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Charles T.Tart

Charles T.Tart

Charles T. Tart, Ph.D., is internationally known for his psychological work on the nature of consciousness (particularly altered states of consciousness), as one of the founders of the field of Transpersonal Psychology, and for his research in scientific parapsychology. His two classic books, Altered States of Consciousness (1969) and Transpersonal Psychologies (1975), became widely used texts that were instrumental in allowing these areas to become part of modern psychology.

Charles Tart was born in 1937 and grew up in Trenton, New Jersey. He was active in amateur radio and worked as a radio engineer (with a First Class Radiotelephone License from the Federal Communications Commission) while a teenager. Questions about the religion he was raised in, Lutheranism, started him reading scientific and spiritual books as a teenager. Spiritual interests, explorations, and practices became a regular part of his life, meshing fruitfully with his professional psychological interests.

As well as a university teacher and laboratory researcher, Professor Tart has been happily married for more than 50 years and has two children and two grandchildren. He has been a student of the Japanese martial art of Aikido (in which he holds a black belt), of meditation, of Gurdjieff's mindfulness in life work, of Buddhism, and of other psychological and spiritual growth disciplines. He has been teaching classes on mindfulness and meditation at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology for more than ten years, and in the summer of 2012, under the aegis of GlideWing.com, plans to launch a repeating webinar class on mindfulness, with the primary goal of giving students a taste of how to be more mindful in everyday life, as well as an introduction to concentrative (shamatha) and insight (vipassana) styles of meditation. His primary goal, personally as well as professionally, is to build bridges between the scientific and spiritual communities and to help bring about a refinement and integration of Western and Eastern approaches for knowing the world and for personal and social growth.

Professionally, Tart studied electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before deciding to become a psychologist, received his PhD from the Universi­ty of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1963, and then received postdoctoral training in hypnosis research with Ernest R. Hilgard at Stanford University. He is currently a Core Faculty Member at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (Palo Alto, California) as well as Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the Davis campus of the University of California, where he taught and carried out research for 28 years. He was the first holder of the Bigelow Chair of Consciousness Studies at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas and has served as a Visiting Professor in East-West Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, as an Instructor in Psychiatry at the School of Medicine of the University of Virginia, and a consultant on government funded parapsychological research at the Stanford Research Institute (now known as SRI International).

Tart's books, in addition to (1) Altered States of Consciousness (1969) and (2) Transpersonal Psychologies (1975), are (3) On Being Stoned: A Psychological Study of Marijuana Intoxication (1971), (4) States of Consciousness (1975), (5) Symposium on Consciousness (1975, with P. Lee, R. Ornstein, D. Galin & A. Deikman), (6) Learning to Use Extrasensory Perception (1976), (7) Psi: Scientific Studies of the Psychic Realm (1977), (8) Mind at Large: Institute of Electrical and Elec­tronic Engineers Symposia on the Nature of Extrasensory Perception (1979, with H. Puthoff & R. Targ), (9) Waking Up: Overcoming the Obstacles to Human Potential (1986), (10) Open Mind, Discrim­inating Mind: Reflections on Human Possibilities (1989),and (11) Living the Mindful Life (1994). His recent, (12) Body Mind Spirit: Exploring the Parapsychology of Spirituality (1997), examined the relationship between parapsychological abilities and our spiritual nature. A more recent book is (13) Mind Science: Meditation Training for Practical People (2000), and his most recent book, (14) The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together shows that science has not shown that all spirituality is nonsense. Rather there is excellent scientific evidence that humans have qualities, like telepathic abilities, that you would expect a spiritual being to have. He has had more than 250 articles published in professional journals and books, including lead articles in such prestigious scientific journals as Science and Nature.

Further biographical information, as well as the text of many of Professor Tart’s publications, can be obtained via his primary website at http://www.paradigm-sys.com/cttart/ and his ongoing writings on a variety of topics pertaining to consciousness, parapsychology, and spirituality appear on his blog, http://blog.paradigm-sys.com/ .

All through my life, I’ve wished that I could reduce or eliminate the suffering that others go through. I guess this is built into the basic pre-programming that comes with being human. Most of the time this desire is in relative abeyance and I’m distracted from it, as I'm busy coping with my life. There are people in my life with a lot of pain, but I don’t think about it often as there’s nothing practical that can be done about it --- and I hate problems I want to help with but can’t do anything about! And, like all of us, I have (too) many defenses which blunt my perception of others’ suffering – that’s something I’ve needed to work with all my life.

I've begun teaching my course on Mindfulness at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (now called Sofia University) this week (September 25,2012), and think that some remarks and diagrams I created for my students to help clarify some things about two kinds of concentration and their use in meditation would be of general interest. While “progress” in spiritual development calls for profoundly more than better words, I do note that physical science has made enormous progress in the last few hundred years, but it’s not clear that spiritual knowledge and development have made much, if any, “progress.” One element allowing progress in basic science has been precise definition and usage of key terms, which allows for clear communication of observations and understandings.

While my wife and I were on our Fall camping vacation last week, I was "meditating" near a pathway in a botanical garden on cliffs over the Pacific while she was taking photos. The rugged coast of northern California is so beautiful!

Since I'm always going on about how useless that word "meditation" is, unless you get a lot more specific about exactly what a person is actually doing, let me elaborate on that.

One of the things I've tried to do most of my life, both in my personal and professional lives, has been to become aware of the more subtle aspects of what I'm thinking, feeling, and doing. I especially like to become aware of implicit assumptions that lie behind what I'm doing, outside of my normal consciousness, as such assumptions can control what I'm thinking, feeling, and doing in ways that I'm not aware of, thus limiting my freedom and having consequences for the people I relate to insofar as such implicit assumptions affect the way I act.

[In this and subsequent postings, I'll be writing about Buddhism, but such writings of mine always need to be qualified. I'm not a Buddhist scholar, for example, nor am I at all "enlightened" and thus speaking from deep interior knowledge. Yet I am a sincere student of this particular path of spiritual development (as well as other paths I've been involved with in the past), and I am a scientist, someone who tries to write as clearly and truthfully as I can. I also know there is immense variation in Buddhism because of the many branches of it, so anything I say on the order of "Buddhists believe…" Or "Buddhists practice…" can undoubtedly be contradicted by the beliefs and practices of some branch of Buddhism. So all my comments should be considered as my current understanding, subject to change as my understanding gets better. Readers and students tell me that my reflections on these sorts of things often stimulate them to think about them more deeply, or understand them more deeply, so I offer them in the spirit of stimulation. But don't take them as any final, authoritative understanding, they're just my best understanding at the time of writing. I should probably repeat this qualification at the beginning of anything I write about Buddhism, but that would get pretty awkward, so I'll just hyperlink to these qualifications in the future articles.]


While searching for information on just what is meant in Buddhism by the concept of coemergent ignorance, one of the first entries I came across was full of statements about something which has bothered and confused me for years. It so activated my old concerns that I never did get far enough down in the article to find what it said about coemergent ignorance - that's a task for later.

This thing that has disturbed and puzzled me for decades of trying to adequately understand - well enough to facilitate my practices - the Tibetan Buddhist worldview, is what I call a powerful anti-thought attitude. It basically seems to say that any kind of thought is inherently bad and must inevitably lead to suffering.

Pain and Suffering:

Some years ago I came across and was very impressed by Shinzen Young's approximate algebraic formulation of the relationship of suffering to actual physical pain and psychological factors (see http://www.shinzen.org for relevant writings or his book, Break Through Pain: A Step-by-Step Mindfulness Meditation Program for Transforming Chronic and Acute Pain).  Having a scientific and psychological mindset similar to his, I have been thinking about and conceptualizing variations and extensions of this for years. 


Twenty five hundred years ago, Gautama Siddhartha, the historical Buddha, had some deep insights and created powerful techniques that would allow major reductions of human suffering.  Traditionally the Buddha is said to found a total end to all suffering.  Perhaps that's true, perhaps it's not.  I don't know, but certainly Buddhist meditation techniques and related practices can greatly reduced individuals' suffering.

 From that time on, to greatly oversimplify, you can talk about two main streams of Buddhist activity.  The heart of Buddhism is the monastic tradition, monks and nuns so dedicated to achieving enlightenment for their own sakes and for the sake of others that they devote their entire lives to living in ascetic conditions and practicing meditation and prayer.  The other main stream is the beliefs of the common people, in essence, that the Buddha was some kind of god, or at least had supernatural abilities, as the monks and nuns also do to various degrees.  These people were too busy trying to survive and  earn a living, and so could not meditate very much themselves, but they could earn merit, which would go toward improving their future lives, by worshiping the Buddha and by supporting the monks and nuns with alms and other donations.  I'm speaking very generally, of course, and you can find many variations on these themes.

Monday, 05 December 2011 14:15

That word "Meditation"

When I become the Czar of Worldwide Words, I'm going to abolish the word "meditation."

Isn't that an odd way to start a blog on meditation? Gets your attention, though.

My post here will be written mainly from my role as a scientist, as a psychologist, as one of the founders of a relatively new branch of psychology, Transpersonal Psychology, although as a student of meditation and spiritual paths all my life, my perspective is "inside" and well as "outside."

As a field, mainstream psychology pretty much accepts the materialistic assumptions that dominate in most fields of science today, that only what is material is real, matter and physical energy. The physical matter and electrical and chemical processes of your brain are real, consciousness is nothing but a secondary derivative of those physical processes. From this perspective, all those things called "meditation" are indirect ways of controlling your physical brain's functioning, and so someday you won't have to spend all those (too often boring) hours sitting, because science will develop a pill that directly puts the brain in the best "meditative" state. "Spirit" or "spirituality," from the materialistic perspective, is simply old fashioned nonsense, superstition, and best dispensed with, as it interferes with our rational functioning.