Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Harvard Psilocybin, Marsh Chapel and Concord Prison Experiments – Tuning In, Turning On, Dropping Out Both Metaphorically And Scientifically

A few weeks ago I attended and spoke at a great Neuroscience Conference at the University of Pretoria, and one of the talks that was excellent and held everyone’s attention was by Dr Michael Knott from the University of Namibia, who gave a tour-de-force synopsis on mind-altering compounds and their capacity for social engineering. At the same time I finished reading for the second time a fascinating book, Rational Mysticism, by science writer John Horgan (author of the The End of Science), in which he examined the work and theories of both scientists and new-age gurus attempting to explain the meaning of life, and the limits of our conscious understanding of it, by using mind-altering / psychedelic substances. Both of these got me thinking again about the controversial drug experiments known as the Harvard Psilocybin, Marsh Chapel and Concord Prison experiments, which took place at Harvard University in the early 1960’s, lead by pyschologists Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, and which had dramatic effects on both American society and culture at the time, and on how we conduct research experiments from a process and ethical perspective.

While mind-altering / hallucinogenic / psychedelic substances such as psilocybin (a naturally occurring psychedelic compound found in more than 200 species of mushrooms) mescaline, peyote and ayahusca have been ingested by folk for hundreds, if not thousands, of years as part of tribal practice and personal desire to ‘get high’, in the 1930’s psychedelic substances such as LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) were artificially created for the first time under laboratory conditions, which produced similar psychological effects as these ‘natural’ psychedelic compounds. These included altered thinking processes, closed and open eye visual hallucinations, synaesthesia (the production of a sensation relating to one sensory organ by the stimulation of another), an altered sense of time, and spiritual experiences. These substances were mostly legal up until the 1960’s, and interest in them was heightened in the 1950’s by writers such as Aldous Huxley, whose book The Doors of Perception described what were to him life-changing effects (in his case positive reported changes) of ingesting psychedelics, and was a bestseller. It stimulated interest in researchers in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s (and still does today) because of the potential capacity of psychedelic drugs to enhance our understanding of the pathophysiology of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, and for their potential capacity for therapeutic social engineering such as reducing recidivism rate in habitual criminal offenders.

Between 1960 and 1962, two Harvard University academics, Dr Timothy Leary and Dr Richard Alpert, performed a number of experiments that were to become famous (or infamous) both for their findings and for their effect on society and research methodology. In the Harvard Psilocybin experiment, students at the University were asked to volunteer for the trial and were given LSD and psilocybin, and the psychological effects of ingesting these drugs were monitored by Leary and Alpert and their co-workers. Similarly, in the Concord Prison experiment psilocybin was given to prisoners at the Concord State prison, and the acute effects of the psychedelic drug on the prisoners, and the long term effects of ingesting the drug on recidivism rate were monitored. In the Marsh Chapel experiment (also known as the Good Friday experiment), divinity students were given psilocybin prior to the Good Friday church service, and its effect on the level of the student’s religious / spiritual experience were monitored during and after the church service. It was reported by the researchers that the outcome of all these experiments was overwhelmingly positive, with the students describing increased clarity of mind and a life-changing expansion of their conscious perception of life, the prisoners being more repentant for their crimes and less likely to repeat their offences, and the religious students describing profoundly intense spiritual experiences during and after the service.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), while these experiments generated enormous public interest, and made Leary and Alpert famous, the consequences of them were ultimately negative, and as the scientific spotlight fell on the methodology of each trial, questions about their scientific rigour were raised. The researchers used the same drugs as the volunteers during all the trials – the researchers suggested that this was to enable to them to qualitatively understand what the volunteers were feeling – but the obvious point raised was how they could have adequately recorded what the volunteers were experiencing if the scientists were intoxicated themselves. They also chose not to report on the negative hallucinations experienced by some of the volunteers, with some of the subjects apparently experiencing psychological deterioration as a result of the trial which required therapeutic intervention, and further studies showed that the recidivist rate of the prisoners was no different, or may have even been higher, after participating in the trial. They also did not store the drugs ‘under lock and key’, and some of the researchers kept some of the trial drugs for their own recreational use, and actively encouraged the use of the psychedelic drugs to their students in routine classes and in after-hours social events. When word of the positive experiences of the trials spread across the Harvard campus, the number of students wanting to volunteer for the trial increased dramatically, and a thriving psychedelic drug culture developed on the University campus that spread into the neighbouring community, and eventually across other University campuses and American culture as part of the 1960’s growing anti-establishment and anti-war culture which was occurring at the time.

Being concerned about these research methodology issues and developing drug culture, the Harvard University senior management folk requested that these studies be halted, and that Leary and Alpert stop using the clinical trial drugs for their own personal gratification. When they refused, they were fired by the University. This did not deter them though, as both became more interested in being ‘salesmen’ for the drug and its positive psychological effects rather than researching its putative psychophysiological effects in controlled laboratory conditions. Leary started up a number of communes in both Mexico and the USA after leaving the employment of Harvard University, where LSD and other psychedelic drug taking was encouraged, and in 1966 developed the ‘League for Spiritual Discovery’ to represent his interest and ideas. When the USA government and law enforcement officials realized the danger of what was occurring and that psychedelic drug use was spreading across the country, they banned the use, sale, and scientific testing of all psychedelic agents. Unfortunately this appeared to increase Leary’s fame rather than decrease it, and he became popular as a TV and radio talk-show guest, where he espoused the use of psychedelic drugs in these public forums (Alpert eventually moved to a commune in India and renamed himself as Ram Dass), which resulted in interest in the drugs similarly increasing rather than decreasing. The Beatles song, ‘Come Together’ was apparently written as a tribute to Leary and his ‘work’, and President Richard Nixon describing him as the ‘most dangerous man in America’, due to the impact his ‘marketing’ was having on drug use and counter-culture development across the USA. Leary was increasingly investigated by the FBI, until eventually he was jailed for several years for using and selling psychedelic drugs. By the time he was released in the 1970’s, the 1960’s anti-establishment drug era was over, and while he wrote prolifically and still ‘sold’ his psychedelic message after his release from prison, his influence waned, and as LSD and other psychedelic drugs were eventually banned throughout the world for both recreational use and scientific investigation purposes, their use and popularity became attenuated over time.

So what lessons can be learned from this astonishing period of scientific research and its impact on social culture. Firstly, that all Universities need to be very rigorous in their control and management of scientific studies in a pre-emptive manner. Currently research in most respectable Universities and countries throughout the world (as Harvard University is and always has been) needs to go through ethical clearances before they are allowed to begin, and if such processes had been in place at the time of these experiments and / or been stringently adhered to, the trials would probably not have been allowed to go ahead, and if they had done so, would have occurred under far more rigidly controlled laboratory conditions. Secondly, there is always the danger of loss of objectivity when ‘maverick’ researchers with their own agenda initiate and control experiments which have a large degree of self-interest involved in their development. While Leary and Alpert may have started their studies with the idea of using the psychedelic drugs to help understand psychological disorders and as a positive social reinforcement therapeutic tool, they appeared thereafter to become too interested in the benefits of psychedelic drugs to themselves as individuals rather than to their work as scientists, and therefore lost the required detachment from the trials, and dispassionate analysis of the trial results, which is how all scientists need to operate and perform trials they are involved in or manage. Thirdly, it showed the danger also of maverick scientists using social media – in those days the radio and television, now a huge variety of external media and self-marketing tools which are available to do so – to promote their own particular message, particularly to a susceptible audience. We are currently ‘awash’ with scientists marketing their own agenda and perspectives via the social media outlets, with no ‘peer review’ of what they say or how they describe their research findings or subjective beliefs. Finally, it was a salutary lesson in how poorly performed and marketed science can actively damage the scientific endeavour from the context that these psychedelic drugs may have had the capacity to enable us scientists to better understand psychological disorders and perhaps even to examine their capacity for therapeutic social engineering, as Michael Knott suggested in his great talk at the conference I attended, although of course (as a perspicacious neuroscience student attending pointed out), the concept of social engineering capacity is fraught with moral and ethical issues beyond just that of drug use.

John Horgan, in his book Rational Mysticism, pointed out that there will always be an interest in most folk to understand better the limits of their conscious perception of life and the reality of the life they live in, and potentially in some folk to escape from their reality (it was suggested in Horgan’s book that that the desire for intoxication is the ‘fourth’ basic drive after hunger, thirst and sex), hence the massive public interest the research work of Leary and Alpert generated in the 1960’s. Unfortunately, however, while Leary’s catch-phrase for describing (in his mind) the positive effects of psychedelic drug – ‘Tune in, turn on, drop out’ – was meant ostensibly to describe the effect of using the drug on expanding one’s understanding of life and one’s part in it, unfortunately what was the ultimate result of his studies and the marketing of them to the general public was that the thing that most ‘dropped out’ was the capacity of scientists to be able to study the effect of these drugs on basic brain function for the last fifty years, which may potentially have hindered our understanding of basic brain function and psychological and psychiatric disorder pathophysiology. There is therefore also an important lesson for all scientists who attempt to ‘market’ their own research finding ‘too hard and too fast’, using the increased capacity of modern social network and other external media sites, from this astonishing epoch of scientific and social / behavioural experimentation, which is still impacting us as a society, and how we scientists ‘do business’ today.

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Strategic Planning Versus Instinctive Genius – Where Would Winston Churchill Have Been Without Alan Brooke

After a week thinking about strategic planning and how we can improve out organizational matrix at work, last night I took some time off and watched an old Second World War film, the Battle of Britain, which was a good watch, even though it was a long time since it was made. Both the work week and the film got me thinking of strategy planning, it’s role in organizational and goal achievement success, and associated with this, the relationship between Winston Churchill and Alan Brooke in plotting Britain’s ‘pathway’ to success, or at least the part Britain played in the success, during the Second world war. Strategy is defined as a high level plan, usually generated by a team leader, to achieve one or more goals by the team under conditions of uncertainty. Strategic planning usually, but not always, involves all of the setting of goals based on awareness of resources available, determining both the plans and actions required to achieve these goals, and implementing the plans and actions in a way that the goal is reached in the most optimal way. Strategy has also been defined as a ‘pattern in a stream of decisions’, or as a ‘way of shaping the future in order to get to desirable ends with available means’. A key feature of strategic planning is pre-emptively attempting to look into the future to assess the multiple possible scenarios and outcomes of the different strategic plans which could be chosen to attain the required goal, whatever it is, and making a decision selecting one of the plans based on awareness of the environment, skills and limitations both of the team one leads and the adversaries one potentially competes with before achieving the goal. There is always a degree of guesswork involved in any strategic thinking and planning, but at its basic level, order, structure and logic underpin and are essential for any sound strategic plan.

A book / piece of writing that has most influenced my understanding of strategic thinking has been the War Diaries of Field Marshall Alan Brooke (later Viscount Alanbrooke), which I have read probably 20 or 30 times in the last decade after I first became aware of its existence, and I appreciate it even more each time I do so. Alan Brooke, as a General, commanded one of the two Army Corps of the British Expeditionary Force that served in France in the early stage of World War 2, then served as Head of the United Kingdom Home Forces during the dark days of 1940 and 1941 when invasion was a distinct possibility, then was appointed a Field Marshall and Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), the highest rank obtainable in the British Army (which included all Commonwealth forces) at that time. Brooke served in this role for the remainder of the war, and in which capacity he worked on a daily basis with Winston Churchill, plotting the overall war strategy adopted by the British forces, in conjunction with the Chief of the Air Force (Charles Portal) and Navy (first Dudley Pound and after his death Andrew Cunningham) Staffs. What is interesting about Alan Brooke is that his strategy, which he developed right at the start of his tenure as CIGS at the end of 1941, was that which was almost completely followed by the Western Allies during the war, and also that he is almost totally unknown to history except by a few history buffs and military academics who explore the war period and its strategy and battles with a strong microscope. The latter may perhaps be because of the fact that the most famous texts describing the course of the war from the British perspective were written by Winston Churchill himself, in a string of books described by several of his contemporaries as an autobiography of Churchill’s personal role in winning the war ‘dressed up’ as the overall (and bestselling) history of the World War Two in its entirety.

There is perhaps a reason Churchill did this (write his own history of the war), which is ego-related. While he was a brilliant man, and deserves just about all of the credit he is given for playing his huge part of that epochal period of Britain’s history (though of course the war was essentially won by the Russians and their huge manpower sacrifices to do so, which can only have occurred in a totalitarian state as Russia was at the time), his gifts were surely more those of the instinctive genius, who was superb in a crisis, but fickle in setting policy and strategy for either war and political goals both before and during the war. If World War Two had not occurred, Churchill’s epitaph would have been a far less significant one, as a political ‘will of the wisp’ who changed parties frequently, and was responsible for two of Britain’s great disasters during the First World War – the Dardenelles Campaign (known to most for the heroic failure of the Australian and New Zealand forces at Gallipoli) and the Antwerp Raid – both brilliant in theory, but almost completely out of touch with the reality of what could be performed with the manpower available and the logistical issues which should have ensured they never even got past the planning phase, and led to both being disastrous campaigns, and Churchill being sacked from the war cabinet for a period of time. In the Second World War, just before he took over as Prime Minister, as Head of the Admiralty he planned and was responsible for the equally disastrous invasion of Norway, which lead to the resignation of Neville Chamberlain, and for some reason which is still a mystery today, Churchill evaded the responsibility for this disaster, and became Prime Minister in spite of it.

Though Alan Brooke was not Churchill’s first choice as CIGS (he preferred his soldiers to have colourful personalities or to be strong external ‘characters’ such as Admiral Mountbatten and General Alexander, both whom history has shown to have questionable strategic ability, although both had unquestionable bravery and charisma), but proved to be his wisest selection of the war. Brooke was not a ‘peoples person’, had a quick brain and spoke quickly and always gave his honest opinion, whether it was welcome or not, and had an explosive temper (his nickname was ‘Colonel Shrapnel’, though paradoxically his most enjoyable pastime and hobby was bird-watching). Perhaps because of this, Brooke and Churchill did not enjoy each other completely from a social perspective, though each appreciated their respective strengths and skills. What Brooke had was an absolute brilliant strategic brain, and could see very quickly both what is now described as the ‘big picture’, and the ‘wood from the trees’ in any difficult situation where the outcome and strategy required was not immediately clear. He always thought several ‘steps’ ahead, and about what outcome an action or plan in one theatre of the war would have on the other war theatres and campaigns in what was a global and total war. He would not agree with any campaign or new battle plan without being very sure there was capacity to wage it, that it had a good chance of being won, and that it fitted into the overall strategy already set to win the war, or would help achieve this goal in a very clear way. Churchill, in contrast, while being a capable strategist, thought in a more intuitive way, and had a number of new ideas and plans he wanted to execute on almost a daily basis, some brilliant, most eccentric (such as wanting to invade Norway on a second occasion later in the war despite no chance of air cover for the landings, and invading the northern tip of an island near Sumatra, again with no chance of air cover and with huge logistical obstacles that would prevent it occurring, as just two examples, both of which caused major conflict between Churchill and Brooke and the Air and Navy Chiefs on Brooke’s side, with the Military Chiefs eventually vetoing Churchill’s plans). But as a partnership they were brilliant, and Churchill, even if often angered by Brooke – once waving his fist in Brooke’s face while saying he did not want his long term strategic plans to always hinder new potentially fruitful areas for fighting in – called Brooke his alter ego, and perhaps knew that he needed someone like Brooke to curb his erratic, even if often brilliant insights and impulsive behaviour. And again, if you sift through the evidence carefully, it was Brook’s strategic plan which ‘won the day’, even with the American military leaders (though they did hurry some aspects of his plan, such as the timing of the invasion of Normandy), and one can only imagine what could have happened if Churchill had a less brilliant and less tough (Brooke was one of the few people who stood up to Churchill’s temper and roared back when roared at by Churchill during late night strategic planning sessions) strategist to temper his erratic brilliance that went with his magnetic and charismatic leadership. The statue of Brooke in London bears the insignia ‘Master Strategist’, and as Brooke so well described Churchill in his diaries: ‘The wonderful thing is that three quarters of the population of the world imagine that Churchill is one of the great strategists of history, a second Marlborough, and the other quarter have no idea what a public menace he is and has been throughout the war! It is far better that the world should never know, and never suspect the feet of clay of this otherwise superhuman being. Without him England was lost for a certainty, with him England has been on the verge of disaster time and again.’

So what do the Diaries of Alan Brooke, and his successful relationship with Winston Churchill tell us that could help us in our daily work life. Surely, that sound strategic planning is essential to achieve a required goal. Equally surely, that one needs a blend of both creative geniuses and logical strategists, the one that creates the ‘spark’ which sets things rolling, and the other that ‘knows what the one foot is doing at the same time as the other one is moving’, as Brooke always like to say when he was trying to tell someone that they were not thinking strategically. Brooke was by nature a cautious and systematic man (though his diaries were surprisingly emotional, perhaps as a result of being written usually late at night when tired after a long day ‘sparring’ with Churchill), and caution and systematic behaviour is perhaps inherently required for / essential in developing a strategic plan, and the capacity to adhere to the plan ‘through thick and thin’. But Brooke would not have had the personality that was required to maintain morale in the ‘bad days’ of the Blitz and early days of the war when most was going wrong for Britain as Churchill did so well. A team with only creative geniuses will surely be initially successful, but will equally surely not maintain its successes. A team with too many strategists will generate a lot of good plans, and have the capacity to administratively take them along as delineated, but the plans may ultimately all remain in the cupboard and never see the light of day without the input of the creative ‘go-getter’. Churchill used to often say at social events, that by adding together a dashing Army General, an Air Marshall and a Navy Admiral, he had got the sum of all their fears as a combination / outcome of the group – perhaps not realizing how denigrative he was being towards his military leaders by saying this, and / or not being aware of his own weaknesses that he was perhaps ‘hiding’ by projecting such aspersions on his more strategically minded military leaders (though of course Churchill was a political genius, and often the military leaders did not see the political requirements which often lay behind Churchill’s eccentric military ideas). Sadly, for some reason Churchill chose to ignore the contribution of Brooke to a large degree, for reasons perhaps ego related – great men cannot allow anyone else’s shadow to cloud their sun – and his huge contribution has all but disappeared with the passing of time. The moral of this is perhaps that if you want to be remembered for posterity, write your history yourself – but thank goodness historical works like Brooke’s diary survived to see the ‘light of day’ and were published many years after the war, which allowed us to learn the rich lessons in them about both strategic planning and the human effort required to maintain that strategy in order to achieve ultimate success.


Energy Flow In The Body – Do Components of Vitalism Theory Still Offer Something For Our Understanding of Life

I was watching a wonderful Open Day introductory session for potential students at out University, and I was struck by the almost tangible energy emanating from a huge gathering of the young final year school attendees, particularly when a band played some current chart topping music for them as part of the festivities. This ‘feeling’ of ‘energy’ in the mass of young folk got me thinking again of the the old concept of Vitalism, and the more recent concept of Bio-Energetics, both of which I have thought about often and have studied on and off during my career to date, though I feel never to a satisfactory degree or level of attention. Vitalism is the theory that living organisms are different to non-living organisms, because they have energy / a vital spark / ‘elan vital’. Perhaps unfortunately for the theory of Vitalism, this idea of “elan vital’ was related by some to be representative of or associated with the soul, whatever the soul of a human is or where or how it resides in the material body. In the Western scientific world, the concept developed in part as a reaction to more mechanical theories of the body such as that of the philosopher Descartes, who proposed that the body was simply a machine which performed mechanical functions when interacting with the environment in a mechanically generated way. Proponents of Vitalism theory believed that such mechanistic interpretations were not able to account for the characteristic of life which we ‘feel’ and ‘know’, and which manifestly ‘disappear’ when anyone dies and the ‘life force’ is no longer part of the body, which becomes a non-living entity we call a corpse when we shuffle off this mortal coil. In the last century, with the dawn of the reductionist era of science, and the primacy of genetic and biochemistry based research, the theory fell into disrepute, due to scientist folk saying that its concepts could not be tested (with the current laboratory test available), and that Vitalism was therefore a ‘pseudoscience’, believed in and used as the basis for clinical interventions only by alternative medicine practitioners, and should therefore be ‘relegated to the trash heap of science’, as it pretty much has as a scientific belief and discipline.

The concept of ‘energy as a life force’ is of course not exclusive to the Western scientific world, nor did it originate in the West, with Chinese and other Eastern Culture’s developing similar concepts thousands of years ago, which are still believed in and used as the basis for clinical practice today. For example in traditional Chinese culture, Qi (also known as Chi) is perceived to be the central underlying principle of traditional Chinese medicine, and describes natural ‘energy’, life force and energy flow. In order to enhance or heal patients with illnesses, Chinese medical practitioners believe that by enhancing the energy systems and flow, using techniques for example such as Feng Shui (arrangement of energy ‘space’) or Qigong (coordinating breathing, movement and awareness) and acupuncture, most illnesses can be healed. In the Hindu religion and culture, Prana describes similar energy forces, and the concept of Chakras suggest that energy points or nodes occur through the body in distinct regions and ‘lines’. These beliefs are underpinned by the idea that there is a ‘life force’ that is likened to, or is, an energy flow around and through the body, which forms a cohesive, functioning entity. Practitioners believe that by understanding its rhythm and flow, and treating imbalances in these energy systems, allows for the healing of illnesses and leads to enhanced ‘stability’ and longevity. Interestingly, unlike Vitalism, the Eastern practitioners of these fascinating healing techniques are generally unwilling to define terms such as Qi with reductionistic, ‘Western’ concepts such as ‘energy’ per se, though this is the best description of it. Similar to Vitalism, most of these concepts are generally given short thrift by most Western scientists.

This negation of bio-energy concepts by most ‘hard core’ Western scientists is both paradoxical and puzzling, given that several classical research techniques, particularly in neuroscience and psychophysiology, use bio-energetic principles as their core. For example, the electroencephalograph (EEG) clinical and research device is a non-invasive technique which measures electrical activity of brain tissue and neurones in the brain at a distance from the brain tissue itself (the measuring electrodes are placed by necessity on the scalp). Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), is a non-invasive technique used to stimulate different regions of the brain, using a magnetic coil which sends electromagnetic impulses into the brain tissue which creates physical outcomes in the peripheral muscles. I will never forget the first time I watched a TMS device in action in the laboratory I worked in at the National Institutes of Health Research Centre in Washington DC in the USA, where with my great colleague and friend from Austria, Dr Bernhard Voller, we were using TMS to stimulate the motor cortex, and by doing so, controlling and manipulating movement in the fingers and other peripheral muscles. I had the distinct feeling I was watching ‘magic’ happening each time the finger moved in response to the TMS impulse being delivered by Bernhard to the brain using the magnetic coil placed on (or just above) the participant’s scalp. Yet we have subsequently published several research articles in respected international journals of our findings using these two brain examination techniques, which ‘tap into’ non-physical bio-energetic / electromagnetic activity in, and emanating from, the brain tissue, in contrast to what would happen if we tried to get a research paper published which examined Chakras or Qigong energy practices. Even more interesting is what is seen when using a galvanic skin response (GSR) research testing device in the laboratory, which picks up electrodermal activity (electrical activity of the skin), and which shows drastic changes in activity when emotionally charged interventions are shown or given to participants in trials. The GSR device is what is basically used in lie detector tests – your bio-energetic activity changes when one lies, or are required to answer questions which are emotionally charged (interestingly psychopaths, who show very little emotional lability or affect changes, are able to ‘fool’ lie detector tests given that they show no response to such tests, as easily as they are able to demonstrate anti-social behaviour).

So why do concepts like Vitalism and ‘alternate’ therapies such as Feng Shui and Qigong produce a usually hostile response in so many ‘Western’ / classical scientific folk. Perhaps it is because such theories often become conflated with, or are discussed as being related to, issues such as the ‘soul’, which conceptually is beyond basic bio-energetic force theory principles, and usually brings in non-secular beliefs and religion into the debate, even if the bodies energy / life force and the ‘soul’ (if there is such a thing) can perhaps occur separately and / or be discussed as non-religious entities. It may be because of the predominant reductionistic view of life and science which currently occurs, in which gene theory (which is still very relevant, though surely cannot explain completely what ‘life’ is), biochemistry and mechanical explanations for phenomena and all behaviour in life still very much ‘hold sway’ in both scientific and general folk’s life view. Perhaps because of this, alternate energy related body control paradigms are often regarded with disdain by ‘classical’ scientists / research folk. It may be a result of not having the research techniques available still to adequately explore concepts like bio-energetics, Qi and Prana. It may be that most scientists are scared to research these concepts, given the risk of being labelled a ‘crank’ for not staying in ‘mainstream’ academic research, no matter how contrary it is/ paradoxical from a scientific exploration perspective, for academic folk to denigrate colleagues who choose to spend time examining these very interesting, but perceptually ‘lateral’, and very academically challenging concepts.

What I do know though, after more than 20 years working in science and medicine, is that I still have not read or heard one theory or idea that adequately explains what ‘life’ is, or how our body’s energy is maintained, or what is ‘extinguished’ in the body when we die. I do know that I feel ‘energy’ as part of my life and how life ‘feels’ to me, and that this energy waxes and wanes depending on how tired I am and my emotional state. I do know that when someone who is caring and kind gives me a hug or puts their hands on me, I feel a calming presence and a change in my own ‘energy’ and ‘feelings’. I do know that when I am sitting quietly, I often ‘know’ that someone I can’t see is looking at me or directing energy at me, and when I look around, indeed someone is doing so. I do know that I ‘feel’ the energy of people whom I meet in a negative or positive way, and those who I have ‘positive energy’ with usually become friends, and those who I feel ‘negative energy’ from generally remain challenges to me from an interactive perspective no matter how long I know them and try and warm to them (and probably vice-versa too). Us scientists have a long way to go to understand such phenomena and activities and behaviour, and instead of negating them or dismissing them as not existing, will probably find that the next major breakthrough in understanding life’s regulatory processes, and life itself, will come through from examining and understanding these concepts. As for watching the ‘group energy’ of the young folk who I saw dancing and clapping along to the music and enjoying the wonderful ambience of yesterday’s Open Day welcoming event, well, maybe for now I’ll just enjoy observing the ‘energy’ of all of them, revel in its positivity, and hope in the future how we can harness such ‘group energy’ for the greater good, not just from a scientific understanding perspective, but also from the perspective of using it as a method / potential ‘group’ gestalt healing tool in the future for challenging social and community interactions and behaviour. But as for understanding it, that is surely for another day / another epoch / another time way in the future!


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