Nina Azari in her commentary on our article in this issue “Spirituality: The Legacy of Parapsychology” has raised the issue of what it actually takes for something to be called science. Does causality come into the picture? If so, how does causality relate to our non-local model that seems to explicitly eschew the question of causality? The answer lies in what one is willing to accept as causality. If causality can be conceived broader than just efficient-mechanistic causality then certainly our model is causal. If one insists on efficient-mechanistic causality as the only and truly scientific notion of causality, it is not. But then, I would argue, this is a very restricted and also short sighted view which should be questioned, and eventually, disregarded. This is what we have set out to do.
Both spiritual experiences and mindfulness as a psychological variable have been identified as components of wellbeing and health. As there is uncertainty about their relationship, we have investigated the impact of spiritual experiences and mindfulness as well as their interaction on distress in chronically ill patients. The unidimensional Daily Spiritual Experiences Scale (DSES), the multidimensional Exceptional Experiences Questionnaire (EEQ), the Freiburg Mindfulness Inventory (FMI), and the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) were administered to 109 chronically ill patients. Fifty-eight patients (53%) reported regular and frequent spiritual or contemplative practice from different traditions over an average of 14.7 years (SD = 13.7). Patients with regular spiritual practice reported more positive spiritual experiences, were more mindful and less distressed (p < .001). A stepwise linear regression analysis revealed that the EEQ subscale “negative spiritual experiences” (NSE) was the most important single predictor for psychological distress (R2=.38; β=.63). In contrast, both the EEQ subscale “positive spiritual experiences” as well as the DSES that also captures positives daily encounters with a transcendental realm or entity did not account for a significant amount of variance in distress. Further analysis of the regression model (R2=.57), confirmed that NSE was still the largest predictor for distress (β=.61) and that mindfulness (β=–.38) and the interaction between mindfulness and NSE (β=–.23) were the most important buffers protecting individuals from distress. Thus, mindfulness seems not only to be a clinically important protective factor for buffering generic distress, but particularly for distress derived from NSEs. This suggests that in addition to directly facilitating well-being and health by means of positive spiritual experiences, at least some form of regular spiritual or meditative techniques seem to endow an individual with a certain degree of resilience against negative spiritual experiences that is likely a consequence of increased mindfulness. If these findings are vindicated by further studies, spiritual experiences should not be conceived and measured as univariate but rather multivariate constructs.
Spirituality is a topic of recent interest. Mindfulness, for example, a concept derived from the Buddhist tradition, has captivated the imagination of clinicians who package it in convenient intervention programs for patients. Spirituality and religion have been researched with reference to potential health benefits. Spirituality can be conceptualised as the alignment of the individual with the whole, experientially, motivationally and in action. For spirituality to unfold its true potential it is necessary to align this new movement with the mainstream of science, and vice versa. Hence, both a historical review, and a systematic attempt at integration is called for, which we are trying to give here. It is useful to go back to one of the roots: parapsychology. Parapsychology was founded as a counter movement to the rising materialist paradigm in the 19th century. Adopting the methods of the natural sciences, it tried to prove the direct influence of consciousness on matter. After 125 years this mission must be declared unaccomplished. Surveying the database of parapsychological research it is obvious that it will not convince sceptics: Although there are enough exceptional findings, it has in general not been possible to reproduce them in replication experiments. This is, however, a characteristic signature of a category of effects which we call effects of generalised entanglement, predicted by a theoretical model analogous to quantum theory. Using this perspective, parapsychological effects can be understood, and the original aim of the founding fathers can be recovered, as well as a new, systematic understanding of spirituality be gained. Generalised entanglement is a formal and scientific way of explaining spirituality as alignment of an individual with a whole, which, according to the model, inevitably leads to non-local correlations.