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Larry Dossey

and citations in this field of remote healing. Over two hundred of these studies were controlled clinical trials and laboratory studies. The quality of the studies is quite good. Using what are called CONSORT criteria, he was able to assign either an “A” or a “B” level of excellence to these studies in remote healing. Eighteen of these studies are major controlled studies in humans, eleven of which show statistically significant results. The laboratory studies look at the effects of people’s intentions on nonhumans–rabbits, mice, rats, plants, even bacteria growing in test tubes, fungi, yeast, and so on. 

Occasionally the subjects of these lab studies are inanimate objects, such as random event generators. The majority of all these studies yield statistical significance, which shows that something is going on that you can’t ascribe to chance. This is just a huge area. It’s infuriated skeptics, who really aren’t very much inclined to look at the data or even read all the studies. All told, this data calls into question fundamental assumptions about the nature of consciousness, as I’ve mentioned, and it’s forcing a revision of how consciousness operates or manifests in the world.

There’s a paradox here, because for most of human history people believed that these things actually happen, but it’s only in the past two hundred years that we’ve developed a tremendous level of intellectual indigestion over this idea that consciousness could function remotely. So it’s ironic that we’re getting back to this ancient idea. What’s further ironic is that science, which has denied for two hundred years that these things are possible, is pointing the way back. So, in a sense, science is shooting itself in the foot by producing this sort of evidence that contradicts what it has claimed regarding consciousness for two centuries.

David: Why do you think that the study of consciousness and research into psychic phenomena has important relevance for medicine?

Larry: There are several reasons. One is that it has health consequences.  In my judgment the studies clearly show that people’s intentions, prayers, and healing efforts at a distance can make the difference between life and death in people. It’s important also because we really do want an accurate idea of the nature of our own consciousness. It’s important because honoring this information leads us to a view of consciousness which is full of hope about our origins and destiny. 

If we acknowledge that consciousness is nonlocal–that it’s infinite in space and time–then this really opens up all sorts of possibilities for the survival of consciousness following physical death. If you reason through this, and follow the implications of these studies, you begin to realize that consciousness that’s nonlocal and unrestricted in time is immortal. It’s eternal. This is as hopeful as the current view of the fate of consciousness is dismal. This totally reverses things. So we are lead to a position, I think, where we see that even though the body will certainly die, the most essential part of who we are can’t die, even if it tried–because it’s nonlocally distributed through time and space.

Our grim vision of the finality of death is revised. Death is no longer viewed as a gruesome annihilation or the total destruction of all that we are. So there are tremendous spiritual implications that flow from these considerations, in addition to the implications for health. In fact, I believe that the implications for health are the least of it. A lot of people who encounter this area take a practical, bare bones, utilitarian approach to it. They say, wow, now we’ve got a nifty new item in our black bag–a new trick to help people become healthier. Certainly these studies do suggest that this is a proper use of healing intentions and prayer, and I’m all for that, but the thing that really gets my juices flowing is the implication of this research for immortality. For me, that’s the most exciting contribution of this entire field.

The fear of death has caused more pain and suffering for human beings throughout history than all the physical diseases combined. The fear of death is the the big unmentionable–and this view of consciousness is a cure for that disease, that fear of death.

David: What role do you think that spirituality plays in health?

Larry: There are a lot of people who just don’t want to get close to this prayer stuff because they think “it’s just parapsychology” and that all parapsychology is crazy. However, they often feel a little more comfortable when they look at another set of data having to do with the impact of spirituality on health. There are over 1,200 studies which look at the connections between religious behavior, such as attending worship services, and health outcomes. Currently meta-analyses of these studies show that people who follow some sort of religious path in their life live an average of seven to thirteen years longer than people who don’t. That’s just a huge health benefit. There isn’t a whole heck of lot that physicians can recommend to people that will add seven to thirteen years on average to their lifespan.

People who like to think materialistically can come up with some fairly naturalistic explanations for these health benefits. For example, people who follow religious paths often have pretty good health habits. They may smoke or drink less. They are part of a social network by virtue of belonging to a congregation, and rich social networks have a health payoff. Nobody argues much against that anymore. Also, these people have a sense of meaning and purpose in life that comes from their religious affiliation. So if you add up all these things then it’s not hard for even skeptics to imagine how people who are religious might enjoy longer life and have a lower incidence of disease. And they do.

But it’s when people go into the area that Rupert Sheldrake, I and others have ventured into, where we talk about the remote effects of consciousness, that people really get cold feet. So it’s been our self-appointed, elective task to hold people’s feet to the fire and say, look this information isn’t going to go away. There’s too much of it. It’s becoming more abundant So wake up. This is where we’re headed, like it or not. 

David: How do you see spirituality and medicine becoming more integrated in the future?

Larry: That’s inevitable. One of the most telling indicators is how medical schools have responded. Back in 1993, when I first began to publish in this field with a book called Healing Words, there were only three medical schools in the country that had any coursework exploring the role of spirituality in health, out of a one hundred and twenty-five medical schools total. Now ninety schools offer such. That is a historic development. Ninety medical schools have either formal courses, a lecture series, or some feature of their curriculum that honors and addresses this field. So it’s kind of a done deal.

Young doctors have much less of a problem with this than my generation has had. One major reason is that half the medical-school enrollment these days is made up of young women. They have a lot less trouble with these ideas than intellectually-oriented guys do. So I think that the entry of women in medicine has really opened up things quite a bit.

In the final analysis, the evidence favoring spirituality is so impressive that there’s no way that  medicine is going to be able to stand on the sidelines and ignore it. Sooner or later, good data rises to the top and prejudices sink to the bottom. This process may take awhile, and there will be certainly be people who will try to obstruct it, but I think that there’s no way to stop it. I see this in my own career. I am embarking on a four-month author book tour next week, and slotted into this tour are lecture appearances at medical schools all over the country.

There’s an old saying that’s attributed to Max Planck, the physicist, who helped create the revolution in physics in the last century. Planck said that science changes funeral by funeral.   And as Einstein once said, “It’s harder to crack a prejudice than an atom.” I used to believe that it’s possible to come up with such compelling evidence that it would change things overnight. Well, that didn’t happen in physics, and it’s not going to happen in medicine. These things always take awhile. Moreover, there are some physicians who are so resistant to these ideas about consciousness and healing that they will never come around. They’ll simply die off, as Planck suggested. I hate to say it, but that has come as a consolation to me, periodically through the years (laughter).

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