Psience Quest Interview No. 7: Bruce Greyson

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MADNESS AND ENLIGHTENMENT: RADICALLY DIFFERENT OR PARADOXICALLY SIMILAR?

Vortex: Hello again, dear Psience Quest members. Too much time has passed since I published my last interview – the one with Titus Rivas and Rudolf Smit. Since then, I was temporarily unable to make new interviews because of the worsened situation at my workplace and rapidly shrinking amount of the free time – much to my sadness.
Well, the period of my silence is over, and now I’m back here, proud to present you a new interview – one with Dr. Bruce Greyson:
https://med.virginia.edu/perceptual-stud...ysons-bio/
https://www.brucegreyson.com
I suppose that Dr. Greyson is the person who is already well-known to all active members of the forum as one of most eminent and prolific researchers of the near-death experiences (NDEs). He is undoubtedly a true veteran of the field, who not just added much to our understanding of the phenomenon, but shaped much of this understanding from the start; for example, the well-known “Greyson scale” for the measurement of the depth of the NDEs was initially formulated by him (as one can tell by its very name):
https://iands.org/research/nde-research/...scale.html
https://afanporsaber.com/wp-content/uplo...lidity.pdf
Yet Dr. Greyson’s studies in parapsychology and research of anomalous consciousness-related phenomena (that includes phenomena connected with the near-death states) will not be the only topic of our interview. We should remember that, beyond being a parapsychologist and a NDE researcher, Dr. Greyson is also a psychiatrist – the one who had a lot of actual practice of working with the patients in the state that is commonly describe as “psychotic”.
The main topic of our dialogue today is the intersection of the different parts of Dr. Greyson’s research and practice – one of psychiatrist and the one of parapsychologist. Today Dr. Greyson will tell us how these two parts of his work and understanding interact to form a united worldview.
It is a pleasure to have you here, Dr. Greyson. Welcome to the Psience Quest!

Dr. Bruce Greyson: Thank you, Ilya. I’m delighted to participate in Psience Quest with you.

Vortex: So, Dr. Greyson, let’s start with defining some basic explanatory categories, so it would be clear to all readers what we are talking about. There are five definitions that will be crucial for our discussion: psychic phenomena, spiritual experience, altered state of consciousness, psychosis and mental disorder (or mental illness? we will return to this naming problem a bit later).
Of these five definitions, psychic phenomena are probably the easiest one to explain – even if this relatively easy explanation is still not simple. I, personally, would define the psychic phenomena as verifiable mind-related phenomena that contradict the current explanatory models of materialistic philosophy and physical science – for example, by providing a subject with information inaccessible by the known sensory capabilities of the body and the logical reasoning from the data gathered by the usage of such capabilities, or by performing an action not explainable by our current models of the physical reality.
A complex definition, isn’t it? Well, the other four explanatory categories are strikingly more complex. Let’s take spiritual experience – how can we define it? I can describe it as the experience that is generally unverifiable (while it still may contain some verifiable elements, including the ones that contradict the modern understanding of the workings of the physical world as thus may be classified as psychic phenomena – yet such verifiable elements as such are not what makes the experience spiritual), is connected with the themes that may be called “mythic” or “archetypal” (or, in the most intense cases, appears to be beyond the limits of the semiotic descriptions currently available to us), possesses an exceptionally high existential significance for the experiencer and often (even if not necessarily) lead to some notable and persistent personality changes in the experiencer. One can easily notice how inclusive this definition is – the range of experiences that may be described as “spiritual” is remarkably (even, dare I to say, notoriously) wide.
But the category of the altered states of consciousness is even wider – it includes all states of consciousness that differ from the ordinary, “everyday” state of mind which is shared by most people finding themselves in not-too-exceptional life situations. And such altered states also include psychotic ones.
So, what is psychosis? For me, it was always a bit hard to define, since this category appear to be commonly used as an umbrella term for the altered states of consciousness that are: a) involuntary, confusing and distressing for experiencers themselves and/or b) put them at odds with the society in which they live. Because of personally distressing and socially disruptive nature of such altered states of consciousness they are often interpreted as “mental disorders”, or even “mental illnesses”.
Yet I always found the term “mental illness” to be dubitable – an attempt of equating the workings of the mind with the workings of the body, so the former may be viewed (and treated) as a medical problem. Such attempts are apparently based on some highly questionable assumptions of materialist philosophy – the ones that postulate that mind is nothing but a by-product of brain and body, and thus as much in the domain of (biological) medicine as brain and body are. Yet, if these assumptions are false, our understanding and our treatment of the individually unpleasant and socially disapproved altered states of consciousness is not medical, at least not in the literal sense.
And I’m pretty far from being alone in my criticism of the “mental illness” description – a lot of intelligent and knowledgeable people have similar concerns, including many “heretical” psychiatrists. Here are two short examples, by transpersonal psychiatrist Stanislav Grof (definitely known to you, Dr. Greyson) and critical psychiatrist Joanna Moncrieff:
http://www.philborges.com/blog/2013/11/0...stan-grof/
https://joannamoncrieff.com/2017/03/27/w...a-disease/
This doubts of mine, I should say, affect my understanding of the whole field of psychiatry – is it a medicine in the strict, literal sense of the word, and can psychiatrists truly call themselves medical doctors? Or is it a non-medical set of theory and practice, described as medicine because of the currently dominant materialist understanding of mind? Or is it something integrative, combining medical and non-medical elements?
And what do you think, Dr. Greyson? How would you define and describe psychic phenomena, spiritual experience, altered states of consciousness? And how would you define and describe psychosis? Is psychosis a mental disorder – and, if yes, what is mental disorder? Is psychosis an illness in a literal (bio)medical sense of the word, or is it something different? Is psychiatry a form of medicine, or a non-medicine that is only described as medicine, or something that integrates medical and non-medical elements?

Dr. Bruce Greyson:  You raise a very important point, Ilya, namely, that our definitions of these concepts are both complex and ambiguous, and are also culturally dependent.
 Let’s start with psychic phenomena, which you said were the easiest to explain. You defined psychic phenomena as “verifiable mind-related phenomena that contradict the current explanatory models of materialistic philosophy and physical science”. I agree that we use the term to describe experiences that contradict the current explanatory models of materialistic philosophy and physical science, but do they also need to be verifiable? If someone reports that he or she saw the spirit of a deceased uncle, who carried on a coherent conversation that sounded like the deceased uncle, would that not be considered a psychic phenomenon?  And yet, seeing and conversing with the deceased uncle may not be verifiable. Of course, there are experiences in which the deceased uncle provides verifiable information that no one else knew, such as the location of something the uncle had hidden. But in the absence of such verifiable details, would we not call the experience a psychic phenomenon? And if not, what do we call it? I suppose a materialist could call it a hallucination, but it is not a typical hallucination and is not accompanied by other signs of a condition that causes hallucinations. I would add here that the definition of psychic phenomena changes with the culture. Experiences that contradict materialistic models and physical science in one generation may no longer be considered psychic by a later generation with a different materialistic model and physical science. For example, phenomena like hypnosis or mesmerism were once considered outside the limits of physical science and materialism, but are no longer considered psychic phenomena.
 As you noted, a definition of spiritual experience is even more complex, and more controversial. Stripping your definition down to its most essential elements, you defined spiritual experience as one connected with “mythic” or “archetypal” themes, possessing an exceptionally high existential significance for the experiencer, and often leading to some notable and persistent personality changes in the experiencer. I think that is a good definition, but the concept of “mythic” or “archetypal” themes may be too inclusive for some people. I would say that spiritual experiences involve a sense of connection to something greater than the self, which has high existential significance and leads to profound changes in attitudes, beliefs, and values.
 Let me say a few words here about the relationship between psychic and spiritual experiences. Psychic experiences can be spiritual, for example, if they involve an apparent encounter with a divine being. But many psychic experiences are not spiritual, such as those that involve apparent telepathy between two living persons, or apparent psychokinetic movement of an object with mental effort. On the other hand, it may be that all spiritual experiences are psychic experiences, in the sense that they all involve mind-related phenomena that contradict the current explanatory models of materialistic philosophy and physical science. Again, cultural changes over time modify our concept of spiritual experiences. Previous generations required spiritual experience to involve “spirits,” defined as deceased or divine entities; but in the 21st century, we are less specific about how we define “something greater than the self, with existential significance”. Some people may describe spiritual experiences that involve encounters with the higher self, or with some form of universal consciousness, without labeling it as a discrete divine entity.
 Altered states of consciousness are defined more simply, as you noted, as any states of consciousness that differ from the ordinary, “everyday” state of mind. As you said, that is a very broad definition that includes: 1) spiritual and psychic experiences, 2) pathological experiences like psychosis and delirium, and 3) more mundane and short-lived mental states like sleep and dreaming or the exhilarating rush of a “runner’s high”. There is currently a movement among some academic researchers such as psychologist Etzel Cardeña of Lund University in Sweden and psychiatrist Enrico Facco of the University of Padua in Italy, to replace the term “altered states of consciousness” with the term “non-ordinary mental expressions”, but it remains to be seen whether that new term catches on. I think it is equally as wide a concept as “altered states of consciousness”.
 You said that the term “psychosis” is often used as an umbrella term for altered states of consciousness that are: a) involuntary, confusing and distressing for experiencers themselves, and/or b) put them at odds with the society in which they live. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines psychosis as “gross impairment in reality testing” or “loss of ego boundaries” that interferes with the capacity to meet the ordinary demands of life. Both your definition and the DSM’s are, of course, culturally dependent, as different societies have different expectations and tolerances for unusual behavior. For example, someone who regularly claims to hear disembodied voices and survives only by accepting hand-outs from others might be looked down on as psychotic in one culture but be esteemed as saintly in another.
 As for the term “mental illness”, you said that you found the term dubitable, equating the mind with the body. You thought that label implies that mind is nothing but a by-product of brain and body, and thus as much in the domain of (biological) medicine as brain and body are.  Certainly most psychiatrists consider themselves medical doctors, because they treat some illness with medications, unlike psychologists. However, most of them also treat some symptoms of mental distress with psychotherapy, which does not involve any assumption about mind and brain. In fact, recent surveys of more than 600 Brazilian psychiatrists and of almost 2,000 Belgian medical professionals found that in both samples, more than half believe that the mind and the brain are independent entities.
     Throughout history, whether people were labeled as “ill” varied with class, gender, ethnic group, and social support; and what conditions are labeled as “illnesses” has changed over time, with changing expectations of health, changes in diagnostic ability, and changes in social and economic factors. Actually, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has not used the label “mental illness” in the 70 years since the first edition was published. Instead of “illness”, which as you noted implies a biological origin, they have used the atheoretical term “disorder”, implying nothing more than a condition that causes significant distress or disability and is not an expected response to a stressful event.

Vortex: Thanks, Dr. Greyson. Now we come to the main topic of our dialogue – to the comparison of spiritual experiences and psychic phenomena with psychotic states of mind. Are they something completely different – or something that possess similarities?
As you certainly know, a lot of people who inquire into the realms of the psychic and the spiritual – including psychiatrists and other mental health professionals – hold a position that what we call “mental disorder” is in fact a spiritual emergency, a “dark night of the soul” – a crisis of the spirit that is, while indeed being deeply distressing, can become a starting point for enlightenment and (trans)personal transformation. For example, take this workshop of the Esalen Institute, by Michael Cornwall and David Lukoff:
https://www.esalen.org/sites/default/fil...adness.pdf
There is, however, a different view, expressed, for example, by psychiatrist and parapsychologist Vernon Neppe, that such attempts to describe any altered state of consciousness as a spiritual manifestation can be as reductionist as the one that claims that mental states are fully reducible to brain states. Neppe insists that we should not mix veridical psychic functioning with psychiatric disorders:
http://www.pni.org/research/anomalous/classif_art/
And, if I’m correct, this is your view as well, Dr. Greyson: we should distinguish between genuine spiritual phenomena, studied by parapsychologists, transpersonal psychologists and NDE researchers, and non-spiritual mental disturbance, that is an area of psychiatry.
If I’m not correct in my characterisation of your position, you may correct me right now, Dr. Greyson. So, do you indeed think that there is a difference between psychosis and spiritual experience – and, if yes, by what criteria we may distinguish them?

Dr. Bruce Greyson:  I do think there is a difference, but of course that depends on how you define the terms. Joseph Campbell, the renowned scholar of comparative mythology and religion, wrote that “The psychotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight.” Do mystics and psychotics share the same view of reality, the only difference being how they cope with it?  That’s hard to say without experiencing it from their perspective. But I have talked with several people with psychotic disorders who also had near-death or other spiritual experiences, and they have no difficulty making a distinction between the two. They typically say, after the experiences are over, that the spiritual experience was more real than our everyday reality, and that or everyday reality is more real than their psychotic experience.
There is an extensive literature on distinguishing between psychosis and spiritual experience.  As I summarized the distinctions in my book, After: A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about Life and Beyond, one difference is that spiritual experience are usually triggered by extreme events. Also, they are usually short-lived and happen only once, and they often happen to people who are leading normal, productive lives.  Psychotic experiences, on the other hand, can happen without any obvious trigger, tend to go on for long periods or to recur again and again, and often happen to people
with significant psychological difficulty or marginal social functioning.
Another difference is that spiritual and psychotic experiences differ greatly in how they are remembered later on. Spiritual experience are remembered vividly for decades after the event, and are often remembered as “realer than real”. Their memory doesn’t fade over time, but retains its vividness and richness of detail. In contrast, people with psychosis usually realize, after the acute experience is over, that their visions were unreal. And memories of an episode of psychosis fade over time, becoming less vivid and less detailed until they are completely forgotten, as are most dreams.
Furthermore, people who have had spiritual experiences often reexamine their experiences again and again, in order to seek and develop insight into their meaning. They often seek out others who have had similar experiencers, to share their spiritual experiences and insights. If they’re disturbed at all by their spiritual experience, it’s usually only until they can figure out how to weave the experience and its lessons into their lives.  On the other hand, people with psychotic experiences usually avoid any reminders of their unusual thoughts and perceptions and don’t seek to understand them. They generally don’t want to share their experiences, which they most often find permanently disturbing.
Finally, as perhaps most importantly, spiritual experiences usually lead to an enhanced sense of meaning and purpose in life, increased joy in everyday things, decreased fear of death, and a greater sense of the interconnectedness among all people. As a result, people who have spiritual experiences often become less absorbed in their own personal needs and concerns and more altruistic and compassionate toward others. They often have positive outcomes after their spiritual experiences, and don’t generally struggle with day-to-day life. On the other hand, people with psychosis may lose their sense of meaning in life and joy in daily activities, feel more fearful and isolated from other people, and become more absorbed in their own needs and concerns and less involved with others. Psychosis often leads to negative outcomes, including difficulty maintaining jobs and relationships, legal complications, and struggles with harmful impulses.
Of course, all these distinctions between spiritual and psychotic experiences are
generalizations, and there will be exceptions to them all. Certainly some people do learn and grow from their psychotic experiences. And some people may struggle for years to try to understand and integrate their spiritual experiences into their lives. But those are the exceptions.

Vortex: Now I want to discuss with you some more specific features that are used by the proponents of divide between psychotic and psychic / spiritual to delineate the border between these – in their view – quite different types of conditions and manifestations. Let us start with veridicality.
Many years (in fact, many decades) ago, you, Dr. Greyson, have performed a research of the psychiatric patients who claimed veridical telepathic abilities – with negative results:
https://med.virginia.edu/perceptual-stud...llness.pdf
Yet, as you knew then (and know still) as an active parapsychologist and NDE researcher, there are real cases of the people who did obtained veridical information beyond the range of common somatic sensory abilities and reasoning from the data gathered using these abilities.
More than 40 years have passed since you published this work, Dr. Greyson. As for now, what do you think – is there an identifiable difference between a genuine psychic and a psychotic with delusions involving “psychic” themes? Or veridical psychic ability and psychotic delusion may sometimes intersect in a single person?

Dr. Bruce Greyson:  I think the vast majority of psychotic visions originate in the individual’s mind. However, having psychotic visions is a result of a loosening of the usual “filter” mechanism of the brain that keeps those internally-generated hallucinations and delusions out of consciousness. And I believe that when that usual “filter” mechanism of the brain is loosened, the individual can also access higher realms of consciousness, the realms of genuine psychic or spiritual experience. If I am right about that (and I cannot claim with any certainly that I am right about anything!), then it is possible for people in a psychotic experience to access genuine psychic or spiritual phenomena. But I do not think that that happens often. So I think that there are identifiable differences between genuine psychic or spiritual experiences and most psychotic delusions with “psychic” or “spiritual” themes, as I listed earlier – but that on rare occasions, someone having a psychotic experience may access genuine psychic or spiritual realms of consciousness. I realize that might not be the kind of “neat” answer you wanted, but I think it reflects the real world – which is also not always what we wanted.

Vortex: Now, Dr. Greyson, we will pass from more-or-less clear area of veridicality into the much more nebulous and controvertible area of the non-veridical spiritual experience – and here the real problems begin.
Let me remind you and the readers of the definition of the non-veridical (parts of) spiritual experiences: they are altered states of consciousness, experiences that are outstandingly existentially significant for the experiencers, often (but not necessarily) have deep and strong transformative impact on the them and either employ “mythic” and “archetypal” imagery and symbolism or seemingly outside of any semiotic mappings we have formulated so far. The problem is, many – though not all – experiences that are common considered “psychotic” may share a lot of aforementioned traits with the spiritual experiences: for example, they also can involve mythic imagery and symbolism.
Well, how can we draw the line between non-veridical aspects of the spiritual experiences and the ones that we call “psychotic”? The easy answer is comparative phenomenology. According to this approach, spiritual revelations and psychotic episodes have many incompatible phenomenological characteristics: spiritual experiences are blissful and joyful, while psychotic ones are distressing and tormenting; spiritual experiences are lucid and consistent, while psychotic ones are obscure and incoherent; spiritual experiences are the ones that many people seek, and try to induce, voluntarily, yet hardly anyone wish to undergone a severe psychotic episode.
Yet, if we look closer, these simplistic dichotomies quickly collapse. First, a genuine spiritual experience, such as a deep, transformative NDE, is not necessarily ecstatic; it can be terrifying as well, as study of the distressing NDEs shows quite clearly. And you, Dr. Greyson, was one of the pioneers of this study:
https://med.virginia.edu/perceptual-stud...-Psych.pdf
The revelatory, worldview-changing aspects of the spiritual experiences can also be quite confusing for experiencers, breaking down the common “map of reality” they accepted before having them. And, while many people do seek spiritual revelations and ecstasies by their own will, a large part of spiritual experiences are spontaneous, and not a result of a deliberate practice. NDEs are a good example here: the catalyst for them is a clinical death condition, and this condition is usually not the one people want to try willingly!
So, simple comparison of the phenomenological traits may not bring us the desired results. Yet, the phenomenological approach of indentifying the division and difference between enlightenment and insanity may be improved by bringing the long-term results into consideration: did the experience trigger some positive personal transformation? If yes, it was a truly spiritual one; if not, it was psychosis. But the problem is, experiences that initially appeared to be useless and damaging may be turned into positively transformative with some assistance of other persons who provide spiritual support and guidance. In these cases, a person may move from a confusing torment of psychosis to the lucid transformative revelations of the spirit. For an example, one may look at this:
http://www.wakingtimes.com/2014/08/22/sh...-hospital/
Or let’s bring Stanislav Grof here again:
http://www.stanislavgrof.com/wp-content/...e.2010.pdf
We can see that the evaluation of the long-term impact of the altered states of consciousness is not an easy task as well: this impact depend too much on the factors like absence or presence of a spiritual guidance and support by the others.
Dr. Greyson, now I want to ask you: what do you think about “spiritual help” – let’s call it so – for the (apparently) psychotic people, whether it provided by “traditional” (for example, by a tribal shaman) or “modern” (by a transpersonal psychologist / psychiatrist like Stanislav Grof) helper? Can an originally damaging psychotic condition be positively changed to lead to a positively transformative experience – one can be genuinely called “spiritual” – with a deliberate spiritual practice and teaching? And what do you think about the general relevance of the spiritual practices and teachings, and their legacy, to the modern mental health methods?

Dr. Bruce Greyson:  You raise some excellent points here, Ilya. As I mentioned earlier, there are many phenomenological differences in the content, context, and aftereffects of spiritual and psychotic experiences. And yet, as I acknowledged and as you have correctly documented in your question, there are certainly some exceptions to my generalizations.
As for “spiritual help”, I have seen that bring not only relief but positive growth to some people struggling with psychotic experiences. But I think that most people with psychotic experiences are not able to respond to spiritual help. I think the evidence from the work of such pioneers as Stan Grof and R. D. Laing shows that: there are some exceptional people with psychotic experiences who respond quite well, grow psychologically and spiritually, and overcome their psychotic disorders. But those are the exceptions, and the majority of people with psychotic experiences do not benefit from spiritual help.

Vortex: Discussing phenomenological approach to the differentiation between spiritual and psychotic, we should also look at the interaction between the spontaneous experiences that are certainly spiritual – such as deep NDEs – and the supposedly psychotic states of consciousness. You, Dr. Greyson, once performed a research concerning this very topic – an impacts of the NDEs on the psychiatric patients:
https://ps.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdfp...54.12.1649
My question is: are there notable differences in response to the NDEs between the people with psychiatric diagnoses and without them? If yes, what are they?

Dr. Bruce Greyson:  That’s a great question, and we do now have data to answer the question. It turns out that people with psychiatric diagnoses have the same frequency of NDEs as people without psychiatric diagnoses; and the NDEs they describe are not different in any way from the NDEs of other people.
We have also looked at the frequency of psychiatric diagnoses among people who have NDEs, and we found that they have the same amount and kinds of psychiatric diagnoses as people who don’t have NDEs. So it appears that there is no association, positive or negative, between psychiatric diagnoses and NDEs.
However, we have found that people who have had NDEs tend to have less psychological distress from their psychiatric disorders than people who haven’t had NDEs. That suggests that NDEs do not reduce the incidence of psychiatric disorders, but they do reduce the associated emotional distress. I suspect, based on what they tell me, that the reason for this is that NDEs – and likely other spiritual experiences – convince the experiencers that that are more than their physical bodies and that they are connected intimately to something greater than their individual selves, so that they see their own personal problems, including their psychiatric problems, from a different perspective and don’t get as upset about them.

Vortex: Dr. Greyson, now I want to bring to your – and everyone else’s – attention the third possible way to differentiate between spiritual and psychotic experiences: the one that relies on their sociocultural acceptability. According to such approach, spiritual experiences are not pathological as long as they can be brought within some kind of pre-existing religious framework and lead to the adjustment to the contemporary social order. It seems that this approach was used by you and your colleagues, Drs. Alexander Moreira-Almeida and Francisco Lotufo Neto, in this research:
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Ale...ediums.pdf
In my strong opinion, such approach to the differentiation between the spiritual and the psychotic is the weakest of all: whether a genuine spiritual reality is (and is not), it definitely has nothing to do with maintaining the cultural conventions and social institutions of our era: conventions and institutions that are situational and specific - and thus provisional and challengeable. The validity of the spiritual experience, of the “glimpse of eternity” (as Raymond Moody called it), cannot and should not be judged according to its acceptability to the current power structures and conceptual models. In fact, from the times immemorial the workings of spirit were often, and rightly, associated with the rebellion and the innovation, with breakdown of the oppressive order and dogma by the deeper currents of inexhaustible free creativity.
And what do you think, Dr. Greyson? Should the acceptability of the spiritual manifestation and expression be evaluated according to the possibility of their adjustment to the current cultural standards and social demands? And do you think that psychiatrists and other mental clinicians may sometimes work as the agents of the sociocultural repression of the “unacceptable” spiritual expressions and manifestations?

Dr. Bruce Greyson:  I agree with you here, if I understand your opinion correctly. I have been working with NDEs from the late 1970s, when they were not accepted by cultural conventions and were not acceptable in conceptual models or power structures of that time. And yet people who had such experiences (and, I might add, the researchers who studied them) recognized them as genuine spiritual experiences of great value. So I agree that the value of spiritual experiences and insights cannot be evaluated according to their concordance with current cultural standards and social demands. And unfortunately, you are correct that some psychiatrists and other mental (and medical) clinicians sometimes work as the agents of the sociocultural repression of unacceptable spiritual manifestations – although I am happy to say that I have seen that change in the past 50 years as psychiatrists and others have become more educated about the intrinsic value and the aftereffects of spiritual experiences.
 
Vortex: Thank you for all your replies, Dr. Greyson. I hope that the dialogue I initiated was interesting for you – and will be interesting for the Psience Quest members and all other potential readers. It was great to have you on the interview section of our forum!

Dr. Bruce Greyson:  Thank you, Ilya, for inviting me to participate in this valuable dialogue.

Vortex: So, dear Psience Quest members, now I want to ask you: what do you think about the topics that Dr. Greyson and I have discussed? I’m interested to learn your positions and perspectives!
(This post was last modified: 2021-04-14, 05:30 PM by Vortex.)
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  • Larry, Silence, Sciborg_S_Patel, Kamarling, Ninshub, stephenw, Stan Woolley, Typoz, Enrique Vargas, Smaw, berkelon, Laird, tim
Have invited people from Skeptiko here as well:

http://www.skeptiko-forum.com/threads/br...ost-154392

Hopefully this would be an interesting dialogue. Greyson and I raised some serious question that are worth discussing.
Man is a rational animal who always loses his temper when he is called upon to act in accordance with the dictates of reason.
—Oscar Wilde
(This post was last modified: 2021-04-10, 07:08 PM by Vortex.)
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Well done, Vortex ! As I said, I thought this one was a lost cause but no, you did it ! I'll have a good look at it tomorrow, many thanks to you and Dr Greyson !
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Thank you both, Vortex and Dr Greyson for this discussion. I really appreciate the time and effort that has gone into this, and especially thanks to Dr Greyson for accepting the invitation and kindly responding. Thanks too to Vortex for reaching out and making this possible.

I think we should remind people again of the latest book mentioned above:
After by Bruce Greyson M.D.

The interview itself is quite deep, both the questions and answers require some consideration. I need time to read more slowly through it and reflect upon it.
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The depth of the questions posed to Dr Greyson, are probably equal to the most rigorous and demanding (conceptually and ontologically), he's ever had to respond to, I would imagine. There is no way such an interview could have been satisfactorily accomplished in any other manner than "written", rather than "verbal".  

I can certainly see now why Dr Greyson needed time to deal with it. It's far beyond anything I've ever seen him "confronted" with on the net, but his responses more than adequately demonstrated his sharp intellect and professional expertise/capabilities. Really very good indeed.

Here I would make a small criticism, Vortex. I would have liked to have "heard" more from Dr Greyson on his pet subject, though. Simply because he is arguably of course the foremost NDE researcher in the world. 

Nevertheless, anyone who would like to get an insight into his fascinating work within the field, over the last four decades, can now read his recent book, which I would highly recommend. 

Thanks again !
(This post was last modified: 2021-04-11, 01:12 PM by tim.)
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Thanks Vortex and Dr. Greyson for this very interesting discussion.

I am especially thankful for Greyson's highlighting - "they are more than their physical bodies and that they are connected intimately to something greater than their individual selves" as key results of spiritual experience.
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  • Smithy, Laird, Sciborg_S_Patel, Vortex, Typoz
Vortex (and Dr. Greyson),

Just a quick note of appreciation for the time, effort, and obvious thought that went into this exchange.  Very much appreciated!
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This interview was well worth the wait. Thanks to Vortex and Dr Greyson for their time and effort in providing it. I agree with Typoz and tim that Vortex's questions were deep and demanding, requiring consideration, as do Dr Greyson's answers. I think Vortex did a very good job of navigating the fine line between a topical and off-topic interview given PQ's remit, and I suspect that the line he took in this interview was somewhat unique among interviewers of Dr Greyson.

I agree that definitions in this area are crucial. Dr Greyson defines a spiritual experience by its involving "a sense of connection to something greater than the self, which has high existential significance and leads to profound changes in attitudes, beliefs, and values". He notes that "Previous generations required spiritual experience to involve “spirits,” defined as deceased or divine entities; but in the 21st century, we are less specific about how we define “something greater than the self, with existential significance”".

By this definition, NDEs are generally spiritual experiences, whereas psychoses are not, although Dr Greyson notes that there are exceptions.

On the other hand, I consider "psychoses" to be spiritual experiences according to the noted more traditional understanding of "involving spirits", with those spirits not necessarily being deceased or divine entities, but often enough malign entities. My view (unproven) is that we are constantly surrounded by, and - to a greater or lesser extent, and with greater or lesser awareness - in constant communication with, and constantly influenced by and influencing, spirit entities. In this sense, everyday life itself is a spiritual experience, albeit that most of the time we are unaware of it.

Based on my own personal experiences which have been so labelled, "psychosis" occurs when malign entities in our company gain significant influence over our psyches, typically such that we become aware of their presence and communication. I tend to disagree, then, with Dr Greyson's suggestion that "the vast majority of psychotic visions originate in the individual’s mind". My view instead is that (at least in my case) these visions originate, or are at least provoked by, (typically malicious) external entities.

I do not, then, see "psychosis" as a "mental disease" or even a "mental disorder", but rather as a "compromised psychospiritual vulnerability". I also take the view to which Vortex alludes, as articulated by Dr Joanna Moncrieff, that in the medical sense, a "disease" is by definition biological, and that, given that the mind does not reduce to the physical (and thus the biological), "mental disease" and "mental illness" are oxymorons; at best analogical; at worst, stigmatisations upon which coercive confinement and "treatment" are justified.

I strongly object to a view of what is essentially a spiritual attack, invasion, or "obsession" based upon a psychospiritual vulnerability as a pathology. Dr Greyson points out that the APA's DSM "has not used the label “mental illness” in the 70 years since the first edition was published. Instead of “illness”, which as you noted implies a biological origin, they have used the atheoretical term “disorder”, implying nothing more than a condition that causes significant distress or disability and is not an expected response to a stressful event". I have not confirmed this for myself, but I take his word for it. Nevertheless, the term "mental illness" is in widespread use not just in the broader community, but also in the institution of psychiatry.

For example, during my last stay in hospital here in Australia (in 2019), I was harangued by a hardline community psychiatrist who persistently demanded that I concede that I had a "mental illness" (and thus that I "needed" "treatment"), and when I refused to concede as much on multiple occasions, she in turn refused to allow for my release back to my home in the community - where she would have been (forcibly) "treating" me - and instead had me transferred to a "rehab" centre, despite that I had not experienced "psychosis" - nor any psychological distress other than that due to being unjustly imprisoned - at any point during, and for months prior to, my admission.

I was stuck in this "rehab" institution for several months, and would have remained there for several months more had I not found a way to leave of my own accord without being hunted down by the police like a criminal and recommitted: basically, I had to flee the state, sell my home in that state, and purchase a new home in another state (in which the "treatment order" of the original state had no jurisdiction).

You will perhaps see then that, in my experience, the term, and the underlying concept behind, "mental illness" continues not only to be in widespread use, but also to be weaponised against some of us, sometimes to devastating effect - regardless of its occurrence in the DSM (or lack thereof).

I would be interested to know Dr Greyson's response to this "spiritual" (by some definition) view of "psychosis" in particular, and perhaps of "mental illness"/"mental disorder" more generally. Does he acknowledge the role of spirits in "madness"? Does he concur that even when we are "sane" we exist in constant psychic relationship with spirit(s)?
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Laird, you make a good point that definitions are of more than abstract or academic interest, when their interpretation can lead to imprisonment and more.

On this point,

Quote:My view (unproven) is that we are constantly surrounded by, and - to a greater or lesser extent, and with greater or lesser awareness - in constant communication with, and constantly influenced by and influencing, spirit entities. In this sense, everyday life itself is a spiritual experience, albeit that most of the time we are unaware of it.
I think you're probably right. Mostly I'm not aware of this, but recall at least one occasion on waking and experiencing sleep paralysis, I was definitely aware of malicious entities around me. It seemed they were not able to easily reach inside me, but were in contact with my body. Thankfully those occurrences have not happened frequently, but it's probably true that we're not alone. I'm also fortunate that often it is benevolence which surrounds me - for which I can only be grateful.
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(2021-04-15, 04:49 AM)Laird Wrote: This interview was well worth the wait. Thanks to Vortex and Dr Greyson for their time and effort in providing it. I agree with Typoz and tim that Vortex's questions were deep and demanding, requiring consideration, as do Dr Greyson's answers. I think Vortex did a very good job of navigating the fine line between a topical and off-topic interview given PQ's remit, and I suspect that the line he took in this interview was somewhat unique among interviewers of Dr Greyson.

I agree that definitions in this area are crucial. Dr Greyson defines a spiritual experience by its involving "a sense of connection to something greater than the self, which has high existential significance and leads to profound changes in attitudes, beliefs, and values". He notes that "Previous generations required spiritual experience to involve “spirits,” defined as deceased or divine entities; but in the 21st century, we are less specific about how we define “something greater than the self, with existential significance”".

By this definition, NDEs are generally spiritual experiences, whereas psychoses are not, although Dr Greyson notes that there are exceptions.

On the other hand, I consider "psychoses" to be spiritual experiences according to the noted more traditional understanding of "involving spirits", with those spirits not necessarily being deceased or divine entities, but often enough malign entities. My view (unproven) is that we are constantly surrounded by, and - to a greater or lesser extent, and with greater or lesser awareness - in constant communication with, and constantly influenced by and influencing, spirit entities. In this sense, everyday life itself is a spiritual experience, albeit that most of the time we are unaware of it.

Based on my own personal experiences which have been so labelled, "psychosis" occurs when malign entities in our company gain significant influence over our psyches, typically such that we become aware of their presence and communication. I tend to disagree, then, with Dr Greyson's suggestion that "the vast majority of psychotic visions originate in the individual’s mind". My view instead is that (at least in my case) these visions originate, or are at least provoked by, (typically malicious) external entities.

I do not, then, see "psychosis" as a "mental disease" or even a "mental disorder", but rather as a "compromised psychospiritual vulnerability". I also take the view to which Vortex alludes, as articulated by Dr Joanna Moncrieff, that in the medical sense, a "disease" is by definition biological, and that, given that the mind does not reduce to the physical (and thus the biological), "mental disease" and "mental illness" are oxymorons; at best analogical; at worst, stigmatisations upon which coercive confinement and "treatment" are justified.

I strongly object to a view of what is essentially a spiritual attack, invasion, or "obsession" based upon a psychospiritual vulnerability as a pathology. Dr Greyson points out that the APA's DSM "has not used the label “mental illness” in the 70 years since the first edition was published. Instead of “illness”, which as you noted implies a biological origin, they have used the atheoretical term “disorder”, implying nothing more than a condition that causes significant distress or disability and is not an expected response to a stressful event". I have not confirmed this for myself, but I take his word for it. Nevertheless, the term "mental illness" is in widespread use not just in the broader community, but also in the institution of psychiatry.

For example, during my last stay in hospital here in Australia (in 2019), I was harangued by a hardline community psychiatrist who persistently demanded that I concede that I had a "mental illness" (and thus that I "needed" "treatment"), and when I refused to concede as much on multiple occasions, she in turn refused to allow for my release back to my home in the community - where she would have been (forcibly) "treating" me - and instead had me transferred to a "rehab" centre, despite that I had not experienced "psychosis" - nor any psychological distress other than that due to being unjustly imprisoned - at any point during, and for months prior to, my admission.

I was stuck in this "rehab" institution for several months, and would have remained there for several months more had I not found a way to leave of my own accord without being hunted down by the police like a criminal and recommitted: basically, I had to flee the state, sell my home in that state, and purchase a new home in another state (in which the "treatment order" of the original state had no jurisdiction).

You will perhaps see then that, in my experience, the term, and the underlying concept behind, "mental illness" continues not only to be in widespread use, but also to be weaponised against some of us, sometimes to devastating effect - regardless of its occurrence in the DSM (or lack thereof).

I would be interested to know Dr Greyson's response to this "spiritual" (by some definition) view of "psychosis" in particular, and perhaps of "mental illness"/"mental disorder" more generally. Does he acknowledge the role of spirits in "madness"? Does he concur that even when we are "sane" we exist in constant psychic relationship with spirit(s)?

It's very candid and honest of you to open up about your problems, Laird and there's no reason why you shouldn't. You are raising some interesting consequences (possibly inadvertently?) of the acceptance of survival. Is the 'ether' populated with discarnate(s) to some extent and are they capable of affecting some of us ? 

Based on what I've read and heard from enough reliable sources, I would say yes. Are they the cause of your "problem", (which I must say, I had no idea, because there has never been anything in your behaviour that has ever indicated that you had such a problem) I can only say, obviously I don't know and neither will anyone else including psychiatrists. But if we accept survival as likely to be true, then yes, it's possibly the case, as difficult to accept (for science) it of course will be. 

There is a danger of course with openly acknowledging it as a possibility because then we are back into territory that was abandoned in the middle ages in the 'enlightened' population(s) but is still the domain of the less developed, if you see what I'm getting at (exorcism etc and casting out of malevolent spirits for all kinds of reasons) which is not going to be the way to proceed, I would have thought.  

I think you have the right, though, to (potentially at least) draw some of your own conclusions, whilst still accepting conventional medical help when it is likely to be of help to you. Beyond that, I don't know.
(This post was last modified: 2021-04-15, 10:32 AM by tim.)
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