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Lawrence LeShan's "Clairvoyant Reality" as William James's "Revelation of Veridical Reality"


The “Clairvoyant Reality” of pioneering psychologist Lawrence LeShan and medium Eileen Garrett, reprinted here in honor of LeShan’s recent passing at age 100, may well be the understanding of the “veridical revelation of reality” that William James proclaimed would not be found “in this generation or the next”.
Lawrence LeShan’s and Eileen Garrett’s “Clairvoyant Reality” as
William James’s “Veridical Revelation of Reality”
Jonathan Bricklin
In his 1895 Encyclopedia article on “Person,” William James began with its etymological
origin as “mask,” and ended with a striking way to investigate the vast “unknown regions” all
person-masks concealed. He informed his general-reader audience that “psychology” was, in
fact, “just beginning to recognize this investigation as an urgent task.” (James, 1984, 321) The
task was the serious study of mediums. The nascent science of psychology was, indeed, “just
beginning” to take an interest in mediums, but the urgency, as it turned out, was for discrediting
mediums and those who took them seriously, especially James himself. Fifteen years later, in
the last year of his life, the beleaguered “Father of American Psychology” conceded (in his
essay “A Suggestion About Mysticism”) that the “ordinary psychologist”—far from taking
mediums seriously—disposed as “bosh” or “rubbish” “abnormal states of any kind”; and
whatever urgency James himself had felt for investigating abnormal states of consciousness had
been downgraded to a sober prescription for future generations to “keep an open mind and
collect facts sympathetically.” (James, 1910, 1285)
Born 10 years after James died, Lawrence LeShan was precisely the sort of open-minded,
sympathetic fact collector James had in mind. LeShan’s 6 decade collection (he died last year at
age 100) not only includes compelling experiments in support of psychical phenomena — such
as telepathy, psychometry, and precognition — a significant portion of them were done in
collaboration with a medium, Eileen Garrett, who had also collaborated with J.B. Rhine, and
later founded the Parapsychology Foundation. While parapsychology is still considered, in
LeShan’s words, “a collection of facts in search of a theory,” his own theory of a “clairvoyant
reality,” formulated in collaboration with Garrett, and published in his groundbreaking 1969
Monograph, Toward a General Theory of the Paranormal (later republished in his 1974 book,
The Medium, the Mystic, and the Physicist), may well be our best guide to that collection. It may
also well be the best answer to the question posed by James at the end of that same Mystical
Suggestion essay, a question about “alterations of consciousness” that, he said, “we will not
understand…either in this generation or the next”: “Is…consciousness already there, waiting to
be uncovered, and is it a veridical revelation of reality?” (James, 1910, 1280)
The specific alteration of consciousness that prompted James’s question was
precognition. Like Merlin plunging Excalibur into stone for the future king of Britain to extract,
James, in the last year of his life, had embedded this most baffling of all psychic phenomena into
its most challenging setting—the ultimate question it invokes. For me, Lawrence LeShan and
Eileen Garrett qualify as Arthur with their “clairvoyant reality.” Published 60 years after Jame’s
challenge, it even fits his “not in this generation or the next” timeline for “understanding.”
A I tried to show in my book The Illusion of Will, Self and Time, there are other plausible Arthur
candidates, before, during, and after James’s time, from Parmenides to Julian Barbour, including
James himself. (Bricklin 2015) Significant and relevant understandings, in fact, surrounded
James at the time of his future-targeted challenge. All of them, like the clairvoyant reality,
embraced as “veridical revelation” a universe that James was the first to describe, albeit
disparagingly, as a “block”.
Minkowski’s 1908 spacetime, for instance, derived from Einstein’s 1905 special
relativity, clearly corroborated “…already there waiting to be uncovered” as a “veridical
revelation.” And while Einstein was slower than Minkowski to convert his relativity into a block
universe “fourth dimension”—the conception that was to earn him the unresisted nickname
“Parmenides” from Karl Popper—both Minkowski and Einstein were themselves preceded by a
friend of James: the mathematician Charles Hinton, creator of the tesseract. In 1904, the year
before Einstein’s annus mirabalis, Hinton published a book elaborating ultimate reality as a
Parmenidean block universe, fully crediting Parmenides. The book was entitled The Fourth
Dimension—a term he had introduced in an 1880 essay “What is the Fourth Dimension?” James
got his own personal introduction to this proto-block universe in an 1895 letter Hinton wrote
him, depicting “time as the fourth dimension,” where “matter had another dimension which is
experienced by us as duration,” “an obscure intuition…from the side of inner experience—which
the description of the world as known to science leaves unsatisfied.” (Skrupskelis, 89)
James’s psychical research colleague Sir Oliver Lodge—who would live to have an
extended, complicated, ongoing debate with Einstein about the not-as-easily-dismissible-as-it-
first-seemed ether (Rowlands), had also theorized a viable block universe. In 1891, the same
year Einstein got his first geometry book, Lodge wrote: “events may be in some sense in
existence always, both past and future, and it may be we who are arriving at them, not they
which are happening.” (Lodge, 554) This same “equal presence” of past, present, and future,
expressed by James’s beloved colleague Josiah Royce, delightfully tormented James in their
playful, but earnest exchanges, and no doubt contributed to James’s end-of-life concession to its
plausibility. (Bricklin, 2015, 244-245) Finally, James may well have been influenced by the
most renowned time denier of his (and, still, our) time, John McTaggart. In the same year as
Minkowski replaced “time” with spacetime McTaggart (famous for his A series/B series denial of
linear time, but whose mostly ignored permanent relations C series was ready-made for
spacetime (Bricklin, 2015, 249) wrote:
It doubtless seems highly paradoxical to assert that Time is unreal, and that all statements which involve
its reality are erroneous. Such an assertion involves a far greater departure from the natural position of
mankind than is involved in the assertion of the unreality of Space or of the unreality of Matter. So
decisive a breach with that natural position is not to be lightly accepted. And yet in all ages the belief in
the unreality of time has proved singularly attractive. In the philosophy and religion of the East we find
that this doctrine is of cardinal importance. And in the West, where philosophy and religion are less
closely connected, we find that the same doctrine continually recurs, both among philosophers and among
theologians. Theology never holds itself apart from mysticism for any long period, and almost all
mysticism denies the reality of time. (McTaggart, 457)
Indeed, as much as James held out for a “pluralistic mysticism” that did not deny actual time
(with actual effort), he too knew well that his pluralism was mysticism heresy, as well as an ill-fit
for the most widespread mystical experience acknowledged by religions East and West:
divination—the first “unclassed residuum” that James listed as “broadcast over the surface of
history.” (James, 1897, 681) He also knew, through the same direct source that Einstein first
knew—Ernst Mach—that it was no longer scientific heresy to reject Newton’s “equal flowing
time”. (Bricklin, 2015, 214-215) (While there is no indication that Einstein ever influenced
James, James’s collaborative radical empiricism exchanges with Mach may have indirectly
influenced Einstein.)
For the “consciousness [not consciousness and matter]…” part as “veridical revelation of
reality,” there was James’s metaphysical suggestion of sciousness (consciousness without
consciousness of self) as prime reality (Bricklin, 2007), with no matter “behind physical
phenomena.” (James, 1890, 304) This radical skepticism about “self” and “matter,” “traversing
common sense,” (ibid.) was also shared by Mach, who traced his commonsense traversal from a
moment in his late teens, “decisive for my whole view” in which “the superfluity of the role
played by [Kant’s noumenal] ‘thing in itself’ abruptly dawned on me”: “On a bright summer day
in the open air, the world with my ego suddenly appeared to me as one coherent mass of
sensations, only more strongly coherent in the ego.” (Banks, 11) The seminal quantum theorist
Max Planck, 52 years old when James made his future generation appeal for an understanding,
also regarded matter as “derivative from consciousness”—a belief corroborated by the most
striking aspect of quantum physics, the “observer effect”. According to Planck: “We cannot get
behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing,
postulates consciousness." (Jammer, 19)
Thus the formulation of James’s direct challenge to us today to try to “understand” how
the future might already exist, merged the foundations of 2 nascent theories in his own time—
relativity and quantum physics—whose complete merger was to become the quest of the
Century. A quest, I believe, that would do well to consider the clairvoyant reality as a “veridical
revelation,” blending the deepest insights of mystics, physicists, and, yes, mediums.
Lawrence LeShan’s and Eileen Garrett’s “Clairvoyant Reality”
in a Table of Comparison with “Sensory Reality” (Leshan, 1969, 58-60)
Sensory Reality Clairvoyant Reality
1. Objects and events separated in space
and/or time are primarily individual and
separate, although they may be viewed
as being related in larger unities.
Individual identity is essentially illusory. Primarily, objects and events
are part of a pattern which itself is part of a larger pattern, and so on
until all is included in the grand plan and pattern of the universe.
Individual events and objects exist, but their individuality is distinctly
secondary to their being part of the unity of the pattern.
2. Information comes through the senses
and these are the only valid sources of
Information is known through the knower and object, being part of the
same unitary pattern. The senses give only illusory information.
3. Time is divided into past, present, and
future and moves in one direction,
irreversibly from future, through now,
into the past. It is the time of one-thing-
Time is without divisions, and past, present, and future are illusory.
Sequences of action exist, but these happen in an eternal now. It is the
time of all-at-once.
4. An event or action can be good,
neutral, or evil, although its
consequences often cannot be seen until
long after the event.
Evil is an illusion, as is good. What is, is, and is neither good nor evil,
but a part of the eternal, totally harmonious plan of the cosmos which,
by its very being, is above good and evil.
5. Free will exists and decisions that will
alter the future can be made. Action can
Free will does not exist since what will be is, and the beginning and
end of all enfold each other. Decisions cannot be made, as these
be taken on the basis of will. involve action-in-the future, and the future is an illusion. One cannot
take action but can only participate in the pattern of things.
6. Perception can be focused by the will
in any desired direction, unless it is
externally blocked, and thus specific
knowledge can be acquired.
Perception cannot be focused, as this involves will, taking action, and
action-toward-the future, all of which are impossible. Knowledge
comes from being in the pattern of things, not from desire to know
specific information. Perception cannot be externally blocked since
knowledge comes from being part of the All, and nothing can come
between knower and known, as they are the same.
7. Space can prevent energy and
information exchange between two
individual objects unless there is a
media, a thing-between to transmit the
energy or information from one to the
Space cannot prevent energy or information exchange between two
individual objects, since their separateness and individuality are
secondary to their unity and relatedness.
8. Time can prevent energy and
information exchange between two
individual objects. Exchanges can only
take place in the present, not from
present to past or from present to future.
Time cannot prevent energy or information exchange between
individual objects, since the divisions into past, present, and future are
illusions, and all things occur in the “eternal now.”
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