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"Altered States: Interview with Charles Tart"
Waking Up: Talking about the Science & Spirit of "Altered States" with Charles T. Tart
By D. Patrick Miller
"Altered States: Interview with Charles Tart" © 2000 D. Patrick Miller
Orginal version first published in Yoga Journal 1990
Available from: "News of a New Human Nature" Fearless

Charles T. Tart Bio and "Altered States" book information may be found at the following websites:
Personal -
Professional - TASTE (The Archive of Scientists' Transcendental Experiences)

Excerpt from Intro:

As the following discussion demonstrates, Tart has a knack for conveying his wealth of knowledge and experience in clear, accessible language that is blessedly free of scientific jargon or any other learned mystification. Most interesting of all, he shows us how he has used his learning for his own growth - and how his process of conscious self-observation continues right in the midst of an interview. This is an instructive example of science applied to consciousness - and it gives us a hint of what science with a greater consciousness may look like.

Note: Q: represents interviewer D. Patrick Miller

Excerpt of Interview - Pages 9 - 12:

Q: Obviously, self-observation answers those questions more effectively than psychedelics.

Tart: Yes, and it also helps me remember and integrate what I'm observing. I get a better picture of how my own defense mechanisms may prevent my best functioning. Here's an example: Some years ago I began reading A Course in Miracles. In the first chapter of the third volume (the Manual for Teachers) there's a passage that explains that teaching is not just a matter of what we've decided to teach. In fact, everyone is constantly teaching what they believe in and what they want to happen in every interaction.

I was able to hear what that meant at the time, and it made me realize that I was teaching a number of things I didn't want to be teaching. There was a certain weary, cynical streak building up in me, and I was really teaching that in my classes. I had to ask myself: Do I want to reinforce this tendency in myself by teaching it to others every day? Is that what I want to share? By watching myself carefully in this regard, I was gradually able to shift my whole teaching style so that I didn't pass on cynicism anymore. But without practice of self-observation, I might have read the Course passage and had only an intellectual reaction, never realizing that I was actually teaching something I didn't like.

Q: What kind of consciousness studies would you most like to see funded?

Tart: One of the Primary tings I'd like to see funded is a study of 10,000 people involved in spiritual growth disciplines - maybe 500 people involved in each of 20 major disciplines. I'd want to test them thoroughly: What are their personalities like? What are their motivations, backgrounds, and so forth? Then I'd want to follow them up every five years to see how they change. The eventual benefits of such a study would be that someday a person who was thinking about trying Zen meditation, or Sufi dancing, or psychedelics, could be tested by the same parameters, and we could say, "Okay, on a purely empirical basis of what's happened to real people, we can conclude that fifty percent of the peop0le with your personality profile go crazy with Zen. But Sufi dancing would work for you." I'd like us to have some sophisticated predictive data on these growth disciplines, and that will have to come from large-scale studies, not a priori convictions about particular spiritual disciplines.

Q: So you believe that science can play a concrete part in the spiritual search. I can imagine that some mystics would say we all have to find our own way, and learn from making the kinds of mistakes that your predictive data might steer us away from.

Tart: One of the limitations of any spiritual system is the teacher's idea that the way he or she achieves realization is the way that everybody has to follow. There's nothing wrong with understanding broad, general patterns of spiritual experiences, while we encourage in seekers the moment-by-moment discipline of awareness. Of course, the seeker has to be ready to modify or diverge from guidelines if the moment demands. It's like telling someone they can get to Los Angeles on Route 1 - but they have to have the sense to find an alternate route if there's a roadblock.

A seeker who thinks we can't do a useful scientific assay like this is simply immature. My finding is that genuinely mature, spiritual people have no problem with seeing the benefits of science. Likewise, scientists with a high degree of personal maturity - those who use science as a growth system - have an easy time dealing with spiritual people and concepts. It's the third-rate seekers and third-rate scientists who have quarrels with each other. In that case, both sides are emotionally attached to narrow belief systems, and they perceive anything that doesn't fit those systems as a threat.

Q: Our culture seems very confused about conventional religious practices and real spirituality. In your experience, what are the indispensable elements of an authentic spiritual life?

Tart: I'm going out on a limb here, because I don't think I'm an authority on spirituality, except for people who know absolutely nothing about it. Having disqualified myself, let me speculate.

As I think of it now, an authentic spiritual life involves slowing down from the constant distractions of external life. That doesn't mean dropping out - it means not being driven crazy or being totally caught up by the everyday. The slowing-down must be combined with a desire to know the truth about the way things are, even if you're not going to like what you find out. Then you must develop the ability to observe more clearly what is; that can come from self-remembering or a variety of formal meditation practices. And then you have to hand in there, not stopping when you get a big idea about what the truth is for all time. You must keep on observing, testing, growing.

Finally, there's the element of asking for help. Not necessarily formal prayer, but realizing that there is a higher or deeper spiritual source in the universe - and asking that source, whatever you call it, for whatever assistance it can give you in knowing the truth. I don't know if you should ask for help to earn the money to buy a Mercedes. In some way, every real request has to be for a deeper understanding of reality. This is difficult to talk about - I noticed that I just switched to second - person terms, when I should say that I do this. I'll admit it: I ask for help frequently. I can always use a little nudge in the direction of doing the right thing.

End of Excerpt - "Altered States": Interview with Charles Tart" © 2000 D. Patrick Miller

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