Is Kabbalah real? One scientist sees no trick in humanity’s esoteric traditions
In his charmingly written ‘Real Magic,’ parapsychologist Dean Radin conjures up an argument that paranormal activity may indeed exist
Psychologist and author Dean Radin often faces a dilemma when he speaks publicly: Which hat should he wear? For Radin, the answer to this figurative question depends on the audience.
“If I’m in a group of academics I’ll say I’m a psychologist. That’s what my PhD is in,” Radin shares in a recent interview with The Times of Israel.
“The reason I wouldn’t say a parapsychologist is because that word conjures up magazines at the grocery store. And it’s so pervasive, how people think about parapsychology and paranormal as ‘woo woo,’ that it’s just easier to not to go into it,” he says.
For the last four decades, 66-year-old Radin has studied and engaged in consciousness research, including “psi phenomena,” such as telepathy, remote viewing, precognition, and the effect of intention on global events.
His career has included positions at Bell Labs, Princeton University, several hi-tech think tanks, and a top-secret government program for “psychic espionage.”
Semi-retired now as chief scientist of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California, Radin recently authored “Real Magic: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science, and a Guide to the Secret Power of the Universe” (Harmony Books, 2018).
The book is geared toward a popular audience, but this doesn’t make it fluff. Radin begins with a brief history of magic and magical practices over the centuries, but moves into the scientific by making a convincing case for the existence of “magic” in modern life.
Some chapters include results of laboratory experiments Radin and others have conducted over the years, as well as thought-provoking explorations on the evidence of the power of prayer, faith, and intention.
“Real Magic,” Radin says, was in part a response to the research he did for his previous book, “Supernormal: Science, Yoga, and the Evidence for Extraordinary Psychic Abilities.”
“In ‘Supernormal,’ I was looking at Eastern esoteric traditions and this book looks at the Western esoteric traditions. I wanted to round it out,” Radin says.
“The reason why the esoteric traditions are so interesting is because within that cosmology, the notion of magic and psychic phenomena are completely taken for granted. They aren’t anomalous at all,” he says.
According to Radin, what he refers to as magic in his book is a natural aspect of reality that each of us is actually able to tap into.
“The essence of magic boils down to the application of two ordinary mental skills: attention and intention. The strength of the magical outcome is modulated by four factors: belief, imagination, emotion, and clarity. That’s basically it,” he writes.
In researching his book, Radin decided to put his head into both today’s indigenous world, but also the ancient world.
“I wanted to see how they would have considered these phenomena. When you do this exercise, you get deep into Pythagorean thought, Plato, Hermeticism, Kabbalah, as well as today’s positive psychology movement and affirmations, which can be traced back to the esoteric traditions,” he says.
“Science has certainly given us a more accurate view of reality in some respects, but it also creates blinders,” says Radin, who has come up against much criticism over the years in response to his studies and articles supporting the existence of paranormal phenomena.
Radin is persistent, however, and believes we are overdue for a serious questioning of the standard scientific perspective.
“Can we change our scientific worldview so it leaves textbooks intact, but expands them so these phenomena are no longer regarded as impossible?” he asks.
“If we simply add consciousness as a new layer to the bottom of our hierarchy of disciplines,” Radin suggests, “all the textbooks stay the same. Yet, suddenly, we open up a new realm of knowledge and all kinds of things end up as plausible.”
Scientist or layperson, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for the average individual to believe in such “magic.”
In a survey Radin’s team conducted — focusing on the 25 different experiences that people would typically call psychic—upwards of 94% of the general population claimed to have personally experienced at least 8 out of the 25 phenomena. Even scientists and engineers, whose “blinders” are likely the strongest, claimed to have experienced personally 7 out of the 25.
In psychology where you would expect these things to be studied, it is completely forbidden to do so unless you are studying ‘belief’ …but in parentheses, ‘of stupid uneducated people’
And yet, Radin says, “in psychology where you would expect these things to be studied, it is completely forbidden to do so unless you are studying ‘belief’ …but in parentheses, ‘of stupid uneducated people.’”
“This is a classic definition of a taboo, a social prohibition against talking about certain things which everybody knows exist, but you’re not allowed to talk about… In the academic world, we are supposed to have academic freedom. But it’s clearly not the case,” he says.
“Luckily, there are plenty of academics who believe in aspirations of science and scholarship,” Radin claims. “Privately, there is the exact same level of interest in this as anything else.”
When asked how he’s courageous enough to take on research subject to such taboos, Radin laughs, “I guess it was growing up in sort of Bohemian family.”
Radin’s father was a commercial artist and a portrait sculptor. His mother was into yoga long before it became popular. The two were both members of the Great Books Foundation, so Radin and his brother were constantly surrounded by “education and art.”
While his parents were both Jewish, orthodoxy played no role in his home growing up, Radin recalls.
“The sense I got from my parents is religion is not something that an intellectual would find appealing. We didn’t go to Hebrew school. No bar mitzvah. No Jewish holidays. Though my parents would host a secular seder on occasion. Like, ‘We’re having a party now… with tzimmes.’”
Radin did grow up hearing Yiddish spoken by both his parents and grandparents, but the prevailing insight for him was that both sets of grandparents left where they lived because if they didn’t, they would have been killed.
My parents would host a secular seder on occasion. Like, ‘We’re having a party now… with tzimmes’
“So there was a link between expressing who you are and danger,” he recalls. “So you don’t talk about religion. You assimilate so much that religion is no longer an issue.”
However, he says, “anyone who does art is constantly criticized. I saw that really early on. My dad would do portrait sculpture and some people would love it and others hated it, and no one would be shy about their opinion. I saw that constantly. What I learned from that is you have to do what you think is right because if you don’t, why bother doing anything? What? Just follow what other people do all the time? It would be a waste of creativity. My dad said, ‘being creative is probably the most important thing we can do.’”
The easily accessible language in “Real Magic,” combined with Radin’s sense of humor, makes it easily appealing to this growing market of occult enthusiasts. However, infused with scientific data and experiment results, it also will attract those laypeople with interest in the cutting-edge fields of quantum mechanics and consciousness.
“Part of the fun of being a scientist is discovering new things on the edge. What I am doing is not that different,” he says. “It’s not primary motivation, though.”
Instead, a primary motivation for Radin was producing a book not already in existence.
“I write a book,” he explains, “because I am interested in a topic and if I can’t find a book to explain it to me, I have to write it.”
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