consign that to 'philosophy'.
 

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Carpenter doesn't speculate on the neuroanatomy of what's actually sensing the nonsensory reality. However he does give four reasons why he doesn't in a chapter called "First Sight, Parapsychology and Other Branches of Science", located near the end of the book:

There are several reasons for this omission, none of which imply any lack of appreciation for the importance of this kind of understanding. First, meaningful scientific work on preconscious processes that is more psychological than neurophysiological is also ongoing and growing in a healthy way. It is worth focusing upon it in its own right. Second, little research has been done on neurophysiology and psi, so not much is known yet. And third, the very phenomena adduced by parapsychologists seems to involve, by their nature, connections between person and world (prehensions) that cannot be reduced to the psychophysiological functions of the brain [...]

Even if a scientist is not a reductionist in regard to mental processes, he or she may reasonably want an account of psi phenomena that is elaborated in terms of known psychophysiological processes. First Sight is a psychological model and not a neurophysiological one. but it could be congruent with such neurophysiological accounts as these continue to develop and are specifically applied to psi phenomena.(pages 401-402).
 

Approaching Infinity

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I meant that he describes how psi works 'scientifically' within the human being and that it is the 'root' of sensory perception of an extended universe of meaning, but then (by your account) does not go further to theorize what physical (I presume) parts of the brain do this sensing because it would be 'philosophy'. I was just noting that there is likely a physical component to the 'sensing' and that there is, therefore, no reason to consign that to 'philosophy'.
Ahh, that explains it. When you used the word 'mind', I was assuming you were talking about non-physical 'parts'. (I consider mind and brain to be distinct but related phenomena.) Hesper provided a good quote giving Carpenter's reasoning. I'd just add that according to my understanding, preconscious prehension is also 'pre-physical'. It is non-physical mind that does the scanning, and then non-physical mind that spurs the physical organism into action (the 'artist' phase described in my post). The action of mind on the brain is a "first act", i.e. PK. So like he says, there may be a neurophysiological correlate to this influence of mind on brain, but research hasn't been done yet. I have a hunch it might be better to look for it in more holistic brain activity (like the Conscious: Anatomy of the Soul guys do) as opposed to distinct brain regions.
 
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