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Rhine Center hosts paranormal conference

Ever known who was calling before picking up the phone? Dreamt of an event only to have it happen the next day?

These phenomena are not just the subjects of B-grade horror movies or stories told to scare friends--they are part of what parapsychologist Steven Schwartz calls "experiencing non-local consciousness."

Schwartz is one of the inventors of "remote viewing," a meditative process used to access non-local consciousness--the experience of being mentally outside of one's location or time.

Schwartz's talk was hosted by the Rhine Research Center for parapsychology, an independent organization located just off the edge of West Campus that was formerly known as the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University.

This past weekend, about 30 people from across the United States gathered at the Duke Center for Living for Schwartz's workshop, "Experiencing the Infinite: The Art and Science of Non-local Consciousness." There were doctors, nurses and novelists-plus a 29-year-old club owner and a 70-year-old housewife, all of whom shared a fascination with parapsychology, whether they believed in it or not.

Schwartz, however, does not like the term "parapsychology." He is a scientist who said he conducts his experiments with obsessive objectivity, even though much of the scientific community does not give him credit for it. Most of them view the field of parapsychology with skepticism or even outright hostility, regarding the scientists who study it with even less respect, he said.

But Schwartz has conducted hundreds of experiments with thousands of test subjects on several different continents. All of it, he said, points to the existence of RV as a scientific and observable phenomenon.

Schwartz cited as physical evidence a study of individuals scanned by an MRI. The study reported that during a "creative moment of illumination" while in a state of RV, a specific section of the right hemisphere of the brain was activated.

"If scientific evidence said that we're only material beings, sort of animated meat, or our consciousness is entirely limited to your head, I might be sad or disappointed, but I would accept it," he said. "I'm interested in the data."

Schwartz said he tries to discourage people who attend his workshops hoping for "New Age frou-frou" phenomena. "You need to stop thinking of this as weird, occult or supernatural," he said. "Think of it as a normal birthright of all living organisms."

RV has always been present, although the term has not always been used, he noted. It has been linked to moments of sudden inspiration experienced by geniuses like Einstein, the finding of certain murderers throughout history and the discovery of ancient archaeological sites, he explained.

Schwartz said he did not expect audience members to go out and find the long-lost city of Atlantis, however--partially because he does not think it exists, but mostly because RV is a discipline that needs to be practiced.

In the first exercise of the workshop, Schwartz led the audience through a series of questions intended to make them visualize one of five images of common household objects he concealed on his computer.

"You won't get what it is exactly," he said, "and in fact you shouldn't. What we're looking for here is sense impressions." One of the participants, Zachary Riley, nearly leapt out of his chair when Schwartz revealed a picture of a plastic orange children's ruler.

Although responses in the audience ranged from apple to sponge to cat toy, Riley got nearly every response to Schwartz's questions correct.

"It was pretty crazy that I got every answer... I didn't think there was a snowball's chance in hell I'd get it right," Riley said.

Schwartz conducted similar exercises throughout the conference, including the "2050 experiment," which he has been conducting since the 1970s, using RV to "see" what the world will look like in the future. Schwartz said his subject pool, or the "2050's," as he calls them, have consistently seen elements from the future like the fall of the Soviet Union and the outbreak of AIDS. He said that their "predictions" have come true with much more accuracy than those of futurists, people who study trends and predict the future as a profession.

For 20 minutes, participants reposed in the darkened room while Schwartz asked a series of questions about what they were experiencing.

At the conclusion of the experiment, after participants roused themselves from their seemingly meditative state, they shared their visions. Schwartz noted the visions' consistency with each other-and with the experiences shared by past 2050s.

Participants spoke of a highly personalized world, with smaller communities, less obtrusive technology and decreased stress. Many also said they saw a black box that seemed to be an energy source-and remains a source of mystery to Schwartz.

Even though Schwartz takes his job as a scientist seriously, he is not afraid to have a little fun. One time, Schwartz said, he and his team decided to use RV to predict the winning lottery numbers.

Despite picking out the right numbers, an unlikely obstacle prevented them from collecting their prize.

"To make absolutely sure, we had to buy 2000 tickets," he said. "It took us so long to mark the tickets up that it was too late. We were foiled not because of remote viewing but literally the logistics of buying and filling out 2000 tickets."

"We're thinking about doing it again. Talk to me in about a year," he added, with a laugh.

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