My skepticism about the benign effect of Transcendental Meditation on world events has been challenged in a three-page letter from the chief psychologist at the Maharishi International University at Fairfield, Iowa.
You may remember my quoting a news story from the Mt. Pleasant (Iowa) News reporting the university’s claim that mass meditation on campus had saved the Florida orange crop, lowered drunken driving arrests in Des Moines, influenced Fidel Castro to give up cigars, and caused the stock market to rally, among other good things.
I conceded that if we could get millions of people all around the world to sit down and meditate, instead of shooting and bombing one another, conditions would improve. But I added: “I do not believe that events outside the immediate vicinity of mass meditation are affected in any way by either the intensity or the mass of the meditation.”
I granted that mass meditation might affect events in the immediate neighborhood, especially in a small place like Fairfield, since fewer drivers would be on the streets and there would be fewer accidents.
I said it was easy enough for Maharishi to take credit for improvement in conditions after the fact, but that I might believe them if they announced in advance that they were going to meditate for a rise in the stock market, for example, and it rose.
The letter is from David Orme-Johnson Ph.D., chairman of the university’s department of psychology, director of its psychology doctoral program and co-director of its neuroscience doctoral program.
As if those credentials weren’t intimidating enough, Orme-Johnson enclosed 81 pages of statistical data purporting to prove that not only has Transcendental Meditation at Fairfield decreased crime, suicide and automobile accidents in several cities, but also that meditation in Jerusalem improved the quality of life in Jerusalem and Israel as a whole, and had a pacifying effect on Lebanon.
“Your comments,” Orme-Johnson says, “seem to have been written without having actually read any of the scientific research on the topic. Otherwise you would know that there have been a number of experiments in which the effects were publicly predicted in advance. . . .”
Orme-Johnson advises me that “we do not think of this research as having anything whatsoever to do with psychic phenomena. It is obvious that if true, and it is true, that this is the greatest discovery in the history of science. The idea is simply this. Our own consciousness is fundamentally the unified field of all the laws of nature recently glimpsed by quantum field theory. When individual awareness settles to pure consciousness it becomes identified with (is) the unified field. The unified field, like its derivatives (electromagnetism, gravity), mediates influences at a distance. If something as primitive as a TV set can detect influence from thousands of miles away, why not the human nervous system which is the most complexly organized matter known?”
The key to effective domestic Transcendental Meditation, Orme-Johnson says, is the number of meditators engaged. “The precise number of meditators needed,” he explains, “is the square root of one percent of the U.S. population, or about 1,514.”
Thus, their “time series analysis technique” has shown that on days when Fairfield had 1,514 meditators, Dow Jones increased by 1.2 points, compared with an average change of .2842 points.
The reason for this, he says, is that the meditation caused “an increased sense of well-being and optimism for the future in the business community which, among other things, would cause the market to go up.”
To affect the entire world, Orme-Johnson says, groups of 7,000 persons would have to meditate, 7,000 being the square root of 1% of the world’s population.
“We have the knowledge now to stop terrorism and international conflicts and to create an era of peace, creative and international harmony never before seen in history. All we need is groups of 7,000 . . . to do it. . . .”
Orme-Johnson adds: “We invite all skeptics to investigate our claims, to examine and verify our research and to conduct their own.”
When it comes to analyzing statistical data, I’m a moron. So I don’t know whether Orme-Johnson’s 81 pages of graphs and figures add up to scientific proof or not. I will have to turn it over to my friends in the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal.
Despite Orme-Johnson’s allegedly scientific explanations, I consider the working of a small group’s wishes on the general population through meditation to be a paranormal phenomenon.
If it is indeed the identification of pure human consciousness with the unified field, then I am mistaken.
I am not a visionary. My record is not good. If I had been living in 1890 I would have doubted that in the next century aircraft would carry hundreds of passengers across oceans at the speed of sound; that moving pictures of events would be bounced off man-made satellites in space and transmitted around the world; that men would walk on the moon.
Poppycock, I would have said.
So who am I to scoff at Transcendental Meditation?
For 35 years we have lived on Mt. Washington just across the street from the Self-Realization Fellowship, a worldwide group of Hindu origin that engages in mass meditation.
I don’t know whether we have been the beneficiaries of their meditations over the years, but they are good neighbors (meditation at least is quiet), and we have in general enjoyed a tranquil life.
I wonder if those folks at Fairfield could get 1,514 people together and meditate the Angels into a pennant this year.